Flanek: The Kentucky Columbo

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Bud Flanek is a rumpled, amiable, deceptively low-key homicide detective on the Owensboro, Kentucky police force, the hero of three short, funny mystery movies that now have their own YouTube channel.

Nobody set out do a series of movies about the character… it was a happy accident. It began when Zev Buffman invited my friend David Breckman, the outrageously talented MONK writer-producer-director, to be a guest at the International Mystery Writers Festival at Riverpark Center in Owensboro a few years back.

David came up with the brilliant, insane idea of writing, producing, and directing a short film using primarily local talent … all during the course of the festival… which was, if memory serves, ran just four days. Amazingly, he pulled it off. The result was Murder in Kentucky, a twenty minute short starring Todd Reynolds as an unnamed homicide detective who solves a murder that happens during the rehearsal for a live-radio theater show. I loved it. But for reasons too complicated to go into, mostly technical, the movie only screened once and wasn’t seen again for several years (but don’t worry, there’s a happy ending to the tale).

20x30_Remaindered_Novel_Way_FestivalsNot long after that, Zev invited me to write & direct a short film in Owensboro. I decided to adapt my short story Remaindered, which had been published to some acclaim in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and was about a once-famous author on a miserable, last-ditch book tour that leads to murder. I cast Todd to play Bud Flanek, a homicide detective who appears late in the story. Although Flanek wasn’t intended to be the same character as the one Todd played in Murder in Kentucky, that’s what he became, main because he was the same actor playing a cop in the same town in the same wardrobe. And it helped that my cop had pretty much the same personality and attitude as David’s unnamed lawman.

Remaindered became a hit on the national film festival circuit, winning awards and rave reviews, including praise from writer-producer William Link, co-creator of Columbo, who loved Todd’s performance and christened Flanek “The Kentucky Columbo.” Wow.

So when Riverpark asked me to do another film, I knew I had to bring Todd back as Flanek. I adapted another short story of mine, Bumsicle, and recrafted it with Todd Reynolds in mind. Unlike Murder in Kentucky and Remaindered, though, Flanek was very much the center of this story, which was darker than the other two, but still had a few laughs.

Bumsicle also became a hit on the festival circuit and garnered lots of praise. After a year on the road, we brought the film back to Owensboro and screened it outdoors in a triple bill with Murder in Kentucky and Remaindered, drawing a crowd of over 500 people.

After that, we knew we had something special and decided to create a channel devoted to Flanek on YouTube. But first we had to tweak Murder in Kentucky a bit, which had poor sound (due to cheap equipment) and temp music lifted from Bonnie Raitt (due to the very hurried production schedule… did I mention it was written, produced, and shot in just four days?). So Firelight Entertainment Group in Hawesville Kentucky, with whom I shot Bumsicle and the Dead Man music videos, remastered the sound on Murder in Kentucky, and replaced the music. To tie the short into the series, I asked singer-songwriter Matt Branham, who did the score for my two films, to write & perform a new end theme song expressly about Flanek…”Nothing Fun About Murder”

..he even manages to mention Monk!

Now the Flanek channel is live with all three movies. Our hope is to whip up enough enthusiasm for the films to merit the funding of more short Flanek mysteries, perhaps even a webseries of 20 minute episodes. It’s in your hands.

So if you like the movies, please please PLEASE leave comments on our FLANEK channel, “like” our Flanek Facebook Page, and spread the word to all your friends!

Where’s the Story?


Lee with SNL actress Kate McKinnon at the Big Island Film Festival 2013
Lee with SNL actress Kate McKinnon at the Big Island Film Festival 2013

For the past few days, I’ve been attending the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii, where my short film Bumsicle is screening. I’ve seen quite a few shorts and I’ve been struck by how slick they are technically…and how weak so many of them are when it comes to story telling. It’s as if the film-makers had an idea for a moment, or a character, and then went ahead and made a movie before figuring out if they actually had a story to tell. It’s incredibly frustrating. So many of the shorts start out with promise and then peter out into nothing.

What these film-makers don’t seem to understand is that the story is the most important element… not the kind of camera, editing software, or lighting package you’ve got.  All of the technology , all of the acting, all of the directing, are in the service of one thing: telling a great story. If you have a great story, then you can overcome poor production values, iffy sound, and weak acting and still have a strong film. But if you have terrific production values, great sound, and good acting, but your story sucks, or doesn’t go anywhere, your gonna have a crap film, guaranteed.

That said, I’ve also seen some really great stuff here. I think my favorite film so far was PERVERTIGO, a very clever, refreshingly original noir/comedy about a peeping tom who gets strong-armed into committing a murder. It was a technically top-notch for an ultra-low-budget film and the script was terrific.

I also got the chance to spend a few minutes chatting with Saturday Night Live castmember Kate McKinnon, who is one of the Festival’s special guests. This is her first season on the show and she was an immediate, break-out hit with her impersonations of Ellen DeGeneres, Penelope Cruz, and Martha Stewart, among others. But you’d never know that talking to her. She’s very soft-spoken, low-key and self-deprecating. Success is still new to her…a little over a year ago, she was reeling from the cancellation of her show on the Logo network. She told us she got by on unemployment benefits and writing children’s books under a pseudonym. Every year, Kate sent an audition tape to SNL and never heard anything…but this time was different. She got a call-back and, much to her surprise, got hired as a new cast member. The season finale was only last week, so she’s still getting used to the fact that she’s got a steady job on a hit show. It was nice to meet a TV star who is still very much a “normal person.” I hope she stays that way, despite the success and fame that is surely coming her way.

Our chat reminded me of another celebrity encounter I had many years ago. My wife and I were vacationing in the Bahamas and shared a bus ride to the airport with George Clooney, who was a regular on Sisters at the time.  He was friendly, approachable, and came across as a nice, average guy, despite his celebrity gig. We had a very pleasant, relaxed conversation. The bus driver, an older woman, complimented him on his straw hat, and he told her some amusing anecdote about how he got it. The bus broke down and the driver started crying, distraught that we’d miss our planes. Clooney reassured her that it was no big deal, that these things happen, and gave her the straw hat on his head as a gift to calm her down. Every time I see Clooney in a movie, I remember that encounter and hope he’s still the same, nice guy despite his wealth and fame.

“Bumsicle” Gets Some Love

405191_264384426980041_853296782_nThis has been a great week for my short film Bumsicle, which I wrote and directed in Owensboro, Kentucky last year. We were picked up by both the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii and the Cape Fear Film Festival in North Carolina. 

So far, "Bumsicle" has been selected by half-a-dozen festivals… from Hawaii to North Carolina, from Oklahoma to Kentucky. There are still thirty festivals that we've submitted to and haven't heard from yet…but at least we're on par now with Remaindered, the short mystery that also featured Todd Reynolds as Detective Bud Flanek. Clearly I am going to have to do a third short one of these days about Flanek.

These festival picks are the result of the wonderful work done by actors Todd Reynolds, Rick Montgomery, Sadia Brimm, and Josh Loren, singer/song writer Matt Branham, producers Rachael Nunn, J. Laine Nunn, and Roxi Witt, and everyone else in our talented cast and crew. I'm so glad they they are getting some notice outside of Owensboro for their work.

UPDATE 3-21 Bumsicle has been nominated for Best Dramatic Short at the Bare Bones International Film Festivals in Oklahoma. Winners will be announced April 14.

Busy Bee Lee

2012-06-05 14.23.40smallerSorry I have been so absent around here lately… the last few weeks have been intensely busy for me. Here's a quick run-down…with pictures. 

I turned in my 15th, and final, Monk book — MR. MONK GETS EVEN  — to Penguin/Putnam on June 1st, then jetted off to Book Expo America in New York, where I got to hang out with my friends at Amazon Publishing and Brilliance Audio, talk shop with scores of authors (including fellow "Amazon" authors Blake Crouch, Vincent Zandri, Johnny Shaw, Robert Pobi, Deborah Reed, David Hewson, Robert Kroese, etc), and meet Audie-award nominees Patrick Lawlor (the voice behind my book KING CITY) and Luke Daniels (the voice behind the audio version of THE DEAD MAN, THE WALK). (That's me on the convention floor with Mike Holmes, a HGTV celeb that my wife adores)

From New York, I headed to Kentucky, to direct a DEAD MAN music video that I wrote for Amazon to go along with the terrific theme song written & performed by Matt Branham. 

And now I'll digress… on the flight, I was stuck in an aisle seat right next to the toilet…so close, I could have peed into it from my chair.If that wasn't bad enough, a morbidly fat woman sat down next to me and couldn't fit into her seat…so she had to lift up her armrest to spill her blubber onto me. I found myself sitting at an angle, tilted towards the bathroom, which a guy promptly rushed into after take-off to have a gastrointestinal explosion of historic proportions. The fat woman quickly fell asleep…and proceeded to loudly fart her way ac160 Dead Man, Tell City, Indiana, Alex Booty, Misty Sisco, Silvio Busch, Aaron Taylorross the midwest. It was hell.  I didn't know whether to put my earplugs in my nose or my ears. When we finally landed, she asked me how the flight was. I told her we lost two engines but she managed to keep us in the air. She had no idea what I was talking about, but at least I amused myself.

Okay, back to the video. We shot in and around Tell City, Indiana, and at the Hawesville, Kentucky stage of Firelight Entertainment Group, the extremely talented and industrious folks I worked with on my short film Bumsicle. Our DEAD MAN cast included Silvio Wolf Busch and Misty Sisco and we had a blast. (That's Misty and Silvio in the center, between the two monsters. You can see a lot more pictures on the Firelight site and their Facebook page)

The day after wrapping the music video I had to jump into my duties as honorary co-chair of the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro, where I played host to the legendary Firesign Theatre and authors (and now fellow Kentucky Colonels) Max Allan Collins, Barbara Collins, Robert Randisi, Christine Matthews and Libby Hellmann and moderated a panel on writing James Bond novels with Raymond Benson and Jeffrey Deaver.

IMG_1724The highlight of the Festival was a night-time, out-door screening of my Owensboro-set short films Remaindered and Bumsicle, which drew over 500 people to Riverpark Center on the banks of the Ohio River. It was fantastic…and I am so glad that the cast and crew of those films, including actors Todd Reynolds, Rick Montgomery, and Eric Altheide, were able to be there to see the enthusiastic audience response. (That's Todd on screen)

As if that wasn't a big enough thrill for me, at the annual Angie Awards ceremony that capped the Festival, my friends at Riverpark Center surprised  me with a portrait by Aaron Kizer, the incredibly talented "speed artist."  It was a wonderful gift and a great honor.

Kiser Portrait  of leeCroppedAnd all of that was just the first three weeks of June.

July has been much slower… at least in terms of travels…since I've mostly been sitting at my desk, working on my book with Janet Evanovich, who flew into L.A. last week to be a guest on The Talk, which gave us a chance to get together for a wonderful dinner.

I'm also in the midst of editing THE DEAD MAN video with Firelight's Rachael Nunn (the footage looks great!) and reading entries in the "You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel" contest, which ends on August 1st.

In other words, don't be surprised if I don't have a lot of time to contribute to the blog…

Big Apple Bound

I'm heading off today to New York City…Amazon is sending me there to attend Book Expo America, the big publishing industry trade show, and meet booksellers, librarians, reviewers and reporters. I love attending the show. I've only done it a few times, and I've always had a great time and come away with tons of galleys. This time, though, I want to control myself and try not to grab every galley that I see. 

After that, I head off to Kentucky, where I will be directing a music video featuring my friend Matt Branham performing his kick-ass Dead Man Theme. I'll be working again with my good friends at Firelight Entertainment Group, the production team behind my short film Bumsicle, which will be premiering at the International Mystery Writers Festival on June 16 in Owensboro. We've got a terrific group of people working on the video… including actors Silvio Wolf BuschMisty Sisco, Aaron Taylor and Alex Booty and the special effects make-up team at Eriksen Services.  

I'll report back from NYC and Kentucky on my adventures…. 

Bumsicle Update

Bumsicle_Version_2Here's the latest poster from designer Brian Bolin for BUMSICLE, the short film I shot a few weeks back in Kentucky.  And here's a link to the terrific end title song, "The Best You've Got," written and performed by Matt Branham. The song, heard out of context,  may give you the false impression that this movie is a comedy, and that Detective Flanek is more Clouseau than Columbo, but that is not the case. 

We're now deep into the sound mix and color correction. I hope to have a finished film by the end of the month…well in advance of our screening at the International Mystery Writers Festival June 14-17 in Owensboro.