Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inspirations from the Dark (part three)

(As we continue our preproduction process on "NOIR" with casting and storyboards, here's Part 3 of our little backstory of how the project was inspired…  )

My next Film Noir experience came with Orson Welles's 1955 classic, "Touch of Evil." Another movie I saw on television when I was young and again, another movie I watched under false pretenses.  

You see, Charlton Heston was the star and I was a big fan of Heston, having already seen him in
"The Ten Commandments" and "Planet of the Apes… "

But this movie "Touch of Evil" was different. First off, the title was totally misleading - there wasn't just a touch of evil, there was a whole lotta evil!  

And even Heston didn't look like Heston… 

He was a Mexican!  

Which I bought into about as much as I did 
David Carradine playing a Chinese Immigrant in the classic 70's TV show, "Kung Fu." 

But I digress, back to our feature…

From the very first frame, "Touch of Evil" was strange and weird.  It played like a black and white nightmare, but at the same time had a dark-all-too-real feel about it.  It was dirty and sweaty and it was shot in these bizarre wide angles I'd never seen before… 

Like it wasn't a movie at all, but a subconscious stream of distorted images woven into a quilt that threatened to smother you at any minute .

And you couldn't trust anybody.  Not even our hero, Charlton Heston, who irresponsibly keeps leaving his beautiful bride (played by Janet Leigh) alone so that she can be brutally victimized by the movie's villains.

Poor Janet, between "Touch of Evil" and "Psycho," the girl just couldn't get a break during this period. 

First time I saw "Touch of Evil" as a kid, I remember I never really understood what the hell was going on. I only knew it was wrong, wrong, wrong!  

But still, it stuck with me.  The way the shadows and light worked together to create this foreboding imagery of dread haunted me. 

Orson was the king of the single take. Scenes are blocked and shot in such a way that you'll see a variety of compositions and emotional beats - for minutes at a time - all without a single cut away. And like any great magic trick, you won't even notice.

That's what's so impressive, that it's so effortless, which shows what a genius Orson Welles really was. When you think of the precision timing of the actors and their performances and the cameraman smoothly following the action and pulling focus all in concert with each other for almost an entire scene, you have to really appreciate the effort.

Imagine getting through a five minute take and an actor flubs a line at the very end or the camera goes out of focus? Now you have to go all the way back to square one and start all over again. Talk about pressure! But the end result is a seamless almost documentary feel to the whole movie. You feel like you're walking along side of these people.

And of course, that brings us to the famous single shot that opens the movie where we see a bomb planted in the trunk of a car and we watch as a couple hop in and drive around town crisscrossing paths with our hero and his wife on a leisurely stroll. A shot that would be damn difficult to do today with all the CGI, technical gizmos and smaller cameras we have now, but imagine doing it over 50 years ago without special effects, when cameras were the size of a Smart Car. Amazing to think that the artistry of that shot was marred by the addition of credits running over top of it in the original theatrical version - "Thanks Studios for that one!… 'Blasphemy!' I say."

The tension of that scene is palpable and follows the Hitchcock rule of suspense perfectly - Forget the element of cheap surprise, if you really want the audience to be on the edge of their seats, show them the potential danger beforehand but never to the characters onscreen.

Which now brings us to the inspiration of our film, "NOIR." 

My co-writer/co-director, Greg Bradley, and I had similar memories of these movies and like many other people, including our producer, Gerald Nott, these films had a major impact on us. 

And the more we kept talking about them, the more we kept saying, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to do a movie like that again?"  

But God forbid if you ever mentioned it to your reps or a studio exec. It was like a dirty, little secret we had to keep to ourselves, because if we did, the immediate response was…  

"Oh, you guys… You're so funny!… Really… Seriously now… what do you really wanna do?… What? You are serious?… Have you gone absolutely Pete-Tong insane? Don't you wanna make money? Who wants to see movies like that anymore? Going to our blockbuster graph here on the wall, we have no Film Noir movies to reference… Next thing, you guys will wanna do a Western!" 

"Well, now that you mention it…"

So in the land of broad-based-tentpole films where everyone likes to say "No" to anything outside of a super-hero film - let alone to anything unique - we were giving the studios a million-and-one ways to kick us out of their offices. 

"It's a period piece - Strike one!…" 

"What? You wanna do it in black and white? Are you nuts? - Big friggin' strike two!… "

"And you wanna call it, NOIR? A title that most people don't even know how to pronounce? - Oh, hell no! Get the f**k outta here!… Strike three!!!"

And every time we would mention the idea to the powers that be, the notes would be the same… 

"Great story! Real Scary! Now if you can just update it to modern day or maybe the future - yeah, everyone likes the future, change it to color and even better - 3D, and change the title to something like "The Dark" - something easy to remember? You do that, you might have something."

Writer/Directors: Gregory J. Bradley & Lee Anthony Smith
But the problem was… that wasn't the vision…
If we did that, it would be just like any other
slasher-monster movie out there. 

Their response… "Exactly!"

Then you start to realize that with the present attitude in Hollywood, you couldn't get a movie like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Roger Rabbit" made today. And you wanna know something?… That really sucks!

And the more we thought about it, the more it nagged at us. "There's something here. We just know it. Those story and style elements that had such a great effect on us and others who had seen them…  There was something primal about them…  something universal…  something that if we could just tap into it…  update it for audiences of today, but keep the essence of what worked back then… 

We could create a whole new genre - The Retro Horror/Thriller." 

"Pretty ambitious I know, but if you don't aim for the bleachers, why even bother getting up to bat, right?"

But at the same time, we thought...  "Yeah, but who the hell were we going to get to listen to us?"  And then like Kevin Costner in the "Field of Dreams," a little voice said to us, "Build it and they will come…"

And that…  is when we saw the light.

(to be continued…)

(Featured in photo above - Writer/Directors: Gregory J. Bradley & Lee Anthony Smith.)

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Want more Evil?…

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Inspirations from the Dark (part two)

As we continue our preproduction process on "NOIR" with casting and storyboards, here's Part 2 of our little backstory of how the project was inspired…  And stay with us for future blogs as we take you step by step through the whole creative process of how we're producing this epic horror/thriller with only a micro budget. (Below) "Noir" Filmmakers: Lee Anthony Smith, Gregory J. Bradley, Gerald Nott.

(Warning: "Kiss Me Deadly" Plot Spoilers ahead…)

Looking back, my first film-noir experience - or at least my first memorable film-noir experience - had to be Director Robert Aldrich's 1955 take on Mickey Spillane's pulp classic, "Kiss Me Deadly."  

Only memorable because of the final scene that takes place in a beach house at night–in which the mystery box "the great whatsit" that PI Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) has been searching for is finally opened...

Inside, a horrifying energy source is revealed as a young, beautiful woman, eagerly anticipating something wonderful, is instead burned alive in a blinding white light that engulfs everything…  

As a kid, that image really messed me up!  It terrified me like a macabre nightmare that sticks with you long after you wake up in a cold sweat.

But what's even more interesting was the circumstance of how I saw the movie in the first place, which was under completely false pretenses.  

You see, as a kid back in the seventies, you couldn't wait to check out the cool monster movies playing on Shock Theater every Saturday and Sunday afternoon on television.  But on this day, instead of "Frankenstein" or "Wolf Man," they were playing "Kiss Me Deadly."  

So, all I thought was… "Wow! That's a cool title.  Can't wait to see what crazy beast is going to show up in this one – figuring that from the description, it's probably some kinda sexy female vampire with lots of cleavage like from those Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing  Hammer Films… Oh, boy!"

But as the movie progressed, I started getting bored and started wondering when the hell this giant dinosaur or mutated bug was gonna show up.  And I know it may be hard for this generation to understand the horror of this–but back in the day, you only had three channels on television, which meant you didn't have a heck of a lot of options, so I had no choice…  I hung in there.

The one thing keeping my hopes alive was that they kept talking about this box…  this creepy little box.  They talked about it as if the devil himself was hiding inside. 

 So I thought, "Well, that's gotta be it. There must be some kinda demon head in that thing. Can't wait to see what comes out of there."  

My imagination had run amuck!  I was glued to the TV set now.  I just knew that at any moment, my patience would pay off and that the horrendous creature would show itself.

And at the same time, I was kinda digging this Mike Hammer guy.  He drove a hot car and had a way with the ladies…  And all of the characters were riffing these really cool lines like… 

"I don't care what you do to me, Mike – just make it quick" or "Keep away from the windows. Somebody might… blow you a kiss."  Even as a kid, I got the jest and I was amused by it.

And before I knew it, I was liking this movie in spite of the fact I hadn't seen a single monster so far.  

In fact, I was soon lulled into this false sense of security that our hero had this thing all sewed up.  He was way too cool for anything really bad to happen, so I went with it, figuring the programers at Shock Theater just got it wrong and put up a tough-talking detective story by mistake.

But what I didn't realize…  What I wasn't prepared for…  What I couldn't imagine in a million friggin' years…  Was the true horror hiding inside that damn box.  

It was greater than any mere monster ever could be. You couldn't run from it….  You couldn't destroy it…  You couldn't reason with it…  You couldn't trick it…  You couldn't hide from it…  You were completely helpless… because this horror…  this monster…  was REAL
It was science, baby!  

It was nuclear radiation and at the end, it destroyed everything and everyone.

I remember that stuck with me. That ending was like a nightmare playing over and over in my head. The black and white images seared into my memory forever. It scared me like no other monster movie ever could, because there was some sort of truth to it. For the first time, I realized that reality could be more horrible than any grotesque creature created by Hollywood. And unlike the dark, this monster was light… brilliant-blinding-white light.

So now that Pandora's Box had been opened, I started noticing a whole slew of movies within this shadowy world, leading me down the murky, twisted alleys of mystery and suspense… where the real monsters were flesh and bone and looked just like you or I… and like some teenager in a slasher flick going against all common sense and investigating a creepy-dark room without the lights on, I couldn't get enough.

Then, right when I thought I had seen it all…

 There was Orson…

Orson Welles

(to be continued… Next, the impact of "Touch of Evil")

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For more deadly kisses

Monday, October 13, 2014

Inspirations from the Dark (part one)

And God said, "Let there be light…"  Which I suppose would mean the dark was the original form of existence - where all things were born from.  We, ourselves, spend nine months in the womb, floating in darkness all cozy and comfy until we're forced into the light, spanked on the ass and shipped down this conveyor belt of life.

Yet, from the day of our birth, we are taught to fear the dark. Not that it isn't for good reason.  The dark protects those who would do us harm.  Predators hide in the dark.  They creep and stalk and attack from the shroud of blackness.  Whether it's a lion roaming the plains of Africa, enemy soldiers crawling across a battlefield, or a serial killer hiding in our closet, the dark benefits our attackers.

So why is it that we prefer to sleep at night when we are at our most vulnerable?  Perhaps, we harken back to our subconscious contentment of our earliest existence in the womb.

The dark also sparks our interest.  The mystery of what exists beyond the veil of night causes our imagination to run wild with possibilities. I can't tell you how many times as a kid, I used to freak myself out by just staring at the shadows in a dark room as I laid in bed at night. Suddenly, your mind starts to play tricks on you and you start to hear and see things move and shift. Or maybe you're just more aware in the dark, more in tune with what's really there?…  Cue evil laughter!…

Could this be why we fear the dark, but are still drawn to it?

Like good and evil, we are constantly being pulled between the light and the dark.  We feel safe in the light, yet we long to conquer the night.

Myself, I love the sunlight, especially if I'm at a California beach at sunset. But if I had to choose - if I had to be absolutely honest - I would have to choose the night.  By nature, I'm more nocturnal and I've never been a fan of mornings.  I seem to have more energy and I'm more creative at night.  That's when I do most of my writing and brainstorming.

In fact, I'm writing this blog at night.  

Even my first full-time job was working third shift.  Later, I was a DJ at a nightclub, working nights until the wee hours of the morning. And when I started working production on films, the night shoots were always my favorite.
I could go all night long, 24 hours straight without blinking an eye, but give me a call time at 4 am in the morning and I would cringe at the thought.

Perhaps, this is why I found the movie theater to be one of my favorite places when I was growing up.  Huddled in the dark, looking up at the screen, it was as if I could see my dreams flickering in front of me.  But this was even better, because I was conscious, I could remember these dreams.  Lucid images of men I wanted to be like and women I wanted to be with… in places I've never been or time periods beyond my memory or in a future that would spark my imagination.

Which brings me to my first memory of my first so-called Film Noir Movie Experience… which ironically enough took place not in a movie theater…  but on television…  

(To be continued…)

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