Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Volumes of Blood: Set Photos

This past weekend, I traveled with my family to Kentucky to shoot "A Little Pick Me Up" for the upcoming Volumes of Blood horror anthology. It was a grueling but awesome weekend, with ten hour drives on each end, and a shooting schedule that lasted till 2:00 am on Saturday. And then, I returned to Charlotte this week for...Jury Duty! And next Wednesday, I have a book deadline.

But damn, it was worth it.  Life is good.

On location, I was greeted by an awesome, helpful and enthusiastic group of collaborators.  

The actors, Alexandra Lauren Hendrick, Jim O'Rear, and LouisaMaria Torres were incredible and gave their all for the project. Alexandra, especially, got put through the ringer and endured some messy special effects, courtesy of the project's brilliant "Rick Baker," Lisa Duvall.

My cinematographer was Daniel Hiatt and he was utterly spectacular, setting up and executing great compositions for each shot. Daniel was my right-hand man, and had a creative and visually-accomplished solution for a every problem. I feel incredibly lucky to have had Daniel at my side throughout the night.

I also want to thank Tom Martin, who wrote "A Little Pick Me Up" and was there on set, every minute, helping out and answering questions about his great story.

Behind the scenes, Eric Huskisson was super resourceful and creative with the story's props, and a true gentleman as well. Kim Childers, Markus Porter, Brian Gaddis, Pablo Gallastegui, Mike Hall, Jack Midkiff, Wesley Johnson and, Brad Reinhart terrific too, and kept me focused and on task to make certain everything went smoothly.

I feel very blessed to have met and worked with all the wonderful talents involved in this project. Being in the company of such a creative group of artists, in front of and behind the camera, I sure wish I lived in Owensboro. It's a testament to producers P.J. and Katrina Starks, and Jim Blanton that people of such dedication and creativity came together for a project like this, and I want to thank them for including me in the fun.

Here are a few pics from the shoot.

The Hallway of Doom

The Front Lobby.

"A Little Pick Me Up" actor Alexandria Lauren Hendrick (Angela) and Jim O'Rear (Lucem) share a scene.

The world's sexiest librarian: LouisaMaria Torres (Lily), gets ready for her next scene.

Alexandria suffered for her art, big time (center), while producer Jim Blanton (left) oversaw the shoot. That's P.J. on the right, peeking in at the location of a bloodbath.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Memory Bank: Situation 7 (Parker Brothers; 1969)

One of my favorite games from childhood is Parker Brothers Space Puzzle Game: Situation 7, manufactured in 1969, the year I was born.  I did not play it until the late 1970s, but it was a favorite in my household, and on camping trips.

As described on the box:

“Here is a game and a puzzle combined. Each player of team has a complete puzzle, identical except for color.  Both puzzles are played on the same area.  The object is to cover more areas than your opponents and score more points.  Special pieces! Special plays! Watch the crowd gather and join in the fun.”

Situation 7, then, depicts two planet home bases, and a solar system up for grabs. The idea is for one team to win the “space race” and to conquer as much of the solar system as possible. You not only want to claim planets (and the sun) for points, but also man-made satellite, rockets, and astronaut installations.

So, you want to take over the solar system, and you want to do it fast, a fact which causes a lot of excitement and tension as you vie to find the right piece.

Also, you can’t just claim any piece you get your hands on, you have to build to it, meaning that you must be the first to legitimately reach from the planet to your sun, for example.

My family played Situation 7 from New Jersey to California and back again on our cross country, six-week camping trip of 1979, and I’ve never forgotten it.  I always loved it, but my sister got to where she couldn't stand the anxiety of the game.

There’s another game in the series too: Situation 4, set in Europe during World War II, if memory serves. 

I still have Situation 7 in my possession (thanks to my parents), and took some photos of it to accompany this post.  I can’t wait to play it with Joel…

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Time-Piece

A time-piece is an instrument or device, like a wrist-watch, that measures and displays the current time, and can be also used to monitor time's passage.

Time-pieces have been a staple of science fiction and horror storytelling on TV for many decades now.

Going way back to the early 1950s, the science-fiction anthology Tales of Tomorrow (1951 - 1953) featured an episode titled "All the Time in the World" involving a watch that could freeze time.  

At the end of the half-hour, the unlucky protagonist had to make an unenviable choice. He either had to use the watch to freeze time forever, or allow an ill-fated nuclear test -- which would destroy the planet -- to go forward.

On Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964), the tale "A Kind of Stopwatch" featured a similar tale. 

There, a loser named McNulty (Richard Erdman) was given a stop-watch by a drunk that could also stop and start time.  

During a bank robbery -- a get rich quick scheme -- McNulty dropped the watch, breaking it in the process, and leaving time frozen...permanently.  

Suddenly, he was all alone in the world, with everyone else locked forever, frozen in the moment.

On Batman (1966 - 1968), a villain called The Clock King (Walter Slezak) had a distinctive time-piece, a clock, sewn into his top-hat.  

In "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes"/The Clock King Gets Crowned," the criminal trapped the Dynamic Duo in a giant hour-glass, another time-piece of sorts.

The short-lived but fun science fiction series Voyagers (1982 - 1983) also featured a nifty time-piece, Phineas Bogg's (John Erik Hexum) gold Omni, which could transport him to various time periods.  

In each time period, a red or green light would indicate if the time-line was right, or history needed fixing.

On Doctor Who (2005 - present), the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) used the TARDIS's chameleon arch to transfer his Time Lord memory and very soul/essence into a fob watch so as to hide from an enemy, the Family of Blood.  

Soon, the Doctor believed he was but a human being -- a teacher -- living in 1913 England.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Time-Pieces

Identified by Hugh: The Twilight Zone: "A Kind of Stopwatch."

Identified by SGB: The Outer Limits: "The Forms of Things Unknown."

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "Shore Leave."

Identified by Hugh: Batman: The Clock King

Identified by Duanne: The Prisoner: "The Chimes of Big Ben"

Identified by SGB: Space:1999

Identified by Hugh: Voyagers.

Identified by Duanne: the Twilight Zone: "A Little Peace and Quiet."

Identified by Hugh: Twin Peaks.



Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who.

Identified by Tonio Kruger: Stargate SG-1


Television and Cinema Verities: William Girdler Edition

"Manitou was something that had never been done before. So I did it. It's a cross between 'The Exorcist' and 'Star Wars.' It has a lot of shock in it as well. I'm a director who believes a lot in the instant shock theory…”

- The late director William Girdler discusses his last film, The Manitou (1978) with Starlog Magazine, in 1978.

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

“It’s a free society, except there ain’t nothing for free.”

-RoboCop (1987)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Advert Artwork: Micronauts Edition

The Outer Limits: "OBIT"

In “O.B.I.T,” which first aired on November 4, 1963, Senator Orville (Peter Breck) opens an official inquiry at Cypress Hills Defense Installation regarding the murder of a technician at the facility. 

Although obstructed by the bureaucratic administrator Byron Lomax (Jeff Corey) at every turn, the Senator soon learns that the technician’s death occurred while he was operating a top-secret machine called O.B.I.T. (Outer Band Individuated Tele-tracer) which could spy on any individual anywhere within the facility…or even a 500 mile radius.

The Senator seeks to learn more about the unusual device and its use by Lomax.  He fears that, among other things, O.B.I.T. -- a so-called “Peeping Tom Machine” -- represents “an end of privacy” for Americans, and the beginning of a constant surveillance state. 

For expressing these viewpoints, the Senator is accused of “undermining” national security by the Pentagon, which sponsors Cypress Hills’ research.

In the end, Orville’s murder inquiry leads to Lomax, the one individual whom O.B.I.T. cannot seem to spy upon. 

When Lomax’s image is finally projected on the O.B.I.T. viewing screen, the frightening truth behind the surveillance machine is revealed at last.

With surprising accuracy, this episode of The Outer Limits (1963 – 1965) predicts the surveillance state in the United States of America, circa 2014.  Specifically, “O.B.I.T.” showcases Defense Department employees “spying” on other employees, and even their own family members.  

With revelations this week that the NSA may actually be spying on members of Congress, “O.B.I.T.” seems downright prophetic in its social critique.

And, in the way only art can accomplish, this Outer Limits episode explains why spying on a free citizenry is never a good thing. 

In the first case, the spying becomes habitual, and then, eventually, irresistible.  As one military officer confesses on the stand to Senator Orville: “I can’t not look!  It’s like a drug…a horrible drug…an addiction.” 

In other words, the O.B.I.T. machine (and the capacity to read private e-mails and listen to private phone calls) activates and encourages some universal sense of voyeurism in people; something that even the best of us can’t always resist. 

The first season of the hit series Homeland stresses this idea as well.  In that program, an intelligence officer played by Claire Danes watches -- around the clock -- the life of a returning veteran and his family, and then falls in love with the subject of her constant surveillance.  A false sense that she “knows” him is created…a false feeling of intimacy.  This voyeurism is what O.B.I.T. terms “the most mortal weakness:” our capacity to watch (and judge) others while we reserve “privacy” for ourselves.

Secondly, “O.B.I.T.” diagrams how constant surveillance can have a stifling impact on art, on work, and on simple human interactions because everyone is terrified to be “seen” or “heard” even in what they would rightly assume are their most personal moments. 

It’s the most hideous creation ever conceived,” one Cypress Hills employee observes in the episode.  “No one can laugh or joke.  It saps the very spirit.”

Cunningly, “O.B.I.T.” also examines the rationale of those who desire to expand use of the “peeping tom” machine, namely national security.  The machine, it is said, “is highly valuable in eliminating undesirable elements.” 

No doubt that’s true.  But in the end, who among us can stand up to the scrutiny of 24-hour surveillance?  Once a person’s every thought and private action is known, down to the last, most minute degree, how are we to know that even the best of us wouldn’t be then considered an “undesirable” element by the voyeurs?  By what standard of perfection do the voyeurs judge those whom they observe?

It’s accurate to say, of course, that we have no O.B.I.T. machines today, but the debate about our government’s right to read our e-mails and listen to our calls continues, and this episode, by Meyer Dolinsky imagines where the spying could possibly lead: to a world in which “acts of private passion” could be used to blackmail members of Congress, the media, or our families.  I love that the name of the device is OBIT, because what this episode discusses is the very death of freedom in America that comes inevitably with “the end of privacy.”  OBIT equates to the obituary of liberty.

Before anyone suggests I’m climbing on a political soap box here, I should note that I am one of those people who frets as much about business interests getting an O.B.I.T. device as I do about the government having one.

Here’s an example from my own life. Back in August of 2013, a railroad tie retaining wall I was standing on collapsed beneath me, and I fell six or seven feet…and landed on my head…on concrete. I felt very dizzy, and looked up “concussion” on Google.  I later drove myself to the Emergency Room (apparently a no-no with concussion…) and was diagnosed indeed with a concussion. While I was sitting waiting for my CT scan and neck x-rays, I happened to check my phone. I had a new e-mail from a law firm asking me if I had “recently” suffered a neck injury.

Just a coincidence?

At least in the case of government, there are some good people -- conservatives and liberals both -- acting for legitimate causes to prevent future terrorist attacks. But why, precisely, do commercial interests have any right to know my personal business?

So the modern “surveillance” state is as much about out-of-control capitalism as it is national security, in my opinion, and that’s one element of the landscape that “O.B.I.T.,” made in the 1960s, didn't foresee.

Another joy of “O.B.I.T.” is the director, Gerd Oswald’s, film noir approach to visuals. One of the spies operating the O.B.I.T. machine does so from a seedy hotel room, and we see the word “hotel” flashing in the background, suggesting the sleazy aspect of his work. This isn’t something to be done in daylight, or in respectable places…

At another juncture, the episode cuts to Lomax during the inquiry.  We are treated to an extreme close-up of his eyes and spectacles, or eye-glasses. This choice of imagery accents the importance of “sight” and “seeing” to Lomax, and the circular spectacles mirror, in some crucial fashion, the circular O.B.I.T. screen. 

The Outer Limits was always a series about man confronting his inner demons on the technological cutting edge, and “O.B.I.T.” is no exception.   “I saw a monster!” one character notes during the narrative.  That monster, we find out here, is not merely an alien spying on the human race, but our very human propensity to invade the privacy of others and attach judgments to what we see.

Outré Intro: The Outer Limits (1963 - 1965)

The introductory montage to the science fiction anthology The Outer Limits (1963 - 1965) is an exercise in simplicity, discipline, and foremost...control.

The context of the introduction is the "control" of our TV set by an outside force, and that idea seems appropriate given that many stories featured on the series deal explicitly with the ways that man finds his (moral) way in a new space age world of technology.

The introductory montage begins with a pinprick of light at the center of our TV screen, as our mysterious voice-over narrator -- The Control Voice (Vic Perrin)--  informs us over a high-pitched buzzing sound that there is "nothing wrong" with our television set.  

Instead, an exterior force is "controlling" transmission, determining what we see and hear.

This total control of our vision and hearing via our own technology -- TV -- is then demonstrated. The force controlling transmission turns up and down the volume, and, in the following sequence, assumes control of the "horizontal," and "vertical." 

There is an impression, perhaps, of being toyed with. More aptly, the overall impression is of being commandeered by a (perhaps alien...) force of great authority and knowledge.

This element of control is established once more in the next shots, as the Control Voice informs us that our picture can be rolled, or made fuzzy.  

The same force can cause the picture to appear as a "soft blur" or in "crystal clarity," and in image of our nearest "outer" frontier is seen: the moon.

Next, we return to the sine-wave imagery that began the montage and are instructed that for the next hour we should "sit quietly" while the Control Voice determines all that we see and hear.  

The good news is that a great adventure awaits, one that leads us from the corridors of the "inner mind" to the "outer limits."

The series title zooms out toward us portentously, and we are prepared for a journey to the frontiers of knowledge.  

The Outer Limits intro does a lot with very little, and brilliantly establishes a sense that, as viewers, we are surrendering to a force outside ourselves, one who may or may not be benevolent.

Below you can see a video of this effective montage in all its glory.