Monday, May 31, 2010
The Steel & Marsilio Companion Part 2: Keep Firing
The pilot of Steel & Marsilio was in the can and, minor glitches aside (for example, I thought I could watch the broadcast premiere at my parents’ San Jose home…turns out there’s a reason it’s called Cupertino Public Access), we were off and running. After a brief respite to bask in the glory of our accomplishment (read: get drunk and watch the pilot over and over), Garrett and I set to work planning our second episode. The idea was simple: as much as we liked the first episode, we were conscientious of its flaws and sought to improve our overall product.
In a sense, the second episode was a beefed up version of the pilot. It followed the same basic structure, but with a host of changes that, in large part, added to the overall experience. There was a brief, mildly surreal intro, followed by a lengthy opening credits sequence, just like the pilot, but this time the credits sequence had a discernible plot (in this case, a gangsta/drug dealer vignette) that ended in a very satisfying beating for our poor “heroes.” From there, we had a couple of pre-written sketches and an improvised location shoot, similar to the first episode. One significant change we made was to ensure that either Garrett or myself (or both) was present in every segment, in contrast with the pilot, wherein we had a lengthy sketch that neither of us appeared in. Much as I enjoyed that sketch, I always felt the show worked best when at least one of us was directly involved in the on-screen action…I’m not sure why, though. Maybe it’s a continuity thing, or maybe it’s pure narcissism. Maybe it’s the result of the time I spent 45 minutes in a bathroom with no ventilation full of decades-old pesticide. Who knows.
Another big change was an editorial swap. Neither Garrett nor I had the slightest clue how to edit footage at that point, and our original editor, Gary Parks, had moved to Texas, so we scrambled to find someone that could help us bring our vision to life. Fortunately, my friend Chris Akhavan volunteered for the task and helped us put together an episode that definitely lived up to our expectations. In a truly unpredictable twist, Chris happened to have a couple of songs he had written hanging around on his hard drive that ended up being perfect background music for a couple of scenes; as a result, I have to say our collaboration was a wild success, and an overall fun experience. Funnily enough, Garrett didn’t even want to listen to the songs at first (in his defense, if some guy you hardly know asks you to listen to some songs he’s been working on, your reaction would probably be the same, except you’d probably lie about it), and yet after hearing them, he was probably the biggest proponent of including them in the episode. And I still remember Garrett, Chris and I sitting around in Chris’s room, listening to the then-brand-new “The Eminem Show,” poring over the minutiae of each sketch. Actually, to this day I associate “The Eminem Show” with the entire process of making that episode, which is fine by me. Better that than, say, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” or something.
The third episode, on the other hand, is very clearly defined by Avril Lavigne’s song “Complicated.” Indeed, the release date of her album Let Go, from which the song is taken, was the only indicator I could think of to pinpoint when we even filmed that episode. The opening sketch features a parody of the Lavigne song in question with darkly comic lyrics about suicide, which Garrett and I wrote in his class notebook while sitting around in his car one night, drinking, in the De Anza parking lot. Yeah, I know…what a couple of weirdos. Despite (or perhaps because of) our choice of extracurricular activities, I don’t have too many memories of filming this episode. I know it was put together very quickly, to have an episode ready for the beginning of the Fall 2002 quarter, and for what it is, I’m happy with it. But the fact of the matter is that it is essentially half an episode, and though a good half, it feels like a moderate step backwards from the second episode if only for its brevity. Unfortunately, the original source tapes for this one vanished completely (seriously…no original footage of the filming of this episode exists whatsoever. This is completely, peculiarly unique among our oeuvre. Between that and my shaky memories of the creative process behind it, part of me believes we never even filmed this one. It just sort of appeared one day). Because of this, the best I could do when compiling the DVD is a sorry VHS copy that my grandmother has of the original broadcast. Though I am thankful I at least have that, you had best believe that my quest to find the original footage nearly drove me to Indiana Jones-esque lengths. I’m still wondering whether those tapes might be located in some catacomb underneath the Vatican.
The third episode marked our third editor, as Chris had moved on to UC Santa Cruz, so the talented and cordial Mikey Ariel (though that was not her last name at the time) stepped in and did one hell of a job for us. Her work is actually one of the highlights of the episode, as the little touches she applied (in particular the best looking intro we ever had to Garrett’s long-running “News You Can Use” segments) really elevated the material. I remain very grateful for her hard work on this one; though admittedly, editing 15 minutes of footage isn’t exactly the most arduous task in the world, I can imagine dealing with both Garrett’s and my raucous, unreasonable outbursts and demands probably made her job nearly unbearable. And she did do it for free, after all.
After this episode, the direction of Steel & Marsilio was unclear. Would our episodes continue to shrink until we were producing glorified SNL Digital Shorts (which didn’t exist back then, but still)? Or would we surprise the naysayers that thought our spotty work ethics would consume us entirely? The fourth episode of Steel & Marsilio was to answer those questions soundly, as we pulled quite a rabbit out of our collective hat. A rabbit with huge balls.