Entry #18: The Films That I Studied While Making “The Newest Pledge”

I’d love to say that I sat around for days studying the Criterion Collection while prepping for The Newest Pledge. I’d love to give myself that director-who-watches-old-and-foreign-films mystique, and say that a bunch of obscure films influenced my film making while making my first feature. But if I said that, I’d be lying.

The truth is that I do love the Criterion Collection and own a growing number of the collection on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Laser Disc. The truth is that I do watch old and foreign films, so much so that it impacts my dating life because I can’t find a girl who’s attractive enough, an Indianapolis Colts fan, and a cinephile. If you know her send her my way.

But in production/pre-production of The Newest Pledge I knew well enough not to let some of my favorite films influence the film I was making. As a production team, we set out to make a campy comedy that harkens back to the comedies of the 1980’s, and the cartoon humor of the 1990’s. We sought out to make a modern 80’s comedy, and my diet was loaded with films in that vein.

But the movie we were making still needed to be made with modern standards in cinematography and production design. In that regard our prohibitive budget forced me to get creative with my influences, but I felt like our team did a great job in those areas, creating an aesthetic that suits the film well.

Of course the stock answers for what films influenced The Newest Pledge are Animal House and Revenge of the NerdsThe truth is that those are two of my favorite movies of all time and have influenced everything I’ve done, not just The Newest Pledge. In fact, in my opinion Ridiculously Emo is so heavily influenced by Revenge of the Nerds that I think of the film as my Revenge of the Nerds. I’d also contend that besides The Wizard of Oz and the fantasy genre, no film has influenced a studio genre as much as Animal House has influenced American comedy. Of course those two films influenced The Newest Pledge, they’re what made me fall in love with the genre to begin with.

There are a few films that everyone likes to bring up when you’re making an Ultra-Low-Budget-Indie; Clerks, Slacker, SL&V, Swingers, and Paranormal Activity are films that are championed by every optimistic filmmaker to ever take their stab at Sundance. I knew from day one that this wasn’t that sort of film. We had a bigger budget than Clerks, Paranormal Activity, and Slacker combined, and two of those films had to shoot on 16mm which basically took up the entire production budget. Today, Linklatter could’ve made Slacker and Smith could make Clerks for next to nothing, but they would’ve lose their charm. I digress.

We were closer to Swingers in budget and production size, but again, they had to shoot on 35mm because it was the mid 90’s and digital wasn’t there yet. That being said, during production I never looked to Swingers for any guidance, and I never looked to any of those other films. My personal mantra was that this film would contend with the big boys. In my eyes we weren’t making a low-budget-indie, we were making a Hollywood film, the only difference was that we didn’t have to worry about over paying our cast and crew (or paying them at all in some cases), and we didn’t have catering or fancy wrap parties. We had all the equipment we could possibly need, and just enough money to pay for the film to be made.

One film that really influenced Trevor and I from a design perspective was Legally Blonde. Get your laughs out now, call me a wuss, whatever you please, but don’t tell me that Robert Luketic didn’t make a technically sound and well stylized film. The production design and cinematography were perfect, and Trevor and I studied the film religiously to ensure that we had the proper aesthetic. If we were going to compete with the big boys we had to rival what they did in regards to production value; of course our film doesn’t come close to Legally Blonde in regards to production value, but that’s something that a budget for extras and falling leaves to make USC look like Harvard in Autumn can do for you. Our desire to match Legally Blonde gave me the cognitive push that helped me to keep pushing our production to attempt to be as professional as possible, as tedious as that could sometimes be with a small crew.

While we were in production the film Hot Tub Time Machine was released, and while the film was a major letdown from a story perspective, the retro-theme and story concept sparked my interest. The Friday the film opened Nate McGarity, who played Night Train in the film, and I went on a double date with our now ex-girlfriend’s to see the film at the Irvine Spectrum. What turned me on to the film the most was the usage of color, specifically loud and vibrant colors. I loaded the interior of the fraternity house with deep blue and reds, and I made sure to keep the wardrobe as loud as possible. To ensure the retro feel, Hot Tub Time Machine confirmed how important color is.

Color is also something that helped make Linklatter’s period piece Dazed and Confused so visually interesting, but because it was a period piece I never really looked to the film for visual advice. What I did study the film heavily for was the creation of what I believe to be the perfect character ensemble. I knew that in order to make The Newest Pledge fun to watch, the characters needed to be fun to watch, topical, and they would need to be able to contribute to the overall study. In regards to the screenwriting elements of the film, nothing came close to the influence that Dazed and Confused had on me (besides of Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds of course).

The final film that I would say influenced The Newest Pledge would be Biodome, because when making a movie about unsophisticated man-children sometimes it’s important to watch what doesn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the film because I enjoy the 90’s comedy scene as a whole, but Biodome is the perfect example of a film where the characters just don’t grow up enough (in constrast to the Adam Sandler films where sometimes the characters grow up too much). I studied Biodome to see how the bad guy went sour, what caused the characters to have nowhere to go in regards to their development, and why the girls had no real redeemable character attributes. It was important for me to study that because there’s a reason films fall into these traps: it’s easy and the formula breeds it.

So that’s it. I didn’t study Rushmore or Chasing Amy or Brazil or Harold and Maude. I wasn’t visually influenced by Spike Jonze. I knew the genre I was working in and for different reasons I studied Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Legally Blonde, Hot Tub Time Machine, Dazed and Confused, and Biodome.

Jason Michael Brescia

July 29, 2012 5:38 P.M EST

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About jasonmichaelbrescia

Filmmaker. Writer, director. Comedy.
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