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May 22, 2009


The Challenge of CLEO

A Lesson In Film

               Several filmmaking challenges presented themselves as shooting began on my satirical adaptation of the Jack Chick dog-in-peril classic CLEO. I hope my tale can help other filmmakers who find themselves in similar predicaments.

First, the film starred a dog, normally a challenge in itself, but in this case doubly difficult, as the animal spoke little English. Second, the decision to make a car appear to be driving through a mid-town asteroid belt seemed overly ambitious, especially following my discovery that asteroid belts are not found on Earth.

But the third challenge I was faced with felt as if it might well be an ultimately fatal obstacle. As I reviewed Jack Chick's text in the weeks before shooting commenced I noticed something horrifying about John, the father in the story, and a character I was slated to play. He had a mustache. A vital mustache. A mustache that could not be ignored. A mustache which clearly must be honored in any successful CLEO adaptation.

I do not wear a mustache. I never have. Long ago, in a simpler, pre-9/11 era my father wore one. But even he had bowed to the harsh realities of a cold 21st century. This was not the age of mustaches.

Yet there it was on the page, rendered in glorious black ink, a vital component of Cleo's adventure as a lost dog: a mustache. With my heart in my throat, I began to grow hair on my lip.

I won't bore you, gentle Christian filmmaker, with the details of those early mustache days. Many sacrifices are made in the pursuit of film art, and an itchy lip is only one of them. Just let it be said: I suffered for my art. Take inspiration from my struggle.

When that early June day arrived and shooting began on CLEO, I was nervous. The mustache was, of course, perfect for the character of John, but how would it play in my other role, as the film's director? Would the director's authority be undermined by my hairy little companion? I feared it would.

On the set that day, mustache reaction ranged from mildly positive to abject disgust. My fears were not entirely without justification. I struggled to keep my equilibrium as I worked through directing Mungry, the canine star, in the difficult escape sequence. My limited Spanish made the process even more difficult, but somehow I muddled through and we got the shots we needed. Success.

However, my relief was short-lived. As we began rehearsing the next set-up, a difficult, emotional hospital scene, my director of photography made her move. I had just finished telling an actor how to move their face, when Jamie stepped forward. She claimed my directing was being impacted by my "ridiculous" mustache and that I should "take a chill pill."

This is the sort of moment that every director fears may come. All eyes turned to me. My mustache felt hot under their gaze. I had to reclaim my power.

I decided to cry. It worked. Everyone felt bad. Jamie looked like a total jerk and apologized. My authority was now absolute, my mustache unassailable.

As if fertilized by my tears, the mustache had never looked or felt more powerful than it did following the incident. My directing was sure-handed and wise from that point forward. Never again was my control of the set questioned. Mungry's English improved. I discovered that an asteroid belt look could be achieved using something known as “special" effects and therefore a trip to an actual asteroid belt was unnecessary! In short, after conquering my mustache problem, the other challenges were relatively easy to deal with.

As for my mustache, after the film wrapped, it was time to say goodbye. I took it out for one last adventure, an afternoon Dodgers game (where I must say, it fit in quite well.) Upon returning home, I shaved the lip clean. As I watched the hairs spin down the drain, I thanked them for their service to art.


Bryce Ingman