I attended a screening of two locally-made low-budget films: “HUNNYBEAR” and “Writing Fren-Zee.”
HUNNYBEAR a short comedy horror from local filmmaker Peter Leon exploited some of the worst fears I’ve had of remote desert areas at night. Those fears were more tangible seeing the familiar dirt roads, mesquites and dry washes on the screen. I had a “wow, that could really happen” feeling in the pit of my stomach. For a low-budget film, it was very well crafted and acted, and it had all the earmarks of a good hacker and slasher flick. The plot: People running away from a killer. What more do you need from a comedy horror? I was very satisfied with my fear level after 20 minutes.
HUNNYBEAR was followed by “Writing Fren-Zee.” The latter did not wash HUNNYBEAR completely off my palate. Let me explain.
I attended the screening with my sister. Leaves and trash swirled around the car on the way home while the howling wind shook and tried to penetrate the car. It was a spooky night.
At her house as we chatted and giggled about the night, the front door swung open very slowly. Suddenly silent, we both held our breath in surprise and looked at each other and started to crack up. The wind. We began to hear knocking on the side of the house and what sounded like car doors opening and closing. Each noise paused our conversation and we stared at each other wide-eyed. “Damn movie,” I said. “We should write a script for a movie about two ladies who go see a scary movie and get scared by the wind but then something real gets them.” Right when we should have laughed, something hit the window behind me – HARD.
Now there was no more laughter and I told her I was going to use the bathroom and go. As I entered the dark hallway, I pleaded, please don’t let the cat or her husband come out of the darkness and scare me. I flipped on the light in the bathroom and glanced at the frosted window to the outside. Again I thought, please don’t let a gecko run across that or I’ll be having a heart attack.
Having survived the hallway and bathroom, I told my sister to walk out with me. I scanned the dark streets and bushes. I looked at the window for a clue to what hit it and saw nothing. I quickly got into my car and started to back out. Then my brain kicked in: Hadn’t I heard a car door before? Was someone in the back? I was too embarrassed to get out and look, so instead I tried to listen and ascertain whether I smelled anyone hiding back there.
In the midst of scanning, listening and sniffing while simultaneously backing out and shifting into drive, I suddenly saw a man right outside my car window. My heart clenched and my skin started to crawl with adrenaline. I went into a mindless panic, floored the gas and started to scream. I maintained eye contact with the man while my back tires spun and screeched. They finally found traction and my vehicle shot off, almost losing the suspension on a speed bump.
I looked into the rear-view mirror and the man’s hands went up in a “what the hell” gesture. He was on the sidewalk and a party was going on. He apparently had been wanting to cross the street, waiting on me to back out.
“Bjay, you idiot!” I scolded myself. “That man probably thinks you are insane. Ohmygawd!” I pulled over a block later to reassure myself nobody was in the very back.
When that was over, I was able to reflect on “Writing Fren-Zee” a romantic comedy written and produced by Clif Campbell and Marty Ketola of Pondo Enterprises, and directed by Marty Ketola. This film had a $2000 budget and was filmed entirely in Tucson over a span of 13 days. The film premiered at the Crossroads Festival and the 200-seat theater was almost packed.
I don’t know Marty Ketola personally – but I have to say, I’m very proud of him. He started out with shows on Access Tucson in 1990. They weren’t works of art, but you could see he was experimenting and learning. You could also tell he loved it. Later he started to dabble with short films. I saw his previous films “Marijuanos” and “La Llorrona.” They all have developed a cult following but they aren’t masterpieces by any means.
I had seen the trailer for “Writing Fren-Zee” and it didn’t do it justice. The movie went beyond my expectations, and I’m very happy and excited to see how Marty Ketola has progressed.
The story is about a writer nearing a high-pressure deadline to write a script based on a comic book series. He’s out of touch with the material and suffering from writer’s block. He ends up seeking help from two guys who own the comic-book store where the comic book author died (and perhaps still resides).
There were some really good laughs throughout and it was entertaining. Stiff acting reared it’s head a few times, especially in the supporting cast, but with $2000 you aren’t going to get Meryl Streep and you have to remember projects like this are about learning too.
Local prominent actors Jonathan Northover and Eric Schumacher played the writer and a store-co-owner, and they did very well. Northover is a delightful Hugh Grant/Dick Van Dyke smoothie. I look forward to seeing more of his work.
I was very impressed by newcomer Nate Campbell who played Pete, one of the store owners. I was suprised to learn this was his first role. His delivery is very natural, relaxed yet funny and he has a very strong presence. He seemed uncomfortable in a scene where he visits the girlfriend of his partner, in an attempt to explain he was at fault for a misunderstanding (that she overreacted to) and begs her to give his partner a second chance. I personally don’t know any men who would do this in real life, so he probably didn’t have any experiences to draw from, haha.
Marty has come a long way from his beginnings at Access Tucson. I am very excited to watch as he continues to grow and experiment. His work has developed a cult following and the fact that his low-budget films actually make a profit is an accomplishment itself. If this film had a bigger budget and more resources, I wonder at what he could have done.
I am no stranger to Access Tucson, and I am thankful it is there for people like Marty to provide a learning lab and outlet for expression. Eons ago I was a cast member of a soap opera that aired regularly on the station. I also did a karaoke show (hopefully those tapes remain buried forever). I wish I could have taken advantage of that opportunity more but I was suffering from the logistical problems of a car-less teen and young adult.
The future of Access Tucson has been questionable, and recently some shows aired good-bye episodes when it was thought Access Tucson would close. I hope when my son is older and he wishes to express himself this way, that the opportunity is still there for him to learn just as Marty did.