A MAN OF ROME WRITES THE MONSTERS

So a lot has been happening, kids. I mean a LOT. I even got married in March and it was a fun party. Julie walked down the aisle to David Bowie’s “As The World Falls Down.” (Yeah, from LABYRINTH.) Afterwards, we went to Italy. In fact, we just got back from Rome. This is a picture of the view from the hotel room where we stayed. Maybe I’m weird… but to me, there’s some kind of epic comfort in sleeping not twenty feet away from a gladiator school where Roman centurions trained to kill each other and fight giant lions, damn-near two thousand years ago. That’s what all those old structures between our window and the colosseum are. It’s a FUCKING GLADIATOR SCHOOL. Um. The colosseum was pretty awesome to sleep in front of too. Even with all the tourists.

I’ve been a lot of places in my life, but I never went to Italy. ME! Mister Man Of Rome! That is literally what my last name means. And I just got around to seeing what the place looks like firsthand. My buddy Dave Neabore told me it would change my life and he wasn’t wrong. My head is still swimming.

Rome is an open-air art gallery filled with colossal things you never forget standing next to. I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful for my lovely, amazing wife, who is the light of my world. I’m grateful for a lot of things.

I mean, I write movies and comic books for a living and I get away with it mostly. I’ve been a lot of places there, too. The “life of the mind,” as they say. My art has been focused on the creation of monsters for most of my career, but I make no apologies. In fact, I’m quite proud of those monsters, from the maniac film director Darby Silver of SHOCK FESTIVAL to the supernatural revenge-seeker DIVA JACKSON, who paradoxically blows away the bad guys AND their hapless victims with equal prejudice. Here’s what Diva looks like.

She’s horribly wronged as a child, and it ain’t pretty. Everyone needs some motivation in their life, right?

She’s among my most recent work. In fact, Diva’s wild adventures have not even been published yet. But since my comic company sold to Vinegar Syndrome, my creative world has been non-stop, filled with about sixteen in-print projects cooking more-or-less at the same time, some of them golden oldies from my past rewarmed, others all-new creations fresh from the abyss. With any luck, we’ll start forcing more of this stuff on you on you soon. (I’ll talk a little bit about them in a minute.) The work has been challenging and constant and has required more intense focus than in any other time in my career. But I’m a SUPER HUMAN KIND OF GUY, right? I can totally take it. I think.

FIRST… some MOVIE NEWS.

Going on ten years now, I’ve been writing family thrillers for Lifetime. I even have a new one dropping TODAY, which is MAY 2, 2024. So tune in, kids! BET YA CAN’T WAIT! (Believe it or don’t, some people actually do get excited about these films and send weird letters, asking when the next one comes out and begging for plot details; I always wonder if they’re pranking me.) It’s the usual melodrama-with-guns-and-knives-and-screaming-ladies stuff, but we made some memorable characters this time I think. I had a wonderful collaboration with the director, who is a marvelous lady.

I’ve written about fifteen of these gun-for-hire TV extravaganzas (if you count the ghost gigs)… and I’ve been fortunate to work with the filmmakers at every turn on every single ONE of them to create something we could stand away from and be proud of. (And, yes, we work just as hard as anyone else in Hollywood, in spite of what a bunch of hipsters or “respectable mainstream filmmakers” want to tell you about your own work.) I am involved in casting, shooting, and even the location scouting of these movies. It has not only been a richly rewarding experience on many levels… but it’s also prepared me for what I will be moving on to soon.

What am I moving on to? Well, my first feature as a director, of course! It will not be a Lifetime film. I probably could have done that, but…. um, no. But I do have a couple of those coming soon, as usual, which I penned the screenplays for. TONIGHT’S big flick at The Big L will be…. (drum that roll please)….

This wasn’t my fault. I’m only the writer.

You can’t read my name at the bottom of the poster because they always put the credits in these tiny little letters for some reason. (Sometimes I make my own posters with better credits, but enough is enough.) This project began its tumultuous birth process as a series of conversations in development meetings, when the title A MOTHER’S SECRET DAUGHTER was suggested by someone who wasn’t me… and somehow I ended up writing it. That’s the thing about Hollywood. You go in the room with a story about a talking mule and walk out signed to a project that champions the virtues of exploding porcupines. Is it any wonder I want out of this machine?

But I KID. Sort of.

I’m actually working on a book about my experiences writing these and other films, which should make for fascinating and damn cautionary reading for any fool young people out there seriously considering some manner of career as a screenwriter and/or filmmaker. (The short version is: DON’T FUCKIN’ DO IT, BY GOD!!!) I promise thrills and laughs and no hard-to-understand words. In the meantime, here’s some fun trivia about the new one, now retitled OUR MOTHER’S SECRET AFFAIR (see Super Terrific Poster Above):

  • The director Roxanne Boisvert, as I mentioned before, is great to work with. I came up with her in the Lifetime machine at Reel One and she’s produced about a thousand movies since we both started. She’s a unique and inspiring success story in the biz. And if you can believe this, she’s also the WARDROBE DESIGNER on all her films too, even the ones she directs personally. So she literally calls “cut” on a shot and then gets in there with a roll of duct tape to fix a lady’s dress. She’s a SUPER HUMAN KIND OF GAL. Obviously we deserve each other.
  • The executive producer of this film made David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS. He makes about ten million films a year and will bury us all. He’s buried me more than once. (I KID!!!)
  • Nearly every character in this movie is named after a famous fictional person in another movie or book, or named after someone I know in the entertainment biz… but since they started blabbing on other blogs about who those people are in other films when I started revealing them here, I will NOT SAY WHO THEY ARE THIS TIME. You gotta figure it out yourself. And be mindful. This is a HARD trivia game. Only die-hard “genre fans” who don’t generally like Lifetime stuff will know all the answers. The film is LOADED with easter eggs and shout-outs, too. I sneak them in every single one of these. A lot of them get cut out. But lots don’t. Again, most of the time I make sure they are invisible to anyone who is not “one of US.” Gooble gobble. So there.
  • Okay, what else? Oh yeah… this is probably the first movie I’ve done at LT where it’s more “family drama” than “thriller” (which, believe it or not, they don’t actually like) but I haven’t seen the final cut yet. Maybe they changed that?

My next one will also be directed by a woman, a pretty famous lady in the TV movie biz… and that will be my swan song for a while at Lifetime.

What is my first directing gig gonna look like?

Not telling.

But it’s been in the works for years, and production begins soon.

Meanwhile… COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS, kids!

She grows up hot. Literally.

DIVA JACKSON is my favorite thing at the new Eibon Press at VS Publishing these days, a great collaboration with Italian artist Hank La Marca and based on a story by Shawn Lewis and myself.

THE UNDERGROUND TOXIC WASTE MUTANTS is also a lot of fun, and we’re halfway through that one now, just finishing issue #4 as I write this.

Spot the shout-out? If you don’t, we can’t hang out anymore, dude.

Plus there’s THIS fun thing, based on an unproduced TV series I made called DEADGIRLS AND DARKER. That’s got tons of laughs in it.

His name is Darker. His reality show was cancelled but that’s okay because the end of the world is coming.

I really like the art on all of these, but seeing DG&D brought to life by Dave Cabrera has been a genuine treat. I created these characters almost twenty years ago… and well, here they are!

I mean… wow.

Her name is Blitzie. Do NOT fuck with her girls.

And we’re doing THIS thing, too, also based on a TV series that never got made. I can’t say what the title of it is just yet, but some smart guys out there will figure it out. HINT: It also happens to be based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. And the art by my long-time collaborator Pat Carbajal is his most ambitious and terrifying yet. That’s saying a lot. This guy did my MANIAC books.

Pat is the best at slimy monsters who are also very cool.

Plus SWEET SUGAR is still in the works, based on the classic girls-in-chains movie. Yeah, I know, shut up. It’s FUN! And perverted too. I mean just wait’ll you see what we did with this, guys…

Pat Carbajal made this cover too. And those proportions are correct.

And we put out a bunch of the old stuff last year. I wrote a couple of stupid-long blogs about it all. If you’re feeling VERY bored, please go read them.

So, on a final note . . .

Why monsters?

It’s very simple. I grew up with them. We all did. They are everywhere you go. And I’m not talking about the guys you see in films like NIGHTBREED, where “monsters” are the heroes. Those aren’t monsters at all, in my opinion. They are… well, the HEROES. They just look weird and maybe they have a problem with drinking blood or something.

But I write about the really bad guys, guys. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until my career finally goes up in smoke: I don’t do any of this stuff to be cute. Not even the Lifetime films, which I started writing years ago because I needed the money, but continued with because I was able to say a few things I actually meant. That’s what people can sometimes not understand when you trot out such work, or really any kind of work that challenges their perspectives. I think my best art does that. And, yeah, I think of it all as art. It’s just different classes of art, right? Or something.

My Lifetime film WEB CAM GIRLS is about a monster. It’s deeply disturbing. My friend Glynn called me up after she watched it and said she was worried about my mental health. Mission accomplished.

Actual scene from a movie made for Lifetime.

My short story book PROJECT 51, which was written in 24 hours on my fifty-first birthday, is a magnum thrill ride through Monster Town USA. I did it not for fame and riches, but because it was something I HAD to do. It’s deeply disturbing but also deeply personal. Mission accomplished.

The first film I ever wrote, way back in 2005, was filled with monsters, and as we made it, I even got to understand one of them better than I wanted to, through the amazing actor Ethan Embry, who gave a difficult, nuanced, and even sensitive performance. It illustrated chillingly well that the worst monsters come in under the radar, inside our circle of trust. And then they destroy you. That was MASTERS OF HORROR: INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD. It’s difficult to watch that one, so many years later. It makes me cry a lot. But… well…. mission accomplished, right?

My favorite scene from the movie, where everything worked perfectly: Writing, directing, acting and even music. It’s just people talking, but sometimes magic happens in the strangest places.

But I also write about the people who stand up to monsters. That’s Ellen, also from INCIDENT, played with great skill and poise by the awesome Bree Turner. She was a character originally created by Joe Lansdale, who’s decent into the belly of the beast I was able to adapt and take even further, in collaboration with director Don Coscaralli, my first mentor in the film biz. Ellen changes in the film, and even becomes a monster herself. That happens to many of us also. It’s one of the things I am most fascinated by as a creator of anything. I earned this fascination the hard way, folks. I’m not being cute.

But I also believe there’s a way through this kind of darkness… and I believe love can sometimes win. Check out the ending of my movie ESCAPING MY STALKER, the very last scene, in which one of my favorite characters, played with authentic sensitivity by Ezmie Garcia, decides to reach out to and forgive a man who caused her so much pain, because being a monster was not his fault. It sums up the whole ballgame for me. I cry when I watch that too.

He asks her: “Why do you care?” She replies: “Why not?”

This ain’t easy. It takes heroic struggle. It takes changing our perspectives. It means, sometimes, becoming the very thing you hate. Some of us go down there and never come back. Some of us live on. I live on. And I stay here at the edge to tell these stories because I think we need them. This is the call of my life, and it’s been a life worth living.

Um. Even if I’ve been so busy with it that I just got around to getting married and seeing Rome for the first time.

But hey . . . that’s cool, too.

S