More on Horace James

September 15, 2009

In this earlier post, I mentioned my enjoyment over finding five seconds of behind-the-scenes footage on Actor-Director-Producer-Mentor Horace James. In tribute to his influence with the original Men of Gray movie and its sequel Flight of the Ibis, here is more information and a few links for those who knew him or appreciated his work.

In Men of Gray II – Flight of the Ibis

In the sequel to Men of Gray, Horace was involved once again, but as an actor this time. Here’s a shot from Ibis, in which he portrayed a high-ranking government official, making deals with the country’s top drug lord Russo, played by Paul Tuerpe.

Image-0019

This was, I think, his last dramatic role. But it was hardly his first. You can get the full picture of his film acting credits (as well as his other roles as Writer, Producer, and Director) from his filmography on IMDB. It unfortunately doesn’t list his stage credits.

His life….

Horace James was honored by the National Drama Association (NDATT) in 1988 with the Cacique Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to drama.

To read more on his life story, here’s an enjoyable biographical article about Horace when he was 69 and one week shy of a heart surgery (not his first).

His death…

The aforementioned article includes a prophetic quote from Horace about his longevity; “If I could make 70, is all right. That is what you supposed to make: three score and ten.”

He indeed died at the age of 70.

For details on that, here’s a moving and informative obituary published upon his death in June, 2000. Not many of us can say this, but there’s even a song dedicated to him by Paul Keens-Douglas. You can hear a snippet at this link, or download the whole song.

Historical footnote

But not all of Horace James’ drama happened on stage or on camera; a Wikipedia article mentions Horace as one of the hostages in the July, 2000 Jamaat al Muslimeen coup attempt against the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Side note: I just barely missed the risk of also being a victim in that coup attempt, as the terrorists took over the TTT television station where I was stationed day and night until about 10 days before before the attack, editing Men of Gray.

I remember Horace as a Trinidadian Benjamin Franklin of sorts. He was charming, usually smiling, always influencing, and yet rarely in the fore. 

If anyone else has remembrances of Horace James they’d like to share, please do so.

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I’m in Director Heaven!

September 11, 2009

I can’t believe it … I’m astounded, amazed, and overjoyed. You aren’t going to believe what I just found…

I’ve been going through a couple boxes of old family videos this week, finally getting around to transferring them from VHS to the computer and to DVDs (hopefully before they had begun to deteriorate!). I had not watched them in years and years.

Then, much to my surprise…

Right in the middle of a family tape from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I discovered a treasure trove of video from the 1990 Men of Gray movie’s production that G. and I shot in Trinidad – stuff that we both assumed was no longer in existence!

First, a cool find, but not “director heaven” …

I found a TV interview for national television that we did during production. We were being interviewed on TTT (Trinidad & Tobago Television) — the country’s only imagestation at the time.

The show was called Community Dateline. I don’t recall the name of the show’s host, so please shout it out if you know.  

Being interviewed was me (Ric Moxley – as director, editor, and co-writer), the movie’s producer-writer-actor G. Anthony Joseph, and Corbi Hilburn, who DP’d the first half of the movie. image

There’s some fun stuff here, including a couple clips from the movie, behind the scenes stories, and more.

I may put some of this up on YouTube, so you can see it too.

Now, the part that puts me in director heaven:

What played on the tape after that interview was the real gold: several pieces of the raw footage (i.e., straight from the camera, outtakes and all) from the production. This is incredible.  We thought that the original footage was history – completely lost.  But there it is, in bits and pieces, unfortunately, but there it is. 

Sadly, some of it has been recorded over with family movie clips, like, “…And here we are in our new Sherman Oaks apartment with our newborn daughter” (who, by the way, just graduated high school this year, which really puts the historicity of this footage in perspective). But I never would have guessed that any of that raw footage would have survived.

One of the reasons I’m excited…

…is that, since the movie was mastered on 3/4 inch tape, and because all the editing was done during the pre-digital age (which means that even a master copy of the edited movie is a copy of a copy of a copy), any VHS copy I have of the edited movie suffers from some quality degeneration. So, to have come across segments of the original, unedited raw footage from production is a kind of goldmine for me.

I didn’t find enough of it in this discovery to ever re-cut the movie, which is what I would like to do someday. But there is some good material there, including behind the scenes pieces and (what we thought was) off-camera banter, plus some worthwhile things we shot but that didn’t make the final cut.

Among this raw footage discovery:

  • A lot of “B-role” material we shot while driving through the downtown Port-of-Spain city streets, capturing traffic, crowded sidewalks, police officers in action, famous landmark drive-bys, etc. – stuff I needed  for cutaways and montages, etc.
  • All the footage (takes and outtakes) from the Lavantille interior and exterior drug bust scene that we did with one of the Gopaul brothers (Dale, I think) and Julien.
  • Several day and night exterior and interior car scenes between the characters Joe Cameron and his partner Ivan.
  • In-progress police training at the St. James barracks, used for cutaways and transitions, shown here. 

Police recruit training at St. James barracks

  • A street drug deal scene, and Joe following a dealer on foot
  • Chaguaramas sunset driving shots (for following thug Louie to the home of big-time dealer Marcus, where Joe and Ivan bus’ up d place.

I think there’s about an hour’s worth of production footage altogether. Who knows? Maybe we’ll do something with all this someday. Like cut together a behind the scenes clip or two.

As a bonus, it turns out that we had in this treasure trove of once-lost footage…

About five seconds of Horace…

Horace James. Wow. God rest his soul. 

At the time (1990), Horace was the a head show producer at TTT and was instrumental in the success of this movie.  First, while he wasn’t directly a part of the crew, Horace was a mentor to me and G., teaching us about theimage business of doing business in Trinidad & Tobago, which is a bit of an art.  Second, he was a kindred spirit, feeling our pain and compassionately helping us through the trials and tribulations of making a movie. Third, he contributed pragmatically, being our primary liaison with the TV station, who sponsored much of the production and provided most of our production and post-production equipment.

Horace’s office, which is where I shot this tiny snippet of video, even became our production office during production.

Sadly, Horace James is no longer with us (nor is TTT). I sure do miss him. One of the good guys. And so, while It ain’t much, I’m glad to have uncovered the small bit of production office footage.


Watched the 1990 Men of Gray Movie today

September 9, 2009

I hadn’t seen the movie in probably eight or 10 years. To my surprise, I enjoyed the viewing immensely!

Don’t get me wrong…

My surprise enjoyment is not a disparagement against the movie. mog-1-Russo-n-menIt’s just that I generally find it hard to watch stuff I’ve directed or edited (or both, in this case) because I can’t easily settle into the role of a viewer of any movie I heavily participated in.

And directing or editing a feature length movie is always a substantial investment of body and soul. Consequently, watching them takes me back to the production of it.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Definitely, since I have many good memories with each production, after all. Still, viewing them again is mostly a hard thing emotionally.

Why? Because, in watching them, my mind flashes back with shocking clarity to the challenges and sacrifices of making each scene – the inevitable resignation of settling between what I envisioned for the scene and what was ultimately possible under the circumstances. To a degree, I suspect that…

All movie directors feel this

…because of the nature of the beast. Directing a narrative feature takes vast imagination and vision in the planning. But creating is always more costly than envisioning.

So, once the director has that glorious mog-1-kickup-avision firmly fixed in his mind, he must then begin carefully chiseling away at that fantastic masterpiece (fully formed in the fantasy of the mind), reducing it to a state that matches the budget, the cast, and any technical or time constraints.

The final movie – what’s left after all the difficult and sacrificial choices leading up to, and through, production and post production – may be viewed by audiences and critics as a great movie. Even so, the movie will inevitably be but a dim reflection of what the director envisioned.

For me at least, mog-1-Russo-threatensthe sought-after movies I had envisioned are still as strong in my mind as is the movies we were actually able to shoot. So, when watching any of these past movies, I’m reliving the sacrifices, even as I’m viewing the victories and remembering great cast and crewmembers.

Also, making a movie is like running a marathon or having a baby (although I’m not speaking  from personal experience on either analogous example) in that they all can be incomprehensibly grueling to go through: seemingly impossible tasks. When you have finished running a marathon or birthing a baby or making a movie, there is not only great satisfaction but great relief that it’s over!

Which is why it’s hard for me to watch … usually.

So you can imagine my surprise, finding today’s viewing so enjoyable.

And it certainly isn’t because the resulting movie mog-1-Joe-stalksclosely resembled my sought-after vision.  I assure you, there were countless necessary subtractions between the vision and the reality of this first Men of Gray movie – it had a budget of less than $10,000, for goodness sake!  🙂

So I should have felt the same discomfort in viewing this movie as with any other that I’ve directed. But, watching it after all these years…

I was having just way too much fun!

I mean, sure — there’s only so much mog-1-showdownyou can do with less than $10,000 when making a full-length feature movie, right? But that actually becomes its charm, in this case. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing what we were able to pull off under the  circumstances.

For instance, most ultra-ultra-low-budget movies are carefully crafted to control costs (like having a small cast, very few locations, mostly daylight shots, minimal action, etc., for example).

But, no, not this movie…

It was a freakin’ epic!

I don’t have the exact numbers, Image-0012but there were probably more than 80 people in the cast, some two or three dozen locations, countless night shots, and maybe a dozen high-action scenes.

Oh, and we made it in a country that has no movie industry — no infrastructure to support film production.  So, my hat is off to producers G. Anthony and Ria Joseph for what they were able to accomplish in putting this whole thing together.  Truly remarkable.

In fact, I could do a half dozen posts about the amazing challenges and crazy adventures in the making of this 1990 movie – and may in fact do so at some point. But suffice it to say, there’s a lot of bang in the bucks we had to work with.

And so I had a ball watching it again

Plus, it was my  first feature film and my first time in Trinidad & Tobago. Image-0009Seeing all those locations and reliving all those memories made me laugh and smile. The guerrilla filmmaking tactics we employed could be strung together and would make a hilarious documentary movie. Remembering those adventures as the movie unfolded scene by scene, how could I not enjoy myself?

 

A great trip. 🙂  And, because I know the movie is very hard to find, I’ve added these screen captures from it to give you a sense of the flavor of that movie.

And, as I suspect, watching the first Men of Grey gave me a few ideas on where to go with the current story, Men of Gray III.

 


No Script Progress Today

September 8, 2009

How’s that for a compelling headline! 🙂

I had some personal business and an urgent project request from one of my WriteWorks Agency clients that kept me from the movie project today.

You know, after making a daily habit of screenplay development, it feels … inappropriate … to not touch it for a day.

But, something fun; I’ll soon be watching the founding 1990 Men of Gray movie – the first feature-length movie I directed. I haven’t seen in perhaps 10 years because I no longer have a VCR and my only copies of the movie were on VHS videocassette or on 3/4-inch industrial tape.  But I’m getting transferred to DVD.

It should be a strange, haunting, and yet pleasant trip down memory lane to see it again.  Hopefully tomorrow.


Connecting the dots

September 1, 2009

As described briefly on the blog’s About page, even though I’m writing this screenplay to function primarily as a standalone story, the fact is that it is built on characters introduced in two earlier movies — Men of Gray and Men of Gray II  (released internationally as Flight of the Ibis). Both of these ultra-low-budget movies got some good play in festivals and both have acquired a fan base among Caribbean audiences, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago where they were produced.

Consequently, something that producer G. and I have been sensitive to in developing this story is stay true to the original character of Joe Cameron, and to consider the possibility of including other characters that were introduced in the first two movies — both things that we feel would be appreciated by those who are familiar with these earlier films.

Of course, since the first two movies were loaded with high action confrontations between police and criminals, we damn near killed off the whole lot!

But what about those few characters that did survive the mayhem?

Right: Some did survive. But, with this new story, some 16 years of water have gone under their bridges — 19 years from the first Men of Gray movie, in fact. So I certainly have the choice of starting from scratch: ignoring the past and hoping no one notices…

But frankly I like the challenge of not forgetting about it — of staying fully on course with the story that we want to tell, but also infusing it with these historic threads.

Infuse … How so?

Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  1. Influencing Joe’s brain:
    At the very least, the surviving main characters from the first two movies are part of the emotional and psychological makeup of the present day Joe Cameron, so I’ve already built the modern day psyche of this man with those past events and characters as influencers.
  2. Adding interim adventures:
    I’ve also considered what might have occurred in Joe’s life with these characters in the nearly 2 decades since we last saw them; if they were friends, did they continue to be friends? If they were coworkers or subordinates, did they stay that way? If they were his enemies — wait, no: We killed off all the enemies, come to think of it. But you see my point; life goes on, and so I wanted to have some fun exploring the possibilities of how their intertwining lives may have developed since we last saw them, and how that might influence the current plot.
  3. Reintroducing them into MOG3:
    Though not confirmed, this is something we are seriously considering — infusing this story with the present-day embodiment of these past characters. It introduces some pragmatic risks to the production though, so I’m only carefully looking at this option, designing the story in such a way that, if necessary, we could later remove any of these reintroduced characters without tearing at the fabric of the story.

What pragmatic risks would that introduce?

For instance, if we wanted to cast any of the original actors for the roles, do we know that they are available? Are they even alive? Do they look anything at all like they did back then, or would they have changed so much that bringing them back would do more harm than good for the audience? And, since this new movie will likely have a higher budget, it will also have higher international expectations or distribution requirements. That means that, even if we bring back any of these previous characters, we may need to recast them with actors who have stronger international appeal. Would doing so potentially alienate any of the existing fan base?

So, who survived, and what happens to them now?

None of this is set in stone, mind you, but here are some of the characters from Joe Cameron’s life that we didn’t kill off in the first two movies that I’m thinking we could make good use of this time around.

  • Sean Cameron
    sean-cameron-mog1This is Joe’s son. When we last saw Sean, he was about five years old. Now, he would be a young adult. This is the most probable character to be continued in the new story. He would have changed so much in appearance that we are free to cast openly for it. Also, no other character is “required” to have been a continuing influence in Joe’s life like Sean would. At the very least, we would have to explain what happened to him if he is suddenly missing from Joe’s life now. I apologize — I don’t recall the name of the young actor who played Sean. If anyone knows, please shout it out in the blog comments.
  • Kelly Shepherd
    TLK-MoG2Played by Tricia Lee Kelshall, Kelly was the one female on Joe’s police anti-narcotics “Ibis Squad.” In watching Men of Gray II – Flight of the Ibis, we get the sense that there is some romantic attraction between them, or at least by Kelly, but it remains unspoken: unrequited. Joe’s wife dies early on in that story, so we are not surprised when Joe’s focus is elsewhere.  However, as the movie ends, as Joe and Kelly walk off into the proverbial sunset (in fact literal sunset, as I recall), they are symbolically holding hands with little Sean in between them, and each holding on to the boy’s hands. I suspect that viewers would like to think that Joe and Kelly got together somewhere beyond that sunset. So, I’m playing with that idea now — that they became briefly, but intensly, involved romantically shortly after we last saw them, with each going their own way, with one or both of them remarrying. Now, Joe enters the story as a single man with no romantic connections, and no apparent interest in one. But what happens if, after many years of living abroad, Kelly suddenly shows up, and sparks are flying?
  • Jason
    Cauri-MoG2Jason (Cauri Jaye) was the rookie Ibis Squad cop from Men of Gray II. I have a couple angles I’m thinking about with Jason. We know from the first movie that he is “once bitten, twice shy” personified. So, perhaps he became afraid or disillusioned with the law enforcement business, and has left it long behind. What happens if his old mentor Joe suddenly shows up asking him to work with him again? He might accept, but what if he has become a pacifist instead? What if he is philosophically at odds with Joe’s radical anti-crime strategies? If Joe does persuade him to reenlist, I’m considering having Sean be directly involved at one pivotal moment in the story that involves innocent people being killed by Joe’s team due to some bad intelligence, tearing Jason up emotionally. Or maybe he just gets killed, I don’t know. Lots of options here. 😉
  • Zack Lareau
    Michael-MoG2Zack, who was played by Michael Cherrie, was a youthful, intelligent, and likeable newspaper reporter in Men of Gray II. it seems doubtful that he would still be doing the street beat after all these years. Since the story has several press characters, one thought was to make him a chief editor or perhaps a TV anchorman. An idea that I like even better: He is now an attorney … and could perhaps become Joe’s attorney when the world turns against him late in the second act.

 We’ll see…


But he must be a *believably* flawed protagonist

July 23, 2009

Just as a flawless hero cannot easily inspire, a hero whose flaws appear contrived will just as likely fail to engage the viewer. Fortunately, we need not contrive them at all for this story.  Here’s why. 

Liberty in the Fires, as it will be released internationally, is also Men of Gray III, as it will be released in Trinidad & Tobago and anywhere else that the original two movies are well known. The point: I’m not creating Joe from scratch; he has a rich history — one that we need to be true to for the sake of our existing audience, in fact.  From that Men of Gray I and II history, we can find logical, believable, life-altering events that would naturally have shaped Joe Cameron’s personality and beliefs in the 16-or-so years that have passed since we last saw him as a 20-something cop in Men of Gray II – Flight of the Ibis.

For instance, we know from the first two movies that Joe is a passionate and principled man. But we also know that, if Joe has been valiantly soldiering on as a Trinidad & Tobago officer of the law for all these years, then he has done so in a country that has seen stunning increases in the rate of violent crime, several shocking political scandals, and an increasingly difficult economic situation.  Those events and conditions would directly affect a police officer. Furthermore, many Trinbagonians have publicly expressed a growing level of disrespect for, or distrust of, their police force, either because of corrupt elements within the ranks or because the police appear to be losing ground or effectiveness on many fronts against the unlawful elements of society. So, into this environment, we’re placing the fictional Officer Joe Cameron who likely faces frequent public ridicule from those who’ve lost faith in him and his comrades.  These kinds of ongoing pressures can chip away at any person’s will to keep striving for righteousness.

So, we use that. We show Joe wrestling with the kinds of issues that real-world Commissioner of Police Randolph Burroughs must have struggled with — how long to continue sticking to principle — to keep striving for justice in a world where the law too often fails to bring the unlawful to justice.  What can Joe do when faced with the realization that, in a broken justice system, his principled ways cannot bring about justice?  When those ideals of righteousness and justice become incompatible, Joe’s zeal becomes a weakness that could drive him to abandon principle for the hope of achieving justice.

That’s how the plot of this story can test Joe and show us his flaws.  Meanwhile, earlier events could have damaged his wholeness. For instance, we know from the first two Men of Gray stories that Joe has been personally victimized by violence; his wife and several close friends were killed before his eyes. His son was kidnapped and nearly killed. He was falsely accused of murder and hunted down by his own country — made a pariah of the law that he had sworn to defend. We can very easily assume that these events would scar him mentally. So, in this story, we meet a Joe Cameron that has never remarried.  Could that not suggest that Joe has relationally isolated himself — preventing the deep hurt of love lost by not loving deeply ever since those tragic events? And, since he has raised his son Sean alone, imagine the kinds of relational problems those two would face when the dad has serious intimacy issues! To make matters worse, in this story, Sean has grown up to become a police officer himself.  It’s reasonable to think that, even though Joe ought to be proud of his son’s desire to serve his country, he would also fear that he spent his entire fatherhood trying to protect his son from ever again being endangered by evil men, only to now have him volunteer to be in the line of fire. What anguish! 

And that’s the fun of story creation.  Now, we have a man before us that we can understand and appreciate: a man that is full of hurt that he cannot face up to, full of fear that he cannot protect others from danger, full of ideals that he cannot achieve, and full of passions that gets pummeled at every turn.

That, I feel, is the most compelling approach to this story: to present a protagonist with believable human weaknesses and then to have those character flaws continually interfere with his goals.  

And yet … he must be a man that won’t give up the fight.  A hero.

That then is the goal: to create a protagonist whose sacrificial passion for restoring his country to greatness inspires us, even as we’re morbidly drawn into his battle against those all-too-familiar internal demons and relational difficulties that keep interfering with his social goals.  Then, the real drama of this story becomes less about the surface plotline and more about the interfering character flaws that Joe must overcome, or at least battle into submission, or else he will risk losing the societal battles of the primary plotline.