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.

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