Battle of the Bands was born out of two things: I'd worked out one-sentence description of the story, along with many others, as part of a Facebook screenwriting group's weekly challenge. Unlike a lot of the other concepts I'd posted, this one got a really good reaction from other members of the group. A few years after I posted the concept, I went back and finally wrote the script over the course a few months. When I started writing it, I thought it would have a decent chance of selling to a small production company because it had limited locations (the club itself) which would make it more budget-friendly, but as I worked on it, the story's scope in terms of the size of the cast, special effects requirements, and the need for original music all made the story more unwieldy than I'd originally imagined. I still sent it out to producers but interest was nil (which is more or less normal).
Around the same time, I started a musical improv game show called Rock Improv-a-Ganza. Some friends and I would perform monthly shows, writing original music and lyrics in various styles determined by the roll of a die as the audience watched. We wore costumes, wielded mystical props (The Die of Destiny, The Lyrical Tome, The Sword of Change), brought on a comedian to host the shows, and had a lot of fun along the way. At the same time, we got to know each other well as performers.
At some point it occurred to me that the Rock Improv-a-Ganza crew might be able to bring Battle of the Bands to life. One of the twelve genres we were working on was Metal, so wound up composing over 24 original metal tunes (as with all the other genres) over the course of a couple years. I had recording equipment, a script, the music, and the people... why not make use of that instead of just writing another script that would sit on my hard drive indefinitely. I proposed the idea to the group and they were game, so I started casting the parts and off we went.
Below is a little more about each performer. And let me just say that I may never be as happy with any part of any project I work on as I am with how the casting of these roles worked out. The people who filled them ranged from super experienced at acting to no experience whatsoever, but they all came through for me. It's hard to remember the time when I was thinking about who I'd ask to be in which role because at this point, it doesn't seem like there could have been anyone else.
The winter before I started working on the Battle of the Bands movie, Jason R. and I had gone to see a few bands play at a small club. At one point we were standing in the parking lot in the below freezing temperatures, with Jason raging on about politics and people and the world's problems in general. When I was thinking of Arden, the angry control freak at the center of BOTB, Jason's extended monologue at the club came back to me. The man has instant access to his anger, and that's what I needed. Jason wound up being a completely natural actor, and besides the rage-filled lines that I knew he'd nail, he proved really sensitive with the more subtle scenes – especially Arden's scenes with Ebaneen. Arden never curses around his ex-girlfriend, so another side of his character needed to come through there, and thankfully, it did.
It's probably fair to say Angus (whose real name isn't Angus, though he's so much an Angus that I usually forget he wasn't born that way) is very close to his character Turk. Truth be told, when I was writing the script, I thought of Vehement Volition as "Arden + Three Other Guys". And those other guys were pretty interchangeable in my mind (so much for character differentiation). So when Angus read for Turk, he essentially created Turk. If I'd cast him as Richie or F.F., then they would have been the laid back dude Turk eventually became. What I'm saying is Angus did what I'd hoped and expected he'd do - he gave what could have been a generic band dude a truly funny treatment.
Dan had a much more challenging part in Richie. His natural voice is fairly similar to the way Angus speaks, so when we recorded the main cast as a group, Turk and Richie were blending together. Dan was kind enough to acquiesce and give Richie a higher voice to make him more distinct. It was a bit of a technical challenge to keep the character consistent but Dan pulled it off when we re-recorded Richie's part. He did some character work beforehand and gave me some good suggestions on changing Richie's lines so he'd curse less, because he seemed more innocent (an excellent suggestion - it gave him a nice contrast from Arden). Dan also stepped in as Cliff, one of the judges, when another actor dropped out. Cliff became vaguely Australian at Dan's suggestion, and it was a nice stretch to hear him take on a character that didn't require quite as much voice strain as Richie. And he played Arden's Mother (who seems prematurely aged, assuming Arden is in his early 30s as I'd written him – but that only adds to the texture) – cracking up the main cast when he recorded it.
Jason P., who we brought into the Rock Improv-a-Ganza fold (via a Facebook search of local comedians) as the host of our show after a few early performances, asked me before recording if F.F. could be British. He tried it, I liked it, and with that we had a nice array of voices in Vehement Volition where no one sounded the same. Jason is an experienced performer (he's acted in short films and commercials as well as working as a comedian) so he was able to really have fun with F.F.'s performance. And since I knew he'd had plenty of experience with all kinds of club owners and bookers, I also asked him to essay the role of Wes Detts, the typically sleazy owner of Tatterdemalion. I have to assume playing this kind of character wasn't a stretch for Jason because of his experience performing. He made both F.F. and Wes much funnier than they were on paper.
Kaylee is the daughter of a high school friend, and I'd been seeing her perform for years. She's the only person I thought of for Ebaneen. I needed that character to be more naturalistic and grounded than the more colorful and sometimes cartoony rest of the main cast, and Kaylee gave me that in spades. Kaylee recorded the part with the rest of the main cast late in the summer just before she went off to college the performing arts, but even at this point she was a seasoned actor and singer as well as director and host. An added bonus for me was she didn't balk at the over-the-top cursing in the script (thanks, Kaylee!). Luckily she'd turned 18 before we recorded or else I would have felt even worse.
(by the way - Arden, Ebaneen, Ivor, Oskar, Ulrich... and Yasmine. A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y. There's no real reason for the Vowel Character Naming System other than it helped me knock out a chunk of the large cast early on and made them feel cohesive – at least, in my mind...)
Speaking of sleazy, where Wes imbues the slovenly kind of sleaze, Trent Strickfaden, the label executive (do they even have those anymore?) needed to embodied the slick brand of sleaze. My friend and co-worker Mike had worked with me on a couple voiceover projects before, plus he's an excellent singer and musician. Trent's primary function – aside from being instantly hateable – is to give the big speech early on that encapsulates what Arden wants (or at least, what he thinks he wants). Mike has a naturally deep, confidence-inspiring voice which he only had to exaggerate a bit to give me the Trent I needed.
For Deen Krieger, the washed-up metalhead turned contest host, I hit up my friend (and also one-time co-worker) Alan, the most seasoned actor in the cast. Because he's the host, Deen has a lot of heavy lifting to do plotwise - especially early on. Alan really dug into the character, making him even more grotesque than I'd hoped for. He gave me so many alternate takes with different phrasing and ad-libs that culling Deen's lines down for the final mix was almost painful. Maybe there will be an all-Deen bonus audio clip in the future.
Marc, who played Oskar, the pompous lead singer for Sinner Supremacy, came to us when Jason P. couldn't make a Rock Improv-a-Ganza show. Jason asked Marc to fill in for him, Marc did a great job, and I wanted to find a reason to work with him again in some way – hence, Oskar. I had an idea of Oskar being self-important but the infantile treatment Marc gave the character was better than I ever expected. Though his part is brief, Marc made Oskar memorable, and he also gave me some nice takes on some of the background characters - that's him asking, "Is this... how it's supposed to work?" as the Putrefication Principle transforms.
As Ivor, Arden's true adversary throughout the story (though nobody really likes that guy, do they?), our performer Andy was a real wildcard. Andy played bass (along with Dan) in Rock Improv-a-Ganza and his personality gave Angus as run for Most Laid Back Dude in the crew. But Andy really put in some work beforehand in thinking about how Ivor, who I envisioned as a barely verbal ogre, would sound. He worked on the accent and the gruffness and that, along with some vocal effects, really brought Ivor to life and made his lines as well as his many guttural sounds a joy to behold.
I convinced my own wife Sharon to play the metal vamp Lezlie Skorch, and she took to the role like a natural. In fact, with Lezlie being a supporting character and not having a ton of lines, I actually worked on some additional lines for her and the other judges, who originally didn't say much during the final battle. When your wife sinks into a role you wrote, you have to make her happy. Plus she was a little buzzed on some kind of hard cider when she recorded, so I felt obligated to find ways to keep that buzz going.
Steve P., my college friend and roommate, was the natural choice to play Tyrus, the mysterious Japanese judge who almost screws everything up. Natural only to me, I'm sure, because Steve is only mildly mysterious and not at all Japanese, but he's a hell of a performer (musical and otherwise) and he's got a sharp sense of humor, so he made Tyrus just as bizarre and entertaining as I'd envisioned him doing. And oh, those ad-libs... Steve's outtakes are hilarious but not even suitable for as vulgar a script as this one.
I've known Ally, who played Paulette (one of Ebaneen's two mean girl bandmates), for twenty years. She started out cutting my hair and ended up playing one of my characters. Ally hadn't acted or performed before, and I think she would agree, was a bit nervous about recording the part, but she agreed to do it anyway and that made me happy. She wore a Guns and Roses shirt for the occasion and really kicked ass – she's genuinely funny. There's a Muppet-like quality I wanted with Liza and Paulette, and Ally really captured it. Take that, Henson Studios.
Paulette's other half, Liza, was played by my longtime friend and one-time co-worker Michele. We recorded her part in her car during her lunch break, in as quiet a part of a parking lot as we could find. Like Ally, Michele didn't have any acting experience, but like Ally, I could hear Michele's voice in character when I imagined her in the role and she also did not disappoint. There's a cattiness to those to that I needed as the protectors of Ebaneen's honor, and that cattiness was satisfied.
My old bandmate (pre Rock Improv-a-Ganza) Jason R. (not to be confused with either of the two other Jasons – could we squeeze any more Jasons into this thing?) played with me in a band called Restraining Order (1999 – 2006) and I knew he'd jump at the chance to play the booster character role of Ulrich, who contains the secret information that helps Arden and crew turn everything around. Jason's imperfect vaguely Scandinavian accent was just what I wanted for Ulrich. We recorded in compromised circumstances – first trying to get his lines down in his house but when that proved to be too noisy, moving to his neighbor's place (thanks, Hutch). It was a hot room but it was sound-treated and that's we needed. And Jason, always a trooper, came through.
Kathy, who played Scantily Clad Metal Fan (Ivor and company's first meal) found me online long ago on a Facebook group I started. She later read another screenplay I wrote and wound up proofreading my first book (she's a whiz with punctuation, by the way). She recorded her own parts with some preliminary direction from me. What can one say about a friend who's willing to play such a pivotal and blasphemous role as Scantily Clad Metal Fan other than "thank you for your service"? Kathy's final moments as her flesh is being torn apart and consumed make me smile every time I hear them.
I asked Joe K. to handle the part of the Thuggish Security Guard who blocks Arden from following Trent and the trampy chick he's cheating on Ebaneen with as they head backstage for one reason: Joe has a deep and scary voice. You might think that Joe actually works in some type of security, but if you thought that'd you'd be wrong because he's actually a Software Engineer. He does get to use that scary voice of his whenever a bug tries to slip through by uttering a serious: "You're not getting through." And it works.
Like Joe K., Joe B. is a technical guy in real life, but unlike Joe K., Joe B., (who played the Burly Bouncer in the opening scene and who later becomes, against his wishes, demon fodder) actually did work as a bouncer at one point, which I think completely comes through as he mocks the Skinny Metal Kid who didn't notice the show's start time on the marquee. You can't pay for authenticity like that.
Aside from Sharon and I, Michael and Angie are this project's only other real-life couple. They helped out late in the later stages of my recording and mixing, giving me a bunch of lines for the crowd scenes that fill out the movie. I first met Michael on a Facebook screenwriting group and found out later that he'd been part of an improv troupe as well as working as a writer on various projects. Angie is a hell of an artist, especially when it comes to painting pets. It would therefore be fair to refer to them as the Dynamic Duo of Battle of the Bands.
Brian is a college pal and another graphic designer. Like Michael, Brian offered his help when I first got this site up with a partially-complete version of the script and audio, and shared it on Facebook. He too gave me a ton of little lines that added variety to the story. Brian tried to entice me into letting him record lines for BOTB by telling me had a soundproof room in his house (as I needed enticing). I had to break it to him that the cast recorded the bulk of the story in the noisy den in my house. To his credit, that didn't deter him.
Doug is my oldest friend on the production, as well as my bandmate in Cuppa Joe since 1991. Besides working together on creating and performing music, we also produced a zine and plenty of other projects. Doug is a college professor as well as an author, so he's a busy many with a busy schedule, which is probably why he was happy to come in to do voice work on a bunch of smaller characters for me. I won't speak for the man but I suspect that he especially enjoyed the parts where he got to curse, like the Nerdy Metal Fan who's the first to discover the fate of the club itself.
Charles is another of the many co-workers I pulled into BOTB. He's not all that far from being a cartoon character in real life, and his voice has a naturally funny quality (which makes Charles nice to have around in departmental meetings). Charles came in as the Stage Manager and gave it the kind of Scooby Doo treatment I was hoping for. His little chuckle during "The door for the old stage elevator?" makes me chuckle. And that's good to do.
George, yet another co-worker, has one line in the story - Chubby Metal Fan's classic, "You know, I really expected them to suck – but I'm actually digging' this!" - but he treated it like a monologue from a lost scene from The Godfather. George is a serious movie fan and makes me feel feeble in my film history. We saw a double feature of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein a few years back, which doesn't factor into George's performance in my script, but man that was a fun night.
Keith is another musician friend (as well as co-worker) and has played music steadily for all of his adult life. He came in early and read every male background character's part for me, knowing that many of the lines would be replaced by other actors. That really helped me move the mixing of the early scenes along. Keith wasn't at all deterred by knowing many of his parts would wind up on the cutting room floor (really, a folder on my hard drive), and gave me a nice array of choices for the denizens of Tatterdemalion who – let's face it – aren't the brightest bulbs around.
Matt completes the collection of co-workers who I coerced into recording for me. He was game for taking on the varied parts of Mohawk Girl and the unnamed bassist for Sinner Supremacy, stretching his vocal range to the max. Matt is a drummer in real life and I wound up meeting him after Rock Improv-a-Ganza had gone onto our current (and hopefully not permanent) hiatus. I know he regretted not having a chance to play in that project; hopefully we'll be able to bring it back one day and give him a shot on the kit.
Thanks to everyone who helped bring the Battle of the Bands into existence! I appreciate all the work and support and I hope it yields something good for each of you, as well as enjoyment for everyone who reads and listens. In case you can't tell, the overall theme here was fun – we had lots of it making this project happen. And please stay tuned for the next phase of Battle of the Bands, as this audio screenplay (I made that term up) transforms into a feature length puppet movie.