Counting Feathers of Life by Sergei Walnisty

typewriterFirst rule of working with Brad Blackwood: improvise.

Second: get into your character’s skin.

Both hard to pull off–Brad Blackwood never shoots light flicks. Brad says, the plot should write itself. If so, the plot is one shitty writer. Anyway, Brad doesn’t write screenplays, so maybe it’s just an excuse.

Brad has come up with a self-style: a second David Lynch, only to disregard it and say he’s too original for that. He says Lynch hasn’t been Lynch enough for ages. It’s a shame, he says, but I have my own agenda.

True enough.

Brad: mostly amateur festivals. Mostly closed showings for other independent filmmakers. (Everybody hates everybody else but has to come anyways so that others will come to their little showings). But: Brad’s got money. Brad’s got legit work. Brad’s actually an economist though he’d never admit it in the kino circles (everybody knows in any case but doesn’t mention it–“Fight Club” references again, Brad digs “Fight Club”). Brad keeps his underground movies thing going. Risks are minimal with budgets around five hundred bucks.

Brad spends on marketing. His films are actually reviewed–some by actual critics who bring his name into actual press actual people actually read. Brad enjoys sort of half-assed fame: some laymen may recognize his name even without having seen his movies. This satisfies him: his movies are not for laymen.

Review Brad’s movie: take its name. Use ‘surreal’ in a sentence as many times you can. Use ‘visionary’ in a sentence as many times you can. Compare it to some other films and deduce that it’s ‘incomparable’.

Get paid by Brad.

Brad’s actors:

Brad’s actors are not the guys who run in the woods in Darth Vader’s suits. They don’t appear in the homemade movies you don’t watch on Youtube later. Brad’s staff is semi-professional, semi-loser. They drink? You bet. They do dope? Only when they’re awake. Even underground geeks don’t want their signatures.

Brad’s preferences: Brad always shoots on film. That’s the only way, he says. That’s the biggest budget eater. Brad edits his movies himself.

The result is so Brad.

Fact: Brad Blackwood’s “Counting Feathers of Life” is hard to obtain.

It’s hardly surprising: it’s Brad Blackwood’s. He actually sells coils only, and you can’t buy unless you are an underground geek cinema. Art is not for sale, says Brad selling his movies.

Another thing is surprising: “Feathers” is hard to get because the demand is high, not because the supply is low.

The reason for that is great, listen.

Brad came up with the idea in 2006. Back then Brad was big for Dostoyevsky. It’s everything you need to know about how the society works, he said. But all adaptations suck. They just follow the text. They don’t allow the plot to write itself. They adapt the form and not the essence.

The essence: a vain chase after self-identity.

That was the idea.

And then it goes as follows:

Brad finds the budget–he’s not great at his work but an economist is an economist. Brad gets enough film. Brad finds suitable locations. Brad gives several interviews to his pet journalists.

Most importantly, Brad finds actors.

Dramatis personae:

The protagonist: David Burkhow. The female personality of the protagonist: Linda Hay. The child personality: Brucie and Vicky’s nine-year-old son. Brucie’s lighting technician in one of the smaller Hollywood studios. His grandpa was a quartermaster in the Red Army–Brucie’s stealing abilities are genetic, you can see them in his spirals. Vicky used to do makeup in the same studio before they got the kid. Vicky has always dreamt of being a movie star but never got any further than a starlet.

Brad Blackwood: your dreams will come true.

Brucie, Vicky, Alex Thoma, Gary Cheng take care of episodic characters (those appear when Brad has a eureka moment during the shooting and requires somebody to embody his new idea). Brad does the light, Gary does the sound, Brad does the camera work, as always. Brad wants a “Begotten” sort of palette.

Linda, Brad and David have all slept with each other at some point. You can call it nepotism, but that’s how it works.

A few problems arise:

First problem: Linda’s got only one week to shoot: she has her career in porn to keep up with. She says, in a year she’ll be a director. A week is not enough for Brad–Brad’s style is incompatible with hurry. It puts Brad under strain. His creativity takes a hit.

Second problem: David Burkhow is a major douche. He demands a grand for his work. He says he’s a serious actor. That’s sort of true: he gets to play secondary villains in mediocre action flicks from time to time. He says, few years back he almost got a supporting role in “Star Wars”. That’s unverifiable, however.

Third problem: Brad’s a stubborn son of a bitch. If he says Burkhow is the lead, Burkhow is the lead, and no one other.

Fourth: Brad doesn’t have a spare grand.

Fifth: even if he did, other actors would demand more seeing how well-paid David is.

Brad’s solution: get six hundred. Get Burkhow to accept it. Get Burkhow to keep his mouth shut.

Result: four out of five.

The crew rides in Brad’s van seeking the right spot to shoot a scene. Then Brad tells the actors what they are supposed to do. Then he films them as they:

1) improvise;

2) get into their characters’ skin.

Rinse and repeat. No rehearsals, no second takes.

Art’s getting made.

Of course, there are more problems when the initial bunch is solved. The kid hates the van and can’t improvise shit. Gary’s mikes are no good. Brucie tries his hardest to be a more prominent character, and his scenes eat up too much film.

And the foremost, David Burkhow is still a douche. Brad requires sobriety from his crew. David’s wasted. David’s condition doesn’t leave much room for improvisation. David gets along terribly with just about everyone. He fights Thoma, he fights Brucie, he picks up fights with pedestrians. David is either too fun (when he’s high) or no fun at all (when the dope wears off).

Brad has some influence on him, though. His directing style is ‘authoritative’ and now it comes in handy. Brad’s extra persuasive. Brad gets a guy to bring the dope to keep Burkhow going. Brad even goes out of his way and writes some outlines for David to act according to. At least David can keep in mind what’s going on and whose skin he’s supposed to be getting into now. Brad goes out of his way even more and agrees to shoot Linda’s scenes not chronologically. They make it in a week, and Linda leaves.

In the end, it works.

The shooting is done. Everybody can go back to their lives.

Brad gets to editing. “Feathers” are not likely to hit major cinemas so there’s no need to keep the length down.

Result: four hours thirty-seven minutes of avant-garde.

Chosen geek theaters can purchase. At the premiere there are talks of showing “Counting Feathers of Life” in Europe. At the premiere, Linda Hay is absent.

Ninth page headlines: “Counting Feathers of Life” is UNDERgroundbreaking. Sixth page headlines: Adult movies star missing.

Month later. Tim Vasquez, the owner of “Moving Pictures” independent cinema is beaten badly in his establishment. His little museum is ravaged. Stolen: the coil of “Counting Feathers of Life”.

A day before that: Dingy’s Cinny burns down. No sign of arson. A copy presumably remained there.

Same day: Brad Blackwood, an independent moviemaker, reports his storage locker having been burglarized. There go five copies.

Two days after the “Moving Pictures” incident: intruder breaks into Brad Blackwood’s apartment. Scared shitless, Brad calls 911 from a booth nearby–he went out to grab a six-pack of beer and when he came back he saw light in the windows even though he had never turned it on–he prefers to sit in the dark watching films or reading under just a small lamp. A police car arrives. In Brad’s apartment they find David Burkhow, stark raving mad, gun in hand.

Result: one dead David Burkhow. About thirty mourning fangirls.

Brad’s personal copy of “Counting Feathers”, severely damaged.

Review Brad’s movie: say how impactful art can be.

Deduce that: eight copies out of fifteen gone. (No sign of arson?) The man behind it all–David Burkhow, DOB 4/12/1972, the lead in “Counting Feathers of Life”. The female lead, gone.

Question is, why?

Answer: seven copies still remain. Watch the film.

Detectives watch the film. It’s not their cup of tea, really: too many dialogues, too few of them make any sense.

Four hours thirty-seven minutes.

Not all of them are useless, though. There’s a fragment near the end in which the main character talks through David Burkhow’s mouth–eleven minutes o-five seconds.

David Burkhow is almost wasted.

David Burkhow is crying.

The protagonist tells sobbing about how he killed his lover and dumped her body into the Lake Tahoe.

David Burkhow tells sobbing about how he killed his lover and dumped her body into the Lake Tahoe.

Both rules of Brad Club in action:

1) improvise;

2) get into your character’s skin.

Brad meticulously explains his principles to the cops.

Linda Hay is still missing.

Cops trawl the Lake Tahoe bottom. Two bodies emerge: an unidentified male, dead for a year–got trapped under a tree trunk, thus the emersion delay.

Number two, a female in her late twenties, dead for around a month, wrapped in tarpaulin and tied with a massive chain. Dental records check–it’s Linda Hay alright.

I can’t believe he was talking for real, says Brad.

David Burkhow couldn’t stand seeing Brad and Linda together again at the shooting. David Burkhow killed her.

Something like that.

“Counting Feathers” is Brad Blackwood’s last movie. The loss of his two lovers and the hunt for his film were too much for him. He quit cinema, officially. He got himself killed in 2008 while driving drunk. He got his van they used to drive during the shooting too. He didn’t really care for his life these last few years, people say.

Adelia ‘Deli’ Katz owns a pawnshop in Wilshire. Her schtick is Hollywood curios. It’s mostly minor stuff like signed photographs and such though she claims she gets celebrities’ garbage sometimes.

She has one of the seven remaining original copies of “Counting Feathers of Life”. I could get like $25.000 for it, she estimates. But it’s not for sale. Indi cinema geeks have made plenty of copies after Brad’s demise but the original ones are a different matter.

Mrs. Katz refuses to tell where she has got hers but she never denies her opinion on the murder.

Most people think, she says, that Blackwood knew that Burkhow was about to kill Linda and even provoked him to do so to get a powerful scene. Later he couldn’t inform the police when Burkhow started getting rid of the copies out of the fear of being convicted as an accomplice.

But that’s bullshit, says Deli. If it was like this, Brad could’ve said that he figured out since the confession scene matched Linda’s disappearance.

Mrs. Katz has additional facts.

She knows the guy Brad had got to supply Burkhow with dope. The guy is the only one from Blackwood’s crew to get into bigger cinema: now he sells drugs to the people you see on “Rolling Stone” covers. Being a Burkhow-Hay murder investigation enthusiast, Deli got some info from him: Brad had kept David high until David’s death. Doesn’t say much?

Don’t forget that Brad wrote some sort of script for David, says Mrs. Katz. All the surviving crewmembers will tell you he did. Sure, they say it wasn’t for every scene and nobody remembers if there was a script for *that* scene.

Deli also tells how Brad was influenced by Dostoyevsky before and during the shooting process. “Crime and Punishment”, good stuff. Deli claims Brad wanted to make sure he was an Ubermensch. Thus he killed Linda Hay and not only framed David Burkhow for it but also shot a movie about it in which he got Burkhow to play the killer–third rule: get your character into your skin. Result: two people and an Ubermensch dead, not able to withstand the harmony.

Now that’s art.

Sergei Walnisty

Banner Image: By Runner1616 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “Counting Feathers of Life by Sergei Walnisty

  1. Well, Sergie, I believe that if there were rules to be obeyed in short story writing, you would laugh them to smitherines. Your outlandish style appeals to me so I enjoyed this off the map take on independent film making. Do send us more. Best wishes, June


  2. Hi Sergei,
    I think the two previous comments have summed up your interesting short story.
    We all commented on how quirky and inventive this was, it is a cracking addition to the site.
    I look forward to reading more of your work.


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