Richard P. Alvarez’ limited location thriller, “Epsilon Echo” continues to garner more accolades in contests from multiple genres.
Epsilon Echo has just been named as a finalist in the
prestigious Lonely Seal International Film & Screenplay contest.
Specifically it is in the running for an award in the “Script Accessible”
division. This is a contest whose “…mission is to encourage writers with
disabilities to make their voices heard and to inspire all writers to create
more stories with disabled characters.”
A contained thriller set primarily in a suburban home
– the cast consist of a STRONG but disabled FEMALE LEAD with three supporting
characters. With overtones of “Wait Until Dark” and “Rear
Window” – the mystery is driven by a classic Hitchcockian
“McGuffin” and features a unique climax of intense physical combat.
Epsilon Echo was chosen as an Official Selection at the Action on Film Festival, and was just named a semi-finalist in the 23rd Annual Fade In Thriller contest. Previously the script had garnered awards as a Top Finalist in the Breaking Walls Ultimate Thriller contest, was a Finalist in the Artemis Women In Action Fim/Screenplay Competition and won the coveted Platinum REMI award at Worldfest Houston Int. Screenplay Competition “Thriller” division.
When a house-bound Astronomer discovers the echoes of past transmissions, she hadn’t counted on uncovering secret government codes, or just how desperate the modern surveillance state would be to prevent their discovery. As members of her gaming group are attack or killed, she must survive a final betrayal and confrontation to make it out of her house alive. The past is never where we left it.
It’s a compelling lyric from the song “Tin Man” by the 70’s band America. It’s a lyric that comes to me whenever I win an award.
In that classic scene at the end of the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the Wizard presents a series of awards to our intrepid heroes. To the Scarecrow, he gives a Diploma of Education, the Cowardly Lion receives a Medal for Courage, and the Tin Man receives a ‘Testimonial’ – the ticking watch/heart to acknowledge his great depth of emotions and good deeds. These are all outward signs, accolades if you will, of what the characters already had in spades – in order to complete the task of getting the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. “Oz never did give nothing…”
What then is the purpose of an award; An outward, public accolade for an achievement? When I started this blog – I posted a wonderful poem by Marge Piercy. “For the young”
For the young who want to
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.
The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.
Accolades, awards, acknowledgements – to me – are little
bits of encouragement. “Yup, you’re on the right track – keep going.” But they’re not the point of creating. They
I write screenplays because I can’t NOT write screenplays. I’m a storyteller – and the screenplay is my preferred medium. Of course, a screenplay is a blueprint for a movie – it’s not the finished project. And in order to convince someone to spend lots and lots of money building your blue print – you have to get them to read it.
You have to get past ‘the gatekeepers’ – who keep the door closed to the riff-raff who would dare to interrupt the peace and quiet of the folks who greenlight projects and open the floodgates of funding – The producers.
The system I labor under usually reserves the right to submit to the ‘Big Studios’ – to those writers with a proven track record. (Award winning-working screenwriters). And even then – it’s typically the AGENTS who do the actual submitting. So there’s that Catch-22 of ‘breaking in’. In order to get read – you have to have been produced. In order to be produced – you have to get read.
Agents and Managers at the ‘low end’ of the scale, might –
MIGHT accept unsolicited submissions. Better still – if you know someone in the
industry (an actor, Director of Photography, someone’s brother-in-law) you
might get past the gatekeeper and get a read from a Director or Producer or
Barring that – an award from a high to mid-level competition can help you get your foot in the door with agents, managers and ‘mid-level independent producers’. After all – festivals like Sundance, Austin, CineQuest, Worldfest and the like – get THOUSANDS of scripts submitted. Their readers are effectively culling “The Slush Pile” for the agents and producers. Place high enough – and you’ll get a request for a read. Some of the contests even have Managers and Agents and Producers AS the ‘final judges’.
This is why I bother to submit scripts to competitions. The accolades can help open a door to those producers ‘Looking for contest finalists and winners’. It’s a marketing tool. Sure, it’s nice to look at them on the wall when I feel a bit discouraged. (Right now they’re all in storage.) Better still is getting an option. Cash is a powerful acknowledgement of your work – no doubt.
But as Dorothy points out to the Wizard, she’s looking for home – and he can’t pull that out of his bag. It’s only after his balloon slips the earth without her – that the Good Witch points out that Dorothy has had the power to ‘go home’ – right from the beginning of the journey. All she had to do – was believe.
“NO NO NO!” I shouted when the image came up on my computer home screen.
It simply couldn’t be true. Like a bad dream. Like a slow motion train wreck. I stared at the images online and read the horrifying news.
Then turned away.
It was too hard to accept.
I lived in Paris in the winter of 79/80. I visited Notre Dame too many times to count. Even if I was simply walking past it – I never failed to take a moment to pause and admire the structure.
I immediately assumed it was some sort of ‘roofing’ accident. I knew it was under restoration – and that the old lead-lined roofs required ‘hot processes’ to repair and replace. Am I right? The investigation is out – but I give zero credence to the conspiracy theories swirling around. “It was THIS faction! It was THAT faction!” and of course the ever popular “It was a FALSE FLAG ” staged by whatever group is least likely to have done it – but lying squarely in the accuser’s personal gun sights.
The accounts I’m reading today, give some hope that the damage was not ‘catastrophic’ – in the sense that the structure was an entire loss and will be razed to the ground for safety’s sake. It will be rebuilt after all. Of course nothing can replace the ancient timber and handiwork. That is gone forever.
It will take an enormous amount of money.
And it will take time.
Lots and lots of time.
What took a lifetime to build (roughly 80 years) likely will not be rebuilt in my lifetime. And that saddens me. Modern technology can speed some elements of the original construction process – but really – it’s the personal craftsmanship – the stone masons and carpenters and stained glass artists – that made it a work of art. Hopefully enough master craftsmen will be found to address this great need. And perhaps – just perhaps – more skilled labor will come of it as individuals step up to apprentice under the limited number of master craftsmen that are available.
We’re planning a return trip to Paris this year. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about seeing the structure in it’s current condition.
Life is all about letting go. And I have my memories of course.
This one is hard.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. ~Ernest Hemingway
Occasionally current events will catch up to a screenplay I’ve written and require me to do a rewrite. Cultural developments, politics, or global catastrophes can sometimes require a line or two to be updated. But I find more often it is science and technology that move faster than the pen writes.
This week heralded the major announcement of the first ‘picture’ ever taken of a black hole.
To be accurate, it is an image constructed of the data collected from the pattern of radio waves emitted from around a black hole. Some folks likened it to the “Eye of Sauron” from Lord of the Rings. In truth, scientists could have assigned any optical value to the data – it was all invisible electromagnetic radiation by the time it reached earth. But painting it yellow – gave it the other worldly glow that we come to expect from glowing objects in the visible spectrum in space. It was an impressive image of a major scientific discovery.
Well done physics! But what did this mean to my writing?
A major plot point in my limited location thriller EPSILON ECHO – is the discovery of certain radio signals bouncing back – ‘echoing off’ – a deep space anomaly and returning to earth. These radio signals harbor old ‘deep state’ information. Information that the current surveillance state agencies aren’t too keen to have brought to light. “The past is never where we left it,” is one of the taglines I use.
Exactly HOW this happens in the script, is accomplished with a bit of SciFi ‘handwavium’. It’s tricky when your plot involves scientific theories. You have to at least root them in some plausible scientific concept or theory. Faster than light travel for instance – is impossible for all we know. But it’s necessary to travel the vast distances of interstellar space in the course of a human lifetime, much less a two hour movie. So even physicists who know better – will accept a bit of ‘handwavium’ for the sake of a good yarn. Sometimes SciFi even precedes, or stimulates real scientific research, raising such questions as ‘how COULD a ‘transporter’ work?”
In a brief scene in Epsilon Echo – the physicists discuss how such a signal might be ‘bounced’ or ‘slingshotted’ back to earth – Doppler shifted of course – but still intact. I toss around some info I researched on radio waves ‘bouncing’ off charged layers like the ionosphere – suggesting a type of anomaly like that in space, allude to ‘gravitional lensing’ and sprinkle in ‘faraday rotation’. All good theories that MIGHT go into such an anomaly. It worked – okay.
BUT I had one character – the ‘dumb one’ – suggest a Black Hole. The others laugh at this, and point out that radiation striking the black hole would pass through the event horizon and be lost forever.
Except – not – as it turns out.
While watching the press conference describing how the ‘image’ of the black hole was constructed – I learned a number of important scientific points and terms. Chief among them – the name of the Event Horizon Telescope – the concept of the Swarzchild Radius and a phenomena known as Relativistic Beaming.
I learned that light rays (electromagnetic radiation) that approaches the ‘edge’ of the event horizon at a distance of two point six Schwarzchild radii actually WOULD be warped around the black hole, and sent zooming off in the return direction at an accelerated rate.
Bingo! I had a plausible basis for my handwavium.
It didn’t NEED to be correct; it just needed to be one of
the possible explanations – along with some sort of charged nebula or faraday
rotation. Together I had grab bag of theories that would be a good enough point
to start working the plausible explanation.
Hell, it was even better than dilithium crystals!
Putting this in only required tweaking a few lines. It even gave me a chance to make Stuart, the ‘dumb one’ – the hero of the moment. So, good character development.
So the story is ‘refreshed’ and made a bit more plausible.
A bit of progress in the short film area of my career. My short thriller “One Shot” goes into production in Atlanta this weekend. Directed by Chris Miller, he has assembled an impressive cast with some nice IMDB credentials. I’m excited to see the final product.
The premise of the script, involves a Hitman sitting alone in a cheap hotel room, watching an intersection. He’s waiting for his target to emerge from a different hotel. The plan is to shoot him. (Because – you know – ‘hit man’.)
Meanwhile, as he whiles away his days waiting for the call to alert him to the target, he’s watching a young woman in her apartment diagonally across the way. Nothing pervy here, it’s a view of her living room. She’s mostly just studying and dealing with an asshole boyfriend. When the boyfriend gets out of hand the Hitman must make a choice.
Now – as originally written, the Hitman never hears the dialog in the other apartment. Aside from her choice in classical music, no sounds really drift over to him.
But about a month ago, Chris asked me to work up some dialog for the characters to utilize in their interactions. I had never really given these characters much thought. I always saw the story from the Hitman’s point of view. He doesn’t know why the relationship has gone south, so why should we?
But as a writer, director and ACTOR , I can sympathize with the time constraints on shooting a short. And it would certainly be nice if these two actors already HAD some lines to improvise their physical business around. So yeah, I can do that.
I cooked up the character names Jackie and Nathan. I already knew what we had to ‘see’ happen in each of their inter actions – I just had to write the dialog to fit. Suddenly – an entirely NEW story popped into my head.
This is not unusual or really remarkable. Every character IN a story, has their own story. Tom Stoppard did a great take on this in his incredible absurdist play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead “. He took two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and retold the story from THEIR point of view.
So I found myself imagining how Jackie and Nathan met. What were their backstories? What had brought them together? And just why did their relationship go south? Finally, what events brought them to the climactic confrontation that required our Hitman’s intervention.
Pretty good fun, actually.
I sent the sides off to Chris, and didn’t hear a word back.
This is not unusual or really remarkable. The writer is kind of the red-headed step child of a production. It’s nothing personal.
When I got the head’s up in a text that they were shooting this weekend, I asked if the sides I sent were of any use.
“Fuck yeah.” He replied. “We used it for casting and we’re actually playing the windows open, so the dialogue can ‘travel’. It’ll be so low it might only be on a subconscious level, but your mind will put it together…”
“Good! I wanted the relationship to be ‘complicated’. Not a simple break up.” I replied.
“It’s never a simple break up…” he responded.
Sending good vibes out to the cast and crew of “One Shot” this weekend. Knock ’em dead kidz!
I recently finished my newest screenplay “PALISADES”. Or perhaps it’s “PALISADES: The Deadliest Town in the West”. I’m a bit conflicted over the title length. Apparently single word titles sell better, but I really like the descriptive version.
Sometimes an idea takes a long time to come to fruition. Such is the case with this script. I hit on the idea sometime back around 2003 or so. I read about this crazy town in the West that put on ‘fake gunfights’ – mostly as a way to fool the greenhorn tourists coming west. Just the local boys having fun at the travelers expense. But this town took it to a whole new level. Fake blood, bank robberies and Indian raids.
Things got so bad – allegedly – that the President had to send in the cavalry to quiet things down. The cavalry promptly joined in on the charade.
“How in the hell is this not a movie already?” I asked myself. So I decided to do some more research and work up a script.
Some sixteen years later, I finished it.
What kept me? Well this and that. It took some time to dig up more information. This was early days of the internet. (I’ve since gone on to find more about the town and the incidents in question.) Other, more pressing and ‘better’ ideas would take hold and push this notion to the back burner. Or hell, into the cupboard if I’m honest.
But if I’m honest – it’s because I know this is going to be a big (ish) budget film, and well… “It’s a WESTERN!” Everybody knows, nobody buys westerns. Except – yeah, occasionally they do.
Over the years of research, I took notes. I noticed where different versions of the tales conflicted,and where they overlapped. At one point, when I was travelling across the country to direct a show in Pennsylvania, I drove THROUGH Palisades. Or, what was left of it. Nothing really.
Around 2011 I took a stab at starting the script. I got about eleven pages written, then… stopped. The idea never left my mind, and beginning in December of 2018, I decided to work on a new limited location horror script I want to do. I sat down to write it, and that muse of the mind said… “NO! FINISH PALISADES!”
“But… it’s a WESTERN!”
“But it’s probably a big budget, it’s got a TRAIN in it!”
“Well, if I can find my old notes, and the beginning of the first act I had on a different computer… maybe…”
And like that, I was off into the quirky little town in Nevada.
I did have some notes. Some ideas for what was going to happen. Some character sketches. A loose idea about how to finish it. Nothing really solid. I’m not the type to outline an entire script with ‘beats’ for every page and such. I like to let the story surprise me as it unfolds.
And boy, did it. Gone entirely is the idea of the local telegraph kid, replaced by a young Shoshone. A MUCH better choice. And the perfect ending I had planned some ten years earlier? Yeah, it disappeared as my two characters discussed how to solve the problem. They came up with a whole new solution.
Funny how that works.
I created the lead characters pretty much out of whole cloth. I invented the pretense for the charade. I built tension around a love triangle, and even tossed in the themes of redemption and tolerance.
And in the big showdown, as the hero rides into town in a cloud of dust, I was surprised by who he turned out to be. Sometimes, your sub-conscious hides things from you. Funny how THAT works too.
At any rate, it’s as ‘done’ as it needs to be. Yes of course, if it’s ever optioned someone will want changes. That’s one thing I’ve learned about the process. And yes, it’s a mid-range budget film. (It’s got a TRAIN in it!) There aren’t a lot of calls for Westerns from independent studios.
I cut my teeth on Sci-Fi as a kid, starting with the old “Tom Swift” series of books and following those with the “Rick Brandt” series. (The Rick Brandt series served as the ‘inspiration’ for the Johnny Quest TV show.) By the time I was in third grade, I was reading Heinlein’s juveniles. I read “Starship Troopers” the summer between third and fourth grade, which would have made me nine years old. I missed all the not-so-subtle militaristic, pseudo-fascist politics of course, but the notion that you could fight in “Space Armor” was simply awesome. It was an image that stuck with me throughout my life.
When I first saw Imperial Storm troopers burst through the bulkhead in the opening sequence of “Star Wars” I believe I shouted “Starship Troopers!” out-loud in delight and surprise. I’m not very impressed with the modern riffs on Heinlein’s book though. Not enough ‘armor’ for my taste. Storm trooper armor came close to what I imagined Heinlein’s troopers were wearing. Though in my story, they’re polished like mirrors.
Shortly after reading “Starship Troopers” – I saw the episode of “Outer Limits” called “The Soldier” (1964). Written by Harlan Ellison, it was the germ of the idea utilized by James Cameron for his movie “The Terminator”. Of course, it was a little too similar, and Harlan carved out a nice check for infringement from Cameron’s profits.
My on set copy of “Soldier”. It’s made of ‘mimeographed’ pages – and is slowly fading away.
Everything influences everything else of course. So it was with decades of exposure to sci-fi space opera that I tackled “Trenches”, back in the mid-nineties. I’d been jousting for a while, and studying up on medieval weaponry and tactics. I was also catching up on the history of WWI at the time. As it happens, my own grandfather was a veteran of the “Great War” – though he served in Russia, not the European theater.
Here then, is my attempt at the “Space Opera” genre of sci-fi . It’s heavily influenced by my WWI research, by Heinlein of course, and the great Harlan Ellison’s – “The Soldier”. I fancied having one of my artist friends work up an “Amazing Stories” type of cover, with a retro feel to illustrate it. But unfortunately, all my talented artist friends are too busy making real money to take on a small one-off project. So I’ll make do with some suggestive images of the theme.
After two weeks of waiting for notes from the investors, I finally heard from my director saying they had agreed the script was good to go. (I have no idea what the investors concerns were, or how the producers overcame them.) They have a casting director on board, and are now moving toward a sales agreement. As one producer said, “I feel like we have some good momentum going forward.”
This is generally good news.
As the option was due to expire at the end of May, the producers asked to extend it while they proceed. Not an unusual request. My last two options needed to be extended because things started happening just as it was coming down to the wire.
I’m feeling encouraged. It’s ‘found money’ in my pocket. But the champagne is still on ice.
I’m cautiously optimistic, because this has been my experience with the option and development phase in the past. It’s a heady moment to have someone say, “We LOVE it, and want to BUY/OPTION it!” Because, hey – a money offer is a great validation. It sits heavier in your hand than the trophies, accolades and plaques from contest wins. And when the option check clears the bank, I DO allow a bit of a celebration. “One step closer.”
But I’ve been here before. “Just… This… Close…” to a BIG deal, with a BIG name… only to have it slip away.
I’m not complaining. As an actor, I know how great it feels to get a callback to an audition. And then a second callback with maybe a screen test read with the lead. You can ‘smell it’, the role is real. Then, for whatever reason – they go another direction. Maybe the funding fell through. Maybe they’ve decided on a different take. It’s not ‘personal’, as hard as it is to understand that. You pat yourself on the back for making it that far. You learn from the process. What did you do right? What might you have done differently? What can you use the NEXT time you’re in this position?
It’s the same thing basically, with the option process. You have to let go of what you can’t control. My most difficult lesson to learn, always. Work on what I CAN control; the next script, how I pitch, my daily writing routine.
I have to rest in the assurance one of the producers gave me.
“Thanks for your patience with us, we’re busy working behind the scenes and want this project to be the strongest it can be while staying true to the world you created.”
Another shooting, this one close to home, literally. Santa Fe, Texas is about twenty five miles from where I used to live in Seabrook, Tx. I would buy round bales from a hay farmer there. I have friends who live nearby to this town. The town were I live now, is about three hours south on the coast.
When I saw the story pop up online, I immediately thought of my friend. She has two high-school aged daughters. Did they attend that school? I sent her a quick email, and a text.
I found myself missing Facebook – for the first time.
It’s sad to say, but over the past couple of years, Facebook had become a good way to quickly assess who was safe when a disaster occurred. “So and so marked themselves safe in the mass-shooting at (fill in the blank). Or – “Anyone hear from ‘Susan’?” – “Yes, I talked to her, she’s fine…” Like the old ‘phone trees’ of yore – but almost instantaneous.
After a tense hour, my friend texted back. “Yes we’re safe. They go to a different school, but how awful!”
So yeah, I missed that.
But I’m not missing the inevitable diatribe on gun rights that is sure to follow. No one is going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook. And the fact that it’s likely a great many memes and ‘meetups’ were generated by Russian bots in the past – in order to foment dissension and division in the country – just makes me glad not to be seeing it scroll across my feed.
In other news – movement on the screenplay front. I’ll post more next week when I’ve got more to say.
It’s been two weeks since my hiatus from Facebook began. I thought I’d post an update on how it’s going.
Fine. Just fine.
The world didn’t crash. I’m not ‘jonesing for a fix’. But I have noticed a few things since I left.
First, I hadn’t realized how often I hit “F Enter” in my browsing habits. I have a set of websites I visit whenever I log in. My email addys first of course, then some ‘news’ sites. I use several different news aggregators – including some foreign sources so I get a different objective. My ‘business’ sources – meaning my script listings, and some filmmaking/screenwriting pages – and then, I hit ‘F Enter’ to open my face book page.
I kept on doing that, without even meaning to. Of course, what it brings up, is my Facebook LOGIN page, with the name and password already filled in. I’d have to LOGIN again, and everything would be just as if I’d never left.
My muscle memory, my ‘browsing routine’ had integrated the Facebook search pattern into my habit. Slowly, I’ve been dropping it. Two weeks now, and it only happens maybe once a day, usually when I’m distracted. It takes three weeks to make/break a habit, so I think it’s working.
I really noticed it a lot, in the middle of the night.
Like most humans, I tend to sleep in two ‘shifts’. A first, and second “sleep” of approximately 3 to 4 hours each. It’s a good night to log a total of 7 hours of sleep. If my fitbit is to be believed, I’m doing better than average “For a man my age”. But instead of reading a book, I’d usually pick up my phone, and do a quick scan of the usual suspects. Again, the search pattern was routine. Emails, News sights, Business, and FB….
Very occasionally there is an email worth reading in the night. But here’s the thing. News sights are RARELY updated in the middle of the night. I mean, if I read a headline at nine pm – it’s likely going to be the same headline at two-thirty in the morning. So… there’s really no NEW news to read. Whereas if I had been on FACEBOOK at three in the morning, there is no doubt that some friend somewhere in the world would be awake at that hour, and posting some ‘update’. Hell, even updates from local friends saying “Why am I awake? Is anyone else awake?” would stream across my screen.
FACE BOOK NEVER SLEEPS.
In the past, that led to lots of perusing threads, maybe even making comments or engaging in conversations. And that led to EXTENDED ‘wake times’ between sleeps. Not to mention the fact that you really should NOT be looking at the blue light from a phone or computer screen anyway – it disrupts the sleep cycle.
So – now that it’s no longer in my search pattern, my ‘midnight rambling’ really only lasts a few minutes, instead of a half hour to an hour.
And this improves my sleep cycle.
More and better sleep – is a good thing.
I’m missing some of the social engagement. I find myself wondering ‘what’s so-and-so up to?’ But you know what? I just sent so-and-so an email. If they don’t respond, it’s on them. I also received emails from a few friends, asking some insight into business or personal issues. So – I’m still ‘connected’ to people I want to be connected to.
I also find that I seem to have less stress, overall, in my daily routine. I AM writing more. And hell, just doing things around the house. More and better chores. Getting things done.
So at this point in time, I’d say it’s a net gain.