When I wrote the first draft of ONLY DREAM OF ME (the short film I will also direct, shooting this fall) back in early 2014 I was in a much different place in life. The script was birthed in the crow’s nest at my pal’s vacation rental home in Idyllwild, California, stitched together over two days accompanied by red wine and an open window framing snow falling on gorgeous spruce and fir trees (the photo above is of my view from said window). I really adored the story about young Jack and the ghostly figure that comes into his life, and thought it was exactly what it had to be.
Professionally I had been sprinting through years of non-stop work in publishing and production, and was in the early stages on what was to be the biggest yet with the massive HALLOWEEN Blu-ray boxed set. I was the project head and had dozens of irons in the fire in the early goings, including a huge amount of new bonus material and an in-depth booklet to accompany the set (that would have been a mini version of the HALLOWEEN book I had been slated to write several years prior, but that was shelved). I had just wrapped
the SLEEPAWAY CAMP disc for Scream Factory, had another upcoming screening event I was hosting at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and was writing for Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria. Then one night an idea flashed before my eyes.
The drive to my home in the Lake Arrowhead area of Southern California from the San Bernardino valley involves a long, winding road that hangs
on the side of a mountain. The weather can be dramatic as you make your way up, and one wintry evening the path was shrouded in dense fog. I had Chelsea Wolfe’s atmospheric Unknown Rooms playing, which made for the perfect moody score to the midnight proceedings. Her song “Spinning Centers” came on, and at one point I saw a flash off the side of the road (likely from a sign) as I made one of the dramatic curves, and as she sang, “When the face of death is after me spinning, only dream of me, only dream of me,” the concept for the script materialized in my head.
What if a kid saw a ghost along the side of the road as he was riding in the backseat of his family car one night and became obsessed with it? Further, what if that ghost was also obsessed with him? And what if they met somehow? That was it.
A month or so later I was up in Idyllwild, CA working away on the script, absolutely in love with the story and the central figure of Jack. Afterward I would enthusiastically share the idea with close friends, looking forward to one day shooting it. But I had the HALLOWEEN box blocking out the next three months of time for me, so it had to wait. Then the bottom fell out.
One day I got a heartbreaking call and, dancing around the unfortunate details of the matter, I had to step away from the HALLOWEEN boxed set. Not my desire, nor was it the desire of Scream Factory, but in order for it to continue on course to seeing completion and release, I had to eliminate myself as a component. That suddenly left me with three months of no work. Add a family medical situation back in Iowa, plus my original general plan to return in summer 2014, and I decided to pack up and head back to the Midwest.
Upon my return, I immediately set about putting ONLY DREAM OF ME into motion, launching an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign with a goal of $10k. I enlisted the services of some incredibly talented people who elevated the project, including my eternal cinematic partner Timothy Andrew Edwards (composer), and Eric Fox and his Morbx FX. I started meeting with folks in the area on locations, did a preliminary casting call, and had things moving along smoothly.
The fundraising campaign was unexpectedly challenging for me. I had a hard time asking for support on the film. Reaching out to friends and asking them to fund my project was incredibly uncomfortable, so I soft peddled the thing, and in the end the campaign raised less than half of what I needed. Regardless of money in hand the film was moving forward.
Morbx in L.A. needed money to get the crucial creature suit made, so using 100% of what I had raised, plus some money of my own, I sent them what they needed and work began on their end. My dear friend Nick Kushner came on to play the ghost creature and Eric took molds of his face and body and began sculpting. In the meantime, I lost access to a crucial location after a school discovered ONLY DREAM OF ME is a horror picture, and I found that many of the folks I used to shoot movies with in the Eastern Iowa area for fun were suddenly asking big sums of money to participate. Things slowed down as I struggled to assemble the team I needed. I began working at a “9-5” gig and life got busy.
Fox and I remained in contact, and the creature took magnificent shape. I secured a key location at a local college, and started discussions with Tim about the score. It was going to be a slow on-ramp, but the elements had to be right. Time is irrelevant to art, and it is common for movies to sometimes take years to come together, even when on the grandest scale. Pan down to my modestly budgeted short film and it can take even longer.
Then on January 6, 2016 everything changed in an instant when I had a bad car wreck, as explained in my previous post here. I was suddenly
forced out of normal life and into an endless stream of doctor offices, tests, injections, epidurals, physical therapy, and mountains of pills. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. My mind was swimming in murky medication-laden waters, leaving me frustrated and unproductive. During this period several people who had contributed to the IndieGoGo campaign started prodding me for their money back, insisting the film was taking too long to get into production. They demanded their IMDB credits be added immediately, and kept pushing for money back even after that. It was hard because not only was I exhausted financially, but I was putting medical payments on credit cards, making ever reducing pay via short term disability from work (the amount they pay goes down every few weeks), and struggling to get by. Then these people come at me demanding money. I explained the situation, how the funds pledged had been invested in L.A. already and what was going on with me post-accident, but it fell on deaf ears. Blood from a stone, as they say. Timing could not have been worse.
Then on June 16th everything changed again.
I woke up to a phone call informing me Nick Kushner had passed away. My heart shattered. He was a close friend, a creative partner, an incredibly talented artist, and a beautiful, generous human being. He did the cover for my upcoming poetry book Ghosts of Love, and of course, was to be the central figure in ONLY DREAM OF ME. Obviously concerns about the film take a backseat to the overwhelming grief I and those close to him are still experiencing, but now, a week removed, I look ahead and see two projects suddenly overcast with dark clouds.
How do I finish this book and use his art when he is gone? How do I make ONLY DREAM OF ME using the creature suit Eric is making when it is made to fit Nick, and more challenging, bears Nick’s face?
After the endless, random bouts of crying, much discussion with my girlfriend, and hours of thought, I am forging ahead with renewed drive on both projects in tribute to Nick. He was so proud of the book cover, and was thrilled to be part of the film. In addition to all the wonderful ONLY DREAM OF ME contributors, I need to do this for him.
Also for little Jack in ONLY DREAM OF ME. Now back in the saddle on the project, I reopened the script for the first time in years. Originally Jack met a pretty cruel fate, which has plagued me. In addition to the issues laid out above, I am convinced part of what held this thing back was how I originally wrote the last reel, but today I decided to sit down with Jack and talk things over.
I don’t normally dictate the activity of characters in what I write. I follow them, but for some reason I initially pushed Jack at the end of the story. Today I read ONLY DREAM OF ME and let Jack lead me where he wanted. When I reached the conclusion and revisited what I originally penned for his final moments, witnessing him feeding himself to a monster he originally thought so enchanting, it hurt. In letting him decide his own destiny today, I found out he didn’t care for that ending either.
We are never the same person we were yesterday. Willing or not, we are constantly evolving, and our self image is evolving, too. I live life heart first, which has lead to lots of challenge and success, and that also means I wear it on my sleeve. Over the years I have invested myself in a unique collective of projects and adventures, and looking back I see the threads that crisscross between them all. In my fiction I now realize that my protagonists almost always meet an ugly fate. But things are much different now.
Despite the challenges involved with recovery, losing a close friend, and all the other things I, and we all, deal with on a day to day basis, I am happy. I am in love with an incredible woman, I have unbelievable friends around me, and I have a renewed perspective on time on this planet. As such, the creative chamber in my heart now has a window letting in a steady stream of wonder, beauty, and guiding light. Jack is the most recent beneficiary of that light, and today he steered me in a much different direction with ONLY DREAM OF ME.
After a year or so off, I am back writing more than ever (now for Delirium and Scream magazines, ShockTillYouDrop.com, Blumhouse.com, and here on my own site, as well as contributing to several books in addition to Ghosts Of Love), I have the Radio Hour podcast starting in July, and I am doing it all on my own terms. Creatively this is the richest I have ever felt, and I am grateful to have been able to come away from two tragedies in the first half of this year with a renewed drive and commitment to continue doing what I love.
A new fundraising campaign for ONLY DREAM OF ME will be launching soon, and I have already locked all the main locations. I have started the process of assembling the poetry book with a winter release as the goal. For those who have been patient with me on the film, THANK YOU. For those who continue to keep up with my various wanderings in writing and production, THANK YOU. And a huge THANK YOU for stopping by to read this today. Your support means more than I can explain.