Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hobbit Holes and Historic Huts: The New Zealand Chronicles

A giant Gollum fishing in the Wellington Airport.

Been There, Done That

I should mention it’s not my first time to New Zealand, so many sites and experiences previously enjoyed were not repeated.  With exceptions.  So if your favorite New Zealand must-see is missing from what follows, chances are good I hit it before.

Behind the Scenes

The first noteworthy stop was to the Weta Workshop.  The talented folks at Weta are the men and women behind the magic of an impressive catalogue of films from smaller indie offerings like “Dead Alive” and “Heavenly Creatures” to studio blockbusters like “Lord of the Rings”, “Avatar” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”.   The artists in residence
create weapons, costumes, make-up effects and creature suits, full-scale vehicles, miniatures and more. Below is my encounter with a "Lord of the Rings" troll.

Lions and Tigers and...Wallabies?
A day at the Wellington Zoo—a beautifully landscaped place—provided an opportunity to learn more about saving wildlife, becoming more “green” and the animals with which we share the planet.  Impressive and adorable animals everywhere: emus, wallabies, meerkats, monkeys and the ever illusive kiwis, of course! Lots of great photos to be had—including one of these two exceedingly relaxed wallabies.  They took it lying down. 

Art, Culture and History
A trip to the festive wharf included the incredible
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum which hosts an amazing collection of nature, culture and history—complete with many levels of interactive elements, rotating exhibits and more.  Pictured below is a traditional Maori hut.

Hobbit Habitat
We headed upland, passing Tasman Sea coastlines, fairytale forests, desert flatlands, craggy canyons and rolling farmlands smothered with unending cows and sheep.  After lunch at Lake Taupo, we arrived in Matamata and crashed for the night.  Come morning, we were off to tour the farmland where they filmed the Hobbiton sections of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.  They’ve lovingly maintained the entire shire, from Bag End where Bilbo lived to The Green Dragon where all sorts—including us—imbibed hearty grog.  Here I am doing my best grumpy hobbit in front of Bilbo’s house.


Don’t let the over cute and kitschy name fool you:  this is a charming, family owned animal habitat/farm with gorgeous scenery in addition to the small but diverse section of wildlife that includes far more than just the nocturnal birds that ask “Who?”.  Magnificent forest, lily ponds and fields surround you as you have up-close meetings with alpacas, donkeys, a monstrous and well-trained hog and more—including many birds in addition to the adorable and mysterious owls.  A very lovely, low-key experience, with time to pet and feed lots of the animals.   The hog pictured below is housetrained, sits on command and is generally smarter than most politicians.

Star Wars

Episode 7 came out while we were abroad and saw it we did.  It was a welcome throwback to the older films where you cared about the characters, the action was focused around them and the tone was frothy and fun. The script was contrived and obvious, but the film delighted in spite of its flaws and earned bonus points for a black man and a woman taking the lead roles.  By the empty seats, it was clear the Kiwis weren’t nearly as crazed to see it as folks in the states were. More of my thoughts on the film in my previous blog entry, if you care.


The holiday was spent in what is known as the White Man’s Valley on the sprawling grounds of some of friends of the family.  They have a pool, a duck pond, and a small farm complete with donkeys, pigs, sheep and a very friendly goat who wanted to be pet by me all day.  The human company was delightful as well;  the dinner spread proved beyond spectacular and the desserts sinfully delicious.  The home is also a bed and breakfast, if you’re ever in the area.  Just be sure to tell the goat I said “hi”.

Wine & Waves
We crossed the Rimutaka Range on a steep, winding road with breathtaking views and spent a day in the Wairarapa region to enjoy window shopping in charming Greytown, lunch in wine country at the John Murdoch Winery and a frolic on the beach at Ferry Lake.  The clear blue skies made all three places postcard perfect.  Below is a shot of part of the Rumitaka.

There were, of course, many other dinners and parties, including a traditional Christmas morning round the tree with gifts and a very special 80th birthday party for a favorite feisty matriarch.   We left knowing we had enjoyed ourselves and had plenty of photos and stories to share.  As it should be.  Here’s Smaug at the Wellington Airport, wishing us safe travels.

 Have you been to New Zealand?  If so, where?  If not, where have you been?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars Thoughts: What Force Should We Awaken?

Desert planet waif finds droid with secret inside leading to quest that ends in destruction of a giant weapon.  
--Episode 7.  I mean Episode 4.  I mean…

The brouhaha over the latest Star Wars movie leads me to believe any additional analysis is not only unwarranted but most likely moot.  However, I wanted to lay down my thoughts on the matter for my own reference years from now for, while it is certainly not a revelation to suggest that the enduring success of the Star Wars franchise is a testament to the power of storytelling, it also seems a testament to a few other things as well and Episode 7 further reveals to me many things about modern man’s enchantment with movies—some more blatant than others. 

Most clearly, we crave stories with characters we care about to make the journey worth the investment.  Episode 4 succeeded brilliantly not just because of its dazzling world of special effects, but because of the characters that filled that world.  While Episode 7 is derivative (see synopsis above), contrived (an uber high tech facility can’t do something as simple as locate intruders) and obvious (who didn’t see Han Solo coming a mile away?), we forgive because we have been offered characters we care about—both new and old.  The thrilling action sequences and related effects that are part and parcel of the franchise remain, but they are all focused around the characters and their quests and never become about the action itself. 

Another positive note is the fact that the leads are an independent, whip-smart, strong woman and a courageous, heroic black male.  Yes, there are still lots of white males running around, but we’ve come a long way, baby.  The woman out-fights and out-smarts men left and right and the black man doesn’t die as they so often do in films: he fights hard—with heart—and lives to see another day.  It may all take place in a galaxy far, far away, but it’s starting to look more and more like our own.  And that’s a good reflection, in this case.

But there is a Dark Side.  Happy as I am that audiences once again are as excited about a movie as they used to be, the fact that the world will plunk down collectively over 500 million dollars in one weekend for 2 hours’ entertainment while there are people lacking basic food and shelter is a sobering statement of our blindness to the twisted priorities of our day.  Think about it:  the amount of money spent to make and watch this film could certainly be put to more humanitarian uses.  I’m not saying we should cease feeding our imaginations—a vital road to solutions, discoveries and creativity—but perhaps we should feed starving children first…or at least at the same time or in as impressive an amount.  After all:  the more healthy and inquisitive minds we cultivate, the greater the potential for a brighter future.  If we can see our way to come together as a force for the good of the planet and its inhabitants, we may indeed discover A New Hope.

May THAT force be with us.  Soon.

Monday, November 30, 2015

For the Holidays

Do no harm.  It really is that simple.

In the aftermath of the tragic events this year in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, Colorado Springs, Charleston and so many other places, it’s natural to be wracked with emotions, questions and declarations.  Madmen wielding weapons and killing people is damaging not only to peace on earth, but to peace of mind.  These destructive acts harm our global psyche along with the people, the real estate and the planet itself; the attacks thus reach far beyond the cities where they occur. 

In that light, after the shock and outrage pass and allow us to mourn, we must choose wisely in our next step.  We must unite with wisdom and care, for our best hope is to work together and let rational thinking lead us toward answers to both causes and courses of prudent action. 

It is not so great a task to discover the causes.  In fact, we know them already; they are age old issues.  The difficulty is resolving them.  How do we stop people from supporting inhumane ideas simply because said ideas are found in a religious text?  How do we stop the cycle of racist teachings and attitudes?  How do we turn suspicion and vilification of those who are different from us to acceptance and respect?

It is a misguided mindset that buys into a belief or a belief system that devalues other people and promotes doing them harm.  Harming other people is never a constructive step toward achieving anything.  It does not lead to redemption or salvation of souls; it does not provide assuagement or appeasement of aches or damages; it does not prove strength or honor.

The sane world understands this.  When these tragedies occur, people come together to help each other through the grief; that’s where true strength is.  They decry the killing; that’s where true honor is.  The world mourns with each besieged city, but the world goes on, further united against acts of terror; that’s where true salvation lies.  The terrorists—whether organized groups or lone gunmen—win no advancement in their cause; if anything, they move us one step closer to ending their ability to attack again.  For the world will be that much more ready and willing to loudly and clearly separate itself from those who have no regard for human life. 

But how do we achieve that goal?  We know that anger and aggression incite more of the same; that violence begets violence; that war kills innocent people as much as or worse than any act of terror.  So what do we do?  Use our strength in numbers.  Most of the world wants to live in peace.  We must then pursue that peace openly, nurture and spread it daily by teaching tolerance, temperance and love through our words and actions—for every heart we reach broadens our family exponentially into a global community that will outlast every terrorist.  
Peace on earth is ours, if we work for it.  We have only to care for each other: to care for our global family, regardless of race or religion, creed or color, orientation or anything else.   We who value life are one.  And, together, we are strong.

But we must do no harm.  If you give one gift this holiday season, let it be that message.

                        *                  *                  *                  *

What can I do right now to make the world a better place?

Blood.  Money.  Time.  Whatever and wherever you can, find a way to help those in need.  You’ll do them and yourself a world of good.  Charity and caring begins with every one of us…and we all need help from time to time.

Hold the door.  Smile more.  Say "hello".  Give up your seat on the bus.  There are endless things you can do that cost nothing and remind people that kindness exists and is wonderful.

Get a hybrid car.  An electric car.  Even a smaller regular car that uses less gas.  Walk more.  Fossil fuel fumes poison us all.  Let’s end the trend of SUVs.  Bigger is not better.

You’re harming yourself and everyone around you by spreading carcinogens into our air.  There's no excuse.  Stop now.

Do they harm others?  Do they deny people equal rights?  Equal pay?  Access to medical care?  Do they denigrate or devalue people simply for their lineage, station or lifestyle?  If so, I beg you to renounce those beliefs.  They are unkind at least, if not inhumane.

Don't rush to respond.  Speak only good.  If you have the education and authority to provide constructive criticism, do it with kindness and the goal of enlightenment, not chastisement.

Have more good ideas to add to this list?  Leave them in the comments!  Let’s all take an active part in making this world a better place!

Monday, November 2, 2015

What’s so FANtastic?

The Second Annual FANtastic Horror Film Festival took place this past weekend and I can say there were many positive things about the experience this time around.

First of all, HE WAITS screened and was very warmly received.  Among the positive feedback, I had people tell me they thought it deserved to be made into a feature, that it should be used as a PSA (you have to see the film to know why) and that, as the lead, I was incredibly creepy (which is a compliment, in this case, as the titular “He” has nefarious intentions that remain unnervingly undefined—a bold choice by filmmakers Sam Ghazi and Cheryl Compton).  When a film under ten minutes has that kind of effect on an audience, you know it’s working.
Second, I was honored with an award for winning the screenplay competition with my script for GARDEN PARTY MASSACRE. I had just completed principal photography on the film and here it was getting an award already.  I can’t say that wasn’t a warm fuzzy and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.
But most important—and the best thing about the festival—are the people.  So many talented and genuinely lovely people attend this festival.  The mad duo of John Iwasz and Sanj Surati, the debonair David Rountree, the spirited and lovely Tiffany Fest and Sheri Davis, the wise and wonderful Patty Sharkey, the ever elegant Lynn Lowry, my man Bill Oberst, Jr. and so many others I consider friends.  Rookies and veterans all gathered in a truly supportive and familial spirit.  Many thanks to festival directors JoAnne and Mike Thomas for being the key influential part of making this festival not so much a competition, but a celebration.  Because we are family.
And that’s what’s so FANtastic.
Bill Oberst, Jr. and I in creepy shadows
on the (blood) red carpet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Once More Unto The Breach

It’s not news that making a movie is difficult.  My first feature “Deadly Revisions” proved no exception and provided me a cornucopia of complications and conundrums through which I learned valuable lessons. Daily challenges emerged for me to struggle with and overcome: some related to time, others to technical difficulties, artistic clashes, manpower issues; you name it, I dealt with it.  Completing a film is such a monumental task, only the mad ever do it a second time.
Well, I must be mad.  For, at this writing, I have just completed principal photography on my second film, “Garden Party Massacre”.  But, truth be told, it was easier this time, thanks to the lessons I learned the first time around.  For example:  limited locations are nice; one, single location is nicer.  One camera is required; two are preferred.  Night shots are heavenly; lighting them is hell.  And so on.  So I wrote “Garden Party Massacre”—a story that takes place one, sunny day in a single location…and I planned to shoot it with at least two cameras. 
I also crewed up a bit wiser.  I didn’t have a full-time script supervisor on “Deadly Revisions”, so continuity issues were up to me to catch most days.  I had one for “Garden Party Massacre”: the brilliant Amy Coughlin--who did a far better job than I, leaving meticulous notes for my editor.  I also traded in some electrical hands for that second camera operator.  You can’t always shoot with two cameras simultaneously:  certain lighting setups or complicated shots require single camera action.  But you can often shoot opposing over-the-shoulder shots at the same time or get a medium shot and a close up at the same time; this allows you to cut your shoot time down dramatically and lessens the demand on your actors to repeat the same intense scene too many times.  My DP Nate Cornett handled the first camera and John Hill handled the other.  I had worked with both of them before—as an actor—and knew I was in good hands.
And so, with a great crew, a talented cast and buckets of blood, I forged once more unto the breach and slayed the many-tentacled beast that is film production.  And if you’ll forgive me pushing the metaphor and boasting, I think the result is going to be a monster hit!

To learn more, check out:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Fight Demons

It’s about time I write a new blog entry.  I have been quite remiss in this.  I’ve been avoiding it for a while because I felt I had nothing to say.  Or, rather, that I had nothing I wanted to say.  I had lots to say; I just didn’t want to blog about it.  But then I thought, perhaps, that sharing what I was feeling might help others feel not so crazy.  Not so alone.  So if this gets too touchy-feely for you, feel free to flee to the next blog.  I’ll never know. 
The rest of you are nosy little buggers, I assume, so read on…

The life of an artist is full of unpredictability, so we cherish the parts that remain constant; when one or more of those parts go off the rails, it can be anywhere from disorienting to debilitating.  If we are lucky, the event may provide a welcome challenge and even inspire creativity.  If not, we may become paralyzed, agitated or depressed.  I have had such a disruption and struggling with the fallout has been and continues to be a silent but insidious, raging roller-coaster within me. 

On the one hand, the event demands a careful evaluation of assets and aspirations: I am required to reexamine financial options, opportunities and outcomes; to consider my family’s needs, hopes, and dreams; to face my ongoing personal struggle to align livable commercial rewards with my artistic endeavors.  It is a sobering situation.  I fight demons.

On the other hand, it may be a sign from the Universe that the time is now.  Or, in a less cosmic light, I might say that circumstances have arrived that, though on the surface they may seem unfortunate, they may in fact allow for me to turn things to my advantage.  To discover new paths.  To tap new fonts.

In short, outlook is everything.  My outlook, alas, has proved floundering: from energized output to lethargic apathy to morbid despondency.  You might say I’ve been flirting with manic-depressive behavior.   But flirting is supposed to be fun…and this feels like torture.  The artistic sensibility is that of a mystical, ephemeral fragility, encased in a colorful armor of panache and perspicacity.  Such nebulous centers are hardly immovable, hardly hearty.  We artists aim to keep the armor up—even when there is nothing to support the outer shell but swirling fairy dust.

Life challenges are not uncommon and mine are of no more import than anyone else’s.  I know that.  And I know that, one way or another, I shall forge ahead, perhaps with a stronger shield, a swifter sword or more dense star stuff in my gut. Time and future circumstances will tell, but I’m hopeful the determined side of me shall vanquish the despairing.

And so I fight demons.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Coming of Age

Stephen King’s “Carrie” is a coming of age story, complete with growing pains, lessons learned and exceptionally horrific melodrama.  It’s interesting and sweetly fitting that the musical “Carrie” has had its own coming of age story.

The first production of the musical “Carrie” was a bona fide mess.  The book and score weren’t half bad, mind you, but RSC director Terry Hands made such surreal and expressionistic artistic choices that the show became a stark, non-cohesive mish-mash; what was good was often clouded and confusing and what was weak was amplified to the point of incredulity.   As a result, despite a stellar cast, the show was a thunderous flop and Michael Gore (score) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics) removed it from the public, allowing no other professional productions…for over twenty years. 

Fortunately, for those of us who knew there was a genuinely moving musical lost amidst Hand’s preposterous smoke and laser beam show, Gore and Pitchford re-worked the entire opus, learning from what must have been as horrifying an experience as the titular character’s first period in the high school gym showers.  With great tenacity, faith, and judicial editing, they kept the good stuff, rewrote the weaker sections and the result is a show that is clear and a score that is solid; one they have unleashed at last for productions be mounted.

The La Mirada Theatre grabbed that chance and, thankfully, director Brady Schwind is not only up to the challenge, he makes one wish he’d been around twenty years ago.  Everything the RSC version got wrong, Schwind and his team get right:  not only does the score pop, soar and haunt, but Schwind’s staging makes that energy manifest in fitting choreography (via Lee Martino), effective lighting (Brian Gale) and some spectacularly clever, but appropriate, stage effects (Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Rubin).  The orchestra makes the score sound glorious as does the very able cast, led by waif-like lovey Emily Lopez as Carrie and a fiery Misty Cotton as her codependent, crazy mother.  The themes of bullying, poor parenting and religion gone wrong have only become more prescient in today’s world and so, rather than feel dated, the show proves very much a cautionary tale for today. 

In short, the musical “Carrie”, much misaligned in her early years, has at last come of age.  And it’s about bloody time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

A scary day. A day of rumored, infamous bad luck.  It became the name of an internationally known horror movie franchise.  I even shot my film DEADLY REVISIONS at the same cabin as that franchise’s fourth installment: partly as homage and partly to play on the theme.

But let’s get real.  There is no such thing as a bad luck day.  There is no such thing as bad luck at all.  Or luck of any kind.  As sentient beings, there are things we can know and things we can do; this combination allows us to control a percentage of our world.  But the other percentage—the part that’s out of our control—is a result of infinite forces of nature:  other beings, timing, and all the rest coordinate to create the moments of our lives.  To call that mysterious alchemy “luck” seems to me reductive and immature; a dangerous combination that allows for embracing such nonsensical beliefs and behaviors as avoiding cats of a certain color, leaning ladders, and stepping on cracks.

While I enjoy the mythology of Friday the 13th, I enjoy it for its preposterousness.  It’s a day to laugh at the foolishness of days gone by.  I only hope one day we can laugh at some of the preposterous things people believe today.  I don’t want to extend this idea here, but I ask each of you reading this to ponder what ill-advised thinking and behaviors might be resulting from similar archaic beliefs people continue to hold today.   I dare say Friday the 13th may be the least scary of them all.

In the meantime, I’m off to hug a black cat.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Blog

L.A. Movie Award for "Best Feature Film"
The photo above, to my mind, shows someone reaching for a star.  That image seems appropriate for aspirations, hopes and dreams for a new year.  That it happens to be one of the awards my film DEADLY REVISIONS won last year only adds to the metaphor:  that we should honor those who reach, for it is the reaching, not the star, that matters.

I reached for many stars last year and only caught a few.  But the reaching brought so much more.  I was lucky enough to get cast as  an actor in projects that included OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS,  NATURAL BORN FILMMAKERS, DYSFUNKTION and HE WAITS, but the fun had and friends met are what made those experiences unique. I also had the honor of auditioning for projects at Warner Bothers, Paramount and for shows like CSI: CYBER, MAJOR CRIMES, and Steven Spielberg's EXTANT; though not cast, the opportunity was memorable.  The point is:  you may not reach every star, but if you're focused on it, its light shines on you, anyway.
I had much light shining on DEADLY REVISIONS last year:  we won the L.A. Movie Award for “Best Narrative Feature” and “Best Actor” for Bill Oberst, Jr., the Terror Film Festival's Claw Award for “Best Feature Film Screenplay” and the FANtastic Film Festival awards for “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” (Bill and Cindy Merill).  Then we landed distribution through SGL Entertainment and so the film will be out in VOD, DVD and BluRay in the coming months. For a guy who just dove in and helmed a feature film with no idea what he was doing, I can't express how amazing that is.  I reached for a star and ended up over the moon.

As for this year, there are many projects on the horizon; which ones will reach fruition is not up to me alone, but I will reach just the same.  I am also aiming to show more patience, more peace, more kindness and more love.  I think the world can use it...and so can I.

So...what are you reaching for?

For more about me: Gregory's Official Website
Or: Gregory's IMDB Page