KNOXVILLE, TN—Hassled by police for not having a shooting permit, University of Tennessee sophomore Eric Draper, 19, hastily rewrote his student film Monday to incorporate the mid-scene interruption.
"At first, I was totally pissed," said Draper, speaking from his dorm-room "editing bay," which consists of an iMac with a bootleg copy of Final Cut Pro 3. "The cop totally walked right into the middle of the scene where Mark [Haligan]'s character confronts his alcoholic brother who's dressed in a devil costume. [Cinematographer] Rich [Woods] kept the tape going because he thought it was funny that Troy [Glause] was in a devil suit arguing with this cop. It wasn't until hours later that I realized a truly magical cinematic moment had fallen right into my lap."
During a brainstorming session held that night at a local Denny's, co-producers Haligan and Draper decided to write an expository scene establishing that the officer is "the symbolic embodiment of the world's evil, a man who could even charge an alcoholic demon with disturbing the peace."
"It was perfect," said Draper, whose film goes by the working title Brother Brother. "Not only did we come up with a way not to waste tape, but we made the movie way more realistic. It's like we were suddenly working in this super-naturalistic, improvisational Robert Altman style."
Further complications arose Tuesday when, during shooting, another police officer wandered into the film's climactic scene to stop Draper from setting off illegal fireworks.
"When that first cop was giving us shit about the permit, it had all the anger and tension that makes for a great movie moment," Draper said. "But this other cop came by when Mark was doing the scene where he gets a sense of peace and closure by blowing up the fireworks his brother gave him right before he died. [The police interruption] wasn't at all appropriate for what I was going for there."
"Plus, that second cop was actually pretty cool and just let us off with a warning," Draper continued. "So even if he was right for the fireworks scene, he still didn't fit with the whole overarching theme of cops symbolizing evil."
Draper struggled to find a way to make the police officer's intrusion in the fireworks scene make sense.
"After a lot of thinking, I decided that the cop could be there to warn Mark's character about the evil cop," Draper said. "But then I remembered that the good cop comes in at the end, long after our protagonist has already met the evil cop. So right now, the plan is to re-shoot that scene and hope we don't get busted again. Or at least get busted in a way that makes more sense, plot-wise."
Draper—who has three directing credits under his belt, two of which featured police interruptions—said he can't believe Hollywood directors are unable to "go with the flow" as easily as he can.
"Whenever I hear big-shot Hollywood directors pissing and moaning about things going awry, I just want to scream," Draper said. "They're always whining about the rain or whatever. They need to realize you have to be flexible and open to possibilities: It's the stuff you don't plan on that always turns out the best."
Draper added that a lack of spontaneity is "killing Hollywood."
"Sometime last September, we were filming the big breakup scene for Beachball between Tony [Charlton] and Heidi [Adamle] in my backyard," Draper said. "Right in the middle of it, this beach ball from the kid playing in the pool next door lands right between them. Instead of re-shooting the scene, Tony picks it up and says, 'Remember this beach ball? You got it for me that time we went to the beach. Now I'm giving it back to you.' We ended up changing the title from Crushed to Beachball because of that scene. Those kinds of moments, where you take a screw-up and turn it into gold, are the reason I dreamed of one day becoming a student filmmaker."