Originally we had planned to have as our first narrative horror short film be one titled: The Bremerton Mea Culpa. It is a story I first wrote in college, published in Anthology of Evil and was further expanded in my book, Death of heaven.
I have built a tiny universe of my characters. In reading all of my fiction you at times can find characters from one story popping up elsewhere. So I have decided to build on my written fiction now in my produced films whenever possible. I love when I find characters I like in other places than where I expect to find them. Also some of my stories in books are available as short ebooks or audiobooks.
One example is from my story, Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer to a Question He Knever Knew. And yes I researched it, believe it or not back in that character's era there was indeed a Lord Ritchie. He also pops up in the World of Pirates anthology in a story titled, Breaking on Cave Island. It details a piece of Ritchie's life previous to "Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer..." during a time when he was, of all things, a pirate. I am currently also compiling a sequel, Anthology of Evil II, with some of these stories that were in anthologies. I'm hoping to have that out and available sometime this year.
When the World of Pirates anthology publisher offered to include a story of mine, I decided to use a previous character of mine and Lord Ritchie just seemed an obvious one to expand upon. Odd how these things pop up, altering things, heading you into directions you had never seen coming. Up to that point I had never even considered Ritchie might have been a pirate but it does fill out his background and perhaps explain some of his damage in life (you'd have to read the original to see what I mean). And trust me, his life is pretty damaged. But then, tampering with things one shouldn't bother can affect one in those ways.
Expanding on previous works is pretty much the same with my Mea Culpa Document of London story. That one is about a medieval witch hunter and judge. It too will be added to that overarching compendium of my characters as yet another branch of its own storyline.
So when we finally do get to that project after wrapping up The Rapping, it will already have a rich background to draw from. As the screenplay for Mea Culpa was being written, along with considerations of SFX, it grew, if not out of control, then much larger than we had intended for an initial project. A project that should be selected for its simplicity. But then, I always do tend to go full crazy...regardless.
So it was decided to first film a shorter and easier to shoot production. I've also been practicing writing "smaller" for years now. Consider my first screenplay, Ahriman, involved massive special effects and two planets. Good story though. One I may well update and put back out there to be produced. It has elements of Brainstorm, The 13th Floor and other such films.
Looking around at my writings of what to choose from, as these films were initially going to be drawn from my writings, nothing easy or simple was rising to the surface. As we had easy access to a location, a house with a sizable yard and garage where we can shoot literally any time we want, that was in part how the concept for the first film came up and the Garage Tales series was born.
However while discussing all this with fellow producers Nik and Gordon Hayes, we started to consider the attic in the home. The garage for Garage Tales lent itself to a larger concept. While the attic allowed (in my tiny mind anyway) a much smaller consideration somehow. Even though its square footage might just be greater than the garage. But an attic, well, attics have a built in fear factors. It's the unknown, the seldom gone into. The "what in the hell is that creeping around above us?"
It was right there, in the house. The attic, with its built in spookiness factor. Like basements, but different. Basements tend to be used more after all. So from there we developed a smaller conceit and delivery for our first narrative.
We just needed a story. We came up with the concept of a couple in a living room who hear a sound, seek it out and well, things happen. But what sound? Perhaps just a knocking sound, a tapping, sound a rapping. Why did rapping pop into my head?
Because it was Poe, pure and simple. I've always been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, since I was a kid. I was a fan as a child of the Roger Corman films and the British Hammer horror films. I immediately realized I had been thinking about Poe's poem, The Raven. Just the first stanza though:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
And there it was. "The Rapping".
Immediately it was brought up about a conflict with modern Rap music and how it can be confused with that. But that is really just a double entendre. How is that a bad thing, at least in this case? Besides been there before. "JZ" Murdock, right? Not my fault and I'm older than Jay-Z after all.
Originally I was just thinking as executive producer and as screenwriter and editor, of using only the first stanza. But as the project developed I realized I needed to read the entire poem again and consider it in its entirety.
Which made me realize that it is really about grief and a lost love. Not a direction we were headed in. We had built this story with the love, the significant other, right there. The "love" was named Poppet, not Lenore as in the poem. I realized we needed a rewrite. The screenplay had already had some major changes made to it by then but this was much bigger.
I had to rethink that. In fact it stopped me dead in my rewrite. I also had to submit the paperwork to SAG\AFTRA (more about that later). To submit to them as an Indie signatory, I have a few documents to submit. One of which is the screenplay itself. As we now have a SAG\AFTRA actor (more about that later, too), we have to go this route if we wish to use her. The documents we have to initially submit to get the ball rolling are:
-Pre-Production Cast List
-Copy of the Screenplay (Treatments/Outlines are acceptable for non-scripted projects.)
Copy of Personal Photo ID (If signing as an Individual)
Formation Documents (If signing as a Corporation, LLC, etc.)
So I had to have a good version of the screenplay to submit. I already have all the documents signed by the actors. But I was jammed up as there was now a reversal to my (our) original concept. As we have been realizing through this entire project and development, every stoppage like this has led us to a better project.
I took some time off and thought about it over a few days, all the while having it bouncing around in the back of my mind. I took my Harley out for a ride around Port Orchard, which was quite beautiful and a great repast after too many months of cold and rain.
Eventually I got back to it. Sitting down one day with Nik, I told him my problem and we discussed the storyline. It just all started to fall into place. Feeling rejuvenated, I began again to rewrite the screenplay. This time I got it done in one quick sitting. I now have a screenplay I can use to submit all these docs with. As I'm writing this the day before this blog is published, I just need to go over it one more time today and submit it.
Backing up... what have been the issues we've had that kept stopping us? We have brand new equipment, new software for editing the shots, and we've never done a narrative film, just documentary. So we have the experience of building a film, just not a narrative, and one with FX.
The story is of an entity that invades a home and affects the inhabitants. But what kind of an entity is it? Alien, specter (ghost, interdimensional being), demon, military invention, technological horror? What? Is the, are the invaded crazy, on drugs? This is all reflected in the opening establishing shots around Bremerton leading to the home.
Backing up again... Starting on a Friday, I was at the Port Orchard Dragonfly Cinema Film Festival. I had so much fun and got to be in another Kelly Hughes (Leprechaun Productions) horror film. Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson in Little House on the Prairie) was also in that film. Last year she had "murdered" me in another Hughes' production. So I knew her a little. I got to hang with Kelly and helped him with Alison over the weekend.
At some point it occurred to me to ask her if she'd like to be involved in our project. But how? She was busy and leaving on Sunday to speak to legislators in Sacramento on Monday. I couldn't let this opportunity pass us by. At the beginning of the film there is a place where the words of the first stanza of The Raven are superimposed on the screen. After a while I'd thought to have someone read those words rather that put them on the screen.
We'd found in a friend of Nik's and mine, Tom Remick, that he used to be a professional announcer. The fix for these words on the screen was obvious. But then Alison came into the scene and this was the obvious and a reasonable possibility of how to get her in the film. As a narrator of the poem I simply couldn't turn down this opportunity. And what actor wouldn't want to be involved in a Poe project?
So I asked her and she was happy to be a part of our project. She said when she was a child she had her mother read Poe to her before bed. Perfect! I spoke with Tom and he was happy to be a team player and understand the importance of having someone like Alison on the project. This led me to consider how to keep Tom on the project. Again it enhanced our project.
Thoughts were that he could do an underlying deeper voice to enhance the oddity of Alison's voice, or have him do some voice work at various places as an audio FX. Or perhaps have Tom read the stanza again at the end of the film. Perhaps having Alison's voice underly his at the end in a reversal of the opening lines. Having text read again at the end as well as the beginning of a film has been done many times before. Reading text at the beginning that when reread at the end, has an enhanced meaning by that point to the audience.
This past weekend I submitted the documents to SAG\AFTRA and have therefore begun the process of becoming a SAG\AFTRA signatory and actually being able to use Alison on this project. It's been a vastly educational project for all of us so far. Not Alison really, as she already has vastly more experience in film than all of us put together do, having started in TV\film back in the late 1960s.
We have now set the official start of the project for early July and need only to submit to SAG\AFTRA. This has already been a rich and rewarding experience.
And I only see more coming. I'll keep you apprised.