The Complete Country and Western Story Songs of 1973, Volume One.

Here we have the most work I’ve ever put into nine minutes of video. This thing was a beast.

Tammy Tarp

Work on The Complete Country and Western Story Songs of 1973, Volume One (I find myself entering a “long ridiculous titles” phase, please forgive me) began somewhere back in August, or maybe September. It’s all a blur at this point. As with all dumb things, it started with the germ of an idea – “hey, it would be fun to do something with old school country music” – which quickly merged with a second germ – “hey, it would be fun to make fun of music collection infomercials.”

From there, it was a slow burn. I’d occasionally scribble down some fake names and song titles that would pop into my brain. Eventually I moved onto song lyrics, some inspired by actual songs, some just random weirdness. Somewhere in here, I also started the script.

And then I brought in John and Shane. In one lengthy session, we fleshed out my original ideas, drew up some new ones, and wound up with a dozen song snippets. John was left to record demos of each song, a lengthy process.

(Making it worse: I decided to add a couple songs, but, being unable to meet in person, we had to write these new songs via email. It’s… not an easy process.)

While John arranged and recorded the demos, I set out to cast the damn thing. Casting the leads was easy; I wanted Brad as Jim Joe from the beginning, and he suggested Laura as Bettie Rae. But how to get a dozen people to sing on camera for just five seconds each?

Mercifully, many of the usual friends were game, and friends of friends volunteered, too. I can only assume they had no idea how much work was coming their way.

Late November. The cast hauled out to Shane’s house on the ass-end of town (the west side, that is; they’ll deal with the east ass-end of town later) to record their song snippets in two recording sessions. Let me repeat: this project required sixteen actors to drive for up to an hour just to spend a minute singing into a microphone. For RJ, it was six words.

Mickey Hicks

Vocals recorded, Shane and John then spent December recording the backing tracks, a process intended to last a couple weeks but which stretched out to several months as Shane dealt with both equipment failure (computer, not biological; Shane explained the fixes he had to make to salvage some of the recordings, and no, I don’t understand any of it) and a desire to add more and more layers into the mix. If you listen closely, you’ll hear tiny aural details no reasonable human would’ve bothered to add. But, hey, if you’re this far in…

I should remind you that this is all for a comedy sketch meant to be tossed up online as a lark.

(I should also remind you that in December, we also conceived, wrote, shot, edited, and released Harry the Christmas Fairy. Only took a couple weeks to make, with the production values to prove it. The anti-Story Songs.)

Early January. I shopped for costumes, begged the cast to dig up some awful clothing of their own, and, in a miracle, found a gentleman named Matt Hudson who owned a homemade costume from his stint in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (You van see Rick wear it in the “San Antonio” number. It’s glorious.)

Late January. We finally filmed both the host segments and the music performance bits, this time out east (the aforementioned alternate ass-end). The idea here was to film something that looks cheap, which, paradoxically, requires a lot of planning.

The music shoots took longer than anticipated, with makeup and lighting causing all variety of delay. The cast, again mercifully, was cool with it.

(One hiccup: one of the vocalists became unavailable to film. The solution: toss a wig on someone and have her lip sync. I’m not sure it totally worked, but it worked enough, so there you go.)

While the music segments took too long to shoot, the host segments flew by. Brad and Laura were at the top of their games here. Considering each take required long stretches with no cutting (long static shots, while visually bland, are my favorite kind of comic performance to capture, even if it’s hell on the cast), it’s rather amazing they only needed one or two takes to nail each bit. We planned on two days of shooting for the host segments; we needed just one.

(Side praise: Laura did the makeup for Brad’s “older” Jim Joe. Again, glorious.)

(Side unimportant fact: Brad’s character was named “Jim Joe Hamjo” in the script. Brad lobbied hard to change it. Alternatives eluded us for months. We settled on “Jim Joe Jimm” about a half hour before we shot his scenes.)

(Second side unimportant fact: the script listed only the CDs; Laura pushed to add cassettes to the offer. We had to pause on set to do the math, which worked out to 114 tapes.)

Between his efforts setting up shots and, later, filming some pickup shots at home, here’s where Shane got promoted to co-director. The man put in the hours and the vision.

Berle Helford

Original plans to rush through editing fell apart when we realized just how intensive the cutting would be. Rather than have me edit alone, Shane and I decided to edit together, which is an odd process, picking every take, every cut, in collaboration. I’m used to either editing solo or working with an editor to fine-tune only after he’s done most of the cutting solo. Going duet from first cut to last was a new experience.

It also helped the project immensely; there’s no way I would’ve managed an edit so precise on my own.

Such precision took the edit right up to the February 23 deadline. That’s when we planned to premiere it, along with our other projects, at a public screening. But we made it. Barely. Whew.

While we were filming, I realized Story Songs was the most “Dave” thing I’ve ever made, collecting just about everything I like to write: long lists of fake things; dumb names; illogical lyrics; pastiches of retro pop culture; awkward pauses; stupid people behaving badly; etc.; etc.; extending deep into the silliness abyss. All shot in static single takes, natch.

And now I see it might be the most “Shane” thing he’s made: extending the quest for perfection to something that lasts just a few frames, making sure every throwaway second is just right. Obsession for obsession’s sake.

Were this made by anyone else, I suppose it would’ve been slapped together in a week like a Saturday Night Live sketch. But with us, it took six months to get just so, putting far too much effort into each gag.

Which, to us, is the funniest part of the whole damn thing. I mean, what kind of maniacs would engage so deeply, so seriously over this?

Us idiots, that’s who.

copyright 2016 David Cornelius all rights reserved


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