Monday, September 24, 2001

Mob Daze

Submitted by Chris Watson

At some point in my first year of college, I had the bright idea of making a film. It didn't start with images of money or the idea of fame. I was simply lying on my bed and in the dark, despite the fact it was three o-clock in the afternoon, and a vision came to me of my fellow classmates on my dorm floor as wannabe mobsters. One of the guys had a thick southern accent. I had the thought of a real mobster talking about how to become a mobster, and he'd say "You have to change your accents." The guy with the thick southern accent, Josh, would say "That shouldn't be a problem." Not extremely clever, but it made me laugh. Then, the real mobster would tell them they need guns. Josh would say "We've got guns."

The real mobster replies, "Let me see them." Josh pulls out a box and opens it, exposing a box full of hunting guns. Two decent jokes inspired me to contact a guy I had written with on an old magazine called Insane. Together, we decided on a story that would lead up to a short. The goal was to write a short film that would have such an impact that people couldn't help but want to pay to see more. We would make the short film, write the feature script, and pitch it to anyone with money. I pitched the idea to a film student who happened to be on my floor. He seemed to be eager to do it, so my co-writer David Lawson and I rushed out a short film script. However, this wannabe film student was the first of many to flake out, but it wasn't hard to find another film student to replace him and get us another broadcast quality camera.

Unfortunately, the flake out trend continued when this so-called director also flew the coup. Luckily, I had picked up a guy with a reasonable amount of knowledge from a filmmaking list. He was from the United Kingdom and had enough guts to be willing to pay his own way over to serve as a two bit crew member on a short film by some inexperienced college students. So Dave Thomas was awarded the director job and would actually stick with the project for well over a year.

We now had a director and David and I were now forcing a feature length script into the works. We just needed to find a format to film on. It was obvious with my bank account being under $5,000 that we wouldn't be able to shoot on film, so I started asking around about digital video. It appeared we had our format because it could be broadcast quality and also meant that the movie could be shot for very cheaply. However, we couldn't afford to buy all the equipment.
I did what I would do many times over - I went to the internet for help. I went to every independent film site I could find and put up classifieds and e-mailed local filmmakers for help and tried to get anyone I could to contribute. I got a ton of replies but very few wanted to help once they found out it was low budget - truly low budget. A few did come on board, including two with Canon XL1's. I would keep in constant contact with them, and eventually I sent out basic contracts to anyone still interested. I made a classic and major mistake in not binding them to the entire time period of the shoot. I would later have people showing up for a day here and a day there but they were useless other than to give a crew member a break for a day.

Once the crew was assembled, I began an internet search for cast members. Again, I got several replies but very few came through in the end. One of the many things I did for the movie was create a Yahoo club. I created it for two reasons. One, it was free publicity. Two, I could communicate with cast and crew and not have to e-mail everyone individually. I got two good actors from this site. A young college student came across the site and sent me a message. Brock Short began talking to me on a daily basis and would soon move from a runner to having the lead role in the project. Brock would also introduce me to a funny individual named Rist Gilgen. Rist would go on to play "Brett" in the movie, while Brock would play "Mark."

Casting flipped back and forth all the way through filming. At one time, we had one hell of a lead cast for such a small film. We had Eric Edwards from Blade, National Lampoon's Senior Trip, and Sergeant Bilko, as well as Australian actor Johan Earl from Code Black. Also on tap was semi-famous comedian Rodney Carrington. Each was working for nothing. This was a dream come true for an independent filmmaker and we were just weeks from shooting. What could go wrong?

Well, plenty. Let me start by saying we had five leads. Bryan Waller is the only actor I haven't mentioned that was lined up to play a lead. Johan got in a motorcycle accident and was unable to come. Rodney Carrington had a big money project come up, and I made another huge mistake in letting someone who knew Eric personally do the negotiating with him. I would soon find out Eric wasn't going to show up on the day he was supposed to start shooting. I had several days notice with Johan. Rodney's agent told me about his deal about two weeks before production. Bryan Waller is a different story altogether and one that I'll never understand. We had one hell of a day where the hotel we had set up at backed out on us the night we were to start shooting there. Then, while Dave Thomas and I drove around looking for hotels to make deals with, I got a call from a guy who had said he'd pick up Bryan, except he flaked out at the exact time he should have been leaving. I drove to Kansas City at a very fast speed in the middle of a storm with Dave Thomas and I in reasonably cheerful moods. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and sat around, wasting our valuable time. Waller showed and it was obvious that he was some kind of rich snot that would be trouble on the set. We are poor filmmakers, to say the least, and we were taking an enormous risk. We didn't really have the money to make a movie or to drive ten hours to the middle of Kansas. We were just guys who all wanted the same thing and we came together to do it. There would be sacrifice among all of us, and it's a bond that still stands among us. However, Waller had a different personality. His first comments to us involved getting him ahead of schedule so he could go to a concert. Long story short, he would soon bail. On a good note, he did pay me forty dollars.

The drive back to Pittsburg, Kansas, our main location, was a long one. Dave and I don't remember much, but I don't think either of us will ever forget that day. It was horrible and Dave kept talking about how everything was going down the tank. I was upset, very upset, but it was more because of the hotel situation. When Bryan Waller stepped out of my truck, I told Dave something like "I don't want him." Granted, it took me a few minutes to get it to click in Dave's head, but I think he was right there with me when I mentioned his attitude. To make a long story short, we had lost our hotel and one of the lead actors. What else could possibly go wrong?

Monday turned out to be the day where Brock Short and I would chase down the woman with the biggest bottom in history so we could find out if our lead actor was coming or not. As it happened, David Lawson and I would be roaming around Wal-Mart in Pittsburg when we came across the woman we had been hunting. She told us about several funerals she had to attend, but that everything was okay with the actor. Later on, I got a message from her saying that the actor wasn't coming. Now we had lost a hotel and two lead actors.

Most people would probably have folded their cards here, but it had been a project on tap for too long to fail now. We moved the cast around so that the guy tapped to play an unnamed gang member was now playing "Dave." This wasn't a hard decision, since Dave Thomas and I had both wanted him as "Dave" from the beginning. However, he had to be back in Minnesota to do a play and we didn't want to rush the schedule. Nonetheless, we didn't have much of a choice. Brock and Rist were set in their parts but David Lawson was moved from "Mute Boy" to "Josh." I called David several months earlier and warned him to learn the parts for both "Mute Boy" and "Josh." I would then take on the role originally written for me, "Mute Boy."

The main cast was set and I had a couple of cameos set up that would knock the socks off the cast and crew. I knew several of them were fans of one actor in particular, and it was an actor I had talked about since the beginning. However, a small film called Bubba Ho Tep would cause me to lose not one, but two cameos. Then Campbell Cooley had to undergo surgery, leaving another role open. I was able to replace Cooley with "Maniac Cop" Robert Z'Dar, and would later replace one of the cameos with the great Joe Estevez.

One of our most notable cameos seems to be comedian Bruce Baum. Very few people fail to recognize him, and the way we got him tends to make people laugh. I was on the phone with my good friend Mike Schmille, who also subbed for us by playing another gang member, when he mentioned the fact that he was going to see Bruce Baum at a local stand-up club that night. We just happened to be filming a scene that was supposed to have a cameo in it the next day. I drove quickly to my house and picked up David Lawson, a rising stand-up comedian, and we headed off to see Bruce Baum. While in the truck, I called the owner and asked about tickets and then mentioned the movie. In turn, the owner helped us out and mentioned it to Bruce Baum. After the show, Bruce came over and looked briefly at the script. I remember telling him it was "the funniest script you'll ever read," causing David Lawson to glare at me. Bruce kindly did the cameo as he sat at a table with Mike Schmille, David, myself, and the real "Brett," while at a nearby table was a wannabe actress who had flaked out on us.

Although, casting and securing locations ended up being a major problem on the shoot, we still managed to survive through financial problems, casualties, missing people, friends not coming through, and crazy rednecks. Problems piled up, but we seemed to be able to either solve them or shake them off. We had survived the shoot, but now we have to finish the damn thing.

Our current problem is editing. The first idea was to have the director and I edit it along with a hack editor, but the director decided he had to return to the United Kingdom. The idea of the director editing it sounded logical, but there was the problem of different formats, and we'd also have to get a $5,000 camera to send over to him. So, the obvious choice was to turn to an editor who had sworn to get it out by, well, by the time I wrote this. In turn, I would help produce a film of his. As it turns out, I produced his film, but he was unable to deliver a simple trailer for Mob Daze in several weeks. So I called Robert Z'Dar and asked if he just happened to know someone. As it turns out, he did. Now I'm eagerly waiting to see what happens with it.

As it turns out, I'm glad some people actually wanted to make a movie bad enough that they'd actually show up and stick with it. I know most of the cast and crew struggled to stay on board during the shoot. However, we stuck with it, and now we have a film that no one can take away from us, good or bad. As for scraping together a cast at the last second, it seemed to turn out well. Robert Z'Dar, veteran of over seventy-five movies, called the cast the best he had ever worked with. He boasted on several occasions about the cast, and his business manager would later give me the same feeling. In the end, we had the best possible cast, both talent and personality-wise. Hopefully, the movie will be the same as I try to drum up as much advance publicity as possible, and also prepare for a small theatrical release.

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