Border Crossings, New Places and the home of the Buffalo Wing...

One great thing about this job is the adventure involved and the people you meet along the way. I always say that with documentatry filmmaking you get to experience a different walk of life with every interview and new place along the way. "Shades of Gray" took me to sunny Key West, Frozen Minnesota and to Cleveland, Ohio where after the interview I got to see Roger Clemens take the mound for the New York Yankees. With "Adopt a Jesus" I went to the streets of Nashville, Shreveport and Houston to name a few and met folks who go unnoticed for the most part by our fast paced world. Next up, Romeo Must Hang took me to Buffalo, New York, Independent filmmaking is always an adventure.

After finishing up my 40 hour work week at WVPBS at 7pm on Friday evening we took to the road. Steve Schmidt and I were headed off to Erie, PA where we would stop for the night. On the way we listened to some of the tracks that Jeremy had cut for the film, the different perspective you get listening to music at varying times of the day is interesting. Suddenly a Angelo Badalamenti quality crept from the tracks that I had listened to months before. Some filmmakers prefer to have a score cut to the finished film but I like to have a sound in my head while I'm gathering my interviews. The documentaries I've done in the past are shaped by the soundtrack that I lay out in advance and it allows me to construct the world in which my characters live.

The next morning we finished the trek to Buffalo, NY where the mission was to interview David Schmid, author of "Natural Born Celebrities." We met David at his house and followed him to his office at the University of Buffalo where we sat down for the longest interview I've conducted or been a part of. Steve also said it was his longest he had been apart of. I prefer to call my interviews conversations, I don't write down any questions to take into the interview, this feels forced to me. I do have a specific outline in my head to which I will attempt to cover during the conversation but what happens in-between those bullet points is anything goes. The most important thing going into a "conversation" is you've got to do your homework. You've got to know first of all about the subject and characters in your film. Second you need to know about the subject your about to sit down with to have a conversation.

The interview went more than well, it was the kind of interview that takes a story to the next level. Each film has one or more, Shades of Gray had multiple interviews of that nature, hopefully "Romeo" will turn out to be as fruitful. My goal with David was to paint broad strokes with my questioning to generate deep discussion, I wasn't concerned with the details of the Powers story at this point. By this I mean rather than asking What Powers personality was like, I would ask Why is it every time a serial killer surfaces in a neighbor hood everyones reaction is, Well he was such a nice quiet guy. The scary thing is these monsters are just like you and I... average unassuming people. That is the level of conversation I was trying to get, and I more than got it. Thank you David.

After the interview it was off to the Anchor Bar in downtown Buffalo. Its a contentious issue but the Anchor Bar claims to be the place that invented the Buffalo wing, there is another place in town that claims the same. I'm not much of a wing fan but being a fan of history I ordered up some, I must say it tasted like a Buffalo Wing.

At this point it's 8pm and when making a film business comes first but it's also important to have some fun along the way. With this you see and do things when time allows, this means a night trip to Niagara Falls and across the border to Canada. I've never been to the falls and even at night it was impressive. It was nothing like I had cooked up in my imagination, I pictured a secluded area lot of forestation and a giant waterfall with a guy in a viking hat riding a barrel to the bottom. I hadn't dream up the towns and casinos that had grown up on each side of the border. It was a short lived trip because it was 5 degrees on the U.S. side and it was -15 across the border. It was cold but we didn't have to give it much thought, we were heading back to West Virginia in the morning. Canada here we come.

At the border they didn't seem too keen on us bringing $8000 worth of gear into Canada. I told them we had carried the sensitive gear into the hotel and were just too lazy to carry the rest. "What do you do for a living?", asked the border guard as he searched the car. "I'm a Filmmaker," I said. "What is your film about," he said. I replied, "Actually a Serial Killer." The second guard laughed and said, "Did he do it?" To which Steve replied, "Hell yeah he did it." "Where you guys staying?" "Buffalo," I answered. "I wouldn't leave my stuff in Buffalo either," he said.

After the car was searched it was onto Immigrations to get a background check to be cleared to cross the border. Once in Canada we walked beyond the tourist traps to a little bar with curling on one screen and hockey on another. After a few hours in Canada it was back to the U.S. where once again we were searched crossing the Peace Bridge. The guard asked mostly the same questions with one exception. "What did the Canadians say when you brought all that equipment across the border?" I didn't have the heart to tell him.


Gray Barker, an Apple and the Men in Black…

… sounds like a good idea for a Disney movie except we can exchange the gay man for a brunette princess. And oh yeah the Men in Black can be Dwarfs.

“Insert the FINAL CUT STUDIO instillation disk…”

The new edit system arrived today, decided to take a crack at a Screenplay and the snow that is falling as I write brought back memories of the first step on a long journey to where I am today. I have to say that the hour that I’ve spent with my new Mac Book Pro has sold me on Apple. First it was an iPod, then the iPhone and now the Mac Book. I’ve been a skeptic all along but I’m now a full-fledged junkie or whatever term is hip to apply. Now only if Final Cut is as good as Avid. I’ve spent the last 9 years cutting on an Avid edit system at WVPBS and own my own Avid Express system that I work on from home. The same system that I cut “Shades of Gray” on and “Adopt a Jesus.” I can only hope that Final Cut can stand up to the Avid program… To be continued

Not that I’m busy or anything but I think Charessa (my wife) and I are gonna begin working on a screenplay. All of the research is stored in my head so the easy part is out of the way, now its time to put it together in an entertaining fashion that resembles nothing of the true events. You know based upon a true story. We’ve got the index cards out and the opening scene ready to go, should be a fun process... updates to come.

This next few paragraphs should be titled “The road to where I am,” or “The first step in a journey I had no idea I was about to begin. As I get in the way back machine, I think I was a senior in High School or maybe a Junior, and one of the biggest snow storms to hit the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia in my lifetime had just passed through. The only bigger storm I can remember I had to walk home from school with my dad and almost got frostbite. My mom used warm wash cloths or maybe a hair dryer, memory in the way back machine is hazy, to keep my ears from falling off. Anyway… I got snowed in at the Thaxton’s house, which was good planning; I got to hang out with my future wife Charessa while the snow melted. I ended up spending a lot of time on that hill in high school and we ended up buying a house and living there the first ten years or so of our marriage.

So during the snowstorm I call up the local video store and see if they are open and how long. The guy on the other end of the phone tells me he’s about to close. I tell him I can be there in 10 minutes, we have to walk because of all the snow, he says OK. That was the first time I met Jeremy Brightbill, to make a long story short we became instant friends, I got a job at the video store and we started a band together along with another friend of mine Antonie Zorio. We would be known as Watership Down after the Richard Adams Novel. Jeremy is now working on the soundtrack to “Romeo Must Hang,” I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with, he’s truly a great musician.

My time at the video store allowed me to study filmmaking and watch a lot of movies, and they paid me to do it. At the time my Favorite Actor = Dennis Hopper, Favorite Movie = Raising Arizona… It was a journey that began there and after a few detours I ended up studying film in college. I was fired from the job at the video store once and like a good producer I talked them into hiring me back, besides I had a lot more movies I needed to watch.

Well it’s 12:30 am and I’m on disk 3 of 7 of the final cut install… it’s gonna be a long night. I think I’ll go read A Clockwork Orange.


Evil Tatters of the Ghost of Quiet Dell…

…or the journey to become a filmmaker… or spending time with serial killers makes for interesting dreams.

In the next four months I will attempt to finish my newest film, “Romeo Must Hang,” self-distribute, “Adopt-A-Jesus,” and hope that “Shades of Gray,” which was picked up by Entertainment One hits store shelves. All while holding down my 40 hour a week job at WV Public Broadcasting. In the end this will be a handbook on “how to” or “how not to” make it in the film world. Failure is not an option!!!

Over the course of 2010 I will attempt to document how all of this unfolds, the ups and the downs. Before I conform to a mundane existence in a day to day job I must make an attempt to make it in this world on my own. If I’m successful I’ll have a long career ahead of me telling stories through a lens and I’m inviting you to come along for the journey. The great Yogi Berra once said, “If you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.” My journey began with a trip to Clarksburg to read through the papers of one Gray Barker, that grew into a partnership and friendship with brothers Jeff and Bob Tinnell along with John Michaels and now a distribution deal with Media 8 / Trillian Entertainment and Entertainment One.

I’ll fill in the back-story as we go along but for now, Ladies and Gentleman… Harry Powers.

From "Romeo Must Hang"

The year began with lots of snow and allowed plenty of time for pre-production on “Romeo.” Researching serial killers is not my cup of tea but the story of Harry Powers is a compelling one indeed. Who knows maybe I’ll get a good short-film out of a crazy dream or something? Research is always interesting for documentary films because you must get inside and become the best friend of your main character. Living subjects are easier because you can communicate with them, as for the Gray Barkers and Harry Powers you must have that dialog internally. Gray Barker wasn’t such a bad guy but Harry isn’t exactly someone I would seek out for friendship. Getting to know Harry means reading books about other murderers, (Gacy, Bundy, Gein, HH Holmes) this has allowed me to somewhat understand how Powers mind worked. It has also brought other questions that will become themes in the documentary. Such as the consumer publics desire to watch as such atrocities play out in our 24 hour news of today, due-process and the death penalty.

Davis Grubb, author of “Night of the Hunter”, the book based upon Harry Powers once wrote, “Evil tatters of the ghost of Quiet Dell still drift out and fume in Harrison County. Not so much for what he did to us but for what Harrison County and the state of West Virginia did to him. Evil like his is our cancer and one does not cure cancer by hanging it in the noose or electric chairs. The witness of these spawns more Harry Powers.”

The challenge for me with all of my films is how to engage the audience in a intelligent conversation and at the same time entertain them with a compelling story. This is one reason you must become closely aquatinted with your subjects. With Gray Barker, “Shades of Gray,” I read through his papers and person correspondence, with Harry Powers, “Romeo Must Hang,” I read the newspaper stories, his court transcripts and I studied others like him. With Brandt Russo, “Adopt-A-Jesus,” I spent time on the road with him living his lifestyle and we became friends. Once you find a good story that has a character who is complex the next step is to get to know them.

Next for me it’s off to Buffalo, NY to interview David Schmid, author of “Natural Born Celebrities.” The edit system is also due to be here in the next couple of days. After 7 years of editing on an Avid it’s time to learn final cut and the Mac OS. Makes the journey all that more interesting, hope you’ll come along with me and we can have a dialogue at this fork in the road.