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revisiting the past

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i've begun editing my incomplete opus from high school - my screen adaptation of 'sorry wrong number' that i shot with all my friends from junior high during the summer between 10th and 11th grade. the entire film is phone conversations, and we literally shot each line of dialogue as a separate take, changing the camera angle each time. we ended up with four full vhs tapes of material that that turned out to be totally impossible to edit with our only equipment at the time: two vcr's.

'wrong number' was to be my homage to hitchcock - i would employ all of his lessons in suspense, i would artfully frame every shot, and i would storyboard the entire film. we shot half of it in jennifer hausle's basement guest bedroom, which was to serve as the set for 'mrs. stevenson's' upper east side apartment, and the other half of the film, all the operators, policemen, and murderers that mrs. stevenson speaks to, were filmed on a multitude of tiny sets constructed in my parent's garage. we used the orson welles trick of low light to make spaces seem bigger. well, we tried the orson welles trick anyway.

'wrong number' was also to be the first real film that our little team (me, max morel, adrienne weil, david mann, david mankin, emily hey, and a host of others) would finally complete. we had wasted summer after summer, weekend after weekend playing with the camera, accomplishing next to nothing, always having a great time, but with little discipline.

watching all the old footage, i'm sort of amazed at what we accomplished as kids. it's evident how seriously we took the project, and ourselves. the performances range from over the top to bland ambivalence, and are sometimes quite hard to watch, especially when my big scene as the villain comes up. dear god i was an awkward kid, so awfully gay. my attempt at villanousness is hilarious in its sincerety and complete lack of threat.

adrienne does a teriffic job in the workhorse role as mrs. stevenson. what's most interesting to watch is how she grows as an actress halfway through the film. during the first half she overplays the character's helplessness to stage proportions, proving to all of us that she has done her homework, and providing more unintentionally hilarious moments - but then at the midpoint, her hair suddenly changes from blonde to brown (believe me if i could get the actors to sign contracts to maintain continuity, i would have), and her performance suddenly loses its mannerism, and becomes much more real. i suspect she was channeling her frustrations with me, and with spending most of her weekends in a basement crying into a phone wearing a nightgown.

what is also so funny about watching this footage now is that the story takes place in new york city, on the upper east side. all of us had memorized lines about the queensboro bridge, second avenue, etc, without the slightest notion of what they mean geographically or culturally. the upper east side is where the richest people in the city live? we had no clue. and here i am, working on the upper east side, not three blocks from where mrs. stevenson would live.

when filming was finally complete, david mankin and i set out to edit the whole thing together in an all night marathon. we were less than successful. my dad had borrowed a 'fancy new' editing machine from casey junior high - it turned out to be an automated version of the 'two vcr' technique, which had no intuition, and was not designed for fast edits. our entire movie was fast edits. every line of dialogue was a cut, some scenes lasting only seconds. we hadn't even filmed the conversations continuously (which i realize now provides me with no cutaway shots of characters listening.. dammit!).

three cuts into the film and david and i gave up. the next night all our friends were coming for a dinner party and premiere.. we had to deliver something. so we turned it into a blooper reel of the past four years of film projects, which included an attempt at remaking the opening scenes of indiana jones and the temple of doom (damn those other kids who did raiders and finished!), and my own epic space fantasy mythology 'the pyramid of pyra,' which was about adopted kids julie and jason embarking on a multidimensional adventure to battle the evil queen VEVELVA and return control over the universe to its rightful place.

once the edit was completed, we had to copy it once more to add the background music to the left hand soundtrack, making the final product a hazy, fuzzy fourth generation copy.

this finished product will look like the star wars special edition compared to our original version..

the best part about finally finishing the film will be tracking down all my old friends and getting copies to them..

i'm almost done editing it. will post a clip soon..

6 responses to “revisiting the past”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Can't wait to see a clip!

  2. Blogger mm 

    Dude I have GOT to see this... I laughed and cried reading what you wrote here! I had totally forgotten.


  3. Anonymous david mankin 

    I've been awaiting this announcement ever since the AF1 post. How exciting! Your description of the editing process is exactly how I remember it... in case anyone feels you are prone to exaggerate on your blog, I can vouch for this entire post. I can only hope there's still an infinite-hallway scene in the final cut.


  4. Anonymous Joe 

    fear not, the infinite hallway remains!

  5. Anonymous Anonymous 

    I'm having a heavy-duty nostalgia moment here. Your comments on my acting are terribly generous, surely much kinder than what I will have to say to myself when I see the finished product. But you're right about one thing: my miraculous jump in acting ability is surely due to your directing - and the long hours in a basement guest room - rather than to a genuine understanding of the subtlety that the camera demands. This I would not learn until many years later, on the set of a godawful as-of-yet unfinished Indy feature called "HVNBND." I too can hardly wait to see the finished product, and would also love to get my paws on a copy of that blooper reel, which I have long since misplaced.

    - Adrienne

  6. Anonymous Anonymous 

    And just imagine the poor parents of all these odd children! Coming home to entire houses rearranged in the name of art! Dragons hanging in the living room. Lipsycing "Anything Goes" in Chinese (fake, at that!). Mounded thrones in the livingroom. Dancing alien purple froggies! Oh, the humanity!

    And btw... hi guys!

    Joe's Dad and Mom

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