Shooting a Movie in Muncie IN 2002

Got a mail from directing friends. They were in Muncie, IN as exchange students . and planned to shoot a movie with the previous camera, light, actor crew they did a film with. Flight tickets were bought with the prize money of Sushi Dinner, a previous project.

Munice IN, where the heck is that? Probably at the end of the world, where the Kervorkians, Billy Pilgrim, Krapptauer and other characters of Kurt Vonnegut are living. It was in the middle of America.

Got my plane ticket and traveled to NYC. NYC as it was after 9/11. All of my friends had to leave NYC while I was there. Coincidence? Doubts aside, I was visiting all those fancy US junk food stores, starting breakfast with a nice and beautiful McDonalds breakfast serving those sweet-vanilla coffee. Sweet VANILLA-Coffee, who the hell does drink that to a sweet pan-cake? I remember an American in Japan, whom Japanese cake was just not sweet enough. After pouring 6 spoons of sugar in his coffee cup, he poured another 6 spoons of sugar on the delicately made Japanese cake, that had a size of a pee. Anyway, I love American junk-food, limited on occasion such as these. Crispy bacon-sausage. Hmm. I read the free local info-paper. New York news and ads for writers class, acting classes, improvisation courses. This is New York, where many come loaded with inspiring energy. Anyway, I am trying to read all of that out of that newspaper that cost me nothing and am sipping away at my sweet coffee.

I am staying at my friends place. He is back home in New Hampshire, cause he did want to share a small flat with me. So New York, a place to stay, but no friends and rain. Rain. From the window I see central park. Rainy park. I find a package of DVDs. 'Absolutely Fabulous' Great. I always wanted to see this series. I spent the whole morning watching it. British humor makes you hungry. I made my move for more NYC junk food. PIZZA. 2$. Two Dollars. A huge piece. Lots of grease. And it°«s good. I have a gallon of coke. Half a gallon. I see extremely bloated Americans in the shop. Whether I can be that big if I eat this every day? Just an observation. Japanese are usually less fat. But if they are they are holy. They become Sumo wrestlers and become the awe of Japanese public. My diet is not exactly limited to Miso soup and fish. No. I need my portion of junk food.

For dinner I ate that Kimchi Ramen at some tiny noodle shop near the NYU school of drama. Did the Korean cook notice that I was trying to check out their food? I felt like someone spying out on the competition. I looked at his face. Does he care who his customers are? Does he care I am a Asian customer rather than Caucasian, African or else, appreciating his food? Is he trying to figure out which nationality I could be? My accent does not reveal anything, except for some traces of German. He probably didn't care at all and was surviving his daily chores of making Kimchi Ramen. Probably.

I moved down to another place. Time to bother someone else. Now, it is lower Manhattan. Ross°«s place had been totally covered with dust after 9/11, so he tells me. I don°«t know how often I was in New York, but this time I had been spending more time watching video and digesting junk food while I was here. One night I went with a friend to this all American style Chinese food. It looked like an American diner which has been serving Chinese food for 30 years, but alas for average American taste buds. If you can keep going for 30 years, they must be doing something right. It was just perfect to complete my list of NYC junk food list.

I flew out of JFK and landed in the land middle of America. Indianapolis. Chad Cooper, a film student at Ball State and Kerstin - director - picked me up. Jean-Baptiste - lighting - also flew in from Germany. Chad drove us out to Muncie. A town. An American town. Some paths of the city resembled old Western movies. All snowed in. It is a cold winter. We made comfortable at the underground apartment, the basement of Chad°«s place. Jan-Peter - camera - and Karen - lighting assistant - were already there and had occupied a room each. I had to share room with Jean-Baptiste.

Now, here is my view of the local bookstore owner, whose place had been invaded by Germans.

Derek, slightly overweight - owned a used bookstore in Muncie and had been spending his time peacefully in this little town. He enjoyed being part of it, supporting the local cultural scene in the so-called village of Muncie. He had been dealing with books for over 25years and owned his own store for the last 14 years. He did not get rich doing this, but he was satisfied with what he did. He wasn't exactly John Cusack, but he certainly had many things in common with the main character of 'high fidelity' with quite a few additional pounds.

One frozen day in February a pair of German film students, Arne and Kerstin, visited his shop. They had been looking for a place to shoot a movie. Derek welcomed this financial windfall, that bestowed upon him, since the students were willing to pay a daily fee to rent his place.

So, anyway, they were there. Kerstin, Arne, JP, JB and Karen were fanatic about discussing the shoot in detail. They were making a script-board together. Thanks god, it was a book store. I was reading books waiting for my turn to come. I knew the crew. They had to discuss every detail. We had two directors on team and two camera men. JB was officially lighting, but we had two camera men and Karen, she came as a lighting assistant, but was also a camerawoman, so may be we had three camera people altogether. Lots of opinions on the set.

We had been working on the story board for four days from morning, until the time Derek would close down his shop. We were having lunch at the local Kebap King, a local shop where they could eat Burgers, Sausage and Kebaps in the very American Midwest style - junk food without any flavour. I liked junk food in New York, which survived the market principle of NYC. But junk food here is just big. I think if you study here for four years your taste buds must degenerate to a degree of non-identifiable dots on your tongue.

On the night of the 28th February we started tearing down the bookstore. The 'White Rabbit' bookstore had a small porn corner on the right side by the entrance. The old playboy issues from the 50s and 60s were part of a collection that Derek adored. It took him a lifetime to set up his porn corner, slightly larger than a phone booth and covered with a wooden piece on top and a bead-curtain by the entrance, that would guarantee enough privacy to choose the one magazine a customer would look for... until one customer felt too much privacy in that corner which struck Derek to install a video camera inside this booth.

JP and JB were tearing down the place bit by bit. They were camera men and they were used to adjust the surroundings. After a while Derek was convinced that those German Meisters were able to put things back together, how it was in the first place. His initial angst vanished from his face.

We worked until 1 AM and started setting up lights at 5 in the morning. The first day was slow, the screen board helped, but many ideas came up during the shoot. Despite problems we wrapped up the day with all shoots done on schedule. Dane, a friend of Derek came by to tell us that he will take care of us next day. He gave us a you-and-I-are-no-friends-and-you-dont-bring-in-any-friends-of-yours speech that really had style and scared the hell out of the staff. 'That will be a darn shoot tomorrow.'

March 2nd Sunday

Sunday, a peaceful day, as it can be in a small town in the mid-west. Or not? It was six ten when JP woke up. Dane who gave the tough talk was supposed to open up the bookstore at six. JP, JB and Karen would need at least 30 minutes to get to the bookstore cause they had to load the equipment. Shit. I changed in my jeans and ran all the way up to the bookstore. Dane must have been waiting at least 20 minutes. But he was quiet, not upset at all. There was even pleasant conversation, he telling me the story of this place being haunted. The place used to be owned by a butcher in the 1920s, who had cut himself with one of his machines who was discovered dead the next morning, covered in blood. Then Dane started to talk about himself. The bookstore was still dark, lit only by a single light-bulb. The books looked brown and dark too. He told me of how he was blind for ten years. For ten years. A doctor had told him that his headache came from his blindness. No, it was not. After ten years another doctor realized that the headache was the cause of his blindness. It was for him rediscovering the world. The visual world had taken a new facade over the years. A time trip. I was standing there on a Sunday morning listening to Dane, about the most inexplicable things of life. I really had not expected that when I woke up too late in this sleepy town of Muncie. The camera crew showed up at almost seven. They were trying to catch up the lost time. Everything worked faster than the day before. Then it happened. The 6 figure expensive HDTV camera gone wild. Just like some highly paid executive in the entertainment industry it was asking for mental health. JP and JB tried every trick to which the HDTV kept its stubborn attitude. Two hours went by. A day of shoot seemed doomed. Ball State University had a second HDTV camera, but it was Sunday. Through constant calling, Arne and Kerstin were able to locate the second HDTV camera. Shooting assumed after a three hour interruption.

So one would believe.

The second camera blocked the parameters and could not be adjusted to the format we were shooting. The mood of the crew sank, until they came up with the idea of downloading the information from camera 1 to camera 2 using a Sony memory stick. Chad owned a Sony camera and used his memory stick to complete that task. At two PM shooting resumed. Much time was lost, but the team worked more focused until the end of the day. Was the place haunted?

Dane came by to close the place at night. We walked back. He told me that he had lost someone important just a week ago and he was always around people until the morning while he was waiting alone in the bookstore. That seemed to be the reason why he was so quiet, calm and contemplating. It is those moments when people find something to talk about, even for just an hour that will stay in the memory of the listener.

March 3rd Monday

No technical problems. American actors entered the set. Rex and Kathryn, two actors from Ball State University and Fred. Fred was a 78 year old man who played the grandfather in this play. He used to teach journalism at Ball State and had interviewed various people including Marilyn Monroe and William Faulkner. The American actors all relieved and relaxed the whole atmosphere. I like the American way of humour that can beat all the stress.

March 4th Tuesday

Outside shooting. Sunshine. Just houses. We were trying to shoot a scene outside of a house and asked the owner for permission to use their post boxes. They gave us OK. The post boxes were somewhat mysteriously arrayed. Two in a row. But the second box was just standing there without a driveway or a house attached to it. The crew did not give much consideration to that fact, until a woman from the opposite came out screaming 'What do you do with our private property...'. Arne tried to explain her calmly the situation about the student film. She did not seem to be satisfied and looked suspiciously from her window what these Germans and a Japanese dressed in uniform were up to.

I now had to walk down a long way down a street. JP liked the view and suggested me to throw in a few paper pieces into the post boxes to make it look real. This time a truck held and the guy was talking something like 'Are you a real postman?' to me in a threatening voice. He went on yelling. The guy driving the truck was expecting here some reaction. A reaction of remorse. However we had problems to understand his dialect what this guy was mumbling about, giving him a look of astonishment and disbelief. Then when Kerstin came and explained that we were supported by the local post office, the man grew quiet and drove away. 'It is a small town.' Brian, the American crew said, apologetically. He also said that it was around here, when a Japanese exchange student was shot to death, as he was strolling around in a Halloween costume accidentally on a garden. The poor student did not understand when some house owner yelled at him 'Freeze' and was gunned down. Dude scary, really.

March 5th Wednesday

So my assumption what the bookstore owner Derek was doing:

Derek was bored being at home. He had not been at home for the past 14 years so many days in a row without working. He had rearranged his place, did some laundry and then grew bored. So he walked to his bookstore, his passion of life. The dolly, the heavy wagon on roll with the camera rolled on the track.. Derek enjoyed being with the German crew and the American actors. Fred the grandpa and Rex were new on the set. Rex, an ambitious young actor from Ball State and Fred, who taught journalism at Ball State. Kathryn was an actress also from Ball State. Ball State University Telecommunication department is mostly famous for graduating David Letterman. I had a conversation with a vendor at a clothes shop and heard that his friend was living back then in the same dorm as David Letterman. A notorious total chaotic student, so the rumor says.

Technical stuff had stabilized since the Sunday breakdown of the camera. Minor blow out of lamps were the only interruptions. Discussions on the set remained, keeping a sometimes an over-excess of adrenaline and ideas running. And the schedule hanging in the staff room had been crossed out and one could see that we were halfway through. A good sign.

March 6th Thursday

It snowed last night. The roads were covered with snow, but the sun was shining, reflecting, shimmering lights on the surface of fresh snow. I had the idea to call up the fire department for some help to shoot a scene from above. If the post office helped, why would not a fire department? Why not? We are in Muncie. Well, a small town can be extremely suspicious of aliens, but on the other hand they can also be extremely helpful. And they said yes! Under one condition: No snow on the road.

I went to the library to write a shooting report in Japanese. Later on we had lunch. Brian drove up with Kerstin screaming out my name. The snow towed away and a fire truck was going to be by the river in twenty minutes. We were speeding down the road and arrived at the staff room. JP was getting ready setting up his camera on his body using a steady-cam system, a system to allow the camera operator to carry his camera on his shoulders almost like a back pack in front. The crew was not able to use any system that would require time to set up and break down, cause if the fire truck would be called in, the camera crew needed to get off as soon as possible. We were driving and looking for the fire truck and was not able to find it. Brian on the wheel and Arne grew increasingly nervous. Then it was there. A huge truck by the bridge.

Arne, JP and a fireman went up 40 feet high. Communication with the ground crew was bad, cause it did not have a walky-talky. I ended up running back and forth from the fire truck and back to his position, even though JB tried a relay system, picking up the sound coming from above and then screaming toward me.

'This is crazy.' Brian would say. Everyone thought it was crazy. First JP tried to shoot with him moving up and downward, but his system would not allow to cancel out the swing that accompanied that movement.

The crew went back to white rabbit bookstore to rehearse fighting scenes to be shot on Saturday. Some went for a beer at the °»speakeasy°… to shoot some pool and relax. JP, JB and Karen were busy sending emails to friends and girlfriends. Chad, had as always too many things to juggle around, and went home. Kirsten and Arne were sitting at home thinking out about the next day.

March 7th Friday

The American staff were finishing off their last day of exams at school before spring break, except for Fred - the grandpa. It was an inside shooting for Kathryn, for she had to dance down the stairs. It was an outside shoot for me, for I had to walk down the street, so that the camera was able to catch me walking on the sidewalk outside the window, as Kathryn came dancing down the stairs. Timing was everything to make this scene happening. There was barely space to keep the dolly moving, and something went wrong every time. I had his down jacket on top of his mailman outfit and peaked from the staff room entrance, which was basically an old empty store unit next to a clothing shop, out into the street. It was cold outside and by doing so I was evading the freezing wind. It could have looked suspicious if you watched too many police series. A police car with running siren held in front of me. A policeman came out. Two more police cars stopped. I was surrounded by three policemen. 'Please unfold your hands from your jacket.' Said a police woman. I did so. I had the zipper of my warm jacket open, so I was able to throw away the jacket and be in my full postman costume as soon as possible, when I heard 'Action!!'. The wind blew inside the jacket and I, by reaction, held the jacket together with my hands back again. 'Dont do that.' The voice was friendly, nothing harsh, but I was not used to these words. By that time many of the crew members have gathered to explain, that they were just shooting a student film. Nothing suspicious going on here. The policemen laughed and drove away.

March 8th Saturday

This was a big day for everyone. Arne always wanted to shoot an action scene, Rex and I always wanted to play an action scene and JP always wanted to shoot an action scene freestyle. After lunch, as it was scheduled, the shooting started. Rex, Marshall and I had exercised the scene on Feb. 28th in the staff room. But there was way more space. Rex needed to do an air flip and land on a mattress. The camera, staircase, the sound-man everything was standing in its way. But miracle Rex did the flip as expected repeating it more than 20 times as I was pulling at his arm with exact timing. JP was swinging around his camera catching us looking at each other like boxers before a match. Rex wrestled for 8 years and played American football and though he was way over 6 foot, he fell like Jackie Chan.

The sun came down and the outside light added a bluish color resembling a night scene. Shooting was interrupted to be continued the next day.

March 9th Sunday

Some close-up shots of Rex and I completed the fight scene. Then Marshall came. He played a henchman of some size. 280 pounds. He almost broke a shelf, as we trained in the staff room. Kerstin taped up everything. I had to throw this guy of sheer magnitude, beyond all gravitational rules. It was a movie and the staff did the magic. It seemed to work on the monitor.

A local artist, who was known for designing clocks in animal shapes, Mrs. Ann Jonson joined the set on the last day to complete the final scene. Erika brought in her dog to play along.

The bookstore was reassembled, the porn corner brought back into life, and we drank at Rex°«s place. 'The freaking Germans are playing guitar and singing Knock knock on the heavens door with German accent.' Said a wasted Rex as I came in late. We were wasted. It was almost 4 when we found our way into sleep.

March 10th Sunday

Chad drove JP, JB and Karen to the airport. Chad said he felt quite lonely, after they disappeared into the boarding gate. We talked on the way back about film and film making. I was glad and sad that the filming was now over. Rex drove me to meet his hometown friends and see some Amish. Nice relaxing day.

March 12th Tuesday

Chad drives me to the airport. I now had to leave Muncie, a town that I grew liking over the two weeks.

The movie will be shown at film festivals.