Six Degrees of Separation

“I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we’re so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection… I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.” – John Guare

Ouisa’s musings from John Guare’s extraordinary play, Six Degrees of Separation, perfectly articulate the journey that has been – and continues to be – the creation of They Live Among Us. There has been an odd synchronicity surrounding the project; glorious at times, at others, unsettling, as if unseen forces were at work.

I experienced two such incidents this week. In one, I was given the opportunity to bring to closure a traumatic incident from my past,
through the chance encounter of an old acquaintance.

I consider this a gift. A chance to heal. Bit by bit, one step at a time.

In the other incident, I sat dumbstruck as worlds collided within my pages.

I had written Episodes 4 – 6, and was executing a rewrite as I moved on towards 7 – 9. Episode 4 opens where 3 leaves off, with Peg and Ted in the Hollywood Hills. Peg was recounting the events leading up to her suicide: I was with… the worst sort of people. It was a party. They were… there were things done that night, terrible things. I remember I ran into the night. They chased after me, calling. I ran up to the sign… it was so very high, I thought if I could just climb up there, if I could just escape…

One of my rituals is to jog Lake Hollywood, then hike up the hills under Wolf’s Lair, eventually coming out onto Mulholland Drive at Castillo del Lago. Both structures are among my favorite in the City of Angels; the latter was once owned by doomed star Rudolph Valentino.

I wondered if it was possible for the party to have been there that night. I wondered who owned Castillo del Lago at that time; if, indeed the residents were the worst sort of people.

I decided to research the property. I skimmed through real estate listings and acquisition records. Then I stumbled across an article that almost brought me to my knees.

In 1932, the same year that poor Peg took her infamous swan dive into oblivion, Castillo del Lago was vacant. The residents of the nearby community of Beachwood Canyon would traverse the hills to the abode, using it as an impromptu community center. Countless parties were held there; some family affairs, others of a decidedly more debauched nature.

In the center of the article were the reminiscings of an old man, who was a boy during those parties. His sister attended many a midnight soiree at Castillo del Lago; he remembered being jealous of her adventures there, and how he dreamed of one day owning the estate.

His name was Milt. Milt Entwistle. Peg’s younger brother.

And so, the journey continues…

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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

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.

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.

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.