The Sins of the Father

As I prep the script for its final pass – and begin work on Episodes 4 – 6, the character of Rocco emerges.

I’ve described Rocco as brutal and ruthless, for he is… and yet he is much more than a one-dimensional stereotype.

Rocco’s mother immigrated to the States, in search of a better life. She landed in the Bronx, and it was there that Rocco’s path was formed. She met a man – Denny was his name, and, in a matter of weeks, found herself married and pregnant. Her life was far from idyllic, for Denny had a dark and terrible secret. Ruthless fathers beget ruthless sons, and Denny was a vicious man, hell-bent on pounding out his transgressions upon his wife and child.

Like so many victims of abuse, Rocco left home at an early age. He boarded a bus and rode it straight to the West Coast. Like his father, Rocco was a dreamer. Like so many dreamers, Rocco found that his dreams were, in themselves, a trap.

He was ill-prepared for the reality of life on his own. His inner demons haunted him. He turned to drugs  for solace.

One night he met a girl. Her name was Serafina. She moved him in ways that he could not define. Perhaps she touched his soul. Their relationship was not always one of abuser and victim; but Rocco’s patterns were too deeply imprinted. The black void inside him could only filled by rage. He believed, as his father did, that love was a weakness, a disease to be cured. And so, he began to strip Serafina of what he himself did not have. He tried to rob her of her soul. He abused her. He pimped her on the streets.

And yet, there once was a very different Rocco in a very different time. A time when he knew love instead of fists. A time of hope and of promise.

We first see him, as Caim first sees him, beating Serafina into unconsciousness in a darkened alley. His rage is untethered; he is like a wild animal.

For Rocco, the sins of the father have now become the sins of the son.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Worlds collide at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

A few blocks west, and you will find yourself enveloped in the glitz of Hollywood glam. Shopping. Dining. Clubs. The Kodak, where celebrities – and their fans – turn out in Oscar-hungry droves.

A few blocks east of Vine, however, the landscape alters, for this is where this legendary roadway morphs into the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

I’ve seen countless Serafinas working their territories on the streets. I grieve for them; I mourn the innocent girls that they once were. I wonder about the circumstances that drove them into such a dangerous occupation – dangerous to the mind, to the body, and to the soul. I think of the unbearable abuse that they suffered as children, and continue to suffer as adults. I think of the shame that they feel inside. I yearn to hold them, to hug them, to tell them that everything is going to be alright… even though I know this to be a lie.

For my Serafina, life has become a particular kind of hell. A runaway by the age of 13, she lived on the streets until she met Rocco, her drug-addled lover. By 15, she was fully immersed in prostitution, trading sex for money. She has suffered beatings at the hands of her clients; she has been raped more times than she can remember. She is so far removed from that little girl that she once was; trapped in self-loathing, frightened, alone.

I think that by the time that Caim finds her, she is ready to die. Death, for Serafina, would come as a relief. No more pain. No more humiliation. Just the quiet, and the dark… and Rocco’s rage is the force that propels her towards the very brink of existence.

But Serafina does not die. She wakes, the following morning, in a stranger’s home. Caim stands over her – beautiful, quiet, strong. There is sanctuary in his eyes. He treats her with kindness – perhaps he is the first man to do so. He asks her to stay; he tells her that he will take care of her. He wants nothing in return.

For most people, the decision seems obvious – but Serafina’s soul is too battered to accept such unconditional love. She struggles with her decision – to place faith in a complete stranger, or to return to the only life she knows. Now, our soul-mates are once again reunited. Their worlds will never be the same.

Night Shifts

The story of Peg Entwistle is a Tinseltown tragedy.

Peg was born in the U.K.; her mother died when she was young, and at the age of eight she found herself accompanying her father to America.

Through family connections, Peg found herself thrust into the life of theatre at an early age. By the time she had grown into adulthood, she was earning critical praise for her work on the boards. Some biographies have her traveling back to England to work; others keep her here. Whatever the facts are, what I do know is this – that by May of 1932, at the age of 24, Peg was living in Los Angeles, and, while she was still receiving acclaim for her work on the stage, she could not get a job in film to save her life.

Literally.

For on the night of September 16, 1932, Peg left her friends, walked to the Hollywoodland sign, climbed the workmen’s ladder to the top of the letter “H,” and deliberately plummeted off the sign into the canyon below. Her body was found two days later. Nearby was a carefully folded coat and purse.

It’s sad to me that so few people today know of Peg’s tragic cautionary tale. She began a precedent for young, failed actresses seeking a way out of their degradation and pain.

I knew that she had to be part of my story.

In the world of “They Live Among Us,” Peg, as a suicide, is forced to live the final moments of her life over and over again, each night since her death. I imagine her up there, in the dark, in the cold, so alone. Perhaps people are hiking Mulholland, as they often do. Perhaps she calls to them; perhaps she reaches out for help – only to be passed by again and again, for they do not see her.

Enter Ted, a Griffith Park ranger, who patrols the night. Ted, like so many who work night shifts, spends his life in solitude. I’ve described him as “terminally shy” – and, I believe that he is. I think that the world for Ted, like Peg, has been a somewhat cruel place. I imagine Ted in his truck, night after night, reading the works of Shakespeare, great poets and other food for the soul – for Ted is, at heart, a romantic.

And so we have a shift in Peg’s torment, and Ted’s isolation on one particular night. Ted, on patrol, hears the sound of a someone crying. He looks up – and sees a beautiful woman, atop the Hollywood sign. He goes to her; he soothes her. He talks her down – and he falls in love. Only to discover that she is a ghost.

Thus, another story thread begins.

A New Threshold

Today, we cross a new threshold in our journey. Today, casting begins.

To all who submitted their head-shots and resumes for consideration, I give you my thanks. We had (as of this morning) 3,123 submissions. You made my job difficult – and for that I am grateful.

I truly wish that I could call each and every one of you into read. You see, I was an actor. I know your pain. I understand the desire to work, the connection to a project or to a role. I’ve felt that desperation, that fear, when bookings are slim. I want to cast all of you; I want you to shine.

At the end of the day, I did need to cull through submissions, in order to see who seemed to best articulate my vision for the roles. If I did not call you in, please do not take it personally. I hope I’ll see you submit for future episodes. Keep your eyes on the prize. Persevere.

To all of you attending this weekend’s reads: you are the 3% who made the cut. I’m very excited to see your work; to hear as you begin to bring your characters to life. I hope that you are relaxed, and that you understand that we are delighted to bring you in. I leave you with these wise words:

Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
~ Sanford Meisner

The Gathering Place

When I wrote the first three episodes of “They Live Among Us,” I was toying with the concept of each episode as a stand-alone story, patterned somewhat after Rod Serling’s masterful “The Twilight Zone.” I liked the idea of strangers, walking in and out of each other’s lives, and how little we know about the man or woman who stands next to us on the train. However, as the characters began to come to life, I realized that this little idea was bigger than I originally thought; it had – and has – all of the earmarks of a fully fledged series.

I began to think about how to keep the characters independent of one another, while also weaving a tapestry of stories. I was also concerned about exterior night shoots – they are considerably more expensive to film. I realized that what I needed was a central location, a gathering place where my characters could come to meet, to work, to seek solace and comfort. Thus, I created TLAU’s gathering place – The Paradise Bar.

Contrary to its name, Paradise has seen better days. It’s a shabby, dark watering hole just off of Hollywood Boulevard. Faded photos from stars of yesteryear adorn its paneled walls. This is where Caim and Father Buer come to meet. This is where Craig meets Lillith. Beth works at the Paradise. Drawn to Hollywood by its promises of celebrity and fame, Beth is a struggling actress, and, like so many desperate young women before her, will do anything to get the job.

Presiding over the Paradise’s tarnished facade is Jimmy. Jimmy is a transplant from Ohio; his grandmother moved there from California after Jimmy’s grandfather died. She had just discovered that she was pregnant, and she moved in with her in-laws, so they could help her raise the child.

Jimmy has always been curious about his grandfather; like Jimmy, he was a writer – though not a successful one. The circumstances surrounding his death were mysterious; tawdry fodder for the tabloids. Jimmy yearns to uncover the truth behind this mystery, and to discover just who his grandfather really was. The only thing he has to go on is the knowledge that his grandfather was a screenwriter. He also has his grandfather’s name: Joe. Joe Gillis.

The Inhumanity of Humans

The theme that drives the look, the sound, the story of They Live Among Us is the dichotomy of life in Los Angeles. Feeling alone in a city of millions. The glitz of Hollywood, against the dirty machinations of the Hollywood machine. The incongruous wealth of the Westside set against the abject poverty of homelessness. How humans can be the most inhuman of beings.

I wanted to go Downtown and shoot some location stills; I wanted to find some visual imagery that expressed the rich cultural tapestry of Los Angeles, to find some good visuals for mood/tone, as well as to nail down good second unit shots and principal locations. I hopped the subway yesterday, and traveled towards Union Station. The idea was to stop at Union Station, begin at Olvera street, and head back up, one stop at a time.

Eventually, I made my way up to the Civic Center stop, which rests at the corner across from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.

The Cathedral is magnificent; twelve stories high, towering over 2.5 acres. Golden, brilliant, shimmering with triumph… and power. I stood in the plaza as the bells began to ring their call to mass; goose pimples broke out on my arms.

In the gift shop, I learned of the costs of this behemoth structure. $250,000,000.00.

I realized that this place was far from the reaches of the character of Fr. Buer. It was not in these gilded halls that he gave his flocks comfort, but on the streets of Skid Row.

And thus, eventually, I found myself standing in the middle of Skid Row.

Skid Row is all but forgotten in Los Angeles. Originally, it lived between 3rd and 7th streets, bordered by Main and Alvarado. However, a few years ago, developers realized the opportunity to exploit the impoverished; they snapped up building after building, at below market prices, and began the long and painful gentrification of Skid Row.

On the surface it all seemed good. Skid Row would be no more. The homeless would be helped. Celebrities joined the cause; they helped feed the masses on holidays. They took photo opps with homeless children. They threw some money at organizations… and then, they quietly went away.

Skid Row did not disappear. Skid Row was simply relocated – a few blocks east – into an even more inhospitable clime. At the incongruous intersection of Winston and Wall Street.

The first thing you notice as you walk towards Skid Row is the smell. The air reeks of vomit, of urine, and of despair. Trash does not litter the sidewalk; instead it percolates in piles along the streets.

Then, you notice the noise. There is a constant hum, a chatter, the babbling of the damned, for Skid Row is a real-life articulation of Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell.

I have been asked if I was afraid, and I was not. These people were not dangerous. They were victims; every ounce of their being was channeled towards surviving the next minute. People, all of them, living on the streets. Young children scattered among them, eyes wide with fear. A man and a woman, engaged in a brawl, while a group encircled them, cackling and cheering. The horror of insanity. The stench of fear. The degradation of being expelled into this hell-on-earth.

I’ve always believed that poverty was the most insidious form of violence, and here, on Skid Row, this belief was reinforced.

Eventually, the day grew long, and as the shadows of dusk began to descend, we made our way back home. We still had more places to go that night, and the day had exacted an emotional price on both of us.

As I rode the subway back home, I closed my eyes, and I thought of Father Buer, of how he ministered to the supernaturals who populate Skid Row, how he gives comfort to those who have fallen, and how I was grateful that, in the world that I’ve created, Father Buer lives among us.

The Saint and the Sinner

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

The world of demonology has been a fascinating one to explore. Fallen angels. Grace. Redemption. Madness. Despair.

When angels fall from grace, they become demons. Not only in Judeo-Christian mythos, but ancient Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Greco-Roman, Hindu and even ancient Arabic tales all embrace the concept of the fallen one as demon. It is universal.

One of the elements that led to the birth of TLAU was the desire to explore the aftermath of a fall from grace. This concept led to the creation of two characters: Father Buer – and Caim.

Father Buer  spends his days tending to the homeless in the streets of Los Angeles. In this world, however, his flock is cut, shall we say, from another cloth. Father Buer ministers to those who have fallen. He gives comfort and aid to demons.

…and this is where Caim, the fallen angel, comes in.

Falling from grace is both tragic and traumatic. Imagine the suffering of the fallen one, when s/he realizes what they have done – and at what cost. Life as an immortal, but on earth instead of heaven. Surrounded by mortals. Outliving them all one by one.

Surviving those you love is a particular form of torment, and for Caim, life as he now knows it is an eternity of anguish. It is enough to drive even the most stoic being mad – and that is precisely what happened to Caim. He wandered the streets, living in the hellish abyss that is Skid Row, amongst the socially untouchables, the insane. Until Father Buer found him.

For hundreds of years, the Church has had one in their midst who gives of self to tend to the fallen ones. A priest who helps to ease their suffering, and, for a few, helps them find their way back to grace. In the City of Angels, this priest is Father Buer. His mission is to restore Caim to grace. For, as he says, “We are all of us God’s creatures. All of us. Even you.”

****

Do you like following TLAU? Support our Project!

© 2011 They Live Among Us Movie