Monday, May 12, 2014

((Speed of Sound)) Diary Part One

It's just about the one year anniversary of shooting Speed of Sound, I'll be posting the year-long production diary here in three installments.

SPEED OF SOUND Production Diary by Brian Perkins
Part One. Before Pre-production.
I spent most of 2012 working on a project called You Poor Thing, which was supposed to be my first feature. It was a psychedelic monster movie that had some metaphysical ideas and film noir elements, and was going to be potentially so scrappy and lo-fi it could be shot on our phones. At first it was going to be shot in Milwaukee, then in Portland.
It was an eccentric project for sure. The script was a mess, a loosely-knitted patchwork quilt of diverse influences. Ghosts and monsters appeared in it, filmed with lots of color but also with a documentary quality. That's what I wanted, anyway. It was myself (in Seattle) and several others in Portland, a small group of creative people but inexperienced film producers.
When David Fetzer told me he was moving to Seattle, the news was fucking delightful. 
He was an old friend and I was relatively new to Seattle. He was a profoundly sweet man. He was a homey. He was a like-minded artist. We had been talking about making a feature for years. Around the time I was living in New York we exchanged emails about it for the first time. He thought we could make a feature together for probably, like, only $200,000. I said, "I think making a feature costs a lot more money than that." We were both around 20 years old.
In 2012, we're both around 30. He had been living in L.A. and was involved with making several feature films, both acting in them and working behind the camera. He'd been prodigiously involved theatre, forming his own experimental theatre company I was distantly involved with, doing some artwork for him and in talks with directing a play in Salt Lake City. So after a decade of talking about collaborating from different cities now we were both going to be living in the same city. Amazing. Just think of all the films we're going to make now.
There wasn't a part in You Poor Thing for David, but he wanted to help produce it. We were making phone calls together, to Portland, beginning to tally up what it'd cost to do this film. Things began to shape up, there were a lot of cool ideas in You Poor Thing and we already had a great soundtrack by Jordan Davis in Milwaukee.
But the good ideas always brought the budget up until we were looking at a budget of about $70,000. We began the awkward speculation of what we could bring in on Kickstarter. On the day before the third, failed fund-raising party we did in Portland I saw clearly that things were not falling into place for You Poor Thing. As David and I worked together, we were talking about a scripted, scheduled shoot with structure. I could only visualize You Poor Thing as a mess, a mess I was less and less willing to deal with. Though I loved its unhinged qualities. A stronger narrative appealed to me. So on the way to Portland I told David about a different idea I had for a film, one that was truly a "no-budget" project. Seriously this time. No monsters, no ghosts. It's just about a guy whose friend dies, and then a year later he gets a voicemail and texts from him. David plays the central character. The film follows him wandering around the city hearing stories about his late friend. It takes place in apartments and on the streets. It's mostly just people talking and hanging out. And it takes place in Seattle, where we both live. Perfect.
At the money-losing fund-raiser, we had live bands, dj's, screenings, a raffle, and an announcement that we weren't making You Poor Thing yet, we were going to make a less expensive film first. It's funny for me to remember now that he told me the fund-raiser wasn't going to work (selling $2 cans of beer to other broke artists really doesn't earn you much money - and that's all broke artists are paying for) but he cheerfully came along and helped anyway.
During the train ride back to Seattle we fleshed out the concept a little more. We passed a legal pad back and forth, making lists and drawings. David was fun to work with. He was who you imagined working with in art and showbiz when you were young and romantic about the process. Less ego than your average artist type, just an appetite for creating awesome shit. We both grew up in the time of Jim Henson, whose messages of friendship and creativity were tattooed on our brains as children. And then in high school we both got into experimental writers and art house film directors. He was attracted to doing my story of existential anxieties told with a positive feeling or a positive view of life, but similar in approach to absurdist writers like Harold Pinter.
I set to work on the script for "Speed of Sound" at the end of that summer and worked on it into the fall. The bad news came that David and his girlfriend Ashley were moving back to L.A. Oh my gosh no. Say it ain't so. It's true, David said, but it's not going to change anything. We're still making the film and I'll just have to fly back to shoot it. Okay. I pressed on, burying my panic with work. I was intimidated by being the only organizer in Seattle. I like the collaborative nature of filmmaking and like being in the same room with my collaborators. Now David was going to be another satellite collaborator.
We were going to stick to the schedule we drew up despite his moving to L.A. By December, we had a screenplay we were happy with. David was working on getting fiscal sponsorship from the Northwest Film Forum. We were going to wait until March to do the crowdfunding , calling the campaign "March Madness," and selling my basketball related art prints from the earlier fundraising events on the Indiegogo page. And then we'd shoot the film in April. We shot a video for the Indiegogo page as he and Ashley were moving out of their apartment.
The last time I emailed him was in the morning on December 20th. I made a joke asking him about his "dirty thirties" (he'd turned 30 three days before) and I was updating him on the video I was editing. I found out he passed away about two hours after I emailed him. He died of an accidental drug overdose after drinking a couple glasses of wine and taking prescribed pain killers. It'd happened just the night before. A lot of our friends were already making plans to go to his funeral in Salt Lake City. I was flying to Wisconsin that afternoon. It was surreal. And I didn't have a precise response, emotionally or rationally. I went a little numb. Shut down.
David was really a saint. I picture him now as like a character on Fraggle Rock. A youthful, wise man, full of ideas and equipoise. With a dry, absurd sense of humor. And it's an honor to have his personality etched into my consciousness, like a colorful Fraggle, reminding me of the good things about making art. When I got back to Seattle, I wasn't sure if I wanted to make the film anymore. I wanted to think it over and make up my mind in the first couple weeks of January.

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