25 Years In LA Part 4: ‘Masters Of Horror,’ Revolution, and getting Foxed

06.18.15 2 years ago

Showtime/Anchor Bay

Like all superheroes (or anyone else who uses a secret identity), there came a moment when someone finally cracked the code and published my real name.

To be fair, my identity was a pretty poorly-kept secret by that point. The first time I went to an actual press event, I used my real name, and anytime I met someone, I used my real name. “Moriarty” was a fun identity to slip into, and especially in the early days of the site, we played up the mythology of things. My friends all got their own spy names and would show up in the reports in the form of Henchman Mongo and Segue Zagnut and Harry Lime and more. From my end, it was silly and fun, and not something to be taken seriously. But when Film Threat ran a fairly vicious hit piece on Harry, I was also a target, and them exposing my identity in print was treated like they'd found the missing Nixon tape segments. It was supposed to destroy me, and they had plenty of support for that concept.

I became the personal hobby of a group of particularly grotesque Internet trolls for a while, and they seemed to be determined to chase me offline. I see some of the outrage wars that pop up now and I see the tactics of the trolls in these cases, and it all seems very familiar. There were certainly moments where I considered walking away from all of it because it seemed like such a strange and violent overreaction to what was, at the heart of it, me writing about movies.

There have been accusations made over the years about improper ethical conduct involving Ain't It Cool, and my main response would be, “If I was trying to game the entire system for my own personal gain, I appear to have done a very bad job of it.” If anything, Ain't It Cool and my time there cost me opportunities and employment as a writer. I can say that my ideas about the correct and incorrect ways of doing things have evolved enormously over the time I've been writing online, and that's because I've made my own mistakes and done things I wasn't happy with. But every single mistake I've made has been an honest one, and without calculation. Perhaps the biggest and most infamous incident involved “Amusements,” the script I co-wrote with Scott Swan. There was an article that Harry published where he talked about horror projects that he was excited about, and he included “Amusements” and talked it up a bit, and in that piece, he didn't reference the fact that “Moriarty” was one of the two authors of that script.

Here's the real reason: he didn't know.

What people don't seem to realize is that in the early days, when I met Harry in newsgroups or when I sent him e-mails, I was hiding behind several layers of anonymity. I loved using fake names. It was one of the things that made the Internet fun. When Harry gave me the “Moriarty” moniker, it was just a replacement for another fake name. I think Scott and I were using a shared name at the time, “The ScriptPro 3000,” which was a joke reference to Dan Aykroyd. When I woke up the morning Harry published that story, I was delighted at first but almost immediately realized that it put me in a strange position. I confessed my identity to Harry that day, and he decided that he was going to leave the article the way it was since he'd published it without knowing who I was.

Now, that answer may not satisfy you. It may not be an exciting explanation, but it's the real one. Harry didn't set out to specifically do me a favor, and the other people who were covered in that same article were all equally surprised by the publication of the piece. Richard Kelly didn't have any connection to Harry at the time, nor did Mike Williamson. Richard just wrote a script that Harry read and liked, and Mike just made a short film that Harry saw and liked.

While I get irritated by the accusation that I have used my online writing as a way of promoting my creative work, I would be lying if I said that it had never had any impact at all. For example…

17. Revolution Studios

It wasn't just because of my work at Ain't It Cool that I ended up in a room with Todd Garner, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Navid McIlhargey was the exec who brought us in, thanks to our managers reaching out to him and introducing him to our work, and then bringing us in to the company's Santa Monica offices. At the time, Revolution was still a fairly new proposition, and while I knew Todd Garner and Joe Roth by reputation, I'd never met. I knew Navid from his earlier job working for Joel Silver at Warner Bros., and he'd always been an advocate for us on various projects. That's what you're ultimately hoping for in this business, the chance to meet people who get what you're doing and who want to work with you. Navid brought us in because he thought we'd get along with Todd, and because Revolution was starting from scratch, they needed to get projects up and running as soon as possible. They were in a buying mood, and they had surprisingly deep pockets.

That first day, that first meeting, is one of those moments where everything went exactly the way it's supposed to go, and when we walked out to the car, Scott and I started laughing. “Did we just sell a movie?”

Turns out, we had. We didn't walk in expecting to actually pitch anything, but we'd been talking a lot about something I had just tripped over in my reading. There was a drug called Modafinil that was being used to keep people awake for extraordinary lengths of time without suffering any of the normal impact of fatigue. That was interesting, but what led me down a rabbit hole was a comment about how the drug had been developed as part of DARPA's Posthuman research program. That was the first time I'd read that word, and it led me into reading about the Singularity and transhumanism and all sorts of things. All of that was the subject of our conversation for a a few weeks before we walked into the room with Todd, and when he asked us what we were working on, that's what came up. By the time we walked out the door, we had set up “Posthuman,” an action movie about the first generation of test subjects for various augmentations, a sort of “Dirty Dozen” in which these militarily manufactured superheroes have to go after the guy who represents the end result of all of the testing. We made it up as we sat there pitching it, and Todd just nodded, asked his questions, and at the end of the meeting said, “Great. I'll call your guys and we'll get things started. This is going to be fun.”

Todd was right about that. We didn't end up making “Posthuman,” which evolved into a script called “Pavlov's Dogs,” and we also didn't end up making “The Final War,” another project we wrote for them, but we had a great time working with them. There are times when the development process is a grind, and we'll get into those a little later in this column, but there are also plenty of times where it's a thrill, where you catch hold of something and you feel like you're doing something that really works. There were things about “Pavlov's” that were really ambitious and crazy, and at the time, the superhero craze hadn't really reached fever pitch yet. Our goal was to ground things in a military reality, then elevate reality just that weelittlebit. It was an approach that seemed to appeal to Todd's idea of what action films should look like. Keep in mind, Todd and Joe Roth were the guys at Disney who oversaw films like “The Rock” and “Armageddon.” That's their aesthetic.

When Joe Roth made a deal with Sony that gave Revolution access to their film library for the purpose of finding films they wanted to remake, we spent about a week going through thousands of Sony titles, from A to Z. We made a list of something like 60 films that seemed ripe, and in our conversations with Todd, we finally focused in on one in particular, “Earth Vs The Flying Saucers.” Our idea was simple: what if it actually happened? What would Earth's military response be to an actual invasion? To that end, Todd hired military advisors and loaded us down with reading material and ordered us to inhale it all and come back to him with something that didn't really look like the typical alien invasion film. While we were working on the project, it became more and more apparent that we weren't using any elements from “Earth Vs The Flying Saucers” at all, and we eventually dropped any pretense of it being a remake and just renamed the project “The Final War.”

There are times when you are not aware of any of the forces in play around you, and on “The Final War,” things heated up at a certain point, and we weren't really sure why. We knew that Todd and Joe had gotten very excited about the idea of Michael Bay making the film. We knew that they had brought in another executive, Scott Bernstein (now at Universal), to really work with us to get to the draft that they felt like they could make, and at one point, things were so urgent that we essentially lived at the studio for a long weekend writing an entire draft in one big push, passing pages to Bernstein and Navid and Derek Dauchy as they were coming out of our computer.

What we didn't know was that there was a competing project underway at the same time, with the same general big ideas, but approached in a different way. When Todd and Joe were at Disney, they ended up in one of these development wars over movies about giant rocks hitting the Earth. Their movie was “Armageddon,” and “Deep Impact” was developed by Dreamworks. There was also a Fox giant-rock-hits-the-Earth film in development called “Bright Angel Falling,” with James Cameron producing and Peter Hyams directing, but that never got out of the development phase. It came down to the head-to-head battle between Disney and Dreamworks, and at least financially speaking, Dreamworks lost that one. Because we didn't know there was a competing project, we didn't realize what was happening when word came that Steven Spielberg was interested in reading “The Final War” because he was looking for his next project. That's one of those things someone says to you that you can only reply to with a laugh, because it's insane. We spent a long weekend wondering what that really meant, and then got word that he was not going to do it. That wasn't a surprise.

What was a surprise was when, in short order, Dreamworks and Paramount announced “War Of The Worlds” with Tom Cruise attached to star, with Spielberg directing. They also announced, in 100% unrelated news, that they were hiring Michael Bay to start work on “The Island” immediately. With those two announcements, a stake was driven through the heart of “The Final War,” and instead of ramping up for another expensive battle, Revolution decided not to move forward with our film.

I loved what Revolution could have been, and when the studio went under, it was disappointing for reasons deeper than just our various projects that went with it. It felt like a contraction in this town, one of many I've seen since moving here, like this ambitious thing that just didn't fit in a town that was getting more and more creatively conservative. One less buyer in a town full of creative people looking to sell things is never good, and Revolution's demise meant one less friendly room for us in a town where we still needed to get something in front of a camera to prove that we were more than just first-draft guys.

16. The return of Mick Garris and “Masters Of Horror”

It sounded too good to be true, and yet, for once, it was not. “We're going to do 13 one-hour movies. No ratings to worry about. Total freedom to try anything.”

When Mick called and said he wanted to get together, it was a huge relief for Scott and for me. After all, as I wrote in part two of this series, I had made a huge ass of myself at the wrap party for “Sleepwalkers.” It had been over a decade, though, and Mick had always treated us with above-and-beyond respect, even when we hadn't earned it. It was funny… when Mick approached us, it was pretty much exactly a decade after the first Act One Festival. We'd done a lot of work in that time, but hadn't had anything produced since the two fests. When that first festival was in the early stages of planning, Jerry Levine had reached out and told us to submit something for consideration. Now, ten years later, Mick was doing the exact same thing, telling us to submit something that would be considered for the show.

When we took our second meeting with him, we had a list of about seven ideas that we had put together. We pitched two of them in the room. One was “Cigarette Burns,” which they bought for season one, and the other was “Pro-Life,” which they bought for season two. We never even got to a third idea. It was that quick, that easy. Mick commenced us before we left, and we started working on our first draft of “Cigarette Burns” almost immediately.

The first person we interviewed for the segment was Joe Dante, because Joe's a famous print collector. He and John Landis share a climate-controlled film vault where they keep their prints, and if you've ever attended any major retrospectives at the American Cinematheque, you've probably seen at least one of Joe's prints projected. We wanted to find out from him how he would go about trying to find a rare print, and our conversation with Joe led us to someone else, and then someone else, and everyone we talked to gave us little tidbits that we wanted to find a way to work into the script. We always assumed, based on that first conversation, that Joe would be the guy we approached about directing it for us, but before we even turned ours in, we heard that he had picked a script he was going to do. We decided to just finish the script and worry about the filmmaker later, and when we turned it in, we felt pretty great about it.

Then we had our first notes session with John Carpenter, and I spent about three hours convinced I was going to have to quit the business.

My history with John stretches back to the '80s, when I managed to talk my way onto the “Starman” set while it was shooting in Tennessee. I spent a day being shown around by Peter Silbermann, the unit publicist, and I got to ask Carpenter questions about what he was doing and why. He was far kinder than he needed to be, and when I left the set, he sent me home with my own copy of the script by Ray Gideon and Bruce Evans. I spent the next year of my life deconstructing everything about that script, and when I saw the film, it was a huge experience for me because it was the first time I had read a script first and then seen what the filmmaker did with it. By the following year, I'd already written three “feature-length” scripts of my own, just to see if I could do it. One was an adaptation of Bill Mantlo's “Cloak and Dagger” mini-series, and the other two were basically my versions of films I'd seen and loved. It was just exercise at that point, and I never would have had that road map at that particular point if I hadn't met John that day.

So there was a particular emotional charge to sitting across from Carpenter, knowing that this episode was going to happen. Whatever I expected from John in terms of notes could not have prepared me for the rather blunt way he dug into the material. I was convinced after the first half-hour that he hated the script and hated us. An hour into the notes session, I was sure he was going to just quit and demand a different script altogether.

What I eventually learned, though, was that John just doesn't pull punches with collaborators, and if you are okay with that, he'll tell you the truth. That makes it incredibly easy to eventually satisfy his notes, because he can explain things to you, and you know that he's telling you exactly what he thinks. It was fairly clear that our first draft was way too expensive, and John set out to fix that with us. The other thing that he wanted was clarity, and if there's anything I learned from him, it was to lose the purple prose. I can write about mood all day long and be as florid as I want, but that doesn't really help the director. What helps is if I describe exactly what's supposed to be in front of the camera, so that he knows exactly what he's going to shoot. That became a mantra as we worked on drafts with John. “Yes, but what do I see?”

July 6th, 2005, was a big day for me in every way. A few hours after midnight, my wife went into labor. We'd been in the hospital for several hours already, but when it started, everything happened very quickly. Before the sun came up, I was holding Toshiro Lucas McWeeny in my hands, my newborn son, amazed and exhausted and thrilled in ways I couldn't even articulate. And just a few hours after that, on a location several hundred miles north, John Carpenter rolled film on our first day of production on our first film. In what felt like a lovely bit of harmony, we had been forced to change a character's name at the last moment, and we were given a list of acceptable last names by the clearances team. As a result, Carpenter's first day of shooting was at the Myers house, which delighted us completely.

Scott was there, on the Vancouver location, and he called me later that day to fill me in on the shoot and how it was going. My original plan was to simply stay in LA, talk to them about the shoot as it happened, and then jump back into things once they moved to LA to do post-production. Three days in, though, once I got my wife and Toshi settled in our apartment, she surprised me and told me I should head up to Vancouver to see at least part of the shoot. I arranged tickets to fly out for the second week, and so I spent half of the ten-day shoot watching them work. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and not just because of our episode. There was so much energy going into the entire series, so we had Stuart Gordon's sets going up, Don Coscarelli's sets coming down, John Landis working with his cinematographer and dealing with casting issues, all of us sharing the same studio space. It was like a dream. We had two full days with Udo Kier just to shoot the final sequence in the film, featuring a gore gag that made Scott and me laugh like lunatics when we wrote it, sure no one would ever actually do it. Yet somehow we found ourselves standing by a bank of monitors, watching Kier feed his own intestines into a film projector.

That first year was a pure dream. Everything went as well as we could have asked. Norman Reedus was an interesting choice for Kirby Sweetman, our main character, and while I have plenty I would change about the film, it's all based on the experience of making it. I would never have realized certain things without seeing the film the way it is now, and I imagine for most people, it's the same thing. There's the film that you have in your head, and the film that you have in reality, and the distance between those things defines how you feel about the finished movie. We enjoyed the entire process, and when we came back for round two, we thought it would be more of the same.

“Pro-Life” was a harder shoot. We had fewer days and a little bit less money, and we never really got our ending on film. Even so, we had some great experiences on that one as well, and when you have Ron Perlman delivering your dialogue, you are in good hands no matter what. We had a moment in “Pro-Life” that was even gnarlier than the guts-into-the-projector in “Cigarette Burns,” and the day before we shot it, Scott and I were walking back into the soundstage from outside, and we saw John talking to the actor who played the head of the abortion clinic where the film is set. He seemed worried about something, and as we got closer, we could hear him asking John about the next day's scene.

“… so I guess what I'm really wondering is… are you going to see my balls?”

It's those moments when you are filled with real pride in your craft.

I loved the “Masters Of Horror” experiences. I regret that it only ran for two seasons. Anthologies are a harder sell than ever, and it's hard to build any kind of viewer loyalty. It's not regular TV where people come back to see the characters they like each week. We knew by the time the second series aired that there wouldn't be any more, and so it was bittersweet seeing the reaction to it. Even so, “Masters Of Horror” opened doors for us in other places. At long last, we had something produced. Finally, there was nothing else that would ever stand in the way.

Best moment from either shoot? At the end of the shoot for “Pro-Life,” we were sitting in the Sutton Place bar with Ron and John and Ron, not one for effusive praise, simply raised a glass and said, “Good words.” I've never been toasted with a better toast than that.

18. “Dread,” Racing “The Devil,” and my big mouth

One of the constants during my time at Ain't It Cool was hearing horror stories from filmmakers who had worked with Tom Rothman at 20th Century Fox.

You can imagine, then, how I felt when Scott and I found ourselves sitting in Rothman's office, Clive Barker beside us on the couch, pitching our vision for how to adapt one of Clive's best short stories, “Dread.”

Clive was already onboard with our take on things. Seraphim Films was his production company at the time, and he had two development guys working for him, Joe Daley and Anthony DiBlasi. We'd been put together with them by a Fox executive named Todd Williams, who had been hired to simply develop horror films for the studio. He was an avowed fan of the genre, and he had some big ideas. I loved the notion of turning “Dread” into a film because it wasn't a supernatural story at all. It's simply a human tale about the awful things people can do to each other, and the way fear controls us in our lives. There's a scene in the short story that was, quite frankly, the reason to do the film. It's an experiment in dread, conducted on a girl who is locked into a room with a freshly cooked steak. Nothing wrong with that, except she's a rabid vegetarian, morally opposed to the eating of meat and physically repulsed by everything to do with it. She's given a simple choice: eat the steak, and she can leave the room. The longer she waits, the worse that choice becomes because the meat starts to go rotten. After days in the room, she's faced with a nightmare of her own making. It's a tremendous sequence, one of Barker's nastiest, and it hooked us right away.

We had to come up with a take on the film that Clive liked, and once we'd worked with him on it for a few weeks, we were ready to go to the studio. We went in with Todd and with Clive, and we had to lay out the entire story for Rothman. At the start of the meeting, we noted the various “Master and Commander” set props that he had in his office, and he told us that it was the film he was most proud of from his time at Fox. That was a safe place to start, since I also love that movie and we eased into the conversation with him, switching gears into the actual pitch almost casually.

Whatever it was we said, it worked, and we were hired. We worked with Clive for months to try to nail down a draft that represented something that he liked and that told a fairly different story than the short did. I certainly don't think the way we approached it was the only way it could have been approached, but it was something that came together through a ton of conversations with Clive and his team. Working with Joe and Anthony was easy, and I never felt like they were working at crossed odds with us, something that can sabotage even the best intentioned of projects. And then, just as we reached the finish line, we got a call that Todd Williams was moving on from Fox, and that we had a new executive in charge of our project. While Todd was hired specifically to develop horror films, the executive we were assigned to was primarily in charge of family pictures, movies like DOCTOR DOLITTLE, FAT ALBERT, and ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS.

Our first meeting went about as well as we could have hoped, with the exec opening by saying, “I don't like horror films. I don't watch them, I think the audience for them is creepy, and I didn't like the story. So, having said that, I have some thoughts.”

There came a point where it was clear that Fox wanted a supernatural film. At the time we were working on this one, the “dead creepy wet girl” thing was going full force, and every horror film needed to look more like “The Ring” if it was going to get made. They hired a director (Eduardo Rodriguez) to develop the film further, and we decided we weren't willing to do a ghost story take on one of Clive's decidedly non-supernatural film. Later, Fox let the option lapse completely, and Anthony Di Blasi ended up writing and directing his own take on the story.

When we first heard that New Regency and Fox had the rights to “Race With The Devil,” I was frantic to get into the room to pitch for it. Then we heard that Chris Moore, who we knew primarily from his appearances on “Project Greenlight” and his work as a producer, was going to make his directorial debut on the film. He was actively looking for a writer so he could get started, and the exact moment we learned that we needed to pitch him sometime in the next two days or we were out of the running, we had just checked in to a hotel in Austin so we could attend Butt-Numb-A-Thon. And in order to get there, we had to turn in a draft of “The Final War” or we wouldn't have even let town. We were burnt out, completely unsure if we had anything left in the tank at all. Even so, we wanted the job, and we told our team that we'd pitch Moore by phone if we had to.

For those who have never had to pitch a project, it's an excruciating process. You've got to do the exact opposite of writing in order to convince someone to let you write. It's counter-intuitive at the very least, flat out crazy at worst, but it has to happen because that's what the gatekeepers demand. And so, like several other writers chasing the same gig, we had to explain to Chris what movie we wanted to make, and if he was excited, then we'd go to New Regency, who had a deal with Fox, and we'd have to pitch it to them. You almost never pitch something one time, and it's happened to us a few times in our careers, and when it does, it is both a good thing and a bad thing. After all, when you sell a script, the people who are buying it already know what it's going to read like as a script. Sure, they'll ask for changes inevitably, but at least they know where they're starting. With pitching, they may have a totally different picture of what a finished script looks like, and they may get attached to something that was never ever going to be the end result because it isn't what you had in your head. It's a crap shoot.

So they scheduled a call for us, and when it came, we had to sit in the main lobby of the Radisson on Cesar Chavez and Congress in downtown Austin. The two of us huddled around a speaker on a cell phone and pitched Chris, having never met him and having no idea how much he was paying attention or how clearly he as getting it. We ran through our entire pitch and then stopped, hoping he would fill the silence. When he finally did, it was to ask a few pointed questions. By the time we finished Butt-Numb-A-Thon, we had the job. Whatever we said to Chris, he was won over to our way of thinking, and as soon as we got back to town, we started work on the script, working closely with Chris the entire time.

When we're talking about regrets, I've definitely got some, and one of them involves my attendance at the Saturn Awards that year. I went with a friend, not as a reporter, but I felt compelled to write something about the event because it drove me sort of insane. I tried not to, but then I read a draft of “X-Men 3” and felt like I wanted to write something that would get Rothman's attention. I figured an open appeal directly to the stockholders of Fox might do the trick. And in that piece, I made mention of the Saturns and what happened there that night. Here's the passage that cost me immeasurably:

You want to know who the main villain of X3 is going to be? Tom Rothman.

One of the reasons I started reading AICN, before I ever contributed anything to it, was because it demystified the development process. So often, blame (or credit) is assigned by fans to people for no particular reason. It”s easy to point a finger at a director or at a writer or even at a company like Marvel and assume that they were responsible for something, but having gone through the development process several times now for different studios (including Fox), I can tell you that more often than not, the truly terrible decisions can come from people whose names you never see onscreen.

When I call Rothman a villain, I”m well aware of how loaded that word is. I can”t think of anything more shocking this year, though, than the speech he gave at this year”s Saturn Awards. Here”s a show specifically designed to celebrate genre, a room filled with SF, fantasy, and horror filmmakers, and Tom Rothman gets up and not only lambasts everyone who writes about those genres, but also has the nerve to call himself a geek.

You, sir, are no geek. A geek would not have stripmined the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises the way you did. A geek would not consistently value release dates and fiscal quarters over getting material right. Listening to him talk about what a friend he is to genre filmmakers was akin to being at a Shoah Foundation dinner where the guest of honor was Joseph Goebbels. This is the guy who chased Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin off an ID4 sequel after they made $600 million for the studio because he wanted to pay them half of what they made on the first film. This is the man who browbeat Stephen Norrington until he quit the business altogether. This is the guy who almost convinced Alex Proyas to give up filmmaking. How many genre filmmakers… great genre filmmakers… do you see returning to Fox over and over to make their films? And why, exactly, do you think that is?

By the way, Rothman… telling a ballroom full of people that you”re a geek because you fuck the star of SUSPIRIA and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE every night? Classy. Very, very classy. But still… not the point.

Writing things like that feel good in the short term, and I still think Rothman got the entire X-Men series off-balance from the start, which is one of the reasons it's such a strange series overall so far. But in the long run, I look at that and I try to see it through the eyes of the person I'm writing about so I can try to get some perspective on it, and I realize that I did indeed try to draw some blood. He may have made an off-color crack about his wife while he was onstage, but my comment is really just about throwing it in his face and being shitty to him.

Because of that piece, “Race With The Devil” immediately became a dead issue, and we had already moved on from “Dread,” and we went from guys writing two films for Fox to guys writing no films for Fox and, in my case, also banned from the lot entirely. I had no access to Fox movies after that. No interviews, no screenings, no conversations of any kind with the talent. Fox became a giant black hole for me, and while I still wrote about their films and reviewed them, it absolutely bothered me. More than that, though, it haunts me. I am haunted by several turning points in my life, moments that I remember every single day because they are defining moments. And when I published that piece, I torpedoed the writing career that Scott Swan had been equally invested in building for the 13 or 14 years we'd been in town. Chris Moore was an awesome collaborator, and I'd work with him again in a heartbeat. He was a great ally, and I cut our collective throat by taking out a bit of passing disgust on the head of the studio where we were working.

As Jerry Levine once said, “Hubris.”

19. “Fear Itself” and the Writer's Strike

We had less than 48 hours to write an entire one-hour film, and we were expected to do multiple drafts in that time.

That was the deal we made when we signed up for “Fear Itself,” which was sort of a roundabout way of doing a third season of “Masters Of Horror,” but this time for network television. I certainly loved anthology horror shows growing up, and I loved the idea of being on a broadcast network. It set up certain restrictions on content that worried us a little at first, but broadcast standards have changed profoundly over the last twenty years. We were told that we would be able to do almost anything as long as we were tasteful about it.

While Scott and I had been in Vancouver for the filming of “Pro-Life,” we watched “Track Of The Cat,” a Robert Mitchum western, and we started talking about that way of life, running a ranch, and the various fears and worries of it. How we got from that conversation to thoughts of the Wendigo, I don't remember, but eventually, we had this idea about a pair of brothers. One owns the ranch but lives in the city for the most part, and the other works the ranch and resents his richer brother. When the rich brother goes missing for days and then shows up changed, things get very dark in the ranch house. We pitched that to Mick Garris, who liked it, and then he turned around and hired us.

The Writer's Guild strike was not a surprise to us. It had been building for months, and we knew it was likely we were going to go on strike. When we got hired, we figured we'd start after the strike, but they told us that they had a particular production window, so they needed our finished script, with director's notes incorporated, in two days, by 11:59 on the second day, or we wouldn't be in the series at all. That was a pretty compelling motivator, and Scott and I stayed up for the full 48 hours, tweaking, sending pages to director Larry Fessenden, who responded strongly to the idea because the Wendigo is something he's been fascinated by for a while. He made a beautiful dreamy horror film about the Wendigo, and as soon as the producers told us he was the guy, it felt like the right fit. He gave us good strong notes. I don't think we used every single one of them, but they were very sharp and precise.

There are a million things I would do differently now, or even if I'd had a few hours to sit and read what I wrote and edit a bit, but overall, “Skin and Bones” works for me, and that's largely because of just how good Doug Jones is as Grady, the rich man who comes back from being lost with something new living inside him, something angry and evil. Fessenden did a great job considering how little time or money there was. But we stayed loyal to the Guild throughout the strike, and I met a lot of people I still know now on the picket lines. I remember spending one day marching and chatting at Warner Bros with Paul Feig, for example. And there was a huge sense of camaraderie and fellowship in those lines.

The problem is that the business that resumed services at the end of the strike was not the business that it used to be. Things changed during the strike, and if you didn't have much momentum before it, you were dead in the water. We thought for sure we'd turn around and set more things up and develop some stuff and get a feature made. Soon. It had to be soon. It just had to be…

20. First time onstage at Hall H with Will Ferrell

Comic-Con has become a drag for me. I hate that, but it's true.

Every year, when they do the hotel room lottery, I get a stomachache three or four days in advance, and every year, I bust ass to get my registration done fast, and every year, I get royally screwed. This year is no different.

In general, it feels to me like Comic-Con doesn't care if the press gets in or if they see everything they need to see, and it's gotten more pronounced in the last few years. It's just plain hard to cover the entire event and do it well, and there's no magic shortcut, either. So you end up run ragged, and even if you do get into everything you want to see, you'll feel like you got run over by the time you're done.

Over the last few years, I have moderated a number of panels in Hall H, the biggest room at the convention, and I think I've gotten more and more comfortable doing it. I've certainly learned to enjoy doing it, and while Comic-Con was the first place I really started doing this, it's spread to other events during the year, like SXSW. The first time I walked out onto the Hall H stage, though, I was armed with a weapon.

And that weapon's name was Will Ferrell.

On the morning of the panel, we all met at the hotel suite Dreamworks had nearby, and I sat down with Ferrell, Jonah Hill, and Tina Fey, and we talked about what we'd be doing. Will immediately pitched the idea of the homemade costume, and then Tina jumped in with something, and Jonah threw out a few twists on what they were doing, and in a matter of about ten minutes, they all came to a pretty simple understanding of what they'd do onstage.

If you've never stood in front of a room full of 6100 people and spoken before, I highly recommend doing it. You may want to take 30 'ludes before you do it, but do it nonetheless. It is terrifying and thrilling in equal measure. I never expected I would find myself on that stage, introducing other people's movies to the world, but once I did it this first time, it seemed like so much fun that I decided to try to find something to moderate every single year. I've been very fortunate in terms of which films asked me to moderate, and I've met some really great people because of this.

But the first time? Terrifying. It's an ocean of faces, all of them looking at you, all of them waiting for you to dazzle them or delight them. That's why they're there.

I feel like I am in control when I moderate panels now. I know what to do, I know how to do it, and I think I'm pretty good at it. But that first time? I had no control at all over what was happening, and Will knew it. He was the one who really kept that panel up and running the entire time, and afterwards, I couldn't thank him enough.

Okay… so I know I told you “the next one will be quick”? And then it wasn't?

Well, I can't think of a better way to commemorate my 25 Years In LA than by announcing something ambitious that people seem to enjoy and then dropping the ball halfway through. Rather than play into that punchline completely, though, I decided to actually finish writing. These have been tougher than I expected because I am starting to connect some dots about my own behavior and choices over the years, and I am filled with regret and sorrow and a deep melancholy about where I am and who I am right now.

Whatever I expected from 45, this isn't it.

We'll wrap this up next time and look ahead, so make sure you come back for “Bat Out Of Hell,' Skywalker Ranch, and Film Nerd 2.0”.

In the meantime, you can check out part three, “Showtime, the Silverado, and the rise of Ain't It Cool.”

Check out part two, “'Sleepwalkers,' 'Shawshank,' and 'Sticks and Stones'”

And make sure you read part one, “Gene Hackman, Eazy-E, and Albert Brooks defending a film”

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