Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Last Rung

Stephen King is the Bob Dylan of novelists. Like Dylan, he is ridiculously prolific (over 50 books for King, over 500 songs for Dylan). Like Bob, he flails around a bit at times but, far more often than the rest of us, King hits the little red dot on the dartboard. Sometimes the dude's even perfect.

The first taste I had of King was through TV ads for The Shining. I wasn't much older than the boy in the movie, Danny, when I saw that elevator’s payload of blood rush at me in slow-mo. I remember Mom saying, "Ah, that’s just Kool-aid". (Good thing the director, Stanley Kubrick, didn't hear because he took a year to make sure that shot didn't look like Kool-aid.) I didn't get to see the movie, of course, (or the other one I really wanted to see in 1980: Neil Diamond's Jazz Singer) and back then, if you missed a movie in the theaters, that was all she wrote.

Four years later, though, a fellow Navy buddy handed my father (also named Stephen) a copy of The Shining novel. Not being a spy novel or theology, it sat on his shelf until I grabbed it. The night I started The Shining, my parents attended a shindig in Honolulu Bay. While they welcomed a Spanish armada and my dad set up a golf date with Pat Morita, I was into something every bit as exciting and full of promise.

They had dropped us off at the neighbors' house where, earlier, their hyperactive son, Chad, threw a backyard sprinkler high in the air. After it landed on the top of my head, I decided it was time to go inside and read. As Chad's dad watched Magnum P.I., I found a comfortable spot in a corner of the living room. I pried the paperback open, careful not to break its spine.

The opening scene was Jack Torrance interviewing with the Overlook hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman. In the opening line Jack thinks that Ullman is 'officious'. I marked my place with a finger tip and asked Chad's mom and dad what ‘officious’ meant. They told me to use it in a sentence. "Jack Torrance thought," I read aloud, "officious little prick." They took my book.

That one mystifying sentence was all the Stephen King I got to read for years. It had to tide me over until I was in high school. And even then, my parents were concerned about my love for these banal, nonsensical horror books. The deal they begrudgingly made was that I could read him as long as I read five normal books per King novel.

I couldn’t help but adore all that early King stuff. No matter how horrific his stories got, Stephen King was always big on creating human characters, fears and struggles. He was just as likely to show people devoured by monsters as he was to show you how hard it is shake a bad reputation, how soul-sucking it is working for a bad boss or how swampy and treacherous were the waters of human love and sexuality.

When I first read "The Last Rung on the Ladder" I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite story in the Night Shift collection. I was far more blown away by "Quitters Inc." (about a mob-run program for people who want to quit smoking), "Children of the Corn", and the other story about treacherous heights, "The Ledge". The quiet, tragic brother-sister story of "Last Rung" didn’t really leave much of an impression, at least consciously. I was only sixteen. I wanted a sister but didn’t have one. It would be another twenty years before I had my daughter Lilly and my son Jack. Nevertheless, that sad, beautiful story was inside me all those years and, when I recently decided to adapt a Stephen King story into an animated short, I thought about "Last Rung". I couldn't remember its name or much of what happened in it, but I knew there was something there for me. I found it in my tattered copy of Night Shift. I reread it and I bawled. I hoped it was one the stories that King was currently making available as a Dollar Baby project. It was.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

White Wedding

Minutes before I left the Super 8 Motel to head over to Tim’s wedding, my Uncle Bud and I spent up precious time exchanging texts. Lilly had just thrown up again and it was now only a matter of hours until she was supposed to be a flower girl. I gave Bud updates on her condition and he gave me Billy Idol lyrics. “Hope she feels better. Poor baby. BTW, it’s a nice day for a white wedding”.

And it was a nice day, an incredible day, a joyful day. As the song says: “a nice day to start again.” Tim and Kelita began their journey together as husband and wife. Two familes joined together. Many of us were introduced to unfamiliar traditions (the ceremony was full of Jewish symbolism and meaning). Family members patched things up with each other or at least began the process. Some of us met for the first time. I got to look into the blue eyes of my preemie niece, Ainsley, on her first big outing and begin the process of trying to make her think I’m cool.

After Bud’s Billy Idol text, I handed my daughter off to Aunt Merry, who got Lilly’s hair untangled and her fever cooled with meds, TLC and a cool bath. It officially broke when Lilly’s cousin Stella arrived to cheer her up. Lilly rode over to the Country Club, got in her dress (a purple/white mini version of Kelita’s), got her hair done and her fancy shoes on. I cried when I saw my little princess, knowing that someday I’ll be giving her away in marriage. I kind of hate that fact. When I can’t get a moment to myself, though, it sounds okay.

I’m a private guy and a hermit but I was surprised at how heavenly it was to be smacked right into the middle of my big, crazy family. Not a damn moment to myself all weekend but who cared? Lilly and I were loved and in love and it was all perfectly imperfect. A nice day to start again.

To Tim and Kelita! May your marriage be long and joyous!

And here's the trailer for my upcoming short John Harry's Bride:

(Lilly photo by Wendee Schmitke)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting Caught in the Act


That what it’s like to finally release a film. Dylan once said (bet I’m one of many blogging that phrase today), “If they could see my thoughts, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine”. Releasing one of your creations is yanking the “if” out of the hypothesis. They really do see your thoughts now. And some in that angry mob are in a head-hunting mood. Good friggin' luck.

Some of them don’t know what to think of your film. They have no idea what the hell they just watched.

Some don’t ever get around to watching it. They’re more interested in the Idea of it than the actual It.

Some envy it. Or at least you hope they do.

Some are freaked out. They assume that the darkness in your story wasn’t gotten at by way of talent. You aren’t imaginative. You’re just messed up.

Some are excited by it.

Some think it’s so good that they don’t need to bother telling you.

Some feel sorry for you and your crapass "art" and make up compliments so you don't suicide yourself.

A teeny, tiny handful of them get it. And that's a best-case-scenario.

There are never enough nice comments for your Sarlacc pit of a needy inner performer, though. There will always be enough silence and criticism for you to pick a sentence or a silence and obsess about it. And when you’re really in bad space you’ll even see hidden criticisms in the most sincere encouragement.

Your heart (if not your mind) goes back to times when you were younger and you "came out" for the world and got the big fat thumbs-down…

Your heart remembers a failed skit in Drama class, where no matter how much you and Eric tried to improv your way onward, one of you just couldn’t remember your lines. You threw your hands up and quit in front of a live audience.

Your heart remembers a pageant you were in and how secretly proud you were. Then some dude told you how the judges were so desperate for entrants that they had to scrape the barrel and settle for guys like you. You and Jimmy and Frank.

Your heart remembers your first church camp. Where you picked a Great White song for the lip-synch contest. The whole amphitheater loved Matt Mintz & the Broom Boys! You slid across the stage and shredded your knees and you didn’t care. The next day, though, the oxymoronically-named Les Moore got up and read the sexual innuendos that you and Pastor Bob's son Brock hadn’t even noticed. Oops. People scooted away from you in case the lightning bolt was a big one. You felt like you were sinking as Les Moore quote Great White. “She was the best lick in town," he read with a heavy heart.

You remember all those messy moments of fame and shame and the two so intertwined you didn’t know which was which, was end was up.

You drag yourself to your keyboard.

You start the next film.


(Here’s an old gospel song I learned in 5 minutes and recorded in one take, In My Time of Dyin’:)!/pages/Matt-Mintz-Music/118706994836181


Monday, January 31, 2011

The Dreadful Power of the Self-Imposed Deadline

I have a problem finishing things. I like to read twenty books at the same time and alternate between movies (fifteen minutes of Touch of Evil, twenty minutes of Fargo, five minutes of 27 Dresses). Not finishing books and movies isn't much of a problem, of course. I can take my own sweet time or I can tell my inner perfectionist to 'bite it' and even leave a book or movie unfinished forever.

But there's something else I do that looks similar but is serious. I have start projects and abandon them before their done. Projects that mean a ton to me, that I have worked hard on, that I have tortured my friends and family by being too chatty about. I've gotten quite a ways into them and then ditched them. I've left them shelved and blithely moved onto the next idea. I'm always working on something but nothing ever gets finished.

No one really sees what I can do. No one really sees what I believe. No one hears the thoughts inside my beautifully messed-up head. No one really sees my heart because nothing ever gets finished. Trailers get posted. Excerpts are shared. But nothing is ever finished.

You won't know this until March 1st rolls around but mark my words: starting now, I finish my projects. My current one, Little Wing, is due in one month. Jeez! One month and I have so much left to do: two more screenplay pages to animate, all the voice acting (including the terrifying idea of actually getting Lilly to cooperate for more than one minutes at a time). The score needs to be finished, the film needs to be edited. Then there are several steps just to get the final product exported and posted on the internet. One month to do all those things.

And the beauty is: that deadline, that March 1st deadline? I set that. I don't have a boss. Unless you count my wife, Kristen, who will stab me in the mouth if I don't have a finished product on March 1st. I set that deadline and I'm busting my ass to make and I will make it. Making that deadline means that I've been working on Little Wing six days a week. It means that most of those days start somewhere between 3:30 am and 5:00 am and go until the day's quota (two shots) is filled.

I love that I respect my bossless, self-imposed deadline so much that I'm getting up three hours before the sun comes up. I like Little Wing, its characters, its images, its music, etc. but right now, even more than Little Wing, I love my deadline. It's dreadful that I have to release whatever I have on that date and it's great too. On March 1st, I will be done. I will have finished something. I will start on something else and will be setting a whole new dreadful deadline.

On March 1st, I officially become a dreamer who DOES. Just you watch me. I'm gonna...

Here's more about Little Wing:


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trailer Tuesday

Here it is, the trailer for Santa Goes to Hell. Not only delayed because I left it in California before our New Jersey trip but postponed another week because a blizzard kicked our butts the day before we were to fly home and kept us there another week. Then delayed another week because I have been sick ever since and mostly just 'cause I suck.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa Goes to Hell!

I worked all week on the trailer for my upcoming animated short. I even woke at 1:30 a.m. the night before we left for New Jersey so I could finish it and post it with this blog in time for Christmas. See, as important as artistic quality is, making deadlines and coming in under budget is just as important to many great film-makers: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Corman and his protege's (people like Scorsese, DePalma, Demme)

Even though I'm not a working film-maker yet I admire their respect for the practical, work-ethic side of show business. I did make my self-imposed deadline BUT the trailer is on a flash drive...on my home. Hooray for moral victories, even when they're in California and you're in Jersey.

The idea for Santa Goes to Hell came when my wife posted Facebook pics of me playing Santa at her elementary school and said that the teachers were already requesting me for next year. I said, "There's no way in hell" and my Uncle Bud posted, "There's your next story: Santa Goes to Hell". I knew right away there was a funny, quirky Something in that idea, a story that I wanted to tell.

"What did Santa do to get sent to hell?" I asked myself. "Oh, that's easy. Same reason some think my handbasket and I are headed there too. He pissed the conservatives off." In my story, Santa gets damned to hell for taking the focus off Jesus and his followers. Shame, shame, shame.

Of course, Jesus is (by definition) the "reason for the season" but does that mean that the religion that takes his name is too? Is Christian merchandise also the reason for the season? How about preaching? Evangelizing Christmas-and-Easter church-goers and the rest of the lost? Hmmm.

Here's an excerpt from my work-in-progress script where I play with some of my questions, the kind that make me occasionally wonder if I'm going to hell.


After explaining that there's no such thing as a Naughty List, Santa Claus gives Satan his presents, no strings attached.

Satan: So what do I owe you for the, uh, unconditional love? How much that put you out?

Santa Claus (chuckling): You don't owe me anything.

Satan: Right. Okay. What kind of strings you got attached here?

Santa Claus: No strings, Satan.

Satan: It's cool. I'm cool with it. What do I gotta sit through? Little presentation? Some long-winded speech?

Santa Claus: How about a 'long' friendship?

Satan: Right. 'Friendship'. So, like, I call a certain amount of times a day? Couple texts an hour. Skype on Sundays.

Santa Claus: To be my friend, just 'do as thou wilt'.

Satan: Hm. That's interesting, man. That''s...

Satan gets choked up. His lip quivers. A few tears pop out.


There you go. Bet you didn't know the secret to friendship lay in the words of Anton Levay: Do as thou wilt.

Happy holidays to you all!

May they be new and old at the same time...


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To Come Home

I have been working on an animated short called Little Wing. All animation, however rudimentary, is incredibly time-consuming so it's easy to fall out of love with a cartoon before it's even half finished. Three weeks into this project, though, my passion was renewed when one of my characters burst into song (in my imagination, of course). Little Wing was now a musical. I'd had no idea.

The best thing about me making a musical is that I don't like musicals. Even the few I do enjoy (Nightmare Before Christmas, Moulin Rouge) annoy me at times as the plot keeps getting put on pause for what I feel are too many overlong songs. Little Wing: Episode 1 will have three or four songs, each between thirty seconds and one minute in length. So, even though the songs are extremely important, hopefully they don't overstay their welcome.

Here is the final sequence of Episode 1. It the song 'To Come Home'. This being a work in progress, there are a couple shots (taken from 'The Green Mile') that haven't been drawn yet. I decided to leave them as stills, though, to give you an idea of how I create.

Look for the shooting star at the end and how it works with the tail end of the song.