Monday, June 7, 2010
The Steel & Marsilio Companion, Part 3: The S&M Renaissance
Immediat- ely (relatively, at least) after the third episode of Steel & Marsilio wrapped, Garrett pitched a theme for our next project: “The Steel & Marsilio Halloween Spectacular.” My lifelong love of Halloween put me on board without hesitation. The idea of having a central theme for an entire episode was new to us, but we had made great strides in finding our voice, and it seemed like a good idea to take our usual random pastiche of skits and have some unifying factor tying them together, albeit loosely. That the factor in question was my favorite holiday made it all the more appealing.
The pieces were in place for our best work ever. Mikey agreed to continue handling our editing, so the usual scramble to find an editor was not an issue, and Garrett and I had a wealth of ideas. In addition, we had learned from some of our past mistakes, so we decided from the outset that this episode would be comprised of a greater number of shorter skits rather than our previous handfuls of overly lengthy, at times glacially paced sketches. This decision made for a much crisper, more engrossing episode, which we knew was absolutely our best work to date. Even my father, who had proclaimed our previous episodes to be horrifically bad, admitted that the Halloween Spectacular was “not as shitty as the other ones.” From probably our most unsettling skit to shoot (involving Garrett and I hanging out in an Oakland alleyway late at night) to the most fun (a horror vignette wherein I am stalked by a demonic sock puppet), the process was a blast, and I was happy that the fruits of our labors proved succulent and laden with nutrients, with a minimum of harmful pesticides. To use a metaphor.
Of course, problems are inherent in any Steel & Marsilio endeavor, and this episode was no exception. Our desire for more material meant more production time, and since we had largely abandoned improvisational location-based skits (such as our trip to the flea market in the pilot), we had to devote more time to writing as well as filming. This ended up having an ironic effect on one of our big jokes…the intro credits, despite clearly announcing a Halloween Spectacular, consist of Christmas music and imagery, in a lighthearted reference to the usual lateness of our episodes. This particular episode too so long to produce, however, that even the Christmas imagery was dated when it aired in early 2003. It was humorous in a kind of sad way, like an Edward Gorey illustration of a guy taking a dump.
One bit of trivia: “The Steel & Marsilio Halloween Spectacular” is the only episode of the entire series wherein Garrett and I are the entire cast. Mikey and Mason do brief voiceovers, but no one physically appears in the episode besides us and Garrett’s dog, Willie. I’m not sure why it ended up that way, but at least it proves to me that Garrett and I could carry what was, at the time, our best episode entirely on our backs. Not that I’d want to do that every time.
As we basked in the glory of our belated celebration of All Hallow’s Eve and began to toss out idea for our next episode, we received some ominous news. There had been tensions between the city of Cupertino and De Anza’s community access studio due to matters of funding; budget cuts were afoot, and they threatened to shut down the station entirely. No one was too anxious to hear CCN15’s death rattle, and the issue even prompted us to take a course of action that was foreign to Steel & Marsilio: standing up for something meaningful. In fact, the opening sequence of the Halloween Spectacular is a recording of Garrett’s heartfelt (and boozed-up, but you can’t really tell) appeal to the Cupertino City Council to reconsider cutting funds to the studio and “silencing the voice of the community.” Unfortunately, despite the efforts of ourselves and, I don’t know, some number of other people, the budget hammer came down. At the end of the school year, the station that had been our broadcast home for over a year would be no more.
The pressure was on. Though we had a few months before the end of the school year, the last episode had taken so long to complete that we were concerned about our abilities to crank out a satisfactory episode under the wire. In addition, for various reasons (I say that because I honestly cannot remember what the reasons were), Mikey was unable to edit this episode for us, so we again found ourselves without an editor. Rather than wrack our brains to try to find someone else, we ended up deciding that it was probably in our best interests to learn how to edit things ourselves. I set about learning how to use Adobe Premiere while we wrote and filmed the episode. Those were hectic times, to be sure.
Nonetheless, we persevered. The conceit of episode five was that it was “4 Kids Only,” and in that context we explored several themes related to childhood: toys, advertising, and telethons for disabled children, for example. There was also a sub-theme of Garrett’s egocentricity and the tension it created, leading us to end the episode on a cliffhanger as I, fed up with my shoddy treatment at the hands of my co-star, convince a folk duo to perform the song “Garrett’s So Fucking Lame” live on television. Garrett, wounded and beside himself, abandons the stage, causing the audience some uncertainty as to the status of our working relationship. It was ballsy (you might even say foolhardy) to conclude an episode in a cliffhanger when, in all likelihood, there was never going to be another episode…but hey, Twin Peaks did it.
Overall, I feel that “4KO” was a small step backwards for us, and I take much of the blame for that. Not only was I learning to edit while working on the episode, but Garrett and I were literally rushing to put the finishing touches on it as the station closed around us. Sadly, this means the editing is nowhere near as tight as it could be; the sound mixing in particular is awful, and makes the already somewhat brutal sketch about Elevator Stevenson (a well-written skit that, to say the least, failed to achieve its potential) almost completely unwatchable. There are also noticeable audio glitches in the final segment, which is especially upsetting as it is my favorite part of the episode. Unfortunately, everything we shot using the studio’s cameras was lost when the TV station closed, so there was little I could do to fix those errors on the DVD. Despite all this, I consider “4KO” a success as an ambitious project created under unforgiving circumstances. I just wish I had the original studio footage to re-edit.
Cliffhanger or no, the era of Steel & Marsilio appeared to be ending, or at least changing radically. Garrett and I had ideas for another episode (we didn’t end on a “To Be Continued…” for nothing), but with the TV station shut down and my imminent move to UC Santa Cruz, these ideas seemed little more than pipe dreams. Little did we know that an immense surprise awaited us that would change everything.