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appearances

It’s NaNoWriMo and, for the first time in a year or two, I am not inadvertently participating simply by dint of having so much freelance work on my plate that I write well over 50,000 words in the course of the month – though I do still have a lot of work, so I may crack that number without breaking a sweat anyway.

Instead, I am going to be talking about writing some. Specifically, I will be talking about writing licensed fiction and work-for-hire stuff and how to take inspiration from the movies over at the Johnson County Library Writers Conference. It’s my first time as a presenter at said conference – and my first time presenting online pretty much ever – so I’m more than a little nervous, but you’re all still welcome to come check out one or both lectures/workshops. Plus, there’s lots of other cool stuff going on!

The conference is all online, so you don’t have to be local to the Kansas City metro, and it’s totally free. You can learn more at this here link, and if you want to stop by for my sections, I’ll be talking about writing licensed fiction TOMORROW at 4pm CDT and doing a longer workshop on how to write from movies, rather than for them on Saturday starting at 3pm CDT and running until 5.

The former will be a pretty straightforward talk about how I got into writing licensed fiction (primarily for Privateer Press), its relationship to fan fiction, how it differs from my regular work (and how it’s similar), and what my experience with it has been. The latter will be a more in-depth discussion of both the similarities and differences between film and prose, and how the strengths of one can be adapted to fit the other.

Anyone who has read much of my fiction knows that I draw a lot of inspiration from film, and I at least seem to do an okay job of it. But translating film to prose isn’t a one-for-one process, and knowing how to borrow is perhaps more important than knowing what to borrow.

Both sessions will be recorded and available on the library’s website in the future, if you can’t make it this weekend. In the meantime, I dunno, wish me whatever the Zoom equivalent of “break a leg” is…

October is the busy season for horror writers. That’s pretty much always been true, and this year is no exception. While the pandemic has put a damper on some of the season’s usual festivities, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty to do.

I’ve been making a couple of appearances and I’ll be making a few more. For the most part, this means social distancing, masking up, doing things outside where possible, all the usual safety measures, even though I am double-vaxxed and all that jazz. But while last year these kinds of activities were functionally impossible, this year they’re happening, just under somewhat less-than-ideal circumstances.

Let’s start with the most pressing item: Tomorrow, I’ll be outside the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads in downtown KC, where I’ll be joined by a bunch of other local authors (including Jason Teal) in hawking my wares as part of their first annual Lit on Grand event. It kicks off at 11 in the morning and goes until we pack it in, so come on down and say hello!

Then, in about two weeks’ time, the Halloween event of the season is happening at the Screenland Armour as Magnetic Magic dusts off not one but two VHS oddities for a very special October #AnalogSunday where we’ll be screening The Boneyard (1991) and Hellgate (1989)! I’ve never seen either one, so I’m really looking forward to this. There’ll also be special prizes, custom intros, and the usual tape trading and other fun analog nonsense.

Finally, I’ll be hosting both a lecture and a workshop (that’s basically a long lecture) at the Johnson County Library’s writer’s conference the weekend of November 5-7. I’ll be discussing how to draw inspiration from movies for your prose writing, and working on licensed properties.

Naturally, other stuff is going on, too. My birthday will be in there (October 30, for those who don’t know) and I’ll be watching other movies and doing other fun stuff. Already this month I’ve knocked out this year’s Nerdoween, and over at Unwinnable, we’ve turned the place into a video store complete with employee recommendations for streaming flicks, with themes chosen by yours truly.

For seven years now, every October I have gone to a local event called #Nerdoween, hosted by my favorite local theatre, the Screenland Armour, and the fine folks from the Nightmare Junkhead podcast. The gimmick is always the same: one night, three horror movies, all on a pre-chosen theme, but you don’t get to know what you’re going to see until the movies play.

In past years, the themes have included demons, sequels, anthologies, “sleazy sci-fi,” killer nouns, and Satan. This year, to celebrate the fact that movie theatres are kinda, sorta able to be open again a little bit, the theme was movies that take place, well, at the movies.

And I’m gonna warn you, one of the three movies we saw is a film best experienced as cold as humanly possible, and just knowing that it’s included in this list constitutes a spoiler of sorts for it, so I’m not going to say the title. If you follow me on Twitter or Letterboxd you can figure it out, but there’s only so much I can do to protect you from a movie from 1987.

I am a skeleton of few traditions, and #Nerdoween is one of the things that brings me the most joy each year. Every one of those seven years, my friend and adopted brother Jay has accompanied me. Unlike me, he is almost always exposed to entirely new things – across 21 movies, we determined that he had ever seen three of them before. And even I get introduced to at least one new film more often than not.

In fact, every year save two (this year and “killer nouns”), I’ve seen at least one new-to-me film, and sometimes (indeed, on three occasions) two. This year, the poor hosts set themselves a nearly impossible task if they wanted to show a movie I hadn’t seen, given the theme they picked, as I think I’ve seen most of those. At the same time, they came surprisingly close, as I had only seen one of the films for the first time earlier this year.

We kicked off the night with Popcorn (1991), perhaps the most obvious choice given the theme but also a perfect way to start things off. It was a blast to see in a theatre, as a movie that has always felt more like a Halloween party in a movie theatre than an actual movie.

That was followed up with Porno (2019), a movie I had previously seen when it made its debut at Panic Fest. I wasn’t a fan then, and I’m still not, but it was a good crowd movie. (It may surprise you to learn that it is remarkably difficult to perform a Google image search for stills from the movie Porno and actually turn up pictures from that movie.)

The last film of the night is often the weirdest and/or the heaviest – as is only right and proper – and this year it was both. I’m gonna refrain from saying its name here because, again, I think that to even include it on this list is to lose something of its magic, but for those who want to know, feel free to drop me a line, or you can check Letterboxd or my Twitter, where I spilled the beans.

Perhaps more so than any of the others, it was a real pleasure to see this in a theatre, especially given that literally no one else there had ever seen it besides me and one other person. Also, the sound mix was amazing.

So props to the Nightmare Junkhead crew for always putting on a great show, and I’m already looking forward to next year, when hopefully COVID will actually be a thing of the past and the only anxiety will be what’s up on the screen.

This time, two years ago, I had recently been a guest on the Nightmare Junkhead podcast to talk about the then-new 2019 Hellboy movie from director Neil Marshall. Since then, I have not revisited the movie even once, which probably tells you all about the flick’s quality that you’ll ever need to know.

As has been a recurring theme of late, it feels indescribably surreal to discuss events at once so temporally near and yet which feel so impossibly distant. I saw Greg and Jenius (altogether too briefly) at Panic Fest, for the first time since October of last year and, before that, the last time I had seen them might well have been the October before.

This is all coming up because tonight is Walpurgisnacht, perhaps the closest thing we have to a second Halloween in the middle of the spring. “Walpurgisnacht” is also the title of one of my more popular stories, which originally saw print in the Laird Barron tribute antho Children of Old Leech and was later reprinted in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, which came out lo these six years gone by.

Interestingly, I was reminded of that story recently for reasons other than the date. I’ve been reading the latest Junji Ito manga to receive English-language release, Lovesickness, and the title story in that volume discusses the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre, which figures heavily in my tale, taking place, as it does, atop the peak from which the phenomenon takes its name.

I don’t have any big plans for the occasion this year. Maybe I’ll play a solo game of Cursed City if I become extremely ambitious. More likely, I’ll just work until late and then watch a witchy devil movie like Curse of the Demon, City of the Dead, or Curse of the Crimson Altar. How are you celebrating witch’s night?

So, Panic Fest happened without a lot of fanfare from yours truly – sorry about that. I did get out to a (very) few movies, for my first excursion to a (socially distanced) movie theater since October. Call it a celebration of my also getting the first jab of the vaccine (Pfizer, if it matters) with no discernable ill-effects save a marked absence of any eyeballs in my shoulder, more’s the pity.

I saw three whole movies this year, which is down considerably from last year, when I saw something like thirteen in a single weekend. But also it’s virtually impossible to imagine that last year was only last year. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Of those three, only one was a miss for me, and the other two were movies about watching movies, which I obviously love. Censor was my first night out at the Fest – a feverish flick about a film censor working during the “Video Nasty” era in Britain, who stumbles upon a film that mirrors the disappearance of her sister. It performs several impressive conjuring tricks, including successfully lulling you into some misplaced identification, before delivering a last act coup de grace that serves as a cautionary reminder to be wary of even the best intentions of those who wish to protect us from ourselves.

The highlight of the Fest, though, I saved for last – The Last Matinee, in point of fact, a giallo-throwback set in 1993 about a killer menacing a mostly-empty screening of a crappy Frankenstein flick at an aging Italian movie theater. The gore and stalking are all handled well, but what really sells the movie is the heart that it puts into its sense of place. I said on Letterboxd that I could have just watched these people watch a crappy Frankenstein movie for 90 minutes and been happy, and I wasn’t kidding.

The Last Matinee was also a reminder that the magic of Panic Fest – especially this year – isn’t really the movies at all. It was getting to see some of my Screenland family again, both those who so often go to movies there with me, and those who work behind the bar. As movie theaters themselves have experienced a new constriction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pathos of a film like Last Matinee, that is, as much as anything, a love letter to going to the movies, has a special resonance.

Here in Kansas City, our local Alamo Drafthouse has closed down (and good riddance to it, honestly, as it was apparently a wretched hive of scum and worker exploitation) and I’m sure even the bigger chain theaters are feeling the pinch. So far, though, the Screenland has managed to … not thrive, but at least drag itself on. I hope it will continue, because honestly, when it dies, a part of me truly will die with it.

Does anybody need me to tell them that nothing feels right or normal right now? Time passes in a blur, seeming to at once stretch and vanish. Godzilla vs. Kong is in theatres right now, and not only have I not seen it yet, I have no idea if I will, at least not on the big screen. Not because I’m particularly concerned about catching the virus or even to avoid gatherings and do the right thing, not really, but just because everything feels off and it’s impossible to know what to do anymore.

Next week is Panic Fest. The last time we had one, the pandemic hadn’t yet begun, which is wild because it feels like it was so long ago that trying to imagine it is almost beyond my capacity. I miss all my friends at the Screenland, I miss Analog Sundays, and I miss Panic Fest – does that mean I’m going this year? I’ll probably catch a movie or two, but I won’t be there as often as in the past, in part because only a portion of the fest is in-person while the rest is virtual, and in part because, well, see above.

My recent conversion into someone who actually lets myself be into tabletop gaming stuff is as surreal to me as everything else, but it’s also been a welcome lifeline over the past year. On that note, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City also comes out next weekend. It’s been my latest obsession for a bit now, and threatens to be even more so once it actually drops. So, steel yourselves for plenty of Warhammer Castlevania content.

I’ve kept busy for the past year. I’ve written recurring columns and done freelance work, published a few stories and penned a few others. I’ve been co-hosting the Horror Pod Class from Signal Horizon every other week this whole time (it was every week for a while, when the lockdowns first started) and we’ll have a special episode up as part of the virtual programming at Panic Fest. I wrote a large chunk of the new 5e-compatible Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game for Privateer Press, which launched with an enormously successful Kickstarter.

Yet, I also feel strangely disconnected from so much of the writing world. I’ve been a specter on social media, which doesn’t help, and while I have plans for a fourth collection in the works (and, indeed, more collections beyond that) thus far they are as ephemeral as everything else seems to be. Indeed, 2020 was the first year in half-a-decade that I didn’t publish a book with my name on the spine, and I can’t say for sure whether or not 2021 will be the second.

It isn’t just the writing itself that feels strange, though. I’ve lost touch with so many people, people whom social distancing shouldn’t affect because our relationships are – and always have been – principally online. If you’re one of those people, I apologize. It isn’t you. It’s me. Or maybe it’s just this plague year.

It doesn’t help that all the conventions have gone virtual, or gone entirely. I’m glad that NecronomiCon managed to push itself back to 2022. By then hopefully things will be on a more even keel, and I hope intensely to see and converse with some folks I have badly missed.

There’s a lot that I’ve missed. I’ve enjoyed the new (or newly rekindled) hobbies that have been helping to keep me together over the past year. While I am still not – and may very likely never be – a painter of miniatures, I have found the act of putting them together surprisingly restorative, even when I can’t play with them. I don’t intend to leave these new-old hobbies behind, but I hope very much to reconnect with some of the things and people I enjoyed before. And I hope I have not too completely forgotten how.

Way back when I was first getting started as a writer, before my first professionally-qualifying sales, I worked with editor Ben Thomas on a magazine that was his brainchild. It was called The Willows, and its purview was weird tales in the classic vein. In fact, more than just the vein, they had to actually be set not long after the turn of the century or before.

That’s actually how Ben and I met; I sent him a missive arguing about the necessity (or, indeed, the utility) of that requirement. I believed that weird tales could capture the magic of those classic stories without needing to mimic the time in which those tales were set. What could have been the kind of petty bickering that the internet is all-too-well known for instead became a long-time friendship, even though I never actually met Ben in person until shortly before the beginning of the pandemic, when we finally encountered one-another at the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird.

By then, Ben and I had … lost touch is perhaps too strong a term, but communications had become considerably more sporadic in the years that had passed, as our lives had carried us to very different places, both metaphorically and, in his case, literally, as he had spent several years traveling the world.

When I saw him in Atlanta for the Outer Dark Symposium, I had in the trunk of our rental car a set of pretty much every print copy of The Willows, which I had brought along because he needed to scan them for a project he was putting together – a hardcover reissue of the entire run of The Willows, including some unfortunate juvenalia from yours truly and also plenty of other, more respectable works.

For the occasion, he had also asked me (along with several other authors of the unknown and the eerie, including Jesse Bullington, Gemma Files, and Brian Evenson) to craft a few new tales for the hardcover. I contributed “Manifest Destiny,” perhaps the most overtly political story I’ve ever written, and one that had a lot to do with American politics of the moment, even while it was set during and shortly after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

It was an oddity for me, and I guess it’s only fair that it graces a book that contains some of my earliest published pieces, since those now look like oddities, too. Not long after, Ben invited me to contribute to another project he was putting together. This time it was an all-original anthology of tales concerning a fictional (or is it?) theme park that was open from 1977 until 2003. Surely I wouldn’t hand him another tonal oddity for this one, but of course I did.

“The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” is a story that I could only have written for Ben, and not just because it was from a story he told me (relating to OmniPark, actually) that I got the title, paraphrased, as it is, from my misremembered quotation of an essay that Ray Bradbury wrote in 1965 about Disneyland, of all things.

The story itself concerns everything from rocket science and Jack Parsons to Cameron and Thelema and thaumatropes and animatronic monsters and the nature of time – but what it doesn’t have is an overtly speculative element. Oh, there’s still some weird tales stuff lurking at the edges, mostly about the limits of knowledge and, again, the nature of time, but this is my most naturalistic story to date. So, again, another oddity.

The impetus for this (essay, as it turns out) is that I received my contributor copy of Tales from OmniPark in the mail today. It’s a nice-looking book, filled with ephemera related to the park, and accompanied by a reproduction of a 1986 guide map and brochure. And I’m glad that Ben found a home for my odd duck story, with maybe the weirdest title I’ve ever used.

It’s been a weird year, so I guess it only makes sense that it should have weird stories, even if they’re not weird in the same capital-W way that my stories usually are. In fact, the only other story of mine that has been published so far in 2021 is my flash piece, “The Last Day of Doctor Tillinghast,” which showed up in Curtains, a book edited by another friend of mine, this time as a charity antho to benefit #SaveOurStages.

It may seem like an odd fit for me – and it’s an odd, jokey little story, for sure – seeing as I never really went to concerts, but I believe in helping out artists and venues in need, and there’s not that much difference between concert venues and movie theatres, after all, and when the charity antho to save our screens instead hits, put me down twice.

Today and tomorrow are big days here at the Grey Crypt, for reasons that probably don’t need explaining here. While the pandemic makes the usual Halloween festivities prohibitive, there’s still stuff going on and not even 2020 can shake the Halloween spirit out of these bones entirely.

For those who may not be aware, today is my birthday, and if you feel like getting yourself a present to mark the occasion, it seems like a good time to remind you that (for a very limited time) both of my nonfiction books Monsters from the Vault and its sequel Revenge of Monsters from the Vault are on sale for cheap via Kindle. Plus, since electronic delivery is instantaneous, you can use ’em for reference if you need help planning your Halloween viewing.

Last night, I watched the dubious seasonal “classic” Hack-O-Lantern for the first time, live-tweeted it at the hashtag #HPCGoesDark, and then Tyler Unsell and I did an off-the-cuff live episode of the Horror Pod Class on it, which mostly amounted to us talking about everything from the Satanic Panic to bathrobe etiquette.

If you followed along live, thanks for joining us! If not, the episode will be up on YouTube and all the usual podcasting places in the near future. In the meantime, I was also a guest for a very special Halloween episode of the Haunted Hangover podcast, so check that out.

Plus, today marks the launch of Marta Oliehoek’s long-in-progress Horror in the Eye of the Beholder, which combines a series of colored pencil portraits of the eyes of horror writers (including yours truly) with in-depth interviews with same about horror practice, film, literature, and much more.

I’ll be doing a lot of festive stuff around the house this year – I already carved a pumpkin – and there’ll be some other announcements to celebrate the holiday, but for the most part I won’t be on social media a lot until after All Hallows.

(Which, incidentally, is going to be a full moon for what I hear is the first time in 76 years. So, I dunno, go worship the devil or something. Turn yourself into a werewolf. Whatever it is you do.)

If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit, though, I have a couple of recommendations. The Screenland Armour, my kickass local movie theatre that just got named the Best Theatre in KC by The Pitch, is struggling during the pandemic, but they have nonetheless put on some amazing, socially distanced October programming, including a special online Tricks and Treats edition of Panic Fest that’s happening all weekend long. The eagle eyed might even catch a glimpse of yours truly in a segment.

If that’s not your thing, Unwinnable is doing their annual Halloween subscription drive, including their Hallowstream event, where members of the Unwinnable crew do everything from a spoopy live-reading of The Importance of Being Dracula – like The Importance of Being Earnest, but with Draculas – to live games of Call of Cthulhu and a late-night viewing of bonkers flick The Boneyard (that’s the one with the zombie poodle), to name just a few.

Go, watch, subscribe. It helps them keep paying me to do things like writing about board games I haven’t played, movies that I have watched, and my recent “Dungeons & Dollhouses” article. Plus, Unwinnable is just an awesome publication put together by great folks, and the Hallowstream event should be a blast, even if I won’t be in attendance.

Living in the slow-motion apocalypse may make it a little harder than usual to get into the Halloween spirit, but even COVID-19 can’t completely eradicate the Nerdoween triple-feature, hosted each year by the fine fellows from the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts.

Now in its sixth year, Nerdoween has become as much a part of my seasonal traditions as grinning pumpkins or spooky movies. Indeed, it always shows a few spooky movies, and I’ve gone every year.

And every year – with one exception – I have always been introduced to at least one picture that I had never seen before. The first year’s theme was “demons,” and I saw both the Lamberto Bava film of that name and also Night of the Demons for the first time.

The theme of the second year was “sequels,” where I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fresh. The third year was anthologies and managed only a single new-to-me film in the form of the very great Tales from the Hood (the other two were both favorites, however – Creepshow and Waxwork).

They followed that up with “sleazy sci-fi,” where they again managed only a single new-to-me flick, in that case the absolutely wild Xtro.

Last year’s theme was “killer nouns,” and it was the first year where I had seen every movie on the lineup: Maximum Overdrive, Cooties, and Arachnophobia. Which brings us to this year and Nerdoween 6(66) – the triple feature that almost didn’t happen because the world was coming to an end.

Suitably enough, the theme of this year’s triple-feature was the figure who could have been the architect of 2020 himself; none other than the dark lord Satan. And the guys at Nightmare Junkhead nearly managed a hat trick, going two-for-two with movies I had never seen before with our first two features.

We started with The Car, from 1977. Prior to last night, I was (somehow) unaware that the eponymous evil car in this film is overtly demonic, even if they never make even the slightest pretense of explaining its presence in the film.

I was also unaware that, in addition to James Brolin, The Car also stars Ronny Cox, of cops both Robo and Beverly Hills fame.

Then they followed that up with Evilspeak from 1981. If The Car was Duel by way of Jaws by way of The Exorcist then Evilspeak is Carrie + Satanic panic + computers.

A good example of the “movies from the ’80s that go completely bonkers in the last act” subgenre, as near as I can tell the director of Evilspeak had two main interests: People getting eaten by pigs and making Clint Howard sweaty and/or otherwise damp.

In his defense, people getting eaten by pigs is scary and so is damp Clint Howard. This was also an inadvertent (?) double-feature of movies featuring R. G. Armsrong. If the third film of the night had been Warlock: The Armageddon they could have been three-for-three.

Alas (?) it was not, nor was it something I hadn’t ever seen before – and really, a triple-feature of things I hadn’t seen before seems like an awful lot to ask. Instead, it was recent subgenre entry Ready or Not, part of the mini boom of “rich people are literal Satanists, actually” movies of the last few years.

I saw Ready or Not when it first came out and liked it then. I still like it, for most of the same reasons. Underneath its many very modern sensibilities, it has lots of delightfully old-fashioned deal-with-the-devil stuff going on that I adore.

Getting into the Halloween spirit may be harder than normal this year, but three Satanic shockers from the Nerds of Nostalgia guys always makes it a little easier…

Yesterday was the official book birthday for It Came from the Multiplex, an anthology of stories inspired by ’80s midnight movies and the places where we watched them, edited by Josh Viola and released by Hex Publishing.

Back when I was first approached to contribute a story for this anthology, the plan was to release it in tandem with the Colorado Festival of Horror. Then 2020 happened. But, even if we’re stuck in our homes, menaced by an invisible threat and devastated by natural disasters, at least you can still read about movies and monsters and monster movies.

My story “Screen Haunt” follows a filmmaker whose best friend vanished years ago, making a movie inspired by notes in her missing friend’s journal, and maybe conjuring up more than just memories.

I’m far from the only name in the credits, though. My story is joined by tales from the likes of Betty Rocksteady, Stephen Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Steve Rasnic Tem, and others. Plus, the book looks amazing, with a cover by AJ Nazzaro and interior illustrations by Xander Smith.

While some copies have already made their way out into the world, you can order yours now by clicking right here.

Speaking of great-looking books, Word Horde always puts ’em out, and now you can try an impressive sampling of their titles, including my own Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, on the cheap – while also supporting Planned Parenthood, if you feel like it!

I haven’t read all of the books included in this impressive Storybundle, curated by Molly Tanzer, but I can vouch for Word Horde, in general, and tell you that everything I have read from them has been imminently worth your time. (And I’m not just saying that because they often publish my stuff.)

Paying just $5 gets you a pretty nice spread, including John Langan’s must-read epic novel of cosmic horror, The Fisherman, as well as Nadia Bulkin’s bombshell of a collection, She Said Destroy, and three other titles.

For the full effect, though, and to snag a copy of Guignol, you’ll only need to pony up $15, which will get you Kristi DeMeester’s Beneath, Tony McMillen’s An Augmented Fourth, Scott R. Jones’ Stonefish, Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Molly Tanzer’s Vermillion, and others. It’s a hell of a deal, and should keep you in good, shivery stories long into the night for many nights ahead.

Speaking, as I was back toward the beginning of this post, of film festivals, we’re coming up on the Halloween season, and with it the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. Normally, I try to make it out to the show, an event I love so much that it features prominently in the opening story of Guignol, but this year, the show is going online instead of in person, which has the advantage, for everyone who can’t make it out to Portland (which is currently on fire anyway), of being much easier to attend.

If you want to get your tickets and support some cool, weird cinema, you can do so by hitting up their Kickstarter, which is live as I write this. Because of the streaming nature of the event, airtime is at a premium, so I am not currently planning to do any panels or readings this year, though that’s subject to possible change.

What I am hoping to be involved in is the Screenland Armour’s annual Shocktober programming, which will be happening via a dynamic and mixed methodology in order to try to still have Halloween in the midst of social distancing.

I’ll have more news on that as it develops, but for Kansas City readers of “Screen Haunt” in It Came from the Multiplex, let’s just say that the Galileo theatre in that story may seem pretty familiar to devotees of the Screenland…