THIS IS NOT ABOUT POLITICS

No really! I swear! It’s yet another Creative Crossroad.

Back in 2004, we at Mindbeside Studios had finally finished our first film, a four-year project, we were wondering what to do next. We didn’t want to do another feature length outing. We wanted something more immediate, and we wanted to shop something around to local film festivals. We wanted something more relevant to the current day that could make an impact.

My friend had an idea. He wanted to have a debate between two characters with opposing ideologies on screen with the action of them in the middle of some kind of physical contest. There was a presidential election coming up and he thought the timing would be perfect for this kind of cultural exposure. I didn’t much follow politics at the time and so I wondered how I would write an engaging debate centered around the issues of the day without putting people to sleep. The only thing I knew about mixed ideologies was from Looney Tunes cartoons. You know, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Then someone came up with a strange idea: for the contest, they would toss cow patties. Say what? Apparently, this is a real thing out in Beaver, Oklahoma. Every year there is a World Championship for throwing cow dung. Go figure. What better way to represent the mudslinging of politics than to have our debaters throwing literal crap? It still makes me laugh.

Next, I needed dialogue. I decided to look up the most famous debate I could think of: the Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858. I obtained a transcript of one of the debates. I was amazed at the formality of the language and the politeness of the back and forth turn taking. I was also surprised by how mean and personal they were. I used the format of the debate, changed all the topics to modern day issues and ran with it. I also introduced Looney Tunes, because… well, why not? There is an old cartoon about a sheep dog and a different version of Wile E. Coyote. Their names are Ralph and Sam. Every day they would punch in to “work” with a time clock and lunch boxes. Then their jobs were to guard the sheep (sheep dog) and steel the sheep (coyote). The sheep dog would thwart the coyote every time he tried something. Then at the end of the day they would punch out and go home as friends. I named our characters Ralph and Sam for the debate and dung throwing contest. I wanted that kind of Looney Tunes feel to the proceedings combined with the sophistication of the Lincoln/Douglas debates.

With that in mind, we decided to work with the Boston chapter of the Screen Actors Guild to audition actors for the roles. There was a bunch of paperwork to fill out and the actors had to work for future proceeds with the obvious understanding there would not be any. The actors really seemed to be into the roles and closely fit what I had in mind.

I’m not sure how it came about, but we ended up shooting a majority of the film on a farm in New Hampshire, with real cows and everything. Our special effects guru did a brilliant job of making life like patties of cow dung and we even mixed in some real cow patties.

We ended up showing the film at a local festival near Boston and I was very pleased to get a lot of compliments on the script, including from a couple of film professors I knew from my university. One of the professors wished there were subtitles due to the strange accents the actors put on, which I found amusing, yet also worrying that people might not “get it”.

Unfortunately, we didn’t release it in time for the election. That’s okay, I think it’s still relevant today. Check it out and let me know if we succeeded.

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Author: Jarrod

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