Blogging the Crazy – Post #1: Cousins by Blood, Friends by Choice

Jupiter

“I wanted to go to Jupiter. That was my plan from day one, and David Lynch gave me the ticket.” – Laura Dern

It takes Jupiter approximately six years to move from one point of its orbit to its opposite on the other side of the sun. It also took a half-dozen years to make a movie called Better Than Crazy (plus another couple on top of that to find a distributor).

Both artistically and galactically, it’s been a long road.

Group5

Nick Leonti, Amy Bruni, Deborah O’Brien, Shawn Romias, and Aaron Daley in Better Than Crazy

In my archive of screenplay ideas I was juggling around at the time BTC was being born, I had a few that felt exciting, but they were epic efforts – big-budget concepts. There’s a time and a place for a good space saga on the silver screen, but after having some strong success with my USC thesis film, ShowChickens, I couldn’t shake the bug: I wanted to direct, to concoct a story I could make myself, not prep a spec script to sell to a studio. This meant that my sci-fi epic about tough-talking warrior women chasing aliens through a futuristic Las Vegas (a real concept) wasn’t going to be possible.

No, I needed a movie idea that would be intriguing, provocative, appealing, and (here’s the kicker) could be shot for maybe the price of a used car circa 2006. These were my wide-eyed cinematic ambitions.

And as they generally will, if you give them the right opportunity to percolate, after a while, a series of ideas struck. It would end up playing out in fictional funhouse fashion in the final product, but the seed of Better Than Crazy was planted at a funeral. Much of my mom’s family lived in a town called Williams, CA – an hour and change north of Sacramento – and her mother’s sister, my Great Aunt Bid, passed away, and there was a funeral set for her. The service itself was sweet and straightforward, and as the event wound down, my cousin Katherine invited me, my brother, his girlfriend (now wife), and our cousins from Seattle over to her apartment near UC Davis to stay up late drinking and reminiscing about Bid.

It was a revelation.

Four of the five of us. I’m pretty sure that’s my Uncle Tom’s arm on the left, attempting to quell Karin’s picture-posing meltdown:

I’d always loved and cherished my cousins, but as will happen for families strewn all around this grand world of ours, sometimes folks don’t get to cross paths as often as they’d like. Kids are busy with school and a myriad of other events, schedules keep getting juggled – for one legitimate reason or another, big full-family gatherings for us were usually kept to weddings and funerals.

Yet in Davis after Bid’s funeral, something amazing happened: as a grown-up, I had a chance to really meet my cousins. Familiar faces from my past that were typically relegated to photo albums and bright-eyed Christmas cards had evolved into actual adult humans. These were sensationally interesting, compelling and vivacious people who, quite frankly, blew my mind with their smart and hilarious perspectives on the world. On this occasion (and, luckily, the many we’ve staged since, frequently adding spouses and kiddos to our expanding posse), I’d often just sit and stare, trying to remember as much of the experience as I could.

There was a movie here.

Krymz View

View of City Hall from our apartment on Van Ness.

Fast forward a bit – my cousin Katherine and I had found a killer two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco to share. She was starting up her first PR job in the city, and I was looking for a new start after a long post-film-school sojourn in Los Angeles had come to an end. It was a cherry set-up – we could (and still do) gossip about any number of topics, we teamed up to work out at the gym across the street whenever we could, and we had similar preferences for food and wine. It was a perfect roomie storm.

So while she began to set the business world of the Bay Area on fire, I spent nights writing a movie about cousins. The family represented in Better Than Crazy aren’t archetypes of my cousins (I’d say that all said and done the characters on screen are about 5% true inspiration and 95% fiction), but even as such, over the course of a few months, they came to life. My movie was coming together.

When one sets out to make a film comedy, if a page of script equals one minute of screen time, the optimal length of a script should be 85-105 pages long. A ninety-minute laugh riot, right? Sounds great.

My first draft of Better Than Crazy was more than 500 pages long. Oh boy…

– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy

Next Post: Corralling a cast and crew…

Better Than Crazy from Continuum Motion Pictures on Vimeo.