I didn’t hold high hopes for the movie Get A Job
. But when the legendary Carol Yotsuda of the Garden Island Arts Council
asks you to give a few hours on a Friday night taking tickets, ushering people to their seats and/or just showing up with an extra pair of willing hands, you say yes. I’ve seen Makana perform in concert a few times this way. Eddie Kamae, Dennis Kamakahi, and Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole, too. But this time, Carol was helping movie producer Brian Kohne debut his new movie, Get A Job
, on Kauai.
The things we do for the arts.
Confession time: I’m a horrible joke teller. A guys walks into a bar….
Wait. A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar….
No. Maybe it was a Buddhist monk. Or a nun. Oh, forget it.
I may not be able to tell a joke, but I love to laugh. You’d think that comedies, then, would be right up my alley. Except that I don’t like slapstick comedy. Or what I call stupid humor. I never really went for The Three Stooges
, which can get my husband doubled over, clutching his belly, tears welling at the corners of his eyes in about three-two-one second. (British humor knocks him over with a feather. Carol Burnett re-runs get him, too.) Since I’m the one in charge of our Netflix queue, you can rest assured that my poor husband doesn’t get to exercise his abdominal muscles guffawing over the antics of Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Leslie Nielson or Jim Carrey. Dumb and Dumber? Animal House? Airplane?
I’ve never seen them. That’s not to say, I haven’t tried. Multiple times. But after about 20 minutes, I slink off to another room with a book in hand. I confess: I am a nerd.
But, like I said, I love to laugh—and sometimes I even snort in the process—and every now and then some silly movie tickles my funny bone. There’s Something about Mary
. Meet the Parents
I didn’t expect to add Get A Job
to the list. No way. This was a favor for Carol Yotsuda. I was there to take tickets, find people seats, smile. Not enjoy the movie.
In Get A Job
, William is a down-and-out-musician who struggles with a mop of unruly hair and with keeping his job at a second-rate employment agency. Merton is a jobless slacker who spends every morning on a surfboard waiting for a wave that never seems to come. When Merton wrecks his bicycle and needs a hundred bucks to fix it, he stumbles into William who offers to find him a job. But Merton gets fired from one job after another, making William look really bad in the process. By now, William’s longtime girlfriend has dumped him—and his belongings out the window—because William refuses to get hitched, and William not only has to figure out a way to save his job, but his relationship, as well.
Now, that premise makes Get A Job
sound like a regular movie. It starts with an empathetic protagonist. There’s an inciting incident. Rising action. Denouement. And resolution. But Get A Job
is anything but normal. In fact, it is certifiably not normal. It is slapstick. It is gonzo. It is eighth-grade humor at its finest. Get A Job
is so far over the top that Laird Hamilton could never ride this wave. (And he managed his role in The Descendants
Get A Job
has also won some awards a film festivals—from Big Island to Ventura, California. Las Vegas to Detroit. Even Marbella, Spain. Not that the movie is perfect. Like any wave, it takes a bit to get going, to come together, but come together it does.
After the screening on Kauai finished rolling a long list of “mahalos,” writer-producer-director Brian Kohne took the stage, answered a few questions, and the movie blossomed into so much more for me. I was compelled to follow up with him by email and fire off a dozen questions. Our chat got a little long, so here’s the first half. Tomorrow, you’ll get the second—and learn how you can watch Get A Job
Willie K plays William and Eric Gilliom plays Merton, the two protagonists, and they seem to be such naturals in front of the camera. Yet, they’re not known for their acting. I know Hawaiian musicians are amazing performers and all that, but that doesn’t make them actors. How did you get them to, you know, act?
Willie K, Eric and I have been working together since 2005 on the Barefoot Natives music projects, and the act was always designed with TV and film in mind. We've worked extensively on the comedic principals with respect to the classic "duo," so by the time we got to shooting Get A Job
the guys had developed the natural chemistry you see in the movie. Add to that, as their director all these years we have developed a trust in one another, which is essential when it comes to comedy of this nature (farce). The real trick for Eric was going all in with his wacky character, and for Willie to commit fully to being "real." The balance was a necessity. If Willie hadn't been able to ground the scenes, then Eric would have been hung out to dry. As I said, trust among the three of us was essential.
Lastly, there is Augie. I have always seen him as a disciplined performer. To make his character "work" on screen the key, I think, we needed to provide him material that reeled him in a tad to help him become and remain real. He is naturally funny, so that will come out. I think that he could be really hysterical in a serious dramatic role, if that makes any sense. But if you let anybody go too far over the top in a movie, it is likely they will fail, which, again, is why Willie's performance was so key in the sense that it helped Eric be over the top AND succeed.
I know this movie wasn’t blessed with an unlimited budget, so I can’t imagine you had stunt doubles. Or did you? I’m thinking of the scene in which Merton stands on his bicycle’s handlebars to reach for the mango. Or, later, when William is pedaling the bike and Merton climbs atop William’s to snag the mango. But how do you find stunt doubles for Eric Gilliom (Merton) and Willie K (William)? And if you didn’t use doubles, how many times did they fall? Do they have scars to prove it?
Eric Gilliom, as "Merton," did his own stunts such as the bike work and a few other slap-stick bits. However, if you look closely you will discover there was very little risk as we photographed the action in such a way as to prevent injury. That said, we did schedule the bike stunts for the final day of the shoot... just in case :-)
What/where/when did the kernel of an idea for Get A Job pop?
Four years ago I took a break from the intensity that had developed here in the music realm and was traveling on the mainland and considering staying there and working for a bit. I applied for a number of jobs on the west coast but was not getting any bites. The world at that time, it seemed, was crumbling and mass layoffs were underway. So I reasoned that it would be easier to come back home to Hawaii and make a movie called Get A Job
, rather than to actually get one. Besides, it was what I've wanted to do my entire life (independent features) so there was also this attitude of "if not now, when? Time to pull out all the stops..." So I did.
How tight was the script and were the actors allowed to ad lib?
The script was super tight but also bloated in the sense that there was a lot of dialogue and story lines that did not make it into the final cut. More tight was the shooting schedule--21 days over the course of a month. We were forced to shoot five to seven pages a day. So, unfortunately that did not allow for improvisation. Once a scene was captured, we had to move on to the next one. Augie, however, was given some freedom to react as he saw fit to the circumstances his character faced in the action sequences, and he's a funny dude, so that worked out real well.
Speaking of Augie, I’m thinking of the bus scene. With each return to the inside of the bus, the props and generally nuttiness increases. Was every prop pre-thought. Or was there some on-set extemporaneous creativity going on during production?
Both. On paper a lot of the elements were spelled out, but first-time production designer Burt Sakata was the one whose task it was to interpret those directions. So, on the bus you have giant fish, clotheslines, and other crazy stuff which came about as he saw fit. It's important to note that Burt, like 60% of the crew, had never even been on a film set before Get a Job
. Of the cast of 300 or so, perhaps 5-6 of them had. I'm also a first-time writer/director, so this was a project in which many Hawaii residents cut their teeth.
Was this script written with Willie K and Eric in mind? And did you use any “trained” actors, at all?
The first three drafts were not written with the guys in mind. But as I moved deeper into the project, it became clear that Get A Job was the perfect vehicle for the Barefoot Natives (Willie and Eric) and all that we had done years ago were preparation for the lunacy of Get A Job
. Once I figured that out, I wrote specifically for the guys. We shot the sixth draft. All in all, it took one year to write the movie.
Eric has been acting since high school, and was the first person of Hawaiian descent to attend the prestigious Goodman School of Performing Arts in Chicago. Willie is a natural, for the most part. I refer to him as an entertainment savant. What he does in the colors of his rainbow may appear as raw talent, but in truth he has trained himself since childhood to do all of these amazing things. That's his gift, not the raw talent. Plenty of people have that. It’s the dedication to make something of his talent that separates him from the rest and a continual drive to keep getting better and adding new tricks to his bag. I love working with the both of them, frankly.
As far as the rest of the cast? There are a number of folks well versed in the theater world, but movies were a new frontier for almost everybody. Augie's been on TV a bunch, and Henry has had some screen roles as well.
It is no surprise that the movie is chock full of songs. How many exactly?
There are 28 songs in the movie - sixteen originals by the Barefoot Natives, which Willie, Eric, and I produced a number of years. We scored the film in reverse, if you will. Twelve of those tracks appear on the soundtrack which, along with the DVD, we will be releasing to the public on November 1, 2012.
In addition, there we fabulous contributions by many of our other artist friends such as Don Tiki, Amy Hanaiali'i, Avi Ronen, Kristen Grove, the Throwdowns, and Kealoha. Their works are also on the market, for the most part.
What was your production budget and how many days did it take to shoot?
The budget was 200k, a pittance in movie terms. A writer on Maui joked during our production that our entire budget matched the catering budget of the Adam Sandler film, Just Go With It
, which was shooting on Maui at the same time. That was true, of course. Lacking proper funding we had to rely on the contributions of people and the community to pull this one off. If you watch the mahalo credits, you will notice the list goes on and on and on. So much aloha, by so many people. That's really the secret as to why the movie itself is so much fun and filled with love, because it was genuinely produced in that spirit.
What was a typical day like?
Long and mostly fun. Our still photographer, Aubrey Hord, worked really hard to collect a mountain of great images from the production, which has been a true blessing these past few years as we market our little indie. In the candids and behind-the-scenes, it’s really interesting to see all the smiles in everybody's faces. An amazing experience, really, and nothing like a typical Hollywood production which can be a mess of egos and class structure. Everybody on our set was there to give their best and was very interested in supporting one another and having a good time. Good thing, because a 12 hour day can be hell if you are not enjoying the company.
I now know you shot on Maui, but while I was watching it, I thought maybe the location was Honolulu. Without a doubt, the film is set in Hawaii but exactly where is a little less clear. There are no/few of the iconic Maui beauty shots. Where were some of the places you shot?
We shot primarily in Central Maui, where no features had ever been produced. Our story is about the local working and non-working class, so that location was a natural. Wailuku, Kahului, Waihe'e, Ma'alaea, Lahaina, Paia. Look close and you will see Maui's beauty, but you will also see much evidence of the crap we have done to our aina--telephone poles, concrete. Get A Job
may appear to some as simply a comedy, but there are many layers to this movie which folks begin to access the third or fourth time they see it.
So true. I am looking forward to enjoying a few key scenes again. I think I’ll see more and more with each viewing. I hope you’ll take this as a compliment, but this is the kind of movie I like to have playing while I clean my home, because I have to bribe myself to clean. The movie is my reward. It helps if it's a movie that I can dip in and out of it. Pause—dust rag in hand—and guffaw over a scene before going back to the scrubbing.
That’s it for today. Part two of the interview will publish tomorrow.