Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The John Carpenter Effect: John and I


I was trying to decide what to write for The John Carpenter Effect Blog-a-thon at Lazy Eye Theatre.

Sturgeon's Law tells us that 90% of everything is crud. The 90% of things influenced by John Carpenter's work is easy to spot. Mind you, some of it is fun crud, but somehow I'd like to imagine that a filmmaker as consistently interesting and compelling as John Carpenter is (or was, depending on your perspective) seems to deserve a more prominent 10%, and I hope some others responding to this blog-a-thon will point me toward it.

I, natural egotist that I am, will talk about John Carpenter's influence on me.

A couple of years back there was a competition for Creative Screenwriting called The Next Great John Carpenter Movie. I was intrigued, but unsure what I could write. As often happens in life, the answer was hiding in plain sight. I had recently started and left incomplete an idea for comic book.

The idea had been started as revamped version of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, however, to start things out, I had mostly introduced new characters, who would then slowly meet up with the regular cast of characters from that series. As I write this, it sounds more like a fan fiction story than I believe the concept was in truth. It's of little concern, because I had already scrapped that take on the material, rewritten the one "Tomb of Dracula" character and shaped it into something for possibly another company... and let it sit on the shelf for a few months.

As I'm pondering elements of John Carpenter movies I'd like to develop on for my entry, it occurs to me that most of them are already in this proposal. There's a teenage girl, a cowboy anti-hero, a Lovecraftian monster, a long developing sense of atmosphere and some action. I had clearly already allowed the Carpenter influence seep in under the surface without any effort.

At this point, my goal was to keep that influence alive in my writing, and I did re-watch most of his movies, and the DVD commentaries, as I was writing.

I noted hope displeased I was becoming with the unspoken, but growing, notion that the key to reviving what worked in the horror movies of the '70s was simply to set one's movie in the '70s, or possibly merely give it a little bit of a '70s look, without spending enough time considering the content of the movies themselves. I was determined that mine story would look and feel like now. If Carpenter was going to "return to form", as it were, it would be using the tools of then and the tools of now together to create something modern yet effective.

Giving myself a specific atmosphere, I made a conscious, if dubious, decision that John Carpenter was the missing link between the American western and European genre film. More so even then Carpenter's movies themselves, these would be my bread and butter during the writing of the script that would eventually be named "The Hunt", with my full awareness that in the unlikely event that it were taken on by said moviemaker, it would be called, "John Carpenter's The Hunt".

For the time of writing, however, I made sure I was less aware of John Carpenter's work itself, but the things that had influenced Carpenter to make his initial run of classic movies... or, if not those movies exactly, then ones of the same time and place. My cowboy anti-hero wouldn't be written as Snake Plissken or Jack Burton, but as Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. My heroine would come less from Halloween and more from Suspiria.

Eventually I was satisfied and sent it off.

It, of course, did not win. I'm still unsure if the winner or the runners-up were more directly "Carpenterian" than "The Hunt" or not. In fact, it's probably the only thing I ever specifically wondered.

After that, I took a chunk out, about 15 pages, did some rewriting and shot it as a short film, Lakeside. That has been a journey of it own, and it's still traveling a rather circuitous path through post-production. Throughout the project, however, I was asked how long it will be, as its not finished with editing I still don't have a definitive answer, but my estimates are always longer than people expect, when they ask how it could be that long I always tell them it's a horror movie and ask, "Do you remember how long it took Laurie Strode to cross the street?"

Regardless of whether my efforts belong in the 10% of Carpenter influenced work that is not crud, I hope the reason I don't recognize or remember it is because they took a similar journey to mind, discovering more than just Carpenter himself, but decided to take a similar path to his, even if it came out somewhere slightly different.

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