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Innocent Bystanders: The Making of Sex Seafood as We Saw It
As told by The Smiths (the film crew, not Morrissey)
Epic. Legendary. Easily assembled with very little overhead. These are just a few of the many praises afforded to the world's finest film crew ever to be assembled via a page of the phone book. You probably know them better as The Smiths: the structural foundation of the Sex Seafood empire. But who are the Smiths? Where did they come from? Why in God's name would they agree to work for Peter Bogdanovich and the Unrelated Quotes Guy? Tonight, Semi-National Docufilms explores these questions and more (time permitting). Welcome to Innocent Bystanders.
Joe Smith 24: I got the call at about, maybe 5:21 in the morning...some guy on the line was talking about Indonesia. I couldn't understand a thing he said...
In the summer of 1974, Peter Bogdanovich and the Unrelated Quotes Guy were ready to make the most epic independent film of the century. In doing so, the pair needed a team of highly talented, highly motivated, superiorly skilled group of individuals to man their production crew. On a budget of approximately $7.34, the pair consulted the most highest caliber talent source available: the ever-trustworthy New York White Pages.
Joe Smith 13: Hah, Yeah I remember Guy on the phone, recruiting at first. At first it was like woah, what the hell are you talkin' about pal? Antarctica? Then Pete came on, and HA, it was like...well shit, man that was almost worse than UQG...
Joe Smith 4: Yeah, Peter Bogdanovich was a bit of a loose cannon, but like, one with a very long fuse I guess. Not because he wasn't angry, 'cause he definitely was – or maybe depressed, I don't know – but it was a long fuse because he never could get the fuckin' words out of his mouth. It was like he was talkin' in his sleep at all points of the god damn day. I remember one time it took him seven hours to say "I had to cancel the lunch break today because we're behind schedule." Of course, by the time he'd finished, all of us were gone to lunch already, so he was standing in the room, talking to himself. Oddly enough, he just kept right on talking even though we were all gone...it wasn't until six o'clock that evening that he realized the studio was empty.
What was it like to be a Smith, arriving on the set of "Sex Seafood" for the very first time? What was it like to work with two such distinguished gentlemen on a film? We turned to Joe Smith #28, the female impersonator known best for doing the voice of Daphne, for answers.
Joe Smith 28: (Smith #28 is a man, with a large mustache that's halfheartedly concealed by a piece of paper, wearing a dress with the words, "I AM A WOMAN!!!!" written on it) Yes, I distinctly remember the first time I showed up to work on the film. Peter Bogdanovich was off doing some important work for a film studio, and so, when I showed up, it was just Unrelated Quotes Guy and myself. He said, "Fetch me some toothpaste...for my nipples." It was quite confusing. Thankfully, Peter Bogdanovich showed up a few minutes later to confuse me even more.
Joe Smith 46: Yeah, Peter was an interesting director to work with. He was always very understanding, very kind...aside from those occasional times when he'd shoot one of our heads off with a large bazooka...but that only happened on rare occasions, like maybe...once or twice a week. Yes, I'd say that Peter was a warm, helpful person, at least ten percent of the time.
What motivated these normal young men to briefly shed their middle-class, average existences in favor of working on an artistic project of such magnitude? Was it a desire to make a difference in the world? A hope to become a part of an artistic project of great magnitude? A wish to become involved in making a profound statement about the human race? We went to the Smiths for answers.
Joe Smith 11: It was for the money, really. Bogdanovich was offering us ten cents a week, which was more than I made working at the gas station, so I accepted. It was for that, and the free food. The Seafood restaurant where we were filming gave us complimentary fish sticks every day. Actually, they didn't...we just stole the food...but it was good food, nonetheless.
Joe Smith 28: Hmm...why did I join...well, when Peter Bogdanovich was talking to me about it on the phone, I hung up after an hour because I had a hair appointment. It had taken him an hour to say "I'm making a movie," because he got sidetracked and started talking about some guy named "Orson Welles." Apparently a divine being of some sort. But I decided to drop in anyway, and found out the film was going to be called "Sex Seafood." I immediately accepted a role in the film as the female lead, because I thought it was going to be a porn film. I've always wanted to do a porn film. I worked on one in college, but we stopped after eight weeks of production when we realized that we had forgotten to buy a camera.
Joe Smythe: Ah, I had no idea what the movie was about, I just heard the word "Sex" and accepted immediately. The minute I showed up at the studio, Bogdanovich seemed enchanted by my presence. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it had something to do with my thighs. But anyway, he said he wanted me to voice the main character, Alex. Or was it Alexis? I don't know. I didn't understand a word of the script, I just read all the lines as fast as I could so I could make it to the local club in time for the "Amateur contest."
So, Bogdanovich and UQG now had a crew, and were ready to begin filming. What were the early days of production like?
Joe Smith 76: It was a really chaotic start, no doubt about it. Which is odd, because you'd think it would be fairly difficult to mess up something as simple as filming a fish tank for a few hours. But we managed to, nonetheless. At first, we showed up at the wrong building, I think it was a post office. Unrelated Quotes Guy and Bogdanovich had a huge argument. Bogdanovich was angry because we were behind schedule, and I'm not really sure what Unrelated Quotes Guy was angry about. He said something about chewing gum.
Joe Smith 33: Oh yeah, I remember going to the post office instead of the seafood restaurant. Apparently, the cab driver was distraught after listening to Bogdanovich talk for 45 minutes as they were driving. Bog insisted on giving the driver advise on everything, including the proper amount of pressure to apply to the gas pedal. Then again, the driver might have just been stressed out by the fact that he had an entire film crew of more than 100 people crammed into his cab. We were on a fairly tight budget. After a while, we finally managed to get to the restaurant, to start filming the fish tank.
Joe Smith 13: Yeah, I was in charge of lighting when we filmed the movie. That basically meant that my job was to sit and stare at the little lightbulb that illuminated the tank, and make sure the light didn't turn off. I did my job faithfully, aside from in one instance when a hot girl walked by the tank and I was distracted. I looked away, and in that split second, the lightbulb in the tank died. It took a full two minutes to change the lightbulb. Bogdanovich was furious. I explained that I had been distracted by the hot woman, and I pointed her out to him. He informed me that it was his mother. That was my last day of production.
Joe Smith 11: Oh God, I remember when Bogdanovich's mother came to visit. Bogdanovich was very excited to introduce her to us: "Gentlemen, I uh...that is...uhm...*siiigh*...I'd like to interview...uh...introduce...I'd like to introduce you to my father...MOTHER! *cough*." It went something like that.
Joe Smith 98: The early days of filming were extremely difficult, I've heard. I wasn't there, of course, because I was the makeup artist, and very few of the fish involved needed makeup. The polar bear would have needed some, most definitely, but Bogdanovich wrote her out of the script, which really was a shame. But yeah, I did the makeup. We got a lot of pressure from the studio to make Daphne more attractive, perhaps by using glue to stick pictures of women's boobs on her shell. But Bogdanovich stuck up for his art and refused, I got to keep the pictures of the boobs for myself.
Soon, the seafood restaurant had been converted into a working movie studio. How did this affect patronage in the restaurant? Were customers happy to be an indirect part of such an epic project? We turned to the Smiths for answers.
Joe Smythe: I don't remember. I was drunk the entire time.
Joe Smith 4: Most of the customers were actually really annoyed by us. Bogdanovich would sit down at every single table while people were eating and start talking to them, usually something along these lines: "No, no, don't...don't stand up, feel free to remain seated...in the presence of my g-g-...that is, the genius that is...in...uh...my presence." He would then talk to them for hours on end, often criticizing their choices of meals and giving them complementary lists of his own favorite meal choices. I think the restaurant went out of business shortly after we finished filming there. Bogdanovich wanted to convert it into a Museum devoted to Sex Seafood, but I guess he had had more to drink than usual that day, because he ended up buying the wrong building.
Joe Smith 30: Yeah, Number 4 is right, the customers were all really irritated by us. Except for a few of them, who were more confused then annoyed. If I recall, one of them mistook UQG's camera for a ketchup dispenser. Unrelated Quotes Guy was actually inspired by this, and planned to embark on an epic art film project in which he'd shoot eight hours worth of footage of ketchup dispensers, followed by eight hours of footage of cameras, and end the film with a shot of a dead chicken. I don't think he ever made that film, though, because he lost his mind and moved to South America. It's a good thing, too, because it sounds like it would have been boring as hell.