Monday, April 04, 2011




DAR: Laugh A Little came about in this fashion: As a teenager I met a girl named Ginny Keefe. We had sex for a year. I thought I was in love only because I was dipping my wick every week. When she broke up with me I screamed all the way home in my car.

Ginny Keefe was a bit abrasive. She was probably cheating on me at the time. But I was a kid. All I wanted to do was one thing. I wasn’t really in love with her, but at the time I thought I was. So I was heartbroken. And since I was creative and wanted to write and make films I created Laugh A Little as a means of channeling that pain into something positive.

I liked Charlie Chaplin. I liked the old silent films. I got into that because I was going through my little angst stage and those types of films attracted me because they were quiet and dark. I created the character of the Dar for our comedy show and wanted to do more with him afterwards. And, yes, I know it’s a little ego-ridden but all my friends are narcissistic anyway, so they have nothing to talk about.

The Dar was obviously created by my insecurities. As well as my love of Charlie Chaplin at the time (I could care less about Charlie Chaplin now as I’ve aged). Charlie Chaplin was a catalyst to me creating a character and I give him homage for that, but when I saw that the word Dar means “Give” in Spanish I thought “Oh my gosh, I’ll give laughter!” So that was kinda gay.

JEREMY: The plot to Laugh a Little is this: A young comedian/actor named David Daryl doesn’t think he’s funny. A fellow actor named Skip Wes feeds on that, putting David down at every opportunity because he knows that David is more talented than he realizes and is jealous of that fact. David’s depression causes his girlfriend, Jennifer Charlie, to leave him for Skip Wes.

David falls into despair until he is visited by the ghost of his dead grandfather who was an Emmet Kelly type clown back in the day (and the source of inspiration for David becoming a comedian). The grandfather tells him to pull himself together and go kick Skip’s butt and get his girl back. David adapts the stage persona of the Dar and challenges Skip to a comedy duel with Jennifer watching from the sidelines. David wins the contest but Jennifer gives him the brush off. David is crestfallen until he meets a new girl, Hope Dawn.

DAR: David Daryl was a depressing character. Since I was depressed I had to create a character that was likewise depressed. I didn’t necessarily want it to do with a woman but it ended up being that way. In a lot of Charlie Chaplin’s movies his Tramp character would get the heroine even though he was the underdog of society. So I think that’s where a lot of that spawned from.

In films of this genre there are usually two characters, the hero and the heroine, so I wanted to apply that. My only problem was putting these ideas onto paper. That’s where Jeremy came in. He boasted about his writing skills so I said okay, you take it from here. I didn’t know anything about writing. And come to find out, Jeremy was a good writer.

JESSE: So it was good boasting?

DAR: Yeah.
JESSE: Darren had been yattering for a while about a movie he planned to direct called Laugh A Little. He told me that he had written it with a fellow named Doc Riley. I laughed and asked who the fuck that was. He said Jeremy liked to be called Doc. I said okay, as it seemed like a good nickname for someone.

JEREMY: I've never liked my name, which I feel is too soft-sounding. Back in the day I thought that if I was going to be remembered after I died I needed a hard-edged name, one that was worthy of remembrance, like Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, or Doc Holliday. As you might recall, I was big into westerns at this point in my life. I had even gone so far as to wear my hair long and dress in western style apparel to better stand out in a crowd (Yes, I know I looked like a goofball, don't rub it in).
I was always coming up with nicknames for myself because a fair share of old west gunfighters had nicknames, from Billy the Kid to Wild Bill Hickock. Since I couldn't use the Richmond Kidd for a screen name I chose Doc Riley after John "Doc" Holliday. The name was short lived as I recall (for one thing, what the hell was I a doctor of?), and I had already changed it by the time we began shooting Laugh A Little.

JESSE: Dar gave me the gist of the story. He asked me if I would help him with it and maybe direct as well. I never saw a script and was beginning to suspect that they hadn't finished one. He described the movie’s key scenes, mainly the talent show and the grandfather scene. In his original telling the grandfather was still alive and kicking (later that would change, and he would become the ghost of Christmas laughter). I gave him some ideas I felt might improve the script and also began drawing storyboards for the scenes he described (I draw poorly but I get the point across).

JEREMY: There was never actually a script. I just took Dar's plot outline and wrote the scenes as they needed to be shot, sometimes the very day of the shoot. Go figure, we were young and inexperienced. Dar had the story pretty much planned out by the time I came on board. All I did was beef up the writing and add some depth to the characters. One of the characters, the antagonist of the piece, was a dancer and all around smug bastard who opposed David at every turn. Dar needed a name for him, something along the lines of ‘Skip’.

Skip? I thought. That’s an odd name for a bad guy. I considered the last name for the character while I browsed through one of my books on the old west. I came to a picture of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin and immediately suggested we call the character Skip Wes. Dar liked it, and that was that. 

DAR: I wanted a villain. I like the fact that Jeremy created a villain for me. Skip Wes was based on Dave Wilkinson. Dave was a six-foot-four black gay man. He would pester me constantly. I was doing set design for the school’s drama class and I would also act in some of the plays. He’d be upset because I’d get all the parts he wanted.  So he would heckle me on the sideline when I was on stage. He’d try to distract me so I’d forget my lines, which, you know, Dar isn’t good at remembering his lines.

I’d get through the show but he would piss me off so much.  Yet, he’d still want to be my friend. So that’s how Skip Wes was created, but then he turned more into a Jeremy character through Jeremy’s love of westerns. I remember when I first met Jeremy he showed me every Spaghetti western out there. I thought they were cool and we’d study all the different camera shots. It was neat. It was fun. If it wasn’t for Jeremy I wouldn’t have learned all that stuff. He’s a cool guy.


JESSE: Darren wanted to make the movie for the express purpose of playing the lead character. You couldn't argue the fact that the character was him. The whole story is about how David tries to find what makes him funny. He also happens to pick up a girl along the way. The Dar is the character he discovers that makes him funny. This character is highly inspired by Charlie Chaplin. In fact, David discovers his character while watching Chaplin, like Darren did in real life.

Jennifer is the love interest that David will discover and then lose. Jenny is sympathetic and you kind of understand why she dumps him. David is a perpetually sad character and after spending any amount of time with him you want to kill yourself. Jenny would be played by a sweet young lady named Maggie Malory.

Maggie was a freshman from Broad Ripple High School. She rode the bus to Tech every day for a magnet class. In fact, the bus she rode was the bus that would take us to CIRT. We would chat with her and her friend, Becky Sandlin.

Darren, of course, broached the subject of our movie. Both girls wanted to be part of it. Maggie wanted to be an actress and Becky a director (I guess). What really interested Darren about both girls was that they were friends with his ex (strangely, her name was Ginny. Anybody else see a connection here?). So, right away he brought them in, even though Maggie couldn't act her way out of a wet paper sack, but she was good looking and a fun girl to hang with.

DAR: Jennifer Charlie was basically Ginny Keefe. She was the shallowest character out of the whole Laugh A Little cast. And Hope Dawn (these names, I came up with…sheesh), was the rebound girl after Jennifer broke up with him.  More on her below.

JESSE: Skip Wes was the villain of the piece. He is an enormously talented individual and outshines David in every aspect of his life. He is also competing with David for the hand of Jennifer Charlie. The character, from what Darren said, was based on a kid at Tech named David Wilkinson. I knew this guy and he was really fucking annoying. Yet I can't deny he was talented and could remember huge lines of dialogue. So, who could play a hugely annoying but even more talented Skip Wes? Well, one name sprung to mind immediately: Jeremy Riley.

Darren originally wanted Joe Devine to play the character. He also said that he cast Jeremy because Jeremy said he'd only help write the script if he played Skip (Jeremy says this tale is crap and I've got to go with Jeremy). So Jeremy was cast as our villain. Jeremy did a superb job as Skip. He suffered through a lot to play this role and would ultimately have 95% of his screen time cut from the finished film. The poor bastard, it almost makes you want to cry.


Hope Dawn was just a voice spoken off stage at the end of the film. So Becky, who was the only other girl on set, was cast. Her name signifies what the character is supposed to entail: She is the hope that David Daryl's life will get better.  That’s it in a nut shell.
The crew of Laugh a Little was about as shoe-string as you could get. I took care of all the technical parts of the shoot and enlisted the help of my friend David Patrick to carry stuff around and hold mikes and such. So I was director of photography and everything else while Dave acted as my assistant. Darren was the director, but he dealt mainly with the actors. Jeremy, when not acting in a scene, would help out any way he could.

When the shoot was over Darren didn't want to give a Grip credit to Dave. I told him if he didn't do it I would take my name off the project. Dave was there every day of the shoot and he lugged around a lot of heavy equipment. He was extremely helpful so he really deserved a credit and I made sure he got one. This was the only crew we would have on the set.


Pre-production wasn't all that difficult, basically just a lot of discussions on how best to shoot the film. We decided we wanted the movie’s look to be that of an old silent film, so I set down a couple of ground rules of how it should be shot.

1.) Every shot had to be done on a tri-pod. Silent movies were always shot on tri-pods because the fuckers were part of the camera in those days.

2.) No moving shots. Silent movies did have tracking shots but 90% of the scenes were done singularly. I told Darren I would not change my mind on this matter and if he didn't like it he was to speak up now or forever hold his peace. He agreed to it quickly. He didn't have much room to maneuver really, if I didn't shoot the movie he was screwed considering I was the only one who knew how to use CIRT’s equipment.

Of course, even if he’d said no I would have shot it the way he wanted. It was his movie and he was my friend, but he didn't know I would have just as easily gone along with anything he suggested. I was a weaker man back then, just happy to have such a good friend. Now the question was how would we get the movie in black and white? The camera we used for shooting shot only in color. Luckily, CIRT had a computer graphic system called The Toaster. The Toaster was basically a tool used to create digital effects.

It could not only render the movie in black and white but also add grain and visually age it as well. It was perfect for the silent-movie era look we wanted the film to have. We then discussed how to light the movie. I suggested a harsher light. If we did that it would really highlight the white makeup he wanted the actors to wear (little known fact: In silent movies the actors used green makeup, not white). I also told him how using harsh lights would create shadows and give the film a haunting look. He loved the idea.


DAR: Around this time we decided it might be a good idea to enter Laugh A Little in the Indiana Youth Broadcaster Associations’ annual contest. Every school had a broadcasting program, some better than others depending on their budget. Different schools would enter their students’ projects in the IYBA once a year. CIRT at that time had a bigger budget then Tech. Tech had just started with their broadcasting program. So we thought entering our film might help move us forward.

JESSE: CIRT took pride in everything it entered. They wanted to enter a feature every year because it was good publicity for the school. This kid that was a year ahead of us named Gary was always going on about how he won an award for one of his broadcasts. But we didn't go to CIRT to learn how to do news broadcasts.

DAR: Yeah, we had an agenda. It was fun to learn the technical side of filmmaking. It was cool to be up there in the director’s studio speaking into the mike: “Camera one. Okay, cut. Go to camera two.” It was fun to see all of that stuff. But ultimately we were there to learn how to make films.

JESSE: The only problem with entering our feature in the IYBA was that it couldn’t exceed ten minutes. Laugh A Little, as Darren had it plotted out, was a pretty long film. Damn near feature length if I remember correctly. So we were going to have to trim the script severely before shooting began. I had Darren write me an outline of the scenes he had so far in order to get a general understanding of what the movie was about. After reading it I saw only one part that didn't quite fit. There was a subplot involving gangsters, which Jeremy was the spearhead of.

At its heart Laugh A Little is about a guy who learns how to be funny and to love again. So you need every scene to reflect that emotional core. The gangster scenes did not do that. I also felt the movie had its antagonist in Skip Wes and we didn't need to add more of them. Darren said Jeremy wrote these scenes. I barely knew Jeremy but I didn't want him thinking "What's up with this asshole cutting out my shit?" Yet, the scenes just would not work in the context of the movie.

I called Darren and told him I felt the scenes needed to go. Losing them would cut the movie down significantly. He told me he felt the same way. I was amazed; if he felt that way then why were they still there? He too didn't want to cut it out of respect for Jeremy. I understood completely, but the scenes still needed to go. The movie wasn't about them. Darren said he would call Jeremy and tell him. I said if he wanted to tell Jeremy it was my idea I had no problem with it. I also told him to give Jeremy my number if he wanted to discuss it. I was open to that.

Darren said he would take care of it and the next day the gangster scenes were gone. To this day I feel bad about convincing Darren to cut them out. I felt I overstepped my bounds. I was only trying to do what was best for the film. When Jeremy came to the set he showed no ill will and I felt better about it. I was glad that we had cut the movie down and were moving forward. I always wondered how Jeremy felt about all of this.

JEREMY: There was never actually a gangster element to the script. When Dar approached me to help him write the screenplay he made it clear that this was to be a full length movie and we had to figure out a way to pad the film to at least ninety minutes. at this early stage of preproduction I knew nothing about a short film contest.
I racked my brain for ideas and came to the conclusion that David Daryl was a manic depressant, and that he would take drugs to escape the dark veil of his existence. He bought these drugs from a friend of his, the name of which escapes me, but we'll call him Steve for clarity sake. Steve in turn got his drugs from some local hoodlums. David and Steve weren't buddies or anything but they had some interesting conversations when David stopped by to pick up his latest score.
Later, when David's own personal crisis was nearing its peak he received a frantic call from Steve who confessed that he'd been stealing from the hoodlums and they were coming for him. David then heard the front door of Steve's apartment burst open and Steve cry out. Several shots caused David to yank the phone away from his ear. He called Steve's name over and over until someone hung up on the other end. Rushing to the drug dealer’s apartment David found the door kicked open and Steve dead in a chair.

This was supposed to be a form of shock therapy to help snap David out of his self-pitying state and realize that there are much bigger issues going on around him, and if he wasn't careful his addiction could lead him to a similar end. This would be David's first step in cleaning up his act and reclaiming his life. That was all there ever was to it, and when Dar approached me with the news that it would have to be cut I wasn't torn up about it because even I thought it didn't quite fit.

At this point I hadn't been cast as Skip Wes yet and I was supposed to play the Steve character, so my biggest worry was that I would be reduced to an "extra" role if I got to act in the film at all. I don't remember how I eventually landed the role of Skip Wes. I believe it just kind of fell into my lap because there was nobody else to play him.

JESSE: This to me was one of the biggest tragedies of Laugh A Little. Darren had picked his house for the home of our protagonist. This made perfect sense since there is such a thin line between Darren and David Daryl to begin with, and I had no problem with it. We needed three other locations to shoot in. One was a movie theater for Jenny and David's first date, another was a stage to shoot the talent show finale at, and we needed a video store where Jenny and David first meet.

I went to work looking for a stage to shoot at. I wanted the place to have a classic feel to it. My first and only call was to the Madame Walker Theater. The theater had been around since the silent film era. I thought it would be perfect for the movie. I talked to the lady who staged bookings. I told her I was a teacher and I wanted to bring my students to film a scene for their movie. She was polite and was interested in helping us anyway she could.

We discussed what I needed for the shoot and how long I would use the stage. I told her I would need it for an entire day if possible. She put me on hold. When she came back she had the whole thing set up. I could have it for one day on a certain date. The only catch was that we'd have to pay fifty bucks for it. To me fifty bucks was a steal to film on one of the oldest and most famous stages in America. I told her it sounded great, I would just have to approve it with the school (this would give me a chance to get Darren's approval).I called him immediately afterwards and told him the good news.
After I finished I heard a long pause on the other end. Finally, Darren said, "No, I don't want to pay anything." I went into a fit, telling him I would split it with him. He reiterated his answer and I hung up, defeated. I called the lady the next day and cancelled. The talent show would be shot in Studio One at CIRT. My disappointment was huge. I had gotten a real theater, and a historic one at that, through the use of my negotiating skills. I was so proud I had accomplished this and yet in the end it meant nothing.

The only tragedy bigger than this was the one Jeremy suffered. He trumped me by scoring a video store for free. He was even told they would work with him for whatever he needed but I'll let Jeremy tell you about that.

JEREMY: Guess that's my cue. There was a video store down the block from where I lived at the time called Royal Video. They had a great selection of B-horror films and Joe and I used to rent an armful of these, buy a pizza and liter of coke from Marsh, and stay up all night watching them (Ah, the good ol' days). I was a regular at the store and got along great with the owners, who were really cool, laid back people.

Well, when Dar told me that the critical scene involving David's first meeting with Jennifer Charlie would take place in a video store I immediately took him to Royal Video, introduced him to the owners, and asked if we might be able to shoot a scene for our movie there, adding that it would be great publicity for their store and we would give them a special mention in the end credits. They were all for it, as was Dar.

Like Jesse, I felt proud that I was able to help Dar add a depth of realism to his movie, and, like Jesse, I was ultimately disappointed when Dar dropped the video store and covered the whole David meets Jennifer sequence in the film's opening narration (with him supplying both characters voices nonetheless). I weep for what could have been.

JESSE: All of the locations would be shot at CIRT. The video store scene was the only scene not to make it to the final cut. Pre-production was over and we were ready to move into production territory.

Next: Laugh A Little, Act Two: Production


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