Entry #8: The First Scene of The Newest Pledge

Revenge of the Nerds had long been one of my favorite movies when I began writing The Newest Pledge. A lot of old fraternity movies influenced me: Animal House, PCU, Old School, but none like Revenge of the Nerds. So when Bob, the producer of The Newest Pledge, told me that we could get Brian Tochi, who played Takashi, the Asian nerd, to play the role of a teacher in The Newest Pledge, I was absolutely stoked. It was my chance to pay homage to one of the films that I credited to helping me find my own voice.

Before the day Brian Tochi showed up on set I had never directed an actor with any major credits before. I had worked with SAG actors, met academy award winners, and had helped on sets with famous actors, but I had never directed one. I wasn’t nervous, as usual the other hectic undertakings of The Newest Pledge prevented me from being nervous about anything, but I knew that I needed to bring my best self to set that day. Not only was a professional actor going to be on set, but he was also the man who delivered the line “hair pie” to the world.

Anyway, our production team outdid themselves that day. With no budget to pay extras, we filled a large lecture hall with students to make the scene look fantastic. Brian came right on time and did an excellent job. He had his lines memorized, and whenever I gave him minor notes his body was able to make the adjustments without hesitation. With no disrespect to any actor I had worked with to that point, it was shocking to see an actor with that much command over his tools.

The scene went well, Brian was hilarious, the other actors did a great job, and when it cut together it looked like an awesome scene. It was going to be the opening scene to the movie, and the high production value insured that audiences wouldn’t turn my film off in the first three minutes.

Then one day in what I like to call the “summer of post-production” (which later transitioned to the year-and-a-half of post-production) I realized that the scene needed to be cut. The Newest Pledge underwent such a major facelift after Brian Tochi lit up that lecture hall that there was no place for the scene in the movie. The major storyline that the scene was a part of later got completely cut out of the film, and there was really no way to reshoot the rest of the scene because even if we did, the producers had hired Jason Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob fame, and I had to create a professor role for him, as well. I didn’t like the idea of having two professor characters in the film, so essentially Brian Tochi’s professor character became the victim of a production that was in some ways writing the movie as we went along, and figuring out the rest in post-production.

As The Newest Pledge progressed, other “professional” actors were sprung upon me, all of whom had the same control and skilled approach as Mr. Tochi did. First to set came Barry Pearl, who was in Grease and was hired to play the role of the lead characters father. Sure enough, he had the same preparation and control as Mr. Tochi. To be completely honest, I was somewhat reluctant to give Mr. Pearl notes because he had been on so many TV shows, in one of the most successful movies of all time, and acted on Broadway. Who was I? Just some 23 year old kid who wrote a movie about a fraternity and a baby. I didn’t want to come off as some pretentious film nerd if I gave him any emotionally based notes, so if my memory serves me correctly I really didn’t give Mr. Pearl too many notes at all because of the aforementioned self-consciousness. Instead I made sure he was able to work with, and talk to the actor he was going to be doing the scene with. I made sure they connected, and then ran a few rehearsals. Mr. Pearl did a great job that day, as did Rob Steinhauser and Rich Rotella, the two actors he worked with in that scene. Everyone was professional that day, and when the day was complete we had wrapped shoot on what turned out to be the opening scene of the film.

Thanks to Barry, Rob, and Rich, the scene had the same high production value as the Brian Tochi scene.

Later in production I had the opportunity to work with other working professionals and it became easier and easier for me to lose my self consciousness and communicate with them. In time my usual confidence and sense of humor returned. Mindy Sterling, Kevin Nash, Kenny Morse, Andy Milonakis, G.W Bailey, and the abovementioned Jason Mewes all had so much experience that they had no business being in the same room as the guy who made Karaoke Night only three years before. Even so, I did my best and they were all incredibly professional.

When I first started directing professional actors I wasn’t confident, by the end of the shoot I was used to it and didn’t think twice about it. That’s life. True confidence comes from experience and knowing that you’ve successfully handled a similar situation before. True confidence also acknowledges that there is always room to improve.

I look forward to working with other expert actors in the future, including the young actors from The Newest Pledge who I now proudly refer to as professionals.

Jason Michael Brescia

January 16, 2012 12:28 P.M EST

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About jasonmichaelbrescia

Filmmaker. Writer, director. Comedy.
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