With instant improv movies, theres no wait

In Production: Portland Neutrino Project
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Eli Keltz (with camera) and his team scramble to finish an improv film last Friday at the Hollywood Theatre. Part of the Neutrino Project, the piece was screened for an audience that same night.

A dubious director entices a young actress to star in a project involving his bunny. Two Russian buddies deal in black-market feminine hygiene products. A husband recounts his wife's recovery from an addiction to cat medication.

At first it looks like a regular movie - a quirky, multistoried new work by say, Steven Soderbergh or Jim Jarmusch.

What the audience at the Hollywood Theatre didn't see last Friday night is the controlled creative chaos it takes to bring these movies - unique hybridizations of improv acting and guerrilla filmmaking - to the screen.

The same process, with new personalities and new stories, will be used again during tonight's second presentation by the Portland Neutrino Project.

At a breakneck pace, the dozen rapid-witted (and aerobically fit) improvisational performers plot, perform, film, edit and splice together a 90-minute movie in real time.

Story lines are based on objects provided by the audience, and the makeshift script is shot at various locations near the Hollywood Theatre.

'We've been rehearsing once a week since November, and as it gets tighter, you get more and more in sync with each other,' said Betse Green, co-founder of Curious Productions, the organization behind the project, and a veteran of Portland's improv scene, with five years in the Comedy-Sportz team under her belt.

The group rehearses the tightly timed format, but the material - the plots, the characters, the dialogue - remains 100 percent improv.

New York City was home to the first flock of Neutrinos. The idea has taken flight in other cities, from Seattle to Phoenix.

Portland's Neutrinos are divided into three teams, each composed of actors, a director working the camera, and a runner, who keeps time on the video segments and oversees continuity of the overall story line.

'For the actors, they don't have the audience, and that instant reaction, so they have to trust their directors to be the audience,' notes Curious co-founder Stacey Hallal, who directed last Friday night's premiere.

Hallal and Bob Ladewig, a member of Chicago's Neutrino Project, provided coaching tips for the stage performers' transition to on-camera comedy.

As the run of the show progresses, each Neutrino will rotate roles on the team.

Teresa Tulipano served as the runner for her team, noting the plot and mood of each scene on a Post-it. Runners hastily converged after each filmed segment outside of Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Cafe to trade notes and keep the flow of the movie.

'The timing is the hardest thing of all,' she says, adding, 'runners don't need to work out that day.'

For the audience, the result is eye opening. You can't help but come away with a new admiration for improv performers as gifted all-around comedians, who can work with a new medium and bring in the funny under tremendously tight deadlines.

The team plans to keep up the pace, every Friday night for the next month.

'There are 18 (feature) films being shot in Portland this year,' says Neutrino Bill Cernansky, 'and a ton of them are going to be ours.'

- Lee Williams

9:30 p.m. Friday, through Feb. 22, Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-281-4215, www.curiouscomedy.com, $10