Jesse Land, producer of Office Beast
Beginning last weekend and running through the end of October, Madison-based filmmaker Jesse Land has been immersed in shooting his short film Office Beast. Centered on a prowling werewolf that sets upon the night shift in your basic office building, the film really is intended to take a bite out of the mentality of living for the weekend, how corporations can "eat people alive." Office Beast is not simply a horror film with a message, though, it's also playing for laughs, the type of storytelling that's particularly trenchant these days.
Working with the director e.E. Charlton-Trujillo under the banner of Brickhouse Productions and with a budget of $12,000, Land is spending most of the month of October shooting the film. "We'd initially planned to shoot six days straight, but the weekend schedule ended up working much better for the cast and crew as a whole," he says. While the cast of eight is drawn from Milwaukee, Chicago and New York, most of the two dozen crew members hail from the Madison area.
Land himself has lived in town for a little more than two years, moving to Madison after spending three years in Los Angeles after getting his degree at Central Michigan University. He says he moved in order to separate himself from L.A.'s distractions in order to focus on his writing and ultimately film career. One of his current focuses are music videos, with several featuring Madison musicians just starting production. Land is also active with the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum, for which he serves as vice-president and communications director.
In order to help fund the production, Land and his team have organized a benefit concert; it's set for tonight (Oct. 18) at the High Noon Saloon. Named "Damn the Man, Feed the Beast," the line-up features Supa Ranks & His Rock Stone High Power, Stink Tank with D.L.O. and The Dorothy Heralds, all for a mere $5 cover. Land writes, "it's going to be a high energy, kick ass show and I sincerely hope all you Madison based people can be there."
Land and Charlton also appeared on WORT on Sep. 9 to promote Office Beast, where they discussed the genesis of the film, their careers in writing and film production, and their goals for the production. An MP3 copy of the interview is available here. More information about Brickhouse Pictures is available at its MySpace page.
Land says principal photography on the film should be wrapped by Oct. 29, with a final cut expected by March 1 of next year. From there, the plan is seek interest and funding in creating a feature-length version. Responding to several questions from The Daily Page, Land shared his thoughts about office beasts, music videos and the intersection of horror and comedy. This interview follows below.
The Daily Page: What is an Office Beast?
Land: Well, in the greater scheme of things I'd say an Office Beast is an unseen entity that chases the elusive "bottom line" so many corporations talk about. It out-sources jobs, cuts benefits, raises co-pays, drives down self esteem and fosters that "working for the weekend" mentality.
In this film, though, the Office Beast is very literally, a beast. Specifically, it's a werewolf that breaks into an office building; killing several night shift workers and making the others fight for their life. And of course, it ends with a twist.
You define Office Beast as a horror/comedy. Can you define this a bit further? Does the horror come before the comedy, or vice versa?
In the case of this film, the horror sometimes is the comedy, and vice versa. There are bits of straight horror, and comedic situations without a drop of blood spilled, but I think the script does a good job of walking that fine line between repugnance and drollery.
For example, we've described this film as American Werewolf in London meets Office Space. In American Werewolf in London, the main character becomes a werewolf, and then is continually pestered by the progressively rotting corpse of his friend (who was killed by another werewolf). Though this sort of humor isn't for everyone, it does get quite a few laughs.
Sean of the Dead would be another more recent example of a horror comedy that found success at the box office. People die, but as a whole, the film manages to be funny and lighthearted.
How is Office Beast anti-corporate? Is it situationally anti-corporate the way Office Space is, or does it have more specific targets?
We're using a werewolf to symbolize how corporations can "eat people alive.' It's not a deep river of symbolism by any means, but we think it's funny, fresh and entertaining. The specific "message" of the film is that it's relatively easy to spend your adult life sitting in a cubicle, silently wishing for more. It's difficult to follow your dreams, but if one can work up the courage and wherewithal to do so, life just gets better by the minute.
Have you ever had a cubicle slave job, and if so, is this part of your motivation for this movie?
Yes, absolutely! One corporation I worked for had a tendency to "eliminate positions." Upper management would decide to "eliminate" someone's position, but then a few weeks later would hire someone new to fill the role. Comically, though, the new employee's title would be slightly altered. I found this and many other examples of corporate debauchery tragically hilarious. It's all in the film.
How does your work on the film compare to the director's?
As a producer, my work focuses on the business and legal matters of the production. Now that we are in production, I've taken on the role of production manager, which means I'm overseeing the physical aspects of the day to day work as well.
In the simplest terms, Eunice's job is to work with the actors and the director of photography (local talent Joe Feng) to get the best shot and performance possible. She focuses on breathing life into the screenplay I wrote and solving the many challenges that can come along with that.
Here's a great example: We're shooting in a three level building, but for continuity's sake, the film needs to look like it takes place on a single floor. She needs to make that work.
How easy or difficult has it been to create this movie?
We're not in New York or Los Angeles with access to thousands of actors, crew and film related services, so it's been less than convenient at times. But the benefits of filming in Madison have outweighed the costs. The mood on set has been relaxed. There are no ego issues. And though we needed to sort through fifteen hundred submissions to find the right actors for this film, I don't think we could have had better luck. This project has great energy behind it.
How does your position with the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum inform your work?
It was through the WSF that I met Eunice, built the connections I plan to use to turn this short film into a feature film and learned how the entertainment industry really operates. It's funny that I had to leave L.A. and come to Madison to make that progress, but very true.
You work on quite a few music videos for local musicians. Can you describe the basic process of how you go about conceptualizing and then shooting the video?
Music is obviously another very powerful way to tell a story, and the music video is meant to expand the scope of the story through imagery.
That said, I listen to the song repeatedly, literally about a hundred times, until I feel that I can truly identify with the artist and what he or she may have been feeling at the time the song was written. At that point, it becomes a matter of working with the artist (and Eunice) to incorporate imagery. Sometimes the artist knows exactly what they want to happen in the video, other times they leave it up to us.
Physical production of a music video differs very little from a film. Crew size, days of principal photography and budget are all determinants. For example, we shot a video for "Big OX" last winter over a weekend with a crew of three. The song was a barebones piece about being broke and frustrated, and we wanted to capture that feeling. It's a very raw video.
Conversely, we'll be shooting a video for "Stink Tank" (Laduma from dumate and Man Mantis) this winter that will have a complex set piece requiring a cast and crew of about seventy five and $50,000 of equipment.
What do you do with the videos when they are complete?
Completed video's become property of the artist, which can then be used on multimedia CDs, submitted to MTV, posted on the web, etc. A few local movers and shakers have expressed interest in having a "video night" at a local bar where Madison residents could view the music videos of local bands in a casual atmosphere. I believe something of the sort may already be in the works, so hopefully we'll be able to contribute. If not, we might just have to start it up.
What will you be doing with Office Beast when you complete it?
We'll be submitting the film (and completed feature length screenplay) to producers and production companies with whom we have relationships, the ultimate goal being to attract investors to the feature project, which has a budget of 1 million. If we're unable acquire the necessary funding this way, we'll attract attention to the project via film festival showings. And if circumstances allow, I'd like to premier the film here in Madison complete with the "making-of" footage, out-takes and cast commentary, all cut together nicely in a sixty minute package.
Do you have any projects in mind after Office Beast?
We've got five music videos slated for next year and I'm currently working on two feature length screenplays in addition to Office Beast. One of those would need to be a studio film, but the other is a riveting twenty-something drama that I very well may try to produce independently. All in all, it's a very exciting time.