I recently made a short horror film called Ludlow, starring Shannon Lark and Elissa Dowling. I thought I’d share all the boring details about how that came to be, because…you know…sharing is caring and if there’s one I thing I do, it’s care. Part one of the saga is here, part two is here.
I have a weird relationship with conventions, whether they be horror-related, comic book-related, or Wilford Brimley-related. Mind you, I’m talking about when I go as a spectator; setting up a table, selling my crap, and kissing babies is another enchilada altogether. See, the thing is, I really look forward to these shows. I see the guest list and think to myself “Holy crapping crap, I’m finally gonna get to meet that guy who played that thing in that movie!”; I see a panel schedule and I think “Oh my YES, I can’t wait to attend a half-hour reunion of the cast of Children of the Corn Part 36: Malachai is Still Mad!” Then I get to the damn show and…I don’t know, it’s the weirdest thing. I realize that I’m certainly not going to spend $25 so the guy who played that thing in that movie can write his name on a piece of paper for me, and I remember that I don’t give a flying fuck about Children of the Corn Part 36: Malachai is Still Mad. I do a lap or two of the show floor, take a look at stuff, don’t buy anything, and either leave or sit at the table of a friend who’s open for business. Next thing you know, the weekend has come and gone, the convention has packed up and left, and I’m at home thinking, “Why didn’t I talk to anybody?” I swear, I always intend to go table to table talking to people, and I never, ever do. I just don’t have anything to say.
SHANNON LARK: Stacie is 100% right. She got there, and within a couple minutes had run for cover behind my table. I think she was confused by people purchasing autographs, and she even saved me when creepy guys who wanted hugs chased me through the convention. I never have anything to say to the “celebrities” either, it’s always so much better when they come up to you because of your work. I’ve never purchased an autograph from anyone, and honestly hardly made it to a panel unless I was hosting it or directly involved.
So anyway, that’s how Fangoria was for me. I ended up going to about 3% of the panels I thought I would. I spent most of my time with people I see regularly. I came home empty handed, with the exception of the autographed photo Shannon Lark foisted on me.
SHANNON LARK: It’s to add to your shrine! Love, Shannon Lark…
Shannon, meanwhile, worked her ass off at the show- it’s true what they say, that a Fangoria Spooksmodel’s work is never done. It was great fun watching contenders for the crown come up to her table to sheepishly ask for advice, while Shannon sat atop her chainsaw-laden steel throne.
SHANNON LARK: Haha! I’m such a douchebag.
The Tuesday after the convention, however, it was time to forget about autographs and thrones and get down to the business of making Ludlow. Shannon was due to fly home the following Saturday, meaning we had about four days to shoot a 20-page script. Needless to say, time was…you know…really of the fucking essence. I picked her up at her hotel around 7am and we hit the highway, leaving the Los Angeles traffic behind as we sped past snow-capped mountains, traveling out into the desert.
We arrived in Ludlow a few hours later and pulled into that new-ish, shiny-ish Chevron station. I recognized the girl behind the counter as the one I’d spoken to just a couple of weeks before, the same one who wrote my name- albeit misspelled- on a cash register receipt and crammed it in the drawer. I walked up and told her we were there for our rooms, and after a moment’s search, she responded with:
“We don’t have a reservation for you, and the motel is all full up.”
I really wish I could’ve seen the look on my face, which I’m sure was a look of squinty-eyed, slack-jawed bewilderment. My synapses were smoking and firing, but what she said simply didn’t compute. All I could do was stammer a pathetic “B-but…but I remember you wrote my name down!” She didn’t deny this- rather she copped to the fact that she simply fucked up. She was sorry we were out of luck, but she…umm…kindly offered us two warm bottles of disgusting iced tea that were sitting on the counter as a parting consolation gift. We reserved rooms for the following day, and this time she swore they’d be ready for us.
SHANNON LARK: Full up?! There were two cars in the motel parking lot. That’s it! I think they were bluffing, and being lazy, and incompetent.
So there we were, 11am on the first shooting day, with nowhere to shoot. Shannon and I stood in the Chevron parking lot, enduring the scorching sun while I had a 30-second freak out.
Then we opened the road atlas.
I knew there was no point in retracing our steps back towards Los Angeles- after all, if we’d passed somewhere appropriate for the movie, I probably would’ve found it on my little scouting trip. Our only real option was to push onward in the hopes of finding somewhere new to shoot so we wouldn’t lose the day completely. Looking at our options, we decided to push on to Baker, an additional hour’s drive to the northeast across the Mojave Preserve. I’d passed through there before and I knew the tiny town was home to the world’s largest thermometer- surely Baker would have to have some hotels to accommodate the throngs of people flocking to see such a sight. We hopped in the car and headed to Baker, our middle fingers raised as Ludlow receded in the rearview mirror. I was starting to regret turning down Shannon’s offer of sunscreen as my arms and face came to resemble something hot off the spit at Kenny Rogers’s Roasters.
Along the way, we managed to shoot a few bits and pieces, the highlight of which is probably the scene where Shannon gets to puke. In honor of Ludlow’s dicking us over, we used the nasty iced tea for the effect. A bit later, I was shooting some footage of her walking around by some sweet ass joshua trees when I decided it would be the perfect time to film a scene where Shannon’s character (“Krista”) finds something in the dirt. I began the lengthy walk back to the car to get the…something…when a cactus attacked me. I was just walkin’ on by, minding my own business, when all these cactus spines ended up in my leg. Did you know that those things sticking out of a cactus are pointy? Well, they are! Worse than that, they’re barbed, which makes pulling them out extra painful. Though I spent 15 minutes hunched over pulling them out, it would be days before my leg was cactus-free.
SHANNON LARK: God, that ice tea was nasty! I never have anything “diet” because of all the preservatives and fake sugar crap they put in it. I really did enjoy the vomit scene though, and I got to drive Stacie’s car, which made it even more fun. I missed an important exit and had to do some off-roading after I stalled on the highway. Heh. Stacie looked a bit worried, but I assured her this is how we do it in ME-HI-KO.
When Stacie was attacked by the cactus, I saw her bend over for a long time in the distance. I thought at first that she was urinating, and it reminded me how I needed to pee. After I got a signal from her that she was okay, I peed next to my own cactus and felt much better. Diet Tea! Be gone!
I finally made it to the car and back to Shannon, who had no idea what the fuck was going on. I was sunburnt and limping, and I felt like I’d just completed a tour of ‘Nam. None of this matters when it’s time to shoot the movie, though, so I raised the camera, hit record…and the battery promptly died. I gave up on that shot, and we continued on to Baker.
SHANNON LARK: It just wasn’t meant to be. Filming sign from the Gods #1. I slept and drooled on my sweater as she drove.
We got there around 1pm and assessed the motel sitch: none of the candidates looked at all like what we needed for this film. There was the Royal Hawaiian, one of those skanky crack-looking hotels that people live in; it was deemed far too frightening and most likely unsafe. There was the Bun Boy Motel- and lemme tell you right now, that’s a name I’ll NEVER find anything less than awesome. The Bun Boy, however, was deemed too depressing to even stay in, never mind shoot in. That left the Wills Fargo Motel- yes, the Wills Fargo. It seemed pleasant enough, and it had a pool. The sign in the window instructed us to check in at the country store down the street, so off we went. The window at the country store featured a large neon sign stating MOTEL CHECK-IN HERE. Still, when I inquired about the motel to the old lady behind the counter, she shook her head and softly said “Oh no, dear- you check in for the motel at the motel,”- practically shushing me and patting my hand as if I were…you know, simple and insane for asking. Eventually someone helped me and we got a room at the Wills Fargo, hoping against hope it’d be good enough a space in which we could shoot this movie.
Not that it wasn’t…well, “nice”, I guess, doesn’t seem completely appropriate. It wasn’t going to work for Ludlow, however, if only because of the acoustics. The floor was fashioned from ceramic tile, the ceilings were way too high…it was like staying in a shed. It was depressing. The room’s “art”- a single, large “W”, was painted the same color as the wall. Here we were, trapped in Baker on the afternoon of the first day, unable to do anything. Our already-tight shooting schedule got tighter, four days suddenly down to three.
We did what we could- running lines, character work, dipping in the pool, revising shot lists- for as long as we could. Once the sun went down, we figured…you know, fuck it. We’d be heading back to Ludlow in the morning, so we’d might as well blow off the rest of the night. We went to check out the 24-hour taco restaurant nearby, only to find that it wasn’t yet open for business. The only other food options- fast food- left us feeling uninspired, so we bought a six-pack at the convenience store and ate miso soup Shannon prepared for us. I ate mine out of the Wills Fargo’s complimentary ice bucket.
Sure, this is all a little strange. The strangest thing about Baker, though, is the locusts. Well, I don’t know if they’re locusts, exactly- they’re more like some sort of flying grasshopper things that descend upon the city at nightfall. Thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of them. So many that walking to the convenience store was like walking through a minefield, except instead of mines there were…you know, locust things. We were pelted by them. They swarmed around streetlights in clouds. They beat against the door to our room, trying to get in. If we opened the door, we’d be lucky to get it closed before we had ten in the room. In the morning, their carcasses littered the streets and parking lots. I’m not exaggerating- it was fucking insane and even a bit frightening. I have no idea why they were there, or more importantly, what they wanted. Shannon likened it to being in an Indiana Jones movie, while I suggested that if we were only three apples high, it would’ve been like we were in The Mist.
SHANNON LARK: Yes, the locusts were insane and I referred to them as “Crunch Crunch Mothafuckin’ Crunch!” while we were hit in the face by them on our way to the convenience store. Stacie bought me some really awesome pink glasses with spinning pearls as my payment for the film. We drank beer and ate miso (jesus, that’s alot of sodium) and I read aloud a picture book by BASEMAN. After 1.5 beers I dropped all my inhibitions and we took pictures representing the essence of Baker.
Not only did Baker offer a shed, a freezing pool, the attack of the Locusts, AND miso soup in an ice bucket, but Baker is famous for having the largest thermometer in the world. It sat outside our window like a giant, erected cock. What’s up with that Baker?
All in all, we got very little accomplished on the first day- virtually nothing, really- but we hadn’t lost our heads and we still had a great time. “Wud up, Baker!” became- and remains- our battle cry. Ludlow, however, was still ahead of us.