Saturday, April 14, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN Ep. 5: Mirrored

In the fifth webisode of the sci-fi series, THE HOUSE BETWEEN, a new danger emerges when provisions dwindle...and a shortage of food is imminent in the hermetically-sealed house. In an effort to communicate with their invisible caretaker or warden, Theresa (Alicia A. Wood) suggests a seance. Unfortunately, the seance has drastic repercussions, landing a mysterious mirror in the house; one that has profound impact on Astrid (Kim Breeding), Arlo (Jim Blanton), Travis (Lee Hansen), Bill (Tony Mercer) and Theresa herself. Written and directed by John Kenneth Muir. Produced for the Lulu Show LLC by Joseph Maddrey

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The House Between Episode # 5 ("Mirrored") Director's Notes.

This was The House Between episode that almost wasn't.

Basically - in some weird fashion - The House Between first season is a story - a mystery - consisting of three movements. "Arrived" and "Settled" comprise one block of character time and an introduction to the series. Occurring sometime later, episodes three and four - "Positioned" and "Visited" - form a second block. Finally, the concluding episodes you haven't seen yet - "Trashed" and "Departed?" - represent the third and climactic component of the year's story arc. Now, if I had the luxury of 24 episodes (which I'd really, really like...), the same development would have occurred across two dozen shows, not a half-dozen. But that's another story. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you don't make a TV show with the budget and time you want; but the budget and time you have.

So anyway, that leaves part 5 of the season, "Mirrored." The story you almost never saw. And if you ask a lot of the production team, perhaps the best script of the bunch. And the one everybody had the best time filming, I think. But more on that in a minute.

Some background: basically, the original plan had been to shoot six stories in seven days. Saner heads than I suggested six episodes...and a back-up day for re-shoots in case of disaster. But I wanted to go for broke; go for seven stories. "Mirrored" therefore, was written as that final optional episode, a standalone tale to fit in the middle of the continuity, that - if we didn't get to it - well, the story wouldn't really suffer all that much. Reading this explanation, I guess one could conclude it's somehow disposable.

But you won't say that once you've seen it. That's for sure. "Mirrored" is so filled with great character moments and pieces of the overall mystery, that I can't imagine the series without it. A lot in Year Two builds on things you see (or don't see...) in this story.

My inspiration for "Mirrored" is - as some commenters guessed - a classic Star Trek episode. But interestingly, it's not the episode "Mirror, Mirror" that this episode riffs on. Nope. Instead, it's an homage to my very favorite of all Star Trek episodes: D.C. Fontana's stirring and brilliant "This Side of Paradise." I guess I'm not a conventional Star Trek fan in that my favorite episode doesn't concern Romulans or Klingons or phaser battles...but rather a very personal journey for the characters, particularly Mr. Spock (though Captain Kirk goes through quite a lot too, in the show).


So anyway, back to shooting "Mirrored." By Day Five, we were so confident of our progress that everyone decided - more or less together, if I remember correctly, to shoot the episode in sequential order. We knew were going to get all the shows done, and it just seemed right. So, we tackled the script, and the cast jumped in with a re-energized level of engagement and excitement that you will see; that practically jumps from the screen. This isn't to say the cast wasn't great every day, only that "Mirrored" offered a fresh set of opportunities. You see, I had provided each actor a sort of secret "information' sheet about their characters. These forms discussed history, relationships, career, family, background and other data. The thing is, however, not all of this information gets to the screen when the scripts focus on, essentially, "the crisis of the week." "Mirrored" was different, however, because it brought to the surface many of these facets for all the characters. You'll see Astrid and Theresa and Travis and Arlo and Bill as you've never seen them before here. They're consistent with the other episodes, but showcasing new layers. And I think that's why I love the episode so much. And probably the same goes for the cast.

Day Five, shooting "MIrrored" was the only day we had a "closed" set during the shoot. There were some sequences where everybody had to leave the room (even the lighting directors...), leaving only two performers and two camera men. The reason? Some scenes are pretty emotional, pretty raw. And the actors really wanted to concentrate and focus on the work without it being a sort of sideshow.


The day remains special for me as a director because somehow we found the time to elaborate on the script at points, go deeper than we had imagined. For instance, we shot a few extra shots in a Travis/Astrid confrontation that weren't in the script but that just make that scene come to life. And feel so right and true. Also, I came up with a one sentence directing cue for Lee and Kim in a later scene, and boy oh boy did they run with it. It proved the key to a sequence that I think is hysterical. I'm not patting myself on the back; it was just a throwaway notion, and it was these two great actors who just went for broke. I love their moments together in "MIrrored." Kim really "exposes" a lot about Astrid in this episode, and again reveals the depth of her versatility. I've yet to find a scene she can't play (but I'm working on it!!!) And Lee? Well, as Tony Mercer commented after viewing a rough cut of the episode, The House Between can never get enough of Lee Hansen; he can go as "big" as he wants and not risk being over the top. I must say, I also believe Tony pinpointed exactly the right tone for Bill in this episode: he's the rock, the anchor, the steadiness which all the craziness orbits. He's a master of the "slow burn," and he puts that skill to great use here. And Alicia Wood. My god! Watching her in "Mirrored" I think you just fall in love with Theresa...I know I do. She has a gorgeous, fetching smile that Theresa doesn't often show...and it's breathtaking and heartbreaking here. And Jim -- our dependable Arlo - again beautifully navigates the unpredictable nature of his character: naive and innocent one moment, unexpectedly dangerous the next. That's why I love all these performers.


I don't want to go into too much detail about "Mirrored" but there are things about the show I will always love. Things you get to see that you never get to see in other House Between episodes. Yes, this is our sex romp. Yes, this is our funny episode. But it's also a touching one, I believe, an emotional one. I have written here before how "Settled" is the episode that I believe best expresses my core concepts for the series. "Mirrored" is a reflection of "Settled," a spin on the same sort of story, with a comedic bent.

Hope you like it! It's uploading as I type. In the meantime, check out this wiki on The House Between.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Now Available: THEY HUNGER!

Look at this! Fellow North Carolinian and horror author Scott Nicholson, has just seen his sixth genre novel published: They Hunger. And - I love this - Publisher's Weekly calls the book "a vampiric Deliverance."

From the press release
: What happens when an FBI manhunt, an experimental rafting expedition, a deranged killer and primordial blood-sucking creatures collide in the Southern Appalachian wilderness?

Author Scott Nicholson set his tale in a fictionalized version of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area in the North Carolina mountains, where he often camps and hikes. The Linville River contains some of the most treacherous whitewater in the eastern United States, and Nicholson wondered what would happen if a group was testing out an experimental raft and ran into some interesting problems.

"Hiking in the gorge, I started picturing these primitive vampire creatures swooping down from the cliffs," Nicholson said. "I don't get scared very easily, but the idea made me walk a little faster."

Nicholson also drew on elements of the hunt for Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph. In "They Hunger," a pair of FBI agents close in on Ace Goodall, an abortion clinic bomber who has been hiding out for weeks and suffers from religious delusions. A trip wire at the bomber's camp sets off an explosion that opens crevices in the ancient mountains, exposing the lair of bloodthirsty creatures that have been dormant for centuries.

"All these different characters meet in the worst possible conditions, and not everybody is interested in mutual survival," the author said. "The river is the only escape from the vampires. But when a freak storm erupts, the natural and supernatural worlds collide and humans seem awfully fragile."


Cool, huh? Someone needs to turn this into a movie, NOW! Scott is also a contributor to my Horror Films of the 1980s, offering his insights on horror cinema from the Reagan era, and he's a terrific non-fiction writer too. I've greedily devoured all of his novels, and I can't wait to read They Hunger. The book is available here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 58: Costumes!


Okay, so, if I wanted to humiliate myself more than usual, I'd be showing some really embarrassing photographs in this post. Let's see, there's the photo of me as a nine year-old kid dressed as a Cylon Centurion from Battlestar Galactica (back in 1978, before Cylons were sexy women with glowing spines). And there's the photo of me from my senior year of high school where I'm dressed up as Mr. Spock, replete with pointed ears, black wig, and phaser. And then there's the photo of me as the evil Michael Myers my sophomore year in college.

Now there's a story there, in that last picture. It was Halloween 1990, and Kathryn couldn't come out to play. So, left to my own devices, I decided at midnight to dress up in my Michael Myers, aka "The Shape" overalls and mask and make my tender way over to the girl's dorm on the other side of the campus, across the lake. Well, I did that, and stood in front of the girl's dorm - immobile - just breathing heavy - for like an hour. It scared a few young nubile co-eds, and then I decided it was time to go home.

So I was walking home, across the bridge separating the girl's side of campus from the boy's side of campus. By this time, I wasn't even trying to be frightening. I felt kind of deflated. My face smelled like sweat and spittle, thanks to that damn William Shatner mask, and I was hot and uncomfortable. So I was totally taken by surprise when I bumped into a young freshman girl jogging on the bridge by light of the full moon.

Let me just say, I scared the absolute crap out of this poor girl. From her perspective, she jogged right into Michael Myers. But you see, it wasn't so much fun after all. She fell down in terror, and almost fell off the bridge. I had to rip my mask off and apologize. I tried to tell her that on Halloween everyone deserves "one good scare," but she wasn't having it. She ran away, into the dark, and I felt like a heel. This almost rivals the time I was stopped by the police carrying a machine gun, but that's a story for another post...

*Sigh.* The good old days.

Anyway, after that long and mostly irrelevant introduction, I'm now focusing on another favorite sci-fi collectible today: the costume!!! Hanging in my closet, I not only have a blue Mr. Spock uniform, but a first season Captain Picard uniform, and - yes - an Admiral Kirk uniform from The Wrath of Khan, replete with blood stain. I keep measuring Joel to see when he'll fit into any one of these...


I don't know what it is about dressing up like your heroes (or nightmares...), but I suppose it has something to do with delving deeper into your favorite fictional world. I will say this: Kathryn looks great in a beehive, Spock uniform and go-go boots...

Whenever I visit conventions, I really dig seeing all the folks in costume: the Klingons, the stormtroopers, the Jedi and so on..


So you don't get to see any of the fun photos, I mentioned above, just a shot of the Simplicity pattern from 1992 (from the 2 hour express collection...) of the Star Trek uniforms; and this book from the era of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, called "Make-Your Own-Costume Book."

If I could have any sci-fi costume in the universe, I'd want either a Commander Koenig outfit from Space:1999, or, perhaps even more so, a Sandman uniform from the movie Logan's Run. And it would have to come complete with one of those "flare" guns to take out runners. Of course at my age, my life clock would be black.


So, how about you? What's your dream sci-fi costume?

Monday, April 09, 2007

TV REVIEW: This American Life

One can only wish that all network "reality" television were this good. This American Life is a Showtime "reality" series that, per episode gazes at - but doesn't exploit - the behavior of unusual individuals who share a common problem/world view. That world view may have positive or negative ramifications for said person, but Ira Glass, our series host (who brings the series to television from NPR ...) is restrained and objective, and even though the series is, at times, howlingly funny, one never senses the host's laughing at anyone. He's just observing.

Each installment of This American Life targets "some theme," according to Glass's voice over narration, and then observes how some unique people relate to that theme. In the first episode, that theme is a "reality check," a splash of cold water on the face in which the subject is unwittingly snapped back to unpleasant reality.

The first story in the episode involves farmers Ralph Fisher and Sandra Reddell who, as the story commences, mourn the untimely loss of their pet, a prized bull named Chance. Now, Chance is a special sort of bull. He's tame, loving (he sleeps in the yard...), and had been a guest star in Hollywood films and even on the Letterman Show. He was a loving and sweet pet; part of the family; and Ralph quickly decided he couldn't do without him. That the pain of life without beloved Chance was simply too great a burden to shoulder.

So, Ralph did what was unthinkable just a few short years ago. He has Chance cloned at Texas A&M. As the episode goes on, viewers are introduced "Second Chance," Chance's unusual progeny. The reality check, however, comes into play when Ralph blithely attempts to act like this new bull is actually the bull he's always loved. In a horrifying moment, the young bull gores his owner, sending Ralph to the hospital with bloody wounds (a testicle is destroyed...). The reality check? This changeling isn't Chance at all; not a docile animal...but a bull like most others...just an animal. The sad and enduring fact we remember from Ralph's folly is that death is permanent. We can't bring back our loved ones, no matter how much we try. In horror and science fiction, we've seen this story played out as Pet Sematary, as one example, but it's a little shocking to see it played for real, in a non-fictional setting. The future has truly arrived, I guess. Finally, what makes this segment so fascinating is the way it charts the intersection of the contemporary American family with modern technology. We watch an "average" guy deal with something from the twilight zone - cloning - and it's a fascinating drama.
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The second act of This American Life's first episode is called "The Spy Who Loved Everybody" and it concerns a group called "Improv Everywhere" that plays pranks (the group calls them missions...) on clueless people. The twist is that the pranksters, here termed "agents" want to help people, not hurt them with their missions. In "The Greatest Gig Ever" (mission # 37), the group decides to go give a fledgling, unknown rock group, Ghosts of Pasha, the best reception they've ever seen. The unsuspecting band is thus surprised to discover their new "fan base" at a gig, people who wear "Ghosts of Pasha" T-shirts and know all the lyrics to the band's songs, so they can sing along.

The "reality check" arrives when the group learns, days later, that they've been punk'd. That the response to their music was not authentic; just a trick. Suddenly, the band members are forced to countenance the idea of what it means to be a real band. Is it better be loved unconditionally - as a lie, or simply be unknown? This is another heart wrenching segment, in part because the sensitive leader of the band has lived his life in fear of ridicule, based on an experience with a bully during school. Suddenly, he's the object of a "joke" again. How he responds to this situation is touching, and a re-affirmation of the indomitable human spirit. Are the pranksters kind or wrong-headed? I fall on the wrong-headed side, but you should watch this episode to see how Ghosts of Pasha handles being "punked."

Another episode deals with the notion of "re-inventing your life" and whether it is ever too early, or too late to do that. In "Lights, Camera, Traction" a group of senior citizens dream of making their own short film and getting it into the Sundance Film Festival. The second story involves a grown woman who reads aloud from her diary. The document was written when she was thirteen, and is quite shocking to say the least.

So much of reality television is about dressing people down; about judges criticizing people and making them feel small. So much of reality television is about desperate people humiliating themselves for their fifteen minutes of fame. This American Life represents something totally the opposite. It's an exploration of the bonds and emotions that humans share. There's no finger pointing; just a tugging at the communal heart strings. This isn't a reality show about what separates us, but about what we hold in common.