The fall of 1992 marked the start of my last year at Rosemere High School. Being typical students, we were all complaining about the amount of homework that we had by early October. Particularly distressing was the prospect of having to complete yet another assignment that did a deep dive on Ray Bradbury’s novel “Dandelion Wine” for our English class. For the uninitiated, the book largely deals with the simple routine pleasures of small town life.
Just the kind of thing to keep a bunch of 16-year old boys utterly riveted – right?
Along with two close friends, Ian Ritchie and Stephane Rousseau, I was part of the school’s official stage crew. One of the major benefits of being on that crew was that we had open access to the auditorium and pretty much all the equipment in it. It became our own private playground.
Ian was the first person to suggest that we make a movie instead of writing another essay. He said that it would be easy to do given all the equipment we could leverage from the school in addition to a video camera and some computer software that he had stashed at home. Stephane thought it was a great idea. I was the skeptic of the bunch and was convinced that even if we did come up with a solid concept, the chances of our teacher, Mrs. Thomson, agreeing to it were minimal at best but, agreed to go along for the ride anyway.
We sketched out a basic plotline where three of the main characters in the book (all childhood friends), were re-united accidentally twenty years later at an army hospital during World War II. I bravely approached Mrs. Thomson all by myself (because I was thought to be the best “talker” of the group) and pitched our movie. She looked down her glasses in mock derision at me but, much to her credit heard me out without interrupting.
“Mr. Ryan, I’d like to think you’re going to be a lawyer someday but, I can’t see you standing up in front of a judge. You will, however, make one heck of a salesman. Go make your movie but, I want to see an actual script to go along with it” she said.
“Thank you!” (I think. Wait a minute. Did I just get dissed?)
We shot our Dandelion Wine sequel “Reminiscing” in the basement of Ian’s place over the course of a couple of weekends. Wanting to get to the serious business of filmmaking, we started shooting right away and agreed to mold a script around whatever footage we gathered afterward.
The team of Ritchie, Rousseau and Ryan formed its own production company and we called ourselves Tri-R Productions. We used some animation software and even managed to add credits to the film which ran longer and got a hell of a lot more laughs than our actual movie.
Ian added an element of realism to his role by using his grandfather’s old army uniform. Stephane played a doctor at the hospital. Since I had to come up with the actual script, I got the part with the least lines – the friend who had been blown to hamburger and now lay half dead on a cot. Despite my character being paralyzed from the waist down, my legs still flailed away every time I did my best “sick guy cough”. (CONTINUITY!)
We had a lot of fun but, held no real expectations in terms of a grade. Much to our surprise, Mrs. Thomson actually loved it and called it one of the most creative things she’d seen in a long time. The rest of the class enjoyed it too and suddenly some of the cooler kids wanted to get involved and do another film with us. After all, we were about to start reading Macbeth by “Shakey-poo” (as my wife likes to call the bard).
Macmanzo was our Ishtar – a big expensive flop that was heavy on names and devoid of plot. Ian, Stephane and I teamed up with about six other guys in the class and decided to re-tell Macbeth as a gangster story. When you get that many guys together, however, silliness inevitably reigns and we had a really hard time getting it finished.
We also hadn’t factored the number of key characters into the equation so, each of us ended up playing multiple parts. My biggest acting contribution this time out was getting to play FBI agent Macduff who storms the Macmanzo compound at the end of the story and fills our protagonist full of lead. I even wore a suit in that one – a suit and brightly colored Adidas sneakers. (CONTINUITY!)
Mrs. Thomson was much less amused with this effort and our grade reflected it accordingly. Our classmates thought it was a riot. I’ve done my level best to destroy all known copies but, every once in a while, I still hear from people saying that they pulled it out to watch it again. I also heard that someone even created a DVD version complete with menus and chapter selection but, I pray to God and sonny Jesus that it’s just an ugly rumor.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones to come up with this idea, either. A year later “Men of Respect” (starring John Turturro) would drop on DVD. We all had a big laugh when we found THAT sitting on the shelves at the video store.
Though it may sound like a dirty movie, this was actually a murder mystery story that Ian’s sister Erin and her friends had shot for her French class. After graduation, I kept in touch with Ian while many of the others started to scatter to the four corners of the universe.
Ian called me out of the blue and said that he was helping Erin on this project but, her group had also under-estimated the number of actors they’d need. Faster than you could say “Oui, oui!” I was headed back up to his place to turn in my first and only role in French. I played a garden variety cop who wore an Oakland Raiders cap and didn’t carry a badge or gun. (CONTINUITY!)
Quentin Tarantino once pointed out that if a kid watches enough movies, sooner or later they start to learn something and develop a highly informed opinion about film. Some chase the dream and end up actors or filmmakers. Others join the business side of the house. Some enjoy a life-long set of secondary interests until they find the cajones to start a podcast.
At the risk of starting to sound like a passage from Dandelion Wine, one of the most enjoyable parts of doing my show is that occasionally I come across a young person that has the same genuine love of movies and spark of creativity that I like to think I had in high school. Sean Laguna, Rose Mendonca and MJ Slide are great examples and I encourage you to follow all of them on Twitter. I get every bit as excited covering their stories as I did working on those little projects of my own 20 years ago.
To Ian, Stephane and even the other guys attached to Macmanzo, thanks for all the laughs ….. but, I still won’t sign on for a sequel.