Other Expressions

Swimming Pools, Movie Stars, and Producing an Indie Film

So, now I’m a movie producer. When I mouth that clause, I automatically conjure up an image of Cousin Jethro when he became a movie producer – tilted beret, floral polyester, horribly mismatched, loud plaid pants. Or, was that Fred Mertz when Ricky went to LA for his screen test?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for some of the glamour to rub off onto the job description. It can’t be too much longer until I’m invited to Benedict Canyon for a backyard BBQ. It won’t be too much longer until beautiful, young starlets come knocking on my door, wanting me to spread sun tan lotion on their backs, right? In the meantime, I’m sitting in the sweltering Dutch oven also known as El Cajon, wearing shoes that stink because I forgot to wear socks all summer, plotting out the 72,000,000 details that must be addressed if this movie of mine is ever going to see the light of day or the darkness of a movie theater.

Last week, I pulled an all-nighter (sober, unfortunately) calculating everything that was needed for a completion date of summer 2013. Despite all of that work, my SDG&E bill is still two months in arrears.
So, before you start fantasizing about red carpets and Elton John’s Oscar night after-party, please realize that being a movie producer entails the same amount of tedium as digging a quarter-mile long ditch, except that ditch-digging can be fun sometimes.

The pre-production phase is the real bitch. I bought a book with all of the different types of schedules (shooting schedules, meeting schedules, schedules for updating your schedules). You get the point. Since I’m the type of guy who likes to plan his lifetime on the back of a napkin, I’m having a really hard time converting my waking breaths into written time slots.

The film, titled A Box Full of Rocks, is a documentary about music journalist Lester Bangs’ El Cajon years. If you don’t know: Bangs grew up in El Cajon from 1960 to 1973. In fact, many of his first published pieces were written in his mom’s apartment across the street from El Cajon High. From El Cajon, Lester would drive up to LA to frequent clubs and interview musicians. Then, he’d return to his typewriter in the apartment on First Street to seal the deal. I got the idea for the film while driving by Cajon Valley Mid a couple years ago, right after they tore down the old post-War school and rebuilt it to resemble Minneapolis’ Mall of America. Fortunately or unfortunately, those post-war schools and buildings were where Lester grew up. So, we need to get them on film or lose that phase of Lester’s life forever. This same post-war El Cajon is what gave us Frank Zappa’s first record player and the Iron Butterfly. So, there’s definitely reason to get it all down on celluloid.

From the early Elvis films to A Hard Days Night, from Don’t Look Back to The Last Waltz, from The Song Remains the Same to Quadrophenia, Some Kind of Monster, and This Is It, the line between popular music and popular film has always been blurred. And, that’s before we even dare speak the letters M-T-V.

The truth is that pop music has always been a visual medium, replete with album covers, posters, light shows, and now YouTube videos. And, after Bill Haley, in all his doughy sexiness, faded from view, the visual package became just as important as the audio. There’s an old saying in the business: “You can teach a pretty teenager to sing. But, you can’t make an ugly singer pretty.” (Remember poor, poor Susan Boyle?)

Today, in this post-MTV generation, the visual is even more important. That’s because we no longer like to read music mags. (Has anyone seen the anorexic Rolling Stone lately?)

As a friend of mine put it: “To be a musician today, you need to be able to operate a video camera.” Hyperbole or not, the truth is spoken. Musicians need to control their own video presence in the global marketplace. They need to operate video equipment and be able to traverse the wide array of music and video computer software that allows them to communicate with the world from their bedrooms.

So, here I am on the streets of El Cajon. Actually, I’m receiving some impressive support from the Grossmont College media communications department. It still amazes me that they have entrusted me with a $7,000 camera. Unfortunately, I can’t keep rambling like this. My shooting schedule requires that I jump in the car and meet someone for an on-camera interview. I told him to meet me outside of Bob’s Bottle Shop where I’ll compensate him with a $2 Schlitz tall boy for his time and troubles.

My compensation? Well, I’m out of pocket on all of the beers I’ve been buying. Hopefully, some big-time Hollywood type will soon take pity, take me under his wing, and become the executive producer of this film, infusing the festivities with a boatload of cash.

But, for now, all I can do is stare North toward LA and ask, “Oh Jethro, where art thou?”

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