Making Meme Part 0: Where Meme Came From

Meme is Now Available to Watch on AppleTV, Amazon, and from 4MileCircus

“Making Meme” is a series of blog posts about the long process of taking a project from an idea to a completed feature film. I made a lot of mistakes on the way and learned a lot of lessons, but I also had a lot of fun and got to work with a lot of wonderful people throughout the process. These posts are presented in the hopes of helping others in their struggles to make a film.

 – Sean Mannion, Writer/Director, Meme

Read this series in order from the beginning

Where does a film about a woman looking for the creator of a homemade mashup videotape come from? It’s 2018, do people even know what a videotape is anymore? Meme is a mix of inspirations. Much like the academic usage of the term “meme” I took an idea, changed it, and shared it.

Probably the first clear inspiration for Meme is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. I first watched the movie in my teens when my uncle loaned me a few of his DVDs. I watched it late in the evening, alone, and was delighted by how weird it was. It being the late 90s and me spending probably too much time online and using one chat handle or another I connected with Brian O’Blivion’s notion of everyone one day having a “television name.” I’ve rewatched the movie at least a dozen times since. The visceral connection between body and media depicted in the film has had an influence on a lot of my work.

In October 2011 my friend David texted me a photo of a poster at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. The poster was for an event called “VHS Possessed!” It was an event hosted by the fine folks at Horror Boobs, Wild Eye Releasing, and VHS Vault. There were supposed to be games and prizes and a screening of the Turkish ripoff of The Exorcist: Seytan. I knew who none of these people were and had never heard of this movie but it looked like a lot of fun. So, we all went to the event a few days later. It was wonderful. Everyone was very friendly and inclusive. The games were silly and fun. There was a VCR exorcism. This was the night I found out there are people who didn’t just throw out their VHS tapes in favor of DVD. In fact, there was a whole community that kept their tapes and collected rare ones. I was very taken with this idea and filed it away for future reference.

Poster for the VHS Possessed Event where Sean learned about VHS collecting.

Around 2012 I saw a short news item saying that Universal was planning to remake Videodrome. I thought that was nonsense as the film is very much of its time and any remake would have to adapt the material to such a degree that it would either be unrecognizable or feel very forced and superficial. A remake made no sense. A sequel, however, could be interesting. I wrote an outline for a sequel and tucked the text file away for some other day. The sequel outline had many references to this VHS collectors community I’d learned about at the VHS Possessed event.

In 2013 I was just getting my, definitely Videodrome inspired, short film “Abel and Cain” out to some festivals and screenings. I was mulling over what I should do next. A new short or maybe a web series. I played with some ideas. Nothing was clicking. I went out and saw the new film from Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers, it looked sort of entertaining but what was interesting to me was that the Director of Photography was the same one Gaspar Noe had worked with on his recent films, Benoit Debie, and I loved how those looked. I stepped out of Spring Breakers fixated on the style of it. Not nonlinear like Pulp Fiction but a mostly linear film with flashes of the past and future throughout to underscore what was happening emotionally. I wanted to make something like that. I needed to make a feature and something like this was my path to it, but I wasn’t sure what it would be.

I mulled over the film for awhile. It reminded me of a similarly edited film I quite liked, Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout. I rewatched that film. I thought about what kind of story I might want to tell and then I thought of that Videodrome sequel outline I’d written. Well, there was no way I could make a Videodrome sequel because of rights issues alone, so I started mixing up the elements a little and worked through how the story could work using the style I’d seen in Spring Breakers and Walkabout. Within a month I had my first draft screenplay for an untitled film about a journalist who finds a strange videotape and then gets sucked into a weird video cult. It was a bad screenplay, but it was a screenplay. I was motivated so I started talking to some people about it.

I had in mind for the lead an actor whose look I liked. We knew each other socially and he’d come and worked with me on a silly web video one time. We discussed it. He wanted to see a script. I worked on my first rewrite before sending it to him. I fleshed out the characters more and developed Jennifer, the lead’s girlfriend. She didn’t have much to do but it was a draft, I’d fix it later. In the meantime I put out a casting notice for the film and specifically that character. As I said, I was motivated. I met with Sarah Schoofs for the role of Jennifer after looking over her résumé and reels. We ended up talking for 3 hours. I gave her the role on the spot. I never met with anyone else for the role.

After meeting with Sarah I went home and started reworking the Jennifer character. She needed to be better fleshed out and now I had someone specific in mind. I had sent a version of the script to the actor I was interested in for the lead. A few weeks later he had read it and expressed he wasn’t interested. I had been having difficulties with my rewrites. They weren’t working. There was something missing. When he expressed he wasn’t interested, I was disappointed, but it gave me an idea: “what if the problem is who is leading the plot?” I switched storylines between the boyfriend and Jennifer and suddenly things were starting to work. I had fresh ideas to build the film out further. I was excited about it. I contacted Sarah with a new version with her character in the lead and she was excited to see the new changes. I began working on further rewrites and building the rest of the team.

The story then wasn’t as it finally ended up. It didn’t even resemble the shooting script we finally had, but it did have the core concepts and ideas ingrained in it. Meme came from these mix of inspirations: Videodrome, VHS Collectors, nonlinear storytelling in Walkabout and Spring Breakers, and meeting Sarah Schoofs.

In the next part, I will cover our failed attempt at crowdfunding for Meme.

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