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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Life in the Sinny-Maw, Poot the First

I have appeared, I believe, in 6 efforts at a film or video. I’ll try to recount them in chronological order, but I don’t know that I’ll remember chronological order.

In my mid-twenties I joined a gathering of film-besotted Birmingham locals who aspired to generate content, then slap it on public access. A man and a woman who seemed to be in good with the local video scene (let’s call them Mate and Kate) set up some kind of theoretical organization, got an alleged former producer of The Waltons to drop by meetings, and solicited short spec scripts from aspiring screenwriters. Kate said, with an I-dare-you-to-laugh stone face, “My ambition is to have a Top Ten hit show on the air in a year.” I was impressed; these people were thinking big; Alabama public access was clearly just a stepping stone.

I was besotted by Donald Barthelme and Neon Genesis Evangelion; I wrote a now-lost sketch that reflected these influences (and not much else beyond a sense of humor more informed by Monty Python than Barthelme.) It was well received, and they asked for a series. I wrote a truckload more (also long lost) and they weren’t so well received; too naively obscurantist. I got my old Theatre professor to write a rave review of this stuff, then gave it to the (ahem) Heads of Production in the belief that this would sway them. Wrong.

Happily another guy had been cranking out scripts; a sitcom series that I regarded as hopelessly out of touch with either real human behavior or professional quality laffs. I couldn’t have improved them if I’d been asked to rewrite, though, which I wasn’t. A director (from B’ham’s hyperactive community theatre scene) signed on to actually direct something; he decided that of the two series on offer both were garbage, but at least one was comprehensible. And so the pilot for the other guy’s series became a low-budget video reality.

It debuted with a block of locally produced shorts at the Sidewalk Film Festival, at the same time as American Astronaut. Everyone who attended came out raving about its brilliance, the musical might of the film-affiliated band that performed at the screening, the informative yet hilarious Q and A session; it has since gone on to be a cult fave. I’m talking about American Astronaut, here. I missed it to see the short I was in.

An amateurish, forgettable thing. I was onscreen for a split second, looking like a fat fifteen-year-old.

That was the first and last production to emerge from this crew. Mate and Kate had an acrimonious split, and the contracts we signed (oh, did I mention we signed contracts?) gave Nate the rights to everything we submitted or filmed while he was involved, for a year or so out. Kate led me to believe that Mate was actively holding up production, so I used that newfangled “E Mail” to write Mate and ask what my options for getting the stuff produced were. He responded:

“Produce away. Just remember that any resulting product or profits are mine THASS RITE BI-ZITCHES MINE ALL MINE $$$$$$$$”

or something to that effect. As Kate later reexplained, Mate was no longer actively involved in any way, and Kate refused to do any work that might benefit the guy, so a halt was called while Kate ran down the clock. By whatever time the contracts were void, so was my interest.

Then I was an extra in a professional film with real live movie stars titled World Traveller, which filmed mostly in Birmingham due to its resemblence to all the world’s finest cities, plus cheapness. I was an extra in one scene, talking on a pay phone in the background of an airport. They asked me to wear a suit and carry a suitcase; I wore a musty suit I’d outgrown (horizontally) and brought a nice fabric-lined hardshell suitcase I’d swiped from my Dad years before. I’d forgotten there was a vat of Vaseline in the suitcase (for my chapped lips, wise guys) and it melted in the hot sun and/or movie lights, ruining the fabric lining. This was representative of how I was fumbling through life at the time.

I missed the film’s local premiere; I think I was rehearsing a play, maybe? I heard it was a lot of fun; even though no one had anything good to say about the film as such, apparently there were cheers throughout the screening whenever anyone recognized themselves, their friends, or familiar landmarks. There’s no business like it.

More to come… honest…

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