Today, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY wraps. Shooting took about six weeks, and during that time, among the many things I learned about the movie business (like the term "video village," for the chairs clustered around monitors where it's safe to sit when filming is taking place -- or the fact that continuity is ensured with the help of a "continuity binder" with photos of actors' sleeves and collars), I learned that there is real magic in movie shoot scheduling. Like a finely tuned football schedule that results in great game after great game, the IKOAFS shoot was conceived such that it began and ended in bursts of thrilling good fortune.
It started in early December, with the outdoor scenes on the Brooklyn Bridge. Everyone on the bridge remarked on the fact that we lucked out with weather -- it was cool, not FRIGID as it's been in New York since. And psychologically, I think people felt great getting that "big" scene done (big as in giant lights on the bridge, with Gators climbing up and down the walkway carting coils of wire) before settling into the Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn, which became Argenon Hospital for the purposes of the film. (They even had handouts about the "Argenon Needle Distribution Program"!) At Victory, in Bay Ridge, people stayed safe and warm as they put the meat of the movie together. But starting a few weeks ago, I heard whispers about the big bang that was going to cap shooting: the "Under Pressure" scene.
The classic rock tune "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen features prominently in IKOAFS. When Craig is in the hospital, he and the other psych patients are visited by a music therapist who leads them on a sing-along. As it starts, the film jumps into a fantasy sequence, with Craig and the other patients dressed up in some very outrageous glam rock gear, stomping through "Under Pressure" in front of flashing lights and letting out their individual demons.
What this means is that in addition to making a movie, the IKOAFS cast and crew get to make a kick-ass music video.
Readers of the book will note that "Under Pressure" isn't there, so I'll explain how it came about. When I was actually in the psych hospital a few years ago, I sat with other skeptical patients while a music therapist, a shaggy guy with a guitar, plugged in and told us that music could really help us deal with our problems. I knew that music helped -- when I get stressed I listen to Knut --
[FYI: I listen to OLD Knut -- they changed a lot -- and no, this has nothing to do with the cute polar bear -- -- Knut is a hardcore band from Switzerland that put out an album called Challenger in 2002 that is pretty much the heaviest thing I know of]
I didn't expect the catharsis that followed, as the guitarist started playing and people next to me, some of whom had never said a word in the days since I'd entered the hospital, started singing. The song that the guy played wasn't "Under Pressure" -- it was "Like A Rolling Stone."
When I started writing It's Kind of a Funny Story, I made sure to include this scene. "Like A Rolling Stone" was somehow perfect for the psych hosptial -- it's a song about facing the real world, not knowing what the hell you're going to do, and trying to keep it all together. But when I sent the original manuscript around to my friends, Marty Beckerman pointed something important out to me: if I wanted to use the lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone" in my book, I was going to have to pay Dylan some serious cash. Just because he did those Victoria's Secret ads doesn't mean he's giving stuff away now.
I took the suggestion (thanks Marty!) and changed the scene so that it didn't explicitly mention the song. I just made it a general rock song and I figured the readers would add their own song -- maybe in some people's mind, it's uplifting to picture the patients singing "Sanitarium."
In any case, when Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden read the book, they pictured "Under Pressure," and ran with it -- adding the fantasy cutaway into Craig's head where he's glammed out and singing. I didn't have the money to pay Dylan, but thankfully Focus Features was able to clear the rights to "Under Pressure," and we were set to go.
So yesterday, I went to a sound stage in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to see "Under Pressure" come to life. I recognized that I was in the right place by the now-familiar trailers and trucks and wires and rows of what look like oversized drum stands that accompany movie shoots. But when I got inside (lunch time: tacos!), everyone looked different. The patients had major-league eyeliner, big hair, sparkles, and outfits that resembled everything from a human cannonball to Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest --
Ryan had a silver sequined tie. The crew had sequined arm-bands. And I met Zach Galifianakis, who had a pompadour and stars in his beard. The costume and makeup departments on IKOAFS did such a good job -- thank you guys!
The actors gathered together in a huddle to get pumped for the scene -- just like before a big football game. They whooped and I followed them into a giant black room with ceilings at least 30 feet high. There they had a stage set up -- with drums, keyboards, a grand piano, a mic stand, a bass, some guitars, and thousands of light bulbs screwed into the wall behind it all. The light bulbs could be controlled like a marquee. The cast got on stage.
Keir Gilchrist, who I think did a better job playing Craig Gilner than anyone else could have possibly approached, got behind the mic stand. I learned a few things from Keir over the course of the movie -- among them a genre of music that was new to me, "crust punk" --
[Amebix, from an LA City Beat article]
Crust punk is an extreme punk/metal hybrid typified by Nausea and Amebix. Keir wore a black hoodie emblazoned with crust punk patches while we were filming. When I asked him what they were, I was pretty surprised to hear of a genre I'd never heard before. I like to think I know music: I know about downtempo and antifolk and alt-bro and a bunch of other genre names. But crust punk was new to me. I mentioned a punk band to Keir that I thought was crust punk, and he basically told me they were lame and shouldn't be mentioned again. I did find out that he dug Rancid's self-titled 2000 release, which I listened to on casette a few days later and which holds up well.
In any case, Keir knows his stuff and he was ready to bring it. I couldn't wait to see "Under Pressure" channeled through a crust punk fan born a year after Freddie Mercury died. I stepped behind a gigantic black curtain and took my seat in video village.
The music started. I don't know if "Under Pressure" has the best rock bass line of all time -- if it does, some credit has to go to Vanilla Ice --
[I think this may be a doctored photo]
-- but the only basslines I can think of that are on par with it are "Another One Bites The Dust" and "Come Together", so in my mind Queen is ahead of the Beatles in this category. (Honorable mention: Nirvana's "Lounge Act," "Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.) As the bass bounced, on the monitors, everything started black, but then Keir's face got illuminated, and when the vocals kicked in -- "Pressure!" -- I jumped back in my seat as he thrust the mic sidways and started strutting across the stage. Keir is a rock star -- I knew that when I first met him. He brought it. He made me think of all those quiet times in my own head when I'm a rock star, and hopefully he'll make the people who see this movie think the same thing.
Zach Galifianakis, as Bobby, started behind the piano, but when the Bowie part of the song started ("It's the terror of knowing what this world is about / Watching some good friends scream, 'Let me out!'") he jumped up and jabbed his own mic into the air -- WHILE WEARING A CAPE WITH A LIGHTNING BOLT ON IT. I don't expect that any of the costumes from IKOAFS will be auctioned off someday, but if they are, I wouldn't be surprised if Bobby's lightning-bolt glam-rock cape is #1 moneymaker.
The camera cut back to Craig -- now Keir was holding his mic stand upside-down, with the mic in his face and the stand base about four feet over his head. I've never seen anyone do this, and I've seen live concerts with less of a sense of danger and excitement. Becca (Molly Hager) took the mic for a star turn, and Emma Roberts, as Noelle, stummed her guitar -- in a nice touch, the scars on her face were encased with glitter. The song built, climaxed, released, and faded to black. One person, watching the monitors, was tearing up.
I wasn't crying, although I might when I see the movie in theaters. I was thinking about the strange string of events -- the impossible, lucky, ridiculous chain of events -- that led from me being in Methodist Hospital in Park Slope Brooklyn in late 2004 listening to "Like A Rolling Stone" to me sitting in Greenpoint in 2010 watching "Under Pressure." I felt like I was watching images with staying power, built by a crew of some of the most gracious, kind, intelligent, funny, unpretentious people I've met.
It's been real, everyone. Thank you. To the cast, crew, producers, EPK team... and to the people back in the real hospital. I hope you're all okay. There's terror in knowing what this world is about, but when you share it with people, it gets a little less scary.