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Codpiece a Sham
or 16th Century Seuss

Maurice Molyneaux

I t's one thing to plan to make a film. It's quite another to actually get out there and make one. So, in order to get the ball rolling and get some practical experience, it was decided to go out and do a little guerrila filmmaking. I wasn't concerned with trying to get it right so much as to see what could be done quickly and cheaply. So, using a fairly limited VHS-C camera, existing costumes, and local locations, I hatched a plan to make a short subject.

Skip & Flounce!
The ham I am!

M y search for a suitable "story" ended when I recalled a skit written in 1997 by Sherri Chenin (then Briggs) and Phil Ratliff, which was a medieval take on Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, in which a lady tries to convince a man to wear a ridiculous padded codpiece. I thought this would be fun to do, so I asked Sherri to see the script. While I was waiting for that, I picked up a copy of the Dr. Seuss original, and was surprised to find that the rhyming patterns and structure were surprisingly complicated, moreso than I remembered. Sherri and Phil's script, amusing as it was, basically played on the "Would you, could you, in a house? Would you, could you, with a mouse?" lines that everyone recognizes, and eliminated the lengthy refrains that reiterate all the places the subject would not, could not. This was not a problem, because, as I'd seen demonstrated in a live performance, people recognized what was being spoofed and enjoyed it regardless of whether or not it really followed Seuss.

Take 2

T he one thing I was determined to do that the source script did not was to spoof the famous refrain: "I do not like green eggs and Ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.". I felt this was essential to have. It also proved to be the toughest line to come up with, because a variation on it had to be spoken by both characters, and the subject had to appear in a special place in the line, which meant the word "codpiece" had to land in the phrase containing "green eggs and ham". Also, just to really hit the nail on the head, I wanted to use the same rhyme sound to reinforce to viewers what we were spoofing. Thus this refrain had to end with an "am" sound.

I   had become increasing interested in aping the exact structure of Green Eggs and Ham, which limited the possible lines a lot. This was very in keeping with the Limited Tools philosophy of setting very rigid restrictions and seeing how creative you could be within those boundaries. What stuck me was the opportunity to use archaic language in the form of a modern work. Also, Seussian rhyming sounds amusingly Shakespearean when you use old english with it.

Pox on you, "Sir Orthodox"!
Noblemen preen like peacocks!

S o, over the week of July 10-13, 1999, Sherri visited and we went to work on trying to bash this thing out. Over a period of several days we hashed over the script. Sherri spent hours coming up with possible rhymes and lines, and then I struggled to fit them into the straightjacket that is Green Eggs and Ham. I know it was a frustrating experience for Sherri, as in the end almost none of the lines she came up with were used as she wrote them. However, her contribution was tremendous because her lines provided many of the key rhymes and were used, even if I totally reconfigured them to fit the structure I was after. That said, she was a trooper and her contribution was no small matter!

Flub!
Another blown take.

I  had originally planned to shoot in and around the trees in Oakland's Lakeside Park, but a few days before Sherri's arrival I was taken to the Oakland Municipal Rose Garden, which practically cried out to be the setting for the film. With its rows of roses, stepped stonework waterfalls, reflecting pool and stairways, it was the perfect locale...and only 10 blocks from my apartment.

S hooting took place in the afternoon on Friday August 13th, with Sherri and I donning our 16th century garb to play the two characters. My friend Malcolm Lowe served as cameraman. Luckily, the Rose Gardens were mostly empty so we didn't have problems with noise or people wandering through shots. Lighting was an issue, as the late afternoon sun was at the wrong angle for many shots, which affected some of the setups. Our biggest technical challenges were the the camera itself, as its batteries did not charge properly, so we had to hurry through as many setups as we could just to get as many of the shots as possible before we ran out of juice. As was, we got approximately 40% of the required footage, comprising the entire beginning and ending, and managed to get that within two hours. We also got a couple of really good bloopers, in one of which Sherri cracks up the moment she looks at me and goes into a laughing fit, and in another, her line "Noblemen preen like peacocks!" comes out "Noblemen preen like pre-cocks!" All in all, I made more bloopers than Sherri, but mine weren't as entertaining as hers!

Pre-cocks
'Pre-cocks.'

T hat evening I picked the shots with the best performances (even some marred by focus problems or wind noise) and edited them together. In order to have a complete "something", I edited in "scene missing" cards for the footage we didn't get, and Sherri and I did quick voiceover on those cards of the dialogue for those scenes.

T he result? It's woefully imperfect. Without time to rehearse or get as many takes as were really needed, the performances are off. The camera work isn't what I wanted, but that's not Malcolm's fault but rather a result of my being in shot instead of behind the camera. Also, hey, it's VHS...so the image quality sucks. Still, for all it's flaws, it was a valuable experience, and a lot of fun to do. Just from shooting it and doing the editing I became aware of how many things I had not considered, and how much on-set improvisation could change things. At first my feeling was to come back at a later date and shoot the missing sequences in order to put it all together, but now I'm convinced I'd rather come back and reshoot everything from scratch, with more rehersal time, extras, and a "crew"...and with someone else playing the lead, as I really do belong behind the camera.

Read the original skit

2nd draft script (revised)

Codpiece a Sham

Credits

Maiden Bride
Sherri Chenin

Lord
Maurice Molyneaux

cameraman
Malcolm Lowe

screenplay
Maurice Molyneaux
Sherri Chenin

based on a skit by
Sherri Chenin
Phil Ratliff

© MIM Maurice Molyneaux