Monthly Archives: June 2017

A Monster for Every Taste!

As many of my fellow filmmakers know, I’m not overfond of most horror films (apologies to Lonnie and my other filmmaking colleagues who love ’em). At the same time, I do love “creature features.” This is probably due to two reasons.

First, like many kids of my generation, I enjoyed the steady stream of good, bad, and less-than-spectacular kaiju films played endlessly on TV on Saturday afternoons. In our case, it was good ol’ WDCA, Channel 20 that educated us as to Godzilla and his many foes.

Second, my dad loved sharing all sorts of 50s monster movies he grew up with, including Ray Harryhausen classics such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and other seminal giant monster movies like Them!

And while I will happily check out just about any creature feature (hello, Mongolian Death Worm), it’s clear not all creature features are created equal.

In fact, I have to give my hat off to my dad for pointing out a critical difference most great creature features have over their unremarkable cousins: they make fighting the creature as interesting as discovering the creature — if not more so.

In the “meh” creature features, an undue importance is placed on the discovery of the creature. Characters can spend up to half the movie blundering about the ship, house, ancient temple, or whatever the setting is. Meanwhile, the viewer patiently waits for a solid reveal of the creature. For these underwhelming creature features, the main card up their sleeve is the monster itself. They know it… and so they stall playing that card as long as possible. After that, the only thing they can do to raise the stakes is have more gore, more peril, or possibly more monsters (which usually lead to more gore and more peril). The resulting stories seem invariably random and do not provide the characters little, if any, agency. (This is different from Godzilla or other kaiju moshing on plastic tanks, which is an esteemed tradition).

Contrast that approach to some of the great creature features I just mentioned.

In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, they

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

In Them!, there’s a series of hints leading up to the fact

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

In both these cases and others, it’s not only the discovery of the monster, but how to defeat the monster that’s interesting. Not only that, the humans’ efforts to defeat the monster have setbacks. People have incomplete knowledge and incomplete skills, just like in real life. We’re invested in how the characters can possibly win, not simply along for a monster mash ride. (And hint: it’s more exciting if the humans seem to be using what little knowledge they have rather than being complete idiots: I’m looking at you, DeepStar Six).

Now I know my dad isn’t the only one who’s come to this realization. Odds are, many a filmmaker has come to the same conclusion. And some of them have probably made some interesting creature features, dozens of which I have not yet seen.

So, it was with great delight that I discovered that Wikipedia, the modern analog to the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, has an entire page exhaustively listing just about every creature feature ever made.

Now, technically, they’re defining these as “natural horror” films, but let’s be real: many of these creatures are pure fantasy with just the thinnest veneer of science. For example, the list includes both the presumably possible danger of the great white shark in Jaws along with the ridiculous titular monster of Dinoshark.

In some ways, that makes me love them more.

So dig in, fellow cinemaniacs. Whether you want to see a film with deadly tree monsters, killer sheep, or simply a shark loose in a supermarket, I guarantee you’ll find something.

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

I Guess It’s Too Late to Change the Site Name…

There is a theory that placing two coat hangers in a closet produces more coat hangers through some frenzied yet illogical process of inorganic reproduction that’s best left unexamined outside of a Philip K. Dick short story.

If someone suggested that placing two web articles in the Internet equivalent of a closet would produce an article about writing, I would believe them (whether or not the person suggesting it was Phillip K. Dick).

This may explain the overwhelming amount of articles about writing on the Internet — and despite their freakish origins, I read a lot of said articles.

So in the spirit of my focus earlier this month on business plans and planning, I wanted to share an interesting article by Kristen Kieffer in The Verbs that goes over some of the things one should think about as they plunge forward along the journey of being a full-time writer. I especially like the reminders about all the different avenues, back alleys, and overall channels writing could make some ducats. There’s also the important question of one’s “author brand.”

I admit, with working on getting Jabberwocky Audio Theater back off the ground and improving Stonehenge Casting, I haven’t given too much thought about my “personal brand.”

And clearly, I should have thought about what kind of pen name I should have and how that informs what kind of writing I write. I mean, when I think of Bjorn and writing, I think of  him:

Pictures of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson are invariably intense.

Admit it: you wouldn’t want to be caught in a dark alley in Tromsø with this guy. It’s like every Ingmar Bergman slasher film you’ve ever seen. Don’t quibble with me about the fact that Ingmar Bergman is Swedish and, also, has never made slasher films: you know it’s true!

I suppose it’s not that bad. I mean, if I want to tell bitterly realist stories that end in families crying — or perhaps take a turn at nihilist crime fiction, I’ve got the name for it. But what if I want a bit more adventure? Something that has a bit more action or, dare I suggest, swagger? Well then I probably need another name. Something like “Jack Stone” — or “Brick Gunderson” if I wanted to keep some hint of Scandinavia. Construction materials need to be involved.

I guess it’s too late to change the site name.

20 Minutes (or so) to Motivation

I realized that I have a number of potential posts that relate to motivation, so for at least the next few weeks, I’ll have Motivation Mondays!

Because that sounds like exactly the kind of engagement program corporate HR would institute.

Oh, such mirth.

Anyway, I came across a pair of articles by Melissa Dahl in New York magazine.

One is about how to motivate yourself to work when you don’t want to, which provides an intro to the Pomodoro Technique. The second article (referenced by the first) is about the nature of motivation in the first place.

Both of these articles made me think about Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction, something that I’ve already talked about already on this site (raved about, really).

So it was nice to re-visit that thought of motivation and how so much of the motivation can be accomplished by simply doing. You start going through the motions and –whaddya know?– the motivation follows.

Of course, “just doing it” is often not as easy as it sounds. One can always procrastinate.

I could go on, but I think I’ll put it off until next week.

Voiceover Update: Virginia Lottery (& Corvettes)

I grew up with all sorts of creative Virginia Lottery spots, so it was fun to be a part of one.

Much like my recent work for the highway safety spot, I can’t find a link to the specific ads I’m in online, but if you hear a Smithers-sounding flunky in the radio spots for Virginia Lottery’s Corvettes & CA$H scratchers… yes, that’s me. The radio spots started around June 6th and should still be going until the end of the month.

Business Plans Without Pitfalls

Between yesterday and today, you could accurately deduce I have business plans on my mind.

Today, I wanted to share another article I found on Entrepreneur. This one goes over six business plan mistakes to avoid. Many of them are ones fellow filmmakers and I have discussed (especially about #4 and money) and, hey, it may be useful to you.

The Different Audiences of a Business Plan

The folks over at Entrepreneur created an article outlining the different types of audiences you may have for your business plan.

I love this, because so many people like to harp on “your business plan” as if it’s this One Holy Thing your business needs — without defining it beyond the black box of the buzzword term “business plan.” (See also vision statement, mission statement, term du jour that boils down to knowing what you’re trying to do and how you do it.).

“Know your audience” is a common refrain for many creatives, so I suppose it makes sense knowing who’s looking over your business plan and why is obvious. But it’s a nice summary and, for me at least, a reminder that no one business plan would necessarily meet the needs of all the different audiences.

Plato, Plumbers, and Lifelong Learning

My brothers and I definitely benefited from parents who instilled an enjoyment of learning in us. We like finding out more about something for its own sake, delving deeper, and, yes, we all still get a little sad thinking about what happened to the Library of Alexandria some centuries ago.

Now we’re trying to figure out what our parents did specifically, because we have kids of our own. Kids who need to read, write, or work on ‘rithmetic.

And in the Internet-age of easily compartmentalized information, that seems all the more important, both for our kids and people in general. What are we doing as a society to encourage more curious citizens (we seem to know how to encourage consumers pretty well).

All of these are things that came to mind while reading Scott Samuelson’s piece in The Atlantic. The question he asks at the end is well worth considering.

Voiceover Update: Our Roads, Our Safety

You may have heard my voice in a DOT spot last year for road safety. Well, the spot is hitting the airwaves again with a slight tweak.

Update: Dang it, they removed the video with the voiceover, but hopefully you’ll still be able to hear the spot on the airwaves.

You can learn more about the Our Roads, Our Safety campaign on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s web site.