scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

A Bumper Crop of Short Films

January 15th, 2019

Shorts used to be this artsy thing. But now there really is this explosion in filmmaking. With all this new technology, shorts films have a lot more interest among regular people, because so many people are making them and putting them on the web. Suddenly, we’re not explaining short films to people. Everybody’s seen one.IndieWire

Back in the 1980s, HBO and Cinemax would play short films between their features. HBO referred to theirs collectively as “Short Takes.” I don’t recall what (if anything) Cinemax called theirs, but for a while, it seemed cable TV was poised to deliver a short-film renaissance.

It didn’t happen. Not then. But now – with an ever-increasing number of festivals and websites delivering quality shorts, the only challenge is finding the time to seek out the best. To that end, I have a few recommendations — some playing at festivals, others streaming on multiple platforms.

The first is “The Whistler,” a beautifully shot film that demonstrates how the threat of violence and the intimation of unseen horrors can be as chilling – indeed more chilling – than graphic mayhem and CGI monsters.

The film opens with some standard horror tropes: a babysitter left in charge of a precocious tween and a sense of someone or something lurking in the darkness outside. But from there it veers into a weirdly surreal dreamscape that benefits nicely from exquisite low-light cinematography by Naim Sutherland and a moody score by Emmit Lee Stang. Written and directed by Jennifer Nicole Stang, the film had a terrific run on the festival circuit, winning over a dozen “best” awards, including Best Short at the New York City Horror Film Festival.

If you were fortunate enough to catch it, Gruesome Magazine is giving you the chance to vote on its status as Best Festival Short of 2018.

Also on the Gruesome Magazine ballot is “Heartless,” another festival favorite from the past year. This one presents a modern retelling of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” written and directed by Kevin Sluder, with Jennifer Sluder as executive producer.

The Sluders bring Poe’s classic into the 21st century by re-imaging the story’s deranged narrator as a woman struggling to cope with the inequities of the corporate world. Although considerably more violent than the understated “Whistler,” this film’s blood and gore (expertly rendered by effects artist Josh and Sierra Russell and a crack make-up team) is always to a purpose. As a result, “Heartless” delivers over-the-top mayhem while managing to be about something more than gore — a satiric take on office politics.

Like “The Whistler,” “Heartless” garnered numerous awards on the festival circuit, including the audience-prize at NYC Horror Film Festival in last month.

Heartless Trailer from Sunshine Boy Productions on Vimeo.

Among the many online sites currently streaming short films is Fun-Size Horror, which “aims to terrify and delight viewers with original short films that explore horror from every angle.” There you will find a seemingly endless list of flash films, including to my favorites: “Monsters” (directed by Steve Desmond) and “Midnight Clear” (directed by Joe Russo). Both feature the kind of writing that distinguishes the best of the original Twilight Zone episodes … and you can watch them both in their entirety by clicking the players below.

Enjoy! And if you have any recommendations to share, please pass them along.


Talking Writing with Laura Powers

December 28th, 2018

Earlier this month, I got the chance to chat with the multi-talented Laura Powers about film festivals, Nightmare Cinema, and the philosophical approach to writing that I like to think of as “the long game.”

You can listen in on that conversation by clicking the player above. If you like what you hear, there’s plenty more where that came from.

Our “From Book to Screen” episode is the latest installment of Write Hot, a podcast focusing on writers and writing. Additionally, Laura hosts the programs Healing Powers (health and wellness), Behind the Scenes (filmmaking and screenwriting), and Behind the Music (songwriting, music production, and performance), among others.

In “From Book to Screen,” Laura and I touch on the intersection between fiction and music — a topic that we’ll get the chance to explore in more detail when we sit down for a Behind the Music session (currently scheduled for next week). Should be a fun time.

Other news: I’ve been in conversation with W.H. Horner Editorial and Design — the firm that designed this website way back in 2010. Web-content platforms have changed quite a bit since, and it’s time for an upgrade.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making minor adjustments. The banner above now features display art by Jason Zerrillo (from Voices: Tales of Horror), and the media page has been enhanced with some new and redesigned content. In the days ahead, I hope to revamp the music page as well.

But such tweaks will pale in comparison to what I have in mind for later this year. Big changes are coming. Look out 2019.

Scenes from NYC Horror Film Fest:
If life’s a shoot … memories are the movie.

December 6th, 2018

“What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out?”

Alfred Hitchcock

I’m back home after the US premiere of Nightmare Cinema, reflecting on the highpoints of the trip and ready to consign the rest (long security lines, delayed flights, rush-hour connection in the city that never sleeps) to memory’s cutting-room floor. If life is the shoot, then memories are the movie … and tonight it’s all about the final cut.

EXT. NEW YORK CITY STREET – NIGHT. Producer Mick Garris and Artistic Designer Lauran Fitzsimmons walk toward Cineopolis — site of the New York City Horror Film Festival, and the US Premiere of Nightmare Cinema. They’re accompanied by Laura Power, host of Behind the Scenes, a podcast that recently featured an interview with Mick Garris.

This Way to Egress by Lawrence C. Connolly

I’m there as well — the point-of-view guy, the memory cam.

Mick, Laura, and I have already seen the final cut of Nightmare Cinema. (Indeed, Mick has screened it a half-dozen times at various international events).

But Lauren has yet to see the final cut, which makes this an exciting night. You see, it was Lauran who helped give each of the film’s five segments its distinctive look by transforming found locations into nightmarish sets.

Jason Zerrillo’s cover for the Ash-Tree Press edition of the collection This Way to Egress.

FLASHBACK: The “Egress” set in 2016. Lauren and her team apply fake mold and synthetic blood to walls, furniture, and floors of an L.A. office, creating a set that will bear an uncanny resemblance to the cover art of the book This Way to Egress.

Lauren Fitzsimmons and her design team transform an office in downtown LA.

BACK TO SCENE: We reach the silver facade of Cineopolis Chelsea, six stories high, a beacon os silver light.

The screening is well attended; the audience, enthusiastic.

After the show, Festival Programmer Tony Timpone moderates a Q&A with Mick Garris. Mick talks about the international scope of Nightmare Cinema, how it features the work of horror masters from Cuba, Japan, England, and Mexico. Should Nightmare Cinema become a series (as he hopes it will) future installments will build on that international concept, fulfilling a dream that Mick first developed when his series Masters of Horror completed its run on Showtime in 2007.

CUT TO POST-SHOW RECEPTION: The place is packed with cinephiles, screenwriters, directors, producers. Among the screenwriters are Nick Schwartz, Dave Conte, and Matt Braunsdorf — the team behind The Blood Grinder, a finalist in the festival’s script competition.

Directors and producers include Kevin and Jennifer Slunder (whose short film Heartless will go on to win the festival’s Audience-Choice Award) and Jennifer Stang (whose short The Whistler will be named Best Short). Reviews coming soon.

Sharing the red carpet with Lauren Fitzsimmons, Jennifer Slunder, and Kevin Slunder. 

CODA: After New York, I head south for a family event in Florida, getting a day to exchange the skyscrapers of chilly Manhattan for the sunny palms of Orlando. And then … back home. That’s where I am now, replaying the events in memory’s theatre – that private screening room where the dull stuff gets edited out and the fun stuff gets all the close-ups. Yeah … it was a good time!

Until next the next shoot … scop on!

Back to Chelsea…
for Nightmare Cinema’s US Premiere

November 29th, 2018

It’s the summer of 1977. I’m crashing at my brother Mark’s apartment at Hotel Chelsea, dreaming of following in the footsteps of other writers who used that iconic landmark as their home base in New York City. It’s the place where Arthur C. Clark worked on 2001: a Space Odyssey, where Alan Ginsburg revolutionized American poetry, and where Dylan Thomas drew his final breath. It’s also where Nancy Spungen (girlfriend of Sid Vicious) was found stabbed to death. But that was a little later. For me, in the summer of 1977, it was a great place to launch some writerly dreams.

(Above) Hotel Chelsea, back in the day. (Right) Brother Mark and the 21st Century Scop with significant others in front of the Aristocrat Deli, next door to Hotel Chelsea, 1977.

Then, as now, Hotel Chelsea is flanked by the Aristocrat Deli on one side and a theatre on the other. But although the deli is the same, the theatre has changed. Back then, it was a performance space called the Squat Theatre – an experimental venue frequented by the likes of Andy Warhol and Nico.

Today, Hotel Chelsea is cover in scaffolding, its distinctive red-and-white canopy (a newer version of the one shown above) hidden in a cavern of interlocking metal beams as the building undergoes a long-overdue renovation that began in 2016. Work is expected to continue into next year.

The Aristocrat Deli is much as before, but Squat Theatre is gone, replaced by the gleaming facade of Cineopopolis Chelsea, a massive movie theatre that later this evening will host the US premiere of Nightmare Cinema.

(Above) Hotel Chelsea under renovation. (Right) Squat Theatre at 256 West 23rd, as it looked shortly after its opening in 1977.

Today’s screening of Nightmare Cinema is part of the New York City Horror Film Festival, where I’ll soon be joining Producer-Director Mick Garris and Artistic Director Lauren Fitzsimmons for the opening-night event.

Also on hand will be filmmaker Nick Schwartz (who is currently developing an adaptation of my story “Prime Time!”). Nick will be joined by Dave Conte and Matt Braunsdorf. Their script The Blood Grinder is a finalist in the festival’s scrip competition. It should be an exciting night.

Cineopolis Chelsea, on the site formerly occupied by Squat Theatre. 

Nightmare Cinema screens this evening at 7:00 PM. This will be your chance to see it before its general release to theatres and streaming in early 2019. If you’re in town, I’ll hope to see you there.

Also on the bill tonight is “Inked,” a short film by director Kyra Gardner.

The program runs through the weekend.

I’ll post some updates soon. Until then … scop on!