Acts of Intimacy

This weekend marks the beginning of production for They Live Among Us. Within a few weeks, all will be visible, all will be known, and you, gentle readers, will be able to join us on this journey.

Soon, I will write in depth about this weekend; what I saw, what I heard, what moved and intrigued me. What I hope for the characters… and what I fear for them most.

Until then, I leave you with thoughts from an entry about what I’ve experienced during the creation of TLAU from my other blogsite:

Acts of Intimacy

Writing for actors is an act of intimacy.

When you take this approach, you are peering into an artist’s heart and soul… and you are allowing them to peer into yours. You ask questions of their characters – detailed glimpses into their lives, for these glimpses provide you with not only what is happening in the present, but what has happened in the past… and in the world of They Live Among Us, backstory – the character’s lives, their fecund histories – is everything.

It is a little frightening, this transparency. Yesterday, at the table read, I revealed a suspicion of mine in regard to a character’s backstory. It is a dark and terrible moment in his past; the reveal was unsettling for all.

It is much safer to keep things gay and light. To reveal something so dark is to open one’s self up for inspection, for criticism, and for judgement. Such reveals are an articulation of the struggle within. To commit this act is to stand there naked, for all to see.

This intimate act of writing is as if you have been speaking with a person for a while… and you move in close to them… and discover that they are wearing a scent. You look around, and realize that others in the room do not know this scent. It is subtle. It is only for those who are allowed so close.

Intimacy is not without risk. Shedding defenses, stripping off layers places you in a position of vulnerability. What if you are rejected? What if the sum of you is considered to be aesthetically or morally displeasing? What if you are found to be ugly?

As I prepare to incorporate notes and thoughts from the read, I also prepare to bare my mind, my heart, my soul. My friend Dari says “Write like you’re naked,” and never before have words rung so true.

Ghosts and the Darkness

The supernaturals of They Live Among Us are not limited to fallen angels and demons; spirits are also caught in an eternal struggle here. Peg, the tragic muse, doomed to commit her final act over and over again atop the Hollywood sign. Sam, a spirit so obsessed with the Black Dahlia murder that he refuses to journey into the light.

I wonder what it is like for them, to be caught between two worlds. I am certain that Sam knows that he is dead; he remains behind by choice, going over the case page by page, every night, every day, sometimes in his old office, sometimes at his old hangout, the Paradise Bar. For now, he is invisible to all, a mere annoyance to Jimmy as Sam moves his favorite whiskey bottles around, but soon, events will unfold that will propel him into materialization. Soon, Sam will have contact with humans once again.

Peg’s existence is another story, for I am not certain she knows that she is dead. I think that she clings fervently to the hope that this is all a dream, a terrible, dark dream. I wonder what will happen to her, if she discovers the truth – that she is a suicide.

I wonder if Ted will tell her… or, in an act of love, attempt to shield her from the truth. I wonder why, for Ted, she is real. How she is able to materialize for him. How he can see her. Touch her. Comfort her. He eases her pain, and perhaps she does his. I watch as Ted listens to her speak; for him, Peg doth teach the torches to burn bright. Compassion and understanding wash over his face… it is as if he has waited his entire life for this moment. Two lonely souls meet… but can this love story end well? How does one love a ghost?

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.

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.

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 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.