One Christmas, when I was a child, my dad opened up a hand-held video camera. The gift was for him, but I think over the years, my brothers and I got more use out of it than he ever did. Mostly, we made goof-ball sketch comedies done on-the-fly with the other kids on the block. Occasionally, we’d do a fairly simple 5-minute story, like a melodramatic romance titled Blanche (my little brother, Adam, played the role of Blanche).
Everything was done within the limits of what we had around us. Sets were usually imagined in the front yard, or in the living room. Props were either plastic toys or sticks used as stand-ins. Because the cast were all boys, we’d swap genders as needed, often wearing teeshirts on our heads to symbolize long hair. Characters and plot points were sometimes ripped directly from our real lives and exaggerated into satire. All of it was recorded on 8mm analog video cassettes. Some of it was committed to VHS. Very little of it survives today.
One that does survive is our pinnacle achievement: The Many Faces Of An Irish Pub. Hell, to a large degree, I’m still incredibly proud of what we put together back then. Make no mistake, it’s probably borderline unwatchable for anybody who wasn’t in it, or doesn’t know anybody who was in it. But stick with me a sec.
We always dreamed big, and hoped to one day make a full-length movie—I remember wanting to do something in the superhero genre, filmed on location outside the neighborhood, with special in-camera effects, and elaborate costumes—but the reason The Many Faces Of An Irish Pub succeeded is that it didn’t exceed the means we had to produce it. We embraced the limitations of being young and having no money, power, or even editing equipment.
At twenty-odd minutes long, we created a plot that was deep enough to be a project, but not so long that we couldn’t finish.
We cashed in our visions of fancy costumes and explosions for something a little more low-key. A crime flick still provides plenty of opportunities for car chases, murder, and fight scenes, and we could dress in our own clothes.
Gunfire is easier to convey than explosions, anyway. You just have to have access to some sound effects (and a boombox to play them through). We even had a vintage toy machine gun, made before fake weapons were legally required to look obviously fake.
The soundtrack that permeates the film was also played (obviously) live via boombox, started just before the camera began to record each shot, and therefore we didn’t even bother to sync it up.
We had no sophisticated editing equipment, so long takes were de rigeur.How nouvelle vague!
We did what we could with what we had access to. We needed a bar, so we filmed in our parents’ dingy basement. My square businessman needed a briefcase, and a Backgammon game board was a close-enough approximation. Jason’s rough-and-tumble bartender is wearing a shirt emblazoned with the tenderly close faces of Elton John and Billy Joel, but hey the sleeves were already missing, so that makes it a tough-guy shirt.
Where we ran low on cast members, we doubled up the roles. Sometimes it was covered up with sunglasses, a hat, and a Robin Hood tunic. And, well, sometimes it was with a hastily-concocted plot point about buying clothes off a guy in the street. Ehh, I don’t know, what do you want from me?
Action doesn't need to be explicitly choreographed if it’s done in “faux-mo”, fake slow motion. When you’re taking a punch in faux-mo, you can see it coming a mile a way. If you’re a good guy, you duck. If you’re a bad guy, you take it on the jaw. Just ignore gravity.
I would be remiss if I failed to comment on the bizarre sense of humor woven throughout: Johnny Pyre constantly stealing from the cancer charity donations, the commercial cut-in for “a real man’s game”, the thugs’ tiny furniture, the extended point-blank shoot-em-up, and that soundtrack, oh that soundtrack! Oh, and by the way, the title was heavily inspired by a Far Side comic that has nothing to do with papers, gangsters, or pubs. Seeing each of these things causes me to crack up and laugh with my entire body every time.
On the whole, this took us a summer to complete, and being as I think it was the summer before high school started, it was probably the last real opportunity to do something like this with this kind of sincerity and reckless abandon. It’s totally unselfconscious and careless, and I’m happy that I can share it with others today.