Sam Lai, Private Ai
I know a lot of you who own copies of Sam Lai, and maybe even some of you who worked on it are saying, “Hey! Waitaminnit! That movie is finished!”
Um, no. It isn’t.
For the uninitiated, Sam Lai, Private Ai was a short parody of the hard-boiled detective genre. Like everything I’ve ever produced, written, directed or shot, the production had its problems, some minor, some less-so. There was drama about casting, drama with the cast once we had them in place, drama replacing the ones who just didn’t work in the roles (sorry Tom), and drama writing around the ones who quit or vanished during the year (what the fuck were we thinking?!?) it took to complete filming, reshoots, and then more reshoots.
At one point, our relationship with Doug Harms, the star of the movie, had deteriorated to the point that he was flaking on shoots and not returning calls. Somewhat panicked at the thought of losing our lead with two-thirds of the movie shot, Ken & I arranged a conference call with Doug to discuss where he stood and how he felt about the project. Doug skipped that call, and we got his answering machine.
Ken & I left Doug a message, disconnected him, and then stayed on the line with each other to discuss our options. As we talked over the next half-hour, we got more and more belligerent about our wayward star, eventually descending into outright insults, kidnapping scenarios, and fantasies detailing funny, but violent, retribution. It was during a lull in the conversation that Doug’s machine finally beeped… because its tape was full… and Ken & I realized with shock that we’d just become characters in a modern update of I Love Lucy.
Amazingly, that phone call seemed to have been the kick in the ass needed to get Doug back on board, and we finished the film. Well, I say “film,” but the fact was we’d settled for videotape. VHS, to be specific, which wasn’t an issue until we got into post. In actuality, the movie looked pretty goddamned good. We processed it in black & white, and the softness of the VHS gave it a bit of a film feel. One short film festival we showed it at even had the film professor at Scottsdale Community College (go Artichokes!) assuring his students Sam Lai was shot on 16mm.
In those days, there were only two ways of editing half-inch tape. One was to get out a helical scan block and physically cut the tape with a razor once you measured out your shot. The other was to sit down in an editing suite with big, flying-erase head machines, and do a straight-up assembly edit. The fact that we had about 20 hours of raw footage made it rough. The fact that the technology at the time was such that each edit left a pop on the audio track was a total fucking disaster.
We tried everything we could imagine to fix it, work around it, or hide it. In the end, we cut the picture, and looped the entire fucking movie. Given the janky-ass, Jerry-rigged, redneck tech setup we used to record the dialogue, it’s a fucking wonder that it worked at all. And the cast really did their best to recapture the performances of the original footage. When it was finished, Ken & I told each other that no one would know the difference, and that really, it had all worked out for the best for x, y or z reason.
The truth is the sound sucked, and we knew it. But there was nothing we could possibly do about it, so we lied to ourselves and called it done. As I mentioned above, we screened it at a few places, and people enjoyed it. Cast & crew seemed happy. I was so sick of the damned thing, I don’t think I’ve watched it in 25 years. But I can’t help thinking…
Enough people liked Sam that I’m convinced there’s something funny in there. If it was good with that shitty dubbed audio, it should be great with the live sound. All it would take would be getting those VHS masters (which I have) digitized so I can put them in Vegas and go to work. I bet the end result would be fairly fucking awesome. Certainly, the sound would be a revelation compared to what exists now. It’d be like hearing the un-dubbed Mad Max for the first time.
But with the constant barrage of projects demanding my full attention, there’s simply no way to even consider stepping past putting this on the To Do list at the moment. I do hope that, someday, I get to revisit this little rough gem from my past so I can polish the fucker up.
Today is Star Wars day. Unless you have a serious lisp or a degenerative brain disease, I don’t want to hear about your “May the 4th” bullshit. On this date, in 1977, Star Wars opened nationwide.
This post is not about what Star Wars meant to me, or its place in film history. The first is impossible to put into words, and the second has already been exhaustively discussed and argued.
This is about something else, something wonderful. I’m referring to a careful fan who goes only by “Harmy” spending Bob-only-knows HOW long working from over a dozen sources to give us the only HD version of the original, unmolested Star Wars. And it’s glorious.
We all know George Lucas’ malicious defacement of his own creation was an absolute abomination, but the fact is, even without all the CG monsters, cute hopping robots, comically-bad Jabba the Hutts and other egregious bullshit, the Special Edition of Star Wars would still be a disaster. The color is all wrong; a pallette that seems comprised mostly of blues and greens. If you saw Star Wars in its original release, you remember it as a very warm-looking film. A film with grain and texture and life. Watching this version, I realized this is the first time Star Wars has felt like Star Wars in decades.
George Lucas could never accept that Star Wars, like every film, is a product of its time. But we fans who had our lives redefined by it, understand this. Thanks to this incredibly painstaking restoration project, you can now see Star Wars as it was. Possibly for your very first time.
You might have to do some digging around to find the torrent, but I promise, it’s completely worthwhile.
I am haunted by incompletion. Projects left unfinished, half-finished or imperfectly finished surround me, and I cannot but suffer from their accumulated weight on my shoulders.
I don’t believe it’s arrogance to call myself creative. There is literally not a day that goes by without the seed for some new project popping into my head. Of these, a tiny percentage ever bridge the gap from idea to actual concept. Still fewer reach the stage of getting tucked into a subroutine in the back of my brain to be fleshed out and digested, and only the smallest fraction ever spark the desire to act on them.
These ideas, once confronted with the harsh realities of available time and resources, often settle back onto a dust-covered shelf in my brain. Maybe they were lucky enough to spawn a handful of notes that get tucked into a folder in a folder in a folder on my computer.
The very rarest become actual projects, and earn expended effort of varying degrees and complexities. As a result, my personal history is littered with artistic detritus; films, shorts, web series, animations, visual effects sequences, screenplays, plays, short stories, novels, histories, erotica, comic books, board games, RPGs, graphics, artwork, photography, and even an erstwhile autobiography.
A life’s work spreads out behind me, nearly all of it, for one reason or another, incomplete. Abandoned somewhere along the path between first spark and last polish.
Part of me wants to simply forget these fallen works and move on, but to paraphrase Ahab, they task me. I feel as if I’m building upon a weakened foundation by not knocking a few of these old relics off my to do list once and for all. And, yes, there’s an actual list. There’s always a list.
This blog is the first in a series discussing the Incomplete Works of Bryn Pryor. I’m making it a series rather than a single blog, partly to keep the length under control, but mostly so I can procrastinate and not finish this, either…
The Making of In Search of a Quest
This was the nominal sequel to Boston Clam Chowder: The Sequel, which was the first film I ever made, back in 1983. BCC is also one of the very few things I consider finished. In 2003, I had the original Super 8 scanned properly, re-did all the special effects, printed full-size one-sheet posters for the people involved and gave away Special, 19th-Anniversary Edition DVDs to the folks who’d worked on it.
Quest needs the same treatment, except moreso. I didn’t direct Quest, but I co-wrote and produced, and from day one, it was a troubled shoot. That first day, the entire problem was me, but as the shoot dragged on, it became apparent Ken Brodzinksi (the film’s director and co-writer) and I hadn’t really gotten what we wanted on the page. Nor, apparently, was it clear in our heads. Or anyone else’s…
Adding to the story problems were a collection of production disasters that were fairly epic for a tiny shoot. Equipment failures, talent failures, interpersonal failures. It was a nightmare in Super 8.
What we ended up with was a mediocre mess with minimal plot and no ending. Eventually, we decided we needed to do re-shoots, but Ken had blown a small fortune on Quest, and film — even Super 8 — costs money, so we carried on shooting… on VHS. The mockumentary format we were working in gave us a lot of latitude, but less than we imagined. We didn’t really finish the film so much as we simply got sick of shooting it. A couple of different cuts exist, none of them good.
I think this is what kept me from moving on to re-work Quest after I had finished Clam Chowder. BCC was so much fun to do, and the end result was so awesome (terrible, but a wonderful kind of terrible), I came away from “restoring” it with a lot of momentum. And then I realized I just didn’t know what to do with Quest.
I could spend thousands on a great transfer, and months cutting and pruning, and still end up with a mediocre mess. It’s one thing to be George Lucas and destroy your own nearly-perfect creation. It’s another thing altogether to be Oliver Stone and just keep cutting Alexander because you know there’s a good MOVIE in there SOMEWHERE!!!
And then a funny thing happened as I was considering this blog. Suddenly, I knew how to make it work. I felt like Fenchurch from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when she’s about to figure out the Answer to the Question.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
I got it. It clicked. I now know how to make The Making of In Search of a Quest not just a well-polished relic, but something truly unique and brilliant and relevant. But there’s the rub. It’s now gone full-circle and become a new project. Which means it has to wait, and possibly never make it off the shelf.
Then I will have left it unfinished twice.
There is no such thing as a truly great moment; only a truly great memory.
If an instant is truly amazing, you will be too busy experiencing it, too wrapped up in the living of it, to appreciate its wonder. Moments only become great upon reflection. And the very best, the most fantastic moments of your life, grow in memory, rather than diminish. The details soften and blur, but the warmth, the glow of the moment, blossoms until it suffuses that memory.
I rarely take pictures for exactly this reason. You cannot be in the moment and documenting it at the same time.
Much of my life, since last August, has become wonderful memory. Suffused with the warm, penetrating glow of home.
Game of Thrones seems to want me to talk about it. A lot of people are up in arms over the scene in episode 403 in which Jaime rapes Cersei. All I can say is, What fucking SHOW have you been watching?!?
Here’s my take; Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a damned pretty man. Charming and charismatic enough for most people (okay, yeah, most women, ‘cuz I’m sure there are more than a few gay men who imagine flipping Jaime Lannister, but they don’t give a shit that he raped his sister) to forgive the fact that he’s also a ruthless, amoral, murdering monster. Yes, Brienne softens him a bit, and when he gets back to King’s Landing, he no longer has the stomach for the city, his family, his sister… but he’s still Jamie Lannister, except without a hand.
Which is really the point. I know there are millions of people (um, women), who secretly picture that life where they tame Jaime. Change him. Domesticate him. Just as in the real world, they fail to recognize that this polishing would remove the very edges they find so attractive, and leave him bland and smooth, but that’s going down a whole garden path hat leads to an ongoing philosophical discussion about the nature of men and women I’d like to postpone until a few decades after I’ dead.
Like most men, Jaime is a simple, two-dimensional creature. He’s bitter that he actually saved the realm, and yet endures being called Kingslayer. He’s completely ignorant of the ways of love, having never been intimate with anyone other than Cersei. Since (unlike most men), this denies him the right to value himself solely by the length, width and depth of his shaft, he esteems himself in direct correlation to his ability to kill… which he no longer has.
In the book, Cersei is (yet again) manipulating Jaime, and he goes along, desperate for a touch. And as log as it’s her using and manipulating him, nobody sees to object. Martin, himself, is fine with the scene as depicted, as posted on his blog. In my mind, this is simply another example of the show being better, smarter, sharper and more concise than the books. Martin is far too soft on Jaime as he realizes he’s almost literally worthless without his hand. Jaime has lost his worth; I don’t buy that he simply makes a few self-deprecating comments, begins training with his left hand, and essentially moves on with life.
In the show, he returns to form. If he can’t kill it, he’ll fuck it. That’s Jaime at his lowest. A Jaime I believe. A Jaime who’s still a monster. The fans (yeah, yeah) just don’t ike being reminded of it.