Just two-and-a-half months after wrapping production on his blood-soaked, darkly comic debut, All About Evil, writer-director Joshua Grannell and editor Rick LeCompte have already locked picture. Even with time allotted to focus-group screenings, the movie is on an express-train schedule rare for an independent feature. Its backers identified Toronto as the optimal festival for the premiere, submitted a cut and are proceeding apace to have the film finished if and when they get the call. "You shoot for the stars, and you stay on course," says Grannell, the longtime manager of the Bridge Theatre whose alter ego, Peaches Christ, has a juicy role in the movie. "I like the pressure. I like the sense of urgency that everyone has."
These days, indie filmmakers are obliged to mesh their essential enthusiasm with real-world pragmatism. The practice of test screenings—so loathsome to iconoclasts from Orson Welles to Terry Zwigoff and so foreign to the vast majority of low-budget filmmakers—didn’t bother Grannell artistically or philosophically. But with 15 years of experience on the stage, and a well-honed ability to gauge the reaction and adjust mid-show, he was surprised by his visceral response when the projector started.
"Part of me as a performer was somewhat freaked out by the idea of testing something I had no control over," he confides. "Once that movie starts running, I can’t change the experience at all. Onstage you can feel what the audience is responding to and you can ramp it up or pull it back."
So Grannell would hide in an adjacent room while the screening was introduced, then sneak in and take a seat in the back row as the lights dimmed. "I think the actual watching of the film with a roomful of people who weren’t producers or crew, who didn’t work on the movie, that was more effective than the discussion or questionnaires [afterward]," he says. "I could really feel the way things were landing, if the pacing was off, if jokes weren’t funny, if something wasn’t scary enough. Of course, you could also tell what was really working or what the audience liked."
Grannell learned a hard lesson of live performance early on, namely to waste no time dropping jokes that fell painfully flat. In the editing room, with his attention similarly focused on the audience, he had no difficulty trimming bits that hadn’t evoked the desired response. "I set out to make an artistic film," he says, "but also a crowd-pleaser."
All About Evil, a "wicked black comedy set in the world of a horror movie" (in Grannell’s words) that unfolds in an atmospheric movie theater, suffered one major hitch when the production was forced to set up shop at the Victoria instead of the Bridge at the last minute. The stress that week was incredible, for more than half of the 28-day shoot was slated for a cinema. But the fill-in location turned out to be superior in key ways.
"The Victoria has more seats with the balcony, which gave us more room to stage things," Grannell explains. "The Bridge isn’t inherently spooky, or urban. We were going to have to really work to make it a more gothic, urban movie house. Whereas the Victoria is in the Mission, it’s in a great neighborhood for the movie and aesthetically it has this old creepy movie house feeling."
Highlights of the shoot included a set visit by a reporter from Fangoria (the monster horror magazine that Grannell pored over as an impressionable junior high student), the simultaneous filming of a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a new nickname—Peachua—on those occasions when director Joshua was made up for his scenes as Peaches but was still in his "boy clothes."
Grannell believes All About Evil passed one of the most critical tests of any shoot. "The nice thing about the movie when we sat down and watched it, and when Rick and I edited it, it was not a surprise. It was the movie we set out to make, and that was really reassuring. We were kind of prepared for a reshoot, if necessary. There were so many places where we could have blown it. We would have to do things on one take based on our schedule and budget. But [in post] we did not ever feel the need for a reshoot."
The filmmaker is presently working with composer Vinsantos on placing the music in the film. Eager to share All About Evil with San Francisco, and the Midnight Mass community in particular, Grannell will debut a scene at Peaches Christ’s Aug. 21-22 shows with Elvira (Cassandra Peterson, who has a role in the film) at the Bridge.
Those nights will also mark the end, after 12 years, of Peaches’ annual summer Midnight Mass series at the Richmond District theater. Grannell will stage occasional weekend events at various venues around town, but something else is clamoring for his time.
"The great news—I wasn’t sure but now I am sure—is that I love making movies," he declares. "It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I love it."
Notes from the Underground
Jack Walsh just received a major grant from the Warhol Foundation for his Yvonne Rainer documentary, Feelings Are Facts. As a result, he’s proceeding with filming this month’s premiere of the choreographer’s Spiraling Down at the REDCAT Theater in L.A., and a slew of interviews with the artists’ New York peers later in the year.…Film curator Joel Shepard has scored another coup for Yerba Buena Center For the Arts with the upcoming visit of Lucrecia Martel. The revered Argentine director will make her sole Bay Area stop July 14-15 to present her debut, La Ciénaga, and The Headless Woman, which premiered in competition at Cannes 2008.
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