There are few places that look less like the 1980s than a Starbucks adjacent to a hotel lobby, but that’s where I’m meeting actor Barrett Crake and writer-slash-producer Eric Staley about the work they did on the radical, low budget musical comedy Eternity: The Movie (opening in Toronto today). Thankfully they aren’t obviously dressed as being from the 1980s, and they’re also far too nice and polite to believe they came up from Southern California to spend time promoting their film’s run at the Carlton throughout the weekend.
In the film, Crake plays Todd Lucas, a shy, feathery haired, budding songwriter from Omaha who has moved to California to write songs of love and heartbreak. At his crappy department store job, he becomes friends with B.J. Fairchild (Myko Olivier), a mustachioed, testosterone driven, struggling saxophonist who needs a place to crash. Together, they find their styles mash into something potentially lucrative in the 1980s heyday of white boy R&B acts (see also: Hall and Oates, Wham!).
The fashion and hair are huge, and the songs poppy and ridiculous as per the tradition of the decade, making the film difficult to make on a low budget even with the help of a Kickstarter. It was a labour of love for all involved, and a very fun movie to make despite the difficulty.
We chatted with Staley and Crake about the fashion of the film, buying American Apparel in bulk, the crafting of the cheesy tunes, how the film’s Kickstarter helped bigger investors take notice, and the film’s potential to translate into a stage musical.
Dork Shelf: I think a lot of people would like to do a musical comedy, but it’s hard to do on a shoestring budget and look credible, so what was it like trying to create this level of comedy on very little money?
Eric Staley: When we originally had the idea to do the film, we didn’t have enough money to pay people correctly, and yet we still decided that we wanted to make a period piece. One of the reasons we pushed for that, though, was because we wanted the set to always be fun. One of the things I talked about with the director, Ian Thorpe, was about what kind of movie we wanted to make. We could have made a horror movie because those are cheap and make money. We could make a drama, and we had done that before, and we just wanted to make sure we could do something that would be fun for everyone involved.
It was really important for us because when we started that and got other people involved, like Barrett and Myko, who were the first two people cast, everyone started getting behind it. It just kept building as people got involved. People were bringing their own clothes in and just bringing their own things to the table.
DS: In that respect, it must be easier to make an 80s period piece because you can go anywhere and find that kind of decor and those kinds of set dressings.
ES: Yeah! American Apparel was very big for us, actually. (laughs) Because we were on a budget we could just get a bunch of shorts for $2.50 a piece by going to them directly.
Barrett Crake: We were just buying all this stuff in bulk.
ES: We did! We filled up our wardrobe department head, Nicole Abi-Loutfi’s closet with more than enough 80s stuff. And a lot of stuff came from her closet, too.
BC: Yeah! A lot of stuff came from her because she grew up in the 80s.
ES: And your stuff, too! You brought some stuff with you.
BC: I did!
DS: Were you hesitant to bring your own stuff because then you would later have to admit to wearing this stuff at one point through the movie?
BC: No! (laughs) Actually, it was the other way around! I was really happy to, and then I ended up falling in love with the style they outfitted me in. My personal style actually kind of evolved after doing this movie. That was kind of fun.
ES: Yeah, you started rocking a lot of neon colours. You still haven’t done the crimped hair yet, though. I think maybe you should.
BC: No way. (laughs) That’s a bit too much work. I already spend too much time on my hair as it is.
DS: In the 80s it took a long time to look good. Clothing has really balanced itself out now, but back then you needed to really work hard to look good.
ES: Yeah, and there was a lot of commercialism backing it, too. You had to wear what was on TV. You had to have the Reebok Pumps. You had to have the Bugle Boy jeans. You had to have the Hypercolor towards the end of the decade. Those styles are all absolutely horrible, but you absolutely had to get it!
BC: Having said that, it did take me a long time to get into costume, hair, and make-up.
It also had to be hard when you don’t have a lot of money to make the film because everything in the 80s that people wore tended to have a brand name on it, which is something I’m kind of glad died.
ES: It did, didn’t it? That really was a big thing that I remember. And I remember it was really hard for me because I grew up lower-middle class and I had to scrape up the money for the new xj900s or the new Jordans.
DS: So, Barrett, how did the project come to you and what made you want to do it?
BC: Well, I’m part of a lot of different casting sites in L.A., and this was one of the projects that came up and I auditioned for it by putting myself on tape. It was a movie that was described as being a comedy about a singer-songwriter, so that was kind of in line with my interests. It was kind of a no brainer, and I became obsessed with the script and I was so glad when it came through.
ES: We had released the first song off the soundtrack, “Make Love, Not Just Sex,” in a demo version that was actually a karaoke track. Barrett never saw it on the audition notice because we never said it existed on there, but he did his research and found it and put it on the tape. His audition was him singing the song, and when we got that and saw he was really into it, we just said “There’s our guy, right there.”
BC: I remember hearing the music and reading the lyrics to “Make Love, Not Sex,” and thinking, “This is awful. But AWESOME. It was awfully awesome, and I got what they were going for there. I was just jamming on my computer and added it to the audition.
DS: It’s hard to make a film about singer songwriters and make the songs purposefully cheesy without them feeling laboured. So for you guys when you’re doing the music as a writer and as an actor?
BC: You wrote a lot of the lyrics, too…
ES: Yeah! I mean, the script started writing in 2007, and it was written without the songs. We didn’t know what we were going to do, so from 2007 to 2010 I worked solely on the lyrics. It was a trial and error of asking “Is this too cheesy?” or “Is this too over the top?” I worked very closely with Ian Thorpe on kind of asking what we were going for. I would ask him about single words and that was the first step. The second step was when Nicholas Faiella, our music supervisor, came on board. He read the lyrics, and we didn’t work with him at all, and he just turned a demo over TO us, and that was really the song I had been hearing in my head for many years already. That was it. It had that Hall and Oates styled synthesized beat and snap to it. It was at a point where people brought their own feeling to it and we didn’t even have to work hard to match to it. It didn’t take much coaxing to come up with the music for the soundtrack.
BC: And like I said before, for me, it just spoke to me when I read it and I completely understood the comedy and innately where it’s coming from. I can actually personally find ways to believe in the songs I’m singing in! I believe it is better to make love and not have sex. (laughs) I can get behind this! Sambuca and cider is delicious! Although, I only had that for the first time last night. These were just things that once you get past how funny it is, you can stop and think, “Yeah! These are things that could jive with me!” It was really easy for me.
ES: The character itself is based on how seriously the character takes himself and takes his singing, and i think that it helps that Barrett believes the same thing. We did many practice sessions, but over time the believability of the situation became apparent to everyone. Before we ever put it down on wax it was as if everything had spoken to everyone involved already. It was clear.
DS: This is the kind of film that I think if you describe it to an audience, they would think it sounds cool, but I can imagine it’s a lot harder to find someone to put the money up for it. How did you build up a level of trust to get someone to let you make a musically minded period piece?
ES: (laughs) It took everyone buying in, really. If you can make one person believe, you can more easily make three people believe it. We just kept snowballing people together. It’s a fun, positive movie that’s not trying to be political. Some people have turned it that way, but it’s just about trying to make people forget about their own world for a couple of hours. Comedy is extremely difficult, and most of the people we talked to – most serious investors that we talked to who invest in film – did shy away from comedy because it’s so hard to do and hard to do for your first film.
But the real tipping point was Kickstarter. We had people interested in investing in the movie, but it wasn’t until we had people contributing to Kickstarter that people came to us and asked, “Can we still get in or did we miss our chance?” “Oh! Don’t worry, we’ll still take your money.” (laughs) It really was a snowball effect, so once serious investors saw that we could raise $50,000 through our Kickstarter account, then they could justify spending some money, too. But yes, it was very difficult.
BC: And I mean, me and Myko were even a part of that snowball, and we loved it!
ES: And it was almost a constant process of convincing people. Jason Kisvarday, who did the production design, put so much of his blood and sweat into this show because he really believed in it. He was also really good friends with writer Joey Abi-Loutfi. There are multiple connections on the crew and everyone wants to get behind this cause, and the cause is just this still music comedy. We weren’t trying to change the world ecologically or politically or anything like that. We’re just trying to have fun, and I think everyone enjoyed that.
DS: It sounds like you and Myko had a lot of input on your characters, so what was it like having that freedom to bring those ideas to the table?
BC: Well, it goes back to that snowball effect that we were just talking about. The material and the people around us just infected us with the fun of being able to do something like that. Myko and I from the very beginning took the characters out on the town in full 80s garb to karaoke nights with sunglasses and bling on, and we just embraced that and decided to bring everything we could to it. No one ever really said anything and we just kept doing it. Ian would always say if we had any other ideas, we could tell them and probably use them. I mean, actors often get into the characters sometimes more than directors or writers do, so everyone was really welcoming to the collaborative effort, which made it really, really fun instead of a chore. It really worked well.
DS: I know this works as a film, but I think this could work really well on stage. Have you guys ever considered giving the material a new life in front of a live audience?
BC: Absolutely! That came up so many times during filming. I dream of becoming a Broadway theatre actor, so that’s definitely an idea that we have that we’ve been throwing around.
ES: You actually did some of the choreography for “Make Love, Not Just Sex” on your own.
BC: Yeah! Myko and I would get together when we rehearsed, and we would do choreography not only for the movie, but we also did a music video for “Make Love, Not Just Sex.” I got to co-direct that with Ian Thorpe, and once we did that together I think if we put it on stage it would just be such a spectacle. It would be so much fun.
ES: The first part to that I think would be getting a real, legitimate band to play the music. I think it could work as an Ice Capade, actually.
BC: (laughs) I actually sang all of the Eternity songs at a wine bar in West Hollywood last month, and that went really great. And I just did Woody’s last night to just test out doing three other songs live. It has the ability to evolve into that, and I want to keep doing it and adding pieces to it and adding Myko to it. But we’d also need a band and a real saxophone player and dancers.
ES: It’s funny because Myko absolutely could not play the sax at the beginning of filming, but just through being able to hold the sax for 30 days, he could play the riff from “Make Love, Not Just Sex.”
BC: He also learned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but that was about it. (laughs)
ES: He’s a really talented guy, but we should probably get them some more lessons before we do the Ice Capade.