The story behind SF OLYMPICS probably says more about me than the filming process. For years now, I’ve been an indie filmmaker in NYC, making short films and playing the festival circuit as well as working for some festivals. I’ve seen a lot of films, many of which are very cerebral, artsy, political, and pretentious. It eventually occurred to me that one voice was missing: films for children and young people. This is a highly lucrative market, yet indie filmmakers, mostly twenty-something hipsters and aspiring artists, forget about them. We get so caught up in trying to make arthouse films for intellectual audiences that we forget there are other avenues. I have never considered myself a children’s entertainer, but I will confess to being a Disney fan, and aspire to make films that make audiences of all ages happy as they once made me happy. Heck, MARY POPPINS is a film that still fills me with joy today!
Furthermore, I wanted to do a throwback to a specific type of genre: Nickelodeon of the 1990’s. If you’re not my generation, you may not understand, but this is considered the network’s Golden Age by many of us. Nickelodeon didn’t just produce content for children: Nickelodeon of this era had a distinct style. REN AND STIMPY, PETE AND PETE, SALUTE YOUR SHORTS, and KENAN AND KEL: all these shows were strange, grotesque, and perverse, often focusing on outlandish, gross-out subjects. This grotesque humor spoke to kids going through that awkward phase. As opposed to shows that were educational or tried to teach kids a lesson, these shows were dark and vulgar. Similarly, I was also inspired by THE THREE STOOGES and THE PINK PANTHER films. And so was born a concept about four girls holding a gross contest in gym class one day.
The first draft of the script was written and I intended to just shoot it as a simple YouTube skit off my phone. I didn’t think it required anything more than that. To my surprise, everyone loved the script and encouraged me to go all out: get a real gym location and film with a full crew, and so I did. I wrote to as many gyms as I could find in NYC, asking to shoot on a Sunday. Most of them pretty much laughed at the request, but I must truly thank Jordan Canino and his gym The Movement Fitness for coming in at the eleventh hour. We had an incredible location that truly looked like a high school gym.
Casting my four leading ladies proved a bit of a challenge. I held a rehearsal a month in advance where I cast Amanda Sarah Baker as the ditzy and long-suffering Jen and Lenna Parisyan as the upbeat host Nikki.
I can’t even begin to express how much Lenna completely altered the direction of the film. While I had written in the script that Nikki was somewhat nerdy, Lenna truly created an original eccentric and slightly perverted character that made me rewrite some of the script for her! The other two roles changed multiple times.
For the role of Martha, the confident jock, actresses were cast and dropped out multiple times before I met the very fun and professional Michelle Agresti. We were all set to go… until the actress playing Tabitha, the slobbish jock, dropped out.
If there was ever a time where I lucked out, it was in finding one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, Samantha Turret, only 48 hours before the shoot! And that is how four wonderful actresses who didn’t know one another all came together for the first time in a room one freezing January morning.
The shoot was crazy and rushed, as you can imagine shooting in a gym hosting live classes would be. There were frequent interruptions and often we only had time for one take. But the atmosphere was very positive and everyone wanted to be there. It was probably one of the most fun times I ever had on a set, even if I was exhausted by the end.
Post production went by quick, and while this has been a very female-driven film, there are two men who stepped in during post who I am greatly indebted to.
Composer Stefan Kristinkov gave us a very Nickelodeon-esque score and did so very quickly. Finally, sound mixer John Jagos stepped in and fixed the many audio gaffes that you would expect a film shot in a loud, echo-y gym to have. Both men saved the film.
Once completed, SF OLYMPICS began its festival run. At the time of this writing, we have been accepted in four festivals. Watching the film with an audience is always fun; we get laughs but also weird out a lot of people. I like that our film is a little strange, a little gross, but is cute and has a big heart. My goal is to turn it into an ongoing series for such a market as Nickelodeon. I’ve written a script for the next episode and performed a live reading of it in May, which received a lot of laughter.
To sum things up, I recently met up again with Lenna and asked me what it was about the original script that made her want to do it. She told me “I love the idea of Nikki. She’s an adorable, over-excited character. There’s a little Nikki Krause inside me.” That sums up the excitement of making this short film. Nikki Krause is indeed an endearing character, and I hope she may be a Mary Poppins figure to an audience out there. There are other films out there that may be far more intellectual than SF OLYMPICS, but this film is all about joy, and I hope it brings you that same joy.
Written by Gabe Rodriguez, Director of SF Olympics.
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