Friday, April 23, 2010

Hanks' Got Nothin' on Bedgood

Okay, this blog should be easy because I'm just gonna "apple v" our first review for JEFFIE WAS HERE. This is from which was started by director Kevin Smith. Great props for the cast! Apparently Tom Hanks has nothing on Peter Bedgood. The full article also includes a nice review for a genius little film called "The Scenesters," made by a team of really creative and funny dudes who we had the pleasure of meeting in Phoenix.

Hope you enjoy the read:

JEFFIE WAS HERE REVIEW By Ray Schillaci of FRED Entertainment
FRED Entertainment is director Kevin Smith's brainchild, operated by Ken Plume


Most independent brethren met with enthusiastic audiences and the hopes of getting seen in other markets. In my humble opinion; two stand outs delivered the goods with enjoyable performances and engaging stories that were executed in a very creative way. These films might not have won the accolades at the festival, but they certainly provided big laughs and a good time for all. Todd Berger's "The Scenesters" takes a comic jab at "reality" shoots that is usually reserved for horror and succeeds tremendously while the co-creative team of "Hoodwinked" presented their brand of off-the-wall humor and applied it to a very funny road trip with "Jeffie Was Here." Both films have the luck of an extremely talented cast and crew, but "Jeffie..." has a slight edge with a brilliantly comic timed performance by Peter Bedgood.

In “Jeffie Was Here” Bedgood plays Alan who has his hands full with a thankless low-paying professor job, an over-sexed teacher’s assistant, a long-suffering girlfriend, unrelenting writer’s block and a pending road trip that needs funding. Enter Jeffie, the last person one would ask to share the ride with. He’s part wannabe musician, guru, tree-hugger and general pest. But Alan has his reasons for accepting his application and the results are priceless. Bedgood brings a fine mix of frustration/sorrow/regret and hilarity that has not been seen since the early days of Jack Lemmon. There have been comparisons to Tom Hanks, but I believe Peter Bedgood as Alan gives a far more sympathetic/pathetic performance than he’s been credited for. Also, Bedgood’s chemistry works amazingly well with the other performers. He could have been the center of attention, but instead he plays with his fellow thespians so well that nearly everyone’s performance shines brighter.

Of course, the performances have to also be credited to the talents of director Todd Edwards who does double duty as Jeffie. Edwards’s direction at times is ingeniously daffy. From Alan’s living quarters to a tough man contest at a child’s birthday party in the barrio, it’s oddball humor that comes out of left field and hits a homerun with its audience. “Jeffie…” is not a throw-it-all-on-the-wall comedy and see what sticks. It’s a well calculated mature piece that has some adults acting like the children they have inside of them. I also have to mention Edwards’s very capable soundtrack that had me humming long after the movie was over.

Aside from Peter Bedgood other notables are Alexis Rabin as Amanda in a wonderful heartfelt performance and an all too brief comic burst from Vanessa Ragland. Ragland’s eccentric Chastity (the teacher’s assistant) reminds one of a young Shirley MacLaine with a touch of Sandra Bernhard. She manages to be abrasive and engaging all at once. Speaking of abrasive, Cristine Rose (NBC’s Heroes) delivers a wonderful comic turn as Alan’s mother.

still07-bedgood-jeffiewashereThen there is the character of the title, Jeffie. Director, Todd Edwards plays him with glee; annoying, scheming with a dash of bizarre innocence that keeps us guessing what is next on his agenda or does he even have one. If I had one criticism it would be the lack of an edge on the character of Jeffie’s part. If there was the slightest bit of danger that he exuded, the film could have set it itself up as a classic. After all, Jeffie holds all the cards. But perhaps the filmmakers did not want to take that chance with the possibility of alienating some of their audience. As it stands; “Jeffie…” has mass appeal.

“Jeffie Was Here” provides unusual situations with laughs and a thought-provoking, satisfying ending that hearkens back to the comedies of the 70s and early 80s. At that time writers/directors like Paul Mazursky and Paul Bartel were not just looking for basic toilet humor, they demanded the audience to think as well as laugh. Writers Todd Edwards and Peter Bedgood accomplish that right mix of pathos and fun delivering a road trip that one looks forward to taking again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making the new Hanson video "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'"

(click on images for larger views)

Well gang, the last time I had this much to do with a minor pop-culture moment involving an homage to a beloved 80’s comedy, the audience was shorter, the actors were woodland creatures, and the spoof was Fletch (2006’s Hoodwinked). Today Hanson debuted “Thinking 'Bout Somethin’,”
a Blues Brothers homage directed by yours truly and produced by my awesome Blue Yonder team Katie Hooten and Timothy Hooten. In one day, the video has been viewed almost 200 thousand times, was featured, among other places, on PEREZ (which the kids tell me is kind of a big deal), as well as (which is a big deal to me. Go Doc Jenson!)

The EW article by Clark Collis entitled “Hanson and Weird Al invoke spirit of ‘The Blues Brothers’ for new video. How does this not suck?” was especially fun for me because it pretty much read exactly like the article I saw in my head when Taylor and the guys first approached me with the idea:

“If you’d told me yesterday that I would like the video for Hanson’s new single, “Thinkin’ Bout Something,” then I would have said, “I’m fairly sure that’s not true….
But I would have been wrong! The video is a delight, partly because the song itself is a delicious, catchy slice of pop-soul, and partly because some considerable effort has clearly gone into recreating the Blues Brothers scene. For a second, I really thought that was the great Steve Cropper on guitar.”

I have to hand it to Hanson for coming up with such a great concept, and thank them for trusting Blue Yonder and me to execute it because, as EW points out, this is a concept that could have easily turned out sucky.

My initial gut reaction became the plan that we stuck to throughout production: let’s nail the peripheral details, and exclude the scene’s three icons: Ray, Akroyd and Belushi. The most famous ingredients of the scene would be magically erased, replaced by the three brothers Hanson. Like, you’ve watched this movie a hundred times, but on the hundred and FIRST time, it would suddenly be different. Basically, I told them if they don the fedoras they’re dead. They agreed.

Soon after that first conversation we had with Hanson and DP Paul Lawson, we were plunged into an insane month of assembling our crew, and gathering instruments, props and materials to recreate the music store from the famous John Landis scene. And that’s how I approached it: as a recreation of a John Landis musical from the 80’s— not as the “Blues Brothers” per se. With a few missteps this could quickly plunge into Universal Studios Florida territory. So the set was everything. As we began our scout in the Hanson’s hometown of Tulsa, we saw a few really awful locations… you know, ones that would have made the EW writer in my head HATE this video. After seeing what we didn’t like, the producers and I made a strong case for getting psychotically accurate with the set. This is a location we weren’t going to find anywhere—we’d have to build it. I soon realized that the Hanson’s rehearsal space was the best candidate for the build… the floor was already right for it and the dimensions were suitable. It was a space we could control.

As is the case with most productions, we were on a tight budget and had to make miracles happen to pull all this off. There wasn’t a line item for an LA art director, so our producer Timothy Hooten had to essentially fill the gap, with a local prop master and members of the Hanson organization jumping in to help along the way with painting, set construction and massive prop gathering. Local music shops and schools loaned us instruments. The violin shop across the street donated 20 violins for the day. By the time the “MUSIC” and “LOAN” signs showed up from the local neon company, the vision for our psychotically accurate recreation seemed well on its way to becoming reality.

Weird Al got involved at the last minute, though I was speaking the man’s name from the first conversation with Hanson. I kept saying, “it’s got to be like the ‘Eat It’ video, you know?” I remember as a kid obsessing over the accuracy of that thing. My brother and sister and I were always trying to recreate the movies and shows we watched, and when “Eat It” came out, it really made a strong impression on me because it was like watching a grown-up get to “play” at the highest level of accuracy, down to the locations and photos on the wall. I guess in a lot of ways this project was kind of like living out a childhood fantasy. So it’s extra awesome that the patron saint himself got involved. We knew the Hanson guys were friends of Al— he directed a video of theirs in the ‘90s… Taylor mentioned the idea of him early on, but the idea kind of got dropped in the shuffle.

Two days before the shoot, Katie, Tim and I were decompressing over some pizza, trying to figure out one final bit of casting— Murph the tambourine player. Katie was suddenly struck with a crazy thought: sometimes it’s easier to get someone last minute than if you plan far in advance. We drove back to the Hanson office to make our case. An hour later, Taylor was on the phone with Al, and 48 hours after that, Al was walking onto our Tulsa set. The “weirdest” part about Al is how unbelievably nice of a guy he is. He laughed when I told him that he was involved in this shoot long before he agreed to it.

One more quick story. The “holy crap” moment when I realized this was actually going to work… about two days before shooting I drove across town to the dance studio where choreographer Heather Hall was going over the routine with Zac and Isaac. First of all let me say that along with my producers Katie and Tim, Heather Hall was the shining star of this production. She’s the one who found and cast the dancers, reconstructed the routine from the film into teachable pieces, and then taught that routine to a pizzazz-filled army of 40.

The large dance crew had been rehearsing all week, and as exciting as that was, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure how the video would all be glued together… meaning, as I studied the Blues Brothers scene leading up to our shoot, I was ominously struck by how much rested squarely on Akroyd and Belushi’s shoulders. Damn Belushi could move. Handsome young Zac would be filling the roll in our version, and in preliminary meetings he expressed some concern about the dancing... about it being too campy. I figured we’d get him busy with the cowbell, but I was still nervous. Contrary to some misperceptions out there that Hanson was ever a “boy band,” they actually have never had dancing as a part of their act, EVER. They just play instruments and sing (what a concept!) They’ve fought that misperception for years, so this was supposed to sort of be a moment for them. A flipping of the bird, if you will. So when I showed up at Heather’s studio two days before rolling, I was pleased and honestly kind of floored to see Isaac and Zac sweating and shaking it all over that floor in perfect synchronization. I’ve been friends with these guys for years, since before the world knew who they were, and usually I don’t really think of them as being famous or anything, but in that moment I suddenly saw the celebrities going out on this crazy limb that they’ve never ventured onto before. It was electric… like having a front seat to a pop culture moment.

Taking in all of the tweets, articles and buzz today (wrote one tweeter: “Shit. Did I just enjoy a Hanson video?”), I thought about the lyric to their song… “I’ve been thinking about something other than you.”

I think the “you” in that sentence is really the cynical pop culture universe who thought they had these three blond boys all figured out. I can tell you as a front seat observer, they really haven’t been thinking about you the way you might think. They’ve been too busy with their kids, their music, having fun, and generally working their butts off.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The creation of JEFFIE WAS HERE

After “Hoodwinked” there was a lot of opportunity for me to stay in family animation. While I have written and am developing other animation projects, I never intended on getting pigeon-holed in that genre. There’s so much more we at Blue Yonder Films want to do as a company, as writers, and as actors, and we’ve been developing many projects of different sizes over the years that were good candidates for our ‘next thing.’ Ultimately, we decided to develop a live-action film that could be made quickly and shot on a tight schedule in between our other projects, so “Jeffie Was Here” was born.

At the heart of the film lie two very different relationships: a rifting romance between Alan and Amanda, and a comedic sparring match between Alan and Jeffie. I wanted to develop a simple story with a lot of moving parts inside of it. The idea was to create a situation around a trio of characters and have fun watching the shifting dynamics within the structure of a road movie. There was a welcomed challenge in keeping it fresh and avoiding what we perceived as the genre’s pitfalls. Good characters were the number one priority in achieving that goal.

Co-writer Peter Bedgood and I had written several scripts together over the years, but had never written anything where we could play such distinct characters as Alan and Jeffie in the context of a feature. The last time Peter and I acted together in a feature was my 1999 debut “Chillicothe,” and our characters were sort of caricatures of ourselves as we were in the late 90’s. A decade later there was a very strong desire to show our range in a different way, and show where our heads were as writers. In life I’m kind of steady and focused, so it was fun to flip the switch and become the polar opposite: Jeffie is outspoken, rude, and completely uninhibited. Vanity went out the window on this one; I had to be big, bald and beardy, and dress like a hand-me-down. On the other hand, Peter tends to be the free spirit in our duo, but through all the commercials and short work he’s done, I knew he would be very good at dialing in a character as rigid as Alan. Watching Peter blow a gasket in this film is a real joy!

For the third member of the story’s trio, the producers and I had to go on the hunt. I literally looked at about two thousand LA actresses. Amanda needed to be a lot of things to make the movie work. She’s the glue; attractive yet accessible, undyingly supportive in her relationship but not a doormat, and a “straight man” who can play the butt of a joke when required. It was a tall order but we found everything we were looking for in Alexis Raben, an extremely gifted actor whose career will be an exciting one to watch.

For Mrs. Mangold, producers Katie, Timothy and I were thrilled to cast Cristine Rose. I had watched the first season of ‘Heroes’ and even though it’s not typically comedic, I had a strong sense that Cristine would be more than capable of taking on such a loony matriarch without veering too far into the cartoonish. She did not disappoint. Miraculously we were able to cram her entire performance into a single day of shooting. It’s about ten solid minutes of screen time, so it was quite a feat!

Similarly, we felt very fortunate to rope in our old friend Ken Marino who had also leant a voice to “Hoodwinked.” Ken is so busy between his starring role on Showtime’s “Party Down” and his work as a successful screenwriter, penning such films as 2008’s “Role Models,” which he co-wrote with Paul Rudd. It’s a different kind of role than he typically plays; Ken is often cast as the jerk or moron and does it masterfully, but Roger is much more of a normal, well-adjusted guy. Ken’s like that in life, and I wanted to see him that way on screen for once. It was fun to watch it happen. The guy’s a natural.

In the indie spirit, the art department basically consisted of me, producer Timothy Hooten, associate producer Josh D’Ellia (who also handled location sound), and college student Jason Burkeholder. Anyone who hasn’t worked on a film production might not appreciate how insane this idea is. With everyone wearing so many hats, we had to be very careful not to let tasks fall through the cracks. A lot of work was handled in pre-production, but not all of it. There were a lot of late nights.

Since we were sort of piece-mealing the art direction together, I had to map out a very clear color palette for everyone to follow. Though its been done by other filmmakers, I couldn’t think of a better inspiration for the color palette than the Wizard of Oz. I tried to push that concept as far as I could without it getting too obvious. Together, Alan and Amanda are like the collective Dorthy: passive blues and checkers. If you’ll notice, Alan is even wearing red shoes. They’re swept up in this adventure that takes them far from home. Jeffie is Oz, so green is his dominant color for the majority of the film, but there’s also pink, gold and yellow in his wardrobe. He wears yellow Crocs, which is a tip of the hat to the yellow brick road.

As a metaphor for the transformation that the journey motivates in our characters, I liked the idea of the movie starting very small and opening up gradually. We start in the tiniest east coast apartment imaginable, and end at the biggest place on earth; the Pacific Ocean. The apartment was such a squeeze that we had to build it as a 360 degree set with removable walls in order to achieve the needed shots. It was careful choreography. We reveal a small desk is at the end of the small bed. He stands up from the desk and we realize he’s been sitting on the toilet. He folds up the bed and we realize it’s their shower. Hopefully the visual transition to the larger landscapes like the forest, desert and ocean will give a strong feeling for the audience about the journey these characters are taking and their evolving outlook.