The Films

The films of William Dickerson.

IN MEMORIAM: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; Rebel, Rabble-Rouser, Raconteur

My heart was heavy when I heard the news that Roddy Piper, known to most of the world as “Rowdy” Roddy, or “Hot Rod,” died at the age of 61 from cardiac arrest. I just recently had the privilege of directing him in my film, Don’t Look Back.

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I only knew Roddy, personally, for a short period of time, but those of you who have made movies know just how close people become during the magical, and often relentless, process of filmmaking. Not to mention, I’ve actually known Roddy my entire life—a lot of us who watched professional wrestling have grown up knowing him—so I feel compelled to write something.

Roddy played Eddie Starks in Don’t Look Back. It was a dark role, the role of a child abuser. When my co-writer and casting director, Michael Testa, mentioned that Roddy might be available to play the part, I was ecstatic. Not only was Roddy an icon in the wrestling world, he solidified his pop culture status in John Carpenter’s They Live, which, if I’m not mistaken, still holds the record for the longest fight scene in cinema history. You might remember Roddy’s signature line from the film: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Roddy Piper They Live

When I first spoke to Roddy, he was hesitant about playing the part of such a despicable person, a person who victimizes the most innocent of our society. He was also aware of his status as a childhood hero, which such a role could potentially undermine. I told him that someone with his type of affable personality should play the role, because it’s always the person no one expects, or the person that everyone admires, who flies under the radar and gets away with such crimes. It’s more dramatic, more authentic, to play against type for this role. He liked that line of thinking; primarily because he thought it might benefit kids who watch the film by bringing awareness to these types of predatory individuals.

It was never about Roddy; it always about others, whether it was the viewers, his fans, or his collaborators.

I could write an endless amount of words on Roddy—whether they’re about working with him, or about the stories (legendary stories) that he shared with me during the process. I could write about his Method acting—he would isolate himself in a dark room, or closet, between takes to stay in character. He would want to know how tight the shot was—was it a wide, medium, or close-up—and subtly adjust his performance to every inch of the frame (likely a by-product of a life on camera, especially in a profession where a wrestling move must read the same to spectators in the first row as to those in the back. He knew how to perform to a lens, and for a director, that was most welcome). He would improvise lines here and there, but he would always warn me, “I’m gonna throw stuff at you, Will, but if it doesn’t work for you, you just tell me. I got thick skin!” He had improvised every episode of “Piper’s Pit”—each and every one off the top of his head—for the WWF back in the day; who was I to discourage such a generous bequest! Remember that famous “bubblegum” line? Yes, that was all him. If someone in the crew wanted a picture with him (I was one of those people), he obliged; he even obliged those who wanted a picture with him putting them in a headlock. I watched closely each time someone asked for that (and it was surprisingly often): Roddy was much shorter than you might think, so the picture-asker inevitably would have to crouch down for him, so he could reach his arms around—however, Roddy never let that happen. He would say: “Count to three.” Picture-asker counts to three, then Roddy proceeds to knee the picture-asker in the back, triggering the reflexes in the muscles to shrink the body like an accordion and bring the person’s head towards him, leaving plenty of room for Roddy and his arms to choke the individual as the picture’s being snapped.

Every time; brilliant. It never got old.

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I thought I’d relay one story, because it’s one of the most wonderful, and wonderfully terrifying, things that started as a story and became something else. Now it’s something wonderful and terrifying unto its own, which lives on inside Don’t Look Back. It all began when Roddy began humming, and then singing, the children’s song John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt during a particularly disturbing scene in the film. You know the song:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,

His name is my name too.

Whenever we go out,

The people always shout,

There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

He caught me by surprise when he began singing it in a take; what was meant to be a playful tune, was turned into something haunting. The subverted use of such a bright song in such a dark scene simmered with subtext—it heightened the drama of the scene to a level I had not anticipated. Roddy was on to something, and I filmed it (after I asked the powers-that-be if the song was in the public domain, which it was, and we carried on).

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While in post-production, my editor, Blake, and I realized how much of an impact Roddy’s seemingly little improvisation had on the entire film. We cut bits and pieces of the song up and peppered it throughout the film, using it to foreshadow more ominous elements of the story as it progressed. My composer, MJ, felt it to. He wanted to expand on that idea and bring the song, literally, into the score of the film. He wanted to take Roddy’s version and stretch it out, slow it down, speed it up, and merge it with his character’s musical theme. The problem was, we didn’t have much of it to spare. The production audio of the song wasn’t completely clean; there was dialogue from the other actor, and Roddy didn’t sing the song completely through to its end.

MJ asked me: “Can you get Roddy to come into the studio and sing the song for us?” Roddy spent a lot of his time in Oregon and was always shooting or touring, but I gave him a call. As I imagined, he was out of town and would be on the road for a while, and subsequently unable to come into the studio. Roddy asked me why I needed him. I explained how wonderful, and of course, terrifying, his use of the song was in the film, but that we didn’t have enough production audio of it. Yes, the song was eerie, but there was something genuine about it, something I couldn’t quite articulate, that just worked. And it worked because of him. He loved the idea of weaving the song through the score and began to tell me why he sang the song in the first place. When he was a kid, he lived in a rural area of Canada that was native to Timberwolves. Upon moving to this area, he had learnt of the deaths of several children who were killed by these wolves. That wasn’t the only problem. Roddy was a small kid and he told me that he was bullied a lot (hard to imagine, right?) before and after school. In an effort to avoid the bullies, he bypassed the roads and walked several miles through the heavily wooded outskirts of the town—heavily wooded outskirts that were home to these specific Timberwolves. But, he had learnt something else: Timberwolves were frightened of the human voice. As a result, he learned John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and sang it at the top of his lungs during his walks to and from school. He told me, after that, he would never forget that song—and he brought that dark, gritty emotional reality to its performance in the film. And for that, I can’t thank him enough.

Roddy couldn’t make it to the studio to record the song in person, and getting him into a studio wherever he was proved difficult. So, I suggested to him, “You know what could work; give me a call, I’ll let it go to voicemail, and you can sing it into the phone.” He said, “Sure,” and he hung up. I expected him to call me right back, but he didn’t. After a few minutes of silence from my iPhone, I was sure I had rubbed him the wrong way; that the suggestion was too much to ask (you know how your self-consciousness gets the best of you sometimes; particularly in this business? Well, it was getting the best of me then).

One day passed, two days passed; should I email him? Third day: should I text him, give him a gentle nudge? Fourth, Fifth, Sixth day passed; okay, I should call and apologize to him. No, email; it should be an email.

Just over a week later, I was leaving a meeting and pulled out my phone to check it. The screen read: Missed Call: Roddy Piper. There was a voicemail. And, on that voicemail, was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt:

This was the most terrifying voicemail anyone has ever left me—or will ever leave me—and we used it all throughout the film. The recording became an essential track in our score and sound design. The fact that Roddy left me in such suspense before leaving me this recording; well, he was still the same man who smashed that coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s head. I’m extremely grateful to have worked with the man, who in my eyes (and many others’) was, and will always be, a legend.

My deepest condolences and prayers go out to Roddy’s family. Thank you for letting him come play with us up in Idyllwild and shoot our little movie—it was, without question, one of the best experiences of my life.

Behind-The-Scenes: The Release of “Don’t Look Back”

Over the past few months, I’ve experienced the incredible rollout of my latest film, “Don’t Look Back.”

The movie was initially released on Video On Demand and then had its domestic television debut in October on Lifetime Movie Network. On the night of its debut, it drew over 1.1 million viewers. It was an amazing experience. I even dabbled in a live tweeting session with two of the film’s cast members, Lucy Griffiths and Tyler Jacob Moore, during the broadcast.

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I didn’t get nearly as many questions from fans as the two stars sitting next to me…but I did get some!

What was really cool about the experience was tweeting behind-the-scenes pics and info while those very scenes played out on the television in front of me. I’ve gotten some great feedback on the site, specifically, how I talk behind-the-scenes details and provide a glimpse into my directing process. Here’s a portion of a recent comment: “As an audience member, you do wonder what the director, writer and actors went through during the creative process and this is a wonderful resource for that. It is always interesting to know when shots and frames don’t just ‘happen’ but were planned to add more to the story than the action and dialogue.” I’m really glad to hear it.

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The craft of directing can often seem intangible, or at times mysterious, and I take every element of the process extremely seriously. A recent article I wrote on directing a scene in “Don’t Look Back” was published in MovieMaker Magazine. Here’s a link where you can check it out:

http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/series/how_they_did_it/inserting-cuts-oner-dont-look-back/

In these days of microbudget films, with limited time and resources, you have to be as prepared as possible before you begin production in order to call audibles and change things up later on down the line. In fact, I’ve written a book all about the process of directing my first feature film, “Detour,” which is slated to be published early next year. So…keep an eye out for it!

In the case of “Don’t Look Back,” I was fortunate to have wonderful producers, and terrific cast and crew members, who supported my vision and helped me finish the film in the best possible manner!

 

DON’T LOOK BACK: The Pieces of the Puzzle

I’m a big fan of mystery. Where there’s a mystery, there’s a puzzle to be solved. And with any mystery comes clues. “Don’t Look Back” is no exception. You might catch clues on the first viewing of the film, but you’ll likely catch more on the second. In the spirit of celebrating the mystery of the movie, while simultaneously deconstructing it, here are some clues to enhance your viewing experience of the movie.

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Remember, if you look hard enough, you will find the answers:

1. Triangles.

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Triangular shapes — in the production design, shot compositions and blocking of the actors — appear in critical moments of the film. The house Nora inherits, an A-frame structure, is itself a triangle. The shape of the house reflects the shape of the characters’ journey throughout the entire movie:

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If the two characters are the sides of the house: where do they start, where do they meet and where do they split?

2. Green and Purple are complimentary colors.

complementary-color-wheelWho’s wearing green and who’s wearing purple? When are they wearing these specific colors? Do the colors ever switch characters?

3. Pay close attention to what is shown in mirrors.

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4. The Sputnik.

The Sputnik is a medium format twin lens reflex stereo camera introduced around 1955. It was developed and manufactured in Russia. Using 120mm film, the camera provides six 6×6 pairs (or twelve single images). As Peyton says: “It has two lenses. When I release the shutter, it takes two photographs of the same subject, simultaneously; but because the lenses are apart just so, each picture is slightly different.” Which replicates the way we see, with our eyes apart ‘just so.’

CM Capture 10When Peyton looks through the viewfinder, the image is reversed:

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We see through the viewfinder several times in the film. Think about the one time we see through the viewfinder and the image is not reversed.

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Who is holding the camera?

5. The Split-Diopter Lens.

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We incorporate a Split-Diopter Lens to divide the frame between Nora and Peyton. This enables us to have both foreground and background in focus as we execute a split point-of-view.

Nora and Peyton are divided, yet connected on the same plane of focus.

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Notice how Peyton is first introduced and what the frame looks like when cutting back and forth between Nora and Peyton:

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The 180 degree line is intentionally broken, placing both Nora and Peyton on the same side of the frame. This results in our eye remaining in one spot (as opposed to shifting left-to-right-to-left in a traditional shot-reverse-shot) — the characters change, but their position remains one in the same, the blur of the Split-Diopter the only thing dividing them.

6. What is Nora wearing on her date with Jack? How is she wearing her hair?

NoraJackDate

7. Nora’s childhood bedroom.

Nora-Bedroom

Her bedroom — the room that Peyton rents — was the site of her abuse. The scene of the crime. And it literally hangs over the rest of the house. What kind of memories hang over the rest inside a troubled mind?

8. Lithium.

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Prolonged mood disorders are very serious, and the last line of defense is often “Lithium.” Prescribing Lithium is an indication that a patient’s mood disorder is not only quite serious, but has been worsening over the years. It is not uncommon for a psychotic break to occur if one were to stop taking their prescribed dosages. What are some of the symptoms that might accompany such a lapse?

9. Pay close attention to the moments in Nora’s life when Peyton shows up.

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Why does she appear at these moments?

10. Whose eye do we begin the film with and whose eye do we end the film with?

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At the beginning of the film, the camera enters the popsicle stick house. At the end of the film, the camera exits the real house — the one the popsicle stick version was modeled after.

It’s up to you to put the clues together and discover the answers. It’s perfectly okay to “figure out” some twists and turns while watching the film, or to not fully grasp them until long after you’ve finished watching the film. The point of the movie is to put you, the audience, into the shoes of our main character, Nora, and experience the events in the film as she experiences them, as she sees them unfolding around her.

Now I encourage you to watch the movie…and then look back!:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

DON’T LOOK BACK: Television Premiere

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My latest film, “Don’t Look Back,” will be premiering nationwide on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network), Sunday, October 5th at 8:00pm (with repeat airings to follow):

http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/dont-look-back

I encourage you to tune in! I will be live-tweeting during the broadcast…and I encourage you to join me (@WDFilmmaker) on Twitter using #DontLookBack:

https://twitter.com/WDFilmmaker

The film is also available RIGHT NOW online through these platforms:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can watch it here:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star alongside Tyler Jacob Moore (SHAMELESS), Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE) and Emmy Award Nominee Kate Burton (SCANDAL).

Here are some recent quotes from the press:

“‘Don’t Look Back’ plays on elevating levels of the human mind, and takes the psychological thriller to a sharp peak.” – Movie Pilot

“This is Roddy Piper’s best performance since ‘They Live!'” – Film Pulse

“The moody acumen ‘Don’t Look Back’ generates almost bristles with a sense of auteur bravado.” – Paste Magazine.

Please watch and help spread the word! #DontLookBack

Poster Exclusive: “DON’T LOOK BACK!”

As the end of summer approaches, so does the release of my next film: DON’T LOOK BACK.

Here’s an exclusive first look at the poster below:

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The film is a psychological thriller about Nora Clark (Lucy Griffiths), a prominent children’s book writer, whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton (Cassidy Freeman), who is not entirely whom she appears to be…

I was extremely fortunate to work with an amazing cast and crew who are all at the top of their game. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star in the film along with Tyler Jacob Moore, Roddy Piper and Kate Burton. Tyler was recently cast in ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME as Prince Hans, a character you may know from Disney’s blockbuster hit FROZEN:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/Once-Time-Finds-Its-Prince-Hans-Pabbie-Rock-Troll-66492.html

Kate Burton was just nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Vice President Sally Langston on the show SCANDAL (Good luck, Kate!). And Roddy Piper – a childhood hero of mine, when I knew him as the infamous “Rowdy” – is perhaps best known in the world of cinema for his iconic role in John Carpenter’s cult classic THEY LIVE.

DON’T LOOK BACK is set to hit iTunes, VUDU and other VOD platforms in the beginning of September.

I will have more info soon, but in the meantime…keep a “lookout” for it!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST

In my metafictional satire, THE MIRROR, a version of myself attempts to help the enigmatic lifestreamer “Taylor” realize his dream of recreating scenes from some of his favorite movies.

As the two dreamers embark on a veritable journey back into cinema’s golden age, they attempt to recreate one of the most thrilling and iconic scenes ever to be projected onto the silver screen: Cary Grant running for his life from a crop-dusting biplane in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST. As far as I know, this scene has never been recreated in its entirety.

In 2008, Vanity Fair organized a photo shoot that involved Seth Rogan inhabiting the role of Grant as he attempted to escape the wrath of the plane.

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But this was a mere still from a single shot of the scene.

It was not until Taylor — the one, and the only, @TaleOrTaylor — jumped into the middle of the famous scene and became the target of a shot-for-shot (more or less) reboot that it was fully recreated. He endured 3 full passes, the Boeing Stearman biplane missing him by just a few feet. This is the first time this death-defying scene has been authentically reproduced…and with NO computer-generated effects!

We’ve released the full clip of the scene. Check it out here!

As the master, Alfred Hitchcock, himself once said: “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” For a lot more cinematic hijinks, you can watch the entire movie on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-mirror/id797187475

Thanks for watching!

And…That’s A Wrap!

If you’re reading this, you can tell that I haven’t updated my blog for a while. That’s because shortly after my last post, I started production on my third feature film.

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The new film is a psychological thriller. It’s minimalist, but not even close to as minimalist as Detour. The shooting title was The Cabin, but it’s since been updated to: Don’t Look Back.

Here’s the logline from IMDb:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be.

We began pre-production in October 2013 and started shooting two months later in early December. It was a 14 day shoot, which isn’t that long, but not uncommon in the world of indie filmmaking. The movie is a contemporary thriller that has a bit of a throw-back quality to it; a quality that, as a filmmaker, I felt channeled the early work of De Palma and Polanski. It is a type of project that I’ve always wanted to explore as a director.

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I had a wonderful crew. I re-teamed with my Detour cinematographer, Rob Kraetsch, and first assistant director, Paul Yates, to shoot the film. It was my first project with producer, Andrea Ajemian, who helped bring the movie, which was built from a story by Michael Testa, to life. I also had the privilege of working with a terrific cast, including Lucy Griffiths (True Blood), Cassidy Freeman (Longmire), Tyler Jacob Moore (Shameless), Kate Burton (Scandal) and Roddy Piper (They Live). I must admit, I was duly impressed that we had two John Carpenter alums on set: Kate, who starred in Big Trouble in Little China, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who starred in the cult classic They Live. If I’m not mistaken, They Live still boasts the longest fight sequence in cinema history.

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You must remember Roddy’s signature line from They Live….if not, I’ll remind you: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

My first AD carried around a bucket full of bubblegum on set, just in case.

In all seriousness, Roddy was just amazing to work with; a true professional in every sense of the word. He plays against type in this film, and I strongly believe he’s gonna get some notice for his performance. It’s sure to hit a lot of nerves.

We just finished post-production, and the movie looks and sounds terrific. MarVista Entertainment is set to release it.

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Please stay tuned…I will be sure to post more info when the time comes. In the meantime, DON’T LOOK BACK!

REBEL WITH, OR WITHOUT, A CAUSE

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We’ve entered an age when everyone is on camera.

It didn’t used to be like this. It used to be an event to be filmed, a happening, something we would dress up for or prepare for minutes, days, weeks, even months in advance. When Norma Desmond said she was “ready for her close-up” back in 1959, her character had spent decades preparing for it. Not so today. Today, most people barely dress up, or wear anything at all, to be on camera. Not only that, they post it instantaneously on the worldwide web for everyone and their grandmothers to see. Though, I do doubt the web-surfing abilities of most grandmothers. Close-ups are not hard to come by, and who needs Cecil B. Demille to shoot it for you, not when you can snap a selfie.

We are reminded recently of what was once special about the art of the moving picture when footage of a screen test Marlon Brando did for the movie, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, surfaced.

15 minutes of fame has quickly become 15 minutes of non-fame (if some folks are lucky) because everyone is famous now. And a lot of people are famous for no particular reason. They are famous for the sake of being famous, an obvious, and perhaps unfortunate, byproduct of a culture in which everyone films themselves all of the time.

Our lives are quickly becoming the recordings of lives.

Human behavior is becoming a reenactment of a reenactment. The reflections of our lives that we post become reality, a reality that seeks the approval of a thousand strangers who determine the worth of our lives with one click of the “like” button.

Somewhere in between these two realities – that which resides in front of our eyes and that which resides in the wires behind a computer screen – is Taylor.

He is fact. He is fiction. He is Taylor.

DETOUR: Now On DVD!

My debut feature film, DETOUR, was released today on DVD through Kino Lorber.

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Here’s the lowdown: Trapped inside his car by a mudslide, slick Los Angeles businessman Jackson Alder suddenly finds himself in a situation he can’t talk his way out of.  With no hope of rescue, he must defy the odds, battling Mother Nature for his survival.

This also means the film is available on NetFlix.  Put the movie at the top of your queue and take the ride with Jackson.  I recommend watching it late at night, in a dark room, and with a sound system that includes a subwoofer.  We designed the home video experience to look, sound and feel like you are trapped in the car right there with him.

The rat’s rabbits are calling, the ladies and rabbits are calling…what are you waiting for?

The DVD is available for purchase on Amazon here:

http://www.amazon.com/Detour-Neil-Hopkins/dp/B00CBVWX5G/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1376422648&sr=8-3&keywords=detour

Do You Have What It Takes To Survive?

As I was writing DETOUR, I often asked myself: “What is the worst way to die?”

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As you might have gathered from watching the movie, my greatest fear is being buried alive. It’s a universal fear, that much is clear, and my intention in making the movie was to tap into it. It was also a cathartic experience to be able to confront, and subsequently circumvent, this fear in the writing process by making our character think on his feet, figure out inventive ways to survive and deal with the situation at hand.

How would you deal with a disaster if one were to befall you?

If you haven’t seen DETOUR, check it out and put yourself in the character’s shoes. It’s available on iTunes now: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/detour/

Here is a more direct link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/detour-2013/id602997028

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