I just read a review of the film F*ckload of Scotch Tape that ended with this paragraph:
“In the end, F*ckload of Scotch Tape is the cinematic equivalent of a repeated kick to the nuts with just enough of a break here and there to give you some hope that maybe, just maybe, the next kick won’t come. But that next kick always comes, and it’s not going to stop. This is not an easy flick to experience, and I don’t know if the word ‘enjoy’ is the right one to use, even though I can’t dismiss the merits of the film even if it made me feel like shit. Stinky, watery shit. Fuck, you’re going to kick me in the nuts again, aren’t you?”
Believe it or not, those are the closing lines to a positive review (so just imagine the negative ones). That’s about the reaction I’d been hoping for when I first heard that somebody wanted to adapt my story, but while it’s true that Julian Grant’s picture is based on a couple of my short stories, when I watch it, it’s clear that the film is entirely his.
I met Julian not long after Out of the Gutter magazine published my story “A Fuckload of Scotch Tape” in November of 2008 to a great, ringing silence. By that time, I’d had a few stories published online in spots like Thuglit and Plots With Guns, but OOTG was the first in print, which made it special for a Luddite like me.
I’d been sitting on the story for a while, looking for the right fit for it. It felt risky to me – I wanted to see if I could turn a character with something absolutely unforgivable on his hands into a protagonist the reader could feel for, if not exactly get behind – and God knows, Benji trades redemption for revenge too often and in some really ugly ways. But if I succeeded, then you’re at least a little bit sorry to see him get what’s coming.
With the pieces I’d published online, I could track response to them fairly quickly. When I was in middle school, and it meant something else (though not entirely different), I googled myself all the time, but with the new meaning applied as an adult, I found the experience was just as affirming and addictive as the other had been – the first time I ever found a stranger talking about one of my pieces on the web, it was a guy named Greg Bardsley who’d enjoyed a story I’d written called “Politoburg” and was telling the world so (I can’t tell you how much that meant to me). This happened a fair amount with the online publications. The story would go live and by the next afternoon, I could find some mention, somewhere. It was nice. But three utterly silent months after OOTG’s ‘Revenge’ issue hit the stands, I’d given up on ever catching any reader comments, when I got an email from OOTG’s C-I-C Matthew Louis asking if it were all right with me if he passed on my contact information to a film guy with some interest in “Fuckload.”
A day or two later, I got a phone call from Julian and he promised me wealth and fame if I signed over all my rights to the story, so that he could adapt it. I’d taken the interim to look up Mr. Grant on IMDB and found he was a working professional – a gun-for-hire who’d amassed a sizable body of work. But, as is often the case with craftsmen, that body of work is so diverse in subject matter, and scope and tone, that it gave me no clear sense of his identity. I couldn’t figure why this guy was drawn to my material?
The call went swell though. Julian was smart, informed, enthusiastic and passionate about his work. He told me that he’d closed the gun-for-hire chapter of his career and was looking to make ultra-low budget films that he could finance himself while supporting his breathing habit with teaching (he’d just relocated from Canada, and taken a job instructing at Columbia College in Chicago). As an example of his new career direction and capabilities, he sent me a disc of some short films he’d been making recently – a couple of them based on other stories culled from the pages of Out of the Gutter (Matt Wallace’s “Maidenhead” and Bruce Stirling’s “Screw the Pepperoni”).
Those shorts knocked me the hell out. There was no getting around the money-void, but Julian had managed, with each one, to find a distinct way to turn his lack of funds into stylistic choices that transformed his budgetary limitations into virtues of atmosphere. For example: neither “Maidenhead” nor “Screw the Pepperoni” used any location sound, relying instead on studio-overdubs, and giving both of them a canned quality that accentuated their otherworldliness.
So it was no nerve-wracking thing to give Julian the reins on this project. I was confident that he’d turn out something audacious, risky, striking and utterly unique. I knew that I may not like the finished film, but that when it failed, if it were going to, it would be the result of a difference of aesthetic preferences or artistic visions, and not from being vision-less, or failure to hit the marks he was aiming at. Julian had my complete confidence and blessing to make a fucked-up crime flick.
That was before he told me it’d be a musical.
Didn’t see that one coming. WTF? Who reads this story and sees singing and dancing? Who does that?
Well, thank God for Kevin Quain, the songsmith who gave Julian access to his own body of work for scoring Benji’s inner monologues. It’s a little spooky for me to see some of the pairings of Kevin’s songs with my story-lines, especially the closest thing the film has to a proper song and dance number – a nightclubbing montage scored by Quain’s “Catch You in the Rye.”
Here are the lines from my story that describe the character’s state of mind as he considers taking a stripper along on a spending spree:
“the plan was to leave town together, go to Vegas or New Orleans, live fast and loose for a while… Now, I’m not hypnotized over snatch so bad I can’t see what’s going on here. But come on… I am just exactly what you think I am: horny, lonely and a bit low on the old self-esteem. And if not this, then what the fuck is it money is supposed to buy for you?”
Now the lyrics from “Catch You in the Rye”:
“You drink my last dollar – then you tell me that it’s over – You swore you’d always love me tender – but you’ll forget me when you’re sober – and when you ditched me in the desert – I was a million miles from nowhere – and when I passed out I was thinking – it must be happy hour somewhere”
Spooky. Gratifying. Becoming acquainted with Kevin’s music is one of the best things that’s come out of the whole experience, for me.
I gave Julian permission to use my story “Mahogany & Monogamy” in his film, as well – it’s the parallel story of the events in “A Fuckload of Scotch Tape,” but I couldn’t have seen where he’d go with that license. Here’s what he did – split the Siamese twins those stories were and fused them one on top of the other turning the yin and yang of Benji Metcalf and Ethan Dillon into a single monstrous character, capable of new depths of ickiness (including my single favorite, chill-inducing moment of the film, the second kiss between Benji and Chuck – that, kids, is entirely Julian. Bam!).