Category Archives: Director’s Journal

Goodbye, Comfort Zone! Hello, Hollywood! or: How I Totally Got to Chill with George Chakiris

First off, I can’t write this blog weekly, cause I don’t do anything well on a weekly basis, and writing words so that they make sense is REALLY HARD. I think maybe I can do it every two weeks, which is what I think I had been doing at some point. Unless that was a dream or something…  But I wanted to clear something up. I feel like I did something wrong last week in my post when I just kind of casually let it slip that I had recently been in Hollywood for the screening of one of my new motion picture shorts. Like it was no big deal.

You name-dropping squinty-eye FANCYPANTS!

You braggadocio spewing, name-dropping, single-squinty-eye FANCYPANTS!

But the truth of the matter is that it was no big deal.

I mean, the fact that my film was being screened in the LA area – That was kind of a big deal. To me, anyway. I don’t want to rely too much on metaphor here, so I’ll use a simile: LA is like the “Hollywood” of the world – the filmmaking world, anyway. So it’s definitely a huge deal for a backyard filmmaker like myself.(That’s not a metaphor; we literally shot The Legend of Grassman in our friend’s back yard. Like 70% of it.) It was a great, productive trip. And the most fun I’ve ever had screening a film. But it wasn’t a huge deal. I’ll tell you why.

2011: It was a huge deal when Lynn Lowry’s manager emailed me asking me to call him just minutes after I had emailed him.  I had never emailed an actor’s manager before and half-expected to never hear back. And now I was expected to actually TALK to him for REALZ. With very little notice, I was soon on the phone with a real Hollywood dude while pretending to be a real filmmaker who knew real things about real stuff. It was terrifying.

Working with Lynn herself wasn’t so terrifying. Somewhat intimidating to think about, perhaps, because of her incredible amount of talent and experience. But in practice, all her talent and experience were there at my disposal, in the service of the film. Which just means I don’t have to work as hard as usual and then I look like a better director for it. It’s a pretty righteous deal.

I am literally doing nothing in this behind-the-scenes photo.

So after that experience, something clicked on in the producer side of my brain. In my mind, there was Tyler before Lynn Lowry and Tyler after Lynn Lowry. And latter Tyler is a much better producer than former Tyler. I wanted to use my new producer powers for good, and I had some sky miles saved up – which happen to be the two main ingredients for adventure.

Unless you're flying Delta. Get it? Cause they're computers broke. It's funny cause it's topical. It was topical, I mean. A couple weeks ago.

Unless you’re flying Delta. Get it? Cause their computers broke… It’s funny cause it’s topical. It was topical, I mean…  A couple weeks ago… I flew Delta. It wasn’t that funny…

I work at a community television cable station in Norwood, Ohio, which happens to be the birthplace of Oscar-winning actor/singer/dancer George Chakiris (West Side Story). I had always thought about doing a program about him at work, but as we just learned, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler had no producing skills whatsoever, and no idea how to make that happen. As it turns out, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler was kind of a moron because all I really had to do was go to www.georgechakiris.com and click “Contact.”

gcdotcom

And, perhaps, buy some beautiful, high-end jewelry…

I don’t remember the exact content of my email to him, but it was probably something like “Hey, maybe I could interview you or something.” And I don’t exactly remember how he responded, except that it was probably something like “Cool, bro.”

And that’s how I found myself on a plane to LA, (a.k.a. Hollywood of the world) panicked cause I suddenly realized that I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO INTERVIEW SOMEONE!!!!  WHAT AM I DOING!!!! WHO DOES THIS!!!! WHO JUST CALLS UP RANDOM OSCAR WINNERS AND FLIES TO LA TO SHOOT INTERVIEWS WITH THEM?!!!! I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL!!!!  I WORK AT A CABLE ACCESS CENTER!!!!!

Yes. It was EXACTLY like this.

Yes. It was EXACTLY like this.

I must apologize. I don’t usually panic like that. But it was kind of a big deal for me. The only other time I remember having similar thoughts about my work is on the first day of principal photography on Grassman. Only then, it was more like “Who in their right mind shoots a movie?!!!  Why don’t I just WATCH a movie if I want to see a movie so bad?!!! WHAT AM I DOING!!!!

At the end of the day, I looked like this, my imitation pvc pipe Fig Rig and Director's Helmet discarded in the dirt beside me.

At the end of the day, I looked like this, my imitation pvc pipe Fig Rig and Director’s Utility Helmet discarded in the dirt beside me.

Oddly, I still don’t really have answers for any of those questions. But I can tell you my visit to Los Angeles to see George Chakiris is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We met at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscars were held, where Marilyn Monroe used to live and he told me about working with Marilyn Monroe. He told me about working with Charlton Heston, Ricardo Montalban, Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood, Gene KellyGENE KELLY!!!! – And told me stories about Elia Kazan, James Dean, Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich. I was so thoroughly absorbed in the conversation, I forgot to ask him about working with Howard Hawks HOWARD HAWKS!!!!   The most interesting portions of the conversation, however, centered around another Hollywood notable – GEORGE CHAKIRIS!!!! CAUSE HE WAS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!! We talked about the awesome stuff he’s done and the awesome stuff he’s doing, and much like Lynn – thankfully – was so nice, so generous, and so supportive to an inexperienced filmmaker.

Totally chillin with George Chakiris in the hallways of a Hollywood studio with totally awesome giant photos of Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford behind us. (Thanks, Jovana)

coyoteIn E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, there’s a scene where Peter Coyote as a peaceful alien-loving scientist, shortly before murdering  E.T., says to the boy who took the alien into his home, “I’m glad he met you first.” And then he and his fellow scientists murder E.T.

That’s how I feel – not the part about murdering E.T. – I’ve always been an extremely vocal critic of that. But I spent years making films in a bubble of my own making. I’m so glad that when I finally reached outside that bubble, to Lynn Lowry and George Chakiris, that I met them first. I can only hope that Peter Coyote doesn’t murder me now.

I have a feeling he won’t.

coyote

That meeting with George went extremely well. I hadn’t ever attempted anything like this. But I was prepared and determined, and I focused on the work instead of my anxieties. Except on the flight, where I flipped out in ways I’m not proud of. The interview I did with him became part of a larger documentary I’m still working on, profiling other successful artists and performers from the same hometown of Norwood, Ohio. I think it’s shaping up to be a great film, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on it – though it eventually lead to this unfortunate incident at Roger Neal’s Style Hollywood Oscar Suite in Beverly Hills several years later when I was ATTACKED BY LAMB CHOP!!!

[video width="400" height="224" mp4="http://monkeyltd.com/jackasses/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/758689_10151961171934397_2123820971_n.mp4"][/video]

(Which, in retrospect, I think was inevitable.)

The whole endeavor was way outside my comfort zone, but I pushed through it. And this is why my LA (county) premiere was not too big a deal. I mean, it was very exciting to me. But because I had put in the work expanding my comfort zone, I was able to enjoy every minute of it and not worry about whether or not I was qualified to be there or not.

Always actively push your comfort zone. Sometimes push a little, sometimes push a lot – it doesn’t matter – each time you push it, it expands. I’d probably stop short of causing yourself a full-blown panic attack, but if you aren’t occasionally doing things that somewhat terrify you, I think you’re doing life wrong. Eventually, your comfort zone will expand enough to allow you to do the things you’ve always dreamed of, whatever those things may be.

If you’re Peter Coyote and your dream is to murder me, however, perhaps your comfort zone is just fine right where it is.

coyote

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.