Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Donuts to Dirt

A robust sense of humor courses through the short films made by Belleville, IL resident Jim Klenn, from his documentary about the 2005 edition of a wacky annual upside-down summer biathlon event in nearby Staunton to his most recent fictional effort Free Dirt, the tale of a beleaguered husband dealing with a giant hole in his backyard. That same rosy outlook extends to the way the 52-year-old Klenn has dealt with the travails of being a low-rent, Midwestern artiste.

"At one of the film festivals near Chicago, there were about 20 people seated for a screening of Tour de Donut: Gluttons for Punishment when somebody from the festival announced that there was a typo in the program and such-and-such movie was playing across the hall," Flynn recalls during an interview with FilmStew. "Two-thirds of the people promptly got up and walked across the hall, including my wife! To be fair to Julie, at that point she’d already seen the documentary about 30 times."

"Then, one of the remaining seven or eight people in the audience fell asleep about halfway through our 35-minute movie," he adds. "To the man's defense, those metal folding chairs were extremely comfortable."

Redefining sleeper hit

Despite the sleepy Chicago reception, Klenn and co-director Steve Kelly managed to eventually break even on their documentary about Tour de Donut, a bicycle race that includes pit stops at two donut stations and a reduction of five minutes in overall race time for each donut consumed. It's a crazy event where some competitors actually race so fast and consume so many donuts that they wind up with a negative finish time.

For Klenn's latest short Free Dirt, which took two years to complete, he teamed once again with local actor Joel Lewis. Their collaboration began back in 2004 with The 7-Minute Project, a mockumentary made cheekily for the 2004 edition of the St. Louis 48 Hour Film Project.

"Making that short was kind of like beginning the answer to an essay question by restating the question," Klenn admits. "Joel took home the Best Actor Award, and the best scenes were definitely the ones that he improvised."

Leading man Lewis

"I have no idea how I tricked Joel into starring in Free Dirt," he adds, "but I couldn’t be happier with the performance. He’s always generous and respectful to even the most inexperienced cast and crew, including yours truly. I’d call Joel a friend, even if he did just relocate to Seattle with his wife Marianne and their kids so he’ll never have to work with me again."

Free Dirt premiered on July 21st as part of a St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase event at the Tivoli Theater. It encored outdoors on August 13th at the Schmidt Art Center's Home Grown Film Festival, and Klenn says he is planning a couple of benefit screenings for local charities.

One of the two bands with music featured in Free Dirt is called... Free Dirt. It's hard to decide which is stranger: the fact that this was never planned, or the idea that the other musical contributors to the comedy short are called Tight Pants Syndrome. (If Free Dirt makes it into this fall's Wet Your Pants Comedy Film Festival in Indianapolis, the only such event to which the short has thus been submitted, Klenn may just have to retire.)

"Now that's a band name that could inspire me to make a movie," jokes Klenn, who works by day as a copywriter at Southwestern Illinois College. "One day, while I was answering the phones and doing the weather on a friend's radio show on KDHX 88.1 FM Community Radio, my friend told me there was a local band with the same name. I decided their music was perfect for our project and when I called the band's drummer Greg Vernon, he told me I could use whatever I wanted."

Spray painting a better hole

Klenn's lighthearted approach to movie-making dates all the way back to his days as a copywriter for Sherwood Medical Co. He quickly realized after playing a super hero named Recycle Man that his future lay behind the camera rather than in front of it, and fondly recalls his earliest industrial efforts.

"In nearly ten years at Sherwood, I worked on about eight industrials," says Klenn. "I remember trying to inject comedy into the first training video script I ever wrote, but after I read my first draft I realized comedy and chest drainage didn’t really go together. So I lost the jokes and just tried to be conversational and concise."

"For two years running, we wrote a bathroom scene into the annual sales meeting video, but some honcho always nixed the commode sequence," he mourns. "But the third year, they left the bathroom scene in, and all these years later our tracking shot of Doug Stenslokken’s feet under the stall is still used in film classes at the Sundance Institute."

"Okay, it’s not, but it should be."

1 comment:

  1. Come to think of it, we did shoot in bathrooms on every project of Jim's that I was involved with. Hmmm...