Catch A Shooting Star: A City Pages Screenplay




We open on JOHN ERVIN, filmmaker: 38 years old; blond hair, slightly thinning; squinty, permanently bemused smile. When we meet him, Ervin is preparing to shoot his third film, Proinhibition, which he describes as a "stark, but fun" marriage of Leaving Las Vegas and Blade Runner. Ervin is shooting on location, in a maze-like office building in north Minneapolis. At present, he is in the set's green room--a closet-sized space with puke-colored carpeting and a church-basement/burnt-coffee smell--where he is consulting with the film's cast and crew about the ferocious guard dogs rumored to be prowling the building's halls.

ERVIN: I'm worried that they've developed a taste for human flesh.

The cast--unpaid, mostly first-time actors who answered Ervin's open-casting call in the newspaper--glance nervously at the director, as though not sure whether to take him seriously. People often look at Ervin this way.

ERVIN: Oliver Stone always makes his actors suffer. That's the best way to do a film: Everybody's in intense pain, sleeping on a bed of nails and stuff. When he was shooting Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola wanted the jungle to be as bad as Vietnam. With the diarrhea and the tigers and stuff. Maybe we'll have some of that here.



NARRATOR'S VOICEOVER: Ervin is unbothered by adversity. His early ambition--to become a movie star--was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't really act. Since then, Ervin has adapted to the demands of no-budget, DIY filmmaking with admirable equanimity. During the filming of his last feature, a Russ Meyer tribute called Vixen Highway, the car he was using as a prop caught fire. On the present shoot, one of his actors, assigned to play a drunk, seems to be indulging in some Method acting.

Vixen Highway was Ervin's most ambitious effort to date: The film cost around $33,000, has screened once locally, and has recouped $700. Proinhibition is a comparatively modest enterprise: A three-weekend shoot, a cast and crew of around two dozen, and a budget in the neighborhood of $4,000, much of which is going to rent a video camera. Although Ervin keeps a temp job filing medical records at a local hospital, his principal source of financing for Vixen Highway was his parents, who have likewise agreed to help bankroll Proinhibition.

ERVIN: The condition of my getting the loan was that my parents didn't want their names in the credits. That's how much they hated the script. I guess they thought there was too much swearing or something.

NARRATOR: Ervin is presently preparing to shoot a sex scene in the cavernous semi-abandoned factory that stands in as the film's futuristic detoxification clinic. The tryst involves the clinic's head doctor and a buxom dominatrix, played by Jen Burleigh-Bentz. Ervin has a thing for dominatrices.

ERVIN: I thought they were sort of representative of popular culture, with people into piercings and tattoos and desecration of the flesh. Plus, I thought the dominatrix thing would be easy to do because people already have their own gear--club clothes and, you know. I myself don't have any club clothes, although I used to have a leather jacket.

While waiting for the crew to set up the lighting, Burleigh-Bentz approaches Ervin and opens her black leather trenchcoat to reveal a necklace that flows like a mountain rivulet into a valley of décolletage.

ERVIN: I like that necklace. We should keep that. I just want everything to be perfect for the humping scene.

Ervin's assistant director, a severe young man, shoots him a glare that suggests he's been hanging out with the scary guard dogs.



NARRATOR: The assistant director is gone--quit or fired, depending on whom you ask. This has not fazed Ervin, who has simply commissioned the film's caterers, teenage twin sisters named Anja and Ashford Kroll, to fill the position. Ervin himself did the catering on his first film, a German-expressionist homage called Made in Berlin, and he (less than half-seriously) regards the fact that he can now hire someone to run to McDonald's for the crew as evidence of his rise in the profession.

The Krolls are enthralled with the mechanics of filmmaking: They make a point of hanging around the set or working as extras whenever a Hollywood production comes through town. Though, like most of the cast and crew, they are unfamiliar with Ervin's previous work, they appear visibly thrilled to be spending a Sunday afternoon in a dirty factory with a crowd of people dressed in leather chaps and dog collars.

Kroll #1: I just like being around it, even if I never become successful.

Kroll #2: I'm going to win an Oscar someday. I know everyone says that. But you just have to have faith in yourself.

A freight train barrels through the rail yard directly behind the factory/set, momentarily suspending production. Ervin has been sleeping only a few hours a night, and, for the first time, he looks exasperated.



NARRATOR: By the following week, the Kroll sisters have risen to a position of some authority on the Proinhibition set--signified by the fact that they are now carrying clipboards.

Ervin sits on a wooden box in a dark, narrow hallway, thwacking himself periodically in the thigh with a riding crop as Burleigh-Bentz rehearses a line of dialogue.

BURLEIGH-BENTZ: "Since I sobered up, since I got over that week-long enema, I realized I wasn't punishing my submissive; I was punishing myself.

NARRATOR: Ervin appears pleased with the shoot's progress, although he still has no idea if or where the finished film will appear. Nevertheless, he's already dreaming of his next project, a musical based on the work of cult filmmaker and Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger.

ERVIN: It wouldn't really be based on the films themselves--because they're pretty much just people wandering around doing satanic stuff--but more on the themes. I like musicals, but more in the vein of Hedwig than Chicago. Maybe by the time I finish writing it, the economy will have improved. What I really need to find is an eccentric millionaire who will finance me. Either that, or another set of parents.




NARRATOR: Ervin is preparing to shoot his coup de théâtre, in which a gang of angry dominatrices pummels the good doctor. The scene involves lots of foul language, as well as generously apportioned cleavage--meaning, Ervin's financiers would probably not approve.

ERVIN:I guess when I started this, my parents probably thought I'd eventually become a banker or something like that. When they saw I was going to continue with it, I think they sort of resigned themselves. They still get annoyed with the financial problems I get into. But they're getting old now, so they don't care as much anymore.

In the background, a woman in knee-high leather boots and a black bustier practices banging the doctor's head against a steel railing.

ERVIN: Occasionally I think it would be easier if I just had a record collection as my creative outlet. But it's like what they say about the eunuch at the orgy--you're observing but not participating. I can't stand that. I've tried other hobbies, but they just never stick. As long as I can make a movie every three years or so, I'm happy. My worst nightmare is to give up.

With that, Ervin bustles off to help choreograph his dominatrix melee.

NARRATOR: We close on this thought--that there are a million good reasons not to make a film, write a book, or start a band; that to do anything in this world requires a selective blindness to the limit of one's aptitude and resources; that incurable enthusiasm always trumps inborn genius; that John Ervin is a salutary example of this truth.



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