Monday, January 31, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Starbelly

As I've mentioned previously, the element of time hovers over Inventory and, correspondingly, over many songs in the soundtrack.

Starting with an urgent gasp of breath and the line "I fear every day, we're wasting our time away," Starbelly's "This Time" confronts the topic every slacker is dedicated to avoiding, especially slackers on a deadline they're not necessarily inclined to meet.

For some reason, I keep waking up in a world where songs this catchy somehow weren't massive hits. Weird, isn't it?

Starbelly's Dennis Schocket confirms that the concept of time was very much what drove the song's creation. As a film team that's made numerous movies for timed film competitions... and even a complete feature film in two weeks, we can very much relate to the challenge he set out for himself!
I had written a bunch of songs for the first Starbelly record (Lemon Fresh) and was playing them for my friend and producer Andy Bopp.

Feeling rather smug with the fact that most of the tunes clocked in at under three minutes, (very desirable for a pop song) I was surprised when Andy quipped "Yeah, but can you write a great song that's under TWO minutes?"

On the way home from the studio, I began my quest to write the perfect two minute pop song. When I sat down that evening to write it, I was anxious. I only had about an hour to spare. Don't waste time here. Hurry up and get something down, damn it! I thought "Cut the filler. Cut the fat."

How does one do this? Well.... Intro? No intro. Get to the point. Hit it hard and then get to the chorus. How about a bridge? Nope. No time for a bridge. Solo? Sure. Make it quick though. Subject matter? This is a song based on time restraints. Hurry up. Don't waste time. Make the most of what you have with whom you have it. "This clock ticks by. I stop asking why. This Time is for you."

There it was. It had come very easily. I thought "I did it! I can't wait to record this tomorrow." I called Andy. "I'm coming over tomorrow. I've got the perfect two minute pop song." Written and recorded within a 24 hour period! Awesome. As we listened to playback, I was happy with the results. Nice melody and nice chorus I thought. Oh, by the way, check the ticker. Did I do it? Is it under two minutes? The answer is...... FAIL. The damn song clocks in at 2:03. (The quest continues....)

Amanda Hurley as "Eleanor Stanley"

Possibly the hardest role to play in Inventory was Eleanor Stanley.

In the mix of characters, we liked the idea of teaming a clerk who was chronically sad with her sarcastic ex-boyfriend—the last people in the store with whom either would want to be paired.

Going into the improv and reimprov armed with little more than sorrow was a palpably challenging task. Exhibit A: the actress who started developing the role in rehearsal dropped out before we started shooting.

We knew Amanda Hurley, who was achingly sympathetic as the victim of her mother and sister's verbal abuse in The Observer, had the chops to do it.

Though in real-life, she has a very sunny demeanor, she took to the character's sadness in a way that was so real, I was afraid we'd never see her charming smile again. So, I was very glad to read her account of the journey she went through playing Eleanor:
I joined Inventory a bit late in the process, so I was still continuing to develop my character as we filmed. One lesson I learned about playing a, for lack of a better term, "sad sack" character is that it can be hard to shake. I ended up going home with the pout on some nights.

Eventually I found that the fun in playing Eleanor was finding that light at the end of the tunnel. As I focused more on her journey towards the light, I started enjoying myself a lot more. Also, I found that with Eleanor, in those rare moments in which she showed some spunk and actually stood up for herself, she really got to shine.

No, she wasn't constantly hilarious and sarcastic like Ken Breese's character, Chuck, but when she had something to say, she was heard. I guess what I learned from her is that we all have a voice. You can feel weak and powerless as a human being, but it is only a feeling. We all have power even if we can't see it in ourselves. Eleanor is in a bit of a fog (of depression) in the beginning but once she gets out you really get to see the person underneath. And the best part is, the audience, I feel, will really root for her because the whole time you get these little glimpses of the true (better) Eleanor and you really root for her and want to see her emerge and shine.

So, thanks Justin:)

Soundtrack artist: Martin Luther Lennon

In a powerpop soundtrack full of peppy, affirmative songs, how does one create the right first impression of ominous store owner John Panda?

I don't think there could be a better answer than a song by Martin Luther Lennon, who combine bright, propulsive tunefulness with high, sweet vocals and oft-badass lyrics that keep catching you by surprise. When you hear a song titled "Kill, Kill, Kill," it's a considerable surprise to find it's not only infectious but downright adorable. Tipper Gore's worst nightmare, perhaps. But for those who take black-humored fun in stride, MLL's two CDs are a joy.

About "Kill, Kill, Kill" and the band that performed it:
Martin Luther Lennon was a Los Angeles based power pop-punk band featuring singer and songwriter Anthony Douglas Perkins. They released two albums on the Colorado based label Not Lame, "Music for a world without limitations" and "Escape to paradox island", as well as music on an assorted number of compilations during the years 1995 to 2000. Both albums were critically lauded and in 2007, MLL was listed in Spin magazine as one of the "ten most under-recognized power pop bands". They last performed in 2003.

[The song was] written in the summer of 1993 during a time when I [Anthony] was really sick. No real conscious explanation other than the fact that I thought that it would be really funny to write a pop song called "Kill Kill Kill."

For more info, see:

Quentin James as "Tucker"

To know Quentin James, or to see him on film or stage, is to love him.

He has a unique mix of gentle charisma and gravitas—see his performance as "Cautious Friend" in Esc—that makes for characters the other characters just have to love.

It takes no suspension of disbelief to imagine his co-workers are bummed that this inventory day is his last day at the furniture store.

Paired with profane martial-arts fanatic Jackie, Quentin's Tucker is the only clerk in Inventory's "island of misfit slackers" whose response to getting a pen and a clipboard full of inventory sheets is to count the furniture.

As Jackie whips her nunchucks around and pushes the too-much-information envelope, Tucker's Aikido-like nature is put to the test.

Quentin on his experience in Inventory:
I had a great time working with Justin and the entire cast and crew on the film Inventory. When he called me and described his objective and process of organically creating a script and character I was very excited. Creating and playing Tucker was a fun challenge. (The easiest part was coming up with the name.) He has an aloof likability that I think comes across on the screen.

An initial fear I had was that people would mistake his kindness for weakness, but with the backstory Justin and I created I realized that Tucker had long ago stopped worrying what people thought of him. He had been through too much and was very content with where he was headed with his life. If anything, for me as a performer, it was an exercise in patience.

I had the pleasure of being paired with Shelly Nun Chucks Finnegan. I love Shelly. She’s funny, honest, and interesting. And she’s also a little crazy, but only in the greatest kind of way. The only thing I learned to expect when improvising with her was the unexpected. Definitely kept me on my toes.

Sometimes I was just along for the ride. When we auditioned together, I recall on more than one occasion thinking and saying to her after one of her many unique diatribes, "Well... I’m not really sure how to respond to that." Quite a funny audition. Ultimately, I believe the relationship worked well.

Jackie/Maria helped shape Tucker. I learned a lot about him through his interactions with her. (You may have heard by now that Nun Chucks is a fan of Jackie Chan. This is a gross understatement. I have met few people in my life who like anything as much as Shelly likes Jackie Chan. Mr. Chan, if you happen to be reading my Inventory recollection post please do the entire world a favor and come meet this girl. She’s one of a kind.)

Overall, I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with such a group as the people at Castparty Productions. I was so impressed with the level of talent and dedication of all involved that I can only hope for more opportunities of similar value in the future.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Powerpop impresario David Bash praises the "Inventory" song score

Via e-mail:
"The Inventory soundtrack features an amazing collection of powerpop, from classic bands like Shoes and Stackridge to more recent, relatively unknown but worthy artists such as The Lolas and Jeremy. If you're a melody freak, then the music alone is a big reason to look forward to seeing—and hearing—this new indie film!"

David Bash
The International Pop Overthrow Festival

Soundtrack artist: The Tor Guides

The quest for perfect soundtrack songs is a journey within you and without you. One scours one's brain and record collection and also wades out into the great unknown.

Until its recent, lamented demise, Bruce Brodeen's Not Lame Recordings was the place to start any search for new powerpop horizons.

Three songs in the Inventory score were originally released on the Not Lame label ("Kill, Kill, Kill" by Martin Luther Lennon, "This Time" by Starbelly, and "Timpani Heart" by The Sun Sawed in 1/2).

Still others are from bands I'd learned about over the years from Bruce's online and personal recommendations, as Not Lame was also a retailer of powerpop from other labels, many of them small, with artists known largely due to Bruce's efforts. I have him to thank for turning me on to great bands like Cotton Mather, Splitsville, The Sugarplastic, and Tiny Volcano.

But the songs in my brain and record collection needed to be supplemented, to cover all the cues we had to fill.

I set the bar very high. I wasn't just looking for solid pop or pretty ballads. What I sought was effervescence. Friends who know their way around good powerpop sent me tons of really good recommendations, but good wasn't good enough. I wanted songs that got airborne! Music that soars the way Badfinger's "No Matter What" soars, the way the Raspberries' "Go All the Way" soars.

I clicked through hundreds of samples on Not Lame, searching for that sugar high. One click stood out from all the others, a song called "You (and Everything You Do)," by The Tor Guides, from Sweden.

Before four bars of quick strumming are done, Torbjörn Pettersson beams us straight to the middle of powerpop utopia:
"And there's a song I know, and you can hear it on the radio-oh."
Oh, to live in a world where such music is on the radio-oh!

The Tor Guides album containing "You" was released by Jam Records, which led me to contact Jeremy Morris. Jeremy put me in touch with Torbjörn, who tells us about his cool summer breeze of a song, which now plays under Inventory's end titles:
The Tor Guides was initially a loose project I had been working on since the mid 00's. I had decided to have a go at finally finishing up a full CD as opposed the zillions of half-finished demos I had been leaving all around through the years, both before and after. I had demoed some songs that were chosen for the recordings and handed a copy of the demoed songs to my good friend and drummer Björn Höglund, who was to help out with drums and percussion; I had planned to play pretty much everything else myself.

We then recorded the demoed backing tracks for the album that eventually was to be our first CD, “Honeybees and Tangerines”, released by Jam Recordings in 2007. Although we were all satisfied with our efforts, I decided to have a go at an old idea of mine that had been haunting me for some time and had not been previously demoed. I grabbed my acoustic guitar and Björn sat down by the drum set. I told him, we were to record an uptempo, positive song—and then I counted us in, just like Dee Dee Ramone would have done. We recorded the backing track in that one take—actually the first and latest (if not the last) time the song has been played at all!

That final song, “You (And Everything You Do)” immediately sounded great in its clear simplicity. It was a joy to work on the many layers of vocals and the guitar and keyboard decorations of the backing track. For the lyrics of one verse, I borrowed the opening line from Elvis Costello's 70s ad campaign, "surfing on the crest of the new wave," pretty much in the same way he once borrowed one-liners from the old Motown hits of the 60s.

When finalizing the lyrics, I tried to emphasize the positive spirit of the music. It didn't take me many minutes to assemble the odd words of the lyrics and even though they might not make too much sense, I firmly believe all those positive elements are evident. Lyrics in pop songs shouldn't make that much sense, anyway…

The cover art for “Honeybees and Tangerines” was finalized by Phil Denton/MrQwerty, an old friend from the UK and the Audio Galaxy heydays. He also provided me with the band name Tor Guides, after long e-mail discussions on the subject.

It seems as though the song has caught on. Some years ago it was included in "Sweet Relief," a compilation album released by Jam Recordings to benefit the victims of the Katrina hurricane. I was then greatly honored and thrilled when being asked if the song could be included in the soundtrack of Inventory, together with so many great bands.

So, what was once just an odd musical idea in the mind of a Swedish pop nerd, has found a life of its own, which—if nothing else—goes to show that all good pop matters matter!

You can hear Tor Guides at @

Contact info:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Inventing an inventory story

Castparty Productions' first feature, The Observer, is the result a timed-filmmaking challenge we set for ourselves: to conceive, shoot, and edit a feature film in two weeks. We actually managed to pull it off (though we've since recut it and plan to make a few more tweaks to it in the near future).

One particularly invigorating part of making The Observer was having groups of supporting characters improvise on-camera, exploring key themes from the story's main plot line.

We wanted to do the same thing with Inventory, but like Ginger Rogers: backwards and in high heels. That is, developing a set of main characters and—fueled by improv and reimprov—building story arcs inspired by them.

The use of reimprov (reusing material derived from improv) as a scriptwriting tool is a little-discussed but highly valuable technique, and one we cultivate at Castparty.

Pretty much the only literature I've seen on reimprov consists of a few memorable quotes by Tina Fey from Anne Libera's The Second City Almanac of Improvisation and a chapter in a college thesis by Matt Fotis (.PDF).

Ms. Fey crystallizes the virtues of "scriptprov" (as Fotis calls it)...
I'm always surprised when I meet someone who thinks that sitting and writing is the only way of creating comedy. It's like meeting someone who thinks that in vitro fertilization is the only way to make a baby. You want to say, "No, there's this whole other way of doing it that's natural and sometimes pleasurable." well as the awkwardness when you first reimprovise an initially funny bit:
The scene feels flat and forced. You feel like a dirty whore.
For some gifted improvisers, chewing the cud of a previously improvised scene is deadly. It's a direct invitation to "get in your head," a state contrary to the Zen-like plane where they thrive.

High among the attributes that make someone a favorite actor of ours is a facility with reimprov and an openness to an iterative give-and-take process for building and refining characters and scripts.

We used reimprov at every stage of the Inventory project. Sometimes we'd shoot a scene precisely as planned (with plans that, for the most part, grew out of earlier improv). More often, we explored variations in the first takes of a scene before settling on one version that worked best.

To initiate casting, Dennis Hurley, Kevin Hammer, and I pooled notes on our favorite local performers, most of whom we'd worked with before or had hoped to.

We scheduled several get-togethers with prospective cast, with new recruits to the project answering this question at the outset:
What character would be fun for you to play... and fun for the audience to watch you play?
We gradually got to know these characters and their wants, foibles, and secrets.

Through improv and ongoing discussions, we learned what each character thought about each other character, and we tracked all this info in a Google spreadsheet. Eventually, the spreadsheet became the "source of truth" for the story beats and their state of completion, cast/crew availability, etc.

A Google text doc was a repository for memorable bits of dialogue that came out of the rehearsals and from subsequent discussions about characters and scenes. Once the shoot location was secured, that doc also included Kevin's bird-eye map of the furniture-store layout, which helped answer logistical questions about which characters would be in which part of the store at any point in the story.

For scenes with extensive scripted dialogue, and for the lyrics and animation beats for the title song, we used the Zhura (now "Scripped") online screenwriting app.

Since I wrote and finalized a plurality of the dialogue, I'm listed as screenwriter. Kevin, Dennis, and Katarina Morhacova share story credits, as they worked most intensively with me on helping craft a meaningful narrative from the warehouseful of rich material that grew out of the collaborative process.

In reality, there were more than a dozen significant contributors to the script—everyone on either side of the camera (and other Castparty friends who pitched in with helpful suggestions along the way), starting with each castmember's concept of the character they wanted to create and snowballing from there.

* * *

Given that locations are among the scarcest commodities for indie filmmakers, we envisioned a very compressed shoot, maybe over two weekends. When we found our location, Mattress Warehouse #1 in Norwell, MA, and Dave and Doris Thompson were so supremely helpful, we were able to expand our ambitions considerably, spending time on developing that "lived-in" feeling and structuring a much more cohesive story than a more completely improvised film would typically offer.

A good example of the evolutionary process we like to foster was Dave going from being our gracious location host to a cameo performer to a featured player who, according to some of our early viewers, practically steals the third act. If the fates put us in the company of a furniture-store owner who's a natural at the Charlie Brownish humor that fulfills our mission to make "sad little comedies," we ain't too proud to, y'know, improvise, and add some serendipitous fun to the proceedings.

Some of our recurring castmembers are extensively schooled in improv and acting, and some just fell off an unmarked talent truck. What's important to us is what they bring to the rehearsals, to the set, and most importantly to the screen.

And I'm damned proud to work with so many talented people and in a way that, I think, allows us all to be our creative best.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cat Miller as "Zoë"

From the project's start, we've often compared Inventory to The Breakfast Club and Clerks, in terms of genre and milieu and several other French words.

One might also see a little DNA-similarity between Cat Miller's Zoë and the former's Allison Reynolds. Zoë is as inscrutable and feral as the moody Ally Sheedy character, but she's also a distinctly active presence: as physical and playful as she is brainy and, at times, harsh.

While the other eight clerks work in pairs, the ultra-detached Zoë was aptly assigned to be "a floater" (yes, one of the clerks tries to make hay with that), mixing it up with the four pairs of peers as the whim strikes her.

We first collaborated with Cat on The Observer, where she held forth on all manner of geeky topics with inspired improv based on, and fueling, the movie's overarching themes. Her Zoë again shows off Cat's brilliance with eccentric, high-status verbal banter. But even more so, it demonstrates a can't-keep-your-eyes-off-her gift for silent comedy.

Cat recalls the germination of the Zo
ë character:
I went to my first Inventory rehearsal a bit like a kid who hasn't done her homework. I knew that having a good character to play was entirely dependent upon my ability to come up with one, but I just hadn't given it the time I should have. Driving to rehearsal I thought over what would be fun for me—what am I really unlikely to get cast as in any other circumstances? My first, overwhelming thought was "it would be really fun to be incredibly weird." Of course, then I had to justify Zoë 's weirdness and build an entire character around that desire to say non sequiturs and hide out in small spaces. This definitely led us down some unexpected roads in developing her backstory—like me somewhat accidentally declaring her to be Jewish—but in the end I had a great time doing all the stuff I could never, ever do in real life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lea DeGloria as "Tarot Woman"

I met Lea Marie at a south-of-Boston event called Filmmaker's Shindig, hosted by local actors Chuck Slavin and Jenna Lunarno.

Lea runs a popular local cable show where she reads fortunes, and she has a presence that's simultaneously imposing and disarmingly down-to-earth.

When a store is closed for inventory, customers inevitably come knocking on the door. Clerks either ignore them or brusquely turn them away.

Whether it's her charm, her story of "a furniture emergency," or the promise of otherworldly insight about his romantic quest, lonely clerk Percy can't resist letting "Tarot Woman" into the furniture store.

Lea comments on her first collaboration with Castparty Productions:
I was thrilled to be involved with this project. Fortune telling is my profession, so naturally I would play the tarot card reader.

I enjoyed bringing that mystical element, and Justin was so creative in the way he weaved it into the storyline. I had never worked with him before and didn't know what to expect from the cast and crew. I remember everyone being super-talented and super-professional and very funny.

More info at and Facebook.

Soundtrack artist: Jeremy

The central premise of Inventory is that there will be consequences if the furniture isn't counted with 100% accuracy in the allotted time.

Whether it's the countdown to the 6:00PM reckoning or one clerk's obsession with 4:20, the concept of time hovers over the story... and over several songs in the soundtrack.

There are a few people you simply have to meet on the road to powerpop, and one of them is Jeremy Morris.

His label, JAM Records, is the source for three songs in our soundtrack: "Watch the Movie" by Lolas," "You (and Everything You Do)" by The Tor Guides, and his own composition and recording, "Time Is Running Out."

He records as "Jeremy," often with glistening, Byrdsian 12-string guitar. And he's one of the sweetest, most affirmative folks you're likely to encounter.

Jeremy's good-natured spirit is on full display in a song that's a gentle nudge to value the time we have, a definite counterpoint to the slacker gestalt of Inventory's furniture-store clerks.

He explains the theme of "Time Is Running Out":
When I wrote this song I was thinking about how life is a "gift "

It's absolutely free!!!

"Here comes yet another day, it's a gift you needn't pay..."

And I was thinking how our society is always trying to charge money for everything.

"Bottled Water" is a good example...

What next? ..."Bottled air"? ..."Bottled sunshine"? ..."Bottled happiness"???

So the point is that this gift of life and the time we have on earth is truly a "limited edition."

Let's not waste it. The best things in life really are free!

"Time is running out, Time is running out... time to find what life is all about!"

Soundtrack artist: The Bad Pixels

As we were in the thick of improvising, re-improvising, writing, and shooting Inventory in the summer of 2009, a title-song composition quickly snowballed from concept to completion.

The driving idea was to blend the borderline smarmy sympathy of the "Cheers" theme with the peppy powerpop of the "Friends" theme. The lyrics are full of wordplay on the workin' life, with a second voice commenting on the logic of what the first voice is saying.

Many of the words relate to defining traits of Inventory characters, so as soon as the ink was dry on the lyrics, Kevin Hammer and I mapped out plans to illustrate each major Inventory character in a title animation, synced to the song.

Kevin, master of all things musical, produced my title ditty and played all the instruments, and he adapted the theme into countless variations for use in the underscore. Dennis Hurley, in-character as "Percy," accompanies me as the second vocalist.

Where there's a self-proclaimed Ukrainian hip hop star ("Nastasia" played by Katarina Morhacova), there's liable to be a Ukrainian hip hop song. So, Kevin and I wrote "Kickin' Kiev," inspired by "Love of Three Oranges" by Prokofiev (born in Sontsovka, now Krasnoye, Ukraine). It just may have more rhymes with Ukrainian geographical names than any English-language song in history, but I stand to be corrected on that. Kevin again produced and plays all instruments, and Katarina sings or raps or hip hops or whatever the contrarian Nastasia would call it.

Both songs are credited to "The Bad Pixels," with Dennis and Katarina as guest vocalists.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Stackridge

The year was 1974, and in a music mag whose name escapes me, a writer declared a love for "melody groups"—and cited Stackridge's "Pinafore Days" as an exemplar. I soon found out how delightfully true that was.

Better known in its UK near-equivalent, "The Man in the Bowler Hat," it's a George Martin-produced masterpiece of whimsical pop. And it's one of several eccentric, eclectic, and endlessly ear-pleasing albums the band made in the 1970s.

In a wonderful surprise, Stackridge reunited after a two-decades-plus hiatus. Two songs from the band's new era are featured in the Inventory soundtrack, "Grooving Along on the Highway on a Monday Morning Once" and "It Must Be Time for Bed."

"Grooving" brims with oddball charm. Heck, it avalanches with oddball charm. Lyrically witty and weird, toe-tapping from the first note, and breaking out into a courtly waltz in the middle, it's completely irresistible, and it provides a wonderful quirky backdrop for an action montage that begins as furniture-truck driver Dave pulls off the highway.

True to its name, "It Must Be Time for Bed" starts in hushed tones. Suddenly, an otherworldly instrumental, spiced with siren-song vocalizations, transports us into a magical land, in a trip fit for Little Nemo. The instrumental motif signals one of the warehouse's back-room mysteries.

James Warren, co-writer of both songs, tells us of their creation:
"Grooving Along..." was a joint composition by myself, John Miller and Sarah Ménage.

John had busked some chords while I had improvised a tune. The jauntiness of the music dictated the style of the lyric, which rapidly became one of our favourite rather Pythonesque stream-of-consciousness affairs. I remember all three of us contributing lines, with John coming up with the immortal one about fathoming the depths of Wittgenstein, Hegel and Kant. It was great fun.

"It Must Be Time For Bed" was written by Sarah Ménage and myself. We were in 'dedicated songwriting' mode at the time, spending as much time as possible 7 days a week trying to come up with ideas. Once again the music evoked the lyric and once we'd hit on the theme I seem to remember the song sort of wrote itself. It's an unusual piece - a lot of time was spent on the extended, dream-like instrumental sections - but I think it all hangs together quite well.
Stackridge's longtime manager, Mike Tobin, provides info on the artists:
Both songs were recorded in 1999. They are now available on the CD/Album "Sex and Flags"on Angel Air Records. (SJP CD205) and for download @ I-Tunes /Amazon & other sites.

Stackridge continue to tour in the U.K. with the core members of James Warren, Andy Davis and Jim "Crun" Walter plus Eddie John, Clare Lindley and Glenn Tommey.

There is a strong likelihood they will perform in the USA in 2011.

Check for updates.

Sarah Ménage performs with her own trio regularly and recently released her own CD/Album "Who Needs A Man"


Matt Carbo as "John Panda"

Kurt Vonnegut warned against "missing Iago," that is, failing to establish a formidable antagonist.

Matt Carbo's comic ominousness as unglued furniture-store owner John Panda ensures there's no Iago shortage in Inventory.

After I first saw Matt do scenes in an improv class many years back, I couldn't stop bubbling about him to everyone associated with Castparty Productions. He just killed me every time, especially when embodying glowering characters in the John Belushi mold.

Among his most memorable turns in a Castparty film is his world-weary chef in our apocalyptic short, Human File #752. Matt is, in fact, a superb chef, so having him cook on-camera means a feast once you wrap.

Matt on his goals as an actor, and why he looks forward to Inventory finding an audience:
I have worked with Castparty Productions for almost a decade. The reason why I love to work with them, is the common belief we all share about entertainment.

Entertainment is something that is only rewarding when the audience is reached. Yes, the process of making a movie can be a lot of fun if you get along with the cast and crew (which for Inventory we all did, and it was great).

But the real reward is when showing an audience member the film, then listening to their reaction of laughter and joy. This is the true reward for the actor, director and crew.

Whether it's a film fest or just showing someone a Youtube clip, I always get this great feeling of accomplishment when I know that it was us that brought joy to someone.

Now, I may never get a chance to meet all of the people who have viewed our movies but I know I reached them using the vehicle of video production.

We all have trouble in our lives, and if a short film or feature can help us forget (even if for just a short time) our trouble, then I say it's a job well done.

So, enjoy this movie. we enjoyed making it, and we ultimately didn't do it for us, we did it for you, the audience.

Shelly Nunchucks Finnegan as "Jackie/Maria"

Kevin, Dennis, and I first met Shelly "Nunchucks" Finnegan when we were running auditions for The Observer.

To say she made an impression is an understatement in the extreme.

She bounded in and expressed how flustered she was in locating the audition site (ImprovBoston), by breaking the land-speed record for f-word utterances. We were in hysterics before we started running any improv scenes.

Auditions for that film were done in pairs, and the luck of the draw had her teamed with Quentin James, who subsequently worked with us as the "Cautious Friend" in Esc. Both impressed us: Shelly with her overabundance of personality and Quentin with his dry wit and disarming demeanor, making the most of the rare moments when Shelly caught her breath.

Alas, neither turned out to be available for The Observer's shoot days. But now in Inventory we've captured their hilarious asymmetry, as they play a furniture-counting duo with wildly disparate temperaments.

Nunchuck-swinging clerk Maria insists on being called "Jackie," after her hero, Jackie Chan. The other clerks are well-advised to, as the old punchline goes, call her anything she wants.

In addition to building Shelly's real-life fixation with Jackie Chan into her character, a set of outrageous rants she regaled us with after one night of shooting became an integral part of her Inventory performance. She insists these stories of scatalogical workplace nightmares are 100% true. All I can say is, it was hard not to crash a carful of castmembers as she piled on the jawdropping details. Driving while ROFL is a definite hazard of being Shelly's wheels to or from the set.

Shelly shares her thoughts about working on Inventory:
I have to say that I sincerely enjoyed working with the whole cast. It was a ball!

It was a really unique type of atmosphere, because Justin and the whole crew took something that I had a love for and really truly put it in my character.

Long story short, my dream is to work with my idol Jackie Chan.

So these crazy, lovable guys took something that I truly have been working on and added it into my character Jackie/Maria.

They let me swing nun-chucks on the set, and I am so glad I didn't decapitate Dennis Hurley, the brave soul he was, working with me.

I tortured and might have drove crazy my partner in the film, Tucker, who was played by Quentin James. He was such a saint. You could say he was like yin to my yang, so I say thank you Quentin for being a brave soul, too.

Mostly, I think the camera guys had a blast, because they laughed so hard, they had to stop filming to get their composure.

I really loved my character, Jackie, cause I wanted to be a strong woman, picking up furniture, swinging around nun-chucks and doing any physical activity in the film and kept asking if I could do stunts, since that is truly what I do, in sets, I actually do my own little stunts and fight scenes.

In downtime, some of the cast members picked up my nun-chucks and used them, but don't worry, no one got hurt.

I learned a silly lesson. On downtime, beware, cameramen can film you doing just about anything on set.

A few times, being around the cameraman Kevin Hammer, I was actually just staying in character and decided to just be real crazy in my character and improv things.

Little did I know, that Kevin would actually take what I was kidding around with and throw it in the film. OK, Kevin be glad that I like you, just kidding.

But I feel honored, and have to say, I think my idol Jackie Chan, would thoroughly enjoy this film, and when you see Jackie/Maria, you probably will understand my character, at what she is most passionate about, using nun-chucks and doing stunts, so in actuality, for my character, art imitated life, in this film for me.

I think Justin Fielding understands what type of actress I am, doing my own stunts and own type of fights, for which I have moved out of Boston to work and train with a production company called Unicovia Productions.

I have been re-training in Tai Chi, and in a future film, will have to get up on horse and such, and have had a little bit of a fight scene shown in a film called Anikryua, and that is on my Youtube account, Capoeirababe, on which you will see my first interview, where I actually take down one of the interviewers out of fun, but I think the guys loved every minute of it.

What I would love to happen someday, is for my idol Jackie Chan to see Inventory, since I have been watching Jackie's work for 30 years or so, oops kind of giving my age away, but being able to honor my idol and to dedicate something to a man who has brought me so much happiness for many years. I truly think he would enjoy this film, and plus, I would love to make Jackie Chan laugh.

I know I can be proud of this film, because the men in this production really understood what I really could give to a character and I feel very honored to have been part of the film.

OK, yes, Justin had us up to 2 to 3 a.m. and I had to be in work the following days at 5:30 a.m., but how on earth can you ever forget this whole crazy, loving, bunch of human beings, you just can't.

In Martial Arts, a sign of respect is a bow, so as I sit and write, I wish the whole cast and crew, and especially Justin could see, but I am bowing, thank you, or as my idol would say "Xie Xie".

It would be kind of nice for Jackie Chan to see this film, I am sure it would make him pee his pants with laughter...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Splitsville

One of my major goals for the Inventory song score was to include tunes that evoke a happy-day feeling, the spirit of a song like ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" or Pilot's "Magic."

In that vein, Splitsville's retro-60s "Sunshiny Daydream" instantly colors an interlude of outdoor hijinks all paisley and summer-of-lovely.

Rob Toomey, Splitsville's manager, shares some background on the album from whence that infectious smiley smile of song comes:
Way back in 1998, Splitsville recorded a four-song EP as a loving tribute to the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Dubbed “Pet Soul” (a nod to Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul, obviously), this EP was distributed for free to attendees of that year’s Los Angeles Poptopia festival. The EP started getting passed around, and this tribute created considerable buzz within the power pop community.

In 2001, after the release of Repeater, Splitsville decided to return to the EP “Pet Soul” and further mined the vein of 60’s rock. The Complete Pet Soul was released to international critical acclaim. The album featured four songs culled from the Pet Soul EP, plus six new originals and a cover of Burt Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again". This cover previously appeared on the Burt Bacharach tribute album What the World Needs Now and was later featured in the Kirsten Dunst movie Get Over It.

Paul Krysiak has stated that The Complete Pet Soul is, "...entirely about concept - the 1966 album that never was."

Allmusic gave the CD a rating of 4 and ½ stars, stating "...the (original) orchestral tracks are nicely balanced with several new songs that recall the low-voltage, almost folk-rock sound that predominated on the original U.S. edition of Rubber Soul."

As for the track “Sunshiny Daydream”, you’ll hear the influences on the first listen. You’ll hear more on the second and the third. You’ll just have to listen for yourself.

“Sunshiny Daydream” can also be found on the Popboomerang/Zip Records release, Let’s Go! The Best of Splitsville

Listen to more Splitsville @

Contact info: Rob Toomey, Manager

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Self Animation

Nick Delonas is a friend and colleague from back when we worked at Lotus magazine in the late 1980s.

He sent me a video he made of his daughters' band, Self Animation, with the caveat that I probably wouldn't like it, since I'm not generally one for bluesy rock. I played it for Kevin, writer and/or arranger-performer of most of the original music for Castparty movies, and we both immediately liked it.

The stop-start lyrical rhythms of "Dance in the Fire" evoked vintage progressive rock (a taste Kevin and I share), and Nick's guitar shredding was a novel complement to Molly and Kara's girlish vocals—not your average teen music. And a few months later, we found the song really fired up part of Inventory's climactic sequence.

Nick tells the story of "Dance in the Fire":
I wrote the music to Dance in the Fire in the mid nineties. It was originally titled Bone in Pocket and may well have been the first song ever written about carrying a bone, some teeth and a couple of marbles in your pocket. The first recording was me playing the guitar along with a groove I set up on a drum machine with a synthesized bass. I liked the tune, but the drum machine sounded TOO much like a drum machine for my taste.

So, about five years later, when I was jamming with drummer Jim Rilko and bassist Ricardo Rodriguez in my basement, I asked them to play along with that original recording and recorded them doing so. There was one take with no rehearsal as I recall. So now instead of machines I had the feel of real musicians in the rhythm section. That was better.

Several years after that, two of my daughters, both aged 13 at the time, were starting to write and sing their own songs. I began recording them and slowly but surely, that turned into the project band "Self Animation." At some point, during the next four years of recording what became their first CD, I thought that old blues-rock tune would be good for them. So I pulled out the multi-track recording, re-recorded the rhythm guitar, wrote new lyrics, and recorded them singing it. The result was Dance in the Fire as you hear it in the sound track of Inventory.

The lead guitar on the final recording is the very same track that I recorded nearly 15 years ago playing along with the drum machine. The girls were likely singing songs in preschool at the time. Molly and Kara are now both high-school seniors and occasionally find time to perform as Self Animation.

You can hear more of Self Animation's music at their web site,

Oh, the lyrics are now:
I wanna dance
in the fire
And yearn to burn
down the floor
Dances at night, boys,
light the fires

I wanna breathe
in white-hot air
And through flickers spin
with each spark's pop
As the pulse pounds
heat rises through us

I dance on light
in a flower
Its petals sing
and cry then bloom
In nectar's stream
life's quick is breathing

Girls like to dance
in the fire
They jump spin and burn
on hardwood floors
Dance then each night, boys
Light them fires

Soundtrack artist: The Nerk Twins

Note: I'll be posting separately about Shoes, one of the preeminent bands of the powerpop genre, who have three songs on the Inventory soundtrack.

* * *

In 1997, Shoes' Jeff Murphy teamed with his friend Herb Eimerman, now of The Britannicas, and made an utterly charming record under the name "The Nerk Twins," a handle borrowed from the world of Beatles trivia.

The title track from their "Either Way" album is a toe-tapping ode to off-beat camaraderie. What could be a better underscore for the mismatched counting pairs (and one floater) that inhabit Inventory?
We could buy a shack
Paint the windows black
Lock ourselves inside
And try to guess if it was night or day
You're my kind, either way
Herb and Jeff have both been very supportive of Inventory, and here they recall the song's creation. Herb leads off:
I had written the music for "Either Way" based around a 7th chord... showed it to Jeff and he wrote most of the lyrics for the song... when it came time to record we had so much fun with it and along with the clarinet lead and crazy violin parts we had a hard time getting thru the laughter to work on the song... the song was as much fun to make as it sounds.

Herb has recorded 5 solo cd's as well as Nerk Twins with Jeff Murphy of Shoes and The BRITANNICAS which is Herb's international recorded group and he has contributed to many powerpop compilation cd's.

Lee Zimmerman, music critic for Amplifier Mag and Goldmine, describes Herb's sound:
Herb Eimerman: Just Barely Famous (Under The Dome Recordings)... There's more than a little irony and knowing chuckles in the humility that accompanies the title to the latest offering by Chicago's pop wunderkind Herb Eimerman. Despite a string of immaculately crafted and supremely melodic albums, Eimerman's talents inexplicably remain well below the radar. Eimerman, who got his start in the company of another sadly ignored outfit from Illinois known as the Shoes, may be humble in regard to his own accolades, but he's not shy about exploiting his own talents. In fact, he plays practically every instrument on Just Barely Famous. And while some may have doubts as to whether that singular exposition might somehow limit the album's depth of expression, there's absolutely no need to worry. Starting with the first track, the self-derisive 'Inside Joke,' Eimerman proves his prowess, constructing layers of vibrant melodic textures while providing a nuance that imbues it with a classic pop feel. Eimerman soaks up the influences of pop mentors from decades past... the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and countless veterans of the so-called 'British Invasion' of the mid to late '60s - and recycles them with a sound and style that's instantly engaging and effortlessly accessible. And with sixteen songs and not a bad one among them, there's no lack of quantity to match the quality. It's a shame Eimerman has to resort to such self-effacing modesty; Just Barely Famous is an album that suggests far more potential than its humble title implies.
You can hear samples of Herb's work at:

All of Herb's cd's are available at: CD Baby and iTunes

You can contact Herb at:
Jeff Murphy's recollections:
Herb had started to write a song based on a 7th chord and it struck me as being cool and quirky, in a "Taxman" kind of way.

So I wrote the melody and lyrics with a "Bennie and Joon" slant. Where 2 people have their specific oddities and eccentricities, but they just connect and 'get it' with each other.

It was a fun song to play and sing and my slightly out of tune piano playing added another layer to the off-center feel. The vocal track was recorded by placing a mic inside the open lid of the studio's apartment grand piano and I sang into the piano's soundboard. As I attempted the violin in the instrumental section (to compliment Herb's clarinet), I started laughing and my horrible execution on the instrument only made me laugh more. We decided to keep the laughing (and violin squeaks) in the track, including my wheezing at the very end of the song. John Richardson had started playing drums for Shoes in mid-1994 and I tried to use him on as many studio projects as possible, so he was recruited to play the drums on the track. His interpretation was spot-on. It was all a real hoot!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Tiny Volcano

Though they aren't paired as counting partners, there are several interactions in Inventory between wise-ass, pot-smoking libertarian Chuck and Bible-belting (yet Bible-ignorant) Bess.

The irreverent convergence of pot and religious themes brought to mind Tiny Volcano's rollicking "Mary Goes Around," from their self-titled debut album:
Ball and chain
That's my best friend Mary Jane
With a green thumb stain
Oh yeah, I saw God with my friend Mary Jane
For some reason, it took forever before I actually tried placing the song into the rough cut, and when we did, it fit perfectly... except we needed an additional instrumental section. Scott McPherson, the song's writer and singer, provided us with the karaoke-ready (well, dialogue-ready) tracks, bless his soul!

Late in the project, when I was seeking music for a few unfilled cues, I put on TV's longplayer—an exceptionally sturdy powerpop album.

And there, just waiting to join the song score, was the amiable instrumental, "July 7, 1965," which I'd never really listened to before. Its leisurely tone was perfect for some early moments in the film.

Scott shares with us the origin of Tiny Volcano and the songs of theirs that grace our soundtrack:
Tiny Volcano

TV was established in 2000 as a project band for Scott McPherson and some talented friends.

Scott was in the 90's pop band "Liar's Club", as well as the band "Haste" which offered more adult contemporary pop ala Crowded House.

Tiny Volcano released their debut CD in 2003 to very strong reviews and CD sales, and they have been tinkering with a follow-up CD for years now, but only time will tell if that CD will see the light of day.

TV players include: Jon Ecklund on guitars, Tony Cooper on bass, Dana Sims on drums, and Scott handles pretty much everything else.

Memoires of a Song Writer

It was an honor to be asked to contribute a few songs to the soundtrack of Inventory, and to be included with so many great bands.

Here are some insights and inspirations for the Tiny Volcano songs that were chosen for the film.

"Mary Goes Around"

Was actually written in the mid 90's for the band "Liar's Club", but as that band was winding down the song was of course shelved until Tiny Volcano was formed, and then dusted off and recorded for the debut TV/CD. Though the subject matter is obvious, the lyrical content was actually meant to be a bit more silly than serious, and the music was more of an exercise in song writing with trying to model it after someone like "Matthew Sweet". I was listening to Sweet's "Girlfriend" CD at the time.

"July 7th, 1965"

This tune pays homage to two people. My wife, and Paul McCartney.

I recall one afternoon sitting in my attic with guitar in hand and wishing I could write something as lovely as Macca's "Junk". So, this is the result of that wishing. Well, I felt I had something very special here so, I gave it as a gift to my wife for her Birthday.....on July 7th.

You can hear TV @
Also, find us on Facebook.
Contact info:

Thanks for listening,
Scott McPherson

Soundtrack artist: The Sun Sawed in 1/2

A few years back, we'd envisioned using a powerpop song score for a movie project that didn't quite take wing, and one of the first songs I'd fantasized about putting in that score was "Timpani Heart" by The Sun Sawed in 1/2, so I stashed a copy into a folder of favorites.

Once we decided to use such a song score for Inventory, I took a peek in that old stash and decided to drop "Timpani Heart" into the first scene we edited—an extended wordless sequence where pious clerk Bess hides Bibles in various pieces of furniture and a couple of other clerks play pranks on her, while the rest of the slackers vent their particular quirks.

It was serendipity on steroids. The idealized imagery ("She looks electric and new, C-major happy, my candy-coated petting zoo") and propulsive tunefulness brought the effervescent spark I craved.

And certain lyrics fell preternaturally into place. "Give into the glow" hit just when a novelty frog ring lights up, and "You know it's beautiful to wake up right now" lands when snarky libertarian Chuck awakens from a catnap.

That's all well and good, but for a no-budget film, a temp track is liable to be a road to nowhere. After months of loving the song in the rough cut, it was time to learn about music licenses and hope that several great bands would be willing to support a left-field independent movie.

With a little digging, I found contact info for Tim Rose of The Sun Sawed in 1/2, and he was the first of the many wonderful musical artists who would work with us on indie-friendly terms.

Here, Tim tells us a little about the song and his band:
Timpani Heart by the Sun Sawed in 1/2 was one of the tracks from our album "Fizzy Lift."

The track was written about the beauty of newfound love and the feeling of awakening daily to the sound of her heartbeat.

This was our second release produced by veteran producer, Keith Olsen at Goodnight L.A. studios in Van Nuys. Keith is famous for producing such acts as: Fleetwood Mac, The Grateful Dead, ELP, Heart, Whitesnake, Sammy Hagar and many more.

The Sun's sound has often been compared to classic 60s acts such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys owing to their creative use of melody and hooks. They were signed to the power pop label, Not Lame in 1995 who released their last two albums along with songwriter-guitarist, Tim Rose's release, 'Fresh Mowed Lawn,' recorded in Vienna, Austria and featuring members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

The Sun is currently mixing their new album, 'Elephants into Swans,' in Vienna with hopes of a summer 2011 release date.

For updates, one may find the Sun's page on Facebook.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dennis Hurley as "Percy"

Anyone who makes a movie without casting Dennis Hurley is a fool.

I'm unfoolish enough to have made sixteen short films with Dennis, and now—with Inventory—two features.

In addition to playing Percy, a kindly and lonely furniture-store clerk, Dennis was a key collaborator in casting and story development, and he serves as Executive Producer on the film.

His recollections of the early days of the Inventory project:
I've worked a lot of retail jobs: KFC, Lord and Taylor, Starbucks, CVS and more... I had the fortune of never having to work on inventory day, but have always heard how frustrating and boring it can be, from fellow employees. So naturally I thought it would a great subject to tap into in a slacker comedy.

I was also very excited that Castparty would be doing a feature length comedy, it seemed like we've been on the brink of doing a feature length comedy for a while.

I was also happy to get a chance to really inhabit a character like Percy, and have the time to do it. You see, normally we only have a day or 2 till we shoot, because many of our films have been entries into timed film contests like the 48 Hour Film Project. This time I had months to develop my character's voice.

I enjoyed meeting with the cast early as we all developed our characters together.

As an actor who has to adjust to all kinds of sets, you can't ask for a better holding area than multiple rooms full of comfortable mattresses to rest on in between takes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kevin Hammer's recollections of the origins of "Inventory"

Kevin Hammer has been a part of almost every Castparty Productions film to date, usually wearing more hats than Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew Cubbins—virtually every crew capacity and a few memorable cameo roles to boot.

He and Dennis Hurley were the first Castparty regulars I approached with the idea of doing a feature-length slacker comedy about a store inventory.

Kevin's often teased me about my penchant for giving movies the most obvious titles imaginable. And from day one, this one was always called Inventory.

Kevin shares these recollections of the project's formative days:
It was early 2009. We'd just screened our first feature-length film The Observer and we were trying to figure out what to do next. After the seriousness of The Observer we decided it'd be a refreshing change of pace to do a comedy next. So we started kicking around some ideas and finally decided on doing a romantic comedy about a guy who fakes his own death to see what his wife would do without him. We'd outlined most of the story and cast the lead roles and were looking forward to going into production for it. Then, we discovered that an episode of "American Dad" had pretty much the exact same plot. So, we started looking for another idea. For a while we were tossing around ideas for a horror movie, but deep down we really wanted to make a comedy.

One morning while having breakfast at a local diner, Justin told me about the idea he had for doing a movie about a store inventory. It played well on a lot of our strengths as filmmakers. We'd be able to combine improvised, re-improvised, and scripted material. And having most of the movie take place in a store would limit the number of locations we'd have to secure. At first we had no idea of what kind of store the inventory should take place in. All we knew was that it had to have a lot of products to count, and had to be the type of place that wouldn't generally be associated with having fun. The employees had to be bored enough to be easily distracted.

When we were ready to start looking for a location, we just drove down the highway stopping at various retail shops pitching the idea of shooting a movie there. Eventually we found Mattress Warehouse #1 and met Dave Thompson. But that's a story for another post.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Where did the idea for "Inventory" come from?

The idea for Inventory came from my kitchen.

One day in February of 2009, I was putting away the dishes, and inspired by that uninspiring task, the basic idea came to me at once: a retail-store inventory day is—like the weekend detention in The Breakfast Club—a mundane crucible.

It's a day in the most familiar of surroundings (the store where you work or, in The Breakfast Club, the school you attend), but the usual stimuli are gone (customers, classes).

You're locked inside for a day of presumed drudgery, in the company of peers who likely aren't your regular buddies. In such a void, things that don't come out on a usual day just might.

I'm not precisely sure why the word "inventory" was rattling in my head just then, but I was instantly excited about making an ensemble movie that takes place on that strangely special workday.

* * *

I'd done store inventories in the late 1970s, when I worked in the Harvard Coop record department and, later, at the MIT branch. At the time, the Harvard store was (I'm told) the world's largest record retailer.

Inventory day was an awkward affair, spent paired with someone I didn't ordinarily hang out with, dragging about the store reading out or writing down price codes and quantities.

Maybe you'd get paired with someone you had a crush on, and romance would blossom, and.... Nope. Whoever made the list of counting pairs didn't have your back. Or the back of the person who got stuck with you, if you weren't exactly a prize partner either.

It's been my good fortune to have a lot of prize partners in making indie films in Greater Boston. In future posts, we'll tell you all about our collaborators and collaborative process, without which Inventory was just a stray thought in a kitchen.

* * *

Hearkening back to the old days of living like a refugee in Cambridge turned out to be doubly important in shaping Inventory.

My vinyl obsession was centered on powerpop, effervescent music made unabashedly in the shadow of the Beatles. If you know Badfinger, you know powerpop. And vice versa.

Finding shoulda-been hits from underappreciated powerpop bands was the essential quest for a small subculture of us.

About a year into this project (it's coming on two years since that day in my kitchen, and we're now down to finishing touches [Update: Inventory was completed on 2/18/11]), another idea hit me on the head like an iron skillet: Inventory absolutely has to have a powerpop song score.

This sent me rummaging through my own record collection and also exploring bands I'd never heard of. I'll be writing much more about the fantastic bands featured on the Inventory soundtrack, so I'll leave you with this description of what I was looking for, which I sent to a member of one of the definitive bands in the genre:
I'm hoping with the soundtrack, we're able to capture some of the great fun we had in those days as record-store rats, searching and searching for Beatlesque bliss, and—happily—sometimes finding it.

Unlike High Fidelity or Empire Records, we didn't want to set the movie in an intrinsically fun place like a record store, but to create a rascally group of twenty- and thirty-something slackers who make their own fun while flying their foible flags high. The spirit of great powerpop spells just the kind of fun I hope people will have watching the movie.

Welcome to the "Inventory" movie blog!

In early 2011, we'll be completing the indie film, Inventory.

Here, we'll tell you all about the movie.