Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jeffrey Johns on “Waiting in the Wings: The Musical”

What was your filmmaking background before making Waiting in the Wings: The Musical?

JEFFREY: I worked a lot on musicals on the stage from national tours, to theme parks, to regional theater.  When I moved to Los Angeles, I got more interested in film and television.  I began working on independent films as an actor but then got on set as much as possible to see the business side filmmaking.  When I decided to make a film....I knew it had to be a musical.      

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? 

JEFFREY: It actually comes from my obsession with talent-based reality shows and online contests and the many, many, video submissions I have made in my career along with antics I experienced while auditioning and performing in musicals.

I had a lot less (okay none whatsoever) experience with the stripper world.   The stripper part of the film was loosely based on my experiences with one specific production, NAKED BOYS SINGING.  I am still baffled how I was cast in NAKED BOYS SINGING, but my agent insisted I attend the audition to get rid of my squeaky clean image.  I planned on throwing the audition because I could NOT be naked on stage……..well I got cast!  

At one point, the performers in NAKED BOYS SINGING were asked to attend a big party at a club.   I’m not a club guy so it was an interesting experience for me.   I saw go-go boys dancing on a pole and thought, “if that was me I’d be tap dancing around that pole while taking my clothes off – I’d make it theatrical!!”  Immediately I knew that that would be a good idea for a short film and it just grew into something much bigger, but that was the inspiration.

Which is harder? Writing a screenplay or acting in a movie you wrote? And why?

JEFFREY: For me, definitely writing the screenplay.  It took me over a year to get through the first draft and I worked on it A LOT!   About a year and a half into the script, I approached Arie Gonzalez (a friend and songwriter) and wanted his thoughts.  He said, “I thought this was going to be terrible, but it’s actually good” and he jumped in and began writing the music.  

Most important, he was instrumental in bringing the actual musical to life.  He really turned my ideas into great songs.  I went through the script and said, “I want a song here” and he made magic.  The song in the costume warehouse (“The World Needs Music”) blew me away the first time I heard it.  It was exactly what I wanted, but even better than I pictured it in my imagination.

Arie wrote half the songs for the final film and the other half were written by several talented songwriters.  I think the music is the heart of the film and am thrilled with all the songwriters involved.  It was such a collaborative process to even get the musical ready to be filmed.  I had such a strong team behind me and many table reads and feedback sessions before we even thought about rolling the cameras.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

JEFFREY: We were on sites like Kickstarter to get funding.  As a first time feature, it was hard to get enough money to finance a musical with the quality product I wanted.  I knew I wanted to move forward so I took a second mortgage on my house for the remainder of the funds. It's hard to make any film, but making a musical adds a lot of additional expenses from recording sessions, to musical directors, to musicians, to choreographers.

How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once your cast was in place?

JEFFREY: Absolutely......the most notable change was the casting of Rebekah Kochan.  She's a brilliant actress and I really wanted her in the film.  She was busy on another project so couldn't get her for all the filming days we needed her. One thing that came out of that was breaking her character's leg so she could be removed from some of the musical numbers.  Ironically, the re-write worked so well it actually improved the script.  

How did you approach the casting of your celebrity cameos (Lee Meriwether, Shirley Jones, Sally Struthers, Christopher Atkins)?

JEFFREY: Lee Meriwether met me in Las Vegas while I was working on a show (Tony 'n Tina's Wedding).  She was actually the first one onboard with the project.  She really loved the script and has been one of the most incredible support structures for the filming.  

The others took some time and determination.  I made many, many, many phone calls and finally got the green light from the cameos.  We ended up filming the scene with Shirley Jones about 8 months after the rest of the film wrapped.  Ironically, the entire film was edited prior to even filming the Shirley Jones scene, but think it was well worth the wait.  She's really incredible in the film.   

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

We used the RED SCARLET.  I love that camera.  The quality is amazing!!!

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JEFFREY: I think casting the film myself was the smartest thing that I did with the production.  I knew exactly the characters I wanted and worked tirelessly to get the perfect cast in place.  I had over 3,000 submissions.  

The dumbest?  LOL. Well, it certainly was a learning curve.  I think the biggest challenges came with the instrumentalists recordings.  We went to production with just piano tracks on many songs and added the full orchestration in post-production.  I think it would have made life easier on everyone if the choreographers and performers had the full orchestration to dance and perform to.   I was so lucky to have such a talented cast.  

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

JEFFREY: I am still learning and still working on the film.  Just because the actual film is complete....the marketing of the film and the festival circuit has just begun.   In addition, I'm working on the stage adaptation of the film and a possible sequel.  

I learned SO much from the process, I could go on for days.  The most important advice I would give anyone is - get a good editor.  They are vital to making the final film.

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