I’ll admit it. I learned the definition of the word “serendipity” from the John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale movie that I saw when I was probably in 9th grade. Back then, I had this on-going habit dating back to the fifth grade of collecting big words for the sake of knowing them. I remember being somewhat disappointed in myself for not knowing this word before hand. In fact, I thought the movie made it up until the term was explained. Nevertheless, I tucked the word away in my brain where I have since to forget it, but have never used it, in part because I didn’t want to seem like one of those people who only knows the word because of the movie. But I am one of those people. I’ve admitted that already. Cinema has taught me many things, I must embrace that the noun “serendipity” is amongst them.
Oxford defines serendipity as the occurrence and development by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
For now, I’ll neglect the fortunate, serendipitous events that took place in the first 20 years of my life to get me to that day, but I’d like to take you to February 23, 2007. I was 20, going on 21. I remember the date because I remember sitting in that casting room at Chapman, with a few minutes of down time, chomping on Pizza Hut with Sean Tsaconas, and I had just texted an ex-girlfriend “happy birthday.”
Sean and I were casting for what would be the first movie of the Jason Michael Brescia comedy experiment, Karaoke Night. Sean was set to play the role of the creepy bartender, Neil, and I was set to play the role of the Eddie, the main character. We were doing a casting call for the roles of Ryan, Eddie’s best friend, and Clark, the antagonist currently dating Eddie’s ex.
We weren’t especially booked, mostly because I had no clue how to cast. Instead of going online and making a casting call, I simply posted fliers around campus hoping that the perfect cast would magically assemble. It wasn’t because I was lazy or stupid, this was my first project that I intended on casting outside of my friendship circle.
Into the room walked Alex Rouch,this tall freshman from Ohio who is just the most quiet, unimpressive kid I’ve ever met. He sat there and was relaxed, but I could tell he hadn’t acted much. Maybe he wasn’t relaxed, maybe he was nervous, but all I can remember is that I knew he lacked the charisma for the Ryan role. He was too tall. He didn’t have the right look. He was too quiet.
But I decided to cast him on the spot.
Again, this was not laziness. For some reason I had this compassion when Alex told me that this was one of his first auditions. I figured, “hey, if the kid wants this enough, then it’s my job as the director to get him to reach any potential he may have. If I’m really meant to do this, then I can turn this kid into Ryan.”
Alex went on to do a fantastic job as Ryan, and an even better job in my next short, Ridiculously Emo, as Heath, the bad boy. I’ve recently worked with Alex on a short film piece to my latest cinematic puzzle, and he’s even written his own television show which he’s currently shopping. Through Karaoke Night we became friends, and I take no credit for the charisma that Alex later developed in front of the camera, though I do believe that some of the zany situations I threw him into helped break some of those chains off. Alex has developed into a solid comedic actor and writer.
But that’s not the point of the story. There’s nothing serendipitous about that from my standpoint.
You see, Alex at the time was living with his teammate on the football team, Bob Burton, a fellow film student that I’d yet to meet, despite the fact that he was in my editing class. One day, while Karaoke Night was in pre-production I ended up at a party somewhere because Alex told Sean and myself to come. At the party, Alex introduced me to Bob who said he wanted to help out on the project in whatever way possible.
Because of the mess of a production that Karaoke Night was, Bob’s job mostly consisted of carrying a 500 pound wooden bar (as in where you drink) down a 20 foot flight of cement steps (with the help of Troy and Kiko). Nonetheless, Bob and I remained friends, I went to his football games, we watched the Penguins pursue the cup together, and he allowed me to watch Colts games at his house, given he was the only person I knew with Sunday Ticket in the region. And because his team, the Dolphins, were so bad that he allowed me to watch my team.
Bob continued to help me out on my subsequent film projects, basically everything I did from that point on, whether it be rally up extras for Ridiculously Emo to save the party scene, edit and sound design the post production mess that was Wet Cigarettes, or even cut my project that never saw the light of day, that happened to again co-star me and Alex Rouch.
Then, in the Spring of 2009, two years removed from Karaoke Night, Bob and I decided to collaborate on a web TV show we developed called The Newest Pledge. Initially, The Newest Pledge was a concept that Sean, his roommate and my good friend Eric “Tombstone” Stinton, and myself thought up about a baby being left on the doorstep of a fraternity house. The idea started as a joke, but eventually grew to something that Bob and I saw potential in. So we rallied up the usual suspects, used Bob’s camera, and his stock cameraman at time Trevor Wineman (who has since become a great Director of Photography), and decided to go out and spend our Spring Break that year creating a web show.
The web show failed miserably. In fact if failed so miserably that we never bothered to cut it together. We didn’t do enough pre production, we were underfunded, and my friend Louie that we installed as director (since I wanted to act) was thrown into a situation where he couldn’t really direct because Bob and I were so invested in the project. It was a mess. One of our actors, an elderly man named Glenn, yelled at us multiple times for being unprofessional. I spent more time on the phone with my girlfriend at the time who was studying abroad in France than I did troubleshooting. I even strained my friendship with Louie over things that I can’t even remember today (we’re all good now).
At that point, I was somewhat drained. Karaoke Night was a mess of a production and resulted in a very amateur project. Ridiculously Emo was solid and had won me my school’s award for “Best Undergraduate Director,” but it was a very safe project. Wet Cigarettes was a mess on all fronts. The unfinished short that I did with Alex Rouch was left unfinished because I failed to make it interesting. And now, my web show was ruined.
Fast forward to November 2009, and there I was, back in Bob’s house, probably watching football, and working on Wet Cigarettes when I finally pitched it to Bob. I had been thinking about it for a while, but I came into an investor for a horror project, but I swayed him away from that project in favor of a comedy, my strength. I wanted to make The Newest Pledge, but I wanted to make it a feature film. I needed Bob on board, and it took me about eleven words and he was in.
From there The Newest Pledge exploded. As the producer, with pretty much everything he had invested in this project, I still to this day don’t know why Bob trusted me. He watched as I failed or played it safe in all of the above situations. He knew I was limited from a technical standpoint. But he trusted me. And continued to trust me as hurdle after hurdle occurred.
But on The Newest Pledge, I knew we had to give 100% in pre-production, and we did. When a problem came up in pre-production, I had already been there and we found a way to solve it. We cast, and cast, and cast until we were happy with our cast, and even after that we continued casting, and casting, and casting, this time through agents and managers. On set, when a problem arose, I had already been there and we knew how to solve it. Instead of letting a story element go the way of my unfinished short because it wasn’t done right the first time, I re-shot, and re-wrote on set. I never let my girlfriend at the time, who was no longer in France and very present on set, get in my way to the point where I would often get in trouble for showing too little attention (women, where do I begin?) In post-production I knew how to think outside of the box. And when old man Glenn came on the set of The Newest Pledge feature for the role I had for him, he complimented us for how professional we were.
We had become calm under pressure. When a situation arose, I knew how to fix it. It was as if everything up to that point was practice, and this was the game. The fourth quarter drive. As the head coach, I kept my cool. I knew what was coming. I had seen these plays before and I knew how to breakdown the defense. Bob, as the GM, had been there too. We constantly reminded ourselves of errors we made on The Newest Pledge TV show, or that I made on any of my various projects. It was a tumultuous set, and we learned even more there than we had before, but at least we were prepared for it.
The Newest Pledge isn’t perfect. It’s far from it. But without having gone through all of those mistakes beginning with Karaoke Night, I would have just failed even worse here. And maybe Bob saw that. Maybe that’s why he trusted me, because he saw the failures.
But I do know one thing for sure. If Alex Rouch didn’t walk into casting room B on February 23, 2007, there would have been no The Newest Pledge. It would have been a lot more difficult for me to get that bar in the Henley Basement. The Ridiculously Emo party scene would have looked like amateur hour and I probably wouldn’t have won that award. Wet Cigarettes would have never been finished. And I probably would have given up film to pursue law school by the end of 2009.
But instead of cramming for law school finals tonight, I’m preparing for the NYC premiere of The Newest Pledge. I’m going to unleash the final cut of the film in front of a hometown audience of family friends. I’m going to get the final version of the film in the mail from Bob sometime in the next few days.
All because Alex Rouch decided he wanted to be in Karaoke Night, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Jason Michael Brescia
December 13, 2011 1:14 AM Eastern Standard Time