Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cheerleading

From 2009...

Saturday I played hooky and rode my bike to the Laurel Canyon bus, went over the hill into Hollywood and then rode to a theater where my friend Danny’s film was playing at MockFest. It was either watch a movie or work on this troublesome scene... and watching a movie won. Danny is a member of the SoCal Film Group, which is comprised of a bunch of people I know from a screenwriting message board who just decided to make their own movies. They pooled their resources and labor and, well, it’s some kind of communism I’m sure. They work on each other’s films and use each other’s equipment. HUAC should be notified of their activities. Their short films play in festivals all over the world and often win awards. They had a film play on USA Network’s Halloween show. And their entries are usually picked every year at MockFest. A couple of years ago the film was CHILDREN OF SCUM, which I played a pivotal role in... and was cut. This year the film showing was TOSSERS about Gay Frisbee dancers. MockFest is all about mockumentaries, and SCUM was the DVD behind the scenes extra doc for a film that doesn’t exist. TOSSERS is a doc about the art of Frisbee dancing - think ice dancing without the ice and with Frisbees.

A couple of years ago MockFest was at a cinema in Beverly Hills, this year it was at a stage theater modeled after the Old Globe, with built in digital projector and sound system... in West Hollywood. Now, for those of you out of town, West Hollywood is the Gay district of Los Angeles, like the Castro in San Francisco. Though there’s a Gay nighclub down the street from where I live in the Valley, there are probably 40 Gay nightclubs in West Hollywood. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But this film is about *Gay* Frisbee dancing - would that be a problem in a theater in West Hollywood? When I rode up and locked my bike, it wasn’t just a theater - it was a theater specializing in Lesbian plays. This could be interesting.

The theater *was* interesting, by the way - some old building converted into a theater, not much from the outside but inside they had worked hard to replicate the Old Globe and it was really cool. And the posters on the walls from past and present shows was interesting, too - I never knew there were so many Lesbian plays. Maybe I’ll go back and see one sometime.

Danny and a handful of people involved in the film (or friends of Danny) arrived and they tore our tickets and allowed us into the theater for this program of short mocks.

First film was a promotional film for a very perky and aggressive female real estate agent who wanted you to vote for her as Relator Of The Year. This was a hundred times funnier than the two episodes of PARKS & RECREATION I have seen - and I love Amy Pohler! I’ve been a fan since she played Andy Richter’s little sister on Conan O’Brien. But this short just kept the gags coming. The relator was trying to sell us on this beautiful neighborhood - which appeared to be an un-kept slum filled with neck high weeds instead of a lawn and graffitied houses. Then they showed a series of people who bought houses from her - listing their jobs and credit scores and anything else that was funny. And the people were, well, you wouldn’t want any of them living in your neighborhood even if you lived in that slum. Crazy! Ended with her plea to vote for her as Relator Of The Year... short and sweet.

There were no protestors for TOSSERS, and the film was funny and didn’t make fun of Gay people... it made fun of just about everyone and everything else. There was archival footage of the founder of Frisbee dancing, an interview with the man running the annual competition and organization, and footage of two pairs of dancers as they prepare for the big competition. The male pair consisted of a full of himself artist who works in shopping carts and his boyfriend who believes he’s a werewolf... though he has yet to go through the transformation. The female pair are extreme vegans, one is a folk singer and the other... secretly wants to eat meat. And many complications ensue. I laughed a lot, but he strange thing is that by the end the film becomes a love story that is actually emotional.

The next film was about a couple that break up and then she hops a train at Union station and he follows - and they argue on the train. This was not a mockumentary. The two actors, playing the fighting couple, were on a real train full of real people and the film was about their interactions with the passengers. Now, this could have been a BORAT kind of film with the couple becoming more and more outrageous... but it didn’t go that way. Instead it was realistic and the reactions were realistically uncomfortable and watching it made you feel uncomfortable for the real passengers who were feeling uncomfortable around the bickering couple. And the film was seemingly endless it was a cross-country train journey - I wouldn’t know if it *ever* ended because after half the audience snuck out I followed them when we got the "Day Two" title card (after it had already seemed like a week). Eventually everyone from the TOSSERS group was in the lobby, and we decided to get a drink. Or five.

I like promoting my friend’s projects. That’s what a friend does.

Last week I had dinner with a friend of mine who works at a studio with a Christian specialty division and mentioned that I have two other friends who made a Christian film that is looking for distribution. I haven’t seen this film, but I know these guys and I’m going to support their film. It helps that the film has won at a festival and has some great reviews. The filmmakers are smart guys and I hope the studio picks it up.

I like helping my friends. I’m much better at pitching someone else’s projects than my own. I feel like I’m bragging if I tell someone about my projects, so I either say nothing about them or soft-pedal them. But someone else’s project I can pitch like crazy.

But sometimes cheerleading a friend’s project or a friend can backfire. A decade ago when I was getting three films made every year, I had a friend who would do anything to break in. I’d read one of his scripts and it was pretty good, so when a producer I had worked for in the past was looking for someone to write a script (and I was booked on another script) I did my best cheerleading job to promote my friend as the writer. He got the job... then proceeded to blow through the deadline without getting anything written. He had written a pretty good script, but I guess it took him forever to write it. Or maybe he just choked. Whatever the reason, I’d gone out of my way to tell this producer what a great writer my friend was... only to have my friend drop the bal and cause a major problem for the producer... who now hated me.

And when another friend did a terrible job of promoting his film, I jumped in and pushed the hell out of it for him, sight unseen. Well, that film ended up finding a distrib, and gets solid one star ratings on IMDB - most people saying it is the worst film they have ever seen. If you were to ask me point blank whether I thought that film was any good while I was talking it up, I would not have lied to you - I worried that it sucked. But it was my friend’s film! I was caught between being the supportive friend and being honest. And, I had never actually seen the film, so maybe it *was* good. Plus, there are plenty of bad films out there - and the publicity departments at the studios still promote them as brilliant. I’ve even seen Oscar campaigns in the trades for movies that just plain sucked.

And there are millions of times where I am saying encouraging things to friends when what I really want to say is: Your script sucks, get a day job now! You want to be honest, but at the same time the guy’s your friend. You give some constructive suggestions, but the guy doesn’t listen. I have one friend who gets the same constructive suggestions from all of his friends and completely brutal comments from everyone else... and doesn’t change his script. Oh, and always says that his friends “get him” and others don’t seem to. I think we all want to tell him that his script sucks - I don’t mean this script needs some work, it *completely* sucks. But how do you tell the guy? He won’t take it well. Some people take criticism well, this guy doesn’t take it well at all.

I have other friends who are on the wrong path in their writing and are about to hit a big brick wall. I think about telling them about the approaching wall, but I’m not sure they would believe me. I slammed into it, everybody else I know slammed into it, but they think they will be different. So I just continue to encourage them as I put my hand over my eyes to avoid witnessing the big car wreck that I know is coming. After they hit the wall, they will have learned and I will be there to encourage them when they head in the *correct* direction.

And I can't tell you how many screenings of friends films I've been to where they asked me what I thought afterwards, and I had to find something good about the movie that I could talk about... "Great cinematography! How did you get that shot where..."

I can never figure out what’s the right thing to do - be honest or support my friends?

It’s so much easier when it’s something like Danny’s movie, that is actually funny... and won Best Director Award at Mockfest! Or even my friends with the Christian movie that has also won awards and got good reviews. Then I can be honest and cheerlead at the same time.

Somewhere out there, the friend of the guy with the endless train movie is telling people about that film and trying to make it sound interesting.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Take Us Someplace Cool & STAR TREK.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito.

2 comments:

michaeljamesmartin said...

your posts have been getting longer over this past year or so. This is good.

Pete Bauer said...

When I was a professional actor, my fellow actor friends and I used to have stock answers in reply to bad performance that had gone awry... like "Wow, you were up there!" or "You were really acting!" or "I'll never forget it." or "Who did your hair?"

None of them were lies, just vague truths wrapped in non-committal answers.

I often wondered how Spielberg responded after seeing the Phantom Menace. He COULDN'T have been honest or George just didn't listen.

"Wow, George, that little Darth kid is really something else!"

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