My current film project is the documentary HEARING VOICES: How Radio Changed America & America Changed Radio (formerly called “Radio Changed America”) examining the historic and social impact on this powerful medium. It’s really not about the past; it’s about the world we live in right now! To learn more, go to Anthracite Films’ website.
Looking back now I recognize the seeds of my filmmaking self. In the Army someone once rented a video camcorder in order to document some fun on Okinawa. I asked to borrow it and, in collaboration with pals Phil Cappel and Bryan Key (and Jack Daniels), conceived faux-public service TV spots such as The Premature Ejaculation Fund, Don’t Steal or At Least Don’t Get Caught, and Jack Daniels Early Morning Hangover Cure: Get the Jack Smile. Later additions done while serving with the U.S. Central Command were Diet Jack, Budweiser Aftershave, Hangover from Hell and Brothers in Arms (where I played four brothers, each in a different branch of the armed forces). I was far more interested in the performing than the directing, mind you. But, still, I was one setting it all up…
I never once thought about being a filmmaker while I was acting in film school projects in college. To me, it was all about acting and learning how to perform for the camera over the course of multiple takes and multiple angles of the same scene again and again. I really never paid attention to how it was all coming together.
When my boys were six and seven, respectively, I created a summer project for us: our own version of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon movie serials called Spark Gordon. I wanted to show them how a movie was put together. I wrote a script consisting of three chapters, each with the prerequisite cliff-hanging ending, did storyboards, and made set design an arts and crafts project for the boys. We created a miniature spaceship out of a computer mouse holder attached to a juice bottle and made rays guns out of Nintendo controllers. My sons played all of the roles and we filmed it entirely in our apartment over the course of a couple of days. I used a VHS tape deck and the video camera to edit the family masterpiece. Here I was showing them the rudiments of filmmaking all the while I was practicing a craft that I would come to embrace!
One day when I was on the set of an independent feature film, it suddenly occurred to me that this was something that I could do. Frustrated at the glacial pace of my acting gigs, and feeling a loss of control that is not conducive to my personality, I refocused my time and energies by joining the Independent Filmmakers Project/West and immersing myself in books, lectures, and seminars to learn how to make my own independent film. What hubris!
Yes, indeed. So I went ahead and adapted my short story The Dark Wish into a screenplay retitled Daybreak, and spent a year shuttling back and forth to northeastern Pennsylvania (my hometown region) in order to line up locations, lodging, meals, and everything else that it takes to make a movie. The 102-page script was completed in twelve shooting days in Pennsylvania and three more in Los Angeles. Postproduction took another two years before it was ready for a cast and crew screening at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. It was a memorable event because author Ray Bradbury (a friend of the film’s star Paul Clemens) was in attendance.
I survived the experience, taking Daybreak to film festivals in New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles before obtaining direct-to-video distribution deal. I kept notes during the production of the film, documenting what was happening and what lessons I was learning. I finally compiled and published them in the slender volume Long Night’s Journey Into Daybreak: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Make Your First Feature Film.
Following Daybreak, I continued to pursue filmmaking as a career and worked on several scripts including a comedy (L.A. Bound & Gagged), a coming of age story (Crazy Days), a suspenseful story (Disturbing Echoes) and a twist-of-fate drama (Man of His Word). I even optioned the novel Coal Cracker Blues by James Stevens and wrote an adaptation but was unable to get it funded.
My love of old-time radio drew me to my next project. After attending the 2003 SPERDVAC old-time radio convention, I decided that I’d like to learn more about the history of those golden days of radio but I was unable to locate a documentary on the subject besides Ken Burns’ Empire of the Air. And so I decided that I was uniquely qualified to tell the story of radio’s heyday in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Originally titled OTR (Old Time Radio) the story grew in depth and scope as I conducted more interviews and delved deeper into research. The power of radio as a means to communicate so widely and instantaneously had been unprecedented. From radio came the very structure of television as well as the power wielded by controlling the dominant method of mass communication. Now this project has possessed me for nearly ten years and is finally coalescing into a compelling film. Trust me, I can’t wait to share it with you!