The Thing that Made It Real

When things started happening with the screenwriting, way back in my thirties, none of it seemed entirely real.

I was still living on the East Coast. I had never met my then-agent face to face. I had never met the producer who got interested in the first script we went out with. I had never met the development person who consistently gave me what I considered four hair-pullingly awful notes for each one that actually made the script better, though I later realized this was actually a pretty good ratio. I had never met the director who the producer sent the script to, and whose brother finally convinced him to read it, and who then taught me more in a single hour on the phone than I ever learned from any 10 screenwriting how-to books combined.

It was easy to believe this was all happening to someone else. I was living in a tiny apartment, after all. And even with the limited space, I kept the Christmas tree up for an entire year, just so I could fill the hole in the living room left by my ex-girlfriend taking her share of the furniture when we split. And I still had to walk a block in the snow to the laundromat as well, which will pop the balloon of anyone’s ego.

Like Mickey Rourke once said, I was a man alone in those days, and all I really had was my dog.

Then I got the tape.

It was the trailer the director and his brother (the effects guy) had put together for the film they were shooting while all the phone calls and discussions about my own script were happening. “World War II meets Lord of the Rings,” I remembered them telling me, as I ripped open the FedEx package, popped the VHS cassette in the VCR, and then sat down on the floor with the dog. And I sat down heavily, too, because that was the moment when it finally hit me. That was the moment when I realized all of this really, honestly, was actually happening.

I must have watched it 30 times that first afternoon and evening. And I’ve lost count of how often I’ve watched it since. More than enough that the video quality had begun to fade by the time I could finally convert it to a digital file.

My script never got filmed in the end. Maybe in the Evil Mirror Universe, we were all ruthless enough to have gotten away with what we were trying to make. And the finished film the trailer previewed was an overambitious, underbudgeted, sometimes brilliant yet deeply flawed piece of work. It was the kind of film you root for because it tried, even while you mentally list all the things that you would change. It was also the number one movie in Malaysia at one point, if my memory is right, though the DVD release here in the States was given the absurd and meaningless retitle of Final Encounter. It still plays a lot on German TV from what I understand, where they fittingly retitled it Warhammer.

I still get a rush today whenever I watch that tape, though, whether the cassette that still sits on my shelf after all these years or the file that now sits on my various hard drives.

And it’s still one of the coolest low-budget sci-fi movie trailers I’ve ever seen.

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