Compliments to the condiments, take two
VAIL – Tony Castle and Benjamin Ugly don’t just have a goal of landing an Oscar before they turn 30. They see it as something firmly planted in their fate.Castle, who in civilian life is 18-year-old Battle Mountain High School senior Anthony Scully, and Ugly, aka 20-year-old Battle Mountain graduate Ben Garst, took almost a year to conjure up some fake blood, a few actors, several different scripts, Wal-Mart BB guns and a lot of other props and specialized equipment, to produce “Pickles and Onions,” a 12-minute film that will premiere at the Vail Film Festival, which begins Thursday.The pair, who formed Tiki Reel Productions, met on the slopes snowboarding a couple years ago after Castle was familiar with Garst’s work in Battle Mountain’s video production class, namely, his stylistic off-shoots of the class’ usual morning announcements that Castle has since taken under his wing. The two helped fellow up-and-coming local filmmaker Jonathan Bricklin with “Minimum Wage” and later collaborated on their first short film, “Narratus Ebrius.” The film, which translates as “Drunken Narration,” highlights the inner workings of a drunk and his alter ego. Take oneThe two auditioned about 30 actors for the main part and launched into a pursuit that both feel will inevitably become a lifelong career.Castle, whose mother, Annah Scully, is the director of the Vail Performing Arts Academy, grew up as a stage actor and began familiarizing himself with film editing and splicing programs in his video class. Garst headed out to Montana State University upon graduation, planning to embark on a degree in architecture. After working on “Minimum Wage” however, he changed his major to film, but then left school to return home to get his hands directly into the reels. Both currently work at Channel 5. This summer, Castle will do some editing in New York with Bricklin, and Garst will collaborate with his younger brother on a new film. In the fall, both Tiki Reel representatives will reunite on University of Colorado at Boulder to pursue their film degrees.
“We have to breeze through college so we can make it to Hollywood,” Garst explained. “After that, hopefully we’ll both have Oscars by the time we’re 30. If not, then 35.””That’s our goal,” Castle added. “Well, it’s not really a goal. It’s a must.”The script was the first element of “Pickles and Onions” that underwent several levels of metamorphose. The first version alone took Castle three months to produce.”Whenever he writes something or I write something, we just pass it to the next person and do a proof edit,” Garst said. “We usually sit down and collaborate. We sit around and think, what else could happen that could be funny? What kind of thought could we add to this? We see what we could come up with. Half the stuff we came up with, we ended up taking out at the last minute, because we ended up changing our minds. One thing I’ve learned is that the movie hardly ever comes out like the script.”Even while the final version of the film, which was just completed in the last month, was being whittled down, Castle had the same realization.”I took out everything that I didn’t like and cut it,” he said. “If anybody ever asks me, ‘What advice would you give to filmmakers?’ I would say, ‘Cut whatever doesn’t go. Get rid of it.’ That’s what made the movie so much better.”Blood brothers”Pickles and Onions” is a comedy that both directors unabashedly admit is heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino, who happens to be their hero.
Bricklin, who is the film’s executive producer, gave the boys a budget of $500 to which they added another $1,500 after emptying their penny jars and “bouncing a few checks.” Then Castle and Garst recruited local actors Billy Finn and Kelly Buster, plus Los Angeles soundman Mike Dematteo, who worked with the two on “Minimum Wage” and now works on big name sets such as “The Apprentice.”Finn and Dematteo play two rednecks who are hungry, but when they visit the local Mad Cow Burger, they realize they’re broke. Thus, they decide to rob the place and encounter Buster, who plays a Mad Cow cashier, and a gun-toting, blood-spurting hell breaks loose.”If you’re a big Tarantino fan, you’ll catch glimpses of ‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Kill Bill,’ Castle said. “There’s a lot of dry humor. The way we do the violence, it’s violent, but it’s sort of funny.”The directors equipped the gun scenes with two Wal-Mart BB guns and some fake blood rigged up in an insecticide pump courtesy of a Google search entitled, “How to make fake blood.’ Garst hid behind the counter and sprayed the blood on cue as Castle filmed.”What we were going for is a huge explosion of blood,” Garst said. “It kind of worked. It wasn’t a huge explosion, it was more of a hard mist. They don’t bleed to death. It’s violent, but it’s funny. It makes everyone be OK with it, even if you’re against violence, because it’s just ridiculous.”Taking a different angleA large part of Tiki Reel’s budget was spent on renting a jib and dolly from Denver on which they experimented with some tricky cinematography. Because the cost of such a contraption ran $350 a day, Castle and Garst managed to pull off all of their artistic camera work in one day and completed all of the filming, which was done in two days total, at the old Cassidy’s building in Avon.”We converted it into Mad Cow Burger,” Castle said. “While we were filming, a bunch of tourists kept coming up to us and asking, ‘Are you guys open?’ That was funny. Here we’re shooting, there’s a guy with a gun robbing the thing, and they’re poking their heads in asking us these questions.”
Although it might sound like an amateur bloodshed type of creation, “Pickles and Onions,” according to Vail Film Festival representatives, was selected for the festival because of its distinctively high-end quality. Representatives said it is far superior to many of the 200 submissions in the festival’s student category.”It looks like an actual movie,” said Vail Film Festival development representative Megen Musegades. “The quality was really great. The production was great. There’s a section in particular I thought was very clever, but I don’t want to say it and ruin the story line. I was very impressed that these two guys produced this film. I get a whole bunch of films by grad students – we hardly ever get high school submissions – and this is very professional.”After making the film, Garst and Castle were recruited by Crested Butte filmmaker Cole Claassen for his feature-length film, “Fern Hill,” which will also be making its debut at the Vail Film Festival. The Tiki Reel duo described the film as a modern day version of “Stand By Me.” The pair went over to the site – where the film was shot in three weeks – expecting to be scrappers on the camera crew. Instead they took on vital roles in editing and advising in the overall production process and Garst even made his stunt double motion picture debut when he jumped off an 80-foot cliff into the Blue Mountain Reservoir fully dressed and carrying a backpack and a sleeping bag.The experience in working on this film gave both Garst and Castle an extra dose of adrenaline with which to carry on to their next film.”That was a huge turning point for us,” Castle said. “I wish we would have shot ‘Pickles and Onions’ after it, but it only gives us more reason to have the motivation to go shoot another film. We’re very proud of our film. But now, whatever we do next is going to be 10 times what ‘Pickles and Onions’ is.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado