While whittling away at Better Than Crazy’s bloated early manuscript – there was so much to its 500+ pages that over the course of five drafts, I cut it in half four times – the time came to assemble a crew to, you know, actually make the movie.
Luckily, it was looking like we’d be able to keep things fairly low to the ground as far as filming locations were concerned: the first chunk of BTC was set in a college-town apartment, so that would be relatively easy to find (I figured some sucker unlucky enough to know me would let us shoot over a few weekends at her/his pad), but it was likely we’d need free reign at a local hotel for at least four full shooting days, and we would also have to set up shop long-term at a minimum of two other sites.
After writing and editing consistently since March, by mid-October, I was confident enough with the screenplay to take off my writer’s hat and focus solely on the administration of getting what Better Than Crazy needed ready for a series of weekend shoots early in the new year. As any micro-budget filmmaker will attest, my first appeal was to friends and family in my inner circles who I could flatter and cajole to join me on my zany odyssey.
My immediate family was promptly enlisted: mom would help with various schedule arrangements and random tasks (and, more importantly, be our go-to for on-set snacks and beverages), my brother was ready to lock and load as our boom microphone operator (sound department of one!), and dad was cool helping with whatever production duties we’d need. The Restainos were going to make a movie!
[My now sister-in-law also made major contributions to the film – mostly as a casting director – but we’ll get to that circus in the next blog post…]
What I needed more than anything at this point, however, was a creative wingman, someone who could be my eyes and ears on set, a taskmaster who’d address issues of light, color, focus and all things camera while I worked with our actors to get performances just right.
As if by kismet, the perfect colleague – and now a life-long friend – fell right into place.
My beloved friend Lori Hébert and I have known each other since meeting in Ms. Spallina’s Advanced English 1 class at Ponderosa High School in the early 1990s, and at the time we were putting Better Than Crazy together, she was living in the Glen Park district of San Francisco with her sweetheart, a fellow by the name of Thaddeus Homan, who just so happened to have serious interests in a career in film and video. Again, with a quirky project like ours, there was no way to tell whether he knew what he was getting himself in for, but when Thaddeus cannonballed into BTC with full enthusiasm and participation, the pistons of the film really started popping.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but teaming up with Thaddeus turned out too be the single most rewarding collaboration in the years-long process of getting Better Than Crazy in the can. There’s an old Hollywood saying (and I paraphrase) that when screenwriters collaborate successfully, there are two archetypes in play: one writer paces around the room and spouts ideas while the other finesses those concepts and subsequently puts words to paper.
On set, Thaddeus turned out to be a technical wizard who was adept at aligning our lighting setups wonderfully. Neither of us having made a feature before, we were probably just making it up as we went along and hoping the other wouldn’t discern our shared levels of cluelessness, but after a few hours getting our sea legs that first shooting day in Cameron Park, we were off and running. And because Thaddeus and I were familiar with the footage we amassed during production in ways no other crew members were, it made sense to share editing duties as our long post-production process began (but again, that’s a story for a later installment).
So there it was: Better Than Crazy’s skeleton crew. I’d end up exploiting the generosity of dear friends with a house in El Dorado Hills for two weekends to film the movie’s final sequences, and I tracked down a motel in nearby Diamond Springs that would give us carte blanche to shoot what we needed throughout the establishment, as long as we paid for two double-occupancy rooms each day of production. We hadn’t officially begun shooting, so it was too soon to start thinking we were officially under-budget, but there was no question that we were making a dollar holler.
No one knew quite what this little movie was going too look like – it continues to confound many, even after its completion – but our momentum was gathering. By Halloween, the script was done, and our creative and technical teams were ready to strike.
Now we just had to find a cast. No problem, right?
– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy