After contemplating the numerous successes and failures that I sustained while making Karaoke Night, I had little time before I had to pitch my thesis project to Dave Kost, my professor who oversaw the making of Karaoke Night, and John Badham, a directing professor who also happened to direct one of my favorite films of the 1970’s, Saturday Night Fever. As for what I was going to shoot for my thesis, I narrowed my options down to four choices and asked close friends and family which project they thought I should make.
It came down to two, a pro-wrestling musical and Ridiculously Emo, a tale of a guitarist in an emo band who develops a healthy relationship, thus foiling his ability to be “emo.” Ultimately, Ridiculously Emo was chosen based on feasibility and the reality that it was closer to the type of film I wanted to make long-term. My dream was to direct the next Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, not the next Hairspray, though I do sincerely love musicals, especially old ones from the golden age of Hollywood.
Before I headed back to Long Island for the summer I began to assemble my team for Ridiculously Emo. I learned so much on Karaoke Night, and the most important thing I learned is that filmmaking is a collaborative art. I couldn’t do it alone. Maybe some people can, but I can’t. Before I left I got Tom Banks, the most talented director of photography I knew, to sign on, as well as Brian Sokolik, a St. Louis Rams fan and aspiring producer that Tom had worked with in the past. With Tom and Brian on board, I felt confident that the right pieces were in place.
Being on Long Island really helped the writing process. If grunge music belongs to Seattle, and jazz belongs to New Orleans, then emo belongs to Long Island. Because of my Long Island roots, and the fact that I was close to many acts within the scene, I didn’t want to make a movie that made fun of emo music, the scene, or emo kids. In my opinion that wouldn’t be funny. I wanted to take a light-hearted look at what it’s like to be in a band, and Long Island was the best place to be for writing that sort of humor.
When I returned back to California, I was all set on my script, which was now close to its final draft and I was feeling confident. The first day of class I met Alex Oppenheimer, an editor, who has since gone on to edit several of my projects including The Newest Pledge. I also met Sebastian Pardo, who signed on to production design the film.
Leading up to production, Tom and I would meet multiple times a week, looking at references for what we were going to do stylistically. I pointed Tom towards 80’s/early 90’s films such as the aforementioned Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Revenge of the Nerds and we had the entire film planned out shot for shot. Tom and Brian also achieved the ultimate success in regards to working with me, which is putting up with my necessity to watch every Indianapolis Colts game. This meant no meetings on Sundays or Mondays in which the Colts were playing. This also meant that our shoot would only be five days, instead of the given 6, in order to make sure we were off on Sunday so that I could watch the Colts (I made the excuse that I wanted to give the crew off on Sunday to study for finals).
To this day I’ve never filmed on a day in which the Colts were playing. So bro.
Tom was also able to get his roommate, Joe Dietsch on board to be our casting director, and also do our visual effects. Joe did an amazing job at both, making our opening titles the talk of the undergraduate film school for a few months. Joe also did an amazing job setting up casting, helping me meet and cast George Snarberg, Mary Kate Wiles, and Daniel Barber, all of whom I would go on to work with in the future, and all of whom I would later cast in The Newest Pledge.
I also carried over the leads in Karaoke Night; Andreas Robichaux and Alex Rouch. This was important to me because I wanted some sort of continuity of actors, to help me to create a style. Also, because my style is so zany, it takes a while for actors to buy into what I’m trying to get them to do, so it always helps to have people who have been there before to vouch for my lunacy.
Set went smoothly. All of the preparation paid off, and the team I helped build was professional and moved like lightning. We had an awesome sound team, a great camera team, solid production design, and besides one destroyed light, there was no real slip-up. The only problem we had was that since we were shooting on 16mm film, we really had no playback, and when one of the mags came loose, we had no way to tell that some of our images “ghosted.” Though I was upset, I didn’t blame anyone, and few audience members ever really noticed. I felt bad for Tom more than I felt bad for me because he put so much effort into the cinematography of that film, it was his senior thesis as much as it was mine, and to a director of photography you get judged based on the imagery on the screen. Fortunately for Tom, he had consistently been one of the best cinematographers at the school and was already working professionally, so no one judged him based on a loose mag, and outside of that he really did a tremendous job.
Post production was more cruise control thanks to Alex being in command, and we were the first senior thesis to complete post-production. We moved our screening up, which the heads of the department loved, and we screened in early April to a house that we packed based on advertising the screening in conjunction with a party at my house. I wore a silly white tuxedo and the screening went exceedingly well. The euphoria that I had felt at the Karaoke Night screening was further magnified.
Ridiculously Emo was a funny movie, and the strong screenings continued everywhere it screened, and I knew it would be before it even started shooting.
I knew this because I was prepared. What Ridiculously Emo really served as was a justification for Karaoke Night’s failures. I corrected everything I did wrong on Karaoke Night, and proved that I could and had learned from my letdowns. I was a step closer to becoming a good filmmaker. I knew how to write better scenes, make better shot lists, get better performances out of actors, and cut things out of the film when I didn’t need them. I scouted locations to make sure the walls weren’t black, I held countless meetings before production, and I made sure I had the budget to get everything we really needed to make the film I wanted to make.
That May I was the recipient of Chapman University’s award for “Best Undergraduate Director.” When I got up on stage in front of 500 people, the first names I thanked were those of my cast and crew. This wasn’t because of some cliché that I saw on TV award shows in the past, it was because I truly would not have been up there if it wasn’t for Tom Banks, Joe Dietsch, Brian Sokolik, Louie Gabriel, Alex Oppenheimer, Sebastian Pardo, George Snarberg, Mary Kate Wiles, Andreas Robichaux, Dante Gabiati, Daniel Barber, and Alex Rouch. Filmmaking is team work, and Ridiculously Emo was only as good as that team could make it. Winning that award was an honor, and I know that all of those people felt as though it was a win for everyone involved.
Ridiculously Emo taught me that in order to be great you need to aim to be perfect. No one can achieve perfection, but in aiming to do so, and trying your best to do so, you can come as close as your talents will allow you to. Like Karaoke Night, Ridiculously Emo is incredibly flawed, but that’s why it’s a “student” short film and not a theatrical feature film. I needed Ridiculously Emo to assure myself that I possessed the skill set required to someday make a theatrical feature film.
Ridiculously Emo confirmed to me that with more hard work, a lot more hard work, I would get there, but I wasn’t there yet. It wasn’t long after the premiere of Ridiculously Emo that Imade plans to film my follow up, my final student film that I would shoot in the first two weekends of my senior year. As for Ridiculously Emo, it went on to screen at five different festivals, winning two, before I moved on with my filmmaking life.
So here it is, Ridiculously Emo
Jason Michael Brescia
January 2, 2012 12:46 A.M Eastern Standard Time
P.S I still love the soundtrack to this day: Envy on the Coast, Vendetta Red, Dan Conklin, A Girl Named Craig, Six to Sundown all killing it.