Archive for April, 2017

Laura Under the Stars

April 19, 2017

This is an ongoing series of short horror stories. In them, I will explore random concepts, themes, situations and issues that cross my mind as I develop horror films.


Laura used to spend her nights roaming alongside highways and dirty roads. She had no place to go. Nothing to live for. Yet, there she was, still alive. She was a blind prostitute waiting for men to find her. Or any other fate. She was not alone. Although she could not see the stars and the Moon above her, she sensed them. Their light spoke to her in a musical language she could feel. She had an average of three to five men a night. Their hands were cold like the rest of their bodies. She could feel their temperature as they touched each other. Gently, most of the time. It would start with the stars telling her she was not alone. By then she knew she had been spotted. A man would approach her and caress her face with a hand that would smell of putrefying flesh. That was usually when she would bend over trying to keep her face as far from the stench as possible.

Occasionally they would want to kiss her. Sometimes they would lick her face or parts of her body. Once or twice they would bite her. Sometimes almost violently with some hunger, but never to a point of extreme pain. Passing her fingers afterwards, she would only feel the marks. But there was never blood. Pleasure used to be the last thing on her mind while she was being used. She did not know who they were but she knew they were sick. The putrefying odor was unbearable and their flesh – or what was left of it – was never pleasant to the touch. Three days ago, she was used by a man who did not smell. He was cold like the others and completely naked. Yet, he smelled like something else. Some kind of varnish or something synthetic. Bearable.

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She knew by heart the area where she roamed and every morning at the first signs of the Sun blessing her skin, she would walk to the river and wash herself. The stars would be mute and the sound of the water would take her back to better days. Leaving the river bank, Laura would find her payment: cans of food left underneath the oldest oak tree in the area. She would prefer money, but she understood that where she was, cash was useless. Laura thought she must have drifted too far from home. So far she hadn’t been able to find help. Perhaps she was lost in a too remote area. She would love to return home. Yet, every night the stars would tell her “no”. So far, every man she encountered merely used her like a prostitute. But some seemed nicer. They preferred to just lie down on the grass and hold her tight. It was very uncomfortable at first. But after five minutes the warmth of her body would warm up the cold bodies of those holding her. In some of those tender moments she would listen to the stars telling her she would be fine. The client would be gone after feeling warmer. On those nights she knew she would get extra food the following morning. Although on few occasions she had tried to talk to them, no words were ever spoken back to her. Except for the stars. She felt strange one night when a man lied down next to her. He was still a bit warm and lost it in the thirty minutes they stayed together. She gave him some of her warmth, but never met him again. He smelled good.

Winters were hard but during those freezing nights, the men would always keep a fire burning so Laura would not perish. She hoped someday someone would find her and take her home – the stars would tell her never to stop hoping. Until then, she hoped.


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April 14, 2017

This is an ongoing series of short horror stories. In them, I will explore random concepts, themes, situations and issues that cross my mind as I develop horror films.


It’s real name was “Profothylepentanitrosyl Nickel Butalcyclodienyl”. But no one could remember such a name. An odorless slightly pink powder crushed from larger crystals that tended to melt at room temperature into a sticky goo. On the street it was simply called Pleasure. Or Plsr (or Plsure) if you like texting. It was hard to produce and highly expensive. Usually taken as a pill. In very small concentrations it would work as a great antidepressant – the one that would replace Prozac. But on higher concentrations it had a strange effect. It turned sadness and pain into the deepest pleasure one could experience.

It was amazing! One pill could help you cope with stress. Three would turn the loss of your children after a car accident into intense orgasms that would knock you down moaning. But it was so expensive that only the super-rich could afford it.

After a chemist called Emmanuel Ziegler discovered a process to make it cheaply with ordinary household products, we entered the age of the Plsur Revolution. Upon taking it, the user had to wait ten minutes. Then a mild sensation of happiness and some euphoria would replace a lifetime of ordinary frustrations and regrets. Having quit a job that you liked or having walked out of a relationship with the only person who ever really loved you ten years ago gave way to one big smile. It. Just. Felt. Good.

I. Want. More.

Meet David. Eight pills in his pocket. He had ten there 30 minutes ago. He bought a hammer (laughs). Sitting at the bar, laughing with friends, he hits his thumb with it. It feels so good! But he must be careful. Gotta make it last. One finger down. Nine to go. BAM! Oh, the pleasure! But the thumb is far from gone. It’s kinda purple and bleeding but it does not matter! The pleasure is so intense; David can’t stop himself from being carried away. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! All five fingers! Who needs a left hand? People are laughing. David’s friends decide he’s had enough and take him to the restroom. But David does not give a fuck. Breathing like a stud he watches as his friends hold him straight and wash his face. Looking in the mirror he has an idea. One friend goes for a towel and David hits his own face with the hammer. Now he can see candy-colored stars. One friend tries to hold him down while the other collects David’s teeth from the bloodied floor.

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In the car, David keeps saying how good it all feels. Five fucked-up fingers, four fallen teeth and David has funny ideas about the car door. He opens it and smashes his hand. He can do better. But before they can do anything, a speeding biker slams into the windshield. The scare sends David’s pleasure into new heights. Then the car stops. His best friends are dead and if that does not demand another pill, then I don’t know what!

Now it flows like a tsunami! David needs to explore the car door as a guillotine. But the damn thing is too twisted to open. He just lands on the pavement – face first, of course. There are three dead cars lying on the street. Plus the biker who seems to be screaming. But he is not screaming in pain. He is laughing with pleasure. The two men get up and run to each other. Three punches and David gets his nose broken. Laughter. The other man sticks his tongue out and David hits him with a piece of metal. On the floor, the man lost an eye ball. But not his switchblade that sinks into David’s groins. Now he smashes David’s face on the concrete. Again and again. No pain! Only pleasure.

They look just like children playing.


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Fear of Death

April 11, 2017

This is an ongoing series of short horror stories. In them, I will explore random concepts, themes, situations and issues that cross my mind as I develop horror films.


It was one o’clock pm in the United Kingdom when it happened. In each postal box of every building or house of every city, no matter how small or large, there was a letter. One for each person living in it. In that letter it was written the precise date, the hour and the cause of the recipient’s death. So it was true: it was written. A few letters had two minutes left. Others even less. So the recipients died without giving it any thought. One got his letter while late to work and never made it. Another just got home to find there was a gas leak. Too late. There was nothing out of the ordinary about those first deaths. Just a piece of paper lying around among the broken glass that no one cared to read.


The certainty of those letters went unnoticed by quite a few minutes. Those who died almost instantly did not die because of it. They just died and nobody cared. Fifteen minutes later, a woman who was about to leave to visit her beloved father who was recovering well from a heart surgery, opened her father’s letter thinking it was a bill he forgot to pay. He was going to die at one-thirty-six from asphyxiation after a massive blood cloth triggered a sudden swelling of his throat. It could have been prevented, but she thought the letter was a joke in poor taste. She got to the hospital at one-forty-two. He was gone in agony. There were a few dozens of similar cases scattered around the country. Eventually some people took those letters seriously and in a matter of six hours, the television, the radio and the internet were talking about nothing else. Some people couldn’t believe they would live until the age of 129 and die peacefully in their sleep from natural causes. Those were the lucky ones.

Through the internet, a lot of noise, misinformation and myths began to form. Strange stories that the letters were poisonous went viral. Other posts suggested the whole thing was a just a huge advertising campaign from some travel agency. But all across the globe, precisely at one pm, the letter would turn up on mail boxes. Rome, Ankara, Dar Es Salaam, Norilsk, Bangkok, Perth, Honolulu and so on. As expected, in 24 hours, one letter would be waiting for someone. But that was only the beginning. Death could be avoided. All you have to do is not get into that car on September 27th 2018. Or book some other flight. Or just let the cat die up there on that tree. It all seemed so simple. A courageous man who knew he would live until 2069 decided to jump from a building. High winds slowed his velocity by the time he hit a tree and he survived in agony until 2069. In fact, robust as he was, three suicide attempts only made it worse.

A woman in New York cancelled a bus trip to Boston and was happy she survived the day. An airline decided to cancel a flight after all passengers cancelled their tickets and the crew refused to go on-board. It seemed the plane was due to crash. But there was nothing wrong with it. A girl on a gorgeous Australian beach stayed far from the water while drinking Champagne. In five minutes she was supposed to be killed by a shark. The shark was spotted by a boat just a few minutes after her predicted death. The beach was cleared. Some suicide cases went on as predicted. After so much thought and planning, life indeed got unbearable for some.

After many deaths were avoided, the world became slightly more chaotic. People still refused to fly on that airplane now condemned to rot. Cars, houses and boats were left abandoned by those who were supposed to die in them. Parents who did not want to live through the terminal illness if their children simply abandoned them. Stocks collapsed when word got out that the CEO would kill himself in one year and some children got targeted and murdered by those who were supposed to be killed by them some 20 years later. Fear of Death turned the world into a derelict landscape of all things avoided.


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Happy Birthday, Rabid!

April 8, 2017

RABID was released today back in 1977. That was some 40 years ago! It is in one of my favorite David Cronenberg films. It has a mood and an atmosphere I love, but can rarely find in other films. But beyond the great script, the horror and the direction, the element I find most fascinating about this film is the casting of Marilyn Chambers, a porn star.

In 1977, Marilyn Chambers was well known for starring in the porn classic BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (1972). The film made her a porn star and shocked the advertising industry since previously she had been the face of Procter & Gamble’s Ivory soap bars (P&G dropped her after learning about her work in porn).


Porn stars and mainstream films have a mixed history. Sometimes we see one or two in art-house films trying to look radical (LOL) but very rarely in Hollywood films that get a wide release. It is true that RABID was never a big film. However, most directors, producers and distributors will always think twice before bringing into their careers and catalogues any porn actor or actress that may tarnish their brand.

Traci Lords was one of the few porn actresses who managed to have a steady and strong career in mainstream films, which means that the crossover is possible – although still rare and risky.

But back in 1977, porn was still a huge taboo – and twice as problematic for Marilyn Chambers since not only did she star in a porn film, she also had sex in the film with a black man (ex-boxer Johnnie Keyes). Twice the taboo!

The horror genre, for decades one that has been dismissed as trash and pushed by some to the border of mainstream filmmaking, has, many times, been friendly towards porn actors and actresses who want a chance to have a career outside porn. Few people may know, but THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2003), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), MANIAC (1980), CHROME SKULL: LAID TO REST 2 (2011), FEAR CLINIC (2014), THE X-FILES (1994), WILLARD (2013), PIRANHA 3D (2010), THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 (FINAL SEQUENCE) (2015), SAW VI (2009), GHOSTS OF MARS (2001), SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II (1990) and BLADE (1998) had porn stars in their casts.

What Cronenberg and producer John Dunning did was amazing: they gave Marilyn Chambers a leading role in their film and helped her grow as an actress.

Forty years ago today.

Yep, there’s no people like horror people. 🙂

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Pitching a Horror Film. How We Do It.

April 6, 2017

There are many books that will tell you how to pitch a film you want to make. Indeed, pitching is an art form. And like many art forms, you can master it with lots of training and mistakes. In this post, we will discuss the two-to-three minute pitch that’s very en vogue in festivals, markets all over the world.

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The longest pitch we’ve been was 15 minutes. You can pitch GONE WITH THE WIND, its four sequels and still find the time to bake a soufflé in those 15 minutes. The shortest pitch can last the time an elevator takes from the fifth to the first floor. So why we chose the two-to-three minutes pitch?

Because we love it. It’s short and sweet. It gives you time to say everything that needs to be said, while forcing you to withhold the things you should save for later. So let’s talk a little bit about the subject. Here are a few concepts:


It is, really. There are 20 books that will claim to tell you how to pitch. We read them all. They are all great. They are all different. Yes, it’s great to read them because there are always things to learn there. However, two highly talented people wouldn’t pitch the same story the same way. Why wouldn’t they? They are not the same person. So, before you start, think about what you, as a communicator, can bring to the table before you start to speak. Do you have a great voice that makes people naturally shut up and listen to you? Not everybody do. So, before anything, you have to understand yourself: your flaws and advantages; and try to find a way to rely on those advantages. We all have some advantage somewhere: a great voice, a way of speaking that’s naturally captivating, the way you dress, the way you stand or move as you speak, a sense of humor, a kind of honesty… you’ve got something. Find it.

MLB: OCT 12 ALDS - Game 4 - Royals at Astros


Many times they don’t know you. And you don’t know them. However, you are all there for a common purpose. No, it’s not the love for movies. It’s business. Respect it and it will respect you back. Prepare in advance and your chances of success go up and up. The audience is quick to understand who does not prepare. They are also quick to spot those who has everything beautifully prepared. Do not underestimate the power of of the audience to help you do a great job. however, it all starts with you.


Pitching is about gaining time to continue the pitch later over a drink. The success of your pitch is measured, many times, by how many people became so intrigued that they come to you and want to buy you a drink and hear more about it. If they are agents, producers or executives that can help you move your project forward, that’s success. Keep in mind that very rarely films get financed right there, at that room where the pitch took place. In reality, it is that extra time you won that will be much more important, since it will be during the subsequent 1-to-1 talk that the all the elements needed (for the type of relationship that moves films forward) will start to appear.


What is the right content? Answer: the content that suits THREE THINGS: your STORY, the TIME you have available to pitch and what do you want to COMMUNICATE about yourself. You are not just pitching your project: you are also pitching yourself as the only person on Earth capable of turning that pitch into a great film.

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This is pitching structure we are most comfortable with when it comes to something up to two minutes. We will first outline the elements and then explain why we like this structure.

1 – What is the setup of our story?

2 – Who is our protagonist?

3 – What opportunity or challenge this story will present to our protagonist?

4 – What is the concept presented in this story?

5 – What are the antagonistic forces at play?

6 – What is the motivation and the conflict of our protagonist?

7 – What complications further threaten you protagonist?

8 – What is the protagonist’s arch?

9 – What elements will engage the audience and generate empathy with the protagonist?

10 – What’s the theme of your story?

11 – What are the successful films that inspired this project?

12 – What’s your passion for this story?

If you look carefully, what this pitch structure does is to introduce the story without actually telling the story. You have the chance to visit all the points that are crucial to communicate value without going through the suicidal effort of trying to fit the telling of the story in two minutes. As you can see:

1-5: Give the story it’s main elements: characters, setting, what’s at stake, concept.

6-8: Give the way the story progresses and blooms into great horror.

9 – Gives the reason why this project will be relevant to the audience.

10 – Lets you go deeper into the film, letting us know what this is really about.

11 – Lets you frame the project commercially, contextualize it, position it.

12 – This is not just about money. It’s actually more important and personal than that.

In our opinion, this structure will make a great horror project shine brighter high above any other. How to say it two minutes? It’s not easy. It will take you days of work to get it right. However, if you manage to do it and do it effectively, you will be able to create many points of interest to be later explored once you have won more time with the people who matter to you. Also, keep in mind that this is how we like to do it. you may feel the need to do it differently. Like we said, pitching is a highly personal thing. It depends on you and on your project. For projects belonging to other genres, this may not work at all. And even within the horror genre, there may be many projects that may not need some of the points we follow – or you just need to rearrange them.

The good thing about film is that no two films are alike. Nor two people. So feel free to reject it, use it as it is (if it fits your film) or adapt it to your needs.

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Concept: How Important Is It for Horror?

April 2, 2017

A zombie virus wipes out mankind and two people have to survive in the city. Horror ensues.

Five teens go spend the weekend in a cabin lost in the forest and meet some murderous inbred savages. Horror ensues.

A couple and their two kids move into a new home and discover it used to be the place where a murderer tortured and killed his victims. Horror ensues.

These are generic concepts we see every day in the horror genre. Every year, the Marché du Film in Cannes, the European Film Market in Berlin or its American counterpart, the American Film Market in Santa Monica welcome new films showing these same concepts. In a way, this is the industry protecting itself. How? By giving the market films it is familiar with. Films that work with an audience that wants them. Films that can be bought and sold with the eyes closed. And sequels where the same principle apply: the same of what you’ve seen in the first film, but a little tweeked to make it more spectacular. Depending on how much those films cost, what stars they have or who’s selling them, some of those films will make money. Some will break even; a few will make millions – ensuring that next year more films will try their luck.

However, of the hundred horror films that get made every year, only a handful of them have the courage, the brilliance, the vision, the guts or the sheer stupidity to try a new concept. But what is concept and why does it matter?

Until 1968, zombies were quite a dull thing: people who are controlled by someone else. They could be dead, they could be alive, it could be voodoo, it could be a spell. Zombies were nothing to brag home about. Yes, Doctor Caligari was great, but let’s face it, zombies were dull. Until George A. Romero came and tried a new concept: let’s make the fresh dead come back to life in order to kill and eat the living. They were not ghouls – ghouls eat cadavers, they don’t usually need to kill the living. There are plenty of corpses everywhere. They were not vampires either. Vampires are cool and don’t decompose.


They were something else. Certainly, Romero did not create anything from the void. Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND (1954) explored a similar concept with key differences. The uniqueness about Romero was that he gave the “kinda new” yet incomplete concept its final form with all the characteristics and elements we see today, nearly 50 years later. Romero gave us a mature concept that was so good, came such at the right moment, that a full sub-genre was born. Ten years later, DAWN OF THE DEAD, perhaps the best zombie film ever made (and one of the most discussed), gave us the acknowledgement that the sub-genre was as maturated as vampires, ghosts and other sub-genres.  Three thousand zombie films later, we still find ourselves going back to Mr. Romero’s work for reference, homage or just to steal a few ideas.

So, concept is a thing horror filmmakers should think about with lots of care. “Do I have one?” – is the question we should all ask ourselves. “Or am I just reproducing something we already have plenty of?” It’s true that concept alone will not make a great film (or even a successful one at the box-office). However, a rich concept is the kind of thing that lingers long after the average zombie/slasher/found-footage had their run, making some quick money before being forgotten.

There is nothing wrong with a humdrum zombie film made just because you had a Canon 5D and a group of friends with spare time. Anyone who has made a film knows how hard it is to make even those films!

What I am talking about is of having a strategy towards your audience and your career. Here, spending some time reading and getting inspiration, writing, rewriting, going back and forth with your synopsis… that’s where you might discover the possibility of making the investment on a great (or just good) concept. So you don’t believe me? Take a look of some of the most beloved horror films and you’ll see – before anything – a great concept:

1 – A teenage boy discovers that a vampire has just moved into the house next door.

Do I have to tell you what film I am talking about?


The biggest hit of 1982 was a film about a boy who befriends an alien who’s stranded on Earth (great concept by the way!) But one of the most celebrated horror films ever(!) also came from that year and (it’s said) flopped at the box-office:

2 – A team of scientists in Antarctica encounters an alien creature that mimics anything.

And before anyone can say that Norris’ head becoming a spider is the thing… well… that’s all driven by the concept. THE THING (1982) is not original. As we all know, it is a retelling of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), in turn an adaptation from John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 novella WHO GOES THERE? A great concept becomes timeless!


Concept has value. Sometimes that value is recognized right away by both the audience and the box-office. Other times it takes a little longer. Not having a great concept is the thing we should all fight against.

Now the bad news.

The film industry in general is as dynamic as it is conservative and this is not just a Hollywood problem. Conservatism and fear are everywhere. The vasts amounts of money needed to make, promote and distribute a film (any film) and the risk that’s inherent to the intangible nature of films makes us all very cautious and risk-adverse. That’s why the brainless repetition of tired concepts (OMG, the zombies are taking the world! – duh!) and their sequels many times get made while great concepts lag in development Hell for years until a courageous knight comes to the rescue.

Yes, that’s the big film finance paradox: everybody is complaining about the quality of most films, but a) keep consuming them anyway and b) fear that a new concept may be too new and may not find its way through the audience.

It has always been like this and it will never change.

But we, who insist in creating out of the box, can (and must) fight back!

We can produce promos, proof of concepts, test footage, mock up campaigns; we can submit the project to markets, take it with us to workshops, pitch it, pitch it, pitch it and pitch it again… anything goes when it comes to get market validation. Give yourself a deadline – like one year or so – after which you sit down and realistically assess your project’s traction. Then you’ll see if you have a potential winner or if it would be wiser to invest your creativity in another concept you think it is as good or better.

Now let’s get to the good news.

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The good news is great concepts don’t die. If you’ve got to the end of your journey and feel you reached a dead end, well, put it in your “drawer of concepts” (the most important and cherished secret place in your office) and develop something else that you have that’s equally amazing. Keep fighting and developing great stuff (and filling your drawer). Someday, after one of your films actually succeed, you may have the chance to open that drawer and let those concepts get a new life. Many filmmakers further their careers with pet projects they rescue from that secret drawer.

3 – A group of space miners traveling home are waken up to discover they were sent somewhere else. Following orders, they investigate. It all goes wrong and one of them is brought back with some creature attached to his face.

Again, we know the film. It’s a classic. and the best thing is that from this simple setting, no one can predict how the full concept will play.

4 – Just before he dies, a serial killer passes his soul into a doll who is bought by a single mother trying to surprise her kid, who’s a fan of that character.

Simple concept, totally fresh when it was released.

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Unusual concepts have that advantage: they drive fascination. the organic complexity that serves the story in ALIEN (1979) or the understanding that the innocent doll is a fully functioning serial killer in CHILD’S PLAY (1988) are fascinating concepts because they dare to try to go beyond the tired repetitions the audience at the time were used to see.

So, here are a few questions you can ask yourself when writing a horror script.

a) Have I seen this somewhere?

If your survivors (running from a zombie horde) takes refuge in a mall, the answer should be obvious. YES, you have. In that case, NO, you do not have a concept. You are merely working in someone else’s concept.

b) Can I evolve this concept?

So you have a werewolf story. We all know how the creature works. We know the rules. But digging deeper into the mix between humans and wolves, can you bring us something we haven’t seen yet? Something that’s fascinating and can keep the story going?

c) Where exactly sits the freshness in my concept?

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) takes a werewolf from its natural environment (some remote countryside of the United Kingdom) and throws it in modern London. But the freshness can also be found in the humor that was fairly new to werewolf movies until then. KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988), well, the title speaks for itself. But the film had more: every gag was a gruesome parody sure to delight horror fans. THE STUFF (1985) created a dessert that was actually a murderous creature. THE LOST BOYS (1987) had the coolest gang of bikers who were vampires. Recently, in DON’T BREATHE (2016), the whole film is only possible because of urban blight (a very contemporary issue). TEETH (2007) dared to take to the screen something I’m sure many filmmakers thought was impossible (and you  won’t even see it!) HARD CANDY (2005) turns the child molester into the prey. AMERICAN MARY (2012) shows us a medical student who really will take advantage of what she knows. HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009) proves that a skillful filmmaker can milk a great concept into a full career. And three films.

A great concept is an important element in classics and cult films. It may come from the story, from its visuals, from its tone, from its characters or from the way it combines different elements. You should never underestimate its power.

Think about it. 🙂

If you enjoyed this article, please consider taking my online course ULTIMATE FILM FINANCING, available on Skillshare and Udemy. Click on the image below to see it.

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