Episode 4: Brett Dempsey Isn’t Drunk

This week is a bit on the conceptual side.  Just go with me on this…

(
For a better viewing experience click on the HQ button once the video starts.  Looks awfully good in full-screen…)

[First off, BIG thanks to the lovely and talented Jennifer Le Blanc for playing my dearly intended,  to Dylan Ricards for once again wielding the camera (so, so sweetly), and to Greg Sextro of East West Audio for lending me a mic.]

This character, again, was conceived by a “What if?”  In this instance, I wondered, “What if there was a guy whose body was drunk, but his mind was sober?”  That’s how it started.

I assumed hijinks would ensue, and that this would be the closest to “straight comedy” that I’d have done so far, but I surprised my own damn self.

Quite quickly, the one or two “bits” I’d assumed we would do were overwhelmed as I was forced to ask, “If a person truly had this condition, what would his life really be like?  What are the realities he would face?”  It’s still funny to me when I remember that it’s an entirely made-up condition, but when I’m not thinking about that, it’s pretty sad.  What a hard life this guy must have.  More on this later.

This marks the first time I’ve had another actor along with me for the ride, and I will freely admit to you now that the reason I decided Brett should have a girlfriend is that the idea of stumbling down the street by myself (with the camera surreptitiously off to the side) was petrifying to me, whereas, if I was draped across someone’s shoulders, at least it would cause less concern (this theory was proven correct in the brief clip where Jenn leaves me alone in front of the sandwich place).  I came up with the concept of the relationship on the evening before the shoot, and it’s amazing how much of the character and the story was born out of that last minute decision.  Before that, really, I had squat.  Once the girlfriend entered the equation finally the ideas started coming.  It warrants noting that I was extremely lucky that Jenn was not only available on such short notice, but was willing to just jump in and fly without a net (not to mix metaphors).  She clearly had thought a lot about her character and their relationship overnight, and she brought a ton to the table in terms of ideas, commitment, and openness.  In short, Jenn was a clutch player.

Originally, Brett was going to be British and speak in an upper-class dialect, but I abandoned that idea the day before shooting.  The idea behind it was kind of cliche (oooh, he looks wasted, but he sounds so posh)… or maybe it was an idea I should have pursued.  Hmm.  Well, maybe I’ll revisit it someday.  I recently finished an improv class at The PIT, and I asked my teacher for some feedback.  She said she liked my characters, but that I should also play someone closer to myself from time to time to get used to that.  So I guess I integrated that into this episode, with the one major difference being that I only stumble around like that occasionally in real life. It was an interesting experiment, anyway.

Right.  The process.  So, how did I create the physicality for this guy?  One word: Research, baby.  Research.  I didn’t drink at all while working on this episode, but I did try to draw from personal experiences; times when I was truly trashed and my motor functions were severely diminished.  I remember, specifically, my feet and legs refusing to do what I wanted them to do.  I considered just getting drunk to shoot the episode, but I quickly dismissed that idea; if you play a junkie you don’t really do heroin when on stage.  Same goes with booze (and caffeine, for that matter).  Also, I went to Youtube and searched for “staggering drunk” and stuff like that, and I found a ton of real life, staggering drunk people (I can’t emphasize enough how tremendous a resource the internet is for actors).  It was a tedious process of watch, then imitate, then watch, then imitate, etc, etc.

What else?

I HATED doing the on-the-street stuff for this episode.  The moment that clinched it for me was when I fell and two people were nice enough to come over and help me.  I just felt awful, like I was tricking these people and using them.  I wanted to break character, apologize, walk home, and set this episode on fire.  I didn’t do any of those things, but it made me conscious of what it is that I want to do, and what it is that I DON’T want to do.  I think Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Ali G, Bruno, etc.) is an extremely talented actor and improviser, but that isn’t what I want this show to be.  A funny look from a stranger for doing something odd on the street is fine; eliciting sympathy and pity from someone kind enough to stop and help a stranger who needs it (under false pretenses) is not fine with me.

Editing this was a total nightmare, and it was 100% my fault, because I wasn’t clear on what I wanted the story to be before we started shooting.  We got a lot of good footage, but trying to string together a through-line out of that chaos was brutal.  It’s putting the cart before the horse.  This is where preparation would have come in–a little goes a long way.  Fit the scenes to the story, not the other way around.  Well, lesson learned, and I hope not to make that mistake again.

Also interesting on the editing front, I learned just how powerful an editor is in a situation like this (which is, essentially, documentary style film-making).  We had SO much material.  I realized that I could very much dictate what I wanted the feeling to be.  There was a ton of really sad stuff that I could have used, and it would have changed everything; some of it was quite good, I thought, but very heavy.  It was possible to kill every laugh in the piece if I wanted to, or kill every bit of hubris.  Very interesting stuff.  In the end, I chose to keep things on the lighter side.  Maybe I was just in a good mood, or maybe that’s just the way the piece was meant to be.

Anyway, lots of lessons learned from this one.  Did you know that concrete is hard?  I do now.

Got any questions?  Thoughts?  Please post them in the comments section (and please do tell your friends).

And for those of you who made it this far down, a BONUS VIDEO is your reward!  This is why I’m still black and blue (yes, some of those falls really hurt).

Best,

Brent Rose  4.22.09  3.32am

~ by 50in50 on April 22, 2009.

15 Responses to “Episode 4: Brett Dempsey Isn’t Drunk”

  1. This is my FAVORITE! Really really good. And Brent, with much love I say, it’s good to see you reigning it in a bit. A British accent would definitely have been to much, and this was just brilliant as is.

  2. Wow. This is my favorite so far, by a country mile. I think the advice to play someone closer to yourself was good, and really made this piece authentic, despite the extreme and parodic situation. Like you, I ended up having complete sympathy for this guy, despite the fact that his ailment is made up. It was a really excellent balance of inane and touching, and the editing was fantastic. I’m glad it turned out that way, rather than more depressing or more slapstick. And I agree that a British accent might’ve ultimately been too much. Really nice work on this one.

  3. this one is way conceptual. very nice work. some serious crazy turns in there. i couldn’t watch the part where someone helps you up (the first time through). great punchline at the end.

  4. i have to agree with the crowd here and say that this one is my favorite so far, with the tree hugger a close second. you have so much subtlety of expression and intonation in this piece – really let me feel close to you (him, whatever). love mia

  5. I enjoyed this very much..it hit all the right notes without going too far in any direction. I loved the relationship aspect. It’s nice to see a warm loving relationship and Jen did I great job keeping it believable (as did you). All that fall though did look rather painful. Keep it up…these are great.

  6. Hey, that is a real condition! Not to get too academic but its called “ataxia” it’s from damage to the cerebellum. You also threw in a little “limb apraxia” ( your brain forgets the motor planning for moving your limbs to accomplish what it wants your body to do). Good episode! Keep them coming!

    • Very cool, Sid, and thank you for sharing! I may seek out your expertise next time I’m looking to do something like this.

      Cheers,
      BR

      • In addition International Ataxia Awareness Day is September 25th, you should link back to this episode when it rolls around! Thanks for another great episode (this one’s also my favorite so far)!

  7. Wow Brent, you still continue to be very talented. From my own work in the medical field you actually had me wondering if this was a real neurological disorder (yet intellectually I knew that it wasn’t). I even wondered if that was your IRL girlfriend…just a few comments if you care.
    Everytime you were about to fall you crossed your feed (IDK if you meant that or not)
    It must have been very difficult not to ACT drunk but be “falling down drunk” get what I mean? I think I might have trouble separating the two, so kudos.
    Great camera work…

    • Hey Shawna, thanks for the questions/comments. No, Jenn isn’t my IRL (that’s “in real life”, right?) girlfriend. She’s just a friend and a very talented actor who I went to the National Theatre Conservatory (i.e. grad school) with.

      And yes, doing the sober-brain vs. drunk-body thing was super challenging. That’s what made me really want to try it.

      Best,
      BR

  8. Very moving. My auntly self kept worrying that you’d hurt yourself (he’d hurt himself)–
    Love, AK

  9. I also liked that little “Hey” to the camera in the beginning…it pulled the audience in and made it more personal.The ending was also great, a surprise that kinda pulls the listener up short. I through “yeah, he’s right”

  10. Hey Brent,
    So NPR ran a story on sudden onset of dizziness today. And there is a cure:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103463398

    So, I think the next video should be about world hunger, the economic collapse, or maybe giving everyone a Lexus… you know, just to see what happens!

    TTFN

  11. I found this one was kind of sad. The pretentious boyfriend apologizing (the boy with brussel sprouts comment killed me) was hilarious, but watching Brett’s acceptance but complete bewilderment about his condition broke my heart. Great concept! I love this series. I know it’s hard with a f-time job and other responsibilities, but I hope you can keep delivering pieces.

  12. Great Job Brent. Keep going…

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