Writing Reality with Zombies

I finished writing the zombie movie. I read it to my youngest brother. He said it's the "funniest, most interesting thing" I've written.

Zombie image courtesy of Uncherished
That means a lot coming from him. It's not that he is a film connoisseur or that I am in particular need of his approval. I just don't think there's been one artistic thing I've done that he's really connected to. I mean, I know he's liked things I've done enough to say "that was funny" or "it's interesting," but I've never gotten the combination together.

I realize there might be a chance that someone just reads that as me being sarcastic, since his statement was simply a combination of the two things he usually says, so let me clarify by saying: the dude liked it.

This is huge for me. I rarely set out to make something that appeals to younger people, meets this demographic, or is "popular." I literally cannot operate like that on a 100% capacity. I mean, somewhere in my head I'm sure I'm aware that that's coming into play as I think about an audience, but those thoughts usually dissipate to what I feel MUST happen. It's like once you have characters living and acting in a world you've created, they cannot be any different than they are. You can only change scenarios. They might say different things in the new scenarios, but, more than likely, the best combination will be what is most appealing to me personally.

That's the funny thing about writing a story. A writer makes around 12,000 choices (guesstimate) that will lead a reader from beginning to end. There could be so many different paths along the way, but each writer is going to make decisions based on personal interests, identity, and upbringing--there are also a hundred other elements that I'm not including in this minor and limited list, but I hope to just graze the surface of this idea for the sake of the point--and that is that a written work (or any created piece of art) requires a series of choices that are also based on the series of choices that make up each individual artist. So, if you can imagine, a completed work of art is really more like an M. C. Escher painting.

Like the Escher painting pictured, we can see continuous reflections of a set of stairs. Our eyes can wander up and down any set of stairs, as we try to move up and down this maze of possibilities. Each of us is going to gravitate to a different point, and each of us is going to traverse a different path. This is a rough approximation of the decisions that lead us through life or the creation of a work of art. My brother might find this painting to be a gimmick or an interesting piece for the contextual reference of this posting now having an experiential effect on his viewing of this piece. He may, like most of us, forget the correlation of this post with the painting and experience it completely fresh based on the specific moment when he views the piece.

Likewise, my brother's acknowledgement of the zombie script as something worthwhile could simply be an alignment of tastes and choices in his life at this particular moment, and the choices I made to create it. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I've finally appealed to someone whose tastes in life are so radically different from my own. That, in essence, is what I would hope for when creating something, but that I can't entirely manufacture without losing the essence of an unconstrained work of art.

No one wants to feel duped into a purchase, unless the purchase itself is outwardly making an ironic comment on people being swindled. That's the funny thing about creation. People often get so caught up in making something appeal to one group or another that they swallow the actual possibility of making something that is real. This is what lies at the heart of everything we encounter in our everyday lives. We are looking to react to what is real--a proposition that can become bewildering when the constant advertisements and stories we are fed by the media and our own friends and family are befuddled with a lack of authenticity.

That is why what appeals to me most in life is when people are offering something that is true. I have been able to find this in the works of countless artists, including fellow contemporaries (small sampling), such as Harryette Mullen, Tao Lin, Jordan Castro, Noah Cicero, Jeffrey Brown, Keith Haring, Caveh Zahedi, and Brad Warner. Each of them offers their truth to the world, and I can acknowledge each of their creations because they touch this chord. I may not agree entirely with the ideologies each offers, but I can appreciate that their creations are the products of seeking the truth within themselves. This is often more successful in certain pieces than others, but those works that offer the most honest reflection is often what is the most appealing.

This last element is what drives me each day to create the things I offer to the world. In some cases, I may be telling the best lie that is actually my most honest reflection, but it is this reflection of reality as I see it--or its manipulation into a way that others can digest it into the way I see it--that excites me most about making films or anything else.

So when my brother says that he enjoyed a comedic zombie script that is a comment on consumerism and the way people interact and digest reality, I can pat myself on the back, because it's so rare to make something that appeals to myself and another person that has a completely different world view. Of course, the funny thing will be if anyone else likes this script besides him. It could be that I've written something that appeals only to people in their twenties. That's fine though. I can always try again. It's fun to make things. Maybe this time a film about vampires aging or a Martian invasion will be closer to the truth.

2012 Update

I have been fairly busy since my last posting refining the films I did last year for distribution. Now it looks like things are steamrolling for an eventual release this year of two films: SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL (SFAA) and THE HUMAN WAR (THW).

SFAA is an adaptation of the novella by Tao Lin that also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film has gotten a lot of attention from its inception as an Indiegogo fundraiser and throughout its filming. Now various edits are making their way through the festival circuit. I haven't sent it to a lot of festivals because it's a costly process, so I'll only send to a few more that seem worthwhile. If it makes one of these festivals--which is difficult when you don't know anyone at a festival and your film is one among thousands--then the release date will be sometime in October. If we don't make any and we go to virtual distribution, then we'll have to wait and see if a virtual distribution company wants to take us on, or if it's in our better interest to distribute independently.

Many independent filmmakers are distributing independently these days. Some are not even bothering with a festival release or going to a virtual distribution company. I understand the sentiment. I do think it makes sense for certain films with an incredible fan-base to go straight to independent distribution. SFAA might be just such a film. Timing is really the main factor. That's why I'm currently looking into how I can coincide a multi-tiered campaign that includes a festival release, digital distribution, and a film tour for indie films and artists. I'm not sure if I can pull off this tour in a major way, but I would like to do a tour of 5-7 cities on the West and East Coast with some of the films I've created (and a few others) and a few bands. I'll be arranging all this when I return from teaching some film courses in Korea in August. Who knows? This might be the best route for SFAA and THW.

Speaking of THW, that film has been a two-year process in the editing room. Why is this? Well, it's mainly due to money and time. Now we've finally gotten things set with a final polish by the best editor in the world Stephanie Shyu--Steph did SFAA and is now editing the Brad Warner documentary. Currently, Mike Franklin is mixing the sound for the film. The final product will start making its rounds to the festivals in August. My guess is that it'll get a festival release by January, if we're lucky.

In the meantime, the Brad Warner documentary will be edited in the next few months. Afterwards, it'll go through its sound mix and be ready for a potential festival release by October. I am not sure of its exact release date, because, at this point, I'll have to see if it'll be in our better interest to go with a festival or straight to distribution. Again, it's a matter of timing. Each successive film builds on the previous, and with the virtual distribution platform changing so rapidly for films, it's hard to say what will be the best route forward.

That's why I'm currently exploring the webisode market. Films are a costly and extensive process. Each one takes at least two years to fully complete, so the attraction of doing webisodes fits better with my interest in creating and releasing something quickly. I don't know how many webisodes I'll do before doing a full film again, but I am looking at how to create a film that operates first as webisodes, and then progresses into a release of a full film with its collected parts. This proposition seems the most attractive way to release a film at the moment. In the future, and with the relative success of these projects, I may have the financial freedom to create a film with a large budget, but, for now, I believe the next projects will be straight webisodes and collected webisodes that can then be released as a feature film.

This next year will be a busy one with releasing the films and creating web content. Brad Warner and I will be moving in together in June to start the process. The plan is to start a factory of creation. We have some ideas ready to go, but I'm most excited about a script I'm writing about zombies. Time will tell if it sees the light of day. Thus far, the first third of the film seems exciting to me. If you see a fundraiser in October or so, then that means it was worth doing. We'll just have to see if anyone else likes the idea as well.