Last Monday’s all-around excellent The Milwaukee Show I found local filmmakers offering evocative and innovative pieces with subject matter that included: marooned space cadets wandering a new planet; an outrageous incident that stole a 16-year-old’s life; a struggling rural amusement park; a character-laden piano bar; a zany story about a fictional 1990s rapper; and more. The lineup for next Monday’s sequel, The Milwaukee Show II, will present an equally eclectic group of films that showcase the immense talent and diversity of the city’s film community.
One such selection that will hit the Oriental Theatre screen Monday is the simple story of a soft-spoken man killing time at home on his week off work. While the subject matter is basic, the sub-13-minute short connects Milwaukee’s hidden treasures to a renowned mainstream character actor. Writer and director Brendan T. Jones was inspired to make One Week Vacation after hearing about a conversation his uncle had with a man at a party, in which the man said he was spending his vacation doing as little as possible “to make the time pass slower and the vacation last longer.”
With financial contribution from that uncle and more than $2,500 in Kickstarter backing, Jones sought out to put the party anecdote to film—while taking some slight liberties with the plot.
“I just wanted to make a movie that’s a dark, quirky comedy about a guy who, at one time, maybe had a life he enjoyed, but he went through the mundane work schedule for so many years that he’s lost his personality,” Jones says. “He just goes through his life, works, eats, and sleeps.”
As far as “dark, quirky comedy” in the city goes, few if any can match the output of Milwaukee comedian Ryan Lowe. Jones first met the reigning Caste Of Killers Battle Royale stand-up champion—who previously adapted Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick into a feature-length film using close to 40 puppets he’d made by hand—at a comedy open mic. He felt Lowe’s on-stage attributes and physical presence would be perfect for the role of Bill, the less-than-verbose lead.
“I just really liked his persona on stage. He seemed like [he had] this grumpy, fatalistic mentality towards everything in life,” Jones says. “I really liked his look, so I really wanted him for this role.”
Though he’d made his own films, One Week Vacation was Lowe’s true introduction to acting in front of a camera. That became apparent his first day on set.
“It was beyond humbling,” Lowe says. “Everything I had done to that point—it was embarrassing almost because I’d just shoot stuff, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. My stuff is passable, but I’d get on set, and there’s dollies, a beautiful RED camera, actual equipment, and real movie people.”
Some of those real movie people helping Lowe through his rookie role as a subdued, soup-obsessed drone were experienced area stage thespian Evan Koepnick (playing Bill’s co-worker) and established actor—and Menomonee Falls native—Richard Riehle (Bill’s boss, Kevin). Riehle has more than 300 television and film credits to his name, including movies like Glory, The Fugitive, Casino, Bridesmaids, and his most famous role as “Jump To Conclusions Mat” inventor Tom Smykowski in Office Space. Jones says he met the seasoned actor at a film festival a few years ago, and that Riehle recalled their meeting when Jones sent him the script for One Week Vacation. Playing his familiar blend of friendly and flawed, Riehle’s pedigree, experience, and overriding positivity boosted the production immensely.
“His excitement and his energy on set really set the tone for the rest of the production. People took it seriously,” Jones says. “He just nailed every scene. He made people around him better, too, because people wanted to get to that performance level.”
Of course, as director, Jones had a hand in the level of performance as well. The film’s star noted Jones’ creativity, his lighthearted directorial style and, most of all, his attention to detail. Something as small as the way Lowe’s character opened a drawer was of the utmost importance to Jones. “He’s very meticulous—even worse than I am,” Lowe says. “He knew exactly how he wanted it, and we would do it until it was how he wanted it. It shows. You can tell when you watch it. It’s really well done.”
Jones, a UW-Milwaukee film grad, was also particular about his shooting locations. Every frame was filmed in or around Milwaukee, including scenes at the Mindpool Live offices, USA Family Thrift, and Jones’ own Bay View home. Further strengthening the local bond anchored by settings and a largely localized cast, area acts Blessed Feathers and Mark Waldoch have music featured in the credits. With its ability to forge humor from a story about a man wasting a week eating soup in his closet, as well as the local pride that permeates every facet of the film, One Week Vacation has truly earned its place in The Milwaukee Show.
“I’ve lived here since 2002. I’ve always thought I’d move away, but I’ve really gotten sucked back into Milwaukee because it’s such a nice place to live. I’m very honored to be part of a very talented lineup,” Jones says.
One Week Vacation screens as part of The Milwaukee Show II in the Oriental Theatre, Monday at 7 p.m.