NOTE: This is an older blog of mine, originally posted on Facebook, on December 1st, 2011. “Abed,” the movie it is about, was completed in February of 2012, and has received much acclaim. It is currently doing the festival circuit, and I will be blogging more about that when the time comes. I haven’t changed anything in this blog, but I have added some pictures. Basically, I’m trying to acquaint myself with WordPress, so I’m using an older blog to experiment.
A lot of people have asked me how this all came about, this new short I’m making called “Abed.” It’s sort of a long story, and yet it’s not. I’m still a bit in awe at the fact that we’re already in production on it. For a project that I’ve been waiting almost 20 years (but really more like a year) to do, it’s now all happening so fast I can barely settle my thoughts long enough to process it. But that’s fine. I work best when I save the introspection for later. As a famous director (I can’t remember if it was Scorsese or Cronenberg) once said, “Sometimes I have to make the movie to figure out why I wanted to make it.” Sure, we all start with preconceived notions about theme and story and the philosophies of the piece, but I think most writers and filmmakers would admit: We don’t neccessarily give it THAT much thought when we go to do it. If we did, we probably wouldn’t deliver very good work. As the Buddhists (or Yogi Berra) might say “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Anyway, what I’m trying to say (before I get to the story on how this movie came to be) is that YES, this movie is a zombie movie that deals with VERY disturbing sexual matters. My last short, “Down to Sleep,” also dealt with disturbing sexual matters, but not in as graphic a way as “Abed” does. In a lot of ways, I made “Down to Sleep” as practice for “Abed.” (In a sense, it was BECAUSE of “Down to Sleep” that “Abed” started happening so fast, but I’ll get to that in a bit.) Some people, upon hearing about the less-than-savory aspects of “Abed” have asked me, “Why would anyone want to make a movie about that?” And I have a million answers to that question, except that I really don’t know which answer is right, or if any of them even NEED to be right. Sure, I have things I’m trying to say with this piece (just as I’m sure Beth Massie had things she was trying to say when she wrote the short story on which it is based) and I hope I successfully “say” those things when all is said and done. But, ultimately, I can’t, with 100% accuracy, say exactly WHY I want to say them. Do I feel like I NEED to say them? Absolutely. And I guess, in the end, that’s what I feel is most important.
So yeah, again, as a Buddhist might say: “Ask me when it’s all over. We’ll talk then. Maybe.”
Getting on to the story of how this all came about …
Sometime in 1992, I was reading Fangoria magazine, and I came across a review for the book “Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2,” edited by splatter prophets John Skipp and Craig Spector. The book contained several short stories by several well-known authors, all of them ostensibly set in the world that George A. Romero had created in his original Living Dead films (“Night of …,” “Dawn of …,” “Day of …”). Zombies weren’t really in vogue back then. I know this may be weird to think about nowadays, when even Hannah Montana fights zombies ocassionally on her show (I have no idea if this is true, but you get my point.) No, back then, if you were a zombie fan, it meant you were probably the one person out of thousands in your community college that actually knew what Fangoria was. We had Tom Savini’s brilliant, criminally underrated “Night of the Living Dead” remake and … yeah, that was about it. It was another year or so before Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” appeared in our local video stores. Other than that, there was NOTHING. If you were a true horror geek, sure, you knew about all the old gems sitting on the shelves at VideoTime or Blockbuster (all those great, poorly-dubbed, big box Fulci and Mattei flicks) but even those had several inches of dust covering their sun-bleached covers. In essence, very few cared about zombies back then.
But Skipp & Spector cared, and they decided to unleash their bestselling, game-changing books on the world. And for the rest of us who DID care, we fucking DEVOURED them! To this day, true genre fans still marvel at those collections. And for good reason. The stories within their pages hit us like slugs to the chest (to quote the great poet, Dr. Dre.) They rewrote the rules and broke each and every one of them before the ink was even dry. Old taboos weren’t just broken, they were dragged out into the streets, set on fire, and laughed at. Hell, some of them had to invent NEW taboos, just so they could spit weaponized anthrax in their faces and then bury them in shallow graves as they writhed their way into Hell.
Naturally, I loved every word. Especially one little story in particular…
When I read Beth Massie’s “Abed,” my literal and figurative jaw hit the fucking floor. I honestly, at that time, thought I’d seen, read and imagined it all. Nope. This one got me good. I read it three straight times through, and knew that the game had forever changed for me. You can’t go back after reading it. You might WANT to, but good luck, muchacho.
I remember handing the book to my friend, Rick Reed, saying something along the lines of “Dude …” We both worked at McDonald’s at the time, and he read it on his lunch break. I remember seeing him walk out of the breakroom, looking at me and going “Heh. Yeah. Whoa.” We talked about it for days. And during one of those conversations, I remember saying “I would love to make a movie of that story, but … Damn.”
I never forgot the story, especially its morbidly clever, haunting last line (which I absolutely kept in the screenplay). But, of course, I never thought I’d really ever make it into a movie. I mean, how could I? I didn’t know anything about how to go about doing something like that, getting the rights to it, etc. So while the story never faded from my memory, my interest in making it into a movie did. Sort of …
Flash forward to November of 2010.
After nearly 20 years of filmmaking experiments, novel and short story writing, college, more break-ups than I care to remember, starting a successful public-access TV show, learning to love (and hate) alcohol, breaking a couple hearts and having mine just as broken in return, an almost-engagement, singing in a band, giving up on my dreams of filmmaking and slacking off WAY too much on my dreams of being a published novelist, learning the 1,001 ways a person can hate themselves (and all the variations of each), sinking into depths of depression and learning it’s ok to ask for help from the people you think despise you (who, most of the time, love you despite it all), and eventually regaining the confidence to think of myself as a viable human being and artistic entity ….
I made a little movie called “Clean Break.” Sent the trailer to Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria magazine. Chris forwarded to a man by the name of Philip Nurman. Phil saw it, and according to him, nearly killed his dearly-departed cat, he was laughing so hard. (Ask Phil, he tells the story better than I.) Phil loved it so much he immediately called me.
Ok, here’s where I need to back up a little ….
I’ve known who Philip Nutman is for a long, long time. Even before I discovered Beth’s story, I knew Phil’s name from his Fangoria articles. It was because of his articles that I discovered who Clive Barker was (and I could write an entire book on how much Barker’s work shaped me and changed my life.) After reading those articles, I always looked for his byline in the magazine. In 1993, I read his novel “Wet Work” and loved it.
Years later, I discovered a book by Jack Ketchum called “The Girl Next Door,” and it is probably one of the most gut-wrenching horror novels ever written. In 2007, I read in Rue Morgue magazine that it was being made into a movie. WTF? Right, I know. But anyway, guess how delighted and geeked I was when I disovered that one of the co-screenwriters and co-producers was? Yep … Philip Nutman. I rented that movie the day it came out and (without going off another gushing tangeant) it floored me. It was a brilliant adaptation. I placed it in my Top Five of that year (back when I was blogging more.)
So yeah, Chris Alexander asks me if it’s ok if he forwards my trailer to Philip Nutman. Uh. Yah.
And then when I find out said Mr. Nutman LOVES the trailer for my movie, and I hear there’s a voicemail on my phone from him … Well, hell. What’s going on here, Ryan? This is for real.
Phil loved the trailer, and loved the movie when I sent it to him. He programmed it into the 2010 Buried Alive! Horror Film Festival. My friends and I traveled down there to attend the festival and meet Phil. Phil and I became fast friends, and remain so to this day. (But I’m not going to get into all that here, because I’m talking about business, and I don’t want to start any gay rumors. You know how the internet can be … Besides, if anyone’s going to start any gay rumors about me, I want them to be about me and Brian Molko from Placebo.)
While there, my friends and I were standing around our merch table, and the conversation turned to various books that I was a fan of, and Phil was regaling us with stories about the authors of those books (as Phil says, he “knows bloody everyone.”) Phil is quite the raconteur, and frankly, being the huge book-geek that I am, I could’ve listened to his stories for hours. But anyway, at some point I brought up the Book of the Dead books, because I knew his short story “Wet Work” had appeared in volume one, and I was interested in hearing any insights he had into the making of those books.
That’s when I brought up my love for the Beth’s story “Abed.” I mentioned how much I loved it, and that I would love to make a movie of it someday. Phil smiled, and said that once the festival was over, we should talk.
And talk we did. A couple weeks later, while on the phone, he told me that he had contacted his dear friend Beth Massie that day, and that she was interested in talking to me about it. I couldn’t believe it! Was he serious? Was this actually something that could possibly happen? Needless to say, I was beside myself with … well, with one of the biggest geek-boners I’d ever had in my life!
He went on to mention that in the 90s, another filmmaker had attempted to make it into a movie, and another famous writer (whom I’m a fan of) had done an adaptation of it. Phil informed me that I could consider using that script, or I could adapt it myself. Beth had said that not using the previous script was in no way a deal-breaker. So, yeah. “I’d really like to take a crack at it myself!” I said. Phil was glad I said that, not to disparage the previous writer’s work (I have not read his adaptation), but because he thought it would be a great opportunity to me. Phil has, from the beginning, been a great supporter of me as a writer, and as an artist, and I don’t know that I can ever thank him or repay him for this. (But I will try, by making the best damn movie out of this story that I can.)
Phil set up a deal with Beth for me to option the story. I immediately contacted Beth, here on Facebook, and deluged her with questions about the story, her intentions with the story, what she wanted to see in a film version of it, etc etc. Beth was very kind and forthright with me about her concerns regarding the disturbing nature of the film, and that she wanted an adaptation that remained true to her vision, without devolving into silly exploitation. I agreed with her completely.
So I sat down and reread the story ten times, making copious notes, playing out scenes and ideas in my head, scribbling them down in notebooks, and then emailing Beth with more questions. After a few days of this, I began writing …
I want to talk more about the process of doing the adaptation, but I’m saving that for another time. I mentioned way at the beginning of this that my short film “Down to Sleep” played a part in “Abed” going into production. And it did. In a small, but, I think, crucial way.
I finished my adaptation back in February of 2011, I believe. Somewhere around then. Anyway, it didn’t go into production right away. So, not being a person who likes to remain idle, I began writing “Down to Sleep.” I had just come off of a successful run with “Clean Break,” and I was really itching to make another short. Just to keep myself in shape. I still had a lot to learn about filmmaking, and I was eager to atone for some of the mistakes I had made on “Clean Break.” Plus, I knew that when the time did come to make “Abed,” I wanted to make sure I was confident enough to pull it off. It was a fairly well-known story, by a popular, Bram Stoker Award-winning author, and I knew the scrutiny on it would be intense. I felt I needed to make another short, something completely different than the whimsical satire of “Clean Break.” Something that would show people, and myself, that I was capable of handling darker, more serious material.
I finished “Down to Sleep” and quickly put it into production. We shot it fast, with very little money, but a WEALTH of talent (my cast and crew on that film were beyond exceptional!) and a surplus of passion. The movie wasn’t without its flaws and hardships, but I believe it turned out beautifully! I could not be more proud of that film, and all the work that went into it. I believe it has some of THE best acting in any independent film I have ever seen, in ANY film in general, that I have ever seen. When I watch it now, I still marvel at how lucky I was to work with the people I did.
While Rick Reed was busy working his magic and piecing the movie together, Dan Falicki and I went off and cut together a trailer for it. After posting the trailer, I sent a private email to Beth, because I hadn’t spoken with her in awhile. I was beginning to wonder if she thought I had forgotten about her and “Abed,” and I didn’t want her to think I was just some kid who talked a good game but wasn’t going to deliver. So I thought, what better way to get back into conversation with her than to show her the trailer to my new film, a film that was, in a way, inspired by her and her writing. I sent her the trailer in a private message. She responded a few days later with much enthusiasm. She really, really liked what she had seen. And in a way, I felt like I was telling her, through my trailer, that I really was the best director to do her story, and not to lose interest, because I would do my damndest to make “Abed” happen. And I would make it happen right.
I’m not in any way purporting to speak for Beth here. I don’t know that she was even that concerned, at the time, about “Abed” or my abilities to bring the project to fruition. This was all just stuff going on in my head. But it was a great motivating factor for me. Because, about a week or so later, I got an idea. I called up my friend Jenny Lasko (who had read the “Abed” script and liked it) and asked her, “Do you want to make Abed, and I mean now?” She said “Absolutely, how?” I said, “I’m going to introduce you to Philip Nutman, and I think the three of us should discuss doing a fundraiser campaign, and make this happen. Beth loved the Down to Sleep trailer, and I really, REALLY want to put her story up on screen. Now.”
Jenny agreed (because she’s awesome). We talked to Phil (who had agreed to produce “Abed” for me when I asked him all those months ago) and Phil agreed (because he’s awesome, and because he loves being on this crazy adventure with me, in whatever incarnation it chooses to reveal itself). He and Jenny went to work producing and conjuring up ideas for fundraising. I went to work refining the script and casting the movie (I had had Dan Falicki and Rachel Finan in mind for the two leads from the moment I started writing the script; both had read earlier versions of the script, liked it, and agreed to do the movie when it happened.)
And now here we are. I have two of the hardest working, passionate producers in the world going to bat for the movie every single day. And I have the greatest crew a director could ask for, a group of fully committed, talented people who inspire me every time I walk on set. And I have the honor of working with two of the most daring and versatile actors I have ever had the privelege to direct. Which is saying something, because I have worked with some very, very talented actors on my movies, and I could spend hours gushing about each one of them. As I’ve said before, I need to stop working with such amazing people, because they make my job too easy. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like I’m directing, so much as bearing witness to magic. If there’s one thing I don’t mind saying about myself as a director, it’s that I know how to cast my movies right, and I know how to assemble the right people for the job. And I wholly believe in every single person I work with. As long as I can continue to do that, I will be ok with calling myself a Filmmaker.
And what all of this means, really, is that I am a lucky, lucky guy.