Tag Archives: DVD

A Lovecraftian TV show?

Today, I wanted to share with you  what I think is a great idea. The folks over at the Lovecraft E-zine have decided to go ahead and make a H.P. Lovecraft-inspired TV series called “Whispers from the Shadows”. They’re raising funds on kickstarter.com, and you can be a part of it.

The rewards are fantastic. And the series is being made with professional horror movie actors. You can even get an Associate Producer credit if you pledge enough.

In case you have been hiding in a cave since the 1980s and don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is, he is considered the father of weird fiction. Lovecraft was unappreciated in his lifetime, yet he is probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th  century, inspiring everyone from Guillermo del Toro to Stephen King.

Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraft

These people need pledges, and the deadline is looming. So do yourself a favour and head over to Kickstarter and see for yourself how cool this is. The deadline is 2nd June.

Go check it out here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marxpyle/whispers-from-the-shadows-lovecraft-inspired-short/posts/853536?at=BAh7CDoMcG9zdF9pZGkDIAYNSSIIdWlkBjoGRVRpA2lwoUkiC2V4cGlyeQY7BlRJIhgyMDE0LTA2LTIzIDE3OjEyOjM0BjsGVA%3D%3D–b4dbaa7ac4a499fa5c7ce2ebe608b1c76870f0b5&ref=backer_project_update

 

Monday blog tour!

My thanks this morning to fellow Mancunian speculative fiction writer and novelist Graeme Shimmin who nominated me to be the next person on the Monday Blog Tour. A pass-the-baton exercise bringing you blogs from different writers to start your week off on the right track!

What are you working on?

Between writing screenplays, I like to keep myself occupied by writing lengthy horror novels and short stories.

At the moment, I’m just waiting for my sci-fi/horror novel “Project Nine” to be published by myinkbooks.com. The good folks over there picked up my novel last year, and have been busily trying to convert my rather “eccentric” punctuation and spelling into something the public can actually make sense of.

What is it about?

Ah. The magic question.

“Project Nine” is about a young man who longs for immortality. He finds it in a beautiful woman who has escaped from a secret government research program that has created vampires through gene therapy.  He joins her and her friends who have also escaped in their endless trek across America’s backwoods, only to find himself hunted by a relentless detective and losing his own humanity in the process.

How does it differ from others in the genre?

If the Naughties have been so far filled with horror movies populated by twenty-something kids with six-packs and hair extensions, “Project Nine” is about as far from that kind of thing as you can possibly get.

It’s gritty, realistic, and psychologically believable. But it also has the large scale and operatic quality of classic horror stories. I aimed to balance the grim realism of modern fiction with the more emotionally-resonant horror of the 1970s and 1980s.

The vampires in this story are not cape-wearing cliches, nor are they gorgeously, seductive creatures. They are real people put in an extraordinary situation. They make good and bad choices. And they are capable of acts of kindness or unspeakable wickedness.

Why do you write what you write?

Why indeed. Who knows what evil lurks in the mind of Man? Not me, certainly. In my defence, I blame watching a steady diet of old Universal and Hammer horror movies when I was a kid. Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” stands out for me as being the best SF/Horror TV series ever made.

However, the first movie that really made my hair stand up on end was actually not a movie at all, but the truly frightening Made-For-TV, 2-part adaptation of Stephen King’s “‘Salems Lot” — the one with David Soul and James Mason. Man, that was scary.

Essential, late-night, family-friendly viewing!

Essential, late-night, family-friendly viewing!

I’ve also been an avid fan and collector of comics since I was knee high to an Inhuman. Marvel and 2000AD to be precise. People like Alan Moore have been a huge inspiration, especially “Watchmen”  and his run on DC’s “Swamp Thing”.

As far as “real” literature goes, HP Lovecraft remains for me the greatest master of the craft. I also devoured novels by Stephen King (although I especially like the short stories in his “Night Shift” collection) and the criminally underestimated British king of horror, James Herbert. Other influences include: Peter Straub, Frank Herbert, Terry Brooks, Anne Rice, Phillip K Dick, Harry Harrison and, of course, Ray Bradbury.

There. You asked for it.

Swamp Thing - the thinking man's horror comics.

Swamp Thing – the thinking man’s horror comic.

What is your writing process?

You mean I have a process?

Seriously, it all depends on whether I’m writing screenplays, novels, or short stories.

Screenplays tend to be very structured. I outline to a varying degree of depth before writing a first draft. Then I use a structured rewrite process. I recommend reading as many books as you can on the subject and then employing the rewrite proceess used by Paul Chitlik in his excellent book. Then repeat. Over and over again. And again. And again.

My novels are a different animal. My first novel started life as a comic script (now lost, sadly) and then grew into a full-length book. My second, unpublished work began life purely as a novel. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to say and what the theme would be, then I started writing. Now I’m in the process of getting peer feedback before rewriting and editing.

Short stories usually come out of the blue. I get a first line or an idea as I’m in the shower or walking down the street and then I run with it. The ones that pop into my head seem to be the most successful. The ones I agonize about and outline never see the light of day. Weird, eh?

How much do you write in a day?

Depends. I just wrote an entire screenplay in five days. When I was in what I like to call my James Joyce phase I could write ten pages of single-spaced prose on my typewriter (yes, I had one of those). That comes to about 350 words a page. So 3,500 words a day.  You nosey parker, you.

Previous Writer

I was asked to contribute to this project by Graeme Shimmin  as part of a chain of connections from writer to writer. Each writer answers the questions and then links to the next writer in the chain. Graeme writes mainly alternate history and some excellent short stories. I suggest you check out his intriguing, fact-filled blog.

Next on the Tour

Graeme Cole is a filmmaker extraordinaire and bon vivant who also writes absurdist fiction. He currently resides in Bosnia and runs L’Institute Zoom, which maintains a blog here.

Andrew Bellware is a sci-fi/fantasy/theatre director/writer/actor and all-round swell guy who works out of NYC. He and his producing partner run Pandora Machine Films, which maintains its eponymous blog (Rated “R” for some racy content — you have been warned). I recommend their marvellous movie Clone Hunter, written by some guy from England 😉

Clone Hunter - the greatest science-fiction ever made, apparently!

Clone Hunter – the greatest science-fiction ever made, apparently!

12 days of the greatest, not-so-obvious Christmas movies

Seeing as it’s the season to be jolly, I thought I would give you a rather offbeat holiday treat. Here are 12 movies, one for each day of the season, that may not be as closely associated with Christmas as others, but which deserve a look. So if you’re bored with endless reruns of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, check out these gems…

12. The Bishop’s Wife

Cary Grant and David Niven star in this entertanining fantasy comedy about an angel helping out us mortals that plays fast and loose with religion.

11. Rare Exports

Has to be seen to be believed. Finnish production where Santa is in fact a demonic being who punishes children. What’s more bizarre is that it’s a really good movie!

10. One Magic Christmas

Mary Steenbergen has a terrible, terrible Christmas, loses her faith, and is helped out by guardian angel Harry Dean Stanton. Undoubtedly features the coolest angel in the movies, ever.

9. Trancers

Tongue-in-cheek sci-fi actioner that is most definitely set at Christmas in L.A. Tim Thomerson plays Jack Deth, a cop from the future intent on hunting down the murderous zombie slaves of his time-travelling opponent!

8. Lethal Weapon

The daddy of modern action films still packs a punch. Slick and fast-paced with enough laughs and thrills to keep anyone entertained at Christmas.

7. Black Christmas

Margo Kidder stars in this excellent and genuinely unsettling 70s slasher movie set in a girl’s sorority house. Somebody is making crank calls. The twist is that the calls are coming from inside the house!

6. An Affair to Remember

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are the star-crossed lovers who wait a little too long. Famously became the central plot idea in “Sleepless in Seattle”. Guaranteed to bring a tear to even the grumpiest grandparent’s eye.

5. Batman Returns

Tim Burton does Christmas in Gotham with Christopher Walken, evil clowns, and Michelle Pfeiffer in latex. What’s not to like?

gremlins

4. Gremlins

This was stupidly given a “15” rating in the UK, so a generation of kids never got to experience “Gremlin Mega-Madness” until it came out on VHS. The final shot of a snow-covered town is just gorgeous.

3. Trading Places

Superb comic caper starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd at the peak of their talents. Co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, in a rather memorable scene involving a curly wig and little else. How can you not like a movie that has not one, but two gorillas?

places

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I had to include this all-time funniest Christmas movie. Worth watching time after time just for the “squirrel attack” scene.

1. Stalag 17

Only Billy Wilder could pull off a comedy set in a German POW camp in WWII. William Holden is fantastic in a movie that never sacrifices realism for laughs, but still manages to be funny.

So there you have it, a few non-traditional Christmas movies to spend the season with. Happy Holidays!

Why was He-Man so crap?

he-man

Today I am tackling an issue that has been playing on my mind for many years. Several attempts were made in the 1970s and 1980s to fuse fantasy with science-fiction in movies. This is not a new trend, and is generally called “Science Fantasy”. For instance, Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter novels are science-fantasy. CS Lewis (of Narnia fame) even wrote a religious allegory sci-fi series known as the “Space” trilogy.  In movies we have 1983’s “Krull”, the notorious flop “John Carter”, and the lilttle-known but half-decent movie “Pathfinder”.

But what does these have in common? Well, they are crap.

That’s not to say we can’t love them. “Krull” has a particular place in my heart, not least for the amazing Freddie Jones and the use of actual British character actors. The CS Lewis novels are great flights of fancy (although totally scientifically incorrect).

But for some reason critical success has mostly eluded these works. There is something about the melding of high fantasy (magic, swords and sandals) with science-fiction (high tech, high concept) that creates works of daftness rather than genius.

Take He-Man.

He-Man has his roots firmly in Robert E Howard’s “Conan” stories. With a technological twist. His home planet Eternia contains magic but also machines and flying vehicles, cyborgs and laser-guns. You would think that such a world would provide great images and great storylines. Instead, it always manged to be childish and rather stupid. Like GI Joe on Magic Mushrooms.

Jitsu - one of Skeletor's less memorable henchmen.

Jitsu – one of Skeletor’s less memorable henchmen.

The animated series was designed to promote Mattell’s line of action figures, whish was apparently created to cash in 1982’s “Conan” movie, but which had to be redesigned when said Arnie movie featured so much nudity and gore that it was rated “R”. However this may be apocryphal.

For He-Man newbies, He-Man was in fact Prince Adam of Eternia. A fact that nobody could discern despite being identical and never wearing a mask. He rode a cowardly beast that transformed into a fiercer version whenever Adam became He-Man (nobody bothered to explain why in a planet where everybody could use flying vehicles Adam settled for riding on the back of his pet cat).

Nothing too unusual there. If we can buy Superman, why not Prince Adam? But unlike other cartoon characters, there was something udneniably dorky about He-Man. Possibly it was his very name. The far more successful cartoon TV show “Dungeons and Dragons” had some genuinely unsettling moments. But He-Man’s greatest foe was… Skeletor.

Ah, Skeletor. Far more likeable than He-Man with your silly plotting and villanous laugh. But the unfortunate bad guy only ever managed to surround himself with complete morons who alway fouled up his schemes. He may have had more success working with the Three Stooges than the likes of Beast-Man, Mer-Man and Lockjaw.

Skeletor - the villain everyone loves to hate... almost.

Skeletor – the villain everyone loves to hate… almost.

Which brings us to the 1987 live-action movie.

In fact, it’s not that bad when watched today through the tinted lenses of nostalgia. Meg Foster is eerie as Evil-Lyn, the plot (albeit a bit silly) is so perfectly “Eighties” that it’s watchable. Frank Langella provides a suitably grave Skeletor. However the plot suffers from two things – cliche and a lack of credible worldbuilding. Lines like “It’s too quiet” grate. Gone is the backdrop of Eternia (struck out for budgetary reasons). And the characters are all pretty stock and one-dimensional.

Perhaps part of the problem is the inherent silliness of the science-fantasy genre, a genre that exists only to draw attention to itself. Science-fantasy stories scream out, “Look how clever I am!”. But in fact they only use cliches from both genres, creating storylines with few surprises  but which also strain our credibility.

Consider “John Carter”. Not only are we supposed to believe  in aliens, life on Mars, teleportation, a second set of aliens, and magic… but a third set of competely different aliens as well. Phew!

So there you have it. He-Man’s crapness is inherent. It both endears us to him and repells us, as it does with many other high-bidget flops. On reflection, I think it’s because using two genres (some may say opposing genres) weakens the depth of storytelling. We are so concerned with the language and imagery of the story, that there is no room left for what audiences desire most… plot twists and great characters.

So my advice is.. avoid the science-fantasy genre altogether. Unless you want to produce a very expensive white elephant.

And I bet you thought I would never get any writing tips out of this post! 😉

Quickie movie review – Manhunter

Another dip into my DVD collection this week. While researching the thriller genre I struggled to find a list of the top thrillers of all time. Maybe I’ll do that in another post. Hmm. Meanwhile, here is my review of the much-overlooked prequel to “Silence of the Lambs”.

“Manhunter” was not a commercial success on release. But in fact it is better than its bigger and somewhat dumber sequel, although Anthony Hopkins certainly portrayed Hannibal Lektor with much aplomb. So without further ado I present to you…

MANHUNTER, 1986

Brian Cox is a different kind of monster in "Manhunter", 1986.

Brian Cox is a different kind of monster in “Manhunter”, 1986.

Will Graham is a former FBI Agent with a difference. He is able to put himself in the mind of a serial killer. His talent has almost cost him his sanity. But when the “Tooth Fairy” starts wiping out whole families, Graham is called out of retirement to help catch the murdering monster. His first task, however, is to re-establish his serial killer mindset. And to do that, he needs the help of  one Hannibal Lektor…

Manhunter is a gorgeous film. Michael Mann, fresh from the TV series Miami Vice, used every trick in the book to make the film reminiscent of 1940s Noirs. There are some beautiful shots, such as Graham’s house overlooking the ocean – shot entirely in blue. Mann, whose earlier film effort “The Keep” also had some excellent photography, provides us with more memorable images here: tigers, the Tooth Fairy’s stocking mask, and of course the death of one rather unpleasant reporter who becomes one of the killer’s victims.

The acting is also pretty nifty. William Peterson plays Will Graham with heart – although he is sometimes a little too downbeat for his own good. But he carries the “leading man” part off nicely. A shame his talents would never be utlilized to such a degree again. Character actor stalwart Brian Cox steps into the biter-mask of Hannibal Lektor this time. Cox is chilling, especially in a bravura scene where he manages to use a telephone from inside a high security cell. The slicked-back hair is something that would remain part of the character in “Silence of the Lambs”.  The late Dennis Farina plays Graham’s FBI buddy to good effect, while Tom Noonan (who appeared recently in “The House of the Devil”) is scary and believable as the damaged, murdering monser. In fact, Noonan’s portayal is much more sympathetic than Ralph Fiennes’ would be in the by-the-numbers remake, “Red Dragon” (2002).

Indeed, by comparing “Manhunter” with “Red Dragon”, we can see how superior “Manhunter” is. There is poetry to this movie. It takes place in a kind of hyper-realism. The strange lighting, the memorable music, all serve to make this a masterpiece of thriller cinema. “Manhunter” is also more generous with its emotions. We see with both unease and pity the heartbreaking attempts of the Tooth Fairy to connect with another human being. But it is an act doomed to failure. Although the filmmakers bring us within a hair’s breadth of sympathy for the killer, it seems that some sins cannot be expurgated.

The action builds from unease to a tense climax that has plenty of surprises. “Manhunter” is psychologically realistic, without the overblown theatrics of “Silence of the Lambs” or “Hannibal”. More than any other film based on the Thomas Harris books, “Manhunter” takes us deep into the world of the serial killer, and shows us that it is a twisted, frightening place. And it does it with style.

Quickie movie review time…

Today, I thought I would share a review of a film you may not have seen. There aren’t many people making great movies. But one man who’s made more than his fare share (and had more than his fair share of commercial failures) is David Lynch.

So without further ado here is my review of LOST HIGHWAY.

LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

A jazz saxophonist is (wrongly?) convicted of murdering his wife. He is imprisoned. He wakes up in the morning as a different person, a young mechanic. The authorities are baffled and release him. He becomes involved in an affair with another woman, the wife of a gangster who looks just like the first man’s wife…

"We've met before, haven't we?" Robert Blake as the Mystery Man.

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” Robert Blake as the Mystery Man.

What does it mean? Don’t look for straightforward answers. Although it looks like a Hollywood movie, ‘Lost Highway’ is anything but. This is cinema deconstructed. What is a story? What is art? Surface meanings are stripped away and what we are left with is…

Director David Lynch and his co-writer Barry Gifford again create a frustrating, mesmerizing, entertaining, visceral, daring Chinese puzzle of a movie. But the twist here is that the puzzle has no solution. More introverted than epic, it had critics and audiences confused upon its release. Searches for story will disappoint. This is a movie that knows it is a movie and toys with the viewer like a cat with a mouse.

“Lost Highway” also plays with genre, most notably the kind of noir 40s movies that eventaully spawned Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Vertigo”. But “Lost Highway” goes beyond them. The writers are not afraid to let go of plot, drawing attention to the artificiality of a narrative that both illuminates and conceals. This is a movie that pushes the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Is it intended or not? Does it matter? Like the rest of the film, this only raises questions without answers.

Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty are the two faces of the same man (or is he?). Patricia Arquette is dazzling as Renee/Alice. But arguably Robert Loggia steals the show with impeccable comic timing as a ridiculously vicious gangster. While Robert Blake gives his last performance as the memorably creepy mystery man with no eyebrows – a typically Lynchian obscure archetype.

I’m not usually a fan of postmodernism, but when it’s done this well I can’t help but like it. With sublime music and excellent performances, this is surely one of Lynch’s most provocative films to date. Well worth seeing.

The top 10 scariest horror movies ever made…

A spot of indulgence today as I list my personal top 10 scariest horror movies of all time.

Horror is a misunderstood and much-maligned genre. At its worst, it’s nothing more than sickening exploitation. However at its best, it can be a place for experimentation, satire, and the exploration of the darker side of human nature.

This is not meant to be a definitive list. Add your own. But here are some movies that made me turn the light back on… and some that made not turn it off at all.

10. Nosferatu

F W Murnau’s unofficial film version of Dracula led to him being famously sued by Bram Stoker’s widow. But the frightening make-up of Max Shrek as the titular vampire Count Orlock remains one of the scariest images ever committed to film. The moving shadowplay on the wall would be used again time after time. Remade stylishly by Werner Herzon with Klaus Kinski as the vampire.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-DrKgjit4I

Max Shrek. His name means "fear" in German!

Max Shrek. His name means “fear” in German!

9. Threads

A made-for-TV drama about what would actually happen in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain. Produced in the early 80s when nuclear war was still a grim possibility,  this terrifying program shocked a generation. Once seen, never forgotten…

8. The Thing

John Carpenter’s homage to the 50s B-movie, this guts’n’gore horrorshow pushed the boundaries of what was possible with make-up effects. A box-office flop, it has since become one of the greatest horror films of all time. Compare the atmosphere of the freezing scientists in this pic to the lukewarm remake.

7. Poltergeist

Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg collabroated to produce the grandaddy of all haunted house movies. A combination of SFX rollercoaster and shocking horror movie, it made a generation of kids afraid of trees and TV sets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ytjaMfoF2M

6. Halloween

John Carpenter’s first big hit and the first true slasher pic. Indestructible madman Michael Myers stalks teenagers in a small town. But it’s the film’s creepy insinuation that horror could be lurking anywhere, even in the dark spaces of your own home, that truly lingers.

Just a normal street. But look again.

Just a normal street. But look again.

5. Alien

Alien is on some levels a very stupid movie. Butch warrant officer Sigourney Weaver displays more common sense than the rest of the entire crew of the ill-fated spaceship Nostromo, but still ends up trying to save a cat in her underwear. Even so, jaw-dropping production design and the most memorable alien in movie history combine to produce nerve-jangling scares from start to finish.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Time has dulled the edge of this “based on true events” movie. But from the film’s opening shots we know we’re not in Kansas anymore. The casual violence remains shocking, but it was the film’s “endurance horror” that would go on to influence filmmakers such as Sam Raimi with his “Evil Dead” movies. Forget the countless remakes and sequels.

3. Jaws

Yes, that shark terrified audiences in the 70s and beyond. It may look rubber now, but the film’s great ensemble cast and stirring theme music still manage to make bathtime a little scarier.

2. Dawn of the Dead

George A Romero followed up his genre-busting “Night of the Living Dead” with this satirical masterpiece. you get a real sense of claustrophobia watching this for the first time as zombies are everywhere. Copied over and over again from low-budget schlock to the more stylish “Walking Dead” TV series, Romero was the only one to do something actually new with the zombie as an archetype of horror. Remade quite well but with less ideas in 2004.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt-EipwlWQ0

1. Salems Lot

This two-part TV movie must have sent network executives into a spin. A creepy Stephen King story about Dracula transplanted into the modern US becomes something quite different in the hands of horror maestro Tobe Hooper and veteran scriptwriter Paul Monash. The horror continues to rise as citizens of a small town are transformed into the most frightening bloodsuckers you have ever seen.  1970s TV heart-throb David Soul grows understandably more and more hysterical when faced with sneering James Mason and his army of undead. But it’s the surreal, frightening scenes where a vampire kid comes calling on his classmates that have stayed in my imagination. Watch the unedited version for the shocking twist ending.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIbJ2rQ59ZE

Confessions of a British Screenwriter – Recycled

Today, I thought I would share a link to an embarassingly old and badly written article I did for Moviebytes.com when I had my first screenplay sale. So without further ado…

http://moviebytes.com/NewsStory.cfm?StoryID=3899

Guns, girls, and robots. What's not to like?

Guns, girls, and robots. What’s not to like?

My Name is ‘Err’: A Screenwriters Journey

By Eric Steele

It was a blisteringly hot day in Hollywood. My writing partner and I had been worn down by a punishing heatwave that pushed temperatures up to a hideous 120 degrees. As we both came from Manchester, England – a city renowned for precipitation in a country where summer just means that the rain gets warmer – for us this was the equivalent to walking on the planet Mercury. If Mercury had been filled with dangerous-looking winos and suicidal motorists.

We’d decided to visit an eatery in televisionland known as Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. The guide book assured us it was a good place to spot the stars. Taking our place in line, we sizzled on the sidewalk like a couple of English poached eggs. After an eternity of this torture, the Emcee asked us what our names were. “Err,” I began. But before I could use my best Hugh Grant impression, he disappeared back inside the tempting darkness of the doorway.

“Table for Mister Errrr…” he intoned.

Of course, I couldn’t correct him without opening up a whole new can of worms. I might as well have been speaking Portugese for all the good it did. Obviously a case of “You say tomayto, I say tomahto”.

We seated ourselves in a booth and soon learned why it was called “chicken and waffles.” As I dug into my plate of fried chicken at ten o’clock in the morning, I chose to reflect upon how much this reminded me of our whole screenwriting experience so far.

It seemed a far cry from how I had started out – tinkering away in my bedroom in Manchester, reading as many free articles as I could on a then-fledgling Internet, buying whatever books the local stores had in stock (not many), in my impossible quest to somehow get involved in this magical form of storytelling.

The trip to LA proved eye-opening in more ways than one. As we attended meetings without success, we both sank into a kind of delirious despair. Getting lost on foot in Downtown LA or being rear-ended by the daughter of a movie-star on Sunset Boulevard one Saturday night only added to the sense of unreality. Maybe we were just depressed from days spent foot-slogging through graveyards, staring at epitaphs of our long-departed screen idols.

Two years later, we had still to sell a script. Sure, there had been options, near misses. One producer kept us hanging on for over a year until we got an e-mail saying he had decided to work with Paris Hilton instead.

During this time my writing partner and I went our separate ways. He had a young family, and in the end, I guess he decided that “real life” was more important. I soldiered on, until one day I decided to throw caution to the winds, forget about the market, and write the kind of story I would like to see onscreen. The result was my first option with a big production company in LA.

Still nothing happened. I had listed the script with InkTip.com, and they helped me out with a press release. After a few months, I received a phone call from my soon-to-be agent, who had read several scripts and was sufficiently impressed to sign me up.

She told me she wanted to see more family-friendly stuff. I immediately scoured through what passed for my filing system until I found something that would fit the bill…

Among my various screenplays, I’d written a sci-fi television pilot called “Clonehunter”. On a whim, I’d entered it into Scriptapalooza. Although the script didn’t place, they were kind enough to provide me feedback. I scanned the feedback, read the script. Hmm, not exactly Orson Welles, but it was salvageable enough.

Over the next few months I rewrote the script, developing themes and characters, until I had an honest-to-goodness movie script. However, experience had taught me that what seems like Shakespeare to you can seem like Dr. Seuss to someone else, so I workshopped the script at zoetrope.com, where other writers could sling mud at it with impunity. Some of those reviews were gut-wrenching in their honesty, but the script came out a lot better for it. More importantly, it was free.

Some of the scenes I’d written would give James Cameron a headache. Pursuits on hoverbikes, floating casinos, talking gorillas – no sane individual would even think of tackling such a project without a studio budget. But it was just crazy enough to succeed. Besides, I loved the character – David Cain, an intergalactic bounty-hunter who would put Harrison Ford to shame. Not only was Cain’s work questionable, but the more we heard about him, the more we suspected that he might not be a very nice guy either. This was someone who had a history so long he kept secrets from everyone – including his attractive young cyborg partner. And he had an intelligent cat.

I wasn’t expecting anything, so I was truly surprised when I received an e-mail from director Andrew Bellware. He had seen my script on InkTip and wanted to shoot it, using his production company in New York. I was aghast – did he really think he could do it? Well, it might need a little tweaking. I would never see my floating casino (sob). However it would be an outright sale.

My agent hammered out the agreement and Drew then began the looooong process of filmmaking.

Drew kept me informed at every stage of the process. I was flattered that anyone would even care what I thought. Each week he would send me another video of the shoot. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation of watching the script come alive onscreen. Sometimes I was surprised, sometimes I laughed out loud as an actor said a line in a way I had not expected and turned a boring piece of exposition into something dramatic or even comedic. Most of all, I was amazed that this was actually being pulled off. Even the hoverbike sequence was there! Eat your heart out, Lucas!

The whole experience reminded me that moviemaking is a team sport. Everybody has an input, no matter how small. I felt privileged to have given my contribution. Suddenly, all those years of slaving away over a hot keyboard in a cramped office seemed worthwhile, all those moments of self-doubt as I wondered whether I should be doing this at all dissipated.

Yet, afterwards, here I am again, sat in the same office typing away (admittedly I bought myself a new computer), churning out page after page and knowing that whatever I write will in no way by anything near as good as the movie unfolding in my head – the one nobody will ever see. In a way it’s like starting out all over again. And if it ever does get made, it will take a whole bunch of people to make it happen, not just the director and actors, but set decorators, editors, and everyone else down to whoever buys in the sandwiches.

So is it worth it? Of course. Because that’s the magic of motion pictures – that someone in a tiny suburb of Manchester, a couple of thousand miles away from New York and even further away from Los Angeles, could one day contribute to a movie. If I’ve learned one thing on my ragtag journey, it’s that you should try everything – every angle, every means at your disposal – to market your script. The Internet has revolutionized the world of media. Contests, feedback sites, listing sites – all of these are equally valid ways to get your script produced.

Who knows, we might be able to meet up one day for chicken and waffles!

The demise of low budget horror…

Strolling through the virtual aisles of my online video rental site (the real video store in my neighborhood was torn down years ago), I happened to notice something strange.

When I first started renting movies, in my teens, there were lots of videos that would never have seen the light of day but for the limited collection of obscure treats in the back of my local dodgy grocery store.

I’m talking about such cult releases as “The Stuff” (a black comedy about killer yoghurt), “Society” (a bizarre tale where a boy discovers his rich relations are all shape-shifting monsters), and “Re-Animator” (a hysterical horror comedy very loosely based on HP Lovecrafts serial). Sure, these films were cheap and cheerful. But they were also GOOD movies. Heck, some of them are now hailed as classics.

The Stuff  - killer yoghurt on the rampage!

The Stuff – killer yoghurt on the rampage!

But looking at the new horror releases, I was depressed to see that so many look like the hybrid offspring of some poorly-conceived and executed SyFy channel monster /disaster mash-up. There are , for instance, innumerable takes on “Shark Night” (“Shark Week”), the woefully bad “Sharktopus” series (“Pirhanaconda”, anyone?) The poster to “Back From Hell” looks suspiciously similar to the “Cabin in the Woods”, while there are too many “Dawn of the Dead” and “Saw” rip-offs even to list.

Zombies - a lot more common nowadays.

Zombies – a lot more common nowadays.

I understand that sometimes distributors put pressure on small studios to come up with something that they can actually sell. But does the world really need another Shark/creature combination? What’s next,”Sharkgerbil 2″, “Sharkplatypus” (and if that gets made I want my share of the royalties)?

I know at least one microstudio that continues to put out highly original films as well as satisfying the distributors. So it can be done. Come on indie producers, give us the next generation of “Evil Dead” movies, give us our Jack Deths.

You can be that filmmaker who has adoring fans thirty years or more down the line. But to get there, you have to dare to be original.

Herbert West is about to get ahead in his medical studies.

Herbert West is about to get ahead in his medical studies.