Based on Actual Events

Ever wonder what it means when a movie claims it is “Based on Actual Events?” The new Nicolas Cage vehicle, the “The Frozen Ground,” makes that claim.

Frozen Ground publicity still

But what does that mean? For clues, let’s look at the Nicolas Cage character in the film.

According to IMDb, Cage plays “Jack Halcombe.” Allegedly, he’s the Alaska State Trooper who brought Hansen to justice. That’s strange, because if you look at the definitive account of the Hansen murders, “Butcher, Baker,” you will not find a character named Jack Halcombe.

That’s because there is no “Jack Halcombe,” at least in the context of the Alaska State Troopers and serial murderer Robert Hansen. Jack Halcombe is a fictional character. Nicolas Cage plays a fictional character.

The actual cop who brought Robert Hansen to justice is named Glenn Flothe. Early reports about the movie listed Flothe as the Nicolas Cage character. That changed. I’m guessing (educated guess) the reason that changed is because:

The filmmakers made up a lot of shit. Shit that Glenn Flothe was not comfortable signing off on. And to use Glenn’s name, he had to sign off on it. In the movie business, it’s called “Life Rights.” As in, I can say anything I want about you — true or false — if it helps the movie. You signed off on “Life Rights.” You can’t frickin’ sue me.

It turns out that Glenn Flothe wasn’t the only one who didn’t sign off on the made-up-shit. Here’s the complete list.

Fictional Characters in Frozen Ground

  • Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) = Glenn Flothe
  • Allie Halcombe (Radha Mitchell) = Cherry Flothe (Glenn Flothe’s wife)
    This one should be obvious.
  • Fran Hansen (Katherine LaNasa) = Darla Hansen
    Hansen’s ex-wife, Darla, has no incentive to cooperate with the filmmakers.
  • D.A. Pat Clives (Kurt Fuller) = D.A. Pat Doogan
    Pat Doogan is a good friend of Glenn Flothe, who played a critical role in getting an arrest warrant for Hansen when the local D.A. wasn’t being entirely cooperative. I’m guessing you can’t get one (Doogan) without the other (Flothe).

Ok, so it’s a fairly short list. A short list of very important characters. And when the filmmakers couldn’t navigate a closer tack to the “truth,” they bailed. Call it creative convenience. Call it “based on actual events.” Call it made up shit.

Whatever you do, don’t call it true. For that, you have to read, “Butcher, Baker.”

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 3

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe has described Cindy Paulson (Kitty Larson), the young woman who escaped Hansen and led to his downfall, as one of the best witnesses he’s ever worked with. Hidden City: Anchorage mentions, for example, that she’d memorized the tail number of Hansen’s plane. She also memorized the location of his house. And everything in his basement.

She did so because, in her own words, “this motherfucker wasn’t getting away with it… I knew I was in trouble… But if there was any chance of me getting away, he wasn’t getting away with it.”

As in any criminal investigation, details matter.

Consider what occurred when Cindy Paulson was at Merrill Field ID’ing Hansen’s plane with an officer from the Anchorage Police Department. While they were observing the plane, a private security guard at the air field approached and told them he had seen someone at 5:14 a.m. that same day.

[The security guard] observed a white male running from that Super Cub to a green vehicle and that he noted the vehicle to have Alaska license number BJZ775. [The guard] also stated that the man was wearing a green coat and cap and that he ran from a wooded area at the rear of the airplane toward the green vehicle. When the man saw [the guard], he slowed his pace to a walk, and entered the green vehicle and drove away.

That license number turned out to be registered to a green Buick, owned by Robert Hansen. There were several people being very observant that day. None better than Cindy Paulson. But she was not alone. Details matter.

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 2

There’s a wonderful bit in the Robert Hansen portion of Hidden City: Anchorage where Marcus brings in professional tracker Ty Cunningham to give a sense of what Hansen’s victims were up against. It’s an extremely powerful segment. Except that the segment was filmed in winter snow. According to Robert Hansen:

“This was a summertime project.”

Since Hansen’s wife was a teacher, and often travelled during the summer, it kind of makes sense, you know? When the cat’s away, and all that… But let’s not take this summertime thing too far. Hansen kidnapped and raped a woman back in 1971, just days before Christmas.

Of course, he also had the good sense to take that victim to a motel.

Bonus: Video Clip: Hidden City Anchorage: Tracks of Terror (tracking in the snow)

What about the chase? It is, after all, a recurring theme in discussions about Robert Hansen. Well, the chase started the minute he first stalked his victims. But in Hansen’s universe, the chase was always (out)balanced by questions of control.

We know that Hansen worried about the intangibles. The known unknowns. The women had to be alone when they reached the rendezvous. Hansen always picked a spot where he could see everything and everyone. Even early on, he used a restraint of some type, eventually graduating to handcuffs. By his own admission, he was obsessive about the mechanical reliability of his car when he kidnapped women. Didn’t want to break down with some woman in handcuffs.

Those control issues extended to the bush. Even in the bush there’s the risk that some hooker can outrun him, even for a little while. She can kick her heels off, right? And, you know, the Alaska bush ain’t no frickin’ island. Those were troubles he just didn’t want. Given all that, it’s my view that he started shooting sooner rather than later.

Loss of control, baby. Not so good. And being “in control” ultimately trumped other considerations. Including the chase. He really, really liked this “game.” Lose control, you lose everything. In fact, there was one who got away. Yeah. She was the one who brought him down.

Quotes from Robert Hansen’s Inconvenient Confession (February 22, 1984)

RH: I only, I only used the airplane three times and maybe if I kept on going like that I would have had a problem… [But] where I have my plane parked there isn’t a lot of people in and out right there and the girl was almost more scared of being in the airplane than she was scared of me…

GF: Scared of being in the airplane. You mention that this area was pretty populated but in the winter time with skis you were somewhat unlimited as to where you could go. Your privacy was pretty much up to you. Or were you concerned about flying a long time? You mention three girls but I’m just wondering, with skis, you know in the winter, you could go just about anywhere.

RH: I could but winter time wasn’t the time to do it. Things were dormant in the winter time. This was a summertime project.

GF = Glenn Flothe
RH = Robert Hansen

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

What Happened to Glenn Flothe?

When the movie the “Frozen Ground” was first announced, the filmmakers made a pretty big deal of the fact that it was going to focus on two real-life people, Sgt. Glenn Flothe and Cindy Paulson. Or did they?

Cindy Paulson was the teenage prostitute who got away from Hansen, leading to his arrest and conviction. Sources tell us that Cindy Paulson worked with the filmmakers in telling her story. A look at the full cast and crew on IMDb confirms that, indeed, Vanessa Hudgens stars as Cindy Paulson.

Glenn Flothe was the Alaska State Trooper whose belief in Cindy Paulson helped bring Hansen in. According to the Variety story announcing the film, “Cage would portray the Alaska State Trooper who cracked the case.” Sounds like Glenn Flothe to me. Sounds like Glenn Flothe to a lot of people. But the Wikipedia entry for The Frozen Ground tells us another story:

“The Frozen Ground” is based on the true story of Alaskan detective Glenn Flothe (called Sgt. Jack Halcombe in the movie). Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) sets out to end the murderous rampage of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a serial killer who has silently stalked the streets of Anchorage for more than 13 years.

Ok, all of this is fine, really. Stuff happens on the way from script to screen. And we notice that, while most of the cops kept their real names, other characters have not. For example, Darla Hansen is now called Fran Hansen. Huh?

But there is still something nagging me. Maybe it’s this little piece by Sheila Toomey in the Anchorage Daily News, datelined November 5, 2011:

Earwigs have been wondering why the Nicolas Cage character isn’t called by the name of the actual trooper who led the task force that nailed Hansen, Glenn Flothe. Other cop characters have the names of the real people. Maybe we’ll find out when movie publicist David Linck interviews Flothe. Linck announced Thursday that Glenn had agreed to chat on tape.

Two months on and still no sign of a Glenn Flothe – David Linck interview. Just saying.

eBook Pricing

Dan Gillmor recently pinned a piece for The Guardian (UK), in which he describes the “great ebook price swindle.” The article struck a chord with me, because I am wondering about the best price for an ebook version of “Butcher, Baker.”

Gillmor’s argument is that (greedy) publishers have adopted the agency model and, in the process, driven up prices of ebooks to the point where they are equal to, and occasionally higher, than the hardcover version. I have written elsewhere that publishing is a three-legged stool — and that the author deals Amazon is offering are less than stellar. Most commentators (including Gillmor) conveniently ignore the author. Indeed, Gillmor makes an argument that I’ve rejected in the past, namely that the current ebook pricing model is solely anti-consumer. But he says one thing that gives me pause:

When new ebooks were $10, I was buying them all the time. In almost all cases, book purchases are impulse buys – something you want to have, right now. I was buying new best-sellers at a rapid rate, and happy to do so… No more. I still buy some e-books, but only at lower prices.

You know, as much as I hate ridiculous royalties, I have no interest in driving buyers away. So here’s what I’m looking at…

The paperback version of “Butcher, Baker” has been selling at anywhere from $8.99 to $25.00. The latter seems too high (and I think I know why that’s happening, BTW. Greedy publisher). The former seems like a bare minimum. And, of course, I know what I’m up against… According to a 2007 study, one in four Americans read no books in the previous year. The Trade Categories (hardcover, paperback and mass market) were down 34.4% from February 2010 from February 2011.

Dan Gillmor speaks to the “impulse buy” in ebook land. I think that’s where I’m headed. After all, “Butcher, Baker” is smack in his comfort zone.

The books I bought this way tended to be mysteries and thrillers – the kind of book purchases I treated like movie tickets, to be read or seen once and then put aside.