Acting workshop scene performed by Dane Horst and Stephen Ryan Linn. Glenn Stafford is in the background. Directed by Nick Smith.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Cold Soldiers Trailer
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Roark's Reptile Safari: Water Monitor
Thursday, January 01, 2009
WHAT I DID IN 2008 by NICK SMITH – PART 2
At the City Paper we’re encouraged to research the Spoleto and Piccolo festivals long before they start, letting the A&E editor know which shows we’d like to cover. After making my requests months before the fest and being promised that I could cover them, I did plenty of preparation on each piece. But when it came to the crunch, I found myself assigned to other shows.
I’m also encouraged to blog for the paper on an unpaid basis, especially during Spoleto. This year was different. After several days trying to access the CP blog, aided by a baffled webmaster, I was told that there was a freeze on non-staff members blogging (I’m a freelancer). I already had a bunch of blogs and interviews that I’d personally lined up. I didn’t want to waste even more work, and I thought it was important to let Spoletians know what was going on on a day-to-day basis. So the stories ended up on the Post & Courier’s Spoleto Today website.
Likewise with my video pieces – I made them partly to show the CP’s editor what I could do with a camera, in the inevitable event that the paper started getting serious about multimedia content. The vids were ignored (official line: “we don’t know if we’ll have time to get to them”), so they ended up on the P&C site as well. I also guested on a few of Today’s audio shows/podcasts, interviewing David Lee Nelson and the Charleston Academy of Music. After a wee bit of number crunching, the hard-working people behind Spoleto Today – including Dan & Janet Conover and Geoff Marshall – left the paper or accepted a buy-out as the publishers tightened their belts that Autumn. The remaining veterans now pull double or triple duty at the paper; that’s why you’ll find film writers covering travel or sports writers doing life columns.
More than anything, the festivals are a great excuse to catch up with everyone downtown. I danced at a workshop held by poet/performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph, watched “Monkey” rehearsals with the director Chen Shi-Zheng (we discussed the astounding Japanese TV version and the original source novel), chatted with actress Joy Vandervort-Cobb (we discussed eyebrows) and saw Jay Clifford perform with a section of the CSO. At that show, violinist Brent Price proposed to Katherine Bailey (in a very roundabout fashion) and she accepted. Ah, the summertime!
In 2004 I helped put together a Film Festival on Folly Beach. At the time I was teaching a filmmaking class and the fest was designed as a showcase for their finished projects, as well as work by other filmmakers worldwide. Five years later the fest had grown considerably, moving from the local library to the Holiday Inn Ballroom. Festival coordinator Chris Weatherhead hosted a discussion about filming dos and don’ts with short form director Todd Tinkham. I wanted to jump up and ask him what to do if someone took your credit. I stayed silent in true British stiff-upper-lip fashion.
There were other projects on the horizon. Preproduction began on “Holy City”, a nourish vampire film created by JC Conway. JC plans to spin the concept off into a TV show. I also filmed interviews with Phil Noble and Steve Skarden about their non-profit project, Laptops SC. It aims to get less-than-$200 laptops to underserved schools throughout the state. The interviews were directed by Craig Hadley.
June was also the month that I visited New York. As I’d predicted to myself, it blew my mind. However, the city was much friendlier and easier to navigate than I expected. In my week at Juillard, I grabbed plenty of footage for “Broadway Bootcamp” and saw the immense hard work the students put into their classes: dancing, singing, acting, the bootcampers could do it all.
Just in time for star Julio Cotto’s birthday, the “Know When To Walk Away” video premiered at Torch in downtown Charleston. I got out of town a few times, nipping to Washington, DC to prepare for my Citizenship Test (to become an English-American) and Walterborough for a “Cold Soldiers” location scout. As we roared through a cobwebbed swamp on a little open-canopy jeep, banana spiders tried to eat my face. To recover from the ordeal, I had to pop into the brand new Apple Store on King Street on my way home.
In Columbia I plugged “Undead on Arrival” at the Richland Library. So far it’s the only time I’ve given a talk about the book.
Some projects sit on the backburner for a while, allowing me to get on with pother things. For over a year I’d been working on a film about local band Black Eyed Susan. In August I completed the short film and hope to screen it in the near future.
At JC’s sanctum sanctorum we held a read-through of the first half of “Holy City”, aided by accomplished actors like Mark Gorman and Andrea Conway. On the “Cold Soldiers” front I invited Jimmy Hager to join the cast. He agreed, then candidly told me that a negative review I’d written of Charleston Stage’s “Denmark Vesey” play had pissed him off (he was the co-star). This led to a rather uncomfortable moment in my living room. I’m glad he still agreed to work on my film despite the critical review. His performance was everything I expected it to be.
To help pay the bills, Trevor Erickson kindly tipped me to some Porter-Gaud football games that needed to be filmed. This was my introduction to high school football games, with its pomp, circumstance, ornery coaches and committed communities (some of the schools even printed T-shirts for individual games). The work took me all over the state, from small fields in Charleston to fancy stadiums in Columbia, in all weathers – heat, cold, torrential rain, even lightning storms – the games must go on.
Sam took his first piano lesson and soon learned how to play the theme from “Star Wars”. I got on with my next novel, a mix of fantasy and police procedural called “Virtual Illusion”. And Rink Entertainment assigned me to assist on “Army Wives Gives Back,” where the stars of the hit TV show give brand new Mustangs to real-life army wives.
Over at South of Broadway, I wrote and directed a play called “Planetfall” for a first-ever Playwriting Festival. The on-the-ball actors in the staged reading were JC Conway, Mark Gorman, Jelena Zerega and Bill Davis.
In October work began in earnest on “Healing Springs”, a documentary about the area in mid-state SC directed by Craig Hadley. The natural springs are said to have miraculous healing properties, and the land is the only half-acre in the state to be deeded to Almighty God. Doesn’t he own everything already?
The Playwriting Festival was a success, leading to talks of a sequel and a workshop in October. Stepping up to read a couple of monologues, I got to add the Devil to my acting resume (which includes a serial killer, a rapist, a cat DJ and a WWI soldier).
I hadn’t heard from the City Paper’s A&E editor since Spoleto, but I continued to write for the news section. For the annual Give Guide, I covered the Trident Literary Association (which battles illiteracy in the tricounty area) & Carolina Autism. Members of the latter organization were on the set of “Dear John”, a Nicholas Sparks movie shooting in Charleston. One of the leads had been given to an autistic child, so CA was on hand to make sure that his needs were met. Their knuckles were rapped for talking to me outside of the Sparks publicity machine, but not too hard – informing readers of CA’s work was a good thing under any circumstances.
While “Dear John” lit up James Island, production on “Cold Soldiers” picked up speed again. Although I’d been working behind the scenes on the film every day, there were still plenty of fights, car chases and dramatic sequences left to film. We gained permission to film on the Yorktown, transforming it into a terrorist-held hostage ship for a day. We were aided by Arlene Lagos, who joined us on the movie as publicist, actress and extra wrangler.
For Boone Hall, I shot and couple of nasty commercials featuring the “Son of Saw.” It got the desired effect – parents called the plantation to complain that the ads were scaring their kids. The “Saw’s Scream” campaign and its star Carl Hedgepeth were so successful that Boone Hall added extra dates to their attraction.
In the same Halloween vein, at the end of the month I went ghost hunting with Darkwater Investigations, a local company that looks for sprectral anomalies in alleged haunted places. We didn’t find any spooks, but I got a fascinating glimpse into the world of a bunch of dedicated, refreshingly cynical folk.
Much of November was spent working on a screenplay for “Small Altars”, a feature film project created by Eric Vincent. This is the tale of an artist who accidentally summons a demonic deity who makes his life a misery. The artist is forced to “sacrifice” people to the god (they’re turned into zombies), and ultimately has to choose whether he will sacrifice himself to save the woman he loves. “Small Altars” is slated for production this summer.
The City Paper’s A&E editor called me and told me he hadn’t spoken to me for four months because I’d written Spoleto stuff for the Post & Courier. This despite the fact that I’d given him first dibs for my stories, and that I’ve been writing for the P&C for five years – all on an unpaid basis. For whatever reason, the editor had decided to put the incident “behind him” and I started writing art reviews again. This gave me the chance to cover some great shows at Redux, Corrigan Gallery and Spark Studios, among others.
At the end of the month I took my Citizenship test. To become a bona fide US citizen you have to pay a fee of almost $1000, take an oral and written test, and learn about American history, politics and geography. Sample questions: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? How many years does a US Senator’s term last? What did Susan B. Anthony do?
The experience was scary for me because I knew my future was in the hands of a bureaucrat. One wrong word and I’d be $1000 poorer. The guy who tested me was actually quite friendly – he said he was pleased to find a candidate who could speak English. But my hands were still shaking so much that I could hardly put the pen back in its holder.
My wife and I were told that we had passed and that we’d narrowly missed the deadline to take the Oath of Allegiance that day. We were informed that it would happen next week. Six weeks later, we’ve heard nothing from the INS.
While interviewing the Lost Trades boatbuilding crew for Charleston Magazine, I’d expressed an interest in helping them finish their catamaran and sailing with them. Glad I didn’t; the ship was wrecked in a storm off the coast of South Carolina. The crew survived, saying that the grilling they got from the insurance company was worse than any squall.
With Christmas approaching I donned a white beard and red suit to play Santa – my sixth Holiday season as Mr. Claus. Adding padding to my stomach to round out my belly, I sweated through 80 degree heatwaves. I was always either too hot or too cold. I felt nauseous. My feet hurt. I had strange cravings for cookies and candy canes. I started to realize what it must be like to go through the early stages of pregnancy.
By year’s end, the scripts for “Holy City” and “Small Altars” were coming together and “Cold Soldiers” is nearing completion at last. The Bootcamp documentary premieres on January 25th. The wheels of publishing turn slow, so it’ll be 2010 (at least) before “Cat City” is printed. But at least I feel like I’ve gained closure on a couple of issues – the City Paper editor’s code of silence ended, and I called my dad after months of not hearing from him (he’s a busy man, apparently). I’m reminded more than ever that I can’t achieve my goals alone. With my family and friends I can create - and complete - bigger and better projects in 2009.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
In January I had my first major book store signing for Undead on Arrival, a novel about mixed-up zombies who are too lazy to go hunting for brains.
I can never tell what the turn-out for a book event is going to be. There could be a line of readers waiting to greet me or I might just see a few in the space of an hour. But I’ve always had good, busy experiences at Barnes & Noble in West Ashley, and this was no exception.
The book was officially launched in December ‘07 at The Black Cart in downtown Charleston, where we had a zombie party, undead art, a costume competition, a DJ spinning zombie-related music (yes, the Cranberries were involved), zombie shots and a zombie walk down King Street.
My son Sam turned eight, an incredibly impressionable age where I noticed more than ever how quickly he was growing up. Work permitting, I tried to spend as much time with him as I could before he became too cool to spend time with his dad (traditionally, that happens at age nine).
On the movie front, I heard bad news. I’d spent two and a half years directing a film called All For Liberty, set during the revolutionary war. The film popped up on IMDB with the co-producer, Chris Weatherhead, named as director. I’d left the project in ’07 on the understanding that I would retain my credit, although there were still second unit scenes to be shot. In my absence the film had been re-edited, changing it from an ensemble film (starring four or five actors, including myself) to a vehicle for Chris.
I was left with a dilemma – should I fight for my director credit to have something to show for the two and a half years’ work, even though the final product would be different from the story I’d shot? Chris told me that she wanted to share the director credit, but that her fellow producers had voted her down on the idea.
Whatever the outcome may be, this upsetting affair made me more determined to make my own projects as good as I could possibly make them. That including shooting Cold Soldiers, an espionage thriller that has been in production on a part-time basis since November 2007.
In February I filmed the Miss Charleston Scholarship Pageant, the second year that I’ve covered the event. I record the interviews with each candidate and the show itself, giving me a behind-the-scenes insight into the pageant process. I’m always amazed how the organizer Randall Dukes helps so many people prepare for the event; his work never stops, as he guides the winners through their year at the top. He stays positive no matter how stressful the whole process can get.
I cut down on my acting this year, purposefully concentrating on writing and directing. But I kept my hand in, first with a Keystone Kops raid for the Actors’ Theatre of SC. I burst into a ‘20s-themed function with several fellow Kops, whistles blowing, arms waving, making sure that the guests’ drinks were prohibition-approved. I also narrated a couple of children’s stories for Chamber Music Charleston: Ferdinand the Bull and Mary Had a Little Lamb, introducing kids to classical instruments and emotive music.
The first Ferdinand show at the Footlights Theatre was nerve-wracking because I had to follow the music to find my cues for the story. But the performance was successful enough to warrant more bull tales later in the year, and as I got more confident I was able to move around and add more flourishes.
I was able to share my acting horror stories with a fresh group of acting students at South of Broadway Studios in North Charleston, where I began a new course. This is a theatre that I’d checked out when I first arrived in Charleston, and I’d filmed a show for them in 2007. But it was in ’08 that I developed a relationship with the company that would lead to my trip to the Big Apple, a feature-length documentary and a new play.
The theatre was my venue for Metamorphosis, a free multimedia artshow created by Philip Hyman. The show took up the whole area and included paintings, music and a mini-film festival. My job was to procure and screen the films, with the help of Sam and my wife, Ros. I feel that it’s important to support filmmakers and get their work shown as much as possible. The show opened with Trevor Erickson’s animated comedy quickie 2001, and included work by Kevin Harrison of PDA, Cameron Lovejoy and Richard Almes of Almes Productions.
We also premiered Undead on Arrival, a short film inspired by my novel. The film was written by Henry Riggs of the sketch comedy group Maximum Brain Squad, and it featured his fellow squad members. In the film, slacker zombies are sent to a rest home where they can be left alone to eat human flesh in peace (and pieces).
A stripped-down version of the film was submitted to George Romero’s Diary of the Dead video competition and quickly garnered almost 1000 hits on MySpace. Not a huge number, I know, but I’m always amazed when people show any interest in my projects so I was pleased and grateful.
I ran into Kevin Harrison again at a PDA trade show, where he demonstrated a glidecam. I filmed his demo with my little point-and-shoot camera, and to my surprise over 500 people watched the clip on YouTube. Who knew camera equipment could be such a draw?
February was also the month that Volition premiered. This short Star Wars fan film, directed by Scott Piekarczyk, had been almost three years in the making. Volition follows the efforts of a small group of Padawans who put their futures in jeopardy to find their friend and bring her home, only to find that the Dark Side has found her first! Running under 20 minutes with credits, the production time for this flick is a good indication of how long it can take to complete a low-budget, part time project. Its premiere at the Map Room in West Ashley was an excuse for all the filmmakers involved (myself included) to get together and drink too much membrosia.
Over at the Charleston City Paper, the new managing editor and A&E editor were making what they called “rookie mistakes.” For the Charleston Comedy Festival, they commissioned me to write 800 word articles. These were trimmed down to 250 words when the eds realized they didn’t have enough space. I didn’t blame them – it’s impossible to predict how much advertizing space will be sold for the paper, and without sufficient ads the issue has to be trimmed.
Besides, covering the comedy festival gave me the chance to interview cool groups like Harvard Sailing Team. These young funsters enjoyed a glory year, with a hit musical show and appearances on Sesame Street.
I also reviewed movies for the paper, including Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. How could I complain when I was being paid to watch cartoons and write about them? Sadly, the film reviewing gig didn’t last long – we don’t get many advance screenings in this neck of the woods – so I returned to my regular beat of theater and visual arts reporting.
I had less to moan about than most. A severe drought had hit the Lowcountry, drying out the mighty Lake Moultrie. Always one to grasp an opportunity, I filmed reptile expert Roark Ferguson trapping a lizard on the lakebed, using the area to double as Sri Lanka. With the tree roots showing and desolation as far as the eye could see, the replacement was very convincing.
Cold Soldiers publicity shot by Robbin Knight.
After a couple of months’ break we recommenced filming Cold Soldiers. Like All For Liberty, this independent feature film is complex and tough to shoot on a modest budget. Despite our irregular schedule, stars like RW Smith, Sandra VanNatta and Michael Easler stayed committed to their characters and continued to deliver strong, consistent performances that made my job easier. Actors like Trevor Erickson and Charlie Thiel amazed me by constantly helping out behind the camera as well.
I hoped to screen the Undead on Arrival short film at the City Paper’s annual Best Of party, alongside Steve Daniels’ amazingly sick Strings of Death. For the 2008 party, the eds chose a zombie theme complete with costumes, zombie-related music and a zombie walk down King Street. I wonder where they got that idea from? To my knowledge the films were never shown, to the disappointment of the attendant cast.
Sam started playing baseball, continuing his parent-led quest to become an All American Boy (he was born in Scotland). His mom was more committed than ever to the cub scouts, leading her den on various expeditions and crafty activities throughout the year.
In Mount Pleasant I joined an educational program on the USS Laffey, Patriots Point, taking pictures of a group of stalwarts who dress in WWII gear and describe what life was like on the ship while it was in full service. Sleeping on the Laffey and hanging out with its “crew” of volunteers was an authentic and unforgettable experience.
Back in West Ashley, I filmed interviews at the slave cabins on Magnolia Plantation. These cabins were still lived in less than fifty years ago, so we recorded many living memories of African American life there. The interviews were conducted by Craig Hadley, whose Living History Group is managing restoration of the cabins.
In April I completed Cat City, a sequel to my first novel Milk Treading. It follows the adventures of Julius Kyle, a feline reporter who follows his kidnapped mate to a politically correct city far from his homeland. Julius doesn’t agree with this PC world where dogs and cats are trying to live together in harmony. Soon after he arrives the system starts to crumble.
At the City Paper I wrote for a Green-themed issue, which sported an impressive papercut cover by local artist/filmmaker Eric Vincent. Around the same time I started working with Eric on commercials, books and film projects.
My own major project for the month was a music video called Know When To Walk Away. Scrubs star Zach Braff wanted submissions to use as clips in his own official video for Jay Clifford’s song. I shot my version over three long nights in North Charleston, and a couple of short snippets were used in the official version.
I did a spot more acting in a murder mystery for the Actors’ Theatre, playing the weasily British poet & publisher Byron Donne. I witnessed some much better acting in PURE Theatre’s Eurydice, mounted at a half-indoor, half-outdoor space in North Charleston. By this time I was already working on previews for the Spoleto Festival, so I interviewed the characters on camera and filmed part of the play for the company. The magical tale of Orpheus’ bride in the Underworld led to some great images and mesmeric tunery by the New Music Collective.
SC’s School of the Arts is a county-wide magnet school that blends intensive artistic instruction with a strong academic program for nearly 1,000 students in grades 6-12. It’s the kind of school I wish I’d gone to when I was a starry-eyed sprog. In May I was invited to judge a series of ten minute plays at the school. The quality of the plays was astounding for the high-school age concerned.
I also helped out at Charleston’s new International Film Festival, introducing some of the films and catching some memorable flicks. These included Fred Blurton & Gary Taylor’s Osso Bucco, JJ Lask’s On the Road with Judas and Brad Jayne’s Song of Pumpkin Brown.
I had my own little mini-fest as part of Philip Hyman’s second multimedia art show, Evolution. I showed films by Colin Somers (Somersault), Randy Schrader (That New Car Smell) and Richard Almes (HALOS). HALOS stands for Help And Lending Outreach Support. It’s an organization that provides much needed resources and services to abused and neglected victims served by the Charleston County Department of Social Services.
Richard’s short follows two urchins who are helped by the 11-year-old HALOS, which has been recognized by the SC American Professional Society of Abuse to Children for its collaborative, innovative approach to assisting victims.
Progress continued on Cold Soldiers, with new actors joining the cast (including Danny Jones and Chris Gay) and improvements made to the script. I also began filming a feature-sized documentary with the working title of Broadway Bootcamp. Every year South of Broadway sends kids to stay the Juilliard School in New York. There they study with top-level teachers (including Bob Luke, on-set coach for Enchanted). I filmed a cross-section of the kids in SC before they left, visiting Summerville, Mount Pleasant and St. George in the process.
The Witch of Portobello was a project with similarities to the George Romero and Zach Braff competitions. This time, the source was a book and filmmakers were invited to choose a character and create a short movie to represent one of its characters. Independent director Beth Slagsvol chose the Witch and I played Heron Ryan, a peripheral character. In the makeup room, I was proud that my red neck needed to be toned down (the result of five years living in the South Carolina sunshine). And although I was initially told that I wouldn’t be dancing, I ended up jigging about with professional tango and ballet dancers in a party scene. The pros looked splendid. I looked loopy.
Although Beth’s film didn’t win the competition, it came close and it has some gorgeous shots in it.
Also in May, I wrote about the Lost Trades boat builders for Charleston Magazine, my first full-length feature for the publication. Sam had his first communion, Ros upped her scout leader training and I covered Spoleto for the City Paper and the Post & Courier – a division of labor that would lead to an enforced break from the A&E department I’d helped edit mere months beforehand.
With Cold Soldiers only half-complete and Broadway Bootcamp entering production, there was no way I could take on any more projects. Yet by the year’s end I’d have two more movies and another book project on my plate – and I’d undergo the scariest test I’d ever taken.
To be continued…
Labels: acting classes, Broadway, cats, history, jedi, lizard, movies, persepolis, reptile, scholarship pageant, School of the Arts, scubs, snake, Star Wars, superbowl, water monitor, world war 2, Zombies
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
OPEN CASTING CALL FOR ACTORS
Auditions will be held from 1-5 on both Saturday and Sunday, for two full length independent film productions, one short film production in association with Trident Tech, one theatrical production about the life of Jackson Pollock and his wife, as well as company auditions for Theatre Re/verv/.
Interested actors are encouraged to contact JC Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to reserve a time.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Victoria Budkey sings Hollywood
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Hard 'n' Easy
WHY WRITING IS DIFFICULT
Writing’s difficult because I don’t see it as a proper job. I don’t get paid enough. I always feel like I should be doing something that pays better. I have a family to support and bills to cover, yet I’m paid less than pulp writers back in the ‘30s. (The Charleston City Paper pays as little as 3 cents a word; that pay is better than the Post & Courier’s rate for me).
Maybe I should grow up, be a man and go work in a cubicle – but who am I kidding? I’ve been fired from jobs like that for writing while I should be officing, my pad tucked on my lap, my pen furtively scribbling whenever I thought no one was looking.
Writing’s also hard because I try not to repeat myself. When you put pen to paper every day, it’ inevitable that the same thoughts and phrases will crop up. That attempt to find a new way to express ideas is a constant struggle. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I just run out of notions. Big ideas are no problem for me – it’s the minutiae that get me.
WHY WRITING IS EASY
Writing’s easy because the ideas are there. Some are more original; than others but there are always stories to tell.
The words are there, too – I love words and I’m compelled to read them and use them. I have a desire to share those words with others, even though feedback from my readers is relatively rare (write me please!).
It’s not like stand-up comedy – you don’t get an instant laugh for a funny sentence. Readers don’t finish a novel and applaud. Unlike any other kind of work, writing has a level of self satisfaction (when you get it right) that is unmatched. Let’s hear it for all those smug self-satisfied writers out there!
What, no applause?