The Indie Gathering. You can’t win ’em all!

As some of you undoubtedly are aware, my summer away from advertising has found me on the film festival circuit, where my horror script Belzec: The Made Undead is actually winning awards. Last month it received two first place trophies (best horror & sci/fi feature) at the Action on Film Festival in Pasadena and in June a second place (horror/feature) at The Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Kristina Michelle & Ray Szuch present me the trophy for Belzec: The Made Undead.

This week I write from Westlake, Ohio, where Belzec took first place (horror/feature) at The Indie Gathering. The Indie Gathering celebrates independent film and in particular those made in the Ohio valley. I’ve never been to Ohio before but my zombie script would not be denied! I wasn’t the only out-of-towner. Other winners came from as far way as England, South America and even New Zealand to receive awards in various categories.

TV show, “Reel Cleveland” interviews an award winner

While The Indie Gathering isn’t the Academy Awards and we aren’t at the Four Seasons, I’m humbled to have won here. TIG takes film very seriously and are devoted to helping unknown and aspiring film makers in their quest for the big time or, frankly, just to get work. At each festival I’ve visited the founders and producers were, to a man, conspicuously un-selfish in this regard.

Ray Szuch and Kristina Michelle (pictured above) of The Indie Gathering were no exception. These two individuals wanted nothing more than for everyone at the festival to network and find connections. (So unlike most advertising award shows, where winning and losing often feels like something out of Schindler’s List.) Kristina is also an actress; no surprise given her looks. Ray has spent decades on the other side of the camera in one form or another. He’s also a seventh degree black belt in karate. And yet here they were, putting on a 3-day show for other filmmakers…for Cleveland… for fun. There’s little chance they made any money.

You have to feel for such fierce independents. These folks bust their ass to make movies, regardless of miniscule budgets and no-name talent. Take Twisted Spine for example. Their motto: “Your Premiere Micro-Budget Experience!” Their film, Murder Machine won the People’s Choice award. I didn’t get to see it but I did view Brian Lawler’s mondo-bizarre Aquarius Rising. His Shock Star Studios also produced Legend of the Melon Heads, apparently their magnum opus.

“Your Premier Micro-Budget Experience!”

Are these films flawed? Hell yes! But there’s something weirdly wonderful about sitting in a hotel basement screening them. For Aquarius Rising I sat directly in front of Mr. Lawlor. A big fucker, you can bet I clapped when the film was over.

Do I want to see my scripts get produced? Of course I do. That’s why I enter them into these festivals. Like my novels, I spent months, even years, writing Belzec: The Made Undead and The Happy Soul Industry. Seeing them on the Silver Screen (hell, even straight to DVD) is tops on my bucket list. Whether winning prizes at all these festivals leads to that is hard to say. But it can’t hurt. And it’s a ripping good time!

Look Ma, first place!

If anyone is interested in my books the links are to the right. If you want to read one of the screenplays, just ask. Next up The The Chicago Horror Film Festival and The So-Cal Film Fest, where Belzec is an official selection!

Other pics from The Indie Gathering…

Director, Traylor Trimarchi and his two trophies

Internet TV: Cleveland’s “Blurry Dude”

The lovely Kristan Michelle (right) interviewing a nominee


“Nice Cans!”

Last night it was good being me. My screenplay, Belzec: The Made Undead won first place in both categories it was nominated (Horror and Science Fiction) at the Action on Film awards ceremony in Pasadena. I was stunned. Awarded two top prizes far exceeded my expectations. I would have been thrilled receiving an honorable mention…once. But hot damn, running the table is all right with me! I guess those boyhood days at the grind house finally paid off.

Seriously, even I forget how many hours, weeks and months we writers put into a single project. And with work and family obligations, much of the writing has to be done late at night, when everyone’s asleep. (Perfect time to pen a zombie thriller, yes?) My point is though a labor of love, it’s still labor. So, it’s nice being validated.

A bit about the AOF… What started as a festival to show the work of artists who might otherwise be marginalized is growing into what founder, Del Westin calls a “mentor festival” producing projects for filmmakers and giving them greater access to the Hollywood machine. As Del put it at the awards ceremony, he literally wants to “push” new filmmakers and writers forward. He likened it to cramming us onto a subway in China!

I don’t doubt he’d do it. Del is a force of nature.

Del and unknown starlet

He and the entire AOF team are to be commended for building and fostering such a passionate community. I’ve been to my share of advertising award shows and film festivals. The esprit de corps at AOF trumped them all. At the writer’s ceremony, everyone cheered for everyone and those winning honorable mentions were encouraged to make speeches. Losers were told to keep on writing. Fellowship like that is rarer than you think, especially at award shows.

AOF passes, tickets, program…

At my table was a screenwriter from Amsterdam, an east coast scribe, a writer from Ireland and a student author, as well as their spouses and partners. Very cool. I normally cringe at award shows (win or lose) but this was as fun as a good dinner party.

And then I won. Twice. Look- I don’t know if Belzec will ever get made. For any screenwriter that mountain is high, let alone a fabulous nobody like me. But my confidence grows with each prize that it garners. In any event, there are worse ways to spend an evening.

By the way, if anyone out there wants to make a zombie move with gravitas, find me. Horror, as I’m finding out, can be pretty damn lucrative.

Co-Founder, Waterfront Film festival: Hopwood DePree

So my script, Belzec The Made Undead won 2nd or 3rd prize (they don’t tell you which) at the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, Michigan last week. Don’t make fun. This is the same festival that premiered March of the Penguins a few years back. The WFF has been going 13 years now and is considered a top tier festival.

Elated, I made the 2 ½-hour drive in significantly less time than that. To add to my good fortune I was invited to stay at the household of Lesa Werme and her delightful family. They made me feel very welcome, even leaving out a piece of her daughter’s homemade carrot cake for when I came in late from seeing the film, Ashes, which was pretty damn good by the way (the cake and the film).

Once ensconced in the quaint resort town of Saugatuck I hightailed it to the screenplay winner’s reception downtown. There I met several of the other finalists, including the Grand Prize Winner, E. M. Spairow. A native of Michigan, she now resides in California. Fittingly, her script, Manifest is an LA Noir thriller.

Some of the winners, screenplay reception

Winning here has already generated interest in the script by several interested parties. That’s the big prize, really. It’s damn hard breaking into Hollywood (let alone advertising), you not only have to do a tremendous amount of work on spec but you need to work all the angles as well. Even then is no guarantee. The WFF was the first festival I entered. So I am one for one.

Make that two for two! Last night I received notice that Belzec: The Made Undead got first place at another festival, The Indie Gathering. I am over the proverbial moon. I guess all those years in the grind house are finally paying off!

Belzec: The Made Undead imagines an undead plague in a Nazi concentration camp. A group of American POW’s attempt to escape, even harder now, when they ‘can’t tell the living from the dead.’

In addition to Belzec, I’ve also written a screenplay for my second novel, The Happy Soul Industry. While not entered into any festivals (yet), it is in the hands of some very good people.

Mr. Popularity!

AdAge, Entertainment Weekly and countless other pubs are running stories on how surprised everyone is about the success of TV show, The Walking Dead. Even the reporters who wrote the stories are amazed.

Really? Hell, I saw this hit shambling up Broadway in spring, when it was first reported in production. With Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) and AMC (Mad Men) behind it, how could The Walking Dead miss?

The surprised ones keep pointing to the show’s characters and their struggle to survive as the reason for TWD’s success. They want to make it clear it’s not the bloody disgusting zombies, God forbid, that are pulling viewers in. Stop it! Of course you need to care about the characters. Otherwise you wouldn’t be frightened by the thought of said characters getting eaten and, better yet, turning into bloody disgusting ghouls themselves.

Don’t kid yourselves. It’s not only the ‘living’ that are interesting. They’re just food. It’s the dead. Put zombies on Gilligan’s Island and it’s gonna fucking work.

Why the insecurity around horror’s popularity? The mainstream treats it like pornography, denying its presence during the day yet wallowing in it at night.

Horror rules. Look at the success of True Blood, already in its 4th season. Granted, the show has a sexy cast and vampires have always been a dark turn-on. But still, compared to sissy shit like Twilight, True Blood has some serious bight. If it didn’t deliver the gore I wouldn’t watch. Lots of people wouldn’t.

Forget bloodsuckers, anyway. Zombies are the new vampires. What took them so long to get on TV? If we had to endure another clique of brooding poseurs pining over unrequited love I’d impale a wooden stake in my heart.

There is ample precedent for TWD’s success everywhere in popular culture. Before he directed SlumDog Millionaire, Danny Boyle helmed 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. His hyper zombies killed at the box office. And deservedly so. Fact is ever since George Romero created the genre with his nightmare inducing Night of the Living Dead, the undead have been the gruesome princes of filmdom, helping to make horror the most consistently profitable genre in Hollywood. As for books, Oprah Winfrey chose Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel, The Road to be on her book club! (Okay, so the antagonists were cannibals not zombies. But it was Oprah Goddamn Winfrey!)

And yet we’re still surprised? Come on, people look alive. The Dead walk!

Thread for fans of The Walking Dead: Roamers and Lurkers

Site that broke news (for me) on The Walking Dead:28 Days Later Analysis

He rises, inspiring us all

Today is Good Friday. Our agency is closed but there are numerous people in working on a new business pitch for Monday. And so I am here. But, in honor of the day, and Easter and Passover for that matter, I do want to say something about God. Don’t click away heathens. I will be brief.

I absolutely believe in a power greater than myself. We’d be in big trouble if the world revolved around me or, frankly, anyone. There’s divine madness here. I’m certain of that.

I’m not Catholic but the Resurrection myth appeals to me on many levels. Being reborn (presumably into something better) is the ultimate aspiration. As we move through life, accumulating the good and the bad, making many mistakes, collecting resentments, winning and losing, and on and on, the idea of shaking up the Etch-a-Sketch becomes irresistible. Oh, to have a clean slate! Christ promises as much if we turn our body and soul over to him. But even if we can’t go there, the pragmatic idea of refreshing oneself remains relevant and powerful. To me, anyway.

Even my passion for horror stories, particularly zombies and vampires, are tied to a fascination with resurrection. After all, are not the undead resurrected themselves? Though terrifying, is not their appetite for human flesh a lot like sacrament? For obvious reasons, these unsavory creatures are linked with Satan. Not because they’re scary but because there is no redemptive quality in feasting on others merely to exist.

In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry redemption is a key part of every main character’s journey. In reality, I hope it is a part of mine, too!

Another aspect of the book, perhaps blasphemous to some, is the notion that all religions are but ad campaigns for God. In the story, God decides the next campaign should come from the experts. Therefore, She (yes, She) sends an angel to Earth to find an ad agency! As you might imagine, all hell breaks loose.

For those of you not celebrating a religious holiday this weekend, there’s always the Easter Bunny. But go easy on the chocolates. Bikini season is just around the corner!

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

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