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Summer of Scam: The Weaseling Ways of Toe in an Opera-less Rock Opera
Sarah Hayter, austin writers' league interview

Writer-director Bob Ray brings a unique view of the Austin underground music scene to the big screen with his hilariously seedy debut feature film Rock Opera. The film follows the twisted path of Toe, a shameless schemer, marijuana merchant, and musician who recklessly attempts to organize a tour for his band PigPoke. Drugs and chaos shadow Toe as he frantically tries to raise the capitol to fund the road trip. Habitual irresponsibility sinks Toe deeper into debt, eventually forcing him into a sketchy drug deal in the bowels of Del Rio. Luck and timing barely keep our befuddled hero intact and we gleefully watch as he squirms to keep his head above bong water.

Rock Opera will have its theatrical world premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (409 B Colorado Street, Austin, Texas 78701, (512) 867-1839) on September 3rd. The premiere kicks off what will be an open ended run for the locally produced film. Rock Opera is being presented by the Austin Cinemaker Co-op (a film organization falling under the non-profit umbrella of the Austin Writers League) for which Ray was the equipment director in its first two years. Ray resigned when it came time to begin shooting Rock Opera early in the summer of 1998.

What made you decide to write a script about the less glamorous side of Austin music?

Well I was all fired up about this script that I was working on a few years ago. I was writing feverishly on a tall tale of love lost, revenge and arson. It was going to be great. As I was writing the scene where a crystal meth lab explodes and destroys the surrounding trailer park, it hit me that there‚s no way in hell that I‚d be able to afford to burn up a trailer park, let alone a crystal meth lab, and especially not the seventeen other trailer parks that the script called for, and then there was the car chase with the eighteen wheeler. It was a sad day, I might have it rained that day, I really don‚t remember. Anyway, I got over it and decided to move on. I realized that I had to write a new story and there were certain limitations that I had to keep in mind. Most importantly, I needed to keep the budget low, but I also knew that I could only write about things that I had at my disposal.

Me and a pal of mine named Jerry Don Clark had played in this band called PigPoke for several years and we knew a bunch of musicians and coincidentally, a bunch of pot-heads. Come to think of it, everyone in Austin was a musician back in Œ96' and a pot-head too for that matter. Anyway, I knew that I could film in a lot of the clubs and other places that we had played and/or been drunk in.

PigPoke had a fan base of around four people, but were eager young lads. We had always talked about going on tour, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. Booking was a hassle, we never had a reliable vehicle, we were always high, and always strapped for cash. So I figured, what the hell, that‚s a starting point right there. If I can't have a successful band, then I‚ll make a movie about an unsuccessful band and put PigPoke smack dab in the middle of it.

So this is basically a last ditch effort to make PigPoke famous?

Basically. It‚s like an hour and a half long commercial for PigPoke. An info-feature, sort of. I figure that maybe we‚ll get famous like Spinal Tap. Maybe we could tour with them.

And that obviously led to casting Jerry Don Clark as the lead.

Pretty much. That and the fact that I had already made a bunch of short films using Jerry as my guinea pig. He‚ll do just about anything and he's as happi1y as a mule eating garlic when he's in front of the lens, so it only seemed natural to write the script with Jerry to star as Toe. It was quite a stretch for Jerry to play a weasely guitar player of a under-appreciated band. But I managed to coax it out of him for the benefit of the story. The next question for the script was, how is Toe going to fund the tour? And Toe, being the crafty little bastard that he is, decides that he can raise the cash by selling weed. From that point on, the script just kind of snowballed into a big ol steamy hunk of ridiculous mayhem.

So, is Rock Opera based on reality?

A good dose of it‚s based on some sort of half-truth or hearsay. The funny thing is that most of the parts that people think are utter b.s. are the things plucked straight from reality, or filtered through some sort of drug or alcohol. Some the characters (and I'll leave it to you to figure out which ones) are loosely based on the actors who play them. The credits read like a bad poem: Ned is Ted, Tad is Chad, Russ is Ross, Burtis is played by Kurtis and so on. When I was writing the script, I wrote it around the folks that I had used in my short films, namely, all my friends-turned-actors.

And what's up with the catchy dialog?

Knowing that not all of my "actors" had a lot of acting experience, I put in some overtime to get the dialog as natural sounding as possible. That meant including a healthy dose of "dude" "man" and "fuck". When I had the plot down pat and the characters completely fleshed out, I assumed the identity of one character and then went through the entire film working on that character‚s dialog. I would take on the mannerism and accent or dialect of that character and even dress like them and wear make up and heels, then I would systematically go through the script fine tuning their lines. When I finished, I would get all gussied up as the next character and do it all over again.

Why call the film Rock Opera? I mean, its not Tommy.

It was either that or Rohypnol Summer. And after I realized that I couldn‚t spell Rohypnol, I decided to stick with Rock Opera. It might be a bit misleading as it‚s not a musical, I hope nobody's mad about that, like I pulled one over on them and all. But I think it has all the drama of an opera, I mean, I‚ve never seen one in real life, but they seem pretty dramatic with all the singing and the hopping and the twirling and the what not. But there is a whole lot of rock, so I think that more than makes up for it.

Did you find it advantageous being both the writer and director?

Oh it was great. I was the boss. "Do what I say," I would yell. "I'm an ar-teest, damn it. Respect the print! Stick to the script! You‚re fired! Where's my bagel?"

Naw, but really, it was nice to be able to manipulate the story as we went along. Since I wrote the script, I knew all the back stories and had all the information on the characters that's not in print and I could make changes on the fly.

How did your work with the Cinemaker Co-op affect the way you filmed Rock Opera?

When I started writing the script, I intended to shoot the film guerrilla-style, or at least baboon-style, much like I had done with all my shorts, flying solo on the crew side. But in the two years that I wrote and prepared for the shoot, I got involved with the Co-op. I met a bunch of folks who became interested in the project. We formed a crew that was made up of a small herd of Cinemakers and shot the film in a way the allowed me much more freedom to create and work without having to do every job myself. Especially the fetching my bagel job.

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