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.

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.

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.

Poverty and Creative Thinking

Poverty can be a good thing.

I have been reviewing the episodes. Placing them under various microscopes. Story. Character. Dialogue. Budget.

The last word has had my stomach turning cartwheels. Budget. Night shoots. VFX. SPFX. Can I do this – and do it well – for five grand?

In a word – no.

Granted, I will have some nifty effects… however, I realized that I needed to tone things down. Pull it back. Write it with what resources I have.

This decision has been a good one. Why? It’s forced me to write for character.

Character is what drives They Live Among Us. You’ve met Beth (now Lillith, her name, like her story, evolved), and, you’ll begin to meet the others. An angel in love with a prostitute. A youthful pop icon, who is thousands of years old. A park ranger in love with a ghost. A writer who yearns for adventure. A priest who tends to demons.

When you return to character, you return to what is essential. You cut out the fat that having money can bring. You can’t hide poor storytelling with eye-popping visuals, because you cannot afford them.

I’ve had to limit locations, because each set-up costs. By doing so, I’ve created a common ground for my characters – a shared space between them. They are strangers to one another, as are many in L.A., the countless tapestry of people weaving in and out of each others lives… connected yet apart.

These budget imposed limitations have opened up yet another portal into my gothic urban tale of the dark side of the City of Angels. I’ve been able to tap into the vast and rich history of Los Angeles. Present and past collide in startling twists and turns… and the result (I hope) is rich.

If I had ten or twenty or thirty thousand dollars to spend, I am not certain that these discoveries would have been made. For that I am most grateful

We are just over 20% of our funding for They Live Among Us. I am thrilled and eternally grateful to my beautiful backers… and am still seeking more. Consider joining our Kickstarter campaign. It will be the journey of a lifetime. I promise you.

 

Meet the Team – Gavin Hernandez

I’ve been working hard to create different supernatural characters than the roster of vampires, werewolves and zombies. The three form a magnificent triumvirate, that goes without saying; however, I felt that there were enough of these creatures in pop culture to generate an entire planet of the lupine and the undead. One of the three will wander its way into TLAU; however, I wanted a more unique addition to my roster.

I turned back to the readings of my youth, and thought of the creations of one particular master of the genre – H.P. Lovecraft.

It’s been years since I was terrified by the presence of Cthulu and others. My books are buried in storage. I needed some guidance.

I thought of a person that I knew who was well acquainted with the Lovecraftian tales, and contacted someone near and dear to him with a question. Gavin Hernandez is his name, and within hours, I was forwarded this reply:

“Well, a shoggoth (big tentacley thing with extra mouths and eyes and such) could probably dwell in one of the deeper tunnels, but the most likely would be a ghoul, which is a sort of canine humanoid monster that eats corpses that usually live in crypts and cemeteries. As far as ones that could pass as human…one of the Elder Gods, Nyarlathotep, the embodiment of chaos, usually takes the form of a pharaoh-like man, then the Mi-go, alien creatures with absurdly advanced tech, can masquerade with some success as rather sickly humans, but not so well in public. The best bet for that would be a Deep One-human hybrid, a la The Shadow Over Innsmouth. They are half-human half-fish humanoids, and for the first few years of their lives they appear human with a few off characteristics, only becoming full monster after several decades. They can speak fluently in whatever native tongue is nearest, and can easily pass for full human. My personal favorite would probably have to be the Mi-Go, as they aren’t hostile or evil, just very different-but they manage to still be chilling. They bear us no ill will, and have actually shown much interest in humanity. They can speak human languages, but can’t be photographed, as they are composed of rapidly vibrating particles. Also, they’re fungi. So that’s nice. Also, if she’s wondering if there are any ones that could both live in a subway and pass for human…Well, one of the characters in a story was a human painter who befriended a pack of ghouls and eventually became one. Also, cats in his stories (admittedly in a dream-land) are able to fly to and from the moon in a single bound. They’re magic.”

I laughed in wonder and delight. I knew that I had found the ultimate researcher and consultant. I asked him if I might add him to the team; he graciously agreed.

So, please welcome Gavin Hernandez. Wonderful human, compassionate soul, and master of all things Lovecraft.

Oh. Yes. Did I mention that Gavin is 15?