Well, our ducks are all in a row.
Better Than Crazy, after a long and arduous journey is officially and indubitably available for your viewing pleasure. We’ve been live as a streaming rental on Vimeo since September 29th, and we’re now available to purchase on DVD from Amazon.com. The movie’s most excellent soundtrack is also ready to tickle your eardrums on Spotify and Apple Music and can be purchased on iTunes.
We’ve received some wonderfully positive responses to this little blog of ours, which has been full of stories from the set, thoughts from guest writers, and behind-the-scenes nuggets that paint a relatively accurate portrait of what went into making our insane little movie. Yet as a finale, aside from taking the chance to say a final thank you to the major and minor participants who helped bring Better Than Crazy to life, I had trouble finding a fitting blog sendoff.
Then it came to me.
I didn’t do what so many artists do when they finish a project: I didn’t dedicate the movie to anyone. My own cousins, as discussed in our very first blog post, inspired Better Than Crazy, but through the act of making the movie, their presences on screen became less specifically identifiable. Our movie would never have happened without my beloved cousins, but Better Than Crazy is nevertheless not ostensibly about them.
In looking over the film these last few months while preparing it for release, I started to recognize that there were some ghosts inside the dum-dum comedy halls of Better Than Crazy that weren’t there years ago when we were going through production. Shocker: when it takes many years to get a picture together there are births and deaths that occur within said movie’s timeline that stand out.
Now that Better Than Crazy is out in the world, I’d like to take an opportunity to cite five big personal influences that come most vibrantly to mind when I consider BTC’s long road. This is only a small cross-section of the loved ones who have left us in our last few journeys around the sun, but these sorely missed folks nevertheless come to mind when I take into consideration the history of this grand project. It’s often sad to think of them, to be sure, but squared within the context of a zany and funny movie like Better Than Crazy, that sadness doesn’t linger too long.
I’ve known Lori Hébert since 1990, and as she and I evolved through high school and college, during holiday breaks and summers, extensive visits with Lori and her mom were common whenever I’d venture back to El Dorado County. I have many fond memories of their old house out on South Shingle Road (especially when Lori’s grandmother thought in the early 90s that I sported a keen likeness to Luke Perry from Beverly Hills 90210, which was both a marvelous compliment and totally unfounded), and as I grew up, Dee always asked what I was up to, where my adventures were taking me, etc.
And when I left L.A. for San Francisco in the mid-2000s, I had more opportunities to meet up with Lori and her now-husband Thaddeus at Dee’s house in Placerville. In fact, on one weekend, we all helped dig out some boxes that had gotten some water damage in Dee’s garage. This was likely the early seed of my personal and working relationship with Thaddeus on Better Than Crazy. There were tons of boxes in that poor garage that had just been rotted out, and on that sunny weekend, we talked shop and shuttled back and forth to the nearby county dump, realizing that we had deeply similar tastes in music and a shared interest in filmmaking. A partnership was born.
During some of the more out-there moments in Better Than Crazy, I can clearly hear me and Thaddeus laughing along with our actors (we didn’t even try to mix that out), and these moments bring me back to what I seem to remember being a Christmastime table at Dee’s place, all of us playing a card or board game of some kind and listening to her recall a favorite Lewis Black routine of hers, Lori and Thaddeus and I giggling along with her. I can still hear it now.
One of the big perks about the drive between UC Berkeley and home in Placerville during winter and spring breaks was that my dear friend Jessica (a creative consultant on Better Than Crazy) had a mother – Mama Linda to most who knew her – who lived about halfway between the two.
Jessica and I met while working at one of Cal’s many wonderful libraries, and quickly found a routine as being two of the worst employees the University of California ever knew. We’d check in with our manager at the top of a work hour and usually go on detail tattle-taping, which involved going deep into library stacks and placing a thin strip of metal tape in each of the old books there (you know, so those machines near exits would beep if books weren’t properly checked out). Jess and I would tattle-tape for maybe ten minutes, then we’d flagrantly leave through one of the many library exits that weren’t near our supervisor’s cubicle and grab a cup of coffee, browse through Amoeba Records for a half-hour or so, or maybe even just gossip about life at large, making sure that at the top of the next hour, we’d check back in and repeat these activities as long as our shared shifts allowed.
In any case, when I took off to film school after four years at Cal, I tried to drop in and see Mama Linda when I could when Jessica was there for a holiday or gathering, and Mama Linda, a truly bigger-than-life presence, always rolled out the red carpet for a Restaino fly-by. Leaving Mama Linda’s house always left me feeling about ten feet tall.
A few years after her passing, when I’d moved back to San Francisco, it turned out that Jessica only lived a few doors down, and we were able to stage many meet-ups that quickly evolved from casual cocktail confabs to genuine movie work – she asked smart, probing questions and really called me out on my many creative decisions with Better Than Crazy’s script. Her input was invaluable.
And when I see the flashback sequences of BTC today, Linda’s face is one of the first that comes to mind for me. I wish I could show the movie to her, to answer the many questions she’d likely have about it. Then she’d probably insist on feeding me and we’d move on to another topic.
After we’d finished a few months of work on Better Than Crazy at Victory Studios in Seattle, even though I had a killer basement apartment in Queen Anne, I felt the pull of the open road, so I got in my trusty Jeep Cherokee and headed east. After a stopover in Monument Valley, I ended up catching up with great friends in Atlanta and Nashville, and then turned around and on my way to Tahoe, I stopped in Tulsa, OK to visit Rob Gardenhire and his family.
I had known Ryan Gardenhire for a decade or more at that point, and in our overlapping travels (weddings and such), I’d met his and Rob’s mom a couple times, and as it turned out, she was in Tulsa when I was blasting through, and this ended up making Gardenhire family night one that really sticks with me.
Because Ryan and his wife Becky are pretty cool, they’d bought one of their nieces (I forget which) a killer princess guitar, one of those ‘My First Instrument’ things that young girls with an itch for playing music could get started on. I’m no virtuoso or anything, but I love noodling around with guitars, so when I saw that pink and white axe, I tuned it up and started to strum.
It turned out that Marcy and her granddaughters were in the mood to sing that night, and while I wasn’t savvy enough to conjure up a full verse-chorus-verse tune for them to accompany me on, we were able to blast through the chorus of “Tomorrow” from Annie five or ten times, and we even came up with a slowed-down version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” that would end with Rob’s youngest switching the line to: “We will – we will – RIGHT NOW!” Pretty awesome.
It feels cheesy painting this Von Trapp sing-along as a Norman Rockwell sketch or something, but I recall Marcy really singing her heart out on that Gardenhire couch. Some folks in mixed company will participate in an activity like this and only do the minimum to play along, but Ryan and Rob’s mom really belted these tracks. She brought the goods. This was a simple lesson she reminded me of that evening, one I don’t remember as often as I’d like: Do something because you love it. Pretty simple, really.
Marcy comes to mind every now and then. Especially when I listen to old Queen records. Those Gardenhires, I tell you: good stock.
I went to many family functions with Ron Glapenske (grandfather to my goddaughter), and at each of these affairs, we’d talk movies. New and old, obscure or obvious – at most birthdays and holidays, you’d find Mike and Ron hovering over chips and salsa, chatting about film.
For the better part of a year before he passed, Ron went out of his way to draw attention to a comedy starring a certain sitcom comedian that he claimed was one of the funnier pictures he’d ever seen. I repeatedly resisted trusting Ron on this recommendation, thinking that his claims that a made-for-TV movie starring this particular comic might not exactly have the pedigree of an all-time cinema classic.
We’d joke about this, of course, the counter argument being that I found 2000’s Coyote Ugly to be a perfect motion picture (I still do!), but even though we could agree on a the quality of most Steve McQueen movies and that all three of the first Indiana Jones movies were classics, when it came to that infamous comedy Ron loved, I wasn’t ready to concede.
It’s been a few years since we lost Ron, and recently, on a lark, I noticed that the movie he once so loudly lauded was available on Netflix Streaming, so I found an excuse to pop open a beer, sit on the couch, and raise a glass to Ron and what I will always consider to be ‘his’ movie.
And oh my dear Lord, it was impossible to get through.
Bad reviews are part of this wonderful business of ours (check out what some haters on Twitter have to say about Better Than Crazy!), but there was an unforgivable mediocrity to this turkey at hand that was patently unbelievable to me. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, in the dark, shaking my fist in the air, angry that Ron wasn’t there to defend himself.
Haunt me or something, Ron. We gotta hug this one out.
There were short films of mine made in college and grad school that Barb Iten didn’t star in, but of the ones that could be deemed my most professional, she had a role in every one. Her participation with Better Than Crazy came late in the game – she’s the voice of a family aunt who calls Robert (Shawn Romias) to ask him to join her for dinner – but I have wonderful memories of her visiting my editing office in Tahoe, approaching this small role with deep seriousness and enthusiasm.
In typical Barb fashion – she met my parents when they were students at UC Davis, so she was in the loop for a long while – she balked at first when I told her to make up her dialogue, to simply do a few takes with subtle variations to them, but it didn’t take her long to thrive in this approach to the part, giving me exactly what I wanted from her mother figure character and surprising me with fascinating additional details about this aunt that I didn’t see coming.
I got to show Barb a screener copy of Better Than Crazy before she passed earlier this year, but I wish she could have been around to see it unleashed on the public.
When you get a chance to see Better Than Crazy – and I really hope you do – you’ll hear a very faint female voice when Shawn’s character gets a cell phone call while our cousins are being goofy in Dave’s trailer (it’s about forty-five minutes in). It’s more of a secret detail than a standout character appearance, but there’s Barb: captured for the ages in her pal Mike’s ridiculous movie.
Okay, kids. Blog’s over. Thanks for reading!
Tell your friends! Buy two! The more the merrier!
As always, thank you. See you next time.
– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy