My First Feature Film Is Almost Done

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I’ve told this story a billion times so this time I’m going to try to include some more details.  When my late grandpa, Tom Easton, was ten years old, he saw Fantasia in the theater.  He always wanted to be a cartoonist but his dad was cold and distant and thought cartoons were for kids and no way to make a living.  But despite that lack of encouragement, Tom did some cool things.  He avoided combat in the Korean War by teaching art on base and drawing army posters.

My grandpa supported me in the way his dad never supported him.  When I was a kid he drew with me and showed me movies, always giving a live commentary of interesting facts and historical tidbits.  We blew through the Disney classics and soon moved on to Star Wars, Tremors and King Kong.  He even showed me Plan 9 From Outer Space and, as a result, unknowingly taught me about irony when I was eight.

I was six when Jurassic Park came out and my Dad took me to go see it.  I was instantly obsessed.  When my mom took me for the second time she was so terrified she held onto my knee, white knuckled.  I never thought it was scary though, just fun!

I wanted to be a paleontologist and I started collecting dinosaur toys and writing books about “T-Rexes” (I wish I still had those).  But something else was going on.  We taped the Making of Jurassic Park off TV (the one hosted by James Earl Jones) and I watched that as much as the movie itself.

I was fascinated by movies and was clearly bitten by the bug.  My fascination centered on Steven Spielberg, the guy who’s movie Jaws terrified my poor mom when she was thirteen in the Summer of 1975—she couldn’t even take a shower after seeing Jaws.

My mom is a movie buff; she inherited it from her parents.  And my mom introduced me to Spielberg.  The Indiana Jones Trilogy, Duel, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Poltergeist (although directed by Tobe Hooper) were on constant repeat in my house. And I was so excited seeing Back to the Future for the first time because it opens with Spielberg’s name.

I saved up for months to buy that T-Rex Jurassic Park toy that roared when you pressed the side and made a stomping sound when its feet hit the floor.  It was twenty bucks and I still have it, although it doesn’t work anymore.  But I was elated to find out that Spielberg received a small royalty of my hard earned twenty bucks for being the director.  Not because I wanted to be rich someday, but because it gave me some connection to him.  I was obsessed.

When I was twelve, the AFI came out with their 100 Best Movies of All Time list.  This coincided with my burgeoning teen angst.  I dove into Kubrick, Scorsese, and Woody Allen and never looked back.  All through junior high I was writing scripts and reading about movies.  I even made a few obligatory in-camera super 8mm shorts in those early days.  But it wasn’t until I met Rob Fortucci, in tenth grade, that I started making movies.  We made dozens of shorts together over the next three years, and even an ill-conceived feature called The Velvet Autumn, which I guess technically is my first feature (whoops).

I’ve been trying to write scripts since I was in eighth grade. It’s really hard though, and I have very specific strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter. I tend to agree with Tarantino when he says there’s something special about a writer-director. Most of the best movies ever made are not adaptations, and the pinnacle of the art form really is coming up with your own idea, writing it, shooting it, and cutting it. Signs, Back to the Future, Tremors, Raising Arizona. Need I say more?

I can do dialogue and character nuances. I can do scene coloring. But I just can’t seem to see the big picture.  I can doctor your script and fix your structure, but creating one from nothing is very difficult.  And I haven’t yet been ‘saved by the cat’ (or by Syd Field or Robert McKee or whomever, for that matter).

I wrote Hectic Knife with Peter Litvin, one of my best friends, who also produced the movie, starred in it as Hectic Knife, and did the entire score.  But there is no document on my computer called ‘Hectic Knife Draft 1’. We didn’t know we were making a movie when we started. In fact, we didn’t know until we had already shot over ten minutes of the movie.

Hectic Knife was an organic process.  We shot one day a week for sixteen weeks straight (and then for various days spread out over the next year) and we wrote the upcoming week’s scene during said week.  We gave the actors, that we cast blind off craigslist, about ten minutes to learn what they were doing before we shot.  We had a really high shooting ratio.

Sometimes cinema is about capturing the lightning in a bottle of the making of the film itself.  The fun is in the making, and the making is on the screen. It’s an energy that’s hard to define, but it shows in those moments when the filmmakers’ style winks at you from behind the camera and lets you know that they know what they’re doing is nuts.

I first noticed this in movies by David Wain, Will Ferrell & Adam McKay, and Tom Green’s opus, Freddy Got Fingered.  These movies all exist on a conceptual level where the joke truly lies—’look how silly it is that somebody gave us millions of dollars to dick around with’.  When Tom Green just starts making crazy noises in Freddy Got Fingered, it is not frivolous as the late great Roger Ebert would have you think; it’s transcendent.  It’s transcendent because the joke is, ‘wouldn’t it be stupid if I spent thousands of dollars, printing to 35mm film, a shot of me making crazy noises, and then that shot got massive distribution and people paid to see it’.  But, you have to be in on that joke to get it, and Roger might be too old or out of touch.  It might be why he also hated Wet Hot American Summer and thought video games were philosophically ‘not art’.

Hectic Knife is not nearly as good as Freddy Got Fingered or Wet Hot American Summer, but I hope that the inspiration is at least visible.  I cite those two movies specifically, because their duty is to always be making fun of movie conventions.  Wet Hot American Summer is obviously a parody of a genre and era, but it also takes small detours to poke fun at various movie conventions.  Freddy Got Fingered is perhaps even more pointed, ironically by virtue of being more broad.  By not parodying any specific movie or style, Green is able to freely make fun of almost every movie convention at will.

If you’re at all familiar with my pieces on this site, you know I’m sometimes a bit of a pariah for having a narrow taste and high standard that excludes many ‘classics’.  I love movies, but I don’t think many are very good.  I could write a billion words about why I think these things, but I like to think of Hectic Knife as a better explanation.  Hectic Knife contains the extracted DNA of every movie ever made.  It then presents that DNA ‘as is’—a naked mess of exposition and shallow character motivations.  But therein lies the problem; if you aren’t on board with that, you probably won’t ‘get it’ and Hectic will instead look like an unwieldy mess.

As we explain in our campaign video, Hectic Knife began on a lark.  But once I realized what we were actually doing ,I tried the best I could to sendup as many movie familiarities as I could think of.  It was around week four of shooting that we decided to homage Kill Bill (and every other movie of similar ilk) by having ‘training flashbacks’.  Ours took place in “India”, and this is explained when the trainer begins the scene by saying, “We’re in India, training.”  Our Indian backdrop, which we shot on a basketball court in Brooklyn, features a guy walking his dog and a squirrel who got ahold of one of our bagels (there’s a LOT of bagels in Hectic Knife).

For these reasons, I like Hectic Knife.  But, I love Hectic Knife because I had a lot of fun doing something I’ve always wanted to do with some people that I love.  So whether or not anybody out there ‘gets it’ is all moot.  I hope people do, but if they don’t, Hectic Knife still exists, and they can’t ever take that away from me.

I still dream of writing a feature film someday, the ‘traditional way’ (from beginning to end).  But until that day comes, I’m proud to have made a few movies with my friends.  I don’t really know if anybody will necessarily be on board with what Pete and I did; I hope it makes sense (we certainly worked hard for over two years to make sure it did) but I guess you never know.  And that’s part of the magic—not knowing.

Hectic Knife hasn’t seen the light of day yet, and I get more and more nervous the closer that day comes, because making movies is the only thing I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old.  It’s twenty years later and I made one.  I imagine this is what it’s like having a child, except way more of a big deal because any asshole can make a kid.

Below is a link where Peter and I ask for help funding the back end and promotion of Hectic Knife.  If you like what you see and can spare a dime then I love you.  I truly do.  Because I’ll never be able to explain how grateful I am for anyone who donates, shares, or even says a kind word about any of my work.

I love you,
Greg

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5 Responses to My First Feature Film Is Almost Done

  1. Rob Fortucci says:

    I love you man.

  2. Greg DeLiso says:

    Love you too, brother.

  3. Mary Pickering says:

    you are wonderfully sincere, Greg. I am confident that that same sincerity permeates Hectic Knife and all that you do, man! Best of luck to you.

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