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.
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).
Brent Rose 4.22.09 3.32am