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The Making of Cannibal! The Musical, by Jason McHugh


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Chapter 13 - Spring Break in the Mountains

Day One: Shit Hits the Fan

We had a tailgate base camp for each outdoor location we hit. Our first location was the Colorado National Monument. We pulled off the roadside, and each car would serve as its own little location station. Elki had a shitty little Toyota filled with costumes, so that was our wardrobe trailer. Carter had a shitty pickup truck, so that was our a grip lighting truck. Robert's shitty Subaru was an ideal camera truck for us, and we used the back seat of Trey's Geo Storm for filing and storage. During Spring Break we usually made a tailgate road camp in the morning, and then we'd hike into our given destination.

On our first day out we got into wardrobe and makeup roadside, and were soon greeted by two actors we had recruited from the area. They were two Japanese exchange students who we had cast to play our "Japanese Indians." (See the movie.) These guys were definitely exchange students, because they barely spoke a word of English and were as shy, polite, and nervous as you could imagine.

I was hoping they'd loosen up as soon as we put them into our totally sweet custom made Indian costumes, but that didn't happen. They weren't the easiest actors to direct, and the arrival of Park Rangers, local newspaper reporters and a TV news crew made things even less easy.

The rangers were extremely concerned with the floral ground vegetation, in terms of how much we were fucking it up. Meanwhile all these local reporters had shown up, and they wanted to do interviews with our cast and crew, which was great but totally distracting to the job at hand.

Our "Indians" were not trained in western saddle (or acting, for that matter), so they had a little trouble riding the horses and staying in character at the same time. Our crew was a bit scattered, and our chain of command began to blur, which can be potentially devastating to any film shoot. We plowed through the day without addressing any of the problems head-on (often the best course of action, in my opinion), and managed to knock off most of our shot list before sunset.

Unfortunately, we had scheduled to shoot into the night for a campfire scene. The scene we were shooting was the "When I Was On Top Of You" song and the accompanying dialogue.

Things went smoothly up until the property owner of the location started acting drunk and psycho while flashing his loaded pistol around. I'm not sure what he was freaked out about, as our associate producer Ted was the main liaison to this guy who he supposedly knew. Ted was also one of a few crew members who claimed to have had an alien encounter later during the course of our shoot.

Anyway, the guy mellowed out after a while and we finished shooting out the scene, and began leaving one by one. By the time Trey was shooting the main portion of the song, most of us had split, leaving him almost alone during his big love song. So he was kind of pissed, and when he arrived back he discovered he was just in time for a major all night discussion in the high school gym we were crashing in that night.

There were a few times on the shoot when our five or six producers would meet and instantly hit these interpersonal warp zones which always started as business meetings and ended hours later as a major group therapy freak sessions. I hadn't sat in a group circle and passionately discussed hurt feelings, crossed boundaries, and interpersonal problems since going to teenage drug rehab back in the eighties.

I sure as hell did not think we'd be having these major all night drama sessions when I got involved with making "Alferd Packer: The Musical," but we had a bunch of them. It was apparent that as a small producing group, we could be described as dysfunctional; this was obvious on day six of a thirty five day shoot.

As a cast and crew working together, we were cohesive and excited about the adventure we had all undertaken. But we had some interpersonal problems that ran deep among us. Two camps of power emerged with an independent agent or two floating around in the DMZ. Arguments touched down like small tornadoes through the course of the shoot. There was the politically correct New Age vegetarian gay camp, and there was the slacker douche bag meat eating msg-lovin' camp. (Guess which camp I was in!)

Not only could we not agree about how to make a movie, we could not agree on any single issue in life in general. I must say this made the behind-the-scenes life more than interesting enough, which stirred up good material for comedy that Trey used for rewrites in several scenes.

That said, there was heavy cross-camp bonding as well. I imagine it was much like deep friendships created amongst soldiers on the front lines between pumpkins.*

*[All the text in this "Cannibal" section of the site was written by Jason McHugh and lightly edited by Glasgow Phillips. Mr. Phillips -- the author of this note -- has done his best to nurse Mr. McHugh's prose into parse-able English, and to untangle the occasional hairball figure. But when it comes to something like this "front lines between pumpkins" action, fuck if I know what to do with it. Reader, make of these words what you will.]

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