My first professional interview!

This month Festival Director Denise Gossett spoke with Janet Loftis, 2009, 2012, 2017, 2018 screenplay finalist and 2015 semi finalist!

DG: What is your name and company URL?

JL: Janet Loftis, writer.

I don’t really have a company/URL, but here are the links to my e-book on Amazon, and my WordPress blog.

http://smile.amazon.com/Skin-Bones-Janet-Loftis-ebook/dp/B00E19DQHA/

https://janetloftis.wordpress.com/

JL

DG: What is your specialty…filmmaking or screenwriting?

JL: screenwriting. preferred format: shorts (for now…)

DG: What are you currently working on?

JL: I’ve just started a new short for Shriekfest 2019 (of course). And I’m in the process of adding a couple of new stories to my horror/dark fantasy collection “Skin & Bones” which currently is only available in e-book format. Once that’s done, I’ll be creating a print option.

DG: Nice! Who do you consider your mentor and why?

JL: I’ve had several over the years, from teachers to friends, and even friends of friends (who I’ve never met in person) who were generous enough to read & critique. And a special nod to my friend, Xina Uhl, who is the one who encouraged me to try e-book sales. We often give each other virtual “kicks-in-the-rear” to get back to work.

DG: That is so important. Why do you think the horror/sci-fi genres have such a large following?

JL: I think horror/sciffi offers the most variety, incorporating every other genre in any combination – where else could you create a story about a time traveling amphibious alien serial killer who falls in love with Rasputin, his next intended victim? Hmm…now there’s an idea I haven’t tried yet.

DG: LOL What do you love most about this business?

JL: I love the family feel, the inclusiveness. I met so many incredibly nice people at Shriekfest who welcomed me with open arms, instantly making me one of their own.

DG: That makes me happy! What do you dislike most about this business?

JL: I’m not sure. Probably the same that others dislike: how hard it is to break in – what does it take to get that one break? that leap from finalist to winner to getting a script made into film?

DG: What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

JL: My last two finalist placements in Shriekfest, especially since, I must confess, I wrote each of those two days before the final deadline.

DG: Wow, that’s impressive! Any advice you’d like to give newbies?

JL: Sit your ass down in a chair, move the cat off the computer keyboard, and write.

DG: LOL Great advice! Anything else you’d like to say?

JL: See you in October!

DG: Thank you It was great chatting!

Advertisements

Adventures in Screenwriting

Ever have random story ideas pop in your head, but they’re incomplete and you don’t know what to do with them? Of course you have. The notion of writing a zombie story involving sisters and/or brothers has been in my head for a while. I even had the perfect opening line: “You ate mom!”MyDeadSisterPoster1BW

But I couldn’t decide who my characters should be or who would get zombified. I’d been thinking I’d go with one of the standard horror movie tropes: the cute young sisters, but then I saw “Train to Busan” (South Korea’s surprising hit entry into the zombie genre). Two of the supporting characters are elderly sisters, In-gil and Jon-gil. In their scenes we’re shown two siblings whose relationship doesn’t seem to be that close. There’s some bickering, a little bit of chastising. But then the two women are accidentally separated during a mad dash back to the safety of the train, leaving each woman with a different group of survivors. Then you see their despair, the devastation they feel in believing the other is dead. You see how alone each woman is without her sibling. There is one moment of hope when the sisters are almost re-united, but Jong-gil falls victim to the zombies. Defeated, and angry that the actions of others caused her sister’s death, In-gil deliberately opens the door to allow the zombies in, joining her sister in death (well, in un-death – is that a word?)

Then I had my story. I decided to cast my characters as in their early 50s (approximately the actual age of me and my real sister), better to relate to them as I explored their actions and their futures, or lack thereof. This also left the script open to throwing in a menopause joke – not a hot (flash) topic in many zombie movies. I know how zombified I felt before hormone replacement therapy and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Right, ladies? If you know what I mean, raise your hands (the one not holding onto an ice pack).

Instead of a short story, I decided to turn it into a super short screenplay and entered it into the 2018 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival, the longest running horror festival in Los Angeles, founded by actress Denise Gossett (considered to be one of the most influential women in horror). I’ve submitted five other times (not in consecutive years), and placed in the finals, then the semi-finals, then finals, then semi-finals, and then finals. (I’m sensing a pattern here.) When “My Dead Sister” made the list of finalists this year, not just a semi-finalist, I was really hoping to truly break the pattern, but, alas, was not the winner. Still, I enjoyed attending the festival first weekend of October. I saw some great films (like “Amy’s in the Freezer” – a dark-humored short  – and “Echoes of Fear” – which won best supernatural horror feature). Of course there were a couple that were not so terrific, but only one I had to walk out on to prevent its lighting effects from triggering a migraine (another thing that turns me into a zombie). And I truly enjoyed meeting so many other friendly and encouraging writers, some of whom were my competition of course, but were so warm and welcoming.

Before I close, and before my real sister think I actually wished she were a zombie and therefore, you know, dead, the siblings’ relationship portrayed in the script does not reflect reality (other than a particular detail I plucked from our childhood as key to the plot). But, if she was actually dead I wish she’d be a zombie because then she’d still be around so we can hang together and drink beer. Well, I’d drink the beer and she’d eat people. But eating people is kinda gross, so, umm, anyway, love ya sis!

Witch-fueled dreams?

Apologies for not blogging for the past two or three months, but I’ve been rather busy with my grad school program (last class starts March 7!) (Yea!)  I promise to frequent my blog more often now that I’m finally truly conquering my migraines and my writer’s block. (The discipline of once again having homework has really helped to focus my mind.)

THE-WITCH-e1443454804128Being that I do start my next (last!) class soon, I treated myself to a weekend outing to see the horror movie “The Witch” with my friend Ann and also met some new friends from a horror fan group on Facebook. (Yes, Facebook.) Hello Nikki, Kim, and Miyaka!  We all enjoyed being creeped out. It’s not a scary movie, and definitely not a slasher flick, but builds the fear through tension and atmosphere. I’ve read somewhere – I think in an interview of a famous horror writer – that the most important emotion any horror writer needs to create is DREAD. And “The Witch” definitely has that, as we watch the family fall apart, partly through internal turmoil and partly through external influences. (The exact balance of how much is internal vs. external is open to viewer interpretation.) I won’t give any spoilers here, but if you’d like to read more try these reviews (SPOILERS!):

http://filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/sundance-2015-the-witch.php

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/02/23/the_witch_director_robert_eggers_on_the_real_history_behind_the_movie_s.html

It was good to escape out into the bright sunshine, discussing the Puritan interpretation of Christianity with Ann, carrying cute little mini-cupcakes. It was a beautiful day. But then came bedtime. I haven’t had any bad dreams caused by movies in years (like “Jaws” – and yes this was while living nowhere near an ocean). And I’m not saying this dream was caused by my afternoon viewing choice but….

I started to fall asleep in front of the t.v., so I turned it off around 11 p.m., and went to bed. But somewhere around 2 a.m., I had one of the more realistic dreams I’ve ever had (at least in terms of physical sensations). I could feel my heart hammering in my chest, trying to break through my rib cage. My heart jerked to a stop, followed by the strangest feeling of my body going limp and sliding out of the chair (the big comfy t.v. chair I’d been sitting in earlier), face first onto the ottoman, and then over the side of the ottoman, all in this weird slow motion like you see in the movies. The upper half of my body was hanging upside down, the top of my head brushing against the carpet.

It was then I woke up and was, of course, laying in my bed on the opposite side of the apartment. For a few moments I couldn’t move, although I’m not sure if that was more fear, more WTF?, or that sleep paralysis you hear about (which I’ve never experienced before). My cat Paco was curled up next to me; he jumped to his feet and cried at me as if he’d been the one having a bad dream, so I pulled him close for a cuddle while wondering what that black shadow on the far wall was before remembering it’s just the map of our solar system that’s been hanging there for years.

So that’s why I was awake – back in the big comfy t.v. chair at 3 a.m., watching re-runs of Law & Order, and eating a bowl of cereal.

For the world is hollow, and I have touched the Sky (City)….

West of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America: Acoma Pueblo. Sky_CityThe 367-foot sandstone bluff is visible from miles away, but ageless adobe houses nearly blend into the top of the mesa. The Acoma settled here in approximately 1150 A.D. – for defensive reasons as the story goes – and although the majority of the tribe now lives on the reservation land surrounding the mesa, 50 or so tribal members still live here in their sky city. There is no running water, no electricity, and no sewers. That’s the way they like it. Many of those who remain are elderly, we were told, or just don’t care for the hustle and noise of city life. Some of them are painters or weavers or potters who are maintaining their traditional arts. (And they do beautiful work – while some of them take credit cards – really, just take a bunch of cash with you – it’s easier.)

Because the people value their privacy, the pueblo is not open to visitors except for organized tours, led by a tribal guide. After stopping at the cultural center down below – which also houses a museum and gift shop – you are taken up in groups by shuttle bus driven along the road you have to thank Hollywood for. Until Hollywood fell in love with New Mexico, there was only a “staircase” of sorts carved into the cliff face. But to make movies, they need equipment, and equipment needs roads. So now the tribe uses the road as part of their tourist infrastructure. (We had the opportunity to take the, uh, “stairs” back down the mesa after the tour was over. Some of our group did, but I declined. Too close to the beginning of the trip for me to trash a knee or ankle.) Ladder_cropped

There is no wandering wherever you want, no walking into people’s homes. We saw few people besides our guide and the artists displaying their wares. And a dog.

The colors in Sky City are muted: shades of brown and white against the blue sky. It seemed somehow fitting, because the history of the Pueblo is not all pleasant. No, it wasn’t like a somber funeral procession or something, nor did we feel anger or bitterness. Our guide was funny, entertaining, and informative. She spoke of having “the best of two worlds” (of getting to choose which parts of Catholicism to blend with their native beliefs, or getting to choose whether she was in her world or in ours).

She showed us the traditional adobe ovens still in use, the patched-many-times-over walls of their homes (if you look closely you can see bits of old pots embedded in the mud).adobe_oven

Then there was the San Esteban del Rey Mission (1640). In the Spaniards bid to convert the natives, Acoma men were forced to build it. Some of them are still present we were told: buried in the walls. And that bell you see in the photo below. They didn’t want it. But they were made to pay for the bell anyway – with their children. It wasn’t the first time children had been taken from them (never to be seen again).

You won’t see photos of the inside of the church (beautifully restored!) – it is not permitted. church_bellNor will you see photos of the graveyard which sits between the church and the edge of the cliff. It not only represents yet another feat of architectural engineering they accomplished on top of this bluff (no road to haul up all that dirt), but another way in which they were forced to accept a foreign custom: burying their dead. There is little room left in the graveyard. From now on, only the elders can be buried there.

But that is not to say there will be no other arrivals. On the far wall, overlooking that abrupt drop-off to the valley floor, there is a hole. It is for the souls of their children. Those the Spanish took away, the ones they have no idea what ever happened to. There will always be room for those children’s spirits to return to their people. It may take a long time for the spirits to find their way home, but they will always be welcomed.