Dan Wells let’s go…

He was generous in allowing us to play and I think he’s right.

Interview with Dan Wells:

The Terror and Wonder of Watching Your Book Get Made Into a Movie
DAN WELLS
I Am Not a Serial Killer Dan Wells movie

My philosophy on book to movie adaptations has always been pretty simple: the bigger the change, the better.

I figure I’ve already read the book, right? I don’t need to see the exact same thing, slavishly reproduced in another medium—I want to see a new artist’s take on it, with new ideas and a new personality. To see what happens to, for example, the Harry Potter universe when Alfonso Cuaron gets his hands on it. I love it.

And now I have to put my money where my mouth is, because I’m sitting on set while a film crew is adapting my book I Am Not a Serial Killer. I’m learning that ideals are a lot easier to stand up for when it’s somebody else’s baby being adapted.

The story of this film starts around six years ago, when the book was first out and I got an email from Billy O’Brien, a director who wanted to make a movie of it. He was an indie director, without a huge studio backing him up, and I harbored not-so secret fantasies of a mega blockbuster, but his letter was just so good—I could tell that not only did he love the story as much as I did, he loved it for the same reasons. We signed the contract and started the long, arduous Phase 2 of any indie production: raising the money. Phase 2 took five years. Finally in January of 2014 an investor stepped in, and we went into high gear on the technical side, putting together a cast and designing the monster effects, and so on. Billy and his team were not obligated to include me in any of this—I have no contractually obligated creative control over the movie—but we’d become pretty good friends, and we had long talks about who the characters were and how the monster worked, and how it all fit together.

By this time I’d read several drafts of the script, and given my notes, and had my first big awakening to the process of adaptation: they changed a lot of the story. I was fine with all the obvious changes—scenes that had to be shortened or cut for time, settings that had to be moved for filming reasons, and so on—but what about that big scene that was added? WHY DID THEY ADD A NEW SCENE I DIDN’T WRITE THAT WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? I wrote Billy a giant, six-page letter about why that scene was wrong, and why it wouldn’t work, and why did he have to go adding scenes to my brilliant work of art, and he responded with a simple: “I like it, we’ll make it work.” I took a deep breath and let go—if I really trusted him with my book, I needed to trust his artistic decisions as well as his technical ones. I took another look at the scene, and you know what? It’s a pretty good scene. Maybe this guy knows what he’s doing after all.

I Am Not a Serial Killer Dan Wells Max Records

We started rolling film recently, on February 28, and I was finally able to talk about the incredible cast, and then on Monday, March 2, I actually arrived on set and got to meet them. John Cleaver, the teenage sociopath main character, is being played by Max Records—who I, I’m proud to say, suggested to Billy in the first place. John’s mom is Laura Fraser, most recently of Breaking Bad fame; the kindly neighbors (who may or may not turn out to include a shapeshifting monster—SPOILER WARNING) are Dee Noah and Christopher Lloyd. Watching them breathe life into the characters I created is absolutely magical. Lloyd in particular has been a delight to work with: he’s snarky off camera, he’s brilliant on camera, and he brings a sense of personality and charm to Mr. Crowley that I never imagined was in there. These actors know their characters on a deep, deep level, and it’s both terrifying and thrilling to realize that the characters aren’t just mine anymore.

One of my favorite questions to ask fans of the series is “what kind of music do you think John Cleaver listens to?” I have my own answer, of course, but it’s never made explicit in the books, and it’s fun to see how close people get to the mark. I asked the same question of Max Records, and was delighted to realize that he’s thought about this a LOT, but as he rattled off several different ideas, my delight turned to horror. He was wrong! That’s not what my John listened to at all! But again, as with the script, I had to put away my own ideas and see this for what it was: another artist bringing his own spin to the character. I imagined a character who listened to classic rock, not because he enjoyed it but because his father listened to it, and he used that similarity as an artificial connection to his family. Max created a character who listened to local grungy rock bands, using them as a wall of sound to help block out the world and maintain his isolation. They were two completely different ideas, both equally valid and interesting. This whole experience on set has been like that—one opportunity after another to watch incredible artists—the actors and the wardrobe and the art designers and even the camera operator—bring their own ideas and creativity to the project.

This movie won’t be exactly what I wrote, it will be so much more.

Robert Zimmerman…

Bob was here

Bob was here

And here

And here

Having fresh made apple pie & ice cream in the Sportsman’s diner in Hibbing.
It was here when Robert Zimmerman was here and I suspect that the he sat in this very booth, before he became Bob Dylan.

Now I’m here

As fresh as it could be

As fresh as it could be

Goo day

We got it done… mostly.

Six hours of goo & tubes (some of which went in unexpected directions), inflating celebration balloons with a compressor under sodden cardigan to indicate the bloating, roaming shots of intentionally collapsing silicon with squirting vinegar & some fizzle to show the melting, all hands on the pumps including significant help from Gregg Annderson, the mortician & his daughter Corrie, who ended up wearing quite a lot of goo themselves – to say first, human blood, second, monster blood down the unblocked drains. And of course… the surreal, but successful elephant passing through a tennis racket… Hoooray!

Our stepping off point

Our stepping off point

By the end, we had the sense that we’d got a satisfactory couple of mag-fulls.
(Poor bloody editor)

Invisibility…

From someone who’s been around a long time, I’d like to personally congratulate the invisible screen virtuosos on their incredible work… if I could give a gong for the mantlepiece or trophy cabinet, I certainly would.

Throughout my career, I’ve been irritated at the categories that supposedly offer recognition for artistry in the film industry, as embodied in the handing out ceremonies at festivals… they are just odd and the decision makers often seem to have little idea of what makes the story jump off the screen.

For what it’s worth, my opinion of what makes a film ‘work’… which takes it from OK to wholly engaging, is invisible artistry… so subtly woven in, that it goes unnoticed… my maxim, “if you’re seeing it, it’s failed”. Such is the case with puppetry and digitalFX.

A career-long source of irritation, is that there isn’t a category for me as a performer… which is what I consider I am – the puppet I operate, the creature costume I wear, the physical effect I perform, are just ways of creating the characters that bring story to life. By way of example: IMDB doesn’t consider a puppeteer a performer, so much of my work appears way down the listings under either ‘crew’ or ‘other’.

So… where might we nominate what I do in the existing roster of award categories?
Animation? No… though elements have been animated.
Live action? No… though we recorded it as such.
How about VFX? Again not really… though this was key to getting it shot.
Editing? Well who would know, unless you’ve seen the many versions?

For me, it must work as a story… how we got there and what was used is irrelevant, but thanks to all involved – it does!

Derek Meddings, a well known FX supervisor of the old school, who I worked with on ‘The Never Ending Story’, said, “If a bit of string works… use a bit of string.”

So when input to a project garners nomination, enjoy the applause and take the bow, whichever category it’s shoved into.

And by way of example… here’s a link to my friend Adam C Sager’s VFX breakdown for Toby Froud’s film, “Lessons Learned”

Second unit…

Todays boards

Todays boards

Nick Ryan & I are tasked.

We head with Crowley & Drifter, AKA for our purpose Butch & Shea in the Caddy… which has itself become a huge character in the film.

We have the location (there’s still snow).
We have two ends of 16mm (50″ & 80″)
Slate
Birch trees

Turn over, “Rolling”.
Speed, “Action”.
History is captured, “Cut”.

Hope we didn’t “F it up”.

Scene 34…

Taking a pawn.

Beware the troll lurking beneath the bridge

Beware the troll lurking beneath the bridge

Our hope is, that the expectation of the audience to this point focuses upon the real and obvious threat of a serial killer, for whom the clues are laid, as with all good crime fiction. In IANASK however… the answer is not to be found in this reality, rather we shift with one slash & bloody stab into the metaphysical world of a dark faerytale as might have been told to cause children to stay close to home in medieval times. A story where the main protagonists have been seen, but only now are they spotlit.

By the end of this scene, the ransacked corpse of one who won’t be missed has been hidden from view, beneath thick layers of winter ice.

The game is begun, its first move played without the other party knowing it had started.

One has played for thousands of years, the other is an absolute novice… it’s obvious who will win… isn’t it?

Cold…

I knew that it was going to be cold… in fact, be very cold… well it was.

IANASK and Max’s dad has to die tonight.

Messily

It’s so cold that the sfx blood is freezing in the container, before we can smear.

Mr Lloyd’s hands aren’t shining with black GOO, they’re greyish… that’s because all the water in the mix has frozen.

The requested steam from the ripped entrails isn’t rising… as soon as the hot water hits the snow in line of camera, it turns to ice.

My hands… which are applying the GOO, have lost feeling and have grown icicles… it doesn’t hurt anymore, which is worrying.

I tried to make it better, but the inner liners on Mr Lloyds gloves are now saturated and his eyes tell me, as I apply more GOO for take umpteen, that there’s pain. He does not ask that we stop, so that he can warm up, he carries on, in full Crowley – roaring animalistically, protecting his kill. The viscera (with no steam) are pulled as bloodied extrusions from the corpse.

Got it.

Now only the closeup shots remain… Mr Lloyd is wrapped and I get into costume, so that Robbie can range with his camera and catch glimpses of claw ripping colon.

Demoing…

IANASK, The Barber Shop Kills.
John Wayne Cleaver loses his knights on the board of this death game.

‘John comes in to the barbershop to witness the defeat… he did the right thing – called authority, but authority couldn’t deal with the monster… out of need to protect itself, it is surgical and efficient in making these kills. While sitting, with his back to the wall, looking at the still warm bodies of the cops lying in pools of their own blood, he realises that it’s now up to him.’

Robbie intends to shoot from outside… John’s POV, looking through the closed venetian blinds of the barber shop window at the reflection of Crowley’s killing of Cop 1.
Nick & I act it out, trying to get the angles.
If all goes to plan, this killing will cause the audience to wince.

Caught in the act

Caught in the act

Bill & Bob…

Oddly, I got to meet Bill & Bob, the pair of Percherons owned by Bernie & Sue Samson today.

Otherwise, my time here has been entirely caught up with IANASK, but I’d run out of BARGE contact adhesive and attempts by others to get me supplies had failed. However, my happy intern Ben managed to track down a (fairly) local supplier.
An hour later (following several u-turns on roads that were unseen by sat nav) we turn into Samson’s farmstead.

I’m in another era.
We conduct business… two tubes, $5 each.
But this is not a store in the regular sense of that, it’s a harness makers, an authentic draft horse harness makers.
Foot pedal tools are arranged in efficient rows… each one with a precise task.
Tables where specialist, time honoured procedures of cutting , forming, joining leather, takes place… each with wood handled cutting tools on slatted shelves in easy reach.

And the smell… tanned leather and saddle soap. Wonderful!

Bernie takes an interest in why I want BARGE… on explaining what I do, he tells me of the movies which he’s provided the correct horse-wear for, and the ones – which he didn’t, that got it wrong.
He recognises in me, someone with a little knowledge, but a large interest, which he rewards with a trip to the other barn… in which, is his collection of fully restored draft vehicles, that include a dump truck.
Every purposed road & off-road vehicle that exists now, had a specialised horse drawn equivalent… right down to the type of springing… a prairie wagon would not work on cobbled streets, a landau would disintegrate trying to cross a plain,
a stagecoach’s harness loosely held the fours or sixes, so that if one stumbled, it could recover and not pull down the others, while a carriage from old Europe’s capitols would have the horses harnessed tight in for aesthetic reasons as much as anything else.
I am happy to drink in this freely given knowledge and see at close quarters that which he’s devoted himself too since 1975.

He has one final treat… we leave the barn and go to the fence. Bernie whistles and from out of the copse at the top of the hill, two black shapes canter… his heavy horse. A gorgeous matched pair of Percherons.

16.2, beasts send up powder snow clouds, as they obey the call… their blackness like voids in the white landscape.

In moments, though etched in my mind as if years, they are at the fence… and soft mouths nibble my outstretched hand.

They are huge and the last remnants of this mornings snowfall sits atop coarse winter coats from wither to croup.

“Don’t they feel the cold?”
“No” Bernie answers, “These animals originated on the Mongolian Steppes, it’s the heat which affects them. It was minus thirty last night… they were fine.”

I could stay here a long time… maybe learn harness making, eventually carriage driving.
But no, that’s another life… in this one I need to return to the odd world of making movies.

We thank him and his gracious wife and make to leave. He puts into my hand a pair of brass, stamped bridle insignias, I look at them… finally, I’m in the US cavalry.

The cavalry are coming

The cavalry are coming

“Man’s best friend is the dog, but man’s best work animal is the horse, not a human”. Bernie Samson

Gentle giant

Gentle giant IMAGE BEN CURRY

Freedom…

A special price

A special price

In this practical place, where it’s possible to buy suitable protection for the extreme acts of climate, it’s also possible to purchase protection from those who might have bad intentions towards you. Then, of course, you need somewhere to keep your protection.
The Freedom Fat boy is you answer… and, it’s on special.

You can store all your high calibre, armour piercing, fully automatics in here… your assault rifles, shotguns, handguns, compact pistols, your whole arsenal… unless of course you’re justifiably out expressing your constitutional right to someone who’s raised your ire.

Mortuary…

Recce of a mortuary today, where the film’s serial killer idea is established and the final moves of the game between the main protagonists take place.

I’ve never been behind the scenes before… though recognise that one day I’ll be in such as a cold client… I was struck by how simply functional it is, somewhere between a hospital and a butchers… obvious really, as similar processes take place: bodies looked after, meat dealt with.

But one of the most interesting areas, was adjacent to the memorial chapel… a separate room with a one-way glass mirror, where those wishing to be private in their mourning, can sit and see, but not be seen.

Seen but never seen

Seen but never seen

Gone to print…

The first articles are hitting the presses.
Now we can speak.

Here’s one from Twitch film:

From whence it came

Dan Well’s great book, where it began

Though you might be inclined to think otherwise, Where The Wild Things Are star Max Records is declaring I Am Not A Serial Killer as the lead in Isolation helmer Billy O’Brien’s adaptation of Dan Wells novel of the same name.

Christopher Lloyd and Laura Fraser (Lydia on Breaking Bad) also star in this tale of a young teen with budding sociopathic tendencies growing up in a midwestern town, where the boy’s fascination with death puts him on the trail of a supernatural serial killer lurking in his home town.

Now, I’ve had the chance to read this and see O’Brien’s early test footage and let me just say this is amazing stuff that I am desperate to see come to fruition. Though the story is significantly different, looking at it as a sort of young adult Dexter fused with Let The Right One In isn’t too far off the mark and this has the potential to be truly remarkable.

I Am Not A Serial Killer began principal photography at the end of February. Watch for more news as it becomes available.

Minnesota has obliged…

Atmospheric

Atmospheric

We’ve been wishing for snow and as promised by the weather reports, it came last night.
We woke up to a blanket… so today we shoot all those running around outside shots, including the Christmas day bits (requiring the hanging of faery lights on porches).

Picturesque and suitably Clayton

Picturesque and suitably Clayton