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Friday, January 23, 2015

Writer, director and producer: Eric Tozzi talks about his take on Apocalypse Weird

Last week I posted the new, freaking awesome trailer for Apocalypse Weird, made by author, film director, documentary producer and editor, and so many other things that it's hard to keep up with, Eric Tozzi. Eric started in 2007 with the web series The Dirty Bomb Diaries, which won several awards and reached over two million views. After that he produced documentaries for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and in 2012 he directed the award-winning film Kaleidoscope, based on Ray Bradbury's short story. Wow, right?

Eric is here today to tell us about his story set in the Apocalypse Weird world, a one of a kind project started by a guild of independent authors who got together and decided to make their own brand world (more info on AW at the end of the post).

Welcome to CHIMERAS, Eric!

EEG: How did you get involved in the AW project? 

ET: I would have to say my involvement with Apocalypse Weird began last spring when I was invited by Michael Bunker to contribute a short story to a time travel anthology he was putting together: Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel. I was a last minute add, and so I had two weeks to write something and get it to editor David Gatewood. My story “Reentry Window,” became a part of that work, and it afforded me a chance to get to know a whole new group of amazing authors. That’s how I met Nick Cole, Jennifer Ellis, Susan Kaye Quinn and Samuel Peralta, just to name a few. The anthology did extremely well and hit the #16 spot overall in the Kindle store at one point. They must have liked my writing because from that pool I was asked by Michael and Nick to join Apocalypse Weird. I cannot thank those two enough for the opportunity to be a part of something so cutting edge and cool! In this writing game, I’m the new kid on the block here and just really jazzed about being asked to contribute to AW!

 EEG: Tell us a little bit about your AW story and its premise.

 ET: I’m a big fan of Science Fiction, especially alien invasion stories. I used it as the backdrop for my debut novel, The Scout. As soon as I read the outline for the entire Apocalypse Weird universe, my mind landed in alien country. Big surprise, I know, but I felt the momentum on that field and wanted to keep it in motion. Each AW story takes place in a particular region with some sort of apocalyptic event happening there. I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona, so I’m tackling the central Arizona region. Keeping in mind I would be using aliens as my apocalyptic device, I didn’t have to look far to connect my story with some incredible UFO events that have been reported in the Grand Canyon State. I decided to use a well-known UFO sighting that occurred in March of 1997. It was a high profile event that was subsequently referred to as the “The Phoenix Lights Incident.” Anyone who Googles “Phoenix Lights” will immediately find a massive volume of links with pictures and articles. No matter what you believe about it—whether it was military aircraft or something else—it cannot be denied that the event left many thousands of people awestruck and to this day wondering what exactly happened.

 The basic premise of my AW book centers on what happens 18 years after the Phoenix Lights incident. The V shaped ships have returned and it’s an all out attack on the valley. Additionally, I’ve incorporated the idea of a secret, underground facility—an Area 51 mirror site—buried in the desert near the Superstition Mountains. And in the book I imply that this site has something to do with the Vs showing back up. In a world of reality TV shows that cover the unexplained and paranormal, I’ve built my lead characters around a documentary/reality TV crew who call themselves the UFO Busters. And needless to say, they’re going to get way more than they ever bargained for when the ships start falling from the sky over Phoenix. It’s a whole lot of fun writing in this world, and cannot wait to see how big this project actually becomes! I made a very short Apocalypse Weird Teaser that’s running on YouTube. It’s a great little taste of what’s about to come. It’s just a snippet of the kind of work I normally do as a video/film editor and FX artist.

 EEG: When and how did you become passionate about making movies?

 ET: It all started when I was a kid, growing up in Malibu, California. It was 1977, the year Star Wars and Close Encounters came out. By the end of that year I was hooked and wanted to make films. Ever see the JJ Abrams movie, Super 8? That was me. I was that kid with the super 8 camera and the film cartridges, running around my neighborhood with monster masks and Air Blaster guns doubling for laser rifles. I’d come up with stories and then spend weekends filming with my friend and neighbors. One fifty-foot cartridge of film at a time. That’s what started the whole thing.

EEG: Movies and books are two different ways of telling stories. When you get an idea for a new story, do you ever wonder if it would work best as a book or as a movie?

ET: It was that very question that got me to shift my gears from screenplays to writing novels. I had a script version of The Scout, which I completed in 2009 but I was not happy with it. I was working at JPL at the time, and wanted to dive into the details of an entry, descent and landing, as well as what kind of survey an otherworldly robotic geochemist might be conducting on earth. I wanted to take my time and tell a first contact story that unfolded gradually, piece by piece.

 In 2011 after my father died and my mother was not far behind with late stage Alzheimer’s, and a month before the launch of the Curiosity Mars Rover, I decided to write The Scout as a novel. I promptly sat down one afternoon with my laptop, and instead of typing EXT. FOREST – NIGHT, I typed CHAPTER 1 and kept going for the next year and a half until it was finished. It was entirely liberating for me as a writer. I was painting pictures, directing scenes, if you will, with words on a much larger canvas. I wasn’t worried about how much this “movie” was going to cost or which studio might be interested in it. Locations, visual effects, etc. None of that mattered. It freed me up to focus solely on telling a good story the way I saw it.

EEG: Does your writing influence your movies and, vice versa, do your directing skills influence your writing?

ET:  My directing and editing skills most definitely influence my writing. I find myself working on scenes and cuts while I write, picturing angles and edits as I go through the story. Especially for pacing when there may be some kind of action sequence, or tension, or some kind of heavy, emotional beat. I definitely see the characters, hear their voices, and, as the writer direct the reader through that scene or moment. The words are my camera lens by which the audience gets to view this story, at least that’s how I function. One of my tricks as a video editor is to watch a piece I’m cutting with the sound off, just to see the cuts and make sure they really work. It’s amazing how you can see bad edits when you don’t have sound there to perhaps cover it up. It’s the opposite with book for me. I’ve been making an effort to read out loud what I’m writing. In my opinion, if it sounds funny or awkward, it probably reads that way too.

EEG: Tell me about your experience with Ray Bradbury.

ET: I was given a gift (I see it as nothing less than that): the opportunity to direct a short film based on the iconic author’s short story, “Kaleidoscope,” from his book The Illustrated Man. The film itself took over a year to produce and involved a lot of visual effects that were painstakingly realized by some very talented artists. We had an amazing cast and crew. I know every director says that, but I swear we couldn’t have gotten it done without them. All of our visual effects were produced at the photo-real level. Stunning. “Kaleidoscope” played at roughly two-dozen festivals and we won nine prizes including a Grand Prize at the New Media Film Festival in LA. We were nominated for a Golden Blaster award at the Octocon in Dublin, Ireland, and we played at the SciFi London festival. Here's a complete festival list and prizes

The producer/star, Brett Stimely, and I were afforded the chance to screen the final film for Ray at his home just a few short months before he passed away. Getting a chance to meet Ray in person, especially having him love so deeply our adaptation of his work, was a life changing moment. I have to thank my friend and mentor, Marc Zicree, for setting that up for us. Ray talked about writing, and the last thing he told us before we left was to “go forth and produce more” (of his work.) I hope that someday I’ll be given the privilege of doing just that!

EEG: What was it like to work for JPL? And what was it like to work with all the rocket scientists

ET: Extraordinary is the only possible describer. It was a chance to get an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at space and planetary exploration. And it afforded me time to meet some of the most brilliant, friendly, and humble folks I’ve ever met. The engineers who’ve built such spacecraft as Cassini, Voyager, Mars Curiosity Rover, Mars Spirit and Opportunity, etc. are in my book, rock stars! I mean it—they deserve so much more appreciation and attention than most celebrities get in a given hour. Let’s see… Kim Kardashian or Adam Steltzner? Hmm, tough one, but in my book, guys like Adam are the real celebrities. I often wish the rest of the world would see that. I produced and edited a documentary series for them titled “The Challenges of Getting To Mars,” covering various aspects of the Phoenix Polar Lander Mission, The MER Twin Rovers and the Curiosity Mars Rover. If you go to YouTube and type: JPL, Challenges of Getting To Mars, you’ll find a whole bunch of pieces I produced during my tenure there. Some of my most thrilling experiences were at launches and landings, most notably the Phoenix Polar Lander and the Curiosity Mars Rover. I have a real fondness for JPL, and I paid tribute to them in The Scout, and Reentry Window.

EEG: What are you currently working on?

ET: Besides working on Apocalypse Weird, I’m writing a superheroine piece that’s a mashup conceptually of the movie Galaxy Quest and Supergirl. It’s a fun story about an out-of-work actress who played a superhero, Mighty Woman on a short lived TV show, who must become the real thing in order to stop an evil force from basically wiping out the city. It’s mostly about her and raging insecurities about her career as an actress, turning 30, and her mercurial love life. This project has a long history. I shot a concept trailer for it, and within a short amount of time it was optioned for TV, based solely on the trailer. See the trailer I shot here. Now, as is the case when a TV studio options your material, as a newcomer, you have no control over how things happen. And unfortunately, Mighty Woman never got produced as a show. It hovered in development purgatory for a year and then the rights came back to me. And I was majorly disappointed. Not long after that I decided to write Mighty Woman as a series of novellas, with the first being titled THE GREATEST ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY WOMAN: RESURRECTION. Fitting title I think. I hope to have this first piece out sometime in April and reenergize the character and the story. And I’d really like to see this get a comic book or graphic novel treatment at some point! Can you also please list all the links you would like me to mention in the post? 

EEG: It does sound like it would make a great comic book! Best of luck with all your projects, Eric!

Visit Eric's website to find out more about his film projects and his recent books The Scout and Reentry Window.

Intrigued by Apocalypse Weird? Then read the first book, The Red King, by Nick Cole, which is completely free and sets the world of Apocalypse Weird. You can also sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don't miss the big launch on february 23rd. And you can join us on Facebook, too.

Michael Bunker also has a great post about Apocalypse Weird on his blog.

Author Hank Garner is also doing a series of podcasts on Apocalypse Weird: last week he interviewed Nick Cole, and this week Hank just posted a new podcast in which Michael Bunker talks about his AW book, Digger, the first in his Texocalypse world.

And if you are a writer and you would like to take part in the Apocalypse Weird project, Nick has a wonderful post where he explains how to apply.

Apocalypse Weird Authors:
Ellen Campbell (editor)
Stefan Bolz
Christopher Boore
Michael Bunker
Nick Cole
Jennifer Ellis
Hank Garner
E.E. Giorgi
Tim Grahl
Weston Ochse
David Parish-Whittaker
Lyndon Perry
Chris Pourteau
Steven Savile
Daniel Smith
Lesley Smith
Kevin Summers
Eric Tozzi
Kim Wells
Forbes West

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