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[whitespace] Lights, Camera, Cuppa Joe

Campbell--The King's Head parking lot's debut as a sound stage has been delayed. Videographer Chris Avery explains that the cameras and equipment were inadvertently left behind at the sound guy's house.

The crew settles in for a wait. The three directors and four actors--all of them younger than the first Sony Walkman--sit in the white plastic chairs in front of the King's Head Bar and Grill, waiting for the equipment to arrive.

This local film-in-the-making is a full-length movie titled Kava, a "social commentary" based on life in a coffee shop. Co-directors Mike McGee, Bryce Dumont and Jeff Arachuleta co-wrote the screenplay and are co-producing the film with Chris Avery and Nicole Hall of Campbell's Lynx Productions.

McGee, 23, explains that he spotted the word "kava" (Polish for coffee) on the wall at the Campbell Coffee Roasting Company in the Pruneyard shopping center.

"Every night we were at coffee sitting there, sitting there, sitting there," he says. All that sitting around finally got to them. They decided to get up and make a film about--what else?--sitting around in a coffeehouse. Thus Kava was born.

Dumont, McGee and Arachuleta formed Campbell Motion Pictures at the end of June. "We wanted control of our movies and our art," Arachuleta says.

"We like to think of ourselves as what [Generation X author] Douglas Copeland calls the 'poverty jet set,' " says 22-year-old Dumont, a San Jose State University student. "We make enough money only to achieve our next objective"--which is to transfer the video to film, a process that costs between $30,000 and $60,000. Money is scarce. The headquarters of Campbell Motion Pictures is located in Dumont's parents' home. The filmmakers' friends and family have donated approximately $500; Dumont says so far they've spent $3000, mostly his money.

After transferring the video to film, they plan to enter Kava in independent film festivals. As for Campbell, the city seems to be looking forward to seeing itself on the silver screen. The King's Head gladly allowed the young filmmakers to use it as a location shoot. The directors say that other business owners and Campbell police have cooperated fully with cast and crew. Orchard Valley Coffee--where most of the interiors were shot--and the Gaslight Theater have offered to host the film's screening.

With 70 members, the cast of Kava is enormous compared to many other independent films. "We have a huge group of friends," McGee explains.

The banter and inside jokes on the set resemble the nighttime scene at Campbell Coffee Roasting Company: teenagers and post-teenagers jiving, chatting, trading mild insults, watching and posing.

"I've never seen an independent film with as many characters as we have in Kava," says Dumont. Kava, Dumont says, is "a big prequel" to other films each wants to direct.

Although Kava is their first feature-length film, the group has a few quickie slasher films to its credit, starting in 1997.

"We made Blood Massacre 19 in one night," McGee says gleefully, "with a $28 budget."

"Plus pizza," Dumont adds."

"For the climactic car chase scene, we had to blow up his [Arachuleta's] car," McGee says. Arachuleta, 22, protests that it wasn't his "real" car, but only a Hot Wheels car.

"But it looked a lot like your car," McGee says.

"You could see a hand holding a Bic lighter to the [gun]powder, on the film," says Arachuleta, laughing. For the gore in the eponymous massacres, the resourceful filmmakers employed stage blood mixed with Strawberry Quick.

Blood Massacre 18 and Blood Massacre 17 were filmed during breaks from college during the next year. "It was a long, drawn-out process," McGee says. By the time Blood Massacre 17 was completed, all of their friends "had either played a killer or been killed."

Dumont says he also made videos for his French class at Westmont High School. He and his friends shot the short videos in English, then dubbed them into French for class credit. "We made sure the dubbing was off-sync, like in a bad Hong Kong action film," he adds.

Dumont says that San Jose State offers only one filmmaking class, which he took four times. The three would-be filmmakers began to meet Saturday mornings at Campbell Coffee Roasting Company "to plan films," McGee says.

Dumont says that Kava's subject matter resembles Richard Linklater's SubUrbia, the 1997 film in which a half-dozen post-teens aimlessly swill beer and complain outside a suburban mini-mart. "But with a more positive message," Dumont says. "We're saying our generation should do more."

Coffeehouses have served as public living rooms for adults in Italy and France for three centuries. In suburban America during the past half decade, coffeehouses are off-line chat rooms; primary meeting places for young people too old for the schoolyard, but too young for brewpubs. The coffeehouses are social halls where young people find the weekend's parties, form new relationships, scrap over territory and share music and art. Kava , explains the three principles of Campbell Motion Pictures, comprises this low-key social nexus.

The camera crew finally drives up to the King's Head in a faded red '67 VW Bug. They begin unloading the high-definition video equipment.

Videographer Avery places the video camera and tripod in the middle of the parking lot as the sun hangs low over his right shoulder. The actors take their marks. Without clapboard, McGee steps in front of the camera and mimes "take one," raising one finger.

The camera has just begun to roll when a hissing sound emanates from the bushes and the automatic sprinklers come on. On take two, a pickup truck pulls into the parking lot with its stereo blaring Joe Walsh's '70s song "Life's Been Good." The cast and crew wait for the song to end--it's the long version.

Take three is botched when an actor forgets his line. "It's the shortest line in the scene," says another actor. "That's why I keep forgetting it," he replies.

By the fifth take the sound guy is rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand. McGee pulls a dish towel from the pocket of his cargo pants and mops his head. Jeff Arachuleta huddles with the actors. After the directors review take six in the digital viewfinder, two hours after cast and crew arrived in the parking lot, McGee announces to the crew's relief that the 30-second scene is complete.
Don Hines

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Web extra to the August 26-September 1, 1999 issue of Metro.

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