When Cows Go Mad
In September 2001, the times being what they were, I wanted to get together with a bunch of friends and see what sort of movies we could make on the fly. With very little notice, I called a number of people and they were able to spend the weekend at my house. We managed to shoot three movies in two days, only one of which had been scripted (by me) beforehand. And they all turned out pretty well...
I originally wrote this to be part of an Internet series I once wanted to do featuring one-minute movies. Part of my thinking at the time was that commercials often tell an entire story in 30 or 60 seconds, why couldn't I do that and make it a part of a series with recurring characters? Well, easier said than done, not to mention any prospect of making money on the Internet pretty much evaporated (much like my job at About.com) by 2001. About the only idea I had fully developed into a script (and I never managed to cut it down to 60 seconds) was a rant about drivers using cellular phones. I wasn't sure how I could shoot the fantasy sequences, but I knew it was good for a laugh. And as we were looking around on the first day for something to shoot in the lovely mid-September sunshine, I suggested we give this a try.
Basically, three unnamed friends are sitting on a bench and each tells a story about a recent encounter with an inconsiderate cell phone-using motorist. We began shooting at nearby Magnusen Park, quickly doing two of the fantasy sequences, and then switching to get footage for When Cows Go Mad. We then moved to a bench on NE 65th Ave about half a mile from my house for the rest of the filming.
The only trick with this production was one of the fantasy sequences involved a SUV being blown up on the freeway. How the hell was I going to shoot that? Since nobody else was needed for that, I merely put it off for another day, particularly as none of us even had access to a SUV to use.
Ultimately, I wouldn't get this shot until July 2002, after I came back from getting married on the East Coast earlier that year. My new wife owned a Honda CR-V, and I ended up shooting footage of her cutting me off on the freeway as she drove downtown for a job interview! I thought I would have to persuade some special effects expert to do the effects for me, but ultimately, I was able to animate a little missile using Premiere on my computer and superimpose an explosion I stole from a movie. Added coolness was achieved by showing the explosion reflected on Dave's windshield as he laughs at the destruction in front of him.
Final editing was completed in October 2002 and it became the first of our "trilogy" to be ready for screening.
2 minutes. Mini-DV videotape. Filmed September 2001, edited and released October 2002.
Cast (in order of appearance): Judy Lyen (woman on phone), Laurel Parshall, Ryan K. Johnson, Dave Tackett as the three friends on the bench, Erik Prill as the rear-ending motorist, Janet Borkowski as Janet, their friend.
Written, Produced, Directed and Edited by Ryan K. Johnson.
I cannot honestly recall how the idea for this came about, but I know it went from conception to shooting in less than an hour (including the time it took to go to Display & Costume Co. and buy a cow costume). There never was a script. Just a series of ideas I wrote down in my notebook that could be used in this parody of public safety movies. Let's face it, Gary Larson ("The Far Side") was right: cows are intrinsically funny. And doing an over-the-top spoof about "mad" cows running amok seemed a natural idea. Of course the real joke would be the cows weren't doing anything at all, which hopefully would be a great counterpoint to the hysterical level we wanted to achieve with the rest of the movie.
So everything we shot was either running, screaming, looking terrified, and otherwise reacting to the "menace" of mad cows. Aiding this were "dramatizations" we filmed featuring Erik Prill in a hilarious off-the-rack cow costume bearing down on us. We shot well into the night at my house, including Judy Lyen and Dave Tackett spending about 40 minutes making themselves made up to look horribly injured after (presumably) a mad cow attack, a sequence which lasts about 10 seconds in the final movie. The only problem is we didn't have any footage of real cows. Again, I merely put that off to another day, that day being Thanksgiving when I was in Massachusetts visiting Sturbridge Village, an early 19th Century reenactment site which featured real "olde time" cows (and yes, those are actually cows, horns and all, that's the way they were 170 years ago).
Again, getting married and moving delayed editing of this until November 2002 and amazingly it all came together very quickly. Aside from the hilarious opening sequence (in black and white) of Laurel Parshall and myself spoofing the very bad acting (and production values) of most 1950s-era public safety movies, all the jokes would depend on overly dramatic narration to set up each sequence. I quickly wrote some material, recorded it on my computer, and that's what's in the finished movie. Music from old werewolf movies helped augment the atmosphere of "terror" we wanted to get. The movie is as good as its jokes, most of which seem to work.
By the way, in case you are wondering, "Dr J Jel," the credited "maker" of the movie, is an acronym using the initials of each of our first names: Dave, Ryan, Janet, Judy, Erik and Laurel.
When Cows Go Mad
4 minutes. Mini-DV videotape. Filmed September 2001, edited and released October 2002.
Written, performed, and produced by Janet Borkowski, Laurel Parshall, Judy Lyen, Erik Prill, Ryan K. Johnson and Dave Tackett.
After making two movies on Saturday, Sunday morning we woke up with no idea how to follow that up! After a pancake breakfast at the nearby Varsity Inn, we had the vague idea of doing some sort of chase movie. But as we looked at all the props and costumes we had on hand (most of which had been supplied by Dave Tackett and Laurel Parshall), it seemed we were better equipped to make some sort of Victorian period movie. But Dave also had a really cool glove-puppet monster and some really big guns and we thought how it would be neat to combine all of these elements into one movie. So we decided to do a film where we would be Victorian-era jungle adventurers who would have a battle with a monster. Monty Python time, here we come!
There was enough growth along the side of my house that with careful camera angles, it would look as though we were appearing at the edge of a jungle. The truth was, if the camera had been turned an inch to either side you would have seen the sides of the houses. Ah, the magic of cinema. Now joined by our friend Anita Taylor, we did nine takes of us emerging from the "bush" and walking past the camera. For no reason at all, suddenly we are in front of my house where (hopefully) a monster would appear on the roof, we pull out these huge guns and begin blasting away at it, only to be cut down one-by-one. Ah, but there's a twist ending (little did I know just how close to Monty Python territory this was to be, as we had managed to inadvertently do a shot-by-shot steal of an old Python sketch which wasn't pointed out to me until later by Erik Prill. Sad as it is for this old Anglophile to admit but in the 20 years since I dutifully recorded every episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus on video, I have since managed to forget nearly every single sketch!).
After we shot all the footage of us firing our guns and getting killed, it was time to get the "monster" into the act. Even close-up, the glove-puppet monster looked fantastic. The trick was, how to make it look like it was huge and on top of my roof? We did every trick in the book: Split screen shots, green screen shots, foreground perspective shots, I even climbed on top of my roof with the camera in one hand, the monster stuck on the other as it appeared to loom large over everyone and attack.
Everyone wanted more "jungle" stuff though, so we headed down to the Arboretum to get more footage of us walking around to help better set up the joke when it's painfully obvious we are in a 21st Century neighborhood.
I began to immediately experiment with the special effects and came up with some test footage combining the monster and the roof, as well as a green-screen shot of it "eating" Erik. Everyone was suitably impressed. And then, like before, events of 2002 took over my life, and it wasn't until October 2002 that I was able to find some time to refine the effects and do the tedious frame-by-frame animation to aid laser blasts to the fight scene. I kept showing the work-in-progress to everyone for input and Laurel made the very good suggestion to add stock footage of animals to our trekking scenes. A quick trip to the library for some videotapes netted perfect footage, which deliberately does not match the rest of what we shot. I couldn't figure out how to end the movie, there didn't seem to be any punchline. Eventually we came up with a combination of everyone drinking, reacting to the now-obviously small glove-puppet monster and laughing, and a title card promising another "exciting" adventure. Speaking of the title, that's something I came up with, I wanted to use the word "adventure" somehow but also in a hokey steampunk sort of way. So "The Adventioneers" is what sounded best to me, an homage to "The Rocketeer" if nothing else. Erik Prill did all the audio work after visual editing was completed in November 2002.
5 minutes. Mini-DV videotape. Filmed September 2001, released January 2003.
Cast: Dave Tackett as Sir Winston Carstairs, Laurel Parshall as Lady Jane Chatterly, Ryan K. Johnson as Herr Lover, Janet Borkowski as Anne Rutherford, Anita Taylor as Sarah Windsor-Holmes-Douglas, and Erik Prill as Crocodile Bruce.
Written by Janet Borkowski, Erik Prill, Ryan K. Johnson, Anita Taylor, Laurel Parshall and Dave Tackett. Produced by Ryan K. Johnson.
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