December 6, 2012

Indie Film: Good workplace humor found behind scenes at the cinema

'No Refund for Content' mines laughs from the conflict of wage slaves and their customers in a struggling Maine movie theater.

By DENNIS PERKINS

There is no more fertile ground for snarky humor than arts-related retail. Attracting over-educated, self-described experts rankling under the necessity of interacting with the unwashed masses (who flock to worthless Brett Ratner movies while the new Michael Haneke film goes begging), such workplaces are practically a sitcom waiting to happen.

click image to enlarge

A scene from the webseries “No Refund for Content,” shot at the Nickelodeon in Portland.

Dean Merrill photo

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

NICKELODEON CINEMA, Portland

(patriotcinemas.com)

Friday: "A Late Quartet." With an indie all-star cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener, this ensemble drama about a string quartet forced to make changes after its senior member receives a life-changing diagnosis promises wall-to-wall Beethoven, serious sniffles and a leavening of Walken-ian weirdness.

SPACE GALLERY, Portland

(space.538.com)

Wednesday: "Parting Glances." This influential 1986 drama about a gay couple preparing for a long separation co-stars a young Steve Buscemi as an artist dying of AIDS. Part of Space's Normative Narratives series examining the portrayal of gay men in cinema.

(On a completely unrelated note, I work in an indie video store.)

This comic potential was not lost on local filmmaker Andrea Nilosek, whose webseries "No Refund for Content" mines laughs from the conflict of wage slaves and their customers in a struggling Maine movie theater.

"I've worked in movie theaters for a very long time," says Nilosek, a graduate of the University of Southern Maine Media Studies program. "And co-workers and I would always talk about funny things that happened and crazy customers. Eventually, I ended up with a notebook full of ideas, and my friend Cricket Cote and I came up with some characters and the basic plotline. Eventually, we workshopped it with other writers like Nick Robichaud, and everyone took the show in their own direction."

The series, which has recently been picked up by the emerging Maine-based website The Entertainment Experiment (entertainmentexperiment.com), alternates the daily grind of a tiny theater and its wacky staff with a plot about the theater's owners, two L.A. slimeballs out to sabotage the already floundering movie house for their own nefarious ends.

The two episodes online show a lot of promise, with a solid cast of familiar Maine actors (Peter Campbell, Ben Keller), a cool theme song from local rocker Zach Jones, a handsome, professional look (thanks to director of photography Dean Merrill) and a gleefully profane sense of humor. (Nilosek promisingly cites shows such as "Community" and "Party Down" as influences.)

Shot on location at the Nickelodeon, Portland's own indie theater (actually part of the tiny Patriot Cinemas chain, but still), "No Refund for Content" is both specifically Portland and universal in its portrayal of workplace dysfunction. And there are big plans for the rest of the planned seven-episode first season.

"We've shot four episodes so far," said Nilosek, "and we're about to shoot a holiday musical episode with local musicians on board to write the songs. We've got three more episodes planned, and we're looking to do some fun and different things."

After that, Nilosek says she and her intrepid crew (who have filmed the bulk of their shows overnight at the very supportive Nickelodeon) will pursue funding to continue, as she has lots more stories of workplace craziness to tell.

"Ex-co-workers call me with new stories all the time," said Nilosek. "And I have some great notes from just last night."

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

 

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