Blogging the Crazy – Post #10: You Gotta Roll Me

“I said just use the track lists that we use in the studio. That was my input.” – Keith Richards on Exile

The idea for Better Than Crazy’s poster came early, with a bang: finally, a chance to rip off The Rolling Stones!

Seeing as our movie is first and foremost an ensemble piece, I knew that we were going to need to base our visual scheme on a collage of sorts. Amy had started blowing up on Ghost Hunters when we were finalizing early concepts, so there was a logic from certain camps in putting her likeness front and center, but I’d made an arrangement with her not to go nuts hanging the film on her newfound fame (“An Amy Bruni Film starring Amy Bruni as Amy Bruni!”), so it made sense to spread out our focus.

Music plays a big part in my life, and I’ve been known to drone on and on about favorite bands and tracks. My brother and I even journeyed to follow Neil Young & Crazy Horse in Scandinavia a while back and spent most of our waking travel time discussing the intricacies of various NYCH set lists and deep cuts they’d brought out of the archives and played live for the first time in decades. Such monologues bore most folks, but the Restaino brothers can dissect them for hours. This all being said, when it comes to what I’d label my favorite album of all time, I waver.

A mockup for Nick’s original poster concept

Here’s an album story that continues to make me feel like a dinosaur – Matt Gray, who made the wonderful Behind the Crazy documentary about the production of the film, had a screening of his latest picture, A Special Place, in Folsom, CA a few weeks back. It had received a warm response, which was rewarding, and it was great to mingle with fellow contributors afterward (members of BTC’s editing, sound design and music squads did work on Matt’s flick). And seeing as a go-to topic in social situations for me is music, when I caught up with Delaney Hertel, with whom Matt and I had worked with on a project the summer before and did some script supervising on A Special Place, I relished the opportunity to ask her and the folks standing around us about favorite albums.

I remember giving an uneasy look to my buddy Marc, who was also in town for the weekend, when Delaney (a young lady in high school) donned a look of growing confusion as I kept using the term ‘album’. She assured us that she could recall the ‘good old days’ of CDs (!), but that in an iPhone/Spotify world, the idea of a track-by-track album was an antiquity. She knew her rock and roll, of course, just in a very millennial-playlist capacity.

Albums leave me stumped sometimes, but double albums? There’s no question in my mind that The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. is the high water mark. The Beatles White Album is up there, sure, as well as five or ten other strong candidates, but when it comes down to killer hits and lovable off-kilter oddities, Exile is a treasure trove (side three is especially solid). And I’ve had a poster of the album’s cover art tacked up in dorm rooms and offices of mine throughout the years, and I felt like that double record’s display compilation of Polaroids and miscellany would be a fantastic jumping-off point for Better Than Crazy.

“I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed…”

I spent a few hours scouring our footage (we certainly had enough of it), looking for unique shot constructions and memorable facial expressions from the cast, and came up with a couple hundred snapshots that (hopefully) captured the devil-may-care immediacy of the movie. Then came the question of what else to throw into the mix. The Stones had images of rolling papers and various tchotchkes mixed into their composition, and I wanted a similar sort of hodgepodge.

My parents and I utilized their brand new kitchen island as arts and craft studio on a sunny weekend afternoon, and we arranged the best of the photos so cast members were sufficiently spread out and that serious photos were surrounded by goofier ones – it needed to be a good BTC cross-section. And seeing as the characters in the film are drunk most of the time, it seemed appropriate to have a half-full cocktail resting on one of the pictures. Also considered was that at most screenings of Better Than Crazy, one of our almost guaranteed laughs comes from Nick Leonti, who tells Deborah O’Brien a story about a corn dog who ran for president in the early 1900s (it makes sense in the movie). So we inserted a faux sketch of a corn dog covered in ketchup and mustard delivering a stump speech. We utilized one photo from our flashback shoot, too, which made it seem like a kid’s sketch of a unicorn (Deborah O’Brien’s character is obsessed with them both as a child and an adult) would fit in, as well.

[Aside: it really isn’t a youngster’s rendition of a unicorn – it’s me trying my hardest to draw a photo-realistic one. That’s how bad of a sketch artist I am.]

Imagery from a corn dog’s 1802 presidential campaign

We glued everything in place and I took our little project over to a local photographer’s studio where he could get a full-scale shot of the entire artifact. He even had an idea to lean a guitar pick on the cocktail glass, which was a great representation of Jack’s (Aaron Daley’s) character in the movie. He took a couple different variations on what I’d originally asked for, and I walked away with a few super-high-res proofs of what would eventually become this:

Better Than Crazy isn’t as sprawling as Exile on Main St., nor does it shares that double record’s panoramic artistic diversity, but I think they parallel each other nicely. At the very least, Exile and BTC share a philosophy of going with your gut, finding material with magic to it, and following that through to a noble end.

Worst case scenario, if BTC’s poster is considered a bona fide Stones rip-off, I’m cool with that. I’ve certainly been called worse.

– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy