Okay, let’s get to it. Here it is, and I recommend watching in HD:
For those who can’t stand Vimeo, here’s the requisite linky to YouTube:
Work on this began in February 2012, initially with a team of artists from the former Rhythm & Hues effects studio. That fell apart in March 2013, when no significant progress had been made beyond some initial previsualizations and two mostly-rendered shots. A combination of Maya and MentalRay were used, and as such, none of the created footage could be salvaged.
A new team was selected in April 2013, and Cinema 4D would represent the build environment. This team was significantly smaller than the first, which meant I had to pay more attention to the development and production process–basically, I was directing the trailer, albeit from afar. I have a wealth of project management experience, so I brought the required aptitude to the table. While the vendor was mostly professional, I found that the same evasive tricks were occasionally deployed when the schedule had been blown–“internet issues,” “rendering issues,” etc., etc. There’s not a lot one can do about this, so I adopted a stiff upper lip that would have left the British proud, while I and my partners merely continued to pay the bills. Finally, by January 2014–almost two years after the project began–I had a trailer that approximated about sixty percent of my vision.
I decided I could live with sixty percent.
One element hit one hundred percent, easy–Sean Beeson‘s score. The guy blew it out of the park, and he demonstrates a professionalism that’s pretty rare. Sound design was a very tricky component, and I’d have to rate that at sixty percent as well. I had to jump in and go hands-on in that regime, which is not my forte, but I found that Adobe Audition was easy enough to learn, and came with enough filters that I could use to at least approximate the sound quality I was going for. More learned listeners, such as the accursed Scott Wolf, will doubtless be aware that some sound effects are simply faked–they’re not real. This is where the true artistry comes in, as an experienced sound designer could take something almost totally unrelated and massage it into a sound effect that would fit the scene or sequence seamlessly. While I’ll give myself some small credit, there are simply some things that reverb, distortion, and amping can’t overcome. A sound engineer named Joe Cosgrove, who also voices Army Special Operations Command (designation RAPIER) in the beginning, lent his skills to the effort. I wish he’d had more time available, but he did what he could with what time he had.
Editing was quite simple, as I have Premiere Pro at my disposal. (For a guy who’s been relegated to the backburner of the industry, I have all the professional tools I need.) One tie-up was that Joe used the competing product, Apple’s Final Cut, which prevented seamless transfer of sound files. We got around that by using common file formats, but some signal degradation was inevitable. As such, some effects, such as the alarm system in the Black Hawk, became barely audible after the score was laid in. I’ll consider this a casualty of war.
Other items that bug me: the Black Hawk interior is totally fake in the sequence where McDaniels, Gartrell, Safire, and Regina react to the helicopter being hit by window divers. It’s a much more complex environment than what is displayed. The pilot (voiced by Sean Beeson) is sitting in the left seat, when he should have been in the right. The helicopter was spinning in the wrong direction, and for some reason, the compositor just couldn’t fix it (he did one version where the rotor spin was reversed, but that was about it). The troops’ helmets are modified bump helmets, and as such, are not exactly the right look…but this is splitting hairs. Real life operators will doubtless find fault, but given that the SF soldiers are fighting zombies, I’d say adherence to one hundred percent reality was never going to be achieved. Some buildings look unfinished, but other buildings look simply fantastic to me. Despite my complaints, there’s a lot here that’s right.
Total negative cost: in excess of $15,000. If this was going to be just a book trailer, even the big boys don’t spend this kind of cash. At more than one point during the evolution of this product, my partners and myself began to doubt our sanity. Fifteen grand is a big chunk of change. This expenditure wasn’t made lightly. That money could have gone to a lot of other things, like additional behavioral therapy for my son, or an interest-bearing CD for my partners. But fate rarely coddles those paralyzed by indecision, and this isn’t meant to be just an amped-up book trailer.
Its general utility is going to be in generating interest among potential investors, either for a live-action feature film or for a AAA video game. For a feature, the “real” entry point is upward of $35 million. For a AAA game, it’s at least $11 million. Either one of these is a huge, gigantic, incredible longshot. But if either pans out, the rewards will obviously eclipse the $15,000 payout.
So the trailer is the first step in a long journey, but at least there’s something to show for it. I hope you’ll agree, watching the trailer makes the material an instant “get”–good guys are down in the city overrun by the dead, and they have to find a way to survive inside the Verbatim office building. I think that’s all I need to convey at this point–hook ’em and land ’em, then torture them with the full script and additional production design stuff. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get my old friend Andy Clement at Creative Character Engineering to provide some makeup effects designs to sweeten the deal–tough to argue against a guy who’s the most talented special effects makeup designer to hit the scene since Rick Baker. Not to mention Jeroen ten Berge‘s upcoming pre-production poster, which threatens to be even more eye candy.
Some more about this. Obviously, everyone thinks their creative work merits a film. Just a decade ago, such a dream would have remained just that–a dream. Now, newer technologies make that dream more of a possibility. For a few thousand dollars, I can personally buy a camera that can shoot film-grade quality product, and one that doesn’t go through magazine after magazine of film. It uses data cards instead. I can output to 1080p, 2K, 4K, even 5K. I already have the software to do editing and compositing (not that I consider my skills up to the task, but if push came to shove, I could do it). New revenue outlets such as streaming are beginning to flex their muscles–Netflix alone posted earnings of over $1 billion on streaming alone. I don’t consider these new revenue generators to be sufficiently mature enough to replace either the domestic or international box offices–how many of you think that The Avengers brought in more money from pay-per-view versus theatre ticket sales?–but as supplementary streams, they most certainly add power to the punch.
Difficulties, and here I concentrate more on film: Hollywood thinks zombies are on their way out. Despite the success of The Walking Dead and that overly-polished turd World War Z, folks in Tinseltown don’t want to hear about any more zombie properties. To them, he genre has always been a fringe one, and even though it’s super-hot right now (and has been for the past few years), like their less well-dressed brethren in the publishing industry, they think the genre is too low brow to really seriously consider. Regardless of what’s going on in the real world, this is a drawback. The industry maintains control over the distribution outlets, and those they don’t control would still rather distribute another Transformers movie than some low- to mid-budget zombie action flick written by some guy no one has heard about. Despite diminished output from the major studios, their controlling hands aren’t very far removed from the scene. I’ve made several runs at the industry (and received some excellent advice and kindly mentoring from the deceased Tony Scott), but the fact is this: Hollywood isn’t interested. Even when the profits are huge, if they don’t like the genre, or if they don’t know the guy making the pitch, their first instinct is to pass. “No” is the default answer, because if someone says yes and it blows up in their face, then they pay the penalty in reputational and perhaps even financial costs.
I would note that this isn’t just prevalent with zombie properties; the same could be said for post-apocalypse stories as well, such as those by Joe Nobody and A. American. Even though I haven’t read works by either author, they have sold quite well, but for some reason, they and properties like them don’t get the time of day in Hollywood.
I know this because I’ve had more than a handful of folks wave me off already. I’m not some young buck who’s full of blind faith–I’m a middle aged guy who knows how the world works, and the bottom line is, no one gives a damn. (Now if I was 22 and looked like Jessica Alba, I’m certain things might be different.)
So the only option is to make it another DIY project. Legally, if I were to encounter individuals who met the criteria as Class A investors and who were willing to take the risk, I’d have to form a separate LLC for the venture and offer the film through a Regulation D filing. This would convert the film from a neat idea and a fun project to an honest to God investment vehicle, which means it would fall under the governance of the SEC. I understand all of it, and it’s not a hard thing for me to do—I can file the paperwork and cover the fees myself. It’s going to be an interesting ride, that’s for sure.
Now that this is complete, I need to huddle with my partners and determine what the next steps will be. Crowd funding for more dollars is always an option, so the trailer can be refined, or another one can be developed, along with more pre-production materials. I’ll likely have next steps in the coming weeks, but for now…I hope you like the trailer.
For myself, my little boy was diagnosed with autism when he was about three. He doesn’t speak, has some emotional distress conditions, but he’s beautiful and happy. Poppa Knight and Momma Knight ship him off to the best schools in the area, and we keep him growing and learning as best as we can. Despite everything we do, though, his road will be a hard one. So give a kid a hand and tell folks there’s this little book out there that might add some pennies to the war effort, eh?
I don’t normally post personal pictures and the like here, but I’ll bust open the piggy bank this time. Say hello to my son, Brian.
Things continue to percolate with this project, and here I’ll share with you some of the latest clips from the trailer. First off, a draft of the second scene, which shows the MH-60 McDaniels, Gartrell, and the others hope to use to escape New York City as it falls to the horde…
This is pretty good stuff, but it’s missing many elements: smoke, fire, general haze in the air from all the obscurants, important ground-level detail, and some necessary corrections (watch the guy at the bottom right run right through a car). Aviators, yes, I know–the rotors are spinning the wrong way. I’ve asked for corrections and enhancements, but I think all of you will agree, things are progressing a bit.
Here’s a low-resolution draft where some more dramatic elements are added:
For some reason, the color temperature is off when I upload it to Vimeo–it doesn’t pop as much as I’d hoped it would, but again, this is a very low res pass at a scene which has over fifty elements in it, so I’m willing to wait until I see a longer render.
All I have time for now, but do know that Earthfall is going through editorial now. Looking forward to a late January release, and I have a final cover to show soon.
Oh, one last thing…how would you guys feel about a prequel to The Gathering Dead? A book that captures the beginning of the zombie outbreak that culminates in McDaniels and Gartrell heading to NYC on their ill-fated rescue mission?
Through personal contacts, I managed to get the publicity package in front of the late, great Tony Scott—I actually had it FedExed to his home address in Beverly Hills. A week later, the call came in: “Hi, this is Tony. I read your stuff, and I think you’ve got something here.”
That’s the kind of phone call you want to listen in on, right?
“I’ll hand this off to my development exec, Adam. I’m going to tell you, my brother and I have over 40 projects in the pipeline, so we’re not likely to see to this ourselves…but we’d like to help.”
We would like to help? You mean Ridley saw it too? It turns out that Ridley gets notified of everything that comes in through the doors, be they the doors at Scott Free or the service entrance at Tony’s house. In that moment, I was thunderstruck by the notion that not just one, but both Great Scotts had heard of Stephen Knight.
Two weeks slipped past, during which time I did not pester or cajole. The last thing you want to be is a thorn in someone’s side when they’ve said they’d like to help, and are in the position to do just that. The smart, cool cat waits and bides his time, and when the moment is right—he pounces. I’d delivered a script, books, outlines, breakdowns, everything that was requested, Tony (and Adam Kassan, his development exec) got. I targeted the week of August 20th to start my inquiries, in as gentle a fashion as possible.
On August 19th, Tony Scott killed himself.
Obviously, that was a setback. (Gee, I hope it wasn’t because of my script! I immediately thought.)
Things were thrown in disarray, as you might imagine. It was, for me, like scaling Mount Everest, getting close enough to be able to see the summit through the wind-driven haze of snow and ice and cloud, only to slip and tumble down the entire slope. Tony Scott never got a remarkable amount of respect while he was alive, but his death caused ripples of turmoil, not just for The Gathering Dead, but for several other funded projects, not to mention the body blow everyone at Scott Free had taken. I can’t claim to have the inside track on what went down in the office on Monday, August 20th, but I imagine that the staffers all pretty much looked at Tony’s empty office and released a collective Oh, fuck. And of course, for Ridley, it must have been even worse. Tony was his little brother, and fame, success, and Hollywood doesn’t change that.
Some months later, my ever-persuasive business partner Grant called over to Scott Free, intending to get things rolling again. He found that Adam had resigned, and had moved over to Cross Creek Productions, an investor-led production company that finances several features a year. We took this to be a good sign, and Grant and I called over together to find out where Adam stood on the project—had he read the script?
He hadn’t, but asked us to resend so he could consider it with regards to his current position. We did. Adam declined to pursue it further, and wished us luck.
It should be said here that Hollywood is probably the only place on the planet where you can die from constant encouragement.
Other names came and went…Bill Mechanic, former chief of 20th Century Fox and a film producer in his own right. Michael Ohoven, who runs things at Infinity Media. We had personal connections make warm handoffs to folks like these, and others, and the eventual responses were pretty much the same: You’ve got something here, but it’s just not for us.
Like I haven’t heard that before!
I know how these things work, and it takes a lot of time, persistence, and drive to see something like this through. If this were easy, everybody would be doing it. The world is full of smart, competent people who could take on this type of endeavor, but the obstacles are many, the universal answer is almost always No (tempered by the obligatory “best of luck!”), and the chances at completing the venture approach astronomical. But the only way to succeed is to play the odds, and hope your number comes up. While attending a charitable fundraiser together in New York in late October (days before Sandy arrived) where an internationally renowned artist Grant represents was unveiling his latest, Grant and I decided that it might be in our best interest to position the property as a Regulation D filing and attract funding ourselves. Between the two of us, we know some mighty rich folks, and working to obtain investor capital is something we both know how to do. Of course, the project is totally different, and that leads to another set of obstacles, but we’ll hop those hurdles as they come up.
And the most immediate of those obstacles is that I need this trailer I’ve been waiting for. I chose folks who know how to do this kind of stuff, but it was supposed to have been completed in July; it’s now December, and I’ve got less than 25% of the product in my hands. I’ve already spent a couple of thousand bucks on it, so firing the team and starting anew leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Just the same, I’ve told them in no uncertain terms to get things pulled together and get back on a regular schedule, or I’m going to pull the plug and start over. Enough is enough, and I’m not the kind of guy who can sit back and tell people everything’s fine when I’m spending that much money on something so far past due.
So the long and the short of it is, there’s been precious little progress with this, and due to the holidays and the like which are fast approaching, I don’t see a breakthrough occurring any time soon. But at least we’ve ruled out working with the establishment, and that means we’re free to charge ahead without worries that we’re leaving any pending opportunities behind us.
Happier news: I’m about done with Earthfall, and it goes to the editor on 12/31. Will post some chapters over the coming week for you folks to read and roll your eyes over.
Just a quick drive-by to let you folks know things are progressing. Here’s a roughed out animatic of the next sequence in the trailer for your hopeful enjoyment…
And here’s a shot of the city street the Black Hawk is flying over, without zombies, civilians, and stalled traffic…
Oh, and one last thing–I was interviewed by the super-cool folks over at Bricks of the Dead… check it out right here! And take a look at the opening photo, it’s of Major McDaniels going to guns on the zombies in the stairwell–Lego-style!
Hope everyone is doing well today.
More trailer goodness. The third Black Hawk will be removed, as I feel it detracts from the scene and basically covers up all the devastation when the scene should be establishing it (plus, it’s inexplicably an Army Black Hawk with “Navy” on the side of it). Other changes before mixing, music, and sound effects: additional rotor blur and smoke, along with tweaked lighting, but this is basically the first sequence that shows NYC collapsing before the dead.
Other stuff is occurring as well, of course, but it has to cook for another 4-6 weeks before I can talk about it.
More to come!
I hope everyone’s doing well, and are healthy and happy!
I’ve been pretty quiet lately, but it’s not because I’ve lost interest, have been abducted by aliens, or wound up as Scarlett Johansson’s newest boy toy. (Though she apparently does like dalliances with older guys, so I might still have a chance at that.) While I needed some downtime after moving heaven and earth to knock off The Rising Horde books, I’ve also been busy at work on other related projects that I’ll briefly detail here.
Sales for The Rising Horde: Volume 1 and The Rising Horde: Volume 2 are moving right along, especially on Amazon. Even better, their release caused some renewed interest in The Gathering Dead and, to a substantially lesser extent, Left with the Dead. I’m very, very happy with the pace of the sales of all the titles, but I see the spillover hasn’t touched any of the non-zombie books. I’m a bit concerned about this, because it makes me wonder if I’m going to wind up as a one-note writer: those guys who can only sell one specific type of property. I have a widely divergent list of interests and skills, and I’d hoped to be able to tap into that for fun and profit in the years ahead. But when I see some pretty rich fare such as City of the Damned and White Tiger essentially withering on the vine, it does make me take pause. This is a business for me, after all, not a hobby. So I need to be mindful of what I can and can’t do.
Which leads me to wonder if I should release Tribes, a decidedly non-zombified science fiction adventure novel set in the Antarctic, under the Stephen Knight monicker or if I should consider breaking out with another name. There’s a lot to be said for this approach, and there is some data that indicates folks only buy specific books from specific authors. While I like writing about zombies, their retinue is fairly limited, and I’ve already encountered resistance even to my mild attempts to spice up the genre by inserting some feral intelligence into some of the stenches. I get the desire on the part of the reader to want to enjoy similar good experiences, but as a writer, it does leave one feeling a bit boxed in. This is stuff I’ll have to contemplate strongly over the next couple of months as I finish Tribes and send it into the editorial stage.
After that, I have several other projects waiting for my tender ministrations. I haven’t decided which one I’ll do next, though I do have a lot of folks clamoring for more Gathering Dead-like fare. Will I, or won’t I? I’m afraid I don’t know myself, just yet.
Oh! And if you’ve read any of my stuff, please do leave a review wherever you purchased it. That’s always a thrill!
Yeah okay, the Indiegogo crowdfunding stuff is kind of sucking wind. But that’s all right, because at the end of the day, I wasn’t expecting a groundswell of support from that venue. The Gathering Dead is a very specialized product in that it deals with the military response to the zombie apocalypse, then specializes it even further by focusing on Army Special Forces. A lot of folks know about SEAL Team 6 (which hasn’t been called that in years, by the way), but the last time the Green Berets were on anyone’s mind was during the Vietnam War and because John Wayne played one who miraculously took in a glorious sunset where the sun somehow set in the South China Sea. But to that end, look for an Indiegogo Version 2.0 campaign sometime in the summer. By then, I’ll have my multi-thousand dollar trailer locked and loaded, and I’ll be able to better show people what I’m looking to do.
And about the trailer? Work is coming along nicely. Very nicely, but it’s not stuff that I can easily show. This is going to have to cook for another couple of months, and to reveal anything that’s not fully formed is going to hurt the initiative more than help it. I haven’t even shared it with my partners yet, because I know seeing partially-formed footage is going to be something of a downer at this point in time. They want something they can use to raise funds, and gray scale polygons and non-rigged animatics ain’t gonna do the trick. So I need to wait, and let the effects team do what they need to do.
But, there are other things happening on this front as well. I can’t speak about them directly just yet, but people are beginning to take notice of my little zombie picture and are inspecting it here and there. Some of these people are quite famous people as well, people the casual reader of this blog would know and say, “Really? XYZ is interested in The Gathering Dead? Wow!”
But interest is a fleeting thing, and balances are all very delicate. So for now, the less I say on that, the better. But things are continuing to progress in this area, albeit in more stealth mode than I would normally like.
I’m still following up on converting The Gathering Dead into a 100+ page graphic novel. Since I’m a bit of a control freak, I need to ensure that I fully vet the possible printers out there and understand their requirements fully. The folks who print my current books, Lightning Source, aren’t really adept at this kind of product, so I need to determine just who the final contenders will be and move from there.
In addition, I’ll need to assemble the following team:
Overall, it looks like the project will have an out-of-pocket pricetag of around $7,500-$15,000, which is enough to make me take it slowly and ensure that I take the right steps in the right order. Because hey, I really don’t want to have to spend twice as much as I need in order to get this done.
And for all three projects, it’s pretty much the same set of circumstances. I’m committed to doing as much by myself, for myself as I possibly can. Why? Because it’s my property, and while I recognize I’m going to need the participation of others–especially for the film!–I’m not going to cede any control unless it’s absolutely necessary. Because at the end of the day, everyone else gets to walk away from these projects with money in hand. I’m the one who has to shoulder the mistakes and failures, while everyone gets to share in the glory.
And my aim is ensure there’s more of the latter than the former. Approaching it in any other way is just looney, and I’m sure you guys would agree!
Anyway, more to come. Stay tuned, folks.