Discovering The Milpitas Monster

The Milpitas MonsterWill called me the other day to tell me that he and his wife had discovered a film I might like, The Milpitas Monster. They had seen part of the film, but couldn’t take the bad sound quality and turned it off. I went onto YouTube and found the whole film and watched it. I’ve watched it three times now. And I ordered it on DVD. The truth is that the bad sound and video quality are due to the transfer, not the film itself. Just see the trailer below.

But as I watched the film, I was thinking about why I have so much respect for low and no budget films. It’s because it is really hard to make a film. I mean: really. I’m sure I’ve talked about this to some extent before. I once made a short (10 minute) film that got to the first-cut stage. So I know what it is like. For example, suppose you want to film some random people walking into a building. The first couple of times you can probably do it, because you’ll ask your friends. But then you run out of them. And frankly, I never found friends to be that helpful.

How These Films Get Made

A great example of this was one really simple shot: the main character drives up in front of a hotel. The doorman comes out and opens the car door, then refuses a tip. It took us several attempts to get a doorman to do it. I think I tipped the one guy who would ten bucks. But we had to time the whole thing right so it didn’t interfere with the hotel’s customers. The whole thing — after finding a doorman who would do it — took two hours. Most of it was just standing around.

That’s a lot of work for about seven seconds of MOS film.

The Milpitas Monster Does More

But whenever I see something like a police car in a low budget film, I’m always amazed. Where do you get a police car? Police uniforms? Well, you rent them. But when you are trying to make a film with no money, that’s usually out of the question. And that’s the first thing that really struck me about The Milpitas Monster. It not only had police and fire vehicles, it had a helicopter! (Last I checked, they rent for several hundred dollars an hour. Since everything takes ten times as long as you think is the absolute longest it will take, that would mean thousands of dollars.

Yet The Milpitas Monster managed to have all of this. And more. At about 10 minutes into the film, I was shocked to see that a garbage truck that the monster attacked is upside down. How do you do that?! That would be very expensive. It’s possible they did it with optical effects. And if that’s the case: that’s really impressive too!

The Story Behind The Milpitas Monster

Luckily, I learned how this $5,000 ultra-cheapie managed to do so much. It’s all laid out in an interview with the director, Robert L Burrill, in the book, Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews. In it, I learned that Burrill was a teacher at the high school in Milpitas, CA. He taught commercial art, and I guess part of that was photography.

So one day, he got the idea of making a short (10 minute) film about some garbage monster. There were a lot of elements to it. It had models and animation, for example. They showed the film to people in the area, and the response was good. Burrill refers several times to people thinking it was “cute.” So they continued to work on the film, gradually making a feature-length version of The Milpitas Monster.

School Time to Big Time

Because it was a school project, a lot of people got involved. For example, at the end of the film, there is a list of almost 100 local businesses that paid $50 to have their names listed in the credits. But it was more than that. The city council was behind it. So the filmmakers got help from the police department, the fire department, and most especially the high school. Thus the film is a lot more visually diverse than, say, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. (Just the same, Death Bed works in ways that The Milpitas Monster does not.)

I was glad to see that Burrill didn’t apologize for the film at all. He specifically discusses the editing and how the film does a good job of covering simultaneous action in multiple locations. This is probably the biggest thing that new filmmakers blow. And it’s important. You can put up with the limited abilities of the actors if the dramatic momentum is carrying you through the film.

I said that I ordered the film. It cost me 10 bucks. But if it is good enough, I think I’ll spring the $40 that they want for the director’s cut that contains 20 more minutes of film.

Different Films for Different Times

There are lots of times when I want to watch a professionally made film. It’s very hard for a low budget film to do anything quite like Dean Spanley. But a film like this, that involves an entire community over the course of several years? It’s totally unique. You’ll never have the experience of watching the first time again. None of the people who make these films are masters at the art of viewer manipulation.

It’s probably best to think of films like The Milpitas Monster as categorically different than professional films. And once you see that, you can pinpoint how they ought to be viewed. My problem is that people want to compare a film made by a bunch of young amateurs with $5,000 with the newest Hollywood blockbuster made by professionals for $100 million or more. Hollywood has exchanged authenticity for professionalism. And that’s fine. But more people should respect those who choose authenticity.

My Life and Work in the California Fire

My Life in the California Fire

I lived through the northern California fire. I just saw a map of the Tubs Fire. It came a lot closer to me then I had thought — perhaps just too short blocks. I’m going to talk about my experience with the fire. It is light-hearted. But don’t take that to mean that I don’t take the fire very seriously. Over 40 people died. Some people were identified by the serial numbers on their replacement hips. Roughly 3,000 structures were burned to the ground. At least another thousand were partially burned. It was a horrible thing. People were very afraid and for very good reason.

Evacuation From the California Fire

Sunday night I had been smelling a wild fire. I sleep with my window open because I have south-facing Windows and my room tends to get very hot during the day. Then at 3:00 in the morning there was a knock on the door. My neighbor Jodi told me that there was a fire and that people were evacuating. I could see the main street from my doorway and indeed it was bumper to bumper traffic — at 3:00 in the morning.

Then at 3:10 in the morning I got a very loud knock on the door from Charlie, my next door neighbor, telling me that there was now a forced evacuation. I threw on some clothes, grabbed my father, and drove to Coddingtown, the biggest mall in our area. The mall is less than 3 miles away. I walk to it all the time, and it takes me about 50 minutes to get there. It took us longer than that to drive there.

Hanging Out in Coddingtown

We sat in the car and listened to the local news. Most of the local news was not what I consider news. But it reminded me very much of the news coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. They didn’t know anything. There was no new news. And they were going to repeat that over and over again.

The only cool part was at around 5:00 am when the fire got close enough to them that they had to evacuate. I don’t say that because it’s cool that they were In Harm’s Way. It just broke things up. And it was some actual news for a change. And note they were all safe and so was the station. Unfortunately, our local NPR transmitter was completely destroyed. So now I have to listen to the San Francisco feed which is not very good.

Back Home — in Retrospect, Not Too Smart

At around 10:00 in the morning we decided to go back home. I could see on my phone that although we were in the evacuation Zone we were at the very edge of it. If we simply crossed the street we were not in it. So we went home and sat around there. My bed is much more comfortable then a car seat.

The next few days we’re all the same. I spent the days reading books which was nice because I get so little time to do that. And at night I tried to read by flashlight but found it very difficult. I’ve seen this in movies a lot. Maybe it’s just kids who are able to do it. I usually just gave up and slept an excessive amount.

Life Without Internet

If I had taken the money back the gods would surely have cut the electricity again.

My biggest problem was that I was unable to work. We had no electricity; no internet; no gas. It was kind of interesting though. You could drive 5 miles away and everything was just fine. So we ate out a lot. But that would only go so far because if I didn’t get an internet connection soon I wasn’t going to have any money to eat out. My work is entirely dependent upon having an internet connection.

But on Wednesday I had an idea. I called up my friend Barbara who took care of my brother when he was still alive. I asked her if I could rent some space in her home where I could work. She said sure — that I could do it for free. But I was certainly not going to do that. Barbara has a lot more people to care for than I do. She deserve to be paid.

Renting Office Space Outside the California Fire

So Wednesday night I brought my computer and everything else over to her house and set it up. It was great. Thursday morning I made my way over to her place and worked my first day. I was thrilled. Then I went home.

Tribute to the Gods

And then the electricity came back on! That included the internet connection. Thank all the gods!

So I drove back to her place and got my computer and set it up. Barbara tried very hard to give me the money back. But I was sure that was a bad idea. As far as I was concerned the money I had paid was a tribute to the Gods. If I had taken the money back the gods would surely have cut the electricity again.

The Journey’s End

We only got gas back yesterday. Which means that we went for another 4 days without it. And it is impossible to cook anything substantial in my house without gas because the stove is gas.

But I didn’t care because I had electricity and I had internet and I could work. And we were extremely lucky. We could easily have lost our home. The picture above is of the house of my sister-in-law who lives about a mile away from me. It looks like Armageddon. The first couple of days of the fire it looked like Armageddon everywhere. But it’s mostly over. And I hope there will be little more destruction and no more death.

Paul Krugman on Trump Terror

Paul Krugman - CarrierRight now, I’m feeling more terrified than at any point since the 2016 election. Why? It’s time for some game theory! Start with a clear-eyed assessment of Trump’s character: he basically has negative empathy — that is, enjoys seeing others hurt. Normally, however, one would expect him to pretend to care and maybe even do some good things out of ambition and self-aggrandizement.

At this point, however, it’s clear to everyone — probably even him — that he just can’t do this president thing, and won’t get better. The prospect that he will be removed, say by the 25th Amendment, are getting realer by the day. And again, he probably knows this at some level. So we’re getting into the end game. He can’t save his presidency. He can, however, still hurt a lot of people — and he surely wants to.

So from now on, until he’s gone, I’m going to fire up my computer every morning in a state of existential dread.

–Paul Krugman
13 October 2017 Tweet Storm