Protected: The Death of “Why?”

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Pam Grier

Pam Grier

Growing up in the late 70’s I had a giant crush on Pam Grier. Aside from her natural beauty, she was voluptuous, daring and not afraid to get into a fist fight. And on a very personal note, I have a preference straight noses on women. Some people have a foot fetish, I have a nose fetish. A sexy nose overwhelms me. I say this because there are some beautiful, world-famous women who actually I am not attracted to because they have a bulbous nose. It’s a small thing, but its persuades me. While other boys were buying Farah Fawcett posters I was trying to find Pam Grier posters.

Famous for roles in such sensual and Blaxploitation films as Greased Lighting, Sheba Baby, Foxy Brown, The Big Bird Cage, Women in Cages, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Arena Pam Grier was and remains a sexy Hollywood siren.

A woman possessed of great physical beauty.

Vangelis

With Vangelis I will really sink my teeth into one of my two all-time favorite genres: fantasy (the other is science-fiction). From my early childhood reading of the Arthurian romances, to the Greek and Norse myths, and everything in between, I love fantasy.

Knights in armor, mythic locations, ancient citadels, wondrous bestiaries, magic weapons, quests, crusades and lots of chivalry—I am a clutching devotee, and it angers me that this genre has been so shabbily and insincerely approached by filmmakers, past and present with only a handful of exceptions.

For over thirty years I have been creating worlds, names, artifacts, maps, cultures, religions—all things fantasy. And now I get to play with some of them.

I arrived at the name Vangelis almost accidentally. The theme of the work is an ancient relic that promotes benevolence through its “message” of prosperity through peace, wisdom, selfless works of kindness and charity. The power of this relic is eventually sought by a force willing and capable of corrupting it, and inverting its purpose to promote war, conquest and slavery.

Since the relic’s message is the central theme of the story, I wanted a name that meant “message” or “good news.”

The Greek word euangelion (later Latin, evangelium) seemed the ideal choice. In modern English, that word appears as evangelism. I simply struck the first and last letter of the word, arriving at Vangelis. Beyond this, I learned Vangelis is a popular Greek family name. For example, there are over 120 Vangelis name matches on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). So I am going to have to work extra hard to differentiate my film title form all those Greek actors and technicians.

As I said earlier I am genuinely surprised and disappointed more wildly imaginative fantasy films have not been more forthcoming from Hollywood. Invariably, and this is true even of The Lord of the Rings trilogy which I adore, they are all closely medieval. With Vangelis I truly want to break this trend and step out into some spectacular architecture, engineering, armor, wardrobe and cultural motifs.

One should be able to land on any frame of Vangelis and immediately recognize you are in brave new world of alien design. Save for the anthropomorphic demands of having human actors portray a fantasy race, all other medieval European similarities should be abandoned.

Vangelis unfolds on the fantasy world of Nimyria which, aside from the natural world of mountains, valleys, streams, and caverns, will be uniquely populated with bold new interpretations of long held fantasy fixtures.

Initial reporting of the script as “war porn” is grossly exaggerated—well, maybe not grossly.

Vangelis follows the collapse of a Tolkienesque culture—swords, shields, axes, maces.  So, yes: when they fight it gets bloody. I don’t believe in doing anything gratuitously—all things have a purpose—but Vangelis will most likely be a hard R-rating for graphic violence and gore.  A lot of people die in Vangelis and they die brutally.

As I have mentioned before John Boorman’s Excalibur is possibly my favorite movie of all time. There is a line uttered by Nicol Williamson’s Merlin that perfectly captures the main theme of Vangelis:

“…for it is the doom of men that they forget”  —Merlin, Excalibur (1980)

By inspiration of Vangelis, Nymiria ascended from savagery and barbarity to peace, prosperity, wisdom and cultural magnificence…only to forget those things that made them great. Having cast off those ancient truths, they quickly descend back into cultural chaos and military madness.

As Merlin warned: they have forgot and are appropriately doomed.

Vangelis is going to be a lot of fun as we plan to build everything from scratch and have a ball dressing up like knights and playing with swords. With the conspicuous and welcomed absence of any bureaucracies, we can shoot a film that will look ten times its budget when finished. We can maximize our profits by eliminating managerial waste and execute with precision and speed.

Vangelis is going to be so much fun you will be able to measure my enthusiasm in megawatts.

Shroud

I know now why so many director’s threaten “if someone mentions my movie to me again I’ll snap and go on a killing spree” in so many interviews.

As I near completion on my first feature length film Shroud, I feel a blend of enthusiasm, relief and regret. Anyone who’s made a movie knows what I’m talking about: glad I did it, but boy, am I glad that’s over!  Making a motion picture is not necessarily hard, by that I mean it is not physically difficult to apprehend or execute but it is tedious, detailed-oriented work that requires only the best project management to succeed.

It is also magical, challenging, exhilarating and rewarding. So there is an upside too.

Once I decided to enter the film industry, I didn’t want to be like every other first-time independent filmmaker and do some contemporary horror/slasher film or a romantic comedy.

I decided to cut loose and go for the biggest film I could make. I wanted my first film to be where other filmmakers end up on their third and fourth films. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be bold. For these reasons, I wrote and directed Shroud.

The majority of the script was written over three days when I realized I didn’t have an affordable script on my shelves. I spent a long weekend writing at Barnes & Noble, breaking only to go eat at LaMadeline across the street.

The majority of my work is insanely design-rich, very high-end science fiction, fantasy or superhero properties—not the easiest stuff to make for less than one million dollars.

So, realizing I didn’t have a film I felt confident I could shoot on our meager budget I wrote a period gothic drama set in the Old West.

I am not really sure how I thought I could pull this off for a first film either—but I did.

And I know like every other artist, my second work will be better than my first, and my third will be better than my second. As a filmmaker I will only grow and perfect my style and storytelling skills.  And as a business man I will grow more and more profitable.

Concerning my preferences, I love strong women characters: legitimately strong female characters and not momentarily independent women who are self-possessed only until the male lead shows up, at which point they become helpless fawning victims.

With Shroud I wanted to blend history with myth, science with scripture and presage a real novel with a film. With the Old West (a genre in which I have never had a desire to work) I was able to nominate unique locations and sets, custom wardrobe and authentic set decoration. So I got to play Set Decorator and Art Director on every level.  In short, I got to play.

Now as I sit here finalizing newly added scenes and integrating footage from our very talented unit directors, I realize it was all worth it.

Shroud is going to be a pretty good first film. It far bolder than any other film shot for its budget and with what  we have learned about the process and business of filmmaking, others and ourselves, we are enviably armed to tackle our second film, the fantasy war film Vangelis.

Too Many Scripts?

When I was very young, one of my earliest memories was stargazing at the park that was across from our house. On one particular night as I lay transfixed by the cosmic glory above me, I was struck by the infinite imagination on display. At that age I did not comprehend the myriad of disciplines and sciences that explored that glory, the unsearchable beauty of mathematics, the riddles of physics and quantum theory—I was simply overwhelmed by the awesome beauty of the universe.

Inspired, as I entered into my private dialog with the author of that glory, I asked that I be given .01 percent of the imagination that had conceived of the universe…

Well, be warned: despite the hour’s prevailing spiritual skepticism and the superstition of materialism—most prayers do get answered, I learned, in the order in which they are recieved and in proportion to the sincerity of their asking. No need forcing stuff on people. Problem is I was very sincere at 7 years of age.

Fortunately, my request was answered “on a curve” and my small, mortal brain was spared the slaying input the originally requested volume.

Nonetheless, since that night, the dreaming core of my soul has never stopped—day or night—from generating stuff.

I am literally buried in my own work, as I cannot stop inventing stuff. With regard to film, I assembled 161 high concepts for film at a glance, including three 5-year television series. I wrote 75% of my first feature film Shroud in three days.

Granted, some work percolates in the back of my brain until it is ready to be released; others come instantly, like a download. People who suffer or enjoy this same extreme imagination bandwidth will tell you it is less like creating and more like dictation: ideas swarm around you and you will literally grow fatigued and pass out before you can get it all down. That’s alright: it’s all there when you wake up.

With the Writers Guild of America strike currently in play with only a handful of late night talk shows cutting side deals, I am very hopeful I get a chance to shuck off this first librum of scripts as I have another hundred pressing at the back of my skull. I am indifferent to the WGA strike as well as the other guilds and bureaucracies that presently occlude the efficiency and passion of film making. I was extraordinarily excited to register as a SAG production until the punishing amount of paperwork, conformity, compliance and restrictions made it clear my production could not survive the prohibitions and penalties of this organization.

You must control business, but to impose needless strictures on art proportionately devalues its expression and success in resonating with the emotions of your audience.

Beyond what I have already said about it, it is simply bad business—patently unprofitable, given the overhead—to subordinate your production and subjugate your imagination to the strangling demands of strangers and its lock-step defense by controlling Hollywood dogma of its necessity.

With my first ten scripts finished, I am currently working on my second film, the fantastic Vangelis, possibly followed by the sequel to Shroud.

I am thrilled that independent film and computer technology has finally arrived to the place where guys like me can make movies like Vangelis.

When I was young I was blessed with a beautiful imagination, now through technology and independence, I am more blessed to entertain people with it.

Five Magic Years

When Star Wars came out, I was ten years old. And like every other ten year who saw Star Wars, it fundamentally changed all aspects of filmmaking and my personal definition and expectations as a movie-goer. I will not attempt to compete with the volumes of wiser men who have delineated the world before and after this great film.

But, I will say that 1977 began a five year stretch of formative film experiences for me. From 1977 to 1982 eleven of my favorite movies were released. As an avid fan of science-fiction, superheroes and fantasy, this list is self-explanatory.

Star Wars (1977) – ‘Nuff said.

Superman (1978) – Still the standard against which all superhero movies are judged. A brilliant script by Mario Puzo and Richard Donner’s best film, not to mention possibly the greatest film score even created—thank you John Williams, Lord of Anthems. The minute-and-a-half intro to The Planet Krypton (track 2) is simply one of—if not the—greatest ninety seconds in all of musical history: wistful and ancient, it is simultaneously simple and majestic.

Alien (1979) – Short on dialog, big on mood, this film virtually created the sci-fi/horror genre with one of the best casts of any movie—relative to the demands of the story.

Empire Strikes Back (1980) – The grittiest, most honest and most daring of the entire six-film Star Wars series. Far and away the best, it only gets placed second behind Star Wars because Empire is, in and of itself, not a complete movie.

Excalibur (1981) – This one gets special attention. John Boorman’s amazing telling of the Arthurian romances.

First, the flaws: Yes, you can see the camera crews, boom operators and lighting technicians in all that mirrored plate armor and Merlin’s chrome skull cap. And yes, there is definitely something wrong with the dubbing (they had to redub virtually the entire movie do to all the clangor—armor scratching, clinking, clanking, jingling—and they didn’t do as good a job as they could have).

Beyond this, Excalibur is lush and mesmerizing. Purposefully ahistorical, it is the gold standard of the modern Arthurian romance. And for the record, not a single movie has ever entered the same zip code as this film on almost any level. Aside from a Who’s Who of unknown (at the time) but rising film stars, Excalibur is a brilliant blend of the many Arthurian legends. It is passionate, dark, forgiving, unforgiving, splendorous, magical, dangerously intelligent, rugged, masculine, feminine, nuanced and perfectly scored (posthumously) by Richard Wagner.

Not a single syllable of profanity in this entire movie. The dialog is literally word-perfect from the first frame to the last.

It is quite possibly my favorite of all time.

It has such a childhood hold on my imagination that I cannot easily explain how firmly I have set the foundations of my own creativity upon it.

This is one of those movies you just like saying the title: Excalibur.

Superman II (1981) – An emotional vote, this weaker sequel was still cool.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Everyone knows about this already, but wow does it still hold up.

Blade Runner (1982) – Ridley Scott’s second foray into science-fiction, this film is any art director’s dream. Dark, surreal, future-noir—what’s not to love?

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – The director’s cut is so much better than the theatrical cut. A serious take on Robert E. Howard’s classic hero, this film is often dismissed unfairly.

Star Trek II (1982) – Whereas I am not a fan of the Star Trek franchise, this movie utterly rocks. One of the tightest scripts ever written, this is the best Star Trek ever got. Twenty-five years later they still can’t make a Trek movie on par with this masterpiece. It virtually stands alone as the only time in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise (television or film) where the power of technology is shown in its full power. I am speaking specifically about shields. This movie proves what a phaser or a photon torpedo would really do to a ship without shields—stuff gets blown off!

The lost lesson of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that Paramount never learned: the ships were as much characters as the actors, and the ships were “mortal” and capable of injury. When something got damaged or blown off, it really mattered.

Rocky III (1982) – This movie may seem like an odd choice for this list, but as a career martial artist and work-out aficionado, I loved the shift in fight style, the physical presence and the hard-core, visceral, frenetic style of the two matches.

As I have grown up, this list has fluctuated of course, but these films form an imaginative pyramid in my subconscious.

I must also give honorable mention to Return of the Jedi that came out in 1983. Though my least favorite of the original trilogy, it was still pretty impressive.

There you have it.

What to Read in 2008?

I haven’t yet been asked to leave Barnes & Noble yet for loitering for endless hours in front of many of their book sections—oh, but I will. I still have no idea how my reading table will shape up this year, but some late purchases last year are at the top of the list.

Watership Down (Richard Adams), A Dictionary of English Folklore (Simpson & Roud), 1,000 Years, 1,000 People (Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, Brent Bowers)—these are cool. I am not sure why I like Richard Adams’ masterpiece so much, but I do. English folklore…explains so much.

A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology (the Honorable Jon O. Newman and the late Harold Newman)—simply the coolest birthday gift I think I’ve ever gotten. It is a massive oversized, orange covered book that is nothing more than one colossal—and the word is colossal—family tree of the entire Greek mythoscape: Everybody, and I mean everybody. No definitions, no explanations, no bios—just the biggest family tree on paper.

Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na (Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming)—Big fan of the Fu. Like, I need a restraining order sort of adoration.

The Illustrated Atlas of the Universe (Mark G. Garlick) and Cosmos (Giles Sparrow) are simply breathtaking—oversized books with radiant pictorials of the universe. Words fail frequently, and this is one of the moments. Buy the book, see the Universe, feel small, and wonder at the greatest work of the greastest artist of them all.

World Reference Atlas (Covent Garden Books)—Know your world, and your future vacation spots.

My redundant light reading list: Knots (Alexei Sossinksy), Making the Alphabet Dance (Ross Eckler), The Science of God (Gerald L. Schroeder, Ph.D.), Zero (Charles Seife) and the collected works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Clive Staples Lewis, Henry Rider Haggard and Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour—these guys are so much fun. Unique perspectives that defy and penetrate the political lock-step and irrational goose-stepping that so pervade the dangerous dogma of our new world order.