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The Making of Cannibal! The Musical, by Jason McHugh


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Chapter 22 - Movie Magic

I love using the term Movie Magic for lots of situations that arise around the dynamic medium of cinema. Shooting the Indian scene involved various forms of movie magic. The style and execution Trey uses with the Japanese voice of Maki-san is certainly movie magic. An amazing thing about Trey is the way he writes for the person. The part of the Indian chief wasn’t just written for a Japanese guy, it was written for Maki-san, just as the part of Choda Boy was written for Dian Bachar. Being able to identify key character traits and blow them out on the screen is crucial when you’re making a show with local talents. So when we first approached Maki-san for the part he turned us down and we found this other half-Japanese dude named Lewis or something and made due with our second choice. As it turned out, when this guy did the part he was way too American and he didn’t have that certain “je ne sais quoi.” When we watched dailies everyone agreed we need Maki-san; we must have begged him or had our fanatical film teacher Jerry Aronson fast talk him into that feather headdress.

Everyone was stoked to see him perform his first lines because it was instantly funny. What was debatably funny was our damn teepees. We had enough money to get one sweet one, and then we knew all the rest would have to be jenki teepees by our boy wonder Art director, Dave Hedge. Now I know Dave worked his ass off on those teepees and he had a miniscule budget, but when we walked up to the Indian Camp for the first time we were all in disbelief at just how crappy those teepees were. They were worse than our goddamn fake beards, and that qualifies those teepees for a degree in lameness.

It was also during this time when Trey decided that we needed to purchase a crucial tool for our office, which was a CRAP Stamp. Almost everything received the CRAP Stamp, especially bills and festival rejection letters. Those teepees were more than deserving of the CRAP stamp and seriously they were way worse than we thought they’d be. But somehow that was just fine at the end of the day. What wasn’t fine was the fact that, for one reason or another, we kept having to shoot that scene to get needed pickups due to changes in the weather and the script. You can watch one three minute sequence and count off six totally different locations that cut together to make one Indian Camp. See, that’s movie magic.

Shooting the Indian Camp scene was a never-ending nightmare that took us from spring to summer, and to six different locations. Basically we needed to show winter turning into spring, but it was getting difficult to find winter. By the time we were looking for spring, we got summer thundershowers. Before this, we had been incredibly lucky with the weather – we found snow when we needed it, got sun on the river-crossing scene, etc. We were also trying to pull off this joke that the Indians or the Japanese invented skiing. Our Japanese actors had a hard time with this, but we all gave it our best effort (the scene was eventually cut). We had some fun putting all those foreign exchange students on wooden boards and watching them try to ski, and I think they had a good time. Working with all our Japanese friends in general was a little trippy. The language barrier was tough and not all of them really understood what we were trying to do. Everyone had a crush on Tomomi, the sexy Indian that Dian jiggles his change for. That was one of those inspired moments in the History of Dian Bachar. We all gave him shit for jiggling his change or keys or whatever, but to this day I quote him saying “yep yep yep ahhh” ya know.

By now summer was rolling in and school was letting out for those who were still in school. I had graduated the previous December, everyone else was still in school, and Trey had gotten kicked out during the semester. He was in a total Catch-22 because his parents would only lend him financial support if he was in school. However, because he was writing, directing and starring in his feature film, he was far from having the kind of time needed to get decent grades. At semester’s end he got the boot for directing a project that half the class was getting intern credit for. I am not sure if they have given him the honorary degree yet, but Trey and Matt did get named to the film board and have some quasi-vote or something...

Even though Trey got kicked out of school, there are a lot of good things about doing your first feature under the college cloak. First off, you’re in college and hopefully receiving student support from parents; you want to avoid real world realities as much as possible. Bills are a filmmaker’s worst enemy, and going around with pennies in your pocket is not uncommon. In fact Trey and Matt were two of the brokest guys I ever did meet. Another reason to do a feature in college is student discounts, which we worked at every place we could - from rentals to editing facilities and beyond. The student angle always works. Another nice thing is that if your movie ends up sucking you can claim student film. We really worked it both ways - some days we were an “Indie Feature” and other days we were “Student Film.” Regardless, it is wise to have a good story about why your film is different and why you should be given a big discount or some good press.

We had plenty of good press, thanks in part to this guy Dirk from the CU PR Department. Dirk was one of the first people to take us seriously and he was crucial in helping us milk the local and national press. He wanted to see CU get publicity and we needed a good PR campaign to insure that we got all of our completion money. It was ironic that we pulled in as much press as we did, since the CU film department was the least funded department in the entire school. Even funnier, years later when South Park broke, the CU film department got really popular. I wouldn’t trade my CU film school for anything - it was great training for taking a beating while making a movie (which is often the process). If you don’t have thick skin before you get to LA, you’re screwed.

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