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Review–Excess

Excess (2011)

Length: 3 min.

Budget: $20.00

Genre: Tarantino/Ritchie Homage

Director: Spencer Agnew

Writer: Spencer Agnew

Stars: Spencer Agnew, Stephanie Denardo, Thad Boucher, Jordan Holley

 

I met Spencer on the filmmakers reddit a while back. Like many people on the filmmakers reddit, Spencer is a high-school-aged male who would like some feedback on a recent film project that he completed. The problem with reddit is that no one wants to give feedback, because most people on reddit are insecure, high-school-aged, cunt-males with deep-seated homophobia, bitterness and jealousy issues. Here’s the feedback you will get if you promote one of your projects on reddit or ask for input:

“Downvote. Fag.”

“This sucks.”

“You think you’re so good, the only thing you are good at is sucking dick.”

“Whore.”

“GAY .”

“Ur mom has a tight asshole.”

“Go pimp your shite film somewhere else, fag.”

You get the idea.

Indie and student filmmakers need place to get honest feedback that isn’t motivated by jealousy or hatred. This is the place. If you are a filmmaking redditor and want a real indie review on a real indie review website (if there is such a thing), send your stuff to me. I’ll review it, but I won’t be able to post it back on reddit. I’ll get downvoted for doing “promotion” and for being a fag. So you’ll have to come to my site to see your review.

Anyway, Spencer was cool, and I offered to review his film. Like a long time ago. So let’s get to Spencer’s film, Excess.

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Excess is an homage to Grindhouse-style film and Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels sensibilities. It’s silly, short, and doesn’t waste your time. Ok, it’s mostly silly.

A teenaged hipster with a gun (Spencer)  takes on his girlfriend’s drug dealer. Things don’t go as planned. Big surprise. Spencer looks like James DiFranco’s younger brother, playing James DiFranco playing Allen Ginsberg in Howl. Let me put it this way, he’s not going to be intimidating anyone, shotgun or not. But Spencer plays it deadpan, and seems genuinely shocked when he gets his ass beat. That is why Excess is funny to me, and why I like Spencer.

Spencer (in his capacity as director) uses unabashedly silly, superimposed titles like “Gun-Man” to introduce characters or set off a scene. It’s an homage to film makers like Tarantino. But then Tarantino was doing an homage to spaghetti westerns, kung fu movies, blaxploitation, etc. Excess is an homage to an homage to an homage, as it were. In any case, the titles are a fun addition, and “Gun Man” is a ridiculous scene. Yes there’s actually a guy called “Gun Man” (played by Thad Boucher) that, if you call him, will show up and give you a gun. Who knew?

I mean if it’s that simple then it  makes me wish there was a guy called, “Impossibly Beautiful College Aged Ingenue Who Spreads At The Mere Promise Of Acting Work–Man.” Now that’s a character!

The confrontation at the end is weird. The drug dealer Little Jayce, played by Jordan Holley, has the worst Russian (?)  accent I’ve ever heard. His dialog is subtitled. Not that it needs it, I can understand him fine, it’s just a bad accent. I think the addition of unnecessary sub-titles may have been an intentional joke. I can’t tell.

Now the really weird part: there are a number of shirtless young men cutting up coke in the corner. They look like cabana boy sex slaves. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Who doesn’t like the occasional shirtless teenage boy to cut up coke for you? But I’m not sure what that meant in the film world. Was the ersatz Russian drug lord running a gay brothel on the side and using his stable of boys to cut up his coke? I doubt it. I think what happened was that the only people on hand to be extras were teenaged males. But why did the extras all have to take their shirts off? The whole thing seems increasingly unsavory the more I think about it.

Spencer’s girlfriend, played by Stephanie Denardo, throws a monkey wrench in the proceedings at the end. I won’t tell you what happens, but you can probably guess. It’s a tried and true device, but the problem here is that it is not done well. There’s not enough of a setup, and not enough to make us care about what happens. In the end I’m simply thinking: meh. So what?

But I like Excess. Sure, the performances and story were not great, and even the title makes no sense, but I’m cutting Spencer some slack for his age and experience level.  I will say this: Spencer was able to realize a consistent, fun vision with his editing and directing. Not an easy task for a student film maker, or any film maker, for that matter. And Spencer doesn’t beat us over the head with his “art.” He gives us a quick bit of fun and gets us out in under three minutes. God bless.

The way Excess came together is interesting and makes me appreciate the project more. I’ll let Spencer tell you in his own words. Here is his original, unedited reply to me:

Hey Ben This is Spencer – I worked on Excess. Its really cool that you want to do this. Well, it was for a 48 hour film festival, from Friday at 7 PM to Sunday at 7 PM. The parameters were Heist, Candles, and “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

We spent Friday night coming up with the script – I had had the title “Excess” floating around my head for some time, wanting to do something with a lot of guns and cocaine (since we never really do stuff like that). I kept saying I wanted it to be like all these other grindhouse-y movies/videos – like Italian Spider-Man or Hobo with a Shotgun, then I just realized the whole thing should be a Grindhouse style video. However, I don’t think we integrated it well enough in the beginning to really stand out. We spend all Saturday filming, filmed the intro/end shot on Sunday, and I spent all of Saturday night/Sunday filming. I directed most of it, edited most of it, wrote most of it, and am the main guy. That makes it sound like I did a lot more than everyone else, but Brian Orta and TJ Gonzalez (guys who get shot at the end) filmed most of it, and Jordan Holley (Little Jayce), Stephanie Denardo (Crack Whore), and Michael Beavers (guy who attacks the main guy in the house) were there the whole time, helping do almost everything. Also, That Boucher (Gun-Man) was able to come for 20 minutes and film that scene, which is my favorite. It was definitely stressful filming all Saturday. We used the Canon 7D with one prime lens and a telescopic lens, which we only used once. We didn’t have a tripod for nearly all of it, and anything too shaky I stabilized in Final Cut X. People say its unprofessional, and it definitely has its shortcomings, but it does so many things right. My favorite part is its ability to export directly to youtube with minimal loss in quality. We spent around 20 bucks for the candles and flour/sugar for cocaine, and stuff for squibs that never got made. We didn’t spend much money at all, apart from the actual camera and stuff like that. I probably edited for over 12 hours. We ADR’d literally everything. There is no original line of dialogue from the camera in there. Also, 99 percent of the sound effects are from the sound effects package included in FCX. We recorded all dialogue and sound with a different camera – my old canon camcorder with a shotgun mic. We made a recording studio out of blankets in my room. This was to make all the lines look slightly off, and more pronounced than the DSLR’s audio. All the film distortion stuff is just free film burns I found online. You can find literally everything online haha. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

Thanks

 

So let me get this straight: Spencer had 20 bucks, a Canon 7D, and Final Cut X?  Yeah, that’s about it. I’m impressed. I think this is a good example of what you can do on a limited budget and time frame, and an insight into how the process of making film has changed and will continue to change. Anyone can make a film now. Whether it is good is entirely up to your level of skill and talent.

Don’t let my low rating fool you, Spencer gets an A for effort with Excess. I’ll be interested to see what he makes next.

 

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