Live, Love, Aloha

“When people are worried about the future, they don’t take trips to Hawaii.” – Linda Lingle

Even during early days of Better Than Crazy, I knew we were capturing magic – I just deeply underestimated how much of it was being filmed.

I’d typically head down to Fry’s in Sacramento a few days before our shooting weekends, where our assistant producer Rebecca’s dad Ron kept reminding me I’d get the best deal in town, and buy boxes and boxes of DV tapes. Again, I can just imagine readers thinking about ‘the good old days’ in 9000 BC when Cro-Magnon Man was still using tape-based video to record digital footage, but when we were in production, this was the only option available considering our budgetary constraints. And on set, Thaddeus and I always had more important things to do than to hover around our camera’s red button – considering the cost of all the other elements of Better Than Crazy, blasting through a $10 tape without full efficiency didn’t present itself as a significant loss to us.

Thaddeus would load a Mini-DV tape into the camera, make sure it was recording properly, then go about other business. Looking through the camera’s viewfinder or at our display monitor, it was easy to discern the threatening flashing red light of death when the tape in the machine was running out of room, but even that warning wasn’t too foreboding a presence. The philosophy was to have too many tapes on set rather than not enough, so we kept stockpiling.

Aaron Daley about to sing to us in Better Than Crazy

Thaddeus and I would import these tapes onto our respective hard drives regularly, just to get that initial task out of the way, but it wasn’t until after our final production weekend that I actually sat down with a cup of coffee and began logging the footage. In fact, there’s a great story about a fun gathering that involved Nick, Aaron and I palling around Tahoe Park in Sacramento that proved to be the pivot point in Better Than Crazy between production and post-production.

After we’d all crashed in our respective zones in Nick’s house after a night of drinking, I remember Nick suddenly becoming mortified: he’d just moved into a place with his girlfriend (now wife), and in our rowdy buffoonery, one of the three of us had left the sliding glass door in the kitchen open, and Mr. Kitty (R.I.P.) had escaped.

My exact memories are, of course, hazy, but I definitely recall laughing without sensitivity as Nick paced around the house and eventually meandered all around his neighborhood, mumbling to himself and anyone who passed by about his status as a cat-losing beau: “It’s over for me. It’s over for me.” Again, I could be, but I seem to remember mumbling incoherently about placing a jar of tuna on the doormat at the scene of the crime in Nick’s kitchen, hoping to lure Mr. Kitty back into his domicile from his deep Sacramento walkabout. Nick had to fend off a few meandering neighborhood kitties who were in the mood for a snack, but eventually Mr. Kitty did indeed return. Crisis averted.

In any case, this was the mindset I was in when I had headed off to my aunt’s house in Oakland that was going to be empty for a few weeks. I set up my (somewhat) portable editing setup on her dining room table, and began analyzing and typing exactly what occurred during every solitary second of screen time on those tapes we filled. The first day of this endeavor was unnerving but exciting – scenes didn’t look precisely as I expected, but I knew that Thaddeus’ sturdy hand in his editing booth would iron out any hiccups in that regard. The second day of it, however, was exhausting. On the third day, my aunt unexpectedly returned and needed her dining room back, which prompted me to pack up shop and frantically figure out what to do next while driving a Jeep Cherokee full of gear around Northern California.

Nick Leonti, unsure of what he sees in Better Than Crazy

I’d get the logs over to Thaddeus quickly enough, but we had so many tapes of footage that it took months of solely sifting through footage to arrive at a place where we could both start editing. Better Than Crazy offered us riches aplenty, to be sure, but to appropriately access and identify these diamonds in the 75+ tapes rough, weeks and eventually months of time had to be dedicated.

This is the beautiful curse that befell BTC as it distilled through post-production. If Thaddeus and I had had luxury of dedicating 100% of our working hours to constructing scenes on our respective editing apparatuses, we might have been able to finish the thing in a summer (or at least by the end of the year). But working full time and juggling the responsibilities and recreations of life shockingly did not leave nine hours a day five days a week for the two of us to address the aesthetic intricacies of the movie. Alas, we had to improvise.

This made the process drag. Working with Thaddeus was a blast, but the rigmarole of scribbling down timecodes, logs, and the tedious act of naming and classifying takes just to get to the fun part of actually cutting footage took a lifetime. Our budget was what it was, and in hindsight I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it goes without saying that our post-production journey was a long one.

To be perfectly honest, I wish there was a sexier way of explaining Better Than Crazy’s insanely extensive gestation process. In fact, I have to admit that there was a moment where it all seemed like too much work and not enough return. We’d begun sending the movie to film festivals both domestically and internationally as a work in progress, which it most certainly was, and unsurprisingly, response was mixed. Better Than Crazy, as you’ll soon see, is not a motion picture for everyone’s tastes – viewers are far more likely to love or hate it than they are to find it ‘okay’ – and while we received complimentary emails from curators and festival planners upon checking out our submissions, nobody came through with a formal invite to participate.

Until, as has happened throughout the ages to sailors on the open seas, Hawaii called.

Deborah O’Brien can’t help but giggle in Better Than Crazy

Better Than Crazy screened at The Honolulu International Film Festival there and received the Aloha Accolade Award during the festival. Our dear friend and (at the time) Honolulu denizen Ben Olson attended the awards ceremony on our behalf and represented the Crazy well. In true BTC style, I think Ben even lost his camera full of snapshots from the ceremony on a table at the event, so we don’t have any documentation of the experience, but he mailed the certificate my way anyhow, which hangs proudly over my office desk to this day.

Having a pretty certificate is nice, of course, but even though I remain steadfast in my belief that achievement is its own reward (a sentiment echoed by Federico Fellini and Major Garland Briggs from Twin Peaks, two personal heroes of mine). To know that somewhere someone was finding enjoyment in the picture we were putting together spurred us on to dig our hands even deeper into post-production and finish the game.

Which, as of four weeks from now, will finally and officially be the case. If that’s not a scenario that’s “better than crazy”, I don’t know what is.

– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy

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