HELL TOWN and OCCUPYING ED headline NCGLFF this weekend

HELL TOWN and OCCUPYING ED are opening night selections at the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival this weekend.  The screening times are as follows.  Actors Owen Lawless and BeckiJo Neill will be there with me to present the film and do a Q&A.

HELL TOWN
AUG 14 @ 11 PM
AUG 15 @ 11:20 PM
AUG 19 @ 9:20 PM

OCCUPYING ED
AUG 14 @ 6:45 PM
AUG 16 @ 10:50 AM
AUG 19 @ 7:10 PM

THE CAROLINA THEATRE OF DURHAM
309 WEST MORGAN ST / DURHAM, NC 27701

FEAR DOESN’T EXIST

Fear doesn’t exist, it’s created.  The anxiety we feel which can make fear comes from either not knowing something, or actual danger.  Danger exists, sure; but that isn’t fear.  It’s possible to erase fear from our entire lives if we simply understand what it is that’s provoking us to create fear.  I know it’s possible because I’ve been successful at eliminating it from my experience.

Someone I was working with recently has anxiety over legal agreements.  Somewhere along the way while growing up he decided that legal jargon was “over his head” and “confusing” and so on.  Because he decided these ideas, he created a fear that paralyzes him whenever he’s in a situation where a contract must be signed.

I explained each sentence to him one at a time.  It was very difficult because the fear he’d created was so intense, that although he understood each time I taught him what the words meant, he’d fall back into fear the moment I stopped talking.

Eventually, I pointed out to him that he had made some decisions to just be afraid, and that if he wanted to, he had the power to remove the fear by making decisions to understand the English language (which of course he already knew, and well, as he’s a writer).

People are crippled by fear all the time, and when I tell people they have the power to remove fear from their lives simply by finding out what triggers that fear inside them, they look totally befuddled.

If you’d like to remove fear from your life – maybe from a specific place you hold fear (such as fear of snakes, spiders, and so on), or maybe a more significant fear (such as fear of flying, driving, social interaction, and so on) – simply book some consulting time with me and we’ll tackle your fears together.  Depending on the topic, it usually is something we can conquer fairly easily and in a short amount of time.

THE LITTLE RED HEN

Once upon a time, in a small, cozy little house, a little red hen lived with her chicks. The little red hen worked very hard taking care of her house and her family. She was a happy little hen, and she sang cheerful songs as she did her chores.

The little red hen had three friends–a cat, a dog, and a pig–who lived very near her. Every day she watched her three friends playing, but the little red hen didn’t have time to play. She was too busy with her chicks and her house.

The little red hen started each day early in the morning. First she cooked breakfast for all her chicks. Then she made the beds and tended her garden. She cooked the meals, washed the clothes, and scrubbed the floors. She worked hard from morning till night.

But her three lazy friends–the cat, the dog, and the pig–never seemed to work at all. They went for long walks in the sunshine, lay about in the soft grass, and spent their time reading stories and playing games.

One sunny day the little red hen was outside working hard in her garden. She looked down at the ground where she was pulling some weeds, and she noticed some grains of wheat. “Who will plant this wheat?” the little red hen asked her three friends.

“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen.

The little red hen planted the grains of wheat. Soon the wheat grew. The little red hen looked at the growing wheat and asked, “Who will help me tend this wheat?”

“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen to her three friends.

The days went by, and the little red hen worked very hard farming the wheat. She watered the field and hoed the ground and pulled the weeds. Finally the wheat was ripe and ready to be harvested. The little red hen asked, “Who will help me cut all of this wheat?”

“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen.

The little red hen worked from morning to night cutting the golden wheat. When she finished harvesting all of the wheat, she loaded it onto her wagon. The little red hen looked at the wagon filled with wheat and asked, “Who will help me take the wheat to the mill to be ground into flour?”

“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen to her three friends.

The little red hen walked a long way into the village. She pulled her wagon of wheat behind her. When she got to the village, she went to see the miller. “Will you grind this wheat into flour for me?” asked the little red hen. “Oh yes,” said the miller. “This wheat will make enough good flour for bread for all your chicks.”

The miller ground the wheat into flour, and the little red hen set out for home. This time, in her wagon, she had a large sack of flour to make bread. When the little red hen came back to her house, her three lazy friends were waiting for her. She showed them the flour. “Now I shall bake some bread with the flour,” said the little red hen. “Who will help me bake the bread?”

“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen, and she began to wonder if the three were really friends.

When the bread was baked, the little red hen asked, “Who will help me eat the bread?”

“I will!” said the cat.
“I will!” said the dog.
“I will!” said the pig.

But the little red hen stamped her foot and said angrily to the cat, the dog, and the pig, “Oh no. I found the wheat. I planted the wheat. I tended the wheat. I harvested the wheat. I took the wheat to be ground into flour. And I made the bread.”

Then the little red hen said, “All these things I did by myself. Now my chicks and I will eat this bread all by ourselves!”

And they did.

The End

Are Editors Useful or Useless?

The first time I worked with a professional Editor is was a disaster.  The guy had failed to connect with the tone and energy I’d designed for the film, and I basically had to recut it.  The second time I received notes from a professional Editor, it was another miserable experience.

Once, however, I worked with an awesome and great Editor to help me with my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB – Stephen Eckelberry, husband of the late great actress Karen Black.  Working with Stephen was a total joy.  He taught me some very valuable aspects of Editing, and those lessons have made a dramatic impact on how I edit.

So what was the difference in working with Stephen and the previous experiences with the other people?  I think it was about how the information was conveyed.  In the first two cases, the people I was working with looked down at me, and asserted themselves as superior in knowledge.  That perspective probably brought an air of tension I picked up on subconsciously, which resulted in my dissatisfaction while working with them.  Whereas, with Stephen, he never took on an air of self-importance and instead, even when he was teaching me something new, always went about it as if he was sharing information with a friend.  That kind of interaction is lovely, and always leaves a nice feeling when it’s over.

I hope to always carry on an experience of sharing with the people I work with.  And I encourage others to as well.

I think the answer is: Editors are useful when they are helpful and want to explore different possibilities with the same thing; and Editors are totally useless when they are stuck in a “my way is the only way” mentality.

When it’s time for you to hire an Editor or be an Editor for someone else, remember to create an environment so the experience can be shared in a helpful way.

FEAST OF FUN podcast interview

I was recently interviewed on the hit podcast FEAST OF FUN (you can subscribe on iTunes).  It was a great visit with Marc and Fausto, and at the time of this writing more than 24,000 people listened to the interview!

We talked about my friend the great actress Karen Black, filming EL GANZO in Mexico, digging up bodies on alleyways, punk rock royalty Pleasant Gehman, and the other current film I have on the festival circuit: HELL TOWN.  They also got me to talk about being betrayed by my ex the sociopath, but unfortunately the last half of our interview (which had to do primarily with commentary from the guys on the Rachel Dolezal crisis, during which I basically said nothing for 10 minutes) was cut when ProTools stopped recording without the guys being notified.

You can listen to the podcast HERE or at this link: http://feastoffun.com/podcast/2015/06/18/fof-2180-hell-yes-to-hell-town/

Enjoy!  I really loved my visit with FEAST OF FUN and am excited to share it with those of you who haven’t heard it yet.

EL GANZO sneak preview Sunday

EL GANZO will have a special screening on Sunday (28 June) at 1pm as part of the Free State Festival in Lawrence, Kansas.  I will be there with Susan Traylor and some of the cast/crew to do a Q&A after the film.

The day prior (Saturday 27 June), at 10:30 AM, I’ll be giving an introduction to my process used in the Maverick Filmmaking Workshop for the festival which is FREE to attend.

Both the EL GANZO screening and the Maverick Filmmaking Workshop will happen at the Lawrence Arts Center.  For directions, visit the FREE STATE FESTIVAL website at that link.

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/119710923″ width=”500″ height=”213″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

MEDIA DETOUR reviews EL GANZO

El Ganzo Review by Tyler Selig, MEDIA DETOUR

An emotional story of two strangers in Mexico. No, it doesn’t involve crime. Damn it stereotypes, go away.

Lizzy is a woman with an unknown past who makes her way to the Hotel El Ganzo in Mexico. There she meets an artist named Guy who is trying really hard to find the inspiration for his big breakthrough. The newest film by experimental auteur Steve Balderson relies on the relationship that forms between the two main characters; two lost souls/travelers who find each other and form an organic, and spiritual, bond with one another.

We don’t need to know a lot about where they come from, but we learn a little. I won’t spoil any of it, but the heart of the film is in the now — not the past and not the future. It is the kind of film that places the viewer as a fly on the wall, as we watch these strangers awkwardly meet but then grow into much more.

In a movie like this, the actors fueling the action need to be at the top of their game. Luckily, both Susan Traylor and Anslem Richardson dive head first into their roles and truly bring Lizzy and Guy to life. They are an unlikely duo, each with their own anchors preventing them from moving forward, until they find the appropriate reasons to do so. They are both charming and have a tremendous amount of chemistry so watching them perform is a good example of how powerful cinema can be.

It doesn’t even require constant drama in order to be affective. Many movies would have some massive quarrel appear between the two leads in an attempt to cheaply create admiration for both them and the audience. No such attempt exists here, and there’s actually very little hostility on display. Yet the movie doesn’t suffer for it because while Lizzy and Guy are not exciting per se, they are real. And that’s infinitely more important.

I have a very miniscule problem with the way it is edited on occasion as it comes off as a little disjointed and jarring. Moments when the characters are sitting there silently only to be quickly moved in the next frame can be a little disrupting. At the same time, there are periods where the director has chosen to splice dialogue over a scene where the actors are doing something that isn’t necessarily related to what is being said. That is a fascinating approach to advancing the narrative while presenting something a little off-the-cuff.

Balderson has used many different techniques in his movies which is why he’s such an exciting director. Here he brings the area to life with wide, lingering shots, often photographing Mexico in a way we rarely see. Instead of coming off as some seedy escape (as it often does in mainstream movies), it is shown as the beautiful place that it is. I can’t actually recall the last time I saw it showcased so wonderfully.

Layered on top of his imagery is a soundtrack that is minimal but potent. There are only a few different songs throughout the course of the hour and a half, ranging from droning ambient music to moving piano to more traditional Mexican folk music, but it adds a motif to the whole experience and drives the point home.

While this will undoubtedly be mentioned in every review, I feel it is necessary to point out. Everything you see in this movie is now destroyed because Hurricane Odile hit Los Cabos shortly after filming was finished. It’s a true tragedy for obvious reasons but it does paint a different portrait now, with this being one of the last documented accounts of Hotel El Ganzo. It’s hard not to get a little more emotional watching it when one is aware of this fact.

El Ganzo is a great film; slow but never boring, it’s meticulously crafted with gentleness and love. It’s proof that you can tell a simple tale of two people, without forced burdens that they need to overcome, and have it resonate with the audience.

Summary: FOUR STARS
El Ganzo is overflowing with heart and beauty. An unlikely relationship blooms between a slightly odd, yet endearing, woman and a struggling artist… and it is a pleasure to watch.

More on EL GANZO @ DIKENGA.com

MJ SIMPSON reviews EL GANZO

Check out this awesome review by UK Film Critic MJ Simpson, for my next movie EL GANZO:

EL GANZO review
By MJ Simpson

Here is how to make an El Ganzo cocktail. Take one measure of Jodorowsky, one measure of Bunuel. Pour over crushed Balderson. Serve with a slice of Kubrick. And a paper umbrella.

Yes, we’re off down Mexico way for the latest feature from the indefatigable Steve Balderson, the best thing to come out of Kansas since Dorothy’s farmhouse. I actually got sent a screener of this three months ago, and normally I watch Steve’s films the moment they arrive in my in-box, bypassing whatever is in my TBW pile. On this occasion however, Steve sent me two screeners – Hell Town and El Ganzo – with a recommendation that I leave a gap twixt the two, as they are very different films. I followed that wise advice – and then a whole load of other things came along and filled the gap, leaving El Ganzo atypically unwatched.

Well, I’ve watched it now and, just like most of Steve B’s films, I absolutely Larry loved it.

It’s sort of an archetypal Balderson picture, partly in that it’s nothing at all like the previous one. But it also addresses themes which permeate much of Steve’s oeuvre: themes of identity and discovery, a journey undertaken by an individual, couple or group to find out who they are.

In this case we have Lizzy (Susan Traylor, previously in Firecracker, Stuck! and The Casserole Club), who journeys to the El Ganzo hotel, walking the last few miles after the minibus taxi she was in breaks down. At the hotel, she meets travel photographer Guy (Anslem Richardson, who was a cop in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and the two pal up, not least because they’re the only two Americans around (apart from bellhop Billy, played by Mark Booker who also composed the wonderful score). Guy seems a normal, well-adjusted fellow, He has a boyfriend back home and constant travels have put a strain on the relationship, but on the whole he’s a personable, friendly chap.

Lizzy, on the other hand, is a bit … well, kooky. Not in an attractively eccentric sort of way, but in a distractingly not-quite-with-it sort of way. Why does she keep asking Billy to look for her suitcase when she turned up at the hotel with no luggage? Why does her claim to be a writer for the same travel magazines that guys takes snaps for seem so inauthentic? Something’s not right here

How not right, and in what way not right, is something that you will discover as the movie progresses. I found myself considering all sorts of theories. Was this a Carnival of Souls gig? Was it a Sixth Sense thing – had Guy actually interacted with any other characters? Or was I letting my imagination run away with me? Would the answer be more prosaic?

Well, nothing’s ever prosaic in a Steve Balderson film. I’ll say no more than that.

What matters is not the offbeatness of the story which, like much of Steve’s work, is a quarter-twist from ‘reality’ – no, it’s the characters. El Ganzo is a two-hander and it’s no exaggeration to say that both actors are absolutely superb, completely inhabiting their characters. Without any crass infodumps, but also without being gratuitously enigmatic, Steve B and his cast present us with two very, very real people that we feel we know (as much as they know each other) but about whom we will discover much more.

Watching Traylor and Richardson is a master class in screen acting. Look, I do the odd bit of acting but in all honesty it’s not much more than larking about in front of a camera for mates. I won’t be winning a BAFTA any time soon. Watching this film really hammered home to me how much skill is involved in acting: skill that is often in short supply in the sort of films I watch, or is present but overshadowed by more exploitable elements like blood, boobs and explosions. Real acting has a subtlety to it that can’t be put into words.

There’s one particular scene in El Ganzo which has stuck in my head. Lizzy is sitting in an empty church. Guy comes in and sits in the pew in front of her. Anslem Richardson delivers a monologue, Guy addressing Lizzy without turning round. While he speaks, Susan Traylor silently trails her finger back and forth along his arm, resting on the back of the pew, that one tiny movement telling us reams about how Lizzy is feeling, about herself and about Guy. And, it just occurred to me, Richardson’s non-acknowledgement of her touch, which Guy can surely feel – he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t glance back – tells us reams about Guy and his thoughts towards Lizzy. In its own small, subtle way, this is a magical scene, a microcosm of the film overall.

Steve, Susan and Anselm are jointly credited with the script, indicating a considerable amount of improvisation, or at least workshopping. Steve’s direction of the film is immaculate, assisted not only by magnificent performances but also the terrific cinematography of Daniel G Stephens (The Far Flung Star, Occupying Ed, Hell Town).  Of particular note is the use of the hotel itself; it’s simple, geometric architecture adroitly used to frame many of the shots. The local environs are also photographed to impressive effect: little shops and cafes; a sculpture garden of giant abstract heads; beautiful, deserted, sandy beaches.

When Steve moves away from the setting to concentrate on scenes which, in lesser hands, would be static and talky, he breaks up the sequence of events with fineky judged editing, so that sometimes we see one part of a conversation while hearing a different bit. This only adds to the otherworldliness of the film. Wrapping up all the visuals is Mark Booker’s music, much of which has a sparse minimalism that put me in mind of The Blue Nile, but which also occasionally breaks into festively abrasive Mexican trumpets. It complements the imagery and the story and perfectly.

Don’t imagine for one moment, however, that El Ganzo is style over substance. Not a bit of it. This is style supporting substance. It’s just a difficult substance to sumarise and describe. This isn’t a simple boy-meets-girl story, it’s not even really a romance, it’s just a beautiful, wistful, warm, sincere tale of two people who, in finding out about each other, discover a little about themselves.

Wistful: that’s the adjective that keeps coming back to me, that I knew I would need to use in this review somewhere. This is a wistful film. It’s absolutely full of wist, Bags and bags of the stuff.

In other words, it’s about what has been, what could have been and what might be, as well as what is. And really, aren’t all our lives a bit like that? But it takes an artist of Steve Balderson’s calibre to make us think wistfully about our own lives like this, and for each of us to find out that bit more about who we are.

One final note, and then I’ll let you get on. The Hotel El Ganzo is a real place. It’s a fabulous hotel by the look of it, with a strong artistic feel running throughout both the building and the experience of staying there. I can quite see why it would appeal to young Mr Balderson. But, just a few weeks after this film was shot, a hurricane ripped through the place. The hotel is currently closed for repairs, and much of the surrounding area has been ripped up, knocked down or otherwise changed. Steve’s film captures the location as it was and preserves it, a level of wistfulness that no-one could ever have expected.

My rating of his film is almost superfluous, but once again I hold off from an A+ only because I don’t want to believe that Steve Balderson’s career has peaked.

MJS rating: A

* * *

More on EL GANZO @ DIKENGA.com

A LETTER FROM GEORGE CLOONEY

I just read an article about the insanity of David O. Russell humiliating people on set.  Included was a letter from George Clooney that I want to repost for the day.  Those of you watched my docs THE WAMEGO TRILOGY (available for free at that link) saw the clips of him freaking out on Lily Tomlin.  That he does this all the time is just absurd.  I can’t understand why, with all the talented directors out there who are professional and polite, like me for instance, one would continue to hire people who abuse their coworkers.

In 1999, George Clooney got into a fistfight with David O. Russell on set of THREE KINGS.  Here’s what George Clooney writes:

He’d throw off his headset and scream, “Today the sound department fucked me!” For me, it came to a head a couple of times. Once, he went after a camera-car driver who I knew from high school. I had nothing to do with his getting his job, but David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. I told him, “You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it”.

Another time, he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, “Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this”. I’m not one of those actors who likes things in disarray. He read the letter and we started all over again. But later, we were three weeks behind schedule, which puts some pressure on you, and he was in a bad mood. These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. There were three helicopters in the air and 300 extras on the set. It was a tense time, and a little dangerous, too. David wanted one of the extras to grab me and throw me down. This kid was a little nervous about it, and David walked up to him and grabbed him. He pushed him onto the ground. He kicked him and screamed, “Do you want to be in this fucking movie? Then throw him to the fucking ground!” The second assistant director came up and said, “You don’t do that, David. You want them to do something, you tell me”. David grabbed his walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. He screamed, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you”, and the AD goes, “Fuck you! I quit”.

He walked off. It was a dangerous time. I’d sent him this letter. I was trying to make things work, so I went over and put my arm around him. I said, “David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves”. He turned on me and said, “Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me”. I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then, he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, “Hit me, you pussy. Hit me”. Then, he got me by the throat and I went nuts. Waldo, my buddy, one of the boys, grabbed me by the waist to get me to let go of him. I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then, the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out. David sort of pouted through the rest of the shoot and we finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.

—-
Perhaps this is the standard experience on a Hollywood movie set.  Thankfully no one who works with me will ever experience such a horrific situation.  If you want to catch the WAMEGO TRILOGY each is available for free at that link.

MEDIA DETOUR reviews HELL TOWN

HELL TOWN review by MEDIA DETOUR

High school can be a difficult time. Hell Town tackles the issues that present themselves when the teenagers aren’t studying, doing work or playing sports; it is about the drama that occurs outside of the classroom, when they are left to their own devices. It is about the relationships that form, both sexual and romantic, and the way that they interact with one another as friends. They deal with the problems that arise when there is a girl who seemingly sleeps with everybody in school, or how it would be for a homosexual jock who is wrestling with the fact he is gay. A goth kid is misunderstood and ignored by mostly everybody while another girl tries to make ends meet by working a minimum wage job.

There is also a killer, nicknamed by the media as the “Letter Jacket Killer”, running amok.

Hell Town is an exercise in genre mashing that luckily doesn’t lose sight of its goal. We witness three episodes of the titular fictional melodramatic soap opera, only the twist is that the film makers inform us that seasons 1 and 3 have been lost in a fire and these episodes are remastered versions. We get dropped into what is most likely the middle of a season, and we get the typical prelude which tells us what happened previously. We essentially have a movie where the actors are playing actors who are playing characters on a television show.

Which means that what unfolds on screen is hammy. Incredibly and intentionally so. The actors are given cheesy lines that they deliver with true conviction because they are in a soap opera. Anybody who has ever watched one knows that they have a deliberate pulpy charm but are rarely known for any form of excellence. Some of the worst lines ever committed to film are said here, and watching Owen Lawless, as Jesse Manly, excellently declare “I don’t want to be gay” is a sight to be seen. It’s funny and that’s what counts. None of the actors are giving award-winning performances but to expect that from this movie is missing the point.

Sometimes I struggle with reviewing films that are purposely bad, just like I don’t know what to score a movie like The Room which is unintentionally terrible. Any schmuck can make a bad movie but not crossing the line between good parody and excessive, unoriginal crap can be a challenge. Soap operas are ripe for the picking so this could have been well have been just another bland mockery of something that is easy to make fun of, but it’s so much more than that.

In an attempt to switch things up, directors Steve Balderson and Elizabeth Spear have also embraced another genre with conventions so silly that it would take a brain dead idiot not to notice them: the slasher flick. Interestingly enough, the slasher has gotten a little bit of recognition — at least in my eyes — over the past two years, because of the fantastic film The Guest. The concept remains the same but like the soap opera aspect of the film, it is self-aware. There is blood and guts, but it’s not over-indulgent.

Incorporating this brand of horror into the movie only heightens the experience and adds more substance. It makes Hell Town more original than it would have been had they merely stuck to the soaps. While it is very easy to enjoy the absurdity of the characters on that level alone, there is also the mystery of who is going around terrorizing them.

It’s over-the-top and the people are vulgar. Since it is a low-budget, independent feature, it has to work within certain constraints that bigger pictures don’t have to. While it strives to be nothing more than an entertaining time, the nature of it hides talented film making. While it may get lost among the main talking point (how silly it is), the cinematography here is excellent. The angles, the lighting; all of it brilliantly mimics soap opera conventions.

In that same sense, I also got a Lynchian vibe from the whole ordeal. It lacks the surrealism of Twin Peaks, but there’s a menacing cloud hanging over the town at all times, where even someone running track seems more sinister than it should. While it is filmed differently than Blue Velvet, there’s still a similar tone; the town is more evil underneath its plastic and normal exterior than an outsider may perceive.

When it ended by telling me what is going to happen next time on Hell Town, I came to my own realization: I wanted this show to exist. I’d watch the shit out of it.

Get HELL TOWN @ DIKENGA.com