Friday, November 6, 2015

Behind the scenes at Overlords of Magick

By Sherman Hirsh

Today we are privileged to read another fascinating, fact-filled essay by popular guest blogger Sherman Hirsh, screenwriter and director. Sherman has provided fascinating blog posts on the independent productions of "Surgikill," "Lords of Magick," "Scream, Zombie Scream," and "Love Slaves of the She-Mummy."(Part 1 and Part 2) Today, he writes about the production of his next film, "Overlords of Magic," a sequel to "Lords of Magick."

“Somebody want to wake up the sound man?”

It was 2AM on August 1st.  We had been shooting since 6PM, and we were exhausted, and had three pages to go.  These were the last shots on the last day of production.  One petty torment after another delayed our wrapping OVERLORDS OF MAGICK once and for all.  The camera card filled up and the spare was missing in action.  The last few shots were recorded on my backup camera.  Takes were being ruined by extraneous loud flatulent noises from the fog machine.   Street noises ruined others. 

Finally, through the sheer determined professionalism of my incredible cast and my pig-headed refusal to schedule any more shooting days, we finished and the actors stole as many props as they could get away with and went home. (Why not?  They were only getting $10 an hour.  At least they waited until we were done.  On one picture I made, LOVE SLAVES OF THE SHE-MUMMY (1998),  an actor stole a prop he was due to use and I had to steal it back so we could do the scene.) At long last, we had finished the principal photography.  

Day One was May 18th.  We shot 5 nights a week, for roughly 6 hours each, and except for two weeks when we were down because a couple actors had previous commitments.   We worked straight through until we got everything I scripted.  That’s right, we shot the whole script.  We dropped nothing.  Not a single page hit the floor.  11 actual shooting weeks, 55 days, 300 and something hours on hot cramped sets, and it was finally over.  So, how and why were we doing this?

30 years ago, I wrote a little comedy fantasy meant for Cable, called “The Thousand Year Quest”.  The producer changed the title to LORDS OF MAGICK, and shot it.  What came out was a quirky odd-ball movie that somehow achieved Cult status.   Although it was never sold to the Public, only rented on perishable VHS, you can view the bootleg LORDS OF MAGICK on YouTube.  Even though there is no DVD, somehow, somebody was sufficiently impressed/confused/amused/annoyed  to tout the film to the cult movie crowd. 

In 2011, CINEFAMILY, a noted revival house in Hollywood scheduled a screening of LORDS OF MAGICK.  When I learned of this, I called the theater and inquired if anyone associated with the film would be there.  I was told that the producer had declined his invitation, and an editor backed out.  I told them I was the writer and to my surprise,( since nobody gives a rat’s rump who writes a movie), was told I could attend and do a Q & A after the screening.  I had just done the same thing a few weeks earlier for the world premier of SURGIKILL, the film I wrote that was Andy Milligan’s last project.  That screening attracted about 40 customers, and I had no reason to believe that LORDS OF MAGICK would do any better, especially since it was the lesser known of the two films and had an obscure director, not one with an already prominent cult reputation. 

Well, CINEFAMILY was packed!  FULL HOUSE!  LORDS OF MAGICK ran and was very well received.  They loved it!  I was astonished at how much they liked it, since it had received so many nasty reviews, mostly on YouTube.  Usually, with a “cult” film, people mock it, laughing at all the mistakes and stupid occurrences.  Not this time.  They laughed at all the right places.  I was complimented about it several times.  The Q&A was a dream.  I answered questions and told stories I had told a dozen times before and got tremendous happy feedback. 

During the Q&A, somebody asked me about the title.  I told them about my original title, THOUSAND YEAR QUEST and how I had written a line in a final battle scene where the villain boasts, “There cannot be two lords of magic!”  I recounted how the director latched onto that line and made it the release title, and how I had mitigated the slight by getting him to use the alternative spelling, with the “K”.

Then somebody asked me if there was going to be a sequel.  I replied with, “THERE CAN NOT BE TWO LORDS OF MAGICK!” and got a major laugh.  However, since I had recently finished SCREAM, ZOMBIE,. SCREAM, and was looking for my next project, I thought, “Why not?”   I don’t like doing sequels.  All the best material went into the prototype and the sequel turns out to be some bastard concoction with no soul and usually not even a true sequel,  i.e., “what came next,” just a perfunctory re-make. 

I wanted to break that.  I needed a powerful script.  It had to have a strong premise that still represented the genre.  I don’t have the genes for drama, so it would be a comedy.  What kind of comedy?  Not a campy sophomoric orgy of stupidity like SURGIKILL.  I don’t like Stupid.  I like Crazy.  For the plot, I would take LORDS OF MAGICK, and turn it inside out.   Instead of two brothers propelled out of the Dark Ages to battle Evil Incarnate in 1980’s Hollywood, my heroes would be two modern brothers sucked into, well, as our tagline states so eloquently: “In the last place on Earth where Magick rules, THEY broke all the rules.”

My heroes would be smart, brave, resourceful equals, not stupid, cowardly bumblers who escape destruction by sheer luck.  Smart, but crazy!  Rather than being forced to deal with forces they don’t understand, they would be experienced in the realm of preternatural and anomalous phenomena, or as they put it,” Weirdiosity.”

It all starts with the script.  I began a script that was a direct sequel to LORDS OF MAGICK.  My heroes, JACK & ARNOLD, (named for the great director of Universal monster movies who finished his career directing GILLIGAN’S ISLAND).  They were two guys who were convinced that LOM was REAL, a warning of ordeals to come!  They were afraid that the villain, Salatin, was preparing his revenge and they had to confront him and end his rampage.  Garbage.  When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.  Let’s try something else.

OK, same guys, but this time they have acquired the Sword of Ulrick, the actual prop weapon Mark Gauthier, the actor who played Ulrick,  carried in LORDS OF MAGICK, and the only known prop to survive.  I have it and I intended to find a way to use it.  Anyway, these guys are in college and have apparently been misbehaving with the sword and are being counseled by the college faculty spoilsport to stop believing the sword has powers, etc.   Better garbage, but still…

Premise number three was an attempt to breathe life into the most overused, tired, clich├ęd, trite, hackneyed, worn-out devices in all of Fantasy, “And they woke up and it was all a dream…”  I changed the title to SWORD OF THE DREAMERS.  OK, so what if it is a dream?  What if the guys KNOW it’s a dream and act accordingly?  They go through all kinds of nastiness and come back fighting.  They get killed, wake up and go back to sleep and get right back in the fray.  The villain finds a way to kill them where they stay dead in the Dream World, and they have to deal with that.  They can’t, and another fabulous idea is discovered to sucketh mightily.

Up to now, I had been trying to come up with a sequel to LOM.  OK, forget the direct sequel concept.  The basic framework for LORDS OF MAGICK was that it was Episode One of The Merlinite Chronicles, with the idea of there being others in a series of Merlinite stories.  (Happens all the time in those fat fantasy paperbacks).  Instead of what happened after and because of LOM, what if I wrote a totally independent story that had nothing to do with LOM, other than the presence of a Merlinite Wizard?   What if Episode Two had little or no reference to the events and characters of Episode One?   New bad guy.  Different way of getting the heroes into the action, being that they are basically kidnapped and blackmailed into fighting the villain.  

They are drawn to a strange magical land which does not exist in another reality, nor is it in the past.  It’s in the real world, it’s happening now, but the land is concealed by magick and kept apart from the modern world.  Until our heroes mix things up.  The story is their odyssey through this “Oz Wannabe” as they try to eliminate an evil maniac who will steal the magick of this land and use it to conquer the rest of the world.  Following the same plot model as LOM, i.e., a bunch of minor magical incidents leading up to a big pay-off, things started to fall into place.  (Actually, LOM was plotted after Ghostbusters.) 

I finished the complete first draft on May 5, 2015.  It only took 3 years and 47 drafts.  I had to sacrifice some wonderful characters and some great scenes, but I had to whittle the thing down to a manageable state.  So, you will never see Uncle Ankh, the talking mummy, or  Mother Medea, 

Abbess of the Abyss, the cannibal seeress who trades her knowledge for human flesh,  or the evil Jim Hotep, vile henchman of the real heavy of this piece, The Pharaoh Cleopatrick IX!
It’s a fantasy, with our wizards, monsters, a genie, a magic lamp, an elephant, and more.  It’s a farce, with myriad references and allusions to classic comedy routines.  It’s a romance with the beautiful Guinevere of the Grave, who has been dead for 300 years, but makes a comeback.  And, let’s not forget the greatest menace of all, The Purple Parking Pixie!  Somewhere along the line, Jack & Arnold became Jack & Toby, and the title reverted to OVERLORDS OF MAGICK.  You will meet King Hoozon the 1st, and Cedric, the feral eater of rotting rabbit.  The Pharaoh’s high priestess, Nefertootsie, threatens our heroes and all of this is instigated by the Merlinite Wizard, Merlin Monroe.  

When I mentioned that the writing took 3 years, that time included other preparations.  I was buying props, costumes, set design elements, even whole sets.  I was augmenting my complement of equipment with new lights, lenses, special effects and post production software and anything else that caught my eye.  I developed a serious eBay addiction and if I saw an interesting item, I would write a gag or even a whole scene around it.  We may be a low budget movie, but we look good!
And now I sit here, facing hours of footage files, double that in digital sound files, special effects, music, sound effects, and all of the other technical “assets” that comprise a film.  Somehow I must force it all together in a way that makes sense, and isn’t boring.  Shooting is the best part.  The rest is about as interesting as doing laundry.

I miss my cast.  I was blessed for this project with a fantastically talented and professional company of actors who did exactly what I wanted them to do.   You will hear from them in the future.  Who are they?  Buy the movie and read the credits

I had something resembling a real professional crew on this project.  My co-producer, Devai Pearce, ran my front office, freeing me to make the movie, and making sure the company got paid..  Arihel Bermudez supplied a super-sharp digital sound track, while Shadow ran the camera.  And let’s not forget Lion, our Rastafarian Stagehand.  However, I have to give a huge acknowledgement to Karl McNulty, known in the industry as UltraKarl.  As the production designer, Karl created major sets, props, costumes, special effects, and gave us a great visual treat.  I would throw an idea at him and he’d throw a prop back at me.  Or a castle.  Or a Middle Ages magic car. 

I hope to have OVERLORDS OF MAGICK finished by the end of this year.  We missed the deadlines for most of the important fantasy film festivals.  There’s always next year.  Until then, I leave you with the catchphrase of OVERLORDS OF MAGICK, Everything Was Impossible Until Somebody Did It!

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