Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

Winning and Losing

Tuesday, May 7th, 2024

NEWS FLASH: True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks, the ten-episode full-cast, fully immersive audio adaptation of the first Heller novel (True Detective) is now in production! The Kickstarter crowd-funding effort will go live soon, to enable us to add physical media and other bells and whistles to the project. Watch Robert Meyer Burnett’s various YouTube shows and appearances for ongoing updates.

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We did rather well at the Iowa Motion Picture Awards (held in Forest City, Iowa, on May 4).

Actor – Award of Achievement
Blue Christmas
Rob Merritt

Actress – Award of Excellence
Blue Christmas
Alisabeth Von Presley

Direction – Long Form (60 minutes +) – Award of Achievement
Blue Christmas
Max Allan Collins, Chad Bishop

Screenplay (Produced) – Award of Excellence

Blue Christmas
Max Allan Collins

We were also nominated in the Best Feature Film category and Best Supporting Actor (Chris Causey as Jake Marley).

There were any number of categories we were not considered in, because every category you enter in this award competition comes with a somewhat stiff entry fee. I settled on what I thought we had a chance at winning (roughly speaking, the Award of Excellence is first place, the Award of Achievement is second place).

What I like about the Iowa Motion Picture Awards is that each category has a separate slate of judges (and the second round is out-of-state). That gives a film several bites at the apple…though you have to pay for each bite.

This is, in a way, an important competition for us, because we were looking to do well enough to be able to legitimately put some impressive-sounding Laurel wreaths on our poster and on the Blu-ray and DVD sleeves. And we accomplished that. This is preferable to, say, the Cedar Rapids Film Festival, where they have a large slate of awards but only two awards (essentially first and second place) apply to indie feature film projects, the rest to corporate and student. No acting, writing, directing awards. That means being an official entry, as we were in that festival, is an accomplishment in itself; but it isn’t as impressive as, say, Best Actress.

I had originally hoped to attend the Iowa Motion Picture Awards, but it’s a twelve- hour round trip drive from Muscatine, Iowa, to Forest City, Iowa. And we had a conflict, too, which had us cancelling our motel room at the last minute and not making the trip. Our star, Rob Merritt – who won several awards not just for our production but a couple of others (he’s the busiest actor in Iowa and for good reason) – was there to represent us, as was Jake Marley, that is, Chris Causey.

We had also decided not to attend the Edgar Awards, which were just a few days before the Iowa Motion Picture Awards. That was a different situation. For one thing, we figured the NYC trip would cost probably at least $3000 and that was a conservative estimate. For another, the minute I saw that a biography of James Elroy was nominated in the same category as my (and Jim Traylor’s) Mickey Spillane bio, I knew we were (what is the term?) fucked.

Elroy is inexplicably (from my biased viewpoint) a writer worshiped by any number of readers, reviewers and, of course, Elroy himself. He’s the only writer whose work I truly despise. I have not hidden this view, nor have I hidden that it likely derives from my being jealous because he’s hugely successful working my side of the historical street. And I also have not hidden the fact that any number of smart people think he’s a genius.

The thought of shelling out three or more grand to go to New York and sit through a long evening to watch a book about a writer I abhor beat a book about a writer I admire was just one rubber chicken too far. There’s an irony here, of course, which is that many in the mystery field still feel about Mickey Spillane the way I feel about James Elroy. It just goes to show what a sick sense of humor God has (it’s uncomfortably like my own).

I have nothing against the writer of that book or the book itself, not having read it. It came down to, “Is this how I want to spend three grand?”

And it was a good call.

The award – the reward – for our Edgar-nominated book is the book itself. I am so happy to have written it and found in Jim Traylor a copasetic collaborator and in Otto Penzler an enthusiastic publisher/editor, who has a true affinity for the mystery genre and its history. I wouldn’t trade our book for a barrel of Edgars.

It is kind of funny that an Elroy book beat us.

Of course, in that same category there were two books about Poe (after whom the award was named) and another by an author who passed away recently, so even if the Elroy bio hadn’t been there, one of those would have likely beat us. And since I haven’t read any of the competition (including the Elroy bio), I have no opinion as to the quality of those books – any one of them could be better than ours…including the Elroy one.

Two Poe books up for the Edgars reminds me of when I was a presenter at the Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con a while back, and one of the two guys up for the award was Will Eisner himself. And I said to the audience, “I’m not sure which is worse – being up against Will Eisner for the Eisner, or being Will Eisner and losing the Eisner.” (He won.)

I should probably not be talking about this at all. Frankly, I’ve always been somebody who wants to be outspoken and yet loved by everyone…in other words, something that has zero chance of ever happening. To anyone. But it has made me reflect on my competitive nature and my desire to win. Which may be a little sick, but what would a desire to lose be but psychotic?

For me the ultimate award was being made a Grand Master Edgar winner by the Mystery Writers of America. That was something I had hoped for and dreamed about for decades. Anything else that followed would be gravy. So why at this late date do I still care about winning awards?

Actually, the people who say it’s a win just being nominated aren’t wrong. A few years ago, Jim Traylor and I did a really good book on Spillane and the film/TV adaptations and did not get nominated at all. Neither of the massive, extensively researched and groundbreaking Ness non-fiction books with Brad Schwartz – one about the Capone years, the other about Cleveland and the rest of Ness’s life – even got a nomination. So you bet it’s a “win” to be nominated.

But what is not a win is sitting through an endless banquet waiting to hear if you win or (much more likely) lose. I think I’m done with that. It’s a masochistic pursuit that, in the greater schemes of things, adds up to nothing. It’s much better to be at home, minding your own business, and learn by phone or e-mail that you’ve just lost or even won.

Don’t get me wrong. Awards are great, and so are nominations. But let me briefly return to the subject of bad reviews. As I mentioned last week (I think it was), I have been blessed with many good and some even great reviews. Even at this late date, the occasional bad one stings. Rarely – actually very rarely – something is pointed out by a reviewer that resonates with me and improves my writing by pointing out a weakness I can work on.

Generally, however, a bad review irritates me not because my feelings are hurt, but because it’s going to cost me sales. And a good review doesn’t make me feel good because it builds my ego, rather because I know there’s a pull quote in there I can use to promote that book in an ad, and/or that can appear on the dustjacket of my next book (or the interior opening pages of a paperback).

Which brings us back to Blue Christmas and the two competitions I entered here in Iowa. I love hearing that people like a film of mine, because it’s not just me being praised as a writer/director, but indicates my cast and crew are succeeding, and that is truly gratifying.

Yet ultimately it’s about how published, public praise can be utilized in promoting, in selling, the work. What we truly got out of the Iowa Motion Picture Awards (in addition to some nifty physical awards) was the right to affix Laurel wreaths bragging about our film on posters and on physical media. That is what we were after.

And we got it.

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Here is a great piece on The Ten Best Mob Movies (That Aren’t the Godfather). Road to Perdition is number two! (Of course The Untouchables is number one, a great movie with a not-great Mamet script…I like Mamet almost as much as I like James Elroy!).

Finally, here is a link to variant versions of the True Noir proof-of-concept audio.


True Noir, Dick Tracy and King Kong

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024

The crowd-funding campaign for True Noir: the Nathan Heller Casebooks at KickStarter is set to go live on May 1. I have delivered the first of ten-episode scripts (the production is based on my novel True Detective) and everyone seems pleased. Director Robert Meyer Burnett has started casting. Todd Stashwick of Star Trek: Picard and the 12 Monkeys TV series has been onboard to play Nate Heller for a while now, and in fact you can hear the 12-minute sample starring him – our “proof of concept” – as Nate right now. Right here:

Longtime readers of the Heller saga will recognize this as the beginning of Stolen Away, but that was just chosen as a way to intro newcomers to Heller and to give director Rob Burnett a chance to get the concept on its feet. We’re starting with True Detective, the first novel of course. In addition to Todd, several other notable actors have signed on, including a favorite of mine, Jeffrey Combs of the Re-Animator movies, as Mayor Anton Cermak. The image we’re sharing here is still in progress but you should get a kick out of it.

Jeffrey Combs as Mayor Anton Cermak in True Noir

I am about to dive into the remaining nine scripts (each episode should be in the 35 – 40 minute range) and this is now my current major project. I have a very busy remainder of the year ahead: the last scheduled Mike Hammer novel (Baby, It’s Murder), another Antiques novel (we have just signed to do two more!), and what looks to be the final Heller.

This past week was a busy one. Work on preparing the materials for the VCI/MVD release of Blue Christmas continued, with producer Chad Bishop in the lead. I recorded three (!) Blu-ray commentaries – Chad and I did the Blue Christmas commentary (and he did a great job), and for VCI I recorded commentaries for two mid-‘40s RKO Dick Tracy movies: Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. These are for an upcoming Blu-ray release of the four RKO features, a boxed set that looks to be a jam-packed affair with multiple commentaries and much more.

I had done commentaries for the other two Tracy films (Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy’s Dilemma) in 1999 for the late Cary Roan, and these are included. Now, a quarter of a century later, I found myself completing the quartet of B movies for Robert Blair at VCI. I’ve always been fond of these films, though the sometimes lauded Gruesome is by far my least favorite, but did not expect to revisit them ever again.

As I have expressed here on occasion, my bitterness over being essentially fired from Dick Tracy – the strip that I had, in my estimation and that of others, saved from cancellation – had been deep and abiding until I was called upon by editor Dean Mullaney (who had first published Ms. Tree) to put on my Big Boy pants (so to speak) and write introductions for the IDW volumes that would collect the complete Chester Gould. I took on that task, spanning a number of years, and reminded myself how much I liked the strip and basically came to terms with the firing that frankly opened the door on much else good that has happened for me. Probably no Road to Perdition, for example, had I still been on Dick Tracy.

This is not to say I don’t retain some bitterness. I was told by a reliable source that the Joe Staton and Mike Curtis team (who’d been approached to take the strip over after Dick Locher’s passing) asked why the Trib wasn’t returning to me. The editor there (a newer one I had never met) reportedly said, “Why would we make the same mistake twice?”

Nonetheless, revisiting Tracy in both the IDW volumes (a long-running series now completed) and again last week by way of those four fun RKO B-features was indeed like Old Home Week. Tracy was my childhood introduction to crime fiction (and comics), and the first big break of my career.

Speaking of Road to Perdition, I was pleased to see the movie version again turning up with some very impressive neighbors — number 17 on Ranker’s list of The 90 Best Mafia Movies Of All Time.

By the way, when I recorded the two Tracy commentaries I did so with my longtime collaborator Phil Dingeldein at my side. Phil is the Director of Photography on most of what I’ve done in the world of indie filmmaking starting with Mommy (1994) and continuing through this year’s Blue Christmas. Between the two recording sessions for the pair of Tracy movies, Phil and I took lunch and discussed the revision I did recently of my script for a proposed film of Road to Purgatory, my prose sequel to Perdition. It’s a low-budget version (not “low” in my usual scrounging sense, but the Hollywood sense) designed for me to be able to direct myself.

That, frankly, is part of why I undertook doing Blue Christmas and am preparing another feature to shoot late this summer – I want to see if the Old Boy still has it in him. And I’m not referring to Phil.

Road to Purgatory has been the dream project for a long, long time. We’ll see if a dream is all it is.

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For several years now I have spent Saturday afternoons with my grandson Sam, watching movies. We began with animation, including classic Warner Bros and the Fleischer Popeye and Superman cartoons. After that it was 3-D Blu-rays that were mostly CGI – Pixar and others – with occasional live action like the Spy Kids movies (some of which are also 3-D – my obsolete 3-D screen got a workout).

In recent months we’ve delved into comedies, in particularly the Pink Panther movies (skipping the first two) and The Great Race, the latter being more of writer/director Blake Edwards at his comic best. I’ve been edging up on some things that I loved as a kid, and Sam’s father Nate also loved (though not Lone Wolf and Cub yet – Sam is just eight!) (of course so was Nate at the time).

So this week we watched the 1933 King Kong. Barb had warned Sam that the first half hour or so was pretty boring, a lot of it on the ship sailing to the island with Skull Mountain. But Sam never wavered. He wanted to see the whole thing. When Kong arrived in all his gorilla glory, I explained stop motion to Sam – that Kong was mostly a puppet recorded incrementally, and that also a giant head and hand had been used. He did not get frightened but he was into it.

At the end I searched YouTube and found a colorized clip of the fight between Kong and the T-Rex. Sam told me to make sure I stayed with it till we saw Kong flapping the defeated dead T-Rex’s jaw, which was his favorite part (mine too).

Then Sam announced that he liked the black-and-white version better.

There is hope for the world.


Blue Christmas at The Last Picture House

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

Today I’m sharing a few photos from our Muscatine, Iowa, premiere screening of Blue Christmas and more than just a few pics from the last stop on our premiere tour, The Last Picture House.

Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the “snake” Larry Turner in BLUE CHRISTMAS), Rob Merritt (Richard Stone) on the red carpet at the Muscatine Premiere showing of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine's Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine’s Palms 10.

All of these theaters – the Fleur in Des Moines and the Palms in Muscatine (both of which are Fridley Chain venues), as well Bruce Taylor’s Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Davenport’s Last Picture House – have been incredibly supportive, and the turnouts have been stellar. Cedar Rapids, Muscatine and Davenport were all sold out, strictly capacity crowds with tickets at a premium.

First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.

The response from the audiences has been great, but of course we are careful not to get too full of ourselves, as we are well aware we have a home court advantage. Still, it feels very good. As I’ve said here before, Blue Christmas was designed for streaming and home video, and seeing it up on these huge movie screens, with booming movie-theater sound, has been frankly thrilling to our little army of actors and crew who turned six days and $14,000 into a credible movie – in a world where Hollywood thinks $5 mil is low budget.

I was blessed with a terrific cast, all from here in Iowa, and a crew that included my producer (and editor and much else) Chad Bishop, longtime partner and D.P. Phil Dingeldein (aided by First Camera Assistant Liz Toal), and our lead actors Rob Merritt, Alisabeth Von Presley and Chris Causey. But really everyone in our cast of 24 (!) and tiny crew of half a dozen (!) hearty souls came through for me and for the production.

At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.

We have one more stop on this mini-tour – Blue Christmas is an official selection of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival and will be shown at 9 a.m. and at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Road Theater (1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302 – Marion runs side by side with Cedar Rapids). Tickets are $10 advance and $12 after April 4. I will be there for the 1 p.m. screening.

This will be the last opportunity to see the film before this year’s holiday season, when we’ll be in a number of Iowa theaters as well as available on Blu-ray from VCI Home Entertainment (MVD is handling streaming marketing, but it’s too early days to know what streamer or streamers will make it available).

The real final stop of our mini-tour will be for the Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, an event held in Forest City, Iowa, on May 4. But this is a competition, not a festival.

My apologies to my readers and friends (not exclusive groups) who have been subjected here of late to pretty much nothing but news of this indie film production. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Heller, Quarry, Antiques news very soon.

And serious work on True Noir the Nate Heller podcast starting with a 10-episode adaptation of the first novel, True Detective, begins this week.

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According to this excellent article on Road to Perdition (the movie), James Bond was not Daniel Craig’s best role!

Finally, here’s a video about the upcoming Nate Heller podcast series. Check it out!


It’s Christmas (Blue) in March!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

This is a big week for us, with two Iowa premiere showings of Blue Christmas, first this Wednesday March 13 at the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids (technically at 1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302) and on Saturday, March 16 in our hometown Muscatine at the Palms 10 (at 3611 Palms Dr, Muscatine, IA 52761). Both showings start at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a Q and A by myself and various cast and crew members.

There’s good news and bad news about these two screenings, and both are the same news. The Cedar Rapids event is essentially sold out – two seats remain available on their website. The Muscatine event is 70% full. Both events are reserved seating. The Muscatine event’s remaining seating is in the area closest to the screen.

I have to say I was blown away by how great the movie looked (okay, I’m a tad biased) on the huge screen at the Palms in one of its two largest theaters.

The final premiere event will be on Friday, March 22, at the Last Picture House in Davenport at 325 East 2nd Street, the fabulous new theater brought to the Quad Cities area by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods of A Quiet Place fame. As I write this, fifty seats are remaining (about 40% of the seating).

Two screenings will be part of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Rd Theater in Cedar Rapids. Showings will be at 9 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. I will be attending the second of those and we may have a Q and A after that screening with myself and cast and crew (haven’t confirmed that yet).

Blue Christmas will be playing in twenty-some theaters in Iowa in December of this year, exact dates to be announced. The physical media (Blu-ray and DVD, from VCI Home Entertainment) will be available starting November 1 of this year. It’ll be offered to the streaming services for the 2024 holiday season as well, but it’s too early to know where and when Blue Christmas will be available in the streaming world.

If you are a cast or crew member, and want to reserve one of our limited set-aside seats at one of these remaining premieres, let me know. Same goes for our indiegogo donors whose level of support promises an advance ticket. (If no seats are available at any of the three remaining premieres, your seats will be provided at one of the 2024 holiday season screenings at the Iowa theater most convenient to you.)

And we hope to avoid any inconvenience, so if you are a cast/crew member or indiegogo contributor, do check with the theater websites to see what’s still available, and in any case check with me at or producer Chad Bishop at to see if we have a seat set aside for you (we were provided a limited number from the theaters who booked the film for the premieres).

We do not want to make anyone unhappy at these happy events, including ourselves! The last thing we want is someone who’s been promised a seat only arrives to discover no seats remain. Barb and I and Chad will give up our seats if necessary, but that’s only three seats, after all.

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Here is an excellent write-up about Blue Christmas from the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Here’s another article about Tom Hanks extolling the virtues of our film Road to Perdition. Tom, you never call! You never write! Hope all is well.

Here’s an article about the Mike Danger comic strip that I wrote (What? You did?).

Check out this essay on Road to Perdition, focusing on the graphic novel more than the movie.

You may not know this, but Brash Books has all three Perdition prose novels (Road to Perdition, Purgatory and Paradise) in one reasonable e-book package.

Finally, my frequent collaborator, Phil Dingeldein, is a prime mover in the newly revitalized Quad Cities Film Office. A nice article is right here, with a shot of us at work on the set of Blue Christmas last October.