by Sue Lange
Continued from Beyond Grimm: Making a Movie
Kevin and Tracy are famous in our town for a narrative film they put together called “Location, Location.” It’s a cute 19 minute promotional piece they did for the local film commission. It showcases our area as a great location for film makers. Situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, we’re lousy with ambiance. We have country lanes leading to charming old stone farmhouses with old-fashioned working windmills in the back yard. Juxtaposed next to the charm is a thoroughly modern city complete with culture and urban crime. We have everything.
Location, Location was an ambitious project with a cast of thousands, most of them local talent. The makers even convinced local celebrity, Michael Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Room 222), to attach himself to the project. The film is a source of great pride for area business owners, the fifteen minute stars it created, and the commission itself. People talk about it often; rarely does a week go by when I don’t run into somebody who was in the film.
The point you, as a world-class filmmaker, are supposed to get from the film is that Reading has perfect shoot sites and talent up the wazoo. So why is it, with our shoot date a week and a half away, I’m still sending out calls for dancers and I still can’t find all our locations? Why does such a short film need five different sites in the first place? I know the answer: I’ve given up creative autonomy so just shut up and scout.
Below is an example of the struggle involved with location search.
In my story, the Princess Dancer Lounge is a tawdry exotic dance club. There’s a bar, a stage, and a big space between that stands as a metaphor for the unbreachable distance between dancer and voyeur. No one sits at the tables situated there. They lean against the bar in the back and drink Bud.
In the movie of my story, we never see the bar, the tables, the patrons, or Lon the owner. We only see the stage and the dancers. We see their platinum wigs, their black light tattoos, their moves, and that’s about it.
In Kevin’s movie of my story we see the platinum wigs, the black light tattoos, the moves, the bar, the tables, the patrons, Lon the owner, Tire the goon. We see the booze, the glassware, the wall décor, the linoleum, the ashtrays, the cigarette butts, the grime and sad pall that hangs over everything.
Kevin wanted all that. And despite having found and approved all the location shots in Location, Location, he had no clue where to find the Princess Dancer Lounge in our area. And no wonder, there were no tawdry little half-assed strip clubs in the Location, Location script. He had no idea whether the Princess Dancer even existed in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Neither did I. But I’m the big dreamer here, I have to make it happen. I have to find my club.
I called all my friends that are into tawdry for possible locations. I went online and did a three-county search for gentlemen’s clubs. You see my predicament immediately. Any gentlemen’s club that has a website is not exactly going to exude tawdry or despair. So it was a little hard to guess if any of the clubs I found would fit the bill. I certainly couldn’t tell just by looking at the candy pink lights and thong-slinging talent featured at the websites.
So I made calls and collected info. It is not easy to ask the owner of such an establishment to donate the use of his club for the purposes of shooting a film. The first question was always, “what’s the film about?” And then I had to dance around the fact that the story was about the dehumanizing effect of the male gaze. I’m pretty sure I didn’t use those terms exactly. I might have said something like “exotic dancers running amok” or something like that. None of them had 14-hour blocks of downtime when we could get in and shoot. They were too shiny for our story anyway. I had to move on.
It occurred to me that what I needed was not a strip club, but a rock club. All those years doing showcases in crappy bars in Jersey, PA, Maryland, and Virginia probably produced the Lounge vision in my head in the first place. I didn’t realize it when I wrote it, but I recognized the inspiration at some point during my search. What I needed to do now was go back to my indie roots and find a rock club.
Things opened up for me then. Club owners started returning calls. They liked the story idea and needed any promo they could get their hands on, even a credit in a small indie movie.
But alas rock clubs have improved since I was a rock star. They’re clean now. They are not intimate or tawdry. They have mosh pits as big as football fields and police barriers to separate the bar area from the all ages area. They have sophisticated sound and light systems. You tell me, what’s the point of a rock club if the speakers aren’t blown? Regardless, I sent Kevin pictures of various places I’d checked out, all with owners eager to give us the use of their space for free.
Kevin always said the same thing: “Maybe. But I just don’t think it looks like Lon’s club.” As if Kevin knows Lon more intimately than I do. As if he understands Lon, gets Lon’s point. As if Lon belongs to Kevin instead of me. Which of course he does since I have given up creative autonomy.
At any rate, I needed to move on to other aspects of the film. Music is very important in this story and I wanted something original and clogged with atmosphere. Something I assumed only a recording studio could give me. I love me my Gary, but I wanted something more than a programmed drum track with bass and guitar recorded in GarageBand in his practice room. I wanted a space with a 64 channel Mackie mixer and carpeting on the walls for the resonant Morantz sound.
So I started scouting studios as well as shoot locations.
At one point Gary mentioned that our old pal, Bill, had a studio in the building where we shot our first film, Jump. He suggested we try him out, maybe he’d give us a good price. Why not? We set up an appointment and headed over to Canal Street where Bill’s defunct factory stood.
Unfortunately the tenant with the studio in Bill’s building had fallen behind in his rent too many times and Bill evicted him. What was left was not a studio but a shell of studio. Walls and holes in the walls where the speakers used to hang. When Bill agreed to show us the space, he thought all we were looking for was a room. But I needed the producer, the Mackie, the carpet, the microphones that go with the room.
We hung our heads and prepared to depart. As we walked through the area just outside the former studio’s control room, we noticed the space had a bar on one side and a stage on the other. With just the right amount of distance between them to create a metaphor for disconnection between dancer and voyeur. Holy wow. The bones of the Princess Dancer Lounge!
Apparently the room had been a showcase studio at one point. Indie bands would rent the space, record their masterpieces in the back room, and then perform them live for potential managers. The previous tenants had vacated quite a while ago and since then the space had accumulated a layer of dust. The sheet rock had chunks missing here and there. The wall had been painted in grim colors. Cigarette butts lay everywhere. The place was the very definition of tawdry.
I grabbed my faithful traveling companion, my camera, and took a bunch of shots. The next day I sent them off to Tracy and Kevin. Kevin sent back a one line response: “Could work as Lon’s bar.”
He drove up a few days later and Tracy and I met him at Bill’s. Turned out they loved the space. We agreed it would need a lot of set dressing, but the pall was there. The pall cannot be bought at A.C. Moore, or created out of movie magic. The pall has to be there, in the bones. Takes a lot of years of misuse and disuse to create a building like Bill’s. And I love, love, love it.
Now my task for the lounge is to find 14 tables, 56 chairs, 20 bottles of booze, and a neon sign depicting the face of a soulless dancing princess.
You can read all about the Princess Dancer Lounge in “Princess Dancer” published in BYC’s Beyond Grimm. These are not your grandmother’s fairy tales.
Next installment–Beyond Grimm: The Long Dark
Read the saga from the beginning: Beyond Grimm Goes to the Movies.