Island Dog Robber – 12 for ’10 February Submission

by Jimmy on March 8, 2010

Directed by Jimmy Nguyen.  Starring Molly Weissert, Lenah, David, and Yetti.  Original Music by Stephen King and Eric Roberts.  Narration by Stephen King.

Synopsis: Two girls living and attending university on the island of St. Kitts and Nevis take a brief respite from their studies and visit a secluded beach.  While at the beach, they are delighted to encounter a new friend, who promises to add newfound excitement to their stay on the island.  However, by nightfall, an island legend is reborn and the next morning, the girls are left dumbfounded as to what actually transpired over the last 24 hours.

Genre: mystery, thriller

Making the movie (spoiler alert – watch the movie first, then read): No shotgun mic, broken lcd screen, no view finder, no tripod, no problem.  Noting the previous sentence, if you thought the movie was good, then it’s just a testament to the fact that you can make a good movie without having to wait for all the “necessary” equipment that everyone says you need.  In fact, all you need is a camera that records, an idea, and some committed actors/friends.  Although, I must say I spent an inordinate amount of time (50+ hours) in post-production stabilizing footage, color correcting scenes, and cleaning up wind noise, dog barks, clicks and pops, and background chatter.  So be prepared for a longer grind when editing a movie shot on the fly and with a consumer camera.  Now, if you thought the movie was hard to watch (because of the low production quality and not necessarily the very graphic final scenes), then finance my next movie so I can get some better equipment and make a better movie just for you.  You’ll also be in the credits.   

I brought my camera along on vacation with me to St. Kitts and Nevis because it was my goal from the very beginning to make a movie.  My vacation was for 11 days, which gave me ample time to produce something good.  St. Kitts and Nevis itself would provid a unique and beautiful setting.  I was also excited at the thought of cajoling a local Kittitian into participating in a few scenes.  Caribbean accents are really smooth and beautiful.  Although, I was sad to find out that they didn’t include the phrase “bumbaclot” in their local lexicon.  This fact didn’t stop me from using it every chance I got though.  However, the paramount reason that I knew I could make a movie on St. Kitts was the fact that I was visiting two friends, David and Molly Weissert, who were both going to school – one in Veterinary and the other in Nursing – on the island.  Between them, they averaged over a year on the island.  Thus, they knew the relatively small island like the front of each others’ suntanned faces (they are boyfriend and girlfriend).  Naturally, they would serve as location scouts, principal actors, cinematographers, and craft service for any movie we would make.

Going down to St. Kitts and Nevis, I had no idea what kind of movie I would make.  I would let my friends’ stories, the island’s culture, and the Kittitian people  stir my imagination.  Unfortunately, on the first full day of my vacation, I brought the camera out to the beach to get B-roll footage and establishing shots for whichever movie we decided on making.  I got adventurous with my camera and I brought it a little too close to the waves.  Needless to say, some ocean spray got on the camera.  It wasn’t much water, but it caused my camera’s lcd screen to black out and since this was one of the newer, tiny HD hard drive cameras, there was no view finder on it either.  The lcd screen malfunction left me bummed out and I didn’t think about even trying to make a movie for almost the entire vacation.

Despite my broken camera, the first week of vacation was quite remarkable.  I think I might have shouted, “Best Vacation Ever,” a couple of times during the week.  We went off-roading with scooters through abandoned pastures, which were inhabited by wild donkeys and were dotted with old brick towers that were once used to burn sugarcane.  I felt like Don Quixote on a scooter speeding at dilapidated brick towers and chasing donkeys, while the ocean cradled my side.  It was a wondeful experience that I won’t soon forget.  During this excursion, I also fell off my scooter and scratched up my legs and feet fairly bad.  We visited gorgeous beaches, went snorkeling and lobstering, hiked into an active volcano, and I played bingo at the Marriot casino, which got intense.  We had the best lobster and cheapest, most delicious ribs you could find anywhere.  This last part was quite remarkable because there were actually no farms of any sort on the island.  Farming and its association with slavery was still strong and so many, especially the younger generations abstained from working the land.  We also took part in a Carnaval parade where there was some very hard grinding and humping going on as well as some police beatings of young thugs.  All the while though, my internal movie-making clock was ticking.  With all the amazing things we saw and participated in, I kept saying to myself, “I wish I could have made a story out of this or at least included it in a movie.”  The alarm on my movie-making clock started to ring loudest right as we were dropping off my other friend Paul Costello, who was also down visiting David and Molly, at the airport.  He was leaving two days before me and I began to feel the urgency.  So right as we were on the road to the airport I pitched a movie idea that would use all the tools and skills that we had at our disposal.  David and Molly lived with a lot of dogs, 16 to be exact.  To be correct, they were their landlord’s dogs.  Naturally, we had to incorporate the dogs into the movie.  Also, David and Molly did own Yetti, the star of the movie, and he was a born to be on the big screen with his beautiful locks and leading man smile.  We also had myself, who didn’t mind putting on crazy costume and make-up (see “A Christmas Encounter“).  David, although reluctant, could serve as a villain, drug lord-type character.  Lastly, we had two beautiful leading ladies in the form of my wife Lenah and Molly, who were great improvisors.  As you saw, they were very belieavable and usually their first takes were their best takes.  Watching these women perform so wondefully was probably what Woody Allen felt while directing  Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johannson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it was an honor just to be in their precense.

We had a little less than 2 days to get all the footage for the movie before I returned to the United States.  From all the places I had seen on the island, I knew where I wanted the beach scenes to take place.  All the other footage would come from places within walking distance from David and Molly’s apartment, which was part of the large house you see at the end of the movie that belongs to the Dog Lord.  The plan was simple enough, but the execution wasn’t always easy.  Driving the point home again, I was not really able to see what I was shooting because of the broken lcd screen situation.  Making matters even worse, the sun was quite bright and I was sweating and squinting a lot, making my shots even less straight and stable.

Then there was Yetti.  W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with animals or kids.”  However, I felt that if Clint Eastwood was able to do it with an orangutan not once, but twice in the movies “Every Which Way But Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can,” then I could do it.  However, it was no walk in the park.  It was hard for Yetti to cooperate because he wouldn’t run in any particular direction if David wasn’t standing there waiting for him.  And since the two girls were usually in the scenes with Yetti, I sometimes had to control the camera and Yetti, while David called for Yetti off screen in the location where we wanted Yetti to end up.  Besides these minor inconveniences and some inopportune barking, Yetti was for the most part quite easy to work with.  He was a true professional.  Although, he wouldn’t agree to work unless he was able to lick peanut butter off of David’s chest before every scene.  That was Yetti’s only stipulation in his contract.  However, David wrote the contract so it was hard to tell who really wanted the peanut butter licking to happen.

The one thing that made life very difficult for me in post-production was the strong winds at the beach and the barking dogs at the house.  How do you keep 16 untrained dogs quiet?  You can’t.  I had to overdub dozens of scenes because the wind was too obnoxious or because there would be a loud bark during Lenah and Molly’s dialogue.  Since Molly was still in St. Kitts at the time of editing, Lenah had to try to be the voice of both Molly and herself.  She was a true voice chameleon in every sense for this part of post-production.  It was no surpise to me because she was trained by the Michael Winslow from the Police Academy series.  Still, the ruined audio in many of the scenes provided me an opportunity to get creative with sound-making.  I made “running in the grass” noises by lightly squeezing a plastic bag.  I made “coconut chopping” sounds by sticking a knife into a butternut squash.  I made the dog breathing and whining noises myself.  I volleyed a basketball in order to recreate the volleyball hitting noises.  For the lightning transformation scenes, I flicked a lighter rapidly to simulate the lightning bolt sparks.  I also have to give a big plug to the Freesound Project at www.freesound.org.  This website and community helped me tremendously with ambient noises, which I used to replace the wind-whipped audio that was prevalent in almost all my scenes.  Replicating noises and using them creatively in the movie was quite fun and if you didn’t notice them in the movie, then it was also successful.  However, as fun as it was, I will never ever make a movie without a shotgun or boom mic ever again.  Also, a monopod or tripod will never be forgotten either.

So far, for every movie I made, whether it was 5 minutes or 21 minutes, I learn some new skills or tricks.  This time around I learned how to overdub dialogue and replicate noises.  I also learned how to color correct footage to do a morning for evening shot and simulate a time lapse dusk to dawn shot.  I also learned how to do a lightning transformation scene with the help of Adobe After Effects and www.videocopilot.net.  The point of making a movie a month is to hopefully be a movie magician with a bag full of tricks and skills by the end of the year, which I can then employ to make one great big magical movie.

Fun movie facts: David was reluctant to do the final dog lord scenes.  He felt that it just wouldn’t fit with the movie.  Luckily, we were able to convince him to peform the scenes and if they didn’t fit in the movie, I promised to leave them out.  Although, I knew the scenes would be the icing on the cake which would end this beautiful dessert of a movie.  David for all his hemming and hawing about doing the scenes, was a true performer once the camera was turned on.  He increased the burn factor (burn as in burn the scene into your eyeballs) by volunteering to rub tuna on his chest and have Yetti lick it off of him.  It seemed that for a couple minutes while we were shooting, David had lost himself in the scene and just let his unabashed love affair with Yetti shine through.  As we watched this powerful reunion scene between master and servant, those of us that were on the set were holding back tears.

To get the shots of Yetti sticking his head out of the car window, I had to shoot it while on the roof of David and Molly’s jeep.

I was very uncomfortable in the dog suit because we used honey to paste on the pillow cotton and I was sweating a lot, which made the honey drip all over my body and caused the cotton pieces of my costume to keep falling off.  I have used honey before  in another short movie to paste on hair (see Morning Milk).

The poop used in the movie was real dog poop gathered from the poop-filled yard that only a house with 16 dogs could provide.  We also froze the same poop used in the night shots for later use in the morning shots so that we could maintain poop authenticity.  I hope you all appreciated that touch of professionalism.

Finishing a movie every month requires flexibility and hard work from a lot of people and I would like to thank all the actors and people who helped me out, especially, Eric Roberts and Stephen King for providing music and narration to this movie in such short time.

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