Wednesday, June 18, 2008

F'Loathing Vegas 2: The Wedding

Having returned from Las Vegas, let me say that I am happy to be back on American soil.

I have in the works a huge, vitriolic screed against the airline industry in general and U.S. Air in particular, but I'll let that wait until later in the week. Today, I just have to tell you about the wedding.

When last we spoke (or I wrote and you (some of you) read), I was sitting in my reasonably comfortable hotel room in the shopping-mall-slash-concentration-camp known as Circus Circus, awaiting for the time to spring to action, leaping feet first into itchy tuxedo pants and head off into hundred-degree heat to take part in the hitching of Danielle Best and Brian Kocher.

Well, the moment came. Amy and her sisters and mother were out gallivanting during the day, getting their hair teased into submission, nails on all appendages groomed and buffed and shaved, then, later, stuffed into garments of near-taffeta, lace and other natural and unnatural fibers. The guys… well, Brian, Amy's father, Dan, and I all met in the bar for a couple of drinks. I listened while Brian talked football to the bartender. Later, we returned to our rooms. This is how guys prepare for weddings.

The ceremony was held at "Viva Las Vegas", famous for its themed weddings and ministers who dress like Elvis. An Elvis did not preside over this particular ceremony, however, and neither was an Elvis present at the union of the preceding wedding, which was attended by upwards of one hundred Mexican-Indians crammed into the less-than-spacious-but-more-than-modest main chapel. I mention this because I'm sure people would love to hear about an Elvis-officiated wedding. Sadly, this was not the case, but I'll refer you to one Bill and Michelle Hahner of Pittsburgh, who did have an Elvis wedding. I mention this because that's what I do. I mention things.

The actual ceremony was something of a Navy SEAL landing. Brian, best man Mike Spano and I, along with Brian's mother and her boyfriend, were shuttled off the strip and into "Downtown Las Vegas" via limousine, and awaited the arrival of the women and the father of the bride, who would be coming by second limousine. Our awaiting took place in the "Blue Hawaii" room, where "Viva Las Vegas" stores spare tuxedos for those grooms on the go. Brian and Mike smoked as they waited. I don't smoke, so I didn't. A few minutes later, a woman named either Tiffany or Britney ushered us to the back of the building and gave us our places at the gazebo, where the ceremony would take place. Then we were ushered back. That was our rehearsal.

Four minutes later, we were ushered once again to the gazebo and barked at by a no-nonsense photographer about positioning. I took a few seconds to study a digital camera pointed at us, taking note of the various cables spooling from it and the blinking "Tape Please" icon in the viewfinder. This camera would provide streaming video to the "Viva Las Vegas" website, so that all of the Best/Kocher friends and family not present in the stifling heat could witness the holy union for themselves, courtesy of a broadband connection.

The no-nonsense photographer picked up a remote and suddenly the traditional wedding march filled the gazebo, the little area with the wooden benches for the spectators and the rest of the parking lot a few feet away. In came Amy and Liz, as the bridesmaids, and one-year-old Haley, as the bewildered flower girl. Then came Danielle, being given away by Dan. She arrived resplendent in the gazebo. Haley then took this as her cue to stand on the train of Danielle's lovely white dress.

Three minutes, eighteen seconds later, they were pronounced husband and wife by a smiling and speed-reading minister. Eleven minutes later, after every conceivable set of photographs that can be taken in an eleven-minute time span, we were in the Champagne Room, drinking… champagne and eating Boston Cream Cake. We toasted the couple as quickly as possible and were on our way again by Nine PM sharp.

Another set of limousines whisked us off to the Venetian Hotel and Casino back on the Las Vegas Strip, where we tumbled into genuine gondolas, gondola'ed by genuine gondoliers. I had been under the mistaken impression that the Venice reproduction canals were inside—there might be as far as I know—but we gondola'ed around outside, as the sun set and the temperature fell to a breezy 97. I will take this time to mention that we were all still in our formalwear.

After the gondola, it was decided that we would take a brisk walk down to the Belagio (Terry Benedict's joint) to see their magnificent fountain. According to the map, the Belagio is a mere quarter inch from the Venetian. Two miles later, dodging drunken revelers, distraught bankruptees and a gauntlet of Latinos who snapped discount hooker coupons at us, we arrived bedraggled, distraught, disheveled and distressed at the Belagio. Well, not distressed. The absurdity of the situation kept us laughing. The constant drunken bellowing of "Congratulations" to Danielle (and one "Suckers!") accompanied us on our journey.

The outdoor fountain of the Belagio is glorious, though "fountain" isn't quite the appropriate description. "Controlled Geyser" is a little more accurate. Accompanying the strains of Aaron Copeland's "Appalacian Suite" (I think; over the crowd's roar, I couldn't quite make out the music entirely; it could have been "Turkey in the Straw" for all I know), jets and arcs and walls of water plumed into the air, fifty and sixty stories. Truly awe-inspiring. Particularly considering that we were in the middle of a desert.

Exhausted and delirious, we were acutely aware that we were limo-less at the moment, and that our own hotel was many, many miles away. We debated taking a bus. The debate didn't last long, so we searched for a cab. Cab stands in Las Vegas are plentiful, but difficult to get to if you don't know the ins and outs of the Casino/Hotel system. We had to circumnavigate the Belagio—the long way around, as it turned out—to reach one. During this venture, we passed through another hooker coupon hand-out gauntlet. As usual, I politely declined each card snapped at me (the sound of these cards snapping will haunt my dreams) until we reached the end of one gauntlet. I noticed this last man because he was so unlike the previous hooker-coupon vendors. For one thing, he was tall, white and wasn't giving out hooker coupons. Instead, he held a sign that read: "Find a wife, a girlfriend, a partner – but not a whore! It's an affront to God!"

I stopped and turned to the hooker-coupon vendor next to this sanctimonious in-need-of-a-hobby and took as many hooker coupons as he'd give me. I wound up with four, including one for "Brandi" who would come "in person" to your hotel room for the low-low rate of $35.

An aside: there are commodities which are perfectly reasonable for which to be purchased at a discount, just as there are things you would be ill-advised to pay less-than-retail. On this negative side, I would suggest avoiding things like meat, milk and prostitutes. Looking at the airbrushed model on the card in my hand and doubting very highly that she was, indeed, Brandi, my mind reeled as to what a $35 hooker would actually look like. Would she have two nostrils, for instance? And any of her own teeth, hair or fingers? And what in God's name would she do for $35 besides put you, eventually, in the hospital? Still, in light of the incongruity of anyone protesting sin in Sin City, I decided to make my stand then and there and accept my God-given (or Julio-given) hooker coupons.

Outside the Belagio, we were lucky enough to find an unoccupied limo (Thanks Rick!) who agreed to shuttle us back to Circus Circus, allowing us use of his generous bar as well. So we returned in as much style as we came (as far as the Venetian, anyway). If you are ever seized with the urge to trot up and down the Las Vegas Strip, don't do it in formal wear. Just my two cents.

The following day was spent at the Adventuredome, the world's largest and most-disappointing indoor theme park. That the rides are uninspiring and the price exorbitant—not to mention the dead-eyed zombie teenagers who work there, completely ambivalent to your existence and can't even be bothered to smile or even make eye contact, merely demanding your money—is not the biggest problem. It's the utter lack of humanity to be found there. Circus Circus, from my experience, is the worst of the hotels on the Strip not because it looks like it should have been condemned due to want of interest—indeed, its discrepancy is the sole of its charm—it's because there isn't a single person employed within who, unless you're feeding them a constant stream of money, could care less about you.

There's uniformly encompassing cynicism to be found in Vegas as a whole. Everywhere you look, a sign, a video screen, a passing bus, a commercial—ads screaming for you to give them your money. The world's best slots! The world's best sluts! Magicians, stage shows, lowest minimum blackjack tables! Grand buffets! Jimmy Buffetts! Pay us! Pay us! Pay us! Vegas is a giant vacuum hose affixed to your wallet immediately upon your disembarking the plane. There are more slot machines in the airport than there are places to sit. Finding a water fountain in airport, hotel or casino is next to impossible because they want to sell you bottles of water for $3 each. But, at least in the majority of the places we visited, the people extorting from you are at least pleasant, whether you're spending money or just passing through.

At Circus Circus, if you somehow caught on fire, you'd have to pay for extinguishing. And end up charged some sort of rescue tax. I couldn't wait to go on a four-mile hike in a tuxedo just to find someone who might smile—with me, at me, I didn't care. For a hotel whose theme is clowns and joy, it was a truly joyless experience. Nearly everyone I encountered there was miserable. If you didn't have clean towels in your room, or if the dead prostitute under the bed hadn't yet been changed, that was somehow your fault. And you'll pay accordingly. And even when you were paying, they didn't seem particularly interested in your business. They could take or leave you. And I do understand that this is the discount hotel on the Strip, a step up from a Motel 6 (which also boast their own casinos!), but I felt like I had somehow become a dissident or a person of a lower caste, unworthy of even the smallest notice, let alone a kind word. Mirthless, joyless: Circus Circus.

Aside from a half-hearted "4-D" cartoon featuring Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian, beautifully animated but "scripted" in the most modest of senses—and "4-D", by the way, means that water shoots at you, your seat vibrates and a very sharp metal rod will jab you in the back, corresponding (or not) to the action on screen while the polarized glasses on your face gives you something just short of a migraine—the Adventureland Dome offered very little of fun for me. I take that back—we spent a good 40 minutes in line for a 9-minute game of lazer tag with other urchins around us and that was a terrific time. Little bastards hid in the dark and just waited for me to blunder past them. I'd never played lazer tag before and definitely enjoyed the hell out of that. But $24.95 for a six-minute cartoon and a 9-minute game? Not the best value I've ever received for my money.

The rest of Saturday was spent again wandering the Strip. We had wanted to catch the outdoor show at Treasure Island ("The Sirens of Ti"), which boasted two pirate ships, one that sinks, an elaborate water battle and songs and dances. But we arrived too late and couldn't find a place to stand on the rope and plank bridge amid the throngs of other spectators. Catching a bit of the audio, though, I don't believe we missed that much. Seeing the majestic ship "The Bull" sail up to the Sirens' ship, though, was pretty neat.

We did get to see the lion habitat at the MGM Grand, which had been closed on Thursday for re-lioning, or something. Two unconscious great cats dozed on a glass catwalk above us as we wormed our way through the inevitable crowd. Some folks bitched that the cats were asleep, but that's primarily what lions do. What did they expect? There wasn't a nearby gazelle exhibit to loose them .. all.

On our way to our next adventure, I paid $5 to take a picture with a parrot on my arm. I love parrots, particularly blue macaws. I'd own one if they were less than the cost of a used car and wouldn't simply make an expensive meal for one of my dogs. And I didn't mind paying the "donation" for the picture because I knew the money would go to keeping the bird alive. It looked well-cared-for and loved. It was more interested in the seed it was fed by its owner than it was in me, of course, but I didn't mind.

A half-hour later, our mobile family pack was on Fremont Street, aka "Old Vegas", where one can find "Rouge" and "The Golden Nugget" and a Walgreens that sold water for less than $3 a bottle. And here we found the respectable sleaze we'd so been missing on the Strip. Here were the salt-of-the-Earth people playing slots with handles. There were still families clustered about, but they at least had the good sense to look intimidated and uneasy. I felt a little better—I always do with freaks around.

Fremont Street is also home to an enormous LCD canopy—the largest television screen in the world—where "Karl the Technician" interviewed people on the street in between video shows. Ten blocks long and loud, we saw a tribute to Queen and a couple of other things that, because of what happened next, I don't remember too clearly.

For those joining us with the entertainment already in progress, I should point out that Amy and I are fond of the demon rum. We like an occasional nip and we love a good Bacchanalia. So finding a joint on Fremont Street that sold half-gallon margaritas in football-shaped mugs for $14 was a bit like dipping a monkey in champagne…whatever that means. The upshot: a half-gallon of something made from 151 Rum, Banana Schnapps and various other poisonous concoctions made Vegas so much … funnier.

Please allow me to point out that we two are professionals when it comes to being shitfaced in dangerous cities. We're trained in street savvy, kickboxing and looking too adorable to mug. Plus, when we drink, we become incredibly witty and urbane and an absolute joy to be around. Someday, there will be statues in our honor in all the cities we did not get killed in. Oh, and when you're dehydrated, 151 rum kicks in quick.

Okay, so I wasn't allowed to pose with the Chippendale dancers when Amy and her mom and sister were, even though the three guys were obviously way more interested in me than they were the women. I still maintain that there's a severe bias and that the half-dressed trio were threatened by my masculinity. Most right-thinking people are.

I can't say with certainty what we did once the football was a quarter-drunk. I know we considered going into a strip club until the very nice Italian women standing outside informed us that the cover was $20 apiece. I know we played a slot machine at The Golden Nugget and ably succeeded in losing a dollar. And I know we somehow wound up, probably by bus, back on the Strip where we ended up back inside the Venetian, not to mention Treasure Island and, possibly, the Flamingo. I remember the overwhelming smell of cocoanut and the unmistakable feeling that the go-go dancers were transvestites. I know that we saw a lot of Vegas that night, if only because we were seeing double by the time we (somehow) made it back to Circus Circus.

If we had actually been in possession of better judgment, I would say that we ate at Graveyard Breakfast at one of the restaurants against the aforementioned, but let's face it: we were out of our minds. I do recall that the food tasted better than anything I'd had to eat that day prior to the Football of Love and Joy. And I am proud to say that it stayed down the rest of the night, even when I woke up the next morning in the familiar state of "Still Drunk".

And that, my friends, is how to properly do Vegas. Don't try this at home. Unless you live in Vegas, in which case, none of the above will be news to you.

Coming soon: "how not to get back from Las Vegas". Or, "how to not get back from Las Vegas".

Happy Cloud News - Fangoria NJ and Netflix!

Two bits of juicy news for you:

Amy Lynn Best and Mike Watt will be appearing at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Secaucus, New Jersey this very weekend - July 20-22. Come by, say hi and check out Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut screening Sunday Only! For more information, click HERE

In awesome other news, A Feast of Flesh, the vampire epic starring Amy Lynn Best, Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys and Aaron Bernard is finally available through Netflix! Distributed by the good and hearty people at Bloody Earth Films, you can now check this wonderous piece of dark cinema out for yourself. Click HERE for more info!

Friday, June 13, 2008

F'Loathing in Las Vegas

Well, I’m not afraid of the place, and I’m not exactly hating it, but I had to pay some homage to the Thompson title, right?

I didn’t make it to the desert, the edge or otherwise, and left all drugs back home—I’ve been incredibly sober the last two days, but I think artificial stimulation, at this point, would cause utter mental breakdown.

We suffered through a three-hour delay at JFK—one hour waiting for the world’s bitchiest flight crew and another two waiting for fucking catering! (See Debbie Rochon’s rant about flying here). We were kicked repeatedly for seven hours by two restless kids and their horrifying gorgon of a mother. The Pakistani air force pilot next to us laughed each time the plane captain’s voice came over the PA, to update us about the catering delay. The stewardesses were even crankier than the passengers. Finally, we landed in the Land of Utter Excess about 4am East Coast time. If just being in Vegas wasn’t surreal enough, seeing it through sleep-deprived eyes was almost mystical. The shuttle to our hotel took us from one end of the Strip to the other, passing the Sphinx at the Luxor, the crowded simulated skyline of New York-New York, the beached pirate ships of Treasure Island, the lethal sliver of the MGM Grand, the colonnades of Caesar’s Palace, still alive and thriving and shining in what used to be a barren desert less than a hundred years ago.

We were in Sin City for Amy’s youngest sister’s wedding. When I first met Danielle, she had just turned 12 and I was dressed as Dr. Frankenfurter at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, PA. Fifteen years later, she’s getting married in the City That Doesn’t Regret and I’ve been up for twenty-five hours.

We were staying at the ass-end of the Strip, at Circus Circus. In Hunter Thompson’s famous tome, Circus Circus was a gaudy, crowded haven for middle class America, reptilian travelers in hats and sandals who sat in bars and at slot machines while acrobats whirled and flew above them. The only thing that has changed, it seems, is that Circus Circus now caters to the lower middle class “economy” families and the acrobats have been moved to a small stage in an upper level of the casino. For insurance reasons, no doubt.

Circus Circus, like the rest of the hotel/casinos, is more than a mile long, with multiple levels, towers and acres of noisy, bright, flashing, beeping slot machines. There are zombies perched in front of these mechanical monsters, staring with either dead eyes as the electric images flash at the beckoning of each coin or “credit” fed it, or fixed with an intensity that seem to focus their inner will, hoping this next spin will make them a winner. It’s bright, loud, hard—if there aren’t slot machines, there are hallways of shops and souvenir stands. There are video game arcades for the children—those forbidden from the gaming pits—and one of the largest indoor theme parks in America. Just an hour ago, I was standing beneath a roaring roller coaster, showered by the screams of children. There’s a miniature golf course a few feet to my left, a laser tag arena behind me.

You have to pass through these areas to get to the elevators that will, possibly, if you take the right one, take you to your room. The rooms here are drab, ugly, the televisions small, the wireless internet expensive—they don’t want you in here. They want you out there. Spend money. Go to the buffet—gorge yourself on multiple trips or you won’t get your money’s worth. Sit at the no-armed flashing bandits, middle-aged women of all nationalities will bring you drinks while you sit and feed the Daleks Of Chance.

Outside, it’s hot. Not East Coast hot, though. A dry, pressing heat, like standing in a microwave oven, sucking moisture from your body—you’re not sweating; you’re evaporating. But fortunately, you’re just a few feet away from another magnificent multi-mile hotel. And inside, the average temperature is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll pass outdoor cafes, too, where the icy air conditioning spills out into the street, and you’ll marvel that there aren’t tornadoes forming on the stairs.

Most of the hotels are owned by the same corporation, so you can access one from another via a catwalk. You take Mandalay Bay to the Luxor to the Excalibur, moving from South Africa to Egypt to a Lego vision of medieval times. There’s an M&M world down the road from New York-New York—after you pass a gauntlet of Latinos passing out stacks of coupons for discount hookers—and in M&M world, you can buy every possible, conceivable piece of merchandise with the M&M cartoon characters emblazoned. You can get virtually anything there with M&Ms on it, though, ironically, you have to search for actual M&Ms. There, at the back, on the second floor of the four-floor shop, are tubes filled with customizable M&Ms. A two-pound bag will cost you $22. Across the street, at Target, you can get two pounds for $5. But that doesn’t stop parents and children from filling clear plastic sleeves to the top.

Above you, New York-New York’s own roller coaster roars past a scale Statue of Liberty. The buildings, so famous in the real New York, are the hotel room towers. In the Luxor, the rooms are built into the tapering, sloping walls of the pyramid. Everywhere, everywhere, the Daleks of Chance and the zombies feeding money into the hungry slots. If you make eye-contact with the men or women in suits in any of the pit areas, they will entice you with “free” show tickets or discount meals—all you have to do is visit this hotel or that for “just” two hours or so…

I pass by a stand selling margaritas by the yard—above me is a sign advertising Carrot Top’s show. Next to that, one for Criss Angel the (mind)Freak. I hope to see either of them in the hotel. Maybe throwing a punch at either of these idiots would break my trance.

There’s almost too much to see. Take away the “almost”. Here we are, moving as a pack, the happy family among other happy family packs, and we’re in an aquarium in the center of Mandalay Bay, accessible through the casino and past the opulent hotels—and a winery where “angels” fly up to retrieve your $300+ bottle of Chardonnay.

We leave the family—I have to pick up my tuxedo at the Men’s Warehouse. It’s not on the Strip. It’s 3.3 miles from where we are and I don’t want to pay $15 for a cab. The excess around me is making my stingier by the minute. We’ve already splurged for an all-day bus pass. We transfer busses twice and walk half-a-mile with the setting sun burning a tunnel through the sides of our heads. The women who work there want me to try on my tuxedo. I’m a sheen of perspiration and sore feet and screaming back and walking, grumpy misery. I try on my tux. It fits. We splurge for a cab back to Circus Circus.

It takes us another half hour to navigate our way back to the rooms. We stop for directions—two carnival workers don’t speak English, two others have never been to the hotel portion of Circus Circus. None of the diorama maps contain the phrase “You Are Here”—they don’t want you to know. They want you to be lost. Lost people can be distracted by the lights, the sounds, the colors, the alcohol, food, carnival games, toys, Daleks Of Chance. I wish I’d grabbed one of the coupons for the discount hookers, just to say I had one.

Our room has a beautiful view of “Old Vegas”. Fremont Street—past the swimming pools and whatever that Seattle Space Needle thing is that I keep forgetting to look up. I watch the news. Never once do they mention “CSI” at the scene of the murders that have happened since we arrived two days ago. They don’t call that division “CSI” here, but aside from Robert Urich as Dan Tanna, “CSI” is my only point of view for Vegas. Well, that and the strips that are constantly under threat in Michael Bay and Bruckheimer movies.

Tomorrow, who knows? We want to go to Old Vegas, and stomp around where Elvis and the Rat Pack and the mob had all tread before us. I want to drink a Hurricane out of a three-foot glass and put the expense out of my mind. I want to put the cynicism to rest, forget how much of the world—how much of America—is hungry and homeless. Outside the MGM Grand, a man sits crosslegged holding a cardboard sign reading “Please Help” and “God Bless”. People pass him without seeing him, watching the video billboards for Cirque Du Soleil and Cathy Griffin and the roaring of the NY-NY roller coaster. I almost don’t see him either—not that I had anything to give him. I’d left my cash in the hotel room, purposefully, aiding in my resistance to ridiculous Capitalism. My proletariat back has been up all day, much to the consternation of my family.

I’m waiting now. For Amy and her mom and sisters to return from their spa treatments. For Brian, the groom, and his best man to return from another trip to… somewhere. In three hours, I’ll don the hard-earned tuxedo and watch my youngest sister-in-law marry the man she loves. Later, Amy and I will join the newly-married couple and our extended family in a gondola ride inside the Venetian Hotel and Casino. Inside. The inside technology here is amazing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

HCP meets LBP

So we’ve returned, bruised, battered and weary, perhaps wiser, from the wilds of Rochester, NY.

A few months ago, Amy was recruited to take part in a new movie for Low Budget Pictures, helmed by LBP’s generalissimo, Chris Seaver. In a moment of madness, Chris asked me to take a part as well. Now, we’ve known Chris for… ever, it seems. At least since 2000 when Debbie Rochon recommended that I interview the young director/producer of a movie she appeared in called Mulva: Zombie Asskicker. Seaver’s movies take place in a world completely of his own devising, populated by characters who are all neurologically damaged, emotionally arrested and prone to Tourettes-like outbursts of profanity and bizarre vocalizations. His dialogue combines Shakespearean grandeur with impenetrable hip-hop slang, usually in the same sentence. Misogynistic, time-traveling simians and prehistoric Neanderthals occupy the same high school as a motley assortment of human teenagers—some of whom are cowboys, buck-toothed lesbians, sexually-frustrated and flatulent redheads and/or Metal-loving Caucasian Native Americans.

In short, nobody else on Earth can or will make a Low Budget Pictures movie. Whether you love him or hate him (and there aren’t many people who are ambivalent towards him), it must be admitted that Chris Seaver is a true auteur. He assembled a gloriously-talented troupe of actors who embrace his sometimes-juvenile silliness with glee, gusto and unbridled energy.

And since Mulva 2: Kill Teen-Ape (which seamlessly combines the LBP universe with that of Tarantino’s Kill Bill), I’ve wanted to take part in at least one LBP movie before I depart this mortal coil. Last weekend, I got that chance.

The first time the proposition was made, Chris told us about an insanely violent and raunchy movie he wanted to make, wherein Amy was to play a leather-clad bounty hunter, or somesuch thing, and my role would be determined later. By the time we got the synopsis for what we would ultimately shoot, it had changed into something entirely different. Between Cinema Wasteland and last week, Chris had been hired by a distribution company to shoot a movie called Close Encounters of the Alien Redneck Kind. In this new work-for-hire, Amy would be playing “Audrey”, a single mom with a breast-fetish website. My role was to be of a soldier named “Stack Brickmeat” (a name I continued to mangle as “Brick Stackmeat”) who, upon the verge of “kanoodling”—as specified in the script—with his one true love, Chaisey, is transformed, through alien technology, into a mullet-bearing redneck redubbed “Cletus”. As is poor Chaisey, who becomes the alien redneck leader, “Camel Toe Bobbie Jo”.

We received our script on Thursday and were due to arrive at Chris’ front door on Friday afternoon. Being consummate professionals, we cast our day jobs aside to study our parts and create back-story for our unlikely characters. Or, actually, the opposite of that. We glanced at our lines during the five-hour drive to Rochester.

Now, Chris lives with his lovely wife, Lauren, and their infant son, River, in a single-story house born from another single-story house next door, owned by Lauren’s parents. The houses are connected by a secret passage located in their enormous pantry. I didn’t find this out, however, until Saturday, when I noticed that Lauren would disappear into this dark room for very long periods of time and would return with things she did not take with her. Sometimes, she would take River into this room and return without him. As it turns out, the “Narnia” of the Seaver world is Lauren’s mother’s living room.

Our co-stars in CEARK are well-known to LBP fans. The lovely and talented Meredith Host portrays Camel Toe (she's also a master - check out her site and buy some zombie bowls!), while the less-lovely but no-less talented Indovina brothers, Kurt and Travis, played Bronson and Papillion/Buck respectively. New to us were Billy Garberino (Stink of Flesh), Katherine Indovina and Brad Austin, who were playing other outrageous characters. While I was unfamiliar with these gentlemen and lady, I got to know them on set and through their fine work in other LBP movies like Wet Heat and the upcoming Ski Wolf—both of which are truly hysterical. The absent revelers, sadly, were Casey Bowker and Josh Suire, who have been highly entertaining in movies like Teen Ape Goes To Camp and Film Crew.

Now, while I am proud of my performance in A Feast of Flesh, I’ve never really considered myself much of an actor. Yes, I’ve been trained as one and, yes, I’ve pretended to be one, occasionally, but mostly I’m just entertaining myself. So it came as no surprise to me as I found my character’s voice evolving from Burt Lancaster to Dudley Do-Right, or later, when I went from an Elvis voice to that of Jim Varney. But, on the other hand, Chris encourages this sort of fluid absurdity, and never corrected me unless he had a really specifically silly line-reading in mind.

Chris also likes to shoot in order, so my first scene was also the first scene in the movie, where Meredith’s character and I are interrupted in our kanoodling by the intrusion of an alien redneck pod. “How much kanoodling do you think he’ll want?” I asked Meredith moments before the scene.

“Hopefully, not a lot!” she replied.

“Thanks,” I said.

(Now, Meredith has known Amy and me for years and we’re friends. Still, a little less horror at the prospect of our onscreen simulated kanoodling would have been nice for the ego.)

We shot these scenes and many others in a very lovely and highly populated Rochester area park. Sometimes, it was very difficult to continue with our scenes with the near-constant traffic of families and their dogs—many of whom came by to say hi and to shake off excess water onto us (I’m referring to the dogs, of course, and their penchant for leaping joyously into nearby ponds) while we were in the midst of recreating genuinely antisocial activity like neck-biting and crotch punching.

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!!