Twenty years ago, almost exactly, I started making what you could technically call my first live-action feature. I was in high school, fifteen years old. It was my friends and me trying to be like Monty Python, making jokes about classic literature, the sort of stuff we had to read in school. (I'd already done some simple animation.) I had trouble getting enough people to film the sketches with, so I used puppets, cutout animation and all kinds of silliness to fill out the 90 minute feature.
People liked it, so with the help of David Ashe, Justin Bielawa, Benjamin Sipprell, and lots of friends, we wound up doing a bunch more of those. Seven no-budget video features by the year 2000, including a parody of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the very Pythonesque "Excaliburger, or the Spatula in the Stone." There were also two more serious movies, "The Animal Game" and "The Animal Effect," where we played darker, more twisted versions of ourselves, exploring our own teenage flaws. (They were still funny, in an improv kind of way.) I also wrote a semi-serious play, "Easier Than Thinking."
In 1999 I went to USC film school. I made a few more no-budget comedy features with some guys in the midwest, and got involved with a whole nationwide (or even worldwide) filmmaking community, before too many egos in the room got to be too much to handle. At their urging I'd become a troublemaker, which I regret. I learned some lessons the hard way and changed my attitude about a lot of things.
I made some student films I'm still proud of, on film and on video, including one about a dying comic strip artist and an animated adaptation of Terry Pratchett's "Mort." The best was probably "The Journey of Truesong" - a five-minute fantasy on 16mm film, inspired by Jim Henson's "The Storyteller." I also took three years to make a serious drama called "Gods of Los Angeles" - still shot on video for no money, and still featuring friends like David Ashe and Cori Haisler.
I continued to write mostly serious screenplays, about fourteen of them. They weren't intended to be shot for no money on video. They were big Hollywood productions. I went through an entire career's worth of writing and creative discovery writing screenplays that almost no one has read.
I filmed one of them in 2007 - a comedy/drama about the Marvel comics character, the Sensational She-Hulk (starring Kierstyn Elrod and Lesley Youngblood). The cast was absolutely terrific, and I spent over three years doing the editing and special effects, before having to move on to other things. Still very proud of that one. Only about half of it was ever released and I'd still like to finish the edit one of these days. It referenced The Avengers before The Avengers, and was a Marvel movie before there were Marvel movies. The recent releases of Jessica Jones and Deadpool have accomplished a lot of what I was trying to. We wound up being featured on the Target DVD release of "Spider-Man 3," and I met Sam Raimi.
Also around 2007, I started a project to animate the hundred-odd lost episodes of Doctor Who, called WhoSprites. I created thousands of drawings and digital paintings, animating dozens of characters with full mouth and eye movement. The official folks never picked it up, and neither did the fans, although about an hour of animation tests were created. It looked traced but wasn't. I learned so much from doing that much art and animation that it informed and influenced my entire art style from that point on. In 2009 I left Los Angeles and in 2011 became a full-time artist, struggling more and more to survive.
I kept writing screenplays - quite a few in 2009. I published a short novel, Cratchit & Company (based in the world of Dickens' A Christmas Carol). I also wrote half of a much larger novel which still isn't done, but will be one of these days.
I'm back in L.A. now. Struggling to survive. Failing to survive. But I'm still writing, still drawing. I've been doing some filmmaking lately on a project I've only told a few friends about.
I still haven't made a "big" feature film. All my screenplays I've kept to myself like a secret - an entire career as a filmmaker that nobody knows about but me. The technology today is amazing - much better than the terrible video I worked with back in high school and college. I will make a big feature somday, once I have two nickels to rub together. And I'm very grateful to all the actors and all the friends who got me this far.
It's been an interesting twenty years. I hope I make it to see another twenty.