VIDEO VIXEN: A close up for a Big Tease Music Video.
There’s an unconfirmed rumor that writer/director Quentin Tarantino—born in Knoxville, moved to California at age 2—returned to the area during his childhood just long enough to attend a year of grade school somewhere around Clinton.
Maybe he left a little something behind. Or maybe something that was already here rubbed off on him . Because if the rumor is true, then it means Tarantino spent a little piece of his youth not far from where the guys in fledgling film company Polluted Vision Entertainment first met, at Anderson County High School. A couple of precocious young guys with sizeable collections of bloody B-movies, the duo probably has a few things in common with the noted filmmaker in his early days. They hope that in another 20 years or so, the comparisons will go beyond just their love of lurid film.
Their website at www.pollutedvision.com offers a sample of their first serious effort, Troublesome Waters , a nine-minute twist-ending short about a police detective interrogating the man he believes has killed his father.
If you watch, don’t expect genius. By their own admission, the dialog in Waters falls a little short of Citizen Kane . “We’re not exactly writers,” says 21-year-old Joshua Smith. “We weren’t that concerned with the story when we wrote the short.”
But the cinematography, editing and pacing of Troublesome Waters are impressive, especially when taken in light of the fact it was produced by two hick-town kids with nearly no training, some lash-together editing tools and a motley hodgepodge of lights and equipment.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Smith. “I have no ambition right now to run out to Hollywood and being a starving actor. This is kind of a way to plant our feet in the industry. We feel like Knoxville is about to explode, media-wise.”
It might be a little optimistic—not to say naïve—to predict an explosion of L.A.-sized TV and filmmaking hereabouts. Be that as it may, you can’t say that Smith and partner John Miller aren’t making the most out of the limited resources that are already here. Their first large-scale undertaking will be a feature-length movie entitled The Final Cut , a horror movie about teens who make their own snuff films, and for which freshly recruited writer Keith Luethke (an aspiring novelist and self-described enthusiast of the macabre) has already produced a script.
“We’ve pretty much always had that as a goal in the back of our minds, to do a horror movie,” says Miller, whose own bedroom is a clutter of Tarantino and Romero-zombie movie posters, and video shelves full of cult classics like The Toxic Avenger and Dead Alive . “That’s the kind of stuff we like best.”
But rather than diving in headlong, Smith and Miller are taking the considerable challenge of pulling together a low-budget feature film production in smaller, more negotiable chunks. Troublesome Waters , for instance, was preparation—an exercise as much as it was an effort at making a serious short. As an afterthought, they submitted it for consideration at the Hi/Lo Film Festival in San Jose, Cal.
“We didn’t get in, but it’s not really a disappointment,” says Miller, a stocky former Chicagoan who is the crew’s chief wellspring of technical ingenuity. “We got it finished and thought, ‘What the heck, we’ll give it try.’ Our main goal was to learn how to do dramatic lighting, which it definitely taught us how to do.”
And they’ve begun setting aside funds for The Final Cut by tackling other, smaller film projects, including music videos for local bands. Right now, they’re pulling together footage for a combination story and performance clip for Knoxville pop-rock/emo outfit The Big Tease. Says Smith, “We’re ready to take on all comers. We’ll do any project that’s thrown at us.”
Smith and Miller first colluded in a media class at Anderson County High. “It was a pitiful excuse for a class,” says Smith, but it did allow the boys to meet and explore their common interests. Influenced by a certain other Knoxville celebrity, they produced their own collages of MTV/ Jackass -style antics—silly stunts, skits, gross practical jokes—for video and the Internet, under the moniker Chewy Meat Boys, with several classmates.
“It was just a bunch of high school kids, just goofing off,” says Smith. “But it led to us getting more serious about making real shorts and films.”
Miller, who says he’s always had a tinkering instinct, designed a three-foot-high fountain that ran fake blood as well as a life-sized model electric chair, which mimicked the function of the real thing by means of some shrewd wiring and a strobe.
He also created his own primitive, unwieldy, but still functional video editing system, using a video camera, a VCR, a portable CD player and a $20 sound mixer from Radio Shack. “There were some other guys at school doing the same kind of thing we were with Chewy Meat Boys, so I tried to top them by building an editing system,” Miller says. “Using that thing was a huge waste of time.”
Another thing the Polluted Vision duo has learned is that shooting anything —even something as substantively limited as a music video—requires a tremendous investment of man hours to produce a few minutes of finished film. After two or three planning sessions with the four members of The Big Tease, the Vision crew met with the band for two consecutive days of filming in the downtown area.
The first day of shooting, at Blue Cats nightclub in the Old City, lasted seven hours, and saw the band take the stage and lip-sync to a pre-recorded version of their single “The Fever” time and again, until the crew managed to film complete versions of the performance from eight different angles. With only one camera on hand, the band had to play through the song at least once to procure each of the eight separate angles—including one close-up individual shot for each member of the band, and a wide-angle dolly shot positioned behind the cluster of 40 or so stand-in “crowd members” who gamely showed up for the party.
“It was tedious; we let the crowd go after a while,” says Smith. “They were getting pretty frustrated hearing the same song over and over.”
Day two was at least as bad, eight hours of filming in the decorously appointed but unevenly lit basement of the World Grotto on Market Square: “We didn’t realize the room was covered in mirrors,” says Miller. “Not good for lights.”
All of which served to set the stage for the real tedium, the editing of more than three hours of film—consisting of multiple camera angles of what is actually less than 10 minutes of story and song—into a four-minute rough cut. In the last analysis, the crew will have spent perhaps 10 hours in story sessions, filming and editing for every one minute of the final product, an estimate which is still contingent on whether members of the Big Tease request significant changes. “We told them from the start we’d go back and reshoot anything they weren’t happy with,” Smith says. “We wanna get this right.”
It all sounds tough, if not outright grueling. But the guys say it’s only gotten easier since the filming of Troublesome Waters . “When we did that, we rewrote, shot, then rewrote and shot again,” says Smith, slim and baby-faced, even with a scruffy hint of goatee. Having dabbled in modeling and TV locally—his biggest credits to date are a FEMA training video, and a disingenuous plug for a local car lot (“I’ve never actually driven a Toyota,” he admits)—he says he’s more interested in being in front of the camera than behind it, his erstwhile directorial responsibilities notwithstanding.
“We tried shooting the first day of Troublesome Waters in a garage,” he continues. “The audio was bad, the lighting was bad…we were trying to get the feeling of a big empty room, but that’s impossible when you’ve got windows and all these lights set up. We made things way harder than we needed to.” Another fledgling filmmakers’ tip gleaned from that shoot: “Always save your files,” Smith groans. “We lost the whole script the first time around.”
As tough as that was, shooting an entire movie will be another matter altogether. Miller and Smith have made a good start on their first big project, not the least by accumulating a stash of quasi-professional equipment, including the $3,000 Panasonic DVX camera Miller scrimped for and purchased only last year.
There are plenty of hurdles to come, though, details like finding set locations, and finding six more actors (or at least wannabe actors) to fill out the 10-member cast. “Casting wouldn’t be so hard, except that it’s a horror film,” says Smith. “It’s harder to get people to do the things you need in a horror movie. You have to say to people things like, ‘Okay, this is where you’re gonna fall down screaming and get your head smashed in.’ And they feel self-conscious and dumb, and they treat it like some half-assed thing.”
For right now, Polluted Vision Entertainment rates as no more than a modest effort, one of perhaps thousands of Internet-based DIY filmmaking entities with a URL and a short or three to its credit. But don’t dismiss these guys out of hand.
They’re ambitious, for sure. “We’ve all got our own vision of where we want to end up,” says Smith, “and we’re using Polluted Vision to get us there
They’re also dangerously clever, and plenty more resourceful than the average pasty-faced film geek with a camcorder and bootleg Pulp Fiction outtakes on his bedroom shelves. Lest you doubt, they have the fountain of blood to prove it’s so.
It’s been said that no one ever took that Tarantino kid—the Knoxville-born son of a waitress single mother, who went to grade school in prosaic Clinton—very seriously, either, and he’s done pretty well for himself. In another few years, maybe these Polluted Vision fellows can brag about their humble beginnings, too.