Thursday, March 29, 2007

The House Between Episode # 4 ("Visited") Director's Notes

This week, I want to share my thoughts on The House Between, episode #4, titled "Visited."

In short: this is our cursed show. Although we had an amazingly smooth shoot, on the day we shot "Visited" our lights kept blowing out. One bulb after the other, after the other, after the other. Finally, production ground to a halt as we ran out of the entire back-up supply of bulbs in short order, and I had to send poor pregnant Kathryn 35 miles away to Uptown Charlotte to find a vendor with more of them. So that wasn't good. I began searching around my shed for a light bar I once utilized on my old movies. It's a device that I kiddingly referred to as "the artificial sun" because it generates so much light (and heat). Amazingly, my resourceful lighting directors Bobby and Kevin were able to make do with this substitute in the short term...and still deliver great work.

So we got through the shoot and put the lighting issue behind us. Then I went to dailies and saw that for some odd reason, the sound was absolutely sub-par for this episode. We used the same mic, the same actors, and the same location as we did every other day, but for some damn reason...the sound was rotten this day. I've restored it the best I possibly could.

Then I got to editing and - lo and behold - the episode started to vex me yet again. Why? Well, it's the most complex, special and sound effects heavy episode so far, and it has been kicking my ass for two weeks. More significantly, it's been kicking the ass of my editing program, Sony Vegas Platinum. I have not been able to get a decent render on the final version of the show yet...the editing program just keeps crashing and crashing. I keep getting an "Exception Error" that said there's an "access violation." Whatever! I've been at this night and day, day and night for over a week now, trying desperately to get a usable episode render. I'm not a happy camper. At this point, I still don't have a decent render, and it's getting perilously close to upload time. Boogers!

"Visited" is our scary and atmospheric episode. And I don't mean just because it's been scaring me this week, either. Part of my task in creating The House Between was to demonstrate how a seemingly basic and limited formula (five people in a house, no way out...) could actually afford the clever scenarist dozens if not hundreds of different and fascinating plots. So we've had our introductory episode ("Arrived"), we had our moody, metaphysical episode ("Settled"), we had our action episode ("Positioned") and now we come to the atmospheric, creepy "Visited." I hope you like what you see. Be sure to watch it with the lights down

Now, storywise, I can't point to any direct series or episode antecedents in "Visited." I will state that this episode introduces the series' recurring enemy, like the Klingon or Borg, the creepy "Outdwellers." Interestingly, if you've watched the series closely, you've already glimpsed these ghouls. Don't know what I'm talking about? Go back to "Arrived" and watch the first ten minutes again. Very closely. Keep a good eye out. There's an Outdweller there...just keep looking. They were always a part of my vision for the show, and a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Anyway, I did name the "Outdwellers" after the mutant "Underdwellers" in the animated 1970s series Return to the Planet of the Apes. Rob Floyd, our special effects guy, designed the creatures and did a hell of a job making them spooky. In garb and style, they are also reminiscent of the mutants from one of my favorite 1970s flicks, The Omega Man.

Ironically, I don't really have too many distinct memories of shooting this episode besides the bulb incident. I think the photography and compositions in this episode are amongst the best of the series. And there was a dramatic scene set in the Parlor from Hell that took forever. Other than that, I was happy with the performances, enthused by the creepy lighting design, excited by the look of our monsters and so forth.

We'll see what you have to say after you watch. If the bloody thing ever renders...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 56: Buena Vista Read Along Adventures.

Ah yes, another relic of a bygone age of toys (namely the 1970s and 1980s).

Almost two decades ago, well before DVD players (and in the era of VCRs...), another way for fans to experience the glory of their favorite sf movie (like Star Wars or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) involved the exciting technology of...cassettes. Perfect for Borat in Khazikstan today...

What's a cassette? Oh come on, you know! Search your memories....before CDs...after know! Anyway, Buena Vista Records manufactured a number of "Read-Along Adventures" for the young ones. These were cassettes that narrated an adventure while the youngling could read along in a 24-page book. "SEE the pictures. HEAR the tape. READ the book," read the material on the back cover of each 24-page book.

Also, Buena Vista noted, you could "give your child a head start in learning to read" with this "24-page book" "filled with full-color illustrations and a high quality read-along cassette." What could be more fun that? Besides DVDs and X-Box, of course...

The back cover also noted that each book features "word-for-word story narration, dramatic character dialogue, authentic sound effects and musical backgrounds." Neat.

In its day, the company released a variety of Star Wars books (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Planet of the Hoojibs, Droid World, The Ewoks Join the FIght) and didn't slight Star Trek either, making books based on The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan and The Search For Spock.

Other titles included Gremlins, The Dark Crystal, E.T. and The Black Stallion. One of my favorites was The Last Starfighter.
A thrill of these "book and cassette" combos was that in some cases (Star Trek and The Last Starfighter, for instance), the books utilized photographs from the actual productions rather than illustrations. This often meant you'd see images that weren't very common; or even better - had been deleted from the film. For instance, there's an interesting view of the U.S.S. Enterprise reckoning with the V'Ger cloud in The Motion Picture edition. And personally, in regards to The Last Starfighter, I can simply never see enough of Catherine Mary Stewart.

As the interior of each book implored on the first page, "LET'S BEGIN NOW!" Really, was there ever a better time to be a kid than the 1970s and 1980s? I guess, cuz now kids have the Internet too. But forgive me for being nostalgic, all right?

Friday, March 23, 2007

The House Between: Episode Four Trailer ("Visited")

Here's a sneak peek at next week's episode of The House Between, "Visited."

Get ready for the "scare" show!

I'll be blogging my director's notes on "Visited" next Thursday, and the episode will be up Friday, March 30, 2007.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

TV REVIEW: The Tudors

It's good to be king. And it's also good to subscribe to Showtime.

On April 1st, Showtime premieres The Tudors, a new historical series drama created by Michael Hirst. It's the intriguing and - at times - blazingly sexual story of young English King Henry VIII, played with commendable zeal and arrogance by Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, and the goings-on in his majesty's royal court.

The first episode, airing at 10:00 pm April 1st, begins with the assassination of an English Ambassador in Urbino, Italy by command of the French king. King Henry considers French policies "aggressive" and a "threat to every Christian in Europe" and thus decides he is "just" in going to war with France. But, after making such grave pronouncements from the throne, the King really just wants to "play" and so spends time in his bed chambers frolicking with a mistress, bedding a gorgeous blond.

After sex, he asks her - straight-faced: "how is your husband?"

Whew! The "Young Lion," Henry, also happens to be married to Queen Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy), a regal Spanish woman who seems much Henry's elder. Thus far, Katherine has been unable to produce Henry a male heir, and begs him to return to her bed chamber to try again. In one episode, Henry seems so inclined, until another sexy blond Lady in Waiting catches his wandering eye instead. And since Katherine's still at prayer, while the cat (or queen's) away...

Fundamentally, The Tudors is the profile of an intemperate young King, one who is drunk with power. The first episode establishes Henry at play in bed, on the tennis court, and in dangerous knightly jousts (all historically accurate activities of the monarch, by the way). Needless to say, since he's King, everyone always lets Henry win...and thus he actually believes he's God's gift to Earth, and Christendom. In the second episode, when Henry forges an alliance with France and indulges in a wrestling match with the French King, he pays the price for such arrogance and hot-bloodedness. When he loses, he throws a temper tantrum in his quarters, taking it apart like it's one of Johnny Depp's old hotel rooms.

The Tudors consists of exquisite period detail, crisp writing and fine performances, and sets up an interesting dynamic among the King's top advisers. On one hand is manipulative Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neil), a high-ranking clergymen making back-room deals to become the next Pope, and who will do anything to grab and hold power. At this particular time, that means serving Henry, but one gets the feeling that's really just a means to an end. Another top advisor is Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), a humanist, idealist and good man who rightly decries war as "an activity for beasts" and says that war costs "ruinous amounts of money" and that Henry would be better off looking "to the welfare of the people." If you think there's a metaphor for our times, here in the 21st century, with the Iraq War, you're absolutely right. Everything King Henry does or doesn't do is about his "ego" and that reminds me of a certain Unitary Executive who believes he's above the Constitution. At least Henry is practical (unlike our President): he realizes that to afford a war, he will have to raise taxes. It's sad when a King from 500 years ago has a better grasp of economic realities than a 21st Century Commander-in-Chief.

Anyway, The Tudors is smart, sexy and literate. I love, for instance, how in one episode, King Henry balances carefully his opposite influences. He discusses, on one hand, Thomas More's Utopia, which calls to the highest angels of human nature and is an outline of how good human society could be. On the other hand, the King discusses his other favored reading material: Niccolo Machiavelli's treatise on "realist" politics, The Prince. How many other drama series today bother to so carefully delineate opposing world views? And use such examples?

Also in the first couple of episodes, King Henry faces an insurrection from inside his court, from the bold (but foolish) Lord Buckingham (Steven Waddington). Later episodes involve an English Ambassador, Boleyn (Nick Dunning), pimping out his gorgeous daughters Mary Boleyn (Perdita Weeks) and the mysterious, dark-beauty, Anne (Natalie Dormer) to the hot-blooded King in an attempt to advance the family's rank and position in court. What's even more intriguing, and at times funny, is the rapidly shifting national alliances. The King signs a treaty for perpetual peace with France, but when humiliated after the wrestling incident, signs the same treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor. When the Emperor breaks faith, the King wants a new treaty with...France! It's enough to make your head spin, and makes you realize - oce more - how all these games are about ego, not what's best for a nation.

Hot-blooded, steamy and witty, The Tudors makes English history come alive in vivid, entertaining terms. One thing's for certain: this show ain't boring! It makes a fine companion piece to other Showtime triumphs such as Brotherhood and Sleeper Cell. I'm actually kind of bummed, because my wife and I have greedily devoured the first six involving installments of the series, and now we have to wait for new episodes to premiere. Damn!

The Tudors

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Author Interview: Paul Kane, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy

Recently, I reviewed here The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, one of the finest and most thoughtful (and enjoyable...) movie companion books I've read in a long while.

This week, I had the opportunity to interview the book's author, Paul Kane, about his work in print, and also the Hellraiser films in general:

MUIR: Tell me how you first came to the idea of writing a companion to the Hellraiser films. Obviously you hold the films in high esteem, but what inspired you to pick up pen and paper, so-to-speak, and engage in this serious, well-written analysis of the franchise?

KANE: The simple answer to that one was it didn’t exist. I’ve been a fan of the series and especially the original movie since I first saw Pinhead looming out at me from the video store shelves when I was in my teens. Over the years there have been some excellent publications connected with both Clive Barker and the series – two by Stephen Jones spring to mind, Clive Barker’s Shadows in Eden and The Hellraiser Chronicles but none that systematically traced the production history or examined the themes in great detail.

Just after completing my BA in History of Art, Design and Film in the mid-90s I got involved in a comprehensive A-Z book of directors working in the industry, and one of the entries I chose to do was Clive, which meant doing a bit of research on Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions. When the company I did that work for had plans to set up an imprint doing short examinations of major movies, I suggested one about the first Hellraiser, something I’d originally been working on with a view to pitching it to the British Film Institute (like the excellent one they’d published concentrating on The Exorcist written by Mark Kermode). I wrote about 15,000 words of this while I was finishing up my MA in Film Studies, so I was noticing more and more with each fresh viewing. Sadly, the imprint vanished and left me with a manuscript I couldn’t get rid of, particularly as the BFI was easing up on their Modern Classics series. I approached a number of film book publishers, but only McFarland suggested I expand the book to incorporate all the movies and the comic series, as well as collectables, and it pretty much took off from there really. I had a few doubts about taking on all that work, but my wife, the horror writer Marie O’Regan, persuaded me to go for it because she knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t. But all in all it’s taken about eight or nine years to get there. So, to answer the question – it’s a book I felt needed to be written and would appeal not just to those interested in film analysis, but to fans of Hellraiser and of Clive’s work in general.

MUIR: Among all the horror franchises out there today, what quality (or qualities) do you think differentiate Hellraiser from the pack? What is it about this series that keeps you coming back?

KANE: When it first came out in 1987, the thing that really differentiated Hellraiser from the rest of the horror pack was that it worked on more than just a superficial level. Compared to the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th and Halloween sagas, this series had something quite serious to say about family life, about obsession, about love. It didn’t just have a killer ripping teens to pieces or quipping as they did so; which is no slight on those particular movies, I’m a huge fan of them too, I’m just saying that Hellraiser brought something new into the mix. A major reason for this was the Cenobites, who are actually not the villains at all when you think about it – Frank and Julia are much more ruthless and evil than they are! So I’d say the complex formula, and the mythology that’s grown from the original set up – introducing the dark god Leviathan, as well as other demons that serve him – is what continues to intrigue me and makes me want to return. It’s a mythology that can, and has, expanded in many different formats with many people adding to the creative pot.

MUIR: How do you feel the Hellraiser films have developed over time? I wrote in my review that I thought the films have gone downhill, but I hold the early entries in high regard. What is your perception of the films? Are they still worthwhile, and why? Was the fourth film the travesty I thought; or do I need to watch it again? Can you rehabilitate it for me?

KANE: I think anything that continues to add to a mythology like this one should be applauded; writers and directors have at least attempted to do something new with the material every time. Hellbound introduced us to Leviathan and the corridors of Hell only hinted at in the original. Hell on Earth gave us Pinhead’s back-history, which fans were crying out for. Bloodline showed the history of the box’s maker, Lemarchand, while Inferno grafted a detective/film noir storyline onto the source material. Hellseeker brought back Kirsty, Deader tackled what might happen if there was a group that could fight the Cenobites, and Hellworld looked at the fanbase and how this has stretched across the internet. Of course, all had their individual faults – from the ease with which Channard defeats the four original Cenobites in Hellbound to the teen killer scenarios of Hellworld, which are a far cry from Clive’s initial concepts. But at least some of the blame for the dip in quality was down to lack of money available and studio interference. The script for Peter Atkins’ original vision of Bloodline is phenomenal – if that had been made, and indeed there is a Yagher director’s cut in existence which was attempting just that, the series might not have gone the way of straight to video/DVD. But the ambition outweighed the budget and then the producers started to moan about Pinhead not being in it until the second section and, well, you get the picture. I think the people in charge of the later films thought they knew what fans wanted – stick Pinhead in there and they’ll be happy – and yet really didn’t understand what made the franchise so special in the first place. All the sequels have something to offer, though, as people will see if they read my book.

MUIR: What was it like getting to interview the great Clive Barker? Doug Bradley?

KANE: Oh, words can’t describe it. I’ve been fans of their work all my life so it’s hard not to get a little star-struck when you first meet someone you admire. However, after you get past the initial ‘wow’ factor, you get chatting and you discover that both Clive and Doug are really down to earth and such terrific blokes. I first met Doug when we approached him to do the introduction to the book. Marie and I invited him along to a British Fantasy Society Open Night and we had a whale of a time talking Hellraiser all night; he was telling us lots of stories about the series. The last time we saw him was last Christmas when we had a little mini-launch in London which Nick Vince (Chatterer) and Barbie Wilde (Female Cenobite from Hellbound) came along to. We all had such a nice night. Clive, we’d been in touch with since he did an introduction to one of our projects back in 2003/4, and we’d been trying to get him over to FantasyCon for a couple of years. Finally, he was able to make it in 2006 and I interviewed him on stage – that was such a brilliant and enjoyable experience for me. But even better was just having a quiet chat and drink with Clive and his assistant Julia away from the limelight. He then took time to go round all the tables at the banquet on the Sunday and sign things for people; he was just a lovely, lovely guy.

MUIR: You write in detail about the influence of Hellraiser on other films and television shows. Can you go into that a little bit here? Where are some of the places you find resonances of the franchise? Do you feel the films are generally more influential than they've been given credit for being?

KANE: Yes, I think that’s probably true. In the book I mention examples like Scorpius from Farscape. How can anyone look at him and not think: Cenobite. Similarly, it’s entirely possible that the appearance of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation could have been influenced somewhere down the line by the Cenobites – they’re just like futuristic versions of them. All of which is quite ironic, because, as I mention in the book, there are certain similarities between the Cenobites and some of the characters from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, so it’s all kind of circular really. Even if these things are subconscious, they’re there and surely can’t just be coincidence?

MUIR: What would you personally want to see in a remake of Hellraiser? Is a remake a good idea? And if the film is re-made, do you think some elements (like the monster that chases Kirsty in the original...) should be discarded?

KANE: Well, the remake’s been announced, so it’s only a matter of when now. The good news is that Clive is writing it. I think I’d like to see him remain faithful to the concepts from the original, which I’m sure he’d do anyway, but at the same time inject new life into the series. The rubbery look of ‘The Engineer’ should be done away with, definitely, if they decide to bring him back. I reckon they’ll come up with a whole new design for him anyway now – but would be wary of using too much CGI and going down the Star Wars route. I like my monsters solid, and believable. The main sticking point, of course, will be how much money the makers will have to play with.

MUIR: I enjoyed reading your analysis of the Cenobites and particularly your study of how they exploit different human fears; I also thought your comment about them only appearing in seven minutes of the original film was very observant. Why do you think there's such a fascination with Pinhead and the other Cenobites?

KANE: Sometimes less is more, which is definitely the case with the Cenobites in the first film. They’re only on screen for a fraction of the movie, yet are the highlights of it. Much of this is down to the mystery of them – we know nothing about them at all in the original. But a greater part of their attraction is the way they look, the things they have done to themselves. Clive’s description of them as ‘Magnificent Superbutchers’ sums it up nicely. As an audience we want to know exactly how they came to be and why they look the way that they do. During the course of the next few films, we find that out, which I’d argue takes away a little of what made them scary in the first place. However, it did make their characters more rounded and real, so I guess there was a trade off. As for why Pinhead was so popular, well, it’s not every day you see a man with nails banged into his head – there’s something oddly compelling about that and, if you look at some of the Hellraiser messageboards and what the women write on there, quite sexy too. The actors beneath the make-up are also fundamental to the success of the Cenobites, for example Doug’s excellent speeches as Pinhead are part of what makes the character so great. He’s an intellectual demon, just as likely to spout Shakespeare as he is to slit your belly open. That kind of contrast is what people find so fascinating.

MUIR: Which do you think the most underrated Hellraiser film, and why? The most overrated?

KANE: Probably Bloodline. I know it looks a mess and was chopped to bits by the studio, but at the same time there are some wonderful ideas and moments in there. Pinhead in space might sound ridiculous, but I think it actually works here, and again it’s down to Doug’s performance and one of those speeches again as he gazes down and looks at the Earth: “A garden of flesh!” As it stands, it’s still better than the movies that came after it, but the potential of it makes you want to cry. It could have been the best addition since the original or

MUIR: What do you think the Hellraiser films tell us about humanity, and the human condition?

KANE: On the negative side, it speaks to us about our greed, our appetites – however warped they may be – and the way we continue to sell each other out to save ourselves. But at the same time the mythos contains heroes and heroines that have integrity and courage; think of Kirsty and Tiffany venturing into Hell to try and save Larry – how many of us would have the guts to do that? They are role models to look up to and give us hope.

MUIR: Finally, do you have any other projects in the offing? Any other horror films you're hoping to study?

KANE: I always have projects in the offing, in fact I’m working on multiple books at the moment. Because I have the fiction string to my bow I have to divide my time been writing horror fiction and non-fiction. I have a couple of fiction books coming out soon, the first of which is a two-novella collection of stories featuring my humorous horror hero Dalton Quayle, and the second is a hardback collection of more serious psychological and supernatural stories. In the non-fiction stakes I’m working on one project with Marie that’s extremely exciting, but can’t say too much just yet. We’re really enjoying ourselves with it though. Another book I’m working on is more biographical in nature, and I’m doing some groundwork for another film book; but again, I can’t really say anything other than watch this space and keep checking my news page on the Shadow Writer site every month…

MUIR: Thanks, Paul, for joining us here to discuss your book. I found your analysis very involving and well-written, and I recommend your book wholeheartedly to readers on the blog. In addition, I will be looking forward to your next project with great interest.

Readers interested in ordering Paul Kane's book can order it directly from McFarland here. Or, get The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy at

Friday, March 16, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Ep. #3: Positioned

In the third episode of THE HOUSE BETWEEN, a new sci-fi drama, tempers boil over when manipulative Travis (Lee Hansen) seizes the kitchen, thereby sending the unstable, obsessive Arlo (Jim Blanton) into a tailspin. All of them captives in a strange house "at the end of the universe" with limited supplies, it's now up to saner heads, namely the psychic Theresa (Alicia A. Wood), scientist Bill (Tony Mercer) and Astrid (Kim Breeding), to resolve the situation with a minimum of bloodshed. Produced by Joe Maddrey for the Lulu Show LLC. Written/directed by John Kenneth Muir. Copyright the Lulu Show LLC, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The House Between Episode # 3 ("Positioned") Director's Notes

Well, episode three of The House Between premieres tomorrow, Friday - here on the blog, on Veoh and at In preparation for the premiere of "Positioned," I thought I'd share some of my memories of writing and shooting this episode.

First of all, "Positioned" is my tribute to the action genre as it once was, and - as the dialogue describes it - the story is basically "Die Hard in a Kitchen." On next-to-no budget. A couple of years I proposed a film reference book called Die Hard in a Book, which studied all the variations of the Die Hard scenario, such as Under Siege, Speed, Passenger 57, and the like. There were no takers, alas, but while preparing for the book, I catalogued all the common "conventions" of the Die Hard action sub-genre. When writing "Positioned" I incorporated many of those commonalities. I'm sure you'll recognize a few standards.

Yet the action genre without a meaningful context carries no interest for me as a storyteller or viewer, so "Positioned" also furthers and deepens my central metaphor for The House Between, which is - simply stated - The House = Earth. There's no escape from either (at least not today...), and those of us who dwell here, though vastly different in color, creed and beliefs, must learn how to get along and share the limited resources, whether they be oil, water or food. That's the idea underlying this installment, but with each character representing a nation on Earth, in a sense; each having their unique way of handling the crisis. Theresa, Travis, Bill, Astrid and Arlo each take very, very different approaches to problem resolution based on their personalities, ideologies and personal histories.

To me, that's the core of "Positioned" even more than the action veneer.

This is an opportune time for me to go on at length about the catalyst or "loki" (mischief) character in this episode, the one-and-only Travis Crabtree. Travis gets a lot of funny quips in The House Between, basically serving as my Cordelia/Anya or Spike. But Travis is also - at times - quite the physical menace. I must proclaim here that Lee Hansen, who plays Travis, is nothing like his acerbic, aggressive character except that he shares a razor sharp intellect and wit. Actually, Lee Hansen is the funniest human being I've ever met. And also, he's one of the sweetest and most gentle souls you could ever hope to encounter. I suspect that sometimes during shooting he found it distasteful playing someone who would often commit such despicable acts. Because above everything else, Lee is an exceptionally nice human being. Still, I admire Lee as the great actor he is because he really threw himself into the part, and in particular, makes this episode work on all thrusters. Travis is the engine that makes "Positioned" go; and if Lee had not committed to the material 100%, I don't think the show would really work. Lee isn't just adept with the barbs, either...he's quite the physical presence. Again, that's absolutely necessary for Travis. If you're ever in a room with Lee Hansen, his charisma wins you over in about three seconds flat...and I think that quality translates well to the screen. Even when Travis is being really, really bad, he's compelling.

Jim Blanton's Arlo also has amazing scene in this episode. I'll never forget shooting his "revelatory" sequence (set on a staircase...). It was in the middle of a long day, and Tony and Jim had been rehearsing together for some time on the front porch (I think...) while Alicia, Lee and Kim continued shooting other sequences. Jim and Tony had a long scene (pages and pages and pages...) filled with a lot of difficult dialogue - almost all of it Arlo's. Then, it was time for the scene, and Jim nailed it the first time. We did it a second time, just for safety's sake, and he was equally brilliant the second time around. I have such respect for what Jim brings to Arlo, in some ways the most difficult character to get a handle on. He understands Arlo's child-like core, and really brings that aspect to the forefront of his performance. After the scene, I remember thinking that Tony was great reacting to Arlo in the scene, and he told me his reaction was "real,"...that he just listened to Jim tell his story, and got lost in that world. It was a great moment for both of them. Very genuine and very true. Arlo's staircase scene is one of my favorite in the entire run of episodes.

Other things I recall about this episode: This is the first time during the week that d.p. Rick Coulter and I unplugged our cameras from their tripods, and began swooping around the house for increased intensity. It's not as herky-jerky as your average Battlestar Galactica episode, but the untethered look I think works well for the episode and supports the content. Instead of remaining relatively static and resorting to zooms or cuts to close-ups, you'll see in this episode, the camera races right up to character's faces. It's a little exaggerated...but it's part and parcel of the action genre.

Also, if you watch closely, you'll notice that the lighting this week is more garish and bright than it has been in previous installments. As if the intensity of the events are impacting the very environs of the house. Also, my lighting directors Bobby and Kevin came up with the brilliant notion of utilizing the ceiling fan in one room as - in essence - a strobe light. Those shots work beautifully, and again contribute to the more wild, "big" nature of "Positioned."

I started my "Positioned" day by walking into the house and finding my able stunt choreographer, Rob Floyd, putting all five actors through their paces for the climactic fight scene. I strode into the middle of one rehearsal, and it was amazing to watch the actors hitting their marks and getting everything right on every beat. It really was like a dance. Rob orchestrated the whole thing with his typical enthusiasm, demonstrated some difficult fmoves himself and did a fantastic job with the sequence.

As I remember all these things, I suddenly recall the biggest problem with this episode. Basically, "Positioned" was designed to take place on two sides of one (kitchen...) door, as characters "positioned" and jockeyed for superiority. So imagine my surprise when I got to our location, script in hand, and realized that there was no kitchen door. Many of the doors in the house had been taken off their hinges and completely removed from the premises. Suddenly, the very foundation of the episode was in trouble. The fix was easy: Travis now takes the living room (where there IS a door...) AND the kitchen, but still, this issue gave me a few hours of heartburn.

I also recall that there was a scene which we didn't shoot in this script. About half-way through, Travis and Astrid are having their parlay in the kitchen, and to assert his dominance over her, Travis demands that Astrid take her shirt off...and cook and serve him dinner in her bra. I think the general consensus was that this was a little over the top and exploitative, even for Travis.

Finally, the character of Bill went through some interesting growth in this episode. I had originally envisioned the character as an analytical fellow, a kind of cold fish scientist. Tony plays the role with such passion and intensity and realism, however, that there's nothing remote about him. In the original script for "Positioned," Bill often stood back and analyzed the situation, remarking about the cleverness of Travis's "die hard in a kitchen" maneuver. Meanwhile, it was the women - Theresa and Astrid - who attempted to resolve the crisis. This didn't exactly sit well with Tony.

Tony came to me during shooting and - without ego - asked me a simple and direct question. "Do you want the audience to like Bill?" And then he added. "Because right now...I don't like him." Of course, I did want Bill to be likable, and thanks to Tony, I understood - on set - we needed to do everything we could to beef Bill up a little bit for this installment Tony worked closely with the other actors to tweak some of his that Bill didn't come off as so uninvolved, or worse...cowardly.

Finally, the day we shot "Positioned," I had a migraine headache all friggin' day. In no small part due, I'm certain, to the fact that we had been up the previous night shooting till 2:00 am.

Hope you enjoy the show!

Monday, March 12, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 55: Howdy Doody's 3-Ring Circus!

From the dawn of's Howdy Doody time! It's Howdy Doody time!

Yes indeed, I consider myself not merely a sci-fi TV historian but a student of television history in general. Hence this fascinating collectible from approximately 57 years ago, relating to the once-popular kid's show, Howdy Doody.

Now, for X'ers like myself, probably the only time they've ever been exposed to Howdy Doody was on an early episode of Happy Days from the 1970s; wherein Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) joined a Howdy Doody look-a-like contest in hopes of snapping a photograph o fthe clown Clarabell with no make-up.

For Generation Y'ers...hmmm. Do you know who Howdy Doody is? I don't's not something that's been re-run, and I don't think any episodes are available on DVD box sets...

Anyway, my wonderful mother-in-law gave me this collectible as a gift recently. It's labeled "made in the U.S.A." (not such a rarity in 1950...when this country still had a manufacturing base...), and copyrighted Harrett-Gilmar, Inc. It's also labeled "Another H-G" Toy and called on the box (as you can see..) a "Wiry Dan Electric Game."

Indeed, if you look closely at the playing board (see photo), with the clown's nose that lights up and all, this looks a LOT like an early model of that famous 1970s game, OPERATION. Only this is set at a circus...

Here's how you play (according to the instructions on the box): "Use coins or buttons for tokens or lift lower end of platform and remove silver tokens. Then replace platform. Choose for first and select a token. Start in upper left corner. First player spins arrow. When arrow stops, press arrowhead down on nearest silver circle and hold it down. Then touch wire to silver circles along the path in succession starting one space ahead of your position, until Clarabell's nose lights. Advance your token to silver circle that lit Clarabell's nose. If you stop on a spot by a message you must do what it says. The first player to go all through the circus and land on Howdy Doody's face by actual count, wins the game."

Some of the messages on the board include "scared by lions - lose 1 turn," "feed sugar to horse - gain 1 space," "water the elephant - gain 1 space" "squirted by Clarabell - lose 1 turn" and so on.

In all, this looks like it was a really fun game to play, and no doubt qualifies as one of the earliest TV toy tie-ins in history! Anyone out there have this as a kid? Or a parent who did? Go ahead, ask your folks who Howdy Doody is...

Friday, March 09, 2007

The House Between: Episode # 3 Sneak Preview ("Positioned")

Next Friday, The House Between's third episode, "Positioned" shall debut here, at, and at Veoh. That's assuming no more technical difficulties, of course! (If there are difficulties, check again Saturday...and pray for my sanity.)

I'll be blogging about the making of this episode next Thursday in my director's notes section, so check the blog out next week.

Without further ado, here's a sneak peek at our third episode. Let me just say this: the episode itself is a humdinger.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

They Belong in a Museum!

Okay, so this is my cranky old man post for the week. I apologize in advance for the rant.

But, late last week, I was surfing channels instead of getting a good night's sleep, and I watched the History Channel special about Star Trek, and in particular the big auction of series' props, miniatures and costumes at Christies' last year. And today, I see a story on Yahoo about Star Wars and James Bond costumes being auctioned off too.

This is a trend I despise. My response is likely the Indiana Jones response. "Those things belong in a museum!"

And truly. They do.

The Star Trek special, I believe titled Beyond the Final Frontier, sent me off to beddy-bye in a royal funk. I was depressed for days after watching. Why? I saw elements of Star Trek's long and illustrious history just sold off to the highest bidder. The Klingon Bird of Prey, Deep Space Nine, the Enterprise-A, the Reliant, The Enterprise-D...all of it.

Scattered to the four winds. To the richest collectors in the world. What the hell is this, Earth - the seat of the United Federation of Planets - or fuckin' Feringinar? "Yankee Traders" indeed. What a craven race we are, Mr. Spock might note. To auction off our own past, rather than share it with everyone for the common a museum.

Shame on you, Paramount, for your pursuit of the almighty dollar at the expense of Americana, nostalgia and entertainment history. Now, in the years to come (and on Star Trek's fiftieth birthday, for example), these one-of-a-kind items WON'T be in the Smithsonian...where people rich and poor, young and old can examine their artistry. Nope. Kiss that dream goodbye!

I realize that major movie studios are all about the benjamins and little else, but couldn't Paramount at least pretend to care that Star Trek is the rolls royce of science fiction television? That, as we move fully into the era of CGI, these great old miniatures deserve to be preserved as tribute to an epoch in film and TV history? Nahhh!

Going...going...gone! Sold!!! Gotta make room for the props to Tomb Raider III, or some such thing, I guess.

And the real betrayal is this: Star Trek itself has always been about things other than design! Do you know that there are more references to the works of Shakespeare in Star Trek than in any other popular movie or TV franchise? Do you realize that Star Trek has tackled issues like racism, war, corruption, poverty, minority rights, health care for four decades? This is a legacy to take pride in. The people who watch Star Trek are engaged people; people who seek to understand the world around them. Star Trek is the Gullivers Travels of our time. To treat it like less is insulting.

Sure, the snobs can argue, Star Trek? Culture? Gimme a break! Well, only Nixon could go to know what I'm sayin'? People once believed the same thing of Shakespeare's plays...

So Paramount sucks royally for selecting avarice and commerce over the preservation of history. I like Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew and the rest of those talents who participated in this special...but to see them in interviews smiling and waxing philosophical about how great this Christies auction just made me sick to my stomach.

Again. This stuff belongs in a museum! Did this auction depress the hell out of anyone else?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Episode # 2: "Settled"

In the second webisode of the sci-fi drama, THE HOUSE BETWEEN, the enigmatic new arrival in the strange "house at the end of the universe," named Theresa (Alicia A. Wood) spins a fantastic tale about her background that the other denizens have difficulty believing. While Theresa ruffles feathers with her unusual manner, Bill (Tony Mercer) discovers a diary that seems to have a connection to the family he's been separated from, a fact which vexes him. Meanwhile, Astrid also confronts a "ghost" from her past in the form of a haunting melody from her past; one that brings up tragic memories. Written/directed by John Kenneth Muir. Produced for the Lulu Show LLC by Joseph Maddrey. CAST: Kim Breeding (Astrid), Jim Blanton (Arlo), Lee Hansen (Travis Crabtree), Tony Mercer (Bill T. Clark), Alicia A. Wood (Theresa). Copyright 2007, The Lulu Show LLC

You can now watch the show, "Settled," here. Or at

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Settled" Unsettled!

We are experiencing technical difficulties in the episode uploading process (we've been doing this now for 24 hours...), but rest assured, The House Between, episode 2 - "Settled" - shall land here soon.

Keep watching the skies. Or keep watching this page, as it were...

In the meantime, enjoy the series' opening credit montage.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The House Between, Episode 2 ("Settled") Director Notes

Tomorrow, The House Between episode # 2, "Settled" goes online, here on the blog, on the web page (, and on the Veoh service. So look for it! The response from "Arrived" has been very positive. The audience has proven remarkably enthusiastic, and "hooked" is the buzz-word I'm hearing the most frequently.

In honor of the broadcast tomorrow, I'm going to present now some of my memories from the writing and making of "Settled," which represented day two of our week-long shooting marathon back in June. We shot this episode on June 5th, 2006, and our first usable take was recorded at 10:53 am.

The story for "Settled", as you will see tomorrow , involves some diverse thematic elements, (all of which come up in the trailer, so I'm not giving away any spoilers here...). The first is the "arrival" of a new character, Theresa, played by Alicia A. Wood. I noted during my interview on Destinies that she is my resident alien...even though she's not an alien. When I created this character, a confident, assertive psychic, I had in mind such characters as Sapphire on Sapphire & Steel, and also Varian in The Fantastic Journey. On a more universal, well-known scale, I was thinking of Spock and Maya. Basically, Theresa is very different from the other characters on the show. But you'll see that for yourself soon enough...

In "Settled" Bill (Tony Mercer) discovers a diary, one that has grave repercussions for him personally. This plot point was inspired by my favorite episode of Land of the Lost, "Follow That Dinosaur," in which the Marshalls unearth an old, musty diary and proceed to read each entry (and follow clues...) because they believe the writer escaped from the closed prehistoric universe. They ultimately learn that the author of the diary came to a bad end. Now, the diary is utilized quite differently in The House Between (no Sleestak, alas...that's season two!), but I always admired this episode of Land of the Lost above the rest and felt that the discovery of a diary is a tantalizing story hook. It's irresistible: the notion of a voice from the past influencing the present. Of reading someone else's secrets; of falling into (or getting a peek at...) another life.

Secondly, Astrid (Kim Breeding) in "Settled" gets vexed over a discovery of her own, that of a haunting piece of music; a song she once wrote with personal meaning. In real life, Kim Breeding (Astrid) composed this piece and sings it (beautifully...) for the show. Again, this plot point was inspired by one of my favorite retro sci-fi series: The Twilight Zone. In particular, one of the creepiest and most memorable episodes was titled "Come Wander with Me." This was a fifth season story (which aired in May of 1964...) about a rock-a-billy singer looking for "inspiration" in the back woods of Appalachia. He found that inspiration, but also some homespun revenge from the locals. In particular, there was a song, titled "Come Wander with Me," which kept mysteriously acquiring new verses every time it was sung...all of them potentially fatal to the singer.

Again, the song in "Settled" is utilized quite differently than in The Twilight Zone episode, but I've always dug the notion of a person being haunted by a song that just won't go away. If you listened to Destinies, you're now aware of The House Between's thesis of "two" Astrids. That song is part and parcel of that theme (which is expanded in this episode). What could be more frightening than hearing your own voice sing a song you'd rather forget?

Some other notes about the episode:

This was our longest day of shooting. We were still working on the last scene at the cusp of 2:00 am, and all of us were going kind of bonkers by then. Of course, we'd saved for last a complicated special effects/make-up sequence that required a unique set-up. Kim and Alicia were the only two performers in the scene...and all the other actors went to bed while we shot. Phyllis Floyd, our script assistant, read some offscreen lines for Kim to respond to, and Rob Floyd - our make-up guru - was there right to the bitter end too, applying make-up. We all had to be up at 6:00 the next morning, so this was quite a rough day.

"Settled" was also the last day of the shoot that dp Rick Coulter and I had a prepared shot list for. I don't think we looked at it hardly at all. I have it in front of me now, and what we ended up with is pretty close to what we envisioned, I'd say.

As I've already noted, this was Alicia's introduction to the series, and she started around noon, if memory serves. She had scads of dialogue to deliver in what I quickly termed "the court room" or "trial" sequence, a moment when she goes before the other denizens of the house and recounts her unusual story. I still remember the awe I felt when Alicia came in, hit her mark and spewed out - literally word for word - pages of complex dialogue. Wow!

"Settled" is the series' longest episode by far. My first cut was 38 minutes ("Arrived" was 29 minutes...), then I trimmed it down to 35. Then 34. Now it's 33 minutes and 7 seconds. We've had to lose a lot of stuff I really like, but here's my axiom as an editor: the faster these shows move, the better they play. That's true of most movies and TV shows, I think. '

On an entirely personal note, "Settled" is an episode I truly love. "Arrived" is first and will always hold a special place in my heart because it's the beginning of the journey, but "Settled" is - for me, anyway - iconic. All the characters are established and operating on all thrusters, and some of the core, iconographic concepts of the series are introduced and developed in this episode. It's almost really like the second "half" of "Arrived," a critical part of the introduction to The House Between. I think you if you were to talk to the cast, they probably wouldn't single out "Settled." There are snappier episodes; scarier episodes, funnier episodes, and so forth. But for me, "Settled" is very much the sort of story I imagined telling when I first conceived the series. I'll be curious to hear (or read...) audience feedback.

Finally, "Settled" is also the first episode of the series to feature the opening montage.

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...