Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Rock and a Hard Place

The cast of "A Rock and a Hard Place" do their best impersonation of an album cover
In 2003, CS Media made two short films.  The first was the psychological thriller, "Raymond Rock Murders."  The second was "A Rock and a Hard Place," a film that defies being labelled with a genre.  "A Rock and a Hard Place" has recently been re-released on YouTube.  It has an all-star cast: Noah Heninger as Trevor; Mike MacKenzie as Frank and "Skateboard Dude"; Cassidy Silbernagel as Ted, the star of the movie; Davis Yawney as Gary Rock Remover; Jilliane Yawney as Margot; and the versatile Nancie ZoBell as Ted's Co-worker, Trevor's girlfriend, "Townhall Spaz," Voice of the Fish, and "Bum on a Park Bench."

Wait, did I say Mike MacKenzie?  Oh, shoot, I did.  I guess I was in this movie.  I suppose I'll drop the façade of being a detached party reviewing a movie that I stumbled across, much like I do with Mike Mix Productions, and just tell the story of how and why, for the love of God, why this movie was made.

First off, the goods for if you missed it on Facebook:

It all started in the spring of 2003.  I was a swingin' bachelor living with Noah and Stephen Fyfe in a crappy basement apartment in Lethbridge.  Stephen was cool and a great friend, but he seldom joined us in our artistic ventures (he was my jock friend), so he will not factor much into the rest of this story.  (Fun fact: Stephen has a brief cameo in the film that makes no sense due to a casting change.  See if you can spot it!)  Anyway, at the time, Noah and I were hanging out a lot with our friends Jilliane "Don't Call Me Jill" Yawney and Nancie ZoBell.  Jilliane decided one day that she wanted to make a movie with us, and came up with the idea of a man who wakes up one morning to find a huge rock on his front lawn, and the problems it brings into his life.  We spent an evening together plotting it out, coming up with characters, and deciding who would write what.  All four of us (me, Noah, Jilliane, and Nancie) took on writing duties, dividing it up by scene.  We wanted it to be half comedy, half drama.  Noah and I wrote most of the funny scenes (although one of Noah's best was cut from the movie).  The two scenes of mine that I liked best were the opening scene with Frank calling Ted, and the scene with Gary the Rock Remover.

The original script was more ambitious than the final product turned out to be.  Ted's extended family was involved in the story.  They were skilfully written by Noah, but we just didn't have the ability to get enough willing actors together to film that scene.  Ted and Margot also had a son, who was basically there to be a spoof of all of the horror movies of the era that featured creepy little kids talking about creepy things.  I even wrote him saying "I see dead people" in one of the scenes.  The son was written out when we realized that none of us had easy access to a pre-adolescent boy.

My biggest disappointment with the final cut of the movie was my own fault.  After shooting one or two scenes, I left southern Alberta to work in Fort McMurray, and then Edmonton.  Most of the film was shot while I was up north.  I had planned to direct the scenes that I had written, but that was impossible because of my absence.  Also, while I was gone, Noah seemed to lose interest and gave up a lot of creative control to Jilliane and her boyfriend/co-star Cassidy.  I don't mean any disrespect to Jilliane and Cassidy.  They did a good job with a lot of filming, and Cassidy took on the job of editing the whole thing on his own.  Their comedic timing, however, was a little off.  The scene in the movie that was my beloved baby was the one where Ted meets with Trevor and Gary the Rock Remover.  From the start, I wanted to direct it myself and help with the editing so that it would be as close to what was in my head as possible.  They filmed it while I was gone, however, and it came out too long, too slow, and too quiet.  It should have been fast-paced dialogue, quick cuts between characters, and acted more lively.  I don't know how much better I could have pulled it off, but to this day I always cringe whenever I get to that scene in the movie.

I played two small roles in the film: Frank and Ted's neighbour, who we only referred to as "Skateboard Dude."  Some people, when they watch the movie, don't realize that my characters are two completely different people.  They are.  You can tell because of the sunglasses and backwards hat.

It's an objectively terrible movie, but it will always have a special place in my heart as the one scripted movie I ever had a hand in making.

PS - Did you spot Stephen?  He was on the front page of the paper reporting on Gary's death.  He was originally cast to be Gary, but then he went and got engaged and suddenly didn't have time to make stupid movies.

PPS - My favourite moments:
1. Frank turning to face the camera to say "...the graveyard!"
2. When Ted is at the graveyard, he throws a pebble, and you can hear it strike a light post.  It was completely accidental, but I insisted that it remain in the final cut.
3. Trevor holding his phone a good six inches away from his ear.
4. Skateboard Dude is in the final shot of the movie, as if he's important.


  1. Without ever having watched it, I can tell you right now that, first of all, I have no doubt it's as terrible as you say it is. (Mostly because I trust your judgement.) Also, one of my favorite scenes in "It's a Wonderful Life" is when Uncle Billy staggers off after Harry's wedding slur-singing "My Wild Irish Rose," crashes into some trash cans and then calls out, "I'm all right! I'm aaaaalll right!" Just like the pebble hitting the light pole, the crash was unintentional. One of the crew dropped a bunch of props and the actor portraying Uncle Billy improvised and it stayed in the movie.

    So, even though your movie might be terrible, it kinda-sorta has something in common with onen of the most beloved Christmas films of all time.


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