Monday, April 20, 2009

How I Got Started – Part 1

I’ve touched a little bit on how I got started making films but I’ll give you the whole story here. I refer back to this experience a lot because it was a very influential experience for me (both good and bad).

The first movie I ever made was for a final assignment in an 8th grade communications class. I did an adaptation of a short story I wrote called Cheese Is Good. The movie was about Detective Cheese (me in a trench coat and Packers cheese head) solving a murder mystery. It was Airplane! Type humor, ridiculously stupid. We shot it on VHS, edited VCR to VCR (in order to have music we just played the music in the scene) and was a very cheesy, very bad film. It was funny, though, don’t get me wrong and people loved it. But looking back on it now – wow.

In high school, I did a Spanish video for a final assignment that became a school cult classic and I did another one my sophomore year with three of the hottest girls in school in it. It was pretty awesome…

Anyway, while this was going on my friend Adam got involved making videos for the ASB. Now, in our high school, the school officers were known as ASB (Associated Student Body) Officers and for a long time the ASB would make videos to show at assemblies, to announce the homecoming theme or next years officers or what the yearbook would look like. Often these videos would parody current films and more often than not they involved stealing something (the Homecoming theme, the results of the ASB election, or the yearbook) or getting something back (the Homecoming theme, the results of the ASB election, or the yearbook).

I came to realize that my high school had a whole media program with digital cameras, Avid editing systems, lights, tripods, and so on. And here, I had a good friend involved with it. I had seen the videos but didn’t have an “in” and now I did. Plus, we had the new ASB elections recently and Adam was elected to one of the positions.

So, I set out to write the next campus day movie. (Campus day was a half day when we got our yearbooks) and wrote a 30 page Matrix parody (when I say parody I don’t always mean a funny parody) and gave it to Adam to give to McD, the ASB advisor. Needless to say, I was a trifle ambitious and while McD really liked it we didn’t have enough time or resources to pull it off. But Adam had new duties as an ASB Officer and they needed someone to take over the video czar position and I was “elected.”

So that summer we started work on the Homecoming video. (Oh yeah, these things were planned months in advance) and we came up with The Usual Homecoming, a take on The Usual Suspects where the ASB were hired to get the Homecoming theme through a plot involving the worst teachers at our school. It was complicated and a far cry from the videos of years past. The theme that year was Just Cruisin’ – A Tom Cruise Homecoming where each class was a Tom Cruise movie (before he went psycho) and we peppered in quotes from the movie, or the titles, and no one picked up on it. Looking back on it, it still seems very amateurish – bad acting, bad camera work, but there was something different about it. For one, it wasn’t a comedy, and two, you had to really pay attention.

The following spring, we made ASB Does Bellevue, a Snatch-style film about the ASB traveling to the 70’s to retrieve a ScanTron machine so that present day McD could count the ballots. It wasn’t bad. The technical side of things was becoming much more refined, I had discovered dollies, cranes and Steadicams by that point, and Adam was far more adept at the special effects on Avid. Plus, it was fun. I've provided a link to the opening and credit sequence below (the best parts). You can really tell that I liked the movie Snatch.

The video was to introduce the new officers, so during the production of the film I was also running for one of the positions. Fortunately, I ended up winning and everyone seemed to really like the film.

Now, to interject a little bit, as I’ve mentioned before, one of the really great things about the ASB movies was the process. We had to make a movie, we picked and idea, we were on a timeline for writing the script and pre-pro, no money, and an inflexible release date. I wasn’t making these movies for me, they weren’t a labor of love, we wanted them to be good, but at the end of the day they were there for entertainment. We had an audience of 1300 kids who we didn’t want to bore. It was a far cry from making films on your own time. Plus, in the end, I got to sit in a gym with a 1300 member audience and watch them watch the movie. I got to see what got the laugh and what didn’t; what worked and what didn’t. So, it was a very eye-opening experience, one that I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

To be continued…

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