We’ve all had that feeling. That we’re alone, that everything is working against us. That there’s no hope. It’s in that moment he comes to us. He looks like a friend, but he’s not.
He smiles and offers his hand, promising to take care of us. His method? Pleasure. Ego-inflation. The accumulation of power or wealth. A violent outlet for our anger.
All of these things, he tells us, will make us feel better. And he’s right.
Giving our bodies what they want makes us feel better. Elevating ourselves over others makes us feel better. Having more control and more THINGS makes us feel better. Hurting someone else makes us feel better.
For a time.
The good feeling goes away. We are left less than empty, with less even than what we started with. And so we chase after him, asking for more of what he has in the hopes that it can fill us up again. And here’s there, waiting, willing to help.
“But you need more this time,” he says. “Look how empty you are.” And we see he’s right again.
The solutions he offers, all of them, are only temporary. That’s the catch. He knows nothing he offers will sustain us, but he doesn’t tell us that. If he told us the full truth, we might not listen to him. We might not come back.
And he wants us to come back, over and over gain, until we’ve been drained so many times and are so empty there’s no way we can ever fill up, on anything, ever again.
And the whole time, he is scrambling. He’s trying his hardest to get us to that point of absolute emptiness because he knows it’s so easy for us to slip from his grasp, fall off the path he’s placed before us, and recover and grow and thrive and be filled to bursting with the good things of the world. With kindness and love and happiness and satisfaction.
He scrambles because he knows all his work will be undone, in an instant, if we call upon Him. It is Him who offers something real, permanent, and genuine.
It is Him who says we are not alone, that we never were.
It is Him who gives freely the one thing he can never offer: hope.
It can happen so quickly, with a simple prayer–before the prayer is even over– and because of that he lives in fear of Him every day.
And it is because of Him that we never have anything to fear at all.
The image at the top of this blog is taken from my short film, THE SHIFT. It’s a film about a man at a low point in his life who has a face-to-face encounter with the Devil. It explores a lot of the ideas expressed in this blog. You can watch the film on VidAngel.com and also at the top of this page.
Hey everybody, just letting you know I’m still out here and blogging–but it’s showing up in other places! Here’s some links to two recent blogs I did about the work I’m doing creating my own films with Tremendum Pictures:
I recently read that 80% of all short film makers never make another film. That’s a pretty terrible statistic. There’s probably lots of reasons for people not taking a second dip into the filmmaking pool, but the biggest has to be that making a film is really, really, REALLY difficult. Earlier this year, I finally finished my first short film as a writer/director, The Shift, after an exhausting year and a half of work. There were times I wondered if I still would have made the film if I knew at the beginning how much blood, sweat, late nights, feelings of self doubt, favors, mistakes, computer crashes, and, yes, tears it would eventually require. That 80% statistic resonated with me in a big way… READ MORE.
I wiped the wet brow under my sweat-soaked cap and shut my eyes tight against the setting sun. The grips barked calls to one another across the city park parking lot while my D.P. presented me with the very real possibility that we might not get the shot. This was, after all, the most complicated scene in the entire film–a tense “oner” that would see a smoking gun, blood splatter, and a character fall to the ground. We needed, probably, at least an hour of rehearsals to get the timing and the performances right.
We had five minutes. Three after arguing for two over whether or not it was even worth trying… READ MORE.
It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:
“Whose life is this?”
I looked around the room at the afterparty–at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I’m not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label “pretentious,” but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us–at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno–who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.
Here’s one indicator you’ve done something right in life: you attend a Red (in this case, Black) Carpet Event with celebrities and actors and actresses all over the place and the prettiest woman in the room is your wife.
Weirdly, we were nervous going into the event. I joined up with Tremendum Pictures earlier this year and although I’ve since met all sorts of people from all the highest walks of life, there was something intimidating about going into this thing–what with its jeweled purses, camera flashes, and fanfare and so forth. So much fanfare. Every news crew in town was there.
What to wear was a huge concern. It really shouldn’t have been. We saw people in everything from baseball caps to full-blown suits to pantsuits to floor-length gowns. But, as I said, Erin was the prettiest. She walked past the assembled crowd of fans waiting in line to see the movie with a full-on strut.
This being Fresno, it was 107 degrees out. This being a weird time in weather history, it was incredibly humid. Pretty sure I both ate too much popcorn and lost 3 pounds in sweat.
The Gallows is a movie I joined at the end of its four year creation process. My official credit on the film is “Assistant Set Decorator.” If you see the movie when it comes out on July 10th (and you should if you like awesome and fun in combination), pay special attention to the very last scene. You’ll see some of my handiwork and furniture.
This is an indie movie. We all pitched in whatever way we could, doing all sorts of things and contributing our time, talents, and vanity mirrors. The past few weeks we’ve all been going to local theaters to spread the word and sign posters. (Well, Writer-Directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff have been signing posters. Tell someone they could get their poster signed by the Assistant Set Decorator and watch them run.)
In one particularly hilarious, spontaneous moment, as we were exiting the theater a week or so ago after a 2 hour signing, Travis yelled out to me, “HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS MOVIE, THE GALLOWS?”
I was halfway across the parking lot. Travis was passing the line of people waiting to get in. They just stared with equal parts curiosity and confusion. I yelled back, “NO! WHAT’S THAT?”
“IT’S THIS GREAT NEW HORROR MOVIE MADE IN FRESNO COMING OUT JULY 10TH!”
“JULY 10TH YOU SAY?”
“YEAH! MADE IN FRESNO!”
“IN FRESNO? REALLY?”
Only, I didn’t say “NO SH#*!” That’s what Chris, who was standing next to Travis, heard me say. For some reason. What I really said was “NO WAY!” I’ve never said “NO SH#*!” in my life. But Chris’s version is funnier.
Despite this guerrilla approach to getting the word out, The Gallows is certainly not being distributed like an indie movie. It’s coming out with the full support of Warner Bros. Marketing and it shows.
It feels like the buzz is hitting the right pitch and certainly the people who have now seen it have been blown away by it. If you like scary movies, you can’t miss this one. It delivers the goods in a big, big way.
My second favorite thing about the Black Carpet Event (Erin’s outfit was clearly the first) was seeing my friends Chris and Travis take a victory lap. They have sacrificed everything they have and more to make this movie. The success they’re about to have is well-deserved. They’re good, gracious guys who are always, always quick to recognize the contributions of others and how blessed they are.
The pre-screening mingling was a contest of foot space. I can’t even imagine what all the regular patrons of Maya Cinemas were thinking as they dodged fancy shoes and shuffled through to Inside Out and Ted 2. Local Morning Show hosts were there, the Mayor of Fresno was there, all the press, all the investors in the film, the producers out of Hollywood, everyone was there.
What’s funny is how lost everyone can look at an event like this. Besides the actors and Chris and Travis, no one really has a purpose besides watching the movie.* So, you stand and you talk and try to look like you belong. You do belong, of course–you’re on the list–but to be approved for admittance without purpose is an uneasy kind of belonging. At least for me. I like to have things to do.
*Or taking pictures. No one asks you to take pictures at an event like this–there were plenty of people around who were being paid to do it–but you do it anyway both because you want the memento and because it’s something to do.
Erin and I settled into our seats alongside our friends Nate (who also works with Tremendum) and Megan, and our new friend, Brandon Jones, the film’s sound designer. Brandon’s a great guy and a great talent who, as you’ll discover once you see the movie, was absolutely integral to the movie’s success. The only music in the entire film plays over the end credits, so it was really up to Brandon to design a soundscape that would carry you all the way through the thing without making you once question why there aren’t any strings or guitars telling you how to feel. This is absolutely, perfectly what happens. Nice work, Brandon.
Quick story about Brandon: he just so happens to be tall and good-looking. After the film, he was mobbed by a large group of screaming women who demanded he take a picture with them. The funniest thing about this was that Ryan Shoos, one of the leads of the film, was standing nearby. Completely ignored. Ryan was a good sport about it and even went up to Erin and told her, excitedly, “that’s Brandon Jones over there!”
The movie went over like gangbusters with the audience. Lots of hiding faces behind hands and gripping the seats. Erin, surprisingly, did great with it. She watched it all with eyes open and managed to have a great time despite the film not being her usual bag. I was worried she’d be more like Megan and want to throw up. Seriously, Megan was so out-of-her-mind scared I’m pretty sure she thinks we made a radio show.
The credits were everyone’s favorite part. The movie was made entirely in Fresno by Fresnans and it was just so, so satisfying to clap and applaud for the people who were right there in the room with you. I’ve applauded after a film before, but it’s never been for the benefit of the people who made it. They’re never there. I just enjoy the explosion of joy that can follow a good movie and I like joining celebrations. This was different. This was more like a play. When we applauded, the actors and producers and casting person and, yes, the Assistant Set Decorators got to actually feel the love. Erin and Megan and Nate and I reserved our biggest cheers for Travis’s wife, Amber. Outside of Chris and Travis, I can’t think of anyone else more directly responsible for making The Gallows possible.
The actors were mobbed afterwards. With the exception of Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee and Frank, the spotlight is not something they’ve really had before. Not on this level, certainly. You can already tell they’re pros, but also gracious and sincere in their acceptance of praise. I had a particularly good time catching up with Reese, who is the audience surrogate in the movie and gets his lines cut off hilariously in the editing over and over again. Not that my opinion is anything he should care about, but I assured him it worked for the movie and the character.
The cameras came back out as everyone made the rounds once again for photos. As a special treat, the actual gallows made for the film was reconstructed in the theater lobby. Surrounded by barriers, no one had dared approach it all night. Sensing a great photo op, Chris and Travis just busted down the barriers and started calling people up in all sorts of combinations for pictures with them and the cast and the producers. Like I said, gracious.
By the time the afterparty hit, we were ready to eat. The food was good, but the real treat was the venue. Erin and I are both graduates of Fresno State and one of the more irksome things about our time there was the construction and establishment of the Smittcamp Alumni House, a beautiful, mansion-like building made exclusively for elite scholars, rich university donors, and visiting dignitaries. Or whatever. I never really knew what the Smittcamp Alumni House was for, but I did know that it robbed us students of a whole bunch of parking spaces. Because space. I was never allowed into the building until this very, quite spectacular night.
So, Smittcamp Alumni House, you had my ire. But guess WHAT? You… you’re a pretty nice building. Thanks for hosting us.
Erin and I left the party a little early, at 10:45pm. She had been complimented by Cassidy and several other people on her shoes throughout the night, but beauty comes at a price and I like a wife with feet. Once we’d cleared the threshold of the Smittcamp House, the shoes were off and Erin lost about a foot of height.
Erin was truly in her element the entire night. Not only was it the prettiest she’d felt in a very long time, but it was the first time since losing our jobs last year that she felt like we were part of something professional. You don’t know how much you need to feel part of the world until they kick you out of it.
This movie is a big deal, but more importantly Tremendum is a big deal. Even though we’re only a few hours away from Los Angeles, Fresno is very much its own thing. Hollywood does come here on occasion, but it’s usually to make fun of us. (I’m looking at you, makers of the indie film “Fresno.”) The support we’ve gotten from the community on this is incredible and will allow us to both stick around and do so much more in the future. I’m grateful to be in the middle of all of it. I predict big things.
I went up to the concessions stand with my pink VIP ticket in hand. I stood in line like everyone else for a few seconds before glancing left to see a roped off register with signs reading “Reserved Entrance.” I made my way over.
“Hi,” the nice girl behind the counter said. “What can I get for you?”
“Um, what can I have?”
“Anything you want.”
I looked up at the LED menu. It stretched for miles. Popcorn. Hot Dogs. Ice cream. Sodas. Candy. Nachos. Pretzels. Too many to choose from.
“I’ll take one of everything.”
* * *
I’ve been working with Tremendum Pictures for a couple of months now and in that time I’ve learned one very important thing: this is what I should have been dreaming about all along. A couple of times a week someone will come up to me and say, “Man, how great is it you get to live your dream?” And I always say, “Actually, I’m not. I never dreamed this. I never dared.” Thank goodness someone else did. Or, rather, two someone elses.
Most of my time lately is spent working on a TV show I’m co-creating with Tremendum founders Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, but I’ve also done some work as a production assistant and set designer on Chris and Travis’ movie, The Gallows, coming out July 10 from Blumhouse, New Line, and Warner Bros. I’m in “lucky to be here” mode and that’s not a bad place to be.
Friday evening, myself, Chris, Travis, and Production Associate Nate Healy piled into a car and drove down from Fresno to Long Beach for the final test screening of The Gallows. Unlike past test screenings, Chris and Travis, the writer-directors, weren’t scrambling at the last minute and staying up all night to make changes. Friday night was a night for relaxing, refusing the free drinks the hotel offered us when they found out what we were in town for (all four of us are Mormon), and playing board games until way too late. I don’t think “relax” has been part of Chris and Travis’ vocabulary lately. It was on that Friday night.
The next morning, we got up, ate a hotel breakfast we probably should have passed on (I understand I did well in refusing the pancakes), and made our way over to the local Edwards 26 where we watched the movie through once to make sure there weren’t any picture or sound glitches. The movie’s sound designer, Brandon Jones, spent the entire test for the test screening jumping around to different seats in the auditorium to make sure everything sounded right from all angles.
The movie checked out and we had some downtime before the screening, so we busted out the board game BANG! and played in the open air admist the mall shops while waiting for lunch. The six of us (we were joined by another Tremendum associate, Rich Mirelez, just after the test for the test screening) drew some attention from an old man who stopped, hovered, and stared at the game for a little while in bewilderment before moving on.
At lunch we were joined by Dave Neustadter of New Line Cinemas, one of the producers on The Gallows. He picked up the tab. The big perk of these trips is that once we’re there we don’t pay for a thing. Normally, I’d try to refuse such kindness as I prefer to pay my own way, but this is just part of the deal. Besides, I figure New Line probably has more money than me. The Hobbits have been good to them.
After lunch, we walked over to the theater to see a big crowd out front, waiting to get in. The actual test screening is not managed by the studio itself, but by a third party company who recruits, organizes, and runs the whole show. They did a great job stacking the audience with the under 21 crowd, most of them big horror fans.
Soon, the big brass filed in, including studio heads from both Blumhouse and New Line. Dean Schnider, one of the producers on The Gallows and the guy who discovered Chris and Travis in the first place, introduced me to his boss as the writer of Tremendum’s next project. Not gonna lie, that was pretty cool.
As VIPs, we didn’t get wanded going in (they’re lucky I forgot my bomb at home) and we got our pick of goodies from the concessions stand. I asked for “One of everything” as a joke and quickly backed off of that with a laugh. Instead, I got a small popcorn, milk duds, and a Dasani water. Because I am pretentious and oh-so-Hollywood now. Don’t talk to me.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about actual Hollywood people so far: they’re pretty cool. Rather than the all-black clad, slicked back hair, sunglasses, and blue tooth headset types you might expect, they’re a pretty casual crowd dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and three-day-old scruff for the most part. If they’re feeling really fancy, they might toss on a plain button down shirt, open at the collar. They are excited, thoughtful, and, yeah, they cuss a lot. (Well, a lot for me. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said the F Word, so my barometer might be a little different than the average person.) This all squares with my memories of the last time Hollywood invaded my life, back when my family was on Rescue 911. As Nate said as we drove back from the trip: “They’re just people.”
* * *
The Gallows synopsis on IMDB:
20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – but soon discover that some things are better left alone.
* * *
Watching The Gallows with a crowd is the best possible experience. The energy coming off the audience was insane and, even though this was my fourth time seeing it, it was my favorite viewing of the movie without question. People were FREAKED OUT. This movie is intense, suspenseful, funny, emotionally involving, surprising, and just flat out SCARY.
Afterwards, Travis talked to the crew filming the audience with night vision cameras about how it went and was told that they got the best reactions they’d ever seen. Travis asked if this was their first time doing this sort of thing. He was assured it was far, far from the first time.
The theater was dead silent as questionnaires were handed out and the audience put their opinion of the move in writing. This is what were all waiting for. Does the movie work or not? You can’t argue with black and white.
While a bunch of strangers held their fates in their hands, Chris and Travis went from producer to producer, to studio head to studio head, taking in their notes and petitions for last minute changes. In two weeks, The Gallows will be submitted to the MPAA for a rating (going for a PG-13), and that means Chris and Travis only have that long to finalize the picture.
After all the questionnaires were filled out, a select group of people were asked to stick around for a focus group to offer up a more detailed analysis of the movie with questions like “Which scene did you like best?” and “Where would you rate the movie on a 1-to-5 scale?” Chris and Travis were on edge the entire time, just waiting for either worst fears to be realized or to have it confirmed they’d sealed the deal.
When the focus group finished, the numbers on the questionnaires came back. The real test is in the numbers. A movie like this, it’s all about word-of-mouth and if the audience doesn’t go for it, then you’re sunk. If The Gallows could hit a certain benchmark, then it would be in the same league as Blumhouse and New Line’s successful horror films like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and The Conjuring.
The numbers were read off.
The Gallows doubled the benchmark. The focus group didn’t lie and everyone’s instincts about it were validated. People love this movie.
Everybody went nuts. Dave Neustadter turned around, cocked his arm back, and gave me the single hardest high five I’ve ever received in my life. He did the same with Brandon and Rich. No exaggeration, a full ten minutes later, Brandon turned to me and asked if my hand was still hurting like his. It absolutely was.
Everyone gathered around Chris and Travis to congratulate them. I got a little fanboy thrill as, at one point, I was in a circle of people that included Couper Samuelson, one of the producers on the Oscar-winning Whiplash; the head of Blumhouse, Jason Blum; and the head of New Line (and writer of one of my favorite films, Frequency), Toby Emmerich. I was basically invisible, but it was a pleasure to be there and hear these guys express their excitement for something my friends had created.
After everybody slapped backs, a few of the producers and the rest of us stuck around for some dinner. Again, New Line paid, but by then I was so full of popcorn and candy that would have been better eaten by a much, much younger version of myself that all I had was a cup of soup.
This might have been my favorite part of the day. Everyone was in a great mood and just reveled in the fun that comes from seeing years of hard work come to fruition and paying off in spectacular fashion. These people really celebrate success, and that’s just not something I think we do enough of in the 9-to-5 world. I loved it. I loved that even though a lot of these guys have been doing this for a while, they still couldn’t help but be as giddy as those of us for whom this is all new.
Travis teared up a little at the table as he reflected on going from losing everything after being taken advantage of in a bad business deal, to winning on an episode of Wipeout in a desperate attempt to make some money, to meeting Chris, filming The Gallows, and then selling the movie. Theirs is the ultimate underdog story. Chris and Travis are a couple of nobodies from Fresno who have been scraping pennies together and working all hours of the day for the past four years to live this insane dream. If any two guys deserve success, it’s these guys.
I can’t help but be grateful that I get to be a part of any of this. I feel like I’ve been scooped up from the muck of unemployment, set high on the table, and asked to just partake of blessings I’m not totally sure I deserve. The time is coming fast for me to prove my worth in a more substantial way, and that’s great. That’s fantastic. I want that. I’m all in.
And I can’t friggin’ wait for July 10th.
Congrats, Chris and Travis. It’s not much longer now.
Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.
Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.
Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.
In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.
I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.
Here we go. The following is a true story:
* * *
No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.
A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.
Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.
It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.
Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.
It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.
Neither did the guns.
The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.
“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”
Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.
Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.
The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.
Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.
Display guns are never loaded.
The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.
Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.
The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.