Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First shoot for our next movie, "Jack Ruby's America"

Poetry Scores started shooting our third movie, Jack Ruby's America, on Sunday, November 24, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the day that Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. One of our main house actors, with us from the beginning, Neal Alster, is playing Ruby. We are shooting on location, mostly, at Polish Hall in Madison, Illinois. Our first shoot was a scene in Ruby's office at his burlesque club, the Carousel Club. We shot it in the old paneled office at Polish Hall. The JFK portrait and flag were already in the office when we scouted the location. All we did was take everything else out of the shot.

For this picture, Dan Cross (left) is co-directing (with Chris King). Dan is a veteran filmmaker who runs a film program across the river. He joined the Poetry Scores movie unit part-way through the Go South for Animal Index shoot as a zombie extra, and ended up sharing every major credit on the production side as well as editing the movie single-handedly with only the most vague directions. Dan is also director of photography on the Jack Ruby picture and camera one. On the first shoot we had V. Elly Smith as camera two. That is Elly in the flame-red wig.

Elly was in the flame-red wig because she is also acting in this picture. For our first shoot we tackled "Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl," and Elly played one of four new girls who hear Jack's spiel to the newcomer. We are excited to work with Elly, who shot a good one-third of our previous movie, as an actor. She is one of the most tireless and positive colleagues in a mostly tireless and positive St. Louis movie scene.

Another house actor who goes back to our first picture, D'Mari Martinez (right), is playing another of the four new girls Jack talks to in this scene. Here D'Mari is watching a reference film, Naughty Dallas, with Michelle Koelling. Michelle is a welcome newcomer to the Poetry Scores movie unit, also playing a new girl reporting to work at the burlesque club. I had fun watching them watch Naughty Dallas. I brought the reference film on VHS thinking the actors would want to look at costumes, but D'Mari and Michelle just sped through all the scripted action to get to the next burlesque dance sequence. We are negotiating with our old friend Lola van Ella to give our new girls some burlesque lessons, and there is much anxiousness in the cast about getting up there and actually shaking jelly and dropping garments in front of a motion picture camera. We'll see how this goes.

Our fourth new girl for the first shoot was Tabitha Hassell. We are an all-volunteer operation and can hardly expect anyone to miss work to make our movies for free, so Tabitha had to rush her new hair dye job around a busy work schedule and showed up at the end when we had to rush a bit ourselves. We got her take, though. Tabby is actually an industry professional -- she runs security for many regional big name film premieres. Rather than pose for the movie camera, she is usually confiscating them with a rental cop on her shoulder.

We found Tabitha through her uncle, Jocko Ferguson, seen here managing talent morale with the star of our picture, Neal Alster. Jocko found us the Polish Hall location for this shoot and got us in the door there (got us in every door in this quirky old place). Jocko is a Poetry Scores board member, food translator (most recently, he translated an Anne Sexton simile into some tasty cube steaks) and lead production assistant on the movie unit. Jocko is also a kind of Poetry Scores mascot, since he is almost universally liked. Jocko never met a stranger and never ran anyone off (not for long).

The "new girl" shoot would not have been possible without the varied talents of Barbara Manzara, who did hair and makeup for the new girls, costume-consulting for the entire cast, and touched up the really bad spray-on black hair dye job co-director Chris King gave to the star, Neal Alster. Barbara also has a major role in this picture as Jack Ruby's sister and business partner, Eva. Barbara played opposite Neal in our most recent movie, Go South for Animal Index, the lonely wife of a pent-in nuclear physicist at Los Alamos. We like the way the Coen Brothers cast their movies like a repertory theater company, always picking the same actors, mindful of their previous roles and connections to other ensemble actors in previous roles. I think Barbara and Neal are going to be eyeing each other in our movies for a long time to come.

Co-producer Mali Newman also worked this shoot hard, with costumes and props and eyeballing everything. We owe Mali to our earliest days as a movie unit, when KDHX Community Media helped us to recruit and train production assistants for our first movie, Blind Cat Black. Mali worked (and invested) her way into co-producer status on Go South for Animal Index. She is also a Poetry Scores board member, a poet in her own right, and an actor in our movies. Jack Ruby's life and milieu did not include many choice roles for African-American actors, but there is a Cuban storyline where we will find the right roles for Mali.

Co-producer Marty Luepker of Cars on Film also came by to bless the first shoot, in the company of an aspiring young filmmaker, whose name I have not retained but who had a very positive vibe. Marty himself is one of the sunniest operators on the scene. He is wrangling cars and props for our Ruby movie. In fact, he lightened our prop load by one item while standing right there at Polish Hall, by spotting and pointing out some big, long, multi-colored, rectangular tickets for some game the hall is running that will be perfect for the racing slips Jack Ruby peddled at the horse track in Chicago as a boy.

Jack Ruby (Neal Alster) with three of his four new girls, played by Michelle Koelling, V. Elly Smith and D'Mari Martinez. Notice all of the new girls at the burlesque club are fully clothed in this shoot. We are shooting a silent movie to a musical score of David Clewell's poem, Jack Ruby's America. Basically, we are shooting to an existing soundtrack, and two-thirds of the 70-minute score / soundtrack / movie is Clewell performing his poem. This particular scene was shot to "Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl," a monologue that ends the main Carousel Club section of the poem / movie and leads directly to the death in Dealey Plaza and its aftermath.

Clewell makes a point -- just before Ruby gets dragged into a murderous conspiracy -- of going back to a more innocent, workaday moment in the life of a strip club owner, when he tenderly warns the new girl about the dangers and the rules of the game. So we followed Clewell in having the new girls all show up best dressed for traveling, ready for a respectful business meeting after they have already passed the onstage audition. In my readings into the Carousel Club scene, Ruby did snake on his dancers, particularly on the new girls, but Clewell leaves the casting couch out of his poem so we're leaving it out of our movie. I have learned a lot since the first day of our first shoot on our first movie, Blind Cat Black, when we piled thirty-five people with fake gore on the floor of CBGB and shot a simulated zombie orgy!

Interested in working on this picture? Email Poetry Scores creative director Chris King a head shot and a body shot in a plain, old-fashioned (late 50s, early 60s) suit or dress:

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