Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Life in the Sinny-Maw, Poot the Final

I was an extra in a feature-length movie a friend directed. It was a tumultuous production about which a sequel to Easy Riders, Raging Bulls could be written, but not by me. I had fun.

* * *

The last video project I've been involved in was a short written, directed and composed by Marc. Yes, composed; he was a composition student, and for a project he decided to do a soundtrack, and make the movie for which he'd write the soundtrack.





I'm terribly fond of this. Marc shares my love for Birmingham, and it shows.

Marc asked me to be in this immediately after the final performance of a play. Later an actress in the play asked me "Why wasn't I invited to be in this movie?"

"It's a gay porno," I said.

Pause.

"I was in a lesbian porno," she said.

Pause.

"I was kidding," I said.

Pause.

"I wasn't," she said.

A Life in the Sinny-Maw, Poot the Second

I was an extra in a corny comedy film a well-to-do young man wrote, directed and produced. I've written about it before, and can only add that this rather ambitious and expensive production (shot on 35 MM film instead of video, for which the filmmaker paid out of pocket!) doesn't seem to be available in any form. Not on Youtube, nuthin. Years later the filmmaker called me and asked if I'd volunteer to appear in his latest, lower-budgeted film, which would be an angry satire of all the local films that won more acclaim that his. I was to appear in a spoof of arty films. I'd wear a diaper and boxing gloves, and box with another grown man in a diaper. I made some excuse about having to clean my apartment, which anyone who ever saw my apartment knows was a lie. Don't ask fat guys to take their shirts off unless you know they're comfortable with it.

Later I got involved in Sidewalk Scramble, this being the "Make a short film in 48 hours" competition. My friend Deb roped me into the Scramble team "Special Needs Offenders of Televideo", a local group of bored youth with prosumer video equipment.

Anyway, I went to the initial writers' meeting and was disappointed Deb didn't show up. I was stuck with two young men and a handful of givens. Givens are things one is given by the Scramble operators, to make sure you didn't spend five months making the film you're passing off as a 48 hour production. Things like a hat that needs to appear, certain lines of dialogue, a sunrise. If you turn your film in without these elements, you don't make the cut. If you incorporate these elements in a clever way, you get points with the judges. I was very excited about the Givens, because as an occasional improviser I was excited by the challenge of weaving a fresh story out of such elements; they were pegs to weave the thread around, and I liked to see what kinds of patterns we could weave. I immediately crafted an improv-style rough-draft narrative that I thought deserved, at the least, a big gold star. The guys shrugged. So we went to the team leader's house.

His DVD shelf consisted entirely of movies you could find at Wal-Mart, and I just about left upon seeing that. I'm no snob about such things, and I like Ghostbusters as much as anybody, but I do think aspiring filmmakers should cast their nets a little wider. Then he offered us food. I was glad; I was hungry. The food was Hot Pockets. I was sad. I said No Thank You. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of our collaboration.

The next day I accidentally on purpose got lost on the way to the filming, but drove around a bunch in an effort to persuade myself I had actually made an effort. A deliberately futile effort seemed ethically superior to just staying home. Nowadays, thanks to my high-functioning Wife's example, I would either show up and do what I'd committed to do, or just call in sick like a real man.

I missed the screening, but friends assured me the short was even more dire than I'd expected. The responsible parties put their every bowel movement on Youtube, yet they haven't posted this Sidewalk Scramble effort, so go figure.

P. S. Deb went on to become a fixture on the local theatrical scene and got to do some work she was proud of.

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…