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PART TWO OF TWO ...

MORE TABLOID WITCH HONORABLE MENTIONS

by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.  [October 11, 2005]

 


* SupserStore

 

SuperStore is a horror film in the bloodless suspense tradition of TV's Twilight Zone. A mother's daughter vanishes after they meet a strange little girl while shopping at Costco -- and to the mother's growing horror, store employees don't even remember seeing her with a daughter.

"The inciting incident was a trip to a big box store with my sister and nieces about six years ago," said filmmaker Sam Zalutsky to the Investigator. "There was a tower of Barbies. Both nieces were obsessed with Barbies. They ran off and were hidden -- almost engulfed! -- by the display. I think when we found them, they were talking to a strange little girl even more obsessed. Honestly, I can't distinguish fact from fiction now.

"My mind started wandering and I tried to imagine what would happen if a child disappeared. I wanted to explore that possibility, and the bizarre places that big box stores are. They really are overwhelming and claustrophobic.

Amazingly, Costco let Zalutsky shoot his film on their premises, unconcerned about the store being depicted as a scary place where children might go missing.

"Costco.was an amazing host," said Zalutsky. "It took months of resounding no's from other corporations before we received the approval from Costco. They are big supporters of the arts and a very progressive company. They did not require script clearance, nor were they worried about the story. They did not require us to hire outside security as I feared, only to have liability insurance. They were great!

"I shot the film two summers ago, when the press was whipping up a lather over a few high-profile child disappearances." The film was shot on "a.Panasonic 24P 900 or something series." It was edited on Final Cut Pro.

Zalutsky used a casting director to find his SAG actors. He found the union "very easy" to work with. He also found it easy to work with his child actors. "I seem to always wind up with an animal or children in my films. A glutton for punishment, I guess.

"Children can be a challenge, but these girls [Ryann Shane and Miryam Coppersmith] were motivated and professional. And Miryam, who plays the wild child, had a good deal of experience.

"It was also important that their parents were supportive of them and the film. I'd say you have to audition the kid and the parents. And that you must see as many kids as possible in the audition process. "You must find a kid who wants to be there. I had many auditions with kids who obviously were just there because of their parents, and that was really sad."

Running at 13 minutes, SuperStore aired on WNET's Reel New York, and a few small festivals.

Zalutsky is raising money to direct his feature script, Mama's Boy, a psychological horror film. He got his B.A. in studio art from Yale University.and an MFA in film from NYU's film school. He teaches screenwriting at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. Visit his website.

 

 

 

 

* Human No More
 

In Human No More, hard-boiled police detective Nemo (Tony Simmons) enters a basement office. Or is it his home? Nemo listens to a taped interrogation of a psycho who'd killed Nemo's wife. Nemo shuts the tape and presents us with a grief-stricken monologue, then commits an unspeakable act upon himself.

Like his two previous horror shorts, Christopher Alan Broadstone's 17-minute film is not so much a story as a vignette. A "slice of life" from the dark side; despairing and nihilistic.

"It was a film I had to make," said Broadstone to the Investigator. "One, to exorcise some personal demons, and two, to comment about the current state of the world. Especially since 9/11, I'm sick of people wearing their religious beliefs on their sleeve and blowing their pious trumpet in everyone's face. Whatever your personal religious or political beliefs, keep them to yourself, in your heart, and leave me and the rest of the world the hell out of it.

"That said, Human No More also grew from a deep depression I'd fallen into after an unexpected breakup with my girlfriend of many years. My depression and self- doubt joined my already cynical view of mankind, raging onto the pages of my journal in mad storms of hurt, hate, and anger. A lot of the remorseless dialogue in the film's interrogation tape is straight from my journal. Those were dark times for me. Much of detective Nemo's monologue is from my journal too.

"If [psycho] Blight's and Nemo's words are compared, it's eerie how similar their perspectives are -- 'psychopath' and 'everyman' are only a hair's breadth away from being the same. What they do in the end is all that separates them.

"They're two sides of the same coin -- and that coin was me. Disillusioned, yet driven forward by the relentless misery of losing a girl I loved more than anything in the world."

And yet Broadstone's two earlier films, My Skin and Scream for Me, are likewise dark and nihilistic.  Despairing and hopeless vignettes in which God appears absent and pointless, arbitrary evil triumphs.

"It's true, I am a nihilist," said Broadstone. "But on the other hand, I'm a walking, talking contradiction. I'm an indefatigable advocate of personal and human triumph -- I tear up every time the Space Shuttle blasts off successfully. I'm also aware that I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. I have my health, family, friends, and my art, which many people seem to admire. My problem is, why me?  Why not that poor guy I heard on radio who's fighting to survive incurable cancer? Why him and not me? Is it destiny? Is it chance? Is it karma? Is it simply that God's on vacation? Or is it the endless injustice of reality, the harbinger of inevitable entropy?

"On the other hand, maybe I just need to get laid.

"At one point in my life, I would've said I'm addicted to death and depression. Now I'd say that I've always been overly sensitive to the absurdity, wickedness, and futility of humanity and life in general. No matter how hard I try to be simply entertaining, I only find true inspiration in my personal need to make a comment on (or exploration of) life, people, and the puerile philosophies and contingencies that perennially devour both."

The chief flaw in Broadstone's films is that they're vignettes rather than stories. A story has a character pursuing a goal, which pursuit ends either in success or defeat. Broadstone skips the pursuit and goes straight to the defeat, lingering on the misery throughout the entire film.

Even so, his films are technically brilliant. The cinematography in Human No More is beautiful, innovative, and aesthetically appropriate. A distorted point-of-view shot follows Nemo, the images bleeding and blurring red, as though some demonic entity is waiting for the moment to snatch the despairing detective's soul.

"The crucifix wall was lit with four practical red floodlights," said Broadstone, "then punched up with two 500 watt Fresnel's with purple/magenta gels.  That was necessary because video, and even film, is almost impossible to keep in focus when all prevailing light is red.

"The other lighting was the practical desk lamp, which emitted a warm, yellowish light, and two or more 750 watt halogen video lights to pump up the overall light level.

"These video lights were also diffused with a white silk or sheet of 1000H vellum, and then gelled yellow to further enhance the warmth of the light coming from the desk lamp.

"The rest was achieved during the post-production color correction process using Final Cut Pro. First the mids and highs were color corrected toward the yellow-red, and then heavily saturated. The blacks were brought down to where they began to crush, leaving little visibility in the shadows.

"The final step in bleeding the colors was accomplished by placing a second layer of video over the primary footage, then applying a considerable opacity drop with a Gaussian blur. Also, in most shots, the overlaid footage was offset by one or two frames to create a slight ghosting effect."

The film was shot on a Sony TRV-900 using a VCL-R0752 wide-angle lens.

Visuals aside, Human No More is impressive for its complex, densely layered soundtrack. Apart from Nemo's monologue, there's the taped interrogation, demonic rumbling, music, and other sound effects, all contributing to the film's dark ambience.

"The soundtrack was built and mixed entirely in Final Cut Pro," said Broadstone. "The only production sound used, short of a few stolen and processed sounds, was Tony Simmon's monologue. Everything else was recorded post-production. All the footsteps and most Foley were recorded wild, and cut together some six months after shooting wrapped. The interrogation tape was recorded, built, and mixed entirely on its own, then inserted as an audio stem into the full soundtrack for the final mix.

"The ambient devil voice was another track of multi-layered audio that was mixed in and of itself, then dropped into the final mix as an audio stem. The thunderstorm was done the same way. Most of what you hear in the film are multiple tracks of multi-layered audio first created independently and then dropped into the master soundtrack as a single-track element for the final film mix.

"Any dirty or noisy audio was cleaned up with Bias Sound Soap. Audio effects and reverbs were achieved by processing individual sound elements through Bias Peak 4. Equalization of sound elements was achieved by processing through Super Freq, a plug-in package for Peak 4. A tremendous amount of work, but well worth it.

"Nothing can ruin a movie like a poor soundtrack."

Even more impressive, Broadstone shot his film with minimal on set help. "To be honest, I am the camera and sound crew," he confessed. "I use many pseudonyms in the credits to avoid seeing my name over and over. I only take the main credits of director, writer, editor, and re-recording mixer. I'm a self-taught filmmaker, and for years prior to that, a musician. I credit my time in the studio as a musician (and my experience on my previous two films) with my ability to do cinematic audio work."

Human No More was shot in an old downtown Los Angeles freight depot, since renovated and home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture. "I had free access because I'm the manager and buyer for the Institute's supply store," said Broadstone. "Yes, I still have a day job, but that job allowed me unlimited access to an amazing location. After practically living in that basement for a month of set building and preproduction, then an intense four day shoot, I still miss that creepy, cockroach-ridden hole in the ground."

Broadstone recently signed an option agreement with producer Christopher Webster (Hellraiser, Heathers) to raise money for Broadstone's first feature, Retard. "I'm attached as director," he said.  "My co-writer, John Franklin (Isaac in Children of the Corn and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return), is attached as the mentally handicapped lead."

More information about Broadstone's films may be found at his company, Black Cab Productions.

 

 

 

 

* Additional Winners

 

It takes more than a director to create a worthy film, so this year the Tabloid Witch Award expands to recognize other categories:

 

As an idealistically liberal reporter whose dark side emerges upon confronting the heart of darkness, Sam Tsao swings from cold ambition and self-righteousness, to anxiety, hysteria, savagery, and eventual remorse, all the while remaining true to the moment and to her character.

The star of Mole.is clearly Best Actress this year.


 
John-Luke Montias as the level-headed cameraman (Mole) and David Stifel as the enigmatic ex-priest (Legion) came close, but Tony Simmons's compelling portrayal of a man stricken with grief and hopelessness in Human No More earns him.Best Actor honors.

 
She only appears for the first five minutes, but while she's up on screen, Sabrina Bertaccini steals the scene as the gypsy con artist doing her hyperkinetic, but ultimately fraudulent, exorcism.

This Legion performer easily wins for Best Supporting Actress.


 
Donald Lopez came close as the voodoo priest (Legion), but Best Supporting Actor ultimately goes to James Cox.

As the gun-wielding tunnel expert in Mole, Cox displays nearly as large a transformation as Tsao.


 
Like Mole and Human No More, Legion benefited from extensive post-production work, and all three films' visuals aesthetically support their themes. But for the sheer range of its camera formats and visual styles, capturing iconic images with a perverse beauty, Best Visuals goes to Bobby Eras and Marshall Plante for Legion.

 

Several filmmakers went to great lengths for the perfect visuals, but only Christopher Alan Broadstone went the extra mile on sound, with noteworthy results.

Broadstone easily wins Best Sound for Human No More.

 

 

 

 

* The Final Tally

 

Tabloid Witch Award Winners

 

* Best Horror Feature Film ........ Rich Mauro and Anthony Savini  (Mole)

* Best Horror Short Film ............ Robert Sexton  (Legion: The Word Made Flesh)

* Best Actress .......................... Sam Tsao  (Mole)

* Best Actor ............................. Tony Simmons  (Human No More)

* Best Supporting Actress ......... Sabrina Bertaccini  (Legion: The Word Made Flesh)

* Best Supporting Actor ............ James Cox  (Mole)

* Best Visuals .......................... Bobby Eras, Marshall Plante  (Legion: The Word Made Flesh)

* Best Sound ........................... Christopher Alan Broadstone  (Human No More)

 

Tabloid Witch Honorable Mentions

 

* Jennifer Soemantri  (Hollow)

* Jamie Renee Williams  (Slinky Milk)

* Michael Fiore  (Cadaverous)

* Sam Zalutsky  (SuperStore)

* Christopher Alan Broadstone  (Human No More)

 

 

 

 

* How YOU.Can Win Next Year!

 

We reviewed many films this year -- here are some of the creative elements that separated the wheat from the chafe.
 

*  WRITING COUNTS

"If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage." If you insist on writing your own script, you must study the art of writing, just as you'd study your camera. Too many directors wish to be "auteurs" and write their own scripts -- without learning the art of storytelling.

If you're not a writer, and don't plan on learning the craft, find someone who is. Poor writing creates many problems, such as...
 

*  A VIGNETTE IS NOT A STORY

Too many entries confused the two. "X rises from the grave and kills Y. The End." Don't rely on an (often predictable) twist. Tell a story.
 

*  KEEP IT SHORT & SWEET

Even a good film can be ruined by fat. Mauro trimmed Mole to its perfect length. Slinky Milk is intriguing at its five minutes; at a half hour, it would have overstayed its welcome.

Several losing entries would have been stronger at half their length. Overlong expository shots, characters wandering around or engaging in pointless chatter, directors in love with their shots and boring the audience.

If a line is unnecessary to the story, don't say it. And if a line is necessary, say it in a way that's sharp, funny, clever, intriguing, memorable, or interesting. Dialogue should reveal character or move the story forward. Characters should not sound alike. Vapid chatter that achieves nothing may sound realistic, but banal banter makes for a dull film.

 

*  ACTING COUNTS

Quality acting was the single biggest element separating winning films from losing films. Actors who are wooden, affectatious, or chew scenery can tank an otherwise decent film. Big cities are full of trained actors seeking exposure, and even small towns usually have a college or community theater with trained actors.

If you still insist on casting your friends and family, insist they get professional training. Otherwise, you're shooting a home movie, and home movies can rarely compete against more polished work.
 

*  IT DOESN'T END WITH THE SHOOT

Mole, Legion, and Human No More all underwent extensive post-production to optimize their camera footage. On the low end of the scale, some entries had that flat "home video" look, poorly lit and with dull, fading colors. Yes, post-production can cost money, but with programs like Final Cut Pro, it's more a question of effort than money.
 

*  SOUND COUNTS

George Lucas understood this, which is why he founded Skywalker Sound. Broadstone understands this also, which is why Human No More is an audio feast.

 

*  RULES ARE GUIDELINES

Rules can be broken. Human No More is a vignette rather than a story. And Slinky Milk has no story, and no trained actors are evident. But Broadstone's film remains powerful because of its artistry and originality; and Williams's experimental genre doesn't require a story or acting.

Even so, rules are rules because they usually work. Violating them is a risk that rarely pays off.
 

*  ENTERTAIN US

While skillfully shot and acted, Cadaverous and SuperStore are conventional horror tales of no great originality. Yet they deserve recognition because, while we sort of predict their endings, these films maintain our interest. They entertain us. The writing contains no fat and the story moves at a good pace. We are not bored or driven off by an amateurish cast.

Contrary to some views, an amateurish cast does not produce a film that's "entertaining because it's so bad it's good," but a film that's "so bad it's unwatchable."

All of the honored films are entertaining because they are well-written, well-acted, and feature sharp visuals and a clear soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

END OF PART TWO.  RETURN TO PART ONE.

 

Read about the Los Angeles awards ceremony and the New York presentations.

Are YOU a horror filmmaker seeking publicity? It's not too early to enter our current search! We review entries as they arrive and select winners in the fall.

And if you're a filmmaker, actor, musician, or writer who doesn't do horror -- we want to hear from you too! Email or snail mail us about your project, and if we're intrigued we'll cover it or invite you to submit a report!

Copyright 2005 by HollywoodInvestigator.com

 

 

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