Francis Ford Iowa
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
A Final Word
I've posted 35 movies. Logged 51 posts. Re-edited a masterpiece. Handed out awards. World premiered lost films. Written another novel. Finished another documentary. It's been a hell of a year.
Out of all this effort, one bona fide superstar was born: Joe. Above is a recent discussion he and I had about creating (and, almost 20 years later, reliving) the Danman Productions. You ought to watch it. It's funny. It's insightful. It ends with a montage set to the Perfect Strangers theme song. Wait, that last one caught your attention?
Francis Ford Iowa has been a ridiculous amount of fun. I'm sad to see it end. But end it must, because there is simply nothing left to post. Maybe someday I'll return to this project--after all, there remain a few unproduced scripts--but for now, it's time to move on.
Good night, sweet prince.
Monday, April 19, 2010
WORLD PREMIERE: Sex, Drugs, & Film: The Rise and Fall of Danman Productions - Part II
Fifteen years after being shot, the sequel to Sex, Drugs, & Film is finally complete!
A LITTLE BACKGROUND FIRST...
Filmed simultaneously with Part One, it was supposed to have been edited directly afterward. But because of the limitations of ye olde reel-to-reel editing, the first one took months. I didn't have the time, patience, or stamina to go through that again, and so into storage the tapes went. I recall Matt N. being particularly pissed about it. (All better now, Matt?)
When I raided the vaults last month, no discovery was more exciting than a group of VHS tapes labeled "INTERVIEWS." Just as shocking was the ridiculous amount of documentation on the project: the original handwritten script, the revised typed script, exhaustive transcripts of the interviews, notes on editing and b-roll, and more. I'm a little bit in awe of how seriously I took all of this. I guess I'm still taking it seriously. Maybe I always will.
NOW, ON WITH THE SHOW!
This sequel centers upon The Godfathers: Part Two and how it was the downfall of Danman Productions. Whereas the first half was more about my cast's twisted web of relationships, this one is more about me. Oh, and the lethal cocktail of drugs, blackmail, sex, psychosis, chauvinism, paranoia, and vengeance that hastened my collapse.
Really, though, it's the other stuff in here that had me rolling. The security-camera video of me going ballistic. The blurred interview with "Employee X." Joe's directorial debut. Clips from my proposed Vietnam epic. A long-lost interview with my mom. There's enough here to delight me for another whole fifteen years.
This one was a team effort. I contacted my original narrator, Matt K., and begged him to bring his British accent out of retirement. He did. Then I contacted Tony and pleaded for him to read a relevant paragraph. I had it in one day. Far from the hellish ordeals of shooting the actual movies, this collaboration was peaceful. Not a single person (to my knowledge) got hurt.
I didn't cheat. I followed the script exactly. When it called for music, I chose a piece from the soundtrack to my feature film Ball of Wax. When it said the word INSANE was to be superimposed over my face, well, fine. What you see here is exactly what should have been made in 1995.
There's no way to explain what a joy it was for me to finish this. You get it, though, don't you? It was like going back in a time machine to change the past and finding out that, you know what? The past wasn't so bad. Let's leave it be.
(ABOVE: Deep thought found on the back of my transcript notes.)
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
When I wrote (longingly! wistfully!) about four missing masterpieces, I was relying on the old noggin, which I guess isn't what it used to be. The recent unsealing of the vaults revealed that I was far more prolific than I remembered. Below I break down seven astounding projects that never saw the light of day.
DYING FOR DOLLARS
This totally forgotten episode of "Tales from the Creep" was supposed to have been shot between 4-D and Sitter Splitter. Why did I abandon it? Maybe it had something to do with the story's unrelenting grimness: four down-on-their-luck friends pool their money and play a game of Russian Roulette so that the winner will have enough to survive on. Cheery, eh?
As you can see above, Moe (to be played by Shad) was supposed to have his thoughts audible to the audience, a technique I didn't pull off until Breakdown: The Eugene Brinkmeister Story. And though this script got two giant X's slashed through it, I did work a similar Russian Roulette scene into The Godfathers: Part Two. Score: Dan, 1. Life, 0.
My recollection of The Wager got two things wrong:
- The title was actually Greed. Though the script has been lost to time, the title card (seen above) makes that fact pretty darn clear.
- The style of the title card indicates that it was not, in fact, an entry into my "Tales from the Creep" canon. Rather, it was a second episode of The Twilight Zone. Diversification--it was key to my profitable business plan.
As mentioned before, I was secretly plotting a musical. Just look how neat my handwriting was--that right there tells you I was playing for keeps. Who were the poor saps I planned on coercing into singing on camera? Here at last is the actual hit list:
So nervous was I that they would balk at this assignment--remember, never had anyone turned down a role I foisted upon them--that I kept putting it off until the film fell off my radar. (Another possible factor: the realization that I had to play the romantic lead opposite my sister.)
Come to think of it, it was probably the difficulty of obtaining a chandelier (if it wasn't in my house, it didn't exist) that sunk this potential opus. And "Lots of Guts"? You gotta wonder if I was using that literally.
THE DANNY AWARDS
When I recently recreated my idea of an awards show, I did wonder if the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination. Nope--here's the proof. The nomination of such lightweights as Doll House and Wide World of Sports betrays that this was in the planning stages very early on. (No Father Sin, no credibility!) Spoiler: the so-called "winners" of this farce are on the pink post-it; click to enlarge.
CHARLES DICKEN'S [sic] A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Finding these title cards BLEW MY MIND. I shared them with Ben a couple weeks ago, and he claimed that they jogged a memory. Me, though? Nothing whatsoever. Chris, long gone from town, was the star, so it must've been something I tried to cobble together over a Christmas break. In fact, the stink of haste is all over these pages: I couldn't even wait to cast "Bob Cratchit" or "Tiny Tim" before inking these credits. Sounds like this one met the fate of Friday the 13th. Too bad; it has all the marking of a beloved holiday classic.
Concocted near the bitter end (the typed manuscript is the giveaway), this was a candidate for the more "serious" films that had their start (and end) with the dreadful Circle. Jefferson Street was a romantic comedy about a guy trying to gather the courage to ask out the girl next door. I didn't even bother giving the characters names--that tells you all you need to know. Valuable as a young writer trying to create characters? Maybe. Dreck as a script? I'll say!
By far the most promising of all the unmade scripts is this ingenious ditty about two friends who get trapped under some earthquake rubble with the corpse of poor Dr. Veernhoven. In short order, the buddies are forced to eat the dead doc, which unleashes several pages of cannibalism jokes of increasingly bad taste.
I love to imagine Matt N. and Joe in these roles. Hell, why stop at imagining? Matt? Joe? You out there? Let's shoot this mofo! Danman forever!!!
Monday, April 5, 2010
All that stuff about how The Godfathers: Part Two was the final Danman Production? Yeah, that wasn't true. Circle, which utilized the same company of actors, was technically the last movie. I could've sworn it wasn't branded with the illustrious Danman seal, but the recent vault discovery revealed that I was only half-right. See for yourself:
"Aneurysm Films" was a sad little attempt to reinvent myself post-Godfathers. Yet I couldn't bring myself to totally abandon the Danman moniker. Thus, as the closing credits read, "A Danman Production of an Aneurysm Film."
The shift was supposed to mark a new kind of maturity, I suppose, but those serious line-readings? And that semi-serious script? Total disaster. Made when I was a college freshman, Circle kicked off three years of humorless, uninspired experiments. Compared to the rollicking ambition that was Godfathers Two, the movie was a minor effort.
So minor, in fact, that I remembered it incorrectly as a "short film." Clocking in at forty-some minutes, it's actually one of my longest pictures. Drained after the months and months of shooting Godfathers Two, I vomited up a story that I could shoot in just a few days. That's all I cared about anymore. Man, I was done.
Aside from Matt N. and Joe proving themselves impervious to bad scripts, Circle's only innovation was that my co-star Tony set me up with an editing booth so that I could add songs in post-production. Unfortunately, we screwed up the sound levels and the whole movie runs hot. No big deal, I thought at the time. Well, me, I hate to tell you, but it's a huge deal--it's yet another element that dooms this flick to obscurity.
And that's a wrap. I mean it this time. The Godfathers: Part Two remains the ultimate Danman statement. Circle stands as little more than a curious epilogue.
(Oh, and for those wondering if I'm going to post my college movies... I wouldn't do that to you. I like you too much.)
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Vault of Horror
What you are looking at is an artifact of untold value. It is the original handwritten script to Kat Killer, the very first Danman Production. All over it are the scribbles, revisions, and doodles of yours truly. From whence did this veritable Shroud of Turin come? From a cardboard box in an Iowa basement, where I conducted (one last time) the final, ultimate search for all surviving movie materials. What I found - in both quantity and quality - will shock you.
First, let's take a closer look at this seminal screenplay.
Even as a teen I had an innate sense of drama. Look at the first three words I ever wrote: "Guy walks in." Guy? What guy? Walks? Walks how? In? Into where? So many delicious mysteries to be solved! Kat Killer was just one of the many scripts, notes, tapes, and figments of esoterica that I uncovered. Like the explorer who first disturbed the fetid air of King Tut's tomb and glimpsed that first gleam of gold, here is what mine eyes did see:
The Francis Ford Iowa project has been a nostalgia trip of epic distance, but up until this point my memories had been reliant on the finished films themselves - there was no scrap of behind-the-scenes matter. Suddenly, I was faced with the ample evidence of my hurried tomfoolery, my hasty compromises, and my dependence upon a certain exclamation:
Not a single script I found didn't have someone screaming "Noooooooooo!!!!!!" at some point (if not multiple points). For example, there were several such wails of protest in Misery. Oddly enough, the script itself was titled Misery II. It was my first remake, so I must have toyed with the idea of considering my movies as sequels rather than copies. Anyway, note the "Noooo!!"
Even more incredible is the promotional material that survived. I've already shared the amazing poster for The Godfathers: Part Two - but that was just for our own amusement. In fact, there were two fliers expressly created to hang up all over town in order to advertise local public access screenings. Somehow I had the sense of historical obligation to save one copy of each.
Below is the advertisement for The Godfathers. (I especially like the threatening tagline: "Miss it and by tomorrow morning you will be suffering.")
And here's the stylish advert for Evening of Fear, touting the world premiere of Harvest of Wrath:
Packed alongside these two posters was the only production still ever taken on one of my sets. The memory is hazy: already costumed for my part in The Godfathers, I indulged my mom's insistence that I stand outside our house for a portrait. She had a hunch I'd want to see it someday. She was right.
For all the fun I had scouring these scripts for discrepancies from the finished films (who knew that Father Sin originally featured a Joe-murders-Matt K. scene?!), the best crap is the random crap. Here's a little checklist I found on the Night of the Living Dead script. Seems like I had I successfully acquired make-up, my friend Ben (but not Chris), and some scary music... but that gravestone was giving me hell.
From the same script, here's an amusing last-minute music swap: Laura Palmer's theme from Twin Peaks is out; the Rocky IV training-montage music is in.
Finally, a mystery is solved. Remember how I couldn't find The Godfather's Two: Director's Cut (and so I recreated it)? Well, apparently it was called the "Special Edition," and exists on 3/4-inch tape. How about that?
And that stupid "The Naughty Elephant" hackey sack that got its own commercial and a cameo in The Godfathers? Yep, found that, too.
An exciting haul, to be sure. But all of this is dwarfed by three discoveries that will shake the very foundations of the Danman universe:
- 1. A short film shot directly after The Godfathers: Part Two.
- 2. Ephemera from seven unproduced projects, including four complete scripts. (My previous recollection was woefully incomplete.)
- 3. The raw footage to the never-edited second volume of Sex, Drugs, & Film. Did I say never-edited? That's all about to change.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sex, Drugs, & Film: The Rise and Fall of Danman Productions - Part I
Danman Productions was dead. Long live Danman Productions!
[Note: first 7 minutes has a bad echo--fight through it!]
It was three years later when I found myself in a college class called Video Art. If the title doesn't tip you off, it was the kind of class that would enrage any tuition-paying parental unit. Situated in a basement within a decrepit building about three miles off campus, the class was about as underground as education gets in a major state university.
Not many film students knew about Video Art (and the A grades they handed out like candy), so it was mostly populated with performance artists who made blurry videos involving copious nudity and/or menstrual blood and/or feces. Bored to tears one day while watching an "art film" about fisting, I had a revelation: Danman Productions! Mockumentary! Interviews with my old buddies! No fisting! Just fun!
Taking the approach that Danman Productions was "the most controversial, cutting-edge production company in the industry's history," this Behind the Music-style doc traces the studio's rise from avant-garde outsider to household name to tabloid fodder. An uncredited (and English-accented) Matt K serves as the narrator, while nearly every Danman player shows up to take sides on the enigma that was Dan: brilliant visionary or drug-addled despot? (Yes, I make an appearance, too, offering up fatuous proclamations like: "Fear was about Vietnam.")
The ongoing thread detailing the feud between Shad and Joe is pretty funny. Also funny is Mike, supposedly driven to an obsession with monkeys by the lunacy of The Bastard Chicken Clock from Hell. We even dig into obscure Danman lore, including the infamous "wooden dildo" scene, which I happily managed to avoid discussing when I posted Father Sin. Well, there's no avoiding it now.
So where's Part II? Here's the story: Part I was essentially "the rise" of Danman Productions, leaving off right before the filming of The Godfathers: Part Two. The second chapter, which I shot simultaneously, covered "the fall"--how that disastrous epic sent me into a delirious tailspin that brought down everything around me.
Tragically, Part II was never edited. I blame the fact that a few months after editing Part I, I began shooting my first bona fide feature film. Yet I still have hope. After all, I doubted that I would find Part I, and was pessimistic that the obsolete 3/4-inch tape would still play. So isn't it within the realm of possibility that the raw footage to Part II still exists, packed away in that Iowa basement? I intend to find out. [EDIT: The footage was found and the sequel is done.]
[Embeddable playlist of entire 5-part movie here.]