I didn’t get much sleep. I was smoking and drinking heavily. I had to get up after an hour of sleep, spend eighteen hours shooting scenes I would forget the next day. I remember we really tried to push the movie in the summer of 2001. We put together a ton of advertising; press kits and screeners (with bags of microwave popcorn and various bits of candy) and we tried to have fun with the process. It didn’t matter. Either the movie was too terrible for words, or it came out at the wrong time – roughly the end of August 2001.
“Clearly, this should’ve been a short piece. Too frequently it feels like Lawler is trying to stretch this material to fit into a feature length run time. I also think a shorter piece also would’ve done the goofy ending a little better service. After having to wade through an entire feature, not only does the ending come off as goofy, but also just plain stupid.”
This was my ridiculous state of affairs in the first years of the new millennium. The stuff I wrote looked great on paper, but I was too young to either have the confidence to shoot it as written, or I would simply lose sight of the material in an effort to be what reviewer Eric Campos called, “quirky”. We were all quirky back then. Quentin Tarantino did a lot for independent, no-budget cinema, but he also nearly destroyed the genre.
When Reservoir Dogs came out, everybody wanted to be the next Quentin Tarantino. Or Kevin Smith, for that matter. A few years before, me and Andrew La Ganke worked at a video store. An acquaintance of ours, Jason, wrote a short script. He gave it to me to read. I thought it was okay, but it came across as a combination of “Seinfeld”, “Clerks”, and “Reservoir Dogs”. It had the hip lingo, the cool setting (a video store, obviously), and graphic violence, scenes of shoot-outs and patches of explosive profanity.
Years later, I worked in data entry at The New York Blood Center, got the idea for They Only Come Out At Night (hardly original) and then we (meaning me, Bronwyn, and Scott) went the full casting route. We worked with Rika on Angel Of Death, so we brought her back. We’d gotten good reviews for The Tell-Tale Heart a year earlier, notably The Psychotronic Film Society in Chicago. So I had an idea then went off to write a script. This is how it was with me. I’d just write a script and damn the consequences, even if it wasn’t in my best interests. I think when you’re young, you have no fear, so you do it.
We put ads in Backstage and picked up a couple crew-members, Neena and Christina. An actor fell through, so I rewrote the part and cast Christina. We shot the movie in two studios, Shetler in midtown, and The New Actor’s Workshop, and various locations all over the city. I had a great collection of talented actors and crew, and this is what I had wrought with no money. This is when courage trumps common sense. It’s like you get all these people into a room, and then you forget what you were going to say.
This was New York in 2000-2001, so you could run around with a bunch of cameras and actors in the middle of the city with no permits and no particular unifying direction. I threw every amateur filmmaking trick in the book into this movie. I mean, there are split-screen sequences, slow-motion shots, distorted audio, weird and vibrant color effects, even an animation sequence. I got into a row with Shetler over using their corridors to shoot in, meanwhile some reality TV show was using the halls to fill with their prospective applicants.
We finished shooting at The New Actors Workshop. Rika got hit in the eye with some flying umbrella debris (don’t ask), which was a lot of fun. We didn’t have insurance, so you can imagine we all breathed a sigh of relief when we discovered she wasn’t seriously injured. All told, it was, I believe, three months of shooting and three months of editing. September 11th happened a couple of days after we started sending the movie out. So a movie came and went with very little fanfare.
The next year, B-Mania, a small basic cable channel based out of Florida approached us for broadcasting rights, but they weren’t willing to pay. They wanted a Betacam SP master of the film. Cost me $400, and they didn’t reimburse me. I figured this was the only way to get the movie out there, but I didn’t understand how they could or would operate a cable station without paying for programming. They would pay their engineers but they wouldn’t pay the people who supplied the programming? Hell, no! “Exposure” is it’s own pay!
It took half a year to get the movie listed in the Internet Movie Database. I had to write a couple of strongly-worded letters, citing movie listings that were only speculative. I told them, “Wait a minute, we have a finished film here, meanwhile you’re writing up movies that aren’t even in production.” So we sent out a hundred tapes for review and got a grand total of three reviews, and they weren’t great reviews. This is what tenacity coupled with no-budget filmmaking gets you. Funny now that in my old age, I can see the pitfalls that lay behind me, and I’m fresh and ready for new pitfalls.
I think what I did was write beyond my means, that is my eyes were bigger than my stomach, or my fingers were bigger than my brain, or whatever. My instincts on actors were always on-point. I knew a good (or decent) actor. Maybe I knew a good story, but not everything I shot was everything I wrote. In fact, my earlier scripts were all characterization, background, and prose with very little dialogue. It’s hard to translate that stuff into a workable film, at least it was hard when I was 27.