"Johnny" Wows Redlands

MattOK, "wows" is too strong of a verb, but the Redlands Invitational Film Festival last night (June 14, 2004) was a lot of fun and the audience of about 50 people laughed in most of the places they should have at "We've Got Johnny."

It's interesting to see how the movie does so well when it's grouped with other comedies. Here it was our friend Vincent Spano's "Tony & Bobby" and "High Expectations," both of which played at the Lake Arrowhead film fest in 2002, same as "Johnny."

The format of this festival was great: work by local (read "Inland Empire") filmmakers only. The screenings were held in a brick warehouse that looks and feels like an old orange packing plant from back in the days a century ago when Redlands was known as a hub of the citrus industry. The place is called The Performance Loft and is owned by an architect who rents it out to an arts group that hosts plays, poetry readings and, now, films there. Vee and I didn't know what to expect, which made it such a nice surprise. It's easily my favorite place that the movie has shown. Redlands is really a cool little city that is known for hosting a lot of artsy things.

This was the first fest that actually came to us -- at least on the West Coast. A guy named David Lawrence called me last winter and said somebody with the Lake Arrowhead film fest had recommended "We've Got Johnny" to him. He accepted it sight unseen, which I thought was a little brave of him. Fast forward four months and it was the final movie shown of six, including a nice documentary of a Redlands neighborhood by 13-year-old Michael Papavero.

The grouping of films was eclectic and all were worth watching. Most of the others at least looked like they were done on film, so "Johnny" kind of stuck out in that regard. David Lawrence made a great decision to group the comedies together. It's been nearly two years since "Johnny" bombed at a film fest in Big Bear, but the painful memory is still fresh. It followed a dark drama about assisted suicide, which didn't seem like a good scheduling decision at the time -- and seems worse now.

Anyway, that was Big Bear and this was Redlands. Vincent Spano's "Tony & Bobby" is extremely well done and a very funny takeoff on nicknames of Italian-American mobsters. He directed "High Expectations," too, whose writer and lead actress Jeanne Robinson was present at this screening. It is a silent movie that drew huge laughs from the audience, as did "Tony & Bobby." I was expecting "Johnny" to do very well because the audience had now seen two funny shorts in a row. I was not disappointed.

Each filmmaker introduced his/her movie, so I got up and quickly said something about how Michael (the 13-year-old) had made a movie about his hometown and that this was about mine and "about half of it" is true. I mentioned that Johnny Appleseed was a real person and he was born in Leominster, but didn't mention anything about its dual distinction of being the Pioneer Plastics City, too. Because this was a venue for local artists, I mentioned how Alyson had grown up in Lake Arrowhead and participated in an advanced drama camp not too far from Redlands.

As usual, the laughs started as soon as Sue speaks. Huge laughs when she mentioned the plastics museum and brings out the flamingo and the sporks. Huge laugh when she calls Aly a bitch. Possibly the best response I've seen yet for the motel clerk scene. The sound wasn't as high as I had hoped for some of the quieter parts, but it was OK. Oh, yeah, just massive laughs for the part where Aly walks into the motel after talking about Johnny Appleseed Elementary, Johnny Appleseed Bridge, etc. Just a huge response.

Good response for Aly and Chuck's stuff at the orchard. I just love Professor Appleseed more with every viewing. I like how he's totally serious about delivering his facts. Most of the Appleseed festival stuff was well received, particularly Flu's "Ho, Ho, Ho" thing and Del with the "Johnny 3:16" sign early on. Surprisingly subdued response to the football players and Shrub's "I feel ripped off" tirade, which I still love. Maybe 10 out of 50 people laughed at those. Both of those have killed at other showings. My mom's stuff, which also has done very well elsewhere, got only chuckles and smiles.

Let's see, of the "official" interview stuff, the religious wacko got the biggest laughs. Not so much for the nasty mayor or poor, confused Dante. I just love how quickly the mayor turns on her. He's professional to her, then three seconds later he loses it. That guy has a screw loose.

The movie itself ended on a good note, but Sue's stuff as the credits roll was just great. Everyone seemed glad (perplexed) to see that she was still ranting in the middle of the night. I think this was the best reaction to all of those apple facts yet.

Redlands is a university town and I was hoping this would be a fairly cultured audience in terms of giving a mockumentary a fighting chance for their attention. I wasn't disappointed. Oh, the guy rolling the tape showed some of the outtakes, but those quickly got old (it was about 10 p.m. by now), so I had to go find him and beg him to end it after about four minutes.

Afterward, they had the six filmmakers up onstage and an art professor from the University of Redlands (with a wonderful British accent, no less) asked us questions about inspiration, etc. I spoke strictly from a writer's standpoint. One of the questions somebody in the audience asked was, "What would you do differently?" My answer: "Wash the windows in the car before shooting the opening scene" and change the line where she says that thing about pronouncing "R's with ease" that sounds like she's saying "R's with E's." It drives me up the wall.

A woman from the audience said she thought Alyson was great. Then, after the panel ended, an older couple came up to me and raved about the entire movie. The man said something akin to "the camera loves Alyson, she's very photogenic" and he thought the camera shot decisions were well done. So you got some props out here, AF.

I went to retrieve the VHS and DVD copies from the young man who was in charge of the technical aspects of the night and he said, "You were pretty self-deprecating up there (on the panel, I guess), but I thought the movie was brilliant, really great." What the hell is better than that?

Matt Proietti: Writer, Producer, Actor, Defender of the Free World (US Air Force Reserves)

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