S&M LAWN CARE PREMIERS 7 PM SATURDAY AT HARKINS BRICKTOWN, SCREEN 2
After having a heyday at last year’s deadCENTER the Enid and Norman raised filmmaker Mark Potts and the Singletree gang keep running with ideas. This year’s entry S & M lawn care is brimming with them. For one, it’s a movie with S&M in the title, but no cussing in it. The odd constraint is part of a style of filmmaking that is growing in rigor.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves not to swear, which sounds really dumb at first, but is actually a fantastic exercise,” Potts says. “Many comedies these days get laughs simply because someone swears. I like Seth Rogen, but if you take away the swearing, he isn’t that funny.”
For the comedy S&M Lawn Care, restraint was also part of creating a unique vibe, one the madcap filmmakers haven’t experimented with yet. Potts is reminded of the Cohen Brothers when thinking about ways to create worlds in movies (with the budget you have). And the way to those worlds is usually through your actors, the expressions, strange manners and quirks.
“So we thought to ourselves, ‘can we be funny without swearing?’ Potts says. “And it was hard. We had so many jokes we wanted to use, but couldn’t. It also helped the world we were trying to make. This odd little world where everything is so colorful, slightly hazy, everyone is kind of an idiot and no one swears.”
Though, like any good comedy, it doesn’t show how much Potts actually thinks about the funny. They make filming look really fun. But when one views the infomercial for one of S&M Lawn Care’s characters, you can see the subtly mad smarts lurking under the yuks. I say that from word-of-mouth. A friend I once worked with at the OU coffee shop was once looking at a doodle-y cartoon Potts scribbled in The Oklahoma Daily. It was something about two political llamas.
My friend unfolded the paper and looked at it again, saying “Either this guy is really stupid, or a genius.”
And that’s Brand Rackley there, an actor who has found himself fitting in very well with the comedic pair of Cole Selix and Potts. He’s just as energetic and manic as the creators, and sometimes, takes his job more seriously than them. In S&M he is the villain, Drake, a lawn care sex machine with lots of good equipment, new media talent and an aim to run Sal & Mel’s (Cole Selix and Potts) folksy lawn care service out of business.
We were basically like, ‘Drake is a misogynistic jerk who doesn’t care about anyone else. But he is also kind of clueless like the rest of these guys.’ And he ran with it,” Potts says.
“I remember on S&M, there was a day he was incredibly upset because Cole and I didn’t have lines memorized. I felt really bad, actually. But Brand, being the professional and friend he was, didn’t let us know about his anger until after production wrapped. The guy is an acting machine. It pisses me off he isn’t doing more. When he auditions and doesn’t get parts, I honestly think it upsets me more than him. But it’ll happen for him. It has to.”
I always wonder how many people guess at how studious Potts is behind the laughs. For many writer-director upstarts, creation is the place where the very personal and the filmic blur (think of Owen Wilson‘s scars in Darjeeling Ltd., and his friend who filmed them) … At the beginning of Potts’s career, you can see he finds pathos and humor in this strategy. In three or so movies now, at least one of Potts’s characters holds a job at the Sooner Fashion Mall’s Great American Cookie, a job that of course figures into the misfortunes of S&M Lawn Care as well. And when it came time to finding a villain for this lawn care saga, it was hard for Potts not to think of the more moneyed filmmakers he’s seen in his travels.
“What it turned out to be, quite unintentionally, is us bitching about people who own fancy filmmaking equipment and Hollywood types getting all the success and indie people getting screwed over,” Potts says. “Sal and Mel, the less attractive, poorer lawn care team, represent Singletree. We don’t have the best equipment and we’re not perfect. But we do a good job and love what we do. Drake represents people who can hide behind their equipment like they know what they are doing because they own it. Or those who have lots of money to make films but no script or writing skills. Part of me really loves the film as this metaphor.”
Like Andy Samberg to his NYU classmates, Potts often caught flack in film school for choosing irreverent, hyper comedy as his metier. In front of the home movie screen, though, he’s always lining himself up with the greats just as much as any comedy, or his beloved Michael Bay. Simmons on Vinyl perhaps happened after watching Scorsese’s After Hours. In the trailer for S&M Lawn Care you see Potts’s Mel has an accident eating too many corn dogs. This is a classic sad-funny fat joke. The real-life compulsion behind it, while subtly sad and human, also reminded me of the hyper young (and heavily bearded) Martin Scorsese making a short student project called The Big Shave, a short filmed by a guy who’s so scared of shaving that one day he imagines a man who cuts himself, and the blood doesn’t stop flowing.
“I remember The Big Shave,” Potts says. “It’s hard to watch because you’re waiting for that cut. Scorsese puts you in his shoes. You’re waiting for the blood to pour and it is just excruciatingly wonderful.
“Listen, here’s the truth. A bag of chips can be your best friend. I learned this when I was younger, hence my lack of a metabolism today. When Mel gets upset because of something that happens to him in S&M, he goes home and eats until he almost dies. I haven’t done that to such an extreme, but yeah, it has happened. I love taking serious things and making them funny, or at least trying to. It’s therapeutic, really. I think it also makes the characters feel more real, more human. Mel is a dumbass, but at that moment, most people can identify with a person who is so upset and sad that they can only do one thing to make them happy: eat.
“Or in other cases, do drugs or drink or whatever you are addicted to.”
Potts’s route to real concerns is always commendably threaded in laughs. It’s safe to expect that balance to find a nice new level in A Splice of Life, Potts’s most personal and felt film to date, and one for which he has a few tricks up his sleeve. The film currently has 69 donors online, fans and supporters Potts has collected over a prolific student film career.
It’s one that doesn’t seem to be slowing down in fun, energy, charm, old-school warm heartedness, or insane ideas.
“A Splice of Life,” [is] a film Cole and I have had for about ten years now. It is based on our time working at a movie theater in high school. This is actually a real film, one with a crew and actors other than ourselves. Our DP was Clay Liford, whose film Wuss just premiered at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. He’s played a hundreds of festivals and is an amazing guy. Funny as hell and easy to talk film with. We were provided funding by Reilly Smith, a fellow Film and Video Studies student from the University of Oklahoma. Why he chose to support us, I’m not sure, but I owe him a ton and am very thankful he is helping us achieve our dream of getting this film seen.”