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Who Knows What Lurks
The first of two essays related to the production process of They Only Come Out at Night.
Scott Malley brought some equipment to my house a couple of months ago and I still have the first footage I shot of him acting like a madman when he finally got the steadicam assembled. He gets giddy when we have new toys to play with. It’s kind of like Christmas except that we basically paid through the nose for this stuff, but the upshot is that most of it is forward compatible, so I felt good about my purchases, instead of having to shell out rental rates for this stuff in the future. As I hooked everything up, I began to see the possibilities, the twisted imagery I could create, the strange turns I could take. I had finished a first draft of the script by that time and was looking to do quick revisions until he called me one day to tell me he was bored reading it. Oh God! Bored? I didn’t like the sound of that. I was getting angry until I realized he was doing me a service. A steady diet of Adam Sandler and Ben Affleck movies does something to your judgment and I had to take that demographic into account. Not necessarily the "dumbing-down" of material, but simplifying certain elements and making situations a little clearer for the benefit of our brain-dead audiences who want their popcorn hot and their thrills cheap as they come.
The few people I showed an early draft of the script to had different interpretations ready. One person saw it as a satire on the workplace and the nature of the temporary employee. Another saw it as a satire on marriage. My feelings toward the script were just a series of pragmatisms and choices I thought were interesting. I don’t really sit down and say "today I’m going to write a comedy" or "today I’m going to write a drama". In attempting to simulate reality, we can’t be barred by a choice of genre. Lives are complex, even the most simple of these, filled with tension, drama, suspense, romance, horror, and sometimes humor. Why not combine these themes? What could be so wrong with being unpredictable? At the most you get a dead-eyed response from some college juniors who repeatedly mutter, "um ... that was weird", at least they’ll remember the title of the film when recommending entertainment to their brethren.
"But I heard the new David Arquette movie was awesome?"
"Yeah, but this other one was weird, weird with the possibility of being awesome," says the film-going college junior.
When weirdness comes back in style (usually after a high-profile David Lynch release) and then goes out of style suddenly (usually after aforementioned release), it’s because most filmmakers don’t have a grasp of their weirdness. They’re being weird simply because they can, and that’s the dreadful mistake.
So now here I am reworking my script, changing names, adding sub-plots, layering like a chef makes ziti. It gets better, of course, so I’m assured I have good and valuable criticism from Malley, who I will always count on to be honest, even if his knife goes in a little too deep sometimes. We abandoned Damned Productions (the moniker under which Malley, myself, and a guy named Ed Ronda originally pitched our proverbial tent) to form KLM, an amalgamation of Bronwyn Knox (who I also married last April), Malley, and myself; an alliance to try to create something fresh and exciting at least once a year. Bronwyn is a wildly talented actress who also has the distinction of operating a slate, doing makeup on other actors, setting up microphones, and listening to her husband curse out the latest series of actors who have fallen out of his favor. She’s my Josephine (without the sunken bath). Instead we have this antique piece of crap tub that’s slowly falling apart and doesn’t fit practically into any bathroom (not even a gymnasium). I’m penning an angry letter to my landlord as we speak. She did a short film (wrote, produced, directed, starred) titled You Can Only Take So Much Noir and cast me as the lead playing a loser named Lloyd. I don’t like acting and I made that abundantly clear sometimes while she was shooting. She made me dance like an idiot on our roof. I’ll get her one of these days. I haven’t decided when.
At the time I am writing this, Malley is debating whether he will swing by and drop off the latest batch of equipment we ordered, mostly audio equipment, including two-way radios (cool) and bags, and a small tripod. He doesn’t have a mountain of available time on his hands and I only have two days off per week. We had to overhaul my editing station when we found out an extremely expensive piece of equipment was not compatible with my system. It’s a Mac world, unfortunately nobody knows it. Call sheet and breakdowns were prepared using a table of set-up and shooting times (i.e. how much time I think a particular scene would need to be completely recorded) and then broke down each shot (ala Hitchcock). We’ll wait to see if my planning works.
We’re in the midst of intensive rehearsals at the moment. The most important (I think) rehearsals are the ones where relationships are established, and since there are new relationships between people in my script, I try to savor that intensity of first contact. Those impressions are what carry us through the film, and they have to be firmly grounded in reality so that when the weirdness takes hold, the audience doesn’t know any better until its conclusion is dragged out.