Monday, March 30, 2015

Confessions From An Angry Artist #5: Making Three Lives Come Together Perfectly!

When you attend the New York Film Academy's 12 week program you are required to complete three film projects.  The first is a continuity film.  I wrote about this experience in another post a few months back.  It was my short film called, Russian Roulette.  After that first project I was really depressed and questioned many things.  Should I even be doing this?  Am I cut out for this?  Filmmaking takes time and dedication.  When you work with a crew it's all in or nothing.  But on Russian Roulette everything seemed to fall apart.  The actor I casted stood me up the morning of the shoot.  My other actor, Adrian, got sick and went home after Sid's shoot and Annie was difficult to work with behind the camera.

Should I have given up?  No.  Never.  That is not an option.

The first piece of great news came on the night that we actually reviewed all of the continuity films.  For all the drama and bullshit that played out during the making of Russian Roulette, it was actually well-received by my classmates and instructor, Billy Tyler Smith.  Aside from a few gripes everyone really liked it.  That feeling was quite good and it lifted my spirits immediately.  I took something that I didn't think had a chance to be glued together and made it my own.  And having others say positive things about it was even better for my confidence.  

The second piece of good news came after class when Billy told us that he'd be changing up the groups.  This meant that Annie was no longer in my group.  It was for the better.  We just didn't gel at all.  Fortunately, Sid and Adrian would be sticking around.  Taylor, another girl in the class took Annie's spot.  I was still kind of worried that Adrian would flake out again and come up with a million different excuses why he couldn't finish the full day's shoot and all the projects.  

Nonetheless, our second project was a music video.  Not a band playing to their music, but a video with the music telling the story.  Billy stressed that we tell our story with image and music.  Being a death metal fan I immediately went to something dark and heavy.  My first choice was Six Feet Under's Braindead, from he album, Bringer of Blood.  I wanted to shoot an autopsy scene in a hospital with the song telling the story.  My shooting and editing would've made this perfect because this was the style I was going for.  With time restraints, and location problems this just wasn't feasible.  You have to remember we only had a few days to prep for the project, because not only were you prepping for yours, but you were prepping for the others in the group too.  

I was always a huge Donnie Darko fan and fell in love with Gary Jules' version of Mad World from that soundtrack.  I listened to that song over and over again the ideas immediately started to brew.  My wife Jackie, and I, started bouncing ideas off each other.  We began storyboarding, and soon this story about three very different people living three very different lives began to take shape.  The outcome for these three lives would all be the same:  heartache, dispair, failures, addictions, and loss.

I wasn't about to retrace my first mistakes and depend on people who I knew I couldn't trust to show up and help.  This time I would use real people and challenge myself as a director.  I used Sid once again, because he was just so menacing in Russian Roulette and I knew he was dependable.  I used Jackie's cousin, Pam, and her father, Willie.  Jackie was a gimme because she was already trained as an actor from guess where?  

Did you guess New York Film Academy?  

Then you're correct.

On the first day of shooting we snuck into the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Jackie and I had a specific location:  her father's head stone.  I loved shooting in the cemetery because it was April on an overcast day, and it just looked so beautifully bleak.  Adrian ran the camera while I just concentrated on direction.  This was perfect for me.  Adrian and I got along so well.  The first thing I noticed on this shoot was how much more relaxed I was without Annie involved.  It was just me and my little crew doing what we love best: telling stories. 

Jackie was completely natural in her ability to act.  She did go through the real loss of a loved one.  So she knew how to act and react in the scene.  She's beautiful in it.  She's also extremely organized where as I'm the opposite.  So when I got lost, she'd put me back on track and helped me keep my mind on the project.  I get Jackie's loneliness.  It seeps through the screen.  I can feel the anger, sorrow and regret through her performance.  

Willie is credited as The Guitar Player.  Jackie's father was a guitar player, as is Willie, so this was another natural element to the film.  Raw and real is what I wanted.  Shooting Willie was a breeze because he really didn't have to do much.  Looking back, I'm so honored that he was in this because he was just so good.  His scene really gets to me because for me it is really happening.  I hope Willie realizes the talent that he possesses. 

After wrapping up the shots in the cemetery we head straight to our next location, Pam's bedroom.  Pam plays the struggling artist who just can't kick the addiction or maintain self control.  She never acted before this (that I know of anyway) so I was unsure of how this would turn out.  Pam is a truly gifted artist and the work you see in the film is hers.  When I shot Pam, we used minimal lighting.  I didn't want it to be bright in that room, because the character's life isn't bright at all.  She took direction well and seemed to know the character in and out.  She was usually one or two steps ahead of me.  She knew what was going on at all times on set.  She was ready each and every time I called action.  Maybe her true calling is acting.  

That night I went home to watch the dailies and was delighted at what I saw.  I knew right then and there that I had something good.  I just needed to finish up the film with Sid's shoot in the city.  

I chose to shoot Sid right in front of the NYFA building down in Union Square.  The reason was because we didn't need a permit and had every right to shoot there.  So I just made it easy and hung out there.  Sid plays the bum in the film.  It's funny because you can see people just staring at him, and they have no clue I'm running the camera.  At one point he was actually holding out his little can and asking for some change.  Sid was method during this shoot.  He was extremely convincing.  I love the scene where he pulls out the apple from the dumpster and takes a desperate bite.  That one pulls the heart strings just a bit.  We shot different endings for Sid.  For one ending I had Taylor give him some money and he mouthed the words, "thank you."  Once I edited the film it didn't make much sense because he would've been the only character with any closure.   

I finally wrapped and went into the editing suite to finish up.  My first edit wasn't too good.  The lives of the three people didn't mesh properly.  I showed the editing teacher and he said I should cut the film again.  "This time make sure you tell the story of the three people," he said. In the first cut, Jackie's character was in it more than the others.  I re-edited the film, this time,  giving each character their time.  The second cut weaves through all three characters naturally.

It was done.  I was excited; I wanted to show it off to everyone.  I hurried home and showed Jackie that night.  I could see how proud she was of the film.  It just came together so natural and perfect.

When I showed it to the class they all agreed that it was better than Russian Roulette.  Billy had a few odd remarks about the film.  He asked about Willie's character.  Evidently, he thought he was some pervert prowling around in the graveyard.  Most of us rolled our eyes when he made that remark.  I think it's pretty obvious what Willie's character represents.  Maybe Billy wanted to see something different, I'm not sure. Other than that he thought it was a good film. One kid, two seats down, said nothing after the film ended.  At first I thought he didn't like it.  After his long, dramatic pause he whispered, "That was beautiful."

I knew then that we made something incredibly special.  Just based off of that single remark. 

This shoot was the best one for me.  It was so easy, and everyone involved just gave me 100% of their time, dedication, and talent.  This is a piece of time I'll never forget and will always appreciate.  I still get many compliments on it today.  I, along with the rest of us, deserve them.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Under a Nightmare - Monsters 89 - Album Review

*** (out of 4 stars)

"Now the Armageddon's here.
They've got your sister.
The dead walk the earth.
You'll never see that bitch again"

- Blood on the Wall

Track Listing:

1.  Intro
2.  Can't Wait Till Halloween
3.  Blood On The Wall
4.  She's A Banshee
5.  Monsters 89
6.  Boneyard Road
7.  Lost
8.  Become The Stranger
9.  Ghost Town
10.  Shelly & The Vampire
11.  Into the Unknown
12.  Frankenweenie
13.  Take It To The Grave
14.  Devil's Dragstrip
15.  Curse of the Living
16.  Wish It Away
17.  Lay Upon The Dead
18.  Beneath
19.  You Haunted Me
20.  Between Madness
21.  Make Me A Zombie
22.  The Rotting
23.  Dead Youth 

Under a Nightmare is based out of Pittsburgh, Pa.  They formed in October 2002 and have been unleashing hell ever since.  The line up for Monsters 89 is:  Coffin Keenan - guitars/vocals, Marky Madness - guitar/vocals, Jordy Coroner - bass/vocals and The Cubscout - Drums.

Under a Nightmare's 2007 release, Monsters 89, is the perfect love child from punk and grudge.   In fact it's some of the best horror punk I've heard.  As a person following the band for many years, I've watched them grow from afar.  There's a perfect simplicity to Under a Nightmare that I really adore.  The catchy sing-a-long choruses, the guitar work, fast punk drums, and the howling of the bands guitarist/front man, Coffin Keenan.  Keenan has one of the better voices in the genre.  He reminds me of  T.S.O.L's Jack Grisham.  His vocal range keeps the band interesting and makes you want to hear the lyrics that he's singing.

Monsters 89 is packed with twenty-three songs.  Can't Wait Till Halloween starts the album off as a fast-paced, in your face, punk song.  I love when the bass comes in and really sets the tone for the tune.  From there, Blood On The Wall kicks in.  This is the song that made me want to purchase this album.  I love the opening guitar riff, and I love the solo later on.  This is one of the best songs on the album.  The title track, Monsters 89 has a great feel to it, and another great guitar opening that turns into a relentless horror punk attack.  My favorite track probably has to be Make Me A Zombie, a track near the end of the album.  Catchy all around.  A song I go to often when listening to the album.

But the above-mentioned tracks are just a sample taste.  There are so many other songs that are really great.  Frankenweenie is a return to the early days of The Misfits with all the Whoa-oh-ohs. Take it to the Grave starts off slow and groovy, then hits you the face with a hammer.  Never fear because for those of you who want mood, just check out the next to last track, The Rotting, where the acoustic guitar and keys are the driving point.  Keenan's vocals and lyrics for The Rotting are haunting too.  The last track of the album is Dead Youth, a great song, but a depressing reminder that the album is done.  Dead Youth is a great way to finish off.

Although Under a Nightmare has been prominent in the 2000's, I could easily see them finding success thirty years ago.  They sound like a band that could have came from the late 80's early 90's. Overall, this album is really great.  If you're a horror punk fan, do yourself the favor and pick this CD up.  They're currently working on a new record with some great material.  Anything you can purchase will help the band out.

Top five songs on the album:
Can't Wait Till Halloween, Make Me A Zombie, Blood On The Wall, Dead Youth, Monsters 89

Bass seems to be lost in the mix for certain songs, while others it's prominent.

Favorite Lyrics:
Make Me A Zombie

Get their music here:



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lust For Sacrilege by Calabrese - Album Review

***1/2 out of 4 stars

The blood brother trio is back yet again with another hard-hitting, gut punching album.  The new album, Lust for Sacrilege delivers something darker and more sinister than their previous records.  The opening track, The Dark is Who I Am is an indicator to this.  The track is dark, much moodier and atmospheric.  Much like Danzig's more mature endeavors after the Misfits, Calabrese is growing into a sonic monster that lurks in the shadows.

In fact the entire album is really impressive.  There really isn't a weak track.  For me the memorable tracks are Down in Misery, Teenage Crimewave, Serpentflame, and my favorite, Lust for Sacrilege.  Gimme War will take you back to their older, more punk-oriented material.  While a song like Drift Into Dust is undeniably somber.  New York Ripper and Lords of the Wasteland are the heavy hitters that are seriously bombastic and unforgiving.

I hear many compare this album to Danzig's 4, and while I agree to an extent, I hear the influence of Lucifuge too.  With that comparison aside, Calabrese has their own sound; adding more metal into the mix this time around. This album really has a lot to offer to the loyal followers of the band as well as the new listeners.

This is a band who has continued to prove that they only get better with age and experience.  The work on Lust for Sacrilege is a testament to all that.  I'm anticipating a new record because Calabrese is always busy with studio time and touring.  I'm looking forward to anything they put out in the future.

The brothers consist of Bobby on lead guitar and vocals, Jimmy on bass and vocals and drummer Davey.  The trio continue to kill it.

Track list:
1.  The Dark Is Who I Am
2.  Down In Misery
3.  Teenage Crimewave
4.  Flesh and Blood
5.  Lust for Sacrilege
6.  Wanted Man
7.  Serpentflame
8.  Gimme War
9.  New York Ripper
10.  Lords of The Wasteland
11.  Drift Into Dust