The amazing Fonthill, in Doylestown, PA

Back from the Dead

Greetings. Yesterday I returned to my home in Los Angeles for the first time after two and a half months abroad. I explored everywhere from St. Ives to Salem, from Washington state to Washington DC, from San Francisco to Edinburgh, and many parts in between. During that period, I slept on no fewer than 23 different beds/couches/floors. That's a lot of bedbugs. I drank Bath (UK) water; consumed several H&H bagels; went to the second smallest post office in the United States; enjoyed the lovely WaterFire in Providence, RI and endured the horrible "World in Miniature" in Goonhavern, Cornwall; ate oatmeal inside the U.S. Supreme Court; learned that it is a bad idea to ride Air India and to take the train to Scotland instead of flying; and visited the extraordinary Fonthill.

In short, I had a fabulous time. Although I do look forward to forging ahead with Claustrophobia, in truth my return to LA has been somewhat depressing - mainly because, shortly after my arrival, I was informed that I have to cough up some hefty cash to pay for reputed "damages" to the house where Claustrophobia was filmed. Also, my landlord wants to remodel his house, and it may be so drastic that I'll have to vacate my little guest house in back. Which would suck, as I've been here for nearly eight years and I love the place. I wish I could just go on traveling, where my biggest worry is wondering how much to tip the waiter.

Be that as it may, I'm eager to complete Claustrophobia, and because it looks like it indeed will be much shorter than I planned, I have decided to write a prologue and an epilogue in order to stretch it out to feature length. We'll be shooting those scenes - without the principal cast - in mid-November. Editing should recommence shortly as well.

Where we are in editing right now – literally, not metaphorically

This Site Goes Public and I Go Missing

Today was the day I was going to "officially" launch this site to the public, by sending out my usual spam to the hundreds of people on my mailing list, but as I am leaving tomorrow for two and a half months of traveling (to the Pacific Northwest, the San Francisco Bay Area, the East Coast and England) I spent all my time tying all my loose ends together this week. So alas, I couldn't finish the major part of this site, which is the section dedicated to my new film Claustrophobia. But then, I thought it would be pointless to alert the world the day before I go incommunicado for so long anyway. Besides, the public has mostly discovered this site by now, so the "launch" is not really news at this point.

A little update on the making of Claustrophobia: my editor and I have now cut together about 30 minutes of the picture. Unfortunately, we've gone through 40 pages of script! For those of you who don't know, one page of script is supposed to equal one minute of screen time. So 40 pages of script should amount to 40 minutes of movie. Not so in this case. Which makes me worried, because the script is only 82 pages long! I would rather not have a 60-minute film when I'm done, so unless the second part of the film (which has a lot more suspense than the dialogue-laden first part) takes up more screen time, I am already considering some possible additions to the film, namely a prologue and/or epilogue set in a different locale with possibly different characters. Just so I don't have to go through the mess of renting out the one house we used for the location again, or tracking down the three busy actresses who starred in the film. I'll have a better idea once we finish the first cut of the picture, hopefully in November.

The venerable Sahara

Vegas

I went to Las Vegas for the first time in my life last week. I avoided it for so long as I considered it a cesspool. It took business to drag me there, in this case the VSDA Home Entertainment Expo, a convention of video retailers and distributors. You also get companies who make their livings connected to the home video industry - from those who make DVD display cases to those who sell popcorn in video stores. The candy company PEZ was even there!

So why did I attend? Well, the VSDA decided to give struggling indie directors like me the opportunity to pitch our films directly to video store owners, eliminating the middle men (distributors). They chose a baker's dozen of films this year, and we all wound up in Vegas trying to do our best. I was representing Foreign Correspondents with the film's producer Julia Stemock. Although the expo was held at the hip-and-happening Rio Hotel, Julia and I stayed at the Sahara, a once-legendary Sin City landmark, now a modest but tidy hotel. Home of $1 blackjack tables, the cheapest buffet in town, and Charo.

Anyway, despite my misgivings, I actually enjoyed my four days in Vegas. I met a lot of really nice people and even managed to sell a handful of copies of ForCor - so if you poke around your local independent video store, you just might find it. Other than that, I can sum up my experience in Las Vegas as this: slot machines are depressing and anti-social; the hotels pump oxygen into their rooms to keep you awake and alert (so you can keep gambling); VSDA award recipient Sylvester Stallone now looks like Matt LeBlanc after a stroke; the Mandalay Bay was the prettiest hotel/casino I visited, and Circus Circus was just a miserable place - practically a Third World country.

On an unrelated but significant note, my editor and I started cutting Claustrophobia on Sunday.

Are we done yet?

That’s a Wrap

Principal photography has now been completed for my second feature Claustrophobia, a horror/thriller shot handheld on PAL DV in one Los Angeles house and starring Melanie Lynskey , Sheeri Rappaport, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. It was a chummy set, as several crew members had worked with me on Foreign Correspondents, Mel and Mary Lynn had acted together on the Reese Witherspoon comedy Sweet Home Alabama, and a quarter of the crew were all good buddies from New Zealand.

Other than that, it was the usual hell of production: trying to film everything within a very limited amount of time (nine 12-hour days, with the weekend off), having to deal with technical difficulties (setting up more lights than I thought we'd ever need, microphones that didn't always work, avoiding telltale boom shadows), personal difficulties (our sound recordist had an impacted wisdom tooth on the first day of the shoot!), location difficulties (limited parking choices at the house where we filmed, homeowners who would freak out over every smudge left on their walls and floors), noise difficulties (construction on the building across the street from the house, garbage collectors, LA's notorious police helicopters), etc. Though I'm happy with the results, I wish we'd had more time, so that I could have collaborated more with the cast rather than just telling them "stand there, walk there, we gotta get this shot before the guy across the street turns his leaf blower on." But they put in fantastic performances and the crew was amazingly professional and talented as well. It was so moving to see everybody working so hard on my tiny little horror flick. I got a big, big bang for my buck. To put it in perspective, I saw Insomnia during our weekend break and, knowing that film's budget, I concluded that I could have made over 1,600 Claustrophobia-sized films for the price of one Insomnia. And say what you will, there's no way Insomnia could possibly be 1,600 times better than my film! Now comes the post-production process. I can't wait to start cutting all this footage together. My editor and I have a lot of great stuff to work with. So for all of you who worked on the film in some capacity: Thank you. I am truly grateful.