Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brass knuckles and skate punks: The making of "Chapel: Battered"

When I woke up Monday morning this week, it felt like the entire right side of my body had been hit by a truck. I was sore from deltoids to wrist, but it wasn't from any accident--I had done this to myself on purpose.

The things we do for art.

You see, all last weekend was spent shooting the next episode of our web series, "Chapel," in a dank, off-the-grid indoor skate park known affectionately as the Dust Bowl. Hidden among a series of nondescript warehouses somewhere in the sprawling (well, sort of) city of Madison--and that's as specific as I can get--the Dust Bowl was a location sent to us from dingy heaven. We'd been introduced to the place by our good friend and collaborator B, and knew from the second we saw it that we had to film something there.

Enter the next episode of the series, "Battered." This is the first (and probably only) episode based directly off a sequence in the prequel novel I wrote (that'd be The Fix Up) about the main character. Originally, the scene took place in an empty storefront, but once we knew we could use the skate park, changes had to be made. I'm not so attached to my writing that I would pass up such an opportunity. In fact, Rob Matsushita--the director of the series and writer of most episodes--did some very decent adaptation of my original work.

Honestly, as opposed to being insulted or frustrated by someone adapting and changing something I wrote, I was flattered. Rob did a great job of interpreting the story and making it fit within the context of the new series. And he kept enough of my work that I didn't feel completely left out of the process. Some day, if I ever sell any work to be turned into a big studio movie, I should only be so lucky as to have it work out in a similar fashion.

So all day Saturday and Sunday we worked to film this two-part behemoth of an episode (the longest we've done for this series so far). That involved, among other things, maneuvering ourselves and our gear up and down the walls and lips of the bowls in the park, coordinating a small mob of unruly skater dudes, and enduring near freezing temperatures.

As an actor, though, you do your best never to complain. I've learned over time--through working with far more talented people than myself and through simple personal observation--that the rehearsal and performance process is made about a million times more enjoyable if the actors go through it all cheerfully. Your job as a performer, after all, is to be game for pretty much anything.

Fortunately, that's usually my natural state, but there are times when you want nothing more than to curl up in a blanket with a bottle of rum and hate the world. I distinctly remember beginning to feel that way on the set of "High School Sweethearts," the horror film in which my role involved sitting in pools of cold, fake blood on a cement basement floor in the middle of January. Thankfully everyone on set was very supportive and cooperative, which went a long way toward keeping me sane.

The Chapel shoot wasn't nearly so taxing. Plus, I had the chance to scoot around on a skateboard and re-learn some of the very, very basic moves I'd once actually been good at (oh, fifteen years ago? cripes). It also helped keep me warm between shots.

That sore right side, though? That was the result of a scene in which my character, Chapel, beats the living hell out of someone (with a pair of brass knuckles, I should add, an unexpected prop brought to us by one of said skater dudes--hooligans!). I knew going in what was likely to be the result of letting myself really go to it. I took boxing lessons for an all-too short time (plans to pick it up again soon) and learned very quickly that, pretty much no matter how much you stretch and are otherwise in good shape, the act of punching will inevitably leave you feeling like your arm is going to separate from your body and fall off. Unless you're an at least semi-professional boxer, that is. Which I am not. Quite obviously.

We got some really excellent shots, though, and I'm told that my performance wasn't half bad, either. I was especially impressed by one of the skaters we got to do the big stunt in the fight scene. The script called for a skater to get air over a lip between two bowls while firing a gun at Chapel, who would in turn be firing back, hitting the skater mid-air. The guy pulled the trick off over and over again and never seemed to hurt himself, even though he was pretending to be hit and fall instead of actually landing the jump. Impressive stuff, and I can't wait to see it in the final cut.

Special props must also go to my co-star and Little Red Wolf bandmate Meghan, who spent much of the shoot covered in fake blood and bungee corded to a chair. I've been there, so I have sympathy for the position, but she still pulled out the stops with her performance.

At this point we've still about two more days of pick-up shooting to do before both episodes are done (scheduled release at the end of March), but the really tough parts are done.

I have to say that I'm incredibly fortunate to be part of this project. It is beyond awesome to work with a crew that is so motivated, organized, fun, and also that gets shit done. Really the only thing missing at this point is a budget. But that's a story for another time.

1 comment:

Cam said...

Bwahahahaha we need to use that saw for something some day. It's just way too awexome.

The Lost Albatross