Sunday, March 25, 2012

Latest On Hell's Bells

You thought 'no budget' meant that no money is spent, didn't you? Well, you lost that bet!

'No budget' means we produce a film on limited cash as it is available and material resources on hand, depending greatly on donations from family, friends and fans.

I just ran through the production log, to make sure all the expenditures are documented up-to-date. I keep an envelope of receipts and once a week I update the expense log. That's usually when I also browse through the diary section to peruse the progress thus far, plus re-read my thoughts written along the way. Generally, I'm pleased with the 25% of the principal that we've already shot. We're on schedule, actually. I slowed it down because I'd rather do it right than fast.

Some might wonder why I chose to do a 'no budget' movie.

I'll tell you.

I want to make a movie. I've already landed a producer for a $500k film. I've already landed a distributor for that film. I already have some very talented industry people wanting to be involved with that film. As these things happen all the time, that film is on hold for very legitimate reasons. As a matter of fact, it just so happens that tonight, a little while ago, the associate producer discussed the documentary the same producer wants me to do first. I have a couple of 'real budget' films in line. But I don't want to not do any filmmaking in the meantime.

So what can I do? What I can, on limited funds and resources.

You see, I could work at chasing a lot of money for an 'industry standard' project, or I could make a film outside that world. That's what I'm doing with Hell's Bells. Because I want to make a movie while I wait to make what some would call my "real" movie. That movie will come, but until then, I have a new camera and some willing actors and a good fun script. I also have a platform from which to sell it. My working model for this film isn't what I see at any theater. The model is what the H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society did with their Call of Cthulhu.  A short genre feature produced to please themselves and their fan base, screen at festivals and art houses (who get it), and then be marketed on DVD via their website. As flawed as some people might point out that it is, that film did very well for them. They were able to do their full-length feature, The Whisperer In Darkness, because of the success of Call of Cthulhu, a film few 'serious' filmmakers are aware of. Hell's Bells is my Call of Cthulhu. I admire what the guys at HPLHS have achieved. I applaud them.

Hell's Bells is a remake of The Treasure of Kukulcana, a film short I did in 2010. Due to staff issues and technical resources, I wasn't able to finish that film in the original vision -- and I was doing it on no money for free internet distribution. Plus, at about the time I started T of K, I simultaneously landed a writing gig on a live Vegas show to be staged later that year and pitched and landed a production company for a Secret of the Amazon Queen feature film. Naturally, when faced with forcing the T of K issue or focusing on two paying gigs in the 'bigger leagues', I rightfully took the step up. Still, I wanted to finish the short film eventually, even going as far as shooting some green screen process footage later that summer. Well, readers of this blog will know what happened there. The first producer of SOTAQ was tragically killed by a drunk driver and the subsequent producer has the film on hold for reasons very common and typical of the indie world. And the Vegas producers didn't pay me, so they couldn't use my work and what they staged flopped. I was interviewed along with others in a Las Vegas newspaper on the show which had made news by then, I think the Review-Journal...(I'll check). So with that done for nothing, and SOTAQ on hold until 2013, what to do? A reboot of T of K!

Treasure of Kukulcana is the story of Joe and Jackie, a brother and sister taken in by a flim-flam man named Tarkan Bey who seeks a treasure but will not face the terror that protects it. So, Bey dupes Joe and his sister into retrieving the treasure for him, intending to steal away with it and fully expecting Joe and Jackie to likely die getting it to him. Of course, things don't work out for Tarkan Bey. The film was intended to be an homage to B movie adventure mysteries of the 1940s.

It was presented in black and white and featured local talent and locations. We ended up with an 18-minute film presented as though it were 'long lost' because the original camera operator believed the treasure map in the film was real and disappeared in South America, thus preventing the film from being completed. The trailer and film, as presented, got the laughs it was intended to capture. However, I was never pleased to have not completed the original vision, regardless of legitimate practical reasons and decisions.

So there I was in late 2011, with a new camera and a hiatus on my "real" movie and documentary. Wanting to return to the realm of homage, I decided to take another cue from the Lovecraft guys and do a silent movie a la 1929. And wouldn't you know it? A week later I saw the trailer for The Artist. By the time I saw this film, I knew I was right: the film would be a silent film. The practical part of that is that I can focus on the story through image, and the details such as costuming and props and locations. So what story to do?

The re-do of T of K was the right project. I wrote a new screenplay, using the basic structure of the first movie's script, expanding the length to 30 minutes. I also made it a period piece. Sure, with that comes some complications, but we have astonishingly measured up to the challenge. I have received compliments on the costuming and props. The story I wrote as Hell's Bells still features the brother and sister, this time named Josef and Jacklyn. It starts much the same way T of K does, with Josef worried about finances and his ne'er-do-well but kindhearted sister bringing a get-rich-quick scheme to the table. In this version, the scam artist is replaced by Fausto, a mysterious swarthy figure masquerading as a priest. Fausto seduces Jacklyn, Valentino style, into getting her brother to help retrieve an ancient treasure that the dark man claims will help build an orphanage. Convinced to help in this treasure hunt on the promise of debt-erasing reward, Josef agrees out of financial desperation. So off they go to a far land on this dubious quest, crossing a desert, encountering strangeness, and seeking fortune. The rest you will have to see. Hell's Bells is not a high action, explosion-laden, CGI cartoon attempt to look like big Hollywood movies. It is a small, intimate project intended to please a particular audience and be marketed ultimately for DVD. Readers of Lost Continent Library books and pulp adventure fans and classic movie nuts will likely appreciate this film more than anyone else. They are my audience.

I have been told that this one feels different. People working on the film have a very positive vibe about it, specifically that we're on track to a good destination. We're all dedicated to making it right, so the schedule may not be so strict, though we all agree that we should have it finished before summer arrives. That gives me June to cut the picture and July to lay the sound on it, i.e. music. The goal is an August premier at a local classic theater (conveniently where the leading man works ) then festivals.

So, if you're interested in what we do here, check in regularly for glimpses and diary entries. This blog is not the promotional site for the movie; that site will be a little more stylish. This blog is a diary. It will occasionally include some of the downs as well as the ups that occur on a film production. It is not intended to be a concept car in a showroom. This is a truck out on the road actually going somewhere -- where my troupe and I want to go.

Thank you for your interest and having a sense of humor.

More to come...

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