The Stakes are Raised

This weekend, once again, I will walk through the streets that pave the dark, fantastical world of “They Live Among Us.”

Lovers will come together; others will be torn apart. There is a heightened sense of danger, of peril. Serafina has left the safety of Caim’s home to return to the only night she knows. Caim is faced with a decision – to let her go, to let her lead this life… or to take the risk of trying to save her – a gamble that could end her life. Buer encounters old acquaintances. Jimmy searches for Beth. A John is in need of comfort for the night. Lives intertwine.

I begin my journey Friday, in a little place known as the Paradise…

The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a heav’n of hell; a hell of heav’n – John Milton, Paradise Lost

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The Torments of Love

“But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.” 
~ Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

It is a bitter moment when we learn the hard truth of life, that the course of love never runs smooth.

The world of They Live Among Us is peppered with supernatural beings – who suffer from painfully human problems.

Episode Two, Fall From Grace, introduces the central story thread that will bind all of the characters together – the story of the star-crossed lovers, Caim and Serafina.

The story is emotionally evocative; the images painfully raw. We follow Caim, seemingly indifferent to the world around him, as he wanders through the mean streets of Los Angeles. And then, his countenance changes. Shock washes across his face as he discovers Serafina in her present incarnation, hardened by life on the streets, clad in disturbingly provocative attire, frail, like a rag doll.

Her lover Rocco approaches her. He is a like a wild animal, ready to spring upon his prey… and spring he does, his fury unleashes itself upon her. The fight is brutal. It is painful to see a person disassociate, to move so far away from being human; I am tempted to avert my gaze… but I do not.

Caim appears, and rescues his love. He is so gentle as he ministers to her wounds. What torment it is for him to find her fallen so low. He can no longer afford indifference; this time, he will not stand by and watch as she is destroyed yet…

…and yet, he is only half of this equation, for Serafina’s choice is the sum of the whole. She can stay with Caim, a complete stranger, who tells her that he only wishes to take care of her, or she can return to Rocco. The choice for her is not as simple as it seems, for Rocco’s love is the only kind she has known. What draws a woman to a man who drains the life from her, who resorts to verbal and physical assaults, who treats her as offal? Serafina is so far removed from being the Chosen One. She cannot even imagine the possibility of who she truly is – and who she can become. She may, however… if she is strong enough.

Moments of Grace

“I don’t believe in stories with happy endings; I believe in moments of grace.” ~ Todd Field, AMC Shoot Out

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this quote, as post enters its final stages for Episodes 1 – 3 of They Live Among Us.

Moments of grace. What the characters – supernatural and mortal – are seeking. What I – as a writer, a filmmaker, a human being – am seeking. Moments of grace.

We live in ungraceful times; we are culturally conditioned to judge a man not by his actions, but by the amount of money he makes. Profit is our deity; we feed off of the misery of others through war-profiteering, loan-shark banking and depriving the impoverished of healthcare. An infant dies in its mother’s arms because the truckload of grain that relief organizations sent to her camp was hijacked and resold for profit. Churches build towering gilt monoliths worth hundreds of millions of dollars – and these structures cast giant shadows on Skid Row. Victims of rape are murdered by their families, for their victimization is seen as an admission that they are the guilty ones. Children are bought and sold – traded like junk bonds – within the sex-trade industry.

We know this, of course. We hear it on the nightly news… but we refuse to listen. Instead of exploring the human crisis that is Darfur, we turn our attention towards the Jersey Shore. We do anything, everything to drown out this influx of data, for the shame and guilt that we would feel if we were to open our hearts and our minds to the human suffering that surrounds us would be more than the soul could bear.

It was not without trepidation that I began this project. I knew that I would be taken to very dark and painful places; and yet, I also knew that I would experience moments of grace… and that is pwhat I experience as I witness post: beings as they battle demons, literal and figurative, while strugglthe in the place that is the City of Angels… and seek moments of grace. Dark emotions and conflict lurk just beneath the surface; scenes are taut, whittled down to what is most primal and essential. A killer seeks true love. A priest ministers to demons. A lonely man loves a ghost. An angel yearns for a prostitute.

Moments of anguish… enveloped by moments of grace.

Saving Grace

The road to redemption is not a straight path; it is filled with twists and turns. One may encounter obstacles on the way; seemingly insurmountable barriers that must be overcome, in order to journey forward.

For Father Buer, this road is, at times, a perilous one. Like Caim, Buer is himself a fallen one; he served as Captain in Caim’s army, a seasoned warrior and elder advisor, whose devotion to his General – and a certain amount of hubris – led to his downfall.

Cast out of paradise, Buer, like the others, was forced to exist as an immortal amidst the sea of humanity that surrounded him. For many, this existence leads to darkness – and to despair. However, Buer found a way. He developed an idea, a belief, that the fallen ones could transform themselves through redemption, that they could all achieve a state of grace. For Buer, this meant to devote his existence to the Church; to give comfort and aid to those in need of it most – the indigent, the mad, the angels-turned-demons that live among us.

I’m not certain how far back Buer’s occupational choice extends, although I’ve seen a collection of religious icons at the Getty, and upon examining a 14th century panel, was struck by the face of one of the monks in the relief… how similar in shape and in tone to Buer’s. A certain sense of suffering within his eyes. He stands apart from his brethren, he seems lost in thought. Yes. I believe this to be Buer. I think about his decision to serve God, and if there was catalyst that compelled him to do so. What was it? Has he ever loved a mortal?

I watch him as he tends to the homeless. The social workers, the police all know him, for he spends his days weaving through the hell of Skid Row. They bring to him the untreatables; miserable wretches in filthy rags, who find no relief through traditional medical treatment, for the wretched ones are not human. The shame of being cast forth, the pain of living amongst humans, the longing for home – all of these elements have driven them mad. I wonder how this affects Father Buer. I wonder if he struggles for his own sanity. I suspect that at night, alone, these fears come to surface… but they have yet to break him.

I think about the day that Buer came to Skid Row, and found a new resident there. Weeping, frightened, babbling, he was clothed in filthy rags, his body covered with ulcers and putrescence. Buer knelt, and loosened the bindings around the other’s head… and discovered that this wretch was Caim. His general. His friend.

This discovery must have unnerved Buer, for Caim, like him, was one of the Ancient Ones. For Caim to have fallen so deep into despair was unheard of. I watch as Buer tends to Caim’s body – and to his soul. Years go by, with Caim trapped in darkness. One day, a glimmer of light – Buer sees recognition in Caim’s eyes. Another glimmer… and then, bit by bit, Caim emerges from darkness, and is finally restored to life.

And so, Buer continues his mission, to give comfort and aid to those who walk among us. He works tirelessly to restore them to grace, for he, too dreams of paradise. Redemption is the fragile thread that he clings to, for it is his last hope.

The Faces of They Live Among Us

You’ve been reading about the characters who live among us. Here are the wonderful actors who are giving them life (in no particular order – consider this a casting roundtable, L. to R.). Click on the pic to see them more up close and personal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAIM: Geoffrey M. Reeves

SERAFINA: Ivet Corvea

FATHER BUER: Rolf Saxon

LUCIAN: Allen Marsh

CRAIG: James Thomas Gilbert

ALEX: Erik Kowalski

BETH: Jessica Nicole Webb

SAM: Don Shirey

JIMMY: Justin Baker

PEG: Kendra Munger

TED: David Stanford

BELIALA: Marcia French

LILLITH: Nina Rausch

ROCCO: Terence J. Rotolo

The Man in the Bar

The Paradise Bar is like many watering holes. It’s a place to drown sorrows. A place to debate the meaning of life. A place to go to be amongst others – anonymously… and that’s where the man in the bar comes in.

We first see the man in the opening scene of the Paradise. There he is, in his regular seat, a bottle of Jim Beam in one hand, his fedora next to the other. He is quiet, this man in the bar; he eavesdrops on the lives of others, but offers no clue about himself. Even if he wanted to, he could not, for the man in the bar is a ghost.

His name is Sam. He never gives his last name… but I have a feeling that I know it.

Sam was a P.I. in Hollywood, in the 40s. He enjoyed the company of dames and drink. He took the usual cases – philandering spouses, runaway heiresses, the occasional murder-for-hire. Ruthless and greedy, he’d take money from anyone – and shed no tears for anyone’s pain. He cashed the checks with a smile.  He consoled lonely wives with relish. That was, until the first week of January of 1947. That was when there was a knock on his door – a knock that changed his world.

A man stood in the doorway; middle-aged, clothes threadbare, his hands trembled with palsy. He placed a picture on Sam’s desk – the picture of a young woman. A raven-haired beauty with startling blue eyes. It was his daughter – and she had disappeared. He gave Sam what little money he had, and begged him to find her. Her name was Elizabeth.

Something shifted in Sam’s universe. Perhaps it was his longing for his own daughter, estranged from him, along with her mother, by his devotion to his job – and the women that came with it.

Sam took the case, and began pounding the streets of Downtown L.A., where Elizabeth was last seen. He followed her trail to the Biltmore hotel, where she had gone to meet a man – and there, the case went cold. He found no trace of her – until the morning of January 15, when he woke to find her picture splashed across the city papers. The headlines screamed “Sex Fiend Slaying Victim Found – Detectives describe butcher scene as worst ever,” and indeed it was.

The victim’s last name was Short. Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

For the next five years, Sam devoted his life to finding her killer. He took no other clients; he became obsessed with the case – wandering the crime scene over and over again, combing through cold cases and criminal records. Each night, he’d end his self-made shift at the Paradise, his ever faithful Jim Beam at his side.

His obsession took its inevitable toll, and on August 17, 1952, Sam was found dead in his office/apartment, the victim of a coronary.

Sam, ever pugnacious, refused to surrender to death. He vowed to find Elizabeth’s killer, and so, here he sits, night after night in the Paradise, going over the facts of the case, laying out rows of suspect, untangling webs of alibis, searching, sniffing for the truth.

Something in Sam’s life – and in the lives of others – is about to change. For soon, another young woman will be found dead, exactly as Elizabeth was. Same modus operandi – dismembered, mutilated, beaten. The girl could be Elizabeth’s twin sister. This discovery, this sickening crime lures Sam out of his ghostly dream-world and propels him into this life.

And so, with Sam, yet another story thread begins.

Like A Moth To The Flame

When we last saw Caim and Serafina, he had brought her to the safety of his home. Once again, the lovers have met.

I’ve been wondering a lot about this scene, as I immerse myself into these final pre-production rewrites. I know that Serafina has no memory of Caim; and yet, perhaps there is something deep within her that does. I wonder if she senses the connection between them, the eternity that they have shared together, only to be torn apart again and again. I wonder if she fears this connection, for its power is overwhelming. I fear it may drive her back to Rocco.

I crouch in the far corner of Caim’s warehouse-turned-home. My eyes are on him as he watches Serafina sleep. I wonder what he is feeling inside –  is it joy or is it anguish that washes over him as his mind turns over and over the eons of relentless punishment? Last time, losing her drove him into madness. It took years to pull him out, decades.

I believe that this reunion is bittersweet. I watch Caim as Serafina wakes. My heart breaks, for I know he yearns to touch her… and yet,  this touch has the power to undo him.

It’s a particular kind of torment, to be drawn to another, almost against one’s will, like a moth to the flame. I close my eyes and hope that this time, Caim can save her. Last time, he lost his sanity. This time, he could lose his soul.