What’s In A Process?

How does one go about explaining a process? I find myself wondering this more and more, these days. Mainly because people keep asking me what my plans are for this “proposed series” that is slowly taking shape, both in my head and on the page.

I refer, of course, to the short films that are being made surrounding the “Frat Pack”; so called, because it features three longtime friends in their late 20s, early 30s, who live together, despite glaring differences. Their names are Frank, Sammy and Dean. Get it?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, that’s where the similarities to the Rat Pack end. These guys aren’t sophisticated, they aren’t cool, they can’t sing and they have no ambition beyond getting through the day so they can kick back with a curling bowl of serenity.

In a nutshell, they’re stoners. I’ve always been told to write what I know. After close to 40 years living amongst the purveyors and consumers of the controversial herbal substance, I know my stoners. Oh, c’mon, don’t act surprised. If you’re reading this, you probably know some stoners, too. Even closet stoners. It’s like having friends who are gay. Or Twilight fans.

Donny in costume, and attitude, for his role as Sammy in the Frat Pack series.
Donny in costume, and attitude, for his role as Sammy in the Frat Pack series.

As I type this, we have shot one script and are prepping a second. I have two more written and another in the hopper, waiting to be birthed onto the page. Beyond that, I can’t really say more, despite the attempts to pin me down to an explanation. Or worse, a plan.

The biggest question on everybody’s mind seems to be, ‘is there a point to all this?’

Honestly, I’m not sure. It may be too early to make that determination.

To begin with, I’m not even sure that brief synopsis given above does justice to the process I’ve been using to bring the boys to life. It sounds like the premise for a sitcom. Believe me when I say, this stuff is anything but sitcom material. Hell, I’m not even sure “process” is the right word.

Why? Because, there’s no real science to it. No formula to speak of. Basically, it’s all stream of consciousness. I have no real plan when writing these scripts. No plot to consider. Just dialog and actions. Oh, I’ve got a few long-range ideas which may or may not involve Cthulhian physics and penis puppetry, but really, it’s up to the boys. They are the ones telling the stories. I just listen and, when the time is right, I start typing. Can’t really force them to do anything. They ARE stoners, after all. They have their own way of doing things.

As I said before, I’ve had about 40 years to compile research on the subject. The thought processes used by stoners is anything but linear and that’s the beauty of it. The lines between reality and imagination have a tendency to blur. Anything is possible, because the mind is wide open to any possibility. That’s what makes writing about them so fun. Once you get past the clichés and easy punchlines, the concept that anything is possible is very fertile ground for surreal comedy.

Incidentally, when I use the word “research,” I mean observation. I’m an observer. I watch and listen and all that input goes into the mixmaster of my brain where it churns and spins, sometimes for years, until it is barfed up onto the page. Some of my best stories have happened that way. None have been quite as esoteric, however, as the Frat Pack storylines.

I can’t even tell you where the original concept came from. I’ve sort of documented all of that in a previous post, in which I described the process of creating the first film as a “whirlwind.” It was. It came together in just one week. The details probably do more to explain my “process,” so I’ll break it down.

Eric, Donny and Ardy rehearse a scene for Blunt Offerings.
Eric, Donny and Ardy rehearse a scene for Blunt Offerings.

It all started when a group of filmmaker friends asked me to write a script that they could shoot. My partner is an actor. Many of our friends are actors, too. At the time all of this occurred, both Donny and my friend Eric were involved in theatrical productions. Their acting styles are very different, but complimentary somehow and I had been wishing I could see them perform together.

So it was that, when sitting down to write a script for the LC52 boys, I thought, ‘why not give Donny something to do. And while I’m at it, I’ll write something for Eric, too. This may be my only chance to see them act together.’

I slept on it. I ruminated over it. I didn’t write anything for a few days, but the concept was percolating. Then, one evening while Donny and I were taking a weekend break up north in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, I decided to “jot down” a few notes. An hour later, I had the script for The Baking Dead. I showed it to Donny and he loved it. When we got back to town, I showed it to Eric and he, likewise, loved it.

I then showed it to my filmmaker buddies and a week later, we were filming it. Of course, that meant having to cast the third actor. Again, I have no idea where Frank came from, any more than I do Sammy or Dean, played by Donny and Eric respectively. An actor friend of the filmmakers expressed interest, I gave him a copy of the script and three days later, Ardy was sitting in a chair throwing spoons at Donny while the cameras rolled.

It happened just like that. Very organic. The resulting short film, The Baking Dead, was screened at Film Las Cruces, our local forum for filmmakers held at the historic Rio Grande Theatre once a month. It was very well received and the question was asked, repeatedly, “What are you going to do next?”

I didn’t really know. I thought about it and decided that I really liked the characters I’d created. So, I wrote another script. Actually, there was a little more to it. An actress friend of ours had been there for the “premiere” of The Baking Dead at Film Las Cruces and wistfully asked how she could get in on the action. The hamsters went into overdrive and soon the germ of an idea had begun to sprout from their projectile pellets.

The script was for Blunt Offerings (are you beginning to see a pattern here?), which cast Britney as a succubus who has a timely run-in with Frank. I told Britney that I had written a part for her and she accepted without even reading it. Both Sammy and Dean make an appearance, too, naturally, though their parts are much smaller than they were in The Baking Dead.

Because I didn’t want to be accused of playing favorites, especially by the two very actors I had written the first script for, I decided that both Sammy and Dean needed to be featured in their own stories. From there, the ideas for both Enter The Ganja – a dream sequence featuring Dean as a ninja fighting bad guys (there’s a whole story behind that idea, but that can wait) – and Road Trippin’, which arose from a conversation about bees and atomic radiation and pairs Sammy with another character which will be played by my musician friend Randy.

That’s the process. I talk to people, they express interest, I think about it and the next thing I know, I’ve created characters for them. From the characters come the storylines, such as they are. Right now, I’ve got several “scenes” mapped out for a fifth script, but no real direction. It’ll come. I’m not worried. After all, we still have two other scripts to prepare and shoot. And that’s IF we even get to that point.

Honestly, I’m just happy to have gotten as far as we have. One in the can and one on the fast track to be shot this weekend. This time around, we have a full crew, all professionals, including a hair and make-up artist, a costume designer, a set designer, a sound engineer and an editor. That’s a far cry from the two man team we had on the last shoot. Back for another go round is my DP, Kent, and gaffer, Dustin. These guys are troopers and I’m sure they’re happy to have the help this time around.

Because of the professional involvement and how well everything has come together – my actors are knocking us all out with their performances – we’ve decided to see what we can do about entering the finished product in the upcoming White Sands International Film Festival. From there, who knows. It all depends on the finished product, but right now it’s looking damned good.

Ardy and Britney rehearse a scene for Blunt Offerings.
Ardy and Britney rehearse a scene for Blunt Offerings.

Kent, the guy who started this beast on its lumbering path by persuading me to “write something that we can shoot,” would really like to see the “series” (I have a hard time thinking of it that way, hence the quotation marks) become more regular and, maybe, become webisodes. WEBISODES! That sounds like a commitment. I can feel the boys bridling at the thought, even as I type this. “We’re stoners,” they whine, “you can’t expect us to be regular purveyors of cryptic nonsense. It’s just not natural!”

Whatever. We’ll see what happens. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. I don’t consider myself a filmmaker. I’m not a screenwriter. Nor am I a director. I’ve done all of those things, but not professionally. I’m not sure I want to. Like most artists, I don’t like being tied down to just one genre. Hell, I’ve got so many projects hopping around in my hamster cage, right now, the poor little beasts are becoming schizophrenic.

Even so, as long as the boys keep telling me their stoner stories and the scripts keep coming, I’ll keep writing them. If we get around to filming all of them, I’ll be happy. If we don’t, I can always turn them into short stories. It’s all the same to me, though I do have to admit seeing the little movies I’ve always had in my head come to life on an actual screen is seriously cool. So long as the LC52 boys want to keep making them, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

As for myself, I’m just taking it all one day at a time and enjoying the ride for what it is; a great experience and an opportunity to work with really cool people, all doing what they do best. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Even if I can’t really explain my process.

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