I Made A Student Film

Welcome back to Movie Monday Tuesday! This week’s installment is the second short film I ever made, while I was in film school (around 2004, I think). (Previous entries: Sci-Fi, Horror, Bonus! Book Trailer.)

It’s about 7 minutes long and was shot on 16mm (actual FILM!) with an Arri camera. We weren’t technically allowed to use the REAL film cameras in production school (because that makes sense), so I had to strike a deal with the guy in charge of equipment maintenance to sneak the camera out for a few hours. And also organize almost everyone in the class to help me out in those short few hours. Fun times.

The shack was built in my parents’ backyard and transported to my school, where the movie was shot. We built the shack in sections, so each of the four walls could be removed to allow the camera to move freely around the interior of the room.

I might be more proud of this for the music I wrote than for the actual movie. My friend Chris had a great studio setup with a digitized orchestra. I spent a day hammering out the soundtrack right before the project was due. Hooray for procrastination! I guess some things never change.


THE PATH NOT TAKEN

A man who has lived in a shack his entire life with nothing to watch on TV but static is suddenly forced to venture into the real world when his power goes out.


Watch on YouTube

I Made A Horror Movie

Let’s have another Movie Monday, shall we?

Putting the final touches on my scifi film after so long really got me in the mood for some more editing. I dusted off all of my old clips (including my student projects—yikes) and I’m ready to post another blast from the past.

This one has a bit of a horror bent to it, although it veers more toward Twilight Zone than anything else.

I worked with a great crew in New Jersey several winters ago. It…was…freezing. My hands were numb every day, even though I wore gloves and had some of those little heat packs. You can see the actors’ breath in some shots, and it’s not CGI.

At any rate, there was a small budget for this one, spent mostly on transportation, lodging, and food. We stayed in a cabin when we were shooting out in the woods. Overall it was extremely fun, and we managed to accomplish a lot in the few days we were on location.


Synopsis

Two hikers become trapped in a deadly web of murder as they are hunted by a deranged couple in the deep Jersey woods. But one of the hunters is more than she seems…


 Teaser Trailer


Full Movie


Genre: Horror

Duration: 26 minutes

I Made A Science Fiction Movie

Once upon a time, I was going to be a movie director. I went to film school, I wrote a few scripts, and most of my days were spent dreaming of that certain future.

I love movies. I always have and always will, even if the ones that are produced these days keep degrading in quality as the years go on. I always had a desire to tell stories, and when I found out I could marry the written word to a moving image, I knew that I wanted to make my own films.

Then I spent two months on a real movie set, and realized it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted to pursue. There are many, many reasons for that decision, which I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, I veered off and wrote some books instead. But I did manage to film some of my stories before I changed careers.

Down The Chain Poster

Three years ago, I set about writing and directing a no-budget indie sci-fi movie called Down The Chain. Many revisions and re-shoots later, I am as close to finished as I think I’m going to get. I wasn’t working on it straight through, as I sort of got distracted and wrote six novels between then and now, but I’ve finally whipped it into decent shape.

I would like to take a moment to apologize to everyone who helped at certain points on the film, as I should have done this long ago.

Be advised that the sci-fi element in this film, while crucial to the plot, is not the main focus. The movie was made for pocket change, so the script had to reflect that limitation. Speaking of which, headphones are recommended. Sound is the weakest part of the final product, mostly because it was a one-man crew (when the lead actor, Jered Allen, couldn’t help), and running audio while operating the camera and everything else was a bit more than I could handle. There are several scenes that may be a bit tough to get through because of the audio, but for the most part, I think it turned out pretty well, considering.

diagram

It lost roughly half-an-hour from its original run-time, bringing the total down to a lean 50 minutes. Most of what was cut will not be missed. I learned a great deal about the story-telling process during and after making this film, and the entire experience was a lot of fun, even if the lead actor and I were working eighteen-hour days for 15 days straight during principal photography.

And now, on to the goods. I have a separate page on this site dedicated to the film, but I’ll re-post the crucial information here.


Down The Chain

A man gets a chance to fix his past mistakes when he is blackmailed into stealing designs for a mysterious machine.


Full Movie

Watch on YouTube


Teaser Trailer

Watch on YouTube


Genre: Drama/SciFi

Duration: 50 minutes

Camera: Canon 7D

Production Notes:

This film was shot in 14 days around San Diego, for the most part with a 2-person crew (lead actor + director). The budget was $0, unless you count pizza and an airplane ticket. It was originally 30 minutes longer, but recent edits trimmed down the nonessential bits, leaving the core story intact. The biggest on-set issue was audio, as is evident in several scenes. It’s difficult to operate a camera and hold a boom mic at the same time, especially when dealing with multiple actors. We hope you’ll enjoy the movie despite a few hiccups, and thanks for watching.

MAIN CAST:

Jered Allen — Jacob
Gregg-Alan Bartell — Dosyev
Jesse Carlson — Breaker
Kate Danley — Janice Hill
Jessica Dodson — Amy
Jessica Gordon — Robin
Joe Hurley — Tommy
Mark Alan Johnston — Zeke
Jim Klock — Mr. Wallace
Danny Morris — Old Man
Miguel Saucedo — Hector
Randall Speakman — Eliot the Bartender

PRODUCTION CREW:

Sam Best — Writer/Producer/Editor/Cinematography/Director
Jered Allen — Producer
Toccara Best — Executive Producer
James Edwin Myers, Jr. — Executive Producer
Mark Alan Johnston — Associate Producer
Peter J. Collins — Original Score
Brent Reynolds — Additional Cinematography
Gerry Ganby — Additional Sound Recording


 Web Links

Official Site

IMDB Listing

The Great Serial Experiment

I have a little side project I’m going to be experimenting with while I work on other things. I’ve wanted to do a virus story for a long time, and I have been jotting down infrequent notes off and on for about a year. I’ve finally landed on an underlying premise for my story that I think is (hopefully) mostly unique.

With Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to binge on unlimited Amazon-exclusive books for $8.99 a month (think Netflix for books), and with my propensity for writing roughly 20,000 word chunks before needing a refueling break, I finally hit on an idea that might work given enough motivation and planning:

A serial novel with steady, frequent releases, chock full ‘o cliffhangers like a television show, exclusive to Amazon (at least in the beginning).

Introducing Genesis Plague.

Genesis Plague Episode 1 Cover

 

There are multiple reasons why, in theory, this is a good idea.

  1. With Kindle Unlimited, qualifying books earn around $2 every time a reader gets to the 10% mark, even if the book is priced below $2. That means, for me to get the money, they don’t have to finish the full book, and I would still get multiple times what I would receive if the reader had just purchased the book outright for the asking price of 99¢. While I want them to finish, obviously, there is potential for earning money from readers who would never have gone on to the second episode anyway, yet gave the book a shot to the 10% mark. This feeds into the second reason, which is:
  2. Shorter books mean less effort to hit 10%. If you have a thousand page tome, hitting 10% takes a reader 100 pages. If you only have 50 pages, a reader has to slog through just 5 pages of your work before the little cash register sound effect plays in the background and you get paid. So, less effort to hit 10% = a greater chance more readers will hit the golden mark.
  3. Putting out a high-quality, full-length novel every one to two months is extremely hard, if not impossible, for me. I tend to favor quality over quantity, even though the opposite is a more proven, effective business model. By releasing novella-length works every three weeks or so, I can keep the quality level high because I am writing shorter episodes. Simultaneously, I am also publishing something new with high frequency.
  4. There is an entire group of readers, who, for reasons unfathomable, actually enjoy cliffhangers. And not just cliffhangers from chapter to chapter, because who doesn’t like those? I’m talking about cliffhangers between entire books. Certain readers thrive on them. It’s like a narcotic. I’m going to stop asking why and just do my best to make them happy, because it has turned out to be ludicrously profitable for some authors.

Serial novels are nothing new, but, in this day and age, they never seem to really catch on. There are of course exceptions to the rule, as some authors have turned serial writing into a successful business model. Yet, that requires a following, since a serial release is more like a limited-run, lightning-in-a-bottle event than an ongoing experience. Without preparation and without a loyal readership waiting to buy the books, the event is over before word can spread.

As you can imagine, the successes are few and far between. It seems like even Amazon has stopped pushing their own serial program. And there are some heavy obstacles in the way, promotion being the biggest. How do you promote a nascent series with no reviews, and when you, the author, only have the meager crumbs of a tiny newsletter following? Beats me. That’s why the first episode is on preorder for a month, so I can find the answers to those questions.

With all the potential negatives of publishing a serial, it might seem like a strange avenue for me to pursue. If the book were only ever going to be released in separate installments as novellas, you would probably be right. Well, you might even be right anyway. But still, even if the serial experiment fails, I can give this book a second life at some point in the future by combining the parts into a whole to create a complete story. And that complete story is another product to sell, and another way to be discovered by new readers. In other words, the only thing I am losing is a little bit of time by releasing them on a longer timeline. However, with this model, the release schedule suits my desire to publish more often without sacrificing quality, and on top of that, writing it so far has been a blast.

The first installment will be available on October 1st, with an episode every three weeks or so afterward until it’s done. You can preorder the book now on Amazon for 99¢, if that’s your thing, or you can grab it when it’s published. I doubt the price on the first episode will go up, but the subsequent episodes may be $1.99.

Oh, I almost forgot. If anyone would like a review copy, I only have a few little things to tweak with the first episode, and would be more than happy to send out a copy in exchange for an honest review on Amazon when the series begins publication on October 1st. Drop me a line at newsletter@sam-best.com if you’re interested.


Genesis Plague: Episode 1

People will change. Nations will fall.

A primordial virus unearthed…

A world ripe for infection…

Welcome to the end.

A new life form is found in a cavern below one of the world’s largest volcanoes. The organism shows remarkable resistance to viral infection, and the discovery brings with it the hope of new vaccines for epidemics that have plagued humanity for thousands of years.

The possibilities seem endless, until researchers uncover a very specific reason the new organism is so resistant to infection.

Before further analysis can be made, the volcano begins to wake. If it erupts, it will spew forth the greatest horror in the history of the world.


Preorder link on Amazon.

Discovery Through Story Research

They say to write what you know, but if I wrote what I knew, I would never have learned about two awesome little creatures called the tardigrade and the Pompeii worm (Wikipedia links).

(Photo credit: Wired.com)

Tardigrade (Photo credit: Wired.com)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pompeii Worm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These two little guys are extremophiles, which means they have unusually high tolerances for temperature. In the case of the tardigrade, it can survive just about anything you throw at it, including a decade of dehydration, freezing to one degree above absolute zero, and the vacuum of space. Oh, and they can also survive direct, unfiltered radiation from the sun, a radiation that would cook a human alive. So, they’re kind of tough, you know?

I’m doing research for a new project, and one of the characters is an evolutionary microbiologist (because why not, right?). It’s my job as a writer to create a passable facsimile of a person in said profession, or at least one that doesn’t ring abnormally false, even after a bit of scrutiny.

Enter the internet, that vast trove of everything that could either accelerate one’s destruction or open up a world of possibilities that before could only be uncovered with laborious trips to the local library or university. And to get to those places, we actually had to go…outside (dun dun DUNNNNN!).

Well, no longer. Now I can wear pajamas and read all about extremophiles like the uber-resilient tardigrade without suffering the disapproving looks of a librarian.

I also think the writing process is made more enjoyable when it’s a process of discovery, because a lot of that will transfer over to the reading process. I figure if I’m excited about the content, then readers will be as well.

Not Missing After All

I’m back from a long summer vacation to say that seeing a humpback whale jump out of the water in real life is not the same as seeing it on television. These things are so terrifyingly huge. I mean it. If it pops up out of the water and happens to look in your general direction, it seems like some crazy alien cannon is being swiveled in your direction.

Hold out your hand, palm down, fingers together like you’re going to slap someone. Now stick out just your thumb and pinky but keep your middle three fingers together. Turn your hand slowly, very slowly, angle it upward, and you’ll have some idea of the movement involved in a whale’s breach. Seawater spins off the tips of their outstretched pectoral fins. The whole thing only takes a second, but it is so epic in appearance that the image burns into your brain. Well, mine, anyway. We also caught it on video, in case the memory gets fuzzy over time.

So that’s all I have about whales. We saw those in Alaska. I also went to Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Scotland, Ireland, Washington, and Canada, and probably a couple other places I have already forgotten. There were some cool castles and some good food. A porcupine ate a small tree. That may have been my favorite. That and the whales.

As far as the writing thing goes, I’m going to stop planning things in advance since I always change my mind anyway. I guess what that mostly means is that I’ll stop posting on this website in regards to what my “plans” are for the near future. Understand that I have about a dozen books in my head at any one time screaming to get out, and by the time I finally give in and sit down to write one, I come up with a “better” idea and start all over again. So that’s unfortunate news for Alphashock fans, since that series is getting a slight nudge to the back-burner for the time being. Instead—and I can say this with certainty since I have already started the book—I will be continuing the Ashes and Hello Darkness story lines in book three of that “theme” trilogy. I’ll have it done in time for Halloween, because I’m going to make it as frightening as I can and that seems like a good date for that kind of thing.

I haven’t written a lick in more than two months due to the traveling, and it feels really good to fire up the old rusty knuckles once again. I always think I will lose the knack when I leave it for long periods of time. There are some aspects which need a bit more dusting than others, but I am always pleased that the most important aspect of the process—the discovery—is there waiting for me when I sit down. By discovery I mean the unexpected surprises that you can’t plan for and that don’t show themselves until you come right up on them, the kind that couldn’t be planned for no matter how hard you tried.

I’m pretty excited about the new story. It takes place about ten years after Hello Darkness, and features one of the main characters who survived that ordeal. Karen Raines was a deputy in the town of Falling Rock, Colorado, and she barely escaped in one piece. Now she has a set of twins, aged ten, from a father who wasn’t so lucky. If you remember what else happened to Karen near the end of the book, you will get an idea of one aspect of the new story. Here’s a hint: her kids were born with a little…something extra inside. When our new story kicks off, something comes to collect on what the kids should never have had in the first place. I hope I can make it righteously spooky, because as I said, I’m excited. I’ll be working to find a cover artist for it over the next few weeks, so I’ll try to remember to post an update here as the book progresses.

Adios.

New SciFi Crime Noir Novella

Book two of the Capital City crime series is available. I finished this novella sometime last year after I wrote the first installment in the series. After completely re-editing the first book to make it scifi and switching it from third person to first, there was no way of getting around doing the same thing for Dream Street. Since I’ll be on the road for the better part of three months, I thought it best to get all of my loose ends tied up and published, and that included the two books in this series, which were already written and just needed polishing. I hope to be able to write while I’m traveling, but I expect my creative expenditures will be limited to plotting. If that’s the case, at least I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I get back. I hope everyone has a lovely summer.

Dream Street Cover

Amazon US | UK

In a future where everyone is watched, how can a killer get away with murder?

Dream Street is a black scar on the face of Capital City. The downtown alley is a deathtrap for any citizen, good or bad, who wanders too close. When one of the city’s most beloved charity workers is found murdered at the entrance to the alley, Detective Jack Rose is sent a clear message from the new boss on the Street: anyone who interferes with the operation, dies. Jack soon learns it wasn’t just a single charity worker disrupting the Street’s illegal operations, it was a whole team, and they are all marked for death.

And just because Jack’s life should never be too easy, the upcoming Mayoral election has lit a fire under the Deputy Mayor, and he wants to gut Dream Street for the good of the people, and for his campaign—even if a murderer gets away in the process.

In a race against the clock, Jack and the other detectives of Capital City’s Fourth Precinct must find a way into the heart of Dream Street to catch a killer who will not stop until all of his enemies are dead and buried.


As with the first book, Dream Street will only be available on Amazon for the first three months. If any of you has a different brand of eReader, drop me a line at newsletter@sam-best.com and we can work something out.

New Cover For Ashes

It’s a bit of a tricky cover to figure out since the book is a jumble of several different genres, and I doubt this will be the last attempt. It was my first book, after all, so I hadn’t yet learned to root the story firmly in one genre and only allow minor elements of other genres to creep in at the edges. It kind of reminds me of a graphic novel, and I figured since I’ve had more than one person tell me my prose is very visual, I thought it was a good fit.

Ashes Cover

Amazon USUK

On the run from a violent mobster, Thomas Marks takes a job driving a mysterious boy halfway across the country. The job will provide enough money to settle his debts and then some…but at what cost?

The boy carries a jar filled with his brother’s ashes and claims they are the key to protecting all of mankind. He says a terrible war is on the horizon—an epic battle between good and evil that will affect the entire planet. What should have been a simple job becomes a fight for survival as Thomas and the boy are hunted down by an enemy possessed with otherworldly strength—an enemy that will stop at nothing to obtain the ashes, and kill anyone who gets in the way.

New Cover For Hello Darkness

I just finished redesigning the cover for my horror novel Hello Darkness for about the 20th time, and I think I’m getting closer to finished. Here is the latest iteration:

Hello Darkness Cover

The good people of Falling Rock, Colorado, are disappearing one by one. An ancient evil lurks in the valley below the town—an evil that preys not just on the bodies of its victims, but on their sanity as well… 

After the death of his wife, Ben Howard returns to his childhood home in the small town of Falling Rock. Along with his four-year-old daughter, he hopes to make a new life for his family, free from the painful memories that still haunt them both. 

But old memories die hard. Visions of Ben’s deceased wife follow him to Falling Rock—and that’s just the beginning. Something is hunting his daughter from the shadows, watching and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. 

As his world collapses around him, Ben must join with the few who remain to destroy a malevolent force that will not stop until it consumes every last human soul.