FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 1, 2009

so i made a movie, part two

I recently made a short horror film called Ludlow, starring Shannon Lark and Elissa Dowling. I thought I'd share all the boring details about how that came to be, know...sharing is caring and if there's one I thing I do, it's care. Part one of the saga is here.

Before I’d even made it home from hanging out with Shannon on the Queen Mary, my brain was working full throttle to come up with some sort of idea for this movie we’d suddenly decided to make together. The first and foremost thought in my mind was that I didn’t simply want to make another episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb; not that I don’t love Ghostella with every fiber of the fabric of my life, but because I thought it would be a good thing to stretch my repertoire a bit, as it were. If I have one…which I’m not entirely sure I do. At any rate, I wanted to use this opportunity to push myself outside of my Z-grade comfort zone and make something…well, different. Profound, I know- but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice or a million times, man…my rivers run so effing deep!
SHANNON LARK: While Stacie was pulling her hair out, I was going on some tirade about chronic masturbation, and wrote a beautiful script that deals with me...and my vagina! Yay! In a frenzy, I took off to Oklahoma during the recent snow storm and almost hit a jacknifed semi. Some guy in a funny hat came along and pulled me out of the ditch and I made it to a small town called Arnette. I was cared for by a very nice motel owner, who I think wanted to make me his wife and we hit up the local bar, where it was a "serve yourself" sort of thing. They also cooked chili but I declined. The next day, the mentally impaired brothers outside the gas station let me throw snow balls at them.
Alright, great, so I wanted to make a movie that’s a bit more serious than my usual fare. Truth be told, this simply added another layer of…well, not stress and anxiety, exactly, but another layer of lite concern to the process. Stepping outside my comfort zone (which, it just so happens, is across the street from Vanessa Williams’s Comfort Zone; I saw her once when I was getting my mail, but I don’t think she saw me)…oh my gawd, is this boring? I think this might all be boring. I’m not one to…you know, really share stuff beyond my love of Melrose Place and Icy Spicy Leoncie, so giving a peek behind my creative draperies feels self-indulgent, boring, boring, and self-indulgent. But I’ve started, and I told Shannon I would be doing this “production” “diary” thing, so I’ve got to continue. Now’s your chance to jump ship if you want.
SHANNON LARK: You are not boring! I love your brain! Sometimes I even wish I could sit on it.
So, uh…the anti-Ghostella movie. As you may have surmised, I didn’t start with any concrete ideas regarding plot; rather, it was a matter of not wanting to re-use any of the locations I’d used before. I’m so tired of the same backgrounds, the same spaces, the same Golden Girls couch lurking behind the action, I wanted to shoot anywhere else besides my house or my friends’ houses…and it grew from there. Find a new location, and keep the cast extremely small.

It sprang to mind almost immediately that I’d like to shoot somewhere in the desert. I fucking love the desert. It’s so strange and bizarre and harsh and deadly and beautiful, I can’t get enough of it. It’s the closest I’m ever gonna get to living on Mars, and the fact that it’s an hour’s drive from the comforts of my home means the world to me. The desert both attracts and births wackadoos, and it’ll kill you in a day if you're not careful. What better place to shoot a horror film? About a week after our napkin contract was signed- less than 3 weeks before we were set to start filming, all I had was a vague idea of a location. “How do you feel like holing up in the desert to shoot this thing?” I wrote to Shannon. “It's all coming together a bit in my head, and 'middle of nowhere' sounds fucking awesome to me.”
SHANNON LARK: I love the desert too! Born and raised, yes siree. I completely understood the feeling she was going for, simply because she mentioned the desert. It reminded me of tailgate parties and so much isolation that I would go through suicidal waves that left me crying in the closet.
I’m not one to share ideas, really, before I’ve got a completed project. I’d rather hand you something I’ve finished than talk about it before I’ve begun making it. This is largely due to the fact that I’m pretty terrible at articulating what’s going on inside my head- while it’s all crystal clear up there, when it comes out of my mouth it sounds like a bunch of crap. In general, I’d rather keep it all to myself during the “process”; this time, however, I tried to keep Shannon in the loop as much as possible. Of course, all that did was highlight the reasons why I keep shit to myself. What is someone supposed to think when I email her vague ideas and random sentences, and all I’ve got worked out plot-wise is “…and then something something something stab stab something the end"? Better just to hand off a finished script, which I finally did about 10 days before Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors. All that remained was naming it.
SHANNON LARK: The first time Stacie told me the plot she said something to the effect of, "Oh...I don't would be in the desert...and you know, something would happen...and then...I don't know...stabstabstab the end." I thought it was cinematic genius, particularly the stabstabstab part. I believe in Stacie and what she can do. I would have done a Ghostella episode, for all I care. It didn't matter. What was important to me was getting to work with her. So when she sent over the script I fell for it like pecans and ice cream. I did my best to learn the insane amount of dialogue over the next few days, while preparing for Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors. I had lost my mind. The script went up into the air like falling snow. Every time I opened it something overwhelming would fall in my lap and my brain turned to goo. Stacie called to find out if I even liked the script and all I could muster was "yes...I do! I like it! Yes!"

What a douchebag.
I don’t want to give anything away, and I’m exceedingly terrible at loglines and short descriptions. If I were tasked with writing the copy on the back of DVD cases, the sleeve would be a four-page gatefold, you know? Let’s just say that in the end, this movie is, to an extent, kind of influenced a bit, maybe, perhaps, a little, by Repulsion and Bug. It’s a girl holed up in the desert- I’m really into exploring…I don’t know, isolation and madness, I suppose. Visually, I wanted it to be as pretty as a film I’ve been completely obsessed with lately called The Dead Girl. Ob. Sessed. Seriously, you should check it out, even though it’s not horror. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and a little bit phenomenal.

With the script finished, all that remained before Shannon’s arrival was know...totes minor: finding a place to shoot the damn thing. I needed an out-of-the-way, borderline-fleabag motel and a diner, the more isolated, the better. After the slightest bit of research (in a BOOK, of all places!), I decided to simply get in my car and drive east out into the Mojave. A couple of hours later, I exited in Ludlow, and lemme tell ya, it was as if that place was crapped out by my very own brain. There was a borderline-fleabag motel and a diner and a gas station, and that’s about it. Maybe 10 trailers out behind the motel, some train tracks, and a wide expanse of nothing. Ludlow’s story isn’t unfamiliar: a brief boom during the mining days, then nothing. Once Route 66 was surpassed by I-40, it was all over. It’s essentially a ghost town, although “town” is probably too generous a term.

In other words, it was perfect.

SHANNON LARK: It really reminded me of home: hittin' up the chili cook offs or the rattlesnake rallies. Yeehaw! Although I think this "town" was too small, even for a bat parade! It truly was perfect.
The motel office has been abandoned for quite some time, and to register for an overnight stay, one must go to the new-ish, shiny-ish Chevron station across the street.

I requested a couple of rooms for a couple of days; the girl behind the counter wrote down my info on a cash register receipt and shoved it in the drawer and that was that. Yeah, a receipt…and by “info” I mean she wrote STACEY 2 ROOMS APRIL 21-23. It was really a sign of things to come, but at the time I was just clueless and ecstatic and ready to you can tell by this nail-bitingly, breathtakingly amazing update to my Twitter upon my triumphant return from Ludlow:

Are you following me on Twitter? I can't imagine why you wouldn't be. I mean, how else are you going to get such scintillating insights into the deep mysteries of my life, such as this, from April 7:
Roof of my mouth has been itching all day. Am I dying?
(answer: no)...or this, from March 27:
Man, I can fuck up some Pepperidge Farm Milanos.
Really, people, this is why the internet was invented.

Anyway, now we just had to shoot this damn thing, which suddenly had a name...yeah. Ludlow.


Anonymous said...

ok, I've been to Ludlow recently and I've stopped at that shiny Chevron station for gas and ice cream. It was f'ing hot the day I was there... and desolate.

I'm really looking forward to hearing more about "Ludlow".

BJ Colangelo said...

The Dead Girl is PHENOMENAL. It was on in the middle of the day and a drugged up, lesbian Brittany Murphy was exactly what I was craving. So glad someone else out there appreciates it :)

Anonymous said...

I find this journey absolutely enrapturing.

Craig Blamer said...

Oh... I was thinking Ludlow as in the Illinois town that gets chewed up by giant grasshoppers in Beginning of the End.

"You can't drop an atom bomb on Chicago!"

Nevermind. Let's keep going...

Wes Fierce said...

I actually just added The Dead Girl to my Netflix Instant queue the other day, out of impatience for the movie "Dead Girl." That'll teach em.

Stacie Ponder said...

Over the course of our days at the motel, I was shocked by how many people passed through- that Chevron station was ALWAYS jam-packed with bikers. Hundreds and hundreds of bikers! I guess it's the only stop for miles and miles, but was insane.

Yes, The Dead Girl! Brittany Murphy is fucking amazing, as is Toni Collette and Kerry Washington and...well, all of 'em. It's such a great showcase for actresses. Ugh, it's SO GOOD!

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, and thanks for reading this stuff, y'all. It's hard for me to tell what might be interesting and what's undoubtedly dull...and I'm not used to being so personal! I feel naked.

Maybe because I'm naked.

Well, not "naked" naked. I'm just...

Ack, I'll stop. Need more coffee!

Bill Walsh said...

You're my heroine, my dear. (Not my heroin. You're stimulating, not depressing.) Too much fun to read about—can't imagine how cool it was to do.

Jay Clarke said...

I'm looking forward to seeing how this all turns out Stacie. And I concur with you on The Dead Girl, I made it a Non-Horror Selection of the Month a while back... A criminally underseen ensemble piece.

Bill G said...

Hot damn! I stayed at this motel a few years ago when I was driving around the southwest. I loved the eeriness of it, the parked mack trucks, and how you had to get your key at the gas station.