Monday, February 11, 2013

The Propnomicon Curse

This weekend yet another movie I was peripherally involved with fell through.

I'm starting to think there's an actual curse involved. I've provided some small props or faux documents to over a dozen filmmakers working on Lovecraftian projects of varying size. After four years of doing this not a single one of them has actually produced a final product. Not one. I know the film business can be tough, but this is ridiculous.

Mind you, not all of these efforts were shoestring budget affairs. I expect a high failure rate from the "Hey, lets make a movie" crowd. It's possible to produce a good short film with sheer enthusiasm and effort, but I understand when people get discouraged by the amount of work involved. It's the projects that spend tens of thousands of dollars shooting hours of footage that boggle my mind. How can you spend all of that money and then let the whole thing crumble into dust when post-production and editing begins? Sweet fancy Moses, at that point most of the difficult work is done. Once you have a hard drive filled with video you should at least be able to put together a rough edit using just a laptop.

Not to get all "get off my lawn you damn kids", but one of the reasons I'm so disappointed with the failure of these projects is my own history. I did my first "film" on 3/4" U-Matic videotape using in-camera edits. I nearly wept with joy the first time I was able to get a real editing suite with A/B roll capability and a character generator powered by an Apple II. One of my first assignments out of college was building a state of the art production suite that allowed the editor to use a mouse to set up his edit log. A mouse! We spent almost $100K on that suite, and my smartphone now has more image capture and processing capability.

I have just one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers. Make the damn movie. Even a film that sucks is better than a movie that never gets made.


Axismodo said...

do not be downhearted...the effort you have taken will be as a history as to your next,and we..your viewers know what a competent;if understated history adds to a good story.if you ain't in the game you never gonna end up the hero.

Axismodo said...

if you dont play....

Axismodo said...

if you do not play...,you are a living history to each project you apply yourself .you will be seen as such in each future project.keep goin'

bob_d said...

Ironically I think the easier it becomes, the more failed projects there are. When the barrier to entry is really high, as it used to be with film/video, most projects didn't even get started, and those that managed to get over that initial hump had a higher degree of organization and motivation and better resources.

Florian "SpOoKy777" Mellies said...

I think its more a general HPL-movie-projects curse...a lot of HPL related movies seem to vanish at some point or the other...

Look at it from that least you did your work and provided some finished (and presumably cool) props! :)

Propnomicon said...

@ Axismodo

Thank you for the kind words. I'm not really after any credit myself, since I do the work gratis and ask for the credit line to go to Propnomicon. It's just frustrating that there's so much cool stuff I've worked on that no on will ever see.

@ bob_d

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Lots of people have great ideas for a movie. The hard part is taking that concept and turing into a final product.

JR said...

U-Matic? Dang, you ARE old-school. I still have a U-Matic tape or two shoved in the odd corner, with nothing to play it with. Still have my Beta deck, though...

I think Bob's comment on barrier-to-entry has some merit, but once it's in the can and you're faced with putting something together out of what you captured, there is some really hard work left to do. I've been there, faced with continuity errors and technical issues trying to figure out how I'll ever work around them.

Then there's the possibility that the image on the screen is so unlike and sub-standard to the vision in your head that the only thing left is to just let it go.

Raven said...

Florian: "...a lot of HPL related movies seem to vanish at some point or the other..."

I'm told they're offered as a draw on the really long Byakhee flights.

But bring your own snacks, because I think the movies' makers were also the makings, so to speak....

Really, just from the M.O. you Mythos readers had to have known by this point that Nyarlathotep was behind the entire regrettable affair.

Quite A Spectacle said...

Where are you located exactly? I may have a future project you could be interested in.

Quite A Spectacle said...
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Quite A Spectacle said...
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CoastConFan said...

When I was young, fan movies were made in 8mm and a lucky few had the cash to have sound or even the lofty goal of a 16mm camera, used of course. Long before personal computers, we hacked out stories on typewriters both electric and manuals. Reproduction of limited run fanzines was with mimeo machines and forget much distribution. Before VCRs (originally Betas) we rented 16mm movies to show at conventions and projected on the silver screen rarities not seen on TV, often because they were cheap to rent. TV had 4 or 5 channels and that if you were lucky enough to have cable. We haunted bookshops for used and generally out of print books being happy to turn up a dog eared copy we had been seeking for several years. We got together at friends houses to discuss the newest stories that came out in the big name prozines. There wasn’t a local convention in the area, never had been, so we made one.

But I’m not yet ready to chase the kids off the lawn, because I see constant renewal and change in SF & F and the horror genres. This new blood brings a lot to the table even though they (and we) have a lot to live up too. Technology is no substitute for vision and the driving force for any project is the will to see it done. This technology is a multiplier increasing both failure and success – you have to take them both.

Don’t fret on the failure rate, Propnomicon, there is a lot going right. YouTube and the internet allows nobodies to break the communication wall. Self publishing lets authors without agents publish their works. Blogs gives us the fanzines that reach everybody. The internet chat rooms and BBS allows us to have a perpetual convention every day. We can talk, buy and sell, publish, send photos and movies to everybody. In the past two decade and a half I have been active on the net, I have managed to meet some of the most incredible people that you only would have met accidently or at a WorldCon. Allow for some failure, because a lot is going right too. The frustration just means you care.

Raven said...

Careful, Props, sounds like he's sending that message as he's circling on a Byakhee....

Raven said...

In all fairness, your triple querent may be legitimate ("what I tell you three times is true")....

If, for instance, Guillermo del Toro has finally spotted your Antarctic Expedition props and decided to finally go ahead with Mountains of Madness, well, that would indeed be "Quite A Spectacle" — and also note the moniker's revealing anagram: "Late Icecap Quest"....

Thorrsman said...

I must agree with the idea that HPL movies themselves are cursed. Recall "Cry of Cthulhu". That COULD have been wonderful. The sketches were fantastic, and yet it never was. Look to "At the Mountains of Madness" which seems a dream foreever just beyond our reach.

The few HPL movies that there have been--that remained true--are known to only the few, the proud, the termimally weird.

Of course, most of us stop HERE now and again, so seeing what MIGHT have been appeals to us greatly.

Barry John said...

This sucks dude. It happens a lot to many of the good folk who pop along to the mighty propnomicon.

Computers and digital video cameras belie the ease of film making. The difficulty in smaller (honest) productions I've found is in the office work. One can also assume the conspiracy to keep Lovecraft's truth from the screen is ripe.

The public may never know the terror that lurks in the shadowy depths. Stay safe. :)

Raven said...

CoastConFan: " Long before personal computers, we hacked out stories on typewriters both electric and manuals."

And now, to relive those glory days, you can print them out in replica typewriter fonts. Have your characters correspond in assorted grunge-typewriter and even dot-matrix output fonts as a hint of their personalities. VerisimXXXisXXXillitXXX--- realism, darnit!

Raven said...

Barry John: "The public may never know the terror that lurks in the shadowy depths."

If they're lucky, and if their guardians stay true to the grim task ahead.

It's the terrible truths that must be suppressed, after all, not the merely nasty myths.

One can endure and recover from being made to perceive and even believe a horrible lie. One can awaken or be awakened from such a nightmare. Truth can be a remedy to such a falsehood.

"Oh, that was just a movie, those were just actors with makeup, everyone's alive and making other films now, here are their latest projects, see?"

Yet other tales must never be told in the first place, because they cannot be taken back, retracted, recanted, disproved. Once seen, they cannot be unseen nor waved away by other evidence.

Their deepest horror is simply that they are not at all fictional; they have only thus far been not known... but once learned, they cannot be forgotten, to the learner's dismay and misery. There is no Lethe in this lifetime.

I could tell people why I shake, tremble, and am brought to tears — not of fear, my friends, but of rage, shame, and a desire to tear down the pillars of society, to scream at innocent parents to grab their children and run for safety, and to tear a friendly mask away that no-one has dared look behind for some two thousand years — but they would not want to hear me. What would it gain them? The same anguish I have, no more. Certainly no hope of social esteem. One would be thought mad if one spoke of it in public. So I do my best to tamp this knowledge down. I see, I know, it flickers at the back of my mind, I say nothing, I turn away. Thus I keep my own mask on, watching the older and darker mask being maintained.

The thing is, you seekers after darkness here probably know all the clues already, so there's nothing left to doubt. All it takes is putting the pieces together.

Item: inevitably, children cry and scream and wet themselves in fear of a happy friendly figure at a happy time despite their parents' best reassurances; this is always explained as irrationality on the part of children.

Item: this happy time dates back to the week-long Roman gift-giving festival Saturnalia in late December, dedicated to the red-cloaked god Saturn: "The potential cruelty of Saturn was enhanced by his identification with Cronus, known for devouring his own children. He was thus equated with the Carthaginian god Ba'al Hammon, to whom children were supposedly sacrificed."

Item: in Plato's Meno dialogue, Socrates demonstrates his theory of anamnesis (knowledge remembered from prior lives) by posing geometrical puzzles to an untaught slave boy who can solve them.

Item: Carthaginian children were taken on festival days to meet their people's beloved god; they were told the gifts their god would give them in heaven; they were told wishes and prayers to relay to the god from their parents, priests, kings, all their people; then they were led up the aisle to their god's great altar and sacrificed... not quickly by a throat-cutting with one of those little daggers, oh no, but by burning in a brazier.

Item: if Socrates was right, at some level, some kids today remember this; that's why they cry and scream and wet themselves when they reprise the experience at the line for Santa in the Christmas mall. They just can't explain.

Who'd expect, after all the real live human children sacrificed to Ba'al Hammon, that his modern counterpart Santa is thought of as a kind innocent figure, who loves children?

Just like Cthulhu, as the old song says:

... Whether boiled or baked or fried,
With some french fries on the side,

[Cthulhu/Santa] loves the little children of the world!

Raven said...

ObMythos: For lack of space (exceeding 4096 characters), I omitted one little footnote about Santa/Saturn's Carthaginian counterpart Ba'al Hammon:

He was also identified with Dagon.

Not Lovecraft's Ponapean or Innsmouthean Dagon, perhaps, but the Middle-Eastern original that inspired him.

Consider the possibility that HPL's fantasy of degenerate New Englanders reviving a sacrificial Dagon cult was his satire on a horrid reality too enormous to bear direct and literal comment: an entire nation, an entire Western culture, sustaining for centuries the symbolism of a child-sacrificial Dagon/Ba'al-Hammon/Saturn cult, under the pretense of it being a benign Christian custom. No-one (save briefly the Puritans) dares speak out against it; it's too well socially entrenched, and will be fiercely defended.

No little "fishy" or "lizard" pendants here, though; the cult's denoted by happy jolly kitschy red-cheeked white-bearded laughing fat old men's faces in white-fur-trimmed red conical caps, all molded in plastic, posted everywhere, over every retail store and your neighbors' front doors.

What? Not yours too? Why, you heretic, you heathen! Repent, convert, or die!

Short link to the preceding reference article, "A Tale Best Untold":

And for another example of just what an unpleasant, nitpicky, detail-minded, argumentative S.O.B. I can be, first look at this Wikipedia article I did not write, an entirely uncontroversial, well-edited presentation of what all the trusted, published, paid-for secondary sources have been saying for decades about the mystical magical Theban alphabet (a.k.a. "Witches' Alphabet" or "Runes of Honorius") — and then look at my cruel cold heartless remarks on why you should trust your own eyes over an entire echo chamber of such secondary sources, Wikipedia's policies to the contrary.

Raven said...

And as usual, humanity blindly refuses to ask obvious questions, e.g.:

(1) How do natural materials like polar-bear fur, that come in white, get dyed that signature red? With what?

(2) On what diet does this infamous morbid obesity persist?

(3) How does he continue to reside at the North Pole long after the ice-cap has melted to open ocean?

[That last, alone, should have alerted Dagon's foes.]

The Bloody-Robed Elder God  [excerpt]:


    Henry Armitage's voice blew across the windswept rooftop of the Manhattan Macy's building on this late December midnight, down the red carpet incongruously placed from the stairway-top access door to the ornamented throne even more incongruously placed by the roof's edge.

    The obscenely jolly and roly-poly red-clad figure seated there belched loudly, and casually brushed the terrified toddler from atop its crimson knees to huddle sobbing alone next to the throne. Beside and beneath its smiling rosy lips, its white beard constricted into cords, dreadlocks, and finally tentacles, pulling right and left like a curtain to reveal its true mouth below, vertical and fanged, gnashing the words: "Come forward; a larger meal would please me more."

    Armitage hadn't waited for the invitation. Bearing the sign of the Unconquered Sun in his fist, he marched down the carpet, denouncing: "Dagon! Ba'al Hammon! Saturn! Devourer of Children! You have had your last meal in this place! You have no more allies here! Go!"

    The thing on the throne tilted its head at the sound of a loud boom from over the other edge of the roof, and its belly... no, it is better not to describe how its belly moved. But its voice could be said to have expressed some form of humor: "No more allies? But here come my allies now, even sooner than expected."

    Quickly, all around them, came the pitter-patter of little hooves... and antlers... and skulls... and other body parts....

    As the thing on the throne looked about in puzzlement and growing shock, another man (darkly clad in fedora and mackintosh, leaving only his nosetip illuminated by his cigarette) emerged from the rooftop shadows to exchange greetings with the thing's challenger:

    "Hello, Armitage."

    "Hello, Pearson." *


    "Dynamite. Stabler."

    "Took them all out pretty fast."

    "They shouldn't have let me play their silly games."

(* Hommage á William Jones, The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson, Chaosium, 2008.)

Raven said...

Visual reference: Peter Paul Rubens's 1636 painting Saturn Devouring His Son [detail]