I just entered Tribeca Film festival with my new film “Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast” and also entered in Sundance Slamdance and Cannes. Wouldn’t it be a nice underdog story to hear that after 14 years of trying to crack these top festivals that some lab tech in Queens could finally realize his life dream in the middle of this depressed economy and dying indie film market, and that some how with his friends they scraped up a budget so they could throw one last “Hail Mary” toward the guarded gates of the inner industry.
So my new feature film “Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast” is finished. They say films are never really finished, they are abandoned. Jon Gorman and I directed the film from the screenplay that I wrote based upon the famous Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Mark of the Beast”. Sheri Lynn our producer helped me to bring the script to its final form. I believe that whole process of writing and polishing took about a year. A year to plan then 11 days to shoot counting pickup shots and a year to edit. So the process has taken 3 years so far and it will take a year to do the festivals, market and sell the film, totaling 4 years of effort but let me start at the beginning.
When I was about 12 years old Craig Reola and I borrowed my friend Billy Grant’s Super 8 camera and made a short film called “The Nuclear Warrior” It was a “Toxic Avenger” rip-off. A silent stop motion film featuring a clay monster and Micro Machine cities. Then in High School my friend Phil Guerette and I bought our first camcorder and made more short films like “Money Run” and “Kick the Corpse”. It had a broken tape loader and we had to keep a bungee cord wrapped around it otherwise the tape would pop and out and wrinkle causing us to mess up our video footage.
Frank Darabont was my hero in high school. When the Shawshank Redemption came out I loved the film so much it moved me to try to go from making fight films in my backyard to trying to do story driven films (though I would head to the backyard again soon enough). I would have a public access show a few years later called “Pungent Fun”. A crass skit comedy/talk show format that would get Phil Guerette (my partner) and I kicked off the air. From there we started making short films together. My first festival award was for a short film called “Money Run”. It got best student film from the Connecticut Screening Room. I believe when I was about twenty I met another friend Mike Aransky. I had started on my first feature film called Thrill kill Jack. Mike Aransky then joined in on the “production”. We were fans of Evil Dead and Toxic Avenger. We thought we could make a cool hero movie about a guy named jack who had a mystical gun. It gets stolen by an ex-circus magician that lives in a haunted mansion full of gimps and Jack had to go through the house dodging booby traps to find it. I was also a huge fan of the Dragon’s Lair video game and cartoon and I think that was a heavy influence on the “film”. Anyway the movie was awful and gross but we decided to have our first movie premiere at the Holiday Inn. From there because of our love for small town movies but also inspired by Shawshank redemption for it’s emotional impact. We decide to make our first 16mm feature called Everything Moves Alone. I wrote the script. The three of us ruined our credit to pay for the film and we were on our way. My brother Bruce would build us an editing computer to run a very early version of Adobe Premiere to edit the film and my dad helped build us a whole made jib. We were good at generating press by calling up local newspapers. I recall the cover of The New Britain Herald had a large picture of the three of us. “Film career kicks off for Connecticut Trio”.
A film critic named Phil Hall (who would later become a good friend and fellow actor) saw the article reached out to us. He had written for the New York Times, Film Threat, and Wired Magazine etc. He didn’t know us at the time but wanted to see our films. He loved Everything Moves Alone (comparing it to the films of John Cassavettes) and arranged for it to play for about a month at the Pioneer Theater in the East Village of New York. The independent film press like Film Threat, Jacksonville Film Journal, Hollywood is burning, B-Independent.com and several others loved the film. The main stream New York Press was mixed. The New York Daily news would give us 2.5 stars, not great but not bad, NY Post didn’t hate it. Elvis Mitchel of the New York Times despised it. Called it “unfortunate backwash” but that level of hatred of the film was specific to him. Selling the films would be harder. Thrill Kill Jack had a deal with HV video. The place went under. Everything Moves Alone was sold to Yankee film, nothing happened to it so when we got the rights to it we signed on to SRS video. After it was put out through them. We were given the rights back again.
After that I started writing an action fantasy film called The Land of College Prophets. I told Mike and Phil about the film and I kept working on the script. It was a strange B-movie but many critics liked it because it “wears its “B movie” credentials as a badge of honor.”. To date it still has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When I had the script done I started building a giant two story high wishing well in my parents backyard. I would work at the bookstore at Tunxis College during the day and go to my parents after to work on the well. My parents who have always been massively supportive helped out. My dad helped take my crude drawings and create a stable structure from them. I was also working at a junk removal service job at the time and we would find random things that I could put on the well. A windmill here, a large wooden barrel there. It took one year of building to get the well done. My brother Bruce helped us out again. He helped us buy the camera and other supplies. I have always been lucky in this way. I have a great family and great friends. This film did very well at the B-movie Film festival winning 5 awards, it then won at Bare Bones international and New Haven Underground. To date oddly enough this strange film has the most festival wins of any of my films. Though I do have to say winning Auteur of the Year at The Bare Bones film festival for Everything Moves Alone is one of my favorite wins. We took another year to sell the film. We had a few offers but went with York Entertainment. It quickly was a Best Seller for them, was prevalent in video stores, Netflix and was distributed in 7 different countries. To this date I have never been able to hear the foreign versions of the films. I would have loved to hear some other actor dubbing over my voice. At this point I felt like a real filmmaker. It was a successful distribution run and it seemed like I was making great strides.
Jon Gorman and I (my fellow director and friend) would seek out low-budget horror films to watch late at night in his tiny apartment in Southington Connecticut. We both loved watching crappy horror and of course good horror as well. At this point Jon had done some short films and had worked on a few sets. So he had always wanted to make films. His knowledge of cinema was massive. To date he probably has seen at least twice as many films as I have seen and I have seen a lot. He wanted to start making low-budget horror films. In seeking distribution for LOCP I had learned a few things about making sell-able films. The distributors would ask questions like, “Does your film have stars in it?” If the answer was no, they then asked if there was nudity in it. I was successful with “College Prophets” because it could be sold as an action film even though it had no stars and no nudity but horror is different. In low-budget horror brief nude scenes are important to secure the films distribution. Also we knew we needed the title of these horror films would have to be self-explanatory. You needed to be able to read it out of a list of releases and instantly know what the film was about. At Sliders bar in Plainville, Jon Gorman,my brother Bruce and I sat down and brain stormed about different titles but it was Jon that came up with Bikini Bloodbath. It was perfect. Easy to remember, self explanatory and ridiculous enough to be tongue in cheek. When Jon and I started writing we kept putting in ridiculous and offensive jokes in the film. When we were a few pages in we realized that we were making a comedy. This was the birth of the Bikini Bloodbath Trilogy, three feature films that have been seen everywhere from Fangoria to Rue Morgue, to FYE to Netflix. They star Horror icons like Debbie Rochon, Lloyd Kaufman and Rachael Robbins. When Jon Sheri and I were able to go onto Fangoria Radio on Sirius and be interviewed by Dee Snider on the same show that interviewed Thomas Jane or Clive Barker days or weeks before then I think we all felt like we had arrived. To date the series continues to be successful. Bikini Bloodbath, Bikini Bloodbath Carwash and Bikini Bloodbath Christmas continue to have a loyal audience. In 2010 Bikini Bloodbath Carwash was named the “#1 Ridiculous(ly Awesome) Horror Movie Titles of all time by By Mark H. Harris, About.com Guide
At this point I was living in New York City. I had written a script called London Betty. It was a comedy adventure about small town thieves. We used the same crew as the Bikini Bloodbath films and Jon Gorman was kind enough for this one time to help me out by being an assistant director and second unit director. Sheri Lynn produced the film. We were able to get the character actors Clint Howard (narrator) and Daniel Von Bargen (supporting) to be a part of the film. My ex-girl friend Broadway star Nicole Lewis starred in the film. I was proud of this comedy and of the awards that the film won. Best Connecticut film from the Silk City Film festival was my favorite. We were able to get distribution through Maverick Entertainment which put the film out in 2010 on their platinum label. At this time London Betty could be seen proudly sitting on the shelf at you local Blockbuster videos. It was a great moment for me. The reviews on the film were great comparing my career path to Kevin Smith. I got to go on NPR on the show “Where We Live”. People were starting to know who I was especially in my home state, which is weird because it seems like I had to move to New York to get respect on Connecticut. It’s strange I have heard the saying; an expert always comes from 500 miles away, or 100 in this case. This was pretty much the end of the video store era and London Betty is one of the last titles to ever be on a shelf at Blockbuster Video. This was one of my dreams when I was a teenager and I accomplished it just in time for it all to disappear. Even the Pioneer theater where I premiered my films in NYC is now gone. Now I premiere at the Anthology Film Archives. I will never stop making films but sometimes it feels like I’m climbing a ladder that is breaking apart below every rung I climb. I can only hope I can get far enough ahead to matter before it all falls apart.
For a few years after this I directed web content. I got to work with companies that I just don’t want to name. I got back in the New Times Times is a positive light. We got called the “Kings of Dot-comedy” by G4TV and was a DP and actor (long story) for a Web-Emmy nominated series. This was my day job while I was prepping my films. Here’s the thing, this is the total list of positive things of my work on the web and to be honest it’s a chapter in my life that I strive to forget but I have earned the above accomplishments and as such I must parse them from the negative.
Thus we come to “Mark of the Beast”. I moved to New York about 6 years ago. I needed a job right away and was lucky enough to get hired at the Strand (one of the largest bookstores in the world). My time there was not exactly fun but a lot of the people there were great. Well some were total snobs. It was always so strange to me that at the Strand that the snobbery for film and literature was on an unparalleled level. By the time I started work there I had made four or five feature that were out on the market but everyone treated me as if I didn’t know anything about film. I am in general not a “cool” person. I can be shy and whatnot. In any case I started looking through all the old dusty books on the shelves looking for a great old story that I could remake into a feature. A story old enough to be public domain but that read like a deep myth. I kept looking at Beowulf but at the time there were two Beowulf movies coming out. One a theatrical release and one on video. I pulled an old book from the shelf and began to begin to read the short stories. The truth about me is that as hard as I have tried over the years to enjoy reading novels and such to this day they give me anxiety and I don’t not always retain all of the information. That’s not to say I don’t read books. I like non-fiction a bit better. Books on films and whatnot. I’m just being honest here. It’s just a fact. I retain information through visuals and audio to an alarming degree but novels are different, I read them occasionally but don’t really enjoy them. People are different right? When I came across a story by Rudyard Kipling called Mark of the Beast I was taken aback. I thought to myself I could make this into a feature; tweak the story to make is shoot-able. It had only a few locations, it was character driven, it was a great story and it was public domain. So from there I wrote the first draft of the script and like I said Sheri edited it and added a scene or two. This was my chance to have a shot and great material and walk the same bath as Frank Darabont before me. There is a story that Frank met with Steven King at a book signing, got permission to use one of his stories to make a short. He later showed it to Steven, asked to have permission to adapt Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption into a feature and he said yes. I have never had a chance like that, no matter who I talked to or how many DVD’s I handed out I’ve never been able to step up to the next level. Funny enough I handed Tim Robbins a copy of London Betty, Kevin Smith a copy of Land of College Prophets and Bob Goen a copy of Everything Moves Alone. None of them ever responded. I was born is a small town in Plainville CT. We lived a good middle-class life but I never had any connection to the film industry. Though over the years I would work for CBS news, NBC Universal and even Fisher Price I was but an editor among many and I never liked any of this work.
The thing is I’m 34 years old and I have to date made 8 feature films. That means directed or co-directed, Produced, written or co-written and in many cases edited. I am exhausted. I have to date 15 Independent film festival awards. We work on small budgets but somehow we can make a film for fewer than 10 grand good enough to sit on the shelf next to a film that cost 50 million. This I am proud of. So I’ve been doing this for about 14 years. A few days ago I finished Rudyard Kipling’s Mark of the Beast. I just need the universe to work with me a little here. I need to get into one of these top festivals, I just need to.