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Thread: Robert Heske Interview!

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    Robert Heske Interview!

    An L.A. Night With A Weaver of Nightmares
    Interview with Robert Heske by David Paul

    L.A.’s about one of the coolest cities you can visit. Especially in the winter. Hey, it gets chilly sometimes. Sure. But not like where I come from. ‘Course where I come from it’s 20 one day and 80 the next. No wonder I’m always sick in the winter. So I’m glad to be stepping off the plane as a warm breeze brushes my face. I make my way through LAX. Man, this place is friggin’ huge. For all you fanboys let me translate: “Frak, this place is big!” And my city’s airport has the audacity to call itself an “international”. Right. Well there’s all sorts of sites to be seen here but I really don’t have the time. Today I’m meeting a screenwriter few have heard of, but would no doubt recognize his work.

    Hell I was a young man once, with dreams of doing exactly what Robert Heske is doing. I wrote numerous scripts, too damn ambitious for their own good. Fantastic stories, to be sure. But when I met up with that giant wall called adversity I failed to even attempt to scale it, much less climb over it. Seems that’s exactly what Mr. Heske did. I’m gonna have to ask him about that when I meet him today at Garage Pizza. See, when my scripts were rejected I simply quit. Oh, I tried numerous scripts of all sorts, just to say I gave it ye ol’ college try. But in the end I quit. Not Bob. Like many screenwriters he’s managed to make a modest living. Great success doesn’t just happen, like my twenty-five year old self once wanted so desperately to believe. No. You have to work for it. You have to pay dues. And, above all else, you can’t quit. Robert Heske’s a man who’s paid plenty of dues.

    The taxi’s driving down Sunset Boulevard now. I can’t believe this place is actually on the historical Sunset Boulevard. What a lucky day I’m having. I’m dropped off, after paying an outrageous fare, and I kind of wander about just to soak up the history. I don’t have to wander for long. A tall guy (well, taller than me) approaches. His hair is short but I can always tell when a guy has been working. His hair is sometimes unkempt and yet managed just to be presentable. There’s gotta be a woman in his life. I’m not into dude-love or bromance but this guy has a big smile and bright eyes. I could totally believe him if he told me he never got any sleep between the work and all the babes he has to fight off. He’s wearing a grey sweater with a T-shirt of sorts underneath and the sleeves are pulled up. It’s Bob. We shake hands, nice and firm, then head on in and grab a table. There’s small talk. Always is when you’re meeting someone face to face for the first time. He tells me to trust him. I’ve never been to this place before in my life so I trust him. Two beers and a large bacon and pepperoni pie. Minutes later I’m above glad I trusted him.

    I’m taking in the atmosphere. This is a great place for an interview. Beautiful girls, hot food and good times. But I gotta focus on why I’m here.

    Daddy D: Bob, you gotta take me back to the days when you were a script reader. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. First you’re a writer. You must have seen some crap being sent into production. Maybe moreso than the good stuff you knew was good and wasn’t being produced. Tell me about that.

    Heske: I didn’t start screenwriting – or trying to become a screenwriter – until I was 30. I took a graduate screenwriting certificate program at Emerson College and was a volunteer screenwriter for a small TV/film production company whose biggest hits were “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Session 9”. I read and reviewed about 100 scripts – most of it horse crap. Being in Boston, you wouldn’t believe how many Whitey Bulger/Irish mafia scripts I read. Only one script got produced – not by Scout BTW. It was “Mini’s First Time” starring Alec Baldwin which was written and directed by Nick Guthe. That was a great read!

    Daddy D: Did you have any influence on a script being approved for production or was it all just good ol’ boring technical stuff?

    Heske: Oh sure, I was a real power player. I showed up, walked to the script stack, smiled “Hello” at a few of the cute interns and production chicks (who quickly turned away), and took 2-3 scripts home to read. I think the only influence I had was that if the script was a PASS it didn’t get a second review. I did it mostly to get a feel for how other writers did scripts – and most do it very badly.

    Daddy D: Okay, so you’ve received numerous accolades and awards. I mean it’s an impressive list of credentials. But aside from it being good material for your resume, what does it say to potential buyers of your scripts?

    Heske: Thanks Daddy D. You and my mom are the only ones who are impressed with my credentials (and my mom has dementia!). I’ve written a lot of stuff – some of it has been optioned, some has done well in contests, and some have actually been produced. But I still have a hard time knocking down the door to Hollywood. That’s why I really enjoy the comic book writing – both with Studio 407 (THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST) and my self-published series (COLD BLOODED CHILLERS). I get to see the work produced fairly quickly. The artists I’ve worked with (Diego Yapura on NP and various artists on CBC) have been great and it’s a kick to see my stories come to life from their pen and ink drawings.

    Daddy D: Personally, what are your favorite awards - what do they mean to you?

    Heske: The best award is getting a comic series published or picked up for film. THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIIST, my vampire series, meets both these criteria – I signed a co-creation agreement with Studio 407 to produce the comic series, and NP just got optioned by Myriad Pictures (Jeepers Creepers 2). Studio 407 has a first-look deal with Myriad so that got the project in the door there. I am also hoping that several of the stories from COLD BLOODED CHILLERS either get adapted as film shorts or the premise gets adapted as a cable horror series (like “Fear Itself” but with 3 horror shorts locked into a one-hour format).

    Daddy D: Alright now let me get into your personal life. I’ve read a lot of your work. I told myself I was going to ask you about this. So you wrote a good number of scripts, like any respectable screen writer. Many that might not have ever seen the light of day, due to the standard rejection form. You were somehow able to tap into a side of scripting that not many have thought of. Or if they did they just failed to follow through with it. Basically you’ve taken what you originally wrote for either television or the big screen, and you adapted it into graphic format. So this is where I’m getting personal. I know it was more than just sitting around and thinking one day, “well I’ll show them. I’ll turn my movies into comic books!” So what the hell was it that inspired - no - motivated you into determining you’re not going to just quit on these stories?

    Heske: Well, first I should point out that THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST was based on a story treatment idea that I pitched to Alex Leung at Studio 407, and not a full-fledged screenplay. So that story has been developed for the comic medium first and will be adapted for film. COLD BLOODED CHILLERS, on the other hand, was originally tapped from a bunch of dark short film scripts I wrote that fared well in contests but never got made. Actually, one of them did get made – it was a script called THE WAITING ROOM (which is in issue one of CBC). However, the story was re-written to a fair degree (I ended up with a co-writing credit). The film version is called WAITING and stars Richard Schiff, Izabella Miko, and Earl Brown (directed by Lisa Demaine). I had some experience writing for comics on the NP project with Studio 407, so I figured I’d take this experience and see if I could do a DIY comic series on a low budget.

    Daddy D: Well one of the things that I have admired about your story-telling is, case in point, it is by and large far removed from conventional. The big thing we are seeing now is this migration of horror to what is trendy. I mean, we’ve seen it before in the past. It always happens. Looking back at all the Universal Monsters and how each movie had to out-do the others, it was only inevitable that it would become a farce. I mean when monsters become fodder for Abbott and Costello it’s a sign of the Apocalypse. And that’s what I mean about today. Zombies have taken over. Okay, so you have good movies and bad movies with every genre and every trend of films. Shaun of The Dead might be an exception. But when you get Jenna Jameson in Zombie Stripper something’s gotta give. You, on the other hand, either by design or by chance, have avoided being relegated to the trend. What I see in your work is Twilight Zone, Outer Limits (to a lesser degree) and Alfred Hitchcock. Stories in which the monsters are the worse kinds of monsters imaginable: Us. Is this intentional?

    Heske: Man, you hit that on the head. Yeah, even though I am guilty of writing a vampire “monster’” series with Studio 407, the COLD BLOODED CHILLERS series explores a different sub-genre of horror: suburban horror. It’s the nasty dark secrets that we humans impose on each other. Issue 3 adds a supernatural twist to it – a “someone is watching” overture to the three stories. Going back to my vampire series, THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST, that series re-invents the vampire myth while staying true to the suspense, blood and gore that horror traditionalists hunger for.

    Daddy D: Of course you’re not above the occasional “old world” monster story. And that’s reason to celebrate. But, again, I have to bring up your unconventional approach. Recently the box office blew up with the success of the movie Twilight. Okay. Right now, I’m just gonna say it - I’m not a fan of it. I hate it and I hate what they think they can do with vampire folklore. To me, something this emo has no business in any way shape or form being called vampire. But maybe that’s just me. It goes back to what we were talking about before with trends. I don’t think the treatment of vampires as romantic never-aging teens is an appropriate image for something that was once considered a monster. Little girls are now in love with vampires. A hundred years ago the vampire was feared. Of course there are exceptions. True Blood does a fair job, but that show has fantastic story-telling to supplement for anything which might otherwise be ridiculous. Maybe the best modern rendition of the vampire as a genuine monster has been 30 Days of Night. Now what about your vampires?

    Heske: Sorry. I was too busy shaking my head – agreeing 100% with everything you just said. Vampires must be rolling over in their caskets with all the different slants that Hollywood has taken with them the past few years – from bad comedies to teen romance. It’s like putting a pink ribbon on a bloody meat hatchet. THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST has more teeth, than heart. Sure, the protagonist (DRAGOS, a vampire who happens to be the night projectionist at a condemned movie theater) is akin to a Marvel anti-hero – you’re afraid of him, but you feel for him too. But he also is a vampire – so he has a past of butchering people, not falling in love with them. The really, really bad guy in the series is a dude named THEODORE BURAK. He was an alchemist who, in his search for immortality, ends up inventing a new breed of vampire. Welcome to the After Life!

    Daddy D: And The Night Projectionist has already been getting outstanding reviews. I think it’s pretty rare that a graphic is option for a movie deal before its printed success. How the hell did that happen?

    Heske: Studio 407 has a first-look deal with Myriad Pictures. In fact, Myriad optioned HYBRID, another creature feature by Studio 407 and written by Peter Kwong which will go into production later this year. I knew that Studio 407 had been sharing the comic galleys with Myriad (we’re deep into issue 4, the last in the series, now) – so although the rest of the world is waiting for the first comic to hit bookstores on February 25th, Myriad is pretty privy to what happens in the story from beginning to gruesome end.

    Daddy D: Assuming you get the gig as screenwriter for The Night Projectionist, and you really should, what about your other works? That is your collected works in Cold Blooded Chillers and anything else you’ve got on the burner now. I’ll take for granted if you get the chance to adapt some of your other stories to film you’ll gladly do so. And I’ll drink to that. But what about your continued career as a graphic writer?

    Heske: I’ll happily do both – and try out new media on the web too. I’m a pretty flexible writer both in the genres I write in (e.g.., comedy, horror, suspense) and the formats (film, shorts, comics, graphic novels, webisodes). I have a few other scripts (one an animation tale, the other a suspense/thriller) that have a good chance of getting picked up and produced this year. Plus I’m writing another screenplay – a dark comedy. As for continuing the COLD BLOODED CHILLERS series, I am publishing a perfect-bound “best of” anthology later this month. Yeah, I know I only have 3 issues out of CBC, but unless sales sharply spike that’s about all I can afford to self produce. As for other ventures with Studio 407 – we’ll see!

    Daddy D: And Cold Blooded Chillers has been a real critical success. I’ve read numerous reviews and usually when you read so many reviews you get a good mix of a little something positive and a little something negative. But with all the reviews of Cold Blooded Chillers they’ve all been positive. And that’s impressive, considering it’s an anthology of various stories illustrated by various artists. And B/W to boot! I’m sure to ask you the standby questions of “how do you do it?” and “where does the inspiration come from?” But what I’d really like to know about is your creative process. You’re adapting these stories intended for the screen to a print publication. That’s not easy.

    Heske: A few of the stories in CBC were originally short film scripts. Stories like THE WAITING ROOM, HER FIRST DAY ALONE, LOST AND FOUND and TRANSCENDENCE. The first two (WAITING and HFDA) were particularly tough to adapt to comic since the main character in the story has a distorted sense of reality – kinda Jacob’s Ladder-esque. These have been tough for some reviewers to follow, but overall the feedback has been positive. Other stories are fresh ideas inspired by the series. And one – DEAD DOG – was inspired by a weird true event. Somebody walking their cocker spaniel actually did knock at my door to inform me there was a dead dog in my driveway!

    Daddy D: I think there’s something we might be missing here. Let’s go back to your screenplays. Two stories in particular. No Middle Ground and Waiting. One written completely by you, the other co-written. Now, most writers of graphics do so alone. In fact most writers of long running graphic title series take on the gig as a solitary figure, to then hand it over to the next writer who takes over the series and (to make a name for himself) completely disregards the previous writer’s work. What I’m getting at here is graphic writers tend not to play nice with other writers if they have to share a credit. In fact I can’t think of a currently published series with two credited writers. That’s another way screen writing is different.

    Heske: Yeah, I have written two comedies with a friend (LOVE STUPID and BINGO BANGO). But mostly I try to go it alone. Writing for me is a solitary – not a social – endeavor. If I collaborate on a story nowadays, it is usually with an editor (as I did with Chad Jones, my editor on THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST) or taking notes from a reader or producer on a script. On NO MIDDLE GROUND, the concept was actually by the director George Villalba who contacted me to do a re-write/polish. WAITING was based on a re-write of my original horror short script by director Lisa Demaine who doctored the story to suit the actors she had lined up for the film. But when it comes to my COLD BLOODED CHILLERS series, I am a total story hog – since I am paying for their production and distribution, all stories are penned by yours cruelly.

    Daddy D: Before we get out of here and head on over to the Whiskey I have to bring up Ed Heske. It’s personal, I know. But I would very much like to know how his art influenced your art.

    Heske: You mean my father (I have a brother named Ed Heske too)? Boy, you sure do your homework! My dad spent most of his career as an art director and painted for a few decades in retirement (mostly plein air oil paintings). His artwork doesn’t influence my work. In fact, when he read the first issue of COLD BLOODED CHILLERS he was taken back by some of the violence and profanity. “You should try to emulate that Edgar Allen Poe fella,” my dad told me. Actually, I don’t want to be a miserable drunk who dies broken-hearted so I think I’ll stick to my own style!

    Daddy D: Last question – as a writer of scary stuff, what will you put on your tombstone?

    Heske: “Here Lies RM Heske. Buy his books on Amazon!”

    Bob introduced me to a great pizza so I have no problem paying the bill. The Whiskey a Go-Go isn’t too far from Garage Pizza. In no time we’re checking out the band O.H.M. I’m not impressed but I’m not disappointed either. It’s a Monday night. Bob’s a great guy and we had a good time. But the babes weren’t all over him. Once they found out I’m a drummer they were all over me. Yup. Babes love drummers. Hey. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
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