watch the trailer

Coolishness was my fourth and final project at the New York Film Academy. Since it was to be my last shot there, I went all out on making the "biggest" film I could with the limited time and equipment. My crew was still mostly missing in action, but I got a Russian woman named Eva Braud to help me with some of the cinematography. Bang, #3 son of the Chinese family I was living with in Brooklyn, also helped by playing a role and letting us film his limo, which he drives for work.

For actors I got a guy I had seen in a previous student film, Jon Budinoff, to play the lead role. Jon also conveniently lived in an apartment just on the other side of Union Square. For the female lead I looked through the school's box of headshots and selected Alexandra Ryan. Using her was a bit of trouble because she belonged to the Screen Actors Guild, but she was so good I decided I didn't mind filling out a few extra forms.

In my fervor to make a "big" film I may have bit off more than I could chew with this film. The story was flimsy at best, and in the end I just didn't have the resources to make it make sense. I incurred the wrath of my crew by filming a lot more footage on my project than they did on theirs, and I spent a lot more money, mainly on renting a cargo van for a few days. The van served two purposes: it was our transportation and trailer for everyone, and it was the vehicle the main character would drive in the film. I almost wasn't able to rent it because my Chinese ID combined with my western appearance spooked the people at the rental place. I guess they get all types in New York City, so eventually they let me pay the exhorbitant rental fee for the grafittied white clunker.

We shot the film over about a week's time. The most interesting location was under the Queensborough Bridge, next to an old abandoned house. The house was boarded up and fenced off, as though it had once been the site of a horrific murder, and I loved the feel of it as my background. I also loved the way the bridge loomed over everything there.

Jon discovers he's just stumbled onto a large amount of cash...


...and promptly makes his escape from the notorious criminal known as "The Apple Thug"


A mysterious package from "the boss", played by Scott.


Alex tries to get into Jon's van.

We filmed the driving scenes first, then Bang's scenes ("Look up. Look at the car...), and then, since we didn't have a fight coordinator, I just filmed a POV shot of Anders, who played one of the thugs in the film, and Bang hitting the camera. Then Anders nearly put a dent in Bang's limo hood with Jon's head. Luckily it didn't leave a mark on the hood or Jon. In the van during a break, after I had figured out that we had completed a certain segment, I said "Coolishness." Alex suggested that as the title of the film, and I agreed. Thus was this film named.

I was using an old Arriflex-S 16mm film camera. With no synch sound I could have dialogue, which was a shame, as Alex was a really good actress. In the end I had the actors use dialogue and then just put music over the scenes.

Next we filmed some scenes in Brooklyn, right in front of the house where I was staying, where Alex gets in the van with Jon. I had wanted to get Bang's mother to play a small part, that of the first customer Jon visits at the beginning of the film, but unfortunately she declined. I ended up having to play that role myself, at the downstairs door of Jon's apartment in Manhattan. The scene is rather dark because the restauraneur next door refused to roll in his awning on a cloudy but dry day. Ah, well. Filming in New York is like that. Permits, hassle, etc.

We filmed the "office" scene at Scott's apartment, the same room from "The End", but this time with an office atmosphere. Scott himself played Jon's boss and did a good job, since Scott has a corporate background. Indeed, all of Scott's films had a similar theme -that of a businessman who ends up regretting spending all of his time on his business.

We used the downstairs door of Scott's apartment for the exterior shot of the door Jon approaches, and Anders answers. I then edited it together with the interior shots we did 40 blocks north of there in the high-rise apartment of my Mexican filmmaker friend Juan-Pablo Arroyo. It looks pretty seamless, I think.

The chase scenes, of course, were the most fun to film. The van didn't go very fast, but some sound effects made it seem that way. Anders had been munching on an apple that morning, so we decided to have him throw it at the van as he chased it. Thus in the credits Anders is listed as the "Apple Thug". On the package that Jon spills coffee on, the name of the addressee is "Anders Fellini".

As I was returning the rental van after we finished shooting, I found myself on a strangely empty street. People were crossing in front of me and not even looking my way. Then I noticed a line of cars facing me about a block ahead at a stoplight. I suddenly realized that I was going the wrong way on a one-way street and nearly panicked in my rush to get off the street before I hit someone, had an accident or was caught by the police, who no doubt would have more than happy to suspect someone with a Chinese ID and a western appearance. Thankfully, none of the above happened.

I used another Ventures piece for the opening title and scene. The chase scene features a song by Hong Kong band Beyond, and the final scene music is a song by the Taiwanese aborigine duo Power Station. I chose Chinese music based on the feeling of the music over any understandibility of the lyrics, since the film is not in any one language anyway. Feeling is paramount with soundtrack music.

When I was done shooting I had an enourmous amount of footage. The clips made a thick, shiny black curtain of celluloid hanging from my Steinbeck editing table at the academy editing room. I had available to me two sound tracks and hundreds of shots to put together. It was a real challenge, and I enjoyed it immensely. Coolishness may not make too much sense as a film, but the fact that I was able to pull it off in any way, shape or form, is something I am proud of; I learned many things that I will hopefully be able to put to use on my next film, which I hope to begin pre-production on just as soon as I can publish my damn book.

All in all, my time at the New York Film Academy was also a time I will always remember fondly, even if I encountered a few rough times now and then. I didn't take any pictures or video when I was there. My films, most of all Coolishness, are reminders enough.

Alex and her partner await a package


After being beaten under the Queensborough Bridge