Friday, August 15, 2008

New Shoot part 1

Sunday night, shooting wrapped on Coventry Lanes. In an epic shoot, beating our own personal records by completing principal photography in just seven days—which included breaking another record by extending one shoot past twelve hours to a whopping seventeen, leaving most of us exhausted and hysterical—we emerged scathed and scarred, perhaps wiser, but likely not.

As most of you have already doped out, Coventry Lanes is a bowling movie. It takes place in the beautiful King Lanes in Kittanning, owned by the beyond-generous and patient Bob and Sandy Hall. Bob and Sandy also went above and beyond to feed and house the majority of our 30+ cast and crew for the bulk of the seven days. Which is actually karma, in a lot of ways, because truth be told, the entire impetus of the movie was Sandy’s fault.

A few months ago, Amy and I attended a one-day comic book convention in Ohio, in the very hotel Robyn Griggs hosted her Twisted Nightmare Weekend show for two years. Robyn was also a guest at this show and, as they’re want to do, she and Amy wound up in the bar for a good portion of the day. As Robyn is a veteran of soap operas—Another World, primarily—she and Amy have often tooled around with doing a web-based soap spoof and they returned to this topic again, amidst many lemon drops. As we left, Amy and I continued to outline the plot of this silly thing when we got a call from Tara Cooper, make-up artist and costumer extraordinaire. She was at her mother’s place. Her mother, Sandy, was the co-owner of the aforementioned Kittanning Bowling Alley with her husband, Bob. Ever since Mothman Prophecies had been shot in Kittanning, it’d been Sandy’s dream that a movie would be filmed in her alley. And this dream was expressed to us over the phone. Or, rather, over Tara’s shoulder and over the phone.

“Tell them they have to shoot in my bowling alley!” we heard.

Now, for the last two years, Happy Cloud Pictures has been trying and failing to raise funds necessary for a larger-budgeted straight horror movie called Painmaker. It’s at the top of our dream projects. It has a big concept, will require a huge effects budget and will likely involve multiple SAG actors. It’s not something we can toss off in our back yard. But we like to shoot something every year. Blame our work ethic or our sense of masochism, but we like to stay busy. And since Splatter Movie continues to this moment to be requested and rejected by major distributors, we didn’t have anything currently on our plate for the Summer. So by the time we got home, we had a brief outline for a fun, goofy horror comedy similar to but very different from our first DV movie, Severe Injuries.

As children of the ‘80s, we’re all at HCP fans of the straight-to-video horror movie. Among my personal favorites are Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, both starring the wonderful Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer. Right before Hookers came Nightmare Sisters, which was the first time these two starred with the just as wonderful if not wonderfuler Brinke Stevens. Now: bowling alley, horror comedy—our first idea was to do either an indirect sequel or, possibly, a remake of Sorority Babes. We entertained this idea for all of four seconds until we realized we’d have to hunt down the rights, either through director Dave DeCoteau or Fred Olen Ray, whose Retromedia label was the current distributor. Add to that the fact that I’m not a fan of remakes and consider myself an intensely original individual, a rip-off—uh, I mean, homage was more keeping with my sensibilities.

I knew what elements I wanted to include: the evil preppy girls, the outsiders, the hunks, the misunderstood hunk, and the female villains that would set all the gore and nastiness in motion. The original concept was to include the three genuine scream queens: Brinke, Michelle and Linnea, and add to them Amy and Debbie Rochon, who are often pegged as scream queens anyway, regardless of the fact that they very rarely scream in their movies. Then mix in our normal cast of zanies, perhaps bring in a number of out-of-town friends to round out the parts.

By the end of the week, I’d banged out a first draft that contained no less than fifteen main characters, including one that would be perfect for one of the A-list horror con regulars like Michael Berryman or Kane Hodder. We sent the script around to everyone we wanted involved and… immediately, things started to collapse.

First: our meeting with Sandy and Bob went swimmingly. They were excited. The alley was fantastic. We couldn’t wait. Except for the fact that I’d inadvertently written in scenes involving a pool table and a gymnasium (hey, the bowling alley in my old neighborhood had these things and an upstairs video arcade; my assumption that all alleys had these things were valid based on the information I had at the time!), it was a perfect location. We signed the location agreement and went along our way. Completely misunderstanding one vital piece of information involving the alley’s need for readiness before league play started in September. More on that in a minute.

The script was sent out to our “scream queens” and Brinke was the first to sign on. Debbie was second. Michelle had to be tracked down. Linnea had a new management team we needed to deal with. All fine. We had two investors come through almost immediately and Amy received a decent severance package from her job of ten years following a layoff; for once we had money to play with.

Then we contacted our SAG actor. He was on board. So we contacted SAG.

Then one of our investors started to get itchy to get everyone signed, which meant putting pressure on the rest of our out-of-town cast.

Then the director of photography we’d been hoping for had to back out due to his selfishly accepting a job in New Orleans on a big budget movie.

Then one actress was on board, wanted too much money, accepted a counter offer, then realized the dates we wanted to shoot conflicted with a prior engagement.

Then, we realized our miscommunication with Sandy and Bob. Where once we thought we had all of August, by July 3rd, we discovered we only had until August 10. See, there are all sorts of things one has to do to get a bowling alley ready for league play. They need a lot of time to accomplish those things. Playing host to a huge team of delusional filmmakers is not on that list of needed accomplishments. Suddenly, our production time—not to mention our pre-production time—had been cut by two weeks.

We booked flights, continued negotiations, abandoned negotiations and sought new cast members to replace the ones we didn’t have after all. Our key to the five villains was getting actresses cast who were not only recognizable but also had a reputation in the indie horror world. Since we’re morons, it took us a day or so to realize who our leads should be and quickly approached our good friends Lilith Stabs and (duh!) Robyn Griggs (who we had originally envisioned in a different role but worked perfectly in the one we pitched to her). What was better, with Amy, Brinke, Debbie, Robyn and Lilith, we had a mini-Severe Injuries reunion going on as well, so that was very cool.

And during all of this, we negotiated with the Screen Actors Guild.

Let me take some time to bitch and whine about SAG. First, when you contact them, the first thing you have to go through is listen to them lecture and degrade you for not using all SAG actors. SAG actors, don’t you know, are better trained, better disciplined and all around better humans, more moral and closer to divinity, than your normal, run of the mill, unwashed heathen non-union actor. The next thing you have to do is fill out paperwork. Which we did. And faxed said forms back to them.

Then refaxed them because our SAG rep never received them.

Then called back to confirm they received the refax. They did.

Two days later, a package larger than our mortgage financing appeared in the mail. Complete with a Book of Mormon-sized guide to SAG contracts.

Keep in mind, we wanted this SAG actor for one fucking day! And he’d already agreed to it and liked the role! His price was better than we’d anticipated. We knew him personally. He was a terrifically cool guy and we wanted him to play something he’d never done before. But his Union… they don’t like their members to work on piddly little projects like this. They’d much rather they not work than deign to shoot a single day on a no-budget production. Even when the no-budget production has a fucking budget.

Sorry, sorry. The frustration flashbacks keep coming.

Anyway, by the time we got all the paperwork filled out and finally received a return phone call from our alleged SAG rep, our actor had already booked another job. I checked; he wasn’t working with our former DP. It was something different.

At this point, I’m having panic attacks hitting me like a clock bonging the time and we haven’t even started shooting yet.

Fortunately, our flights were booked, the rest of the cast was set, our good friend and pseudo-sister-in-law Gwendolyn offered to do costumes for us, things were starting to run smoothly. Things got even better when our good French Canadian friends at Diggerfilms, Steve, Hugo and their DP Simon, offered to come down to shoot for us with their HD equipment. Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train! This movie might actually get made after all.

We sat down with FX master Eric Molinaris to discuss some of the more gruesome kills needed, as well as the cool-ass demon makeup, he was all about it, even though he was in the middle of shooting his own movie, Black Sunrise. Concurrently, Jeff Waltrowski came aboard as an AD, even though he was in pre-production on It Came from Yesterday, which will be shooting in December.

We still had a couple of parts to cast, so we held open auditions at the alley. Kittanning is about twenty miles outside of Pittsburgh. Our rationale for holding the auditions there was based on the idea that people who would schlep all the way out there for an audition would have no trouble doing so for the actual shoot.

Out of nearly 100 applicants, four showed up. Of course, we only needed to fill three roles and liked everyone we saw. One of the four, Gary, impressed Amy and Tara so much that they insisted I write a role for him. Suddenly, our fifteen person cast grew to seventeen (I needed someone for Gary’s character to talk to, so I imported Henrique Couto as well). We cast the other three in the necessary roles.

Then panicked when one had a family emergency.

Then panicked again when another felt that the movie’s sex and nudity would damage his career as a professional stand-in. It might prevent him from ever standing in again!

We approached another actress to fill the void. She couldn’t do it. Add to that another had to drop out even closer to the start date due to an even more dire family emergency and I was waking up every morning looking at Christopher Walken in my mirror.

I’d gotten used to taking shallow breaths and conversing with others with my head between my knees. All was good.

Amy solved the first two absences admirably. She approached our good friend Tabatha Carrick (who runs “Corpses by the Bunch” with her mother, Sharon Titus) and asked her to take the part of “Becki-with-an-I”. Tabatha, game as she was, insisted that she couldn’t act and that we’d fire her within seconds of learning this on set. (She came up anyway, making the five hour drive from Baltimore.)

The “duh” moment came when we realized that the perfect actress for the other dopy sorority girl, “Infinity”, was right under our noses. We just didn’t ask her because she was already slated to do make-up, hair, costuming and general assistance. But we figured, what’s one more thing on the plate and asked Tara if she’d be up to playing Infinity. She was. Just as terrified as Tabatha as it turns out, but game she was.

Our longtime partner was put into the role of Max, originally written for him, oddly enough, but slated for our SAG actor when we started reaching for the moon. Gwendolyn came on for Roxanne, again, doing double-duty. Our last male-ish associate, Jeff, was recruited for Brad.

Then came the last family emergency—two days before shooting. The person who seemed most excited about shooting was suddenly thrust into a family nightmare and had to pull out. Our sympathies and heart went to her, but we couldn’t do anything to help and we couldn’t push shooting back. My mind raced. I invented a few deities and said prayers to them. Suddenly, a name popped into my brain, someone I’d worked with on The Screening many moons ago. Coincidentally enough, the better half of our original DP. I didn’t know if I still had her number or email. Miraculously, I did. I called, left a message. Took a shot of the hard stuff. Wished I had remembered to commit suicide weeks ago like a rational person.

The phone rang. It was her: Stephanie Bertoni.

She accepted. Liked the script, pitched her salary requirements, suddenly, all was right with the world.

Two days later, we were shooting.

No comments: