King Victor Productions

 

What follows are interviews with the cast and crew of That Darn Bill, conducted by Franklin F. Farmer IV for The Short Film Enthusiast (the official publication for film enthusiasts 5’2” and under).



AN INTERVIEW WITH JIM VINES

FF: Who the heck is this King Victor fella anyway?

JV: Rob and I used to be police scanner enthusiasts. Cops always use phonetic spelling for running license plates, calling in suspect names, etc. The phonetic designation for the letters “K” and “V” (for Kelly and Vines) is “King” and “Victor.” Anyway, we thought it just sounded kinda neat together. So there you are.

FF: So…why the silent, 1920s style?

JV: I’ve always been a big fan of the old Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang comedies. I think that sort of comedy is timeless. Besides, we couldn’t afford sound...or color.

FF: It looks like you were run pretty ragged during the course of the movie. Any injuries?

JV: No, not really. I’ve been doing those goofy pratfalls since I was a kid. In fact, I wanted to be a stuntman once upon a time. The only thing in the movie that actually hurt was in the final shot when I’m being dragged away by the Cop. We had a thick rope around my chest and under my arms. The actor playing the Cop (Colin Miller) held onto it at the back of my neck and actually dragged me about twenty feet or so. We did that shot about six times. I was hurtin’ pretty good when we finally wrapped.

FF: Any other behind-the-scenes stories to tell?

JV: The shot of the hundred-dollar bill flittering through the air and landing on the grass (in the park). Looks really simple, huh? WRONG! I don’t know how many times we had to shoot that. First thing we did was put the bill on a thin thread and let it flap around in the wind and slowly lowered it to the ground. That didn’t work. Then we tried tossing it high in the air and letting it fall. That didn’t work, either. And if we ever did get a decent shot of something, it was usually out of focus or badly framed. Finally...we rigged this long pole – about ten feet long – attached the bill to the end of it, then we’d raise the pole as high as it would go, then release the bill on cue and shoot its descent to the ground. That’s how we shot what you see in the movie...but it still took us about twenty takes to get it right.

FF: Yeah, yeah, that’s really great, Jim, but c’mon, don’t you have anything interesting to tell us? I mean, weren’t there any behind-the-scene shenanigans going on? Any torrid affairs going on while the camera wasn’t running?

JV: Sorry. We ran a pretty tame set.

FF: C’mon, didn’t you get just a little frisky with either of those cute gals from the dream sequence?

JV: I’m a professional, Frank. I don’t do that sort of thing. Talk to Robert. I think he snuck off into the bushes with one of them. Maybe both. I don’t know.

FF: Which brings me to my next question. Where did you get those hot “Dream Sequence Girls”?

JV: Rob was very concerned that we’d have difficulty finding the two girls for our dream sequence. He didn’t want to go to a casting agency or to a theater group, and neither one of us really knew any girls that fit those particular parts. But I wasn’t worried about it I knew we’d find what we were looking for without much problem. After all, this is Hollywood! Just toss a stick and you’ll hit an actor or actress looking for work. Even on a no-budget, black-and-white short. So anyway, two days before we were scheduled to shoot the sequence, Rob and I drove down to Melrose Avenue, parked the car and walked up and down the street. Whenever we saw a girl that might fit the part (i.e. tall and sexy) we’d look at each other and say, “Does she fit the part?” Well, the night we went out a Thursday I think it was – the pickings out on Melrose were pretty slim. Sure, we saw quite a few very attractive girls, but most of them had freakish tattoos and/or were too short or...whatever. But we saw this one girl working behind the counter of a clothing boutique. She was tall, exotic, unmarked and sexy. In other words, she was exactly what we were looking for. Rob and I talked it over. Yup, we agreed she was perfect. So I stood outside on the sidewalk while Rob went inside to approach the girl. I’d peek in every so often to see how things were progressing. The girl seemed a bit taken aback, but I did notice she was smiling, so I assumed things were going well. Anyway, after being told what the movie was about, how much she’d be paid, that we’d be happy to buy her a new dress, and that she’d have a lot of fun, she agreed. Our next question: Did she have an equally gorgeous friend that also wanted to be in a movie? She said she did! Anyway, their names were Nava Goldberg and Katherine Kelly (no relation to Robert) and I think they did a fabulous job. They didn’t complain, didn’t have attitudes they were really great sports about the whole thing. So a really big THANK YOU to Nava and Katherine!

FF: How did you choose the music?

JV: I initially ran an ad on an Internet site for composers/musicians. I got a flurry of responses. Close to two hundred, in fact. We listened to some samples but nothing really worked for us. Don’t get me wrong, we heard from some really wonderful musicians, but they just didn’t have the sound we wanted. One day, totally out of the blue, I met Nathan Johnson. Actually, it wasn’t a face to face meet   it was over the phone and it was for a reason that had nothing to do with our movie. Anyway, he eventually revealed that he was a composer and was interested in writing music for movies. I told him I just happened to be wrapping up a short film and – surprise, surprise needed a composer. I gave him a quick pitch of what the movie was about and he seemed to be intrigued by the idea. He also loved the fact that his music would accompany the entire movie! Nathan came to Los Angeles (from Texas) a week or so later and met with Rob and me. We all had a nice chat, had some laughs. Got along just great. We worked out a deal and Nathan went back to Texas to start work on the score. Rob and I fashioned a temp track to the movie and that was a general guide for him to work from. He would write a few minutes of score and send it to us. Rob and I would listen to it and take notes. We sorta worked this way through the entire score. What’s great about Nathan is that it took very little to get our ideas across. We’d say something like, “A bit more lush here” or “More depressing there” and he knew precisely what to do.

FF: The end credits tell us Duff Durand, Andrew Nordhoff and Lester Hoyboyvenson wrote the movie? Who are they?

JV: Durand and Nordhoff are pseudonyms for Rob and me (respectively). We don’t know who Lester Hoyboyvenson is. Um, must be a typo or something.

FF: Jim, I know in real life you’re a professional screenwriter. Did you actually sit down and write a screenplay for That Darn Bill?

JV: When we initially came up with the basic concept – a guy chasing a hundred dollar bill all over town – I wrote up a beat outline. But that was quickly abandoned and we just made everything up as we went along. So, to answer your question, there was no official script written. But for this sort of project I prefer not having a script. It makes everything more spontaneous. Though looking back, I wish we’d thought out some of the scenes better. For instance, the guy playing golf, smacking the balls at Marvin – we shoulda had him wearing really thick Coke-bottle glasses. That would’ve been funny.

FF: I understand you and Robert have known each other a long time. How long have you been making movies together?

JV: We’ve been friends since the age of eleven, which was in 1974. That’s also the same year I started making Super-8 films in my back yard. We made a lot of these little movies until our second year of high school, then we sort of went our separate ways. Not the friendship, just our career choices. I continued making student movies and television shows while Robert went off to run a bordello in Pakistan. But we got back into doing stuff together in the early 90s. But I really think we compliment each other. Rob has a fantastic technical sense, while I lean more toward the emotional side of things. I’m not a big fan of buttons and gadgets and technology, but I’m glad it exists...and I’m really glad Rob knows how it all works. But what I really enjoy most is the sense of humor we share. We have a lot of laughs. A lot. Most of the time I don’t even care if there’s film in the camera!


AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT KELLY

FF: So why the silent, 1920s style?

RK: Um, who wants to know?

FF: What format did you shoot on?

RK: Format?  C'mon, fella, you're confusing me with this hi-tech jargon.

FF: How did you get the sped-up effect?

RK: Um, it sorta just came out that way.

FF: What did you edit on?

RK: My desk.  I like it, it's so flat.

FF: Being able to edit digital video on a computer, were you able to manipulate any of the shots in the movie?

RK: Actually, you'll have to speak to my attorney about that one.

FF: How long did it take to shoot?

RK: Who, my attorney?  You're confusing me again.

FF: Robert, word has it you really enjoyed seeing Jim get dragged around behind that car. Any truth to this?

RK: Anytime I get to witness Jim being hurt or mangled in any way, it's a true joy to behold.  Joy!

FF: Any amusing behind-the-scene stores to tell?

RK: Sure...just not to you.  Listen, I'm sorta double-parked, can I go now?


AN INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN M. JOHNSON

FF: What type of equipment did you use to compose the score?

NMJ: A piano, two computers, sample libraries, an old trombone, microphones, preamps and other requisite audio and MIDI interfaces – the usual stuff. For music of this style I always start at the piano – a real piano. There’s a physical interaction with a piano, lacking in even the best of electronic keyboards, that is compositionally inspiring. I would crash and bang or quietly explore on the keys until the basic musical ideas revealed themselves, then I’d try to scratch them out on paper before they could get away. From there I would move over the computer to see what all the other instruments could tell me about where this music wanted to go. Sometimes I’d go back and forth from computer to piano all day, checking the ideas of one on the other.

FF: What was the most difficult aspect of composing the score for That Darn Bill?

NMJ: There are so many moods! It is tempting to score a film, whether long or short, using one basic theme or motive throughout. That’s often the best approach, in fact. But That Darn Bill seemed to me to require unique music for each unique scene. Marvin was on a journey, he covered a lot of ground, and I felt the music needed to do likewise. As a result, the musical material for this twelve-minute film could easily have filled two hours, and it was nearly as much work. But I loved it! Maybe that was the problem.

FF: What are your biggest musical influences?

NMJ: Difficult to know. Throughout my life I’ve been immersed at one time or another in various genres, and by immersed I mean playing and performing, listening, studying, and of course composing. Ragtime/big band/jazz/blues; classical (with the lowercase C intended to denote the entire genre of so-called “serious” music, or concert music); pop/rock; and to some extent opera and musical theater. Film music entered my consciousness only a few years ago, when it dawned on me that I might be able to employ all my musical skills, training, imagination and enthusiasm while making a living. What a concept!

FF: Were there any live musical instruments playing on the sound track, or was the entire thing computer-generated?

NMJ: As you might suppose, the budget for That Darn Bill was not one that could accommodate a nineteen-piece band. So we (Rob, Jim and I) had to decide whether it made more sense to limit the score to just a couple live players, or to use the wonders of modern sampling technology to create a broader palette of sound. Given the breadth of mood and action in the film, we all preferred the latter. The more I composed, the more instruments I wanted to add. Let’s face it: you can be sillier (if that's a word) with an orchestra than you can with a solo piano. In the end I opted to play, record and mix in a few live trombone and piano tracks (like adding real egg shells to powdered eggs, some like to say). But the vast majority of sounds, including most of the piano and trombone, came straight out of the Mac. That is not to say they weren’t the sounds of real instruments – they were. I just used the computer to reproduce them on command.

FF: I understand that you didn’t start out as a full-time composer. Did you have some other day job?

NMJ: Until fairly recently, yes. I divided my time and my mind between music and the practice of law. It wasn’t a particularly good combination, but it worked as long as I needed it to. People often ask me, in light of my lifelong musical background, why I didn’t (don’t) simply practice entertainment law. Because, goes the standard reply, entertainment law is law; it’s not entertainment. I’d simply be representing the people who I want to be. I figured it made more sense to be a composer/musician than to represent one. Since completing That Darn Bill, I’ve had constant, paying work as a composer. No time for law. It’s been welcome change.

FF: Musically speaking, where would you like to be five years from now?

NMJ: I’d like my name to be on the minds of people in the industry – producers, directors, music supervisors, screenwriters, video editors. I’d like to feel that enough people know my name and admire my work that I can expect a steady flow of quality work. It would be nice, too, to work with larger budgets that permit the employment of live musicians. The computer is a wonderful tool, and together with modern sample libraries it has become possible to create virtual acoustic ensembles with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude (as I hope is evident in this score), but live musicians can breathe more life into a score than even the composer can imagine. Even when I’m using synthetic sounds from the computer, live recording makes everything more powerful, more immediate, more appealing. Did I mention bigger budgets?


AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN FRANZBLAU

FF: Your credit on the movie reads “Script Supervisor/Dialog Coach”. C’mon, Susan, we know there was no script and no dialogue. What’re you tryin’ to pull here?

SF: Most people like to think that Jim and Robert created this wonderful little film. They didn't. Every good thing about it was mine. It was originally supposed to be in color with dialogue. But it would have been awful. Number one, even after spending two intensive weeks with Jim, I couldn't stop him from sounding like a chipmunk on LSD. Therefore, I told them that silents were all the rage again and I'd help them with their spelling on the "cards" (which, of course I had to write). Then I had to convince Robert that, since he was color blind, it made more sense to shoot in black and white.

FF: You also portrayed the “Old Lady” who had the confrontation with “Marvin.” Admit it, Susan, you wanted to really use those hedge clippers on Jim, didn’t you?

SF: Originally they wanted Jim to rush up to a REAL Old Lady with shears who didn't know what was going on to make it "natural." But I recognized that this was too dangerous and Jim would be needing his hands for further shooting so I made the sacrifice. If I wanted to kill Jim, I would have done so years ago.

FF: It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to work with a couple of guys like Jim and Robert. How long have you been working with them?

SF: Intestinal fortitude is right. I’ve need involved with them far too long. What they've done to my stomach is a legend among the annals of gastroenterology. But everyone has a burden in life. That's just how it is.


AN INTERVIEW WITH WYNN REICHERT

FF: So Wynn, when did you take up acting?

WR: When the prospects of a getting a real job became too much of a reality. I guess I was in my mid 20's.

FF: You played two pivotal parts in That Darn Bill. The Golfer and the Trash Collector. Did you find it difficult inhabiting such diverse roles?

WR: Not nearly as difficult as learning the lines. Jim wrote this beautiful script but there were some incredibly long speeches. Took me months to get all that dialogue down.

FF: How did you prepare for playing these roles?

WR: Being a "method" actor, playing the Trash Collector proved quite the challenge. Like most "Method" actors, I have to "be" the character to truthfully and honestly play the role. And even though I've had years of intense study in the Meisner Technique, it was the weeks and weeks of riding along with real life sanitation workers that made the difference. Now playing the Golfer, that was easy. I just had a few beers before each scene.

FF: You're actually quite an avid golfer, aren't you?

WR: Oh yeah. Before I got into acting I played the pro golf tour. But I got tired of the weekly barrage of sex-starved groupies wanting my attention, so I just play for fun now. And I'm still pretty good. But I'm on a little hiatus. I stepped on a rake last week and suffered a groinal injury. So until the swelling subsides, no golf for me. But some good news: for the first time since I was 12, I can hit high C.

FF: What was it like working with Jim Vines?

WR: To tell you the truth, when Jim's not drinking or cross-dressing he's not a lot of fun. What most people in the film industry don't know about Jim Vines is he’s happiest when he's lying on shag carpeting next to his cardboard cutout of Paris Hilton. To be fair Jim is a lot of fun to work with. There's not another filmmaker in Hollywood who will stand on the set 15 hours a day wearing a thong. It was a tremendous pleasure to work with such a consummate professional. I just wish he would quit hitting on me.

FF: I understand you're now a stand-up comic and are on the road much of the time during the year. How's that been going for you?

WR: It keeps me one step ahead of the cops. Working 40 weeks a year on the road is a good way to see the world. Before I did stand-up I never had the opportunity to eat in truck stops, sleep in cheap motels, tell jokes to drunks. Looking back...well, actually I try not to look back. There might be some pissed off boyfriend wanting to punch me out.

FF: Any fond memories you'd like to share of being on the set of That Darn Bill?

WR: The hookers. Jim had this whole fantasy sequence that took place on the golf course with hookers. It was really, really fun to shoot. Got a couple phone numbers out of the deal. Ultimately the scene didn't work and was cut from the film. But what a fun day to be an actor.  And it was weird...of all the weeks we spent making this movie, this was the one day the money guys and the suits show up. Go figure.


AN INTERVIEW WITH...THE BILL

FF: First of all, Bill, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your performance in That Darn Bill. You were really first-rate.

B: Thanks, Ed!

FF: The name’s Frank.

B: Right. Sorry, Frank.

FF: So...what was it like working with Robert Kelly?

B: He was an absolute doll. A real sweetheart. He always made sure I was happy, that I was comfortable and fed. I’d work with him again in a New York minute.

FF: I understand there was a little on-set tension between you and Jim. Is that true?

B: Look, all I can say is... Jim works one way and I work another. Sometimes our differences clashed. It’s that simple. I’m very Method and Jim is very spontaneous and hates to rehearse. But that’s all in the past now. Jim and I are friendly and chat now and again. In fact, we’re talking about a stage version of That Darn Bill. We’ll see what happens with that. But there is one thing that I’m ticked off about with regards to the final version of the movie...

FF: Oh? What’s that?

B: I didn’t get billing in the end credits. I mean, I WAS kinda part of the production, was I not? I paid my dues and I hit my marks. I was a professional! I mean, for cryin’ out loud, cut me some freakin’ slack! Give me a freakin’ credit!

FF: But...the movie is titled That Darn Bill.

B: (There was a long pause) Well, yeah, there’s that.

FF: You were really put through the ringer in the movie. Any mishaps to report?

B: There was a scene when I’m floating through the air and land on the grass. Look, I’ll be honest, I’m terrified of heights. Tried skydiving once and it was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. But anyway, I asked Robert if he could attach a wire to me during the shot. You know, as a precaution. We tried it. But it just didn’t work. So they put me up on this pole and dropped me! It was something like twenty feet. Twenty feet – do you know what kind of damage that could do? I mean, come on, I’m a hundred dollar bill! I can’t be risking my life for a movie! Stuff like that is fine for a one, a five, a ten, even a twenty or fifty, but I got a reputation to maintain. I begged Robert for a stunt double, but the bastard wouldn’t give it to me. He said he wanted realism. Anyway, I ran up to this bar down the street and had a few stiff belts. I was feeling pretty good. So I got back up on that bloody pole and took the dive. I’ll tell ya, it worked. The shot looks great in the film and I’m really proud of myself for doing it. Who know, I might even give skydiving another try. I’ll tell ya, that Robert Kelly is a genius!

FF: There’s one particular shot where a trash man stabs you with his sharp pick-up thingy. That looked awfully dangerous. Was that CGI or...

B: No, no, that’s Carl, my stunt double. Good guy. Family man. I think he was sent to the emergency room once or twice.

FF: He sure did an amazing job. Talk about dedication to one’s craft!

B: I think he’s off vacationing in the Bahamas somewhere, but I’ll let him know you said that.

FF: So tell us do you any projects looming?

B: My agent’s got me out on a couple things. There’s a decent part in the upcoming re-make of Million Dollar Hobo. We’re waiting to hear back.

FF: Good luck with that.

B: Thanks, Tim.

FF: It’s Frank, dammit! Frank!

B: Sure, whatever.