The Importance of Being Sidetracked

There are moments where it feels like I’ll never finish the film. I spend an entire weekend toiling away and on Sunday night, when I take stock of what I’ve accomplished, I see that I kind of got one effect shot looking sort of good. Or I feel overwhelmed by the any of the few short scenes I have left to shoot -It’s too complicated, or I don’t know how to shoot it, or I don’t have the resources to make it work and I’ve spent all my money on legal fees and a cool hat for my second cameo.

Look at this and tell me our film won't be any good. I DARE you.

Look at this and tell me our film won’t be any good. I DARE you.

Like a lot of creative people who never finish anything, I have a tendency to want to take on more than what I can accomplish, and for the past couple years I’ve been very strict about not taking on any new projects until I’m finished with Grassman – unless, of course, they pay, because I need a cool hat for my second cameo. Saying “no” has been more difficult than I anticipated, cause I like doing things. That’s why I do things in the first place.

"Working on it" included taking selfies in a dilapidated restroom.

“Working on it” included restroom selfies.

I have learned, however, right before I committed myself to not doing things, that switching projects can be a great way to recharge and replenish motivation and resolve. In 2012, I took on a particularly ambitious Halloween special for my day job – which was not supposed to conflict with my filmmaking activities any more than the act of having a day job does. However, it was too ambitious for the 3 weeks we had to produce it, and to get it done, I had to work on it during every available bit of free time I had.

When you work that quickly, you don’t have time to get too attached to the project, and you frequently have to choose to cut or rethink elements of the production that prove to be too time consuming or troublesome. The process bears no resemblance to the slow, quiet, sometimes painstaking work you’re used to while working on your epic masterpiece love letter to Bigfoot cinema.

But as you go, you can’t help but remember that’s sort of how working on your Bigfoot masterpiece used to be. I mean, that was the whole point of doing a movie about Bigfoot running around the woods killing people rather than your planned sci-fi adaptation of Pete’s Dragon, which would clearly be the real masterpiece, if it ever existed. We chose our subject matter so we could work quickly, learn the process, and not worry that Downton Abbey fans would be disappointed in the quality.

Petes Dragon

It would be awesome. He kills Jabba and then rules Tatooine with Chewbacca and Jimmy Pigman.

Most of the Bigfoot films our love letter is being written to were made under similar circumstances, and exist as shining examples of perfect imperfect art. These films weren’t made to be “perfect.” Most of them aren’t even “good.”

However, when you finish your 3 week marathon filmmaking session, you have no choice but to release the wretched, imperfect thing into the world. Cause there’s a deadline. And when you’re watching the premiere on cable on Halloween night, you are filled with a glowing feeling of being totally pissed. That music is totally mixed too loud, and what the hell was that shot doing there in the wrong scene, and that sound effect is in the wrong place! RUINED!!!!  I AM RUINED!!!!

After you recover from your crippling failure, you go back and fix some of the mistakes for the sake of posterity. And then you realize, this thing isn’t really half bad. It’s no Sci Fi Pete’s Dragon, but it’s pretty good work for a three week rush job. And some people actually have told you they liked it. (Plenty of others told you they didn’t, but that’s hardly the point.)

Ghost Girl

(I’m pretty sure this invalidates their arguments.)

It’s tempting to think of the three weeks of being unable to work on your Bigfoot masterpiece as a waste of time and a failure, but the fact is, the experience shook you up. You are suddenly used to working as fast as possible, and getting rid of scenes or elements that are too difficult and time consuming and aren’t 100% necessary to get the story across.

Two years ago, I received valuable lessons and inspiration from the simple act of being sidetracked. And then eventually, of course, I forgot all of it and promptly got back to the time consuming task of Photoshopping realistic Bigfoot nipples into wide shots, frame by frame.  People won’t ever see it, or care if they did, but boy, does it make the whole thing feel authentic.

Wrong House

A Dark Night at the Wrong House, our most recent sidetrack short film project. Playing at film festivals worldwide. Well…. mostly just two so far…

 

 

Every Crew Member is Important – Except the Damn Sandwich Guy

I know a couple things about Bunny Dees.  I know she teaches drama at a high school in Arkansas and her students love her.  I know she hates wearing her hair up and prefers stage acting to screen acting because of the immediate feedback she gets from an audience.  She lived in Nice, France for a time, but the city that truly captured her heart was Austin, Texas because of all the rich art and culture things and stuff that they got.  And I don’t know this for sure – but as a teacher in Austin, many of her students were involved in the many films that were being shot there at that time, including Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty so – and this is the part I don’t know for sure – she may have touched The Rodriguez.

Likes hats. Wrote a book. Not a jackass.

No caption necessary.

Bunny Dees and I.  NOW I HAVE THE POWER!!!!! HAHAAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

Bunny Dees and I. NOW I HAVE THE POWER!!!!! HAHAAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

Now, I didn’t do a shoot with her in Texarkana this past June, knowing that she may have touched The Rodriguez, with the intention of touching her and somehow gaining his power.  Oh, no.  That would be ridiculous.  And just plain weird.  But years ago, she played Mrs. Ford in the climactic scene of the drive-in classic, The Legend of Boggy Creek.  It seemed entirely plausible that if I were to touch her I could gain her power.

Bunny Dees and co-star Sarah Coble peer out of the lonley farmhouse window into the darkness beyond, presumably looking for gas.

Bunny Dees and co-star Sarah Coble peer out of the lonley farmhouse window into the darkness beyond, presumably looking for gas.

So, I was thrilled that Bunny had agreed to do a short cameo in our film.   The way Charles B. Pierce had cast Boggy Creek, which was a very low budget film in those days was to hang out at a gas station and stop customers who looked like the characters and ask them if they wanted to be in the film.  So, most of the actors had no ambition to be act, they just needed gas.  Luckily for me, Bunny was bitten by the acting bug during the shoot and became permanently hooked.

I needed another actor for the scene, so I looked up the phone number of another classic Bigfoot actor, Chet Armstrong, and called him up.  That wasn’t really his name, but we’ll call him that because if I had been in a classic Bigfoot film, I should like to have been called Chet Armstrong.

Unconventionally handsome and notoriously aloof, Chet Armstrong poses for this early headshot.

Unconventionally handsome and notoriously aloof, Chet Armstrong poses for this early headshot.

I asked him if he was the same Chet Armstrong who had acted in a classic Bigfoot movie.  He told me he was, but that his name wasn’t really Chet Armstrong.  I told him I knew that, but that if I had been in a classic Bigfoot film, I should like to have been called Chet Armstrong.  I asked him if he’d like to do a short cameo for our film.  He told me his film had been many years ago and he wasn’t a young man any more.  I assured him that I understood how time worked and told him this would be a piece of cake.  He agreed to do it.

Here’s the part where I’m an idiot.  His speech was slurred a little, and during our conversation, I had now and then suspected that he wasn’t quite with it.  But by the time we hung up, I decided he was, perhaps, just hard of hearing.

I called him the day before I left just to check in.  At first he didn’t seem to remember our conversation from the week before.   It was at this point that I decided he wasn’t hard of hearing.  I reminded him about our shoot, and he remembered and was still interested.   So then I figured maybe he was just hard of hearing.  He asked me why I would I want him of all people.

“Cause” I spoke with majestic eloquence, “You were in the movie!”

Tyler Meyer:  Master of Eloquence

Tyler Meyer: Master of Eloquence

I was now feeling better about our chances of a successful shoot.  Still, I wanted to make it easy on him, so we made plans to shoot at his house, and for Bunny to do most of the talking.  Bunny, by the way, was hugely supportive and enthusiastic and really put my worries about Chet to rest because I knew she’d step up and make it work.

Sometime later, however, I received a voice-mail from Chet Armstrong.

“I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t think I should do it.  I’m too old.  I don’t walk so good any more.  I’m too old to do any movies.”

I called him back to tell him that I understood, but he didn’t pick up.  So then I felt like a jerk for harassing him when he didn’t want to be bothered, even though I was calling to tell him not to worry about it, but from the outside, it kinda looked like I was calling him to pressure him into doing the movie or sell him a crappy vacuum cleaner or something, so I went ahead and felt like a jerk.

It retrospect, I guess I can understand why he questioned why I would want him for the film.  He’s an unknown actor who appeared in an obscure movie 30 -40 years ago.   Take the Legend of Boggy Creek, for instance, which is often hailed as the best of the classic Bigfoot films from that era.  It has a 4.1 rating on imdb.com.  Mathematically speaking, it totally sucks.

What else would you expect from Christopher Dollanganger?  He didn't even like Pandora Machine!  I know!  WTF?

What else would you expect from Christopher Dollanganger? He didn’t even like Pandora Machine! I know! WTF?

But I would argue that those movies are greater than the sum of their parts.  They’ve inspired cryptzoologists, Bigfoot researchers, writers, and filmmakers.  They made such an impact on me, I decided to make my own movie, which is, like, totally hard to do.   Chet Armstrong contributed to that.  Everyone who worked on those films from the directors, to the guys in the gorilla suits, to the accountants, to the dude that showed up one day and made the crew sandwiches contributed to that.  Maybe not the sandwich guy.  I’m trying to make a point here, but let’s keep this out of the realm of fantasy.

So, when Chet Armstrong asked me, “Why would you want ME in your movie?” perhaps I should have said, “Because you’ve inspired me.”

But instead, I said “You were in the movie!”

Idiot.

P.S.  I’m just kidding about the sandwich guy.  Even the guy who showed up one day with sandwiches is important.  Even though he often says inappropriate things at the worst possible times and has snooty opinions about music.

Letters to Corky

This week, I’d like to discuss my love for Tales of the Gold Monkey – that awesome Indiana Jones rip-off tv series that was conceived of before Indiana Jones came out, but that no network exec gave two poops to make until Indiana Jones came out. 

Jake Cutter.   He flies a sea plane called the Goose.  A samurai, and a Nazi priest and a drunken airplane mechanic walk into a bar.  One time, they found a golden monkey sculpture and decided that was so important, they would name the whole series after it, though I’m pretty sure it was never brought up again.  There’s a talking dog with an eye patch.  Well, that part was dumb.  The talking dog.  The eye patch was cool.

I guess the best way to explain to show is something my father used to say as we’d all gather as a family around the television in the late 80’s and wait in anticipation for that week’s rerun episode on the USA Network:  “Why do we always have to watch this shit?!!!  Why do you even like it?!!  It’s not adventure!  It’s stupid!”

Hey Dennis, did Muscle and Fitness or Flex ever have Balki on the cover?  I think not!  You backed the wrong horse this time, fool!

Hey Dennis, did Muscle and Fitness or Flex ever have Balki on the cover? I think not! You backed the wrong horse this time, fool!

I guess the show struck such a major chord with me because it came at an age where I was just learning to develop my own tastes that were separate from my older brother’s.  (Dennis. I believe I’ve spoken about him here before.)  When I learned to stop following his lead and think for myself, I understood things that no one else did.  Like how the Gobots were cooler than the Transformers.  And how Narnia was better than Middle Earth, because it had talking beavers AND Santa Claus.  And how Muppet Magazine was better than Dennis’ stupid magazines.

 

You can imagine my astonishment years later (having decided that the best way to promote our new multimedia project, BADNESS, was to hang out on the Tales of the Gold Monkey fan message board and post screen captures I had made from my VHS tapes of those USA cablecasts) that one of my posts was answered by an email from none other than Jeff MacKay, who played Corky, the drunken airplane mechanic.

Jeff MacKay as Corky the drunken airplane mechanic with Jack the... um...  talking dog... yeah...  Check out his eye patch, though.

Jeff MacKay as Corky the drunken airplane mechanic with Jack the… um… talking dog… yeah… Check out his cool eye patch, though.

“Where do you hooligans live?” he asked.

Corky just called me a hooligan.

At the time, I was 24 and my dreams of annoying someone else’s dad with my own Tales of the Gold Monkey were in danger of never being fulfilled.  I had recently finished my 4 years at a 2 year college 2, and my first real television job ended with me being fired because I “kinda forgot I worked there.”  A year later, I was finally able to get hired on by a real production company.

It was the worst production company ever.  I quit, and decided to start freelancing, which involved me sitting alone in my apartment thinking about companies I could fax my resume to and…  should I call them?  I don’t want to call them…  What do I say…  I’m not really a good with people…  I know!  I’ll FAX my resume!  THAT’LL GET ME JOBS!  (I didn’t get any jobs.)

The original Far Booth poster

The original Far Booth poster featuring the unused tagline.

Dennis and I had just, that year, shot our first dramatic short, The Far Booth (later renamed The Projection Booth) and for some reason it just wasn’t coming together the way I….  It was like it sucked or something….  but that couldn’t be…  Also, we had just launched our interactive web experience with our fictional band, BADNESS, who couldn’t play their instruments.  We had just shot our first short with them, The BADNESS Halloween Special ’98 and all that was left was to become a huge Internet comedy sensation.

Which was sorta hard.  It was lot harder than getting freelance gigs.  It was definitely a lot easier to daydream about than to actually do.

The renowned bodybuilding chiropractor Franco Columbu once said of the differences between the United States and his hometown in Sicily.  “Here, when someone asks you where you going you say ‘go to hell’ when you get upset.  There, they say ‘go to California.’  It’s like a place where you never get there.”

As a kid, I used to make fun of Dr. Columbu for saying this because I found it nonsensical and thought his accent was funny.  But at 24, I knew what he meant.  California WAS a place where I never get there.

And then there was Corky.  Out of the blue, and thanks to a terrible marketing plan I had concocted, my favorite drunken airplane mechanic was now corresponding with me.

“You guys are really insane… but funny! I enjoyed your site,” he said, referring to the BADNESS website.

I was floored.  It’s not supposed to go this way.  I’m supposed to be telling him I loved HIS work – Tales of the Gold Monkey!  The talking dog with the eye patch!  Well…  the talking dog part was dumb, but I loved the eye patch.

A Gold Monkey web banner I had created as part of phase 2 of my plan to become a comedic Internet sensation.  It didn't work.  I never could figure out why.

A Gold Monkey web banner I had created as part of phase 2 of my plan to become a comedic Internet sensation. It didn’t work. I never could figure out why.

“We’ve been doing this webpage since February and I’ve been surprised at the number of people that simply don’t get it,” I said, having momentarily confused myself with a either a misunderstood comic genius or an enormously pompous ass.  “Actually, we’ve been working on the “Badness Halloween Special,” a Real Player video.  It should be up on the page either today or tomorrow.  You might want to check it out.”

“You might want to check it out?”  What an asshole.  In my defense, I’m a socially awkward freak and, at this point in my development, was only able to mimic what I thought real people sounded like when they communicated.

Here I am, intently shooting a people conversation at Xavier University so that I may study it later and attempt to learn their secrets.

Here I am, intently shooting an actual people conversation at Xavier University so that I may study it later and attempt to learn their secrets.

I went on to tell him how much I enjoyed him on Tales of the Gold Monkey, carefully omitting any references to talking dogs.  He told me he enjoyed the Gold Monkey stills I had posted and went on to give me a little first-hand behind-the-scenes insight into the episode – the kind of thing fans rarely get a glimpse into:

“I never saw that episode, but remember flashes of it… much like the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I’m getting better, though, I remember most of the 90’s.”

Then he signed off as “Jeff MacKay – The artist formerly known as working.”  (This was a reference to the way I had signed my previous email – as “The artist formerly known as Dave Smith.”  We did all our “promoting” of the web site in character – Dave Smith was my character and the name he knew me by – and this was probably my subtle attempt on my part to let him know I was a lying, deceptive fraud.)

To Jeff’s credit, when we posted The Badness Halloween Special a few days later, my douchey claim that he “might want to check it out” did not deter him from attempting to do so.  He wasn’t able to, though, because he couldn’t get the plug-in to work on his computer.  Which is just as well, as he would have only appreciated the film had he been an actual drunken airplane mechanic rather than a talented character actor.

In Jeff's defense, he thought he was talking to this guy.

In Jeff’s defense, he thought he was talking to this guy.

There was one more exchange between us, but the emails are conspicuously missing from the Meyer Bros. archive.  I remember he said something that was very encouraging and motivating that really inspired me to get out there and make things happen for myself.  In closure, he said, “Keep hummin’ and strummin’.”

“Wow!” I thought, “What the hell does that even mean?  ‘Keep hummin’ and strummin’?’ Really?”

Still, his email invigorated me.  I wrote him an enthusiastic gushing email about how awesome he was.  He often made self-deprecating comments (jokes) on the Gold Monkey message boards and in his emails (“The artist formerly known as working”) so I thought I should pep-talk him the way he just pep-talked me, telling him he would soon be back on top and that he was going “to kick ass” at his acting career.

Never heard from him again.

STUPID…  STUPID…   Well, he did say “keep hummin’ and strummin’.”  When you think about it, is what I wrote really any more embarassi- YES!!  STUPID!  STUPID!

A few years later, I came up with some dumb fake reason to email him so I could prove that I wasn’t a MORON who only says MORON THINGS but he never responded.  It wasn’t too long after that, maybe another year or two, that it was announced that Jeff MacKay had died from liver failure at the age of 60.

I was crushed.

I knew very little about him except that he was very funny, didn’t take himself too seriously, and loved his fans.  I wish I could have conveyed to him that with something as simple as a few simple, friendly emails, he was able to reach into a cage that I had built for myself and show me that I could reach the other side.   “Keep hummin’ and strummin’” gave me hope when I needed it.  My unreachable goals were no closer to being within my grasp, but now I knew they could be.

Unfortunately, it didn’t prevent me for gushing like a MORON and releasing a torrent of MORON SPEAK.  “Kick ass at your acting career…”  STUPID!   STUPID!

And maybe that’s why it was so important to me to get those cameos from actors who had been in classic Bigfoot films.   Like Adam, in that painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I want to touch the source of my inspiration.  And for too many years, I had convinced myself it was impossible.

Actually, Adam doesn't seem to give a shit.  He's all like "I suppose you may touch me if you must."  God's the one making the effort here.  And God's peeps are all like "Uh, no... You are NOT touching that creepy naked dude.  He looks like a total pedophile."  And God's like "But I HAVE to touch him!"

Actually, Adam doesn’t seem to give a shit. He’s all like “I suppose you may touch me if you must.” God’s the one making the effort here. And God’s peeps are all like “Uh, no… You are NOT touching that creepy naked dude. He looks like a total pedophile.” And God’s like “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!” Actually, when you think about it, it does make more sense that the creator would be more inspired by the creation than visa versa.

Like God, in that painting on the ceiling of that one chapel, I want to touch the source of my inspiration.  Except, unlike God, who created Adam, I haven’t created any Bigfoot actors.  It’s more like I’m a different god, who creates different things, and I want to touch another god’s Adams.

Incidentally, I never come out and tell these actors I work with that I really just want to touch them.  They don’t like that.  What I like to do is wait.  Until the moment is right.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Was that my hand that just brushed across you?

Next Week:  The touching starts in Texarkana!!!

"Thought I'd send you a picture I took that I didn't send to the GM website. During the shooting of the pilot, my standin was doubling as one of dozen or so 'monkeys' on an island. Between shots, I asked him to climb a tree and tell me his IQ"  -Jeff MacKay

From Jeff MacKay: “Thought I’d send you a picture I took that I didn’t send to the GM website. During the shooting of the pilot, my standin was doubling as one of dozen or so ‘monkeys’ on an island. Between shots, I asked him to climb a tree and tell me his IQ” (Photo credit: Jeff MacKay)