Slacker 2011: Geoff Marslett Shoots 20-Plus Shorts in One

in

Geoff Marslett

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF). As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project -- check out our interviews so far.

Today's interview is with local filmmaker and instructor Geoff Marslett. Marslett's feature Mars premiered at SXSW 2010 (Jenn Brown's review). Mars is an animated movie based on a live-action green-screen shoot that took two years of hard work to animate. Marslett is currently working on a new feature ... well, I'll let him tell you about it in the following discussion.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Geoff Marslett: I was responsible for scene 16. This was basically the robber's getaway after he steals a book from the anarchist, all the way through the video backpacker-surreal TV watching sequence. To make my job a little tougher, and because I really enjoyed working on the project, I worked on a short little bit of transition before and after my part of the remake.

So if you are watching the movie and trying to connect directors with scenes, I start by filling in what happens between the moment the robber leaves the anarchist's house and his arrival under the underpass with his cohorts. Then you see the gang regroup and disappointingly make their getaway in a pretty sweet ride. Next, the leader of the robber gang heads to her video-walled-in friend's place and gets proselytized to about the ultra-realism of the televised image. My sequence ends with this gang leader handing the baton -- or rather the bizarre grad student hostage tape -- to the character about to enter the following scene.

Slacker 2011

Though it isn't really part of the questions, I want to give a shout out to cast here too. I inherited Ramsey Wiggins from Mike Dolan's scene. Then I built his gang from local musicians Jon Dee Graham and James McMurtry as well as the fabulous Heather Kafka (all pictured above). She briefly encounters the Octopus Project before meeting up with Don Hertzfeldt as the video backpacker, and watches the work of John Merriman, Roy Rutngamlug and myself, before closing it out with Scott Mason. They all did a wonderful job of being the Slackers I imagined.

What made you interested in re-creating this particular scene?

Well, first, it is one of my three favorite scenes from the original film. To me it is right up there with the G-M steakhouse and the old man with his cassette recorder and the Martian conspiracy bits.

Second, this scene makes some weird points about how capturing and reproducing images changes what we think about what really is reality. And I think I had a pretty unique take on how I would accentuate this pondering of the power of the TV. So I guess I also liked doing this scene because I had a strong sense of what I wanted to do to update the scene and leave my mark on it.

Finally, and this really should have been a reason to NOT want to do this scene ... I liked that it gave me a chance not only to make the getaway car scene and the video backpacker scenes themselves, but it also gave me the chance to make 20-30 more little short films and compilations to populate the video wall with. That was -- at least before I started thinking about how much extra time it would take -- totally exciting.

Now that I have finished it is hard to imagine having done any other scene.

What do you think your challenges have been in re-visiting this scene?

The biggest challenge was probably similar to the biggest challenge the original Slacker creators faced when they made the original movie. We had to make this thing with no money and very little time. I wanted to expand the intro and the exit transitions to the scene (thus adding two more locations). I wanted to add some surprises ... which involved some more complicated props. I wanted to update the video wall, and make it 360 degrees and almost sci-fi ... which meant we needed 40+ TVs and VCRs and DVD players. I wanted the original overpass, I wanted a bad-ass cast, I wanted a great DP and Gaffer, I wanted the stuff I made for the TVs look good.

I could go on and on ... but I wanted a lot. I also knew I was going to have to get people to do this stuff for free in many cases.

Luckily the words "Slacker remake" and "TFPF benefit" help soften the words "I can't pay you." And no surprise my generous family, friends, cast and crew all pitched in to make it happen.

For a couple specific challenges -- I would say preparing the videos for the TVs did literally take a few weeks. That was a lot of extra work. Then preparing the 360 TV room over at the Hargrave Arcade was a big undertaking. We borrowed a lot of equipment and Javier, Bob and the rest of the art crew really worked their asses off for the week preceding the shoot. Then I spent two weeks after we wrapped shuttling the pieces back to their respective living rooms and storage buildings around town.

Coverage of Don Hertzfeldt's character was also logistically tough for reasons that will be obvious when you watch the film. I always felt this character was more of an almost-person because of his addiction to the TV. Larger than life but missing something ... almost a cartoon or a puppet of a character ... and I wanted the way we shot him to reflect this deficiency and exaggeration.

Did you work on any of the other scenes by other filmmakers in addition to your own?

Not really. I do show up as a person waiting in line in another scene. But if you aren't looking for me, you probably won't notice.

And I think my "extra" scene that fills in the mystery of what the robber does between stealing the book and taking off in the car increases the run time of the film a little over the limit, so it is likely to show up in the end credits instead. I promise it is worth waiting for ... if you, like me, always wondered what happened when the anarchist inevitably called the cops on him. So I guess I also directed a tiny part of the bonus materials.

Could you share any connections or memories related to the original Slacker you might have?

I saw Slacker when I was in high school in Dallas. I was pretty much seeing every indie film I could back in those days. Then when I went to college, I would rent the film to help give people an idea of what Texas was like. I guess it wasn't a full picture of Texas, but it always made people want to visit Austin.

I also want to say that this film really paved the way for the ultra-independent type of films a lot of us here in Austin (me definitely included) make. Before Slacker, just talking through a movie wasn't really accepted. The success of this totally different way of creating the film really shook up indie filmmaking. I am pretty sure I wouldn't be in Austin doing what I am doing if it weren't for Slacker.

Can you tell us about any projects you're working on now/next?

Yes! I am actually taking a break from pre-production on my new feature right now to type up this interview. My new film is called Loves Her Gun. It is maybe the exact opposite of my previous feature MARS. This is a partially improvised cautionary drama about a young woman escaping violence in New York to a new life in Texas. It follows her story as she forms a new life here, complete with many of the same old troubles. She is simultaneously empowering herself and withdrawing.

It's got an awesome lead, Trieste Kelly Dunn, and a lot of the key crew from my Slacker 2011 piece are working on the film. There are guns and hipsters and rock'n'roll shows and toobing parties.

We are planning to start shooting September 3 here in Austin but we do still need some more funds. We are making it ultra low-budget, but we can't make it for actually zero dollars. So I am going to close this interview out with a plea for money too. We have a US Artists web fundraising campaign going on til August 25. It is tax deductible and there is more info on the film there as well as a goofy video of me asking you for money. Of course if you miss that date you can always donate directly through the website.

And while I am encouraging you to donate money to stuff ... remember the Slacker 2011 remake is a fundraiser for the Austin Film Society so get your ticket for that and help them out too!

[Photos courtesy of Geoff Marslett]