Joey Grihalva
Milwaukee Film Festival

Hamlet A.D.D. Is a Hoot

Green-screen sendup of Shakespeare by local filmmakers was ten years in the making.

By - Oct 7th, 2014 01:45 pm
Hamlet A.D.D.

Hamlet A.D.D.

The most common challenge facing theater (and occasionally film) today: how do you make Shakespeare relevant, or at least palatable, to modern audiences?

Over the years I’ve seen various companies and collectives attempt multiple angles; improv, hip-hop, set in the 1970s, barely rehearsed in the back of a bar, what Baz Luhrman did with Romeo & Juliet, and in a park. I wouldn’t be surprised if some edgy (and let’s be honest, probably European) company has tried Shakespeare in the nude.

Local filmmakers Bobby Ciraldo and Andrew Swant have put together a zany new take on Shakespeare: an all green-screen parody that jumps through time from the Elizabethan era to the distant future, featuring a menagerie of costumes and facial hair. Ciraldo and Swant lead an ensemble cast that includes Wisconsinite Dustin (Screech in the show Saved by the Bell) Diamond, cult comedian Neil Hamburger and local film icon Mark Borchardt (American Movie). The resulting film, Hamlet A.D.D., is utterly bizarre and hilarious. Each new time period adds another layer of interesting and well-executed visuals. The green screen work is far from cheap, and it’s no surprise the project took a decade to complete.

I corresponded with Ciraldo and Swant to get a better understanding of this strange and ballsy re-imagining of the old Bard of Avon, which screens tonight at the Times Cinema at 9:30pm. They answered my questions jointly. Hey, whatever works.

How did the idea for the film originate and develop? 

We had the idea to do Shakespeare in front of a green screen, using non-actors for a B-movie feel. Hamlet is considered to be one of the best narratives of all time and we figured we couldn’t go wrong with that! We sat down with the play and tried to come up with the craziest idea for a Hamlet adaptation we could think of, changing the tone from a tragedy to a parody with multiple time periods and a mind-bending sci-fi outer story. Andrew turned all those notes into a really funny script, and we began casting the celebrity cameo appearances and figuring out the costumes and makeup.

There are two very different versions of the project – a feature film version and a forthcoming web series version that we’re really excited about. The web series is twice as long overall, has 10 additional time periods, and features additional guest star scenes. The feature-length version premiered at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA MOCA) in April 2014. The web series will be coming out in early 2015.

What was the production process like?

We shot all of the characters separately, one at a time, and composited them into the same scenes. Sometimes two characters who are interacting in a scene were shot many years apart. In one case two actors were shot nine years apart and have a conversation on the finished film. The two of us were the entire crew.  We were the directors, writers, editors, camera operators, sound recordists, gaffers, craft services, etc.

Where was the film shot?

In a small, home-made green screen studio in a building in Brewer’s Hill called The Fortress. It’s a huge old building (formerly a shoe factory) and we’ve had a studio there for 13 years. You can see a nice glimpse of it in our Kickstarter video. It’s where we shot the “What What” video, too (65 million views and counting!).

Who did the animation? How closely did you work with them to deliver your vision?

Bobby did all of the primary animation, with CGI modeling help from Evan Maruszewski (of the November Criminals, a hip-hop polka band) for things like the castles and the space ships and one longer segment. We had two other animation interns, and that’s it! A small feat only recently possible due to cheap software and cheap computers and of course the internet for inspiration.

What was the most challenging aspect of the film?

We quickly found out that Hamlet is a pretty difficult play to pull off, especially for non-actors. Also, during production it was really hard to keep track of where people should be standing and looking, since no one was ever together at once. And the animation was often tricky to get “just right” and took a long time overall.

Where did you find all those excellent costumes?

We found an old costume shop in Milwaukee called Marge’s Glitter Shop. It was an old, well-used collection and most of the costumes were handmade by the owner Marge Janick over a 40-year span. The store went out of business while we were filming and we ended up with a lot of Marge’s amazing creations. We had a field day in that store — mixing and matching different costumes from different eras — to complement the distinctive look of the film. Marge actually has a cameo in one of the 1700s scenes.

How did you get Dustin Diamond, Neil Hamburger, and Mark Borchardt?

We got in touch with Diamond’s agent and asked if he’d be interested. Same with Hamburger. Shooting with Hamburger went so well that we ended up doing an app with him called Shaky Advice, which led to another app called The On Cinema Film Guide. We’ve known Borchardt for about 13 years and he was a great fit as The Gravedigger.

What are your thoughts on the state of the Milwaukee film/TV industry?

There are so many talented filmmakers here in Milwaukee, but there isn’t enough money being channeled into film and web projects. There just aren’t enough producers or investors in town yet. We funded our film largely ourselves, then did a Kickstarter to help finish production, then the amazing Michael Drescher came in at the 11th hour and helped finance the remainder of our post-production work. We also got some much needed financial assistance through the Mary Nohl Fellowship fund after winning the fellowship award in 2009 and 2014. If you can handle the constraints of micro budget filmmaking, Milwaukee offers a wonderful, nurturing art community.

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