Customer Service

 – My short film

Last year, I created a low-budget indie film called “Customer Service”, based largely on my experiences working in food service. I filmed it at Dorky’s Bar & Arcade located in Downtown Tacoma. It’s only played in one theater, so far; Le Vouyer theater in Seattle.

One funny thing I remember about filming the abduction sequence, was when we had actress Sammy Minsk’s ankles bound together, she actually hopped around the front room area between takes, because she couldn’t actually walk. It looked silly.


– a more inside look

Yes, I’m talking about my short film again. I initially considered doing a commentary for my film, but upon a closer reexamination, I don’t see how that would be possible. There’s so much to discuss for just a 16-minute film, and a lot of it goes by so quickly, so here I’ll be providing a bit of an annotated post detailing some behind-the-scenes stuff, with time codes corresponding to specific moments in the film.

* (0:03) Originally, I had the film almost completely edited together, and ready to play in a theater, when my friend Andrew Gilmore (who voices the manger) pointed out to me that “your” was misspelled. Well, not quite misspelled, I accidentally typed “you’re” (a common mistake I make while typing). You’ll see that “your” looks a little off-center from the rest of the font.

*(0:18) I really wasn’t sure how to open the film. Originally, I was going to have the opening credits and the sounds of dishes and stuff clanging around, but a friend told me not to do that because of how cliche it is. I’m not sure if the way I opened it is any better.

* (0:35) The bullhorn that Jenna Plummer (who plays Annie) is using, I believe actually belongs to the Dorky’s Arcade, where the film was shot. They do in fact use it to call out to customers to pick up there food. Having been to Dorky’s Arcade numerous times I have to say, I don’t see how that bullhorn can be heard by anyone. It’s always so NOISY there!

*(0:52) This is one of my regrets regarding this film. I used two different cameras for this film. Most of the time it’s just a digital camera, while in other scenes, it’s an actual TV camera, so the quality changes periodically.

*(1:00) That’s me asking about the exit door. I don’t think I have the footage anymore, but there were at least 5 different outtakes of this scene, because I kept forgetting to UNLOCK the door when I walk out. This is mostly because, when I was filming this short, the arcade was closed, and one of the owners worried about passerby seeing us, and thinking the place was opened, so I had to make sure the doors were unlocked for a short amount of time, and most of the time I forgot to unlock the door before filming. I think this also resulted in the final take being a bit too rushed. Another note, since I wasn’t behind the camera, Kristie Worthey (who plays the woman who lets her food get stolen) ran the camera for this shot, and if I remember right, it was her idea to start the shot zoomed in on the emergency sign, and then zoom out onto Jenna and me. I joked that I should give her a co-director’s credit. Which, I didn’t….. UGH.

*(1:19) As with all the customers depicted in this film, they all really happened, albeit in slightly different ways. A customer really did go out an emergency exit at my work after being told not to. But, after the alarm sounded, he fled the opposite direction, completely freaked out. Funny, but at the same time irritating.

*(1:47) I don’t really like the way I filmed this. It’s one long shot, and the audio’s not very good (I actually had a TV microphone hanging just out of shot. The poor audio is a good indication I didn’t use it very well. I believe Kristie Worthey actually worked the microphone in some shots). I had intended to do some alternate angles for this one scene, and i’m not sure why I didn’t. I think it may have been a combination of not having enough time to film before the arcade opened, and actors being unavailable for pick-ups, and my own scheduling conflicts, but whatever the reason, I was never able to film this scene from another angle.

*(2:17) In the script, the character Annie was supposed to forcibly grab the customers arms, but actress Jenna Plummer did it very softly and gently instead. I decided this was funnier since it makes the customer’s reaction all the more exaggerated.

*(2:39) A customer really did that to a coworker of mine years ago.

*(2:48) This was hard to film. My friend Andrew was going to loop his lines as the manager later in production (we don’t even live in the same state!), so while filming, I provided the manager’s lines. I’m not sure how well I edited the sound here. To me it’s kinda obvious that Andrew’s dialogue is sorta plopped in, and the background noise goes silent everytime he talks. Those who have seen my film though have said they’ve never noticed this. Jenna also had the script on the table in front of her, and it was difficult keeping the script out of the camera frame.

*(4:32) The Coca-Cola logo that actress Veronika Smith (who plays Carol) walks by worried me later on. I didn’t pay attention to it during filming, but during editing, I thought “Oh, shoot, am I going to have to blur that out somehow?” I was informed though later that it didn’t need to be removed, as long as it wasn’t an outdoor scene. I’m not sure what sense that makes, but I just said okay, and went along with it.

*(4:51) You can see the wiring to the microphone drop into the camera frame when Veronika walks by the camera. It’s another one of those things I didn’t notice during filming, but ended up seeing during editing, and realizing there was no way to fix it.

*(4:55) As you’ve might have guessed, there’s NOTHING in that cup on the counter.

*(5:09) I love the dumbfounded expression Kristie Worthey does when actor Sean McKenna takes the cup away. I don’t think that was scripted either.

*(5:19) Again, this has really happened at my workplace…. TWICE. The 2nd time it was a MANAGER who allowed a customer to walk away with their food right in front of them, while I was getting sauces that the manager asked for. He didn’t freak out like the customer here, but he did get angry….. even though him losing his food was his own fault.

*(5:44) Kristie sounds like she’s on the verge of tears here. Which is funny, because some customers at work look like they’re about to break down crying just because they can’t get a certain food or meal they want, or have it made a certain way.

*(6:26) I have *NO* idea why the sound of a computer turning on is heard after the phone ring. I don’t remember hearing that during filming. I only noticed it during editing. My guess is maybe one of the owners of the arcade was using their computer somewhere in the back, and the sound of it turning on was picked up by the microphone. In any case, I couldn’t get the sound removed.

*(6:48) Jenna’s dialogue and Carol’s were filmed on different days, so they’re not actually speaking to one another in this scene. For some reason I couldn’t get the lighting to work for Carol’s shot. It’s dark and gloomy, I even tried to brighten it in Final Cut Pro, but that blurred the shot too much.

*(6:54) Jenna’s dialogue is a bit cut-off here. She’s supposed to be saying “Our pointy-haired boss of ours….”, but the beginning part is cut off. I’m not sure why that is, but it shows you how well I use Final Cut Pro.

*(7:08) Both Jenna and Veronika have said that it looks like they really are speaking to one another, despite them filming their dialogue on separate days. I don’t know… Carol’s delayed responses to Annie kinda give away they’re not in the same room. Again, this is due to poor editing on my part.

*(7:46) Yet another bad case of editing. I was supposed to show Sammy Minsk (Phoebe) walking up to the counter, but for whatever reason (probably due to me rushing through) I didn’t include that. So now the character Phoebe just abruptly appears at the counter, and Carol is nowhere to be seen.

*(8:18) One of the arcade owners was cleaning the walls while we were filming this shot of Sammy yelling at Jenna. I intended to include more shots from this angle, but decided not to, mainly because the owner kept looking back at what we were filming, and laughing, and kinda ruining the takes. Also, one of Sammy’s friends, who came along to watch the filming, kept walking by in the background. Not a real big deal, but she kept looking into the camera each time she walked by. Again, I chose not to use those takes.

*(8:47) I like how Jenna just tosses the tray on the counter in a frustrated manner. Again, this wasn’t scripted, it’s just something Jenna did that was funny enough to be kept in.

*(9:10) The reason for the repeated hit shots is because I assumed they’d have a better impact. Seeing as this was low-budget, and we didn’t really have the time to choreograph this, so it’d look more professionally. Sammy actually had suggested at one point, that she hit Jenna with the tray FOR REAL. I think she was just joking.

*(9:34) Jenna shaking her keys in front of the camera was another ad-lib, not something that was scripted.

*(9:48) Now we’re in a place nowhere near the arcade. This was filmed close to Lakewood Towne Center. It was VERY cold outside when we filmed this, and Sammy was stuck wearing the tank top and short shorts. That wasn’t my idea. That’s what she wore when she came into Dorky’s for her first day of filming (it was late August 2013, and really hot outside), but when we had to film this scene, the weather decided to cool down unfortunately.

*(10:16) The choreography here sucks. I eventually decided not to let it bother me, since this is all meant to be a dream sequence.

*(10:22) More ad-libs from Jenna (I guess I should have given her a co-writer credit). The leather jacket and letting her hair down, to visualize a different personality taking over. On an additional note, Annie was named after Annie Wilkes, the character from Stephen King’s “Misery”, to telegrpah that she wasn’t right in the head.

*(10:30) I like the stock music I chose for this scene. It sounds 80s-ish.

*(10:45) “I’m gonna be late for yoga!” This sounded funnier on paper. The joke was supposed to be that Phoebe is being abducted, and she has no idea what’s going to happen to her, and all she cares about is being late for something. I’m not sure the joke really registers on people, and it didn’t really get a laugh at the theater screening. I think it sounds too much like a non-sequitur.

*(11:01) Jenna is singing “Whom Will I Kill?”, which is from an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’. Jenna is not familiar with MST3K, nor the song, and she had to be taught how to sing the lyrics. She doesn’t get it quite right, but I didn’t want her driving around too much while filming, and me going through multiple takes (we were filming in a public driveway, and I didn’t want to risk a car accident).

*(11:07) Sammy yelling “HELP!” while being dragged into the house was supposed to be dubbed in. That was the original plan. I didn’t really want people hearing Sammy yelling that out, and thinking some real abduction was going on. I explained this to Sammy beforehand, but sure enough as soon as I hit record, Sammy screams for help. Har har.

*(11:14) *groan* You can see the tape around Sammy’s ankles come undone. Again, it’s something I didn’t notice during filming, only during editing, and by that point it was too late to re-shoot anything.

*(11:16) This was all filmed at a friend’s house. I don’t remember the exact reason why I didn’t use my own place. I think I was still in the process of moving, is why I didn’t.

*(11:24) This really does happen on “Criminal Minds”. Most female abductees end up barefoot. Once you notice it, you can’t un-see it. I thought I’d make a joke about it. Also, I know I mentioned this already in the previous post, but it’s still funny how Sammy had to hop around while filming this scene, because her ankles were bound.

*(12:09) The owner of this house, and myself, had a dispute as to exactly how many “Twilight” films there were. I knew there were 5 films, but she insisted there were only 4, and started asking me why I was so certain there were 5 films. I only knew, because I looked it up online. That said, the whole Twilight thing got the biggest laugh when i screened this film.

*(12:31) I keep getting asked if Sammy is even wearing pants in this scene. She’s wearing shorts (her idea), but it is hard to tell in some shots, such as this one.

*(12:44) Veronika Smith kept asking me what the objective behind this film was. I kept saying to her I thought it would just be a fun idea for a short film. But, re-watching this scene, and hearing Sammy go over this dialogue about treating food workers with respect, that’s probably what I was trying to get at. But, when writing, that wasn’t the intention.

*(13:07) Sammy ad-libbed the “We’re always assholes!” line. I think she was just supposed to say “We’re always rude!”.

*(13:38) Oh, boy, THIS was an odd edit. Veronika Smith’s character Carol was supposed to be in this scene, but Veronika was unavailable. My friend Egypt Peterson filled in as another random coworker, with no explanation as to who she is, or why she’s there, instead of Carol. You could say I “pulled a Tommy Wisseu” here, since he didn’t something similar for the movie “The Room”.

*(13:44) One of the Dorky’s employees is pulling Sammy out the door, and one of the owners is seen sitting in the back . Sammy’s line, “Why is it I pay taxes?” got a huge laugh from the owner.

*(13:52) The joke regarding the doughnut shop got a big laugh at the Seattle screening.

*(14:05) Yeah, that’s me you hear mumbling Egypt’s lines. Like I said, by the end of this, I was rushing things, and not really doing more takes. Egypt was having to learn someone else’s lines, plus incorporate the joke about her shift starting too late (a lame explanation as to why her character wasn’t present earlier in the film).

*(14:37) This really happened. A customer thought “two-one-one”, and “two-eleven” were two different numbers, or order codes, or whatever, and thus never picked up his food. A similar incident actually happened AGAIN not too long ago.

*(15:05) Plot Hole: When did Annie throw the food out? Again, you can fault the writer (me) for that one.

*(15:14) If you look at all other wide shots of the counter from before, this sign is NOT there. It just materializes out of nowhere for this one shot. This is because I kept forgetting to actually MAKE the sign, and didn’t actually get around to making it until the day I filmed this scene.

*(15:32) Actor Brett Hollis ad-libbed most of the ranting here. Most of it can’t be heard due to Jenna and Egypt’s dialogue, but if you listen carefully, he talks about going on Facebook to slander the place.

*(15:39) This toy gun was bought at the Goodwill. It was only later that I learned one of my friends had a realistic prop gun, that I could have used.

*(15:54) Slight mistake in the cast credits. They’re supposed to be “in order of appearance”, but Sean McKenna actually appeared BEFORE Veronika Smith. Whoops.