Happy New Year! Now that there exists THE MOVIE CRYPT weekly podcast, blogging has become a lot less necessary or exciting- save for the entries where I share rare set photos, storyboards, or other information that I can’t “speak” on the podcast. Looking back at this year in blogs, the SPIRAL “Photos” blog and FROZEN “Storyboards” blog seemed to be the two most popular, but given how far and how fast the podcast has grown, that really only makes sense. So since I really didn’t blog that much all year, this year end wrap up is going to be a big one. 2013 was an incredibly busy and difficult time but also a milestone for both myself and all at ArieScope in an enormous way. In an effort to save your eyes and not make this entry a full-on novel (oh, who am I kidding- the end of the year blog is ALWAYS a novel and you’re gonna need 3 days, a case of 5-Hour Energy, and the skillful patience of a sea urchin to get through this blog alive), let’s get started and just “hit the highlights”, shall we? By the way, if you scream “HIT THE HIGHLIGHTS” in James Hetfield’s high pitched 1983 KILL ‘EM ALL voice on “Hit The Lights” it makes reading the rest of this blog extremely fun. And wicked metal.
“LARRY DAVID” GOES TO MOOREA
2013 began with a much needed vacation as Rileah and I adventured off to the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Moorea is a smaller, reclusive island near Bora Bora where the entire resort is essentially standing over the most beautiful natural aquarium that you’ve ever seen. We had a private bungalow over the water where you could literally roll out of bed and step right into the ocean. Sounds like paradise, right? For the most part, location wise- it truly was. But it definitely wasn’t the best vacation we’ve ever been on. We have only been able to take a couple of vacations in our decade together due to the demanding schedules that we both keep so I don’t have that many vacations to compare it to, but this one had more than its fair share of flaws. If I intended for this blog to be a comedy sketch I’d go into all of the things that went wrong on Moorea (starting with the fact that it POURED at least 6 and 1/2 out of the 10 days we were there or how the neighboring bungalow played “Gangnam Style” on a straight loop for 5 of those days or how I wound up having more “Larry David” moments in 10 days then most will have all year long) but I can’t explain how nice it was to be “technology-less” for ten days and how much needed the sleep and time together doing absolutely nothing were. Looking back, those 10 days probably got me through 2013 given the production marathon that I was coming off of and the crazy year I was about to embark on. I was literally in production from the start of 2012 through the day we left for Moorea on January 4, 2013. 2012 was ridiculous with finishing and releasing Season 1 of HOLLISTON, writing and living through the difficult production of HATCHET 3, writing and shooting Season 2 of HOLLISTON, writing a new draft of KILLER PIZZA yet again, post-production on Season 2- including the completion and launch of the Hour-Long HOLLISTON CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, shooting pieces for 2014′s DIGGING UP THE MARROW, and the appearances, tours, and promotion that go along with what I do for a living. Keep in mind that while the phrase “writing season 2 of HOLLISTON” may be merely five short words- that alone actually translates to writing 11 different screenplays (close to 600 pages of material) while being on location in a New Orleans swamp for the shooting of HATCHET 3. So by the time we sat down on the plane to Moorea… Rileah and I were both in need of time away in the most desperate way. Perhaps on one of the podcasts next year, Joe Lynch and I can both go into our various “vacation nightmares” (he has had plenty of his own disasters, too) and I can explain how I became “the Larry David of Moorea”, but for now I’ll just say that the island was gorgeous and the vacation was a great way to start 2013. I’m just saying that had I known that I would come home from the coast of Tahiti having watched it rain for a week, being extremely disappointed by the expensive resort’s service, and knowing all of the words to “Gangnam Style” – I would have stayed here in LA and gone to the movies instead. Much cheaper.
Moorea – January 2013.
POST-PRODUCTION ON HOLLISTON SEASON 2
Once I returned, the next five months were all about post-production on HOLLISTON. I was locked away with my fellow HOLLISTON director Sean Becker and editors Ed Marx and Josh Ethier as we edited and posted what is essentially 3 feature films worth of material in less time that you typically get to edit, score, sound design, and color time 1 feature film. (If you count the Christmas Special – 4 feature films.) It’s very hard, but it is also so incredibly fun and every day is a joy as we laugh our asses off while facing the difficult challenges that come with cutting hours and hours of footage together in the best way we can figure out how. I’ve said it many times, but the production of HOLLISTON (every single step of it- from writing through delivery of the final episodes) is such a wonderful experience in every way that I only wish every filmmaker could experience something like it over the course of their careers. There is literally never a bad day and I go home (briefly) each night excited to get right back into it as soon as possible the next morning. The show is a blessing and one that I will gravely miss should it not continue on for a third season. As you know, at this time we still don’t know what the future holds for HOLLISTON, but more on that coming up…
Sound mixing HOLLISTON Season 2 at Todd AO Sound Stage, Burbank – April 2013.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
In March, the most extensive tour I’ve done since first promoting HATCHET in 2006 began as I hit the road on and off for 9 straight months promoting both HOLLISTON Season 2 and HATCHET 3. It sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, in a lot ways it is very fun. Getting out there face to face and not just meeting the fans who make this all possible but also PERFORMING live shows for them (shows that I write from scratch and tailor to each city we perform them in) is an honor and the only reason my HOLLISTON cast mates and I are willing to do what we do. But if you think the endless trips to the airport, waiting in security lines, countless hours of uncomfortable plane trips, sleepless nights in hotel bed after hotel bed, not seeing your family or friends for weeks on end, and the debt (yes DEBT) that we go into by doing these tours is all “fun” you’d be very wrong. It’s a lot like being in a band where you deal with life on the road because those few hours that you get performing for and meeting the fans make every bit of hassle worth it. But unlike a band and unlike the other celebrity guests who appear at the conventions, screenings, and other events that we appear at… we don’t get paid a dime and go out of our own pockets for a lot of the expenses. Believe me, it’s our choice to do it that way so we have no right to complain. We’re lucky to even be wanted at these things and grateful for every fan that we have or that we win over by doing these free appearances. We could easily charge each fan for our time, our autographs, our pictures, or our performances… but we don’t. And we are the only ones who don’t charge. It’s just the way I do things right now because it’s what I personally believe. Trust me- I GET IT and those who charge have every right to do so. Some would say (and have said) that I’m an idiot for NOT charging (and if you could see what it ultimately winds up costing me by doing these tours you would likely say the same thing)- but it is my choice. I’m a story teller and all I want to do is both spread the word about the stories I have to tell and give back and thank the fans who support those stories. That’s why you only see me doing appearances when leading up to a release of one of my projects. I don’t do them unless I am actively promoting something new because I can’t afford to do them nor do I have the time to do them as I’m (thankfully) always working on the next thing. But the honest truth is that I’m at “this” level- whatever that level may be considered to each individual. While all of my films have had theatrical runs in the same theaters as the major studio pictures and while my TV show is available in all the same outlets and formats that any major network show is… what I don’t have (at this level) is real marketing dollars, serious publicity campaigns, or costly advertisements pushing and letting people know about my work or where to see it in the widest way possible. So I can either shrug my shoulders and say “not fair” as the efforts of my crew and I fizzle and die… or I can do something about it. To let down my guard and be completely honest, do I like having to be both the filmmaker and the salesman? Hell no. I would much rather watch millions get paid by a network or studio distributor to spread the word about my work, turn on the TV and see commercials for it on major network channels, drive down the street and see billboards on every corner, turn on the radio and hear the commercials every break, show up at the handful of junkets that a publicist arranged, do a few interviews, and keep working on the next project. But until that happens, this is my life and this is how I need to do things. And like it or not, this lifestyle is also exactly why my work has succeeded so far. It’s a tricky line being both the filmmaker and the “accessible guy who is always out there promoting” and one that I struggle to try and balance daily. And I don’t just mean the appearances or interviews. Chances are about 100% that if you’ve ever written to me (whether it be through fan mail or social networking) you’ve gotten a personal response. It has certainly taken its toll and I’m not quite sure just how many more of these tours I have left in me or how long I’ll be able to stay so completely accessible, but I’ve always done whatever I can do to support my own work if no one else is going to do it for me or help me with that crucial and pivotal aspect of it all. Had I not given all of myself to these various appearances, promotional campaigns, and tours… there would be no success in ArieScope Pictures, there would be no “franchise” in “the HATCHET franchise” and there may never have even been the 7 feature films and 2 seasons of a TV show that followed in “Victor Crowley’s” wake. If that’s what it takes to retain my independence and keep making the projects that I actually care about and that I actually want to make, than that’s what I’ll do as long as I can hold out. Here’s what can be heartbreaking about these tours though… Think about what you just read and now imagine what it feels like to be in whatever city I’m in that weekend, to give away a free poster or fancy 8X10 photograph (that I paid for), to spend however much time a fan wants with me, to sign for them and take a picture with them, to give them personal advice about navigating the industry or film school if that’s what they are asking of me… and then have them (with absolutely NO shame) tell me how they pirated all of my films on-line or how they stole HOLLISTON off of a bit torrent site because they didn’t want to pay $1.99 an episode (or $12.99 for the entire season) on iTunes or even $15 for an autographed DVD through this website. It’s like saying “my way of thanking you for all of this is to do my part to try and make sure that you never get to make another project again”. It’s infuriating, it’s crushing, it happens way more often than you would hope, and to be honest, it fucking hurts. Deeply and badly. Remember, the movie business is a business. If these projects don’t at least recoup their budgets or turn some kind of small profit for the powers that be that finance them- we don’t work again. However, the major silver lining in all of this is the enormous amounts of fans that will stand in line for hours of their lives just to get 30 seconds of one-on-one time to say “thank you” as they plunk down their theater ticket stub, DVD or BLU-RAY that they bought and ask me to autograph it. The countless letters and stories of how what I do helped someone through a hard time in either a very small or very big way. Whether it be your average fan, a physically handicapped person, a mentally challenged individual, an abused woman or man, the local “outcast” who is made to feel like a “loser” by their peers at school, the military service men and women… words can’t express what it feels like to meet these amazing people and hear what they have to say about my work or about me personally. Believe me, the honor is all mine. And those moments are what keep me going and the memories that I hold so dearly. To my fellow filmmaking peers who read this blog, the next time some executive makes your life hell, you hit a “wait, I’m broke again?!” dry spell, or some blogger or “critic” goes after you personally… think about that letter you have likely gotten from that stranger out there on the other side of the world who’s life you touched in a positive way and I can all but guarantee that things will come racing back into very sharp focus and perspective. The fans have given me more support and strength than anyone else has in this industry. Lest ye forget… fans make the industry go around and are as every bit as crucial a component of filmmaking as the original draft of your script itself.
Standing ovation in Cincinnati – March 23, 2013.
THE MOVIE CRYPT OPENED ITS DOORS
On Monday May 6th, THE MOVIE CRYPT podcast creaked open its doors and launched on Geek Nation and (save for holidays like July 4th or Thanksgiving) we haven’t missed a week since. Though Joe Lynch and I originally started the podcast with the intention of doing it for only the 10 weeks that HOLLISTON Season 2 would be airing and using it as a forum to discuss each episode and promote the series, the podcast quickly found a life far beyond what we ever expected and has since amassed an enormous and loyal following of listeners with its candid “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style filmmaker on filmmaker discussions covering all aspects of the movie making industry. Whether it be a director, writer, producer, actor, composer, cinematographer, costume designer, editor, agent, or even a rock star, THE MOVIE CRYPT is so honest and informative that by the 6th episode we started hearing from college students that their film school professors had recommended that they listen to the podcast each week. Given the terrific listenership we’ve acquired we now take the podcast very seriously, securing fantastic guests (both famous and soon to be famous as well as people who are so far behind the scenes that they don’t typically get the chance to be front and center discussing their craft for 2 full hours). Rather than use THE MOVIE CRYPT as a source of promotion of any kind we instead look to it as a “service” to those looking for advice, inspiration, or merely information about how the industry really works. Or at least… as much as we (and our guests) know about it. We’ve turned down guests asking to come on as publicity for an upcoming project’s release and we’ve found ourselves telling publicists that contact us looking to book their client that we simply don’t operate that way. We choose the subject matter, we invite the guests on, and we pick the topics based on what we think would be interesting or helpful to our audience and, of course, we also have fun doing an occasional “fan commentary track” to movies we love or by doing amusing bits like Bruce Fuery’s “Fists Of Fuery” where we poke fun at ourselves and keep it real the best way we know how. To quote both of our wives (who comically enough are the only two guests so far to cancel on appearing and need to reschedule on us) “did we really need another obligation added onto our schedules?” Most definitely not. I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep the podcast going on schedule while Lynch was away in Serbia shooting EVERLY for 3 months and while I was filming DIGGING UP THE MARROW at the very same time. But for both Lynch and myself, THE MOVIE CRYPT isn’t so much of an obligation as it is a hobby and something fun to do. And having a hobby is sadly a thing that went out the window for both of us many years ago and it is a welcome thing to invite back into our lives. At this point, Geek Nation still doesn’t pay us anything for our time or services and we’re free to end it all and hang up our microphones whenever we feel like it has become an obligation. We do it because we want to do it. So who knows just how long THE MOVIE CRYPT will last but for now it has been great fun and in some ways even a saving grace as these amazing public conversations with individuals we respect and admire helps remind both of us that we do still kinda love doing this for a living. For me personally, I actually take great joy in helping, advising, and teaching others trying to get their start and this is the best way I can do that on a larger level. It’s often said that “those who teach are those who failed” but I can say with full conviction that I actually look forward to one day teaching when I’ve lost my luster for this business. In fact, Will Barratt and I have been starting to talk very seriously about possibly opening ArieScope’s doors next year for classes on production, writing, directing, acting, producing, film financing, distribution, and cinematography. I was always disenchanted with professors I had who dished out “advice” and “critiques” but who had never actually made a movie, had never sold a script, had never been part of the actual industry, or had never even been on a real set in their lives. Wouldn’t it be great to take a class or workshop with people that have done it and are still doing it now? Someday when it all slows down and I’ve swallowed all of Hollywood that I can take, I look forward to settling down into teaching more permanently and changing the same kind of “teacher/student” situation I lived through (and paid top dollar for) for someone else. Not listening to THE MOVIE CRYPT yet? What’s wrong with you?! Listen on iTunes or right here.
Fan submitted drawing of Lynch and his Carebear.
BOSTON WAS STRONG
Back on April 15th at 2:49pm EST my hometown of Boston was rocked with tragedy when bombs went off at the finish line for the Boston Marathon senselessly killing 3 people and physically injuring at least 264 others. You know the story. I’ve already posted an entire blog dedicated only to this tragedy and the efforts I made in the wake of the marathon bombings to help my hometown, so I’d rather not get into all of the minutia of it again here as the details aren’t what matters for this year end wrap up. This 30 second TV commercial that ran on cable channels throughout New England explains what the actual events were, so just click here. Long story short, with the help of two incredible friends of mine on the ground in Boston (Gina Migliozzi and Stacy Buchanan) who deserve all of the credit in the world for the fundraiser’s success (along with the dozen or so horror fans that selflessly volunteered to help make sure things ran smoothly), I headed a 3-day event to raise money for the Governor’s ONE FUND dedicated to helping those most affected by the tragedy. It took place May 28th – May 30th starting out in my hometown of Holliston, MA (almost exactly where the starting line of the marathon has always been located on the Holliston/Hopkington line), moving on to Worcester, MA, and ending in Boston, MA (less than 2 miles away from the finish line and the spot of the tragedy itself). You can read the blog entry itself here to get all of the details of what the exact events were, but most importantly is that I appealed to my friends within the genre industry to help out in any way they could by donating items to be auctioned off at a “Boston Strong” rally/party that we held at the Worcester Palladium. Instantly I heard back and received amazing one-of-a-kind items from wonderful people like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Chris Columbus, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Sid Haig, Dee Snider, Dave Brockie, Tyler Mane, Sid Haig, Alex Pardee, Joe Hill, Zakk Wylde, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, Anchor Bay, Dark Sky, Metal Blade, Darren Lynn Bousman, Joe Knetter and many more. Genre websites like Dread Central, Shock ‘Til You Drop, Bloody-Disgusting, and so very many more all donated advertising space or posted articles to promote the event. Local businesses made donations, gave us space to hold these events, and helped promote the 3-day event. My friends Joe Lynch, Laura Ortiz, Kane Hodder, Mick Garris, Joel David Moore, Derek Mears, Zach Galligan, and Kip Weeks even went as far as to show up in person (many on their own dime), spending time with fans who turned out, generously signing autographs and taking photos for free, and helping me host the 3 nights of events. Fans turned out in droves and dug deep into their pockets to donate and help the cause in any way they possibly could. As crazy as it sounds, out of this horrific tragedy came the most memorable, touching, and wonderful experiences I’ve had not just this year but in my entire life. While we had ambitiously hoped to raise $10,000.00 after all of the expenses were paid out (locations, permits, security, shipping, etc) we wound up writing a check for $15,000.00 to the One Fund… all in the name of the horror community. Proving yet again that there is no community more caring, more generous, and more sincere than us horror fans. While our hearts may be bloody and a little twisted, they’re also enormous. It’s important to point out something about the fans that donated by attending the various events (all of which were priced to be as affordable as possible so that everyone could attend who wanted to), by bidding on items, or simply by dropping what they could in the various collection buckets we carried with us from each event to the next. These are not people that are wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and I can’t even tell you what it felt like to watch someone who is unemployed and in dire financial straits of their own drop their last $5 on something like the HOLLISTON Season 2 preview screening or $25 on something like the HATCHET series marathon. Together we helped those who needed help and stood united in the face of senseless hate and violence. I don’t remember much about my closing remarks on the final night except that they involved a lot of emotion. The attached video that was created by the volunteers who helped organize and run the event says it all. There are a lot of links included within this blog, but if you only click on ONE of them, click here. It’s only 4 minutes or so- but worth watching every second of.
Getting ready for Night 1 in Holliston, MA May 28, 2013
HOLLISTON SEASON 2 PREMIERED
On June 4th HOLLISTON Season 2 started airing on FEARnet. What followed were ten amazing weeks as each new episode aired and the cast and I conducted weekly “live chats” with the show’s rabid fan base and rejoiced in the incredible feedback we’d get on-line, in our fan mail addresses, and at the appearances that we continued to do across the country (and even across the Atlantic in the UK) all summer long. Season 2 is my absolute most favorite thing I’ve done yet and (in my opinion) the best work I’ve done so far. Despite the severely limited ways that there were available to actually watch it, the series continued to snowball and win over more and more people as it went along. On the convention circuit we consistently had some of the biggest turn outs and held our own against juggernauts like THE WALKING DEAD (the #1 show on television) that also tore through the convention circuit this past year with it’s undead version of Beatle-Mania. These days Season 2 is available on both Amazon streaming and iTunes where you can also watch the un-cut version of The Christmas Special- our best and most important episode yet in my opinion as it was the point in the series when HOLLISTON truly came into its own and abandoned all fears or cares for expectations as it moved into Season 2. We’re told that the DVD and BLU-RAY will be out in April of 2014 with Hulu and Netflix to follow. We also hope to soon hear word about when other countries worldwide will start getting the series.
The big, hard question that has made the last round of appearances we’ve done together as a cast quite difficult to get through is “Will there be a Season 3?” The only answer I have for you is that “talks have begun” and “I don’t know” …but if I had to be completely honest- I’d have to say that it is anything but a sure thing. It has nothing to do with the show itself. Even severely limited in ways to watch the show, our Season 2 finale placed #7 on GetGlue’s top trending shows on television when it aired on August 6th- beating out major network show’s like SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, THE VOICE, and BIG BANG THEORY and HOLLISTON is now far and away the most popular thing we’ve ever created at ArieScope not to mention that it remains to be FEARnet’s only original show. Just imagine how much higher the Season 2 finale may have placed had the show been available to everyone on all platforms at the same time. Now that’s just GetGlue which is far from an industry standard rating system, but when you’re on a network that is not yet part of the Nielson ratings system, you go off of whatever you can to gage viewership and GetGlue has been a terrific resource. The show’s fate depends entirely on budget decisions that are dictated by people that have never even seen HOLLISTON but whom decide what dollar amount they are willing to give places like FEARnet for a budget to work and remain operational with. Remember that FEARnet was not created to provide original content. The network was originally conceived to show old movies and re-runs of old, cancelled shows or foreign TV shows that they could acquire the rights to air for a low price. The only reason that HOLLISTON happened was because the network president (Peter Block) personally had a vision to do more with FEARnet than just show old movies and recycled TV programming. He believed and supported us all the way by being as creative as he could be with scraping together the budget we needed. FEARnet would of course love to be able to do more seasons (what good comes out of losing their only original show and going back to having no original shows?) so it’s nothing personal and not their decision should they be told they can’t continue doing it. As much as we ALL appreciate the letters and postings “demanding” a third season, I always ask that fans keep in mind that the desire for a third season is already there on all parts and that hassling or blasting the network does no one any good whereas simply THANKING them and showing your support could potentially (in some universe) go a lot further in providing them with ammo to prove why they need to continue their only show. But the grim reality is that SONY (their parent company) announced their plans for a 100 million dollar budget cut earlier this year and you can bet Lance Rockett’s pleather pants that FEARnet will be feeling the wraths of those budget cuts down there at the bottom of SONY’s priority totem pole. This is all just my personal perspective as there still is no ultimate answer and obviously I hope more than anyone that the powers that be find a way to continue on with HOLLISTON. It would be a crying shame to see it end so prematurely over their parent corporation’s inflicted budget cuts (especially when the budget for a full SEASON of HOLLISTON is less than half of what most other networks pay for just 1 episode of one of their own 1/2 hour comedy series)… but life isn’t fair and these business decisions are purely financial and not based upon the creative merits or the reception of the series so far. (Remember what I wrote earlier about internet piracy and how it destroys independent projects? You’re looking at a prime example right here. The sad truth is that FAR more people watch HOLLISTON illegally than do legally and if that were different… Season 3 would have already been shot by now.) Who knows what will happen?
Truth be told, if HOLLISTON should go away it will be like watching my dog get run over by a car in front of me and I’ll likely never fully recover from the heartbreak or be the same again. (Dramatic? Yes. But spend 13 years doing whatever you can to get a show made the right way and with the right people and then work as hard as I did pouring your entire heart and soul into something before you judge my sentiments.) For now, all any of us can do is wait and see. I’m constantly fielding questions about why we don’t just go to a different network or why we don’t “Kickstart” the next season so that everyone can get the show at the same exact time on all platforms- but the honest truth is that A) it’s not that easy, B) while we’re not yet completely counting it out- none of us involved particularly believe that in an age where so many fans steal and torrent their entertainment content that they’d ever step up and “Kickstart” enough for us to possibly continue the series at the same high quality and standard (even though if “Kickstarter” DID work- the idea of being able to release the show everywhere at the same time is very appealing to both us and to the fans of the show who struggle to find ways to see it), and C) while we are of course exploring other options “just in case”, we all still believe in and are loyal to FEARnet and would love to see the show continue airing there. It is an honor to be a network’s first original show and we all want to see FEARnet… a horror network… thrive and continue to grow. In a perfect world HOLLISTON would only be the first of many original shows on FEARnet and 3 years from now FEARnet would be available in every home that wants it. No one is giving up yet and we are trying every way we can to keep the lights on at “7 Francine Street, Apartment 13″. So keep your support coming, keep the letters going to FEARnet (1601 Cloverfield Blvd, Santa Monica CA 90404), and like the underlying message of the entire series says… don’t stop believing. We’re not. More on all of that when I know more, but there are some potentially exciting scenarios being discussed and no one is giving up hope or passively just waiting to see what may happen.
If all goes well we’ll soon be back together again on our sound stage in Hollywood shooting Season 3. I have literally gotten down on my knees nightly and prayed for that to happen- and I am not really a “praying” type of guy. Should the day come next year when I am standing on that set alongside Joe, Corri, Laura, Dee, Oderus, and Axl… when the lights come up on Travis Zariwny’s amazing sets… when producers Sarah Elbert and Cory Neal have done all of the hard work to get things ready to go and actually shoot… when Will Barratt is standing behind his wall of monitors looking at the camera shots about to happen…and when Sean Becker shouts out “Roll sound!”… and I hear the stage bell “RIIIIIING“, commanding silence from all present… I will cry my eyes out and force us all into a 30 minute delay in schedule while poor Desiree Falcon has to re-do my make-up all over again from scratch. It’s OK though as everyone else on that set will most certainly be crying with me.
The Holliston Christmas Special.
VICTOR CROWLEY FOUND HIS DADDY
Just 10 days after HOLLISTON Season 2 launched, HATCHET 3 opened on June 14th in a handful of US theaters and everywhere on VOD, eventually hitting DVD and BLU-RAY on August 13th and bringing my story of a misunderstood and tragically cursed ghost named “Victor” and a strong willed and ass kicking girl named “Marybeth” to an epic finale conclusion. I already posted a blog saying goodbye to HATCHET and all about the bittersweet 10+ year experience that living through the trilogy was for me. The extreme highs, the equally extreme lows, the triumphs, the regrets, the amazing people who held me up through it all and gave back everything I tried to give them and then some, the people (both Hollywood institutions and individuals who should be institutionalized) who tried to stop me or who took advantage of me, the people who betrayed and hurt me, and the fans that literally gave me everything I ever could have hoped for with their undying support and love along the way. Making a movie (let alone a trilogy) is a lot like living through a boxing match and when the final bell rings you feel like Rocky Balboa’s face on the inside and the last thing you want to do is throw out or take in all of those punches again. It’ll take many more years before I can really see the HATCHET experience through clearer, wiser eyes and properly reflect on the many great victories and the many great mistakes I may have made artistically and professionally in both business and in judgement. But now that at least a little more time has gone by and I’ve gotten to hear from so many fans just how pleased they were with the finale (though some are still in denial that it’s really over) I couldn’t be happier with how well HATCHET III was received around the world. So why end it now? Why not keep it going when the fans want more? Well, these three movies were always my plan. And I’m proud of all three of them. I don’t want to see the series continue on just because it could. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll feel the need to resurrect “Victor Crowley” and bring him back. But for now, if more HATCHET films happen any time soon it won’t be my personal choice nor will I be so heavily involved creatively. I’d like to go out on a high note and 20 years from now have HATCHET be considered a franchise that only got better with each film and that never overstayed its welcome or became a soulless cash grab. Ultimately, I’m just so grateful for everything that the series did for starting my career, the many other careers it helped play a hand in getting started on all levels both in front of and behind the cameras, the fans (Hatchet Army!) worldwide that embraced and loved “Victor Crowley”, and the place that HATCHET has secured in the horror history book’s chapter on slasher cinema… wherever the series may happen to fall in each individual’s own personal history book. I may always have “Victor Crowley’s” shadow cast over me in some way, but I’m OK with that. And I don’t just mean literally (there is a life-size “Victor Crowley” in my office and I’m writing this in his shadow right now), I’m talking about the perception that he continues to cast over me as well. But the point is, my story for HATCHET may have ended this past summer but “Victor Crowley” will always be a part of me. While I obviously wrote the movies and while I was standing there on set when he found his father, accepted his fate, and was finally set free from his curse- it was not until I watched the movie with an audience for the first time (May 30th in Boston, MA) that “Victor Crowley” was really dead and gone for me. Hearing that audience audibly gasp when he spoke on camera for the first time and the standing ovation that erupted at the end are certainly two highlights from the HATCHET experience that I’ll choose to hold on to. So long, “Victor Crowley”. May you rest in piece even though you’ll always be looking over my shoulder in one way or another. You’re always welcome there.
“A Boy And His Monster” – Photo taken during production of HOLLISTON Season 1
I FOUND MONSTERS
The process of making DIGGING UP THE MARROW first began back in January 2010 and we’ve been slowly chipping away at it since, but this past July and August we were finally able to buckle down and fully focus on finishing the bulk of the shooting. As you know by now, we’ve purposely been keeping this project as far under the radar as possible and we haven’t spilled too many details about it save for two different teaser posters and other little hints here or there. There were several reasons for that, the biggest one being that MARROW is a very unique film that’s stylistically unlike anything we’ve attempted before and even we weren’t entirely sure where exactly it was going to go before it ultimately reached its finish line. Therefore, everyone involved just felt much more free creatively if we kept details to ourselves rather than make announcements or commitments of any kind prematurely. We didn’t want to potentially find ourselves hit up by press looking for information, updates, casting info, stills, clips, or set visits. Seriously- want autonomy with a project? Throw out the term “documentary” and watch how much more freedom you get from prying eyes. Even our friends and colleagues knew next to nothing about it and assumed that we were just making a “documentary about monsters”- which is true. Sort of. There are even people who appear in the movie that didn’t know exactly what it was. They only knew the scenes they were in or the questions they were being asked on camera. For the longest time we were not even referring to this as a “movie” internally but instead as an “experimental art project”, mainly because the whole concept was inspired by art. Alex Pardee is my favorite living artist and being able to combine creative forces and share our mutual childlike love of monsters together was an absolute dream come true.
MARROW has been one of the most creatively liberating experiences I’ve had to date. It is pure wish fulfillment and I got to play “make believe” in a way I never have before. Just like the amazing experience that is making HOLLISTON, there was never a single bad day or bad experience in the entire making of this film no matter how challenging it was at times. Now that the movie has screened publicly (albeit an unfinished “work in progress” version) information is out there if you dig for it (pun intended) but more on that later when this obscenely long year-end recap winds down. What I can now tell you about DIGGING UP THE MARROW is that it’s a weird hybrid style of film that we’ve been jokingly referring to as a “manipumentary” – meaning a manipulated documentary. It’s a very unique style that merges a huge portion of reality and real life with a large portion of fantasy. So the term “mocumentary” doesn’t quite fit as a lot of what you’ll see in MARROW is actually real and while it is certainly funny at times, it’s not a straight-comedy like most “mocumentary” films are. While there are moments where we present “evidence” and therefore do not cut away or cut at all- it’s also not a “found footage” movie either. ”Found footage” inherently means that “what you are viewing is supposedly footage that was found and presented untouched” and normally consists of a lot of handheld shaky camera work that purposely looks and sounds amateur to help convince you it’s “real”. This movie is neither full mocumentary or found footage- so it’s been a head scratcher for those who have seen it as they can’t put it in an already established box or categorize it in an existing sub-genre. Now, I have not seen every single movie ever made so I don’t want to be so bold as to say “you’ve never seen anything else like it” as for all I know, maybe you and everyone else you know has seen ten films constructed in this very manner before. Therefore I prefer to just call it a “real life monster fantasy movie” and let you decide what category you’d personally put it in. In my opinion the category someone puts it in is irrelevant. In fact, seeing as how we won’t even be finished with post-production until February and likely won’t have any kind of information on where and when it will first premiere publicly or what the release plan is until much later on next year… let’s not worry about the details in this blog.
All that matters right now is that I spent my summer getting to work very closely with a very tight group of extremely talented people on a movie that we are all very proud of and extremely excited about. I spent many a night over July and August out in the woods looking for monsters and I had an absolute blast. I can safely say that I believe monsters are real, even more so now than when I first saw Alex Pardee’s artwork and when I first presented the screenplay to those hand picked to be involved with this special project. It’s a bold movie in that we used ourselves as central subject matter and as the entire conceit for the story’s jumping off point. Therefore, MARROW gives a very honest and open look into our real lives, mine above all. But once you see the movie you’ll understand why as the whole concept is built around a reality based core in an effort to make the audience truly let down their guarded suspension of disbelief and (hopefully) let a little bit of fantasy into their reality- just like we did in making this movie and telling this particular story. I’m so anxious for the world to see it so that I can talk about why we did things the way we did them and how exactly we did it, but to get too deep into the “making of” details this early would majorly spoil the magic that I hope we created for your entertainment.
Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you’ll hate it. We expect to get a variety of reactions. As I do with any film I make, I guide the editorial process along by showing various versions of the edit to filmmakers (other directors and producers mainly) that I respect and gaging their reactions and comments as I consider my next move in the mental game of chess known as “picture locking”. Watching those reactions was so much fun. The beauty of this particular film is that most everyone I screened it for knew absolutely NOTHING about it going into it so our “test’ screenings were way different than they were on any other project. On a creative level, this past summer and fall were some of the most exciting months I’ve had in my filmmaking career and it was both challenging and rewarding to push ourselves and take a risk making something as unique and personal as this movie. Oh, and as an actor- getting to act opposite the great Ray Wise in a leading role was as insanely fun as it was intimidating. More on all of this coming when the time is right and more about how our first public screening of the movie went towards the end of this blog.
The Marrow is real…
On September 30th, a WONDER WOMAN concept piece that Rileah starred in directed by Sam Balcomb (who is handling Visual Effects on DIGGING UP THE MARROW) hit the internet and absolutely blew up, raking in well over 4 million views in just a matter of 4 or 5 days. It was even featured on GOOD MORNING AMERICA as it truly was a phenomenon and proved that there is indeed a desire from comic and super hero fans to see “Wonder Woman” brought to the big screen if handled properly. Now obviously I knew all about this project for many months before it was unveiled. I watched Rileah work her ass off and adhere to one of the strictest and most hardcore diets ever while she worked out like crazy and bulked up pure muscle over a 10 week period to prepare for the role. One of the many things I find inspirational about Rileah is that she never, ever quits or backs down from a goal that she sets for herself to accomplish. I do some pretty hard core dieting and working out to get in shape before each season of HOLLISTON, but nothing even close to what she committed to and accomplished with this project. In July when she cos-played at San Diego Comic Con in the actual “Wonder Woman” costume that she wore for the shoot, she was literally mobbed by people trying to get pictures with her in the outfit. We all knew then that the finished piece would get some traction, but no one expected the immediate and insane response that it inevitably got. I’m incredibly proud of Rileah, Sam and all of the other talented people who contributed to making “Wonder Woman” look like a movie worth making. Watching this project tear up the internet was most definitely a highlight of my year even though I personally had nothing whatsoever to do with the making of it. Haven’t seen it yet? Watch it here.
My Wonder Woman.
FEAR AND LOATHING
In September I went on my annual writing retreat to Las Vegas where I locked myself in a suite for 5 days and did nothing but write. I actually debated including this in my highlights only because without discussing what I was actually writing I know that even bringing this up may seem like a tease to some, but I assure you that there is really no need to get into the specifics. This script could wind up being a movie I make in the next few years, it could wind up being a movie someone else makes, or it could wind up on the shelf collecting dust for all I know. Hopefully I’ll finish it soon, but it’s an idea that first came to me back in 2004 (while at a Type O Negative show in San Diego, of all places) and that I had attempted to write that same year after doing a shit ton of research and preparation. However, the process wound up causing me to have such bad night terrors that I filed it away deep in my closet for almost a decade. As with anything anyone writes, you never know if it’s going to be any good until you’ve finished a draft worth sharing so for all I know this could turn out to be complete garbage. But it was the first time in 4 years that I had the opportunity to go write something new that I was writing “just to write” as opposed to something with a deadline or pending production timeline attached to it. In 2010 I wrote DIGGING UP THE MARROW but since then it’s been countless drafts of KILLER PIZZA (more on that in a bit), over 1,000 pages of HOLLISTON, 3 Halloween shorts, and HATCHET 3. This new script has no expectations looming over it yet and so the process of just seeing where it goes and what happens with it has been extremely welcome. So why Las Vegas? For some reason Vegas has just always worked for me as a writing oasis. To many writers it would seem like the absolute worst decision to go on a writing retreat in a place where you have every distraction in the known world surrounding you, but what I find helpful is that there is no sense of time in Las Vegas. If it is 3am and I’m hitting a wall, I can go for a walk and clear my head for a bit. Play a slot machine for 15 minutes. Get something to eat. However if I was in a remote cabin somewhere and I hit a writing wall at 3am, I’d panic and likely pace the floor all night long feeling desperate that nothing is happening and that the pages aren’t spilling out of me. To each their own, but for me Las Vegas has always brought me good writing luck and this trip was no exception.
My hotel room desk in Las Vegas – September 2013.
THIS IS HALLOWEEN
If you know enough about me to actually read my blog (especially this obscenely long entry that has likely seen you age ten years and possibly seen your kids head off to college in the time that has transpired since you first began reading it) than you likely know that I live for Halloween all year long. Whether I’m counting down the days on Twitter or posting pictures of our decorations (always up by Labor Day), Halloween is my Christmas. This year was definitely one for the books as I did every single “haunted” event that LA had to offer from “Halloween Time At Disneyland” to “Knott’s Scary Farm” to “Universal Halloween Horror Nights” to “The Griffith Park Haunted Hayride” to “Delusion” to “Blumhouse’s The Purge: Fear The Night”. I even made it to Syracuse, NY to screen my movie FROZEN, to Boston for a HOLLISTON cast appearance/performance at “Rock And Shock”, to Atlanta for a HOLLISTON cast appearance/performance at “Walker Stalker Con” and I also took in a Megadeth show the week of Halloween itself. But the biggest festivity of all was making the 15th annual ArieScope Halloween Short Film (“Halloween Hugs”) which was some of the most fun I had all year. If you missed it, you can watch it here.
Shooting “Halloween Hugs” – October 2013.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had any sort of update on KILLER PIZZA, a project that began for me 4 years ago this February and that has run the gamut of development, to excitement, back into development, to being picked up by a major studio (MGM), back into re-development with countless new drafts, taken away from the studio again and put into turn around, back into development, to “about to happen”, and then back into development again. Through all of this, I have stayed on as the sole writer and the script has only gotten stronger and stronger with each step. As I’ve said before, KILLER PIZZA is not an ArieScope project but one that I am writing and (it seems very much like, at this point) directing for producer Chris Columbus’ 1492 Films, producer Raffaella DeLaurenttis, and CJ Entertainment- so it is not my place to say much at all about it until they do. But I know that many of you have been waiting for an update on this for a long time now and that it has been frustrating wondering whatever happened to 16 year old Toby Magill and the monsters he was supposed to spend the summer fighting. Just a few weeks ago I was called in for a meeting with all involved and it appears as though this project is not only still very much alive, but that it could even start rolling cameras next year. I saw the first pass at a shooting schedule, some of my key crew members were contacted for rates and availability, and the monsters have started to be designed. You could almost call it “pre-production” but not quite. Is it really going to happen in 2014? God, I hope so. Though you’d think that by now I’d be over it and disenchanted with the whole thing, if you could only meet the people I am so fortunate to be working with on this project you’d know why I’ll continue to believe in this movie and remain excited about it no matter how long it takes to actually get started. I am getting to work with the best of the best and this process (though long) has been fantastic. I have great faith that 2014 will be the year of my monsters. Not just the ones (hopefully) being brought to life on screen in KILLER PIZZA but the ones I already captured on screen from deep within THE MARROW… which brings me to my final highlight of the year…
KILLER PIZZA is… coming?
I BROUGHT MONSTERS TO TEXAS
To end the year with a bang, I tested my luck and sent an unfinished version of DIGGING UP THE MARROW (again, the film won’t likely be 100% finished with post-production until February) to critic Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News fame and wanted to know if he thought it might make a worthy addition to his 15th annual 24-hour film fest birthday bash known to die-hard cinema geeks as “Butt-Numb-A-Thon”. It all happened very fast. I was contemplating just how to best first unveil this film to the public after keeping it quiet for so long and all of us involved were just itching to find a cool way to bring the movie out of the ArieScope edit suite and show a real audience what we had up our sleeves even though the film was not yet color-timed, sound designed, scored, or containing the final visual effects. I wish I could say it was my great idea to slip the film to Harry but it was really Joe Lynch’s idea. ”You want a cool way to unveil the movie for the first time? How about Butt-Numb-A-Thon?” If you’ve never been to Butt-Numb-A-Thon or never heard of it, Lynch was so completely right. There really is no cooler event to first show your film at. BNAT is a 24+ hour festival of films that Harry personally programs each December at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX with the whole fun of it being that the audience attending has NO idea which films the line-up will actually contain or what they will be seeing at any point in the marathon. The films programmed range from silent black and white classics to brand new never-before-seen Hollywood blockbusters. Over the past 15 years many films have played there before playing publicly anywhere else. Films like AVATAR, THE HOBBIT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, KING KONG, KNOCKED UP, and even my movie FROZEN secretly all played at BNAT first. Simply google “Butt-Numb-A-Thon” if you want to see the whole history of it and the lists of incredible films that have played there, but the point is that it is truly, truly an honor to have your film in BNAT. This year DIGGING UP THE MARROW played alongside premiere screenings of Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES, and Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG as well as classics like a 70mm print of THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY and Robert Altman’s POPEYE just to name a few.
Now I used the term “tested my luck” because to most any filmmaker it could be considered suicidal to send an unfinished version of your movie to a guy who is considered by most to be the biggest and most influential critic on the internet. But even given everything I have said about how unusual of a movie THE MARROW is, I was confident enough that a guy like Harry who has seen it all would very likely appreciate this picture, especially given that if you’re well read in his reviews, interviews, and articles- he’s basically a giant 5-year old at heart and loves monsters as much as the late, great Forry Ackerman did. (Shame on you if you don’t know who Uncle Forry was and what he meant for fantasy, sci-fi, and horror culture. Look him up!) I obviously can only speak from my own experiences with critics but for the most part whether they have loved or hated my work I feel like they’ve almost always been fair in their personal opinions on me and on my work. (I’m only talking about those that I consider to be actual professional critics – not just anyone with a website. I’m sure you can tell the difference between the two.) And yes, though I have usually lucked out and gotten very positive reviews for my work, I am also referring to some of the bad reviews I have gotten, too. They were usually fair opinions. If you’re going to be a filmmaker for a career, especially if you’re going to work in genre films, you HAVE to be prepared for a wide range of reactions to your work and know how to take it with a grain of salt- even if deep down that salt sometimes feels like it was harshly rubbed into a freshly open wound and stings so wicked bad that you want to curl into a ball and pout about it for a few days. That’s life. For every competent voice who loves your movie there will be someone out there with an equally competent voice that absolutely hates it. And let’s not even get started on the countless more who can’t even spell or form a proper sentence who will hate on you and your work, too. For instance, at the time of this posting- 3,760 intellectuals have rated Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK a “1″ or “Worst. Movie. Ever.” on the popular film database website IMDB which many within the industry refer to as “the place where intelligent conversation goes to die.” (Note to first time filmmakers, don’t be tempted by curiosity and just avoid places like IMDB like the plague.) That’s cinema, folks- and every opinion is a valid one so long as they are fair, they state their opinion soundly, and they don’t take cheap shots or make it either a personal attack or a fanboy celebration- whichever reaction it may be. They’re just opinions. But critics come with the territory, like it or not. Is it fair that you can spend years of your life trying so hard to create something new against impossible odds only to have someone shit all over it publicly because they didn’t personally like it? Yup. Is it fair that they can say whatever they feel like but that you cannot defend yourself, respond, retort, or even correct incorrect details in their review? You know what? YES. I’m not saying you have to like it, but you do have to accept it and learn how to deal with it if you’re going to do this. The dart board can’t throw darts back and defend itself. It’s just the rules of the game, so grab a helmet, identify the few voices you respect enough to read, and tune all of the rest of it out. Way easier said than done, mind you. While I would hope that most critics will appreciate the stylistic or personal risks I have taken with DIGGING UP THE MARROW, I can tell you right now that not everyone is going to. Some are going to see that I used my real life as the core device to mix a very honest reality with a fantasy world and only dwell on that aspect. Spoiler: there are exactly three minutes of setting-up my actual real life at the beginning of the movie. Who I am, what I do for a living, how passionate the genre fans are -it’s all part of the story and the same exact details you’d need to establish even if it was a fictional filmmaker/protagonist and not a real one. But there will inevitably be some bitterness over that when the movie starts screening because, well… how dare I? You’ll see what I mean. But I came to terms with all of that when I committed to this idea and typed the first word of the script and all of us who worked on this film are ready for it.
The point in all of this is is that when I mentioned to a few close filmmaker friends that I had mailed DIGGING UP THE MARROW to Harry Knowles unfinished, they were very, very worried for me. What if he hated it and killed it before it was even completed by trashing it to other influential people he associates with? I mean, we already knew going into this movie what we’d be up against- so why invite it to potentially happen so prematurely? But the thing is, and again- this is all just from my personal experiences with Harry and most every other professional critic like him, he takes absolutely no joy in trashing someone’s work and I trusted that even if he did absolutely abhor my film, he would wait until he saw a finished version to cast his final judgement or at the very least hold back his review until the movie was being released. But thankfully, he didn’t hate it. In fact, he liked DIGGING UP THE MARROW enough to program it in BNAT which says a lot. It was an honor to be there in Austin not only sitting among so many incredible fellow film geeks but also having contributed a movie to the line-up itself. Because the version of MARROW that we showed was still unfinished, I asked the audience to hold back on actually reviewing it publicly, though I added that people were welcome to say whatever they wanted to say about what they personally thought of the film- if they enjoyed it or not. Thankfully everyone who was there has honored that request so far, giving me faith that if it’s the right audience, maybe it is actually OK to share my work early again some day. The BNAT audience is possibly the most hard-core and film savvy audience out there as it takes serious commitment to sit your ass down in a theater for 24 or 25 hours straight and watch whatever movies you’re going to see, so again I felt confident sharing the film early with that specific crowd, as discriminating as their tastes may be. So when can YOU see it? That is a question I cannot yet answer but my very strong advice would be to stay far away from any information about THE MARROW until the time comes for you to see it yourself. Don’t let anything spoil it save for the posters or trailers that WE create for you and that we WANT you to see before seeing the actual movie. You’ll thank me later, promise.
Point is, this BNAT screening was absolutely unforgettable for Alex Pardee and I and we had a blast watching and listening to people respond the way that they did. With a movie as weird as this one is, you just never know how people will react. I mentioned earlier in this blog (maybe 4 or 5 days ago back when you first started reading it) that DIGGING UP THE MARROW is a personal movie in the fact that we used ourselves (myself and cinematographer Will Barratt especially) as protagonists in the film in an effort to mix the very reality that we had full access to with the fantasy world that we created. The entire conceit of the film and the story itself rely on this choice and it would not have been the movie it is any other way. So we had no idea… Will they accept what we’re attempting to do? Will they enjoy it? Will it resonate with them? Will they understand why we made the choices we made and appreciate those choices? Most importantly… will they believe? I’m proud to say that we flew home from Austin absolutely overjoyed with the response that we got from that first ever surprise preview screening. It played amazingly well- and how your film PLAYS is more important than anything else. You can feel if a movie is working or not simply by sitting in and watching the audience very carefully. But truth be told, BNAT was merely one successful screening and therefore we can’t let ourselves start feeling too confident just yet. Believe me, some very sour and personal trashings from the on-line critic community are coming my way next year with this movie- you’ll see. But we ended 2013 on an extremely high and triumphant note. We’re all even more fired up to attack the finishing process and we’re all incredibly excited to screen the movie again as soon as the opportunity arises. I can’t wait to be able to discuss it with audiences (which is a big reason why Alex Pardee and I are considering touring with it – so that we can bring not only the movie but also perhaps the original art exhibit and ourselves to each city that we can get to) but as of this time I have no clue what our release plans will be exactly for this film or how those plans will coincide with our schedules on other projects.
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, TX – December 7, 2013.
2013 wasn’t all creative accomplishments and hard work that paid off nor was it all triumphs and victories. This year also held the culmination of some harsh life lessons and realizations ripe with moments of painful clarity that sucked to live through but that I’m grateful to have experienced and to be rapidly approaching the other side of. Especially through doing THE MOVIE CRYPT, which has become almost a weekly classroom “therapy” session of sorts, I feel like I learned more about myself and the movie business in this past year than I learned in the previous 5 years combined. Looking forward to 2014 and beyond I can only hope to better myself both as a human being and as a professional, to create an even better and healthier environment for myself to live and work in, to learn better ways to make my decisions, to better handle the choices I’ve made for myself, to learn better ways to time manage it all, to continue to eliminate negativity from my life, and to continue to learn how to avoid a continued cycle of bad decision making- mainly, to start leading with both my heart and my head … not only my heart.
Many who read this blog are aspiring filmmakers or working (perhaps even struggling) filmmakers, so I’ll offer the following for your consideration… Not happy in your current situation? Change something. Not later… now. Do you feel abused, unappreciated, or taken advantage of by someone, some thing, or by the environment your living, working, or merely existing in? Stand up for yourself and sweep your life’s deck of the problems and negative people if it is an option for you to do so. If it is not an option… just walk the fuck away and move on to greener pastures. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone were always happy with you? Sure. But it’s OK if everyone isn’t always happy with you, too. You’re only cheating yourself when you do things to make other people happy. Especially if those things are costing you grief in the long run. I write all of this in vague generalities because I’m not talking about my own painful lessons as a means for airing grievances (of which I am happy to say I no longer have any of, not to mention that if airing grievances was my intention I would name names or specific projects- all of which I’ll save for the inevitable book one day) but because I believe sharing my experiences may indeed help a few (if not a lot) of people who are living through very similar situations. Hey, if I’m not going to use this blog as an open and honest diary of shared personal experiences or if I’m only going to talk about how great things are, what’s the point?
I was the recipient of many long overdue gut punch lessons this year and I want to share the perspective that I gained in actual day-to-day career situations, both personal and professional. Most importantly, as you’ll see, is that I’m talking about the things that I did wrong. A much older, wiser, more experienced filmmaker than I proposed the following question to me earlier this year when he observed me being treated in an offensively unfair way by underserving people whom I had empowered by giving away far too much of my good nature to: “Who’s wrong in the situation… the shark who bit the guy or the guy who swam with the shark?” It’s an obvious and common anecdote but one I feel is worth sharing and contemplating as it sums up my own bad choices and my own mistake ridden patterns perfectly. The shark is doing what is in its nature to do. It can’t help itself. Even if it tried as hard as it could not to bite the guy, even if it promises that it has changed and it won’t bite the guy again, whether it feels justification or horrible regret for biting the guy… at the end of the day… it is still a shark. However, it’s the guy who thought he could change the shark’s behavior, who thought that he could be the one guy that could swim with the shark and not get bit, who had the audacity to invest his time and effort in either the shark or the shark-like environment that he willingly put himself in… he’s the one who fucked up and deserves the blame. After all… (wait for it… wait for it)… he knew it was a shark.
Painfully obvious, right? And by “sharks” I most certainly do not only mean people but also situations. When I applied this message to some of the bites, back stabs, abuse, or bruises I’ve received from various people, endeavors, and situations over the past few years- the truth is that they all came from situations that I willingly put myself in, from people I willingly worked with, helped, or gave too much of myself to because- even though I knew the potential pitfalls I thought that the pitfalls wouldn’t happen to me and I felt as though I could navigate them. I felt invincible. They were all situations that I created myself because… well, honestly (and sadly) because I wanted to be nice and because I wanted to be liked. My fault- 100%. Now, sometimes in life you won’t have a choice but to live through a difficult process. The waters you’re swimming in have sharks everywhere you look or you’re living/working in a place built by and controlled by sharks and you legitimately don’t have another choice. Perhaps the shark infested stretch of water you’re swimming in is literally the only path to get to that next body of water you’re trying to get to or perhaps it is just a necessary step that you simply can’t avoid in “paying your dues” on your way up. Fair enough. But at the very least, know how to identify the sharks and know how to identity a shark-like situation and the bites will in fact hurt far less. Keep your eye on the sharks so that you’re ready for the attack when it inevitably comes your way and so that you’re not shocked that it even happened to you in the first place. If you can possibly swim away first…if it’s an option to get away from or to completely avoid a potentially painful situation… do it. And when the day comes that it is your own body of water that you control and that you created for yourself to exist in, be vigilant at keeping the sharks out and don’t allow anything or anyone in that isn’t making your environment a better, happier, and more productive place. This is your life, your space, your work, and most of all your heart. Defend it- vehemently. Learn from your past mistakes in judgement and how to identify a shark, a parasite, or other negative person/thing when you see one coming and eliminate it out of your life immediately.
It isn’t easy and I’m still learning how to better handle it myself. I’d be lying to you if I tried to tell you that I haven’t made the same mistakes again and again and again. I’ve had negative experiences and then gone right back to working within those very same circumstances again for the next project and the one after that and the one after that. I was too weak and insecure to believe it could get better or that I even deserved any better. I was grateful for whatever I got because this industry constantly reminds you that “you’re lucky to even be here or to have this opportunity in the first place”. Sure, it’s true that it is nearly impossible to actually get a project off the ground and of course it is true that you’re fortunate each time a project actually comes to fruition at all. But until you learn how to stand up for yourself, the situations won’t get better. Sometimes “standing up for yourself” may mean walking away from a project that you really want to do. Lesson learned, better to hold your project back and wait for a healthier and safer scenario than to willingly step into a bad situation that you already know better than to step in to.
I’ve made the same mistakes with people, too. I once had several different financing entities (all places or resources that I had worked with famously before) say that they would only finance and distribute a project if a certain player on the proposed team was not going to be involved. Better yet, the individual in question told me horror stories about every single person they had ever worked with. All of their past experiences had ended in fire and brimstone. Now a healthier, more confident, clearer thinking professional would realize that if the very people that they enjoyed working with are all refusing to get involved with someone… and that this same someone has had a bad experience on every project they’ve ever worked on- maybe there is an obvious common denominator at play. How many more red lights or signs from God did I need to realize what I was potentially getting myself into? But no, because of my own insecurity and desire to be liked by everyone, those warnings only made me feel pity for that individual and made me want to help them finally have a good experience rather than slapping me in the face and convincing me to not just walk… but RUN away before it was too late. I learned the lesson the hardest way possible, took years off my life, and subjected my crew- my family- to an absolutely torturous experience that some of them have still not forgiven me for. ArieScope is my home. A home that I built from the ground up. The various projects and the people I work with- they are my life. Yet I invited in a shark that almost (almost) destroyed it all for good. But I can only blame myself. I knew it was a shark. I took for granted that it is my key responsibility as a leader to protect my family and I lead us into a bad situation all because I wanted to be nice to someone that had more warning signs attached to them than a pack of cigarettes.
Another example of foolish mistakes I’ve made that I could have avoided… years ago there was someone in my fold (who for the purposes of this story will actually represent elements of several different people) whom I always found myself having to fight for to work on a project because the powers that be simply didn’t trust, like, or want them there. I bent over backwards even though this person consistently let me down, took me for granted, did their work at the last minute, and even bad mouthed me behind my back. I would go as far as to make excuses for this person even though they literally only had work at all because I created it for them. Why did I do it? Because I felt bad for them, I pitied them, I wanted to help them change, and because I didn’t want to be the bad guy. But I mainly did it because I felt like I owed them something for having worked on earlier projects for little to no pay. These were all self-created obligations that I imposed on myself and these were continued mistakes that I made because I didn’t want to face the confrontation of saying “no”. In the end I wasn’t helping anyone. I wasn’t helping this person, I wasn’t helping the projects, I wasn’t helping my career, I wasn’t helping anyone else’s professional opinion of me, and I was certainly only hurting myself as it added loads of grief to each already difficult situation I was facing. But even after all of that- it literally took this individual trying to extort money out of me for me to finally snap and see the light that everyone else around me could see coming since Day 1. I felt obligated to this person (and several toxic others just like them) because I looked at it as though they were helping me when in fact they were only helping themselves.
Aspiring filmmakers- take note. There is a feeling you will inevitably acquire on your first few endeavors that you owe the world and your life to everyone on your first few projects because they are working for little or no pay. Wrong. They wouldn’t have worked on those projects unless they were also getting something out of them- even if it’s just a credit, the experience, the pay that they need at the time (however high or low that pay may be), or the opportunity to “network” and prove themselves for the bigger projects hopefully coming your way in the future. If they had a better option- believe me they would take it and just wish you all the best. If you think they’re choosing to work on your project because they are some kind of “saint”- ask yourself what else they would be doing if not working on your project. Look at their other credits and their other available opportunities besides the ones you are creating and providing for them. There is a reason they are sticking around and it’s not because they just want to help you. They are either gaining or expecting to gain something. This was a lesson that it took me far longer to learn than it ever should have and I continued to keep people along for this difficult ride because I felt obligated to do so, even though I knew there were better, healthier options available to me. But again, it was my fault and I only did it because I was afraid they wouldn’t like me if I said “no”. I had a hero complex born out of vulnerability and insecurity. I wasn’t a “hero” at all. I was a fool.
Even more unforgivable were the times that I handed somebody something that they had not worked for in the same ways that I had worked for those opportunities myself. In my situation, I did things like that simply out of the joy I got from doing them. It feels amazing to do someone you like a favor, but even though your intentions are good, they can also prove selfish on your behalf if not as equally sound as they are in business as they are in heart. Each person’s journey is going to be different, that’s a given. But when you give someone an opportunity (whether it be as seemingly insignificant as a PA job or as significant as reaching out your hand to help them skip over some very important steps that they would have normally had to take), give that opportunity to someone who has done exactly what you’ve done to get to where you’re currently at and the chances are much stronger that it will be a positive experience for all involved. You’re not doing anyone any favors if you do it any other way. It’s unfair to both of you as you’re setting that individual up to let you down no matter what. Inevitably you’ll become disenchanted with them if they don’t exude the same work ethic that you display and even worse, you’ll eventually resent them because you’ll start feeling like they didn’t earn what you gave them the same way you had to earn it. And on the independent filmmaking scale, these will most likely be friends that you’re trying to help meaning that now you’re risking destroying that friendship or scarring it permanently. It’s not about who is right or wrong. Everyone is different and everyone is right in their own mind. It’s about finding the right matches. For instance, if your personal path to success materialized before you rather quickly, chances are good that you’ll have a positive experience with most anyone you help as your expectations won’t be so unrealistically high. But if you’re someone who it didn’t come easy to, who suffered and scratched and clawed to get to where you’re at… don’t help anyone with grand gestures who didn’t share your exact same path or you’ll only both regret it in the end. It’s not their fault that they didn’t go through the same experiences that you had to go through and you can’t be shocked when at some point in the process they actually begin to feel entitled to what you gave them or take it (and you) for granted.
Think about it in more basic terms. The kid who’s parents bought him an Xbox One this Christmas won’t ever feel the same way about the gaming system as the one who will be shoveling driveways and mowing lawns all year long in order to get an Xbox One next Christmas. Neither kid’s path to their Xbox One was right or wrong and I’m not saying either is to blame for the way they got their Xbox One systems. I can personally like the kid who gets handed whatever he wants just as much as the kid who has to work longer and harder to get the same exact thing (or opportunity)… but what I’ve learned about myself is that I can identify and co-exist on a more productive and healthy level with the kid who put his time in shoveling the driveways and mowing lawns because that’s what I did, too. People’s circumstances and journeys to get what they want are massively different- and therein lies the ultimate disconnect. Going back full circle to the whole swimming with sharks analogy… swim with people who shared your same journey, help those who swam where you swam, and you will find that you’ll have a much better swimming experience together.
I’m proud to say that as painful as it was, I eventually learned to start identifying and stop repeating my bad habits as often as I was repeating them. I’m getting better at it and I hope to make those mistakes far less in the future. Invest in the right people and invest your time, your effort, and your talent in the right situations, projects, and environments. There are way, way more good people and healthy situations out there, way more “good fits”, than there are bad ones. If you keep finding yourself hurt in situations, feeling badly, feeling used- be willing to figure out and adjust what you’re personally doing wrong and don’t blame anyone else for what they did to hurt you if you created the opportunity for them to hurt you in the first place. You’ll find that more often than not- bad experiences do not just come out of nowhere. They were there waiting all along in a scenario that you provided and made possible. Blaming the “sharks” and crying that it’s unfair or that you didn’t deserve to get bit by one of them will get you nowhere. Create a good place to exist and learn how to discover safe people to swim with and watch how much better and productive your life starts to become. It may be as huge as a career-defining adjustment (walking away from a project or choosing to work with different people) or as small and simple as opting out of a specific evening’s social setting, but whatever it is- if it hurts you, if it annoys you, if it fucks with your flow, if it takes excessive time away from being creative, if there is a place you’d rather be or people you’d rather be with… admit what you’re doing wrong and do something about it. Life is too short to share with the wrong people and everyone isn’t always going to like you or appreciate you. Throw a shark or parasite out of your personal space or simply stop working in a situation filled with sharks or parasites… and they will undoubtedly hate you for it. It will certainly hurt. I’ve literally moved mountains for people or handed them everything I could only to have them literally HATE me when the day came that I stood up for myself or stopped. It sucks, but in the end you’ll be OK, I promise. Don’t waste your hate on anyone and remember that forgiveness is more productive than grudges. Don’t do anything out of self-imposed obligations or because you like being the good guy and want to be someone’s hero. You’re not actually helping them and you’re most certainly not helping yourself. So don’t wait to cut out the bad. Make changes today.
Happiness starts with you alone.
Other than finishing DIGGING UP THE MARROW, so much of what I’ll be doing in 2014 is still up in the air and can’t be confirmed or announced publicly just yet. But things are looking really good and I have my hopes up uncontrollably high. This coming year could very well be the biggest and best year for me yet, but you never really know until it’s over. For all I know, it could wind up being the worst year ever but I have faith. For me, this holiday break will be spent recovering, resting up, reconnecting with friends, getting healthy, and getting ready for all that is hopefully to come next year. I’ll be logging in many mindless hours on CALL OF DUTY, reading books, watching movies, and spending time at home with my family, where I belong and where I very much need to be right now. I know 2013 was a difficult year for so many people but tomorrow is always a new day and tomorrow always has the potential to change everything and be better. I wish you all the most Merry Christmas ever and a wonderful New Year. Thank you for being here, for being a part of my life, for all you’ve done to support my work, and for being the absolute greatest, most loyal, most passionate, and most generous friends and fan base anyone could ever hope for. If I could give each one of you a big wet sloppy kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I would. But since I can’t, I’ll instead leave you with a heart warming and deeply touching song that I wrote this year… just for you. Click here.