#7 When The Shower wasn’t going to be The Shower

Well, for those interested, I had 11 drinks last week.  But that was an atypical week because I was sick.

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Is this a state? I’ll guess MISSOURI.

 

Now that I’m aware of the 14 per week number, I’ll see how that affects my total.  So far this week, I’m at 6 through 4 days.  Salut!

OK, back to THE SHOWER.

So I wanted to write a no-budget, single location movie that I could direct.  This was around March of 2012.  At this point, Rachael was 3 months pregnant, so I knew we had a window of opportunity before the baby came in September (ha).  I also knew that I’d probably be out of action for a few months after the baby was born because everything is completely crazy after a baby is born.

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This is an accurate depiction of what being a new parent feels like.

Drew Benda, who’s a good friend from our days at Gulfstream, had been pitching the idea of shooting a movie up at his (and his fiancé Ashley’s) house in Vallejo, CA.

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Drew at Shriekfest.

Vallejo is in Solano County, which isn’t far from the Sonoma/Napa wine country, north of San Francisco.   I liked the idea of having that location.  I thought it would provide a fun, guerrilla, let’s put on a show vibe to have everyone drive up north and make a movie.  (Granted, I knew there’d be some difficulties as well, but let’s take it one step a time.)

At this point, it was going to be a horror-thriller, and I thought about making it a bachelor/bachelorette weekend where a group of friends drive up to Vallejo from Los Angeles and get trapped indoors without food, water and power when a mysterious outbreak starts killing the population.

I brainstormed a lot of ideas with Drew and Tim Vasile, who’s a writer and works with Rachael at a fancy restaurant.  Both guys are great at talking story.  One of my big mistakes through years of fruitless writing was not developing an idea enough before I started the script.  I’d run on pure “inspirado” and the result was always a mess.

Here’s what it would have been:  3 couples drive to Vallejo to party with Drew and Ashley before their wedding.  They have a whole weekend planned.  Food, wine, golf, a Springsteen concert.  You know, the important things in life.  (I’m not a golfer, but I know that’s what thirtysomething caucasian males do for fun.)

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Yes, the Springsteen concert was in 1985. There was also a time travel element.

Vallejo is a port town, so I was going to work that into the story and make it how the infection starts.  A ship would arrive and the crew would be sick.  We’d get that info from one of the neighbors, who works at the port.  Also, Drew’s fiancé, Ashley, would be a doctor, so she gets called in to work at the hospital to help with all the sick sailors.

The first night is partying and getting to know the characters.  The next morning, the guys have an early tee time, but only my character gets up and goes.  (Because he never gets to play golf, and dammit, he might have the hangover from hell, but he’s going!)

I'm one of only eight American men born during the 1970s who can't recite this movie verbatim.
I’m one of only eight American men born during the 1970s who can’t recite this movie verbatim.

 

This was so I wouldn’t be in most of the movie.  Besides my lack of acting skills and the need to focus on directing, I thought it would give Rachael’s part more meat, since she’d be on her own.

It would also set up some drama between the characters in the house, since they wouldn’t want to let anyone inside after the outbreak.  (Ashely would also return, clearly sick.  I’d return, and be my usual adorable, charming self.)

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Would you let this guy in?

At this point, it was just a fatal infection.  I really liked Soderbergh’s CONTAGION and also used RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR as a model of how to do this on  a smaller scale.

I thought the story was coming together pretty well, and Drew gave me a Skype tour of his house so I could write specifically for it.

All this sounds pretty good, right?

Free location.  Good idea.  Actor friends.

Go out and make your no-budget movie, young man!

So why didn’t we make that version of the movie?

There were  a few reasons.

1. Time became a factor.  Drew and Ashley were getting married in early July.  She was starting back at med school shortly thereafter.  The movie had to be shot in June to work at the location.  I didn’t think the script would be ready that fast.

2.  Shooting in Vallejo.  My plan was to take two weeks off from work.  My restaurant was cool about giving me the time off. (Certainly would not be the case at most restaurants.)  Rachael was getting close to taking maternity leave, so it wouldn’t be a big issue with her job either.  But for some of our other actor/friends, I wasn’t getting a good vibe that this would work.  Also, we’d have to find camera and sound that could come north for the shoot, or find a crew from up there.  We never got so far as looking for camera or sound based out of SF.  (At this point, we weren’t planning on spending much money.  Obviously, money solves many problems.  And it also creates problems, as you’ll come to see.)

All right, so before I wrote a word of the screenplay, we had to come up with a different plan.  And this became the pattern for everything that would follow.

Vallejo was ruled out, and it felt more sensible to make it a “Los Angeles” movie.  

With that change, I also started playing with the notion that the infection was not only fatal, but would turn the infected into homicidal maniacs. (Like THE CRAZIES or 28 WEEKS LATER.  My no-budget solution was that they don’t look any different, which would be part of the fun, since there was no warning.)

Also, the cast became bigger.  Since we weren’t going to need to have people leave town, I could get more friends in the movie.  My 9 person cast (really 6) doubled!

Please hold for MANIACAL, GUT-WRENCHING SCREAM.

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Thank you.

Yup, we were gonna need a bigger boat.

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This is what it feels like to make your first movie. Even a low budget movie with your friends.

The idea of setting it around Hollywood  made it Servers/Actors/Hollywood types facing a zombie apocalypse.  That felt fun and I could link my men in early mid-life crisis ideas to the horror story.

Is 35 an early mid-life crisis?  Or just a mid-life crisis?

My perception is that a mid-life crisis is when you’re in your 40s or 50s, you get a red sports car and start dating a woman as old as your daughter.  Like Uncle Rob on FAMILY TIES.

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According to IMDB, he only appeared in 5 episodes.  But I remember him so well, it felt like more.  And who can forget about Uncle Ned?
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“Are you too good to sit down and have a bottle of Maraschino cherries with your Uncle Ned?”  (Clearly, Uncle Ned was having more than 14 drinks a week.)

That initial idea was much darker than The Shower.  I wasn’t going for comedy.  This was going to be bleak, like Cormac McCarthy if he was a waiter from New Jersey.  That’s not normal territory for me.  At least it wasn’t then.

After making The Shower, I’ll cut your throat if I think it will make the movie better.  Back then I only thought I was angry, bitter and jaded.

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Portrait of a man whose innocence has been taken. And this was while we were still filming!

The new setting called for different characters and different problems.

That’s when more of the humor came in.  And that felt more comfortable for me.

Maybe that was good.  Maybe that was bad.

But rather than ALEX DRUMMOND’S NO COUNTRY FOR OLD WAITERS, I wrote a comedy, with horror elements, and I hoped it would be the poor waiter’s version of Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland.

The bachelor/bachelorette element didn’t feel right with the new setting.   Also, there was a different character arc to consider in a comedy.  (In the original, Rachael’s character was the protagonist.  My idea was that since she was pregnant and already had a kid, she’d do anything to survive, and that meant kill anyone who got in her way.  Part of this made it into The Shower.)

In the comedy, the protagonist was me.  Or my character, at least.  The guys would be wimps at the beginning.  They’re upset about their lack of career success and their inability to pay the bills.  These apples didn’t fall far from my tree.  So, they eventually have to become men, and step up to protect their loved ones.

A baby shower setting felt fun because it gave a ticking clock and added pressure for my character.  Plus, a bunch of dudes at a baby shower isn’t very masculine.  Especially when those dudes are thirtysomething waiters in L.A.

I was ready to write.

And it was mostly a smooth process.  I had a hard time with Page One.  But once I got it, I felt like it set the right tone for what was to come.

Writing The Shower was a lot of fun.  It was different a experience than I had with previous scripts.  Those were all scripts I wanted someone to buy.

Now, I was liberated.  I’d sit down at my desk and “know” that what I wrote was going to be in a movie.

I didn’t need Hollywood’s approval.

We were going to shoot the damn thing.

NEXT TIME:  “You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?”

 

Author: Alex

A married waiter/filmmaker with two kids.