So my good friend Reggie Bannister gave me a call and asked if I would like to drive out to Ontario, CA to visit the set of his new film Carnies. I didn’t have anything going on and I always love seeing the Reg-man work, so I hopped in the car and headed up the 909.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I pulled up to the address I was given since I was told they were shooting a big carnival scene and I had arrived at someone’s house in the middle of your average neighborhood. Then I noticed some tents poking out around back behind the house. There was a huge dirt lot behind this house, and within it stood several tents that made up the world of Carnies. Reggie and his wife, Gigi, who also served as the film’s make-up artist, greeted me and introduced me to the rest of the cast and crew. Two of the film’s lead actors, Doug Jones (who plays Ratty but is best known as the body of Abe Sapien in Hellboy) and Lee Perkins (who plays Professor James Algonquin) were unfortunately not present. Even Reggie himself wasn’t acting that day, but staying behind the camera with director Brian Corder helping out as Assistant Director. I could immediately tell this project was a true labor of love as everyone involved pitched in and had a genuine passion about it.
During a break I sat down with Director Brian Corder as he explained the story of Carnies. “It’s about a traveling sideshow, kind of a dust bowl sideshow, that goes from town to town,” he divulged. “They run into a problem where some of their performers start going missing and/or dying. There is a killer in camp basically. Detective Ellison (Bannister’s character) comes in to investigate these murders, and the story progresses from there. There is a supernatural element to the story as well, which may or may not be the source of the killings.”
It was back to work after a lengthy setup as they filmed a long monologue by the Carnival’s barker Doc Slickshill, played by Tony Simmons. I watched in amazement as Tony went through this long speech at least ten times without one flub. I’ve done many set visits and watched some of Hollywood’s biggest stars do take after take because they just can’t seem to get their lines correct, but Tony nailed it every time like a total pro. Truly a great performance to watch.
As they set up for another angle, I sat down with star Reggie Bannister, and we talked Carnies. “It’s really amazing how this picture fell together because we are shooting it for beer money; that’s pretty much it,” explained Bannister. “And the talent these guys have put together on this picture. … This is a very dialogue-heavy piece, but there are also a lot of great scares and a lot of great kill scenes.”
“You just saw Tony Simmons and he is phenomenal, but seriously every scene that we have shot has been phenomenal. Denise Gossett is phenomenal. Lee Perkins is in it; he was in Katie Bird and he is a terrific actor. Chris Staviski, who plays Virgil the strong man, plays him with a Romanian accent and is flawless. Zoe, Lynn Ayala, is great; she’s like the gypsy fortune teller. My wife Gigi is in charge of the special effects make-up. The costumes are done by Azriel, and he is just amazing. The period is just dead on. And Doug Jones … all of his scenes are just wonderful. Everyone has been amazing!”
I had a moment to ask Tony Simmons a little bit about his character in the film as well. “I play Doc Slickshill and I’m the talker, which is like the barker, the guy who gets the people to come into the show,” Simmons explained. “I’m confronted by the woman who runs the show about skimming money off the take, and of course I didn’t do it. Let’s just say it doesn’t end up pretty for one of us.”
As the crew is setting up for a shot of the Barker’s point of view, to be shot from just over his shoulder, looking down from his podium to the possible customers below, I’m asked if I would like to get into costume and be one of the people listening to Doc’s spiel. I agree, and Azriel outfits me with what he has on hand that would fit me. Then Gigi greases my hair back and parts it in the middle. Add a little make-up, and I become Claude. I told director Brian Corder that I would do it but I don’t want to be credited as “third guy from left” or “townie”. I want an identity; I want to be known as Claude. He agreed and a star was born … or at least an extra with no lines but a name. So for several takes I stood there looking dumb but amazed by everything Doc Slickshill had to say. See the pics within to see what I mean!
After that scene finished, it was time for lunch so I sat down and had some tasty grub. Soon after lunch I changed out of my costume and into my normal threads as the sun was going down. The crew were breaking everything down and putting up new sets for the next scene. I said my goodbyes and headed back home.
I couldn’t get a real sense of what the film is going to be like with the small bit I was able to see, but I will say that they are all making the most out of what they have, and if passion amounts for anything, we should have a very cool little movie on our hands when it’s all said and done.
I would like to thank the cast and crew for their hospitality. Make sure to visit the film’s official site for more info and updates!
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