Thanksgiving

I graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1995 with a degree in Illustration. I doubt that my family would have been able to afford SVA without the help of my mom’s parents, who put away college funds for all of the grandchildren.

When I was a kid my dad introduced me to Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon.

I met Daniel Rivera, Matt Sommers, Rob Conte, and Henry Martinez at a comic book show when I was about 16, and we became fast friends.

I met Rick Bryant and Marc Pacella around the same time, and they went out of their way to help a kid who wanted to be a comic book artist.

It was around that time that my dad bought me the first piece of comic book art I ever had, a Hellraiser piece by Ray Lago. We met Ray through Rick Bryant.

When my parents divorced, my dad lived in an apartment in a building his mother owned, at 1374 Dahill Rd, in Midwood, Brooklyn. He lived there until he met Eleanor, with whom he spent the rest of his life. He left his belongings in that apartment, and when I turned 18 and went to college, I was allowed to live there, rent free.

In that apartment, I was surrounded by an enormous amount of books, movies, and comics.

When I was 17, I read A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, on a lark. I was working at the Syosset Library at the time, and found the cover of the book to be interesting. When I was 18, I found a number of PKD books in boxes littered throughout the apartment. He quickly became, and still is, my all time favorite author.

I was heavy in high school. When I went to college, all of the walking I did back and forth from classes, I lost most of the weight.

In my first year of college, I met two friends who made the entire experience worthwhile. Jeff Ellis and Thane Gorek.

My high school friends helped make my time at SHS fun and worth while. Bryan, Paul, Dave, Dave, Dave, Josh, Mary Ellen, Alex, Ali, Mike, Jack, Roy…

I was lucky to pass many street book sellers on my way to and from college. I discovered Elmore Leonard and Michael Crichton, and read their entire catalog of books, along with old standbys like Stephen King and Clive Barker.

This was, of course, all pre-internet. I do not read as much as I used to.

I wish I could remember the film that made me say “I want to be a filmmaker.” I can’t. But the first film that really opened my eyes to how married both comics and film are was Marathon Man. I watched that film after renting it from the local Midwood library in my Grandmother’s den, and was completely blown away.

I remember the artwork I saw that swayed me from traditional pen and ink drawing to painting. It was from the Hellraiser comic book, issue #3, and the story was Songs of Metal and Flesh by Dave Dorman and Lauren Haines. That illustration work changed my life.

From there I checked out the artwork of Kent Williams, Jon Muth, Scott Hampton, John Van Fleet, and George Pratt. And then I worked backwards and learned, through Rick Bryant, about The Studio. Barry Windsor Smith, Jeffrey Jones, Mike Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson. This was in high school.

Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Dave Gibbons followed, along with Howard Chaykin, Brian Bolland, Simon Bisley and a score of others.

When I was 16 or I walked into a comic book store with my friend Kevin Chan and saw this on the adults only rack. I went to buy it. Kevin told the guy behind the counter I was 16. He said ‘anyone who is taller than me can buy this comic.’

Tim Vigil became a hero of mine that day. I have been a fan of his artwork for over 20 years. In 2003, with money from the sale of my apartment, I was lucky enough to purchase the cover to issue #8 of Faust and it is still my most prized piece of comic book artwork I own.

In 1992 or 1993 I watched Reservoir Dogs and fell in love with independent film. Around that time, Jeff Ellis introduced me to Ren and Stimpy.

In 1991 I did a shit pencil version of Gustav Klimpt’s The Kiss for a project in my freshman life drawing class. It was part one of a triptych. I’ll never forget the nervousness I felt the day my teacher looked at it without the accompanying poster of the actual piece. He said “I can’t critique it without the poster. But I’m concerned.” I went home scared shitless and redid the pencil piece, and followed it with a painted piece and an ink piece. It was the first real project I put in almost 60 hours on. It was also the first A I would get in his class.

My first summer home from school, my sister got me a job at a veterinary clinic. She wanted to be a vet. I won’t get into it, but remind me one day to tell you the story of Billy Kaplan. It was my introduction to working with the type of asshole who simply does not give a shit about anyone but himself. I would find myself in the employ of many of these types of people over the next 15 years. But I learned a lot about taking personal responsibility, even in the face of lies.

When I graduated college I had enough money from my college fund to try my hand at making a film. My first script was called The Difference Between, and was molded on a solid 3 acts, very much like Pulp Fiction. I got a cast and crew together and it seemed like something was going to happen. The thing was, I had NO experience with film. I just loved film.

I met Ron Buse around that time at a Kinko’s on 24th St and 7th Avenue. He became a friend and introduced me to James Ellroy, my favorite living writer.

At that same Kinko’s, I met Bess Cutler, who got me my first illustration job with Guitar World Magazine.

I had my high school friend Alex come out from California to help with the film shoot, and shut it down in a matter of days. I was in over my head, and afraid of failing. I broke up with my first real girlfriend, Trissa, perhaps a year later. I could not have gotten luckier having Trissa as my first girlfriend.

Around that time I met Chris Shane and Pete Migliorini, and their cast of characters. Jeremy, Walter, Herman, the Albanians… and more, along with a bunch of other friends through the APA. Later I would meet Al Rotches, Andy Gyves, Geoff Webber, James Ellis, Julie Madlener, David Padilla, and more.

My father passed away when I was 23. He taught me a lot, showed me a lot of the things I still love today, but not enough of both.

With money I received from an inheritance, I was able to secure the purchase of the first and only piece of property I ever owned. A co-op in Park Slope. I loved that apartment.

I sold the apartment in 2002 and went through the money with the foolishness of a person who believes in his heart that no bad times could possibly befall him.

After the failed film I took a job at a printing company. Out of necessity, I learned Quark and Photoshop. I could not find work as a comic book artist, or as a failed filmmaker.

Job after job, I worked for people who simply did not have the capacity or the ability to hold the position they had, whether for reasons of personality or megalomaniacal tendencies… who’s to say. Probably a bit of both. I’ve seen egos that seemed insurmountable. Each subsequent job was worse than the last. And paid more.

In 2000 I started Words From Here, a website for screenwriters. I really enjoyed my time doing that, and have friends still, from those days.

I shut it down in 2004 or so because I was devoting too much time to it, and making no money.

After writing The Difference Between I wrote 8 feature length scripts and never marketed myself. I never tried to sell them… except one time.

In August of 2002 I went to Las Vegas to talk to the American Poolplayers Association (APA) about a feature length script called 8 for Vegas. I pitched it to the head of marketing, I think… and never heard from them again. Until April of this year. The same person had watched the web series 8 for Vegas and wanted to promote or sponsor or both a second season. Hurray.

Months later, they would pass… not being able to take a chance on something as R rated and alienating as our series.

In October 2010 I ran into an old friend, Nicole Poole. After hanging out a few times, we shot the first episode of Thrift Store Confidential with her friend Ian Bjorklund in December, at the Salvation Army Coat Drive. And then another video at another thrift store. Then another.

I shot it with a co-op sale purchase from 2003, a Canon GL1… a camera that had not been used in years, and subsequently was working just fine.

I quickly got the bug and re-wrote 8 for Vegas to be a web series, something to be shot and produced cheaply.

Around that time I met Julie Sisson, my producer. She joined my pool Tuesday APA pool team. We became fast friends.

8 for Vegas was born out of necessity. Nicole and Ian were cast. Seneca Burr, an old acquaintance from the APA came on board. Some others, too, including Sloan Seaborn, whom I met outside my apartment building while she was handing out flyer for Au Bon Pain… The rest of the cast, they have fake names. Long story.

I’d never been behind the camera before, not like this, and after the first week, history was about to repeat itself. The first week was a nightmare and I was ready to quit. My friend Todd, who’d donated money to the series, said, before we even shot “Just finish it. So many people talk about doing things and never finish. Just finish it.”

I started calculating if I could afford to give everyone their money back. And then we shot episode 2, and then 3.

We finished the series, released 9 episodes, and then shot the first episode of The Difference Between. Kept the title, re-wrote the whole story.

Stephen Bittrich, an old Words From Here friend, trusted me to photograph his web series Off Off. I met Dave Marantz, Rob Wilson, Kendall Rileigh, Lisa Peart, and Katie McHugh on those shoots.

Katie got me work on Internet Affairs with Johanny Mota, Chantal Ngwa, and Heather Cambanes.

From there, I met Marc Palmieri, James Honderich, George Demas, Spencer Aste, Joe Fuer, Lynn Mancinelli, Jeremy Johnson, Curzon Dobell, Crystal Vagnier, Britt Genelin, Amber Snider, and more. This was through a connection with Stephen Bittrich. The people I’ve met while working on the thing have all been phenomenal people, and we’ve all become fast friends. We work on The Thing. In October we had a screening of the first three episodes. More than 100 people showed up.

Marc and I recently produced two Doritos spec commercials, and wrapped up episodes 4 and 5 of The Thing.

For each and every person mentioned, I owe a debt of thanks. They have helped alter the course of my life, whether they know it or not. Mainly for good.

The thread, connecting all of that, may not seem apparent to you.

None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my mother. If you strip down the role of motherhood to its basics, leaving out ego and personal human issues that we’re all burdened with… that may give you an idea of simply how wonderful my mom has been over the past 20 years… 20 years being the majority of my creative life.

I owe her, and continue to owe her, for her support and kindness.

I must say that I can say the same thing about Karen, who has been wonderful these past 5 years. That’s two women who’ve made the last two years possible. I hope they know how important their support has been.

I am thankful for my old friends, my new friends, my family, my mentors, my sister, my girlfriend, and my mom. I am thankful for the time I had with my father.

I am optimistic for the future, and if you know me well enough you’ll know that’s a new feeling.

And if I missed you, it’s only because we’re topping out at 2,000 words here. Please don’t take it personally.

Particularly ex-girlfriends, an ex-fiance, and an ex-wife. That a whole ‘nother post.

John Painz

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Doritos Super Bowl Commercials, and staying on schedule

Lots of things come up when you’re shooting something low budget. The old adage ‘what can go wrong will go wrong’ when it comes to filmmaking seems less true as technology continues to advance filmmaking… but people will always be people.

8 for Vegas was pushed back quite a few times because of some scheduling conflicts and, in the end, we went a completely different way than we originally thought we would, in terms of story. We have had 5 shoot days, all with good results. But, because we have such a large cast of characters (large being 8), occasionally we have to scrap a production day because a person cannot make it.

Sometimes we shoot around them, as we did last Sunday. Ian, who plays Ian, had a scheduling conflict because of Hurricane Sandy. So, I took the cast and shot around his parts so that we didn’t waste an entire Sunday. We were to shoot the entire finale this Sunday, and I just found out that one of our main characters will not be there… so. I had to schedule an additional shoot, two weeks from Sunday, to get everything we will miss this Sunday.

In the end, it works out, you know, because you’re not rushing and you can get THE shots you need, not just shots that will do in a pinch. My cast and crew are awesome, and we’re having fun this season, so… if you watched the first season of 8 for Vegas, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Season 2.

Tomorrow I have a shoot with Marc Palmieri. We are shooting the remainder of episodes 4 and 5 of The Thing… and then the Sunday 8 for Vegas shoot… and then it’s a holiday week, so I’ll be spending my time playing CoD: Black Ops II.

Now, I wrote here a couple of times that Marc and I shot a Doritos commercial. After we shot it, I went home, began editing, and saw that we actually had two commercials. You can check them out here, on Facebook:

Commercial 1

Commercial 2

Now, #1 was the original idea. I was sitting at my computer piecing it together and originally thought we didn’t have a 100% well shot commercial. The problem was, I was watching 45 minutes of screaming children who wanted to play on their iPad, and I was having a hard time seeing the entire picture.

Plus, believe it or not, creating a 30-second commercial isn’t easy. Pace is your biggest issue.

The first iterations of the commercial that I showed my producer partner Julie and Marc… there were 3. But, before there were three, there were a dozen, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what was funny and what wasn’t.

I was sitting there, getting frustrated, and I’m watching this little girl beat the shit out of an empty bag of Doritos and I got the idea of scraping the original 5 Stages of Grief… not SCRAPING… but I started thinking ‘would a 4 year old girl go through 5 stages of grief? Or would she just go insane…’

I pieced 5 screaming clips together and subsequently laughed my ass off. I sent both to my friends and got great feedback.

But, at this point, I had to leave my computer and not look at that face or hear that screaming, because I was getting TOO close to the project to be unbiased.

Days passed where I would creep back to edit, and then send out another draft to people to give me opinions on.

In the end, I’m very happy with the two ads. I think they’re both strong ideas, and everyone seems to be enjoying them.

So. If you’re reading and you watched them, let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

John Painz

Working with Children in Film

The horror.

The horror.

I remember when we had the screening for The Thing at New Filmmakers. There was a Q/A at the end and after it wrapped up, and I hadn’t been asked any questions, I was going to grab the mic and say “Wow, good question! Let me tell you about a vanity production…” and start just talking, like I do.

Marc Palmieri, who is the writer/director of The Thing, has become a good friend. So, when I told him about my concept for a Doritos commercial for the Superbowl contest, he was intrigued. He thought it was pretty solid and, while he would liked to have been in it, he had to back out. He was sure that his agent would politely suggest he not do it, just in case a competing brand of chip decided to use him for one of their commercials.

Very prudent.

So, I started thinking of cast options. A couple of days later, and this made me feel quite confident about the concept, he said “I think we should use a kid instead of a grown man.”

Now, I don’t know any children. Not personally, you know, on a first name basis or anything, and I felt that working with kids was going to make the process infinitely more difficult. So much so that I tried to disuade the creator of Internet Affairs from using a child in her Doritos commercial concepts. There are too many issues when working with children.

They’re unpredictable. They’re prone to… well, anything. Not to mention, if the child happens to not be your child, you cannot get frustrated, you cannot treat them hostilely as you would any other actor… and there are child labor laws to consider.

Now, what made me feel confident was that he was THINKING about the concept. That’s always good.

So, we started talking about using a child. We threw ideas back and forth until a real solid concept started to form.

Marc, fortunately, has two children. Two girls. I’ve met them now on three occasions, including our Doritos shoot on Tuesday. The first time was at Marc’s family’s home on Long Island, where we went for a Thing shoot. That was both children, and they helped behind the scenes.

The second was, again, a shoot for The Thing. This time it was just his youngest, Nora, who we both had in mind for the commercial.

The third time, Tuesday, was at Marc’s Flushing apartment.

The day started off nice enough. I got to Penn Station on time. I got my ticket, my coffee, and made it to Murray Hill in one piece. The conductor was angry that they never got time off because of the hurricane. She was insistent on saying “They’re not worried about OUR safety.” I had no comment except “It must be nice to have a job.”

Of course, I didn’t say that.

So, Marc meets me and we go over to his house, but not before he shows me some locations for still shoots for The Thing. Fun stuff.

We stop, get egg sandwiches for everyone, and head to the home. It’s a nice, sunny day.

The girls, at just shy of 10am, are up, about, bright eyed, and excited that a stranger (relatively speaking) is in their home. It’s time to entertain.

We eat our sandwiches, and I do my best to find every single thing they say fascinating. I have zero practice in this. Most times, I want quiet. Or, I want to complain about something. Or make a joke.

From egg sandwiches, I start setting up my equipment. I’m doing both camera and sound, so that Marc can concentrate on the actor.

Actors.

“Uh, what?”

So, Marc had conceptualized a role for both daughters, and after a short description I was game. Something, a twinge, in my gut that I should have listened to… but it was quick, and I was so concerned about the day, I let it go.

So we start.

Frame is good, sound’s good, light’s good. We start getting some decent stuff out of Nora, our main star. Marc is soothing and Nora seems to be having a good time.

I don’t realize it, but 9 minutes pass, and Nora is not pleased. What had originally been a nice, pleasant young lady has turned into a… diva. It’s the only word I can describe her with. She knows she’s in control of the room.

We slowly move on to other scenes, and the mood in the room continues to change. The kids, who were once full of energy, have both started to get sleepy. But it’s clearly feigned. I know bad acting when I see it.

Kind of.

For those of you who’ve ever heard the term ‘hive mind’, or understood that humans act differently in a crowd than individually, you’ll understand what happens next.

I would postulate that any person who is fascinated by humans as a species can get to the core of group dynamic by just watching siblings.

It started simply enough.

“I’m cold.”

“NO, I’M COLD!”

“I’m tired.”

“I’M SO TIRED!”

This is where the bargaining began.

“Look, do this and I’ll get you that My Little Pony, ok?”

“Here, here’s some chocolate.”

“You said you would do it. If you don’t, I’m returning the iPad!”

It was at this point that I started having a panic attack. Marc was doing his best to keep it together, as was Marc’s wife. But the tide had turned.

The worst, and I’ll have video up on this after the contest, was when the oldest decided that if she smiled too much, her face was going to stick that way, and she started crying.

It’s hard keeping kids focused when they’re at their home. Or at the grocery store. Or in the car. Or in an isolation tank.

But it’s harder not to yell at them “If you don’t get this scene right we’re going to shoot your dog!”

Sigh.

In the end, we shot about 45 minutes worth of footage for a 30-second commercial.

I got home, took an hour long shower, some valium, and drank a case of beer. I sat looking at a white wall and imagined having children. I started hallucinating at about hour 3, and passed out. I’m still not sure if having kids is a good idea.

I synced the audio the following day, pieced together the commercial and saw, almost by accident, that I saw there was a second commercial in there.

From there, it’s been a crazed nightmare. I’ve watched the same 60 seconds over and over and over and I no longer know what’s compelling, what’s funny, or what to do next. This happens. It’s nothing to freak out about, I just have to distance myself for a couple of days, get back into it and finalize both commercials, which we’ll be submitting.

In the end, we’ll have two stellar commercials, and we’ll submit both.

I’m exhausted now.

The moral of this tale is, working with kids is difficult unless you have chocolate or other bribes. Otherwise, use CG.

The face of terror.