Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Show Me Your TUSKS!"

I'm a pretty big fan of Kevin Smith.  His podcast network supplies plenty of laughs and some of his movies are staples in my household (Clerks, Mallrats, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back).  Sure, occasionally the man stumbles (Cop-Out, Dogma, acting in Die Hard 4) but even Roy Hobbs couldn't hit a home run every single time he stepped up to the plate.

About a year ago Smith and his pal Scott Mosier recorded an episode of SModcast (Smith & Mosier, thus the double capital letters) where they recounted a bizarre personal ad found in a London where an old man was looking for a lodger to live with him in his spacious house, rent free.  The one caveat was that the lodger would be required to wear a home-made walrus suit for two hours a day for the man's pleasure.  YES, A WALRUS COSTUME!  The episode in question is titled SModcast #259 - THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER and it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  I have listened to this episode so often that it's pretty much ingrained in my memory word-for-word. 

The minute I saw these drawings...I was sold!
As the pair delve into the ad they eventually wonder about the psyche's of the old man and any potential lodger.  How does one reach a point in their life where making a walrus costume seems like a good idea?  How does one reach a point in their life where wearing a walrus costume seems like a good idea?  This helps them branch off into a "What would this look like as a movie?"-scenario.  Now, the movie has been made and released so listening to the podcast is doubly fascinating because you can really hear the creative energies flowing between the two filmmakers as they spout out ideas, most comic gold, about how every aspect of the movie should play out.  Kevin Smith is clearly a fan of 70s-era horror movies because he understands the pacing and "flavor" that the dirty grindhouse low-budget horror movies delivered in that decade.  He earns huge respect points for knowing that most of these movies ended with a song during the credits that usually tried to feel uplifting even though the movie itself was anything but.  Horror movies in the 1970s ended grim!  There was no happiness to be found.  It's more rare to see such dark endings even today but occasionally a Pet Semetary, Se7en, Blair Witch Project or The Mist (trust me, the dark ending is what limited any form of box office success) sneaks through.  Too often though Hollywood bean-counters insist that even a horror movie must end with the sun shining and the survivors happy, thus allowing audiences to leave the theatre in a good mood.  Truly odd when you consider what they may have just spent two hours in the dark watching?

The late 1960s and 1970s delivered some great horror movies that pummeled viewers throughout the course of their run time and then slapped them silly with an even more downtrodden ending that guaranteed no happiness for the characters of the film.  Some rapid fire examples; The Wicker Man, Night of the Living Dead, Race with the Devil, Ssssssssss, Don't Look Now, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and there's plenty more...the 70s was the decade that just kept on delivering downers post-Vietnam.

No Spoiler Images!
But TRUST ME...Long gets turned into a walrus!
So, Kevin Smith got all creative with his walrus-discussion and made himself a low-budget horror movie that delivers all of the ideas and "horror" that one would expect in a film where the general plot is MAN TURNED INTO WALRUS.  To assist him on his journey are Michael Parks (as the old man) and Justin Long (as the unfortunate visitor-turned-lodger in question Wallace).  Both actors bring their A-games.  Parks at this point in his career is incapable of a poor performance.  I still marvel at his opening scene in From Dusk 'til Dawn where he plays the doomed sheriff and perfectly captures the audience with his delivery.  Justin Long is clearly no longer the "Apple Guy" but a decent actor and he is game to perform inside a grotesque walrus-costume where 99% of his acting is done solely through his eyes and lack of mobility.

"Sew very old one, sew like the wind!"
My friend and I saw the movie opening night, equal parts excitement and because we were concerned that the subject matter might make for a brief stay at the cinema, and were solidly entertained for the entire run time.  There are times when Smith's juvenile humor and dialogue shines, the initial introduction scene between Wallace and the old man a perfect example.  Then there are times when things misfire or come across as amateurish "Not-See Party" does not work at all and Johnny Depp's (in the worst kept secret in Hollywood) character seems like he belongs entirely in another movie.  Still TUSK is a nice ode to the horror movies that Hollywood truly rarely makes any more.  The box office will be used as an example of why this is, but I will say that TUSK will have a long shelve life in VOD and DVD sales as well as cable channels.  The DVD had better include the entire Smodcast episode as well...perhaps playing as a form of edited audio commentary track.  It's the perfect movie to experience in your living room where when the grim finale is revealed at least you can change the channel and instantly watch something that might shine a bit of happiness back into your life.

Recommending comedy movies is tough.  One person's A Fish Called Wanda is another person's Weekend at Bernies 2.  Horror movies are the exact same way.  It baffles me at times that the movies I find chilling are instantly met with someone else exclaiming, "That wasn't scary.  I laughed and thought it was stupid!"  So I will say that I laughed in TUSK and I was genuinely creeped out in TUSK.  I applaud Kevin Smith for his efforts and for taking a risk outside of his normal range.

As someone who writes, truly what I marvel at throughout this entire journey from a podcast episode to a movie is that every step of the way has been recorded.  During the end credits of TUSK Smith plays samples from the original podcast and it's a perfect reminder of where the idea was birthed from and how a simple spark of inspiration can lead to a well made final product.  Fans of 70s horror will eat up everything that TUSK is offering.  Others will be repulsed on numerous levels.  But, in the end it's a movie that is deserving of an audience and a great example of the creative process which should be included in movie making classes taking students along on the journey from podcast-to-movie.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


People who know me occasionally call me a "writer".  I am uncomfortable with this label for several reasons.  Chiefly among them is that I only have two books currently in circulation.  Secondly there is the fact that I do not write as my chosen career.  Writing, at this time, is more of a hobby and enjoyable escape from the day-to-day headaches that invariably assault us all.  While the term "writer" bothers me, I do feel quite comfortable in telling people that, "I am not a writer.  But, I do enjoy the art of writing."

Note the side column,
Peg (my editor) is pretty thorough
and there's never one page without
a note or correction or comment.
My goal is to complete and publish ten books in my lifetime.  I am currently at 20%, but within two months I'll be at 30%.  Last week my third book HORROR 101 returned from the editor.  I have all of my work handled by Kristy and Peg over at .  Their prices are decent, their turn around time is quick, and they offer a variety of levels from editing to polishing to critiquing.  Working with them has certainly improved my writing skills and allowed me to sleep comfortably knowing that whenever I publish a book, the buyers won't be short-changed by the quality of the purchase.

Still, the biggest issue I have with editing is that it is a reminder that there's still a large amount of work to do on a book before it can be sent to the formatters.  There are few things more rewarding than to finish writing a book and send it to the editor with the thought of, "This book is finished!  And it's perfect!"  Then a few weeks go by and the work in question returns and pretty much every page contains comments and edits from something as simple as a misspelled or incorrect word to a more thorough critique of "You need to do a better job fleshing out this character's motivation".  So, just when the writer thinks they are finished the editor...pulls them back in.

Right now, I'd love to be sitting at my desk working on my fourth book (the sequel to There Goes Tokyo!) or even my fifth book (an actual full length novel) but instead I return to the horror tales and drabbles that populate a book I worked feverishly on through 2012 and 2013.  It's a nice reflection returning to these tales, but it's also very much work.  And this is not the "joy of creation" and "fun of discovery" kind of work either!  This is the "cross the Ts and dot the Is" arduous detailing that turns an amateur book into a professional novel.

I go old school and print up a paper copy from the editor.
Usually it's easier and faster to add my own
marks and notes alongside hers as I work on the final version.
If you have ever considered writing a book, and I truly hope you do because it is an incredibly rewarding experience, then you should know that the ebook marketplace is filled with author's who make the mistake of rushing out a product before it can truly shine from the touch of a professional editor.  It's always frustrating to read someone's great story only to be pulled out every other page by a mistake from lack of editing or erroneous ebook formatting.  Never let that happen to you and your work!  You only have one chance to make a great impression with a reader who has turned over their money to find entertainment through your words.  Find an editor and even though it's a guarantee that you are paying someone to hand you back more me, at the end of the journey you'll be thankful for those extra weeks of toiling away on your book when the complete product looks so much superior to all of your earlier efforts.