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Will Belzec be the belle of the ball?

A few years ago I was on the phone with my brother, Jeremy talking about our favorite subject, horror movies, when he suggested an idea for one. It was, I thought, a fresh angle in the zombie genre -no easy feat. The demon seed was planted and I sat down to write it; after, of course, learning the software of Final Draft (for screenwriting). Six months later I had a script, Belzec: The Made Undead. We are talking 2 hours or so of writing and research and rewriting almost every night of the week. But it wasn’t my first foray into long form writing. I’ve written three novels, two of which you can find on Amazon. So, the hard work was not alien to me. As a matter of fact, I loved it. A writer writes. I tore into that script ravenously like a zombie into flesh.

But then I tried to get it made. Now that’s hard. First I tried working all my connections made during a long career in advertising, querying producers and filmmakers I’d met along the way. I got some interest. Lots of constructive criticism. But, alas, no serious bites.

And so I decided to enter Belzec into various film festivals around the country, of which there are many. Kind of like a fisherman setting out lines, and utilizing the incredibly helpful Withoutabox platform, I put my script out there.

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Boom. The script was accepted into one festival after another. Wow, I thought. That’s more like it! Still, I had experienced my share of literary rejection so I tempered my expectations. And then I started winning. A lot. In 2011, Belzec: The Made Undead received the following honors:

1st Place Chicago Horror Film Festival “General”
2nd Place Nevada Film Festival “Horror”
1st Place The Indie Gathering “Horror”
2nd Place Waterfront Film Festival “General”
1st Place Action on Film Festival “Horror”
1st Place Action on Film Festival “Sci/Fi”
Semi-finalist: Landlocked Film Festival
Semi-Finalist: SoCal Indie Film Festival
Finalist: First Glance Film Fest
Finalist: Write Movies Competition
Official Selection: Naparville Film Festival
Honorable Mention: Hollywood Screenplay Contest
Honorable Mention: Shockfest

I went to several of these events to receive my prizes. What a crazy thrill that was! Along the way, I met all kinds of scribes, filmmakers and fascinating characters. I picked up an agent. Flew to Hollywood. Talked with directors. The whole shot.

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First prize, The Chicago Horror Film Festival
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First prize, Action On Film
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First place, The Indie Gathering (Dig that trophy!)

And yet, it still didn’t get made. Like a videogame warrior, I did not give up. I revised my script and this summer entered it into a few more festivals, including one of the best shows representing the horror genre, Shriekfest. In my first go-around, Belzec didn’t even place at this show.

This year, I am a finalist at Shriekfest, one of twenty scripts selected from many hundreds, perhaps thousands; I don’t know. But I’m in it and I’m thrilled. The script is also an official selection in several other shows. But Shriekfest is the darling. My cramped fingers are crossed.

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Zombie movies are everywhere. I know; I’ve seen them all. But there is always room for one more. Particularly one with gravitas.

And while I don’t expect Legendary Pictures to call, there are myriad other companies out there specializing in horror. Bottom line, I wrote something I would want to see. Something I’m passionate about. My good friend, John Coveny (The Closer, Trust Me, Longmire) once told me to write about what I love. And so I did. Belzec: The Made Undead was/is a labor of gory love.

Getting this movie made is my Great White Whale. It’s at the top of my bucket list -right up there with seeing my three daughters graduate from university. Should Belzec ever be produced it’s highly unlikely my daughters would see it. It’s pretty gnarly. Still, when I overhear them bragging about how their daddy made this commercial and that poster my heart just bursts. Imagine what they would say if their pops created a monster movie. That, my friends, is what success looks like.

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Behind the camera, back in the day…

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WWZ… WTF?

Though I studied film in college, and wrote film criticism for three of my university newspapers, I don’t do movie reviews here. However, I do use movies as reference. Often. Personally and professionally, they are a constant source of inspiration. They are for a lot of people. Perhaps more than any other medium, movies shape our popular culture. And in doing so the advertising that permeates it. Like ads, films are accessible to just about everyone. Indeed, when they first came into being movies were made primarily as entertainment for the lower classes. Not as art, per se but so working people could escape from the dreariness of factories and the weariness of farms. The upper classes went to museums and the opera. Until they realized movies were a lot more fun.

Fade to black.

Yesterday, I took in a matinee of Brad Pitt’s apocalyptic thriller, World War Z. Having read the book several years ago and being a major fan of horror (in particular zombie horror), there was zero chance of me not seeing this film. If I didn’t have family responsibilities I would have likely been among the very first.

I’m sure Mr. Pitt and his many nervous backers hope there are plenty more just like me. Reasonable assumption -at least when the film scoped at south of 100 million dollars. After all, zombies have been the new it girls of horror for some time now. From no-budget snarlers to A&E’s The Walking Dead, reanimated corpses have been animating popular culture in frightening proportions.

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The book.

Alas, the troubled film cost over 200 million bones to make. There are not enough fan boys on earth to cover that spread. Which is how I fear this film got into trouble. Trying to capitalize on Pitt’s fame. Trying to capture female viewers. Trying to be all things to all people so as to get box office, World War Z comes off as a middling thriller and a mediocre zombie movie.

One need only look at the PG-13 rating to know WWZ was doomed. With VERY FEW exceptions you just can’t make good undead horror for less than an “R.” For one thing, you can’t show the carnage, which I feel is absolutely necessary to the genre. This film doesn’t. To put it bluntly no one gets eaten in this film. Hell, I don’t recall even seeing blood. On behalf of fan boys everywhere: WTF?

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It ain’t undead if you don’t show some leg (pic from The Walking Dead)

Yet, the film is just intense enough to keep a shit-ton of normies out of it as well. Granted, films like Zombieland and Warm Bodies and shows like The Walking Dead have opened doors to the genre few had thought possible: women, children and happy people.

But not 200 million dollars worth. Case in point, the matinee I saw was less than one third full. And it was raining out! Not a good sign for an aspiring blockbuster in its first week let alone a good horror movie.