Yours Truly on "The Countrified Hell Set."
Ain't we lucky we got 'em. Good times.
The Holyman Undercover shoot was a good time. An excellent time, in fact.
By the time financing had been secured, over a third of the film had been shot and edited guerrilla style. As a result we only needed about nine days of principal photography starting Thursday, July 29, 2007. Tim and I decided to go out and bask in the glory that is Hollywood Filmmaking. The vast bulk of the remaining film was to be shot at The Escarpment Studios in Huntington Park. Tim and I got rooms at a somewhat sleazy hotel nearby. It was a nice enough place for what little time we would actually be in our rooms. That said, no one told us before we got there that the neighboring school had a marching band that liked to practice early in the morning. Very early.
One of the good things about being a writer is that you never have an early call time. Generally, you don't have a call time at all because directors usually don't like having the writers around. Director/star/co-writer David A.R. White, however, welcomed our presence on the set and even solicited our input on occasion. That was cool. Although the script had already been written, Tim and I wanted to keep our eyes open for new opportunities for laughs that might be presented by the locations or available props.
To me, the golden age of screen comedy were the 1920s and the 1930s. (The least funny decade: The 1950's. They didn't have much once you got past Martin & Lewis.) From my youthful days as a Super 8mm film collector, I have always been a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. I had read extensively about their process. Their gagmen and writers were always on the set with the performers looking to build on the script. (Yes, Virginia, even The Mighty Chaplin used gagmen and writers.) One thing that I always found missing in modern comedies was a lack of "business." The silent clowns could often wring laughs out of simple everyday items. You don't see much of that today. Nor do you see much of it in "Holyman Undercover." Frankly, we were moving too fast to really search out such opportunities, and we were also happy with what we were getting from the script.
Cinematographer Darren Rystrom
and director David A.R.White
After our forty-piece wake-up call, Tim and I hit the road for the first location of the day: the fast food restaurant where Roy would work after his fall. We didn't have a GPS on us, so it was a flurry maps as we drove. Then suddenly, we see these a police car screeching to a stop up ahead. We wondered what kind of crime scene we had wandered upon as we watched the cops jump out the car. Then we noticed the cameras. We were at the location. Those were our cops! What a great introduction to the shoot. We had only missed two or three shots.
Before I go any further I want to give a shout out to Josh Sussman who played the "retarded" boy Jake whose simple words and wisdom gently point Roy to repentance. "What retarded boy?" both of you who have seen the movie are asking yourselves. Well, sadly, neither Josh or his cinematic alter-ego Jake made it to the silver screen. Why? Because, after an industry screening, the head of Sony's faith-based films division said he liked the movie but felt that the Jake character might offend some people's sensibilities. I got a phone call the next day and Jake was out of the film -- despite the fact that Josh gave a terrific performance. (He was very funny in real life too. He was working up a stand-up routine that had Tim and I rolling.)
Sorry Josh, you were the first sacrifice in our vain attempt to gain wider distribution, but you wouldn't be the last! (Producer Matt Richards was the only one who objected to removing Jake on the basis of an offhand comment from a Sony executive. Now if he had said he would pick up the movie if we got rid of Jake....)
Ooops. Excuse me. That was a diversion into my next blog about this movie which will be labeled ""Holyman Undercover," Part 3, Bad Times." But back to the good times.
After the restaurant and street corner scene, we went to shoot the car wash sequence. In this scene, Roy and his uncle Brian, both of whom were played by director David A.R. White, go through a car wash with the owner, Pinky, with the car windows wide open. Now, I have to admit that I assumed, while we were writing the scene, that it would be difficult and annoying to shoot for everyone involved. It would prove even more difficult when you only had about an hour to do it.
Why only an hour? In the film, unbeknownst to the naive Roy, the car wash is a front for the drug dealing Pinky and Uncle Brian is one of his best customers. When they leave the car wash, the cops come screaming in and arrest everyone. Well, the same thing kind of happened to us. After the first take of the cops arriving with sirens blazing and guns waving, a neighbor, worried about what was happening at the local business, called the police himself. The police promptly showed up and asked to see our shooting permit. It was proudly shown, but it was found to be lacking some dotted "i" or crossed "t" and we were promptly shut down. Normally, this would be an ideal time to hit the craft services table, but it hadn't been set up yet, and wasn't going to be until the right permit was secured.
Fortunately, while one of Pure Flix's minions wrestled with City Hall, Tim and I got to hang with the cast and crew. We particularly enjoyed talking to the talented Jeremy Luc, who played the good-natured drug dealer Pinky. Tim, Matt and I loved Jeremy's audition and had been big boosters for him throughout the casting process. I explained how, in the original script, he probably would have been fifth billed. As originally conceived, based on the one man show, the Pinky character became Roy's chief advisor and confidant after his Uncle Brian is arrested halfway through the story. (One of the underlying themes of the film is that the naive and trusting Roy is constantly taking the worst possible advise from the worst possible people.) We also apologized to him for making one of the few Hispanic characters in the film a criminal. Jeremy said he didn't mind that stereotyping. He was, however, getting sick of being cast as a Mexican. "You're not Mexican?" "No, I'm from the East Coast," he said. "I'm Puerto Rican."
Jeremy Luc and I.
Guess who spends more time in the gym?
Guess who spends more time in the gym?
The new permit arrived about an hour before sunset and miraculously we got everything we needed for the scenes. The next day we moved to The Escarpment Studios for the bulk of the interior shooting.
Our illustrious cavalcade of stars began the next day. First up was the always amiable John Schneider, who Tim and I originally met on the set of our film "Hidden Secrets." John remembered us which was evidenced by the fact that he didn't call security when we went up and talked to him. In this film, John essentially played himself and would serve as Roy's replacement in the role of the Devil in our fictional TV show Dark Night. John would give the character of the devil a good old boy spin. He took some inspiration from Andy Griffin's performance in Elia Kazan's classic film "A Face In The Crowd," which, oddly-enough, I had watched on Turner Classic Movies the previous night.
Here's John in a clip from the movie:
We had written a song for John to sing, and that was first scene we were scheduled to shoot. John, guitar in hand, walked up to David and asked how the song went. David didn't know. None of us did. We had only written the lyrics not the melody. Ooops. That happens. David asked John if he could come up with a tune. No problem. He took the guitar out to his trailer and came back a few minutes later with the melody. I was very impressed with John's skills as a singer and guitar player. Normally musical numbers are recorded prior to filming and the actors only have to lip-sync the material. In our case, John and his backup singers sang it live. And they sang it consistently enough, with no real rehearsal, that we could cut from take to take for the final film. Bravo. I was also impressed with his noodling on the guitar between takes. He would play snatches of songs from Yes and the late Beatles. He's a better guitar player than me. Better looking too.
Sean, Fred and Tim
Next came Fred Willard. We were all on our best behavior before he arrived. Even our normally acerbic Assistant Director Michael Maurer became the very model of respect. Fred had made Tim and I laugh so often through the years that it was a dream come true to have him in our movie. And it made it even better. When he arrived on the set, the first thing he did was ask to speak to the writers. We dutifully came forward and he proceeded to say how much he enjoyed the script and his character. What a great guy. Fred is known to be a great ad-libber, and Tim and I were very interested in seeing what he would do with our script but he played it straight. I took that as a compliment, but I would have been very interested in seeing where he would have taken the material.
Here's Fred talking about the film:
Soon we were working with another one of our favorites: Staci Keanan. She's a terrific actress with a natural talent for both drama and comedy. My only regret is that Staci is always the bridesmaid and never the bride in our films. She was on the losing side of the romantic triangle in "Hidden Secrets," the shallow best friend in this film, and would later be the thoughtful sister in "Sarah's Choice." One day I'd like her to be the lead in one of these movies. It was also great working with Gregg Binkley again. He has such natural comic timing. And it was fun meeting new friends like Jennifer Lyons, who really ran with the role Tiffany Towers, the narcissistic actress. She was hilarious, but, sadly, too sexy for our film! (Much more about that later.)
Even Tim and I got into the act. We got to play the role of the abused writers of the fictional show Dark Night. Technically speaking, it wasn't a cameo. We were acting. I played Tim, and Tim played me. The "On Strike" sign was a shout-out our union brothers and sisters in the Writers Guild of America who were about to go on strike. If they would let us in, we would have gladly gone on strike with them.
Sean and Tim as Tim and Sean
All-in-all, our time on the set of "Holyman Undercover" was absolutely delightful. Our schedules did not permit us to go to the Disney ranch for the Amish sequences, but Tim and I took time to do what we always did in California: Visit a Presidential library. This time we went to the Nixon library where I did my best Nixon impersonation to every employee I could find. My two favorite quotes were: "I was born in the house my father built," and "No one will ever write a book about my mother." No one hit me with anything, but I got the sense they wanted to do so.
Tim and I are also cemetery junkies, and we took some time off to visit celebrity graves. While in Forest Lawn in Glendale, we came upon this adult-sized statue of a happy baby. The picture below doesn't really give justice to how garishly creepy it was. But, as frightening as the baby was, it was no where near as frightening as the fate of "Holyman Undercover."
Welcome to Baby Land
(abandon all hope ye who enter here)
"Holyman Undercover," Part 3, Bad Times
Read about the making of my other features:
Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God. It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.