So ends the short film, The Roach.
Since I was a preteen, I’ve wanted little in life other than the chance to make movies. That’s why it surprised so many friends and family members when I chose to major in Russian Studies at UCLA. I was convinced that I could find a good story out of Russia’s rich history.
Nevertheless, I stayed in the movie game throughout college, and I consider The Roach my unofficial thesis project for the “film school of life.” The short has received laughs at film festivals all over Los Angeles, and its next-to-null budget has raised some eyebrows.
At a Q&A session at the 2007 Malibu Film Festival, when someone asked the panel of filmmakers what our budgets were, the others spent an average of $10,000. I, on the other hand, already having an arsenal of costumes and video equipment, three giant latex cockroaches and several boxes of MiniDV tapes, only spent $3 ($10 if you include the burgers we bought for dinner after the shoot).
Surprisingly, a few people applauded when I said this, as if being cheap were a noble act. They seemed to know that making people laugh doesn’t have to cost anything.
I came up with the story for The Roach when my girlfriend and I ventured to the Apple Store to get our iPods repaired. To our dismay, the folks at the Genius Bar gave us terrible news: our hard disks were damaged beyond repair. On the way home, we tried to have a pleasant conversation, but we kept coming back to the subject of death.
My girlfriend told me that the saddest stories are where kids have to kill their pets. I instantly thought of one of my favorite Russian short stories, Turgenev’s Mumu, where a serf was forced to drown his own dog.
Just then, we drove by a dark and dirty alley, and I had a vision. Under a steaming pile of trash, a sick, giant cockroach was crying for help. The idea for The Roach suddenly hit me like the pungent smell of week-old banana peels.
When we got home, I showered my keyboard with inspiration, and out came a screenplay. Then, I storyboarded and experimented with roach-blood solutions. I had no time to dillydally, for the next day I was to present my idea to a Fireside Chats writers’ meeting.
I produce a sketch comedy show at UCLA, Fireside Chats, and I thought we could pool our resources to make a hilarious short film. We were preparing our fourth episode of the show, and my roach idea had to blow the shins off my comrades before it would blow the shins off the general audience.
The next day, the boys approved the idea, and we shot the film that weekend. For sets, we used my apartment and a condemned building in Santa Monica. We were shooting without permits, and naturally we were scared that our plastic firearms would catch a passing policeman’s eye.
But the only thing that got in the way of completing our shoot was getting the star, Lincoln Athas, to cry as his roach friend lay dying. Fortunately, Lincoln was willing to dry-heave in order to induce the tears we needed so badly.
I edited the short from morning ’til night. Fortunately, the other editor on Fireside Chats, Marc Steinberg, was able to put together a heartfelt score, and together with some intense Photoshopped special effects, the movie came together very closely to how I had envisioned it. Still the best part was that the The Roach cost next to nothing, so I could still afford to submit it to film festivals.
To see The Roach and other Fireside Chats sketches, visit www.firesidechats.tv. The final episode will premiere on June 1 at 9 p.m. at the UCLA De Neve Auditorium, 401 Charles E. Young Drive in Westwood. The event is free and open to the public.