Schwag: The Production Notes

2002

Schwag: The Movie was conceived and written in the heady period following the world premiere of my first movie, Where is the Chesterfield King? At the premiere, Mike Boise (the drummer of the Chesterfield Kings) asked me when we would start another movie. Two weeks later I had the idea for a script in my head, based upon an event that actually occured Columbus Day weekend, 2000 and starring Mike in the role now played by Chris, Simon Goldfeder playing the Mephistophleian character (also named Simon) and some other guy who eventually dropped out so this is the last you'll hear of him (at least on this site).

It would take almost a year to complete the first version of the script. Looking back on those halcyon days, it's funny how different the landscape is today. Now almost everyone has cellphones and it's illegal to smoke in bars in New York. Both of those things would make the story very different today.

In 2002, I wanted to shoot some things in Illinois. However, Simon went to Burning Man and was arrested. He didn't get out of jail until November which was very late in the season. I was determined to make it work.

One rainy weekend Simon Goldfeder, Randy Miller, Calvin May (Sound Recordist), Mariah Betz (Production Assistant) and I ventured out to the wilds of western Illinois. We had three days to shoot quite a lot of script. I was determined to play the lead role myself. This later turned out to be a mistake one of many mistakes.

My credit card was declined while trying to rent a van, so a friend of mine from work had to rent it for me (Thanks Jimmy!).

After driving all night to get there, we stopped for breakfast in a Cracker Barrell while I feverishly started drawing storyboards on napkins. The camera malfunctioned. The shoot was ill-planned and I was out of my mind for attempting it.

Simon found some wild growing marijuana. As he was coming back to the van to report it, Mariah set off the alarm in the van and only Simon had the fob that would allow us to turn it off. By the time we got to where the plants were, a farmer came by on a tiller and buried them while we watched slack-jawed. It was a humbling and demoralizing shoot. Randy said something negative in the car when I dropped him off and I felt like ending the project.

2003

By the end of 2003, I was determined to make this movie again. The script had been re-tooled and was leaner and more focused. The role of Joy was cast but I didn't feel the actress really had what I was looking for. She seemed too "community theater," and I wasn't terribly happy about the choice.

The lead role hadn't been cast either. I had given up on the idea of playing it myself so that I could shoot it instead. Everyone I approached to do it said they didn't have the time or couldn't put their name on a production advocating the re-legalization of cannabis.

2004

In February 2004, I started rehearsing with Simon and Randy while trying to figure out who would play the lead. Enter Chris Amoroso who was a good friend.

"I'm surprised you haven't asked me to be in the movie," he said.

"Rather a ballsy statement," I thought.

"Fine, you can have the lead," I countered.

"No, that's not… I mean, that's cool but…"

…and with that he accepted the role that would make him famous and was immediately forced into a grueling two night a week rehearsal schedule with beer and pizza provided by me.

Around this point in time, I was at Lux with Simon and I saw a woman whom I thought would be perfect for the role of Joy. I asked Simon if he knew her and he didn't (or he didn't know her well enough). I approached her.

"Have you ever thought about being in a movie?" I asked.

She was flattered, interested and eager to see the script. I emailed it to her and never heard anything back.

We started shooting in June 2004 at Lux Lounge in Rochester, NY. Throughout that year we shot the "Lux" scene, the "Reggae" scene, and "Waking Up" which were estimated at about 30 minutes of finished screen time. Then Simon disappeared to help clear hurricane damage in Florida in September.

While Simon was gone, I ran into a dark curly-haired woman who I thought would be perfect for the part of Joy. I approached her.

"Have you ever thought about being in a movie?" I asked.

"Oh, not you again," she replied.

She had dyed her hair and stopped straightening it which is why I didn't recognize her. She told me that she threw the script out after reading that her character was a stripper. I asked her if she even read the rest and she said that she didn't. I told her that the part didn't involve nudity and that helped my case. Then her boyfriend, Rob, came up behind her and said that he knew me.

"You didn't tell me who the director was. You should defintely do it."

Kristin Nesser accepted the role on the spot.

Unfortunately for the production, Simon didn't come back until after the weather turned crappy and outside shooting was impossible. This sent production into hiatus (again).

In late December, I shot a live Christmas-themed performance of the Chesterfield Kings at Water Street Music Hall.

2005

The Chesterfield Kings asked me to start editing their show into a full-length video to be released at the end of the year. I was reluctant to do it but I thought it would be great to get another feature-length product on the shelves and in my portfolio. I spent the first three months of 2005 editing that footage before eventually shelving it due to a lack of interest on the part of their executive producer. This may still be finished and released at some point in the future.

Finally, I started editing the 2004 footage and I really liked it. About this time, Simon mentioned that at the end of the year he was going to move so if I wanted to finish the movie, I had to be done with him by then.

The response I received when I told Chris and Randy the good news that we were starting up again was underwhelming:

"It better not take up too much of my time," said Chris.

"We're doing WHAT?" said Randy.

Our first shoot was in June at a location that I found in Marion, NY to stand in for Western Illinois. Of course, I didn't secure permits and we were hassled by the local police. I managed to finish "The Side of the Road" though.

During the summer I worked with Kristin and Chris rehearsing the "Seduction" scene, although that wasn't shot. It was a good practice for her to get comfortable with her character.

Now I needed a large, imposing man to act as Joy's macho, angry boyfriend. This role went to Nic Redanty who insists that he's not acting. Nic's friend in the movie was chosen to be Nate Henshaw who was a friend of a roommate of mine. Both ended up being great in their roles and very easy to work with.

In September, we shot the "Diner" scene.

In October, Randy told me that by the end of the year he would be relocating to Norfolk, VA.

At the beginning of November when it was 40° F outside with 15 mph winds, we shot "The Ambush". Nic informed me that he might receive a job offer and leave town by January 1.

While filming part of "The Drop-off", the van's electrical system blew and Chris, Kristin, Cal and I were stranded on a dark highway in Hamlin, NY. The next weekend we filmed the rest of "The Drop-off", "At The Field" and "Rendezvous" in my backyard. (Sam Raimi shot some pickup shots of Evil Dead in his mother's garage and backyard, and that's where I got the idea from.)

By Christmas 2005 all of the footage shot to date had been edited with a total of 56 minutes of screen time. Nic had finished his voice over work in two grueling four hour sessions, as Cal and I tried to figure out how to re-record dialog so that it matched.

2006

In January, Randy finished over-dubbing his dialogue for the whole movie in four 2.5 hour sessions. He moved to Norfolk, VA on January 16.

 

To be continued…