The feature-length Indie Guys plays at 5:00p on Sat, May 13 at the Cosmo Theater in Merrill.
Small-town filmmakers Ian (Jarrod Crooks) and Gordon (Greg Kuper) are stuck in a rut. They’ve spent years churning out low-budget horror and action without ever finding an audience, much less recouping their production costs. Their filmography is littered with hackneyed characters and espionage-laden drivel. Gordon’s hot-headed directorial style hampers progress behind the camera, and Ian’s affinity for casting actresses based on their looks hurts what’s in front of it — a trend he seems to be continuing with a new leading lady (Marie Sirena). Their prospects look grim and, more importantly, well-deserved.
Throughout their creative partnership, Crooks and Kuper have pumped out short films, 48Hour Film Projects, and the 2014 feature Dispatched. Indie Guys may be the first time the pair hasn’t pulled any punches, replacing predictable renegade hero plotlines for introspection, industry impudence and a Jerry Springer cameo all in an effort to put independent cinema in its place. Or at least make fun of it. Crooks, whose love of Jackie Chan movies has been gloriously evident with every punch and kick ever given to his Affleck-level good looks, delivers a fistful of self-deprecation straight to his own jugular. He and co-director Greg Kuper flash back to their on-screen counterparts’ careers, peppering in bad genre movies with broad stereotypes and broader acting. Ian casting with his manhood instead of his head leads to a riotously unconvincing lead actress in an old zombie movie, but the real kicker is the self-effacing on display: Just because you made a movie doesn’t mean it’s good.
Indie Guys leaves bruises on industry trends, too. Believing a hefty budget to be the solution to their creative woes, Ian and Gordon launch a “QuickStarter” crowdfunding campaign that fizzles after two donations and a few grand shy of buying a shiny new RED camera. The two settle for using as little money as possible after Gordon blows his kids’ college funds bidding on old studio lights from a production company that, you guessed it, went out of business.
Indie Guys is at its best when it’s most reflexive.When Gordon previews an early cut of an action scene around the dinner table, his test audience is quick to over-analyze how their character could possibly be a cop and an agent at the same time. And why does everyone know kung-fu? “It’s a movie,” is all Gordon can muster. Segments from a fictional interview on WPT’s “Director’s Cut” feature host Pete Schwaba in the middle of passive-aggressive jabs between the Ian and Gordon. The trailers-within-a-movie are even better. When Ian and his long-time girlfriend Amy (Shannon McDonough) find their relationship at a crossroads, the film jumps inside Ian’s head, turning their memories into stock footage for a romance trailer, complete with music and title cards. Frustrations at Ian’s crummy day job — pork sandwich joint Oinkers, which requires employees to don pig ears and a strap-on snout — fuel an imaginary action thriller, with Wil Loper nailing the role of the boilerplate comedic sidekick. What might feel like digressions instead ring true as elaborations. Sure, a familiarity with Pete Schwaba’s on-screen persona or Nice Melons Films gets you bonus points, but Indie Guys inverts the all-too-real insularity of small budget movies. The exclusive has become inclusive.
What could have become a self-serving underdog story is instead a life lesson on investment and the costs of those decisions. We can’t have it all and even when forced to choose, what we end up with isn’t always what we expect. Ian and Gordon don’t suddenly become the greatest filmmakers in the world. They’re far from amazing people, too and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.