On the Case: No. 3

Movin' on up

<b>The Cassidy Kids</b> director Jake Vaughan (center) 
and crew scrutinize a scene.<br>Photo courtesy of Burnt 
Orange Productions
The Cassidy Kids director Jake Vaughan (center) and crew scrutinize a scene.
Photo courtesy of Burnt Orange Productions

It is by purest accident rather than by precious or sentimental design that the final camera setup for The Cassidy Kids (the very martini of "martini shots") is a close-up on one Brian McGuire. Ten years ago, he responded to an open audition for "Block," a short that director Jake Vaughan and producer/co-writer Bryan Poyser made for a class at UT, and not long after that, they devised the title role in their next film, "Jesus of Judson," with McGuire in mind. Since he moved to Los Angeles, it has been harder to work together, though he did manage a brief cameo in Dear Pillow while in town working on Alex Holdridge's Sexless.

"I'm giddy as a schoolboy," he says. "There's my dad from 'Jesus of Judson' [Gabriel Folce] and Karen [Skloss] and Rusty [Kelly] all getting together again for a movie, but now on somewhat of a budget. ... Plus, there's an actual crew, so now I don't have to help set lights, and the food isn't just a big garbage bag full of bagels."

Nearing the end of any shoot that goes well or offers any immediate artistic satisfaction for its miseries almost always inspires hopeful plans to pull the gang together for another film. Once more with feeling. Or better yet: once more with money. Just as The Cassidy Kids itself represents the fruition of wishful thinking and friendships forged during past productions and film-school bull sessions, idle talk around every corner of the set turns to possible future collaborations. And there's a lot of idle talk. Always a cheerful crew, in their last days together, they're abuzz with more chatter than usual, harder to quiet down when necessary but nevertheless running on schedule.

The location for the entire last week is the Park Plaza Hotel, so perhaps the trade-up to air conditioning contributes somewhat to the volubility, turning past traumas into a distant mirage. There had been worries that the number of pages to be covered each day would make this the toughest week, but it has proven exactly the opposite. Sure, there's more to shoot every day, but without the heat and the location moves, or the joys and sorrows of working with children, the ease of the shoot's ending nearly seems a reward for meeting the outrageous demands of what always remained only "somewhat" of a budget.

"If we were at the Austin Studios now, oh my God," says Poyser, shaking his head. "I'm surprised one of the kids didn't burst into flame."

"Still, we got 27 setups done in a day back then," Vaughan reminds him.

Poyser nods. "Yeah, but the acting didn't have to be that good."

The acting this week has been excellent, according to anyone you ask, running from an emotional workout between Kadeem Hardison (A Different World) and Anne Ramsay (Mad About You) to a free-range, Altman-esque comedy jam session between Judah Friedlander (American Splendor), McGuire, and one of Austin's best actors, Chris Doubek. "The actors all like each other, and they like us and we like them," notes co-producer Seth Caplan. "That just doesn't happen." It makes for pleasant work and strong feelings as each performer wraps his or her character.

For instance, obviating the need for a reporter to interview him on the subject, Hardison spontaneously launches into a litany of praise for the experience and the people he's been working with. "I'm jaded. Anne's jaded. But we don't feel like that here. You know it's refreshing to see all the youthful exuberance, all the kids out there doing what they want, living their dream. I can just see the whole program here is spawning geniuses, kids that know how to do it from the ground up."

It's a project he says he would have taken on under any circumstances. "Even if it was kids falling on their faces, they'd be learning, and I'd be able to contribute to that. But this is the least drama-filled crew I've ever seen, and I'm learning from you guys how to do this, getting the reality. You know, there are two ways to react when someone calls and says, 'Hey, why don't you come on out and work with a student crew for like no money.' One is to go, 'You're mad.' The other is to say, 'You want me?'"

While it's safe to say that his feelings about the experience are shared by all involved, the sentiment is not uncomplicated or without open questions. If The Cassidy Kids provides a model for future productions, it is one that very much depends on complex variables of who is involved, both the security of longtime creative partnerships and the exploratory generosity of the newcomers who join in. Additionally, the first time for any venture inspires a certain indulgence and a willingness to experiment. While the industry professionals here enjoyed the enthusiasm of the interns they taught, some evidence justifiable impatience with imparting skills and wisdom to students who have no intention of pursuing their assigned crafts professionally, either because they really want to direct or because working on a film now seems fun. Change a couple of key variables, and you could easily end up with the most drama-filled crew you've ever seen.

But this one isn't it. Whatever worries lie ahead for future "homegrown" Burnt Orange productions and whatever this movie's fortunes in postproduction and on into festival exhibition and distribution, the shoot has been a joy, and the dailies are impressive. As McGuire exits that last shot, all spiky elbows and twitchy glances, Vaughan and Poyser try vainly to suppress their delighted laughter at the surprises they knew he could deliver, proud of where they've come from, keen on where they're going.

Third in a series. For the previous two, see "The Burnt Orange kids and 'The Cassidy Kids'" and "Greetings from planet 'Cassidy'."

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Burnt Orange Productions, The Cassidy Kids, Jake Vaughan, Bryan Poyser, Kadeem Hardison, Anne Ramsay, Brian McGuire, Austin Studios, UT Film Institute, Chris Doubek, Judah Freedlander, Seth Kaplan

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