Monday, June 7, 2010

Rolling the Dice Pt 2 or Don't Crap Out

Last November, Kristen Abate and I were at the Filmstock Festival UK with our feature film, PRE the first aftermath comedy. This was our second year in a row there. It's the kind of festival that restores your faith in humanity. The founders Neil Fox and Justin Doherty made you feel like a friend not the victim of a Ponzi scheme like some other festival$. The first time we were there in 2008 with our short, Busted Walk, we also went to see the Alan Ayckbourn play, Norman Conquests at the Old Vic in London.

Ayckbourn was one of my original inspirations and teachers. I didn't take a class with him but many years ago when I was at the lowest point in my life, having barricaded myself in my room for seven years (this is not an exaggeration for dramatic effect - I was fucked up), I saw a BBC program in which he wrote a play during the program - not before the program aired; but while it was airing - to demonstrate his craft.

This year we went to see a revival of another Ayckbourn play, Bedroom Farce, directed by Sir Peter Hall (who directed the English language premiere of Beckett's Waiting for Godot and is the father of Rebecca Hall of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. You decide which is the greater achievement.). We almost didn't see it because it was over an hour's train ride outside of London and when we got there they initially said they had no record of our tickets and it was sold out. Fortunately I tried variations of my name and found my tickets under my new favorite alias - Tanen Von Stevis.

The play was classic Ayckbourn beautifully performed by the ensemble, although one of the actors stood out from the rest. Definitely worth the train ride. After the play, when we got out of the tube in London it was late and we headed for a restaurant across the street. As we approached, one of the actors, Orlando Seale (pictured above), from Bedroom Farce - the one who stood out - was exiting the very same restaurant. We were over forty five minutes away from the theatre and he was coming out of restaurant that wasn't any where near his neighborhood - what were the odds of that? We started talking and I mentioned that I would be shooting a film in February. Half kidding, I said you should come to New York and be in it.

It appears that the most successful way to roll the dice is when you are half kidding. I wrote a part for Orlando and we rehearsed on skype. He flew in a few days before his shoot (sick as a dog). But he is part of that stage tradition that lives by the Beckettian adage "I can't go on, I'll go on". His scene in the film is a tour de force which he performed at the highest levels take after take. The other day, after watching the footage, our editor Ryan Garretson suggested that we turn his scene into a short. Tanen Von Stevis agrees. We had every opportunity to crap out at every step of the way - long train ride, London SUBURBS, lost tickets, chickening out when we saw Orlando after the show - but we didn't and let it roll.

Friday, June 4, 2010

How Rolling The Dice Can Save Your Life

It’s been said that financing your own film is a courageous roll of the dice akin to hopping aboard Phaeton’s flaming chariot. (When it comes to invoking the Phaeton myth I have always preferred Jung’s interpretation of what he called the hero myth – the point isn’t about crashing and burning but how long you can hold onto the sizzling reins). Sometimes the amount of bravery attached to art is greatly exaggerated. It’s not as dangerous as coal mining. And as far as I know no one has ever gotten black lung disease from it. What is more likely in the independent world is that you will end up with a bad credit rating which can seem as serious a heart attack. The most dramatic roll of the dice that I do know about that actually includes flames occurred in WWII. My father was on one of the first troop ships that sailed across the Atlantic. One night, while the rest of his unit was fast asleep in the bowels of the ship, all zipped up, one on top of the other, in hammocks; my father was on the top deck shooting craps. When he literally rolled the dice, the troop ship was torpedoed by a Nazi U-Boat. The torpedo struck the ship right where my father’s unit was sleeping. The ship sank and all the men in his unit were killed because they obeyed orders and weren’t shooting craps after lights out. This was definitely a case when rolling the dice saved a life. I’d like to think that by making a film I am saving lives, especially my own. At the very least it’s my job to make everyone involved feel like the stakes are that high.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Luger In The Hands of An Inglorious Basterdess

A still of Kristen Abate, a Luger and an overhead fan from How To Score Your Life

A Nazi Gave Me Props

Not directly. I got the German Officer's Luger in this photograph from my father. He got two Lugers in hand to hand combat with a Nazi. The Nazi got dead. Initially we were going to rent prop guns but I remembered that I had the WWII Lugers (one of them actually dates back to WWI). Don't worry these were not live guns. In order for my father to bring the Lugers back to the States molten lead had to be poured into the barrels. It's true the Nazi's were anti-semitic but you have to give them props for their cool handguns and leather jackets. But more props to my dad who was a tough motherfucker. More about him in my next post...

Friday, May 28, 2010

One Dirty Bitch

This is something you can't learn in film school. Here's the scene...

The two hosts of a Professional Wrestling radio show called the "Figure Four Leglock" are premiering the first webcast edition of their show which is the epitome of DIY and takes place in their living room. For their inaugural show they booked the world famous female professional wrestler, ODB (short for "one dirty bitch), the TNA 3-time Women's Knockout Champion. But Leroy, their friend and the main character of the film is hungover and passed out on the couch, only wearing his leather jacket and red Santa undies.

The way the scene was written the wrestler would get offended by Leroy and the complete lack of professionalism, walking out before the interview begins.

Then real life intervened. ODB entered, yelled "BAM!; grabbed her breasts like "The Situation" grabs his crotch and took a healthy swig from her flask.


Obviously Leroy in his red Santa undies was not going to offend this "Bitch". Or that he spent the previous night in jail. For her, as she said in the scene, Jail "is just another Tuesday night." Plus we were fortunate to have her appear in our film, not to mention fly in a blizzard to get there...

...So we re-wrote the scene to reflect the real ODB's sensibilities, but essentially we just turned her loose.

At the point the flask comes out, you have two choices: force something you know isn't going to work just because it was on paper or take the ride of your life and discover what Tuesday night with ODB really means.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How To Fund Your Film: Get Hit By A Truck

In 2004 I was working as an accountant for my sister's construction company. Her company went bankrupt two years later. That was only partially my fault. I was a bad accountant, but not in the Nicholas Cage "Bad Lieutenant" way. I just couldn't do math. I did theatre on the side but it wasn't enough just like one hit on the crack pipe wasn't enough for the bad lieutenant. I was in credit card debt; and with the day job and theatre, I was working 6 days a week, 14 hours a day. Worse than that, I was starting to get secretary butt. I was praying for change even though it didn't occur to me where it could come from. Then one night, I was walking home from my play on 9th Avenue and as I was crossing 26th Street, a truck hit me. My legs were shattered and operated on four days later in Bellevue. Then I was transferred to a rehab center which was a euphemism for an orthodox Jewish nursing home, where I spent 6 months learning how to get from a bed to a wheelchair and crapping in a bed pan. Being run over was the best career move for me and I highly recommend it to other independent filmmakers. The money I received in my lawsuit has funded one short and two features. There is no money left now from the lawsuit so it is time for another career move, hopefully one just as a lucrative but does not involve using a bed pan.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Party Isn't A Party Without The Beatards

One of my favorite bands is the Beatards. We used one of their old jams "Just Cool Out" in my last feature, PRE. But this time I had the idea to have them perform live in the film. DJO, Chuck Wild, and UTK came to the set at 10am (and you know most musicians don't even know there's two 10s in the same day) on a Saturday no less, pretty much directly from their gig the night before. Not only were they the definition of a PRO but they were also just damn cool. And take after take, performed their asses off for us. The day they came was our 6th straight 14 hour day in the shoot so their energy and infectious "dang diggy dang" reinvigorated the cast and crew. I've posted a link to their music video of "dang diggy dang". Check out the Beatard's website and see their new video "Get Lite". I look forward to the next bottle of tequila with DJO, Chuck Wild and UTK.