Nightbeats screened at The Crest Theater on July 29, 2009, as one of only seven feature-length dramatic/comedy films to be presented on the big screen of The Crest Theatre in the 10th Sacramento Film & Music Festival .
Nightbeats Screening: A Look Back
Anthony D’Juan Shelton
It’s a fair gesture to assume the screening of Nightbeats [at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, CA July 29, 2009] was a success. It confirms director Mike Carroll’s trust in not only the audience but the collected integrity of the film all together. The silence of the room during the screening denotes a firm interest in what was presented; along with the applause during credits.
Some may not have “understood” the film. Its dense presentation supports the warning sticker “FOR ADULTS ONLY” — which can be taken as lascivious outer play pawned off as “artistic expression.” In truth, “FOR ADULTS ONLY” translates the film’s demand for maturity. It strips away the ideology of entertainment for its own sake and confesses the utopia of “a thinking person’s film.”
Carroll, himself, sat biting his nails, in tune with every sound from the viewers. One can imagine the hypersensitivity to his person along with the high shouldered excitement of the cast and crew involved. What made the screening difficult is Nightbeats leaves very little room for laughter — often the saving grace from the perspective of contributors — which can break the tension for the artist and provide insurance of the audience participation.
Carroll does not let his audience off the hook. He takes us by the collar and places us in the path of emotion, making us dangle in the presence of all the imperfections that come along with the heart’s tolerance. The most uncomfortable moment in the film is the seduction of Galen Howard as the young solider Harold, and Lori Foxworth as Mercy. She takes a male position of disabling his innocence for self-satisfaction while leaving the exploited Howard in post-climatic machismo that will later destroy his life and cripple his sexuality.
This concurs with the rabid vulgarity of Lola — played by Francesca Natividad — with Ginger (played beautifully by Julianne Gabert who manages to achieve the much envied power of presence) as well as the heartless rebound of Cece (the wonderful Kelly Nixon) in which Lola yanks her gutter life into the hands of destructive sexual imbalance. Carroll hammers home modern feminine sexuality without exploiting gender gaps. He does not play out male fantasy in shallow circumstances but rather explores his curiosity for female limits by way of philogyny — a trait shared by filmmakers like Jonathan Demme, David Cronenberg and François Truffaut (merely imitated by the likes of Lars Von Trier, Quentin Tarantino and Mike Figgis). Nor does Carroll present hope or fabricate his ending with grotesque utopia. Instead he blends the stylization with cause and effect; alludes to forward motions of life while leaving the carnage to blow in the dust.
In the final shot of the city at a distance, with the rippling water beneath us and scattered fingers of David Blanchard’s brilliant musical contribution, the audience is drop-jawed to revelations that are vivid enough to conjure denial.
The screening’s aftermath was equally dense. Carroll bravely resisted justification of his film. He allows it to linger. Nightbeats penetrates the psyche and populates the gut with crammed discomfort, which produces curiosity (the kind of curiosity only capable within the loins of ADULTS) and provokes study. He did not want to make a film for the moment. Carroll sought longevity and avoids pop culture. He embraces cinema, down to its bare celluloid, and contributes to the ideology of cinematic purity. This is a rare accomplishment without manipulation; a brave pursuit without pretensions; a gutsy reach that avoids self indulgence.
Nightbeats stands as one of the proudest moments in my creative life. A moment I will hold close and proudly represent for years to come.
D.I.Y. Filmmaking – D.I.Y. Playback
Every time you play in a film festival, it seems there’s a new format required for playing your film — Mini-DV, DVD, Blu-Ray, DVCAM, DigiBeta — and every time it means renting another deck to record your film out to.
In the past that was fine as I was making films in Standard Definition mini-DV. However, after stepping up into High-Definition with Nightbeats and all the expense and effort to make the best looking film that I could, I did not want to have it play on a screen at a third or a quarter of its full resolution.
So when Tony Sheppard, Nathan Schemel and Laurie Pederson surprised me at a C.F.A.A. (Capital Film Arts Alliance, capitalfilmarts.com) meeting in June with the festival schedule with Nightbeats in the rundown, I said right then that I wanted to play the film in a very different way to preserve the HD picture and Jimmy Bell’s sound design — I wanted to play it out of my MacBook.
It was a tense six week wait after that until the day of the launch of the festival when the projector and sound system would be in place to test out my plan. I needed to get an additional DVI adapter cable to connect to the projector. (There’s always another cable you need to get.) I unpacked my MacBook and connected the DVI-out to the projector, plugged the audio cables from the audio console into the Mac’s stereo headphone jack and — voilà — it worked! Perfect picture, clarity and focus. Rich, robust sound filled the theater. I exhaled a sigh of relief.
However, it was still too early to relax completely. The Nightbeats screening was still five more days away. I wouldn’t be comfortable until the movie was playing and, even then, not until the last end credit and final fade out and the house lights were coming up.
It was an odd feeling for the next several days, after having worked so long writing, shooting, editing, the post sound design with Jimmy Bell, designing the poster and handout cards promoting the screening — to finally have nothing left to do but wait.
(NOTE: As confident I was that the playback out of the MacBook would work, I was still going to have a backup DVD in my pocket, just in case.)
Finally Wednesday, July 29, 2009, arrived.
Lori had flown from New York for the screening. That morning, Lori, Bonnie and I were guests on a local NPR talk show, Insight, with Jeffrey Callison about our film.
Follow this link to hear the radio interview:
That afternoon I was at The Crest by four o’clock, hooked the MacBook up to the projector and audio system. Did a picture and sound level check — all systems were “Go.” The moment of truth was just a few hours away.
Just enough time to dash home, change, then they head back to The Crest with Bonnie and Lori and Jenna, Bonnie’s youngest daughter, who has been at the screenings of all of our films and been our good luck charm, to greet the actors and so many friends who turned out for the screening. Even more exciting was the long line of people coming to see the film who we didn’t know at all.
Still, lurking in the back of my mind was that little voice nagging me that something could still go wrong.
Just after 8:30 the audience settled into their seats. Laurie Pederson introduced the film, the house lights dimmed — and all my attention went to the tip of my forefinger. I tapped the space bar. QuickTime started to play. “The Garage Filmworks” title projected onto the same epic screen where just a few years ago I saw a re-issue of The Bridge On The River Kwai. Jimmy Bell’s found music started to pour out of the theater speakers. And Nightbeats was playing.
To keep the laptop out of view the audience, I had set it on the seat of a folding chair and draped a black T-shirt over the screen. I sat on a folding chair with my legs stretched out on either side of the chair with the MacBook.
I had been planning on going up into audience where Bonnie, Lori, Jenna and other friends were seated when someone walked quickly behind me in the shadows. Only now did I realize how dark the theater was. So dark that people could be going by without ever seeing me. And if they couldn’t see me then they also wouldn’t see the laptop with a black T-shirt covered over it. One accidental bump in the dark, pulling out one of the cables, and the whole movie would come to an abrupt halt. I was now resolved to have to stay there next to the MacBook laptop to protect against anything happening to it.
After a few minutes of the film playing perfectly I began to relax. I rested back in the folding chair and was about to cross my legs when I discovered it was so pitch black that I couldn’t even see my feet on the floor below me or any of the cables coming out of the laptop. This struck me with the fear that if I moved my feet I ran the risk of pulling the AC power cable or DVI video cable or stereo audio cable out of the laptop. This left me with the only option of remaining sitting exactly as I was and doing absolutely nothing — not to even move my feet so much as an inch — for the full 89 minutes of the movie.
And the movie played flawlessly. The picture was pristine. The sound was layered and filled the auditorium. There were little reaction sounds from the audience of laughter or gasps at exactly the right moments where I had planned. The rest of the time you could hear a pin drop. And nobody walked out.
An hour and a half later when the credits started to roll. Applause erupted from the audience. The final picture faded out and the house lights came up.
There’s always a huge question mark when you start a new film. In the cast of Nightbeats it meant telling a story in a genre, noir, that I had never worked in, nor even contemplated, before. Raising the bar visually and technically shooting in HD, shooting virtually everything at night. Teaching myself and how to light night scenes while still trying to maintain my cinematographer’s aesthetic of wanting them to look like they are not lit at all. Also, the first time I had added a collaborator, Jimmy Bell, to design a multilayered, semi-surreal soundscape for the ear
In the end, the film played without a hitch.
Over the eight months of shooting Nightbeats there was never any one time where all of the actors had a scene together nor any one time during the shooting when any of us had any time to simply relaxed and socialize. It was always, “Let’s do this scene, get it in the can, try one more take, get one more angle, one more close-up.” The focus was always on getting the work done. To finally have a perfect screening and audience response under the belt was time to savor a well-earned glass of wine with the actors who had shared so much of their talent with me and be able to simply enjoy the moment.
Reaction From Other People After Seeing The Film:
Nightbeats is a truly impressive piece of work. Consistently excellent production values, shooting, editing, sound and score. You created some very rich atmospheres and got some great performances out of your cast, especially Lori, who pulled off some very difficult scenes with great conviction. Your attention to detail and commitment to the material was evident in every frame. — Laurence Campling
Wow!!! Mike that was really fantastic and super cool last night! Congratulations! What an awesome accomplishment! Thanks for the experience. I really truly enjoyed every moment of it. I hope you are satisfied with the acting I did for you. I am still learning and you have helped enormously as I have grown better as a film actor. I think I can still do better (maybe learning the lines is a good idea! I’m still smarting from that ribbing!! ). I am always available to you in any capacity you need me. Thank you! — Dave Harris – actor, Nightbeats
Vintage Mike Carroll movie!!! Beautiful photography — as always! You have an eye for detail! And Jimmy Bell’s sound design made it come alive. How you are able to write these great relationship scripts just amazes me. Want to study the movie again. Congratulations on a great accomplishment. — Frank Casanova, The Studio Center
Mike, congratulations on your movie. I really enjoyed it. It is quite an accomplished film. You made a small movie look big with your exterior shots of San Francisco and your different locations. The acting by all your actors was superb. — Mike Garza
WOW WOW WOW! I was amazed by your cinematography and fascinated how you did all that with ONE camera. WOW! The nightscape scenes were astounding and the little nuances you picked up were stunning. You have an amazing gift with film. Lori Foxworth is amazing as Mercy. I loved your movie for real — what more can I say? Now I have to watch “the making of”! — Jan Mendoza
Great job on the editing. I really enjoyed the night look and atmosphere with the inter-cutting of the buildings and empty streets. … Lori Foxworth, who plays the stripper, was excellent. Never did it feel like she was an unknown actress. I believed her from the get-go. What I love about the movie is that, for a one-man production, it didn’t feel low-budget at all. I rolled with it as if it were any other independent theatrical release. It felt grounded with a documentary gritty feel to it. I understood and felt the isolation, loneliness and struggle the characters endured. … Your wife Bonnie Bennett and her daughter Lori stole the show for me. My favorite parts are the scenes where they are together. I really liked the innocent, soft-toned voice Bonnie uses with Lori. It was my favorite scene and, for me, the most powerful. … Great job on your second feature. Mike. I hope a lot of people get the chance to see it. … Best of luck with this feature and the next and the next! Always a pleasure watching your work! — San Saefong
Watched the Nightbeats DVD* with your commentary –very Impressive. Really made me realize the scope of the project and all that you did. Also, I learned a lot about filmmaking just from watching it. The JVC GY HD 110U looks amazing at night! — Drew Hall
(As a member of the Nightbeats production, Drew was given an advance DVD of the film.)
WOW! WOW! and WOW! Your film is amazing! It’s haunting — I have not been able to get it out of my head. Thought about it last night and woke up thinking about it. It was SO well done — the photography, the singing, the acting, the lighting, the mood… all done superbly. — Tracy Bryan
I can honestly say that I’m very pleased with Nightbeats. It’s a remarkable achievement. The more I think about it, I don’t know if there’s a revisionist noir quite like it. So much of the pulp novel patois is so seamlessly woven into the scenes that it rarely sounds even anachronistic. Thanks of course to Mike’s direction and the wonderfully natural performances — Lori Foxworth’s and David Harris’ in particular. A truly splendid film. So many brilliant moments. And yes, I do love our scene together. Mike’s cut it just perfectly, I think. — Galen Howard – actor, Nightbeats