Again, working under the presumption that almost no one cares and so what, I will take a quick dip in the past to try to figure out why I did what I did. Cheap therapy!
It was the early '90's and my wife and I had been in Los Angeles a couple of years when I started to build a commercial director's reel. Mostly because I had been working at Crossroads Films - a commercial company, but also because I was becoming fascinated by the form. Brief (30 seconds), tainted (you're convincing people to buy something they don't need), and a lot of the time art-less (though the directors I'd been working with were anything but) Mark Pellington, Mark Story, Tony Kaye... they were artists.
I had little at my disposal. A super8 camera (see photo in Pasta People blog), access to a building- the new Crossroads office, some equipment- bounce cards, stands, etc. My wife, April, was studying Art History and so on many days we'd find ourselves wandering through art museums. We were in the Armand Hammer Museum in West Los Angeles and I walked into a room full of Russian Constructivism. I'd never heard of it. I was instantly struck by the energy of these pieces. It was the 90's there was no internet, no way to research this stuff outside of libraries- or book stores. I'd often loiter inside the stores Arcana or Hennessey + Ingalls near where we lived in Santa Monica. Almost never buying anything- I had no money- but carefully soaking it all in. Anyway- this show- on Russian Constructivism blew me away- and a bit later I was able to get my hands on a copy of Aelita: Queen of Mars, a film made with the Constructivist ideals by Yakov Protazanov in 1924. (I can't remember where I found it) I knew I needed to pay homage!
I had a couple of ideas- a (gulp) dream sequence... I know, I know... I asked my sister-in-law Reagan, who is an actor, to help and I had just worked with a fella named Reno who seemed perfect for her counterpart. Incidentally Reno had a dog named Bongo who could count. He'd give Bongo a math problem and Bongo would bark the answer. Lost track of Reno, it's too bad. He was a good guy. I had just worked on a car commercial that had a huge set-piece in it. This giant frame with fabric wrapped around it- creating an interesting background or something. I knew it would be trashed afterwards so I asked Kells- the art director- if I could have it. Kells was always very supportive and energetic about helping people. He believed in the dream! There was plenty of negativity floating around LA, still is, I imagine. But Kells and others like him were the remedy.
I did what anyone would do, I asked for favors. Reno, Reagan, will you be my actors? Eric? Can you do makeup? I made the costumes myself, borrowed the set piece from production- and destroyed it later, I'm sure, I asked Crossroads if I could use their new (empty) office and got my wife and a couple of friends to help. As ALWAYS the money you DO spend, even if it's almost nothing NEEDS to go to FEED the crew. A fed crew is a happy crew. If they're hungry they will HATE you. I shot it myself on the little super 8 using B/W filmstock -I can't remember which one. And I'm pretty happy- still- with the result.
We spent a morning shooting over at the office. I had the film processed and x-fered to 3/4" video and then cut it on a primitive video editing console. Again, this is before digital was everywhere... so it was cuts only on a two deck system like the one I'd used in high school. BUT the company I worked for, Crossroads, were kind enough to let me use their equipment when I was done working for the day. I recorded a little guitar stuff for the beginning of the piece (at home on my 4-track cassette recorder) and stole some of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" for the ending. Unfortunately that's my 'not quite ready for primetime' voice over. I think I probably should have found someone else... maybe it only bothers me... ah well. Man, I hear my midwestern accent!
Working with people like Eric Barbella really makes you appreciate some of the often overlooked arts involved in filmmaking. We so often 'do without' makeup or proper wardrobe that when we take the time, make it 'for real' and have people addressing these concerns it really pays off. The finished piece is full of grain, it's super 8! But we still benefit from Eric's beautiful makeup. He was a real artist. I wish he was still here, still working. He had a lot to say about the way things should be done, the way things should look..
Reagan's leg pieces were made from strips of foam-core, she's wearing some vintage silver dress gloves, I think she was barefoot, a black dress, and a styrofoam loop on her head with silver pipe-cleaners sticking out. Reno was wearing a construction helmet from a thrift shop with a birdhouse screwed to the top and we basically made a black toga out of a ream of fabric from the garage.
I had a blast. We had a blast. Cami, the Executive Producer at Crossroads sent the piece to the Ad Agency who handled the Snapple account at the time and they said they liked it- that they would have used it but were headed in a different direction with their campaigns. That was good to hear. It was nice to get a little love after all of that hard work. This was my first piece and I was ready to make some more.
Thinking back at this I need more projects like this in my life. Where you sort of make up your own rules. You get inspired, take the cue from someone and dive in. Way to go Russian Constructivists! You guys were wild. Thank you for inspiring me!
See link below- (this is an update with proper formatting and color removed.)
Above, the link to Aelita, full movie. It's a trip.