Take a look at #HowEyeSeeIt

Okay, today’s the day, time to let the cat outa the bag. The team at Catalyst Creativ & Wayfarer Entertainment, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness have officially kicked off the Blindfold Challenge. What’s it like to be a sighted DJ, suddenly forced to do your thing the way a blind DJ does? Well, you can find out by right here. What’s it like to be a cook, or chef, when you suddenly can’t see the kitchen you’re working in? Fun stuff. And, of course, the reason I went to NY 2 weeks ago to work with Justin Baldoni – one of the stars of the hit series Jane the Virgin – who also happens to be a director (hint hint), Diane Guerrero, from the NetFlix monster Orange Is the New Black, and Mrs. USA and Mrs. World April Lufriu.

Give it a watch, and let us know how it turned out!

How I got involved with the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign

Back in June, I got a tweet from someone I didn’t know, asking if I’d be interested in participating in a digital campaign. I didn’t recognize the Twitter handle and had no clue what the campaign might be, but figured, what the heck? So long as it wasn’t promoting the new Ghostbusters

So we share e-mail addresses and Amanda Slavin, from Catalyst Creativ, sends me a note about the project. It’s a campaign being kicked off by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, designed to bring attention to various diseases causing sight loss, helping researchers looking for cures get more funding, raising awareness, that sort of thing. Needless to say, blindness is more than a pet cause, seeing as for me, the lights’ve been out since 2002. I was IN even before finishing that e-mail.

So, dates are set. Other people (including some actors, a pageant winner, two documentary directors and yours truly) would be shooting together in late June. Only, well, it’s entertainment. Things fall through. So, the original dates didn’t work. No problem, right? Just reschedule. But, by mid-July, dates were still being discussed, and a firm deadline to complete our part was set for August 7th. As you can imagine, by the end of July, that window  was closing fast. To be honest, while I was totally stoked about being involved, the folks I was scheduled to be working with are much bigger entertainment industry fish than I am. I mean, by a lot. So, I figured, given that I’m not the world’s luckiest filmmaker, the whole thing might not happen. Before I lost hope, though, August fifth started looking good for everyone. On Aug. 1st, I get word, asking if I can be in New York, not Los Angeles, in 72 hours. Flight, lodging, Uber rides, whatever, that’ll
all be covered. I called up some friends and my sis to see who could watch Mouse and the cats. I hired another friend’s pet-sitting service for the slots I couldn’t fill. Thursday morning? We were on a plane out of Ft. Myers, on our way to The Big Apple.

I won’t get into all the ins-and-outs of the trip there. Suffice to say, it wasn’t bad. The trip back? The voyage from Hell? I already posted about that – but my run-in with TSA? That wasn’t the worst of it. (Sorry, I don’t like cliffhangers or teasers, but I’ll get to that other incident in a couple of blogs).
Joe Monks and Todd Kellstein talking at a table at John Sullivan's in NYC
I will, however, do a name-drop, because I’ve got the okay from the powers-that-be behind the shoot. That pic? That’s me and director Todd Kellstein of Wayfarer Entertainment, one of the filmmakers behind Rebel With a Cause: the Sam Simon Story. For those of you who don’t remember the name, Sam was the co-creator of The Simpsons, who died of cancer in 2015.

Todd, Pam and I hooked up Thursday night for dinner at John Sullivan’s, where we became fast friends, talked not just the following day’s shoot, but movies
in general, how I made The Bunker, films Todd and his partner have worked on and released – needless to say, we wound up taking up a table for a lot longer
than the average dinner-seekers at a place right up the street from Madison Square Garden.

More on the shoot, the other people involved (yeah, yeah, I know, more teasers). But August 23rd is comin’ fast, and on or around that date is when all can be revealed. In fact, probably a lot earlier, but for now? This is how the trip began. Dates get locked Monday night. Flight arrangements made around 10pm. I start contacting people about the pets, rescheduling things planned here, that sort of stuff. Tuesday night? Hotel arrangements get locked down. Thursday morning we’re city-bound. Thursday afternoon? The New York location falls through (that’s shoots for you, rarely does anything but planning go without a hitch). Thursday late, the producer books an even better location, and I get e-mailed that address that night, with a call time of 9am. Sound frantic? Trust me. I’m a writer. Words do not do this one justice. And, there’s a lot more to come. Keep checking back to see how the shoot itself went, what’s left of Times Square, The Village, and some of my favorite old haunts, having grown up traveling into the city a ton.
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Currently listening to: “Monsters” by The Cruxshadows

It’s finally here!

Well, depending on when you read this, it’s either about to be here or perhaps it’s already winding down. Still, you can imagine my excitement every October as Halloween rolls around.

There’s some video up on my channel, Youtube.com/sightunseenpictures from previous Halloweens, and one of the big complaints has always been: How can you scare little kids?! My position on it is, and has always been: If I’m giving out free candy? You gotta earn it. You get scared? You get scared. It isn’t the end of the world.

That said, reminds me of a great Halloween we had when I worked for the Valley Stream Parks Department, and ran their haunted house walk-through attraction. Good times, that event. Me, Erin, Rich, Kevin, Clara, my sis, Joanne, and undoubtedly people I’m forgetting. But anyway, on to the story.

We’ve got this walk-thru set up, with “hallways” formed out of black tablecloths strung over wires, black lights and a lot of neon creepyness, and a couple of cool scares. Rich’s severed head on a dining platter-and how he’d open his eyes and talk, or shriek, or beg for help. Tommy T, in one of my fright masks, “caged” behind a cell made of dowels and 2x4s, painted to look like steel. Somebody in the casket with the fake floor I built, waiting for me to close the lid, so suddenly an empty casket would fly open to expose the hidden ghoul inside. Cheap thrills, but effective.and fun.
So this one Halloween, I’m guiding, and a group of young adults want to walk through. Wasn’t our first older group, and I sure as heck didn’t mind. They were all about 20, and one guy’s girlfriend was, to be honest, a bitch.

“This ain’t scary. This isn’t gonna be scary. I’m not gonna get scared by a bunch of kids,” and so on. To be fair, I could understand why her boyfriend was with her. She was not hard on the eyes. If she had been a mute, I might’ve envied him. But alas, she wasn’t, and so we began, with her commenting negatively about everything.

The coffin got her a little. I sold it dramatically, asked her to get close so she could see what was inside, and threw the lid up fast. She jumped, saw it was empty, and made some snarky remark. Then I slam the lid, she jumps, and BANG! Knowing what was going on, whoever was inside (still trying to remember) throws up that lid and howls.

Score one for the good guys.

We move on. Get to my old dining room table with the leaf pulled out, the tablecloth cut, and Rich’s head sticking out through the platter. He, too, has heard the approaching group and knows what’s up. She jumps again, and now wants out.

So, we meander on past Tommy, who’s got his back against the wall in the “cell”, not moving. That doesn’t really get her (of course), and even I don’t know what Tommy’s planning. But we continue, and go on to the end. Kinda. The group passes my sister, standing by the side exit door (which is hidden behind a 5′ hanging skeleton). Sis offers them candy from the cauldron, as we move on to the door marked EXIT. Which.isn’t. It’s actually the door to a broom closet. So I bid the group good-bye, Little MissCan’t-Be-Scared opens the door, and Kevin Wallace, who hadda be at least six-one, maybe even six-two, jumps out, wearing a different mask, in my full black oilskin duster, wielding a running chainsaw. Before she can back away, Tommy has crawled out of the cage, and is half-hidden by fog from my fog machine. He groans, and lunges, trying to grab the chick’s leg.

Can you say: “Gotcha!”

That chick hit the door by my sis so hard I’m surprised she didn’t break her arm. The skeleton went flying. She disappears out into the parking lot screaming like someone just cut off her finger with a pruning shear. Outside, parents and kids are watching this woman run off.and not stop.

Hysterics. Little Miss Can’t-Be-Scared’s boyfriend comes up, throws his arm around my shoulder, catches his breath long enough to thank me, and swears he’s just had the best Halloween ever.
Okay, so we take a break to reset. As I’m going past the table with Rich’s head sticking through it, someone points out a sizeable puddle on the floor. We check. No, the fog machine isn’t leaking. No, there’s no point-of-origin for this mystery fluid. Hmnnn.

You wanna talk success? I’m sure the folks out at McKamey Manor in San Diego are familiar with mopping up piss, but for a rag-tag group like us to pull off a scare that caused some woman to wet herself?

Not sure, but just may have been one of my best Halloweens ever, too!

 

 

Currently listening to: Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees

The Next Frontier

The Bunker Movie ArtFirst time director, can’t see, minimal budget, cast spread out all across the country. Just finishing a movie would pretty much be seen as a success, right? That’s how I looked at it, being the blind first-timer in question. But not only did we pull it off, we shook off sabotage from within, financial shortcomings and reshoots in multiple states to produce a film that not only got good reviews, it got great reviews. We got invited to screen at over a dozen festivals. Yours truly got a filmaker award at a well-known fest. And, we topped that off by garnering both a domestic film deal and foreign distribution.

Now, the newest frontier. We’ve signed on with Commodity Films to screen The Bunker on IPTV, meaning if you live in one of the non-exclusive territories? You’ll be able to see The Bunker, for free, starting on Halloween night through November 6th. Any time, day or night, you can stream the flick at your convenience and see the film that, without exaggeration, made movie history. 

I hashtag: #NoLimits a lot. Because I don’t believe in any. Well, okay. Maybe I won’t  get my pilot’s license. But I’m talking about having no limits in terms of pushing the envelope. Doing things people don’t expect you to do. Things people don’t believe you can do. When I announced I was going to direct? There were plenty of naysayers online, and some I met in person, face-to-face, at conventions. Proving them wrong? Just added incentive. 

Halloween night, or the 6 days following, visit CommodityFilms.com and click into the Screening Room to view The Bunker. Then come on back and let us know what you thought. C’mon-it’s 7 days. You can’t be in a post-Halloween candy coma that long.

Takin’ It Easy

Not a good day, all things considered, but Pam and I, sis, Joe and the kids, and Mom are trying to make the best of it. Two years today since we said good-bye to Dad. Feels like forever sometimes. Feels like just yesterday at others. Sucks either way, but it is what it is and we’re hanging in there. Not much choice, when it comes right down to it, is there?

Back in May, I pulled off a surprise for my Mom with the help of my best friend Billy and another good friend, John Fairfield. Kathleen and I snuck Mom out to BackStreets under false pretenses, and I played the final set with Billy and John—the first time she’d ever seen me play guitar. I dedicated one tune to my Dad, and this is the one we closed the night out with. Mom’s a big Eagles fan, and this is the one I’d originally approached Billy about joining him on stage for. (That quickly became two songs, which then turned into four, and then the entire last set). Oh well, at least no one threw drinks at us.

 

Anyway, tonight we’re doing movie night again. Last year, it was Die Hard, a movie Dad took us to back when it was first released. Tonight it’s a comedy. Uncle Buck, which Dad loved and all of us got a big kick out of. Pam’s putting out a big taco and quesadilla spread—a fave of the family back when we lived up North—and we’re going to make fresh, movie-theatre popcorn in the popcorn machine, gorge ourselves on Raisinettes and Sno Caps, and break at the halfway point to make ice cream sodas and toast Dad with ’em. I wish he could be here for this. Wish he could’ve been there at Backstreets. But we’re gonna try and get around that as best we can. Takin’ it easy, so to speak. The way he’d want it. MYD.

 

No Broken Dreams Here.

As we’ve gotten the sound mastering and mix-downs done, we’ve been uploading a number of music videos to YouTube. The latest from my gig at Backstreets is a cover of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. Billy Martindale on vocals and guitar, John Fairfield on lead bass, and yours truly on electric guitar. This was probably the most complicated song we did, given the amount of pedal work and quick changes, but it came out great, so if you dig it, hit Share on FB or tweet the link out to your friends. I think we did a pretty good job on it (especially without a drummer). We’ve got one more to post after this, so check back to see what tune we closed out the night with.

As for broken dreams, plenty of us have ’em. To be sure, I never thought I’d be able to play guitar in front of an audience.  The gig at Backstreets was more like ‘dream-come-true’ kind of stuff. Thanks to the internet, I can share what we did with friends and family spread out all across the country. Heckuva night, it was.

Hey Eminem, Call off the bots

Pam and I worked on one of the videos from last month’s Backstreets gig on Wednesday and Thursday, getting it ready for the 4th. (When you watch it, you’ll know why.) So, we get it uploaded, wait forever for YouTube to send us the link, and whammo—make it live.

Which lasts all of an hour. Pam got to check it out, but that was
the only hit we had when it got yanked. Yup, yanked. Apparently, Eminem’s people have a bot crawling YouTube looking for word matches to bitch about.
Sure enough, the song we covered, entitled When I’m Gone, matched, and so YouTube got a complaint, saying we didn’t have the rights.

Guess what, Marshall? You don’t, either. Because this wasn’t your
freaking song. And, in fact, there’s several songs that have the same words in the title and would trigger the match your bots (or your reps themselves, assuming they were stupid enough to complain about a song that isn’t yours) got a hit on.

Next time, Marshall, how about having your bots or reps actually
play the video in question before flagging it? Because this one got a
reply with the actual copyright holders named, meaning if YouTube actually pays attention to its stated policy, the black mark goes against you guys, not yours truly. Better luck next time with someone who actually gives a damn about your songs.

So anyway, song went back up the morning of the 5th, dedicated to
our servicemen and women in the armed forces. Recorded Memorial Day weekend at a club which is a member of BMI/ASCAP/SESAC (also made quite clear, except for Eminem’s reps), we followed up 3 Doors Down’s video dedication and sent this one out to the troops.

Hope you like it. Would love it if you’d share the link with all of your friends or family who serve, or have served. Billy really knocks it out of the park on this one.

As well, for you classic rock enthusiasts, we did Southern Cross, by
Crosby, Stills & Nash, and I have to say, I think we more than did it
justice. But don’t take my word for it, hit PLAY and decide for yourselves. I just hope Eminem doesn’t have the words “Cross” or “Southern” in any of his songs, we may have to wrangle with YouTube over nonexistent copyright issues if his bots mis-crawl again.

First Gig

Started runnin’ into the same lung problem I had in November a couple weeks ago. That Wednesday, in the midst of a coughing fit, Pam says to me, “Time to go to the hospital?” To which I respond, “Not ’til Sunday. Death is the only thing that’ll keep me off that stage.”

That stage refers to the Backstreets stage, where the plan was to join Billy and John for the third set, and, finally, give my Mom her late-late birthday present. See, back in November (Black Friday, to be exact), we were going to pack the bar, sneak my Mom out for dinner, and then bring her to Backstreets, where I was going to pull this exact same stunt. She’s never heard me play, except on YouTube, so this was going to be quite the surprise. Unfortunately, a viral infection floored me the week of Black Friday and put me in the hospital for a week. Since my release, we’ve been looking for a reason to put this all together.

We came up with another cover story, got Mom out to the bar, and surprised her exactly as planned. She hung out for the second set, had no clue I was going to get up there, and then it was time. Billy brought me up, I strapped on my electric and played for Mom-and a packed house.

Here’s the first three videos from the gig.  Keep checking back, we’re going to be posting the rest over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy ’em. Mom sure had a good time.

Free—and Without Requiring Piracy!

The year may be winding down, but the workload sure isn’t easing up any. Got a new Kindle project we’re launching on October 25th that’ll take us through New Year’s; we’ll be teasing my new horror anthology (due out next Spring); we’re wrapping up our foreign distribution deal for The Bunker; we just released two commercials, and right now, we’re preparing The Bunker and the Making of… documentary, for IPTV.

My e-mail is thus filled with all sorts of technical mumbo jumbo. Codec specs. Audio encoder information. Video encoder information. Pixel aspect ratio data. Multi-pass. I could go on, because all this gobbledygook makes my head spin, but you get the idea. We’re going down another uncharted road, but at least this time I’ve got directions and plenty of folks who do this for a living willing to help out.

This has been a pretty good year payoffwise on the creative front. Back in 2011, my U.S. distributor and I signed a foreign distribution deal, and we feel we got great terms. A big part of that was not having to tie up the film for 7 years, and not having to practically give it away in certain territories where they’d want unlimited extensions on a basic deal for very little royalties. Now, with the film out in several major markets, including Europe and Asia, we’re ready to make the movie available for free via IPTV. This is going to allow people to watch the flick for nothing, either on their computer or via hook-ups from their streaming devices to their TVs or home theatre systems. The format is still profitable, although I won’t bore you with the details of how all that works. But if you haven’t gotten a copy of The Bunker DVD, and you’re not interested in the limited edition comic that comes only with that package, well, here’s your chance to see both the movie and documentary without having to go to a torrent site or otherwise utilizing video pirates, the types of lowlifes bimbos like Michelle McKee support. Want to see my movie for free? Want to support the people who made the film instead of ripping them all off? Want to help keep distributors like Commodity Films in the business of making and distributing cool indie flicks without having to reach into your wallet? This is how you can accomplish all that. We make a couple cents a viewing, our distribution partners and IPTV partners make a few cents, everyone’s happy.

I’ll be posting more about the launch of the stream the closer it gets, but wanted to let you in on the good news. If you’re an indie fan, I hope you’ll put in the effort required to see the film: a click of the mouse button. That’s not askin’ for too much, is it?

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Currently listening to: “Other Side” by Red Hot Chili Peppers