Something New Under The Sun?

I received an interesting email from Harper Collins the other day. Startlingly, it contained something new (to me) and on top of that the idea was actually interesting and unusual. Now perhaps I’m simply beeing naive and have allowed the business of writing pass me by without watching carefully, but I thought Authonomy was a good idea and decided to throw my two cent opinion behind it.

According to James Pursaill of Harper Collins, Authonomy is an innovative Digital imprint from HarperCollins that publishes talent from our website, www.authonomy.com – completely bypassing the traditional agent model. In essence, it crowdsources great writing. Users submit their own work – then read, review and rate the writing of other users – with the strongest material floating to the top of the online slushpile. This allows us to published innovative titles that are chosen by readers, for readers in an increasingly crowded and competitive market.

They’ve just published the third ebook sourced in this way: Brotherhood of Shades by Dawn Finch. I can’t speak for the quality of the novel – it’s YA and I’m looking for a reviewer for it – but I love the innovation and hope that this turns out to be a decent market for new writers – one that is badly needed.

As to the author, again I quote Harper Collins:

Dawn Finch grew up in a book filled house on the river’s edge of a tough London-overspill council estate. When she was ten her dad gave her a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories and this launched a lifetime fascination with the macabre and the unexplained. At the age of eleven a fierce librarian refused to lend her a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the grounds that she was too young to read it. She vowed that if she was ever a librarian she would never deny a child a great book. At twelve Dawn told her careers advisor that she wanted to be either a writer or a librarian, and she was dismayed to be told to stop ‘pointless dreaming’. After many years of study and hard work, and a range of jobs – from reading unsolicited slush-pile manuscripts, to dressing as a Benedictine monk to take children on cathedral tours – Dawn carved out a successful career as a Children’s Librarian and Reader Development Consultant. With the publication of her first book, Brotherhood of Shades, she is thrilled to be able to add Writer to her CV as well.

I wish both Dawn and Authonomy well and hope they both go on to many future successes.

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Sensory Overload – A European Perspective on Dragoncon

I’m back home from Dragoncon a couple of days now and have had time for mature reflection. Anything I say must be prefaced by the stats – an average Irish con these days gets about 300 visitors. The largest con I’ve been to previously was Worldcon in Mortreal, where the numbers were in the five to six thousand region. Somewhere in the region of forty-five thousand visitors passed through the doors of Dragoncon last week in under four days. So you can understand that I was blown away bt the sher scale of the event.

Crowd Scene

I brought my camera – maybe I could snap a famous writer or take some shots of my friends, I thought. Instead I shot off snap after snap of ordinary people in extraordinary garb (costumes) and the hordes that trampled through the hotels at all hours of the day and night.

Not Sure About the Casting of Dorothy.

The panels were a blur. I attended several in the Anne McCaffrey’s Worlds stream. They were great fun. I also went to one in the YA track giving advice to young writers. Now even my best friends would not claim I was young, my detractors would question the writer bit, but the advice that was given was top notch, as you would expect, and applicable to young writers of every age. I was astonished how many of the teenagers present were working on novels – not always their first.

It’s a Red Dalek, what’s not to like.

All in all, there was simply too much going on to take it all in at the first attempt. I will have to go again and, hopefully, they will again let me in. (I usually have to go everywhere twice – second time to apologise).

If they're recasting Peter Pan these guys have got a real shout.

He clanked when he walked!

Don’t know what he was supposed to be, but definitely my favourite costume.

The highlight for me, in a purely personal way, was the awards banquet. I got to sit at the table beside some very famous people and some of them even shook my hand. And though it was the sad part of the evening, no matter how much host John Ringo protested to the opposite, I won’t quickly forget his speech about those icons of science fiction (without the fiction in one notable case) who passed on this year. Three were named and eulogised at length. Neil Armstong who, as long as history is read and taught, will ever be remembered for his heroic trip onto our sattelite and his Giant Leap, was first up. Then came Ray Bradbury, the man who turned middle America into something weird, wonderful and often creepy. But held for last, like the lead act at a rock concert was Anne McCaffrey.

The Mad Hatter and his bitches.

I was fortunate enough to know Annie and lived close to her home in Co. Wicklow for many years. Her son Todd was sitting beside me litening to John Ringo remembering for us all, his wonderful mother and ordering him, not too successfully, not to cry. Afterwards I felt moved to shake John by the hand and, in a firm, manly voice, thank him for his wonderful speech. Unfortunately a lump in the throat intervened and I delivered only half my message.

Thanks, John, Annie would have been proud and delighted to hear your kind and heartfelt words as you channeled the feelings of the entire audience.

This stormtrooper family are friends of Todd (no it’s not a euphamism).

But check out the costumes, aren’t they awesome (not a word I use with any regularity, but the only one I truly felt would fit here). And thanks to all the hordes of fans who took the time and spent their hard-earned cash on this feast for the eyes. I’ve never been a fan of costumes but I was truly blown away by the variety and quality on show in Atlanta.

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Resident Alien (He’s from Cork) – an interview with David Murphy

David Murphy is the author of a well-received novel LONGEVITY CITY (USA 2005), novellas ARKON CHRONICLES (2003) and BIRD OF PREY (2011), and several volumes of award-winning short stories (most recently LOST NOTES – Ireland 2004). He is a founder editor of Albedo One. Visit his website at http://davidmurph.wordpress.com/

Tell me one little-known fact about David Murphy?

I did a lot of hitch-hiking back in the seventies. That was in the days when hitching was so popular books about it were in the bestseller lists. I travelled the roads of Europe over three or four months one summer.  The most I hitched in any one day on that trip was over 400 miles from Salonika to Belgrade. This caused a delay at the Greek-Yugoslav border because the guards had never seen an Irish passport before! – this was back in 1975 when Irish people did not travel much. How things have changed.

Tell me a little about your published work .

LONGEVITY CITY is probably the best of my novels and novellas in that it was published by an imprint of a big US publisher and has sold more copies than any of my other books, also getting a lot of good reviews along the way. It seems to be the best of my longer works and I enjoyed writing it but to be honest short stories seem to come more naturally to me. I’m more drawn to the idea of creating a perfect slice of fiction in three or four thousand words rather than in a novel of a hundred thousand. Getting the fiction perfect though is a very tricky thing to achieve. The writer Sean O Faolain once said that a short story is like a little bird. Get it right and it will soar. If you don’t get it right, your story is stuck on the ground like a flightless sparrow. I like trying to make little birds that, hopefully, will take wing and fly – if only occasionally.

How many of your short stories, do you think, achieve that flight? Are your favourite stories necessarily the most popular?

That first bit is a 64,000 dollar question. It’s hard for a writer to look objectively at his or her own work. Publishers, magazine editors and reviewers are perhaps the best judges of what works and what does not. Sometimes a story that the writer doesn’t rate much gets taken and turns out to be the most popular story in the issue of whatever magazine it’s in. That’s happened me once or twice.

A few years ago I was approached about a film option for a story I wouldn’t even put in my own top thirty stories, so you can’t always tell what’s going to be popular or not. It’s all down to taste and whatever strikes a chord at a particular time. As regards the best though – the very best – I think a writer knows when they’ve cracked it with a really good one. Don’t ask me, though, to put a percentage success rate on the seventy or so short stories I’ve written so far – I might be tempted to exaggerate. Sometimes you have to write bad stuff out of the system to let the good flow through.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve written very little genre material over the past two years. A handful of short stories including “Night of Our Red Eye” in Albedo issue 42 – that’s about it. Instead I find myself concentrating on the sort of stuff I never dreamed I’d write just a couple of years ago. Non-fiction for instance, and poetry. Where the poems come from I’ve no idea but I’ve been writing them a while now and find them a good way of getting the lyrical juices going, which is something I’ve been striving to inject a lot of into my recent prose.

I use that awful word ‘prose’ because I don’t know how else to describe a recent  book I’ve just finished. It’s short, coming in at over 36,000 words, and is a strange amalgam of fiction and fact, a hybrid which is part travelogue, part memoir, part fiction. It’s ostensibly about angling but in fact it’s about everything. Five of the eleven chapters are fictionalised accounts of fish or fishing or sea-related activities, including “Lost Notes” the story that won the Maurice Walsh Award. All of the eleven chapters are linked thematically; dealing with the art of fishing, but overall, the book is about a lot more than angling. The factual chapters act as a unifying force that binds the whole into a unit greater than the sum of the parts, or so I hope! It’s a very Irish book but has appeal that I believe would be broader than that. Whether I can interest a publisher or agent in it or not is a different matter – as you might imagine this new manuscript is a very strange fish indeed.

Do you see yourself moving completely away from writing SF?

No, I wouldn’t say I’m moving completely away from SF although the focus of my writing has shifted  from it over the last few years. They say things should come in threes so it would be nice to have a third genre novella published to go along with ARKON CHRONICLES and BIRD OF PREY. It’s something I think I will definitely write, and ideally would like to see the three novellas in a one book format at some stage. However I don’t see myself committing to a full-length genre novel, not at the moment anyway. But you know what they say – never say never. I’ll continue to write short stories and they all contain some element of genre within them. I find it next to impossible to write a story without at least some hint of the fantastical creeping into the pages somewhere.

Is there any genre element to your poetry?

There isn’t – and I find if I try to introduce a genre element, it falls flat. Mainstream seems to be my focus there, of that there’s no doubt, but then these are basically a sideline – writing exercises, you could call them.

These writing exercises – do you submit them for publication?

Yes and a few have sneaked into semi-reputable, or even reputable, publications. Put it like this: it’s all about what keeps the fire burning in the writer’s belly. It can be hard to keep those embers burning when you’re not engaged in a major piece of work – like a novel, for instance – so you’ve got to keep the fire stoked in other ways. You can do it by writing various bits and pieces as I’ve been doing with these ‘exercises’ as I’ve called them. But of course the best way of retaining that fire in the belly is by writing about what inspires or excites you, or even what upsets and infuriates, as long as you control these emotions and filter them through a good story with a good situation, good conflict and good characters.

Do you find it easy to channel real-world concerns into your SF?

Sometimes too easily. Back in the nineties a lot of my best stories, near-future tales such as “Broken Heroes” and “Something Small”, were about the power of the church which was a very powerful institution in the Ireland of that time. Thankfully that has now changed so I no longer find myself writing about it. Most writers go through phases where certain themes come to the forefront of their work. Themes can be politically motivated or personally motivated depending on what’s happening in your life or in the world around you at any given point.

In recent years I’ve centred stories around things that concern me such as advertising and media. I have concerns right now about the growing prevalence of social networking, communications technology and the loss of individuality – though that last one has been a bit of a recurring theme. Not to mention the economic mess we find ourselves in because property speculators and developers in cahoots with politicians have ruined our country and economy so thoroughly that who’s picking up the bill and paying to bail out the bankers, builders and other chancers? The ordinary Joe Soap is, the guy who had nothing to do with creating the mess in the first place. Now all the debt accrued by reckless bankers and their cronies has been turned into sovereign debt so that the payment of it can be imposed on every single Irish citizen. Meantime those who caused it all get away with it all and continue on their merry way with little or no sanction. Now that’s a theme I’d like to address but at the moment I feel too angry about it and therefore would be unable to channel it correctly – it’s too raw.

You’ve got to be careful if you’re writing about something that’s exercising you politically though. You can’t preach in fiction. The subject has to inform your writing in a very filtered way for it to work. The message, if there is to be one in a story, has to be subtle and subservient to character and setting. You’ve got to find the right peg to hang your message on. Anyone could write a short story about the influence of the Murdochs, for instance, so you have to be extra thoughtful if you want a story such as that to work successfully – you guessed it by the way, I’ve written about Rupert Murdoch, too.

What writers (or novels) have influenced you over the course of your career?

I read plenty of mainstream novels and short stories in my youth including a lot of the very best such as Joyce, de Maupassant, Rabelais, etc. A moment of epiphany came when I walked into the Cork city library one day and borrowed one of those big old yellow Gollancz editions of RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA. This was around the time of the release of “2001” so Clarke was hot. It just blew me away that a writer could spend maybe three pages basically just describing a cylinder in space but doing so brilliantly. That was the start of my interest in literary SF rather than just any old literary stuff.

Some of my favourite novels would be THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and short stories by Philip K Dick, though my all-time favourite short story collection is Hermann Hesse’s STRANGE NEWS FROM ANOTHER STAR. I also have favourite reads by writers who are still alive! Michael Cunningham, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michel Houellebecq, to name a few.

What other media have influenced your writing?

Well I suppose the aforementioned “2001” brings us to films. Movies like “Fahrenheit 451” and the “Planet of the Apes” series and lots more, all of these had an influence on me in my student days. For some reason the Nic Roeg film “Walkabout” stayed with me, too. Why I’m not sure – and no, it wasn’t the Jenny Agutter factor. It was more the atmosphere, the visual poetry of the whole thing on the big screen.

Sam Beckett had an influence also, not through seeing his plays on stage – I’m not much of a theatre-goer and have only seen one live performance of a play of his and that was “Ag Tnuth Le Godot”, an Irish language production, but I’ve read extracts of his work in one of my favourite books, John Calder’s “A Samuel Beckett Reader”. Of course television is unavoidable, as evidenced by those 80’s cold war classics “The Day After” and “On the Eighth Day”. These definitely coloured my writing as did the surreal and off-the-wall – Monty Python, for instance.

I used to read Marvel and DC comics as a child. There was a shop on Shandon Street in Cork that always had a supply of them. I don’t know where the shopkeeper got them from. Years – decades – later someone told me that bales of comics were used as ballast on banana boats and the like and then off-loaded for a few pence to second-hand book dealers in whatever port the boat happened to dock in. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a good story. Don’t tell fans of graphic SF that I used to deface and destroy the comics by cutting out pictures of spacecraft and keeping them in a little scrapbook.

You mentioned writing poetry earlier – any poets whose work stays with you?

One of the poems I like best is “Song of Wandering Aengus” by Yeats. Another is by Sam Beckett. Not a lot of people know that Beckett wrote poems. I particularly like a short one of his called “Dieppe”. I also like some English beat poetry I suppose you’d call it, from the seventies. One of my favourites is called “Breaking Bread in Bedlam”. Then there’s TS Elliott’s “Prufrock”. But most of my favourite poetry is in another medium entirely – music. The likes of Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Jim Morrison, Dylan, Springsteen, I regard their work as poetry. Not to forget a particular track, and this really is a poem that does stay with me – I can recite it at the drop of a hat. It’s by Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues and is the title track from “On the Threshold of a Dream”. Now the Moodies were much maligned for their quasi-mystical pretentiousness, in particular the poetry of Edge (he had one poem on each album) but the funny thing is that sometimes the poems actually worked – for me anyway.

Ah, the poetry of music – you’re obviously a big fan. Give me a quick top five – CD/LP. And a top five songs.

Ok. Albums first and in no particular order: Camel “Moonmadness”, Fruupp “The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes”, Springsteen “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, Mike Nesmith “Nevada Fighter”, Granham Parker “Howlin’ Wind”. Most people regard the Parker as not even being his best album but to me it’s the nearest thing to a live performance, which I had the pleasure of witnessing once.

Songs: Strawberry Fields, Famous Blue Raincoat, Blister on the Moon (Taste), Watching and Waiting (Moody Blues) and Septimus (Loudest Whisper). That last one is, in my opinion, the best prog-rock song ever written. I could go on about music, you know.

Do you listen to music while you write?

Now that’s something I’ve tried to do once or twice but it doesn’t work. I used to think that if I put on music, for instance a Van Morrison album or even a bit of classical like Mahler or Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, that I’d be somehow inspired to write better. Instead I found myself being drawn by the music and just sitting there listening like an eegit rather than writing. I guess I’m a traditionalist in that I like to sit alone in a small, quiet upstairs room at the back of the house with the PC in front of me and no distractions. In that situation I can hear a creak on the bottom of the stairs at a thousand paces so music would be a no-no. My computer is on a desk in front of a north-facing window. I love sitting there on dull or rainy days, which of course in Ireland means most days, and writing away. On rare occasions when the sun shines I go outside as I like outdoor pursuits such as walking with Marie and fishing, even kayaking and golf. Sometimes I scribble a few notes or write a para or two on paper downstairs on the sofa or sitting on the bus going into town, but for anything sustained I have to use the PC. We’ve a holiday home on the south coast and I do some writing on a keyboard down there as well. Who knows, I might even invest in a laptop one of these days.

Has getting into poetry affected how you write or what you write (prose)?

Not really. Although there’s no doubt but that it’s eaten into my writing time. I’ve probably written fewer stories in the last couple of years than I might otherwise have, but on the other hand the quality of the stories I now write may have improved as a result of dabbling in poetry. Poetry does takes up writing time, it takes up writing energy, but I find that those are the only senses in which my main writing has been affected. It’s not like I’m moving away from fiction and am glad to say I’ve just started – well, two days ago – began a new short story and a proper little dark fantasy it is too that seems to be writing itself well, so far anyway.

You say the story is writing itself – how much work do you have to do once the iece is down on paper initially?

Depends on the piece. In the case of this new story it is pretty much writing itself in that the plot is straightforward and traditional with a beginning, middle and end. It demands to be told in a simple, linear fashion. When the first draft is done I’ll trim it back – I’m a great believer in throwing in everything, including the kitchen sink, at the first draft stage (on the basis that it’s easier to take stuff out than it is to put stuff in). I don’t think there’ll be much to do after that. Not with this story, anyway. But then, who knows? I may get someone to cast an eye on it for me and they may say, ‘you should start at the end and work your way back’. In that case I’ll grimace and thank them profusely! However I don’t believe that will happen with this story.

There are other times when a short story can be very convoluted, not linear at all, where structuring can be challenging and demanding. In those cases the initial drafts may only be the beginning with lots of re-writing called for. Usually, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a rule of thumb, the more drafts you have to go through the greater the possibility is that you’re not getting the words right, and the thing just isn’t working. In that scenario maybe it’s time to move on to the next project. I don’t mean you should abandon it altogether, but sometimes it’s best to let something stew for a while before going back to it. Happily though, this new story is of the get-it-down-on-the-page-quick variety.

How long does it take you from conception to finished work for a story in general?

Again, it varies from one story to another. There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes a story arrives fully formed. On other occasions it starts out with just the germ of an idea. Very often writers who are starting out in their careers get an idea for a story and just write the idea. An American editor, whose name escapes me now, came up with an acronym for that type of short story: A.N.I.T.E. – A Nice Idea The End. Orson Scott Card in his book on writing science fiction says that when you get a Nice Idea don’t be happy. Take it to a higher level. Twist it for all that it’s worth. Make the most of it.

Too often at Albedo we get stories submitted to us that are A.N.I.T.E. They inariably get rejected because the writers just wrote the idea and failed to give it that extra shake, that extra twist, to get the most out of it. They allowed themselves to be satisfied too easily. I can think of several stories of mine that, initially, were Nice Ideas. But when I’m writing something new I always try to think of Card’s dictum – I think every writer should carve the words ‘don’t be happy’ on their desks or laptops! Sometimes it may take days, weeks, for that twist to suggest itself to you that brings the story up a notch. Other stories arrive complete, like that one I’m writing now, hopefully.

We’re approaching the end. Two more (trivial, fun) questions.

You’ve been convicted of murder (wrongly) and will be executed in the morning. What is your final meal?

A good hot chicken curry, so hot it would make my eyes water – as if I wouldn’t be crying already. And maybe a big bottle of cider and a pint glass full of ice to wash it all down. And followed by a big sundae with lots of strawberry sauce. And I almost forgot, a strong Irish coffee.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film directoretc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else.

That’s a hard one. I had the good fortune earlier this year to see Picasso’s Guernica in a gallery in Madrid. It’s a huge painting about seven metres long and about half that in height. Guernica is constantly being examined and x-rayed and re-examined by an array of cameras and scanning equipment because, apparently, Picasso hid a lot of details under the surface by painting over them. It’s extraordinary to see a painting take up almost an entire gallery wall and to witness the emotion it wrought in the faces of those looking at it. As a painting it’s childishly drawn, yet profound in what it says. It’s so simple yet full of symbolism. It says everything that needs to be said about war, greed and the world – the whole caboodle expressed on a canvas. I found it very moving, perhaps more so than any other art form I’ve ever seen. Now that, or its literary/cinematic equivalent, who wouldn’t give their right arm to produce something like that?

 

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Two out of two

I have mentioned before – here – that I am writing a novel at present. One of the side-effects is that everything seems to be giving me short story ideas. Normally this would be a good thing, but it’s really just my sub-conscious (lazy bastard doesn’t like the hard graft and lack of instant gratification of a 130,00 word story) trying to get some time off from the real work.

However, I have written two short stories this year, both for anthologies by editors that have bought previous stories who are exploring territory that I love to work in. So, a couple of days ago I got an acceptance for the second of these – Steampunk Cthulhu edited by Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass for Chaosium. They have bought my story Happy Birthday, Dear Cthulhu despite the fact that I misspelled Cthulhu all the way through my submission (doh!).

The TOC, in no particular order apparantly, is as follows:

The Blackwold Horror – Adam Bolivar  Carnacki – The Island of D. Munroe – William Meikle  The Promised Messiah – DJ Tyrer  The Strange Company – Peter Rawlik  Those Above – Jeffrey Thomas  The Reverend Mr. Goodworks and the Yeggs of Yigg – Ed Erdelac  Unfathomable – Christine Morgan  No Hand to Turn the Key – Carrie Cuinn  Pain Wears No Mask – John Goodrich  Before the Least of These Stars – Lee Clark Zumpe  Steel and Bones – Lois Gresh  Mr Brass and the City of Devils – Josh Reynolds  The Source – DL Snell  The Flower – Chris Geeson  The Baying of the Hounds – Leigh Kimmel  Tentacular Spectacular – Thana Niveau  Happy Birthday, Dear Cthulu – Robert Neilson

Honestly, I don’t mind being last on the list. I’m just glad to be there at all. Really, it’s okay. I like being last. It’s a superstition…

My subconscious is working on me again, saying I really should submit something to Atomic Age Cthulhu. Damn you, subconscious. Leave me alone.

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A Voice in the Wilderness – Interview with Irish indie film producer/director Gerard Lough

Gerard Lough is an award winning writer / director from Ireland. He got his start when he directed a music video while doing an internship at an American advertising agency. Since then he has directed several music videos as well as critically acclaimed short films such as Deviant and The Stolen Wings. His most high profile work to date was The Boogeyman, an ambitious 27 minute film adaptation of a short story by Stephen King. In 2012 he was awarded ‘Most Exciting Breakthrough’ in the directing category by British film website Horror Cult Films. His futuristic short film ‘Ninety Seconds’ will be released this summer.

Tell me a little-known fact about Gerard Lough.

To my slight embarrassment I am in the same hallowed company as Nicholas Winding Refn and Nick Rhodes as despite turning 34 I still don’t have a driving licence and have never driven a car for more than 10 feet. My excuses are travel sickness, a (not serious) phobia and a (quite serious) lack of interest in vehicles of any kind. Operating a camera – no problem, operating a moving vehicle… not a chance.

Tell me about the music videos – how the first one came about – any bands we’d know on your CV?

“No stars, just talent” as the guys says in The Player. My first music video (Rachel Hates The Sun) is still my favourite as it was a case of film-maker and musicians having respect for what each other does, being on the same page as to what direction the video should go in and then just do it without more meetings, ego or bullshit. Sadly I’ve learned over the years that this is more the exception than the rule.

On the fame side of things, Moby has very kindly provided a beautiful piece of instrumental music that will play out on the end credits of Ninety Seconds. While MOTOR’s new single Man Made Machine which features Depeche Mode’s Martin L. Gore will he heard during one of the film’s most visually striking scenes – a dance performance in a futuristic night club. I”ll be sending both parties a copy of the movie when I get around to it and I’d love to direct a video for either of them. If they like the movie, who knows.

Tell me about your previous work in films.

From 2008 on I’ve been proud of all of my short films as director starting with Deviant which was a stylish psychological thriller about a serial prowler. I dipped my first toe into Sci-Fi with The Scanner which had all of its visual effects created in camera, then moved to fantasy with The Stolen Wings, followed by horror with Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman and now back to sci-fi (specifically cyberpunk) with Ninety Seconds. I think short films are looked down by some as the poor relation of the film world the same way short stories are sniffed at in literary circles and at times they almost feel like the artistic equivalent of an endangered species. But I believe they are a far more valuable experience to a director who wants to move into features than commercials or music videos. The most frequently asked question I heard from customers when I worked in a video shop was ‘Is is a good story?’. They didn’t give damn if it had slick editing techniques or stunning visuals. God willing, Deviant may well be developed into my debut feature film.

How did you get the rights to the story,The Boogeyman, by Stephen King?

I got permission to adapt King’s short story because of what is known as the “Dollar Baby Deal”. Basically there are a list of his short stories that are legally available to adapt into a short films. If approved, you cough up one dollar and providing you promise not to commercially exploit the film you end up making, shazam! You’ve got a Stephen King adaptation on your C.V. The great man has being doing this since 1982.

I got permission to adapt King’s short story because of what is known as the “Dollar Baby Deal”. Basically there are a list of his short stories that are legally available to adapt into a short films. If approved, you cough up one dollar and providing you promise not to commercially exploit the film you end up making, shazam! You’ve got a Stephen King adaptation on your C.V. The great man has being doing this since 1982.

Did you get any feedback from him on the film?

As a policy, King does watch the films but will not provide feedback and keeps his views to himself. If I ever meet him I’ll try and corner him though!

How do you raise funding for your films?

I moonlight as a gigolo! No seriously, they are funded out of my own pocket and because I have my own equipment, nobody is taking a fee, and I know how to make something look good for very little, they are produced for a figure that is so low that people reading this interview will find it hard to believe when I reveal the figures. So here it is from the horses mouth, The Boogeyman cost 1,000 euros, Ninety Seconds around the same. On Ninety Seconds, even the bloody camera it was shot on was borrowed. If the Irish Film Board had given the green light to Ninety Seconds, it would have been half as short as it is now (27 mins) and would cost at least 27,000 euros. Confusing math… but absolutely true.

I’ve heard a lot of bad stories about arts funding in Ireland. Have you tried the Arts Council and the Film board? With What result? Try and keep the number of fucks to a minimum.

TheArts council only fund “non narrative” films, which is fine for the guy who wants to be the next Andy Warhol but not much help to people like me who’s first priority is to tell a good story. Thankfully the Film Board have a couple of schemes for providing finance for short films but out of hundreds of applications they might only pick five at a time – tough odds. Both The Scanner and Ninety Seconds were turned down by them. I went ahead and made them anyway, on schedule, on budget, and with the finished films exactly the way I’d imagined they would be.

I think science fiction as a genre makes people on the funding side of things very nervous as red flag immediately shoot up in their mind such as extensive visual effects, high tech props, and lavish productiondesign – all factors that could send the budget through the roof. But at the same time advances in technology now mean that a gifted kid just out of college can now do nifty CGI at a knockdown price. Granted it won’t be anything to give James Cameron sleepless nights but its still a major leap forward. I hope the resistance to Sc-Fi films in this country changes as low budget films such as Moon and Another Earth have proved you can make a very worthy addition to the genre without having to spend anything more than $5million.

Is it possible to make your money back or even make a profit on short films?

It is extremely unlikely that anyone will ever make their money back on a short film as it is very rare that the commercial avenues that are available to a feature (theatrical distribution, video, TV broadcast etc.) will ever be there for a short. The exception to the rule is if the film is nominated for an Oscar, stars someone famous, or was produced by Pixar. They usually put a short on before a feature but even then a little known fact is that it’s the cinema mangers’ discretion if he wants to screen it – the same rule that applies to trailers. So making a short film is usually a real passion project or a way of a director cutting his teeth and demonstrating that he has something to back up the talk.

Is there a way forward for indie film in Ireland that doesn’t involve penury for the director/producer?

There is if you happen to be in “the club”. Which is a short list of certain film-makers who receive funding for their projects every single time from certain organizations despite the fact they have produced a string of flops so dismal they would make John Carter look like a good investment. Being in “the club” also seems to allow some of these people to walk away with 100,000 euros for a film that will never get made or to get creative with their budgets so you can sneak off and buy new camera equipment and editing software for your production company. Or you can even be a member of the board that decides whether to finance your own film and then claim with a straight face, “There was no conflict of interest.” What’s sad is that none of what I have just said is any secret in the Irish film-making community. Sadder still is that as a country, I think we can do so much better. There is no reason why we can’t make a Sex, Lies and Videotape or Shallow Grave, which is to say independent films that have artistic merit but also commercial appeal that extends far beyond our borders.

If you are not in the club? Think seriously about renewing your passport.

NOTE: (Most of what I have just stated has been reported in the national press… and the rest is stuff that has happened time and time again.)

So how would you solve this problem and ensure that funding gets to deserving projects?

We need to stop thinking that ‘commercial’ is some kind of a dirty word and come to terms with the fact that films are an art but they are also a business and to deny that is irresponsible and delusional. We need to stop making films that are primarily intended for an Irish audience and inaccessible to everyone else. Even if the film does well at the Irish box office, that is still rarely enough for it to break even. We need to stop regurgitating national cliches and stereotypes. Do we really need another movie about the troubles in Northern Ireland or a rose tinted story about a kindly Priest? No, I really think we’re ready for something different. So in answer to your question, I think the powers that be should start sharing the funding with new directors who already have developed a distinctive style and voice of their own and have a track record (shorts, music videos or commercials) to prove it. The mavericks, the auteurs, whatever you want to call them. Yes I’m sure it would be a big change, and change is frightening when its your job on the line but we could kick off a new wave of Irish films that could compete on a world stage because there is absolutely no excuse now why we cant produce a film as daring as We Need To Talk About Kevin or as commercial as Hellraiser (budget – 1.5 million).

I wave my magic wand and you’ve got funding for your next project – not unlimited, but plenty. Have you got something in mind? You’ve got funds for top line male and female leads and support. Who are they?

There is a screenplay called The Tourist which regularly end up on the lists of the best Sci-Fi films never made. I got a hold of a draft of the script from 1981 and although there is no doubt it would need work it is still something that is so different it’s hard to shake out of your head once you have read it, not to mention the stunning creature designs by H.R. Giger that never made it off his sketch book. What that project represents is intelligent, provocative science fiction for an adult audience and I don’t think there is anything more exciting than that. I think Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game would make a bloody good film, God knows why it hasn’t happened already. And since Hollywood has gone remake crazy I am gonna risk getting kicked from pillar to post by suggesting that they should remake The Keep which had a great premise yet something went wrong with the execution.

As regards material of my own, I have the first draft of a feature length version of a short film I made called Deviant which I think would make for a very original, left-field psychological horror film.

In terms of casting I don’t know but it should always be a case of who is right for the part but I will say I like actors like Michael Fassbender and Ciaran Hinds who have a chameleon quality that allows them to be good in all kinds of different films.

Remakes is always a touchy subject. Name your five worst remakes (The Haunting starring Liam Neeson is pretty hard to beat for me) and five films that should never be re-made (hubris).

Well I just love the way the word being used is “re-boot” instead of calling it what it is – a remake. It is a sad state of affairs when we are more inundated with remakes now than any other time in history but the movies being rehashed are not old chestnuts from the 60’s but titles as recent as Total Recall or Point Break.

Sadly the list is endless regarding worst remakes, the worst of which I have had the good sense to stay away from. But I will happily nominate The Amazing Spider-Man which was unforgivably lame and idiotic by opting to tell the exact same story as the Sam Rami film but this time without any semblance of humor, style or imagination. A film only the lead character of Memento could enjoy.

For me an ideal candidate for a remake is a film that has a strong premise but a dodgy execution or something that is so dated now it could benefit from being updated in a new version. The movies that should be left alone are the ones that were perfect as they were, were of their time and could never be improved upon. So here is my list.

1. BLADE RUNNER: Not only a unique combination of style, genres and ideas but a real rarity in that this is basically a science fiction film for an art house audience. So an art film in other words but one that just so happened to have a budget of $28 million. Try replicating that. A sequel is in the works.

2. THE FLY : The shining example of a remake being a good idea as Cronenberg took a B movie premise and gave it a radical make over with stunning make up effects and queasy metaphors on everything from disease to ageing. No remake will ever match the uncompromising and shocking vision of this film but a remake was in the works recently before getting stuck in the web of development hell… for now.

3. ROBOCOP: A classic mix of satire and ultra violence, Robocop in retrospect was a marriage of the perfect material with the perfect director at a time when his career was at a crossroads. With  his back to the wall and with something to prove, Verhoeven made his best film, one that arguably was just as symbolic of the 80’s as Wall Street. A remake is out next summer.

4. E.T.: If this had not being made by someone as powerful as Speilberg, who resisted suggestions to do a sequel, rest assured the remake would have been out long ago. E.T. would have been CGI, Elliot would have a facebook page and the John Williams theme would get a trendy hip hop cover version. But the magic would never have been recaptured.

5. AMADEUS: For better or for worse, nobody in Hollywood will probably bother remaking this as it’s  doubtful a complex study of the corrupting power of artistic envy and the beauty of music would seem like a safe bet for a box office hit nowadays. However, the good news is that remakes of Gremlins and Ghostbusters (released the same year) are in development.

We’re getting near the end so now come a couple of even more frivolous questions:

You have been convicted of murder (wrongly) and tomorrow you hang. What is your last meal?

My mum’s Irish stew.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film directoretc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else. 

If I had any musical talent (which I don’t) I would aspire to create something as beautiful as The Sun & The Rainfall, which is one of Depeche Mode’s most overlooked songs. Arty but accessible, beautifully produced but emotional. I’d happily request that it gets played at my funeral.

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The Emperor’s New Scandanavian – a kind of book review

Over the past couple of years I have read a fair number of Scandanavian thriller/mystery/detective/police procedurals and just about every one of them has been excellecnt. I’ve also watched several on TV – Wallender and The Killing spring to mind – which were excellent. I bought the DVD set of the first series of The Killing and got the US remake by mistake, and even it was never less than riveting.

But I’m beginning to wonder if  all you need is a Scandanavian name (I’m thinking of changing the spelling of my own) and a detective manuscript to be beyond the reach of mere mortals. As a mere mortal and an innocent at heart I must point and shout – Hakan Nesser’s got no clothes, metaphorically speaking of course.

I picked up a novel entitled The Inspector and Silence by the aforementioned Hakan Nesser, looking fo nothing more than a good read. The Sunday Times is quoted on the cover of the edition I read: ‘Nesser is being compared with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.’ I wonder if this is one of those creative uses of qoutes that should be followed by… Something like – ‘compared to Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson… BY HIS MOTHER.’

On the back cover Colin Dexter is quoted: ‘Destined for a place amongst the great European detectives.’ I have to wonder, having read The Inspector and Silence if the quote refers to another book or if Dexter is a mate or simply caved to pressure from a common publisher (Pan in the UK) to blurb a book he didn’t read – hey virgins, it happens. A writer of my acquaintance asked a well-known novelist of his brief acquaintance for a blurb for his first novel. By return he was sent a selection of quotes to choose from – for a book the novelist had never seen. Requests for names should be submitted in writing on the back of a fifty euro note.

At the heart of my criticism is the fact that the ‘hero’ of The Inspector and Silence, one Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, is, for me, thoroughly dislikeable. Mostly he’s just lazy and selfish – attributes most of us have but try to overcome but that he seems to indulge – and if that was all I’d say it was an interesting spin on the usual alcoholic divorcee that tends to feature in the genre – but he’s also bland and boring – not the sort of guy you want to accompany you through 433 pages of novel.

And the book could do with a decent editor. There were too many instances of sentences breaking in places alien to English – certainly proper English like wot I speak. On top of that were repeated, annoying instances where the good Inspector reflects that what’s currently happening is like something out of a detective novel! Gimme a break. I thought that was the sort of thing that got knocked out of you in pre-school.

Perhaps Hakan Nesser’s other books are really good. Perhaps he’s simply ‘not my cup of tea’. Perhaps it’s just the blurbs that really offende me. However, I really don’t think that The Inspector and Silence is a good novel and I don’t think, based upon this one novel I must emphasize, Hakan Nesser deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson.

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Killer Joe – not for the faint hearted (a film review)

I thought it would be nice to take what’s left of my family – wife and son currently – to the cinema. I had heard good things, though not much detail, about Killer Joe so I took a gamble. Well, if I was lookng for nice this was completely the wrong place. Killer Joe is sexually explicit and explicitly viloent but it is not, in any way, nice. It also may be the best film I have seen all year, and probably all last year as well. It is not, however, a family film.

My son, who is over eighteen, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife, not so much. But if you like stories about poor, stupid, white trash, murder plots and heartless, psycho killers-for-hire then this is definitely one for you. If you like a superb script – not so common in Hollywood these days – peerless ensemble acting, a return to form by a former heavyweight director – Oscar winner William Friedkin whose previous highlights include The Exorcist and The French Connection – and a surprise star turn, then, yet again, this is the one for you.

Killer Joe is a film that refuses to pull any puches, literally or metaphorically. The opening shot features a close up of Gena Gershon’s bush and the film simply gets more hard-core from there. When Emile Hirsh’s character takes a beating, you really fear for his health. You know it’s only a movie but you think the bad guys are just giving it a bit much. And sometimes you might hope that the camera will cut away from the violence – actual and sexual – but it never does. It confronts all of the pain and fear of the cast and forces you do do likewise. I promise – you will never look on KFC the same. I will certainly never eat there again, though that’s no harship as it is probably twenty years since I last darkened the good Colonel’s door, but I will have to think twice about chicken legs of any sort, KFC’d or not.

The huge surprise has to be the performance of Matthew McConaughey. Of late he has been seen in too many take-the-money-and-run roles in the likes of Sahara, Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner. One tended to forget just how potent he had been when matched with a decent director (the wonderful John Sayles) and a part he could get his teeth into in Lone Star (1996). Based on his latest performance I will definitely be checking out The Lincoln Lawyer on DVD as I heard good thigs about it and I love Michael Connolly’s novel.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences would need to be brave to give this film prizes and its also early in the year for such speculation but if I had a vote I’d be giving it to Friedkin – director – McConaughey – actor – Gina Gershon – best supporting actress- Thomas Hayden Church – best poor white trash asshole in a supporting role – Tracy Letts – script –  best make-up (Gina Gershon in the climactic final scene) – best one-liner “your make-up is smudged” – and, of course, Killer Joe – best gross out film of the year.

I really feel bad about leaving Juno Temple and Emile Hirsh out of my Award nominations as in just about any other movie their perfomances would warrant an Oscar nod. But the absolute first-rank quality of their co- performers means someone had to miss out. But they’re young, there’ll be other chances for them – plenty if these performances are anything to go by.

For me, Killer Joe is one of the best and bravest films I have seen, ever. I may be a sick puppy but I cannot praise it highly enough. Just don’t take Granny.

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Goliath by Tom Gauld – a review

Since I was a child I have had a fascination for the Bible story of David and Goliath. It is a simple story of bravery and victory against the odds – a story in which, originally, God inspires and protects David, the future king of Israel. A shepherd, a boy with a sling, defeats the giant champion of the Philistines without armour or training or… just about qanything you might think would be required for victory.

David wins and goes on to be king and everyone lives happily ever after. Well… except for the Philistines and Goliath, of course, who doesn’t even get to live.

My fascination was always for the untold story of Golaith – the Bible tells us just about everything we ever manted to know about Davi, history, as always, being written by the victors – but the details about the vanquished were sketchy in the extreme.

It seems that Tom Gauld asked himself some of the questions I always wanted answered. What sort of guy was Goliath? What if he wasn’t the cliche from the Bible? What if he was just an ardinary Joe who happened to be ***king huge and looked really impressive togged out in brass armour and carrying a spear big enough to stick half a dozen opponents at once – and boasting the muscles to make the thrust?

In Goliath (Drawn and Quarterly Books, $19.95 US/CDN) Tom Gauld presents a version of the story told from the perspective of the Philistine champion. I’m not giving anything away when I say that this version of Goliath is not your usual champion. For one he doesn’t like to fight and for two he’s probably not much good at it. But when the king tells you to challenge the enemy he doesn’t leave room for argument. And Goliath, being a bit timid really, does what he’s told with the tragic results that were always inevitable, even if David hadn’t been divinely inspired.

This is a beautifully realised short, graphic novel. It has wonderful production values and looks teriffic. The story itself is deceptively simple but leaves a resonance that wasn’t in the original. Rather than the unreserved triumph of the Bible version this David and Goliath story is a tragedy, and all the better for it.

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Indie film director Christopher Witherspoon interviewed – do not read this if you are of a sensitive nature!

Christopher’s desire to make movies started at age 12 when he first saw “Star Wars”. He persuaded his parents to buy him a Super 8 film camera and began making his own little movies. He has worked for many production companies, in every area of film production, gaining a full understanding of the process. In the early 80’she worked as a production assistant on such films as “Ghost Soldiers”, “Angel”, and “Hollywood Vice Cop”.  Always a huge fan of horror movies, he persuaded John Carl Buechler, head of MMI Effects, to give him a job.  By age19 he was designing effects on the films “Re-Animator”, “Troll”, “From Beyond” and many others.

In the following years, Witherspoon returned to working in production on several independent films in positions ranging from production coordinator to production accountant.  In 1995, he co-founded Yellow Brick Road Entertainment.  There he wrote, produced and directed several music videos, short films and coming attractions for companies like Solar Records, Center Films, Pirate/Giant Records and Turner Pictures.  During this time, Witherspoon also produced and directed “Hubble”, a television pilot that was picked up by the Learning Channel and was to be produced in Portland, Oregon.  “Hubble” was a live action show about the adventures of a group of rag-tag misfit toys but sadly, due to budgetary issues at the Learning Channel”, the series was cancelled  just a week before filming was to begin.

Looking for a fresh start, he decided not to return to Hollywood and now calls the city of Portland his home. In 2004 he produced and directed a drama entitled “Middle Man”.  The film played in several festivals and received critical acclaim. In 2008 he started a new film production company, “Big Screen Ventures”, with RAGE, a horror-suspense tale as its first production.  The film centers on a thirty-something suburbanite, Dennis Twist, who unintentionally provokes the wrath of a mysterious, homicidal motorcyclist. Next up for Witherspoon and Big Screen Ventures is “The Twilight Hotel”, a horror anthology in the style of HBO’s old “Tales from the Crypt”. It is expected to go before cameras in late 2012 or early 2013.

Tell me one little-known fact about Christopher Witherspoon.

A very little-known fact about me is that in addition to being an independent filmmaker I am a still photographer and for the last 25 years or so I’ve been compiling photos for a coffee table book.  The subject matter of the book are nudes and semi-nudes and only a few of my closes friends know about this.  The coffee table book wasn’t planned, it just sort of came into being.  I photographed a girlfriend many years ago and one thing lead to another… she told a friend and that friend told a friend and so on and so forth.  I’ve always been a big fan of many, many illustrator, pin up artist and photographers, i.e., Boris, Frank Frazetta, Ron Cobb, Sid Mead, Olivia, Herb Ritz, Horst P. Horst, Greg Hildebrandt, Alberto Vargas, George Petty and many, many others.  I am in the process of milling thru thousands of photos and tracking down the photo subjects and getting releases signed.  I’ve attached a few pictures so that you can see some of my photography work.  And that’s my little-known fact.

I can’t just ignore a book about nudes. Tell me more about how it developed. Who approached who, after the first shoot? Have you got a publisher lined up?

The origin of my coffee table book started nearly 25 years ago in the mid to late 80’s.  An ex-girlfriend of mine asked me to photograph her and I said okay…. I didn’t know that she wanted the photos to be nude!!  I had been taking pictures for years but not nudes so when she asked I was shocked… happily shocked mind you.  I remember being very nervous which was reflected in the fished product, most of the shots, after they had been developed were out of focus.  A few of the shots did come out okay, nothing mind blowing but good enough for her to ask me to do many more photo sessions.

After about a year of taking nudes of just her the end product started looking better and around that time she asked me if I would be interested in taking some nudes of a friend of hers and I told her that I’d have to think about it… just kidding, I said “HELLYES!!”  The crazy thing about this was, the girl that she asked me to photograph was girl that we both had attended high school with and…. and I had the biggest crush on this girl.  The day of the shoot I remember being even more nervous than the first shoot with my ex.  Once again there were several shots that were out of focus but much fewer than with my ex but once again there were enough pics that were good enough for her to show some of her friends and that’s kind of how it all got started. The subjects that I photograph would tell a friend and that friend would want nudes done and it’s been that way ever since.

Somewhere along the way the nervousness went away.  What I believe happened was, I started seeing things in my work that made me feel the way that I did when I looked at the works of artist that I admired so much… the composition, focus, exposure and the entire balance of the shots started feeling like…it was just right.   I honestly admit that my initial reasons for doing nudes was purely about getting some sort of “sexual jollies” but as I said, at some point that all changed and something happened in me.  There is still asexual attraction but it is different. It is a visceral feeling, not exactly tangible but it is a real feeling and you want it more and more almost like a drug.

At this point I do not have a publisher.  I am in the photo selection process and I have done a rough design of the cover… or I should say covers.  What I am thinking of doing is a book that is actually two books in a single bookcase.  One horizontal and one vertical but they will slip into a single book case holder.

I attached a few of the potential covers for the vertical and horizontal books… these are only a few.   Thanks a lot for asking about my book, I love talking about art.

Reluctantly moving on from the nude photography, expand on how your career got moving in the early days and the steps to becoming a director.

After years of making my little super 8 masterpieces I thought that I should probably get a formal education so after high school I enrolled in film school and was quickly asked to leave for reasons that maybe I shouldn’t go into.  Let’s just say that I kept having “issues” with some of my professors and instructors regarding a variety of “issues” so the Dean of the school called me into his office one day and “suggested” that I seek a formal education elsewhere.  Instead of finding another school I was lucky enough to get a job working on a small independent film, which lead to more jobs on other films in a variety of positions, everything from production assistant to production coordinator, and almost everything in between.

The desire to be a film director was always with me and grew even more after meeting special effects guru, John Carl Buechler.  One year at a Fangoria Magazine convention I corned him and showed him an alien creature puppet that I had made.  As a result, he offered me a job at his effects shop Mechanical Make-up Imagery.  There I did a lot of sculpting, painting and foam latex work on films like “The Re-Animator”, “Ghoulies”, “From Beyond” and many others.  It was on the sets of some of these films that I learned how professional movies were really made, the actual mechanics of how a scene is filmed and what the function of each member on the crew was, the first and second assistant director, the camera crew, etc.   Every chance I got I watched the directors closely to see how they worked with the crew especially their relationships with the actors and the director of photography.

After awhile I decided to leave the effects business to pursue opportunities that would possibly lead to me directing feature films.  Luckily I ran into an old high school friend, Will Robinson, who was working in the music business as a producer.  He told me about some of the acts that he was working with that they needed someone to direct the videos.  Well, of course I through my hat in the ring and convinced him that I could do it.  After directing several videos, I just put my hands in the air and quit one day. Unfortunately, I never really liked making music videos there were just too many egos, too many chefs and just too difficult.  My time doing music videos was not a total waste it was a great education as it relates to working with different personalities.  Also, music videos in ways are like cliff notes to a larger story, so learning to tell a narrative within a 2 ½minute to 3 ½ minute time frame is very challenging.  It teaches you to be very creative and very fast.

Around this time my girlfriend, who was also my partner in a little production company, and I decided to produce a television pilot for a children’s program entitled “Hubble”.  We produced a 24-minute pilot and shopped it around town and ultimately got a deal at the Learning Channel but unfortunately before filming started the deal came apart.  Like everything that I had done before it, I found something good to take from it.  The big thing that I learned from the whole experience was don’t count on anything until it actually happens… and even then you can’t be too certain.   Also, I remember taking a lot of care as it related to the arch of the individual characters and the overall story which I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never done before, but the reality is there are many filmmakers who only understand the technical aspects of filmmaking (point camera and shoot) and don’t have a clue as it relates to the very, very important nuances of story and characters manipulation.  That was the first of many lessons that I learned and continue to learn to this very day.   That is one of the things that is so very exciting about directing films, with every project that you do you find a new piece to the puzzle of how to be a better storyteller.

After failing to get the children’s series off the ground I felt very low and demoralized so I took a very long break from filmmaking and got a job at a bank and spent time on other things like photography and watching and studying movies.  During that time I also wrote several screenplays.  One of them was a drama called Middle Man, a story about a streetwise guy who set up illegal deals between buyers and sellers, deals involving things like prostitutes, guns, drugs…etc.  Anybody who has seriously aspired to be a filmmaker knows that ”Filmmaking is a drug.” I’m sure that there are people who will read this interview and understand exactly what I’m talking about when I say that.  Filmmaking is an addiction, a very expensive addiction. What happens is a period of time will past, since your last project, and you start to “jonesing”.  You just get this desire, this need to express yourself or an idea that you have and nothing can stop you from pursuing it.   Well, almost nothing can stop you there is always that money thing.   But even still you will find a way and that’s what happened with the Middle Man project.  I didn’t have any money so I made the film the ole’ B.S.B. method, which stands for Beg, Steal, and Borrow.  And I did plenty of all three to get the film made.  I finished the film in 2004 and it played in a few festivals in the U.S. and also in Europe.  Not many people saw it, which is cool because I was never really happy with it. Now it sits in a drawer somewhere in my house and that’s okay because there was no investor’s money involved so it was no great loss.  Also, it was a really good primer to making Rage and the same way that Middle Man prepared me for Rage, Rage has prepared me for my next project, The Twilight Hotel, which is much bigger in scope.   Amongst the most important lessons learn on Rage was how truly important discipline, patient and creative is needed to make a good independent feature.

Tell me about how Rage got put together and the team involved.

First of all the idea for Rage was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film classic “Duel”.  I saw it when it originally aired on television when I was a little kid and the thing that struck me about the film was the amount of tension that Spielberg created and I remember thinking that one day I wanted to learn how to do that. A couple of years ago Duel was on television again and I watched it, for like the 50th time, and was amazed at how effective it still was after all these years.  Around the same time I had just finished the first draft for The Twilight Hotel, and it didn’t take too long before I realized that there was no way that I would be able to raise the amount of money necessary to make that film.  Another month or two passed and I started thinking about Duel a lot. Also, at this time I was dealing with some personal issues that were taking place in my life that had to do with the fact that I was having an affair and the mother my children found out and that brought about a very destructive end to our relationship. Regretfully, it was our three children, who were completely innocent, ended up being the biggest victims. At that point I had an epiphany, which I believe was very cathartic in retrospect.  I decided to make a film, a much, much cheaper film and what I did was take the things that happen in my personal life and formed the majority of the subtext of the film and Duel would serve as the inspiration for the surface stuff…i.e., being pursued by a faceless antagonist who wants to destroy you for reasons that you are not completely aware of.  At the end of the day Rage is about the decisions that we make and how those decisions affect those around us, especially, the innocent.

The screenplay was written in about six weeks and the very first people that I sent copies to were Darrell and Shawn Smith, also known as the Smith Brothers. I have worked, off and on, with the Smith Brothers for many, many years.  They produced all of the music videos that I did back in the day and they are also my cousins.  They are amazing guys who really make it possible for me to do what I do. Darrell is the “organization” person who makes sure that all the production necessities are taken care of and Shawn is the “money” guy who counts all the pennies, keeping Darrell and me in line.  Also, there is Suzanne Mitchell, the other producer of Rage who is one of the smartest people that I know.  These three people, Darrell, Shawn and Suzanne are the real reason that Rage even got made.  Also, what most people don’t know about Rage is that there was only a crew of 10 and the real budget was only 47K, and not the amount that is stated on the IMDB website. If you look at the films end credits you’ll find the names of a lot of people that we borough from old school yearbooks.  We also managed to get in a few inside jokes like John Holmes (the infamous, deceased porn legend) is listed as the films “crane operator”.  Making movies is a very hard thing and it usually takes an army to make it happen and considering what we were able to accomplish on Rage, I have nothing be praise for entire cast and crew.

With such a small budget, many of the people involved must have worked for shares or promises or nothing at all. How do you make that happen?

It is a well-known fact that a lot of independent filmmakers get people to work on their films for no pay or very little pay.  I have never liked the idea of having people work for free even thought I have worked on plenty of no-pay indie productions myself when I was younger… now that I think about it I’m still working for free because I didn’t pay myself anything on Rage but I  did  make sure to pay everybody else, at least something.   The entire cast received sag-minimum and all of the crew was paid $100.00 dollars a day each.  On a no-pay indie or on a film like Rage where there is a small amount of pay there is a trade off which goes like this: People who are just trying to get their start in the film business, and are eager to learn, will work for little or nothing in exchange for the opportunity.  They get the experience and the production gets some free or cheap labour. The great Roger Corman was really good at doing this.  Many, many filmmakers including myself worked for free on Corman movies back in the day.  Other than a paycheck the thing that a production must do… I repeat, must do is feed your cast and crew very well.  I made sure that on Rage we ate extremely well.  In the mornings I made sure that everybody had their coffee, bagels, pastries and whatever else they wanted so that they were in good spirits and ready to go.  The same is true for lunch and dinner because filmmaking is hard work with long hours so at least the production should see to it that the cast and crew are well fed.   And finally you must give credit where credit is due, including special thank you credits to everyone involved because without the help of crew members, family and friends most independent films would never get made.

What is, for you, the difference between filming your own screenplay and using a script written by a third party? Will you/would you like to film other people’s scripts or are you purely an auteur?

Well in order for me to answer that question I would have to speculate because I have never worked from someone else’s screenplay. For me there is a process that I go through when writing which is influenced by how I see the film directorially.  My screenplays have a lot of screen direction in them, for example most screenplays might read like this:  The door swings open and John runs into the room, looks around and spots an open window with a fire escape just outside.  He quickly runs over, dashes out the window and down the fire escape. My screenplay would read more like this:  The door to the room swings open and John runs into the room and stops right in front of the CAMERA, HIS FACE IN ANECU (extreme close up).  He frantically looks around. JOHN’S P.O.V. (point of view) as he turns and spots an open window with a fire escape just outside.  The CAMERA PULLS BACK from Johns face as he runs for the window.  The CAMERA CONTINUES BACK until it backs right out the window and BOOMS UPWARD as John exits. The CAMERATILTS DOWN and we see John disappears down the fire escape. These screen/camera directions are like notes because I intend to direct the film myself.  Basically, as I said, my writing is tailored to how I plan on directing.  Also, I don’t believe that a screenplay is gospel, written in stone and is to be followed action for action and word for word.  Many other writers do believe that their screenplays are gospel so another writer might not appreciate my approach to their material.  But having said that I am not opposed to directing someone else’s screenplay if the screenplay blows me away.

Regarding me being an auteur, I really hope that I am because all of my favorite directors are or were auteurs.  Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick amongst other.  A lot of people think that directors that are auteurs are either very vain or some kind of control freaks but I disagree. When a person has a personal creative vision and they go out and put a project together, write it, get it funded and bring in all the key players necessary to make the film, then that person should be able to do whatever the hell he wants to do.  There is another reason that I wear a lot of hats on my films and it’s because of necessity.  I’ve never had a lot of money to work with so instead of having to beg someone to come on board and perform a job for little or no money I have found it easier to just do it myself.  For instants on Rage I fit the physical build of The Biker, 6’2”, 250lbs and I’ve riding motorcycles my entire life.  Also, I was going to be there everyday and most importantly I worked for free.  It wasn’t too hard doing several things at one time on Rage because when you love doing something as much as I love making films it never feels like work.

You name-checked a number of director’s in your last answer, which directors and what films most influenced you growing up and who is most likely to nowadays?

As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970’s, I watched movies all day long on television, which I preferred doing to just about anything else.  Also, I spent a lot of time at the drive-in.   My mother use to take me there and we would watch every genre of film, westerns, kung fu, blaxploitation, sic-fi, dramas and tons of horror movies. The films that initially had an effect on me were the Hammer House of Horrors movies and then films from directors like Mario Bava and Sergio Leone.  As I got a little older I started to dig the films of great directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick, John Carpenter, Wes Craven…etc.  It was later, during my time in film school, that I really discovered and truly appreciated the genius of directors like Hitchcock, Truffaut, Lynch and Kubrick.  These four directors had the most effect on my development as a director, especially Hitchcock. The films that had the biggest impact on me were “Psycho”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “Breathless” and “Blue Velvet”, but my favorite film of all time isn’t by any of my favorite directors, Orson Welles’ made it and that film is, of course, “Citizen Kane”.  The reason that I do not consider Welles as one of my favorite directors is because he doesn’t have a body of work that knocks me out.  I loved “Touch of Evil” and the “Magnificent Ambersons”  but they pale in comparison to Citizen Kane but so does most every other film ever made.   Today, there are very few directors that inspire me because of the lack of originality and vision.  Of course there are a few current directors that I think are at the top of the class, they are Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Gaspar Noe.

Looking at the list of directors, which of them would you like to meet (living or dead) for a drink or dinner or whatever.

To qualify this question, I have a fascination with John Lennon as an artist but if I was to meet one of the Beatles socially, John wasn’t really a very nice person as far as I can see – exciting and interesting to be with – but for a quiet pint with a nice guy it would be Paul.

This is a very difficult question and one of the best that I have been asked by any interviewer.  Of my top four favorite directors I would have to say that Alfred Hitchcock would be my choice to meet.  He is arguably the best director whoever lived because he did all the things that a master director is suppose to do and did it extremely well.  He had the confidence, a strong work ethic, passion, patience and impatience (and the wisdom to know when to use each), dedication, leadership, creativity, imagination, inventiveness, knowledge of film history and tons of other attributes that made him the very best. Over the years I’ve read and have heard people say that he was not the friendliest person to be around and that he was very cocky and self-absorbed.  I believe that his cockiness or “confidence” is what motivated him to place himself in his own movies in the form of cameos and to do so many interviews over the duration of his life; Like the great boxer Muhammad Ali and the great writers William Shakespeare and Stephen King he walked it like he talked it and could deliver like no one else…“consistently”. Some might call it bragging but it is for that very reason that I chose him.  I would love hear him talk about how he did this or that, why he did this or that.  I would just sit there, pen and pad in hand, and take notes.

And for your next movie I’m granting you an unlimited fantasy budget. If a you have a script ready to go give me a brief rundown of the characters and then the casting. Bu also a cast that you would love to write a script around. Don’ forget a cameo for me.

I have just finished the rewrites on the screenplay for my next project, “The Twilight Hotel”.   This is the project that I originally wanted to make before Rage but do to the huge price tag I had to reconsider.  Now that I have an unlimited “fantasy” budget to make it, sky’s the limit!! The film is a horror anthology, composed of four short stories and a connecting element, in the style of HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt” and George A. Romero’s “Crypt Show”.  The idea for this film came out of a question I’ve asked myself for decades… “What would happen if Alfred Hitchcock had directed episodes of the Twilight Zone?” The film will embody all the trademark qualities; the suspense and mystery of Hitchcock and the surprise twist-endings and supernatural aspects of the Twilight Zone. The history of the Twilight Hotel is one of violence, greed, corruption and death.  The once gorgeous, 13 story, art deco structure, built by super capitalist John Burnside in the early 1920’s, is now a rundown, shabby image of its former self.  It now serves as a magnet for people of dubious character, who once checked in, must deal with their personal baggage and I’m not talking about their suitcases.

The stories have a wide variety of characters in them, everything from an identity thief to mobsters, a demon, zombies, serial killers, and carnivorous, man-eating bed bugs.  The first episode, “Monster”, is a kind of rip on the Little Red Riding Hood story.  It focuses on a 15 year old, little girl, Angel, who is staying at the hotel with her mother. While riding her razor push-scooter thru the hotel hallways she encounters another guest, Roger, a middle age man who isn’t exactly what he appears to be.  Casting: The actors that I most want for these roles are, Chloe Moretz  (who might be a little too old), from the film “Let Me In”, to play the part of Angel and for the part of Roger I’d really like to cast actor / musician Dwight Yoakam.  The second episode is called “Who’s Who” and is about an identity thief who is using the Twilight as a meeting place to sell his stolen merchandise to some underworld figures, Big Joe, E and Henry, Big Joe’s son.  In the middle of the deal they start to suspect the identity thief is in fact some one from their past.  25 years earlier they were screwed over by a partner, during a bank heist, who ratted them out to the cops and kept all the money. This betrayal landed Big Joe and E in prison for several years.  Now it’s payback time and these mobsters are intent on getting the truth, one way or another, even if means unmercifully torture him until he comes clean… but are they wrong? What if it’s all just a case of simple mistaken identity?  Casting:  CollinFarrell as the identity thief, Bob Hoskins as Big Joe, Mark Strong from the film “RocknRolla” as E and Toby Kebbell, also from the film “RocknRolla”, as Henry.  Episode number three, “BedBugs” tells the story of, Zim Getz, a night watchman who has just been fired by a large, corrupt and greedy chemical, corporation for being unfit and overweight.  Feeling wronged, Zim steals a sample of a top secret, illegal product that the company has been selling as a food additive to an unaware public.  He threatens to go to the police and the media unless he is paid a huge sum of money and is given his old job back.  While waiting for his demands to be met Zim holds up in a room at the Twilight where he also, unfortunately, ignores the pleas of the company’s CEO, Mr. Kenneth Murdoch, not to open the canister containing the extremely dangerous substance. Unknown to Zim a single drop from the canister spills onto the bed where two regular house hold type, bed bugs consume the highly concentrated chemical. This sets in action a battle between Zim, who refuses to be a victim, and the bed bugs, that are intent on making a meal out of him.  Casting: Kevin James from “Mall Cop” to play the part of Zim and Saturday Night alumni Darrell Hammond to play CEO, Mr. Murdoch.  The fourth and final episode is “Pushing Up Daisies” and features a beautiful, young lady named Janet.  She is meeting a man, Norman, in person for the very first time who she has been having an online relationship with for the past several months.  Taking it to the next level the pair agrees to rendezvous at the Twilight Hotel, of course.  In her room at the hotel Janet prepares for their meeting, taking a shower, blow drying her hair, walking back and forth to the bathroom but she is unaware of reports on the television of a serial killer who might be linked to internet dating.  When the big moment arrives there is a knock at the door and Janet is shocked to find that her visitor or, more correctly, “visitors” are five daisies clutching, flesh starved zombies who only have one thing on their minds… eating Janet! Casting: Jessica Alba from “Sin City” as Janet and Channing Tatum from “21 Jump Street”.  And finally for the film’s narrator, who is also the Hotel’s manager, I would cast the one and only Mr. Christopher Walken. Oh yeah, how do you feel about playing a zombie Bob? LOL!

Fuckin’  typecasting. I was hoping you might have a transsexual sex-addict on speed to cast. Something that might stretch me a little.

My memory of these portmanteau movies is that they were all , in one way or another, a disappointment and i suspect it may be because of the format. Why do you think you can make a success of it – either artistic or commercial or both?

Well, first of all I do agree with you that these types of films have not been very successful but I do think that the idea of an anthology as a film is, and has always been, a very appealing thing in spite of their failure record. This format or structure has always done better in book form and, unfortunately, even when there is an adaptation of one of these books they always seem to fall flat.  At the end of the day I think that it all boils down to the script.  Most of the past anthologies, story wise, have not been very strong.  There always seems to be one, maybe two very strong stories and the others pretty much suck, so equally strong stories are a must.  Another thing that I think could be a problem with film anthologies is that there is a possible disconnect resulting from shifting from one story to the next.  People have to mentally reset each time to accept new characters, locations and storylines, which can make it very hard for the audience to invest themselves in.  And last but not least is the “wow factor”.  These are all short films and there is only a short period of time to “wow” the audience and keep their interest.  All of these things that I have mentioned are the problems that plagued past anthologies but I truly believe that I can overcome this.

I will be successful, both commercially and artistically, with The Twilight Hotel because I plan on avoiding all of the pitfalls that I have listed above.  The script is very strong, each and every episode.  When it comes to writing I am very patient, and I will not go into production until I am perfectly happy with the screenplay which must meet a certain criteria to be considered complete; which includes interesting storylines, attractive characters, and I don’t mean physically but substantively.  It’s important that they aren’t just caricatures that we’ve seen a million times before.  Also, one of the most important things is there must be a very relatable subtext or theme in each story, whether the audience is aware of it or not.  For instance, the “Monster” episode, subtextually, is about the corruption of innocents and the “Who’s Who?” episode is about guilt, innocent and justice.  The “Bed Bugs” episode is about greed, the greed of the Zim character, both physically and morally, also, the greed of the corporation and even the bedbugs who’s ravenous desire to eat Zim has no limits.  And the last episode, “Pushing Up Daisies” is about revenge and the cyclical and senseless natureof revenge.   Structurally, the film is more like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” than the traditional anthology.  All of the stories take place at the hotel on the thirteenth floor so there is no change of location from episode to episode and even though each episode is a complete story onto itself they are linked in very interesting ways, which I can’t say anything about because I don’t want to give too much away. Finally there is the “wow factor” which has to do with the visuals of the film…the production design, cinematography, the effects…etc, and they are gonna be amazing, and that’s a promise!

Do you write your stories as film scripts right from the word go and how much planning goes into a script?

When I write a script, my process is to first do a lot of thinking.  In fact most of my scripts evolve from ideas that I may have been developing or “thinking” about for over a period of several years.   These “ideas” might be a “scene description”, a “subject / topic” or just a “potential film title” on an index card.  Every now and then a new story-element, for one of those index cards, will come to me and I will store it in my mental rolodex.  I have index cards that are several years old, some for even a decade or more, and all it takes is just seeing one of those cards and every story-element related to that card will come rushing back to me.  The Twilight Hotel script started out as one of those decade old index cards.

When I decide on the project I want to write next I, then, use a combination of a big, blank apartment wall and a couple of index pin up boards.  I pin all of these index cards up, move them around, add to and take away any ideas that don’t work.  I do this until I have a structure worked out… a first, second and third act.  This whole “index card” process takes about a month or two… or three.  At that point I move on to writing a first draft, including more in-depth scene descriptions and character action and dialogue.  After the first draft is finished I move on to a second draft, third draft or however many drafts it takes to get the script right.  The actual time I put in on writing The Twilight Hotel, including the index card process, was approximately2 years.

Do you do your own storyboarding/do you work with an artist who draws it for you?

Actually, what I do is draw some very crude sketches and then I sit down with a “real” artist who then does fantastic storyboards and illustrations.

Have you ever considered adapting a comic – very popular at the moment – and with instant storyboard?

I agree that a comic adaptation is a great idea. This is something that my partners, Darrell and Shawn Smith, and I have been thinking about for some time now. If I found a comic that I was excited about and could get the rights to, and the financial backing to make it, then I would be extremely up for it.  Also, I’m looking to produce a graphic novel for The Twilight Hotel.  I’ve been a big fan of graphic novels, which are basically comic books, since I got my first ones back in 1986, “Batman: The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen”.

A good soundtrack is particularly to the feel of a movie. With the right finance would you prefer to use an original score or ‘popular’ music on a soundtrack?

I like popular music and there are some classic films, like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Top Gun”, that have used pop music to make up their soundtracks, but for me, I just love an original score more than anything else!

What are the great cinematic scores?

Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Friday the 13th, Jaws, Rocky, The Sting, Halloween, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Chariots of Fire, E.T., Psycho.  These are only a few of the films that I can think of that have amazing music scores.  The thing that all of them have in common is that they are very unique and sound unlike all other scores.

Are there any forthcoming movies you are really looking forward to?

I’m not a big fan of the industry, as it exists today.  Well let me be a little more specific… I’m not a big fan of what Hollywood is producing.  I use to think, that starting in the late 90’s, Hollywood had become too formulaic with no originality.  Today to say that would be a BIG understatement.  It really sucks when you already know the ending of a movie even before the opening credits finishing running.  I think that it’s time for a major shake-up in Hollywood.  The same way there was when the studio system gave way to the original independents and film school students in the 1970’s.  As far as films that I am looking forward to seeing this coming summer there are a few.  I’d like to see the new Bond film “Sky Fall”; I’m a big James Bond fan and think that the recent instalments are pretty damn good.  Also, the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” and the reboot of “Total Recall” looks very interesting but even these films that I listed speak to my initial point of Hollywood not being very original.  These films are either continuations of a series or a remake.

Speaking of remakes – I did a blog a while back on Movies that should never be remade – is there a film that you would like to remake? And give me a top five worst remakes while you’re at it.

I’m not a big fan of remakes and to be honest, as I sit here, I can’t think of a single, successful remake but if I were going to do a remake it would be “Citizen Kane”… Just kidding!  Okay, seriously, I would remake the sci-fi classic “Westworld”.   The reason I picked that film is because it has such a cool concept and I could add some fresh story ideas that wouldn’t change the overall film too much.  The original was made back in 1973, so, with today’s amazing technology all kinds of very cool visual effects could be done.    And for my top five worst remakes would be:“Psycho”, “Nightmare On Elm Street”, “Arthur”, “The Bad News Bears” and “Rollerball”.

And while we’re on the subject of top fives – do you have a list of favourite movies?

Yes I most certainly do… “Citizen Kane”, “2001 A Space Odyssey”, “A Clockwork Orange” ,“Psycho”, “Rear Window”, “The Exorcist”, “The Godfather”, “Alien”, Halloween, “I Am Cuba”, “Dr. Strange Love”, these are only a few.

I can see an argument for all of these except I am Cuba which I have never heard of. Can you enlighten me?

“I Am Cuba” was made in 1964 as a co-venture between Cuba and Soviet Union filmmakers.  When it was initially released it was not well received and was almost completely forgotten until it was re-discovered some thirty years later.  I first saw parts of this movie when I was in film school many years ago and didn’t get to see the entire film until Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola re-introduced the film to America in 2005.  The film is considered by many to be Communist propaganda but politics aside, from a cinematic point of view; the film is nothing less than “revolutionary!”  It is composed of four short stories that focus on pre-revolution Cube and specifically the lives of a female dancer, politically activist, college students and a pair of farmers.  Each of these stories shows how foreign Capitalistic intrusions and rampant corruption has relegated the Cuba citizenry to a life of exploitation and poverty.

It was masterfully directed by Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov and filmed predominately with wide-angle lens and photographed in beautiful black and white by director of photography Sergey Urusevsky.  Even though it is a fictional narrative it has very little dialogue an often times feels more like a documentary.  It has a dream like quality to it that had an immediate visceral effect on me.  For the longest time I have wanted to incorporate some of the visually aspects of it into my work and I plan on doing so in my next film, The Twilight Hotel. I highly recommend this movie to all filmmakers and fans of movies.  I also recommend a great documentary about the making of I Am Cuba called Soy Cuba: O Mamute Siberiano a.k.a. I Am Cuba: the Siberian Mammoth directed by a Brazilian filmmaker, Vicente Ferraz. The doc features interviews with many of the people responsible for the film and also explains some of the amazing camera work and other technical achievements of the film.

If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single piece of existing ‘art’ by someone else.

If I were to be an artist, in a field other than my own, and had only one piece of art that was a hit, I’d have to choose a song, a song by an artist who was anything but a one hit wonder.  The song I’m talking about is “Imagine” by John Lennon.  To me it is more than just a great song.  It transcends music and has not even reached its fullest popularity.  I think that the world is going to have to catch up with it.  The ideas that it promotes, I believe are possible and, will one day happen, maybe not in my life time, but they will happen… “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…I am a believer!”

How could we end without a look at the trailer for Rage. And if it is anything to judge by this is one hell of a film.

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The Zombie Tarot – a review

This gallery contains 27 photos.

These days there seems to be a new Tarot or Oracle deck published every week. And for every deck published one gets discontinued. And the more esoteric the subject of the deck the quicker it disappears off the wholesaler’s list. … Continue reading

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