Imagine you meet a woman in a bar and are lucky enough to take her home with you. She is an incredibly beautiful woman, her perfume intoxicates you and her legs are tan and curve in all the right spots. When her clothes drop to the floor, you are far from disappointed; you are in bewilderment at the Greek goddess that stands before you in all her glory. For the next couple of hours you make love to her and it is the most incredible and passionate night of love making you have ever known and will probably ever experience. Fighting to catch your breath, you look at her and ask her how it was. She returns your stare and gives a soft smile and says, “It was interesting.”
That’s how it feels when you show a movie that you have put your heart and soul into…and that person looks at you and says, “It was interesting.”
I’ll forever remember the first time I heard, “It was interesting,” in the context of a movie review.
About three years before we sold our first film to a distributor, I ventured out to Las Vegas for a conference with video and film distributors. That trip is a WHOLE other article unto itself. But for now, I’ll focus on the purpose of the trip. I went there for the opportunity to sit down with distributors, one-on-one, and ask what they were looking for. I was especially looking forward to a panel discussion on the topic of low budget film distribution.
I learned quite a bit from the panel that day, but the most important thing I learned, for that particular moment in time, was that if you did not have a large budget, and did not have a “name” actor, then you could only sell two types of films: Latin Action/Drug Films, and Horror Films.
In the early 2000s, when Blockbuster was at its peak, there were hundreds of low budget Latin action films on their shelves. Many, if you can believe it, were worse than mine. All of them had listened to the Director’s Commentary of El Mariachi. Those that were lucky enough to get their hands on a wheelchair, tried using it for their dolly, with less than stellar results. It was a large demographic. Even in the mid-late 90s, while working at the store, large families would come in on Friday and Saturday nights, hit the bargain bin and buy dozens of Previously Viewed titles, only to repeat the ritual the following week. They made a lot of money on Latin action films. And horror films have always been big Sellars, no matter what the budget. So when I returned to San Antonio later that week, I had decided my next film would be a Latin Action/Horror Drug Film.
Without so much as a single production light, but armed with my trusty Canon XL1s I had purchased for The Knight Watchmen, I set forth on making an action film about a vampire who was taking out a drug cartel, one member at a time.
In 2002 and 2003, I was shooting a lot of hip-hop and rap videos at that time for local and national artists, from Fort Worth to Milwaukee. Yeah, I didn’t know there were Latin hip hop artists in Milwaukee, either, let alone, Mexican hip-hop artists. Now, before you get all SJW on me, let me tell you this story about a friend of mine.
I was talking about this particular group of Mexican hip-hop artists based in Milwaukee when a friend of mine, who happened to be one of off Hispanic decent, got a shocked look on his face and was obviously personally offended that I would use the word Mexican to describe a group of Hispanic persons. He snapped back with, “Why do you have to call them Mexican? Huh?” I cocked my head to the side and looked at him with confusion smeared all across my face. I took a moment to let the tension build up before I finally smirked and said, “Because they’re from Mexico. They’re Mexican nationals.”
So working with more than my fair share of local hip-hop artists, gave me access to a lot of people who thought they were incredibly talented and needed to spread their gift to the world. Among those fame hungry individuals, I found an artist that was pure talent. He went by the name Dub U B, but his real name was Carlos Leos. He had received his nickname in Philadelphia, (where he was born and raised). He was half black, half Latino so his friends started calling him “WetBlack,” which gave way to “WB,” that finally evolved into “Dub U B.” Which always made his title credit difficult as people would always read his name as Dub Ub. Needless to say, he now goes by Carlos Leos on screen.
I cast Carlos in my new vampire, horror, hip-hop, drug cartel movie as a police detective by the name of Thomas Leos. Dub, as we all know him today, could step on set, never having read a page of the script, take about three minutes to look it over, then deliver it on-screen with perfect accuracy, bringing his own personal charm and charisma with the performance.
However, the first time he stepped on set, it wasn’t quite so clean. But that fell on me. See, when I’m writing a character and I don’t quite know who is going to play the role, I have a tendency to write the character in a British accent, with no contractions and speaking with proper grammatical structure in every syllable. So was the case of the Thomas character. When I handed the script to Dub, he looked and me and with a blank expression on his face said, “I can’t do this.”
I explained to him he didn’t have to say every word the way it was written, just stick to the main idea and make it his own. Which he did. And it was great! The next film I made with him, I continued the Thomas character and was able to hear Dub in my head as I wrote. The next time I handed him a script, he looked at it and said, “Now this I can do!”
The next addition to the cast was the racist redneck partner for Dub to tangle with as they went through the mystery of the cartel serial killer. For the role, I tapped fellow writer “But I have a Masters Degree” Scott M Neth. I have to include the M because there is a Christian writer somewhere out there who isn’t crazy about being associated with violent, vampire, hip-hop, foul-mouthed detective movies.
Our Scott Neth, with an M, is from Nebraska, is a short, dumpy, goateed, chain-smoker, and is a bleeding-heart liberal…and was perfect for the role. Together we flushed out some of the plot points and argued about story structure. It was here that I was introduced to the Hero’s Journey and the monomyth as detailed by Joseph Campbell. As a writer himself, with a Masters in English, Neth was very familiar with this notion and explained the formula to me. From there on out, I was hooked on this idea of story structure.
After Scott introduced me to this story telling technique and I could begin seeing it in every film I’d watch. I broke it down and made an outline, so that every time I started writing a script, I could jot down each step in the process and follow the steps to creative perfection! A PDF, I’d print out five or six copies every time I started writing a script and this would be the basis of my outline. I’d then plot the scene headings in my script software, add a short description of the scene, then move on to the next one. Once all of the scenes were set, I’d then go back from the top of the script and just start playing the movie in my head and write down what all the characters were doing and saying in my mind as I went.
This vampire, drug, hip-hop, gangsta, detective, rap thing I was writing, was the first time I wrote a script this way. In about two days, the script was finished. I turned it over to Scott, he added his two cents, particularly a bit of a back story about the vampire, and we had a movie. We didn’t get to add Scott’s backstory into this film, but we did get to push it over and actually shoot it as flashback in the film’s prequel, Barrio Angelz. So here sat this film. But what to call it? There was no real debate. Just a name idea, a quick internet search to see if it had been used before, and there it was…Last Blood.
Over the next couple of months, with no lights, no real locations other than friends’ apartments, houses and one Texas rest stop, a Canon XL1s and about 20 Mini-DV tapes, we made perhaps one of the crappiest films I have ever made, from a technical standpoint. I still love the story, and it’s one of those I wish I could go back and remake. It had some great performances from Scott and Dub and their onscreen chemistry was undeniable. We also found an incredibly badass character in Rose performed by a talented actress named Samira, who typically spoke with a smile and giddiness, but when in character, spoke with a spot-on British accent. But these terrific performances couldn’t compete against the bad lighting, bad performances from 70% of the “actors,” and boring locations. Now that I’m actually thinking about it, I actually don’t think the audio was too bad in this one. Huh.
After we completed the film in late 2003, we made arrangements to have a screening in Dallas at a local theater. Dub came dressed from head to toe in sharp duds, complete with pimp cane. I think Scott arrived dumpy as usual, and I in my typical jeans, black cowboy boots and dark blue sports coat. I can’t remember if I had a tie that night.
The theater was about half full with friends and family. Maybe one or two strays who knew nothing about us wandered in, but if they did, I’m sure they were gone long before the end of the movie.
There were a few laughs, a couple gasps, and a few murmurs. Scott had momentary thoughts about making a break for the exit whenever his character would say something offensive like “negro” and “colored folk,” fearing a beating once he left the theater. No such beating ever occurred, no matter how offensive we wrote his character. The movie rolled on, Dub and Scott solved the murder, one died, then a final confrontation between vampire and werewolf. Over all it was full of the reactions you’d expect from a group of people watching their friends up on the big screen, acting like big stars.
The movie came to and end and the house lights came up. The cast and “crew” stepped up to the front and we took our bows and prepared to answer questions from the audience. A couple typical questions, “How much did it cost? What camera did you use?” Then one woman raised her hand. I sadly can’t remember her actual question, but I do remember her starting with saying, “Well it was an interesting movie.”
Perhaps I don’t remember what she asked because I was recalling in my head, analyzing the word over and over again. Interesting? A vampire cartel serial killer murder hip-hop action movie. Interesting? Interesting is something you say about a type of mold that grows in a petrie dish that is immune to every type of radiation. Interesting is not something I wanted to hear about my movie.
So from that moment on, every time I heard the word, “interesting” in the context of one of my films, I read it as code for, “Well, that was incredibly boring, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings so I’ll say it was ‘interesting.’ So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for trying to be considerate and spare my feelings, but fuck you.