Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Peter: Film maker, ice hockey-type person

Here's another installment in my thrilling attempt to force people I know to write my blog for me. Check out the rest of the profiles over at Some People I Know.

Holy shit! Peter made a goddamn movie! Now, we all have our little scrubber friends who make their little three-minute long, pathos-filled montage of winos and Autumn leaves. Well, those movies suck because they're boring and stupid, and the friends who made them are your flakiest, most douchebaggie friends, the kind you know will drift out of your life after a year or two.

This is not that sort of movie, and Peter, while a douchebag, is not flaky.

Because Peter made a goddamn MOVIE that PLAYED IN THEATERS on SCREENS that HAS JOKES and it even has a star in it, albeit one that you might not of heard of (Jim Gaffigan!).

The film is called "No Sleep 'Til Madison". It's about some thirty something guys, roadtripping across Wisconsin during the state high school ice hockey playoffs.

Of course it's actually about death and homosexual longing, as are all films. You can check out the official site here.

So come join me as I ask Peter about his film, his love of Fon du Lac and his son's thing for the Wicked Witch.

G: When did you write the screenplay?

P: I wrote the script with Erik Moe, another Wisconsin refugee, back in the summer of 1999. Erik had a TV development deal at the time with Universal Studios in LA. We'd spend all week on the phone exchanging notes, then I'd fly down from San Francisco on weekends, where we'd hole up in his studio lot office and write like the wind. It was a fun, amazingly productive process. We'd take turns at the keyboard while the other person paced and acted out lines. We were surprisingly dedicated to the task, and a first draft of the script was written very quickly.

G: Was it based on anyone you know or heard about? Do people really give a shit about Wisconsin High School hockey?

P: The script was inspired by our mutual obsession with Wisconsin High School Hockey, an obsession that has proven difficult to explain to the uninitiated. We've had people tell us it's just an exaggerated form of homesickness. Others have explained it as a longing for a highly romanticized, less follicularly-challenged version of ourselves. I think it's the uniforms. Whatever the reasons, Erik and I are devoted to high school hockey, sometimes to the chagrin of the coworkers we harangue into participating in our annual February Madness High School Hockey Pool. So one night I called Erik with a brilliant idea: Why not fly back to Wisconsin and follow the state tourney for a week? Take in games in exotic locales like Eagle River and Fon du Lac? He too thought the idea inspired; our wives did not. So I came up with Plan B: Let's take a long a video camera and make a documentary about the journey. Erik went one better: Let's make a movie. And that's when we started mapping out a story.

G: How did you get Jim Gaffigan?

P: Erik had worked with Jim on some hilarious but never-aired TV spots, where Jim played a guy so obsessed with the Energizer bunny that his whole life revolved around preparing for the day when the Bunny finally ran out of gas. Spots showed Jim taking drum lessons, sewing his own bunny suit, etc. Swap high school hockey for the Energizer bunny and you had Owen Fenby, the hero of our movie. So Erik sent Jim the script, and he was very enthusiastic about giving it a go. The glasses Owen wears in the movie are the same glasses Jim wore in high school.

G: If Tom Hanks is "A" list, what letter would you assign Gaffigan? Like a "C"?

P: At the time Jim was an extremely successful commercial actor with a burgeoning stand up career and a development deal with David Letterman's Worldwide Pants. Not a household name, but definitely in the "where have I seen that guy before?" category. Since then his stand up career has really taken off, and he’s getting a lot of acting work, too. His Comedy Central special airs all the time, and his DVDs and CDs are top sellers. He’s friggin’ hilarious, by the way, and a real pleasure to work with.

G: Which film festivals has N.S.T.M appeared in?

P: No Sleep appeared in 17 festivals, but none of the “famous” ones. The festival circuit was yet another bizarre chapter in No Sleep’s history. In one city we'd have people lined up around the block to see the movie; another was held in a dinner theatre where we drank ourselves senseless while the only other people in the audience, an elderly couple from Marco Island, Florida, shouted nacho orders to a waitress.

G: Did you finance it with credit cards?

P: The credit card approach to filmmaking is never a good idea. Your chances of ever seeing a return on the money invested in a truly independent film are so remote, that it’s just plain stupid to put your financial future in jeopardy just so you can stave off getting a real job for another six months. My advice: If you can't get the financing without credit cards, write a book instead. Or shoot on video (an option that was not readily available when we started production). We tried to be fairly responsible about the money situation. We sold shares in a limited partnership. Luckily, the Blair Witch Project had just come out, which made it easier for to raise funds. We were able to meet our production goal fairly quickly, thanks to a lot of incredibly generous friends and family members (none of whom talk to us anymore).

G: What indie films did you get inspiration from?

P: A few weeks before shooting, Erik and I flew back to Wisconsin to start scouting locations. It was February in Wisconsin, and we were just starting to realize how in over our heads we were, when we saw Chris Smith's American Movie at the Point 6 Cinema. For 107 glorious minutes, we completely forgot about our own problems and instead laughed at Mark Borchardt’s attempts to make his own low budget film. Talk about your inspiration. It’s a fantastic documentary. And made in Wisconsin, no less.

G: What other sort of writing have you done? More screenplays?

P: Prior to No Sleep, I had done some other screenwriting on two other indie films: the voiceover narration for a film called Road Kill with Jennifer Rubin, and a co-writing credit on This Space Between Us with Jeremy Sisto and Poppy Montgomery. Erik has written a bunch of TV pilots and had several screenplays optioned. We recently collaborated on another screenplay, set in the dot com glory days of the late 90s, but after some initial interest, it’s currently in the dead letter office.

In terms of other writing, Erik has written a cult favorite “cartoon” book called Tales of a Young Urban Failure (Note from Greg:a funny, though sadly out of print, book), while I've had some success in the fiction genre with a few short stories. Lately I've been trying out some memoir-type pieces in the David Sedaris meets Frederick Exley vein, and I have this idea of writing a book-length memoir of the making of No Sleep, which I think could be a movie in itself. I understand it's a total cliché: the copywriter aspiring to be "real" writer thang, but it keeps me from growing annoyingly bitter.

G: You ever play D&D?

P: I have never played D&D, though I will admit to some intense sessions of knee hockey played in the basement of Ivo Knezevic's childhood home. Not too nerdy, unless you consider the participants were all in their early thirties, a few made posters promoting their imaginary teams, and one of them cried when he lost in overtime.

G: I really, really want to include the bit about your son getting a boner watching Sleeping Beauty

P: First of all, it's not Sleeping Beauty; it's Wizard of Oz. Second, it's not Dorothy who causes the erection; it's the Wicked Witch of the West. Third, there's nothing strange about a four-year-old getting a boner every time he sees the witch; it's a testament to the power of film, and of man's innate desire to chase the "bad girl."

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