My Filmmaking Misadventures: Yoo Hoo Hello!!!
by Lee Sobel
"Yooooo hooooooo! Hellooooo!" So wailed someone from their east village window as I was shooting a scene with dialogue for my first feature film I directed, "Burnin' Love" (released on DVD as "Rockabilly Vampire"). Welcome to the world of shooting a "no budget" movie on the streets of Manhattan. I stood below this person's window and begged them not to yell out every time I called action but they persisted. What to do? I went back to shooting the scene and every time the person yelled out, I told the actor to just say their line again until I could get all the dialogue clean to cut the scene. While you can't hear the "Yoo Hooo" in the final movie, you can still hear when they whistled in the same tune they had been singing their little "Yoo Hoo!" song in.
This is just one of a million misadventures I have had in making films. To date I have directed seven feature films, numerous short films and two one act plays and ain't none of them have been easy. Once on my feature "LUVRGRL" we were shooting in NYU housing. This was in 2002, so it was not long after 9/11 and security had tightened up everywhere. We were shooting in what was supposed to be a dorm room and I had many scenes to shoot there. Right in the middle of shooting one scene there was a knock at the door -- someone had tipped off security who knew we didn't have clearance to film there and they told us that if we didn't all vacate the premises within thirty minutes, the cops would be called. Cast and crew piled out of that building fast and on the spot I rewrote the remaining scenes set in the dorm in other locations so I could complete the film, which ended up making that film better.
Setting up a shot on the set of "Rockabilly Vampire"
On the set of my movie, "LUVRGRL"
That wasn't the only time I would almost have to deal with the police. When I made the movies "Hotties" and "Hotties 2" back to back, I shot scenes in a bar in some blue collar neighborhood in New Jersey but, unbeknownst to me, it was on the same block as a children's daycare center and parents picking up their kids that afternoon did not enjoy seeing me directing my scantily clad female stars running around on the street. Next thing I knew, the cops were looking for me and every TV and radio news show was running the story "Were they shooting porn next to a children's daycare center?" No, we were not shooting porn and the girls were never naked outside. While I was not arrested, I was hauled off to court to pay a fine for shooting without a permit. What do they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity?
Once on one of my films we were shooting in an alley behind a building in Manhattan. Suddenly someone started playing really loud electric guitar from one of the apartments, blasting it out their window so that recording dialogue was impossible. One of the women working in my crew decided to climb up the fire escape to ask whoever it was to please not play their guitar right now. I didn't think it was such a good idea but before I could stop her, she was knocking on the person's window. Suddenly the head of someone who looked like Charles Manson shot out of the window and began screaming at her and I feared for her life. Then other people from other windows started screaming too. Somehow we calmed them all down and asked if they could let us film our scene and they did. Whew.
Directing the movie "HOTTIES" and "HOTTIES 2" back to back
On another film, we were shooting in a drugstore and we only had an hour to shoot there before they opened. I had pretty much shot everything I needed except for the close-up's of one actor, who was an older guy. Just as I was about to say "Action," the man collapsed and we all thought he was having a heart attack. We called 911 and they sent a fire engine because apparently no ambulances or EMT trucks were available. The firemen seemed to think he just had an electrolyte imbalance and not a heart attack. The man said he was feeling better and wanted to now shoot the scene but everyone felt it was better that he get to a hospital to be checked out. Meanwhile it was like ten minutes until the drugstore opened so, thinking fast, I stepped in and played the
Directing the movie "UFO FEVER"
guy's part. I remember that I had dressed in a hurry that morning and was wearing a striped shirt and a plaid jacket which looked dumb so I simply zipped the jacket up to my neck. I wouldn't say I gave an Academy Award winning performance but I got my scene.
I made a film called "UFO Fever" which I completed for the princely sum of $1000. Yes it is a feature film and yes I got it made for only $1000 - beat that. It's about a family trying to capture a UFO on video to win a million dollars from a TV show. The family lives in a trailer park. I found someone who had a trailer in Bayonne, NJ their mother had been living in and the
mother had recently died so they said I could film
there. When we arrived we discovered there was no
Rehearsing actors on the set of my NYU thesis film "Rick Blazen Is In Trouble"
lock on the door and a homeless person was living in it. Suffice it to say, there isn't enough Fabreze in the world to have made that trailer smell good but we somehow got through shooting there for a couple of days and you could not have gotten a more authentic funky location. I never confirmed it but I did wonder if the mother had actually died in the trailer because I am telling you, it smelled like shit in there!
How did I get bitten by the film bug? I saw "Star Wars" as a kid and said, "Hey, I wanna do that!" In high school I grabbed a Super 8mm camera and made some little movies. My mother was a professional actress and was always willing to appear in my films. In one
On the set of with two of the stars of my movie "LUVRGRL"
dumbass sci-fi epic I made her wear this sequined vest she had left over from the sixties as some kind of alien leader. I wrote this sci-fi gibberish she had to speak and she said it was the hardest dialogue she ever had to deliver! She was a good sport and I put her in all my NYU student films. She played a homeless person in one of them and my classmates squinted at the screen and were like, "Is that your mother again?" Yes, it was.
My NYU thesis film was shot in film noir black and white and was a comedy 1940's period piece called "Rick Blazen Is
Yukking it up on the set of my film "Blonde Fury"
In Trouble" and you can see it if you buy a copy of the "UFO Fever" DVD available for sale on this website.
Troma Entertainment did a nice job with releasing my first feature, "Rockabilly Vampire" and the DVD for that one includes a director's commentary where I ran out of stuff today half way through it and I just made shit up for the second half. It also includes my 45 minute lesbian action comedy "Blond Fury" which is probably the best film I ever made.
I think the best way to figure out if someone has real talent is to give them a very small budget and see what kind of movie they can turn out. Kevin Smith, Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky proved that if
Directing the movie "UFO FEVER"
you're a genius you can make a great movie with no money. The rest of us schmucks, and I include myself, do the best we can but it's hard for films made without money to look great. Personally, I love the low budget aesthetic -- it's a taste one has to cultivate with a degree of effort because we have all been exposed to super slick big budget Hollywood movies. It's a bit like a wine expert learning to also appreciate the taste of Thunderbird or Boone's Farm. When I watch a low budget movie, not only do I forgive its cheap makeup FX or whatever but I actually get off on the cheapness of it. I have absolute admiration for low budget filmmakers -- even the ones who make terrible films. The worse they are the more fun they are. Ed Wood, anyone?
My approach to my films was very grass-roots - a bit like the Little Rascals putting on a show. After I made some of my short films, I held premieres in bars and restaurants where I asked for an optional admission fee at the door and made buttons and tee-shirts for the films and, joy of joys, I usually made enough money at the door to cover my costs of the films! In 1996 I held the premiere for my first feature - it was then called "Burnin' Love" but was later distributed as "Rockabilly Vampire" - at a nightclub where I projected the movie and then had seven bands from the soundtrack play live. It was such a smashing success that I started putting on more shows with bands and was able to make a living as a music promoter. That was a nice extra gift from the Movie Gods.
If you would like to check out any of my movies, you can purchase the following DVD's on this website: "UFO Fever" (which includes my NYU thesis film "Rick Blazen Is In Trouble"); "Rockabilly Vampire" (which includes my 45 minute lesbian action comedy "Blond Fury"); "Terrormarketers," a horror comedy about a serial killer preying on telemarketers selling a phony product; and the comedies "Hotties 1" and "Hotties 2" about three women who escape from the nut house and become action heroes. All of the DVDs have extra stuff on them too so they are fun and they are cheap so whatta ya got to lose? But remember, they aren't high budget Hollywood productions, by any means. I hope you will enjoy them for what they are - I had fun making all of them.