Monday, January 16, 2017

Making of Mea Culpa the Film by JZ Murdock

This is a personal journal of how I wrote, shot and produced my new film, Mea Culpa. An LGN Productions project. I'm still at the initial stages. But how did I get into this? How did it get to this point. Where is this going and...what IS this, anyway? For one, it's a way to break into film again. To create a new piece, a business card if you will. A way to create something new, network with new people, build a crew, exercise creative muscles new and old and have a new, fun product to show.

It's a story about a Medieval Witch Hunter, based upon a story I wrote with the help of one of my University Theater Professors back in 1983 titled, The Mea Culpa Document of London. It has something to do in this current reincarnation on video with today and here.

But it reaches all the way back to the 12th century.

The Mea Culpa Document of London front cover
I am writing the screenplay in order to shoot my own screenplay. It is a business card, a show piece, a way to translate my written words to an easier form to view. A door by which I hope to see it opened and other opportunities to come about, to meet other like minds, and to produce even more in the future.

Selling screenplays is a pain. More than writing them and that's not easy. Getting the attention, going through the process, working with producers, money people, whomever. It's a lot.

Just doing it, is doing it. You can wish, desire, think about, but doing is...well, doing. You don't need super studio quality high production values, or a big studio. Really just grit, determination, perseverance, networking, a good knowledge of cinema, equipment and of course, help.

Oh, and skill doesn't hurt.

So I thought I might also try to write a kind of intermittent journal of the process here.

Something I last (had) to do at Western Washington University. Always looking to rack up more class credits toward my degree in Psychology, in Awareness and Reasoning division, I discovered I could get credit by shooting a video on half inch reel to real black and white video tape. I had also decided I had enough credits almost to get a second degree but rather than stay longer than four years including summers in classes, I'd settle for a minor in Creative Writing, in fiction and screen and script writing.

All along I had been studying cinema however, both in and out of class. I took classes like Cinema, Film into Documentary (taught by an almost British stiff but quite intelligent and at times funny, ex Yale professor).

I studied sometimes on my own, specifically the works of Hitchcock, Kubrick and... Woody Allen. Years later I worked with an east coast production company for over five years as a remote "in house" screenwriter. I never got anything on screen, but I learned a lot about things I'd never expected to learn about. Like dealing with producers, and studio squabbles.

When I was a kid, I was an odd kid. No surprise, right? At five I would sneak watching TV detective shows. I watched Perry Mason with my grandmother, and The Twilight Zone. I loved them. I also watched westerns, cartoons, and kid fare as many kids did back then in the 1950s and 60s.

But I also used to listen to an eclectic collection of music. Classical, experimental, blues, hard rock, all which got me some pretty weird looks from friends how came to visit. I remember in junior high a kid came over and I had on Bach Piano Fugues (Glenn Gould). He scrunched up his nose and said, "WHAT are you listening to?" I said, "Oh, sorry, it's Bach." I took it off and put on a rock album which pleased him.

I got into science fiction books and TV very young. Mostly from first watching old sci fi films on TV in the very early 1960s. My mother had always been a fan of Hollywood. Oscar night was an event. Every year our mother made a party of watching the Oscar Award show. They were our American royalty. She especially loved the troublesome, beautiful and talented Liz Taylor, an idol of hers and of course Liz's Richard Burton. Lucille Ball, her biggest idol.

Thank God for that because mom acted crazy fun at times, even though she could be still be strict as hell at times.

I kind of grew up at a drive in theater where my step father was Assistant Manager. My sister worked there as her first job and it was one of our oldest brother's first jobs also.

My first job was (ignoring having shined shoes in a cantina near the beach in Spain in 1958 at about three or four), was in ninth grade in cleaning the field of the theater during the day. I later worked my way up to Snack Bar Manager, then Box Office Cashier. Before graduating high school.

While growing up we were at the drive in watching whatever show was on every Friday night, rain or shine. We had little money and it was quite a benefit. Because it was free. Because we got half off on snack bar food and just had to charge it to my step father's account. So I saw a lot of films. Many I probably shouldn't have seen so young. Like biker movies. Which scared the hell out of me. What if they showed up in our town?

Eventually...I discovered PBS. Ah... Public Broadcasting! Channel 9, KCTS in Tacoma.

In the 1960s they played foreign stuff. I got to learn who Monty Python was but never found out what his Flying Circus was really about, till years later. But I loved them.

I got to watch, to learn about the Auteur directors in Europe, like Francois Truffaut. I saw Samurai movies (Ikura Kurosawa's films anyway). I came to love Francois Truffaut. Also, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Lina WertMuller, and many others.

I'd already grown up with so many other directors and actors and later learned of others still. We loved Hitchcock and I saw his old films on TV and new ones as they came out in theaters.

The point is, I grew up with film. I learned to appreciate Cinema. I studied it on my own as a kid not knowing I was studying it. Then in college and at a university where I studied screenwriting and team script writing. Later still I was a public access cable TV producer with Viacom in Seattle, and late in 1993-early 94 I produced and aired the "25th Anniversary Lost In Space documentary". No one did that. There was only one other I found in the world who celebrated that show, a documentary from Australia for that anniversary. And honestly, with higher production values. But I thought we had more interesting information.

I have a background in film, it's in my blood since childhood. Before through my mother. It's literally in my DNA.

I've just never been able to find a way to have a creative career in writing or film. I was a Senior Technical Writer for years but that is in IT work on computers in information and internet technologies.

Until I got tired of writing where there was simply no character development, no story structure, no tension. All information had to be put up front.

Yet, it was an excellent way to learn to be a writer, but not lots of fun. Rewarding though. You learned attention to detail, to produce on demand, to take the stress (and trust me at the high level I was at, lots of stress!), how to think out of the box, on your feet, and quickly, how to take complicated information from people smarter than you and turn it into something usable they would love. Even if you didn't understand a word of what you were writing about.

So my creative side was put on hold for years, decades to raise a family. I'd tried before that but never could get anything to click. Many times, almost, but then it never just locked into place. Sad, and frustrating, but you do what you have to do.

Finally in August 2016 in retiring from a decades long career in IT, in computers all things complex and annoying, fascinating and frustrating, I got my chance to get back to my original intent. IT had paid well, it had helped to pay for raising my kids and it had situated me now and finally for writing and producing... films, or whatever I liked.

What a feeling, what a breathe of fresh air! But now I also had to do something.

So here we are today, right now. After 2010 I wrote and produced a couple of books, multiple short story ebooks, several audiobooks, published stories in magazines and I am in several other author\s anthologies. I've written screenplays, worked with producers from both American coasts so that here I am, ready to just do... stuff. Interesting stuff.

I've currently been finishing up a new story for publication. "The Unwritten." I wrote the first draft on Wattpad as an experiment. I will finish and put that in as a novella in my sequel to one of my books, Anthology of Evil. When I retired in August I bought thousands of dollars of film equipment and software all of which I now have to learn and utilize.

Now finally is the time. And I'm going for it.

So I'm writing to shoot a story I'm calling for now simply, "Mea Culpa". As I had said, it is built upon the original story I wrote during my university years titled, The Mea Culpa Document of London. It is a tale far more twisted than most people realize when they read it, unless you know some history.

This story is further explored in an extension story in my second book, Death of heaven, and is titled, Vaughan's Theorem. And no, the lower case "h" in "heaven" is not a mistake. You'd have to read the book to understand why.

What I am doing in this new version of the Mea Culpa story is to update it, to localize it, to translate it into a short video. But how does one do that? Take a narrative piece like that, and put it into film. The obvious way is to shoot it as told, to "show not tell". But I wanted as always, to do it differently, to creatively break the rules I've spent so much time learning.

The story originates in 1100CE in England. It continues in more recent times in England. It is now continuing in America, in a city called Bremerton, in Washington state. Where I now live as of August 2016. Located about thirty miles from where I was born, in Tacoma, it is a Navy town. A town I thought I'd never live in. Because it was the first and only place I was ever incarcerated in jail. At seventeen. For something I had nothing to do with. But that is a story for another time.

When in high school in twelfth grade, I was dating a girl in college in Bremerton. It was funny. The old, "I have a hot girlfriend but you can't meet her, she lives in Canada" routine. No one except close friends believed me. But she was real and named, Char (Charlene). The new assistant manager of the drive in theater who replaced my step dad when he moved to a brand new 112th Street Drive In Theater, introduced me to his old girlfriend. She was only a few years older than me, as he was only a few years older than her. But I'm getting off the point here....

The current filmic version of my Mea Culpa story is a story about a descendant of one of the main characters and his peculiar discovery of the Mea Culpa document in his garage workshop, the bizarre way it got there, and why it is there.

Weirdness runs rampant in this short extension of my now nearly ancient Mea Culpa story.

Originally it was a story that was done for no real reason. I was sitting in my Professor Perry Mill's office in the our university theater department in our PAC theater building. Where my girlfriend and I first saw Road Warrior and learned of Mel Gibson for the first time, the crowed loved it. Nothing like viewing a great action film with a university audience. Perry and I were just talking and I got an idea for a short story while listening to him talk about medieval stuff.

So I went home and wrote it, then showed it to him the next day. Being a student of medieval literature he loved it and offered me some ideas, clarification and some history which he could go on about forever in the most enlightening and entertaining ways. He liked the story so much he wanted me to turn it into a one man stage play for him to play. It would have been brilliant to see him in it. Brilliant. But my skills at the time in play writing simply weren't up to the task and it never came to be.

However, I did walk away with a story I eventually published. I later expanded it into a much larger story in Death of heaven and now, here we are decades later and I am turning yet another version of it into a short movie. I love expanding the universe of my characters as I love when other authors do that with their characters and literary universes.

I've also done that with my Lord Ritchie character who is in my Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer story, and in an anthology with other authors detailing his adventures as a younger man and pirate in the Caribbean ("Breaking on Cave Island" in the "Giant Tales series "World of Pirates" anthology, edited by Heather Marie (H.M.) Schultz.

I also have another story I did a similar thing with in the Giant Tales series book, "Final Ships", with my "Gravity Up" story, based upon my Death of heaven book. A great little story I had wanted to title, "In the Shade" but acquiesced to the editor's suggestion. While you learn what is going on in Death of heaven, I thought it would be interesting to experience the bizarre things happening in that larger book of mine as a character who simply experiences some of all those terrifying things in having absolutely no clue why it is happening.

Anyway, for my film I was shooting for a ten minute length but as happens, it grew beyond that.
Ten minutes is very good for film festival submissions and the director in the directing class I was in yesterday highly recommended getting it back down to ten. And so I will.

So that's it for now. I'm currently working on finishing up Anthology of Evil II, but have to finish, The Unwritten, story first. It's currently in the hands of beta readers and my editor. I'm learning a lot about my new camera equipment, trying to remember and relearn cinematography, and overall relearning filmmaking after decades of absence, and also finishing up the writing of, Mea Culpa.

More to come...stay tuned.

#JZMurdock #MeaCulpaFilm #LGNProductions

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