Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Audition From Hell

Having held an audition before, I knew that less than half of the people that you book a time for will actually show up, so I compensated for fear of not having enough people.

And sweet balls, was I ever wrong.

Every single person showed up. All of them. It was just a huge flood of people.

Even a random homeless guy from the Venice area. I'm not joking.

We were trying our best to race through people but still give them a shot to really work when they were inside with us, but the mass of people grew and grew until I started freaking out. I apologized profusely to everybody, offered to take head shots and call people for a second day (which I had no intention of doing, but just to make them all feel better about leaving), and took no small amount of verbal abuse.

I recall at one point rushing Toshi through an audition when he said "Chris, it's not a big deal, let them wait." I made him come outside with me between the next person. Then he got it.

We ended up staying really late to get through everyone, but it all ended up working out. We got some great talent out of it, and even better, some amazing horror stories. Highlights include:

1) The strangest man in the world who was apparently read the script as some outlandish slapstick comedy

2) The really shy Asian girl who reluctantly handed us her nearly soft-core pornographic "head shot"

3) The woman who did drugs in the bathroom over and over and ended up having a breakdown in the middle of her audition

None of those are lies, and I have video proof of all of them.

Probably my favorite person that came in that I actually cast, however, was Robert Fleet

Robert, this is a lot of plug. You owe me.

He was auditioning to play the father of the character I would be playing, and not only does he look eerily like me (not so much in that photo I posted, but in real life it's startling), he acted a lot like me too. I'm fully convinced that time travel is invented about 30 years from now and I will come back in time to be in my own film.


But beyond the things he couldn't help, like being my future self, the way he came in and presented himself was perfect. He had clearly read the whole script, discussed it, had questions and opinions (including one where he accused me of having an incredibly bleak view of the world), and inserted himself like he was one of us right away. Within about 20 seconds, there was no question that we were casting him.

So note to actors: be more like Robert and less like the whiny, pretentious douche bag that you actually are.

Casting - A Beginner's Guide

It would have been nice if we'd been able to cast solely with our friends, but there are way too many parts in this movie for that to have been possible. The only answer was hold an audition.

The fine folks over at Box24 Studios (Dan, Tom, big thanks) let us use their space so that we didn't appear to be completely sketchy.

"Say that line again, but this time I'm going to take my pants off."

A lot of people have asked how I got people to show up, and it was really simple: LA Casting, Actor's Access, and Craigslist. They were all free, so that was a big incentive. LA Casting and Actor's Access have pretty much the same user interface, which is initially confusing but ultimately pretty useful. Hot tip if you use Craigslist: don't put "send your email address and/or phone number" in your post. It causes it to be flagged for removal. Very frustrating.

What happened next blew me away. I got literally 10,000+ replies for the 13 parts I was casting. It was really overwhelming and I started picking people for dumb reasons. "Hey, she looks like that one girl I know," "That's can NOT be his real name," "...is he smoking a cigar in that headshot?" These were all REAL reasons I used. Actors, it's true. Cheap gimmicks are the only way to get noticed.

Yes, sadly this guy is probably getting more work than you.

Other things actors might be interested to know about the perspective of someone on the other end of their submissions is that I rarely looked at anyone's resume, and only if I'd already picked them and was just curious. Just finding people with a look that might work is hard enough, I'm not going to take the time to read about you too. Reels are good, but I cared very little about your one line cameo in CSI, I'd rather see a solid scene in something I've never heard of and looks terrible just to see if you can act.

If you are not Justin Bieber in this scene, please do not put it on your reel. Seriously.

My last bit of advice here was something that I did because, as an actor, it pissed me off when others didn't do it.

Producers, writers, directors, what have you: make your entire script available for potential actors to read. It helps them decide if they even want to do your project for little or no money and it helps them prepare better for the character than one or two pages (or one or two pages from a DIFFERENT MOVIE as one student director tried to make me do).

Seriously, what are you afraid of? First of all, your script is likely not good enough to steal. Second, if it is, what are you going to do once the movie's made? Lock it in a vault so no one can see it? It's just as easy to steal a joke or concept or anything else from a movie as from a script. Get over yourself and let people read your work.

End rant, tune in next time for the actual audition.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 6: Dane and Drew Van Oort

This is the last of these, seriously, I promise.

My mom grew up with Dane and Drew's mom, Karen. They were friends for years, and then I think they kinda fell out of touch as they went on with their lives. I could probably call either of them and get a more accurate story, but that'd be more work.

I'm lazy. Sue me.

But whenever I went to my grandma's house, they were around. We hung out as kids whenever our parents were in the same vicinity, but we didn't live near each other so there wasn't much more to it.

But then came the internet.

Sweet, glorious internet.

We reconnected on AIM, and they even took me to my first concert.

Suburban Legends. They're adorable.

Dane got to be real good at art, and Drew got to be real good with cameras. Especially useful since he also owned a D90, Drew came on as our second cameraman. The only way our shoot was possible on the schedule we had was to roll two cameras at all times, so thank the lord we had him on board.

I frequently consult Dane with ideas on scripts and harebrained schemes, so Brickwalk was no different. He also ended up designing the website. And this is their super awesome sticker website [end plugs].

We're supposed to all get together to do the poster soon, and I've got plans for the end credits that I haven't told Dane about yet, but I'm hoping he'll help (Dane, if you're reading this, please help with the end credits).

And now, as it's the only picture I actually have of one of them, I present me and Drew as babies.

Shh, I'll be gentle.

Assembling the Team Part 5: Schoen Hodges

I kinda already talked about him, but he didn't really get a proper introduction, so I'll do it here.

Schoen Hodges...ladies?

Schoen and I met at CalArts in the summer of 2002. We caused only small amounts of trouble, but we stole a whole lot of water bottles. Like seriously.

At what point does it become a felony? Because we may have come close.

And since then our greatest adventures together have been when we've had nothing at all to do except for live life itself. Oh, except for the times we made horribly offensive television segments, the time we were sent to Rome with no money or guidance and expected to produce a film out of thin air (and almost succeeded), or when we went fact finding about that diamond smuggler in La Habra.

Yes, all those stories are true, but I'll let you guess which one this was from.

We've written a lot together, including Brickwalk Cafe, so obviously Schoen got to call dibs on which scene he wanted to do.

Assembling the Team Part 4: Ben Foy

Ben and I met during my brief and his extended stint at Pepperdine University.

Where dreams go to die.

We both made the mistake of studying acting in college and were going nuts as a result. Neither of us were particularly suited to an overly structured environment, particularly where we felt like we were learning so little, so we were both going a little nuts.

Benjamin Foy: Nucking Futs.

We had a class together and quickly realized that we were the only mischievous warlocks in a room full of human beings and started teaming up together. We embarked on a string of destructive outings that were always fun to do, but even more fun to read about in the Public Safety Reports later on.

One of a couple of pictures that won't get us in trouble, from when Ben and I tried to sneak into and sleep in every building on campus

Later we had a couple of shows on Malibu's public access. One of the strangest was the faux children's show Presto! Magic Show! in which I played a creepy semi-pedophile host and Ben was a vampire who wanted to ruin things...and it made about as little sense as this explanation of it.

You're on your own here.

Ben, of course, had to be in the movie and he's perfect. He's so strange in person that he merely needs to let the camera reflect about 1/10th of it and it's captivating to watch.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 3: Brian Nenno

Brian Nenno and I met at church when I was in 8th grade. He was that really cool older kid who made all the videos of the trips we went on. This meant that he had tons of attention starved kids always trying to be as cool as him by telling him what to film, and it was never a good idea.

Enter me, on choir tour, doing exactly that. I believe I pitched him some idea about me in a scarf and ski goggle in the middle of a park in San Francisco fighting other kids, and bless him, he saw it through. It was a horrible idea that Brian was patient enough to shoot when he could have easily said "you're dumb" and gone back to the cool kids.

Brian Nenno, so cool he might be the Unabomber

After that, we kept making videos together. The most notable were likely the History Project Theatre: Full Throttle series which included 2 Fast 2 Alamo, Apollo 13 Going on 30 (the best of the series and sadly not online), and Magician Impossible (link is only the trailer). These were spawned from history class assignments which we churned out typically with little to no script in short periods of time.

And sometimes Brian had to dress like this

We moved into public access television shows and web shorts, all featured on the 51 Productions site, but ultimately we always wanted to do a feature. Unfortunately, Brian has a real job and can't take a whole bunch of time off to hang out in closed cafes with weirdos.

He also has a wife. Ladies, hands off.

Fortunately, Brian was available to edit the movie. He somehow juggled a full time job, a wife, and this project but he managed to kick out a really good product. I say we applaud him for that.

And also for this photo. Bottom left.

Assembling the Team Part 2: Ryan Chambers

The next thing I wanted to do was make sure that this movie didn't look crappy, like all other 51 Productions movies had. The problem had always been that none of us knew anything about lighting or really how to work a camera. If we could see the actors, then we considered ourselves to be doing pretty well. This would not be the case this time around.

Enter Ryan Chambers.

Ryan and I met at Rolling Hills Prep School in junior high. He was dating my sister, so I didn't exactly hang out with him, but he, fortunately, had an obligation to not see me murdered.

This was no easy task as in sixth grade I weighed about 70 pounds and had a tendency to run my mouth a lot. As one can imagine, this is a poor combination.

One day I'd said something unconscionably dumb to a group of 10th graders and was about to have my ass beat deservedly. As I cowered to receive my punishment, I saw an object doing at least Mach 2 fly across my field of vision, and suddenly my opponent disappeared. I found him on the ground, pinned by the significantly smaller and younger Ryan who was making various threats on my behalf. Intimidated, the 10th graders left me alone.

When he wasn't saving my life or making miracles happen with my crappy passes on the soccer field, Ryan was taking the best photographs in the world.

And yet, this is the best picture I can find of him.

You should seriously check out his website or his other more commercially driven website. He's amazing.

One day he posted some video he'd shot of rain when testing the video feature of his Nikon D90, and I was blown away. When it came time to do Brickwalk, I had no doubt that this was the guy who could finally give us a little production value in one of our movies. If you've seen the trailer, you know that he was successful.

All the nice things I can say about this kid, and I still can't explain this picture.

Ryan is currently working on color correcting the movie, one of the final stages of the process. I'm glad I'm not doing it because I have about a 0% clue of how it's done.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Assembling the Team Part 1: Kevin Senzaki

Probably the most embarrassing picture I could find.

Kevin Senzaki (who is referred to as Toshi because of this video), was my friend in preschool. WAS.

He, Jason Park, Bobby Atkinson, Perry Zagha, and I were best friends at Broadacres Preschool. There's a super adorable video of us bowling at Gable House for Toshi's 4th birthday that I will totally find a way to post clips of if people nag enough for it (Twitter, FB wall, or comments here are acceptable forms of nagging).

After preschool, we grew apart. I mean, we were both just such different people by the time we hit (preschool) graduation, that we honestly wouldn't have recognized each other as Kindergarteners. We never saw each other again.

Somehow, more stereotypically Asian than the last one I posted

That is, until nearly 20 years later. Somehow, the moms of the aforementioned group got together and decided to plan us a little play date. We all agreed that this was thoroughly lame to be 23 and have our moms plan to get us together, and also that it'd be super awkward to hang out with guys we scarcely remembered being forced to play with as toddlers.

And then we were promised Korean BBQ prepared by Jason's mom. Down.

Reuniting friends since the dawn of time

Leading up to going there, my mom started saying things to me. "You know, Kevin went to USC film school. He's a director." So of course what I heard is "Kevin is a pompous asshole that thinks he's better than everyone else and entitled to a film career when he's really a talentless hack." I mean, right? Who else has met a USC film student? This is typical.

Simultaneously, Toshi's mom was saying to him "You know, Chris is an actor. He's in some play right now." So of course what he heard was "Chris is a drama queen attention whore who thinks the world revolves around him and is a complete waste of organic material." This, having met actors before, is almost universally true.

Toshi, fooling no one.

So we reluctantly acknowledged each other at the table with forced small talk. Slowly, that grew and before we knew it, we'd hung out till 2AM talking about movies. Then once he showed me his short (Infamy), I was sold that this guy could direct. Once I had everything in place for Brickwalk, I brought the script to him and he (stupidly) agreed to sign on.

Additionally, you should read his awesome web comic, Savage Tongue.

The Set Up (You Need This)

Script in hand, there was a lot that had to happen before we could actually start making a movie.

The biggest hurdle was location. We wrote this whole freaking script predicated on the fact that it'd be easiest to shoot in a single location, then we set it in a diner knowing full well that none of us knows anyone who owns a diner. It was kind of a dumb move, but I had a feeling it'd work out. Of course, I'd also previously felt that financing would work out for all of my past projects.

Fortunately, the South Bay (of Los Angeles, not San Francisco or wherever else you may think I'm referring to) is full of restaurants that are breakfast/lunch only. This means they open early, but close by 3PM. That would leave us plenty of time to shoot with the whole place to ourselves.

What was borderline miraculous was how easy this was to do. I only went to two places, and both were very open to the idea. Buffy's (in Old Torrance), was very interested. The downside there was that the layout of the restaurant was going to be very difficult to work with, and while it had a great diner look, it was going to get a little monotonous for an entire film to be set there.

Shot from our early scouting missions

The second place we went, on an offhand recommendation from a family friend, was Mike's Brickwalk Cafe in Palos Verdes. Mike Giglia, the owner, is probably one of the nicest guys on the planet. I'd never heard of his restaurant before, never been there, and had no connections, but he immediately wanted to help me out. He told me to leave him a script and pay him whatever I could, but not to let it be a barrier to making the film happen. We also offered to name the film after the place, which he accepted as a marketing contribution.

He basically gave us the run of the place. We'd show up to do our preproduction and planning as he was closing, and he'd head home asking only that we turn all the lights off and lock up when we were done. I would have never trusted some idiot kid like me, especially one claiming to be a film maker, but Mike, apparently, is just a better person than that.

Now there was nothing really standing in our way except for finding people to help us pull this off.

By the by, title is a reference to a Reel Big Fish song, and that's why you didn't understand it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Myself Into a Corner

It was January 2nd, 2010 when I went and met with Schoen Hodges.

Also pictured: Schoen's powerful headlock skills, Ben Foy, and a man wishing to be called upon by the teacher.

We sat at his house and outlined the list of constraints we had to work with. Knowing that making a feature would be ridiculously difficult, we wanted to do everything in the planning process to make it easier for ourselves. What we came up with was this:

1) All shot in a single location
2) Lots of dialog, it's easier and faster than action
3) A variety of actors all shooting for a single day in order to reduce time commitment and scheduling problems

Once we had our constraints, we were off to the races. A lot of ideas floated around, but ultimately we settled on the one we centered the movie around (no spoilers, I promise). We began writing vignettes and ultimately ended up cutting around 1/3 of them before settling on the final script.

When I breeze over it like that, it sounds really easy. I assure you, it wasn't. Schoen and I eventually grew apart on what the story should be, and there was a certain amount of creative tension for a while. We had a conversation about it, however, and I, narcissistic asshole that I am, decided to take the reins on this project while Schoen moved on to a different (better) script with another of our friends.

We continued to work together, with input from other people on the project, on revisions to Brickwalk Cafe up until the shooting day, but the script was basically done in February.

Advice to anyone trying to do this: Spend more time on your script than I did, but not forever. People have a tendency when working on a project for a long time to lose sight of what it is that compelled them to take it on in the first place. If it was compelling to you in the beginning, there's probably still something valid about that, and you owe it to yourself and your potential audience to see it through without changing it in millions of revisions into something unwatchable or perpetually unfinished.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inception (of the idea to make Brickwalk...not the Christopher Nolan film)

I've been trying to make a feature for years. Literally one third of my life up until this point, I have been desperately trying to make this a reality. A few friends and I had made shorts before, and hell, our 20 minute movie only took a week. So this was just like doing 4 of those, right? No problem!

From my B grade black and white zombie film to the local election campaign mockumentary, all attempts had failed at the same point: financing.

Apparently I am the single worst fundraiser in the history of film making. Producers have many jobs, but really the single most important thing they do is get money for the project. Even if they spend the rest of their time at donkey shows and beating up grade school children, if they can raise and distribute enough money to the rest of the production team, everything should work out fine.

Realizing this, I crawled into a dark hole in my self conscience. Was I an idiot for pursuing something that I was so recklessly bad at? Probably. But was I enough of an idiot to try anyway? That was what I had to figure out.

I took a look at my finances. I'd been saving for years with the ultimate goal of owning a home. It always seemed like a good investment, home prices in Southern California have a tendency to appreciate in value (even with the recent deflation of prices, the long term return is still amazing), plus they have the added bonus of ensuring that the owner is never homeless.

From somewhere outside of this dark hole came a voice. It asked a single question: "would you rather be a home owner or a film maker?" The answer to that question was easy.

Clearly, it was time to be an idiot.