the story behind the story
I grew up on movies, especially old horror films and noir. If it was black and white all the better. I loved the cops, mad scientists, gunsels, monsters, thieves, zombies, molls, ghosts, detectives, hunchbacked lab assistants and murderers seeking redemption, a home, justice, or companionship on the streets of the big city or a drafty castle laboratory. Reno Gabriel came from that particular primordial celluloid soup. But how did I get here?
‘Tell Me A Little Bit About Yourself’
An early memory was me drawing a small circle with a crayon on the dining room wall. Soon a small snowman eventually became an army of them, until I found myself standing on a chair to draw a snowman that was twice as tall as my 2 year old self. Drawing became an escape. With those came stories and other worlds.
That led me to the Academy of Art, wherein I’d learn two fundamental rules in life: if you enter a situation thinking you already know everything and aren’t willing to learn, you will fail. And constantly lie with enough conviction that you know how to do a gig until you land one, thus breaking any Catch-22 in the creative world. Soon I was cartooning, muralism, Trompe-l'œil, all while doing work scholarship maintenance.
In '89 I wound up at Colossal Pictures, wherein I found myself puddling paint onto cels in a damp warehouse off of 3rd street for an early Peter Chung commercial for Levi’s, the infamous ‘Edward’ spot. Halfway into my first day, a scene had arrived containing an element of a woman and child running from... something, but the shadows on them hadn’t been finished, only the first, 5th, 10th and 18th key drawings. The crew head asked the room “Hey, does anyone here know how to animate?” I raised my hand, took 5 minutes to figure it out, and sharpened a Col-Erase pencil. 10 minutes later a call came in from the big house, and the deepest end..
Every scene required hundreds of drawings with dozens of layers to emulate the chaos of a tentacled monster vaporizing a city. The next three weeks or so were 120 hours each, people sleeping in chairs for a few hours before getting back into the fray. A blur of toys tumbling from shattered windows, melting robots, and a single scene of two criss-crossing tentacles crumbing a concrete section as the view zoomed into Edwards face. Chung informed me that two other animators had quit prior from the strain. I replied ‘So, does that make me a hero or an idiot?’ I survived.
I soon emulated a dozen drawing styles a week for commercials for everything from Nike to Coke to Allstate, bug spray, tires, toilet paper... It was a steady gig, but... the worlds I’d created in my head, the storylines I’d curated and lived in were constantly calling me. I wanted to write for films. I wanted to make movies.
A kind of Hollywood story
A few years earlier I’d read Rick Schmidt’s ‘Feature Film Making at Used-Car Prices,’ wherein he’d advised that to break into film one needed to (a) live in Los Angeles and (b) become a P.A. for a production. The first one a stretch, but... I found an opening for a P.A. on a small film. On the day of the shoot, I’d arrived on time to help set up and given a list of things to pick up in my car... I didn’t have a driver’s licence, had no idea how to drive. I calculated that if I told the truth, that door would be closed and the film career would end at that moment. So after a minor flurry I was handed the director's car keys and that day's list. I started the engine... then played the ‘do not hit the car in front of you’ game for two weeks.
Schmidt’s book also gave a rundown on screenplays: you start with a treatment, then go from there. I drew. I read voraciously, but I didn’t know how to write. Or so I thought. In its simplest form the rule became clear: If you can read, you can write. So I created a treatment for an early ‘90’s Sci-Fi action film called 'Slayer' and sent it to the co-writer of the small film. We collaborated, which became my screenwriting education in between stints at the animation studio. Soon that led to 'Amityville: It's About Time' and, a year later, Amityville 7, the prior written in 23 days, the post in 13, which led to my WGA card. 'Slayer' never happened.
I stopped being bi-metropolitan and went into animation full time at Colossal, then Wild Brain Animation and the insanity of the Dot-Com era. At Wild Brain I wrote screenplays for myself or suggested ideas when asked. Sci-Fi, Horror, Dark Comedy, but one story that I kept going back to was 'Reno Gabriel.'
Animation and writing
During a blind call for submissions through the studio for pitches for the Weinstein Brothers in the late '90's, I submitted ‘Reno,’ as well as three others: ‘Crimson Realm’ which dealt with a group of miners on Mars, ‘Dead Ed and Ghostboy’ which dealt with a slacker who finally gets a life after he dies, and a third project that I’d co-written with a director. Out of 80 or so submissions, a group of directors voted for 15. ‘Reno’ took the top slot, ‘Realm’ took number 11, ‘Dead’ took number 4, and the other project was somewhere in the pile. The owners immediately went to the meet pitching an updated version of ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ And hence, show biz...
‘Reno’ landed me, temporarily, an L.A. agent when I was in Asheville in '06, who recommended that I turn it into a graphic novel, which led me to develop a style, visualize the characters, and crank out pages. It soon landed in the top 50 in Platinum Studios' '07 Comic Book Challenge and a trip to Comic-Con. My advice? Never pitch on two hours of sleep and four Red Bulls. And yes, there's a video on YouTube.
I'd been hired on a myriad of projects that vanished over the years. A few I keep tinkering with are ‘Op-229,’ which is based on my days as an undercover Op for a detective agency, and ‘El Lobo,’ which is a slant on the Black Shuck legend, but set in a drug-cartel laden Mexican border. Think ‘Sunset Boulevard’ meets ‘Sicario’ and ‘The Wolfman.’
The third is a 2000 page timeline of ancient civilizations, mysteries, monsters, vanishings, murder, conspiracies, strange history, UFOs, natural disasters, et al, that start with the Big Bang and ends with either the Big Rip, or Freeze, or Bounce, or Crunch... a project that’ll never end, but I’m aiming to turn into an open source web page for others like me.
Who Am I?
I had a year in a Central American parochial school, wherein I'd spent the majority of time playing poker.
I've had my honeymoon in Moorea during the French nuke tests, the ultimate noir foreshadowing on how the marriage would end: Explosively.
I’m at peace on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, where all you have to think about is what’s in your headlights and the next small town, I road-tripped through the winter desert to stand on the sands of Roswell, I paid homage to Elvis in Graceland, I went to Archer City, Texas, where Larry McMurtry had turned his hometown into a used bookstore.
I’ve travelled to New York, Chicago, Portland, Tucson, Seattle, Anchorage, Washington D.C., Vancouver, Montreal, London, Cork, Dublin, where I survived New Years Eve, which was exactly like every other night in Dublin, Cambridge, Prague, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Mexico, Honduras...
I have a dual citizenship with the E.U. via Spain. My dad and all of that side of the family have been bullfighters, horse-trainers and cattlemen. Upside? I am genetically predisposed to be very good in a crisis. Downside, I feel I'd been born a century too late.
I’ve had a stalker or two. I’d been an onstage supernumerary for the S.F. Opera, wherein I got to puppeteer a life-sized horse. I’d chatted about old movies with California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk during a dull dinner at some rubber chicken function. I’ve been a chimney sweep. I’ve been a hospice worker for a friends wife.
I have the soul of a con man and saint.
I’m spiritual but not religious.
I have a myriad of stories to tell.