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Friday, 7 June, 2013 12:00 am

John E. Dirt PT.1-4

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"John E. Dirt Part 1 of 4
by Bill Gosline"
 
 
 
The following article was written by the screenwriter and co-creator of John E. Dirt as a retrospective on the movie-making experience. Read and enjoy. 
 
 
John E. Dirt

 

  In the months following prime time television’s shooting season, workers from the Hawaii chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) union catch up on sleep, remodel homes, collect unemployment, and generally get some well deserved rest from the rigorous sixteen hour days they’ve pulled for the last six to eight months. Sometimes after being suitably renewed, they’ll help out on a colleague’s side project; they may even spearhead one of their own. After all, most of them are in the entertainment industry because they love what they make.

  Veteran grip and music documentarian Bill Draheim is a lifelong fan of film and music. This is the story of how he and I wrote, produced and shot our own short here in Hawaii: a project we called John E. Dirt. 

 

Offical Poster 

 

The Scuttlebutt

 

  Hawaii is both tiny and global at the same time. The upshot of this is that everything you find on the continent can be found here, albeit on a smaller, more concentrated level. The independent film scene is no exception and is a bit like a high school drama club with world class talent. While in LA every last person in town – from the pizza delivery guy to the barista who serves you your soy latte – is a

producer scrabbling to make a name for themselves, in Hawaii the film community is much more collegial. There is little of the dog-eat-dog intensity that characterizes “the game” on the other side of the ocean. As I was introduced to the local players, I soon realized how supportive it could be. 

 

  One night, about a year ago, Bill and I were hanging out, tossing around ideas for movies over beers. Bill began to describe an image he had had of a man trapped in a room, forced to watch footage of deafening industrial music on an old tube television. His captors by turns cajole and threaten him in an effort to get him to play the music he is subjected to, but every time he picks up his guitar – the only luxury afforded him – he reinterprets the sonic barrage in a mellow, bluesy style. Of course, his noncompliance comes with consequences and there is hell to pay….

 

 

  I liked it. It was a great idea for a number of reasons. For starters you’ve got your typical exegesis on the eternal conflict of the artist (to sell out or not to sell out, that is the question). But, even better, the premise reflected more timely social issues. Recent events at Guantanamo Bay have cast something of a pall over our smug belief that torture is what other countries do. And the fact that heavy metal music was used as a method of torture on the detainees… well, that sort of symmetry doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Of course, there was a bit of irony in that John E. Dirt the detainee is tortured by his own music.  

 

  We wanted to make it a dark film. As we were going to finance everything ourselves, we wouldn’t have to deal with restrictions from outside agencies – if we had the chance to make another movie in the future, we would have to get funding; and that might mean making something more accessible. I had always wanted to try my hand at a movie script, so I told Bill I would take a crack at it. 

But the biggest benefit of the premise was a practical one: we would only have to find one room to shoot in.

 

End of Part 1

 

The original article was published in Hawaii Progressive Digital Magazine. Printed here with the permission of the author. 

 

                                                                                Reference Trailer #1

 

Reference Trailer #2

 

 

 

"John E. Dirt Part 2 of 4 

by Bill Gosline"
 

Search for the Sanitarium

 

  Bill had worked on a number of shows over the years: Lost, Off the Map, and The River, as well as a number of independent and mainstream one -offs. He had covered some territory and seen some pretty far out places. Locations were sometimes out of the way, like the abandoned military complex in the back of a Westside valley. Others were bizarre old buildings, the kinds of places that inspire our Obake tales – the local ghost stories of Hawaii. With a decent knowledge of the island’s creepier spots, we set out in search of the perfect cell for our intransigent rock star. 

  One of the more promising spots was an old hospital in the Kaimuki area now used as a convalescent home. A beautiful old monstrosity, it had at least four floors sprawling over as many wings. Walking the front street up to the entrance we could make out ghostly figures in the windows – banshees or bingo players? We would soon find out.

  We told the receptionist in the lobby that we were shooting a movie and were interested in using their facilities. Everything reeked of antiquity, including the flesh-colored push-button phone she referred us to. We would have to talk to the building manager. The phone clicked and whirred for a few moments before a thin voice greeted me on the other end. I was quiet for a minute, stumped as I searched for the right thing to say. So I said the first thing that came to mind. 

  “Ma`am, we’re from Hawaii 5O and were wondering if we could look at your facilities for possible shooting purposes?”  

  She came down to meet with us. Of course first we had to explain that we weren’t actually from Hawaii 5O – though I had thought about becoming an extra on a future episode. Despite the mix up, she was a very good sport and took us around the labyrinth-like structure. At some point, Bill realized that he had shot there before. 

  She showed us a couple great spots. There was a whole wing of half torn down cells that seemed more fitting for the refuge of medieval monks than modern patients. There was your standard hospital room, circa 1970s. But it was the tuberculosis ward that definitely took the cake. Due to the virulence of the disease, the chamber was of necessity isolated from the rest of the hospital behind heavy doors at the end of a long, deserted hallway.

  “How much to use it?” Bill asked. 

  “$500 a night. You can shoot off hours, from 5 PM until 8 AM the next day. Just be aware that if a tuberculosis patient is flown in and needs to be quarantined, you’ll have to get out.” 

  We decided to try our luck elsewhere. 

 

Kung-Fu Supply Shop Hustle

 

  The problem with saying you’re shooting a film is that everyone suddenly thinks you have money to burn. You go to a place and say you want to use it as a location, and all of a sudden you get Hollywood prices. We tried stressing that we were a “small, independent” production, but people either pretended ignorance or really didn’t know that that was a euphemism for “no budget.” 

  We developed a different strategy and began hunting around for one month rentals: the cheaper, the dingier, the better. After a couple of weeks we found the perfect place, a derelict kung-fu studio on Maunakea Street that occupied the entire third floor of a wonderful old brick building. We couldn’t argue with the price: $1300 for an entire month. 

  Bill and I immediately signed the lease and wasted no time in starting the clean-up. The previous tenant must have left in quite a hurry, judging by the amount of trash still around. We found the most time efficient way of getting rid of his crap was dumping it on the second floor.  We had been shown the second level, which was also available to lease, and turned it down for a number of reasons. But before leaving we had made sure that the door to the rear stairwell was unlocked. After the realtor left, we did a complete exploration of both levels. Among the treasures we found was a still functioning refrigerator stocked with food and a cold pack of Coors light. Drunk on the success of finally finding a set for our movie, we cracked a beer open to celebrate. Vinegar never tasted so good. We donated the rest of the beer to the residents of A`ala park who, by and large, aren’t overly choosy.  

                                                                                                                 

 

  There was a landing at the top of the rear stairwell about four feet above the floor that ran ten feet back to the exterior wall. Bill immediately saw its potential as a place for running the jib. But more trash filled it from front to back. The kung-fu tenant had hung a flimsy string with a note card reading “do not touch” across the front of the landing – time had given the detritus the same consistency as a glass dish of hard candy that you might find in your Granny’s living room, a permanent exhibit on the center table, never again to be separated one from the other.  It had to go. 

  After a week of scouring and scrubbing, the dust had cleared and we realized we had access to not just one, but two complete floors with adjoining stairwells in the front and back. We also had access to the rooftop, a blinding white surface that squished under foot from the layers of tar laid down over the decades. We used it in the opening shot but most of the time it just provided a nicotine rookery and vantage point to watch the alien drama of midnight Chinatown unfold on the streets below. 

 

End of Part 2

 

The original article was published in Hawaii Progressive Digital Magazine. Printed here with the permission of the author.

 


 
"John E. Dirt Part 3 of 4 
by Bill Gosline"
 
  

 

 
 

 

Stand Up and Be Counted

 

  A lot has to happen to make a movie. While we had been looking around for places and I had been polishing up the script, Bill started calling in favors. For years he had been helping people out with their vanity projects. Now it was his turn to get some love back.

  The first person to answer the call was Karen Archibald, a painter and set designer on countless shows and theatrical productions here in Hawaii. She started out as the painter but eventually became responsible more or less for more of the sets. With her connections to the theater community, she also helped us procure many of the props we would end up using. Her partner Tweed Johnston, a forty-year veteran of the industry, soon followed, flying over from the Big Island to pitch in.  Jennifer Coffey, Bill’s wife, became the final core member. She juggled duties as production manager and craft service while taking care of their six-month-old baby.    The crew was looking good. Preproduction was trundling along nicely. Our rental space had been cleaned out and divided into three sets, each with the appropriate props. But we still hadn’t found our principal actor, the man who would play John E. Dirt.

  We’d begun casting only a month before leasing the studio. Even with only two roles to be filled (we already had an actress for the character of the nurse) we hadn’t yet had any luck finding the lead. I was getting a bit skittish, but Bill wouldn’t have it. “Johnny will show up once word gets around what we’re doing. Just watch, people are starting to pay attention.”

   He was right. Once Karen and Tweed attached their names to the project, other veterans began to materialize. One of the sound technicians on Hawaii 5O generously donated his time and the use of his personal equipment. The cameraman/cinematographer shot everything for next to nothing while allowing us the use of his full package, which included a sixteen foot jib arm. The grip department –electricians, gaffers, dolly grip, etc. – became a well-oiled machine under Tweed Johnston’s leadership. Our makeup woman was an established professional who had beautified, bruised and bloodied people around town for years. And John E. Dirt finally materialized: a local actor named Rolf Burton, who had had been the stand-in for Michael Anderson’s character on Lost during the five-year run of the show.

  Not just a few people said that they had signed on because of the script, a generous compliment that I brushed off because I suffer from that common writer’s condition that makes me unable to ever be satisfied with my work. Theoretically, the script had been finished for a month. Realistically I still worried over it every night, like a dog chewing on a pig’s ear.  

  I had been working on John E. Dirt for over a year, starting one foggy morning in Korea at my brother-in-law’s home on the outskirts of Seoul. Jet-lagged, and tossing in my sleep
from too much kimchee, I woke up the very first morning, sat down at a desktop computer and wrote a fifteen page story. After a year of rewriting and three very different drafts – all in excess of fifty pages – I eventually went back to formula, churning out a script that for all intents and purposes resembled a grown-up version of the one I’d first written.
 

 

Prima Donna Beard 

 

  In a lot of ways, we were lucky. We didn’t have any divas or fickle thespians to transform the experience into a teeth-gritting exercise in patience. But not all was smooth sailing. There was still one implacable entity that demanded everyone’s attention – John E. Dirt’s beard.

 

            

 

  During his incarceration, our protagonist does little in the way of personal grooming. From a story-telling standpoint, his facial hair is key in helping the viewer track time. But it is a universal truth that hair grows more slowly than it can be cut. The movie itself had five scenes, which, in cinema time, spanned over a month. As the writer I was best suited to plan the shooting schedule as well as maintain script continuity. We had allocated time for exactly eight days of shooting. To fake the passage of time therefore we had to shoot the entire movie backwards. 

 Thus, you could hear things on set like, “What scene are we shooting tonight?” 

  “We’re finishing up ‘Two Weeks Growth’ and then moving on to ‘Five O’clock Shadow.’ If we’re lucky we’ll get to ‘Clean Shaven Day One’ by midnight.” 

  The hubbub around Johnny’s facial hair became so heated and the nights so long, that at one point, upon finding a curly hair on my soda can, I turned around, exhausted and fed up, ready to give Clarence Thomas a piece of my mind. But it was just our leading man sitting in his chair, getting his Norwegian bristles hacked off with a razor while watching the Stanley Cup on his iPhone. 

 

End of Part 3

 

The original article was published in Hawaii Progressive Digital Magazine. Printed here with the permission of the author.
 
                  Unofficial Trailer
 

 
"John E. Dirt Part 4 of 4 
by Bill Gosline"
 
 
Lights! Camera! And….

                                            

  And then the first day of shooting was upon us. We had spent the better part of a month running around collecting props and set pieces, carting garbage out and furniture in. Under Karen’s direction, we had painted the rooms egg shell white, only to showbiz dirty them again to give the impression of a dingy cell – something we had basically had to begin with. Friends, family and wives took turns making dinner for the crew. The husbands bought cigarettes and candy to appease the workers. And always a steady stream of tools, electrical equipment, jib and dolly components, coat racks, floating walls, and costumes trickled in and out, settling into mountains of gear until the set was as cluttered as it had been when we got there. Rolf Burton, who played John E. Dirt, diligently set about growing a beard. 

  All the preparation was over. There he lay, the stubborn rock star ward of our post-apocalyptic insanitarium, John E. Dirt, on a hospital bed in a cell, curled up with his favorite plant, waiting for Bill to bark out the age-old director’s prerogative.  

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

  And Bill stood there, still as a stone – a contrast to the constant pacing back and forth that would become his norm between shots.

  And there I stood as well. Tweed turned to me and in the near silence said, “If you don’t have a hard-on right now, you’re in the wrong business.”

  I swallowed and nodded. Here we were, one year later, finally about to shoot our movie with a fully loaded cast and crew! I felt light-headed, everything swirling around me, the world shrinking away… or was it just the front of my pants?

  And then someone hit the overhead lights, the Canon 7D began to whirr, the sound man, secured on his throne of dials and antennas (I didn’t see him stand up again for a whole week) confirmed, “Sound, speed.” Bill – “nervous as hell” as he would later admit – finally said what we’d all been waiting for. 

“And… ACTION!”

 

End 

 

 The original article was published in Hawaii Progressive Digital Magazine. Printed here with the permission of the author.

 
          Official Trailer

          John E. Dirt the Movie

 

 
 
 
 
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