Hooch & Daddy-O, a mockumentary about a pair of washed-up ex-television cops who are "not as cool as Miami Vice, but a little bit better than Starsky & Hutch," began as a weekend project for co-writers and co-producers Jim Ousley and Oscar Madrid. It screened once at the Tivoli in 2005 to an audience mostly made up of the film's cast and crew, family and friends. But the crowd's reaction inspired the St. Louis natives to take the 74-minute film on the road.
"We didn't know going into it — showing [the film] to complete strangers, out of town — what it would be like: Are they not going to laugh at us? Are they going to laugh at the wrong places? But they didn't. People really liked it and went with it," Ousley says of the experience.
And then acclaim started rolling in: The film picked up a couple of awards at Atlanta's Dixie Film Festival, then more in Detroit. More still at Portland, Oregon's Faux Film Festival. Hooch & Daddy-O's unexpected success attracted the attention of the Glendale, California, distribution company Echelon Studios, which made the film available on Netflix and Amazon.
"It was nice, because we didn't know if we were just laughing along with our friends," says Madrid, who's 32. "Because we think we're hilarious," concludes Ousley, 41.
The pair, both business analysts by day, evince an easy rhythm of false braggadocio and honest humility born of a friendship that began when they met as castmates more than a decade ago at Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, a troupe affectionately called the "mutant stepchild of St. Louis Shakespeare," known for its out-there parodies of pop-culture touchstones.
Donna Northcott, Magic Smoking Monkey's artistic director and Hooch & Daddy-O's director, calls Ousley and Madrid two of the funniest actors she's ever worked with, and she credits them both for their dogged determination in wrapping their first film. "I'm still kind of surprised we pulled it off, considering none of us knew anything about movies except for how to buy a ticket and go see one," she says.
Hooch & Daddy-O was an exercise in what they call "guerrilla film school" — learning the ins and outs of business plans, recruiting investors and marketing the film, to say nothing of the moviemaking process itself. Yet Madrid and Ousley have once again thrown themselves full bore into their current, full-length project, The Bloodfest Club. Madrid will direct, and Ousley will star as Sonny Kane, a Chuck Norris-obsessed janitor who has to protect a group of prep-school students from a pack of alien zombies on graduation eve.
"Now, I know that seems like Oscar bait," says Ousley, "but we think it's going to be a really fun movie besides that."
"People are like, 'Good luck with that Chuck-Norris-alien-zombie movie. People are dying for that one. Clamoring,'" Madrid says, picking up the sarcastic slack.
But the script indeed found an early fan in Gordy Hoffman, elder brother of Philip Seymour Hoffman and a Sundance Award-winning screenwriter.
In April Madrid made a last-minute decision to attend an informal "first ten pages" script workshop in Florissant led by Hoffman, whose initial reaction to the film's title was a deadpan "The Bloodfest Club. Really." Madrid was dreading his script being up for critique: Half the workshop's attendees were twentysomething guys, the other half matronly women.
"I didn't want to offend [the women], and there are plenty of offensive things in the script. So they started reading the script, and I'm just sitting there. And the women, with their faces, just looked disgusted. And the guys were cracking up and loving it," Madrid recalls. "I started watching Gordy, and he was cracking up. At the end of it, the women told us how much they hated the script and how offensive it was, and the guys said they couldn't wait to see the movie, and how the janitor's the coolest guy, and they want to get behind this character and read more of the script. And Gordy stepped up and started defending the script to the women that were critiquing it. And he sent me an e-mail: 'Send me your whole screenplay!'"
The pair entered the script into Hoffman's prestigious BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, where it ranked in the top 10 percent of all 3,000 entries.
The Bloodfest Club will be the pair's second film created under the imprimatur of their company, Crunchy Cool Films, which they started in 2005. The screenplay's complete, as are the storyboards and a partial soundtrack. Now Ousley and Madrid are trying to line up additional financing to get the film into production — they hope, in St. Louis. And because shooting a film here is still somewhat of a novelty, plenty of people are enthusiastic about the project: Crew members, actors, musicians and film students have all offered their help.
"With that comes the responsibility. These people want to be involved, so you really want to work your hardest to make sure that the product can be completed, packaged," says Madrid. "There's nothing worse than when you hear of films in town where they didn't finish it, or they're not distributing it, or people can't see it. So that's something that we really take to heart."
"We talk about ourselves like we're a couple of chuckleheads, but we really work hard to do the best we can to do the story justice and make sure everyone involved can be proud of it, and not just us," adds Ousley.
Certainly, audiences will recognize some parallels between the characters in The Bloodfest Club and several classic '80s films, including Sixteen Candles, The Lost Boys, The Goonies and, of course, The Breakfast Club. That is, until the film takes a dark turn toward the "horror" side of the "comedy-horror" genre.
"So we have this really goofy concept, but we try to write smart, snappy, witty dialogue. We want it to have that great wit, that charm, that John Hughes' films had," says Madrid.
They hope the script's depth of character will draw audiences into rooting for the students and their well-intentioned leader, Sonny the janitor.
"It was important to us to have a real threat there, so that it just wasn't some spoof comedy like Scary Movie or something. We wanted something more visceral," Ousley elaborates.
"Not that we don't want to make money like Scary Movie," Madrid puts in.
"We would like that," Ousley agrees. "We'd love to be a Scary Movie. We'd love to be anything. We just want to make a movie."
To see clips from some of Jim and Oscar's films, visit www.riverfronttimes.com/microsites/ousley-madrid
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