Blogging the Crazy – Post #7: Every Film Is a Puzzle

Thaddeus Homan and Mike Restaino in deep focus on set

When it comes to making films, you can’t always get what you want.

Actors you think are perfect for a particular part are often not available, locations frequently don’t fall into place perfectly – the act of making a movie on a set is a constantly mutating exercise in figuring out what’s not readily available for you and adjusting your aesthetic efforts accordingly. So when I look back at Better Than Crazy, while I wouldn’t have the movie looking or sounding any different than it does, I have to offer that in a funhouse mirror world, its elements could be juggled around in a number of ways.

Except with Thaddeus Homan.

Aaron Daley as a rambling Jack in Better Than Crazy

My wingman in all regards with this film, Thaddeus had his hands on this movie as much as I did through production and editing, shooting fantastic footage, then distilling into a palatable edited movie. He was on set every day during filming, and was enthusiastic, open-minded, and (of course) appropriately goofy, like the rest of our motley crew.  As familiar as Thaddeus was with the material, though, his most commonly utilized talents involved simply having a fresh set of eyes.

He was always my first litmus test for a take. We were shooting digitally, so we pretty much just left the camera rolling (which compounded our collective headaches in post, but it was worth it), and when a take would wind down, I’d look to Thaddeus, who was never more than five feet from the camera with his giant headphones on, and I’d get a sense whether it worked or not.

Zero response from Thaddeus? We’d roll again. A shrug? Probably worth getting another one for safety. A smile, a nod, a laugh? Good – what’s the next shot?

In Better Than Crazy, there’s always music in the air

Our post-production setup was a well-oiled machine, too. Thaddeus is a longtime San Franciscan, so he had all our footage on an editing computer in his home office in Glen Park, and I had a similar setup wherever my rambling bones were (Seattle, SF, Tahoe). This remote interaction made the act of whittling down scenes both functional and thrillingly interesting. Thaddeus would usually attack a sequence first, and stick pretty tight to the script (as much as possible, at least, considering the amount of improvised dialogue that ended up in the picture), and when I’d first look at a constructed sequence, I’d be not just satisfied, but surprised – Thaddeus has a knack for finding hidden value in material.

One conundrum I remember us having was with a scene in the first part of the movie where our Better Than Crazy cousins are getting loaded at a wet bar in Caroline’s apartment. There was a sensational take with Deborah O’Brien when she chastises either Nick or Aaron about drinking out of a bottle everyone had to share (it’s in the movie!), and she screams, “Don’t drink out of that! That’s gross!”

With editing, my instincts are more arthouse than traditional – I could give a rip whether continuity in a scene is fluid as long as emotion comes through – but Thaddeus, thankfully, is a good counterbalance to this devil-may-care attitude. It was important to him to find a shot of somebody pouring or sipping something, a cut-away to insert that would bring a logic to Deborah’s line, which might have been confusing otherwise. I didn’t think we needed it at first, but when he discovered a quick long shot that worked, it was a revelation to me. It’s a simple, straight-forward shot that doesn’t seem out of place in that part of the movie, but our bridge into that scene would have been way too jarring without that shot right where it was.

Thaddeus would have a Eureka! moment like this one in nearly every one of the cuts he’d send to me.

Deborah O’Brien and Nick Leonti on the hunt for corndogs in BTC

We recorded Better Than Crazy’s soundtrack in Thaddeus’ studio, we shot the flashback sequences for the film in and around Glen Park, and his wife Lori (one of my oldest friends from high school) was a great test audience for early cuts we had. In short, Thaddeus’ stamp is all over this film. It honestly would not have happened without him. And even better, a working relationship has turned into a lifelong friendship. Aces.

I’m looking forward to our next movie together.

(Though maybe next time we shouldn’t shoot over one hundred hours of material… More about that later.)

– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy

Coming Thursday: How Shawn Romias kept a straight face on the set of BTC