I am a manipulator. If I had a superpower, it would be mind-control. I learned at probably a too-young age how to get what I want (it didn’t hurt that I was adorable), and ever since then I admit I’ve enjoyed working people. Christian and I often quote Conan O’Brien when he was making puppet motions and sing-saying, “I like to play with peeeople.” But I DO try to use this power for good. Most of the time. Or at least for entertainment. People who know me usually at least raise an eyebrow when I seem up to something, but if I ask nicely with a “please” I can usually get my way. This is not exactly healthy, I’m sure, but I can live with that. Why? Because it has led to some really entertaining movies.
My friends fortunately have the same sarcastic, over-the-top, ridiculous sense of humor that I have, and we’re a bunch of creative, artsy types that tend to be a little over-dramatic in all the right places. Therefore, it didn’t really take much to talk them into making movies with me. But I still have no idea why they were willing to sacrifice so much dignity for the sake of the scene…
I Dream of Sasquatch
During our last summer together as roommates, Gloria and I were watching a documentary about Sasquatch. It was terrible, and one of us blurted, “We could do better than this!” Thus an idea was born. For the next week or so, we began a list of ideas on how to make a mockumentary about hunting Sasquatch.
- Since our funding was limited, we would rent a camera from college and film at my family’s hunting preserve.
- We would use peanut butter cups and Skittles as bait.
- We would use my parents’ camping gear and get my dad to pour gas for our bonfire for night-shoots.
- We would dress my brother as Sasquatch in inside-out coats, gloves for his feet, etc. – THAT, by the way, is the first movie example of getting people to do what I wanted no matter how ridiculous my request. And, as my brother, Christian really should have known what he was getting himself into.
- Since we didn’t know any actual Sasquatch experts, we would interview a few of our college professors – the fact that they barely blinked before coming up with Sasquatch lore off the tops of their heads was awesome.
Us: “Do you believe in Sasquatch?”
Stevens: (long answer)”…If you’re out there, Bigfoot, I’m here for you.”
Bonzo: “No. But Yeti, that’s another story.”
Duff: “I’m a seeker.”
It was so much fun. We had only a basic outline of a script and so made up a lot as we went along, and it was a great learning experience as the three of us – me, Gloria, and Christian – stumbled (often literally) through making our first movie at the Haymarsh. Of course, we had no clue what we were doing aside from Christian’s guidance as the lone film major on “set,” and this lack of experience is further evidenced by the fact that our editing process basically consisted of putting the scenes in the right order. But, turns out, it was kinda hilarious and charming. We somehow even worked in a dream-sequence where Gloria dances with Sasquatch to the song “I Hate You, Then I Love You” by Celine Dion. Spoiler alert: At the end of the movie, Gloria and I haven’t found Sasquatch and so pay a hobo (Christian) to dress as Sasquatch so that we can claim success. And we accidentally kill a guy.
For our second movie, we decided to do a romantic comedy with a script 95% composed of quotes from other movies, TV shows like Arrested Development, etc. We got a little bit more serious about the production on this one — in that we had a script at all — and created for our own amusement The Face Productions. (Sidenote: “The face” was something we’d noticed in bars where people will just stare with their mouths open in a vacant expression, and we’d practiced copying them to the point that we could see someone in a bar, point, and go into “the face” ourselves as a joke. I have no idea why we thought this was a good name for our movie productions, but it kinda fits.)
This time, we had a larger cast. Control freak that I am, I still kept the reins with the script, direction, etc., and that also meant I was largely the one to talk other people into being in our little movie. Not a problem. Since Miranda, Rachel, and Racie and I were living in the Knapp House, of course we were the main characters, along with Gloria who came back from chiropractic school just for the movie. The basic plot is that Rachel wants us all to stay friends after college and so develops a scheme to intermarry us with each other’s brothers so that we’ll all be related and live happily ever after. This meant we cast our brothers, who were shockingly more willing than I would have thought. (Since they were 20-year-old boys at the time, I’m pretty sure what did it was the promise of free dinners.) But I’m still delighted we talked people into some of this movie’s crazy antics.
- It took VERY little prompting to get Prof Stevens to be in a scene where he gives my love-crazed character advice about dating and marriage. Like for Sasquatch, he gives a long, impassioned speech that then deteriorates into, “Or sign up for eHarmony.”
- Jonathan, Gloria’s twin brother, becomes forlorn and jumps off a bridge at the park into shallow water.
- In a pivotal scene, Al and Al’s friend Carter “wake up” in bed on either side of me.
- Our friend Denver has to suffer being hit on my character while he tries to fold his laundry.
- Our friend Jeff (who still doesn’t know he’s in our movie) passes out on Rachel’s bed and I blow kisses at his head while he’s out cold.
- Our friend Andrew donned a sock puppet and ends up as Rachel’s love interest in the end.
- (I would also like to point out that I am worst on myself – I’M the one who wore a pregnant pillow and sat out on our front porch during rush hour, eating and spitting out Oreos.)
I Knew What You Did Last Summer, Then I Forgot, But Now I Remember Again (aka, our Zombie Movie)
Did I mention we like spoofs? This one was my favorite to make. It was during the time when Miranda, Al, and myself were the only ones left in the Knapp House, and since our main cast was smaller we could do things at our pace. The idea for this one started when Rachel and I were watching Hostel and hated all the main characters but got really excited during a torture scene and both yelled “Chainsaw!” happily at the same time. So, at some point I surprisingly talked Miranda into starring in a horror movie with me. We wrote a script playing with typical horror movie clichés and ended up with this story:
Miranda and I fight over men, kill each other’s suitors, and then the “exes” come back from the dead to punish us. We’re terrible people, and Al (our “perfect man” sidekick) isn’t much better. We end up barricading ourselves in the house, fighting for our lives as the zombies break in because I get distracted by watching TV, and then driving to the country where we kill the zombies in a creepy old barn (which took absolutely no set preparation, considering the barn’s been on the downward swing at the Haymarsh since I can remember). At the end of the battle, M and I kill Al just to make sure the curse is broken and he doesn’t come back from the dead. In true horror movie fashion, that’s only the first ending, because then it’s revealed that I didn’t really kill all the zombies after all but kept Zombie Justin in our basement because he was my favorite. Then in the second ending, it flashes to a year later where M and I happily have boyfriends…who then hit on another girl. The last shot is of M and I glaring at this new girl and then pickup up sharp gardening utensils. I guess the moral of the movie is….teamwork?
- Miranda, dressed in a Halloween costume as a baseball player, and myself, dressed in a Little Red Riding Hood costume, walked through the busy parking lot of the local theater at 9:00 ON A FRIDAY just to get a single shot.
- My dad dressed like a farmer zombie and attacked M with a baseball bat.
- Al sipped rubbing alcohol and blew a fireball from his mouth.
- Buddy had to do multiple takes where I take a Blow-Pop out of his mouth and put it in mine.
- I dressed M in the worst date outfit ever and put makeup on her so she looked like Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and on top of that she had to act drunk while carrying a container of mustard in her purse.
- I fell and broke a rib, nearly killing myself. (Okay, that has nothing to do with anything, but I want it mentioned for the record.)
I Was Told There’d Be Cake
This was probably our most ambitious movie. M and I were big Sloane Crosley fans, so we decided to make a movie out of her many stories/essays in I Was Told There’d Be Cake. It ended up as a Christmas comedy. Rachel was bridezilla. We had Christmas costumes for bridesmaid dresses.
This movie was such a beast all the way through that for a long time we swore off ever doing another. (Note: If you can avoid editing an entire, feature-length movie on only 30 days, do so.) It also had the largest cast we’d ever used, and that made things complicated. Plus we had to decorate an entire church for Christmas, film those scenes, and then tear it all down again in a single day. Since we were going off of a book with a very specific script this time, this movie took the most direction, and mostly I turned things over to Christian on that front…mostly. And I really have NO idea how we talked people into being in this one, except that it was Christmas-themed and maybe everyone was feeling charitable. Again, I did the worst things to myself, for once again I had to don that horrible Red Riding Hood costume, only this time it was painted with green to make it more Christmas-y. And there’s a part where I’m in bed between Brian (whom I’d met once before shooting) and a Papa Smurf doll. But as for others…
- Rachel had to act like a crazy bridezilla, wearing Racie’s actual wedding dress, and for the bridal entrance scene she had to dance to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
- Matt, Rachel’s brother, put up very little fuss despite the fact that I pushed what I asked of him to the limits of my imagination. A 6’ 5” man in a onesie is a sight to behold when he’s dancing “Hammer Time,” by the way.
- I already mentioned how poor Brian had to strip his shirt and lie next to me and Papa Smurf.
- Dan had to dance “Thriller” while wearing reindeer antlers.
- Kyle took over performing “Single Ladies” with more enthusiasm than I could asked for.
- Uncle Lee was “Chip Guy” who kept eating Sun Chips in the back all during the wedding ceremony.
- Aunt Penny played Rachel’s even-crazier mother and ALSO hosted all of us at her cottage during our filming weekend.
- My dad wore an elaborate head device with bobbing mistletoe that hung out between the bride and groom. All this while reciting the Princess Bride priest’s marriage speech.
- Racie dressed up as Santa to be the groom because we had no male for that part.
Super La-La Mancha
Rachel and I, as the un-official heads of The Face Productions, spent a day while she lived in Ann Arbor plotting for this one. We’d learned enough by this point to know that we should shoot it documentary style so that we’d be free to accidentally look at the camera from time to time. And we’d make sure everyone was committed to learning their lines before filming day(s). Then we hashed out the story. It followed the basic plot of “Man of La Mancha” but with Rachel as “Donna Coyote” and me as “Sasha Panza.” Rachel’s love interest was Josh M. as “Aldonzo.” Buddy would play the villain as “Mr. Eff” (okay that has no Man of La Mancha significance), and Rachel’s cat Samson would be “Rocinante.” Think Don Quixote meets Mystery Men shot like Reno 911.
“Super La-La Mancha!” ended up being the most involved movie of the five. This was largely because I took all the controls (producing solo, writing most of it, etc. etc.) and did it my way. I also decided halfway through that this would be our last movie because I can’t handle being that angry at my friends when really they’re just doing me a favor to support my obsessive-compulsive hobbies. But the end result turned out to be our best movie, despite combining my most-beloved musical with our…talented singers. But, really, the whole cast and crew were troopers during this one.
- Rachel’s superhero makeover costume consisted of balloon boobs, a cape, fishnets, and knee-high boots spray-painted green. Plus she had to spit and drool everywhere because her superpower was toxic saliva.
- Randy B. finally lived out his dream of playing “Middle-Aged Fat Guy” while singing “Hail Knight of the Woeful Countenance” to Rachel.
- Josh M. had to put up with us shrilling singing in his face for more than a few scenes.
- Dan, as “Casanova” had to talk with a terrible French accent, wear a ridiculous mustache, and wear one of Rachel’s tank tops.
- John H. acted like the biggest nerd alive as our “Number 1 Fan” and developed an impressive lisp.
It’s self-serving, sure, but I love my friends for being willing to do every crazy thing I ask them – and on FILM! And I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys the end results. (Although it was a little weird watching “I Dream of Sasquatch” with my landlord when he was on lunch break while painting the Knapp House. Sometimes I need to remember to hide our movies on my shelves…) As great as blogs and journals and pictures are, these homemade movies are my favorite things to look at and remember. They were great creative experiences. I’ll always laugh at Buddy singing “I’m Only Thinking of Her.” And it’s great to have captured these little slices of time spent with friends I don’t get to see that often anymore. And, let’s face it, these movies are great blackmail.