“Altar Rock” now “Dead Reckoning”

September 2nd, 2020

So they renamed my film “Altar Rock” to “Dead Reckoning.” There are only about 60 other film and TV projects named “Dead Reckoning,” but what are you gonna do? The distributors, Shout Factory, obviously decided that was a more commercial title and it’s their product now. The original title was very closely involved with the story and location and tied to key elements, but they figured it might be confusing to millennials, I guess. Good luck with “Chinatown,” another thriller confusingly named after a location tied to the story in the film.

The good news is that it will be available on Netflix, and it also may have a short theatrical run. So look for it under this title in November and be merciful that these things get out of the control of the original writers and take on a life of their own, so hopefully you will enjoy the final product, which very much preserves the original premise, story, and sequence of events. Post your reviews here, but only if they’re positive, ha ha.

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Who doesn’t want a smart President?

August 15th, 2020

I swore I would stick to cultural topics and not discuss anything political in this blog, but since I can’t offend anyone who isn’t reading, and this topic stuck in my head like a brain barnacle, here goes …

Exhibit A: The last five Republican* presidents … Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, Donald Trump:  None of them with an IQ higher than their body temperature.  Trump has obviously never read a book or used a vocabulary over 100 words (tremendous, beautiful, nasty). Gerald Ford could trip over his own thought balloon. Ronald Reagan never had a thought that wasn’t scripted by someone else (or he didn’t mistake from a movie). George W., well, we need not even go there, but suffice it to say that he was Pinky, and Dick Cheney or Karl Rove were “The Brain.” And George H. Bush? Well, this is what the last smart GOP president had to say about him on his oval office tape recordings when Bush Sr. was ambassador of the U.N.  … “Loyal, but no brains.” And remember … he is considered the SMART one of those four.

The fact that Richard Nixon was the last smart Republican says everything. He was deeply paranoid to the point of creating a foaming-at-the-mouth enemies list, and then surreptitiously ordering a break-in to the files of the Democratic National Headquarters, which eventually got him impeached. Even Republicans never trusted him and haven’t been the same ever since.

Exhibit B: The last three Democratic presidents … Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. All of them with measured IQ’s above the genius level (150). Jimmy Carter was a nuclear physicist, for crying out loud (and a preacher). Bill Clinton had a 180 IQ and could eloquently and informatively talk about every topic on the planet from stem cell research to Keynesian economics. And Barack, well, come on, he’s a black man named Hussein who convinced a good majority (10 million more than his opponent) Americans to vote for him. Just overcoming the ‘black’ part required a communication and intelligence skill set that would set back most Harvard graduates.

So this isn’t a discussion of the actual merits or policies of the candidate, but just the fact that Republicans or conservatives have no problem voting for someone they’d like to have a beer with, but not someone who they perceive is smarter than they are. I don’t get this. Why wouldn’t we want the smartest man possible for the job? Why wouldn’t we want someone as president who makes our entire country look smart to the rest of the world?

This leads me to inevitably conclude that what makes someone either conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, ultimately has nothing to do with politics, but is more about how people are hard-wired either emotionally or genetically.

For example, you will rarely find a writer in the arts (or should I say a good writer; Tom Clancy doesn’t count) alive who is a Republican. There’s a very simple explanation for this. Anyone hard-wired for empathy, who by their very emotional skill set and craft has the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and walk a mile to either create or fill that character … is just not going to think like Republican.

George Carlin articulated it best when he said the Republicans are all about property rights (or as I like to characterize it … “I got mine, screw everybody else”), and Democrats are all about human rights (or, “Even when I GET mine, I’m not going to feel as good about it unless someone else has a chance at it.”)

So if you’re genetically hard wired against empathy, chances are you are a Republican. (Sorry, Jesus, you don’t qualify).

I would also suggest a couple other genetic traits that might put you in that camp are fear of change (hello, reactionaries), and paranoia about those things or people you don’t understand. Government is just some monstrous entity that’s going to come and take away your guns. Gays are going to convert your children into homosexuals and devalue your marriage (but a cheating, thrice-married President won’t). Hispanics are going to ruin the value of your neighborhood and force you to speak Spanish to order a cheeseburger. Anything a Republican, reactionary, conservative is not overly familiar with, somehow poses a threat. It doesn’t make them curious – no, never any genuine outside interest or curiosity; just a threat. This wouldn’t be the case if the knee-jerk reaction to anything they don’t understand was to pause for a reflective moment trying to understand, instead of just being angry or afraid (again, the empathy vacuum).

Conservatives like to say that a liberal is a conservative who’s never been mugged. This just proves my theory about being hard-wired for paranoia. They’re always basing their mindset on a negative event in the future. But a liberal always thinks deeper than that, to what actually helped create the mindset for the mugger in the first place (walk in their shoes, remember?).  Somehow, they didn’t get theirs, and now they want YOURS. A liberal doesn’t put the mugger into a ‘ME versus THEM’ category, but at some level understands that … “There, but for the Grace of God, (and some really nasty crystal meth), go I.” There are more forces creating this scenario than just … he’s a bad man who wants my stuff. I mean, c’mon, it’s ONLY stuff.

What person in their right mind wouldn’t want to know for sure that, if they or one of their loved ones suffer a catastrophic illness, they wouldn’t be financially ruined? We are the only civilized nation in the world where you can go bankrupt simply by the cost of your health, or lack of it. That’s insane. Worse; it’s morally bankrupt. Anyone with empathy, again, has no problem understanding this.  Republicans say, “I got my insurance, what’s the problem?” Again, without projecting out of their own experience to sympathize with others, how could they understand? Because, if you’ve EVER spent a long portion of your life, perhaps as a free lance artist or just an unemployed, walking on a tinderbox being uninsured, you WOULD understand…completely.

Smart, empathetic leaders do. That’s why most of us voted for one last time.

The Jesus who preached at the Sermon on the Mount was definitely hard-wired for empathy. In fact, the only people he couldn’t empathize with or tolerate were, well, greedy bastards who said, ‘I got mine, screw everybody else.’

So, let’s review. If you’re hard wired to be paranoid of things you don’t understand, then of course you’re going to feel threatened by a leader who is smarter than you because … well, they’re obviously going to try and trick you out of your money or your stuff.

And it’s your stuff, goddamit, screw everybody else.

*(Republican here being defined as any conservative who voted for George W. Bush twice, or who thinks Fox News is real news)

Which is all to say, Joe Biden, no genius, is going to grab Republican as well as all empathetic Democrat votes and win by a landslide this November.

***

This one’s for my dad … the smartest man I ever knew, a WWII veteran, and a true Democrat who would have gotten a smile out of this.
(April 22, 1921-December 22, 2001)

— A. Wayne Carter

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The Nobility of Journalism

August 1st, 2020

No one pursues a career in journalism to get rich. It’s one of the most underpaid and insecure professions available. When I worked as a journalist in the 90s for a chain of regional Florida newspapers my salary was $7 per hour (this after some years making $100k+ in Hollywood as a screenwriter). It was unsustainable to get ahead or start a family. Yet I loved every minute of it. I interviewed the mayor, police chief, artists and scientists, museum curators, covered the police blotter, city council meetings, did police ride-alongs, went on an alligator hunt, hosted a weekly cable news program, flew in a bi-plane, snorkeled for five-million-year-old shark teeth, and took a ‘ghost tour’ of the city of Fort Myers. It was thrilling because I was on top of everything newsworthy happening on my beat. You become addicted to researching and knowing precisely what’s going on. And pursuing the truth. That’s essentially the draw of the profession: what’s really going on?’

          You will not find a better source for the truth than a newspaper. Investigative journalism requires multiple sources to confirm a story or the facts before going to print. If the reporter gets one fact wrong or over-exaggerates one element of the story, they lose their job and their credibility. It’s that simple. Broadcast journalists usually face the same standards. NBC anchorman and journalist Brian Williams lost his job because he exaggerated the story that a helicopter he was flying in over Afghanistan was fired upon from the ground multiple times. Legendary CBS anchorman and journalist Dan Rather lost his job because he went ahead with document evidence that former Presidential candidate George W. Bush was AWOL an entire year while serving in the National Guard before that evidence was fully vetted – even though the story later proved to be true. And yet it has been clearly documented and recorded by The Washington Post that President Trump has lied to the American public more than 20,000 times since his inauguration… and he suffers no consequences.

          I cringe every time he accuses the legitimate press of being ‘fake news’ or ‘the enemy of the people’ when the reality is the opposite. It is the job of a journalist to hold people in positions of power to account for their actions or statements; to question authority. President Nixon was forced to resign after an extensive investigation by journalists for The Washington Post uncovered various crimes (Google it) for which he claimed were not crimes because ‘the President did them.’ He thought he was above the law. He wasn’t.

          My father was the County Attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland when I was a child. This was a position of great prestige and solemn responsibility to the law. And as long as we lived near Washington, D.C. he read The Washington Post every day of his life as if it were the Bible. Because his first professional love was journalism. He was the editor of the Louisiana State University weekly newspaper The Reveille while attending college. After serving in World War II and Korea he had a family of a wife and three children to support, so he used the G.I. Bill to go to night school and become a lawyer to earn enough to support us. He used to tell me, and often, that you can’t always get the job you love, but you can learn to love the job you have. I have often taken this advice to heart in my own pursuits, while taking survival jobs in my preferred occupation as screenwriter. But I always knew he was talking about his own first love that he left behind; journalism, and the idealism and pride that goes with doing it well.

          Journalists are not in it for the buck or even for the glory. Very few reporters ever get a story that justifies a possible bestseller, or even more rarely results in a Pulitzer Prize. You do it because you have an insatiable need to know the truth, and through extensive research or interviews you can uncover and reveal that truth to your readers, and have thereby made the world a better place. It sounds corny, but there’s no other way to explain it. That’s the basic thrill of this difficult and inglorious profession. And this revelation is not necessarily something negative. That truth from a subject’s own mouth may be valuable to someone reading to make their own life or situation more positive. Or it may reveal the often-hidden agenda of a subject opposite to what they are trying to project. The goal is not the ‘gotcha,’ but the ‘I get it;’ where some action or event makes greater sense to pass along to the reader for them to make their own decisions based upon the facts. If you give them the facts and straight-forward, legitimate quotes, those decisions or conclusions will be soundly-based. There’s nothing fake about it. No matter how many times he says it, Trump cannot undermine this intention in the minds of those who hunger for and can fully acknowledge the truth. It only reflects back on his own need to obfuscate or distract from something he doesn’t want you to know about his own actions, incompetence, or lack of human empathy.

          The next time you see a journalist or reporter challenge or question one of the President’s statements, remember what they came to this profession for and what they consider their calling. In most instances they are just doing their job the best way they know how, and despite the pushback, questioning, or challenges to their own motivations. They ultimately have nothing to gain BUT the truth. And for most of us, that is reward enough.

          If you want to get as closely to the facts and the truth as possible, turn off the cable TV noise, avoid social media propaganda and read a local city newspaper (online is just fine). Or The Washington Post. Or The New York Times. This isn’t an opinion.

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“Altar Rock” production

June 29th, 2020
The director and AD prepare to rehearse a party scene at the titular rock

The indie feature “Altar Rock” originally had a budget of around $2 million and was scheduled for a 21-day shoot in Plymouth, Massachusetts subbing for Nantucket. I was in Plymouth a week before the shoot to make last minute revisions to the script. And I was there for the first week of shooting. But the first day of shooting there were two huge semi-trailer trucks, several make-up trailers, a crew of 65, and 30 extras… for a brief scene at a bar that has no dialogue and features the main villain watching a news bulletin on the bar television. My first reaction was… there’s no way this is a $2 million film; the director might as well think he is making a $20 million film. And, sure enough, the budget eventually bloated to over $3 million and I was given a call toward the end of the production with the instruction, “We have to cut several days from the shoot,” and whatever pages of the script that might entail.

Production vehicles line the street on the first day of production

The director, Andrzej Bartowiak, who had been the cinematographer on many major films, including “Terms of Endearment,” “Falling Down,” and “Speed” had me cut the original script from 112 pages down to 88. Much of the character development portions of the script were excised, while the action sequences were expanded during the production. So a one-page fight description in the script turned into a 5-minute drag-out brawl in the film. It became obvious the director, relishing the power above previously just being the cameraman, thought he was making an action film like “Speed,” and not the more nuanced romantic thriller as originally intended. I was okay with that as long as it was a good film, which, though compromised, I think it turned out to be.

FBI agent Cantrell (James Remar) delivers some upsetting news to Tillie’s aunt
Lead romantic couple Tille (India Eisley) and Niko (KJ Apa) at Altar Rock

The other location shoot I was present for was when lead character Tillie discusses her new boyfriend with her best friend Felicity on the beach near her aunt’s house, where she is living. This went smoothly, and I was able to have the production photographer get a shot of me and Kristin with the two actresses; India Eisley and Sydney Park. Lead actor KJ Apa wasn’t present for this scene, and I didn’t get a shot with him, unfortunately.

Production resumes at a beach location with India and Sydney (on beach under umbrella
Writer with India Eisley, Sydney Park, and Exec Producer and co-writer Kristin Alexandre

The production did have to be cut short because of budgetary reasons, and I was tasked with excising several elements and pages of the script at the last moment. This was my opportunity to remove all of the cops and FBI that the director had somehow wanted to insert toward the finale that also bolstered the impression the film was a cop drama. The finale, as Kristin and I had intended, was always supposed to be showdown alone between Tillie and her new boyfriend, Niko, on the boat. Now, without a bunch of cops running around, I was able to restore that focus.

Older brother Marco (Scott Atkins) commands the boat where the finale will take place

The crux of the picture was always, who would Niko be loyal to – his brother and family blood, which required he go through with a terrorist bombing revenge act – or his new love; Tillie. The finale would find Tillie confronting him on this conflict, and ultimately discovering his true choice. If the story had developed properly, this would be all the conflict and suspense needed to make the finale powerful, even without the baggage of FBI or police running around with walkie-talkies. Ultimately, the audience will decide if we were successful in that intention.

Location board in the production office showing the title location chosen

And, hopefully, the film will make back some of the $3 million it ultimately cost.

Tille talks to Niko on her cell phone
Niko drives a cab on Nantucket and ponders his predicament
The original poster for the film before it was cast

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“Altar Rock” cast script reading

June 27th, 2020

Just prior to the production of the independent film “Altar Rock” there is a script reading with the main cast. Okay, where is everybody? Well, no video or camera shots or selfies are allowed during this process. But this is the room where it took place and where I was sitting. Just across from me were KJ Apa and Scott Atkins, who portray brothers Niko and Marco. Next to them was Sydney Park, who played the main character’s best friend, Felicia. And immediately to my right was lead actress India Eisley portraying Tillie.

KJ Apa plays Archie Andrews in the popular CW series, “Riverdale,” and recently starred in the feature film, “I Still Believe.” His father is a maori chief in his native country, New Zealand. He was up every morning at 5 a.m. doing wind sprints up a hill to stay fit. It worked, as he displays his physique in just about every episode of “Riverdale.”

I explained to India that this script gave her the ability to play just about every emotion imaginable for an actress: intense grief at the loss of her parents; drunken despair; joyous discovery of newfound love; fear; betrayal; anger; the works. She explained that, during a read-through, she holds back and just does the reading somewhat expressionless. Well, okay, but as long as you put it out during the actual shoot. She is beautiful, as expected, and is the daughter of Olivia Hussey, who played the original Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.” India also played opposite Chris Pines recently in the limited Noir series, “I Am the Night.”

India Eisley and KJ Apa as lead lovers, Tillie and Niko

Scott Atkins is a popular international Martial Arts film star, more known in the far East and Europe. He’s playing the older brother, Marco, from Albania, who is trying to recruit his younger brother into a terrorist act to revenge their father killed by the FBI. He learned the dialogue and read it with a style or dialect as someone using English as a second language would speak. The director suddenly wanted him to speak perfect English as if he were trained at Oxford. The executive producer (and co-writer) of the film and I were aghast at this proposal. There needed to be a foreign quality about his presentation. The executive producer spoke with Scott on the sly and he assured her that he wasn’t about to change his reading at this point, as he had practiced and learned all his lines the original way. Crisis averted.

Brothers Marco and Niko, as played by Scott Atkins and KJ Apa

Sydney Park is known for her continuing role in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and probably headed toward bigger and better things. Watch her star rise. She has the potty mouth in the film and wears a drop dead bikini at one point. But her Asian father was with her the entire shoot and didn’t seem to object, but it made me feel a bit awkward. Not at the reading was James Remar, who plays the investigating FBI agent in the film. Viewers know him from dozens of appearances on television in series such as Showtime’s “Dexter,” where he played the father of the title character.

Sydney Park (Felicia) poses with the writer’s son, Justin

The reading went off smoothly, and I took notes, noting how certain lines of dialogue were delivered, and if they came off awkwardly and needed to be finessed. The only other persons at the reading were the director, script supervisor, and Kristin Alexandre, the executive producer and person who first had the idea for the story based upon her fears that her own daughter could have unwittingly have dated the younger, cute, and more personable brother of the Boston Bombers (she didn’t, but it was as good a ‘what if’ as any to launch a romantic thriller feature premise on).

The classic film “Romeo and Juliet” starring India’s mother, Olivia Hussey
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“Altar Rock” pre-production meeting

June 20th, 2020

Since the film “Altar Rock” is finally coming to a streaming service near you, I’m going to share some photos from the process of preparing the film for production.

Above is the full pre-production meeting immediately prior to the shoot in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This is where we read through the script and address all issues the various departments are responsible for as those elements appear. Costumes, props, locations, stunts, and permits are covered, usually as overseen here by the assistant director. The director is more focused on story-boarding, or blocking the action of each scene from the script, and working with the actors on their performances.

My seat was in the center of the table on the right side there, and my role was to sit back and listen to the script being read, and possibly answer any questions about intentions or specifics relevant to the production needs. If only the rest of the production and post-production went as smoothly as this meeting did. More on that next time.

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Trailer for “Altar Rock” is here!

March 8th, 2019

India Eisley and KJ Apa as Tillie and Niko.

KJ Apa plays Archie Andrews in the number one CW show, Riverdale, and India Eisley just starred in the TNT miniseries I Am the Night with co-star Chris Pine.

“Altar Rock” is in final editing stages, and here is the first trailer for the film, due to be released late this year.

https://vimeo.com/217417158

James Remar as FBI Agent Cantrell.

Scott Atkins as Marco

Filming at the title location, “Altar Rock”

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“Altar Rock” finally to editing stage.

April 21st, 2017
Who knew a film could have so many more obstacles to overcome once it’s already been filmed, but the good news is that “Altar Rock” is finally being edited for a release later this summer or fall. And further good news is that co-star KJ Apa is a rapidly rising star appearing as Archie Andrews in the second season of “Riverdale,” the Number One show on the CW Network. Plus, he plays a high school student on that show, and in our movie he’s an older cab driver on Nantucket, so the delay will not affect the story.

Tillie and Niko, the romantic leads (India Eisley and KJ Apa)

James Remar as FBI agent Cantrell

Scott Adkins as Marco

Marco and Niko together

Tillie on phone to Niko

Niko driving his cab

Filming prep at the title location, “Altar Rock”

Filming a scene on the beach

Screenwriter Wayne Carter, India Eisley, Sydney Park and Exec. Producer/Co-screenwriter Kristin Alexandre

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Now in post production…

October 26th, 2016
altar-rock-poster

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Now in Production

July 28th, 2016
“Altar Rock,” the suspense-thriller feature I co-wrote, is now in production in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Here’s the latest press release so far. This is a hugely ambitious project for an independent feature and I have my fingers crossed they can bring the production in on budget and with no major snafus. It’s a miracle any independent film can get this far these days so to be in production is already a huge achievement, but when you see the finish line close by, you just want your vision to finally cross that line. But it was thrilling to visit the production, have my son spend a week with me, and to witness the 75-man crew, cast and equipment mounting this production – to see his father’s work come to life. Proud moment.

http://deadline.com/2016/07/altar-rock-india-eisley-scott-adkins-sydney-park-1201786012/

Altar Rock cast

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gregory Pace/BEI/Shutterstock (5689832ck) KJ Apa CW Upfront Presentation, New York, America - 19 May 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gregory Pace/BEI/Shutterstock (5689832ck)
KJ Apa
CW Upfront Presentation, New York, America – 19 May 2016

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