Today we released our 17th annual ArieScope Halloween short film “MONSTER PROBLEMS”. If you haven’t already watched it… head over to our SHORTS page here and watch it NOW before reading this blog! There are spoilers below.
Did you watch it? OK, good. Please proceed…
It’s ArieScope’s 17th birthday! We may not be 18 or be able to legally vote or buy porn yet… and we may still be a few years away from being able to legally purchase alcohol… but ArieScope has already lasted longer than most studios and production companies could even dream of- no matter what their size or stature within the industry may be. And believe me when I say that no one is more surprised or impressed than us as even we never imagined this thing would last as long as it has or that we’d ever accomplish as much as we somehow have. For a scrappy group of friends and artists finding our own way and making things up as we go, we’ve kind of done alright so far. Some of that can be attributed to our collective naiveté, some of that can be attributed to our hard headed unwillingness to know how to give up, and a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that there are individuals in this group that would take a bullet for each other and have been there to pick each other up off the floor when others have fallen to pieces or split at the first sign of trouble.
Way back in 1998… long before streaming video was even a thing… long before iPhones, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter… and long before “Victor Crowley”, the HATCHET trilogy, FROZEN, HOLLISTON, and the many other various film and TV projects that you now know ArieScope Pictures for… cinematographer Will Barratt (my cinematic life-partner in crime) and I made a short film called “COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND” as a silly little goof to show the guests at my annual Halloween Dinner Party. Last year’s October blog details that whole story so I’ll spare you. But to back up just a little further, Halloween is my Christmas. And I don’t just say that like “Yay! I love Halloween!” I mean that Halloween is my holiest of holidays right down to its very spiritual core. For most people, Halloween means Trick or Treating, costumes, scary movies, haunted houses, and candy. And while all of those things are AMAZING in their own right (think about it, we have a whole season where it’s not only socially acceptable but encouraged for people to decorate their homes with macabre imagery and display dead bodies on their front lawns- a horror fan’s dream!) for me I have always loved Halloween for its actual purpose and meaning. Much like I would have little interest in reading a blog about your individual religious beliefs, I won’t try and sell you on the spiritual importance of Halloween. However you personally choose to celebrate the holiday or however seriously you take it is all your own prerogative. Whether you merely partake in the surface level aspects of the holiday or actually care to dig deeper into what the holiday is really about… I say “great!” Point is, among the many things I adore about this wonderful holiday the thing I take most seriously is the celebration and remembrance of those who have passed on and who are no longer physically here with us. Thus my tradition of an intimate family dinner where guests bring photos and tell fond stories of those they are remembering, complete with place settings at the table for our dearly departed. Nothing morbid, nothing mystical, nothing scary- just a whole lot of love and respect. Over the years, departed dinner guests have included grandparents, family members, friends, colleagues, and A LOT of deceased pets. From my glorious Halloween tree, to the presents left beneath it on Halloween morning courtesy of “The Great Pumpkin”, to the homemade food I work so hard to cook, to never working on the 31st no matter what… All Hallow’s Eve is a special, special day for me. So it only makes sense that ArieScope Pictures celebrates our birthday and has the yearly tradition of our annual Halloween short film every October. It fits perfectly.
When Will and I made our very first Halloween short “COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND” we had no idea what we were actually doing or what we had inadvertently begun. Even our name “ArieScope Pictures” was literally just a quick solution to needing to place a production company name in the opening credits of the short. “Hey, you’re an Aries. I’m an Aries. What’s a film-sounding name with Aries? Arieflex? Nope, taken. Arie..scope? Done. What does that even mean? Who cares- done!” I wish there was a more clever story behind it but that’s the truth. Hell, we’re not even remotely into astrology to be honest. That fateful weekend in the backyard of my friend Scott Barnes’ parents’ house in Holliston, MA (dubbed “Barnes Estates” in the end credits of the short) a handful of friends with a “borrowed” Beta camera, a few cheap masks, a bunch of spoiled meat (hey, it was free from the local butcher and we were on a budget), and lots of fake blood made a little bit of history and turned our lives into… well, this. Every year since 1998 we’ve celebrated ArieScope’s birthday and helped ring in Halloween by going back to our roots, gathering up some of the family, and making a new Halloween-themed short film with the cardinal rule of “one night, no budget, and just for fun.” Of course over the years the quality of the shorts has gotten better and better… but we still keep those early ones up here on the website for all to see. Are we proud of all of those early shorts? Not really. Do most professional filmmakers still show off their earliest, most amateur work once they’ve made a career for themselves? Not really. But given that there are many young, aspiring filmmakers that look to us for inspiration we feel its important to not hide our (extremely) humble beginnings and to let others see that we had to find our way, learn a bunch, and try and get better with every step we’ve taken just like everyone else. And we’re still trying, still learning, and still getting better.
Thanks to our dear friends John and Nicole Anguish (who have designed and run this website since the very day it first launched in October of 1998), ArieScope.com has not only been offering free streaming on-line videos since long before anyone else was doing it but this website has also been our lifeline to our ever expanding world-wide fan base. That mock HATCHET trailer that we made in 2004 and created a massive on-line buzz that indirectly helped get the film financed and made? That started here. Viral hits like “JACK CHOP” and “SABER” and “DRIVING LESSONS?” They all started here. (Although those shorts in particular also had the added benefit of our popular YouTube channel to really blow up on-line in ways we never could have imagined.) Since “COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND” we’ve consistently given our fans free content that we make purely for the fun of it and as a way to say “thank you” for supporting us when it counts. Our 17th year has been our busiest and biggest yet as ArieScope.com now offers free weekly original series every Friday like “HORRIFIED”, “20 SECONDS TO LIVE” and the hugely popular “SCARY SLEEPOVER.” (Season 2 of SLEEPOVER is gearing up to start filming soon, so don’t fear.) Is it easy doing all of this free work? Of course not. As if it isn’t hard and time consuming enough to produce a new 2+ hour episode of “THE MOVIE CRYPT” podcast to have up every Monday and a new episode of whichever original series of ours is in season every Friday… we’re of course still hard at work on the main task at hand which is bringing you new movies and (of course) the new season of HOLLISTON that the Holliston Nation has been very patiently waiting for. But the simple reason why we do it is that YOU MAKE IT ALL WORTH IT. And that’s why we do what we do and are glad go above and beyond in constantly bringing you new things to watch/read/listen to- all for free. Because our fans support us when it counts. They go out of their way to see our films when they first come out in theaters… to buy them on DVD and Blu-Ray… to throw down their hard earned money to buy the various T-shirts, posters, Halloween masks, and autographed photos we make available in our “BUY STUFF” on-line store. The don’t steal or torrent our work. They wait in long lines to meet me when I do convention appearances. They take the time to leave heartfelt and passionate messages on my Facebook page and let me know that they’re out there and how much they care. And not every filmmaker is fortunate enough to have that.
The sad truth is that we’re struggling so hard to continue doing what we do during this difficult time when the entertainment industry is in transition and turmoil behind the scenes. It has become a struggle to merely stay alive and exist given just how many in the general public unfortunately now feel that all art is worthless and that they are entitled to steal whatever they want and have it for free. While on-line piracy is its own major dilemma, even with the perfectly legal technological advancements of streaming services and digital downloads, most people just don’t buy physical media anymore and it has become a nearly impossible feat to get a financier their investment back or any kind of return on an indie project. That’s just the changing times and the way things have gone- like it or not. Every day we’re watching other filmmakers we admire and respect have to pack up shop and give up their craft … all while we watch in disbelief as “YouTubers” who play video games on-line get rich. (I know, I know… “Get off my lawn, you kids!” I sound like an old out of touch man. But sorry- I just don’t get it.) It’s a very scary time to be creating art for a living. I can’t begin to tell you how often I find myself in a conversation with a fellow artist who says “Wait… we’re all getting slaughtered and going belly up during this “wild west’ phase of the internet and yet you guys are addressing it by offering even MORE stuff for FREE? WEEKLY?” I’m a broken record with this but ArieScope fans are just not like any other fans. We’ve always been an open book on our side and our fans in turn recognize that we’re not rich Hollywood douchebags who are all about the money. We have a very real connection with our audience and the fans truly appreciate just how much time I personally give them- writing back to every message on Facebook, doing the weekly podcast, the extra work I do writing or planning out performances/shows for the convention panels, the free weekly series we create for them… it’s a special thing. Our fans get that the only way our studio keeps the lights on and keeps creating is by them directly supporting us and therefore we see a lot of the same names go by every time we ship out new merchandise orders from our on-line store. WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE and we love and appreciate you for the way you continually step up and support us. Our relationship with our fans is just… different. So in celebrating our 17th year I would be remiss if I didn’t say (yet again) just how deeply we appreciate and love you all. Maybe you’re sick of hearing it, but I will NEVER get sick of saying it. THANK YOU! We don’t have studio backing or multi-million dollar marketing campaigns to make people aware of our work. We just have YOU. So to every fan that has supported us over the years- we’re only celebrating our 17th birthday today because of you. And with a little (or a lot) of luck, hopefully we survive at least one more year and get to see 18.
But enough with the mushy stuff (sorry, I get sentimental whenever we somehow reach another birthday around here because I always assume it is going to be our last)… let’s talk about this year’s Halloween short! Last year’s short (“HAPPY HALLOWEEN”) was one of the very few serious Halloween shorts that we’ve done (could you tell I was having a rough year in 2014?) so this year it was all about going back to the fun and bringing the silly. I was thinking about the ridiculous things we do as children to protect ourselves from the monsters lurking under our beds and in our closets… and then realized that perhaps those things aren’t actually so ridiculous after all. I mean, we might laugh at the concept of being protected by our bed covers or joke at the philosophy that a simple nightlight can actually scare away hungry monsters looking to devour us… but at the same time, when you look at the success ratio of “nightlights vs. children eaten by monsters” you kind of have to give credit where credit is due. If you’ve seen this year’s DIGGING UP THE MARROW (our latest feature film) than you know just how much I personally want to believe that monsters are real. So by my calculations… if monsters are indeed real and yet no children are being eaten by them… then clearly the childhood rituals of “jumping into bed”, “hiding under the covers,” “nightlights”, and even the ultimate secret weapon of “calling for Dad” must actually work, right? Of course it helped that I happened to have 3 extremely talented comedian friends that I knew I could call upon to portray the three monsters that I created for this year’s short.
Derek Mears (“Vylegoth” – the closet monster) and Colton Dunn (“Julian” – the under-the-bed monster) have become staples in ArieScope productions and fans are always happy to see them show up in our various projects. But this year we also got to initiate a new talent into our family and introduce fans to actress/comedian Kelly Vrooman (“Dorghast” – the ghost in the room). If you’re into the LA improv scene than perhaps you’re already familiar with Kelly. Perhaps you have children that watch “The Chica Show” on Sprout and you’ve seen Kelly there. But I’m guessing that for a lot of you, “MONSTER PROBLEMS” will be your introduction to Kelly Vrooman and her comedic talents.
Originally I cast Derek, Colton, and Kelly because of their strong improvisational skills as I assumed that a lot of the short would be improvised. But after the second draft of the script went around to the cast and each actor told me that they felt like the script was strong as is and should be adhered to (and no, they weren’t just sucking up as they had already secured their parts) … the idea of rolling and rolling on minutes or even hours of improv was thrown out. Since “MONSTER PROBLEMS” is conceptually such a dialogue heavy piece (much like 2007′s Halloween short “THE TIFFANY PROBLEM”) we already knew we were risking making a slightly longer short film than usual and adding MORE dialogue to have to somehow edit in or out wouldn’t have necessarily helped the piece. All three performers fell right into their rhythms and brought their own unique voices and brand of humor to what I had written for them so shooting was a breeze from that stand point. Sam Barratt (Will’s son) had made his first appearance in an ArieScope production during last year’s Halloween short and proved to be a complete natural which made the dreaded “oh no, we’re gonna have to work with a child actor in this piece” a non-issue. And then of course we had the added bonus of actor/comedian Jeff Lewis (“Dad”) coming to play with us and do a quick cameo for the short, making this his second ArieScope outing as he had already done a HILARIOUS episode of “HORRIFIED” (Episode 2) for us this past summer. Throw in my dog Arwen for good measure (she’s kind of mastered playing “the dog” at this point in her illustrious on-screen career) and we knew we had a rock solid cast to pull off this inherently ridiculous and childlike concept.
Robert Pendergraft (make-up FX) designed some really cool and unique make-ups for the three monsters and I loved how he created their looks based upon the character traits and personalities evident in their dialogue. ”Vylegoth” being more uptight and meticulous, “Dorghast” being more ghastly and impatient, and “Julian” being more innocent and carefree. Applying the three make-ups on such a tight schedule was no easy feat but thankfully Rob had make-up artist/jack-of-all-trades Scott Dawson come by to help us out. (This was Scott’s very first ArieScope outing, as well!)
As usual, I directed and Will Barratt was behind the camera where he had to battle the limitations of having to shoot in such a tiny room with no space to shoot or place lights like we would have ideally liked to. Hey, it wouldn’t be a Halloween short if that wasn’t the case, although I know Will is always grateful every time I don’t write a scene to take place in a tiny practical bathroom. (You’re welcome on that front, Will!) Jen Ramirez was handed the thankless job of working the boom mic on the short. Jen started working with us on Season 1 of “SCARY SLEEPOVER” learning, performing, and quickly mastering a variety of tasks from general PA work to sound monitoring to assistant editing. Holding down the bigger picture at large with everything from creative input to making sure everyone was happy, well fed, taken care of, and doing what they were supposed to be doing was producer Sarah Elbert. Sarah’s first ArieScope outing was all the way back on 2000′s short film “STAGEFRIGHT” and since then she has been a producer/actress/den mother on more projects than I can count.
While the actual filming of each Halloween short always takes place over just one night, the task of editing and finishing each piece is one that takes a lot more time. Taking the reigns on editorial was Sean Becker who has been a huge part of the family since 2011 when he first joined the team as a fellow director and supervising producer on HOLLISTON and who direct/edits every episode of “SCARY SLEEPOVER” and many of the episodes of “HORRIFIED”, as well. While the actual shoot for each Halloween short may only be one (long) night, post-production is a long and exhausting process. This past week has seen Sean and I living at the office and going around the clock getting the short finished and ready to launch. And I’m not kidding. I went home just to shower real quick yesterday and my cats no longer knew who I was.
So 12 people, 1 dog, a lot of hard work, a ton of hours, and A LOT of late nights later… the 17th annual Halloween short film has crossed the finish line and “MONSTER PROBLEMS” has taken its place in the long legacy of ArieScope’s fun yearly tradition. Hopefully our efforts made you smile and added some joy to your Halloween. After all, that’s the entire point. It means the world when we hear from fans who not only look forward to each year’s Halloween short film but who have made it their own yearly tradition to watch ALL of them over and over again each October. I know that I speak on behalf of everyone involved when I say that we do it all for you. Thank you for making these past 17 years possible and for making ArieScope Pictures such an unbelievably special thing to be a part of. Have the happiest Halloween ever and be sure to keep your covers pulled tight and your nightlight burning bright. We need you alive and can’t risk you being eaten by monsters…
Stay safe, sleep tight, and happy haunting this Hallow’s Eve!