The Bad Movie Report
Making A Bad Movie:
My Personal Nightmare


In Which The Author Starts Abusing The Corpses Of Trees

I ended Chapter Two with one of those cheating little cliffhangers the makers of Republic serials were so fond of - you know the ones, where the hero is shown crushed beneath the rocks, then next week we see him roll away just in the nick of time! Yes, I was contacted by a guy wanting to make a movie. But it wasn't my movie.

Having seen me in a production of Tribute, this fellow wanted me to star in his production of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. Most people are familiar with the version that already existed. It had appeared as an episode of The Twilight Zone, and still gets shown in high school English classes. The problem the producer/director, Mark Mensik, had with it was that it was a French production, and he felt everyone in it looked French; he wanted to make a purely American version.

For those of you whom high school English is a distant memory (or approaching reality), Occurrence concerns one Peyton Farqhuar, a Civil War saboteur who is to be hanged from the titular bridge. The rope breaks, he swims away, avoids soldiers, makes it home, runs into his wife's arms - and then his neck breaks. It was all just a fantasy as his body fell to the terminal point. The end.

We journeyed to scenic San Marcos, Texas, where a railroad bridge actually runs over a river in the middle of a park; very good location work. There, in between trains, we stood in period costume, a noose was tied around my neck, I lightly wrapped rope around my hands to simulate tying behind my back, and I proceeded to jump off the bridge.

One problem: I can't swim. A particularly bad swimming instructor of my youth drowned me. I don't go near water. The solution is this case was wearing the top part of a wetsuit under my shirt and vest; it was like wearing a Koozie (a foam rubber can insulator) - I could not help but float to the surface. There were two scuba divers under the surface of the river, one with a movie camera, another with a still camera, either of whom could drop their equipment and come to my aid if needed. A motorboat stood by just out of frame. I felt pretty safe.

The jump went off fine. I hit the water, had a moment of disorientation while I righted myself, "untied" myself (ever mindful of the cameras) and kicked my way to the surface. The motorboat chugged up to me, and waiting hands grabbed mine. Wearing a complete period costume - including now- waterlogged boots - I was too heavy to lift into the small boat, so they simply drug me to shore, during which a problem surfaced.

The rope of the noose around my neck had not been oiled. The hemp had soaked up water like a sponge, and was swelling alarmingly. By the time I got to shore, the noose was actually starting to strangle me.

A production assistant tried to manfully loosen the rope around my neck, resulting in the loss of skin more than anything else. The blood was beginning to roar in my ears when one of the producers - Mark's father, actually - stepped forward with a razor knife and with two whacks, had the rope cut off, without so much as touching me.

I decided to let my stunt double handle the subsequent jumps.

I have no idea if Occurrence was ever finished - there was one last day for pick-up shots that never happened, though God knows that films have been finished with a lot less footage - but Mark agreed that it was time to go forward and actually make a feature, and golly, "Nightcrawlers" sounded like a good start. So I retired to my typewriter and spent my evenings writing a screenplay.

As I recall, I had one book about writing screenplays which had a little bit on the actual format and a whole lot of theory, and a Harlan Ellison book - I think it was No Doors, No Windows - where, in the introduction, he reveals what margin and tab settings he used for screenplays. I was set.

I don't like to think much about that first draft. Mechanically, it's dreadful, and content-wise, its still slavishly devoted to the short story. I did get rid of the happy ending, at least, and finally started to get a handle on thinking visually. Only started, though. The finished Forever Evil is quite talky, revealing the stagebound origins of its writer; but boy, you should've seen the first draft.

Two quite visual segments, though, were two big action sequences - the Evil Dead-like first act, wherein Friday the 13th was reprised in seven minutes, and Marc and Reggie's final showdown with the zombie, Alfie: a knock-down dragout fight scene - both sequences had been firmly in my head since day one.

As it turned out, neither sequence made it to film - but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Needless to say, I never made Nightcrawlers with Mark. He drifted out of touch, I broke up with my girlfriend, moved out on my own, several years passed.... and one day I pulled that first draft, that single-spaced, badly typewritten first draft. The 55 page first draft. I knew one thing: in screenplay terms, one page = one minute. My baby was short.

Man, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


Writing the Bad Movie. Again.
AND: Enter The Director