'Everything is Fine'
an epic morality tale of syrupy & sugary proportions
Deep in the dark woods, Hansel and Gretel-esque children are in search of some good, clean food. That is, until High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Corn Sugar (CS) and their gangs come along! Stuck between their growling stomachs and nasty food options, with 'Everything is Fine', the battle of the belly officially begins!
[Click on the video above to view the 'Everything is Fine' trailer]
"What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?"
This line begins the 'Everything is Fine' trailer, and with that question we follow Hansel and Gretel-esque characters in their search for good, clean food.
Along this journey, the two run into the ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and his posse of ne'er-do-wells who tempt them with their delicious blocks of sweets only before they encounter Corn Sugar (CS) and her squadron of inedible miscreants.
Before long, the two children find themselves in the midst of a turf war, that turf being the bellies of impressionable children everywhere. Through it all, the Natural Elements (Sun, Cloud, Rain, Earth) watch in disbelief with hope that the right decision is made by the children caught in the middle of this food war.
Shot with a cast of all children as a school play, 'Everything is Fine' is an epic musical that explores the contemporary issue of falsely advertised nutritional information.
Utilizing original costumes, sets, music and lyrics and complete with leaves, balloons and confetti cannons, 'Everything is Fine' is a must-see film that asks the question of what we're really feeding our children and, if in the end, "Is Everything Fine?"
More photos coming soon! Continue to check back for pre-production stills, behind-the-scenes stills, film stills and character stills!
From furry pianists and stagehands to molecule-like hooligans, see the costumes designed by Bradlee Crawford Hicks for 'Everything is Fine'!
[Click on the images below to view the various characters from 'Everything is Fine']
[Photos by Balthazar Photography]
'Everything is Fine': A Production Company's Odyssey by William S. Davis
Writing about the 'Everything is Fine' project is difficult to begin, not because of a lack of stories and events to tell, but because the beginning of the project itself is fairly hard to identify. We (Yellow Arrow Film, Inc.) began this project with a single goal: to present a negative High Fructose Corn Syrup/Corn Sugar ad as an antibody to the positive spins that were being released on national markets.
During this time, we came up with some incredible (as well as incredibly terrible) ideas on how to do this, but eventually arrived at a children's play, as this was who we were most concerned with as targets of said advertising campaigns; that, and the populations of consumers who trust and believe in the validity of the messages they are presented. It takes little research into the nature of corn syrup/sugar to find that it is bad for you, yet the campaigns referencing this subject told quite the opposite. On a moral level this was absurd, but on an informational level this was a monopolization. I suppose it should be said that on an aesthetic level we also found significant room for improvement. And so with these trains of thought intact and guiding our decisions, we set off to make some propaganda of our own.
A benefit of working in a group like Yellow Arrow Film is that there are literally no limitations we put around our projects. Each member has a specific and unique history with their art, and we are all connected through the fact that if we don't perviously have experience of knowledge with an aspect of a project we are creating, we simply learn and implement, and this has been the case for both large and small items in our productions. For this project, the challenge was not so much one of creating previously untested materials, but of the quantity and scale of the materials required.
Here is what we knew: school plays had sets, and usually costumes, and definitely children. Somehow the corn sugar ads had been able to get away with the gross negativity associated with high fructose corn syrup, most likely by getting ride of the aggressive chemically-inferred connotations in "high fructose" and "syrup" as the caboose of this run-on title, and replacing it with the nice, common word "sugar". Well, "corn" and "sugar" both sound natural enough, so it's just gotta be good, right? Only in this case, two positives actually equal a negative, but never mind all the confusing details, just think of families sharing picnics together in a corn field and it'll all be okay. The symbolic imagery of the nuclear family is a powerful force, one that most have a deeply embedded cultural stigma against playing the contrarian to, even if the key word being questioned is "nuclear". This pandering to the lowest common denominator of both intelligence and sentiment was irksome, so much so that the only way we figured they were able to preach such insane messages was because they actually believed it. So we decided to take them back to school, but not just regular school, we needed the kind that would register and promote more fear, anxiety, depression and contempt than any other: we were going to middle school.
A middle school production of a play gave us a little more leeway in the sophistication of elements presented, but still required us to maintain a sense of feasibility and a hands-on aesthetic. We also wanted to craft a highlighted experience for the viewer that would maintain a general audience perspective from the theater seating wherein the camera would be able to float about from this perspective to highlight certain events and instances. Our stage was set, as well as how we would film it, so now it was time to create everything in front of the camera.
It's amazing how random skills and interests from the past can emerge to help unify and solidify ideas in the present. At first thought it may seem to be a bit risky to base entire ideas off of sketches, tests and ideas sometimes years old, but we've had so much success in this practice that we nw use this as a starting point for many of our ideas.
For our costumes we were able to take Brad's prior efforts sewing random creature costumes in graduate school and develop a system and structure to create 20-odd costumes for children. In fact, some of the costumes were characters previously crafted for these projects: the piano player, the leaf tosser and the background extras all had premiere parts in earlier works and were recycled as cameo characters in this film. From this, Brad developed a system and structure to create the massive amount of new costumes for the children, easily doubling the number of costumes he had previously created in an amazing 2-week period. Luckily, Brad had danced and performed in a most of his costumes, so the challenge of choreography was lessened a bit by seeing the costumes' resilience in their previously filmed "tests".
For the sets we employed years of Nathan's past as a graffiti artist to create a 32 foot wide by 8 foot tall backdrop for the stage. While Nathan had done countless murals of various sizes and shapes on the sides of trains and buildings, the wooden floorboards posed a number of technical challenges. Working on the boards was the first challenge, as Nathan lived in Asheville, I (his graffiti apprentice) lived in Charlotte. Finding a space to create and store the boards was a bit of a predicament as well, so we elected to work in our hometown of Wilkesboro (1.5-2 hours away from myself and Nathan, respectively) after receiving a discount on supplies at Lowe's (another Wilkesboro item, as it was founded there) from an anonymous source (thanks, sis!). This involved working in the largest, free-est space we had available to us, which happened to be my mom's basement in the house I grew up. We began working outside against the back of the house, but was snowing the first day on the job and so we had to move the party indoors. So that the fumes didn't kill us outright during the pre-production phase of the project, we invested in some heavy duty masks to keep as many of our brain cells intact as possible. While these worked fairly well and made me feel like I was in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter, it took and honest 4 weeks after our last day of spray painting before the smell of fumes subsided in my mom's house.
I won't bore you with details of lugging the designs back and forth from Wilkesboro to Charlotte to Gastonia to Wilkesboro again, but suffice it to say that many a splinter, cut, bruise, brain cell and sweat droplet were found by the end of this process.
The series of boards were designed so that the boards would get progressively more foreboding as the viewer looked from left to right. It was important for the blocking of the children that they came from the most "natural" side of the board where the trees and foliage were full and the sky read all things natural, and that we would first be introduced to HFCS from the more toxic side. The same rules of blocking would also apply to the Natural Elements, as they would only be found onstage where the toxins had not yet begun to take over.
The design for the background for the final shot in 'Everything is Fine' is based off of a vector graphic Nathan created which presents a nuclear future. For this, we wanted something that would have an overaccenuated appeal via Lisa Frank trapper keepers: something that was seemingly a good idea to someone but at some point just went overboard into visual chaos. This future was designed to be the visual equivalent of the food we see and consume on a regular basis, wherein the natural environment is swallowed whole and what is left is something unpure and destructive, all the while wrapped in a pretty package to distract from what exists at it's core. A lot of discussion went into this element as it was quite expensive, even with the gracious discount Nathan's father's printing business was able to give us (thanks, Gary!), but we knew that to see the total transformation of ideals and values as an end-all for the food decline our story dealt with, the visual apparatus would have to change alongside it.
The lyrics for the play came after a series of attempts by many people to create not just lines that would help promote our message of food consideration, but also tell a story that could be followed in a linear fashion to allow it to develop as the characters were introduced. In the end, I was able to come up with a set of lyrics that worked on both these levels, and continued to tweak and adjust some of the lines during the rehearsal process so that the rhythms would be more distinguishable between the different characters. It was important that each character was given a unique and individual personality where appropriate so that the overriding conflict of negative food consumption could be nuanced with subtler conflicts and character arcs to flesh out the story. For instance, Gretel's perseverance and steadfast determination against criminal foods is balanced and constantly questioned by the ever-hungry Hansel and his seemingly endless need for food at all costs. The same treatment was applied to High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Sugar, wherein HFCS was written as an aggressive spinster and CS came in as an overly sweet seductress. The end result of their ridiculousness and lies was the same, but their path to this point was decidedly and intentionally different.
The musical accompaniment to the lyrics was created simultaneously and was designed in 9 parts to allow for a full musical experience to be presented in condensed form with the film. Though the entire compositions run at around 7-8 minutes, they were built in a condensed form to create the microcosmic sensation of a full theatrical production. With this in mind, the songs served the purpose to introduce Hansel and Gretel, begin the questioning of HFCS, introduce the character of HFCS followed by CS, present a natural alternative (to-be-mocked by the unnatural elements), the kids' confusion and questioning of what is right and wrong to eat while HFCS and CS battle to claim their prize of title victory, and a nuclear future where all simply give up and in to brainless food consumption. The irony of the words "Everything is fine, okay! Corn syrup and sugar are the same!" obviously is unable to solve any of the questions posed by either Hansel or Gretel, but the confusion and spin given by HFCS and CS has obviously taken over logic and won by a smaller battle being focused on instead of the great war that is food consumption. At the same time, the incriminating evidence of their similitude is exposed so that the "badness" of one is transfused into the other, only the world has changed against all rational thought. Even with the smiles, cuteness and joy of the words being sung, a decay was designed to have overtaken all thought, words and song at the end of the musical.
The choreography was an interesting process, and required a leap of faith by myself and producer Rusty Sheridan. Yellow Arrow Film is endowed with many great gifts, however dancing is not one of them (Bradlee excluded). We met and spoke with children's choreographers leading up to the rehearsal period, and the decision was arrived at that the move requirements of the children, as well as the amateurish nature of what we were looking for, would best be left to the amateurs themselves, them being us. Rusty and I then went about a multifaceted rehearsal process wherein he would warm the group up as I rehearsed lyrics with kids and he would do group exercises as I choreographed each separate piece together. The play begins with 2 children and ends with around 20, so the choreography was laid out both chronologically and with respect to the growing number groups that had to share space onstage for the production. Movements were boiled down to their most essential ingredients, as the costumes were being prepared in NY and so these 2 elements would not combine into the full performance until the weekend of the shoot.
The location we filmed in was 1 of many theaters viewed and traveled to by Rusty and I, and for myself, I knew that I had found the home of our school play as soon as I walked through the front doors of the school. As a filmmaker I am often more interested in creating a temporary world and moment surrounding the shoot than in the finished film itself, and having the chlidren in an actual school with classrooms, art decorating the walls and a performance space built at the core of its structure was an ideal layout for the environment we were attempting to build. This approach toward a modified realism proved to be successful during the production as well, with classrooms having their own assignments from changing to sewing rooms and parents, craft services and the production office spread throughout the main hallway. It was important for me that the production take place in a believable space for children to perform and create art, and while we visited many amazing venues, there was a sterility present that lacked this personal atmosphere. It is quite apparent to me that countless child performers have inhabited the space we shot in, and I believe the children were able to tap into that energy as well, oftentimes with their parents being allowed to sit in as audience members of their scenes just as the plays would have afforded.
The filming took place over a 3-day period, the first of which was entirely for setup. On this day we installed the background sets and arrived at an accordian design that was harnessed behind the boards to the wall so that my fear of crushing children with art wouldn't be realized and captured by 3 cameras at once. We also played many a fair game of flip the breakers and ran power to nearly every circuit in the building to achieve the lighting scenarios the scenes demanded. During this time Bradlee fit the children with their respective outfits and made any adjustments that were needed. With these elements in place, we spread the leaves (most of which from Erik's house, the remainder from Rusty's yard) on the stage to further accent the environment and headed back to Charlotte to get some rest before the first day of filming.
Though there were many challenges in regard to camera angles, lighting scenarios being hidden within the set, choreography and singing, we were able to move through the 2 days of production with relative ease. Though the hours were long as expected, almost all the children were able to remember their blocking and lyrics and held their composure from underneath their felt wrappings from the early morning until late evening both nights. As the school was in operation and there were no holidays to be had, we knew that completing the video over the weekend was our only option, and we accomplished all the needed shots with very little delay. Whereas some shoots may have had one recurring issue plague its progression, the 'Everything is Fine' shoot existed as a shoot where standard issues of creating a production of this scale would arise and the team would devise a plan to conquer it.
The post-production process went through a little under 20 edits, beginning with the full version of the play and transitioning into a trailer of the work. Each edit had a particular challenge given to it, and the end result features many of these facets and challenges. What this allowed us to do was to isolate individual elements of the piece: the dialogue, the visuals, the message (heard both diegetically and non-diegetically, as well as seen through various titles) and the rhythms created and to critique, whittle and combine them into their best form. I don't believe I've ever seen a project go through so many drastic changes while maintaining its core thematic values, just as I don't know if I've found myself so deeply involved with so many aspects of a film in all phases of its productions. While this is undoubtedly a full Yellow Arrow Film creation that could have not happened at all, let alone to the degree of accomplishment experienced, without the full support and dedication of our company's members, I am personally very connected to this project. From the first ideas that were brainstormed to the sets killing braincells, from auditioning and rehearsing music and dance numbers with and endless line of children to fixing leaf patches on the ground, from recording voiceovers, ADR, songs and musical compositions to writing these words right now, this project marks an important moment to me personally as a growing filmmaker and to our company's potential as a whole.
In the end, no children were crushed by sets, all elements came together as designed and high fructose corn syrup/corn sugar did not reign supreme, at least temporarily. I continued my enjoyment of working with children and with my company, full pistons running. I am proud of the work that we came up with, no so much in the end result we arrived at that we are able to share with you, but with the unique and extreme set of challenges we gave ourselves and were able to take in stride. Though the project is short as they all tend to be in comparison with the efforts put forth, I can honestly say that the markers of time and progression experienced by myself, and I believe all of the members of Yellow Arrow Film, were profound in their challenge and dedication toward building a work of size and significance in its concept, artistry and execution.
So after all is said and done, looking over the challenges and accomplishments, I am comfortable saying that at least in the world we temporarily created, everything is fine.