Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Comments Are Disabled

Someone asked me why I disabled the comments.

A) I don't want anyone I bad-mouthed able to defend themselves.

B) Blog comments are usually arguments (who gives a shit), observations (who gives a shit), or compliments (who gives a shit).

Interview With Robinson Devor

This was originally featured on the YOUR FLESH website.

'After I Burned Down The Studio, I Was Thirsty, And An African Man Does Not Take Up Lindy Dancing For The Sake Of Boasting' An Interview with Robinson Devor

Independent film is becoming increasingly marginalized, there's not much wiggle-room between mumblecore gunk wherein a bunch of self-absorbed young people that end up having to take a road trip for some reason are shot with the visual pizzazz of pointing a handicam at your neighbor or the slicker ’n' slick glossy-as-all-git-out product of an ambitious eye-on-the-prizer, looking to stick their spit-shined shoe in the door so they can go on and make the same kind of big budget vapor every other big-budget buttlip turns out. Top it off with a dollop of shitty economy, add a dash of an increasingly stupid public, a few scoops of shrinking avenues for distribution, a healthy spoonful of industry that is on its way to the glue factory, and stir it with more competition than ever. The world is tough for hard-to-market films, if they're even made at all; their most likely destination is getting consigned to the dust.

That's why it’s great to see guys like Robinson Devor working, quietly making mysterious little masterpieces—intelligent and accessible films that are unlike anything else being made today.

I first saw Devor's work when I rented the bizarre little movie (Devor describes it as "somewhere between propaganda and documentary") Angelyne co-directed with Michael Guccione (no relation to the pinky-ringed sleaze merchants). The movie remains obscure (as of 3.20.2009 it isn't even listed on the internet movie database), but it is well worth seeking out because of its bewildering, unique subject. Angelyne—who makes the typical Russ Meyer heroine look like a Popeye's girlfriend—is a well-nigh inscrutable Los Angeles based billboard queen and performance artist du jour with a shatterproof facade. The movie managed a VHS (remember those?) release, which did surprisingly well for the limited half-hour documentary market. I dug it, so does most everyone that saw it—including one Werner Herzog, who had been planning his own Angelyne doc.

After this mini-masterpiece, Devor did a bootlegger’s turn with his excellent adaptation of Charles Willeford's The Woman Chaser, featuring a superlative performance by Patrick Warburton as a solipsistic, unintentionally hilarious sociopath. Warburton plays Richard Hudson, a beefy self-centered lug that is not only erudite about art history, but isn't above kicking a wayward employee square in the ass. The movie is funny, frightening and does justice to Willeford's, deceptively deadpan tone. I saw it in a packed theater and remember the general vibe being an audience really loving it, but critical reception was mixed, it was never the breakout hit it deserved to be, and the DVD release was botched.

On the basis of The Woman Chaser, Variety named Devor one of “10 Directors To Watch” in 2000, even though their own critic/descendent of slave-owners Godfrey Cheshire, called the picture "an unoriginal would-be comedy," that feels "like a student film."i Cheshire, of course, is totally and completely wrong, there aren't many characters like Hudson in filmdom (when was the last time you heard a line like; "actually, their faces would probably look the same way if they were really watching a body on fire"?), Hudson's bizarre, nihilist B movie-within-a-movie he directs is unlike anything ever made, and the film's production values (you want to give a production manager a heart attack? Combine "low budget" with "period piece") are great. The movie, with its gorgeous, black and white photography, never looks or feels cheap. It’s smart, funny, bent, and anchored by terrific performances, so it wouldn't matter anyway.

Devor's next effort was Police Beat, an entry in the not-especially-crowded genre of episodic Malickesque noirs about lovesick Senegalese police officers in Seattle all narrated in the Wolof dialect. The movie doesn't open with a drug deal gone horribly awry, or a world-weary detective ducking under yellow tape to investigate a horrendous crime. Instead, after a montage of police code and abbreviations, there is the sound of water serenely lapping on the shore, and then a fade into a barefoot dead body floating in the tide, as a cop stares at it while recalling his absent girlfriend in subtitled lovelorn Wolof. He’s a beat cop, patrolling Seattle on his bike, he is spends most of his time by himself, but sometime he is joined by another police officer, who is having an increasingly intense relationship with a prostitute.

The movie doesn't end with cuffs going on a crime lord, a mansion exploding, or a cop putting a hollowpoint through the head of the perp that killed his partner, instead we get a tire swing, creaking like a noose in a suburban backyard. Our narrator and hero is known as Z, (his last name, never mentioned in the movie is, 'Kingshasha'—at least that is the best I could come up with off squinting at his nametag on my cheap television) is paranoid over his girlfriend taking a camping trip with a male companion and not returning his calls, interjecting his elliptical and poetic thoughts, intercut with real-life episodes of everyday human weirdness culled from real Seattle Police reports.

Experimental structure? Sun dappled exteriors? Longing narrated reveries and magic hour seas? Documented surreal incidents, intercut with imagined interpretations of scenes the Officer wasn't there to witness? A Police Officer reviewed the film, and according to Devor "he found it a bit too arty."

The movie marked Devor's first collaboration with cinematographer Sean Kirby, who captures all the verdant greens and blues of the northwest, injecting it a real sense of urban landscape that's rare in contemporary American film. For Devor "thinking and dreaming in Seattle is a great allure... I probably have a bit more autonomy to try strange things in Seattle. Not sure if that could happen as much in LA."

I asked Devor what fortuitous circumstances allowed the two to meet? "Sean appeared beside me in a bar one day in Seattle. he was very nice and persistent and to this day has the best attitude of any on-set collaborator I have worked with. He knows I will bend over backward to let light dictate a story. In return, I provide him with three lights to work with." Devor’s films have all been low budget, but they're filmed enough flair and flourish it never feels like it. I ask if he has had many brushes with mainstream, studio Hollywood. "A few. I have been snatched up and dropped by all the major agencies. We've worked with a few notable producers, too. Some things are in the works, still. Other things have crumbled in a cloud of development dust."

Police Beat also marked Devor's first collaboration with writer Charles Mudede, whose column of the same name provided much of the interludes in Devor's film: "Charles Mudede is a gifted cerebral being. He is also an exceptional clown. I have nothing but fun working with him, which we do often." Here's a sample of the poetry of the almost-mundane from Mudede's Police Beat column (this particular snippet is from 12.19.2006) "And whereas pity is always low-down, always ignoble, hate has the honor of sharking the same emotional realm and register as love." What is the subject being rhapsodized about? …A man in a wheelchair that assaulted his caregiver and a nurse. The same kind of incident featured in the film, no big busts, chases, or emotional and action crescendos, but the everyday bubbles of people sometimes doing things that aren't allowed.

All these collaborators hopped on-board for Devor's next, and most widely seen film, ZOO, an impressionistic documentary on the sad case of a man, referred to by his internet nickname, “Mr. Hands” who died after having anal-intercourse with a horse. The story became the most-read in the Seattle Times in 2005 (in fact, three of the most-read stories in the top 10 involved the case) mostly as a grotesque curiosity and/or punchline. The movie isn't a simple expose, but is an elegant series of mesmerizing recreations over audio recordings from some of the participants. Devor found the Zoophiles involved in the case "to be like any other person—unique yet universal." I was struck by many of the reviews saying how Devor was sympathetic to the Zoofiles, like that fundamental and positive human quality was now something to behold with pity and disgust.

Hey Devor, what was your approach? Objectivity? Sympathy? "Charles thinks the movie is about community, but I actually believe the movie is about love, and its elastic, elusive and ephemeral qualities." I thought the movie, with its nearly fetishistic and eroticized nature photography, was about the insoluble sexual urge, oozing out of the deepest and primordial currents of the human psyche.

The documentary has its most structurally unusual moment when actor Michael J. Minard, who plays the roll of "Cop #1," sits and talks to the camera about his own audition for a part in ZOO, and his own first-hand experiences with death. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the scene's inclusion, and asked Devor about it: "Just to say that, hey, a man died. Don't forget that first. And some people felt awful because they couldn't save him. Don't forget what that must have been like, because they tried." (Look up "Mr. Hands" on Youtube and the first hit you get is a bunch of grinning frat boys screaming and laughing in disgust as they watch a man dying painfully). Given the sensationalistic subject the film’s hypnotic approach, I asked Devor if widely praised documentarian Errol Morris was much of an influence: "He's the boss. Phillip Glass, lyrical visuals plus a great, patient and unobtrusive ear. Big influence." The movie humanizes the participants, and I was curious what they thought of it "I believe they thought it was fair. But they were hoping for a 60 Minutes approach." Instead, they got a movie that's like watching a painting while they get to explain themselves to you personally and privately. It’s too bad Devor abandoned his original title, In The Forest There Is Every Kind Of Bird.

Devor's films are full of striking compositions and creative use of light. Angelyne has a striking interlude with a man swinging on workout rings on an LA beach, there's a diver splashing into a pool filmed from under the water in The Woman Chaser (a shot that only last a second and predates Bill Viola's Five Angeles For The Millennium), Z, on the very edge of exposure, standing on the cement staircase that leads into the ocean in Police Beat, a frantic man running across a freshly plowed field in Zoo, his footsteps trailing like a contrail on his path to an overpowering horizon.... I asked Devor if he had any training in photography. "Not really," he replied.

Already, Devors movies have left some indelible moments, Joe Durrenberger, as forgotten actor Chet Wilson, sinking his foot into a muddy trench during his impromptu audition, then smiling beatifically when he actually sees the film-within-a-film he starred in, A man's disturbing blank happiness as he calmly explains why he tore a goose's head off in Police Beat, Mount St. Helens perfectly framed though a window in ZOO. I asked Devor what he has coming up. He replied that he’s still working on North American, which he shot for twenty five thousand dollars with a crew of 10 people. "It's about a commercial airline pilot who flees from God into the Seattle Park system. Inspired by an Air Canada Pilot who heard the voice of God mid-flight and had to make an emergency landing." Devor's summary reminds me of Officer Z in Police Beat, happily pretending to be a pilot in the cockpit of a derelict airplane—"relax, and nobody will die," he says cheerfully). The movie "will be married to some essayistic elements dealing with Frederik Olmsted and his ideas on public space, as well as his look on racism in the old south." It’s nice to see a filmmaker using words like "essayistic," "public space" and "Frederik Olmsted" and the lack of words like "hitman," "video game" or "remake."

The b-b-big news is Devor's next feature is an adaptation of quintessential early 20th Century drifter Jack Black's memoirs, You Can't Win, which he will begin prepping soon. Devor plans to go with a less impressionistic style. "I think there will be a bit more rigorous visual storytelling, though not sure if I would call it stylized... It's going to be great. Tough to adapt such a dense sprawling book, but it will be my biggest film—2.5 million budget. Shooting in Northwest... Maybe marrying some Chinese ghost story elements to the tale, but boy that book speaks for itself."

And how. For those readers not familiar with William S. Burrough's favorite book, You Can't Win, it’s Mr. Black's memoirs as a turn of the century hobo turned minor-league criminal and opium addict. Filled with musings on futility and regret, written with a palatable sense of wistfulness and clear-eyed lucidity (Black later, allegedly committed suicide via drowning) and for my money (which admittedly, is very little) Burroughs can't touch it with a ten foot pole.

A friend of mine worked for former art house darling David Gordon Green (well before Green made what I found to be a drug-themed snoozer disturbingly bereft of humor - The Pineapple Express - his remarks carried a bit more heft) what kind of movies he likes to see. Green told him that if he was gonna pony-up some hard-earned independent film dough to catch a flick, he just wanted to see shit blow up. I shared this with Devor, who I have a hard time picturing eating buttered popcorn while watching Jason Statham dropkicking anonymous henchman into the great exploding beyond, and asked him what he likes to see when goes out to the movies... "Not that. I want to see reeds moving in unison with the wind."

I am reminded of a probably apocryphal story about the Hollywood suits offering F.W. Murnau as much money as necessary, to take as much time as he needed, to shoot whatever he wanted, the result being his adaptation of Hermann Sudermann’s 1929, Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans, a handsome frontrunner for the best film of all time. I asked Devor, if given the same deal, what he'd want to do: The Journal Of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen. If only a deep-pocketed Patron would hand Devor, Kirby and Mudede an Imax camera and a burlap sack full of gold bullion, if only to see "clappers summon the black, slow elephant of eternity into the skies" in the local moviehouse.

Drunks With Guns Interview

This was originally written for/published by Z-GUN magazine.

FUCK OFF AND DIE YOU WORTHLESS LITTLE FAGGOT
An Interview with Mike Doskocil of Drunks With Guns

"I do root for the thieves in life. And the con men. Seemed like every year some fool would buy the St. Louis arch. Ha. Idiots. Almost as funny as that one drunk idiot would try to swim the Mississippi every year. And drown. You can't swim that river. Not after the Missouri flows into it. Ask Tim Buckley. The current has undertows that'd take down an empty barge - that's why they gotta tie 'em together when they're empty. Idiots. I seen trees as big around as a bus get sucked under and pop out of the water during flood season like a toy boat in a bathtub. Rushing downstream at thirty knots. We used to sit on the banks in the summer, turn up the car stereo (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, mostly) and drink beer. Found a body one night. It musta been in the water for months, 'cause it looked more like a log. Only way you could tell was by the pants. Pants on a log. Yep..."

I'm sitting in a rented sedan on a cold side street in Columbus Ohio, with Mike Doskocil of the late Drunks With Guns. I’m parked between two semi-trailers and next to a gray snowbank, listening to the cars whizzing through the slush a half-block away. I'm working on a longneck, and Doskocil pops the tab on a fresh tallboy. The inside of the car smells like beer. I wipe foam off my upper lip and ask if Wilko Johnson was an influence on his guitar playing.
"Nope," Mike tells me. He takes a big gulp, looks out the window, and continues, "the guitar sound was just a Les Paul Hondo copy - the headstock said 'Hard-o' - going through one of those box looking Crate 70's solid state 1X12" amps. No pedals. No nothing. And we'd tune down as low as the strings'd go before going slack."
There you have it, all it took was a single drumkit, a downtuned bass, a knockoff guitar going through a lone footlong speaker attached to a budget amp, and they were off to the races. Of course, the whole shebang was topped off with a set of pipes so obnoxious that it would send even the most hardened aficionado of noisey antisocial scuzz scurrying from the speakers with his pointer fingers jammed brain-deep into his earholes.

The general consensus amongst those disturbed enough to be familiar with Drunks With Guns in the first place, falls into three general camps. The first camp figures that the Drunks With Guns must be a clan of drunken, inbred, shitkicking Neolithic throwbacks – not to mention card carrying members of every hate group under the sun - that spend their nights (they sure as shit don’t work during the day) hooting and hollering and speeding around in a rusty approximation of a pickup truck while swilling moonshine from ceramic jugs looking for anyone that looks like they attended college so they can beat them within an inch of their life. Furthermore, only dyed in the wool masochists listen to their records, and only when they can no longer get their kicks slamming their scarred penises onto a hot stovetops while gouging swastikas in their chests with rusty apple corers.
The second camp figures that the Drunks are a quasi-novelty that sounds like Flipper caught in Godzilla’s slipstream, all semi-comprehensible antisocial verbiage belted out over a guitar that sounds the way burning plastic smells. The lack of fidelity is so ghastly and the sheer aggression is so one-dimensional that they would be a low rent unfunny joke if the lyrics - a psychopathic rendition of audio-fied redneck id - didn’t sound so convincing.
The third camp, the ones that have their thinking caps on tightest, know that bigger acts will get more ink, flash in the pans will come and go, but for the tried & true connoisseur of aural scum, Drunks With Guns are looked at with the kind of deep reverence usually reserved for the most hallowed of Saints in the most rigorous religious sects. It’s a difficult spot of real estate to lay claim to, and it’s a thankless path to walk, but luckily for us, some brave souls try their hands at it. With the exception of a very precious few (Fang have held up like a grass hut in Krakatoa, and even the almighty Stick Men With Ray Guns sound like a quaint little southern rock outfit if you care to a/b ‘em to the Drunks) not many could hold a candle to the repellent swagger of Doskocil & company in their prime. To wit; The Drunks are the bee’s knees.

Lyrically, the Drunks sound like the transcript of a lost cause’s psych evaluation. Take “I Got The Gun”… Doskocil (or his alter ego, or another character altogether) goes to the drag races (“Sunday! Sunday!” he helpfully intones) at the Keil Auditorium, while “fucked up on beer and drugs” and takes time to “give drugs to little kids, hanging out at the playground.” This doesn’t sound like The Fugs, trying to freak out some squares and ruffle a few Madison Ave. types’ feathers - this sounds like a monolog on the tail end of a looooooong and scary bender. The narrator also tells us “now, I got the gun – bitch!” and that “we’re gonna have some fun, whore!” He mentions something about a girl in a blue bikini (that I can’t quite make out, but I doubt it is polite), before reminding us that “now, I got the gun!” The song collapses and it sounds like “beer and…” What did he say? Was it, “is for”? “Porn”? “Bars”? Then the final yell of, “GET ME DRUNK!” followed by the sound of snoring over feedback. Musically, it’s a lurching arrogant beat that barges around in a lazy seasick wobble. This spew is interjected with Doskocil (or is it someone else?) occasionally interjecting dark, but near incomprehensible sentiments, agreeing with the main vocalist with lascivious “yeahs” and some soul that deserves a big tax-free mansion on the hill with a butler serving cold pitchers of ice tea; making the sound of speeding racecars with their mouth. You take your Dylan records, smartypants – I’ve only got so much money and so much time, and I’d much rather spend the later listening to this. Any dimwit can spew stream of conscious guff and sound halfway acceptable, and some of the more gullible amongst us will mistake it for profundity, but the Drunks were going out on a limb with that one, and they knocked it out of the park.

Drunks With Guns were preoccupied with beer. Their first singles were released on “Cheap Beer Records”. Empty beer cans surround them in photos, like the cloud of filth that envelops Pigpen. “A Beer” is the second-closest thing to an epic to spring from their pens (their actual epic, the mudfuck supreme “Wonderful Subdivision”, I’ll get to later), and it consists of Dosckocil repeating “A Beer” in different pronunciations, enunciations, and variations, until the individual syllables becomes just, well, noise. “A Beer” becomes “A Bar” (as in, “the camper was eating a honey and peanut butter sandwich when he got mauled by a bar”), which morphs into “My Ear”, then to “My Hair”, the song putters out, starts up with a blast of trebly guitar fills, and Dosckocil reminds us “I’m talkin’ about beer!” before puttering off again, and the song seems to arbitrarily end. Kaput. If you think it’s easy to write a song this with the overlap of simple/genius being that big, try it sometime.

It would be easy to conclude the Drunks With Guns were a bunch of obnoxious drunk dumbasses, screwing around in their basement trying their damndest to scare you with some shuck and jive penny ante shockin’ sentiments, with some halfassed feedback, & simple songmanship masquerading as something greater then the sum of its parts. But, here ‘tis; I can’t vouch for the others members (I’ve never met ‘em), but take it from me, Doskocil is articulate, witty, unpretentious, fast, and above all; extremely intelligent. If he was a little slow on the ‘ol uptake, I’d chalk it up to too much John Barleycorn and the fact that sometimes people that don’t need air-cooled cerebellums sometimes make some pretty goddamn good stuff and leave it at that, but Doscocil is a smart cookie. Not only that, but funny, and anti-social (and, like many anti social people, paradoxically, he is quite friendly). But Drunks With Guns slipped us a mickey, intelligent discourse about American absurdity, just cloaked in noise, humor, grit, and intentional obnoxiousness.

"You know what who I was going after with the Drunks With Guns? Well, fer starters, the first 7" was songs from this other band the guitarist was trying to get off the ground before Fred [the drummer] and I came along. The second 7" I wrote most of, and co-wrote the rest. The 3rd 7", 'Alter Human', was all mine. Anyways, the Drunks With Guns were ripping off the first two PiL LP's - especially 'Second Edition' - No Trend's 'Teen Love' 12", and their 'Too Many Humans' LP and the first two Alice Cooper LP's. I guess we were taking allotta Black Flag/Circle Jerks/Germs ideas and slowing them down to almost 'stop' speed."

“Was it a conscious reaction to hardcore?”

"The reaction to hardcore was totally by accident. We started playing the songs at 'punk' speed, and it stunk. So we came up with the idea that if we couldn't be the fastest or loudest, we'd be the slowest and loudest... Then there was seeing Flipper in Kansas City at the local VFW, summer of '83 or '84 I believe. The thing with punk is there was always these skinheads that were the arbiters of what was 'punk'. And the four of us could really give a shit, y'know? Even though I'm sure there were plenty of peeps that thought I was too punk for them. What are ya gonna do, y'know?"

I mention to Mike the variety of stories I'd heard about Drunks With Guns, mostly centered around him, usually accompanied by heads shaken in shocked bewilderment.

"Sadly, most are true. Yes, I was shot. No, I wasn't abused as a child. Yes, my first wife's dead. Yes, she's responsible for the DWG having broken up. She got between me and the drummer (Fred). My fault. She told me they were just friends. Whatta liar she was. And an actress. Never date an actress. Not if she's any good."

Mike gathers from my expression that he should continue.

"Like I said, Deidra was a girl I had been seeing, then she ended up with Fred, and then a year later came back sniffing around me. i didn't know but her and Fred were evidently a 'thing' while she was in Med School in KC, so when she ended up back at my place in STL (after dropping him and dropping out), he left the band, for all intents and purposes. Stan and I tried to record afterwards ('Alter Human' sessions), with me doing the drums recording, but it ended with me punching his lights out during the aborted attempt to remix over his comments about my drumming inabilities, when everyone knows I'm three times the drummer he'll ever be. Haven't seen him since the fall of '86. Saw Mike Deleon, bassist number 2, a year ago in STL that's all good. Still email Tom Wilkerson, bassist number 1, so that's good, too. See Fred once every ten years, or so it seems. Last saw him in San Francisco in '97, so I reckon we're due. Oddly enough, I think Fred and I are cool now that Diedra's dead, she OD'd in bed, next to her pimp in 2001."

"I gotta ask you about this, it’s gotta be my favorite of yours – it’s just a real mindblowing supernova of a song… What was the genesis of 'Wonderful Subdivision'?"

Mike nods thoughtfully. "Probably in reaction to hearing No Trend, who blew me away. Stan always wanted to sound like Rush, or some other godawful 70's dinosaur band, like ELP. So when I came with these dirge disco tunes, they came out with a lot more depth than had I just done them on my own. I believe if there was genius, it was the in the bass, especially Jim, bassist number three, who played on the 'Thirst for Knowledge single'. There's yer genius!"

"Was the Hell House real?"

"You bet! It was this house in the Tower Grove neighborhood of STL, Tony Carr and Chuck Declue lived there, so did Fred. We rehearsed there for about six months. Had a party there after the 45 Grave show. Don Bowles was in the attic with 2 li’l girlies. Good times. But the place was definetly haunted. I only went down in the basement once alone. Not a good place. Musta been 100 years old, at least. And whatta dump! But, yeah, we rehearsed on that dirt floor basement. The cover pics of the first 7" were taken downstairs there."

"When did you first hear punk?"

"It had to be when I saw the Godz - a Columbos, Ohio band, strangely enough, where I now live - open for Angel, Casablanca Record's answer to KISS (Kiss/black, Angel/white), at the American Theater in St. Louis, March of '77. Their singer came out, no joke, with the scream 'Hello St. Louis!!! You got some great COCAINE!!!’ Just a total disregard for decorum! Then they proceeded to tear the roof off. The singer/bassist, Eric Moore, and the Guitarist, now friend of mine, Mark Chatfield, ended the set touching tongues in this psuedo/gay French kiss. I'd see Richards and Jagger do the same thing on SNL nine months later. But when they did that, the hometown crowd showered the stage with bottles, cans, anything and everything. They had no option but to bring up the house lights at that point to get the barrage to stop. Whatta show! 'Fags! Queers!' And of course, anyone that went outta their way for that kinda disapproval back then was my instant hero. Their first LP is still on my DID top ten list!"

"Did you ever tour?"

"Never."

"But you played live..."

"Sadly", Mike sighs, "again, there were only four live shows: our debut in New Values, a local punk clothing store's basement in the summer of '84, opening for 45 Grave in September of '84, opening for Battalion of Saints, and opening for Samhain in October of '85. That's it." Mike reflects, and adds, "Personally I think the Battalion of Saints show our best. We just really nailed it, did 'em all like they were done on the records. Note for note."

"I live a couple blocks away from Danzig in LA. I was stuck in traffic outside his house once, and saw him outside washing his new Jaguar sportscar. No shoes, no shirt. Just a bucket, a chamois, and leather pants."

"My best antedotes are from working in the French Quarter, '98 through '99. I worked at the Tower Records on the video side. We used to give free rentals to all the local cops, firemen, and famous folk with places down there. John Goodman always bought us lunch. First class guy all the way. The singer for Soul Asylum, Dave Pirner, another cool dude. Good weed. But Lenny Kravitz? What an ass! One time, he brought a movie that was like ten days late. I told him the free ones were when they were brought back on time. He blamed his assistant while I told him I'd need a manager to coverride the amount on the account. I then proceeded to act like I was phoning my manager. Mr. Kravitz stood there for like fifteen minutes waiting for a three dollar override, in his barefeet, sunglasses - who walks barefoot in the French Quarter? It was a Friday afternoon, too, so all these people were coming up saying, 'is that who I think it is?' And I got to say, 'Yep, he's too cheap to pay three dollars for a ten day late rental.' He finally blew up after like fifteen minutes. I woulda gone ballistic a lot sooner, in his defense, screaming and acting the twat. Whatta dipshit that guy is! And that Kung Fu guy from Europe? Claude VanDamme? He rents his OWN movies! Whatta jerk that guy was! 

We share a hearty laugh at the muscles from Brussel's expenses, and Mike’s expression goes to, not wistfulness exactly, but something along those lines. "I miss New Orleans. I'll go back there again some day..."

I slept that night in a cheap motel a stone’s throw from the interstate, lulled to sleep by the distant of traffic. A week later, and I was back in California, where the weather is a good fifty degrees warmer and the company not nearly as good, I was drinking my morning coffee and got an email from Mike, who told me; "Here's my list of bands you GOTTA go out and get the CDs of: 12 Volt Sex 'Stereo Quattro', (Las Vegas, 2000), the Cunninghams 'Zeroed Out' (Seattle, 1997), the Sensational Alex Harvey Band 'Live', (Scottland, 1975). I've always been a HUGE Sensational Alex Harvey Band fan, since first hearing/seeing them on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert in '75. I taped it to cassette and then wore the tape out. 12 Volt were friends of mine when I was playing in that Irish pub/drinking band in Las Vegas in 2000. They did the [full length] 'Stereo Quattro' for a major label, then their rep at the label got fired, the label never released the CD, and they broke up. It is one of the greatest pop records never heard. They're a real cool punk-pop band in the vein of Cheap Trick, but they're for cool people, not all the Blink 182/Green Day idiots out there. Ditto for the Cunninghams. They got signed, recorded that 'Zeroed Out' CD, released it, toured with INXS that summer, then broke up. Which is a shame, the CD is flawless. The production, mixed by the genius Tom Lord Algae, will tear your head off. Best of all: the vocals are tight, NO ProTools at all, the guy could hit NOTES! No whining/complaining, the lyrics verge on poetry (same with Jimmy from Bootbeast: he majored in Englist lit). Best of all: both 12 Volt and The Cunninghams wrote, recorded, and released the greatest LP's of their respective decade, then broke up! Perfect. That's what I always wanted to do: put together a band, record the perfect LP, tour once then break up! On a sad note, I just learned that Seven Pearson, the singer for the Cunninghams, hung himself four years ago. Guess he couldn't stand NOT being the rock star he so deservedly deserved. Or he was keeping up with INXS's singer (they did become close friends after touring together). Either way, just knowing Seven is dead makes his lyrics penetrate that much more effectively. So, if you get the chance, grab 'Stereo Quattro' and 'Zeroed Out' on ebay. They both go for under three dollars each, and everytime I play them for friends, they're floored. That's what I believe all good rock music should do: floor the listener. Take their head off, so their torso spurts blood up through their cartoid artery, arc over the coffee table, and splash on the living room floor. Right? Am I right?"

Personally, I think he’s right.

Truncated Employment History

Some jobs I've held:

1. Working at my dad's carwash. Tasks performed included: "interior", i.e., vacuumer: used orange wedged shaped nozzle attached to a grey hose to suck detrius out of customer's, often filthy vehicles. On the older vehicles with dying upholstery, the vacuum was completely ineffective and you would have to pick out grains of sputum with your fingers. Notable customer: One guy in a new, raised pick up truck had, under his driver's seat a brown paper bag stuffed with a stack of bills around eight inches long. Told the manager to give it to the customer because in general its not a good idea to leave a stack of bills bigger than a brick in your car when people are going through it. Worst thing I had to clean up: a noxious stew of roofing tacks, bleach, and dog food that a customer spilled in the back of his hatchback. It was splashing when he pulled into the carwash. He told me he was a professional background artist and was in William Friedkin's Jade. As budding film nerd, I was impressed with his credentials. Also, worked as salesman, where I could get 10 cent bonuses upsetting customers into getting leather rejuvenating treatment on their dashboards or tires. Was pretty good at that, but stopped it to work in "Q.C.", where you did the heavy lifting of drying the cars and could possibly get tips. I consistently and deservedly got the worst tips of any employees due to sullen teenage mannerisms and inability to demonstrate enthusiasm at the prospect of drying stranger's cars. I was pretty much an asshole.

2. Video Store. I enjoyed this, despite proximity to the public. Cheap store with great selection, we still had to compete with the cocksuckers at Blockbuster down the street and did so by supporting the bottom line with foreign films, cult films, and most importantly for the bottom line: the largest pornography section in town, divided from the rest of the store with a curtain. I liked working on Sundays, where I was by myself and I could put on a mix tape over the store's PA and put on a Buster Keaton movie. (The Navigator was my favorite). Least favorite customer, arrogant, pushy guy that always wore a cowboy named Floyd (when it was raining he would don an old west duster), who had a special reserved exclusively for him: 5 movies for 5 days for $5, which he would use to grab 5 different sub-Zalman King style softcore tap-your-feet-through-the-plot-until-the-breasts softcore flicks. He did this almost every day, and was usually a total prick. Maybe I'm just disrespectful, but if was hard to be impressed by a grown man who thought he was entitled to throw his weight around and act like a bigshot because he consistently spent around $25 a week in a video store renting titflicks. Also had an extremely P.C. woman who threw a four alarm shitfit over an issue of Premiere magazine we stocked that had Sandra Bullock on the cover in a bikini, had the magazine had Hitler smearing shit on Jesus I think she would have been less upset, and her teenage daughter once flipped her lid because she saw the video playing in the store (which was rated PG) briefly had a shot of someone's bare ass. I don't know who the patriarch in the family was, but he must have it pretty fucking rough. It was strange seeing which customers rented which pornography, or their elaborate excuses for renting "this was in the action section [which it wasn't] so I figure I'd give it a watch" so they could justify themselves to me, when I honestly didn't give a shit. It was also fun to recommend movies to people, which I took really seriously. Homeless guy once stole the chainsaw from a methhead cutting down trees in our parking lot and ran inside with it, saying "quick - HIDE THIS!", followed by the methhead running in swinging, starting a storewide brawl with me, ex-Army coworker, terrified customers, and the ineffectual efforts of the guy that slept in the parking lot who instigated the entire thing. The mohoawked maniac speedfreak managed to wrestle the chainsaw back, and had his hand on the pull-start, screaming "I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!!!!" when the fuzz pulled up with their guns out in perfect, Saturday Matinee timing. Chief Gates would have been proud. Unfortunately they didn't shoot him, because threatening someone with death while trying to start a chainsaw is more of a ticketing-type offense.

3. Assistant Swim Coach. I was a decent (but nothing remotely special) swimmer and picked up some extra money assistant coaching high school swim team. I dislike swimming, which I find to be an incredibly boring activity and think a sport made out of a competition to see who can move through the water fastest in whatever designated stroke was absurd. It was like watching hour glasses to see which one was most accurate. I also couldn't give the smallest fuck if our swim team prevailed over a rival. Unsurprisingly, I made a poor coach.

4. Helping a friend move cross country. Was driving a 20 foot + truck somewhere west of Salt Lake City on I80 when the wind tore the entire fiberglass roof off the bed, where it sailed across the salt flats. Truck rental company refused to believe that the roof just "flew off", but that's what happened (there wasn't a structure for miles) and I had the lack of roof to prove it. Had to spend an extra day in Utah then move everything from one truck to a new one with a roof that stayed fastened. Got to drive across the country, which I had never done before.

5. Receptionist, now defunct music video & commercial production company. Got brief promotion from being an unpaid intern. As unpaid intern I did all the menial tasks they should have been paying someone for. Was once sent to the supermarket to pick up food for the office and given a stern lecture for purchasing "raspberry vinegar" dressing instead of the specified "raspberry vinaigrette" by a woman about my same age who I despised. She was a closet sadist whose own (justified) self hatred manifested itself in being incredibly rude and demanding to people below her, which was the only way she was able to extract any joy in her miserable, empty existence. She quit her job for a position that she was perfect suited for: schoolteacher. My promotion was short-lived, for someone that is terrible on the telephone, receptionist is a poor choice of vocation. Nothing really interesting happened except once I got yelled at and threatened by an Agent (something that never happened to me in Santa Rosa) and once fielded a phone call from Steve Buscemi, This job lasted a few weeks and I am fairly certain I was despised by the office. I got pretty good at it, I memorized people's extensions, a minor miracle for someone with a memory as lousy as mine. I wasn't allowed to leave the phone unattended to use the bathroom, which got really old on an eight hour + shift. I would have to ask anyone qualified to use the phone that had a menial enough position where they would actually take over for me without just giving me the finger. Subsequently I would often go the entire day without urinating, or just sneaking one and risking getting in trouble. The woman who is now a school teacher's name was Susan. I don't remember her last name, but I do remember that she sucked.

6. Bartender. Only did this a few times, mostly at things like art gallery openings and movie premieres. Once served Martin Laundau. I don't remember if he tipped me or not. Got yelled at when I looked at someone that ordered straight vermouth funny, because I didn't think any human being would want to drink that on purpose. I was wrong.

7. Production Assistant. Horrible gig. Did it way too long. Was once fired because I was told the producer "just didn't like" me. Did work on some fun stuff with some great people, but that was rare. Longest shift: 26 hours (for $150). Once had heavy piece of dolly track that wasn't fastened properly at the vendor fall on my head while I was rummaging inside the truck, which hurt like a motherfucker. Have lots of strong contenders for worst experience, but having to wake up at 4 in the morning then drive back from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in a truck with no radio or tape deck with a crippling hangover, unloading that truck, picking up another truck, spend a few hours picking up and filling that truck with shit, then dropping off that truck, then picking up another truck, and filling that with more shit, then dropping that off, then taking my own car to another office to pick up more shit, than having to drive across town (Van Nuys to Santa Monica - yes, there was traffic) to help the coordinator carry her two file boxes down a single flight of stairs was one of the crummier ones.

8. Footage Logger. I did this while hard up for money for a reality show. I went into the office, picked up a disturbingly high pile of VHS tapes, and then went home and wrote a minute by minute account of what occurred on each tape. The tapes were the raw footage for a reality show about vacuous real-life models who were doing some kind of tedious work that wasn't interesting to walk. Imagine watching an idiot dig a ditch for ten minutes, then catching their breath, then starting back up again before conversing with another pinhead for ten minutes. You get the idea now. I don't watch reality television. It would be, for me, like intentionally sticking my dick in a beehive - I know its going to be horrible and I would have no right complaining after I did it deliberately. I would like to be modest and lie and say I don't think I'm better then anyone that does watch reality TV, but I actually have to disagree: the fact that I'd rather (and in fact do) read books (that aren't about schoolboy wizards or vampires) instead of watching reality television gives me a leg up. So, on the first day I carried home the stack of tapes, the first tape contained time lapse photography. I dutifully logged this and emailed it to the one person at the company I had talked to, the one that hired me. I don't remember their name so let's call them PERSON A. Person A told me I didn't have to watch, and/or log that tape. "Why did you watch that?" they asked, like I was wearing a clownsuit and had a bowl of spaghetti upside down on my head. I needed the money, so I kept my mouth shut instead of calling them a nasty name or implying that their mother lacked virtue and discernment in her choice of sexual partners, nor did I ask Person A why they failed to inform me of that, or give me the fucking tape in the first place. I then proceeded to log more tapes, spending a few hours watching, and logging the events of unintelligent, inarticulate people preforming humdrum tasks. Out of the hours of footage I watched, this would be edited down to seconds, and even those seconds would be boring. When I finished a full day's labor, I emailed everything to Person A. Person A told me to email a report to Person B, a complete stranger. I emailed a report to Person B. I had no idea who Person B was. The next day I got a call from Person C. I had never heard of Person C before, much less met them. Person C was angry that I emailed a report to Person B. "Why did you send that to Person B?" she asked. "Because Person A [the only person I had ever communicated with at the entire company] told me to," I replied. "You never, ever, send any information to Person B," she told me, in the same way tone one would use in telling a high strung retarded child to put their pants back on at a funeral. I finished logging the tapes in a few days and waited forty five days for them to pay.

9. Music Video Director. Did this a few times. Sort of enjoyed it, but loathed placating egos, deciphering communiqu├ęs from various parties, and had some extremely bad experiences, such as having THE WRONG SONG sent to me by the record company - and they not realizing the error until after I had shot it. In general having to endure the slings and arrows of criticisms and often contradictory, superfluous, difficult to decipher notes from major labels, which is like being in a perfectly seaworthy sailboat going past the titanic, which is in the midst of sinking, with someone on the bow criticizing the way you sail around icebergs from a megaphone. Had some great experiences, but mostly lousy ones. Major labels take a long time to pay money that they owe you. Since my fiduciary standing was, at best 'tenuous', it was particularly difficult. This foray fizzled, along with my dreams.

9. 'Telemarketer'. Actually quasi-legal, 100% unethical scammer, trying to trick businesses into purchasing waaaaay overpriced copier toner by posing as their non-existent supplier. Heard whispers of similar operations being raided by police, and was told Black Randy used to do the same thing. I was horrible at it, because a) no self confidence b) horrible on the telephone c) a deep monotone voice that I have been told sounds "serial killeresque". Would you purchase copier toner from a stuttering, unconfident possible-maniac that you'd never heard from before? Either would I. Enjoyed my brief foray into attempting to con people, but although I lacked the necessary scruples - the way I was treated at other various companies, where they would shiv a newborn panda if they thought they could save $$$ made me feel ethically comfortable in trying to fuck them out of a dollar - I was, like I said, terrible at it and never made any money. The one "sale" I did make was to a church in New Jersey. I didn't mind defrauding a church because they make their money by preying on people's superstitions and telling then with a straight face that they are going to hell unless they believe in a fictional entity that seems to be doing a pretty piss-poor job, as well as being staffed by volunteers that are trying to curry favor with their respective non-existent deities instead of being compensated for their labor with actual legal tender. I was also not so hot on the church's company policy of not firing their employees that rape children. (While we're on the subject, how can a church have a billboard that promises admittance to heaven, but you can't have an advertisement for a product without federally mandated disclaimers to the validity? Complete bullshit). I received some compliments over my sale (instead of sad looks of disappointment at my consistent, constant failure, tempered with warm encouragement) I was informed my sale wouldn't be valid (and this confirms my thesis) "because churchs never pay" and they didn't bother sending the merchandise or the invoice. You won that round, Pope Benedict XVI.

10. Band. Not really a job, but have been paid before so I figure worth mentioning. One of our biggest paydays (besides airplane tickets) was money from a XXX porno movie that used a few of our songs. I have the movie on my desk but have never watched it. I have nothing against pornography and think it is an oddly pure industry: they make no bones about offering salvation, a thinner waistline, or finding you your soulmate, they just videotape attractive, consenting adults fucking to aid the consumer in masturbating. I don't understand why that is considered less noble than selling jewelry, 'vitamin' water, children's toys, monster cable or hybrid cars. Was also greatly amused by the thought of one of our songs - which, would be the last thing any human being would want to listen to while masturbating - disturbing viewers who just wanted to pull their puds in peace. Warning: being in a band is mostly tedium, moving equipment, sitting idle in standstill traffic that stretches to the horizon and hanging out in a bar trying to think of something to do besides drink (there isn't).

11. Working As DVD Compatibility Tester. I could actually hear braincells softly crying as they died when I worked at this job. I would take a DVD then make sure all the menu functions worked on a stack of players. It was repetitive in the extreme, and the normally-tolerable inconvenience of being forced to watch a menu animation or an advertisement you couldn't skip became a horror that would make Lovecraft rip his eyeballs out. Thankfully, the company had a policy: communicating with other employees, whom you were surrounded by without walls or any separation, was strongly discouraged. I thought it was an excellent policy. Unfortunately many people disagreed and felt compelled to talk or share their observations with me, one of which I remember was "that Carlos Mencia is pretty funny, but sometimes he goes too far."

12. Music video playback. A job where you're not really paid to apply technical skill to the task you're assigned, but instead are compensated for the mis-communication, chaos, elevated stress level and the Indiana Jones like rolling boulder of shit rolling downhill that might very well be directed towards you. Hours are long, conditions are extended near-panic, and the budgets (and the pay) has nearly evaporated. Rarely do this anymore, which is nice.

13. Boom operating. Sucks.

14. Production Sound Mixer. Really enjoy this, my current job/living. Like the people I work for. Dig the technical aspect and being left alone to do my job. Do get people telling me how to do my job - which is only what I do professionally to make my living for the past few years - but I can usually ignore that. Can be fun working with famous folks, as I can impress my US Weekly reading mother with my brief brushes with celebrities ("Mom, Tom Cruise was polite and a total professional" - 100% true) but the overreaction of crews when famous people arrive reminds me of accounts I've read of entire rural Ugandan villages having to pretend they are prosperous and happy when Idi Amin stopped by for an inspection. Dig the freedom. Wish I worked more, actually. Idle hands and all of that. Funnest job? Recording an interview with James Ellroy at his house. He made the crew coffee, and I was the only one that had any. "Here ya go, Monty," he said, handing me a cup. It was extremely strong, and I told him so. "Weak coffee is for fruits," he said.

15. Recording bands. Have been paid to record bands. Have had good experiences thus far, being on the same page as the bands I've worked with and everyone has realistic expectations. Enjoy the technical aspect and like recording in general. Am still blown away they a microphone can be used to funnel sound to magnetic tape or 1's and 0's, and then played back, which is an outta-this-world sci-fi concept if I've ever heard one. Am currently in the process of opening a recording studio with a friend, and will see how that goes as opening an analog recording studio in 2011 is about as sound an investment as starting a dinosaur grooming business.

16. Writer. Have written things for shits/giggles/etc. (also see: above and below this) but have been paid a few times. Once was for a shitbag giveaway glossy that was also online. Am not begin disingenuous when I say I forgot the name, I just really did. Paid poorly, anything I wrote (which wasn't much) had the living fuck edited out of it, and the era of coverage was all things I found about as interesting as the a featureless void. This didn't last long, and I don't think the editor (whose name I forgot) thought much of me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

THE STREETS OF ALISO VIEJO WILL RUN RED WITH THE BLOOD OF FRESHLY SLIT TEENAGE GANG MEMBER'S THROATS

This was originally featured in Negative Guest List:

THE STREETS OF ALISO VIEJO WILL RUN RED WITH THE BLOOD OF FRESHLY SLIT TEENAGE GANG MEMBER'S THROATS

By MONTY BUCKLES

Making a movie is like setting your house on fire, going out and waiting on the lawn for twenty minutes, than running back inside to see what you can salvage. Finishing a movie, no matter how big of a piece of shit, with no resources is an incredible accomplishment. To actually make an good movie is one of those insane, far-end-of-the-bell-curve occurrences that balance out kittens being born with two heads or people loosing their sight through rare genetic disorders. It is easier to become an Olympian, a surgeon, a fighter pilot, a television weatherman, or to murder someone and get away with it than to become a professional film director. With something as fragile as a low budget movie, anything can deep six it. Talent is a factor, but so is the weather(1).

So a tip of the cap to those out there with a bolt loose enough to give it a whirl.

The film Snitch'd was written(2), directed, produced, and starred James Cahill, and was released straight-to-DVD in 2003(3). It is not a low-budget gem filled with tension and excellent performances. It is not a gutbucket feat of imagination. Its not a well-written gritty thriller. Its not a technical marvel. It is not a good movie. It is, however, one of the most personal movies ever made, a fantasy of someone's ultimate idealization of themselves in their most macho incarnation. The direct transcription of an ego so big you can see it from outer space. Sometimes watching it is embarrassing, like catching someone checking out their muscles in a mirror. Other times you get caught in the whirligig swirl of the deluded intention and the flat ineptitude of the execution and there's no way not to get lost in the jaw dropping weirdness of it all.

Cahill stars as a cop that goes undercover in a high school ran by two rival gangs, to investigate the murder of an innocent student. Its a patchwork of the undercover cop movie, the inner city gang movie, the kung-fu movie, and the Red Harvest two-gangs-and-one-stranger-riff that movies have been recycling for years. The film is poorly made. Visually, its bland. The acting is lousy and the individual characters are difficult to tell apart. The writing is strictly functional. As an undercover cop movie, its ridiculous even by the atrocious standards of low budget crime movies. Its operating on the level of cops vs. robbers played by ten years olds, with no respect given to the actual law, or things like evidence, due process, Miranda rights, or accountability. In Cahill's simple and self centered universe, cops wake up every morning, beat the shit out of clearly defined, inept bad guys, then go home to drink some Budweiser and bitch about woman. The film doesn't work as an inner city gang movie. There is no verisimilitude. It is shot in an upscale portion of sunny and inviting suburban Orange County. There were real gang members used in the production but their input was either worthless or ignored. As a kung fu movie, it fails. The fights lack athleticism, grace, excitement, escalation, or any deviation between them. Blows are telegraphed like a registered letter was sent beforehand, and bodies fall. Punches miss by a country mile with an overdubbed SMACK that wouldn't fool a toddler. Nobody is shown to even be a threat to Cahill's character, so there is no suspense. As the Red Harvest style movie, the two gangs, The Cut Throat Mafia and The South Side Gang (who both helpfully wear baseball caps advertising their gang affiliation) their conflict is hard to follow and ultimately inconsequential.

Cahill is short, with the fit, but willowy and unintimidating physique of a dancer (which he is). His face, anchored by a widow's peak and symmetrical, chin-length hair, seems incapable of any expression beyond benign blankness. He cast himself in a roll he wrote for himself: an invincible laconic tough guy. His character is somewhere around Steven Seagal, Bruce Lee, and John Wayne. He is not qualified for this. He can't portray menace. When he tries to look mean he furrows his brow like a petulant child that was denied their favorite toy. When he has to listen he purses his lips and nods along, over-emoting every action with the same for-the-cheap-seats histrionics that went out with powdered wigs. His voice has a effeminate lilt, when he barks out a threat, he sounds more Truman Capote than Jack Webb. His character has a penchant for wearing pressed oversized short sleeve collared shirts over a tank top, an ensemble you'd see on a mannequin in Target, not on an undercover cop who has to infiltrate and organization filled with murderers. Cahill is too old to be playing a teenager. He'd stick out amongst real high schools students like a stuffed cow in a goldfish bowl. Rubbing elbows with gangsters and criminals, he's like Gene Autry riding with the Wild Bunch.

Cahill's character is an expert at karate, proficient with firearms, an ace investigator & the chicks dig him. He's always right. He possess no faults. The bad guys have no ambiguity. They are bullies and unrepentant lowlives that pose no challenge to Cahill. They're fodder, like the blinking aliens in Space Invaders if the player never lost. Even Billy Jack was goaded into surrendering(4), but Cahill is too tough to even have to ever consider anything resembling self-doubt. He protects the weak(5), brutalizes and tortures the evil, and a beautiful high school student takes one look at him and falls deeply in love. Cahill can take on a dozen attackers without breaking a sweat. When his Superior Officer gives him his assignment and warns that taking out the leader of either gang would just make the remaining gang more powerful, Cahill, snide turned up to 11, responds “well you know what? I guess I'll just have to take out both gangs then,” the way you would respond to a condescending request with “oh well? I guess I'll just carry both letters down to the mailbox”. Its one of those movies that posits that something as insidious, complicated and ancient as gang violence can be solved by one guy that is good at karate(6).

I became obsessed with Snitch'd. I showed it to friends. Bought it as a gifts. The movie was easy to find and always discounted. People I showed it to all liked it. We all laughed openly at the incompetent creative efforts of another person. It was addicting. Even though I find Cahill to be uncharismatic, and his worldview abhorrent, it was still an incredible artifact. The guy grit his teeth and went ahead and made a movie, one that was finished, released, and distributed. He wasn't hampered by his own lack of talent or resources, he did it anyway. That the results were so dismal was another amazing thing – how could someone had seen that footage and decided to finish? How did a company decided to purchase it to make money? How does something like this exist?

Screenplays have a particular format refined from decades of empirical testing. They are the most effective way to communicate to the director, the keys of the various departments, the producers, and whoever is funding the movie, what the finished film is supposed to be. The format is specific and rarely deviated from either professional, or even amateur filmmakers(7). I manged to get my hands on the screenplay to Snitch'd, originally titled One Hard Hit(8). Cahill ignores the format, and instead invented his own. The logical, intuitive system of separating setting, character, and action has been mashed into a clusterfuck of tortured parentheticals. The formatting, spelling and content of the following are all Cahill's.

Reporter: We will have an update on this soon.... (Note: Record this with a video camera.)

Burke: Turns off television (With remote control)

McClure: How do you feel? (They are drinking Coronas with lime)

Burke: (Burke, who always eats throughout the movie which is somewhat comical) A little sore. Do you believe that punk hit me right in the chest as he was running? Good thing I was wearing a vest. Doc says I have deep bruising, and I should rest a few days. I'm going back tomorrow despite what he says.


Check out this inconsistent, borderline batshit formatting:

McClure: Let her go. (He walks up to him)

Juan: Who the fuck are you puto, I suggest you get the fuck out of here before I...

McClure: Before you what... (Close enough to grab him)

Juan: Before I (Slices through McClure's shirt) cut you up man.

McClure: (Takes off shirt) and uses the shirt to tie up the knife after Juan slices at him a few times. This knife scene should last about 20 seconds before McClure does the technique, evading the storm. McClure knocks the knife out of the guys hand and grabs his face and slams it on the hood of the car about five times. He let's the guy drop to the ground. The guy climbs under the open door of the driver's side and tries to reach for the 9mm under the seat. McClure sees this and smashes the guys hand with the 9mm using the car door. The guy screams and drops the gun, McClure takes the gun and puts it up to the guys head and says.

McClure: If I ever see you again, it'll be your last, comprendes?

Juan: Fuck you. (McClure takes the bud of the gun and knocks him out).

Gabby: Oh shit, your bleeding pretty bad. (Have blood oozing out of McClure's left shoulder). Come in, I'll fix you up. She helps him as he puts her arm around her.
FADES TO BLACK AND TO NEXT SCENE.


Cahill, a black belt in kenpo(9) karate, takes special care with describing the choreography of his action scenes, but at other times, his description is oddly minimal. Here’s a scene that was only partially included in the final film:

Burke: (Jokingly) Probably not. So when are you going to get yourself a fine girl like that?

McClure: You know what happened to the last one, Jenn (Show a scene where she gets killed by a gang banger drive by while she is carrying groceries to the house. McClure tries to stop it, but its too late. Show this in black and white and slow motion as McClure runs up to her).


Here is an exchange between gang members. Admittedly I haven’t spent much time with Latino Gangsters in Orange County, but I suspect that it lacks realism.

Tito: Good man. It's time we revenge the death of our homies Demon, Crook, and the Kidd.

Creaper: I also want those pinche putos dead. Who should we hit tonight?

Tito: Not tonight.

Creaper: We have to tonight, or they'll think we're weak.

Tito: Excuse me, but I call the shots around here. You don't think my eyes see red for the love I had for them. However, I know what's up. now listen, we got to be careful... especially tonight, since the cops expect us to hit them back tonight, but I have a better plan.


Oh, try and follow this:

Black street guy: (Pulls out a knife) Well maybe if I slice you up, you may need something good to relieve the pain. (Steps up to the car)

Burke: Turns around, and looks at the guy. At this moment, the gang bangers drive off with McClure in it. Burke points his shotgun at the guy, but from inside the car. The gun is in his lap) Do you mind if we save this for another time? I'm kind of busy right now.

Black street guy: (Looks at him and sees the gun. He backs up) Oh ya. (Sarcastically and humorously) Of course man. It can wait. I'll just make my way over here (points) and let you do your thing. I wouldn't want you to loose focus on what you're doing.

Burke: (Still looking at him, as the guy backs away) Thanks. (Looks back at car, and sees only the back end of car which has McClure in it, then he looks over to see the Principal's car, and sees him get in it, he turns on the car and proceeds to follow)


Okay friends, hold on to your hats: Cahill is a high school ENGLISH TEACHER. He gets paid by the school distract to teach young people the intractable rules of the English language and to impart on them the importance of literature. If Cahill actually took an English class, he would fail. He also teaches drama (in fact, he drafted some of his students as actors in Snitch'd) and he can't act his way out a wet paper sack. As a director, even people who went on to professional careers and great success are alone on an ice floe. The only notable performances are Cesar Moran, who projects understated menace, and Oleg Zatespin who has a great naturalistic quality about him. Cahill is no good at casting either, both those parts are minor. All the other performances are unconvincing with vast tonal shifts between the different performers.

Cahill also filmed large portions of the movie at the school where he was employed. I was once fired from a low-paying, highly degrading job because I was told that the boss “just didn't like” me. Cahill filmed a karate movie at the school where he taught, where the school is depicted as gang and drug influenced cesspool, where the principal runs a drug running ring, students are murdered, and his character engages in hanky-panky with a student, and he doesn't suffer and consequences and a job that he is absolutely unqualified to do in the first place. Amazing.

Cahill comes from literate stock. His parents (his mother is Chinese, his father is Irish) used to own a bookstore in Orange County, and Cahill owns a publishing company he named, with his typical flair, 'James Cahill Publishing'. James Cahill Publishing specializes in limited editions of Clive Cussler novels(10). Cahill sidelines as an antiquarian book dealer. He doesn't just sell remaindered paperbacks on eBay, as of this writing he is offering a first edition of Moby Dick for $6,000. The cheapest book is a $40 copy of Tim Powers' Last Call. The majority of the books he is selling will set you back four figures. Cahill has a safe in his house to guard his books, complete with motion-detecting lasers.

Cahill is also an accomplished Tango Dancer, and somehow finds the time to compete professionally, and teach on the side. Somehow the standards of the tango circuit are more stringent than the English and Drama departments of high schools in California. Thanks, Schwarzenegger.

I wanted to talk to Cahill. I find the guy fascinating. Is he soft-spoken and humble? Self-deprecating and funny? Maniacal? I contacted Cahill through his website(11) and respectfully asked him if I could conduct an interview at his convenience. He responded politely and promptly. I prepared a list of questions and then mentioned that I was also going to talk to Royce Allen Dudley, the film's director of photography. This was a tactical error. I thought I was being thorough. Cahill changed his tune. He told me it would take at least six months before he would be able to answer any questions. Desperate I offered to drive down to Aliso Viejo (50 miles from my front door through some of the worst traffic in the United States) to buy him lunch and pick his brain. I wouldn't do that for a sick family member. He said he couldn't, but might be able to talk to me “next year”. I knew it would be a cold, cold day in hell before I would speak to him in what, as far as I could tell, would be his first interview as a professional filmmaker.

Snitch'd's director of photography, Royce Allen Dudley, was raised by his Republican Grandparents in the beautiful coastal berg of Santa Barbara, California. He's a friendly, sociable man that vibes more blue collar made good than a nose-in-the-air snoot. He's the kind of unpretentious pragmatic Hollywood technician that should have been born seventy years earlier and spent his career working on Westerns. Dudley laughs often, and talks about upcoming projects with the same enthusiasm he uses to describe his favorite movies. He manages to be be a realist and an optimist without being contradictory.

Bill Fortner was killing time in coffee shop in the counter-cultural berg of North Beach in San Francisco during the height hippie era when he spotted a beautiful girl sitting nearby, and drew her picture. Fortner was a character straight out of Dog Soldiers or Cutter & Bone: a hepcat artiste, pilot, and marijuana smuggler. He accompanied artist Michael Bowen on the ambitious plan to dump flowers on the National Guard during the levitate the Pentagon protest. The fuzz intervened and they couldn't get a plane. Fortner and Bowen drove the flowers from the Bay Area to D.C. themselves. Their efforts were immortalized in the Pulitzer-prize nominated photograph 'Flower Power' one of the indelible images of the Aquarian era. Later, Fornter would be found murdered in Mexico. It was theorized it was a drug deal gone bad. The authorities' paperwork was more concerned with the condition of the rental car than the body found inside it. But before all of that, Fortner went over to the pretty girl at the coffee shop and showed him his drawing. He introduced himself. She was smitten. The woman was Dudley's mother. Fortner was Dudley's father. Dudley never got to meet his dad. His mother was a beatnik turned hippie that split her time between San Francisco and Esalan. Dudley was raised by his grandparents.

As a child Dudley made detailed models replicated WWII battle scenes from researched photographs. As a kid he caught 2001, Dirty Harry and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes which gave him a case of the movie bug. A relative gave him a camera. His grandfather gave him a splicer, and he began to make super 8mm films, often shooting in the abandoned park behind his house. He paid for film and processing by walking an elderly neighbor's poodle and pushing her wheelchair bound husband around his estate. He turned 19 and tried to create the kind of artistic film that many young people attempt. In Dudley's own words, it was “a piece of shit”. Dudley married at 22 and moved to the dismal town of Lodi, California. It didn't work out.

He returned to Santa Barbara older, wiser, and single. He decided that he was going to shoot, rather than direct films. In the spring of 1999 he shot the movie 2 Left Turns (also known as Triangle Square), on 35mm. '99 was the height of the marriage of commerce and Independent Film. Movies like The Spitfire Grill, Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Texas were being bought for amounts that incredible then and inconceivable now. 2 Left Turns starred Matthew Lillard, who was becoming a movie star (at the tim he was so jazzed on the collaborative process of filmmaking that he would operate the boom on some shots) and Nicole Eggert. The film was well-received and picked up some heat. The director began taking meetings at Miramax. Dudley had just broken up with girlfriend and was sleeping on his friend's couch. He got a call from a first-time director with funding. He had seen Dudley's ad(12).

The Director had a script entitled One Hard Hit, and needed someone to shoot it. Dudley wanted to get out of Santa Barbara. He wanted to put some space between him and his failed relationship. He also needed the money. In August of 1999, Dudley packed up his 16mm camera, his Nagra sound recorder, a boom mic, flags, stands, handheld bounce, his lights (a Bardwell 2K, shop lights and a few Colotran open 1K's) into his beat-to-shit '77 Chevy van, and headed down to Orange County.

There is a union-mandated zone, covering a 30 mile diameter circle around Los Angeles, with the center being the intersection of Beverly and La Cienga. If its a union shoot, and it is to be shot outside the zone, the crew is to be paid more, given the option to stay in a hotel on the production’s dime. Nobody wants to pay for that. So, despite it's proximity to Los Angeles, films and television shows are rarely shot in Orange County(13).

Cahill doesn't like Los Angeles. He tries to go there as little as possible. He wants its people and its resources to come to him. Although Los Angeles is the center of the western hemisphere's entertainment industry, and forty miles away, Cahill prefers to shoot out of home in Aliso Viejo, a city so generic it serves as the corporate headquarters of Marie Callender's.

For the duration of the shoot, Dudley stayed at writer/producer/director/star Cahill's house, that he shared with his parents, in a cul de sac in a wealthy neighborhood in the hills. Dudley slept on the couch(14). The neighbors weren't happy with the production.

The film's female lead, Gabby, was to be played by Vera Jimenez(15) currently a weather and traffic reporter on KTLA and the recipient of two Emmys, three Golden Mics and the three-time winner of the wonderfully named 'Golden Pylon'. Dudley convinced Cahill to cast an unknown actress and former Beauty Queen who had just moved to LA named Eva Longoria, and Vera was given the part of Gabby's best friend, Trina. After Snitch'd wrapped, Longoria landed a three year contract in The Young And The Restless, followed by being cast in Desperate Housewives, which became a huge hit. According to Dudley “she was a total pro already, and if she knew if was shit, she kept smiling”.

Oleg Zatsepin was born in Hollywood. His mother worked for Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, his father worked for an alarm company. His dad also dabbled in acting, occasionally landing a commercial or a low profile gig on television. Oleg grew up doing wrestling, judo football and attended a Russian school as a child. He went to college and got bit by the acting bug. He first gig was Bikini Traffic School, shot by Gary Graver. Graver shot F Is For Fake and the unfinished Other Side Of The Wind for Orson Welles, but he drifted into T&A. For a first movie, one about a bikini traffic school, it was heady company and Zatsepin dug it. Oleg met Cahill at an audition held at Santa Ana High. He thought Cahill was a "little normal guy" who was was conducting auditions with mostly kids. Cahill cast Oleg would be good as the menacing security guard, Blackie. To his regret, Oleg didn't try for another role. To prepare he built his character on friends and relatives. Cahill was smart enough to leave Zatespin alone, and Zatespin ended up improvising his scenes and without the handicap of Cahill's lousy dialog, he's the only actor in the film that's believable. Not only that, Oleg cuts through the cast like a knife in hot butter, he is built like a brick shithouse - making the rest of the cast look about as threatening as newborn puppies - and his presence makes mincemeat out of the clearly out-of-their-element amateurs and a big hambone like Cahill. He's great in the movie.

The film was shot from sunup and then a good portion of each night. Rather than drive back and forth from Los Angeles every day, the makeup person and some of the other crew members (including, often, Longoria) would stay at Cahill's house with Dudley. Cahill's mom would cook rice dishes for the crew. Everyone adored Cahill's parents. There was no schedule. Minimal location scouting. At dawn, the crew would wake up and either head to the school, or would wait for Cahill to drive down the hill to find a location. The crew would sit around, until Cahill would return with a new location. They would shoot 17 hour a day, 9 hours of waiting around, 8 of shooting. After wrap, upon returning to Cahill's house, Cahill would disappear into his room for an hour or two while the crew camped out in the living room. Nobody could discern what he was doing in there.

The crew shot at two high schools, Cahill's accountant's office (doubling as a police station) a crew member's house (doubling as a gangster's hilltop mansion), a local church (doubling as a school exterior), Bob White's Kenpo Karate School, Camelot Bookstore and a whopping three scenes in three hours at the Shark Club in Costa Mesa, who let them shoot there for free.

When Dudley first talked to Cahill, Cahill exuded “cheerful and confident,” and told Dudley he would be more of a collaborator than an employee. Since Dudley would be operating the camera, the Director would be starring and therefore, in front of the camera for most of the shots, and there was no VTR(16) Dudley would have an unusual amount of control over the project. They talked about how Cahill visualized it, which Dudley interpreted as gritty, contemporary cinema. Then Dudley read the script. He realized it was “not a career-changer or an art film,” but since Cahill seemed so pleasant and he needed the work, he figured it would be sold to the direct to video market and it could be shot with some visually compelling elements. Once they began shooting, “like a frog slowly boiling” Dudley realized something had gone horribly wrong.

Dudley's pleas for more lighting and more careful staging were ignored. Cahill decided he didn't like handheld camera work. The dolly and the track came apart early in the shoot and Cahill didn't want to pay for a replacement. Cahill only liked locked off shots on a tripod, where he could view the shot beforehand and wouldn't have to resort to trusting his own professional director of photography. The film became static after that. There is no visual nuance or editing momentum, the shots were hastily set up and ended up so bland, it is like watching the objective view of a indifferent deity. Cahill would see a frame and proceed to make tweaks to unimportant elements while insisting that the lousy blocking and bland composition were fine.

The crew was small. Primarily it was Dudley, Cahill, Donn Keresey – a college pal of Cahill's who receives co-writing credit on the film, Paul Brunotto, who would boom and help with grip and electric, two makeup and hair people (Cahill was “very conscious to get his hair and foundation checked before every take”) and a guy named Fabian, who helped grip. With the exception of the cast, that was pretty much it.

Zatespin is not the kind of guy with an axe to grind. He thought the shoot was long and disorganized, but he didn't care - he's just happy making movies. He enjoyed hanging out, especially with Eva. He emphasized she was nice to everyone during a production that must have tried her patience. His least favorite part of the movie was his death scene, August in Southern California and Oleg had to lay down on some "hot ass asphalt" as the camera panned over him sprawled dead on the blacktop. His email was succinct: "SHIT did that hurt."

In the film's DVD commentary, Cahill explains:

Anytime you’re doing a martial art movie, you’re much better off using full Hollywood swings and everything, I really wanted to keep that original look and use real Kenpo karate type moves, so if you use that Van Damme look they actually look better for the actual making of the film, but for me I wanted that quick, raw look for the film… That kind of cutting edge, different from all the other Hollywood, flying kicks done on stilts(17), cables and everything else like that. No springs in my movie, everything here actually is real choreographed, real authentic moves. So that bruise you see on the guy’s face(18) [laughter] might have been a real bruise he had got during the scene.

You can film a fight scene with elaborate choreography and let it speak for itself, but if the choreography and physical prowess of the performers isn't up to snuff you can fashion kinetic energy in how the scene is shot and cut. The rhythm of the editing can compliment the action and dance around any flaws in the scene. The camera can follow Seagall as he beats the ever-loving shit out of the lowlifes that killed his partner, with frightening and unfaked speed or Van Damme can leap through the air to kick a stuntman through a plate glass window in slow motion, shot with a half dozen cameras and multiple cuts. Either is a valid approach. Cahill didn't have the time or the resources to do the later, so he had to, via necessity, do the former. He would set up a master shot, show the unrehearsed and untrained other actors how they were going to receive a beating from him, then he let'er rip. There is already an unconvincing premise to work from, and the poor actors weren't up to the significant challenge to reacting convincingly to a silly barrage of fake-punches. The fighting is shot in the same inert way as the rest of the film. It doesn't help that Cahill's choreography is dreadful. Cahill just kicks various actor's asses and moves on. Dudley tried to explain to Cahill that there is no drama or suspense in having a hero who is invincible, and that “even Superman had his kryptonite,” but Cahill wasn't convinced.

He thought he was better than Superman.

During the shoot, the film used some real handguns, provided by Cahill's father, as props. Since guns, fake or not, were never fired during the course of the production, this seemed like an odd choice. To mime a gunshot, the character would jerk the gun hand back without firing, so any authenticity is lost on the viewer. During the scene filming without a permit at a public park with, no prop master, no police, no security, just a working crew and some gang affiliates. It was theorized it was a certain pair of ex gang members were responsible for the theft, but the allegations were never proven. A person on the film told me that they ran into a gang member years after the film was shot. They talked, and the gang member said the stolen gun was used later in a shooting.

In an other odd and rare application of verisimilitude, some real knives were used as props. Two actors were cut. In once scene, the Cut Throat Mafia (who take their title literally and very seriously, as they cut their victim's throats, even after dispatching them with gunfire) mow down a bunch of rival gangbangers in a drive-by shooting. Rather than drive away, they stop, and leisurely get out of the car to cut some throats (hey, we've all been there, right?). Some poor actor, lying on the street in the middle of the night, pretending to be dead, really had his neck cut by an actual knife, narrowly missing opening the primary artery supplying blood to his brain.

The other actor was cut during the climax of the movie. Before the inexorable rendezvous with the head badguy (who bares a resemblance to actor Turk Pipkin) Cahill sees a garage full of gang members grilling inside their unventilated garage. Instead of waiting a few minutes for the characters to die from monoxide poisoning, Cahill enters the garage for another fight. I asked Dudley about this. Cahill said he wanted a dramatic entrance. Dudley jokingly suggested the BBQ for dramatic plumes of smoke to accompany his heroic entrance. Cahill went for it. In the ensuing fight, as Cahill uses a ping pong paddle to supplement his hand to hand combat, he accidentally stabbed an actor, inflicting minor injury.

During this process, Dudley's demeanor went from enthusiasm to detached bemusement. He was convinced the movie would never be released, and although Cahill was polite, he was a delusional ego case who wouldn't listen. As his suggestions were ignored in favor of vastly incorrect decisions, Dudley considered quitting, but was being paid $500/day. He had some rough years before and needed the money.

They finished the shoot without ceremony or a wrap party. Cahill stiffed Dudley $250. At the end of the shoot, another crew person asked to be paid, only to be told his payment was deferred. Dudley forgot about the film, except for the occasional call asking for technical help. The film's sound was close to unusable. Cahill couldn't find an editor in Orange County that would edit the film and was capable of cutting magnetic analog tape. The tape was transferred to compact disc, with no timecode(19) reference. Syncing was a laborious, time-consuming process. The film went to CFI, a prominent, respected film laboratory for processing and color grading, but it ended up being rendered from a compressed film without any grading by a distributer that didn't want to spend a cent more then they had to. The original distributer, a company called Spartan, staged a photo shoot with a muscular looking guy that looked like he would stab you in the eye with an ice pick for half a pack of cigarettes. They used photos from those sessions for a few microbudget films they picked up on the cheap & knew were dogs, then dumped the DVD's into discount bins everywhere, often aimed at the Latino market(20). The cover art was effective(21), the DVD sold for cheap(22) and they made it look like a low-budget, high violence, turn-your-brain-off thriller that's a perfect Tuesday night killer.

For Dudley, it was his first movie released with his name on the box. He reacted with a mix of pride and horror. He is still annoyed by the lousy transfer which accentuated the film's faults and made it look even cheaper. He had to buy his own copy, same as everybody else. He'll work with people that will bring the movie up to him. He gets tired of explaining it. Zatespin thinks the finished film was okay, but acknowledges some of the performances weren't up to snuff. "its difficult to bring out of them [the amateurs Cahill used] what is needed to make the movie real". He admits the film was “a bit ridiculous,” but he's just enthused about the process. “Film on you is film on you.”

Years later Cahill called and asked Dudley to shoot a short film for him, unpaid. It was only going to be a single day's work. Dudley agreed, reluctantly, but the day before the shoot, he had car trouble and no transportation to get him to set. He called Cahill, who said he would take care of it. At 6AM there was a knock on Dudley's front door, Dudley opened it to see Eva Longoria, baring coffee. She was a cast member on The Young And The Restless but went down to Orange County for free for a day and picked up the DP to shoot for a day with Dudley, Oleg Zatespein and Cahill. The plot of the film, which I haven't seen, was that Cahill initially seems like the bad guy, but turns out to be the hero. Longoria's character has the hots for him.

Years later Cahill called Dudley with a new project, Juarez, Mexico with Cahill as writer/director/producer/star. Dudley agreed to do the film if he was made a co-producer and was involved with the post process. He told Cahill that having his character display normal human fallibility was necessary. Cahill addressed his concerns and acquiesced. Once the cameras rolled, he ignored them.

Juarez, Mexico while amusing (especially Cahill's introductory scene, which is on YouTube) isn't as entertaining, nor as personal as Snitch'd. Its more of a brooding detective mystery than an action flick. Cahill managed to wrangle some impressive locations for free, and the film is more ambitious with a bigger scale, but suffers from being boring and unfocused. The most amusing aspects was the half-assed, badly faked efforts to make the upper crust environs of Orange County look like Juarez (I've spent time in Juarez, I can tell you first hand, the movie doesn't look authentic) or the way every character speaks perfect English.

Cahill asked returning cast member Oleg if he could use 1974 pickup as a picture car. Cahill didn't provide any compensation or insurance. Oleg drove out to Adelanto in 115 degree weather on his own dime and he blew a rod right through the lower crank case. The truck went kaput. He called Cahill. Cahill told him to leave the truck there and someone would be dispatched to pick him up off the side of the road. Even though it was a picture car for the production, Cahill didn't offer to pay for the repair, any sympathy, or even an apology. Zatespin sent him the tow bill (not the mechanic's bill) and parted ways with Cahill.

I exchanged emails with Dudley, met him once outside his place in Van Nuys, and then had a half dozen beers with him over the course of a few hours at the Red Lion tavern in LA. We talked about filmmaking, an enterprise far more suited to Sisyphus and Kafka than Horatio Alger. Dudley is still working in the trenches. He talked about his two kids and his upcoming projects. We swapped stories of evil producers that live to short change you, and rough shoots we should have quit. Conversations always circled back to Cahill and Snitch'd. Dudley was candid and funny, and I couldn't tell if memories of Cahill were painful, annoying, or cathartic. When asked if Dudley would work with him again if asked, he said he would be polite, but wouldn't do it in a million years. He was intrigued when I told him how Cahill's mood changed when I mentioned Dudley's name, and told me that he saw a casting notice for a comedy that Cahill was trying to get off the ground, featuring a “fat, cranky cinematographer” character. Dudley didn't know if that was a knock on him. He was worried that the piece would be a one-sided mocking of Cahill and his work, and we wondered how the guy found the time to teach English, teach drama, teach tango, compete in tango, achieve the rank of black belt in marital arts, publish books by a bestselling author, sell expensive books to collectors, and write, producer, and star in multiple nationally distributed movies. We both admire him.

Oleg kept acting in small speaking rolls. He has appeared in high-profile shows: Party Down, My Name Is Earl, NCIS, Scrubs, and Monk (amongst others). He was recently released by his agency, which wasn't much of a disappointment, because he wasn't happy with his representation in the first place. Not that's hurting, he is the part owner of a few high profile clubs in Orange County and Hollywood, and owns a company that deals in textiles used in the production of high end jeans. "I love acting, but the biz side sucks," he told me. He wants a roll where he can show more emotion, wants to collaborate with major talents. He's about to put together another reel to look for new representation. He'd work with Cahill again provided he was compensated. The truck is water under the bridge.

The opening scene for Cahill's second movie, Juarez, Mexico was shot in the high desert, outside Adelanto, California. They set up a complicated scene shooting a moodily lit ritual sacrifice at night, with the harsh California shrub land doubling for the Chihuahuan desert. Cahill dispatched a PA to find some extras. The PA drove to the local Dairy Queen and asked a carload of teens if they wanted to be in a movie. They said yes. They all drove back to the set, where they were directed to ask as cult members, watching a spooky occult murder in the middle of nowhere. The scene is complicated technically, and important to set up the ominous tone for the rest of the film. During an ebb in shooting, one of the teens eyed the director. He looked familiar. The teen hesitated, then asked, “you're the guy from Snitch'd, right?”





(1) This is what making a low-budget movie is like: you wake up at four in the morning, having gone to sleep at two thirty the night before. You didn’t get any sleep, instead you laid in bed, petrified in fear and immobile from stress. You stumble past ugly piles of dirty gear and sleeping crew members in your house, which smells like feet, into your kitchen which hasn't been cleaned in days, where you drink an energy drink because you don’t have the time to make coffee, followed by taking a quick shower while dreading the day in front of you. You are shooting at a location you got for free, and you are terrified the entire time of the crew damaging it, or somehow someone managing to offend the owner of the property, who is already upset. You can’t afford any damage. You can’t afford to loose the location. You actually can’t afford to do anything, because you have gone over budget and over schedule and far in debt and you’re nowhere near finished. You arrive on time, hoping during the drive that that the crew that you didn't drive yourself arrives on time, because they were the only people you could find that would work for the peanuts you’re able to pay. There is no conversation in your car on the way to set. Everyone is sick of each other. You hope the actors arrive on time, because if they don’t you don’t know what you’re going to do. You hope they remember their lines because if they don’t, you’re fucked. You hope that your star didn’t decide to shave their facial hair or change their haircut, because that would ruin the continuity. You arrive to stale unhealthy donuts and shitty lukewarm coffee and begin answering questions from the crew, knowing you have to be as polite and diplomatic as possible because they are all there for free or close to it. You can’t possibly answer all their questions, because most of the time the answer would be a) of course not, I don’t have any money, or b) I don’t know yet, because of (a), but I am going to try to figure something out (which you won't be able to). The actors and crew arrive and somehow the owner of the property where you’re shooting doesn’t tell you that he changed his mind and you have to leave, although he is considering it. You block out the scene. It’s clunky and doesn’t really work, but you have no choice given the location and the fact you have no more time and no alternative. You light the scene with your DP, who doesn’t have enough lights nor time to do a job everyone can be proud of. Thankfully the light coming in from outside is remaining relatively consistent and won’t require too much relighting, and for some reason this is the only corner in North America where there isn’t a leaf blower down the street or a helicopter overhead and your beleaguered sound guy (who you will discover is not lying when he says you can't shoot and you do anyway because you can't possibly stop for sound on your oppressive schedule and much of the dialog will have to be replaced in ADR, which is expensive, time-consuming, and sounds fake) says that its okay to shoot. The actors do the scene. Its, uh, um, okay (not really). They flub a few takes. You don’t have the luxury of critiquing the performance and guiding it into something you’d like and would be part of a cohesive whole, you just have to hope like hell that they manage to finish it once so you can get out of the location in time. They manage to do it once without fucking up their lines. You ask the soundperson if the sound is acceptable. The soundperson answers that it is, but you can’t tell if they just said that just because they want to leave. You ask the cameraperson if the actors managed to stay in focus. They insist they did. You thank them, knowing that they want to be there even less then you and you don’t have the resources of a big production where you get to monitor things to your satisfaction. You take their word for it, and you say that the crew can move on, which is good, because you are already running late. As the crew wraps out of the location, you help carry gear out, inwardly cringing anytime someone swings a heavy stand near the glass coffee table or almost takes a divot out the drywall while lugging an oversized pelican case through a doorway. The owner of the property is standing over you like permanently ruined finances incarnate, and does everything but go over the interior with a magnifying glass. You heave an inward sigh of relief as you leave the location, cut short by the thudding realization that you need to continue this bleak and terrible process at three more locations until 2 in the morning, then it is repeated for two more weeks. You eventually finish shooting the movie. A year later, you finish editing it. Nobody likes it (especially not you) and it never get distributed. You spend the rest of your life ashamed. You die alone. You spend the rest of eternity in hell.

(2) In the film's credits, Donn Keresey receives a writing credit in addition to Cahill. In my copy of the film's screenplay, which is 90% of what was in the finished product, Cahill receives sole credit.

(3) The film was shot in August of 1999. Take a second to reflect on the changes in American society between 1999 and 2003, and think about sticking with the arduous post process on a movie like Snitch'd.

(4) Billy Jack is a similar film to Snitch'd, both made by humorless ego cases. Puerile politics and monstrous ego aside, Laughlin isn't a bad action director and is a charismatic leading man, so its easy to see how Billy Jack rode the zeitgeist straight to box office gold. Its also easy to see how a charmless square like Cahill stunk up the joint.

(5) 'Weak' could be defined in Cahill's universe as anyone that is not Cahill, but he defends the virtuous weak. How's this for a stacked deck? He beats up teenage gang members that were picking on retarded kid for no reason.

(6) Which isn't as stupid as his follow-up feature, Juarez, Mexico, where the murders of 100's of maquiladora workers in a country where the government is hopelessly corrupt and dependent on drug money to function can be solved by one karate detective (Cahill) who doesn't even bother to learn how to speak Spanish.

(7) There are exceptions. James Cameron, whose last two movies were sequential all-time box office top-grossing champs, uses a 'scriptment', which is still whittled down to a screenplay. Stanley Kubrick, who knew a thing or two about filmmaking, also deviated from the accepted format. Another expectation is improvisational films, which would be impossible to script. Snitch'd is not improv, and there was no involvement by James Cameron or Stanley Kubrick.

(8) Both titles have nothing to do with the movie.

(9) Elvis Presley was also a black belt in Kenpo Karate. Wonder how The King would do in a modern MMA competition? Just sayin’.

(10) James Cahill Publishing is part of the 'Society of the Cusslerman' website, “developed for Clive Cussler book collectors who require pictures, details and information of every book published throughout the US and UK.” You can check it out (or not) here: http://www.cusslermen.com/ if you want to order a $125 limited edition copy of Cussler’s Pacific Vortex with a $6.50 shipping fee (a used copy on amazon.com will set you back 0.44¢ with an added $3.99 for shipping) be my guest, moneybags - here’s the link to James Cahill Publishing: http://www.cusslermen.com/Cahill.htm

(11) www.dodgingbullets.net

(12) Before the internet, and before cheap, feature-quality digital cameras became obsequious, there were ads in Backstage West and Dramalogue where Directors of Photography could ply their wares.

(13) How rare? The television show The O.C. is not shot in the OC. Nor was the film Orange County.

(14) The couch features in the film. When Cahill's character and his recently-shot partner, Burke, bullshit on the couch and take some sexist jibe's at the later's wife, they are sitting on Dudley's sleeping spot.

(15) Credited as 'Elvira Jiminez'.

(16) VTR, was invented by Jerry Lewis (yes, that one) so he could watch himself pretend to be a spastic when he directing his own movies. It involves receiving and recording a video feed from the film camera so the director (or whoever has the juice) can watch that scene as it happens, and since it is being recorded, review it later.

(17) I will never find fault with a movie for including a flying kick done on stilts.

(18) “[t]he guy” is actually one of Cahill’s drama students, who was roughed up by his teacher in the scene.

(19) SMPTE ('The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers') timecode is way of syncing each picture and sound file. Its irritating, technical, easy to ignore, and easy to fuck up.

(20) You can find the film in the Spanish language section at many Best Buys, often at a significant discount. Its sad, because the film contains next to no Spanish.

(21) The marketing team for Snitch'd did a bang-up job, except for inexplicably failing to exploit the fact that Eva Longoria somehow ended up in them movie. Quite a few people, including the person that showed me the movie, bought in based on the cover, which features a the muscular, gun toting tough guy with garish tattoos and the tagline “East LA's pushers have a new menace... The DEA has a new partner”. The DEA, East LA or the man on the cover are not featured in the movie.

(22) I've bought a good half-dozen copies of Snitch'd & never seen it offered for more than $9.99, back when that was a good deal. Best Buy had it by the bushel in discount bins for $4.99, and as of this writing its available for $5.00 new and $1.96 used on Amazon.com – heck of a deal for that much entertainment.