Hey everybody... Sean Baker here. I directed this episode of 'Warren the Ape' and I can definitely say that it is my personal favorite of the ones I helmed.
By the way, I'm writing this from the one of the windiest roads in the world. The "9 Curves and 18 Turns" in Taiwan. I'm here on pre-production for my new film. I think I may vomit.
Right off the bat, I want to give major props to the episode’s editor Aaron Lindenthaler. I usually like to edit my own stuff but as soon as I saw what he was bringing to the table, I let him take the reigns. I wish I could take credit for the cut of "Savage Streets, Safe Kids" but that's totally Aaron.
We shot at the LaConte Middle School in Hollywood. It actually took us a while to find the right school. We need the look to have familiar American school characteristics without being too retro. To my surprise, it was actually difficult to find traditional black or green boards. Most have been replaced with dry erase boards these days... which I didn't
feel read right on camera.
We also had to find a school that had a run down classroom as well (for the “Ghetto School” clip). Hend Bagdady, awesome line producer, worked her butt off to find me exactly what I was looking for.
Which brings us to "Ghetto School." GTB and WTA have always been rooted in parody and shout-outs. Obvious references in “Ghetto School” are "Dangerous Minds", "Stand and Deliver" and "Lean on Me." But don't forget Matthew Perry’s "The Ron Clark Story" and Jim Belushi’s "The Principal." This genre was a high point in American cinema history.
Judy Greer. Love her so much in "Arrested Development." I actually thought the role might be too small for her. But she brings weight to characters no matter how small the role may be. Dan Milano (Warren) and Judy had some amazing back and forth improv. Perhaps we'll be able to salvage some of it as an extended scene on a DVD (if we are lucky enough to get a DVD, knock on wood.)
The rap was written by Chris Bergoch, creator of Wumpus, contributing writer and wearer of many hats on the WTA production. He wrote and produced the music and we worked together on the lyrics. Dan simply performed to a live playback on set. We were all in tears.
The role of the receptionist who takes the call from Warren is played by the great Michael O'Hagan. She is an NYC based actor who played a bit role in my film 'Prince Of Broadway.' We took approx. 25 takes of Warren calling in to the main office. I really wanted it to be a one-shot. As always in the case of many takes, we went with one of the early ones.
ideas to riff on (stripper/indentured servant and Christian Marclay reference) and they gave us gold. Thanks guys... when you get on the cover of Vanity Fair's "Young Hollywood" issue, please give me work. Julie Stevens, our on-set studio teacher/welfare worker, helped me out in many ways by always keeping things calm and running smoothly with
Note: The use of "Gangsta's Paradise" when the kids board the bus is a network request. This will only play on the broadcast version. This song will not be on the DVD version.
Cesar Garcia plays Manuel, our crack dealer. Loved his audition. His on-set improv was awesome. All the “selling candy” lines are his.
The strip joint... awww... seriously one of the most frustrating incidents I've ever had as a director. It's a long story… and I don't mind telling it. From the inception, there was one image that I wanted to achieve. I wanted a wide, hand-held shot of the kids watching the stripper as she bares all. For obvious reasons, I thought this shot would really punch the audience hard and actually leave the viewer feeling dirty as if they participated in the corruption of these kids. Soooo... we decided to do this as a seamless split screen shot.
Before I get in to the process, I want to mention Cookie, our great dancer who performed in the scene. For a few weeks we tried our best to get a porn star on board just for the potential fan base that they would bring to the show. For some reason or another we couldn't lock anyone down. (We did get Tanner Mayes to make a small cameo though at the top of the scene.)
Two nights before the shoot we were getting desperate. Hend, Chris and I went to the Body Shop on Sunset Blvd. and "auditioned" dancers. It was a rather unique experience. The owner, a very nice Iraqi gentleman, invited us in to his office. We sat down on a plush leather couch, Al Jazeera playing on the television in front of us and watched as he brought in one woman at a time for us to meet.
The women would enter, some forced small talk would take place, they gave us a little spin, thrust their butts out at us, we thanked them and they would leave. I think you get the idea... very awkward.
So we chose Cookie, a great dancer with great personality who had a perfect look for the role.
So two days later at Crazy Girls, we were ready to shoot the scene. After shooting the set-up with Warren and the kids, it came time to shoot the split screen shot. We locked down the camera and shot the kids' side first. We shot various degrees of reaction to Cookie taking her top off.
Then we kept the camera rolling, cleared the kids out of the room and set up Cookie's side. Suddenly we realized we were running low on the mpeg cards... we had 5 minutes left on the camera memory. Everybody went in to panic mode because we knew if we changed cards on the camera, the camera would probably move and the shot would be ruined.
Cookie started her dance, went for her top and her string was knotted. 3 minutes to go. Everybody ran in trying to get Cookie's top off. Impossible. Someone even took out a scissor... ready to cut it off. 1.5 minutes to go.
Finally someone got it. We went for a take. It was good but Cookie didn't lean back enough for me. I needed this to be quite provocative. 30 seconds to go. One last take... she popped her top and YES! We got the shot with about 20 seconds to spare.
The next day, Aaron fused the two shots together, made the final shot look hand-held in AfterEffects and it looked great! Everyone we showed it to thought we actually had children in the room when Cookie went topless. Yay! Success.
Then we got stupid. Ultimately this shot was going to play with a black bar over Cookie's breasts on TV. The uncut version was going to be on iTunes and DVD.
Me, being so proud of the shot, did not place the black bar on it for the network's review cut. Suddenly everyone at the network thought that we actually shot this, breaking several laws in the process. I quickly explained the split screen process but the damage was done. Too many people were afraid by what they had seen. Some thought that all hell would break lose if this shot was out there. Child welfare groups would be beating down the doors of Viacom, etc. So... guess what... we had to cut it. ARGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!
Oh well, this is a lesson that I can't seem to learn. Get your project as close to its final form as possible before allowing ANYONE to see it. You will avoid many problems this way.
Quick note about the dogfight… The Humane Society was present. I’m a dog lover and want all the other dog lovers out there to know this was done with the utmost care. The shot in which one dog lunges at the other is just a cheat... the dog was running to his master… there was no dog on the other side of the pen.
Which brings us to the screening of "Savage Streets Safe Kids." In this case, there are two references... Linda Blair's 80's exploitation flick "Savage Streets" and a Henry Winkler hosted PSA video "Strong Kids, Safe Kids." I think my mother bought us this video in the early 80's. I will always remember the Fonz and friends singing a happy song about how I’m not to blame if I’m molested. I was 13 years old Mom! This video was made for 6 year olds for Christ's sake!
Anyhow, we shot two endings to this episode. One that was scripted in which the parents and the school actually fall for Warren's video and commend him on a job well done. And the one that made it in to the episode, in which it is a complete fail.
This ending came to me the night before shooting. I felt it was more in line with what we are trying to do with the series. We can go to cartoonish, fantasy places as long as we bring it back to some grounded reality. Shooting two endings definitely added time to the day and led to some frustration on set but I’m happy we did it. Aaron placed it in to the episode and it worked.
Weeks later, during the following production cycle, we shot the final shot of the episode in which Cecil and Warren are being arrested. Warren was puppeteered by the great Paul McGinnis in this shot.
Oh… I didn’t mention Josh Sussman, the amazingly funny actor who plays Cecil. He gave such gold in this episode, some which had to be cut for time. Again, I will do my best to preserve the extended takes for the DVD.
Thanks everybody! You'll hear from me next on Bad Po-Fo.