Friday, February 25, 2011

"Inventory" post at Broken Hearted Toy music blog

There's a nice write-up about Inventory and our song score at a cool music blog called "Broken Hearted Toy."

Thanks to Terry Flamm for taking an interest in our film and to Herb Eimerman of The Nerk Twins / The Britannicas for helping get the word out!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Irina Peligrad as "Bess"

Late in our character- and story-planning process, we got the idea of pairing (as inventory-counting partners) Ukrainian hip hop diva Nastasia with a new character: a cheery Bible fanatic who has never actually read the book.

As the rehearsal phase was winding down, and we were preparing to shoot, an actress we had previously worked with was penciled in for the new role, to join the project when she returned to New England after a season abroad. Once she got home, though, she found herself overwhelmed by other commitments.

While we'd hadn't yet rehearsed or written (with our "scriptprov" approach, we usually worked in that order) anything for this new character, we were quite keen on that prospective duo dynamic. Suddenly, we needed to cast—and develop—a major character ASAP.

Facebook came to the rescue. For months, it had been recommending that I friend actress Irina Peligrad, who has memorably played edgy characters in numerous local films. I finally did, and soon after that, we met to discuss the movie, which was just days away from shooting.

After seeing clips from some of her films, where she's often cast as a domineering vixen or supernatural threat, I was quite unprepared for how she responded to a description of the various characters' arcs. With moist eyes, she kept saying "Aw!" to the story's revelations and milestones of emotional progress.

She showed not only an enthusiasm for the material, but also a sweetness and depth that would make her character "Bess" human and likable, not the one-dimensional religious phony that would be all-too-easy for a skeptic like myself to put forth on film.

Irina was incredibly mindful of all aspects of bringing Bess to life, making many great suggestions and helping create—and instantly mastering—new material that told her story in a way I think audiences are going to find convincing and compelling.

Irina's recollections of the Inventory project:
My involvement with Inventory resulted from a fortuitous twist of fate. I was taking a break from acting for the summer to pursue my other interests of sand, surf, and lying about, when I was contacted about Inventory’s last minute casting needs. The project had already been cast and character development meetings were underway, but one of the prospective actresses had dropped out. I was immediately interested, as I was familiar and impressed with Castparty’s and Dennis Hurley’s past projects. After hearing more about the story and process for the film, I knew I had to be a part of it.

They were in need of one Evangelical Christian, and as much as that would be the scariest character I have played to date (cannibal, crazed killer, and vampire being my common roles), I was ready for the challenge. And a challenge it was... I am not very well versed in Christian doctrine, or any aspect thereof.

I was raised on the atheist side of agnostic, and although I have tried to educate myself about religious thought, my knowledge of Christianity is limited to my cursory “Bible as Literature” college class. I tried to cram some Bible reading in leading up to my first rehearsal, but I didn’t have enough time to internalize it (or remember it). Justin helped set my mind at ease by helping me use my ignorance for character development.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to work with this bunch of talented, witty, creative, and all around swell people! And the working conditions were great… Tempur-Pedics as far as the eye can see!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"The Marriage Question"

As can be seen in the trailer, a running gag in Inventory is that lonely clerk Percy, spurred on by his lascivious counting partner Greg, asks various co-workers (and others) what would happen if he were married to them.

The genesis of The Marriage Question was that, in the earliest days of Inventory's development, I was reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird on the recommendation of another filmmaker. It's a book of advice and anecdotes for writers, where she states at one point: "Say this boy meets a girl... he can't just say, Hey, let's get married!"

It struck me as amusing to have a character do just that—serially. It pushed a shy character into action, and it created big opportunities for other castmembers to react according to their own idiosyncrasies.

For example, I did a role-play on it over the phone with Shelly "Nunchucks" Finnegan, who plays a Jackie Chan-obsessed clerk. I still have the swear-marks on my ear, and we recreated that four-alarm reaction in the film.

Kevin Hammer reworked the title song into a "Marriage Question Theme," which appears in all manner of variations—as Percy goes about his quirky rounds—depending on the mood of the moment.

Because of the unique energy of each response to the "MQ," it's one of my favorite elements in Inventory. It was fun to develop, shoot, edit, and score, and I hope audiences will find it—and the rest of the film—fun to watch, too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ken Breese as "Chuck Spratt"

Played by Ken Breese, "Chuck Spratt" is a pot-smoking libertarian who's long on sarcasm and short on empathy.

On inventory day, he's paired with his sad-sack ex-girlfriend—to neither's delight.

Ken is a master of no-prisoners snark. For example, his response to his ex's "some people think I'm pretty" has proven to be the hands-down favorite line in the Inventory trailer.

In my cameo scene (also seen briefly in the trailer), as a customer who's mad the store is closed for inventory, Chuck distills the screw-you side of slackerdom to its essence. He has an ambitious itch, though, as he imagines himself one day climbing a corporate ladder. So, when crazy store owner John Panda threatens the store manager's job, it smells like an opportunity to him.

Ken's softer side and impressive musical pipes are on display as a laissez-faire dermatologist in our gross-out short (you have been warned!), Boil Alert.

One thing I've found when editing two features and a few shorts featuring Ken is that there are usually surprisingly few takes of his scenes. Sometimes I'll get a little panicky, that maybe we forgot to shoot some material. No, it's just that—even with improvised and semi-improvised content—he just nails it damn near every time.

Ken recalls collaborating on Inventory:
As much as Chuck has a lot of me in him, we are different people. Sure, we both love questioning religious dogma, verbal abusing the weak minded and, of course, bong hits, but, man, Chuck is kind of an asshole.

We built Chuck from an extrapolation of some characteristics from a small role I played in Castparty's first feature, The Observer. My role in that film was of one of four "nerds" at a table in a diner discussing things like Dr. Who, Alan Turing and who should've really been cast as Wolverine. You know, nerd stuff. I had this aggressively combative, acerbic energy in those scenes, and Justin asked for the same kind of bite in his vision of Chuck.

I'm an improviser and was excited when Justin decided to let some of the background and story arcs come about naturally as a result of some improvised interactions between the actors in character.

I distinctly remember trudging down to Quincy (MA) one early weekend morning in particular. We were all kind of tired at first as Justin explained to us his vision of the film and some of the characters. As the morning went on and we all hit our required caffeine and sugar levels, we started to improvise scenes between some of the film's pairings.

I was paired up with Amanda Hurley, who ended up playing my ex-girlfriend Eleanor. Amanda is a lovely young lady, and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, so, it was hard for me to think of her as someone I would dislike, or insult mercilessly. Luckily, Chuck did not have this problem. For a welcome change, my smart mouth was an asset, rather than a liability and we were able to get some good lines of dialogue and background story developed for the relationship between the two characters. I am happy to report that my favorite line that I threw out during that morning session made it into the film and the trailer.

My apologies to any Nickelback fans I might have offended. No, wait... you know what? I'm not sorry. They suck, and so do your ears for listening to them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Shoes

Shoes (brothers Jeff and John Murphy and friend Gary Klebe) not only cracked the code for tight, tuneful rock, they're true pioneers in DIY creativity, achieving in homegrown recording—beginning in the mid-1970s—what we indie filmmakers are now striving to accomplish in our medium.

A series of all-killer, no-filler albums (notably "Black Vinyl Shoes," "Present Tense," and "Tongue Twister") cemented their spot high in the pantheon of powerpop greats.

It's been a pleasure and honor to get to know Jeff, initially while making arrangements to include "Either Way," by his side-project The Nerk Twins, in the Inventory song score. Jeff then served as our liaison to the famously egalitarian Shoes, who generously agreed to let us include multiple songs of theirs in the film.

Upon receiving that green light, I assigned myself the enviable task of re-listening to their entire catalog. While the aforementioned three discs are their most celebrated output, large numbers of my finalists came from lesser-known later albums like "Silhouette" and "Stolen Wishes." All told, it's a body of work with few rivals in the realm of post-Beatles pop.

Ultimately, I found that three songs were particularly suited to the available music cues in Inventory.

"Found a Girl" is as gorgeous a reverie on the tug between love and not-love as you're going to hear this side of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love." In Inventory, it hauntingly captures what's at stake for two clerks who keep their workplace romance a secret.

"Twist and Bend It" is a proudly lo-fi rocker that gives extra sizzle to a series of Inventory's comic-action montages, and the chugging "Cruel You" powers us through the film's climactic showdown.

Jeff Murphy describes the writing and recording of "Found a Girl":
Shortly after our return from England (recording the "Present Tense" LP) in the fall of 1979, my girlfriend of 5 years rewarded my monogamy with the news that she wanted to break up and end our relationship. We went on to attempt and abort a short tour in the early December and by January of 1980 we decided to cut our losses and get back to doing what we loved most; writing and recording some new songs for the next Shoes album.

In doing the numerous interviews and Q & A sessions to support "Present Tense," I met a female journalist that invited me over for dinner. She lived over an hour away, so she wrote directions for me on a piece of paper. I approached the situation with cynical skepticism stemming from my previous break-up and had no expectations. To my surprise, even though I got lost on the drive to the date, we had a great time! The relationship eventually traced the meteoric arc that is typical for people in their mid-20s, but I wrote this semi-biographical song as a result of that first, optimistic encounter.

In recording the track, the approach was unusual in more ways than one. First, there are no drums on the song, which immediately shifts the classification to that of a ballad, instead of the usual rock approach that we typically focused on. The rhythm guitars were unusual in that the "chords" were constructed by recording and layering each note of the chord separately through a gadget I had put together from an old tape recorder I had as a kid. The distortion it produced was a unique, buzzy tone with great sustain that we referred to as "synthesized guitar". John's bass line gave a great melodic foundation and we layered in some backing harmonies that swell in and fade out for a sweeping feeling. It originally appeared on our, "Tongue Twister" LP in 1981, but in 2007 we released the songwriting demos for the period of 1979-1981 on the double CD set, "Double Exposure."

It's great to see this track get another go 'round as part of the movie's soundtrack and we hope it helps contribute to the desired mood and feel of Inventory!
John Murphy on "Cruel You" and "Twist and Bend It":
Cruel You was another song about love gone wrong (our stock in trade!) but, in the last verse, the guy is so out of his mind with jealousy that he pulls a pistol on his estranged girlfriend. Much to his chagrin, she doesn't beg for her life... she still has the upper hand even though he has the gun. Some reviews at the time suggested that "when I pointed the gun at you" was a euphemism, which is fine... that works as well. But I really meant he was driven to the point of threatening murder, in a vain attempt at trying to control her.

Twist and Bend It was the last song I wrote for our album Silhouette after feeling I needed a full-on rock track. Lyrically, it's sort of stream of consciousness. When we recorded it, our drummer was MIA so Jeff and I cooked up the drum track. We did it piecemeal; Jeff engineered and I whacked the skins. BTW, the title came from the directions on how to use the wire ties from a box of plastic garbage bags ("Step 2: Twist and bend").

Kevin Hammer on "Inventory's" underscore

With endless smarts and talent, a great sense of humor, and a collegial personality, Kevin Hammer has been a prized collaborator in more than 20 projects with Castparty Productions. And Inventory simply couldn't have been made without his innumerable contributions.

On this project, he was a core part of the story-development team, sometime cinematographer/cameraman, sound recordist, sound editor, video co-editor, title-sequence animator, colorist, and lead FX artist. As is often the case in Castparty films, he also played a major role—and countless instruments, both real and virtual—in the musical scoring.

Inventory features a song-score comprised mostly of relatively unknown powerpop classics. But there was still a need for original music, including two original tunes we recorded under the name "The Bad Pixels" and many instrumental cues.

Here, Kevin talks about the development of the original underscore:

When we started putting together the ideas for Inventory, it became obvious that it would need a lot of music. As somebody who majored in film scoring in college, this brought a smile to my face.

While in the midst of juggling writing, producing, directing, and general ringmastering duties—not to mention a cameo role—Justin somehow found the time to put on his songwriter's cap and came up with the opening song for the film, simply titled "Theme from Inventory."

He passed on to me a recording of himself singing the song while playing piano. It was a charming little tune. I was charged with the task of arranging it to have the charisma of the "Cheers" theme and the pep of the "Friends" theme, which stylistically would prove to fit in well with the powerpop genre we chose for the song score.

After some trial and error, we came up with a final recording that we were happy with. I got to play one-man pop band in my basement studio, and Justin performed the lead vocals with Dennis Hurley, in character as Percy, joining in on backing vocals.

Once the edit of the movie started to take shape and the song score was assembled, we found that there were still several scenes that felt as if they wanted music, but where a vocal song would likely fight the dialogue.

Justin and I are both fans of orchestral film scores. As the resident go-to composer/arranger for Castparty Productions, I started trying to think of how best to add a traditional score to a powerpop song score.

In order to tie things together, we decided to incorporate some part of the theme song into almost every orchestral cue. Sometimes it was a direct string arrangement of the pop tune. Sometimes it was a bouncy re-imagining of the song. And sometimes the melodies and harmonies were woven so subtly into the arrangement that its presence isn't even noticed until it's pointed out.

It became a game to see how far these melodies could be bent and reshaped into drastically different moods and textures. Justin's a big fan of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. This approach favorably reminded him of the way John Williams's theme to that film is performed every which way, all throughout the film.

I'm hoping that even if it's not something that is consciously noticed, it will subconsciously add to the overall coherence and enjoyment of Inventory.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Soundtrack artist: Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather's Kontiki album draws on classic powerpop influences, notably John Lennon, and yet it's utterly original and accomplished in its own right. There's a genius in the works, and his name is Robert Harrison.

In his 2007 book, Shake Some Action, John Borack rated Kontiki number 26 of his Top 200 Powerpop Albums of all time, comparing the album to Revolver-era Beatles, Big Star, and The Apples in Stereo.

In Inventory, the atmospheric "Homefront Cameo" from that record announces the arrival of menacing furniture-store owner John Panda.

Robert, now with the band Future Clouds and Radar, talks about creating "Homefront Cameo":
"Homefront Cameo" is the second track off the Kontiki album, and like much of Kontiki it's a song influenced by having spent some months out on the road for the first time in support of our debut release. In the world of rock n' roll where one witnesses some pretty lousy behavior I was writing from the perspective of the woman left behind at home who is supposed to fall all over herself when her man comes home.

I recorded the basic track by subverting some Middle Eastern drum recordings I heard late night on the airwaves and bounced down to my four-track straight from the radio. I turned them backwards and got Darin Murphy to play along with them thus creating another layer of loops. This was my first experimental success with found sound, noise treatments and looping that I continue exploring to this day. Whit's guitar tone was especially wonderful on this track. It was fun to make, and like the rest of Kontiki it seemed like it was creating itself and I was holding on for dear life.
A desired side-effect of the Inventory song score is to open up indie-film audiences to wonderful music they've never heard of.

In talking with Robert, I find that my powerpop education is incomplete, since I've never (yet) caught up with the band Supergrass, which he—like many other aficionados of the genre—rates most highly. According to music mag NME, Cotton Mather shares the same stratospheric air, calling them among "the most exciting new guitar pop band[s] since Supergrass." If they compare favorably to Cotton Mather, consider Supergrass on my future radar... as I hope Cotton Mather and the other fantastic bands in the Inventory soundtrack will be on yours.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Christian Anthony as "Greg"

The West Coast giveth, and the West Coast taketh away.

With no known training whatsoever, Christian Anthony showed up in Boston a few years back and proved to be a director's dream. Always funny, always original, always prepared, and always credible—no matter how ridiculous the situation or role.

He's also an outtake-machine, both because of his inspired improv and because it's often impossible for his fellow actors not to fall over laughing mid-scene.

From the title role in the absurdist short Telemarketing Orphan (2005), up through Inventory (2011), Christian has brought something special to every film he's made with Castparty Productions.

He has a particular knack for roles where he dominates another character with sheer force of personality, like a comedic Robert Mitchum.

And, fittingly, Christian's concept for the role of Greg in Inventory was "abusive tutelage." This made for ideal chemistry with Dennis Hurley, whose genius for sympathetic, harried, low-status characters makes him natural pickin's for the likes of Greg. (Though, do see the aforementioned Telemarketing Orphan, which shows each actor equally gifted at the opposite sides of such a dynamic.)

Now back in California, Christian recalls the making of Inventory:
I started working with many involved in this project when I first moved to Boston. We started out doing sketch shows in the basement of the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. It is only proper then that we wrapped shooting for our very first feature-length comedy on my last weekend in the city.

Being a part of Inventory was tremendous. It was great to have the opportunity to mix the comfortable dynamic that was formed with many of the cast and crew over our years working together with the fresh addition of new, talented actors and actresses.

In developing my own character, I was definitely informed by the creativity that everyone else brought to the project. I decided to go with the well-worn adage to "do what you know." Therefore, I centered my character on the sarcastic asshole model I have come to love.

Thankfully, I had the honor of adding depth to this character by working closely with Dennis and even closer with Cat Miller. They inspired my performance and made Greg a better character. The energy and spirit of the whole cast and crew was amazing and the process was an incredible experience. I think that will come through in the final product for the audience.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chris Holliday as "Barbara"

A consummate pro and a smart and cheerful collaborator, Chris Holliday has played likable moms in commercials for big-name clients like T-Mobile.

But our first experience with her, in The Observer, saw her as a deliciously nasty mother who disrespects her daughter's easygoing boyfriend.

So, we knew she'd be a perfect foil for a group of unapologetic slackers—as Barbara, the imperious furniture-store manager they love to hate.

Will Barbara's icy cool hold as the clock ticks down on an ultimatum from volatile store-owner John Panda? Therein lies the tale.

Chris recalls teaming with Castparty on Inventory and other productions:
I’ve told people that one of the reasons I became an actor after a long career in business and years of being a parent was that I was tired of being in charge. I thought that as an actor I’d let people tell me what to do for a change. So it’s somewhat ironic that one of the things I love best about working with Castparty is the artistic collaboration that takes place working with them. Rather than being told what to do, I discovered I love being part of the creative process. Go figure.

Meeting with cast and crew months before we started shooting to create Inventory was a blast! I remember someone bringing up an idea we'd been kicking around for one of the characters. I left the room for no more than three minutes and that idea had been added to my character, which, in turn, changed much of the story line. The “writing” moved fast, always getting better and better.

Filming was even more fun, as the characters came to life through our talented cast, Justin’s direction, and a dedicated crew. There are several moments permanently etched in my mind: Shelly/Jackie’s monologue of all the jobs she’d ever lost, including how and why(!), Dennis/Percy’s face after one particular scene—a classic combination of stunned delirious bliss and an unnatural shade of bright pink, Matt/Panda’s filthy and hilarious improv, Cat/ZoĆ« and I concocting hiding places in the store for her eccentric character, the orange “makeout couch,” real-life store owner (and truck-driver character) Dave’s constant wisecracks, and my own first experience with a chainsaw (happily, no one was injured). What’s not to love?

Interestingly, this role, as well as my role in Castparty’s Making the Cut has prepared me for new roles as a stern, if not bitchy, boss. Having played all different kinds of moms prior to this, I never would have guessed that the hard-ass boss would become the role for which I’m typecast. And that’s just one of the things I love about being an actor—you never know what to expect. Inventory is full of the unexpected, which is what makes it so great. I hope people watching it have at least as much fun as we did making it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Powerpop maven Bruce Brodeen praises the "Inventory" song score

"Movie soundtracks, ideally, should be a genuine reflection and enhancement of the emotions of the characters and stand alongside the plot movement. Inventory contains stellar song-after-song that amplifies the personalities of its characters and keeps your toes tappin'."

Bruce Brodeen
Founder and

Katarina Morhacova as "Nastasia"

A few years back, when we were planning a feature-length film that didn't ultimately come to fruition, Katarina Morhacova wowed us in the audition and won the female lead. She subsequently moved from Boston to New York, and we never got to work with her as we continued to make short films and, finally, our first feature.

When we began casting for our second feature, Inventory, we were thrilled that Katarina signed on and would make several trips back to Boston to rehearse and perform in it.

She was also a key member of the story team at the project's most critical moments. We needed to go into hyperdrive and make fast, good decisions in choosing and structuring the beats we improvised and reimprovised in whirlwind rehearsals during our first days on location. A veteran of many stage and screen productions, Katarina dedicated herself to helping make sense of the tornado of ideas in flux in those heady days. Since access to the cast was extremely limited, the pressure was on to make the most of that moment of opportunity, and she was a trouper on both sides of the camera.

As I've noted elsewhere, the first question for every Inventory castmember was:
What character would be fun for you to play... and fun for the audience to watch you play?
Unique among the players in Inventory, Katarina brought to the film a character she already had in development, Nastasia: a self-centered, self-proclaimed hip hop star from Ukraine.

We paired Nastasia as the counting partner of Bess (Irina Peligrad), a very American character: a goodnatured Bible belter who doesn't seem to have actually read the book.

Off-camera, we referred to the duo of Czech-born Katarina and Romanian-born Irina (whose accent, for the record, is way more Cincinnati than Bucharest) "the Europeans"—well, once I learned not to call them the "Eastern Europeans" after being corrected a few times and looking at Google maps. But in the film, they're an ocean apart, with Nastasia's ever-present headphones and dismissive attitude forming a challenging barrier to Bess's cheery attempts to break the ice.

Katarina on Nastasia's origins:
Few years ago, while filming an independent film in Dover, NH in freezing winter, I came up with a character of a Ukrainian Hip Hop Princess. My fellow cast member and I went to hang out to a local bar in Dover and because it was very cold, I decided to wear the director's wife's over-the-top long leopard coat. When we walked into the bar, we quickly realized we were total misfits and decided to play the part. Since they played hip hop and I love to dance, I decided to pretend to be a hip hop mega-star from Ukraine. Being originally from ex-Czechoslovakia and wearing a heavy ridiculous coat, it wasn't difficult to pull it off. My fellow actor friend at some point came to the DJ and asked him to give a holla to the girl from the Ukrainian 'hood. When DJ asked me what my name was, I simply said: Nastasia.

Nastasia stayed living in my brain for a while and when Justin called and asked me to create a character I always wanted to play for Inventory, Nastasia couldn't wait to get out of my head. The challenge became how to include a Ukrainian hip-hop princess in an all-American company of misfits working in a furniture store. But that was exactly it, she was as big of a misfit as anybody else.

Justin helped out big time to bring Nastasia to life. Not having a lot of improv experience, and being used to working with a script, I did find it challenging to adjust to the process, but Justin's guidance and patience eventually paid off.

Also, most of actors working on Inventory had worked with each other and Justin before and were used to the process. I found it very inspiring and learnt a lot from Dennis Hurley, Matt Carbo, and Christian Anthony as well as other cast members. Their wit and ability to think quick on their feet pushed me to challenge myself even more.

Nastasia as well as I have learnt a lot about creative process, fitting in, humility and growing up. Thank you for a wonderful experience.