A Wis-Kino Kabaret is typically built on a lack of sleep and pure adrenaline. The last time I participated, my team was up shooting our movie until five in the morning. This time around, we vowed to finish at a somewhat more reasonable hour, but when I say reasonable, I mean before 2 a.m.
One of the great things about Kabarets is their collaborative nature. You can work alone, but most participants prefer to work with at least a few other people. This allows for a more manageable individual workload and, in general, is just more fun. Working with me this fall were the now usual suspects, the same creative team I worked with at the spring Kabaret: Rob Matsushita, local playwright and owner of a veritable arsenal of prop weapons; and Nick Drake, detail-oriented cameraman and the guy who'd introduced me to the wild world of Wis-Kino years ago.
We all met up at Escape Java Joint last Thursday evening for the kick-off screening and the reveal of the secret ingredient we'd all have to incorporate into our films. After buying a French soda and a cream cheese brownie, I settled in for the show.
Everyone's experience with the Kabaret is different, but in the interest of verisimilitude, this is my story.
Thursday, Oct. 11
7:20 p.m. -- Sam Lawson and Josh Klessig, the hosts of Wis-Kino, introduce the event to the assembled audience. The theme for the kick-off screening is "Scary/Halloween," and at the end, they'll receive a text message from our sister Kino group in Louisville, Kentucky, that will contain our secret ingredient for the Kabaret.
The lights dim and the screening begins. There's a fabulous piece by Tona Williams, all done in claymation, showing a seed turning into a plant and then into a sort of tree woman. It's beautifully done, and I can only imagine the kind of patience it takes to work in that medium. Films from the Kabaret in Chignon, France (which Sam and Josh attended this summer) are shown, and we're all led to believe that our French counterparts are a little crazy and a lot creative. The trailer for Massacre (The Musical) is shown, and I'm feeling some pride for being a part of that project.
8:40 p.m. -- As the screening comes to an end, Sam and Josh come forward and flip open a cell phone. It's time for the unveiling of the secret ingredient, which turns out to be "Down the Gutter." Head scratching and murmurs ripple through the crowd as our brains start to formulate ideas. There is some networking and initial planning, but mostly people are heading out to get a drink and scribble out an outline for their projects. There are hellos, good lucks and see-you-Saturdays all around.
9:04 p.m. -- Our core team meets at the Weary Traveler for food, drinks and planning. Over the sounds of a raucous game of Apples 2 Apples and a lovely soul singer up on the tiny stage, we decide what our film will be about. Rob and I were in a serially produced play (that he wrote) at the Mercury Lounge recently that revolved around a girl assassin and her ex-boyfriend. We decide to make our movie into a prequel to that play, explaining why the two broke up in the first place. But it will also stand on its own, following two bad-ass criminals on the job but at the same time in the midst of a nasty break-up.
We've got locations -- my house and a friend's house -- and a few cast members already set. Our main concern at this point is finding a blonde wig for me to wear....
10:45 p.m. -- I'm home and getting ready for bed, enjoying the normal sack time in anticipation of a late night tomorrow. My job for the next day is to solidify our cast, track down the wig, and then, once I leave work, to get to the business of acting and organizing a film set. I have to admit I'm a little worried about working at the friend's house, where there are bound to be a number of people loitering, making it a bit tricky to get the kind of quiet and cooperation you need on a set. But that's all for tomorrow's worries. For now, it's bedtime.
Friday, Oct. 12
3:29 a.m. -- Rob emails everyone the final draft of the script, called Two Girl Minimum. He says he narrowed it down from ten to five pages and from three to just one location, for which we are all very grateful. I, of course, don't actually see the script he's sent until I wake up and check my email at around 8 a.m.
9:30 a.m. -- I call my friend at Mercury Players Theatre to see if he can get me a "disheveled hooker" wig. My character needs a disguise to get into the brothel her job assignment has her going to. If anyone can get me a nasty wig, it's the folks at Mercury Players.
2:35 p.m. -- After a lot of emails, phone calls, begging and cajoling, our cast list is complete. I've solicited the help of a number of my actor friends, all of them having been remarkably game for just about anything we've thrown at them in past projects.
5:30 p.m. -- I swing by the house of my Mercury Player's contact to pick up the wig. It's a truly hideous number in platinum, and I'm not sure if it's going to work.
6:15 p.m. -- Rob and Nick meet up with me and we head over to the friend's apartment where we'll be shooting the entire film. I forget to bring my camera and have to run back to my house to get it. I'm hoping it won't be the theme for the evening.
7:22 p.m. -- We actually start shooting. We realize that we'd overlooked a couple of the roles during the planning stage, but thankfully one of our actors brought two friends along who agree to be in the film. This turns out to be a huge boon. Hooray for boons!
Our final cast features Megan McGlone as Gutter, the madam who runs the brothel, Kelly Kiorpes as Maggie (a role she's reprising from our last Kabaret entry), Kelly Murphy and Amy Stantis as Girl on the Bed #1 and Girl on the Bed #2 (respectively), Claire Swora as the Bouncer, and Lauren Peterson and Chriss Kulp as Sober Girl and Druggie Girl. Is the mood of our film becoming a bit clearer? Really, we hadn't originally intended for it to be an all-girl brothel, but you go to film with the actors you have. In our case, that's mostly women.
7:38 p.m. -- Kelly and Amy are coyly fondling each other in front of our single camera and two bright studio lights. There are jokes all around about it looking like a porn set. Megan tapes a sign up in her apartment complex's hallway assuring her neighbors that any strange sounds or sights are simply due to a film shoot, and nothing illegal.
8:30 p.m. -- We decide that the blond wig isn't going to work, so a new hunt begins. Megan pulls a strange, black and purple dreadlocked number out of her storage locker and it ends up being our best bet. It looks absolutely ridiculous on me, but I guess that's the point.
While filming out in the hallway and front entry, Megan's neighbors are alternately amused and baffled by us. We swear it's not a porno.
10 p.m. -- Kelly Kiorpes, despite the fact that she'll be leaving to move to Chicago early the next morning, shows up to play her part in our bizarre little film circus.
People wander in and out of the apartment all night, making it sometimes difficult to quiet the "set" enough for takes with sound. The microphone on the camera picks up even the softest of whispers, a fact that is somewhat hard to get the actors and loiterers to fully appreciate. Sometimes you have to play the bitch, though, and tell everyone to shut the hell up if you want to get the thing done on time. There don't seem to be any hard feelings, but tensions run a little higher as the night wears on.
1:15 a.m. -- After shooting a scene where Rob and I have to fall to the ground, prompting me to realize that some double-sided tape is in order for the flimsy top I'm wearing to keep from turning this into an NC-17 rated movie, filming wraps. Exhaustion is etched on everyone's faces, but we're all glad to have finished before our goal of 2 a.m.
2:11 a.m. -- I finally get to bed, relatively comfortable in the knowledge that Rob will be editing the thing together tomorrow, hopefully in time for the 7 p.m. screening.
Lessons learned: film on your own territory and with fewer people, especially when you've got such a fast turn-around time. Also, halter tops suck. Also also, it's good to have theater people for friends. They'll do just about anything on film.
Saturday, Oct. 13
10:30 a.m. -- I wake up, feeling relatively refreshed. This is an odd feeling to associate with a Kabaret.
12:40 p.m. -- I haul my DJ gear over to Sam and Josh's house in anticipation of the after party that's to take place after the Kabaret screening that night. Rob is there, editing our film. He says, "It's going to be a rough cut." I nod and say, "So long as it makes sense and is entertaining, I'll be happy." Rob chuckles and replies that "It will be that. Just rough. We''ll call it the 'kino cut' and then edit it properly for later release." And by "later release," he means YouTube, of course.
1:30-3:30 p.m. -- I take the opportunity to run a whole bunch of errands; regular things that need doing but have fallen by the wayside in the name of Kabaret. I also try to find a wig for another, unrelated project, but am met with failure yet again. This is shaping up to be a bad weekend for wigs.
3:30-4:30 p.m. -- Nap. Turns out I was still tired.
6:15 p.m. -- After eating dinner, Nick and I show up at Westgate to get settled in. I thought I'd be taking tickets, but it turns out Sam's all over that. We take our seats and chat with some of the other early arrivals. The theater is the smallest one at Westgate, but perfect for our needs. The chairs are remarkably comfortable, there are no holes in the ceiling (this in comparison to the Orpheum Stage Door, our old Kabaret haunt), and I can buy Sour Patch Kids out at the concession stand. Life is good.
We get word through Josh that Rob has just finished transferring our movie to tape and will be at the theater shortly. It's the final thing that could go wrong for a Kabaret, so getting confirmation that the transfer worked is quite the relief.
7:01 p.m. -- There's a good-size crowd at the screening, though less than I'd hoped for. Many of them are the filmmakers, but when Sam and Josh ask how many people are at a Kabaret for the first time, the number of hands that goes up is encouraging. After a few exuberant announcements, it's time to roll tape!
There are quite a few entries. Not the most we've ever had at a Kabaret (around 40) and not the least (around 7), but a good, solid showing. The audience is appreciative and supportive. When one of the DVDs skips and stalls out, a collective "awww" goes up in the theater. When they re-start and try once more, there's a collective gasp when it skips again, followed by cheering when it works. Everyone wants the film makers to succeed.
"Team Slonda" (i.e., Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda) provide the solid laughs with a funny little piece about the first Thanksgiving, done entirely with kitschy figurines and impersonated celebrity voices. Tona Williams busts out another claymation piece. Newcomer Shahin Izadi gave us Self Expression via the destruction of pickles in a storm gutter. There was a song/story about turning into a butterfly, a bowling ball's night on the town and two cast-off, mutant animals finding love in the sewers. My choice for most creative interpretation of the theme went to Mr. History: Down the Gutter, a history documentary parody that told the tale of the downing of the "infamous German WWII bomber," The Gutter.
Our film, Two Girl Minimum, goes over well, I think, though there are some minor glitches. The opening song drowns out the dialogue in that scene, and sound levels in general are a bit wonky. But our lighting has improved from last time (though still has a ways to go), and the pacing is good. I'll be excited to see the more smoothed-out cut that Rob eventually creates. Photos from the shoot can be viewed here.
8:30 p.m. -- The lights go back up and the screening finishes with much applause. Everyone's relieved and tired, happy to have accomplished so much in so little time. To celebrate, we head off to Sam and Josh's for the after party.
9:15 p.m. -- At the house and ready to rock. Good party, nothing too wild, though, because ultimately we're all a bunch of A/V geeks. While there, we screen two of the films that wouldn't play on the equipment at Westgate and then someone puts on Metropolis. We are party animals!
12:58 a.m. -- Pack up and leave. It's time to go home and get some real sleep. I'm already thinking about next month's screening, the Kabaret next spring, and the idea of traveling to another city, possibly another country, to participate in someone else's Kabaret.
I'm told that in Montreal, where the events were first conceived of and done, you have to sign up for Kabarets months in advance because participation is so high. It'd be interesting to try my hand at that sort of thing. But there's certainly something to be said for our own rag-tag interpretation of the idea. It's fun to see the fruits of the efforts of everyone from veterans to first-time filmmakers. And really, that's what the Kino movement is all about.
Wis-Kino will be hosting its final monthly screening of the year at the Escape Java Joint on Sunday, November 18, with the show beginning at 7 p.m. Then in December, it will present a retrospective of its entries over 2007, with a screening/party at the Mercury Lounge just off Capitol Square on Saturday, December 15. The films start at 8 p.m.