Thursday, June 13, 2013

And ..... that's a wrap

I, like many other writers, will accept any excuse for not putting my butt in this chair and bleeding all over this keyboard. Last month I found yet another reason to make my muse Dolores chew her toenails in frustration: making a movie.

I was at a birthday party along with my friend Billy Montana one night, and he asked me if I would consider working on a movie he was making.

I said I'd never worked on a movie before and what would I have to do.
He said I'd do anything the producer told me to do -- like move equipment, dress sets, that sort of thing.

I was disappointed not to be asked to keep the casting couch warm. I asked what the movie was about.

He said it was a horror film.

Oh, I said. A horror film.

I should note that I do not watch horror movies. Not ever. OK, rarely. Stephen King is an exception because he's one of the best writers in the universe.

Otherwise, no horror for me. I'm still afraid the blob is going to roll down my street like a giant evil chocolate pudding and somehow consume me as I run screaming for help in my pajamas.  I had to stop watching The Exorcist when the girl crab-walked down the stairs ... and I was watching with my daughter. She finished it and then mocked me. Friday, the 13th? Chucky? Any movie about college coeds in the woods? Fuck no.

I have to be very careful what I put inside my head, because my head is a blob and what goes in grows larger, but never comes out.

But what the hell. I'm friends with all the actors. The set was mostly at Alex's house. It was only a commitment of a few days. I said, sure. I'll help. And just like that I was working crew on a film. A horror film.

I can't tell you what the film is about, although the NSA knew before Billy did, so I'm just going to hit some high points about my experience.

Alex's stairs
1. The producer didn't show up. I was surprised that was an option, but she crapped out entirely. So I did what Billy Montana told me to do instead. I helped set up lights, carried shit up and down Alex's scary basement stairs, ran out to buy bottled water and cigarettes, covered the windows with thick black plastic, watched the book for the actors (watched the script to make sure the lines and blocking was right), ran the fog machine, rubbed the glow-in-the-dark paint off one actor's shiny bald head with a wet wipe between takes, prepared testicles covered in black goo props, sat around on the casting couch and waited to be told what to do .... I did a bunch of various shit during those days of shooting.

And then, people, I ordered lunch. And guess the fuck what! That was like getting the golden ticket in the candy bar, because none of that other shit mattered one little bit. That's shit anybody can do. That's just being on the crew.

Ordering lunch though meant that I was elevated to .... wait for it .... producer! I am not fucking kidding!

I am the producer of a horror film. Who knew calling for pizza delivery and giving them Billy Montana's credit card number was such an important job?

2. What else can I say that's as exciting as that? Well, it was exciting watching the film come together. I like meticulous, detailed work, and the filming demanded intense attention to detail and physical and mental stamina -- even though we spent significant time just standing or sitting around waiting for the next thing to happen. The makeup for one of the characters took over 3 hours to air-brush on.

Billy shot some of the scenes over and over. And then he'd shoot the same scene from two or three different perspectives .... and shoot it over and over. For one scene, two of the actors drove up and down Alex's street at least 20 times, one of them drinking from a prop bottle of beer, as Billy filmed. We got a lot of curious looks from the neighbors.

But the filming isn't by far the end of it. Billy took all those scenes and shots home and will spend weeks editing, bringing the actors back in for ADR (additional dialogue recording), and then marketing it. It's a shit-ton of work, and this is a short film.

3. The director really does say, "Rolling .... and ..... action!" And he says "cut" and even, on the last day, "That's a wrap." It was just like a real movie just like you see in the movies.

One of the sets, the pizza, and me. I'm holding down the couch.
(photo credit: Alex Carmichal)

4. Almost everything we said sounded like something overheard at a porn shoot. "Just squeeze it until all the cream squirts out." "Can you bring in a wet wipe and clean off Bob's head?" "Just let that dribble slowly out of your mouth for this shot." "I didn't know this would be so sticky." I really wish I'd had time to write down the best of these. We laughed a lot. That helped me not take it too seriously because ....

5. This is going to sound crazy, but I was creeped out just watching the filming, and even more by reviewing the raw footage. The first day was the worst. Even after I went home, I felt like someone was watching me. This is why I don't watch horror movies. I couldn't have been further behind the scenes, I personally know and love all the actors, and it was still scary. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit what a pussy I am.

And the worst thing is that I didn't get to help with the gooiest, most terrifying scenes. I had to leave in the middle of the first day for a few hours to attend Melvin's funeral. I did see the raw footage though, and it was horrifying.

See what I mean?
(photo credit: Alex Carmichal)

6. Would I do it again? Fuck yeah! In fact, a group of us, led by the fearless Billy Montana, are going to compete in the Producers Guild of America Weekend Shorts Challenge. We'll have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a short film using specific criteria that we won't receive until the beginning of the challenge. More on that in September.

7. I can't wait to see the final product. Billy Montana expects it to be done and ready for a local showing in a month or so. I'll update then.

8. Finally, I was lying up there in the first paragraph. I don't really do things like this to avoid writing. I love writing. One reason I do things like this is because it gives me something to write about. And because I like the challenge of new experiences. And because I hoped I'd be invited to the casting couch. Maybe next time.

That's a wrap.