The “Word” in Jersey City Last Wednesday was Crowdfunding for Filmmakers

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Last Wednesday, I presented my seminar on “The Keys to Successful Crowdfunding for Filmmakers” at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. Here are some photos of the event, which went exceptionally well, according to members of the highly engaged crowd of future film funders:

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And yes, I am this animated!

Special thanks to my lovely fiancée Marinell Montales for snapping these awesome shots during the event. I’d also like to thank Word Bookstores for welcoming my words into their shop and for heping to promote, as well as Inside Jersey City (@iJerseyCity on Twitter), The Jersey City Life (@jerseycitylife), and everyone who RTed and “Shared” this event.

And, of course, I’d like to thank the amazing crowd that attended –– after all, without the crowd, where would I be?

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Robots I Can Recall and the Robo Force I Can’t

I’ll be the first to admit it –– I had an amazing childhood.

Being the baby of the family, my Mom, Dad, and siblings always wanted me to have the best. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of family trips to the Toys R Us in the neighboring town of Union City (or is it North Bergen? –– There’s some weird border issues around those two towns) and picking up the latest Transformers or M.A.S.K. toys.

Other times, I’d go with my Dad to the dollar shop across from the Pathmark in Weehawken where my sister worked part-time as a cashier, and I’d spend some of the hard-earned money I made bagging groceries at the back of her aisle on Saturdays.   Spoiled? Perhaps just a little.

But last month while I was searching for some images for one of my upcoming blog posts, I stumbled on this poster:

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I was propelled into my past. I remember sitting Indian-style in my playroom (formerly my brother’s bedroom) at the apartment where I grew twenty-six years tall and strong surrounded by cardboard boxes that once held Löenbräu and Carlo Rossi burgundies and instead held my Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Secret Wars action figures, and fumbling around with these awkward-looking suction-cupped robots, with accordion-style arms, stickers on their chests, and ridiculous names like “Coptor” and “Vulgar.” My favorite was Hundred the Conqueror because of his evil slotted red eyes and the hidden guns that lay beneath his visor. I never really liked Maxx Steele the Leader simply because he was the one of the lot who just couldn’t hang upside down –– his suction cup was a bit “sucky” compared to all the rest (I had to…)

I don’t quite recall these bots being my favorite toys; they were a bit effeminate, with Hundred the Conqueror, in particular, looking very much like a bustier version of Rosie from The Jetsons; back then, this would’ve been reason enough to steer clear of the toy line –– during a time when boys were not interested in playing with girl toys; that is girl action figures like April O’Neil from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Playmates toy line or Wonder Woman from the Super Powers figures by Kenner. However, I did own Teela from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, which was the closest to owning a Princess Leia figure I ever got back in those days.

rosie-thejetsons

Good ol’ Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, one of my favorite cartoons growing up.

But the interesting thing is this: I can tell you to this day where I got most of my action figures and vehicles, and oftentimes from whom, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall where the heck all of these Robo Force protagonists and antagonists came from! I remember clearly my sister Renee buying me the original first generation Optimus Prime Transformers figure and my Uncle Chris getting me the Millennium Falcon one Christmas in the early ’80s; and I can still see my brother and sister-in-law bribing me down the aisle on their wedding day with a brand new Whiplash figure and unwrapping He-Man’s Talon Fighter at another family gathering around 1885. But these Robo Force figures? I can’t even remember the packaging these things came in, and certainly not the family member who bought them for me.

What’s the deal with robots, you ask? Although I’m a fairly rabid science-fiction fan, robots were something that took me a while to fully appreciate. I mean, I only saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week. To this day, I’ve yet to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica even though thanks to some good friends on Facebook I realized that a figurine I’d held onto for years was actually from the original TV series. As a matter of fact, the only TV show I ever watched show that featured a robot was Small Wonder. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bionic Woman. No Star Trek: The Next Generation until I was much older.

But I am intrigued by the idea of robots, cyborgs, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence, and even more so now than ever before since our own world is inching closer and closer to making these once staples of science-fiction storytelling an everyday reality. Drones are one thing, but other things like Google Glass and Oculus Rift, which allow the Internet to have an up close and personal seat in our psyches to control at the blink of an eye, is simply one step away from putting that Internet inside of us? Borg, anyone? For me, it’s a little too RoboCop for my comfort.

The only robot I had any remote liking to back in my younger days was C-3PO, and I think it was because, besides Transformers and even the GoBots, Threepio was all-too human deep beneath his golden shell. Then you have robots like the nameless one from Lost in Space, Robby from Forbidden Planet, and the Daleks from Doctor Who, which are not humanoid in any way, but intriguing in shape, function, or even its purpose for existence.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

So it doesn’t surprise me that I really can’t remember where these Robo Force figures from my younger years had come from. But I do remember playing with them on a somewhat regular basis whenever I tired of my SilverHawks flight laps around the apartment and the Ghostbusters adventures during my weekend visits to my brother’s house in Bergenfield.

And just as I don’t remember where I originally got this particular line of toys from, I also don’t remember how they left me, either. It’s as though they appeared when I needed some robotic buddies most, then exited through the gift shop just as mysteriously as they came.

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So remember that figurine I mentioned earlier? This it is: the small figurine that partially spawned this blog post. Thanks to my friends Ian Dangerfield, Geoff Mosher, and Patrick Boyle, we discovered that it’s an original 2-inch Cylon Centurion figure from Mattel’s Cylon Raider vehicle from 1978 –– the very year I was born.

Here's my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

Here’s my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

What vintage toy robots did you grow up with, that you either remember fully or vaguely. I’d love to know!

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A Real Dead Ringer for ‘Loaf: A Brief Look at the Second Helping of Meat

Last month, for #ThrowbackThursday (or #FlashbackFriday), I posted an image of the first CD I ever purchased –– Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, Meat Loaf’s “follow-up” to his debut album Bat Out of Hell from back in 1977. It spurred on some swell conversations on Twitter between myself and a bunch of other Meat Loaf fans. @RealMeatLoaf even  favorited the photo.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the classic songs from the original Bat album –– the evocative seventies sex, love, and rock-and-roll anthem “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”; the melancholy “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”; and, of course, the title track that pits us in the pangs of a one-night stand gone awry.

Then, with the release of Back Into Hell in 1993, the motorcycles revved, the electric axes wailed through a familiar fog yet into an all new ‘90s sensibility with the unforgettable “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” –– and it always baffled me how I seemed to be the only person who understood what it was that Meat and writer/producer Jim Steinman “wouldn’t do” for love.

Once I got through with these two albums, I embarked on a quest to discover what other Meat Loaf albums were in existence. It wasn’t as easy as it is today to discover and even listen to Meat’s entire repertoire with just a few taps of your fingers on a keyboard. Back then I actually had to go from music store to record shop, from Sam Goody and Nobody Beats the Wiz to Bleecker Street Records discover new music on vinyl, CD, or cassette.

And it was on one such trip that I discovered Meat Loaf’s sophomore album, Dead Ringer, released back in 198. One thing that always immediately struck my fancy with Meat Loaf albums were the covers, and this one by noted horror artist Bernie Wrightson was no different –– a macho Fabio kind of cat riding through an ocean and accosted by nymphs or sirens, and the word “Meat Loaf” emblazoned on the sails and carrying the songs through the waters and into our ears. It’s easily one of my favorite covers of all time, one that captures the entire essence of the 1980s era of music, and also resounds with dark allusions to Homer’s Odyssey.

Meat Loaf Dead Ringer

A great album cover is par for the course of a Meat Loaf hit.

Now I didn’t know it back when I first listened to Dead Ringer that it truly was an album of comparable quality to Bat Out of Hell. With lyrics yet again by Steinman, who wrote both Bats in their entirety, and Meat Loaf’s signature sound and flare for the dramatic, I played side A of my cassette tape numerous times before popping it out of the deck, turning it over, and playing side B, which ran through the tape with just as much vigor and heartbreaking guitarmanship as the previous side.

It’s probably been a good seven years since I’ve listened to Dead Ringer, so I recently dug it up on Spotify, and I was instantly reminded of just how solid an album it is. But I also really listened to the lyrics of each song –– I mean really listened to them, with a mind full of different experiences and a more refined sense of  and how beautifully messed up they were, more so than even the most sultry lyric in “Paradise.”

My top four Dead Ringer favorites are “dead ringers” enough of this:

“I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us”

As if the title alone doesn’t say enough (or too much), the lyrics themselves go a step further:

And I’ve been closer to you now than any other boy
And you know that what I’m saying is true
You’re gonna break her up and tear her down and fade her away
And then there’s no telling what I’m gonna do

So basically, a guy tells his buddy he’s fed up on how he’s treating his girl. Now, if that isn’t enough, the chorus get’s even more intense:

But if you give me your girl and then you give me your trust
And if you give me till the end of the night
I’m gonna love her for both of us

You turned her into a ghost but she’ll be burning when the night is done

“More Than You Deserve”

This whole song burns with empathy for the main character, who loves a girl, but this girl “makes love” to his best friend. Things escalate to epic proportions when this guy sees her making love “to a group of [his] best friends,” but it also throws it in their faces, too: our narrator ultimately comes out on top, so to speak, when he finds the courage it takes to “look them right in the eyes” and say:

Won’t you take some more it’s what you came for
And don’t mind me I won’t throw you no curse
Go on and have yourself a ball with my good women
Won’t you take some more boys it’s more than you deserve

“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”

My favorite lyric in this song happens at the bridge, where the music slows down, becomes a ballad, in which Meat Loaf “blesses” all the different types of high school girls, and out of all of them, there’s just “one girl [he'll] never forget.” (It starts at the 4:02 mark in the above video, though much of it’s power comes from listening to the entire song.)

“Read ‘Em and Weep”

The most heartbreakingly beautiful ballad since “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and we’ve all been here before, but Jim’s lyrics, coupled with Meat Loaf’s painfully honest rendering of these lyrics make this song a heartache and a half, putting into words the fact that some feelings just can’t be put into words:

If I could only find the words then I would write it all down
If I could only find a voice I would speak
Oh it’s there in my eyes, oh can’t you see me tonight
C’mon and look at me and read ‘em and weep

F-A25A2T

It’s funny –– when I was younger, I remember listening to the lyrics of “Bat Out of Hell” and envisioning an epic scene about a motorcycle jacket-clad hero who rides his bike, crashes and is “dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,” and all that. And perhaps that’s really what the imagery Steinman and Meat Loaf want us to envision. But why was he trying to escape “like a bat out of hell,” hmm? Same reason the guy and gal in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” go back and forth in the sexual scoring metaphor of a baseball game: guy wants girl; girl wants guy to promise forever else guy won’t get girl’s “forever”; so guy either says “I do” and tries for the hit and run. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

One other thing I couldn’t help notice about Bat Out of Hell and Dead Ringer is that they both follow essentially the exact same track format. The heavy growling opener (“Bat Out of Hell”/“Peel Out”); the sultry siren song (“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”/“I’m Gonna Love Her For Both of Us”); the soft-spoken ballad (“Heaven Can Wait”/“More Than You Deserve”); then we kickstart back to a bit of fast-paced action (“All Revved Up with No Place to Go”/“I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back”) before going all rock ballad again (“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”/“Read ‘Em and Weep”); and disregarding “Nocturnal Pleasure” as an intro to “Dead Ringer for Love” the way the whole “On a Hot Summer Night” bit introduces us to “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, there’s the duet (“Paradise By the Dashboard Light”/”Dead Ringer for Love”); and finally, we end with a heartfelt, thoughtful closer (“For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You”/“Everything is Permitted”).

Hey, if it ain’t broke, then it might just be a dead ringer for success.

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And for those of you who aren’t aware, Meat Loaf is still churning out the rock & roll tunes, and he’s also not holding back on the crazy lyrics. Here’s one of my favorites off one of his more recent studio albums from a song called “California Isn’t Big Enough”:

I can barely fit my dick in my pants
Come and lend me your hand
With my
Forthcoming release
Because
California isn’t big enough for me

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So what’s your favorite crazy Meat Loaf (or any) song lyric? Fill ‘em up in the comments section, folks!

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What Exactly Is a “Hipster Noir,” You Ask?

Well, I’m happy to report that I’m finally able to tell you all what exactly a “hipster noir” is, now that I’ve finished the brief synopsis of my very first supernatural, metaphysical mystery novel.

What started out as a series of comic character sketches back in May of 2013 during my morning commute to work somehow took form and became my very first 60,000-word novel by January of 2014. I had been calling it Hipster Noir, mainly because my main character, a private eye named Sebastian Holden, was inspired by a noired-up fellow I saw while waiting for a table at Otto in NYC. He was dressed like an old school detective, complete with trench coat and matching hat. The only thing that struck me as off-kilter was his great bushy beard, straight out of a day trip to Williamsburg (or, these days, Jersey City).

If Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he'd be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

If m’man Fred McMurray here had a grizzly beard, he’d be a dead ringer for Sebastian Holden, P.I..

After a bit of crowdsourcing for a more proper subtitle for the actual story being told, I settled on a title that I think captures the mood, tone and quirky flare of Hipster Noir –– The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse. Special thanks to my Twitter pals @ABOVEtheLine, @fuegopazzo, and @peacepumpkinpic for some amazing suggestions and brainstormings on Twitter.

And now, here’s the official “Story in Brief” lifted from the proposal I’ve been putting together:

Blending nuances of noir with geek subculture in a supernatural, metaphysical mystery, Hipster Noir introduces us to the queerest holistic detective since Dirk Gently –– Sebastian Holden, P.I., a Jersey City hipster whose host of fine-honed skills helps him crack even the most cryptic of cases, like “The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse.” When muse for hire Annie Hathaway is murdered, the fuzz quickly pins the rap on her spoken word-spouting boyfriend in Williamsburg. But Sebastian’s trusty gut instinct tells him there’s more to this mystery than meets even his third eye, and he thrusts himself head-first into a bizarre Universe teeming with vampire cabals, orange-blooded androids from tomorrow, and a haunted beach house that holds a dark secret, which just might be the key to solving Sebastian’s most perplexing case yet.

With a sundry cast of unconventional champions and supernatural scoundrels that includes a suicidal vampire, a world-jumping monkey-spanker, Death, and The Devil himself, plus boatloads of Bogartian banter and enough esoteric references to superheroes, indie flicks, and Castlevania to sink your battleship, The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse will prove a hell of a whodunit that will scramble minds, steal hearts, and leave its readers eagerly anticipating further misadventures of the strangest P.I. this or any Universe has probably never heard of.

What do you think? Sound like something you’d be interested in reading?

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I Believe in Lonesome Rhodes: Dual Natures and Darkening Knights

Confession: I’m hooked on the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a humble folk singer from the country who quickly becomes corrupted by the fourth estate of the media, in this case, radio and television.

One thing Elia Kazan’s masterpiece taught me when I first watched it was that influence is indeed power, –– of the individual and the crowd. Most importantly, it reminded me that “there ain’t nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the best side of you take over.”

But A Face in the Crowd also demonstrates how one’s own influence can corrupt oneself; how the ego, even when expelled from within, leaves a lingering trace of itself like a cancer waiting for an opportunity to rise again.

How there’s nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the dark side of you take over, too.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

Darth Vader: Perhaps the most conflicted character ever to grace the screen.

Those of you who know me well enough know that I love movies that dive deep into the duality of their protagonists. Films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and of course the original Star Wars trilogy (and those pesky prequels, too) are a few of my favorites.

My second time watching A Face in the Crowd was partly as research for a talk I’m giving this March, but it got me thinking, for some reason, about Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight. A single phrase kept knocking at my mind, which is repeated throughout the film, though the writers borrowed it from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s classic graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween:

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween.

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween.

Harvey Dent, former Gotham City District Attorney turned two-headed kingpin when he’s not behind the gates of Arkham Asylum. From the original Batman and Detective Comics to Batman: The Animated Series, Two-Face has fascinated me as a conflicted character, and Nolan’s Bat-film brought him to life in ways that make Joel Schumacher’s purple-faced fool in Batman Forever all the more laughable.

But let’s backtrack for a moment to A Face in the Crowd. At the beginning of the film, we find Lonesome Rhodes fast asleep in a small town jail cell and abruptly awoken by Marcia Jeffries, who hosts a little radio show called “A Face in the Crowd,” in which she discovers talent from the people of her own town. After hearing Rhodes rock the jailhouse, she invites him to host his own morning show. Immediately he’s a hit, charming listeners and viewers alike with his folky jams, fun anecdotes and stories of his days in his hometown, which may or may not exist. Soon after, he starts to realize the power he wields over the people of this small town.

Eventually, Rhodes becomes the host of a TV show, and his ratings soar. Soon enough he’s partying with industry players, hobnobbing with political influencers, and even teaches an unpopular Senator what it takes to connect with a younger voting audience. Drunk with his newfound power, Rhodes becomes filled with hubris, which does him in by the end, brought down by the same forces that set him atop the pedestal –– the crowd.

In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is frequently referred to as “Gotham’s white knight” –– the counterpart to its Dark Knight –– the stereotypical “good cop” who can’t be bribed or brought down, and who will do whatever it takes to ensure justice is upheld.

Well, he’ll do almost anything.

But when Dent fails to uphold justice, and his failure costs him the life of the woman he loves, Two-Face takes over, and “the white knight” formerly known as Harvey Dent crashes and burns away by the very system he fought so ardently to defend.

No comment.

No comment.

Dent serves as a visual representation of the duality that all memorable protagonists have struggling within them, which makes for dynamic, three-dimensional characters, in which we invest more of our attention and ourselves. Instead of seeing the shades of gray, Two-Face makes life and every decision about light and dark, black or white, clean side or scarred side on the flip of his custom coin.

The interesting thing is this: with Lonesome Rhodes, as with Harvey Dent, as we watch their rise and fall, we never lose sight of their good sides –– the man with the laugh that encompasses his whole self and the white knight we want to believe still believes in justice, not murder on the edge of a coin toss.

By contrast, no matter how “dark” the Dark Knight becomes, he’ll never fall to the depths of darkness that envelope Harvey Dent. And similarly, no matter how much Lonesome Rhodes blights the color from Marcia Jeffries’ cheeks and dress, she still sees the shades between right and wrong, which ultimately gives her the strength to destroy the cancer that once humble folk singer has become.

That’s these two films teach us –– the test of true power: the ability to do right, so long as it doesn’t cost us our own selves in the process.

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Ain’t No Anton Karas Blues: My Vienna Recap

Freshly baked apfelstrudels, morning and evening mélange (cappuccino), and the textural stylings of old world cobblestone streets and Romanesque-to-Baroque buildings are probably what come to mind to the many people who have made the journey to Austria’s Imperial City, Vienna.

For me, it was all that, and a little bit more.

Third Man Poster

Once my girlfriend Marinell and I got finished untying the various knots that the pretzel-twined city streets tied us into since we were without the luxury of Google Maps and forced to use only physical maps, we discovered a charming world of cafés, classical music, and foodie culture.

Some of my favorite moments besides attending my first concert of classical music at Mozarthaus and a Sunday matinee of Hänsel und Gretel at the Volksoper revolved around food and drink. This should come to no surprise to those of you who know Marinell and I well enough; that’s what we enjoy doing most when we go anywhere we haven’t been to before.

Goulash in a bread bowl started our first night off in Vienna on the right boot –– and the hot red wine served to us in little red boot mugs also made our first trip to Stephansplatz, the city’s center, a wonder despite all the designer shops that surrounded the plaza.

Yes, that is the awe-inspiring Rathaus behind me and my expression of utter impress.

Yes, that is the awe-inspiring Rathaus behind me and my expression of utter impress.

Christmas Markets are the big thing in Vienna during holiday season, and that’s where Marinell and I found ourselves frequenting most evenings. My favorite was the one in the Rathaus, which quickly became my favorite building in the Imperial City ever since I started Googling images of Vienna a week before the trip, but others included a rather large one at Maria Teresa Plaza and, of course, the one at Stephansplatz.

The Third Man Door was probably the biggest highlight for me. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Vienna was because of Carol Reed’s 1949 movie The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. I longed for years to stand in the doorway where the mysterious Harry Lime (Welles) makes his first appearance in the film, and I did. And it felt awesome.

Not as smooth as Orson Wells, but hey, I'm standing in the same doorway he stood in during the Third Man shoot.

Not as smooth as Orson Wells, but hey, I’m standing in the same doorway he stood in during the Third Man shoot.

Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer palace of Vienna’s royal family, the Habsburgs, was an amazing experience as well, and one in which I learned a great deal of Viennese history (‘cause, y’know, I didn’t do any research before jumping on the plane to Austria). Marinell and I toured through some beautifully decked-out rooms, and also scaled the hills and dips in the Garden.

Upper Belvedere and Klimt’s “The Kiss” rounded off our extended weekend in Vienna. The Belvedere is a museum inside a Rococo-style palace and houses an impressive array of artistic voices, including Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt, who’s “Kiss” haunts art lovers to this day, and there is nothing quite like seeing it there in person.

Some of my least favorite things (aside from our navigational difficulties) included this little trio:

Cafés are really just restaurants, and more so, many of them, even the top ones that were listed in both DK’s Top Ten Vienna and Lonely Planet’s Vienna Encounter, like the Café Museum (which proved near impossible to find) and Café Sperl, which was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise, had a very Jersey Diner feel, only with much more grandiose chandeliers.

The Café Mozart, another location in The Third Man. What delicious cakes we ate that night.

The Café Mozart, another location in The Third Man. What delicious cakes we ate that night.

Not finding the Third Man Museum on the one day of the week it’s open because, well, after an hour and a half of searching for the street it was supposedly on, we gave up the search for the elusive Pressgasse, deeming it nonexistent.

Not seeing some of the sites I wanted to see, like the statue of Marc Antony in a chariot pulled by lions or Reisenrad, the famous Ferris wheel on which Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton have their tense discussion in one of the cars in The Third Man was a slight downer. But hey, when you’re beginning most days after 10AM and spend half your time just finding the places you actually want to see, you’re libel to miss out on a few things during a mere four day long visit.

The one thing Vienna seemed to lack, however, was the romance I was expecting, either of the Third Man or Before Sunrise varieties, even during the onset of winter. I suppose it was my fault for expecting something, since the secret of true happiness, I’ve learned, is to be without expectation. But after an entire year of non-stop work-related travel across the U.S. and to England and Canada, just being able to see something new with Marinell was all the romance I really needed to call this a vacation one very well-spent.

Love this lil' Lady of mine!

Love this lil’ Lady of mine!

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All that said, I’m planning out my vacation for summer, 2014. Where should Marinell and I soar off to this time? Add your suggestions in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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Linklatering Perfekt, Plus Five Lessons to Perfect Your Filmmaking

Yesterday morning, my body instinctively woke me up at 6AM, which would normally be 7AM, but due to daylight savings time it was an hour earlier. And as I lay in my bed, I started thinking about the one film I made that I’m most proud of. It’s a short sex comedy called Perfekt. I shot this story about an aging Don Juan searching for his perfect match back in 2006, when I had only two other shorts under my director’s belt, The Coconut and The Hotel Edwards. What begins as a fun little sex comedy, with main character Matt (Bill Schineller) looking for the perfect woman, one who embodies everything he loves and who also happens to be a virgin –– culminates in an unorthodox confrontation with the near perfect Nellie (Kate Kenney).

Well, I’ve been gearing up to work with my girlfriend Marinell on shooting a book trailer for my good friend James Broderick’s book Stalked, his first work of fiction after a lifetime writing nonfiction like The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Now A Terrifying Motion Picture! For the trailer, I enlisted the aid of both Bill and Kate. Each of us go way back; Bill and I first acted together in a 1920s/flapper era production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and I’d met Kate when I was casting for my sci-fi themed rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, in which I originally chose her for my female lead, but she wasn’t able to accept. I was so impressed with her, I kept her contact info, and when I had my script for Perfekt, which back then had a very different original title, I reached out to Kate immediately and offered her the role of Nellie.

Looking back on all the years and other film projects I’ve worked on like my Indiegogo-funded Cerise and Mating Dome, no film contributed more to my education as a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker than Perfekt. The film is far from perfect, but the poignant performances from Bill and Kate, the visual story arced by Alain Aguilar, the poetry beneath the subterfuge of seemingly simple dialog, and Ventzi Assenov’s evocative score; and even the sexual comedy at the beginning that paves the path to a heart-rending finish –– all of it pulled together in a way that none of my subsequent works have yet been able to achieve.

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

And this is why I’ve decided to pull a “Linklater” –– to get the band back together in the spot where it all the drama went down for Matt and Nellie, and bring about a second installment of Perfekt.

And we’ll call it Perfect.

Of course, there are some definite things that will be different this time around; after all, it ain’t 2006 anymore. And like I said, as a self-taught filmmaker with over a dozen shorts under my belt, here are five lessons I took away from the making of Perfekt that I will perfect further when I start shooting Perfect in 2014.

5. Hire the right amount of crew with the right skills to do the job right. When I shot Perfekt, the budget had a hard stop at $5,000. With that, I was able to hire my first assistant director, sound recorder, boom operator, and a couple of productions assistants. Factor in Alain and myself, and we were a modest crew of around seven members. One thing I learned back when I shot Cerise with its larger budget of $15,000 and a crew of fifteen folks) is to always hire the right people for the right job. Oh, and always, always hire a producer.

4. Document the filmmaking process with photos, video, and (now) social media. It’s hard to think where I’d be without social media. I made Perfekt, Myspace was really just starting to be something. I didn’t know about Facebook, and there was no Instagram so you could easily and immediately share your on-set photos; I mean, we were still using digital cameras to take continuity shots, and not one of us thought to use that camera to take some shots of the crew working on the film. It was a vastly different time, and looking back, I’d love to have more than a tiny handful of photos of me on the set of Perfekt. So this time around, we’ll be documenting the process, and maybe even livestreaming the shoot, too.

3. There are many more factors than money involved in getting great audio. Audio prides itself in being the bane of every filmmaker’s existence, and it was no different on the set of Perfekt (or any of my other films, for that matter, with the exception of The Coconut, Speed Musing, and the Pepper Coat video, being silents.) Back then, I thought that if you put most of your budget into audio and hire a good sound guy, Hollywood-caliber sound will abound. Not so. There are many more factors at play in the battle for quality sound, like location, electricity, airplanes, and the like. This time around, I’ll be factoring them all into the shooting of Perfect.

2. Shoot the most important scenes first, especially when in an uncontrolled environment (like a bar). One hefty mistake I made while shooting Perfekt’s many bar scenes was shooting certain less important scenes before the most important scene in the whole film –– the climax. We were shooting at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City, now a lovely spot called Razza, and we had the entire bar to ourselves all morning until 4PM, and I chose to shoot various quick scenes during that time, thinking we’d have plenty of time. By the time the clock struck four, the bar opened to the public, and I had to shoot the finale, a long, Woody Allen-esque conversation between Matt and Nellie, with a roomful of bar patrons having conversations in the background. We made the most of it, though, and still managed to walk out of the then Bar Majestic at a little after midnight with some solid shots and slightly subpar sound.

1. Be more organized in the editing room. This is the biggie, and if I were the kind of person who held onto regrets, this would be the only one: Not having a single copy of Perfekt in digital form to date. See, when I was prepping the film for delivery to Ouat Media, distribution was more about physical copies back then (evidenced by the $90 DigiBeta tape I had to ship to Canada), and because I had secured distribution for Perfekt, I couldn’t show it anywhere online ‘cause they had the rights for three years. Flash forward a couple years, when I swapped my MacPro tower for a MacBook Pro, but never loaded all of the files that pieced together Perfekt in a single location; there were files on every hard drive I owned, internal and external. So when I finally tried to make a digital file to share with friends, there were gaps in the original cut of the film because I simply couldn’t locate all the missing files. The good thing is that by the time Perfect is shot and ready for your eyes, it’ll only be available in digital form, and you can bet the farm that all those files will be in a single location.

Now that I’ve recapped what not to do in the filming of Perfect next year, and I’ve got my two actors 100% onboard, it’s time to start writing the script!

*          *          *

Filmmakers –– What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting your previous films that you’ll be sure to steer clear from when shooting your next? List them in the comments below –– perhaps I’ll be able to add a few more lessons to my utility belt.

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The Iron Horse Novelist: Write Your First Novel Ten Minutes at a Time

If you’d have asked me a few months ago, “Trig, what is Hipster Noir?” I’d have replied with all sincerity I don’t know.

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What I can tell you is that Hipster Noir (working title) is a extranatural mystery story I’ve been working on since May of this year about a Dirk Gently-inspired private eye named Sebastian Holden and his case to find the killer of a poet’s muse. But perhaps the how I’ve been writing what seems to be my first novel may be more interesting at this stage than the what it is about.

I draft up two chapters a day, each in only ten minutes.

Ever since I joined the frontlines of the working class, the only time I really have to write is during the PATH train ride that shuttles me into Manhattan from Jersey City. The other reason is because the only time I’m not connected to the Internet is when I’m riding the underground rails.

The first few chapters began as simple character sketches for a slew of weirdly wonderful folks –– from an unemployed muse and a suicidal vampire (borrowing a few concepts from my feature-length screenplay A Beautiful Unlife) to a trio of sexed up assassin sisters (borrowed from another feature-lengther called Caput) to the development of our main protagonist of the story. Then from these character sketches, Hipster Noir started to organically turn into a detective story, no doubt inspired by two-year long stint watching solely film noir titles and soaking up the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Dirk Gently novels of Douglas Adams, which has bestowed on Hipster Noir a darkly comedic element to it what I’m writing, though at times, it doesn’t feel like.

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Write What You Know: Hipster Noir has also proven to be an excellent journaling exercise, as I’ve started to include a great deal of my own life stories (fictionalized, of course) and other ideas into it. It’s certainly helped me to cope with my silent internal conflict of going from a full- to part-time writer; but what shades of color that transition’s added to Hipster Noir’s naturally grey undertones; this first volume is aptly titled “The Case of the Murdered Muse.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of this is that most times I really don’t feel like I’m writing Hipster Noir, but rather it’s writing itself (or it’s writing me, if you wanna get all metaphysical about it). I know that sounds like a crock of Kerouacian hogwash, but when I began this project, I had no idea where it was going to go. I thought I was writing a poem, but it came out as if it were a narrative written for Philip Marlowe, and it flowed like an episode of Magnum, P.I. with a hint of Bored to Death.

The best part? I still don’t know exactly where it’s going. But it’s going.

I never once thought I could ever begin a novel, let alone get 60 pages into it. The lesson is simple –– use what you know and just write that novel. And give yourself milestones and commit to hitting them. For some it’s 5,000 words per week. For me, twenty minutes a day is all I need.

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This Poem

This poem sits silent
while I quench the thirst of
ten thousand years,
or what seems so, days doppelgänging
more nights than year’s have time
to spend.

This poem has nowhere left
to journey,
no bottom-shelf literary magazines
to submit itself,
no captive audience to hear the
silence of its absence.

This poem, a battered old mattress;
a motel with vacancies,
flaunting free HBO and an
ice machine to chill away the long
hot hours ahead.

But no one drives past this highway any
longer, and these days this poem
flashes its phosphorescent lights for
none but me.

A Tale of Two Cons, Part Two: VidCon 2013

Last month, I was in Anaheim from August 1st to 3rd. For those of you who don’t know, Anaheim is home to Disneyland (which my excellent friend Troy got me into and showed me around) and … well, that’s probably about it, really. But once a year, every YouTuber who is anyone swarms to the Anaheim Convention Center for a massive community experience called VidCon.

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VidCon started back in 2010 by Vlog Brothers John and Hank Green as a place where YouTubers could gather together with their fans and where the YouTube industry could come together and discuss where the future of online video  is headed.

This year’s VidCon pried open my eyes to the possibilities that YouTube has for digital content creators and fans alike. It’s set up a lot like San Diego Comic-Con: There’s a showroom floor, which showcases everything from MCNs (Multichannel Networks) like Maker Studios, Big Frame, and Fullscreen to YouTube service provides like LootCrate and social media websites like Lovvvit. VidCon showcases everyone from Smosh, Toby Turner, and iJustine to musical acts who found their start on YouTube. (Rebecca Black ring a bell?) The best part for someone like me were the keynotes and panels like the one I was on about advertising and branding while raising funds for your projects. Lots of learning mixed with lots of fun.

There are also tons of happening parties, epic rap battles in the foyer, signings, and giggle-screaming tweens galore, and even a giant “Sharkzilla” (no, not promoting the second installment of Sharknado, thankfully, but Discovery Channel’s Shark Week –– Whew!)

<< Rewind <<

A brief flashback about my prior relationship with YouTube: I’ve been the kind of person who’s never understood YouTube. When I first discovered it, I remember my friend Raul Garcia showed me a Simpson’s spoof video, and I said to him “this is what you wanted to show me?!” I can’t remember what exactly it was I watched, but I remember I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

> Fast forward >>

Then I spent some time working with my filmmaking comrades Alain Aguilar and Joe Whelski on this idea for a series of one-minute skits centered around a character simply called The Fool, a war vet who’s back from an unnamed war and tries humorously to fit himself back into society.

After six well-shot episodes, the series went nowhere. No virality. No five million hits. Nada.

>> Fast Forward >>

Years after The Fool, my girlfriend Marinell and I started up a short-lived but very fun movie review show called Trafflick, in which we’d watch movies, then drive home and talk about what we thought for a minute or so.

We got some views on our YouTube page, but nothing to warrant my thinking that YouTube could serve as anything more than a place to host silly videos.

> Playback

VidCon, 2013 –– the event that showed me just how wrong I was. Here are three brief misconceptions about YouTube I’ve since debunked:

Misconception #1: “YouTube is a video-sharing site.”

It’s not, it a video social network, and when used properly, it’s probably the most powerful social network out there. And only a select number of people use it right. Some even make some decent money uploading YouTube videos.

Misconception #2: There’s a lot of shit on YouTube.”

There’s not a lot of shite on YouTube, but rather a lot of niche. Today, if you can think it up, you can make it happen because somewhere in the vast universe of online content, someone will want to see your video, and like it, which creates the convincing illusion to many that there’s “a lot of shit” on YouTube.

If you mine for what you like, you can find gold on YouTube.

Misconception #3: “It’s too late to start my own YouTube channel.”

Absolutely not. YouTube can be an intimidating space, that’s for sure. I’ve learned a great deal about how it works during my three days at VidCon, and even though the space seems to be ruled by a handful of mafia-like MCNs, there are also thousands of gigabytes of user-generated content creators out there

My key piece of advice is to just do you.

Perhaps I’ll be getting back to doing movie reviews on the go with Marinell (heck, I bought an iPhone car mount from iPole for that reason). Maybe I’ll start a web series if the right idea presents itself. Who knows –– what I do know is that VidCon has completely transformed my perception of YouTube and this entire culture of content, and I’m glad there are folks like Ray William Johnson, Natalie Chan and Ashens doing their thing and inspiring others to do the one thing this world fosters most of all these days:

Create something.

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