Posts Tagged ‘Caveman’

Good Call

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Last week a guy died who most of you never heard of. His name was Steve Henke. He was my age – 62 – and he lived most of his life in Iowa City, Iowa, where he worked for many years at the University of Iowa video production center, but also freelanced in various capacities in the film business for probably forty years. Lately he lived out west, but he’s coming home to Iowa soon.

Steve was a grizzled veteran of the movie wars – he struck me as either a benign biker or a dangerous hippie…I was never quite sure which. He was introduced to me by Phil Dingeldein, my collaborator (Director of Photography/Editor) on most of my movie projects. Back in 1994, Phil recommended I hire Steve to be gaffer on MOMMY, my first indie movie. Ultimately the credit Steve took (and earned) was Lighting Design.

Steve with Patty
Steve Henke and star Patty McCormack on the set of MOMMY (1994)

On MOMMY, as writer and executive producer, when things turned disastrous and I wound up having to take over the director’s chair two weeks into production, I already knew the two indispensable people were Dingeldein and Henke. I scheduled a meeting with them, and revealed I intended to become director – knowing that without their okay, and their support, I wouldn’t have a chance. They backed me, and supported me, and taught me. Between Phil and Steve, there wasn’t much about film and video production that they didn’t know or hadn’t experienced. What I know – and frankly I know quite a bit – I learned from those two. (Them and my actor pal Mike Cornelison, who had also encouraged me to believe in my ability to direct the picture).

Phil Dingeldein is genial guy – everybody loves Phil. Steve Henke was cantankerous by nature and design – a shop foreman who ruled his blue-collar minions through fear and respect. When MOMMY’S DAY came along, I tapped Henke to be my First Assistant Director as well as Lighting Designer (we wore multiple hats on our low-budget projects). He and I did the bulk of the pre-production work and had broken down every single scene, down to every single set-up, before we stepped on set. My God, but I learned so much from this rough-edged, belligerent, generous, sweet man.

Steve with MAC
Henke and Collins on set of REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET (2000)

When Henke – again my First Assistant Director – introduced himself to the crew and cast on the first day of REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am your worst nightmare.” Also a director’s dream First A.D. His bad cop presence allowed me to become a much-beloved good cop. Mainly what Steve did was move things along faster. And faster.

On the other hand, one of the best known stories about Henke came from the time he spent seemingly hours trying to light a set to his satisfaction on MOMMY’S DAY – specifically, a bedroom decorated with ironic clown dolls and clown paintings. One clown doll seated in a window had drawn his obsessive attention. “Steve!” Dingeldein cried out. “Let’s go! You’re lighting the clown!” This was followed by much laughter, and Henke’s grumpy capitulation. From that day henceforth on my sets, taking too much time has become known as “lighting the clown.”

Steve Henke was also my producer and editor on the documentary CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP. He helped me get the project taken on by the University of Iowa video center, and it was his last project there before retiring. He is essentially the co-author (along with producer Mark Lambert) of that documentary, which may represent my best piece of filmmaking. Henke went with me to the San Diego Comic Con to shoot famous cartoonists like Will Eisner, Trina Robbins and Stan Sakai, and he loved rubbing shoulders with talent like that, and inhaled the pageantry and excess of that event.

Henke was an original. He gave me an ultimatum once that if I didn’t ban the producer from the set, he would quit – I banned the producer. On that same production, I bailed Henke out of jail when it turned out he was driving on a long-expired license. I like to think we were good friends. Still, he was merciless in his criticism of my work – he once said, “Collins will write something wonderfully nasty then spoil it with a sentimental wind-up, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it” – but also extravagant in his praise. When I did my edit of CAVEMAN on my home video recorder, and he told me I was always within a frame – if you know film and video editing, you know a frame is less than an eyeblink – from the perfect edit point. I treasure that remark.

I have few regrets in life. Maybe three regrets. Two are that I never saw the Beatles or Bobby Darin perform live. The other is that I didn’t get to do another film project with Steve. I haven’t captured him here – that’s almost impossible. But I’ll wind up with my favorite story about him, which I’ve shared with many people over the years.

For MOMMY’S DAY, in pre-production, Steve and I designed a shot that would have a camera on a jib sweep down the table in a prison’s visitor’s room and wind up as a close-up of our star, Patty McCormack. We both were pleased with that, but when the day came, we were up against the clock where our child actress Rachel Lemieux was concerned (she could only work a specified number of hours per day, by SAG rules). So I went to my First A.D. and said, “Scrap the jib shot. Too elaborate. We’re running behind.”

He looked at me with his twin evil-eye gaze and put his nose a quarter inch from mine. “Are you telling me we’re scrapping the jib shot?”

“We’re scrapping the jib shot.”

“You’re sure you want to do that? It’s the best shot in the damn picture!”

“I’m sure.”

He threw his baseball cap on the floor. “Speaking as your creative collaborator, I want to register my extreme disappointment in your judgment.” He picked his hat off the floor, snugged it in place, and said, “Speaking as your First A.D. – good call!”

And he rushed off to the light the next set-up.

Rest in peace, old friend. Wish I could bail you out of this one.

M.A.C.

Steve at Premiere
Henke on the red carpet at the world premiere of REAL TIME at the Capitol Theater in Davenport, Iowa

Caveman Rocks

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

A lovely review for my documentary feature, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP, just came in from Craig Clarke. It really does a great job of describing not only the film but my hidden agendas — i.e., that it’s my secret biography of Chester Gould. If you haven’t ordered CAVEMAN from Amazon or some other source, this review might just convince you it’s time.

A bunch of ink got spilled in Chicago over my upcoming trip to spend some time with sports commentator Mike North and producer Carl Amari (he’s the guy behind THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: THE LITTLE DEATH). I hope to do a screenplay based on Mike’s incredible story — he rose from hot dog vendor to Chicago media superstar — and maybe even direct it. My father, who was the kind of sports nut who would watch the Venezuelan Beaver Toss Championship at four in the morning on ESPN32, would be proud.

Toho Collection

The new issue of ASIAN CULT CINEMA (issue #64 — Fourth Quarter 2009) is out. I don’t think I’ve ever really talked much here about my regular gig at the magazine. It’s edited by Tom Weisser, a great guy and one of the first to really recognize both the artistic worth and sheer entertainment value of Asian genre cinema. Back in the day, I used to buy from Tom gray-market VHS tapes of John Woo and Jackie Chan, among many others, and I’ve been writing a column for him called FOREIGN CRIMES since the start of his great newstand mag. The column is supposed to be about Asian crime films, but I wander afield. This time I talk about the DVD set ICONS OF SCI-FI: THE TOHO COLLECTION, and explore the noir aspects of these fun movies from the house of Gojira (Godzilla to you poor Westernized fools). The magazine’s been around 64 issues, and I’ve had columns in all but two of ‘em (special issues dedicated to nothing but photographs).

We had a flurry of comments last week, after I attacked the film OLD DOGS (nobody defended it). Somehow it became a discussion about how I think STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a great film, and how a lot people think I’m out of my mind. This week Barb and I went to the much-lauded Wes Anderson stop-motion film THE FABULOUS MR. FOX, which Rotten Tomatoes gives a 92 percent “fresh” rating, meaning almost all the critics love it. We hated it. Anderson’s movies keep getting more and more self-indulgently quirky and this is the bottom of the barrel. Adult movie critics may like this kid’s movie, but the kids at our screening didn’t. If I’d heard one more precious folksy lick on the banjo, I’d have jammed drink straws into my ears. If the movie were any more smug, I’d have slapped it.

I mention this not to encourage defenses of the film (it doesn’t need any — everybody loves this movie but Barb and me). Rather, I feel that after last week’s post I need to make a couple of things clear. First, narrative art (really, all art) is collaborative — it’s the artist and the recipient of that art, and none of us appreciate or experience art in the same fashion. We each have our own baggage, which you can call taste, but it includes experience, prejudices, and so much more. So I hate arguing about art. What works for you may not work for me (you remember me — the guy who thinks STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a masterpiece?).

Second, I am not interested in converting people to my opinions — I’m glad to share my opinions, and hope they elicit smiles and shrugs or some kind of response, but don’t expect to bring you around to my way of thinking, since thinking isn’t the point, or at least isn’t all of the point — art is something you experience. One man’s delicious taco dinner is another man’s Aztec Two Step. Similarly, you are advised not to try to convert me to your way of thinking. It’s just not going to happen.

Having said that (to quote CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM), I have a pretty good record at being out in front of movies that turned out to grow in critical and public stature. I was writing about KISS ME DEADLY being a great film in college film class in 1970. I was going to every screening I could locate of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE when it was supposed to be an embarrassment. On the other hand, the ROCKY HORROR sequel, SHOCK TREATMENT — a wonderful film — has yet to get its due (but at least it’s on DVD).

I have faith. You people will catch up with me. Just don’t ask me to encourage you.

M.A.C.

Message from M.A.C. – September 19, 2008

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is probably my record year for number of books published (and for me that’s saying something, I know). But I’m really proud of what Barb and I have accomplished of late, and want to make sure you’re aware of what’s out there already, and what’s coming.

Antiques Flee Market

In September from Kensington, “Barbara Allan” (Barb and me) will have the reprint of ANTIQUES MAUL (ISBN 978-0-7582-1194-1) out and the new “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery, too: ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET (ISBN 978-0-7582-1195-8), with a Christmas theme. It’s been getting the best reviews of the series yet. These are funny cozies with an edge, and fans of my tougher stuff may be surprised by how much they’ll enjoy these…and we’ve just signed to do two more!

The Goliath Bone

Very soon Harcourt will publish the first new Mike Hammer novel in over a decade — THE GOLIATH BONE (ISBN 978-0-15-101454-5), which I completed from Mickey Spillane’s nearly finished manuscript. This is the first of at least three Hammers I will complete from manuscripts Mickey entrusted to me. To say this is an honor and a thrill is an extreme understatement. It’s also getting great advance notices. Do not miss this one!

The success of THE LAST QUARRY (which has been made into the film THE LAST LULLABY, on the festival circuit now) has led to the new prequel, THE FIRST QUARRY (ISBN 0-8439-5965-7), which Hard Case will publish in paperback in the fall. This is also getting wonderful advance reviews. This one is definitely not cozy, and could be the nastiest noir novel I’ve ever written….

I’m pleased to report that in December VCI Home Entertainment is bringing out my documentary, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP on DVD! It’s a great package, with an extended Will Eisner interview and a panel discussion at a Des Moines Historical Museum screen of the film that features me, producer Mark Lambert and the current OOP writer and artist team, Jack and Carole Bender. CAVEMAN has been seen several times on Iowa PBS as part of the celebration of the OOP strip’s 75th Anniversary. (This means all of my indie films will now be available on DVD.)

For the past several months, Barb and I have been out in the midwest, appearing at bookstores and libraries and other events, talking about various books (including those just mentioned) and other projects. Here’s what we’ve been talking about:

Red Sky in Morning

STRIP FOR MURDER from Berkley Prime Crime — a snazzy trade paperback, a Rex Stout-style mystery that combines graphic novel elements (my longtime MS. TREE cohort Terry Beatty did the comic art), and is a lot of fun. The story is loosely based on the notorious Al Capp (Li’l Abner)/Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka) feud.

RED SKY IN MORNING (ISBN 978-0-06-089255-5) is by “Patrick Culhane” — the byline I began with the Wyatt Earp/Al Capone novel, BLACK HATS (in mass-market paperback now, ISBN 978-0-06-089254-8). This one is special to me, a book I’ve planned for decades based on my father’s experiences in the Navy in WW 2 as a young officer in charge of black sailors handling explosives in the Pacific. It’s my CAINE MUTINY, hinging on the infamous Port Chicago disaster, but there is a mystery. You may have this on the way — please don’t miss RED SKY. EQMM’s Jon Breen says it’s one of my best.

In movie/TV world, my New York Times bestseller AMERICAN GANGSTER picked up the “Scribe” for Best Novel at San Diego Comic Con from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Current tie-ins of mine included THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (ISBN 978-0-425-22313-0) and X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (ISBN 978-0-06-168771-6), and the second CRIMINAL MINDS novel, KILLER PROFILE (ISBN 978-0-451-22382-1). The third CRIMINAL MINDS, FINISHING SCHOOL (ISBN 978-0-451-22547-4), is out in November from NAL (my fave of the 3).

X Files: I Want to Believe
Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz at Forbidden Planet

In non-literary news, I’m thrilled to report that my ’60s garage band, the Daybreakers, has been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Over the Labor Day weekend, we appeared with seven other inductee bands in concert at Arnold’s Park on Lake Okoboji, to a packed house of over 1000 rock fans. What made this truly special was that the original line-up of the band — guitarist Mike Bridges, bassist Chuck Bunn, guitarist Dennis Maxwell and drummer Buddy Busch (and me) — were able to assemble from around the country and reunite both to be honored and to perform for the first time together since 1968. We did half an hour and, frankly, we killed — a magical set in which we took a major risk, doing mostly original material at an oldies show!

Of course, our major claim to fame nationally (make that our only claim to fame nationally) was our infamous single “Psychedelic Siren”/”Afterthoughts.” “Siren” is one of the most anthologized garage-band songs of the ’60s, currently available on a Sundazed CD called GARAGE BAND ’66: Speak of the Devil. We managed to reproduce the siren sound on stage and the crowd went nuts. We also played live, for the first time, “I Need Somebody,” an original written by our late great bandmate, Bruce Peters.

Daybreakers Hall of Fame Collection

A limited edition of 100 CDs called “THE DAYBREAKERS aka Crusin’ — The Hall of Fame Collection” was pressed for the show. This is essentially the long-out-of-print “Thirty Year Plan,” and is filled with Daybreakers/Crusin’ recordings, studio, demo, live, from 1967’s “Psychedelic Siren” to the ’90s songs from the “Mommy” movies. We have about forty of these left.

For $15 postpaid (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy of “The Hall of Fame Collection.” For $25 (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy signed by the entire band (there are only 15 of these).

[2013 EDIT: All options temporarily sold out! We’ll recheck our remaining stock and make a new post soon!]

We have uploaded footage of “Psychedelic Siren” from our Hall of Fame performance. Check back soon for more clips!

And Crusin’ has added Daybreaker bassist Chuck Bunn to the mix, and will be performing more in the midwest than in recent years. Stay tuned!

M.A.C.

Message from M.A.C. – November 6, 2005

Sunday, November 6th, 2005

Road to Paradise

A lot to report on, and I hope the infrequency of these updates will be explained if not excused when you see what all I’ve been up to. ROAD TO PARADISE, which received a great advance rave review from Publisher’s Weekly, will be out in the last week of November. This means that once again I have somehow earned the worst imaginable time of year to go out and promote a book — I have a very narrow window to do signings and readings and so on, so check this website for the list of dates. Most of them will be in the midwest, though I may go to the West Coast in January.

The novel is the last of the ROAD trilogy, and more info about it appears elsewhere on this site. Is this really the end of the story? As usual with me, that depends on you. I have a notion for at least two prequels and one after-quel or whatever-the-hell you might call it. What would they be? Well, there’s been some movie interest in my developing a prequel that explores the beginnings of the Michael O’Sullivan/John Looney relationship. And when you read PARADISE, you’ll see for yourself the major loose end I purposely left myself.

The next book will not be a PERDITION spin-off, however, nor a new Nate Heller. I have a novel about Wyatt Earp in the works which will be delivered to Morrow in 2006, with a commitment for another book after that (which could or could not be one of the PERDITION novels mentioned above).

Eliot Ness

Also, I’ve just finished the initial post-production (locking the visual side) of the feature-length version of ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE. Elsewhere a press release on this site will fill you in in detail on that project; but I will say that Mike Cornelison, actor, and Phil Dingeldein, shooter/editor, have knocked it out of the park. So did everyone else involved, including Lighting Designer John Houghton and Audio wizard Mark Johnson (who is working on the music and finished audio right now). We shot in Hi-Def, and anyone expecting a straightforward record of a play will be surprised…pleasantly.

Quarry fans will be excited to learn that I’ve written my first novel about our favorite hitman in a couple of decades — THE LAST QUARRY will be published by Hard Case Crime sometime next year, probably last summer. It is indeed the last story chronologically in Quarry’s career, though I reserve the right to fill in the blanks of the “missing years” (though “blanks” rarely enter in where Quarry is concerned). The novel expands upon the short story and short film “A Matter of Principal.” Director Jeffrey Goodman is still working on getting my screenplay version of the longer take on this tale in front of the cameras.

Those who haven’t had a chance to see that short film (written/produced by me, directed by Jeffrey) will soon be able to — the new DVD label Neo-Noir (distributed by Troma) will issue my anthology feature SHADES OF NOIR next year. At some point it will be an individual release, but in late January it will be available exclusively in my boxed set THE BLACK BOX, which includes new lavish 10th anniversary editions of MOMMY and MOMMY 2: MOMMY’S DAY as well as REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET.

SHADES OF NOIR includes “A Matter of Principal” and two other short noir films, the original “demo” film of “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life” and “Three Women” (from my wife Barbara’s short story, “World’s Greatest Mother”). The DVD is rounded out by the long-asked-for documentary “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.” Bonus features include the “lost” Blake Edwards “Mike Hammer” pilot from 1954 starring Brian Keith, as well as a “making of” feature on “A Matter of Principal” and several rare Spillane trailers.

CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN AND ALLEY OOP, my new documentary, has been doing well on the midwestern film festival circuit. I won “Best Director” at the Iowa Motion Picture Awards (and Mike Cornelson picked up “Best Narrator”); won the Silver Eddy at the Cedar Rapids indie fest; were an official selection at SMMASH in the Twin Cities; and won two awards of distinction at the Wild Rose fest in Des Moines. We are in discussion with Iowa PBS about a possible broadcast home, and I’m starting to show the doc to DVD distributors, as well.

Also coming next year is the first book by “Barbara Allan” — the collaborative penname for Barbara Collins and her husband (me). It’s a light mystery somewhat in the Mallory manner called ANTIQUES ROADKILL, and will be a hardcover from Kensington, also in late summer. We have signed to do two more. These are funny and somewhat “chick lit” in nature, but have a nice edge, nonetheless. Barb does the mystery plotting, and I write the fashion tips, of course….

CSI: Killing Game

The latest CSI was just published — KILLING GAME (my title was IMPERFECT CRIMES, for the record) — and another has been delivered: BOOT HILL. It’s not due in print till late next year. The CSI schedule has slowed down, possibly because the original books are being reprinted and issued at lower prices. We have sold well over a million copies in the USA alone. My collaborator Matt Clemens and I are in CSI novel hiatus at the moment (though we just finished doing four new CSI jigsaw puzzles, and I just finished up the fouth CSI video game script) and are at work on a TOP SECRET TV tie-in that will be of interest to anybody who took the time to read this deep into this update.

Fans of the old KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER show with one of my favorite Mike Hammers, Darren McGavin, should check out Moonstone’s anthology of classic Kolchak-style tales: KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER CHRONICLES. I’ve been honored with the final slot in the book: “Open House.”

Recently published, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS MURDER is attracting nice sales and attention (a wonderful review in one of my fave mags, FILMFAX!), but the disaster series is probably over. On the other hand, I’m about to begin a new novel for the same publisher, Berkely Prime Crime, in a new series about the history of comics in post-WW 2 America. The first novel will be called A KILLING IN COMIC BOOKS, and each chapter will have…I am delighted to say…an illustration by my longtime MS. TREE collaborator, Terry Beatty.

Speaking of MS. TREE, once again there is serious TV talk, and I may soon be writing a 2-hour pilot for the show. I would also do a number of scripts, if we go to series. This would be a dream come true — no property of mine has generated more interest in TV and movies than MS. TREE. Plans for an elaborate reprinting of the entire run are on hold until we see if this time the dream really does come true. And Terry and I are champing at the bit to do a new graphic novel about our favorite female vigilante.

No other comic book stuff is happening right now, though my CSI: NY mini-series at IDW is being published currently. No, I am not writing the CSI: NY novels (Stu Kaminsky is) but I did deal with those characters in two CSI: NY puzzles and the aforementioned mini-series, which I presume will be collected as a graphic novel.

Nate Heller Fans of the World — do not despair. For various commercial reasons, Nate has to sit on the bench for a little while longer. You can catch up with in an anthology of race track mysteries that Otto Penzler is doing — a new Heller short story, “That Kind of a Nag,” will appear there. And a great new audio book, unabridged, of THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND is out right now.

Thank you for your interest and support, and I hope to see many of you soon at signings and other personal appearances. Your support of ROAD TO PARADISE will keep things moving forward, and a purchase of the Neo-Noir BLACK BOX will further our indie adventures.

M.A.C.