WHY HERPES ARE FUNNIER THAN CRABS.
My Brief Time in Indie Filmmaking
Note to Reader
[These events took place back at the turn of the century, many computers and email addresses ago and before services like google docs or dropbox existed. Unfortunately a lot of original emails and documents have been lost into the ether. I’m basing this on emails that I do have and conversations that i remember and other things like the director’s commentary on the dvd.]
In 2002 I wrote a short movie script called Kelly D: Afterlife Consultant. I ended up winning a screenplay contest and it was made into a movie. This is a story of that experience.
LET’S MAKE A MOVIE!
In 2002 I was a 22 year old student at Ryerson University in Toronto, studying for a degree that has little relevance to my current job or to filmmaking in any way.
I had always enjoyed fiction writing and had been writing things for a personal website. Around this time I purchased a couple of books and got hooked on the idea of script writing.
I thought to myself that if Robert Rodriguez can write, direct, film, edit and sell El Mariachi all by himself, then surely I could write a script. Any script. I had no grand elusions of writing a feature length movie. I figured I would start with a short script and film it myself. The goal was to be able to submit it to various short film contests/festivals. If it got any success, great!, otherwise it would be just a fun thing that I did when I was in Uni that I could look back on when I was older.
Robert Rodriguez famously paid for El Mariachi by going to one of those medical research companies and letting them test different drugs on him. In my case I was working part time at a insurance company and didn’t have any real money to spend on this project either.
It was with this thrifty mindset that I wrote the first draft of the Kelly D script. It was about 5 pages in length which I felt was a decent length for a short movie. I was going by what Syd Field wrote, that a page of a screenplay equalled about a minute in a movie. If it was much longer my lack of skill and experience as a director and writer would be glaringly obvious.
A MOVIE ABOUT A DEAD CHEERLEADER.
Kelly D: Afterlife Consultant is a story of a couple (Tina and Dexter) who find their romantic evening disturbed by the arrival of a strange woman dressed as a cheerleader (Kelly). She explains to them that she an “Afterlife Consultant” aka a reaper or death itself. Unfortunately due to some technical problems she’s shown up before anyone has actually died. Kelly explains to Tina that her boyfriend (John) is going to return home and catch them in flagrante and unfortunately things are going to get messy.
The twist in the story involves mistaken identity that you can probably see coming from a mile away.
EXCUSE ME MISS, CAN I FILM A MOVIE IN YOUR BEDROOM?
I put an ad in a Ryerson student newspaper looking for actors. Only 1 person replied, and I sent her the script by email. 2002 was a long time before social media and one had to still rely on quaint things like classified ads in print.
I remember meeting with her during a break in classes, it took place in the cafe area of the old Ryerson business building. She was enthusiastic but wanted a rewrite of the script, as she was not comfortable appearing on a bed with a guy. I don’t remember what I said to that, perhaps something about how we’ll figure something out. The bigger issue was she didn’t have a place that we could film in which sadly meant she was out of contention.
Not that there was literally anyone else in the running. Since I didn’t get any other responses to my ad, the whole project was pretty much scrapped. School got busy and this whole idea got forgotten.
STARTUP SEEKS SCRIPT SUBMISSIONS
In spring 2003 I saw this ad on a writing website.
This was exactly the sort of contest I was looking for. I write the script and someone else does all the work to produce it? Sweet! .
I think I did about five or six further drafts of the script before I submitted it. The script did grow a bit because now I didn’t have to worry about filming it myself. However, I still wanted to ensure that it would be attractive to a small company who probably didn’t have a big budget themselves.
MAY 15, 2003
I got the fateful phone call from the director (the dir) telling me I won the contest in the early evening on Friday, May 15 2003. I remember this clearly because it was the same day The Matrix Reloaded was released. I was waiting for my friends and we were on our way to an evening show. It was a great feeling. I remember being so incredibly happy and optimistic.
The dir told me he was going to email me the contract for me to sign and to return. I would receive the token payment of $1.00 usd as legal payment since they had to be some kind of financial compensation.
The dir explained that he was hoping to film this in the summer and if all went well it would be done by late 2003.
I WANT BIG SMOKE COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET
One of the terms in the contract was that the dir would have final script approval. This meant whatever he wanted in the script he would get. The script started growing with every draft I wrote. Revisions were made. Jokes inserted, and jokes deleted.
One of the prizes of the contest was a consultation with a “professional” who would help me on the script. I remember I got the phone call from the guy one evening and he talked to me about some changes I should make. It should be noted that this professional was just one of the director’s friends who got the executive producer credit.
In the original script I had Kelly “appearing” in the bedroom by noisily falling out of the closet. Well they had other ideas. He wanted smoke to explode out of the closet and have it look like a scene from a black and white Universal Studios Monster movie. However all those movies were filmed on well ventilated studio sets and not in a small bedroom.
The end result was that for important scenes there was just a lot of smoke in the air making it harder to see the characters or small details that kinda add to the character, like Kelly’s pom poms.
One of the things I wrote was to have the sight gag of Tina reading a book upside down when John first walks in.
The book she was reading was The Scarlet Letter. That my friends, is some grade D foreshadowing. From some reason they never filmed a closeup on her reading.
If there is one thing that I will always remember about this rewriting process it is the herpes joke. Kelly is trying to determine if the man in the bedroom is indeed John or Tina’s lover Dexter. She says that the real Dexter has herpes which he has given to Tina who passed it on to John. John shocked at this news, turns to Tina and says “Herpes! Tina you said it was just athlete’s crotch.”
That’s probably the only half decent joke I’ve ever written in my life, so I was quite disappointed when the dir wanted to change the joke. He wanted herpes replaced with crabs. I wanted to explain to him that it literally doesn’t make sense for the joke to be turned into something about pubic lice. I know John is supposed to be a bit clueless but come on… On the final script I sent in I didn’t make the change, it was a petty act of disobedience. He made the change and sent me the final shooting draft.
The movie was now 15 mins long. Which in hindsight is much too long for a movie with such a wafer thin premise. That being said I had no reason to doubt that this movie would be done by the end of 2003.
TIME GOES BY.
It wasn’t until April 31, 2005 that I got an email from the dir saying that my copies of the dvd were being shipped. Almost 2 years from when the contest ended. A staggeringly long time for what was supposed to be a quick short movie production.
According to various email conversations I had with the dir, and his dvd commentary, the production was plagued with numerous challenges. All sound had to be re-recorded in post production because he was unhappy with how it turned out. Which if you think about it is a gigantic problem. I don’t understand how you wrap up production without checking often that the footage is up to standard.
This delay meant that he had to call back the cast back in to record all the sound again. This was the source of the major delay in time. The cast all had regular jobs and lives and this wasn’t exactly a big money project that they could clear their schedule for at a moment’s notice..
The dir did do an excellent job with the synching of the sound to the video. I couldn’t tell that the sound and video was recorded on different days.
Another significant delay was a result of the song that the dir was used over the closing credits. He never gave me full details on what the specifics of the nature of the conflict except that it led to a lengthy delay in finishing production.
While it was very frustrating for myself, I realise it was probably more so for everyone who was involved in the production itself.
THANK YOU DAVID, NORA, RACHEL AND LAMONT.
Time tempers a lot of emotions, and as the years have gone by I can’t really be upset anymore about how things turned out. I mean at the end of the day 4 actors and a bunch of crew took time out of their lives to make a silly little movie that I wrote. it’s a bit of a dick move to complain when I haven’t put up any of my own money into the project.
I thought all the actors did a great job and I am legitimately proud that it got made. It won’t win any awards but whatever, I beat out 92 other writers in the contest. A term of the contract was that I got listed in the credits as Story and Screenplay by and even now it’s a great feeling to see it.
Nora Jesse, who played the role of Tina moved to LA to pursue a career in movies and she has an actual IMDB page. Sadly, this little movie is not listed on her page. :(
It’s not listed on the director’s page either.
I have no regrets. I mean there was a small time back in 2003 that I thought this could be a start of a career in writing movies for a living, but I never really went after it with the sort of hard work that is required. I tried one more script contest in 2004. I had to write a script in 48 hours. The topic I was given was horror and I wrote something pretty bad about a haunted pirate ship. It was bad.
Like real bad.
Thanks for reading. This is the first time I’ve written something like this so please forgive me if there any errors or if this is not up to the quality you are used to.