Category Archives: Industry

Found-Footage: Gimmick or Genre?

I stumbled across a trailer today for the upcoming horror flick, Skinwalker Ranch.

And, as I watched it, I was torn, almost scene by scene. Part of me rolled my eyes. The handheld IR footage shot, running through the night. The screams. The setting up of DVR cameras in the corners of rooms to capture “ghosts.” People getting blown across a room. The tagline “Inspired by True Events.” But the other part of me was gleeful.

Much of that response comes down to the found footage aspect of the movie. Found footage being the hand-held, shaky, everybody-dies-and-someone-later-publishes-the-footage type movie.

The Rise and Goal of Found Footage

What made found-footage brilliant was in the way it minimized the line between reality and fiction for the audience’s experience. Which, particularly as it applies to horror, is instrumental in milking the visceral response to a movie.

This advent was primarily due to the movement toward smaller, digital cameras. Though designed first for the public, and sneered upon by much of Hollywood (who produced high quality movies on film, firmly establishing the difference between amateur and “PROFESSIONAL”), many more avant-garde filmmakers were dabbling in the wide possibilities that shooting on digital cameras could open up in terms of creativity, particularly in terms of breaking down the separation between audiences and films. The goal was to make the experience as immersive as possible, to not only translate ideas, but to translate experiences. This is more specifically explored in Keanu Reeve’s documentary film Side by Side.

It was arguably 1999’s Blair Witch Project that brought a household awareness to the found-footage style, which offered the perfect blend of reality and fiction. Releasing the movie independently, with some early internet hype further confusing the lines between the produced nature of the movie, audiences were utterly thrown as to the reality of the movie. How much more frightening, that this could be real?

The Goal of Horror Movies

Now, the horror genre falls into two main categories of intention: to challenge a viewer intellectually, and to scare the shit out of people. The latter is usually the goal. Which is unfortunate because horror provides opportunity to introduce us to new ideas, new extremes: to unsettle us, to challenge us, to stretch the human condition to its limits.

As we explored before, the found-footage style makes a movie seem more real because it feels like it could be a home movie that anyone we know could have filmed. It could have happened next door. This helps scare the shit out of people.

Many people love to harp on found-footage because it doesn’t scare them. As with any popular fiction that plays with this reality between lies and truth, people are fairly desperate to assert themselves in the midst of controversy. It’s very important to people to not be wrong, and to not be scared.

Manly, right? You have to be tough. You have to be hard. You can’t be scared at a movie. And you knew what was real. You weren’t wrong. You were right all along.

I’m widely generalizing, but that’s the layer of our society that horror films provoke as a reaction. This is exactly why so many horror movies are so widely received, with some people loving them, others hating them. Everyone has different fights that make them tick, and many people like to bad-mouth them because the movie either didn’t make them tick, or because they want to sound tough.

Ever been to a midnight horror flick with a bunch of college kids? They talk the whole way through the movie because they’re trying to be too tough to shut up and engage: to be scared.

So, with any challenging way of telling a story as true, there’s going to be backlash that one: it wasn’t scary, and two: i knew it wasn’t real all along.

Because found-footage now is associated with a kind of truth, but no longer seriously pretends to be true, audiences are very reactionary, finding it more annoying than inventive.

The Nuance of Found Footage

This is where the nuance comes in. Some people can very easily get motion sick, staring at a large screen, too immersed. Like 3D movies, some people physically can’t handle it. Which is fine. For the rest of us, we can experience that okay, so long as it’s done right.

One of the popular lines of critique in the found-footage style is an easy backswing against the original intention. Because it originally felt so real, because it felt like it could have been made by any Joe on the street, now people think that, seriously, any Joe on the street could make such a movie.

Which, of course, is relatively inaccurate.

Not everyone can make a movie. It’s hard work and there’s a ton of technical know-how.

This is not to confuse the fact that many people can make a bad movie. This is altogether common.

But the fact that so many bad found-footage movies exist is not to be confused with the found-footage style being inherently bad. That’s what they call a logical fallacy.

The nuance comes in that found-footage movies can still be artistic. They can still have beautiful shots, even if that footage is “accidentally” or “unintentionally” captured by some bamboozling character. The cutting and filming of the movie can be done in a way that looks haphazard, but is intentionally filmed in a way that doesn’t upset the audience until the filmmaker wants it to.

One of the great nuances of film is in where and when to cut the film. Many times in a poorly cut piece of video, you find yourself annoyed with the camera for lingering on one shot when you’d rather have it on another.

A recent example: this IGN interview from Comic Con this year, in which Jane Levy and Fede Alvarez discuss the magnificent Evil Dead remake.

At around the minute forty mark, the interviewers ask Jane Levy their first question, while the trailer plays. Inserting a trailer into an interview is fine, but the viewer has a few ingrained expectations. There are certain elements that need to be established. The first time Jane Levy speaks, I want to see her speaking (and not just because I find her insanely attractive). It grounds the audience in an association, and we can learn how the nuances of speech relate to action and presentation. We get a complete picture. But in this clip, when we finally get done with the trailer, we linger uncomfortably long at 2:00 on the interviewers, who aren’t speaking, and we still haven’t gotten a shot of Jane speaking.

Which I’m sure is a technical issue. They probably were trying to swing a camera to get her on the shot. It was a likely amateur mistake. Shooting live video is hard. The point here isn’t the poor quality of sixty seconds of interview footage. The point here is that audience expectation drives the shot, and if we don’t see what we have been taught to expect to see, it will drive us crazy. We want to see a character when they speak. Every shot has to be chosen against all other possible shots. We have to know that what we’re looking at is the most important component of the scene, whether that’s the character speaking, a character responding, or a shot that illustrates some kind of developing action in the background, we have to trust filmmakers, and most times we do.

But this can also be used to great effect when it operates against our expectation. How many times do you find yourself sitting in a horror movie, pissed as hell because the character is stumbling around in the dark, and we’re only give a tight shot of her face, and we can’t see what’s behind her — we can’t see what’s on the other side of the door — we, like her, don’t know what’s coming. But all we want to do is scream at the camera to pull wide and give us a bit of security.

That’s good filmmaking. It’s a bit of a standard example, but that’s one way of building tension literally through the shots that you choose.

And the found-footage style, particularly in that it’s becoming a facet of horror-films above all else, is extremely dependent on this type of thinking. What is seen and what is unseen, in terms of the shot, is crucial to building dread and tension. Debatably it’s even more crucial in this genre, because the camera shot is what the character is experiencing

Genre or Gimmick?

“Gimmick” is one of those words that has layers of pejorative meanings. It can be spoken of as both positive and negative. Usually, we tend to speak of a gimmick as a bullshit device that has no purpose or meaning other than drawing attention.

In terms of found-footage, most people have concluded that it’s a gimmick because it’s a cheap way to make the audience unsettled and nauseous, and a cheaper way to provide jump scares (back to the idea about the nuances of shot).

Found-footage has become transparent. Singly, it’s because there have been SO many movies that employ this technique. What used to be clever (the lines between real and lie, the nuance of shot, etc) have now become expected and dry.

But I don’t think that makes something a gimmick. That makes it gimmicky in the sense that it’s a device that’s become meaningless, but you can make that argument about almost any aspect of film. Any genre can be overdone to the point of being predictable, dry, transparent, and only as an attention-grabber.

I’d argue that found-footage as a style is not inherently meaningless, and can be used as a very intentional device. And, if it can be used as meaningful, it’s not inherently a gimmick, and can be applied with skill and purpose.

See, found footage in its first incarnation was used to break down the lines between lie and reality, which is a big deal in art. As we go, it became a compelling device for a fresh take on presenting a story. It made its way to television, primarily in the comedy genre, manifesting as a blend of mockumentary in order to make the “real-world” situations as “real” as possible which in turn enhanced the awkwardness. The perceived reality of the footage has the exact same emotional effect as horror. JJ Abrams used found-footage as a storytelling device shockingly well in Cloverfield, cutting back and forth between “real-time” footage and old, recorded footage being taped over, which strung along a story in flashback and realtime deftly, and with meaning. The Last Exorcism, though going off the rails by the end, used the genre both for scares, but also as a way to illustrate artifice, to bring the audience’s attention to construction and truth while examining the “reality” of possession amidst fakery. Most directly, Grave Encounters used it — albeit shallowly — to play with reality and artifice on ghost hunting programs. The Fourth Kind used it to study truth behind lies (behind more lies) and the artifice of a Hollywood movie.

Despite being a perfect gimmick for jump scares, the found-footage style is a perfect device to illustrate possibility. And so long as you’re operating within a genre (supernatural films), a big recurring theme is possibility. “What if this could happen? How bad could it be and what would it look like?”

Paranormal Activity used it, brilliantly, to not pretend to be real, but to make a fake haunting feel like a “real” haunting. Though horror movies have moved so far beyond it (with their shock-scares and gore), many people are terrified in their own homes at the smallest sounds and sights. Paranormal Activity, instead of pretending to be real, employed the found footage device to emulate a reality that struck home much more effectively than a standard shot-by-shot movie. Paranormal Activity reminded us that even though we know the found-footage style is no longer real, it still feels more real, which is exactly why we’re seeing so many of these types of movies right now, from [Rec] to The Chernobyl Diaries to V/H/S to Troll Hunter to Chronicle and more. 

It’s a Genre

To have so many movies operating under this one artistic style, a way of presentation, a form, a subject matter, and in doing so with such variety, found-footage has been too intelligently used, and with too much variety, to write it off as a gimmick.

And to suggest that there’s nothing original left to be done in the genre is to discredit the smart filmmakers out there. Sure, we’re going to get crappy, generic, found-footage movie after found-footage movie, but the same can be said of horror movies in general. Or RomComs, or dramas, or comedies.

So I don’t write off movies when I see from their trailers that they’re found-footage. I know they’ll probably suck. I know they’ll probably not do anything innovative with their gimmick.

But I’ll still watch them if they look good. I’ll still be on the edge of my seat in the theater, waiting — not for the next jump scare — but for that hint of brilliance that could yet change everything.

Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the books Hallowtide and Into a Sky Below, Forever. He writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and occasionally contributes to the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog. He’s the winner of the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, he’s appeared on Ghost Hunters International, and he lectures across the nation about paranormal phenomena. More can be found at http://www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Conjuring Review

Sorry I’m slow on this one. The review should have been up last Thursday, but I was finishing up another job, and just today got to the theater.

So!

Initial Review:

Like all the movies I review, there are two levels of analysis happening here: there is the analysis for the experiential moviegoer, and the thoughtful moviegoer. The Conjuring, for the experiential moviegoer, doesn’t go wrong. It doesn’t go terribly right, but it’s a good horror flick. Jump scares. Good ghost story manifesting in a good frightening possession. I can see why most people are liking it here in its first week.

For the thoughtful moviegoer… well… if you don’t know me by now, that’s where my discussion comes in.

The-Conjuring-BannerAs always, it helps at this point to have seen the movie, because apt discussion comes best when we can discuss the meat and potatoes of a movie, regardless of spoiler-worry, and in a way that puts us all on the same page.

This review is going to hit on a lot of the topics I continually hit on when writing reviews on supernatural-movies, because this movie generally failed in the way most of these supernatural-type movies fail.

Premise:

What makes the horror genre brilliant is that horror is dealing with extremes. These extremes take us out of our comfort zone, both emotionally, ethically, morally, and philosophically. Most horror movies get stuck in the first category: the emotional one. If they can scare you, they believe that they’ve done their job.

Many movies run in the same trend. Romantic Comedies have real potential to rip apart conventional social standards and dig around inside. Action movies can make larger commentary on the workings of government and politics and science-fiction. You name it. It’s usually the movies that push their boundaries, in whatever genre, that are reaching for real depth, and find themselves redefining the genre in the first place. Those are the brilliant movies.

Horror is not unique in that capacity, but it is closer to my heart.

This oftentimes is where I get frustrated with possession movies, because possession movies seem to always start with a beautiful layout of themes at the heart of their premise. These themes range from crises of faith, to the existence of a god, to the evil inside us, to the nature of insanity, to the nature of evil, to the pros and cons of religious systems–you name it. But in 99% of the execution, they fall into simply bloody messes and shark-jumping.

I suggest that the real tension–the real drama–of a horror movie comes from these themes and their emotional manifestations within the movie. The same way that my all-time favorite movie, The Dark Knight, manifests these themes in character, letting them play out on a symbolic level, I expect the demons and the ghosts and the things that go bump in the night to be manifestations of the same types of themes.

This hope alone goes back to philosophy, to Jung in particular, whom I love. He structured the way for Joseph Campbell, who wrote the Hero’s Journey. Jung took a mystical approach to storytelling, and charted the recurring tropes of stories on an international scale to be indicative of a kind of Platonic, mystical depth, where each trope was a manifestation of some spiritual consistency.

Regardless, this play between symbol, theme, and emotional, dramatic tension is, for me anyway, the heart of any brilliant movie. (These can be manipulated across the board, of course. Symbol and theme can be sacrificed for an emotional tension that reveals deep, deep inner truths. And by the same coin, emotional narrative can be sacrificed for pure exploration of theme and image, branching into very post-modern, abstract filmmaking. But it’s all along the same spectrum: dealing with deeply human issues.)

So here, in a genre that is–at the very least on a spiritual level–screaming for thematic discussion and tension, we have movies that just seem to ignore it.

And unfortunately, The Conjuring seems to have ignored it.

The Conjuring: 

The Conjuring takes its emotional tension from the situation: (whether you consider the main protagonists to be Ed and Lorraine Warren, or if you consider them to be the Perrons) there are angry ghosts, and the angry ghosts create a mess.

There’s nothing more than that. At best, there are themes hinted at: the importance of family and… well… the importance of family. Really, that’s it.

Even with that theme, a pretty decent one: there’s no stress put on it in any kind of executable way. Even with the risk of having their daughter put in jeopardy because of their need to help the other family, the Warrens’ argument is instead about Lorraine’s safety rather than their daughter’s. The question at the very heart of the movie, whether to continue to help one family at the expense of another, is never even discussed. The writer’s didn’t seem to recognize the very tension in what they had already wrote, let alone the potential for more.

Really, past all that, it’s just a succession of tropes. And there were so many: creepy imaginary friend; creepy doll; creepy cursed object; clocks stopping at 3:00; creepy basement; creepy blindfolded hide and seek game; family dog dying; birds crashing into the house; spirit with unfinished business; team investigating the house; exorcism; eye of the hurricane lull… the list goes on.

I think the reason so many people liked this movie on the surface was that it presented all these tired tropes in a way that didn’t suck. Which is only really celebrated because in most movies they do suck.

I was hoping that even with the steady progression of tropes, that the director of Saw and Insidious would have some style up his sleeve to give us a bit of spectacle with them. But really… just a creepy house. That was all the atmosphere we got. I can only recall one shot in the movie that really stood out to me in any kind of creative, atmospheric capacity.

Really, this film falls perfectly on the spectrum of mediocrity.

It wasn’t as laughably bad as 2012’s atrocious The Apparition, which couldn’t even execute a cliche trope to save a life. But, by the same token, when compared to the masterpiece Spanish Del Toro-produced Orphanagewhich heaps on many of the exact same tropes, but with a skillful execution thoroughly mindful of atmosphere, genuine frights, and depth of theme, The Conjuring just flounders around in average mediocrity.

It was just hitting its beats.

And yeah, maybe that was exactly what this movie was supposed to be. It didn’t pretend to be more than what it was. It was a summertime frightener. But really, can’t we get some effort out of a horror movie these days? Especially one that so heavily leans on the treasure trove that is Ed and Lorraine Warren.

C+

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Early Review of NBC’s Siberia

TL;DR Review: Tons of great potential, shaky execution, flat first episode, boring characters, intriguing — though very contrived — plot. Will probably flop. But I want to see it be brilliant.

* * *

NBC, on July 1st, is airing the pilot episode of its new summertime series, Siberia. The official press release describes the show thusly:

In 1908, a meteor hit deep into the remote Siberian territory of Tunguska. Now, more than 100 years later, 16 contestants descend on Tunguska unknowing of the land’s mysterious past. When a contestant is badly injured and no help arrives, the contestants are met with the chilling realization that the strange occurrences are not part of the show. With their safety threatened, competing contestants must band together in an effort to survive.

The pilot episode is now streaming on Hulu and NBC.com, and I checked it out today to bring my thoughts to you guys.

My first thought: these people could be a part of the biggest interdimensional cross-rift since the Tunguska blast of 1909! 

Concept:

My second thought: there is tons of potential here. I was caught up in it the moment I saw the first promo spot on NBC. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve been playing with a number of concepts about the same kind of idea recently, myself (reality television and, well, reality), but this sounded like a wonderful idea.

See it with me? A reality show that breaks down around the contestants, constantly playing with the idea of whether or not what’s happening is indeed reality, or is indeed reality television set up as part of the game. That tension could go a long way in a series such as this. Especially with the introduction of potentially supernatural elements, we further have play over what is “really” happening.

Here, I’m a bit bummed that the studio didn’t try more to treat the presentation of this as actually real. I think that with a concept such as this is not only a chance to play with fundamental concepts of modern-day television, but also with the modern-day audience. I’m a fan of playing with the lines of reality when it comes to storytelling, of involving the audience as deeply as possible. That’s the heart of post-modernism: breaking the barriers of classical storytelling in order to make some thematic use of that breakdown. If it’s seeing the strings and behind the scenes, use it. If it’s destroying conventions to unsettle your viewing experience, do it.

Leak a news story a couple months early about a reality show going terribly wrong where it was filmed in the remote areas of Siberia. Perhaps a shady article about a cast member who died accidentally, and the fallout from that.

Get some hype for the show before it releases. Get some people discussing the ethical components of airing a reality show where it actually becomes strikingly, and graphically, real.

And then when it airs, let the audience hinge for a while before we come to the realization that it’s a scripted show.

Unfortunately, with most of the press on Siberia, many articles and blogs are quick to jump on emphasizing and underscoring the fact that it’s scripted. In less of a way that’s about reassuring their audiences (which would be missing the point entirely, as I see it), but in a way of chest-thumping: “Ha! Hollywood didn’t fool me with another Blair Witch! I knew all along it wasn’t real! It’s so not real! Ha!” Which feels childish.

Execution:

That aside, the pilot episode itself was a bit dry. I can’t really stand reality competition shows because they feel phony, it’s hard to find likable characters, and the over-produced nature just feels like that fake sugar coating that reeks of distrust. Siberia keeps that sugar-coated feel here, with that kind of Apprenticeesque crescendoed music and the perfectly-staged interview setups. I’d have liked for a bit more of a gritty feel. The candy got too sweet. And making it through the first episode was a bit of work, because I just didn’t care.

That said, I think the show needed to start this way. It needed to get itself grounded in the reality feel. It needed to hit all the mindless reality show tropes that characterize the genre. It didn’t make it much fun, but it all needed to happen.

It’s in the second episode of the show where the real potential will start to unfold. The plot takes off slowly in the pilot, but when it does, it’s compelling and holds my interest. I can only see that such plot will unravel more and more in future episodes. Which makes me want to stay.

This quote, from the producers, also intriques me:

“The concept of survival, when mysterious elements are at play, makes for a compelling show,” said Jeff Bader, President, Program Planning, Strategy and Research for NBC Entertainment. “We believe a scripted series that offers an insightful behind-the-scenes view of how a reality concept comes together – especially when things don’t go according to plan – will connect with our audience in a very satisfying way.”

Lost

Before getting to the good stuff in this quote, I have to talk about Lost. Everyone who knows TV is going to compare this show to Lost. It’s a bunch of stranded people in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive, who begin to interact with mysterious elements (particularly seemingly-large beasts who make lots of noise in the night while everyone huddles around a campfire — familiar?). Indeed, those who really know Lost even know that it’s the same as the original concept for Lost, that of a survivor-type reality show going off the wheels when it comes into contact with mysterious forces.

But this doesn’t bother me. I think that Lost was a different show, with different goals, and a different endgame. However, the one real comparison to Lost here will come in Siberia‘s vision and characterization. What made Lost strong was in making friends with the characters, and trusting the mystery (when we could). We need that here too, or Siberia will fizzle. So far, I’m not seeing much of the characterization yet.

What I am seeing, though, is a feeling of real people in a situation. And that’s important. Playing with the mysterious and possibly supernatural in a way that demands a re-envisioning of both reality, and television, for both the characters and the audience, is very good for dramatic and thematic tension.

There’s always a kind of separation in supernatural horror movies because you know it’s fake. You know, with every camera-shot, that there are people behind the camera. Horror movies try their absolute hardest to make you forget about the cameras and engage with the story. That’s the goal of most classical cinema: to have a good emotional experience.

But Siberia sets itself up to go beyond this classical experience of television. It sets itself up as a way of breaking that fourth wall between the audience and the film. It tries to go to the heart of the experience (the way that Blair Witch Project and the found-footage genre that followed do), in a way that makes it real for the audience.

This is why I was immediately disappointed that the studio couldn’t slip this one secretly in as being more real than we’ve already learned that it is. If they could have, they would have had an even greater play with audience’s experience of the real thrills. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this was the first and biggest opportunity to recreate the Blair Witch experience here, fifteen years later. It’s already been done in the movies. We’ve already had the experience of a fast-one pulled. But on television? Television is changing so fast that this types of storytelling can still be pulled on us if done properly. And here, it wasn’t. Worse, given that this is the first time this concept will be truly novel, we may never see such an opportunity again.

But away from that, I want to point out what an incredibly difficult task it is to play this line of reality and experience for the audience. We have to trust the actors more. We have to trust the filmmakers to give us both an immersive experience, but also a believably real one, a balance that — if you’ve ever compared novel-dialogue to real-life-dialogue, you know is hard to strike.

But that’s what the show promises. And that’s the bar that it’s set for itself. The comment Bader makes, above, also gives me hope, in that, as they move the cameras back to show the strings of the reality show, they fully embrace showing that behind-the-scenes element that would be so compelling for audiences. The moment at the end of the Siberia pilot — when the producers and other camera guys dragged off the injured camera-man — that immediately captured my interest, and not just because I’ve been on reality television before, where seeing behind the scenes is refreshing. I think the television-watching audience at home wants to see that too. We want something fresh. We want to trust the show by the show trusting us.

The same way that Syfy’s Ghost Hunters got a feel of deeper reality when the normally-very-skeptical camera guys would interrupt with experiences, here, we trust stepping back and showing the strings, because that’s when the audience feels that they’re on the same page with the show, when the show recognizes that it’s a show.

This, in addition to Bader’s promises that this will not only be a behind the scenes look at the making of reality television, but also in the process of executing a concept, we could be in for a meta-aware, metaphysical, thrill-loaded treat.

Given the nature of network television today, I can’t expect that kind of execution. But I can hope for it.

Siberia premieres July 1st on NBC at 10pm EST.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Tagged , , ,

Game of Thrones, Mindless Television, and RISK

Wanted to write a quick blog inspired by a twitter conversation (because I need to blog more and this is exactly the kind of thing that should be blogged).

And so it’s going to be in TWO PARTS!

Part One: I hate you because you’re BRILLIANT.

I was perusing the glorious re-tweets of the twitter account @RedWeddingTears. If you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, Game of Thrones penultimate episode of season 3 rocked the minds and hearts of its fan base with a shocking death. (I suspect its not much of a spoiler to point out that all the hubub revolved around a death).

And though many of the tweets are quite hilarious,

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 3.40.51 PMOthers are quite saddening.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 3.40.05 PMOf course, I’m instantly reminded of FilmCritHulk’s recent column about spoilers and the different ways of consuming media. Which (spoiler) essentially breaks down as such: There are four types of movie-goer: the ones who go for a good experience, the ones who go for an EPIC experience, the ones who appreciate the thematic and symbolic nuances, and the ones who appreciate the craft and making of the film itself.

I like to think I’m firmly in the third category, with a healthy appreciation of the other three. While I think that a tremendous amount of weight falls into this third category (I’ve had intellectual engagement with films that falls on a level far more profound than a purely emotional one), a tremendous amount of weight falls upon the first two.

And I find it equal parts hilarious and tragic when people say that a show should be cancelled (or that they’re going to stop watching television altogether) because they’ve had such a profound reaction.

To say, through tears, that Game of Thrones is “treacherously written” is laughably ironic.

And not simply for the sake of the unintended “treacherously” (I suspect “terribly” to be more the idea). Eliminating treacherous writing would eliminate all sense of tension at all.

But that in a lot of ways is George R. R. Martin’s whole point. We’re far too used to watching our heroes with the expectation that they’re going to succeed. He’s flipping our traditional notions entirely on their heads. Is that his only trick? I’m not sure that’s the case, but with good writing, it’s a fine single trick to have.

See, the great irony of these tweets is that if writing can force you into a reaction that profound and gut-wrenching, that’s incredible writing. The hardest jobs of a writer is to address the main two categories of consumer: the ones who want to be emotionally moved, and the ones who want to be intellectually moved. Game of Thrones is doing both right now. Emotional, political, and loosely social themes contextualized by painful and wild plot twists? That’s an achievement.

And if you’re watching to not be moved to the edge of your seat, it means that you either want a story that’s predictable and banal, or that the writing has failed in making you care. Right now, Game of Thrones is neither banal nor un-sympathetic.

My twitter conversation then moved into the idea that if such people are threatening to stop watching television entirely, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Which leads me to Part Two: Is television still an evil that’s sucking our brains? 

We’re in what I like to call the second golden age of television right now. Which is to say, despite the advent of reality television and the cut-throat nature of network primetime mostly-procedural television, cable networks have risen and given intellectual, broad-scoping, serial television a place to thrive. This began by their trust in their audience, and the shows that they invite. Breaking Bad is debatably the greatest show on television right now. But Breaking Bad would not have gotten to the place that it is now without having to fight its way through the first three seasons. I only watched Breaking Bad because I wanted to watch the bumbling figure of Walter White in his first season transform into the face on the season four DVD cover.

Breaking-Bad-Season-4-posterA show like that (regardless of the clash in formats) would never make it that long on network television. And yet, here it’s the best on all of TV.

Because of this uprising in cable shows, we’re having this second golden age in television. We’re realizing again what TV can be. And it’s not what we thought it was. Though TV has been reinventing itself for longer than I’ve been alive (even since my birth, we’ve watched the rise of both episodic crime television and reality television), we’ve hit a new age in the intellectual and emotional capacity TV can hold. Game of Thrones is shocking audiences across the world. Mad Men, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, American Horror Story and others are doing things unheard of and reaping the rewards of smart audiences flocking.

Netflix, in the best decision they’ve ever made, recognized the long-term audience in their publication of old television serials that hook audiences for weeks at a time as well as the success of serial narrative-driven cable television, and they dove headlong into House of Cards, which in my opinion easily rivals the brilliance of Breaking Bad. Of course, Hemlock Grove and the revival of Arrested Development have only driven their success further. 

The point here being that though we’re engaging different parts of our brains, though we look like automatons when our glazed over eyes watch endlessly the dancing images on the boob toob,

tumblr_m7javtQmec1qzguyto1_r1_500there is finally a genuine intellectual and emotional work being done through the medium of television.

Is it a healthy stand-in for reading? Perhaps not as much. But is it finally an intellectually engaging one, challenging us on moral, social, and thematic issues? Absolutely.

And, I’d beg to suggest, if you can’t handle those emotions, or having those things you fall in love with be torn from you, or having the things you take confidence in believing suddenly subverted, I’d stick to reality shows. But if you want to step up and finally engage in something profound, that could change your life, these types of stories are becoming more and more available.

I can only hope that purely reactionary viewers realize that, and that the cable networks don’t become so flogged with competition for viewers’ eyes that they forget that good art takes time.

As a viewer, that’s not always fun. And as a network, it’s not always safe. But that’s risk. And risk is crucial.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

Evil Dead. Gratuitous and Brilliant.

I was having nightmares about the new Evil Dead movie a week before I even saw it.

It wasn’t a particularly frightening trailer and I only ever have nightmares every few months. But obviously something about this movie was doing work.

I won’t read into it.

A

Even still, I didn’t have very high hopes going into this one. A remake of a gratuitous and campy B-movie classic that looks like an utter squirm-fest for the squeamish. But I love the Evil Dead trilogy. And reviews have been relatively positive. And. Well. Jane Levy. 

But five minutes in and I was blown away.

The camerawork was phenomenal. The shots were gorgeous. It started out atmospheric and moody and was happy to linger within the setting before diving into the violence.

What impressed me most was the confidence of this film.

In a time when most horror films are any director with a camera with a camera who’s seen a jump scare or two and may (or usually not) have a good script (Cough…. Cough.), this guy, Fede Alvarez, stepping behind the camera for his first full feature, knows what he’s doing. He keeps the camera on his scares. He knows his atmosphere is well-constructed enough that it breathes and seethes. He knows that his scares are violent and hard. He has the confidence of a good script and story and it’s an epic story to tell.

Which is refreshing, not simply because horror movies suck these days.

But because this is a remake.

Well. Companion movie.

Well. Sequel.

Evil Dead is a strange blend of what’s come before, and what’s new, and what’s rebooted. A different movie, different characters: same story. In much the way that Evil Dead 2 was sequelesque to the original The Evil Dead, Evil Dead is sequelesque to them both.

And it’s so elegantly done. In fact, it’s where half the genius of the work comes from. How does a writer/director adapt a campy b-movie classic to the modern screen? He blends the perfect amounts of gratuitous violence and gore with echoes of what’s come before. What better way to make the (let’s be honest, distinct) Exorcist references blend with the modern? Make Regan put a razor blade through her tongue.

Every moment you got to see the strings (which is to say, every time it felt too over the top) was a seamless nod to the original. The reboot nods right and left to the originals (molesting trees, the infected-arm, the chainsaw-hand) exactly as you’d expect and hope. 

The dialogue was–bear with me–perfectly terrible. The director more than made up for it, and the cheesy, flat lines (“I’m not going to become Hell’s bitch!”) added flavor without taking away from the intensity or suspense.

I didn’t believe it was possible. But there you have it. A blend of the lovably-terrible classics with a modern vibrancy.

When no one in the audience laughed at the yawning POV shot through the woods, I knew they’d done it absolutely right.

Evil_Dead_2_Banner_2_28_13

Yes, I would have preferred a bit more pacing, a bit more atmosphere, a bit more milking before hitting the fan. But you know, it’s not that kind of movie.

Yes, I would have preferred a little more philosophy and depth as always. But it’s not that kind of movie. It’s too busy being GODDAMN EPIC.

Yes, the violence was stomach-churning. The camera refuses to look away (that confidence bit, remember). And the Evil Deads were always known as blood-fests. But where before it was camp, today it’s real. It’s visceral. And it has to be to keep true to what came before it (while staying fresh, do you see?)

This movie, for what it was (a reboot of a classic b-horror movie directly in line with the possession/slasher movies of the last forty years), was ASTOUNDING. and BRILLIANT. and hands down a MASTERPIECE. It fully realized the genre, embracing everything that came before it and elevating it to another level.

This film gets an

A+

BUT! Should you go see it?

Maybe not.

If you’re not into the old Evil Deads, if you’re not into modern slasher movies, or violent tongue-splitting, arm-cutting, cheek-slicing, eye-stabbing, hand-ripping movies: Don’t go see it. It’s disgusting and there’s little else to redeem it for you. It’ll seem like blood for the sake of blood.

But if you’re familiar with the classics, if an epic power-punch of a visceral, raw, bloody, fiery horror film is up your alley. GO FUCKING SEE THIS MOVIE.

(Note: I’d say wait two weeks though. Go on a Tuesday night or hit up one of the cheap theaters. See it by yourself or with a close buddy. It’s not a Friday night drinking comedy with your buddies like the original trilogy. This one is for taking seriously. Don’t go on a night with a packed house and a row of 25 theater kids who think they’re groupies because they have Evil Dead hoodies from that one time they put on the Evil Dead Musical at their school.

When only THREE people in the whole theater cheered when she picks up the chainsaw, I WAS OFFENDED. When the girl in front of me said she was scared to watch this because she’s terrified of zombies, I WAS OFFENDED (it’s a possession movie, dammit!). When homeboy laughed at EVERY establishing shot, funny, scary, or otherwise, I WAS OFFENDED.

If any of these things would offend you too: GO SEE THIS MOVIE).

Karl out.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Tagged , ,

Dark Skies Review

Two thirty AM Friday Morning, review time, let’s do this!

So it’s been a stale winter for horror flicks–not that I much blame them. Coming off of that autumn would dampen anyone’s spirits.

Saw Dark Skies and I have to say I’ve got to agree with those folks giving early tweets about it. It wasn’t stunning but it was damn suspenseful.

Pros: The alien genre is still a largely untapped market. I know we’ve had our space monsters for decades and decades now, and the old classics still pave much of the way for how we like to think about little green men (“skinny grey men” may one day catch on). Where in possession movies, you’re used to screaming and contorting and the occasional atrocity; in haunted house movies, you’re used to the crescendo of strange unseen activity… in alien movies, you never know what you’re going to get. There’s the blend of the seen and the unseen. Especially with the more recent poltergeist/possession style crossover with the alien abduction genre (which I’m still a HUGE fan of, somebody please astound me), we have a whole toolkit of possible things to startle us around every corner.

And startle they do. There’s a jump scare in this one that had me twisting, which alone gives it my stamp of approval. And there’s a perpetual tension that even as it seems cliche, music escalating fittingly, loud sound about to startle, it’s easy to feel, well, Un-easy.

The acting was good, the character development wasn’t particularly mind-blowing (but I mean, Jesus, thank Breaking Bad for setting that bar too high for anyone to match these days) but it was solid and worked well.

They did great with their aliens for most of the movie. Props for keeping it underplayed. Horror flicks have been showing too much lately.

And though there were only two or three elements that I actually picked up on, there were subtleties that went below the radar for the first half of the movie, which I LOVED. Thank you for not beating us over the head when you do something clever (at least until we get to the flashbacks at the end reminding us of scenes we saw forty minutes before, but ya know).

The cons are the typical cons. There was no originality and little depth. While I mentioned that the suspense was an achievement because of the possibilities for surprise, it was still your pretty classic step by step alien movie. There was little happening on a philosophical level to chew on, or even much to give alien enthusiasts/horror buffs much new to mull over (the way The Fourth Kind did actually manage, despite the atrocity of a plot along with it).

And there was no style. The first hour felt like a montage of various alien/horror movies, running the gamut from ET to Poltergeist to Signs to the more recent Paranormal Activity flicks. (They missed a great chance to throw a nod at Ghostbusters in the third act, which pained me, considering). And by the time the plot took off, it was really standard. The two most recent alien flicks that come to mind are Signs and Fourth Kind, both of which, (despite varying levels of success) had very distinct flavors and styles. This one was boring. The only interesting shot in the whole film was during one of Josh Hamilton’s job interviews. I mean, would a little spice kill you?

That all said, and nitpicking aside, no, it wasn’t brilliant. But was it suspenseful? Absolutely. I think it echoes October’s Sinister, but with far better suspense (if in exchange for a weaker payoff.)

I was satisfied, which is at least better than I’ve felt after most horror movies lately. A solid B. 

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Dark-Skies-banner

Tagged , , ,

HALLOWTIDE CONTEST

Here’s goes! I’m announcing a brand new, month-long contest for my novel, Hallowtide!

If you’ve yet to get on board with the Hallowtide train, well, for one: NOW is the time. For two: Here’s a link to the website if you’d like to check it out..

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 4.46.41 PM

At the start of the month of April, I’m releasing an updated edition of Hallowtide to fix the occasional formatting issues or grammatical error that was overlooked in the initial editing sprint that ended last summer.

With this edition, I want to include some front matter from you guys. The readers.

There’s been a lot of love flying around for the book online already, and I want to bring that together in a Reader Review section at the start of the book, which will be made up of blurbs from YOU GUYS.

It’s going to be very simple. Here’s how it’ll work:

You pick yourself up a copy of Hallowtide. Kindle. Hard copy. Mobi. Whatever fits your fancy.

But you know what, money is tight these days too, I know. And you know what, I’m asking you guys to do me a solid. And you know what, I’d rather my book spread right now than demand ALL THE MONEYS from you.

So I’ll tell you what, I’m offering Hallowtide, in its entirety, FOR FREE as a PDF file through the end of March.

You can download or view the files HEREHallowtide PDF

Go ahead and send your friends copies. Tell them what I’m up to. I don’t mind.

It’s so simple:

Check out the book. Read the whole thing, digest it, and then head on over to Hallowtide’s page on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or iTunes and leave a review. Include your first name, last initial, and state/country.

Now, obviously, blurbs are generally positive, but I value honesty over ego-boosters. So,

If you don’t like it, let me know. If you liked some parts and not others, let me know. I appreciate wit and insight. Leave your review in an honest, enthusiastic, witty, insightful, or comedic way, and I promise I’ll try to put it in the book.

The deadline for the reviews will be March 31, 2013. I’ll do my best to turn them around and have the book available for you guys WITH your blurbs at the front, by April Fool’s Day.

At the same time, I hope to have a page on the novel’s website for special ordering directly through me for personalized and signed copies, which are otherwise unavailable right now. Those will have a bit more of a delay, because I’ll have to order copies, sign, then resend them again to you.

And that’s the contest. Read the book, for free if you like. Leave a review. Get a blurb in the book or all over the website. Become famous for writing the greatest book review ever. Everybody wins. 

All I ask is your time.

(No purchase necessary, batteries not included, void where prohibited, side effects include but are not limited to death by hungry hungry hippos.)

Tagged , ,

Fun Facts About Ouija Boards!

This is the vlog that’s going to be a little controversial. Why? Because it’s about Ouija boards. And how Ouija boards aren’t necessarily the devil’s tools you think they are.

You might not have known, but Ouija boards have been around since the mid-nineteenth century. The boards were originally called “talking boards”, and Ouija was only a brand name. They were used in much the same way you see them used today–

Not for possession but for party games. Now in the 19th century, when things were a lot more “proper” and couples cuddling up to watch the Bachelorette was frowned upon–

(Actually let’s be honest, I still frown upon that.)

Anyway, cuddling was way too intimate. And so the Ouija board was a great excuse to sit close as you balanced the board on your knees. And the planchette? An excuse to almost touch fingertips.

Take a look at this Satanic Séance, as painted by the late Norman Rockwell.

il_fullxfull.213446450

Blistering with Sexual Tension, isn’t it?

Now say what you will about the inherent darkness of the board, but it wasn’t popularized as occultish until the movie The Exorcist came out. The movie made no explicit reference linking the board and the possession, but there was one scene in which Linda Blair was talking to Captain Howdy with the Ouija board. Shortly after, the possession began.

So first point, the board was seen as culturally harmless for a hundred years before Hollywood got a hold of it.

Much of this information is talked about in Jeff Belanger’s book Communicating With the Dead. But it’s also lectured about by the Ouija board expert if there ever was one, my friend Robert Murch. He has thousands of boards in his home. If there was ever a portal to Hell, that would be it. But he’s had no problems and is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. You can find more at www.RobertMurch.com.

Another part of the reason Ouija boards have built such a reputation is because possession, it is believed, happens for a reason. Exorcists believe that possession is rarely random, but comes from what usually amounts to an “unhealthy” curiosity with the occult in one way or another. And so in most possession cases, the source is traced back to understand where the possession started. And because Ouija boards are so common? It’s usually game, set, match, when one is found in a closet.

But are there real dangers from the Ouija board?

That depends.

Many of the stories I’ve heard from people go along the lines of something like this:

“I don’t do Ouija boards. Nope. No. No.”

“Why?”

“I had a bad experience with one when I was a teenager, and just… nope!”

“What happened?”

“Well, we pulled out the board and turned the lights down, you know? And I was touching the planchette and my friends hadn’t touched it yet, and it moved.”

Beat. “Isn’t that what you want to have happen?”

“Well, then we asked it when I was going to die, right? And it started telling us a date!”

Beat. “How’s that demonic?”

“Well, okay, then something near my dresser, it totally flew off the shelf.”

Beat. “Sounds like good activity.”

“Well, okay, then for the next couple nights, I felt like a dark presence around me when I was sleeping and it was bad.”

Beat. “Ghosts are often frightening. And often appear that way.”

“No, this was different. This was bad, see.”

And usually they wrap like that. I find that the cultural paranoia tarnishes the activity as “bad” or “negative” when playful interactions with spirits yield, well, actual interactions with spirits.

That said, I find there are two different instances that I would call attention to their potential danger.

The first is the question of how the board works. If a spirit sits down across from you and pushes the board with you and your friends, sweet. Time to get down to business and see if you’re gonna marry that hot guy in your English class.

But if the demands of the board require a kind of channeling of a spirit, you should be careful. Channeling is practiced by many experienced mediums and psychics, and has been said to leave you open to spirit possession if you’re not careful about it.

I like to stave this off by setting intention the moment I sit at the board. If channeling is what it requires, it’s not going to work, I say. But you’re welcome to push the planchette along with me.

Intention goes a long way in the paranormal.

But further still, there’s a danger of investigating in your home. Homes are usually safe energetic places. It’s where you feel comfortable. It’s where you go for safety and love. Most investigators will clear themselves after an investigation to keep their home static and clear.

Once you’ve invited a spirit into your home, and you give them that attention, that can spread. And, once your home is an open invitation to spirits, it’s hard to tell then who or what is coming and going. And if something darker is passing through the neighborhood on his way down to Georgia… it can be bad news.

(That said, the odds of coming into contact with something that dark are still very far off).

This then takes the emphasis away from Ouija boards, and if it is the cause of hauntings going bad, the same negative spin can be put on your K2 meter even, which can just as easily be used to speak with spirits inside your home.

Hope this has been helpful. Controversial topic I know, but I’ve said my piece. Do you have a story of a Ouija board gone bad? Still don’t want to mess with them?  Sound off in the comments down below!

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Tagged , , ,

Where American Horror Story S2 Went Wrong and Why it Was BRILLIANT

American Horror Story. Season two. Four months later.

I’m happy to say my hopes for this season were for the most part absolutely executed.

What it had going for it again was a brilliant season of discussion about hard modern American issues, everything from religion to the handling of mental patients, to the way we look at people with mental disorders. To issues like abortion and women’s rights and the role of women in society.

The show handles these issues with extremity and the kind of “othering” perspective gained by the horror lens that allows examination of different sides of these issues. Without being too spoilery, take for example, the instance of rape by a derranged serial killer. Is that an okay situation for an abortion? Or on the other hand, as the show demonstrates, what if choosing to do the “right” thing, keeping the baby to avoid more death, winds up turing on its head. By putting emphasis on nature instead of nurture, by studying this idea of essential evil, the show suggests that maybe even in the instance of doing the “right thing”, not the right thing happens.

That’s the real depth of post-modern, horror storytelling: turning issues on their heads, considering things differently and extremely and forcing you to think.

The season played with beautiful dynamics between monsters (traditionally embodying the deeper “American” horrors of the series rather than the purely grotesque ones). Here we have represented: religion and whether there can be such a situation as purity of the human being, and equally the ideas of pure evil in a human being; science as a method of salvation and destruction, embodied in the Aliens, used toward the end (the white light) to contrast the work of religion (the shadows); the masculine, represented by the serial killer Bloody Face, the idea of paternity and motherhood, of power of women, sexuality, and what that means to society.

Studying the play of these ideas is absolutely what makes American Horror story one of the most brilliant shows on television. AHS is the bar I set when I walk into a horror movie.

Now, this season did have some flaws.  I actually stopped watching for a number of weeks because I wasn’t into it. The season felt early on as if it bit off more than it could chew. Throwing in mental patients with deranged killers, with monsters, with aliens, and possession. It was too much. Tack on the upping of the more extreme camera work, action too fast paced to milk the scares, the level of in-your-face gore and horror — it felt that the writers had lost their way from the thematic hearts of the show.

But I returned, watched the rest of the season in two sittings, and was blown away by the end. The threads were brought together, thematically and practically balancing each other out, to arrive at a cohesive whole.

And, upon reflection, the cons wound up supporting the real positive work of the show.

Though the link from the aliens to the demonic wasn’t particularly elaborated on in terms of practicality (a la that god-awfully executed but brilliantly realized Fourth Kind), it was there subtextually and thematically. Aliens as scientific advancement. Religion as archaic advancement. Nazis somewhere in between. The dialogue throughout between the three.

One of my early problems with the season was the real claustrophobic feel. Creators would likely say they were going for that. It’s the idea of an Asylum. You’re cut off from the world. You don’t have a lot of freedom. It should be claustrophobic. They might say then my reaction was a sign of successful execution, where I felt it had more of a feel of being fake.

But this idea of fakery brings up a fascinating angle on it. This idea of what is real and not real. Of Camp. In storytelling, Camp as a genre, or style, is where you can see the strings, where you can see behind the scenes, where you have “reality” immediately presented to you, and you know to some extent what is not real. This places emphasis on what is more important: what’s real: Emotions; Story; Theme.

So in this case, that element of Camp that was played up more this season than last season, worked. I’m more of a fan of uber realism, myself. But here, whether intended or not, it was successful. The whole season we wind up questioning these ideas of reality: what’s real, what’s not real. Right down to the set-work and camera work.

The constant Dutch angles were a little much for me, but they contributed to that over-the-top style of horror that American Horror Story doesn’t shy from. That idea of Camp storytelling and essentially this in-your-face horror, where we’re not afraid necessarily to show the monsters we’ve made. We’re almost proud of them. We like to put them in your face, we want to talk about these issues. The hard issues.

That’s America.

And that I think is crucial and essential American Horror. And it wraps up the real success, even in what I didn’t like about it, for season two of American Horror Story.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Tagged , ,

Apple Giving You Errors When You Try to Upload Your eBook?

Wanted to do a quick post to help those other indie publishers out there who want to upload to iTunes, but are having difficulties (on a mac, sorry Windows friends).

There are plenty of good resources through google that will tell you how to format your work for ebook publishing, whether that be Kindle, Nook, iTunes, or whomever. And for the most part, the formatting is all the same. You get rid of tabs, font specifics, excessive returns, insert page breaks, build a table of contents, etc. Uploading to Kindle and Nook was a piece of cake. But Apple made things a headache. First getting approved for their publishing software, then downloading, then entering all the information in, all of that was easy enough. But when I clicked upload, I received a list of errors, like these:

“Error ITMS-9000: “Hallowtide_-_Karl_Pfeiffer.epub: Hallowtide_iTunes_Edition_split_000.htm(12): attribute “vlink” not allowed here; expected attribute “class”, “dir”, “id”, “Style”, “title” or “xml:lang”. This error occurs 47 times.” At Book (MZItmspBookPackage)”

or “ERROR ITMS-9000: “Hallowtide_-_Karl_Pfeiffer.epub: Hallowtide_iTunes_Edition_split_000.htm(13): element “apan” not allowed here; expected element “address”, “blockquote”, “del”, “div”, “dl”, “h1”, “h2”, “h3”, “h4”, “h5”, “h6”, “hr”, “ins”, “noscript”, “ns:svg”, “ol”, “p”, “pre”, “script”, “table” or “ul” (with xmlns:ns=”http://www.w3.org/2000/svg”). This error occurs 18 times.” at book (MZItmspBookPackage).

And so on.

The process of converting your book to ebook is essentially writing it in code the way you write a website in code. eReaders read the code the way that a browser reads website code, as far as I know. You start in word, you try to strip out all the bad formatting, save it as an html file, and then use a program to convert that file into the .mobi or .epub file as you want it for whatever store you’re using. The converter I used was Calibre, which was freaking awesome software, that worked in each case to give me a pretty, customized ebook that I could then upload and publish. Except for the one case: Apple.

The code that Word puts out is sloppy and filled with potentially problematic clutter. Anyone who knows anything about code hates word-published html. It was good enough for all devices but Apple it seems. After an hour or two of frantic research, the first Error that Apple called me on was for having a file name “Hallowtide-Karl Pfeiffer”, to which, anyone with coding background knows that spaces are bad, and should have an underscore, “_” instead. But digging into every error I got was a mess, so I called a gifted programmer friend and asked if he might be able to translate the errors and make the appropriate changes in the document.

This being my gifted programmer friend, he instead designed a program that would strip out all of Word’s bullshit code and make it pretty for Apple. And it worked.

So I’d like to share it with you if you’re having the same problem and might’ve found this post by a google search.

First of all, start in Word. Format the file according to traditional epub specifications. Then export as HTM.

Download Calibre here. Check up on the how to use Calibre, then export your book as an epub file for ipads.

Then click here to download the Fixit package that my programmer buddy made. (It’s not a virus, relax, it’s cool to open it).

(Edit: It’s come to my attention that due to the writing of the program, your file will need to be named “Hallowtide.epub” (no quotes) in order for the software to kick it out properly. It was the name of my first novel and I’m too passive/lazy to have my buddy tweak the program.)

Put your “Hallowtide.Epub” file in the same file as fixer/jar and fix_ebook.sh, the “Fixit” folder that was in the zip is easiest.

Open the program Terminal (if you’re on a mac), type the command:

cd “/Users/Your Computer Name/Desktop/Fixit” (Or the sequence of folders to wherever your folder downloaded to, or to where you moved it)

Followed by the commands:

chmod +x fix_ebook.sh

then:

./fix_ebook.sh

That should poop out a new cleaned up ebook that should be ready to be uploaded to Apple without problems. If that doesn’t work, in terminal, run:

./make_fix_ebook_2 (you may have to tweak security settings on your mac)

Then do whatever ./make_fix_ebook_2 told you to do.

I’ve run into some problems on later files, particularly if you have a lot of image files in your book. But past what I’ve got here, if it doesn’t help you, I can’t say I’m good for any more answers, not being a programmer. If you are a programmer and you’d like to download these files and fiddle with them to make a cleaner, smoother, program that can clean up the clutter from Word, you’re absolutely welcome to. Share this on forums if you’re having similar problems, or know of anyone else having a similar problem.

Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the novel Hallowtide. He was cast on and later won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. He now works at the Stanley Hotel, leading the public weekend ghost hunts, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine, contributes to the Paranormal Pop Culture blog, and travels the nation. More can be found at KarlPfeiffer.com