Local actors take part in a tipsy cinematic experiment

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Greg James delivers what he thought at the time was an Oscar award-winning performance in the five-minute viral Internet video, Star Drunk.No doubt longtime science-fiction fans sometimes jokingly wonder, while watching a favorite 1950s-era B movie: “Were they drunk when they wrote this thing?”

With the new short film “Star Drunk” — which is attracting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube — the answer is “absolutely.” And not just the screenwriters, but every member of the cast as well.

Yes, interspersed by some surprisingly well-rendered cosmic battle sequences (the film’s creator, Chris R. Wilson, is a 3-D and visual effects animator), six staggeringly sloshed actors slur and stumble their way through five minutes of laser-fueled action and deep-space drama.

The movie’s actors include two with local ties: Forest Grove resident Adam Elliott Davis, who will also appear in the upcoming Bag & Baggage production of “The Great Gatsby;” and Greg James, a 1990 Forest Grove High School graduate who studied under then-drama director Mickey Johnson. (His stage roles in the Ellen Stevens Auditorium included Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and King Sextimus the Silent in “Once Upon a Mattress.” And, he insists, he was sober for all of them.)

James, who has appeared in several regional and national television ads, hasn’t spoken with Johnson for a while, but knows he still lives in Forest Grove and might want to check out his former student’s recent brush with fame.

“I think he’d get a kick out of it,” James said.

“Star Drunk” is meant to be funny, Davis said — a take on the well-known but probably exaggerated rumors that many great authors wrote their best work after tying a few on. But James and Davis stress that in no way is the movie intended to glorify inebriation or irresponsible behavior.

“Our main concern is that people don’t take it as a license to get drunk and do things,” Davis said. “It is purely a film experiment.”

In the age of the videophone, one need not search very hard on the Internet to find hours of hammered, would-be Spielbergs filming their equally hammered friends in the hopes of capturing an impromptu COURTESY PHOTO - Greg James developed his acting skills at Forest Grove High School in the 1980s under then-drama director Mickey Johnson, then went on to major in theater in college.

“Star Drunk” is not among them. Its making was quite deliberate and controlled.

James, who plays “The Captain,” explained that the film’s writers got together one night to get drunk and write a movie — agreeing beforehand that they would produce whatever they wrote. They awoke the next day to discover that they had drafted a short sci-fi film — shaken, not stirred — with more than a hint of “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

During filming, the movie’s two co-directors remained sober.

“There was too much technical stuff going on, so they couldn’t be drunk,” James recalled. “They also had to babysit us, because we were wasted. They were our ‘designated drivers’ to get us through the movie.”

The lion’s share of filming took place in one evening before a green screen. The actors shot most of their lines separately (it was the only way most of them could get through it without laughing). Having previously memorized the script, each actor was asked to drink 12 to 15 shots of vodka provided by the movie’s sole sponsor: New Deal Distillery, of Portland, which covered part of the film’s $450 budget. (The rest came out of the directors’ pockets.)

Much to his surprise, James said, the only real controversy since the film first appeared on YouTube Aug. 25 is a fierce online debate over whether the cast is actually besotted or is just ... well, acting.

“I can’t remember a lot of it, but I do know that we all thought we were giving Oscar award-winning performances,” James said, which should settle the question for those who’ve seen the film.

“We kept having to kneel or collapse between takes. Then we’d just stand back up and deliver the line,” he said.

The acting by James — who actually passed out during the shooting of his climactic fight scene with Davis — is especially striking. His scenery-chewing performance is enough to make Johnny Depp look positively reserved.

When asked about it, he just laughs.

“When you drink, some actors handle it differently. Some cross their lines of communication, some overact,” he said. “But I don’t normally overact in that fashion. If I knew what I was doing, I probably would have dialed myself down a bit.”

Davis remarked how surreal it was to be sloshed on a film set. For most actors, he said, that’s a big “no-no.”

“Being anywhere near intoxicated is like one of the biggest technical faux pas you can make. It will lose you your job 99 percent of the time,” he said. “And that night, I learned the reason you don’t go to set intoxicated.”

Davis also remembers very little of his screen time, though he does recall being corrected on lines and knocking over a light at one point.

How the actors felt the morning after filming is probably best left to the imagination, but the response to their work the past few weeks has been anything but miserable.

It’s even gotten some fans clamoring for a sequel — or more likely, a prequel, since the ship’s loaded crew doesn’t appear to survive the ending.

The movie’s hit counter on YouTube is approaching the 1 million mark, and the project has been written up by numerous bloggers and media, including the Huffington Post.

“I’ve gotten everything from ‘You can’t act your way out of a paper bag’ to ‘the second coming of Harrison Ford and Bruce Campbell,’” James said. “It’s been awesome.”

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