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!

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Alas…once again a semi-finalist…. (or “Ode to the Ivy”)

shriekfest-mastheadThe 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival…considered to be one of the top up & coming film festivals is fast approaching, but…alas…I am once again a semi-finalist. But I’m neither saddened nor discouraged. In the last seven years, I’ve entered four times (always in the short script category) and have been a semi-finalist twice and finalist the other two times. I think that’s a pretty good track record and, as friends pointed out, shows I’m headed in the right direction. I just have to try again next year.

2009 Mother’s Day (finalist)

2010 Babies in the Backyard [version 1] (semi-finalist)

2012 Babies in the Backyard [version 2] (finalist)

2015 Santa Needs a New Red Suit (semi-finalist)

You’ll notice the first three entries sound familiar, especially if you’ve read my Skin and Bones horror collection available on Amazon Kindle. Or if you’ve read my Mother’s Day collection – which has since been incorporated into Skin and Bones for its third edition. In fact, the 2009 entry, Mother’s Day, is an even earlier version of the same story and, of the three, is truest to the short-story on which the trio is based. I greatly enjoyed playing around with the story and its characters, seeking to better define my “senior citizen serial killer” Mrs. Fortenberry (who doesn’t make an actual appearance in the Mother’s Day script or the original short story except for her name)…her motivations…her true nature (avenging angel or crazed executioner?) and she certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but it was time for a completely new entry to Shriekfest and my neighbor’s 8-year-old son provided just the right idea at the right time: did you ever wonder just where Santa gets…uh…that red coloring for his toys?  (Yes, an 8-year-old came up with the gem which eventually became “Santa Needs a New Red Suit,” but then I’m told that young boys tend to be rather creative when it comes to concocting bizarre methods of death and dismemberment. Parents out there: is that true??)

I haven’t decided if I’ll rewrite the Santa script or perhaps turn it into a short story. We’ll see. Meanwhile, old Mrs. Fortenberry keeps knocking at my brain. I don’t think she wants to offer me milk and cookies. Instead, she keeps whispering at me…inviting me into the jungle of tangled ivy vines that have long held dominion over the backyard of our rental house. For that is where she was born: that tangle of ivy. Mommy2_ivyYou saw the ivy if you happened to see the cover of the Mother’s Day collection when it was available on Amazon Kindle. Mrs. F was born, like baby after baby to the family in the yellow house behind mine back in the early 2000s. Hidden behind the ivy and trees and bushes, every spring (or so it seemed) I would hear the wail of a newborn for a few days or few weeks…and then nothing. I could never see signs of life between the fluttering leaves, never hear the squeals of excited toddlers. My imagination began to run wild, wondering what had happened to those babies.

And then, one morning, I stepped outside onto the back patio to find a dead mother possum, with two pinkies – who had somehow wiggled out of their mother’s pouch while still attached to their umbilical cords – squirming, covered with ants. We didn’t know what to do. The pinkies obviously were too young to survive on their own and we couldn’t get animal control to come out before they succumbed to the elements and the ants. My whirling, sometimes crazy brain, put the two pieces (never seen crying newborns & dead possums) together as Babies in the Backyard.

Those children in the yellow house did eventually appear. I’ve caught glimpses of them playing in their yard in the years since…although I’m not sure I can count as many seen as I heard crying. See…there goes my imagination again.

Alas, the ivy which has inspired two stories (besides Babies in the Backyard, it features prominently in my erotica short: Ivy League) and made brief appearances in other stories, may have reached its end. As annoying as the fast-growing plants can be, our landlord may have to remove it (or at least most of it) thanks to the neighbors in the tan house (next to the yellow house). In an effort to tear down their garage and repair their brick retaining wall, they cut the ivy from its supports and it has crashed down onto itself, the weight of its own hardy thick branches working against it, breaking and dying, and is about to completely collapse onto our back patio.

While it might be nice to gain space in the backyard for family activities…will we have to say goodbye to our urban wildlife? The birds, possums, raccoons, squirrels, more birds, more squirrels, stray cats, wandering collared & belled cats, butterflies, humming birds, roof rats, and more insects than you can count. I won’t miss the ants, or the rats…or the raccoons (which seem to look at my cats – just on the other side of that window screen – as a potential midnight snack). But I’ll miss the rest.  I’ll the miss the hum of life, the cries of newborn life…however quiet…however small.