I don’t do movie reviews, leaving that to more review-y sorts than myself. I also don’t think people care what movies I enjoyed or didn’t. I leave that to more social media-y sorts.

That said, I wanted to share my strange experience with a strange movie I stumbled upon via Amazon’s streaming service, a psychological horror-esque picture from 2012 entitled Berberian Sound Studio. Wow.

Part of the challenge of being an avid horror movie fan is after time, you see so many movies that it’s rare to experience something new. There are still movies that stagger me in their execution like Get Out or The Devil’s Rejects or The Babadook or Resolution or A Ghost Story (not horror but still), but more often I see a variation of a movie I’ve seen before. Sometimes that’s fine if it’s good, but sometimes I want something freaky fresh.

And that’s what I got with Berberian Sound Studio. This movie seriously disturbed me, and I don’t react to movies like that often anymore. This isn’t about whether it’s a good movie or bad movie. It’s about seeing a movie that personally got under my skin, that tapped into core fears and insecurities.

In other words, it’s the type of movie I seek out.

Technically I don’t even know if you’d classify this as horror. The film is set in Italy in the 1970s during the filming of a fictional Italian horror film that is exceptionally bloody and vulgar, so in a way a movie within a movie. As the viewer, however, we don’t actually see the film, but instead see the people making the movie, someone rending and snapping vegetables to create the sound of hair being pulled out, a voice actor babbling terrifying sounds alone in a sound booth to voice the demonic mutterings of a goblin, playbacks of movie scenes to coordinate sound and music. People doing their jobs.

The fear, however, isn’t from the movie being made, but the alienation and mental deterioration of a meek and very British sound engineer named Gilderoy played by Toby Jones who simply doesn’t do horror. The graphic scenes of cinematic violence (which he sees even though we as the viewer never do), along with the toxic masculinity bubbling through the studio and a constant feeling of alienation, cultural and otherwise, begin to unravel Gilderoy’s psyche.

To explain why this movie was so frightening to me is difficult. There were many scenes where little happened, such as beautifully filmed images of rotting vegetables or long artsy images of analog tape winding on it’s playback journey. Berberian Sound Studio is a movie that I could imagine angering someone wanting action, maybe even myself in a different mood.

For me, though, it was like tasting a distilled version of a horror movie. The underlying fears that horror movies generally tap into: fears of being alone, fears of being out of control, fears of losing one’s mind, were all there, with the actual horror movie a fictional, off-screen presence within the movie itself. This movie, precisely because of it’s slow visuals, jacked right into my psyche, skipping over requiring the normal horrific visuals that would cause the fear and instead somehow inserting the fear direct, straight no-chaser. I completely accompanied Gilderoy through his descent, not because the visuals were terrifying, but because the underlying emotions were so recognizable and his vulnerability so understandable, and this was supported by unusual visuals. Take recognizable feelings and juxtapose them with seriously weird images and it’s an unsettling experience.

I loved this movie because it took me on a journey I hadn’t been on before. So strange, so beautiful, and, for me, so sincere. As a horror movie writer and horror movie fan, I don’t want weird for weird’s sake, but I do crave new, crafted experiences and I’ll forgive a creative movie that misses more than I will a decent movie that plays it safe. This movie hit me hard, and that’s not common for a jaded horror movie fan like myself. For this reason, I don’t care in the least whether writer/director Peter Strickland’s movie is considered good or bad. I’m not even interested in what other people thought of it. I just know this was a movie experience I’ve been craving, that fresh excitement similar to what I experienced as a kid watching a horror movie. For me it was the right movie at the right time and finding it without any knowledge or expectations made it all the more special.

Peter Strickland, if by some bizarre chance this blog passes your way, thank you for crafting a different type scare. I really needed this. 

 

An intense few weeks and I’m coming up for air. I completed, and did multiple rewrites, of my horror romance screenplay Wicked Sisters.  I also finished the first draft of a ghost story short for an anthology film project I am working on with an indie filmmaker. Feels good.

To celebrate that good feeling, I’ve decided to share three random things in life that bring me joy. Step inside my head to see what really makes me smile.

 

Sport Fishes of Ohio collector cards

 

I LOVE these things. So random, so odd, so Ohio they make me smile. I love how it reads Collector’s Edition, as if there  are other editions designed for people who don’t dare collect them. Rock Bass, you’re my friend.

 

Glow-in-the-dark goat toy

 

It’s a goat. It glows.

I call it glowgoat and nobody is going to stop me.

Vintage 1970s pink Lucite arrow

 

A foot of funky 70s modness. The thing looks like it glows, although glowgoat is quick to point out it’s not actually phosphorescent. It casts a pink shadow, and I bet you wish you could do that, too.

 

Hope you enjoyed a look into my happy places. Wait. You know what I meant.

 

I was a kid when I received the above book for Christmas – Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema by Alan G. Frank, to this day one of my favorite gifts. The book, published in 1974, was a compendium of horror movies , slanted toward the British horror powerhouses of the day, Hammer and Amicus, but also looking at horror movies in general.

I’ve been thinking about this book: it’s one of the few pieces of my history that has made the multiple journeys to multiple states and residences — at last count I’ve lived in more than 15 different locations, but honestly I’m not motivated enough to get an accurate count. This was the book I cared for and cherished.

I grew up in a small farming town in Ohio, and while technically only am hour’s drive to Cleveland, in the days before the Internet, cell phones or cable TV it might as well have been on another planet. The town where I was raised was isolated, and there was no theater or news stand. Most of my knowledge of pop culture came from the Mad magazines I’d get every month from the Lawson’s. I had to work hard to find horror movie trivia, reading every book on horror movies, ghost stories and anything else scary that I could find at our small school library, which wasn’t much. A book like this, then, was a life saver.

I’ve been watching horror movies for literally as long as I can remember, and while memory is fickle and unreliable, I can actually remember one of the key cinematic experienced that inspired my horror journey. I was up late for some reason, I might have been sick. I was probably six or seven, maybe even five, and was on the couch with my parents. They weren’t horror movie folks but for some reason that night they were watching a late night movie, again maybe because they were up with me if I was sick. I’ve asked them about it later in life but of course they don’t remember that particular event as it wasn’t anything memorable them, and I’m sure they had no idea how important it would turn out to be for me.

The particular movie was the 1944 ghost story The Uninvited with Ray Miland. The scene that hooked me on horror, particularly melancholic atmospheric horror, was one that you might not guess. Our lead characters, a piano composer and his sister, enter a large open room on the top floor of a spooky house with windows overlooking a bluff and the sea beyond. As they tour the house for the first time, the movie viewer sees a bouquet of flowers on the table. The flowers shrivel up and die, but it’s only seen by the movie viewer, not the characters in the movie. So simple, so understated, and so terrifying to my young mind that I cried. That scene hit at some core, primal level.

While that night I was terrified, the fascination of that fear stayed with me and I began seeking out anything spooky I could find. Luckily back then it was a golden time for horror movie hosts in Ohio out of Cleveland and Akron such as Houlihan and Big Chuck, The Ghoul, Sir Graves Ghastly, and on Saturday afternoons Super Host. These hosts became family to me, and when I was young I would tiptoe out to the family room late night (my parents went to bed very early) on Fridays to watch the late night horror hosts on a tiny black and white Zenith TV with the sound turned way down. The room wasn’t insulated well so was crazy cold in the winter time, but I didn’t care. I was hooked.

I might not remember half of the things of my youth, but I remember watching Peter Cushing in The Gorgon, practically peeing myself with terror while watching Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (particularly the story “A Drop of Water” where a spooky corpse terrorizes a nurse in an old house) and catching the TV release of the 1971 horror film Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. While other kids knew sports and music stars, I knew Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Lorie and Boris Karloff.

While some of my friends also watched horror movies, my pursuit and obsession was largely solitary. I watched them by myself and developed my knowledge independently as a kid who didn’t feel that he fit in with society in general. It wouldn’t be until decades later as an adult that I would meet other horror fans who shared similar experiences growing up. It’s like all of us were, and are still, invisibly connected by a love of horror movies even though we didn’t know a community existed out there that was waiting for us.

And then, of course, came the 1980s. By then I had a driver’s license, long hair and a theater in a nearby town. I don’t need to tell you what a rush it was for a horror movie lover to be a teen in the 80s. Even so, though, the core of my horror love always remained with the atmospheric and moody. Slashers were fun, but the upsetting ride of Roddy McDowell in The Legend of Hell House, the melancholic cynicism of made for TV movies like A Taste of Evil with Roddy McDowell (before Hell House) or The Paper Man  or the American Gothic horror of The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, a mini series in 1978, are still near and dear to my heart.

But through it all, I clung to my hardback book Movie Treasury published by from Octopus (with its groovy 1970s Octopus logo). I recently learned that the author, Alan G. Frank, is still doing movie reviews and can be found at the website  PicturesthatTalk.com.

Thank you, Mr. Frank, for providing a desperately needed connection to a community that I didn’t even know existed at the time. My horror movie journey would have been incomplete with you.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of my son, Gavin Luckwitz

 

I’m rocketing this post into the universe in hopes that it finds the right person at the right time to reinforce what we all know on an intellectual level but still have trouble believing: we are not alone in our experiences.

I’ve been starring in the Theatre of Near Misses, that place in life when you get your hopes up, come close to realizing some success, and then see that potential fade away. Again and again. To use an analogy perhaps lost on younger readers, I’ve been Charlie Brown, excited and full of faith to finally kick that football, only to have Lucy van Pelt pull it away at the last minute, yet again, to send me sprawling. Arggh.

I’ve been experiencing these near misses on multiple life levels and in relatively rapid succession: in my writing career, day job, personal life. A deal on a heavily-researched nonfiction book that I thought had a publisher fell through after a YEAR of discussion. A recent high following receiving an award for a screenplay I wrote was immediately followed by frustration and failure in another life area, zapping away the rush of the success. A query for an agent for my surreal kid’s book series Sphere of Weird, after looking like it was going to go … did not. So close, yet, well, you know.

I’m not going to document the other near misses or even the details of the above near misses publicly. I don’t need to, though. If you try to do anything in life, you’ve stepped onto this stage and have grappled with your own misses. If you haven’t, then f–k you.

Depending on your general outlook on life, each of us will deal with these misses differently, but they all sting regardless of how flippin’ chipper you are. For me, I generally view failures as learning opportunities, and I know the awesome power of tenacity. That said, sometimes it all feels like too much.

                                                                              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So the truth is, right now, as I type this, the visualizations, the mantras, the rationalizations, and all the other useful mental tools at my disposal are all simply irritating. I’m feeling hurt, alone, and crushed and I don’t want gratitude journals or the power of positive thinking. I don’t want to wallow but I also don’t want healthy platitudes. Not right now. I just desperately want go catch a break.

This too shall pass, and I know that. I’ll dust myself off and get back to the work at hand.  I’ll stop worrying that I’m running out of time or that I don’t have it in me to face yet another failure after years of disappointment. I’ll stop doubting myself as a creative and as a human being. I’m already drafting new ideas in my head and evaluating the potential of retooling old projects. But right now, I feel bad.

And I know you’ve been there too. 

 

 

 

 

 

So more than a year of Covid and no haircut in that time. I thought I’d document here, because if I can’t embarrass myself on my blog, where can I? Oh, wait, that would include virtually everywhere.

So here I am am before the cut:

 

Now, before I went to get my haircut, I shaved the beard just to see how it would look (I’m in the process of growing it back). This is what I got. I like to call this my Bob from Twin Peaks look.

Not a good look, but if you’re wearing a mask, it’s fine. Plus, it scared the hell out of my wife if I hid on the floor and popped up next to the bed with a stretched out smile.

 

So the end result. It came out pretty good, right?

 

 

The only odd thing was I seemed to have developed a Scottish accent.

 

A group of college-age friends from a small town sit around a campfire in the woods. They live nearby and have been hanging out since children. As they chat, one of the friends tells about a grizzly murder that happened in those very woods ten years ago to the day ….

AND I’M YANKED OUT OF THE MOVIE!

 

(Photo by Emeldil at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3782539)

This isn’t an exact scene from a specific movie, but a made-up example of sloppy exposition similar to actual scenes I’ve watched over the years. It’s the main flaw in movies that bothers me the most, especially in horror movies. What? People talking in ways they would never talk with the only purpose being to tell me, in the audience, a necessary backstory.

In the above example, the scene ignores the real lives of these friends before the scene. Has the filmmaker ever lived in a small town? EVERYONE would know of a murder legend by the time they were six — that’s how the small town do. Plus, they would have likely talked about the legend many times. It’s almost impossible this would be new news.

Might someone mention it? Sure, but not in a full sentence, story-mode explanation. If they were friends who regularly did campfires, this topic would have been visited and revisited since childhood. Someone might reference the event in a truncated form, like “Murder anniversary tonight, man,” but definitely not in the “Twenty years ago today….” way.

Here’s another talk fail I’ve seen many times in many different variations: a husband or wife reveals a deep secret at a party or social gathering, again provided only for the audience’s understanding of the plot, some reveal that is a complete surprise to one part of the couple. While not impossible, it’s also not likely that a couple married for five years didn’t know their spouse had a sibling killed by an axe murderer or that the husband had grown up in a death cult. Those things probably would have come up before, or they really need to work on communication.

The key is believability. The audience needs to believe the character had a life that didn’t just pop into existence in the scenes on the screen. If someone provides details of a past trauma or event, then the reveal needs to be in line with the character’s history with the other characters.

In 2011’s You’re Next, one of my favorite home invasion genre movies (with a wonderful use of the Dwight Twiley song “Looking for the Magic”) , the audience learns that our heroine was raised on a survivalist compound, but it’s revealed in an absolute believable way. In this movie, from the team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the character is new to the group and uncomfortable about her past. It’s not the type of information she logically would have mentioned to someone she is newly dating. When she does let us know, it’s in natural language in line with the action on the scene, not an awkward exposition. When the audience learns of her past, we believe this happened to her as she talks about it as someone who lived it would.

Some other horror movies of note that do a great job of revealing past trauma in non-expository ways are 2016’s We Go On and 2014’s The Babadook or 2019’s Spell (I’m talking the indie odd-ball movie directed by Brendan Walter set in Iceland). Each of these could have hosed it up by giving exposition to the audience but instead took the high road in letting the characters talk like real people. They do use flashbacks, which can be equally troublesome, but they are used wisely and judiciously.

In Justin Benson’s indie film Resolution, which preceded his more accessible The Endless, the movie works because the conversation between the two friends is natural. You feel the history and pain between the two friends as the audience gets snippets and pieces of their stories told in the way two friends who had known each other for years would talk. That movie would have been terrible with a phony exposition, but it never goes there, and I thank them for it. I love that movie.

Remember the History

The trick, if you want to call it that, is to never forget that if a scene and movie is to be believable, unless characters were recently cloned, they have had a full history full of conversations before we, the audience, see them.  When a writer needs to ensure the audience has necessary information about events that occurred before the scene, screenwriters need to be clever, and that means not getting lazy. 

 

LUCKWITZ’S TOP FIVE TIPS FOR GIVING BACKSTORY AND HISTORY

  • Recognize that friends and spouses have had years of speaking among themselves before we see them
  •  Be EXTRA careful when a character reveals new information for the FIRST time; just because it’s new to us doesn’t mean it’s new to them
  • Be creative in how you reveal necessary historic information to the audience; there are better ways than exposition; I’ve even seen the skillful use of clippings and photos in opening credit sequences
  • When a character does provide historic information, especially about legends or trauma, make sure it’s done in a way in tune with the character’s speaking patterns; when suddenly the character begins talking like a textbook or grade school storyteller, the audience is reminded it’s a movie 
  • Work hard to give the audience information without them realizing you’re giving them information

 

 

 

 

 

What a strange life promoting oneself as a content creator. In the always-on online world, I  find it awkward to get the right personal message out. Online forums don’t like messy career roles. It’s easier to sell you something if you are one thing: a podiatrist, a plumber, a painter, etc. I’m, however, not one thing.

I recently applied for refinancing, and the loan officer asked me about my role as a writer. This seemed odd as I hadn’t mentioned being a writer nor written it on any applications and the loan was looking at my tenure at my day job, a quasi-management role. As different creative opportunities had been presenting themselves, you see, I had decided to refinance while I had the luxury of steady years at a traditional job. Banks hate you being self-employed, regardless of what you earn.

I later realized she must have seen that title on my LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn was tricky, because I led a dual life: day job and writer. LinkedIn likes you to be identified with your job, but manager wasn’t the identity I wanted to promote or the type of network I was building, so I listed writer. The lion share of the money, however, was coming from the day job. Listing writer worked in this case, however, as I had actually begun at the company as a copywriter and then became a research writer before becoming a manager. Had I not begun as a writer, though, that title would have seemed extra strange.

But you’ve got to give yourself a title on that platform and everything blends together, so I ended up with an unbalanced mix of contacts in the corporate and creative worlds. Ultimately for my own sanity I closed down my account, because I know people search online and I didn’t want my identity to be identified with the income source of management. I don’t have a problem with the job. It’s just not my identity. Some creatives create a second job listing for their own ventures as a work around, but that felt pretentious.

I instead moved to Stage 32, a network for movie industry people and dropped the day job references altogether. 

Ultimately,  the entire pigeonholing is ridiculous. Except for a small number of people, most writers and artists I know hold day jobs, especially if they have a family, and many of us try to keep that hidden. For some reason, it seems more acceptable to be a teacher than a manager, but I might be making up these rules in my head. I’m more than willing to admit these could be issues of my own making.

Still, if my loan experience confirms anything, it’s that people doing business with you scan online to learn who you are. I don’t blame them. I do the same, and there lies the quandary for creatives. How do you present yourself as a writer/painter/filmmaker and yet not minimize your day job or come off as a pretentious fool?

I guess the best solution is to not need a day job. 

 

 

UPDATE: 6/18/21

 

So I’ve reinstated LinkedIn after a hiatus and opted to list Independent Writer as a job listing concurrent with my role as Brand Manager. Not perfect, but ehh, what is?

 

 

 

 

 

  

Starting the timer

I’m a firm believer in setting deadlines and benchmarks, however artificial, to keep on track. Deadlines help me stay on target even on off days.

That said, life has taken me in directions that no deadlines, lists or structures could override, and I finally hit a point where the pace of change for my life was no longer acceptable for me. That, I realized, required a BIGGER TMER.

The 100-day countdown

I’m not embarrassed or apologetic of the jobs I’ve worked to take care of my family (see my About Me section for if you’re interested in the range of jobs I’ve actually had). I’ve been involved in interesting things, from lobbying for sustainable businesses at the U.S. Senate to being a small part of history (I handled press releases for automakers and banks during the  first housing crisis). I’ve worked in factories, freelanced and hustled in manual labor. I come from a working-class family, and although I was born a creative wandering soul, that working class hustle is and will be part of my being.

Additionally, my jobs and side hustles have allowed me to meet interesting people, from the CEO of an Irish brewery to a multi-millionaire entrepreneur to Hollywood actors. I’ve been on think tanks with leaders in the sustainable business world, had lunch with the head of an organic cotton farmers cooperative, told jokes with antique hunters, bounced ideas around with an innovator in digital fiction, and drifted among a cast of colorful and quirky individuals all finding their individual expressions in this world. I’m honored to have met them all and everyone of them have taught me valuable lessons, regardless of whether they were viewed as successful by society or not. I definitely can’t complain. 

At some point, though, perhaps later for me than others, perhaps not, I felt I was too far off the path that I personally needed to travel in terms of my creative pursuits. Sure, I’d been engaged in corporate writing for decades for newsletters, papers, magazines, ads, copy, social media, white papers, speeches, presentations, blah blah blah. That was fine, but I was always a traveller passing through. For me and me alone, I realized I needed to fully identity internally as a creative writer.

To do this, I used a trick: a public timer. I removed my About Me section on LinkedIn and replaced it with the number 100. No explanation. Just a number.

Every morning, I would manually reduce the number by 1, so, for example, the following morning I changed it to 99, and then 98, and so on. This was my visual reminder of time passing and to stay focused on what I needed to do.

But what happened at 0?

The concept wasn’t that I was counting down to a happening. There was to be no job quitting, no drama, no song and dance production. Instead, the idea was that at zero I was to fully own the identity of being a writer, regardless of external circumstances. During those 100 days I was to hustle to put the systems in place to better my chances of external success, and the counter gave me a sense of how time can slip away. I prioritized projects, sent pitches, entered competitions, built my network, and did the things I needed to do.

Prior to the 100-day countdown I of course had been continually working on projects and I have been writing for decades, publishing a number of projects over the years. The countdown, however, was to change my focus, and at zero I was to retool my work persona.

So why let people peek behind the curtain?

So why, you might ask, would I acknowledge day jobs, countdowns and even past failures at getting pieces published if I’m retooling my public persona? Shouldn’t I be creating an orchestrated illusion of who I want people to think I am that is based on aspirations rather than truth?

Trust me, I thought about it. Many pieces of writing advise that route. That, however, is not who I am. I stand by my meandering path, even my past mistakes. I might not like all of it and many of them are painful to acknowledge, but they got me to where I am today. I don’t run from my mistakes, and they make for great writing.

If someone takes the time to read this content, then they have an interest in what I’m doing for whatever reason. I sincerely appreciate people giving their valuable time, whether it’s to read what I wrote in this blog or in a book or script I penned (with a digital pen, of course). For that, when I write about my life, I want to give back the truth. It’s the way I want to live.

My countdown is over. The party is in full swing.   Yup. I’m a creative.

 

 

… or why it makes sense

While not unusual for creatives to work on diverse projects, my connection between writing horror movie screenplays, absurdist youth fiction and heavily-research historical non-fiction may seem  to be pushing the boundaries of focus. I, however, disagree. I’ll tell you why.

 

 

Horror Screenplays

One of my key strengths is dialogue, and screenplays allow me to push the limits of dialogue to milk as much story out of them as I possibly can. I do this because as an avid horror movie watcher, I HATE poorly done exposition. Hate.

While the world of the movie is by its nature artificial, the dialogue shouldn’t be. Instead, it should be believable and yet still move the story forward. Dialogue, done right, can tell you worlds about the character without the viewer even realizing it. Done poorly, dialogue can yank the viewer right out of the movie. 

I fully understand the show-don’t-tell philosophy, but dialogue for me is never a necessary filler. Instead, it’s a rich tool to inform the viewer of who the character is and why they will do what they will do.

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