Tag Archives: insane

Lights, Camera, Action! What have I gotten myself into?

After a number of overly exciting posts on the highs and lows of screenwriting for this film, I thought I would take a post to put on one of my other hats that I wore for this production: my actor hat. It is a hat that I, like many others, have always wanted to wear. But, unlike others, as someone who also owns writer and producer hats, I am able to write myself into the script, and then make an executive decision to cast myself in that role. While it may sound like self-nepotism (because of my many jobs) or egotism, the fact is I had reservations over playing the part that I wrote for myself, reservations that I’m sure Tyler shared.

The Biggest Loser: Pinoy Edition (season 1)

The Biggest Loser: Pinoy Edition (season 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first reservation was my weight. When Tyler and I first began work on the project, I was pretty heavy. Without getting into numbers, let me just say that if the movie didn’t go forward, I could have been a contestant on The Biggest Loser. It was not good. My weight had fluctuated a lot over the years, but always managed to creep upward. So, I took my desire to handle a role in this film as motivation to really get my ass back on track and get some pounds off before production began. It was a job I took very seriously, and it became the catalyst for Tyler’s command that everyone get in better shape for the project, simple for health and endurance reason. This was going to be a tough shoot, which we were at least partially aware of, and we needed as cast and crew to be able to handle it. Being a small production, we’d not only be handling the demands of the script (see the next point), but also of the production, carrying equipment, building sets, holding positions for ungodly lengths of time.

Making it happen for the film.

Making it happen for the film.

I set about dieting and exercising 5-6 days a week, consistently actually missing maybe a week in two years (not counting shooting weeks). By the time we got to the production (what I call Grassman: Year One), I was down 45 lbs. When Grassman: Year Two ended, I had lost over 80 lbs. By, the end of Grassman: Year Three, I had quit smoking to top it all off. It was no easy task, but I’m glad I finally had this to push me in a direction I hadn’t passionately dedicated myself to for over 10 years. It felt good, and I felt good.

There be action happening!

There be action happening!

The second concern was the level of action in the film. Action and stunts are always a concern on films, but when you are an insane micro-budget action horror film without the common sense to know that you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing, it’s even more so. As the character of Catch, I had a significant amount my own stunts to perform. Aside from the requisite running through actual woods, I had to fight, jump, fall, take hits, and roll around, all while carrying a real, non-prop 14″ Smith & Wesson Search & Rescue Bowie Knife. Like I said,   no common sense.

IMAG0026

Step 1 for breaking back: fall off of this. (Photo credit: vaxciliate)

My major concern was my back. I have chronic back pain due to an US Army Airborne training accident when I was 19. I have a bulging disc, an only partially healed compressed vertebrae, and a touch of arthritis. The slightest thing can set it off and leave me essentially immobile. I once collapsed in a ball of pain on a bike trail because the damn back decided that one more push of the pedal was too much to ask. Stupid thing. However, I was willing to do whatever I had to do to make my action scenes as effective as I could. To top things off, day one of shooting, I contused my heal to the point where I needed to wrap it up tightly at the beginning of every day of shooting and wear running shoes when my feet weren’t in the shot. It didn’t get back to normal until around December of Grassman: Year One.

It's a wrap!

It’s a wrap!

The final reservation was over acting itself. I am not an actor, nor have I ever claimed to be. But, I’ve always felt that I could pull it off in the right part, and have wanted to take on that challenge since I was a kid. I’ve had small parts in Monkey Prod shorts in the past (aside from BADNESS where I played Vlad the Rocking Impaler from Hell, an over-the-top rock stereotype based loosely on myself).

Me, acting. From HELL!

Me, acting. From HELL!

However, I usually either wound up on the digital cutting room floor (aka, the Recycle Bin), didn’t have my face shown at all, or the project never saw the light of day. Not a terribly auspicious bunch of credits for an acting reel.

Needless to say, there was a level of anxiety on my part, some self-doubt over my ability to carry my own weight in the thespian department. Granted, we have a cast of primarily inexperience actors, but my role was a significant one, the third lead. I couldn’t let my performance be the one that stood out at amateur or, even worse, laughable.

Trying to learn my lines while getting AAA on the phone.

Trying to learn my lines while getting AAA on the phone.

To make my anxiety worse, I was so consumed with re-writes and my producer duties, I was often unable to prepare for scenes until right before we shot them. I tried squeezing in learning lines when I could, but I really was pushing it most days. Having seen much of my work in our rough cuts, I am relieved to say that my acting doesn’t make me want to go punch myself in the face. That’s a plus.

Taking on this project was a monumental undertaking, and most of the folks involved found themselves performing multiple duties for many hours. I was the only dumbass who had a choice to not take on one of my jobs, but I did it anyways. I guess the lesson here is that no matter what your part might be in making your film a reality, you’re going to have your doubts. Don’t let them stop you, but use them to motivate you. It also helps to check your sanity at the door. But, get your ass to do whatever you have to do to make shit happen and guess what? Shit will happen. It’s like magic. So endeth the lesson.

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The Beginning: Part 2 of 2 – That’s not a Bigfoot movie. THIS is a Bigfoot movie.

This Tyler/Dennis alternating posting may be a bit confusing, so allow me to quickly recap. When we last left off, the Meyer Bros has decided that it was time to make a feature length film. While that is the first step of making any feature, without an idea it’s kind of useless. We had a script we were eager to do, but were convinced it was too scary and expensive of an undertaking for us. So, we brainstormed separately for 30 days, with achievable feature film criteria, and returned with our ideas. Tyler’s brainstorming led to no ideas. My brainstorm led to numerous recycled past ideas, unfinished concepts, and one with potential. Well, potential like a lump of coal has potential to be a diamond. That lump of coal was…

…a Bigfoot movie.

Sounds simple enough, right? You get a guy in a furry suit, a bunch of young hot college age victims, some creepy back woods types, and a forest to shoot in. Piece of cake.

Well, not exactly. Although, it is kind of where we started: we both agreed that we don’t want to make that film. Not that we didn’t consider it. But, whenever we go down that “this is how they do it” and “this is what’s on the shelves at Blockbuster” we both wind up with a bad taste in our mouths. So, we just had figure out what we did want to make.

Sometimes, I talk to the Skull and complain to him about Tyler. The Skull is the only one that understands.

Sometimes, I talk to the Skull and complain to him about Tyler. The Skull is the only one that understands.

Now, over the years, Tyler and I have discussed doing a Bigfoot film numerous times. I could be wrong, but I felt that if Tyler had a bucket list of movies to make, a Bigfoot movie would definitely be on that list. I knew he had a tremendous interest in doing it, which is why it was my ace in the hole on my list. But, after talking about it so many times, I knew that we had never agreed on what that would be.

And this time was no different. I tossed out ideas, but Tyler shot them all down.

“Okay,” I said. “You don’t like anything we’re talking about here.”

“Not really,” he said.

“Well, since this has been your passion project for as long as I can remember, why don’t you tell me what you want in a bigfoot film.”

“Hmmm… how about a Bigfoot movie without a Bigfoot?”

What the hell? We talked about it for a long evening, but I still didn’t get it. We adjourned and Tyler went off to outline his idea. He came back with a six-point outline, a logline, and… that’s it. We talked about it, as I tried to get into the Tyler headspace. This is what have to do, because the two of us never start off on the same wave length. It’s normally up to me to try my damnedest to figure out where he’s coming from and translate it into a script that both recognizes his vision and maintains my character focused sensibilities.

raiders

So, I took notes from our talk and this 6 point outline and went off for a couple weeks and expanded on the outline. I came back with a several page, 95-point outline of what I still feel was a decent, dark, terrifying potential film.One of the things that I did in outlining was to break it into a series of events, like serial breakdown of the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark that Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan speak about in their now infamous Raider Story Conference Transcript from 1978. Tyler and I were fascinated with that. I still read it from time to time. I like to think that our meetings are like that, but with less clout and more dick jokes.

Anyway, Tyler dug the idea, but… it was extremely grim, darker than anything we’d ever done. I felt dirty after reading through it with him. This idea met all of the requirements we had set, but it was a real downer. We began to refer to it as Bigfoot Fuckers, at least I did. After talking, even though we liked Bigfoot Fuckers, it was not exactly what we wanted after spending years on other dark projects (The Projection Booth and Consumed).

[NOTE: I would love to share the Tyler outline vs Dennis outline, so you can have a better idea of where I start and what I wind up turning it into. But Bigfoot Fuckers is actually still one of those back burner ideas that may, after some tweaking, find its way a Monkey Prod greenlight. So, I can’t share it, as much as I want to. Sorry.]

Myth and the Movies – good book

I should point out that during this time, I was toying with the idea of reviving some old writing of mine and retooling it into a novel. Over the course of working with my characters and world I was creating, I became interested in trying my hand at the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I had all the requisite books and was studying all of the novels and films that I loved and trying to identify the journey archetypes and events in them. I was fascinated by one book in particular called Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films by Stuart Voytilla. It broke down 50 popular films, organized by genre, into their mythic structures.

As we were going over the outline, and how this film may not work for us, something clicked in my head. I remembered going through the section in Voytilla’s book on The Mythic Structure of Horror. One film in particular suddenly made sense as the way to go with a Bigfoot movie. It was an overdone as hell premise to steal from; but, I would not be copying the story, merely using the mythic model as the launching point. I talked Tyler into not giving up on this just yet, but to give me a shot at the outline. I was excited, but I didn’t want to tell him anymore because it would come across as really stupid at this point. And I’d never overcome that first impression.

So, off I went for another two weeks or so where I took the mythic structure of a popular horror film from our youth and started to take some of the elements of Bigfoot Fuckers that I really liked and put them into the structure. I kept the serial nature of the story as well, making it event or tent-pole driven; the campground, the cave, the farmhouse, etc. I put all these elements into the structure of the Hero’s Journey.

When it was done I presented to Tyler a twenty-point, high-level, but still somewhat detailed, outline that had a sense of familiarity and comfort about it that I think is what won him over. It felt like a 70s horror film because it was based on one, and I finally revealed which: motherF’n Jaws. It made perfect sense that the starting point for us to make a non-dark, exciting, horror adventure along the lines of what we grew up watching was to use the best of that as a model. The hero’s journey gave us a story model that made sense and we could both identify with. It had the classic feel that Tyler enjoys, and had the potential for character development I look for. It was not perfect yet, but it was exciting to both of us.

Making script notes. By hand, because that's how I roll.

Making script notes. By hand, because that’s how I roll.

It was at this point that Tyler was fully on board. He saw potential in the idea and was excited about the concept of making an homage to the 70s era monster/horror movie. I made some more notes from his input and the went into hiding.  I took the next 5 months to write the first draft as Tyler began to figure out exactly how we could go about filming anything, much less a bigfoot film, on an out-of-pocket budget. I delivered the first draft of the script around Christmas time to the Tyler and he loved it, and to the Monkey Productions inner circle shortly after. It was exciting to watch everyone, especially Tyler, get pumped up over a project again, even one as seemingly impossible as this.

Although, it was the first of four drafts, it was enough: Monkey Productions was officially making a Bigfoot movie, our first feature length motion picture. HOLY. SHIT.

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Sneak Peek #14: Throwing Fusee onto the Fire