I could write a lot more about Wet Cigarettes than I’m about to write. So much went in to making it, and so much went in to its eventual letdown that the amount of angles to tackle this film from are endless. For now I’ll focus on my ego in the summer of 2008 and how I’ve since learned to manage it.
The day after the premiere of Ridiculously Emo, I went to the editing lab at Chapman and began writing what would be my follow up. Although I was enrolled in senior thesis that semester, and was in my fourth year of college, I was technically a junior because of transferring and still had a year left of school. I spoke to Gil Bettman who was the professor in charge of Ridiculously Emo, and asked him if I could do an independent study, to which he agreed, and thus Wet Cigarettes was born.
Here’s the thing about Wet Cigarettes that I don’t tell very many people: it was never supposed to be more likable than Ridiculously Emo. If the purpose of Ridiculously Emo was to prove to myself that I could write and direct theatrical quality films, the purpose of Wet Cigarettes was to bridge the gap and get myself there.
A lot went in to writing Wet Cigarettes, and the script transformed itself from simple and fun to long and tedious, but that was by design. I wanted the film to be big, I wanted my days to be packed, that was part of the learning experience I was trying to create. Wet Cigarettes wasn’t safe. People weren’t guaranteed to like it, I wasn’t guaranteed to finish on time, these were things I needed to learn how to handle.
So I began to assemble my team. The first person on board was Christopher Richmond, a cinematographer who mostly worked on “artsier” stuff than Karaoke Night and Ridiculously Emo. Chris had a decent amount of talent, but we were mentally and philosophically different people. I had the “ra-ra” go getter mentality, he was more of a “let’s just do what I’m used to doing” mentality. We agreed on some visual references, mostly Say Anything by Cameron Crowe, and we met almost every day that summer. In that sense, our pre-production collaborative efforts went smoothly.
I could have saved myself a major headache and just asked Tom Banks from Ridiculously Emo to be my cinematographer. He was by far the most talented DP that I knew at the time, and was also a close friend of mine. We would have made a solid movie, and we wouldn’t have faced the countless production mishaps that we faced. But there was a reason I wanted to use Chris. I wanted an “artier” look. I wanted to be more artistically ambitious, and at Chapman University in 2008, Chris was the guy to go to for realizing that sort of aspiration.
The next person on board was Sebastian Pardo, a director friend of mine who also was the production designer on Ridiculously Emo. Leading up to the writing of Wet Cigarettes, Sebastian and I had become close and he served as liaison between Chris and I, as well as my go-to script doctor.
The final key team member on board was Bryson Pintard, who to that point had never worked on a film before, let alone produce one, but I figured I’d give him a shot. He wanted to do it, he had the same “ra-ra” spirit I had, and he was the perfect producing partner for Sebastian, because he wasn’t afraid to make calls or get on people about doing their job. They played a lot of good cop, bad cop, but they made a great team.
Anyway, watch the movie:
Though I like it more, Wet Cigarettes is not better than Ridiculously Emo. The funny moments are funnier, but the story, cinematography, and acting are all weaker. All three of those are my fault. I was trying to say too much while writing Wet Cigarettes. I took a silly story about a guy with erectile dysfunction, a story that could’ve been effective at six minutes, and stretched it out to twenty-four. I shouldn’t have done that.
My directing on Wet Cigarettes was pretty bad, too. There was too much sitting around and not enough movement, and the sitting down dialog is barely engaging. After really digesting the final product that was Wet Cigarettes I vowed to move the camera, move my actors, and make my scenes shorter. I think I watched too much Judd Apatow the summer I was making Wet Cigarettes, except if I was trying to do my best-Apatow, I proved that only Apatow can do Apatow.
I also did a horrendous job casting. All of the actors in Wet Cigarettes have talent, but none of their talents could be accentuated in the roles they were playing. Well that’s not true. Sean Tsaconas as Chess, Mark Carroll as David Gordon, and Andreas Robichaux as Leo all did amazing jobs, but everyone else was sold short, not given enough, or had little to no chemistry with those they were working with.
I asked Daniel Barber, who played George the geek in Ridiculously Emo, to play William Denton, the cool guy, in Wet Cigs. The role wasn’t right for Daniel and he comes off as so uncool that it makes Norman look weak. The William Denton character was supposed to be more of a best friend/brother type figure, and less of a prick. Awful job on my part there, and making matters worse was I didn’t give the Flavio character any chance to really add any extra dynamic besides to say the word “nerd” a few times before he says a monologue. I needed to establish him better.
Lessons learned. Both Daniel Barber and Tombstone Stinton, who played Flavio, did amazing jobs in The Newest Pledge because I cast them in roles they were suited for, and on set played to their strengths as actors.
The biggest problem I ran into was that I couldn’t get any chemistry out of my lead couple. I probably should have spent more time with them than I did, but sometimes something just isn’t there. Casting a romantic pair is tough; casting a romantic pair with strong on screen chemistry is a matter of chance and commitment from the actors.
But I still could’ve done a better job. If I couldn’t get them to have the chemistry I needed to have, I should’ve made adjustments to the script on set, but at that point I had never done that before. On The Newest Pledge I ran into a similar problem, identified it, and fixed it immediately. I spent countless days cover my end on TNP because I didn’t on Wet Cigs and it ate me alive. It eats my alive to this day. But the important thing is that I learned.
Part of why Ridiculously Emo was so successful was because Joe Dietsch was our casting director. On Wet Cigarettes I was the casting director and I did an awful job. But in doing that awful of a job, I knew what to look for when casting subsequent projects. On The Newest Pledge I found unearthed fresh faces that I know will be populating the big screen for years to come, without the failures of casting Wet Cigs I would not have had as good of a cast in The Newest Pledge, I can guarantee that.
The best part of Wet Cigarettes is the production value. The locations, wardrobe, and the production design all look great. Jillian Lynes, Tyler Jensen (who also drew the Humpty Dumpty tattoo in Emo), and Tiffany Johnston all did a tremendous job on that.
The worst part of Wet Cigarettes was what you didn’t see: The mishaps that occurred on set. You see, Chris hired a crew that I knew I wouldn’t get along with because of bad experience on another set during the summer. Needless to say, the bad experiences carried over and the Wet Cigarettes set had more drama behind the camera than in front. It was really childish, but I suppose if I really wanted to I could have set a better tone and avoided it all together. I think I held on to my pride there, when in reality I should have just let the past be the past. In the end only my movie suffered.
I also let some of the actors do whatever they wanted to do, and enhanced their egos a little too much, to the point where I got several complaints from crew members about different cast members. I made sure this never happened on The Newest Pledge. When you’re working on low budget and indie projects it’s easy for the cast and crew to mingle, but there’s a reason they try to prevent that in Hollywood. Nothing good can ever come from it. Lesson learned.
Chris’ camera crew were not saints, but the professional thing for me to do would have been to put up with them for the better of the project. Lesson learned. A director-cinematographer relationship is an important one. Wet Cigarettes was my only toxic director-cinematographer relationship. Chris knew I didn’t get along with the crew he had, but despite pleas from Bryson and I, he progressed with that crew. When the crew got upset, Chris’ morale hit the floor, and thus his motivation hit the floor. I should have been more understanding towards Chris, instead I was more of a bully. I saw him losing steam and yelled at him, instead of motivating him. As the director I was supposed to be a leader, and in that regard I was a terrible leader.
For a brief period of time on set one night I checked out. I was frayed, burnt out, and emotionally done in. I let the project get to me. I let everything that had happened over the past several months get to me. I had the school yelling in my ear, friends getting frustrated, and my masterpiece was quickly deteriorating in front of my eyes.
And I take 110% of the blame for it. I really do. Sometimes in life you need to just suck it up, swallow your pride, and move on. I could have fixed the cast, I could have minded my own business when it came to the crew dilemma, I could have worked harder to make Chris feel more comfortable, I could have improvised better. I could have done a lot of things better, but I learned how to do all those things by making the mistakes that I made. I wholeheartedly believe that learning from failure is the only way to succeed.
I’m a confident person, and unfortunately I had a sense of arrogance and cockiness while making Wet Cigarettes. After Ridiculously Emo I thought I was better than I was. I forever learned on Wet Cigarettes that I am not. I am flawed as a filmmaker, but with the proper preparation and help, I can cover up those flaws and execute the way that I desire. I needed Wet Cigarettes to be worse than Ridiculously Emo, because if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have gotten better.
Jason Michael Brescia
January 12, 2012 6:15 P.M EST
P.S The final cut of Wet Cigarettes which I hope to release this year is actually going to be really good. When you trim the fat out of that short, it’s actually not that bad, but not the triumph I was hoping for.