the gallows

What’s it Like Going to a Hollywood Movie Premiere?

It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:

“Whose life is this?”

I looked around the room at the afterparty–at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I’m not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label “pretentious,” but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us–at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno–who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.

Whose life is this? This is our life now.

IMG_1467

* * *

The fanciest of evenings started out, as it so often does not, in a McDonald’s parking lot… Click here to read the rest on Tremendum.com!

Advertisements

The Gallows Black Carpet Event

Here’s one indicator you’ve done something right in life: you attend a Red (in this case, Black) Carpet Event with celebrities and actors and actresses all over the place and the prettiest woman in the room is your wife.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Weirdly, we were nervous going into the event. I joined up with Tremendum Pictures earlier this year and although I’ve since met all sorts of people from all the highest walks of life, there was something intimidating about going into this thing–what with its jeweled purses, camera flashes, and fanfare and so forth. So much fanfare. Every news crew in town was there.

What to wear was a huge concern. It really shouldn’t have been. We saw people in everything from baseball caps to full-blown suits to pantsuits to floor-length gowns. But, as I said, Erin was the prettiest. She walked past the assembled crowd of fans waiting in line to see the movie with a full-on strut.

This being Fresno, it was 107 degrees out. This being a weird time in weather history, it was incredibly humid. Pretty sure I both ate too much popcorn and lost 3 pounds in sweat.

The Gallows is a movie I joined at the end of its four year creation process. My official credit on the film is “Assistant Set Decorator.” If you see the movie when it comes out on July 10th (and you should if you like awesome and fun in combination), pay special attention to the very last scene. You’ll see some of my handiwork and furniture.

This is an indie movie. We all pitched in whatever way we could, doing all sorts of things and contributing our time, talents, and vanity mirrors. The past few weeks we’ve all been going to local theaters to spread the word and sign posters. (Well, Writer-Directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff have been signing posters. Tell someone they could get their poster signed by the Assistant Set Decorator and watch them run.)

In one particularly hilarious, spontaneous moment, as we were exiting the theater a week or so ago after a 2 hour signing, Travis yelled out to me, “HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS MOVIE, THE GALLOWS?”

I was halfway across the parking lot. Travis was passing the line of people waiting to get in. They just stared with equal parts curiosity and confusion. I yelled back, “NO! WHAT’S THAT?”

“IT’S THIS GREAT NEW HORROR MOVIE MADE IN FRESNO COMING OUT JULY 10TH!”

“JULY 10TH YOU SAY?”

“YEAH! MADE IN FRESNO!”

“IN FRESNO? REALLY?”

“YEAH!”

“NO SH#*!”

Only, I didn’t say “NO SH#*!” That’s what Chris, who was standing next to Travis, heard me say. For some reason. What I really said was “NO WAY!” I’ve never said “NO SH#*!” in my life. But Chris’s version is funnier.

Despite this guerrilla approach to getting the word out, The Gallows is certainly not being distributed like an indie movie. It’s coming out with the full support of Warner Bros. Marketing and it shows.

It feels like the buzz is hitting the right pitch and certainly the people who have now seen it have been blown away by it. If you like scary movies, you can’t miss this one. It delivers the goods in a big, big way.

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

My second favorite thing about the Black Carpet Event (Erin’s outfit was clearly the first) was seeing my friends Chris  and Travis take a victory lap. They have sacrificed everything they have and more to make this movie. The success they’re about to have is well-deserved. They’re good, gracious guys who are always, always quick to recognize the contributions of others and how blessed they are.

The pre-screening mingling was a contest of foot space. I can’t even imagine what all the regular patrons of Maya Cinemas were thinking as they dodged fancy shoes and shuffled through to Inside Out and Ted 2. Local Morning Show hosts were there, the Mayor of Fresno was there, all the press, all the investors in the film, the producers out of Hollywood, everyone was there.

What’s funny is how lost everyone can look at an event like this. Besides the actors and Chris and Travis, no one really has a purpose besides watching the movie.* So, you stand and you talk and try to look like you belong. You do belong, of course–you’re on the list–but to be approved for admittance without purpose is an uneasy kind of belonging. At least for me. I like to have things to do.

*Or taking pictures. No one asks you to take pictures at an event like this–there were plenty of people around who were being paid to do it–but you do it anyway both because you want the memento and because it’s something to do.  

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and I settled into our seats alongside our friends Nate (who also works with Tremendum) and Megan, and our new friend, Brandon Jones, the film’s sound designer. Brandon’s a great guy and a great talent who, as you’ll discover once you see the movie, was absolutely integral to the movie’s success. The only music in the entire film plays over the end credits, so it was really up to Brandon to design a soundscape that would carry you all the way through the thing without making you once question why there aren’t any strings or guitars telling you how to feel. This is absolutely, perfectly what happens. Nice work, Brandon.

Quick story about Brandon: he just so happens to be tall and good-looking. After the film, he was mobbed by a large group of screaming women who demanded he take a picture with them. The funniest thing about this was that Ryan Shoos, one of the leads of the film, was standing nearby. Completely ignored. Ryan was a good sport about it and even went up to Erin and told her, excitedly, “that’s Brandon Jones over there!”

The movie went over like gangbusters with the audience. Lots of hiding faces behind hands and gripping the seats. Erin, surprisingly, did great with it. She watched it all with eyes open and managed to have a great time despite the film not being her usual bag. I was worried she’d be more like Megan and want to throw up. Seriously, Megan was so out-of-her-mind scared I’m pretty sure she thinks we made a radio show.

The credits were everyone’s favorite part. The movie was made entirely in Fresno by Fresnans and it was just so, so satisfying to clap and applaud for the people who were right there in the room with you. I’ve applauded after a film before, but it’s never been for the benefit of the people who made it. They’re never there. I just enjoy the explosion of joy that can follow a good movie and I like joining celebrations. This was different. This was more like a play. When we applauded, the actors and producers and casting person and, yes, the Assistant Set Decorators got to actually feel the love. Erin and Megan and Nate and I reserved our biggest cheers for Travis’s wife, Amber. Outside of Chris and Travis, I can’t think of anyone else more directly responsible for making The Gallows possible.

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The actors were mobbed afterwards. With the exception of Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee and Frank, the spotlight is not something they’ve really had before. Not on this level, certainly. You can already tell they’re pros, but also gracious and sincere in their acceptance of praise. I had a particularly good time catching up with Reese, who is the audience surrogate in the movie and gets his lines cut off hilariously in the editing over and over again. Not that my opinion is anything he should care about, but I assured him it worked for the movie and the character.

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

The cameras came back out as everyone made the rounds once again for photos. As a special treat, the actual gallows made for the film was reconstructed in the theater lobby. Surrounded by barriers, no one had dared approach it all night. Sensing a great photo op, Chris and Travis just busted down the barriers and started calling people up in all sorts of combinations for pictures with them and the cast and the producers. Like I said, gracious.

By the time the afterparty hit, we were ready to eat. The food was good, but the real treat was the venue. Erin and I are both graduates of Fresno State and one of the more irksome things about our time there was the construction and establishment of the Smittcamp Alumni House, a beautiful, mansion-like building made exclusively for elite scholars, rich university donors, and visiting dignitaries. Or whatever. I never really knew what the Smittcamp Alumni House was for, but I did know that it robbed us students of a whole bunch of parking spaces. Because space. I was never allowed into the building until this very, quite spectacular night.

So, Smittcamp Alumni House, you had my ire. But guess WHAT? You… you’re a pretty nice building. Thanks for hosting us.

Erin and I left the party a little early, at 10:45pm. She had been complimented by Cassidy and several other people on her shoes throughout the night, but beauty comes at a price and I like a wife with feet. Once we’d cleared the threshold of the Smittcamp House, the shoes were off and Erin lost about a foot of height.

Erin was truly in her element the entire night. Not only was it the prettiest she’d felt in a very long time, but it was the first time since losing our jobs last year that she felt like we were part of something professional. You don’t know how much you need to feel part of the world until they kick you out of it.

This movie is a big deal, but more importantly Tremendum is a big deal. Even though we’re only a few hours away from Los Angeles, Fresno is very much its own thing. Hollywood does come here on occasion, but it’s usually to make fun of us. (I’m looking at you, makers of the indie film “Fresno.”) The support we’ve gotten from the community on this is incredible and will allow us to both stick around and do so much more in the future. I’m grateful to be in the middle of all of it. I predict big things.

Update on the New Job (Plus, “The Shooting”)

Things have a been a little crazy lately.

Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.

Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.

After the test screening. From L-R: 'Gallows' Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

After the test screening. From L-R: ‘Gallows’ Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.

In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.

Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming of Age Story Between Two Shootings is the first memoir I wrote and the one that allowed me to form a relationship with my literary agent, Bonnie Solow. For a variety of reasons, few having to do with the quality of the story or even the way I wrote it, it didn’t sell. But it’s still a book and a story I feel passionate about. I’ve already posted the prologue on this site, but, just for kicks, this week I’m going to serialize the first few chapters of RBDM.

I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Here we go. The following is a true story:

* * *

Chapter One

Shooting

No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.

A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.

Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.

It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.

Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.

It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.

Neither did the guns.

The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.

“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”

Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.

Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.

The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.

Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.

click.

Display guns are never loaded.

The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.

Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.

The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.

* * *

Next: “The Call”

My Wife and I Lost Our Jobs. Six Months Later, We Discover the Next Step.

Towards the lightI couldn’t figure out how to title this post, so I decided to go with the stupidest one possible.

But, yes, it’s true, after six months and many, many more blog posts, my wife and I finally know what to do next. And, for us, it’s kind of insane.

First, a little background:

The day I was let go from my job just 24 hours after Erin lost hers has got to be one of worst–and best–days of my life. “Worst” for the obvious reasons, and “best” because even in the midst of being completely, utterly freaked out, I couldn’t help but be at least a little excited about whatever potential new opportunities lie ahead. It’s rare an epoch of our lives ends so definitively that we can recognize it in the moment. Usually, it’s only by looking back we see accurately just when one phase ended and the next one began.

And yet, looking back, there is more that I can see clearly now that I couldn’t even then. I believe life, if we are in tune with the curve of it, is always preparing us for the next thing. God is in the machine.

One of the difficult things about blogging every day during the first half of our unemployment was that sometimes I would have thoughts and feelings that I didn’t know what to do with, and, consequently, didn’t know how or if I should express them to the public. How could I express to you what I could barely understand myself?

The one consistent thought and emotion I’ve had since this all began is this: everything is going to be okay. The one constant inconsistency has been this: the how. For a long while we both assumed we were to walk the paths we and so many others had before: apply for jobs, then interview, then get a job.

Only that last part never happened. Time and again we’d both have these amazing interviews and then, for one reason or another, the job would not materialize. Worse, often the potential employers would just vanish (once, literally).

The longer it all went on, the more a thought kept coming back to me that I dared not express. If I did, then how could anyone do anything but conclude that I was a lazy bum? This thought was not a reasonable thought, and it would make what was an already tense situation even worse because behind the thought was nothing. It was a vaporous idea, signifying much and meaning nothing because it begged all sorts of questions for which I had no answers.

But the thought was there. And it was this: That the 9-to-5 is no longer for me.

For a time, I imagined the thought might mean that the book I was working on was the beginning of a new career for me. But I knew that was stupid. Unless you’re writing trilogies about starving kids killing each other* or the weird sex escapades of a woman who bites her lip a lot, it’s tough to make a living as a writer. I believe in both of the books I’ve written and I know one day they’ll find their audience, but it will likely be a niche audience.

Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a living.

Alongside this thought was this nagging idea–a feeling, really–that I needed to patient. I felt like the answers would present themselves and that I need not worry. This is a great, comforting feeling to have unless you have a wife and kids who are used to things like money to pay for food and housing. But I trust such feelings to put me in tune with the curve, and I couldn’t just ignore it. I could only not share it.

So, I didn’t.

Which brings us to the decision. When Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing at Tremendum Pictures first asked to meet with me back in December, they told me straight up they were interested in me coming on board as a creative talent to help them with their various endeavors: feature films, marketing videos, viral videos, commercials, etc. Their first movie, The Gallows, comes out July 10 from New Line Cinema. Worldwide release, and it was made right here in Fresno. That’s a big deal. And they see Tremendum Pictures being an even bigger deal in the future, but for that they need talented people at their side. It was a flattering offer.

Two months later, and after much prayer and fasting and deliberation and barraging Travis and Chris with a million questions, Erin and I have decided to go all in with Tremendum. All in. This will be my every day.

But what does that mean?

Well, for right now, that means our financial situation doesn’t change very much. The entertainment business is a very different thing from what we’re used to and, for now, the money we receive is going to depend on what jobs come in and what deals can be made. We’re taking a true leap of faith here, confident that the money will come because that’s the promise we’ve received. Not from Travis and Chris, but from Someone a little higher up.

Make no mistake, for us, this is insane.

When we first got married, Erin and I had the mutual philosophy of not caring about making big money so long as we had stability. We valued that above all. As such, we’ve never had credit card debt and each time we’ve bought a home we’ve purposely gotten something that was way, way under what we could afford.  This is just who we are.We’re not big spenders. We’re not risk-takers.

But even more than being frugal people, we are people who consult the Lord on our decisions and don’t make big moves until we know it’s right. Signing on with Tremendum reminds me a lot of the decision we made to have our first child. At the time, we were in college, had no health insurance, and jobs that paid barely above minimum wage. And no prospects. After not being able to get rid of the idea that it was time to start our family and praying incessantly about it, it became clear to us that we were being asked to make a leap of faith. Only then would reap the blessing of being able to actually afford the child we were being prompted to bring into the world.

We found out Erin was pregnant the day before I started the job from which I was let go six months ago.

So, here we are again, on the precipice of something new and great. How great, we don’t yet know. For me, it’s going to mean working on lots of local projects and developing a TV Show that has already sparked some serious interest. I feel uniquely prepared for this. All my talents and skills will be poured into this job, and, though I have a lot to learn, I know I can do it. I simply, unequivocally, know it.

For Erin, this means going back to school. If she works now as well then I won’t have the flexibility in my schedule to pull this off, so she’s applied to get a Masters in Communication. She wants to teach at the college level and anyone who knows her knows exactly how flat out incredible she’ll bet at it. I’m thrilled for her.

How are we going to pull all this off? I don’t honestly know yet. I only know that we will. And that’s crazy.

Thank you, everyone, for following along with us through this journey. Thank you for your encouragement and words of wisdom. Thank you to those who supported us with gifts and babysitting and other assistance. We’re not quite out of the woods yet, but we’ve gotten this far in large part thanks to you.

This blog isn’t going away, but the focus will be shifting a bit. I’ll try to let you in as much as I can on the frankly awesome things I’ll be doing in the future. I’ll also be continuing my work on my books, and I might even serialize a few chapters or so in this space. I’d love to share more of what I’ve been doing the past few years.

Thanks again. See you soon.

*Yes, I know that’s not what the Hunger Games books are about. I’ve read them. They’re about vampires in love in a world where everyone is put into one of five factions based on their talents and forced to run in a maze to get to Hogwarts, the space school orbiting the Earth.