Working for famed B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman gave Hermosa Beach's John Shepphird a crash course on micro-budget filmmaking. He uses that backdrop for his first novel, “Bottom Feeders,” a murder mystery on a remote T.V. movie set where bodies start piling up.
“I always thought that this is a great arena for a crime story,” Shepphird said. “What I wanted to try to do was a whodunit because I love the true mystery.”
“Bottom Feeders” features a cast of characters including the heavy drinking director, Eddie, who really needs the work; Sheila, the camera assistant who has a past with Eddie; as well as the diva lead actress, and her arrogant male lead. Many others face the arrow of an unknown killer.
“I like telling the same story through different characters and then killing them off,” he said.
The last film Shepphird directed was SyFy Channel's “Jersey Shore Shark Attack.” He filmed it primarily in Redondo Beach in 2015. He said “Bottom Feeders” is “almost like a love letter” to those who have ever worked on low budget projects.
“I aspired to kick it up and be a director of episodic television or independent films that see a real theatrical release,” said Shepphird of his career. “It never really happened for me. It’s almost like a stigma that you have at a certain point of working at a certain budget level. So I just embrace it. I’m like, 'That’s who I am.'”
“The King of Cult Film”
Roger Corman, who has more than 400 films to his credit, was making a movie a month when he hired Shepphird to edit a comedy for him. At that time, in the mid to late 1980s, there was a great need for straight-to-video content.
Many of Corman's films were shot in 15 days. While filming was taking place on one movie, the “B crew” would be starting on the next project.
“He had a real factory going ... on Main Street in Santa Monica,” Shepphird said.
That helped launch a film career that saw Shepphird edit, write and direct a number of projects, but it was a struggle. His directorial debut was 1993's “Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde.”
“It's not like the story in Hollywood where you make one film and all of a sudden your phone keeps ringing,” he said. “I was back to being an editor and back to swinging a boom and back to carrying sandbags, whatever I could do to make a living.... I've done everything but the vanity department.”
Before the popular “Sharknado” was released on SyFy, Shepphird was hired to helm “Jersey Shore Shark Attack.” SyFy wanted a shark movie every summer. With a $1 million budget and a cast of “Jersey Shore” lookalikes, it was already late September when they began filming in Redondo Beach. There was no overtime and they filmed around 13 pages of the script a day. Of the 16-day production schedule, 12 of those days were spent in Redondo Beach.
“They’re not supposed to be comedies, but they really are. You play them for life or death,” Shepphird said.
While frustrated by the glacial pace of getting a movie project off the ground and married with children, Shepphird landed a job with TVG, the horse racing network as creative director for on-air promotions, and he also started writing fiction.
One of Shepphird's stories was bought by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the mid 1990s. He wrote a series of novellas called “The Shill” trilogy, and another story about private eye Jack O'Shea, a former con man who turned his life around, and won the Shamus Award, a prize given by the Private Eye Writers of America for the best detective fiction of the year.
“That encouraged me,” said Shepphird.
He's currently developing a Jack O'Shea novel.
“That's a character who I want to explore more of his backstory,” Shepphird said.
Shepphird then started work on “Bottom Feeders,” which was also recently released as an audiobook read by Bronson Pinchot.
Shepphired dedicates the novel to the “dreamers and the schemers in the low-budget trenches.”
"I dedicate this novel to the legions of hard-working craftspeople and performers who have carried sandbags, set lights, cobbled together wardrobe, swung microphones, memorized dialogue, painted sets, dusted faces, pulled focus, teased hair, coordinated chaos, hit their marks, and built it all up only to tear it down again, making something out of nothing.”
For more information, visit johnshepphird.com.