Monday, January 14, 2019

Social Relevance in Creative Projects

With all that's going on, with many of those I respect fighting in grand, not specific ways, it occurred to me just now to look at what I was doing creatively. All I ever wanted to do was to entertain with great stories that weren't the same old thing.

No, I do not think we need to be socially relevant in all our creativity. But then why not, if we can hide it but it's there to see if one wishes to see it? We are exhausted by our society and government today. Entertainment gives us a break from reality. It is why during the Great Depression, theaters did not go out of business, but thrived. And tend to during great political and societal upheavals. 

As my mother used to say, because we had little money, and at times when I was broke at an adult and putting all my money to survival, to merely existing...

"We have to take the time and a bit of our money for ourselves from time to time. Or what is the use? We have to be able to continue and that takes time and money to enjoy ourselves even a little. So we can continue and get through our troubles. With our sanity."

As the title indicates, The Teenage Bodyguard, is a screenplay I'm finishing up. It is a true crime story and one from my own past. It's a very good story. Professionals keep telling me that. It also has a bigger scope than just myself. It's a highly dramatic situation that, for several reasons, I thought was begging to be told.

Others agreed. In fact, it was an executive producer from London I first told about the project who said he wanted to see it first should I ever write it. So I did. He didn't' like my first draft so I shelved it. A couple of years later I decided to do some more research on it and was amazed by what I found.

So I rewrote it. Sadly, I could not find him by then. Perhaps he moved on? No matter, my interaction with him left me with a new and very good concept for a screenplay. Over the next few years, I continued to research, receiving coverage and redrafting it. It got better and better.

Yet, I wondered today, what if any, social relevance there was in this project?

I hadn't really started the project thinking about that. My intentions were to make money to enhance my retirement savings. I'm using those resources now to do the creative things that I've had to put off all my life to raise a family.

Family raised now, with some retirement stashed away (though not enough and it is quickly in today's economy, being used up), I'm finally pursuing those endeavors. I have the time, full time, to work on what I want.
Me, on right, wearing shoulder holster with my rifle from the story.
Friend is part of a compilation of several for the character in the screenplay.
The story I'm telling in this screenplay is essentially about two people. But in a parallel telling, it is also a fascinating story of an unusual criminal organization that terrorized the Pacific Northwest of the 1970s. No book has been written, no film has been shot about them. And I have a unique perspective and orientation from which to tell that tale.

The handgun I carried in the story from my past.
A Ruger Blackhawk .357 magnum
In the story, I take a traumatized woman under my care who witnessed a murder by this organized crime family. It was the murder of a friend whom she worked with. We did our best to stay alive of a week until she could leave town. Did she survive that week of dodging her murderous pursuers? Obviously I did. Right?

But beyond that story, was there something more?

Let me just say, for some time now since I began researching and writing this screenplay six years ago now, comments, even from professionals has increased in quality and demeanor. Well known entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson read and liked it a lot. Contests and The Blacklist have liked it. I just finished working with consultant Jen Grisanti on it. By this point, I apparently it actually is a pretty amazing project.

But still....

I realized when I thought of writing this, there was. Because of these criminals and their reach into whatever resources they could acquire in order to protect their enterprise, eventually, the entire local COUNTY government had to be reorganized to prevent this from ever again happening. The local Sheriff, some of his deputies, some police, a Prosecuting Attorney, and other going possibly and potentially all the way up to a former governor of Washington state.

Does any of THAT sound familiar to anyone, today?

I think it does. I really do. And I think it's socially relevant.

So what? Somehow with all that is going on today, I do feel better in this project, as this is a lot of work. To think that there is more in this than just telling a story, a story that includes myself, a story that would potentially make me money, and may make people reflect on some bigger things. And that, is what being socially relevant is all about.

The problem with the Pierce county government back in the 1970s was that people either did not care. Or they thought it just looked problematic, rather than actually being a problem they needed to address and fix.

Just as we are seeing today.

Democracy and a free society do not just run along on their own. We have to protect it, be vigilant and when necessary, correct our course of actions and our path which hopefully is not one of destruction as it seems to be oriented today.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Notes on, Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Recently I watched a color version of Night of the Living Dead (1968). Interesting. But I think I like the b/w version better.

It's funny, I'm watching this now as I write this and thinking tactically. And for the first time from a screenwriter and filmmaker's POV. When I saw this originally, at the drive-in, with my family as a kid, I was 13. The year the film came out in 1969.

It scared the hell out of me. And my family. We kids loved the scares though. But it REALLY scared the hell out of my old school, old country style Slovak Catholic mother. Another film didn't scare me that much until some years later. It was called, The Exorcist. I saw that at the Cinerama Theatre in Seattle. Amazing event night I believe I've detailed elsewhere.

Later in the 1970s, I mentioned it to her once in the living room and she froze and said (as we'd all always known) "You do not say the name of that film in my house!" We had to laugh and I said, "Mom, it was just a movie." "I know, I just don't ever want to think of that movie again."

Pretty effective movie.

I think it was the outer space connection as we were in the middle of NASA stuff daily back then and I was loving it. I was really into NASA. I had a scrapbook I collected of articles about NASA efforts I have to this day.

The thought that a virus that could come down, from outer space, from the unknown, was a palpable consideration/fear. Also if you listen to the intense parts, the sounds, music if you like, perfectly backs up the fears. Something John Carpenter picks up on years later in his films.

Here are some points I noticed while I rewatched this film:
  • After the monster of previous decades in film, we see a new kind of fear. Out of the mundane comes fear. 
  • These were not your parent's zombies. No voodoo, no curses, no surreality. Science. Reality. Pure and utter fear is involved. With no solutions. 
  • The music perfectly underscores the action as I have said.
  • At first, no one would pick up the film for destruction. The filmmakers had to go to theaters to hawk their product and it ended up in the lowest of theatres. Those associatied with exploitation films if not porn, and children's showings. So some children were dropped off by parents, thinking they had an afternoon free on Saturday, and the children were exposed to something they had no idea how to deal with or handle. As critic Roger Ebert said at the time, he saw children leaving after the film crying, having no idea what they had just seen or how to handle it. 
  • There was a reflection in the government characters in being unable to explain and offer solutions to the situation that aided in the overall terror of the situation. Especially in 1969 when we were still so ignorant and yet were aware of how we know so little but are trying to stumble our way through a new and ever fear invoking reality. Along with the nuclear threats.
  • There is simplicity in its terror.
  • The low key realism of the TV newscasts aided the realism. Many of the low budget-ness of the film supports this.
  • It's interesting to note, no one reacts to classically trained actor/protagonist Dwayne Jones (who himself didn't like challenging racial norms and being violent), in his being a black man. His being accepted as an equal and excelling over others, then the ending he receives once the audience accepts him is Brilliant. Progressive. He actually talks back to a white man, slaps a very white blond woman, and then SHOOTS a white man! And the audience cheers him for this! This procedes Shaft and all the black exploitation films about to hit the scene. 
  • This was only a year past Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, about interracial marriage. A film I loved at the time because it questioned the establishment. 
  • It is a year after Capt. Kirk kisses his black Coms officer Uhuru. Which disturbed many and helped break the racial barrier a little bit more. Kudos to Gene Roddenberry on that one as well as so much more. The black/white, white/black characters in another episode of Star Trek being another example. 
  • By never addressing the black issues, it gave the film a lasting, before its time, endurance. 
  • That all supported the realism in whatever your cultural or social differences were in a Zombie Apocalypse, in that nothing matters but survival. The ZA is a meritocracy. If it's not as we saw, you die.
  • The character of Dwayne Jones' part was originally a white character and Romero wanted Dwayne to play it as originally portrayed, which in the 60s was a questionable thing to do. Dwayne was fine with that until he began to wonder if he was being exploited. He eventually came to realize, no one was thinking that way at all. 
  • Blacks at the time were allowed to be smart but not aggressive. Sidney Poitier in 1967 as a cop, slapping a rich white southern man, who had just slapped him, was stunning to audiences. Then a year or so later, here comes Dwayne Jones... smart, AND aggressive. 
  • The film punched many societal buttons at that time. 
  • The daughter killing the mother was a big one. 
  • The outer space connection at that time in 1969 was a big issue that sold this and enhanced the fears.
  • The sound effects/music during some of the serious death scenes was highly effective. the music was from public domain films they found so, free. 
  • Having a woman appear as an entirely nude zombie (from behind) was genius. As was a bug eating zombie who was the film's hair stylist. 
  • In 1969 having a black man as a lead, and an apparently educated one, was disturbing and somewhat unique. Certainly in the horror genre. His slapping a white woman was more intense than normal. His handling a distraught white man (see this as bigoted only by proxy, very clever), was more intense than otherwise. His being the hero was unusual and in the end, therefore, once you accept him as hero, his death became devastating. The hero died. The hero was a black man. The audience felt bad for a black hero dying. It didn't just push buttons, even for nonracists because of the culture at the time, it slammed the button home. 
  • Not only that, but the business, as was usual, the near mechanization, the business as usual attitude in the film, the blend of still shots, voiceovers and film footage, of dispatching and burning of people, and of the black protagonist\hero is then especially disturbing. If you did have racist elements in your personality at that point, then it's really very disturbing. In part because you don't realize it's happening because of all the rest that was going on under the surface that you didn't recognize until it was over, if even then. 
  • Did you know there is a connection between Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" fame, and Night of the Living Dead? There most certainly is. George Romero and friends made some films first for Fred Rogers and then decided (some being out of work at that time) that they could make a film. Something that just wasn't done at that time. 
  • The term "zombie" doesn't occur in the film. Gouls, was the term bandied about a lot. 
  • These gouls used tools readily. You could see them thinking, but on a very baseline. 
  • The gouls were afraid of light and fire.
  • They ate bugs. Harkening the world of Dracula and his guy...Renfield.
  • The Romero crew rented an abandoned farmhouse about to be torn down and pretty much lived in it during the shooting with no running utilities. 
  • According to Romero, they had to go to the nearby stream to wash off and drag water back in buckets for the toilet to work. 
  • The reason I think that color doesn't help the film, is that the production values and acting were all rough and it worked for the overall attitude and motif. 
  • Many of the famous lines from the interviews in the film were all ad-libbed. Bill Cardille was a local Pittsburg, PA Horror show host who did the interviews in the film. On his weekly show, he would promote what he was doing on the film set and that there was a horror film being filmed locally. "Pittsburghers Make Chiller for Drive-Ins". Many people showed up with chairs to watch the onset antics, especially the burning of the truck scene.
  • They got a real TV helicopter and pilot and real police and ambulance to help out in scenes. They couldn't believe how helpful people and local government were to aide their efforts. To locals, it was a big movie production. Even though it was a below low budget production. Romero said the ambulance was the biggest production prop he had ever been near on a set.
  • Gouls were played by friends, family, local townsfolk and clients of Romero's new production company the Latent Image.
  • The film ends in a neutral fashion, with titles rolling and the protagonist, the good, black man's corpse being drug to be burned. Which is appropriate in this case to burn the dead, but he should never have been killed. Especially after all he'd been through. Not to mention the burning of a black man is historically a horrifying consideration, especially to the black community. 
Overall, this is a film that at first was panned and derided by critics. Then went to Europe and worldwide, in part because of a screw up in the titles and copyright so that it was worldwide free to show. Critics loved it in Europe. So when it returned to America, critics changed their minds. It was deemed a genre, industry-altering film then.

I got Tom to sign one of these
I think of it with fond memories. In part because of succeeding films in the franchise I loved and the addition in the next film of Tom Savini and his work in bringing even more reality to the franchise in using Gray's Anatomy book and making F/X accurate.
Tom Savini Zombcon II 2011 SeaTac Hilton
I got to meet my f/x hero Savini some years ago after following his career since Dawn of the Dead when he joined the franchise and a documentary (Scream Greats Vol. 1 - Tom Savini) I saw years ago about him. He also directed the remake of Night of the Living Dead, in 1990.

Russell Streiner in his civvies off camera behind Romero
George Romero died in 2017. I got to be in the room with him at the first Seattle Zombcon in 2011. Nice guy, he was looking old even then. He had a great sense of humor and was a very creative and nice guy. At 27, he helped start the indie film industry in this country. He gave a genre once steeped in silliness and magic and brought it into reality by way of using science fiction.

George Romero
We will miss him.
George Romero at Seattle's 2010 Zombcon 1 with Cal Miller from my first publisher at Zilyon
But he left us a catalog of some fun films that led to many others and offered the world a twist on a genre that we will never forget.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Science Fiction and Happy New Years 2019!

First off as this is so fitting a topic for the end of an old and start of a new year...

Wishing you all a great and better 2019! Cheers! Slainte!

Also, if you missed it, see my blog yesterday about the heroes in your life. It's so very fitting for an end of the year, pre-New Years consideration.


Science fiction and as well, speculative fiction, have always been about imagining what you do not normally imagine. About thinking ahead, around corners and about seeing what you need to see before you need to see it. Giving you time to be prepared. All while enjoying a unique and insightful experience into the possibilities of when, where, and how.
Sarah Snook as John in Predestination.
Science fiction is like journalists and comedians, a first front to what is now and what is coming. It seldom has received the attention and praise it deserves and has seldom been seen as the futurism it is.

Star Wars, Superheroes films, and stories are not science fiction. They are its more exciting and yet more ignorant forms. However, they too have their place. They too do serve a function.

True science fiction (even hard science fiction) gives us a glimpse of what is coming up, concerning to us and what needs to be concerning for us. It has become diluted in today's world because of the popularity of what is most entertaining...and profitable.

Still, that is a form involved in the maturation of SF in understanding it is a form to reckon with and to pay attention to.

And so we see now in its future it's coming into its own. More succinctly, more impactfully. Like a surgeon's blade cutting on the bad, exposing and leaving the good that is there, that can be there and that should be there. No matter how hard it is for some to look into that snapshot of humanity. No matter how it disturbs or cajoles.

Dystopian stories have become popular as they always do during years of difficult times. The show us the horrors of our potential futures and make us consider, should we avoid that? The Handmaid's Tale, is one of those. It speaks to us saying, "It doesn't have to turn into this horror, if we just act to keep it from becoming so."

It is a form of education we need and gives little thought to. That includes things like Transgenderism is one of those subjects.

As one article says about that:

"Transgender people have always been part of science fiction and fantasy, but the past few years have seen a whole new generation of trans creators bursting onto the scene. Why are so many trans people flocking to SF and what kind of stories are they telling? Also, we delve into the controversy over Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, and explain why so many people are questioning the science behind this concept. Why can't teenagers shape their own identities without being accused of some mysterious new malady?}

Science fiction has given us real astronauts and scientists, computers and devices. One example is all that came from a single offering in the Star Trek TV show of the 1960s and as well, its descendent shows and films, comic books and novel and so on.

So many childhood fans grew up into careers they first learned about in a science fiction show. They created devices that now exist because they were first imagined by these kids when seen on Star Trek. All because they were first made aware of the possibility and then grew to become their future inventors.

It was a show ignorantly canceled due to concerns of profit, when the service it was performing should have been seen as the news back then, a loss leader sorely needed by our society and humanity at large. The costs of that show were minimal to what benefits we have since reaped from them.

How many astronauts today can say they wanted to be an astronaut because of watching Star Trek shows? From the article:

"When "Star Trek" first aired, on Sept. 8, 1966, the American human space program was only four years old. NASA was practicing rendezvous, docking and spacewalks in the agency's Gemini program. The Apollo moon landings were still three years away, and the space shuttle was only just being designed.

"It was an exciting time for future American astronauts, including Virts, Tom Jones and Mike Massimino. All three would become shuttle and space station astronauts, and they told that the 1960s space program highly inspired them as children. "Star Trek" was a lesser influence, they said."

We are today living our realities from the science fiction of those past days.

I could go on and on about all the shows and books and various media types of science fiction. All we need to know is though, it is a useful tool we should pay attention to and better utilize. It is forward thinking. It creates and invents as it goes and its goal really, is to make our world and universe a better place, for all. Not just humanity. But intelligent life everywhere.

Appreciate it. Pay attention to it. Support it.

And we will all be the better for it.