Monday, April 6, 2009

The Weather of Oz

Spring 1979, Nevada, Iowa

There was a video camera in our Geology class, and the teacher told us we could make a video for our final project. Whatever we wanted to do, as long as it had a theme, like Rock Formations, or Volcanoes or something, and actually explained things about this topic.

I, along with Randy McHose and Mark Stefani, jumped at the opportunity. We had already made a couple videos in Ms Haas' class, doing skits from Saturday Night Live, Cheech and Chong and Steve Martin. In one, I was John Belushi, in like a lion and out like an African Tapir on Weekend Update. We reran it and watched endlessly as the white line ran down the black and white screen, Jay in glasses and a suit, flying over the makeshift table clutching his heart in a mock Belushi cocaine heart attack.

Me and Mark just figured we’d make Randy the star of The Weather of Oz, as we were now calling it, having chosen our theme. We knew Randy wouldn’t sit and do any actual writing or planning of the characters or scenes, but he would be the best actor for the lead part, and ham it up. He would still be called Randy in the video so no one would have to remember a new name. Instead of Toto we had a bean bag frog named Clyde. Mark and I would write and direct, but I did not want to appear.

So Mark and I went to his house to brainstorm and write down some ideas. Mark’s Dad worked for the CIA and Mark said he didn’t know for sure what his Dad did. I only saw him once. I remember we listened to Ummagumma a lot and a couple times we even made pipe bombs to blow up tree stumps.

I did most of the actual writing, I felt Mark was going off on tangents, not sticking to the point or being realistic with the time limit, the people's acting abilities, and the equipment we had. In the end, we decided that Randy and Clyde were to be undercover environmental agents trying to find out who was responsible for the recent, sometimes deadly, weather disturbances in the area.

An unusually long drought had caused corn and soybean crops to fail for the first time in thirty years, dust devil tornadoes were wreaking havoc on once peaceful small town life, and the coldest winter on record had made people think the end of the world was near. After a sudden air inversion over Des Moines during the six o’clock news, which caused the fatal crash of a small passenger plane, this one carrying the African Agricultural Ambassador, a few insiders thought something more sinister was happening, something the public was not fully aware of.

Randy and Clyde, the undercover environmental secret agents, had to go on foot to the weathermens’ castles and find out if which of the two men was the evil weather changer. Then when they found out who it was, they could infiltrate the TV station and pull the plug during the six o’ clock news, announcing to the viewers that all was well, right there on Prime Time.

Our good friend Kendra was the wicked witch, explaining tornadoes to the camera as a mini Lincoln Logs cabin spun on a string in front of Camera Two, eventually crushing her. Of course we edited this part. We filmed a close up of the polka dotted Barbie legs sticking out from under the mini log cabin as Kendra moaned in the background.

The Munchkins became The Doldrums, and we filmed three friends from above as they knelt and sang We are the Do Oldrum Winds, the Do Oldrum Winds, or some such thing I had written in a flurry.

Other than that, the script and story board weren’t very worked out until we got to the point of filming, and then we improvised scenes over a three day rigorous shooting schedule after school. Through the forest, by the river and along the sea went Randy and Clyde, meeting people and strange creatures along the way.
Randy and Clyde see Hal Jacobs, played by Mark, creating some strange weather pattern in his castle and realize he is the evil weatherman. They bust in and catch him redhanded as he is brewing up a crop damaging hail storm over Central Iowa.

After much debate, we decided that the evil wizard Hal Jacobs would not be caught by Randy and Clyde, but in the end the Wizard makes himself disappear, vanishing in the breeze left by Randy’s clutching arms, a trick of the video. We wanted to leave it open to a sequel, Mark's performance practically outshining the unfocused Randy.

Also, in the wake of the evil wizard's sudden disappearance, Clyde the frog is sucked up into a High Pressure stream, blowing up on camera with little Black Cat Firecrackers. We had to film this when the teacher was gone, and open the window afterwards. Randy didn’t like the way Clyde didn’t blow up so good, so he put some Ronson lighter fluid on him and lit him on fire for the grand finale, saline tears running down his cheeks as he announced to the TV audience that the evil weatherman was gone for good. By the time it was all done, there were eleven weather phenomenon explained in detail and 90 minutes of video and we got an A. I wish I still had that tape.

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