Monday, January 11, 2016

The Hamburger Caper

by F.T. Rea

With 2015 in the rear-view mirror, there were some nice highlight moments associated with the four Bijou Presents events staged during the year. (To see the press releases for those events click on the numbered links -- 1, 2, 3, 4). However, the group-effort that went into creating the Hamburgers, as described below, tops my list of Bijou-related highlights. 

On Fri., Sept. 11, James Parrish and I went to the Lamplighter coffee shop on Morris St., near VCU, for a meeting with Rick Alverson. The purpose of the get-together was to discuss the pre-premiere* screening of "Entertainment" (2015) at The Byrd scheduled for Nov. 8. More specifically, we needed to talk about how to promote The Bijou's then-upcoming fundraising event. During the conversation that ensued the Hamburger Caper was born.

"Entertainment" is the fourth feature-length film Alverson has directed. Having seen the movie, by way of a screener supplied by the distributor, James and I already knew that promoting it as an easy-to-like laugh riot, suitable for a broad audience, would be a mistake. But the promotional material available -- poster and ad images -- for the movie didn't seem to have enough pizzazz to grab the attention of the artsy crowd that might like such a film for a one-off event. Since The Bijou's budget for promotion wouldn't allow for us to make a splash with conventional advertising, we needed a bright idea.

The conversation at the coffeehouse meandered pleasantly. When Rick and I started talking about hand-painted roadside billboards in Los Angeles the spark appeared. After finding out from Rick that they were still being done, I started yammering about how cool they looked back in the '70s, when I last visited LA. Rick interjected something like, "We ought to make the posters for the show look like Banksy's spray-painted graffiti."


Immediately, I told Rick I loved the idea and wanted to do it. While I'm not sure he believed me, the three of us happily brainstormed about it. Rick, James and I all liked the idea of using a variation of the image of the comedian in the film that appeared on the 1-sheet. We also talked about details about the film's star, Gregg Turkington, performing live, as Neil Hamburger, at the after-party at the New York Deli.

Later on, James and I kicked around the possibilities of how we might pull it off by making a series of Banksy-esque posters that would be displayed outdoors. How many to make? How big? Materials? Soon I suggested Chuck Wrenn ought to be in on making the Hamburgers. James agreed and said he wanted to bring in Ed Trask, too. Eventually, we decided to try to make the project to fabricate the Hamburgers into an art-making, beer-drinking happening.

We found both Chuck and Ed to be enthusiastic about lending their hands. Thus, after talking it over with other members of Team Bijou, we decided the posters should be painted on king-sized wooden panels. No movie title. No explanation (which had been Rick's original suggestion). Only the date of the screening -- 11/8/15. We optimistically assumed we could talk several friends with businesses on popular thoroughfares to allow us to hang the Hamburgers (as we came to call the painted panels) on outside walls facing traffic.

Trask brought in Big Secret to cut the stencils for the job. Chuck helped me pick out the material and he cut the panels to size (2.67' by 4'). We applied coats of white, somewhat-waterproofing prima to them (Herschel Stratego helped). Before the stencils were cut Ed, James, Chuck and I discussed at length how to achieve the look we wanted.

A team of six artists was assembled on Oct. 7 to do the spray-painting work in the basement of Anchor Studios at 1 E. Broad St; they were Shane Brown, Michael Harl, James, Terry (me), Ed and Chuck. All of did some painting. Ed did the most. We made Hamburgers in two sizes since Big Secret made large and small stencils for us. A day later, I cut the stencil for the date and added it to each panel over the image of the comedian.

The photos of the Hamburger-making scenes accompanying this piece were shot by Shane Brown and James Parrish. The image of the completed Hamburger at the bottom of this post was shot by yours truly. Click here to see how the finished products looked posted at various sites.

Why call it a caper?

It's more fun that way.

* The Bijou's screening of "Entertainment" was before the film had its theatrical first-run begin in New York City on Nov. 13, 2015. Our thanks for that special booking go out to Rick Alverson and the distributor of his film, Magnolia Pictures.

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