Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meanwhile, One Month Later...

After an unexpectedly long prolonged hiatus, we're ready to shoot tomorrow. Unexpected isn't entirely accurate... while Chico may have a fairly deep talent pool to dip into for actors, it also has several theatre companies. None of which believe in putting on "small" shows. Casts of ten, fifteen people are the norm. So when an actor has closing night on one show, that generally means opening night is coming up soon on their next.

Soooo... getting the cast back together after Penguins closed has been problematic. But I've finally been able to get a window open that all can agree on... a four-hour window. Four hours to shoot a movie. Eat that, Roger Corman.

A side benefit to this is that it has given me a new-found empathy for the much-maligned oeuvre of Edward Wood, Jr. Poor guy. Perennial whipping boy for Plan 9 from Outer Space (which incidentally debuted in a small number of theaters fifty years ago this month), commonly attributed to be the Worst Movie Ever Made. Which of course it isn't, not by a huge margin. For one, it's not boring. No matter how inept it comes across, the effort is still compelling in its own small way. The thing is, with almost no resources, the man still got Plan 9 and all of his other films done. And most folks know his name. So there's that.

He's by no means the worst director out there. There's much worse pulling down the big bucks even today... they just happen to have multimillion dollar budgets, competent actors to choose from; crack cinematographers and editors covering their nepoticious asses.

But still, it's easy to laugh at dubious spectacle of Bela Lugosi struggling to wrap himself up in the inert tentacles of a rubber octopus in Bride of the Monster, giggle at the wobbly hubcaps standing in for flying saucers in Plan 9, and shake one's head at the nekkid girls dancing awkwardly in Orgy of the Dead. But, hey.... he got 'em nekkid. And they were hot. With Woods' cardboard budget and his reputation by then, that's impressive in itself.

Although you still gotta wonder what drove the man. There's only so many body blows an ego can take. The story goes that the writer/director of Robot Monster crawled home after the derisive response the debut of his opus received, and attempted suicide. Yet with near minus zero resources, Wood kept churning them out, plugging along like some moth-eaten, jerry-rigged Energizer Bunny.

Call him the Worst Filmmaker of All Time, but at least his name has more recognition value than say, John Cassavetes. Walk into a video store and try to find a copy of A Woman Under the Influence or Love Streams, right?

But so it goes.

The thing is, one has to look past the surface of Ed Wood (and even Andy Milligan) efforts and appreciate the cat-wrangling that goes into any film project. Making a film isn't just setting up the camera and having the actors hit their marks. Getting everyone to show up (at all, let alone on time) is half the battle. To have an actor argue that they know the character better than the writer, and that the Marlboro Man is actually a drag queen. To have another one throw their back out the night before, and necessitate an instant rewrite that changes the Climactic Fight Scene into an easy-chair argument.

Wood and Milligan and other folks like Larry Buchanan and Al Adamson at least had the fire in the belly to get their deranged visions completed and up on a screen. Repeatedly. When you realize that there are probably more uncompleted first films collecting dust in garages across the land than there are forgotten manuscripts in closets, that's something. Which indicates that these derided filmmakers were still, in themselves, a rare breed that deserves some sort of respect.

The main factor isn't that they made films badly, it's a testament to overcoming adversity that they got films made at all.

At least that's what I'm telling myself, going into the shoot tomorrow.

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