So we’ve returned, bruised, battered and weary, perhaps wiser, from the wilds of Rochester, NY.
We shot these scenes and many others in a very lovely and highly populated
I should also mention that the temperature all three days was in the high 90s with near 200% humidity and the occasional oxygen fire for good measure. There also seemed to be a mosquito outbreak that left most of us swollen, itchy, blotchy and maimed. And sunburned and dehydrated. And that was just our dignity!
Our second journey to the park came later, with actors Heather Maxon and her significant other, Warren, in tow, where which we shot the first redneck scenes of the day. Of course, shooting at the opening of a park attracted a fair amount of attention. After about half an hour, the cops arrived. Chris held up the camera, Meredith explained that we were shooting a “student film” (attention Indie folks – you’re always shooting a student film; and you’ve always left your ID in your room, if you’re asked). The cop was agreeable, though, mentioning that the park authorities had noticed something “suspicious” going on. I don’t know what, exactly, we were doing that was suspicious—up until that point, we were just shooting dialogue. We hadn’t gotten to the suspicious activity yet.
Shooting with Seaver and company took some time to get used to, particularly the speed at which we were moving. Once, I thought that we moved fast at Happy Cloud Pictures. We’re glaciers compared to the LBP crew. Of course, Chris uses only available light and an onboard camera mic—he doesn’t even use a tripod, preferring to shoot everything handheld and dollying his body in and out as the scene progresses. He also shoots, again, as much in order as possible. No masters, no more than two or three lines at a time. He’ll also give specific directions if he has a line reading in mind, but no direction at all beyond “Let’s do that again,” if he didn’t like something (or if we fucked up a line, which was more often than not).
Some of you elitists might be shaking your heads, fingers or other appendages at the above—as I certainly was when we started—but let me ask: what makes Chris’ process less-valid than anyone else’s? You light a scene to get a certain look. Chris likes his movies to look natural while unreality unspools within the frame. His dismissal of rehearsal stems from his preference that the actors do what they do and to surprise him as the scene progresses. Since he has the camera right up in your face the entire time, using a boom mike would not only be extraneous, but very difficult to cram above the frame. This is the LBP style, similar to that of early Goddard and very similar to the Dogma school of filmmaking. And who the hell am I to question someone’s filmic process? He gets the results he’s happy with, I won’t judge how he gets them.
LBP movies are about the characters, first and foremost. Every LBP movie is character-driven. And if the characters seem too broadly-drawn or cartoony, that’s because they’re existing in a world both like and unlike our own. There’s a bizarre combination of classical theatrics, over-the-top radio voice tricks, hip hop, Borscht-belt wild takes, toilet-jokes and general tomfoolery that comes strictly from Seaver’s mind. The actors are called upon to create characters on the spot and the only rule is: be funny. Before any non-fans out there turn up your noses let me bring something to your attention: mugging isn’t easy. As I mentioned, I had to flip-flop from Burt Lancaster to Dudley Doo-Right in the space of three or four words. I had to deliver tongue-twister dialogue at the same time, not look at the camera, not burst into a fit of giggles while the off-camera folks watched and ad-lib sufficiently if I screwed something up and still had to finish the sentence. I’ve taken a great deal of improv and theatrical classes over the years, I’ve studied linguistics, vocalization and numerous accents and I was still having a tough time with all of that.
But Meredith, Travis, Kurt, Billy, Katherine—they handled this stuff without batting an eye. They were just used to Chris, what he wanted and how to give it to him. And he didn’t mind if I threw something in off book so long as it made him laugh and didn’t seem completely out of context with what we were doing.
Consider this exchange:
Chaisey: “Right here, Stack, I wanna fuck your balls off underneath this wide open willow tree.”
To which I was supposed to reply, “Chaisey, you hound.”
But I forgot that line, so, stuck, I rattled off: “Well, I took a SCUD missile to the left one, so you’ll just have to fuck off the right.”
Chris laughed. The line stayed in. Or, at least, we didn’t reshoot with the right line so…
Amy’s chores on the set were similar, though her character was painted in more narrow strokes. As “Audrey”, she was the literal “T” of the T&A, required to act in low-cut blouses and arch her back a lot. As the scenes progressed, Chris would shoot her line in a close-up or two-shot, spin around and shoot the reaction or next line with the next character, swing back to her, etc. When she was off-camera, she would react to the on-camera character to give the actor something to work with. That’s how she was trained. At one point, Brad lost his focus and flubbed a line. He turned to Chris and pointed an accusing finger at Amy: “What’s with the real actress over here?”
A similar experience had Chris stopping when I was doing the same thing. “You’re not on camera, you know?” I knew. “I’m giving Kurt something to focus on.”
Neither of these things seemed unusual to us, and it didn’t strike us as unusual either, as Meredith would frequently order one of the actors into their spot to give the on-camera character a focal point. But, apparently, because they move so fast, it isn’t a requirement on an LBP set.
One benefit that Chris has, however, is similar to a Happy Cloud set. He’s surrounded by strong, smart women who run his set while he concerns himself with other things. Meredith, this time around, was his producer, his AD, his grip, script supervisor and the shoot’s den mother. She was the one commanding, “Okay, what’s next?” Feeding lines, saying “Let’s move on,” when the others were tempted to dissolve back to the natural state of chaos.
And the chaos was my own misconception. I asked her, at one point, “Is it always this chaotic and hectic?”
“No,” she replied. “This is actually moving really easily. Usually we have a lot more to get done and there’s more… pressure. We’re ahead of schedule, actually.”
Though CEARK lacked break-out stars like Teen-Ape, Caspian or Heather and Puggly, there was still a sheer amount of goofiness and black comedy. LBP mines the depths of taste for laughs, many of them wrung from death, dismemberment and sexual misconduct. And violence. My character was involved in three fight scenes, all of which were staged against Kurt, who hadn’t even been born when I was his age! Kurt is also very agile, fit and fast. And strong. And hurty.
Chris announced towards the end, “Okay, go choreograph something, guys.” Suddenly, Kurt was outlining a very complicated series of fight moves and I was in pain just listening. During one scene, he leapt clear over me, landed, rolled, leapt to his feet and countered one of my kicks with a kick of his own to my shin, then a roundhouse that just cleared my head. I reacted to the kick and threw myself rolling to the ground.
And Chris didn’t shoot it! I’m on the ground, willing my lungs to re-inflate, convinced my shin had cracked in half, and he says “Let’s shoot it for real!” Meanwhile, Kurt isn’t even sweating.
Being a consummate professional, I only bitched a lot.
Still, I’d gotten what I’d hoped for: the Low Budget Pictures experience. We got to hang out with people we’d gotten to know over the years through their movies and from a few isolated minutes here and there at conventions. We laughed a lot, we groaned, we gave each other shit. And while there, I got to check out a couple of the LBP movies I’d missed, like the aforementioned Wet Heat and the very well-done Ski Wolf.
And I marveled, again, at the leaps and bounds with which Seaver has grown as a filmmaker over the years. His movies are tighter, now, with very good editing and cleaner sound. And while they’re just as silly, his characters now have arcs to their journeys and the gags are now character-specific. And there’s a sweetness that exists, particularly in the Heather and Puggly movies, that you didn’t find before. Even his frequent toilet humor is motivated, instead of shoved in for a cheap laugh.
You don’t get to witness growth too often in this business. Some filmmakers come and go, making no impact. Others retire because it’s just too goddamned tough to make something people want to watch. Seaver and the LBP crew have legions—friggin’ legions—of fans all over the world. I joke with him when I see him at Cinema Wasteland—“How many movies did you shoot on the way down?”—but I envy his speed and I envy his consistency. And this is coming from someone who couldn’t even watch his movies once upon a time. Now I look forward to them. Because he gives me something new each time. Bizarre, nonsensical, but consistently funny.
And I, for one, am very happy to have been part of one.
Now, sukkas, head over to Low Budget Pictures for some phat filmage from which you soul will verily soar to the highest heights of heaven and cosmically beyond and shit!!