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Articles > Behind the Scenes with La Toalla Productions (2/15/07)




Sean Janzen and Michael Arkof of Team La Toalla Productions (Irvine, CA) speak about the making of their film, "Caveman Chronicles : The Quest for the Eternal Flame".  Their film took home the grand prize in Movie Making Madness 2006.






PHOTOS - Make sure to check out production photos of "Caveman Chronicles" at the end of the interview.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Were you happy with the assignment you received (Comedy / Mockumentary about Stealing) or would you have preferred a different assignment?

Sean:  Personally my strengths are porn and midget wrestling.  Can you say midget?  Or is it little person?  Anyways, I was excited about the opportunity to explore a dramatic story about man's hopeless struggle against the cruelty of nature...which is...when you think about it...kind of funny.

Michael:  A Comedy?!  OH MY GOD why didn't anyone tell me we were making a comedy?!  Anyways…wait…can you repeat the middle part?

Publicist:  Because this was a written interview, with time allotted for answers, Michael and Sean are not mature enough to handle it…so you can go ahead and ignore everything that they say in the rest of the interview.  What they meant to say was that we actually requested Comedy/Mockumentary because it appears to us the most gratifying of all genres when working with a big group of filmmakers.  Also, it seems that comedy is easier to write than, for example drama, when you have 5 writers.  Everyone just throws out funny moments and ideas.  Then you try and connect the jokes to the plot.  If they fit, great, if not...keep thinking.  But either way, it seems easier to satisfy 5 writers with a joke rather than a dramatic plot device on which you end up simply compromising and not truly enjoying.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  It looked like a big production.  How many people worked on the film during the entire production process?

Sean:  I don't know.  I was in my trailer the whole time.  But if I had to guess I’d say it must have been thousands.  I'd say a good 20% of the crew was lost to typhoid fever.  But that’s the price you pay for the immortality of the silver screen.

Michael:  I don't know.  Sean was in his trailer the whole time.  I was inside the trailer inside Sean's trailer.  You think about it.

Publicist: We had 38 (give or take a thousand).

NYC MIDNIGHT: How did you schedule your shoot over the 2 week period?

Michael:  A host of monkeys typing on monkey typewriters for months before the competition, day and night, and they ended up with some crap about Shakespeare.  So I had them all shaved and shipped to NASA and my friends and I wrote Caveman Chronicles.

Sean:  Early on I could tell this was an important project to Michael, when crates of bananas appeared on our doorstep.  It was crucial for Michael to find a competent and talented director who could adapt his monkeys' vision to the screen.  But on such short notice we narrowed it down to me and the kitchen mop.  The mop was set to star opposite Keanu Reeves in the 4th Matrix movie, so I won by default.

Publicist:  Once again, what Michael and Sean were trying to convey was that this project was a huge undertaking and a logistics nightmare.  Between driving up to the Film LA office all week in wonderful rush hour to secure locations and then finding out the day before shooting that Bronson Caves pulled out (due to brand new Fire Regulation codes adapted that week), Michael was ready to explode.  However, even with a budget of only around $350, the talented and wonderful team pulled through with fantastic costume design, a funny script, and a rigorously planned storyboard to expedite the shooting process.

NYC MIDNIGHT: It looks like everything was shot on location at Vasquez Rocks, California.  Did you run into any problems shooting all exterior shots with the tight production schedule?

Michael:  I called up Lucas at ILM, to use their green screen room, but they were shooting a "Star Wars: Episode VII:  Jar Jar in Love" - a romantic epic staring Jar Jar and Julia Roberts.  They didn't go for it; even after I told them they didn't have to change the set design and that the scripts were basically the same (at least the depth of the romantic scenes).

Sean:  Well, there was that brief bout of typhoid I mentioned earlier.  Also, we had a small problem with the actors dying when we used real lightning and fire.  We went through three protagonists before we figured we could use special effects, luckily we had ironclad waivers so there’s no worry of lawsuits.  Working in the little person porn industry taught us all about that.

Publicist:  Yes, everything was shot in the Vasquez Rocks over two days from 8am till 5pm (park hours had to be obeyed because the team couldn't afford a Marshall).  We had 80 shots total and filming was broken up by what actors were available.  On Saturday the team shot the tall caveman group who lived with the fire and on Sunday they shot the short caveman group who wanted to steal the fire.  On Saturday night, half of the group traveled back home to Orange County (1.5 hr drive) and the other half stayed at Matt McCabe's (special fx designer) parents' house nearby.  Both days the team had trouble with weather, inconsistent cloud cover, rain, and a race against the tall shadows from the rocks.  On Sunday a horse competition provided unneeded strain on the production, as the group had to maneuver around tourist noise, horses, trailers and rude horse riders.  Given all these things, everyone from the ADs to the Actors, to the Grips and PAs were completely devoted to the production and pulled through, running non stop and working incessantly to finish on time.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  You had a tremendous amount of special fx in the film.  Was this something you had in mind before the competition started, or did the story dictate everything?

Sean:  Oh Boy, special indeed.  I mean every time I watch a film I am amazed by this magic little contraption those in the "biz" call a "camera" and how it manages to hold little copies of the actors captive and then mystically transmit it for anyone to see at anytime.

Michael:  Actually we had real fire.  Then, after constructing an army of gerbils on little gerbil bicycles connected to a generator, I forced them to pedal to create real lightning and real rain.  Then what we did is we digitally removed all the real stuff, because it looked too real and was by that measure boring, and instead digitally pasted in fake fire, fake lightning and fake rain.

Publicist:  Matt McCabe, who is our wonderful special effects guru, is a big part of the La Toalla film group, so we definitely had special fx in mind when thinking of the concept and story.  While this film didn't actually need special fx, the ability to save money on fire Marshalls and what not, and create a digital fire instead is fantastic.  Contrary to what the director and producer claim, the group obviously couldn't generate a lightning storm with a gerbil machine.  Dan Repasky helped Matt out on designing the dinosaur foot, which adds an ironic "Deus Ex Machina" twist to the end of the film.  Clearly, the lack of a real Dinosaur dictated the way the writing team approached writing that part.  All in all, there was a good deal of "Hey Matt, can we do that?" heard from the writers' group. 

Tell us what programs you used to create the effects in the film (fire, dinosaur foot, lightning, etc..)   What equipment did you use during the shoot?


Sean:  Did I already mention the magical camera?


Michael: I think I already mentioned the gerbil generated lightning.

Publicist:  The film was shot on a Canon XL2-S with a 35mm adapter on it and a variety of prime lenses (thank you Koa M. Stone for the equipment).  The 35mm adapter decreased the depth of field, giving it a more filmic feel.  Besides the camera, there were about 3 reflectors, and Morgan Swift's (1st AD) blue screen, which was assembled for the bird pooping scene.  The Dino foot was made in 3D Studio Max and the fire, lightning, rain, and color was done in Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop.  An interesting note is that perhaps the best special effect is something no one will ever notice; the digital removal and/or hiding of the boom mic.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Any good behind-the-scenes stories?

Sean:  Nothing that I can remember, especially nothing involving a certain producer, a gerbil, or an interesting X-ray.


Michael:  Its not like we’re completely anal but we take ourselves with the utmost seriosity…seriously.

Publicist:  In a group this large there is bound to be all sorts of interesting events and humorous moments that bring the entire crew to a laughing standstill but to this publicist's knowledge there were no huge gags or drama issues on set.  We were running on a very tight schedule and everyone really pulled things together to get through the hectic weekend.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you and your teammates make your living in the film industry?

Publicist: Many of the team members are still undergraduates at UC, Irvine.  The rest are either recent graduates or aspiring actors.  It’s safe to say that many, if not all the team members would, at some point, like to make a living in the film industry.

NYC MIDNIGHT:   Did you get a chance to check out the other films in the competition?  If so, what were some of your favorites?

Sean: I have a deep and profound respect for people who put their lives and reputations on the line to do what they love…which is stealing panties.


Publicist:  Of course we were very confidant in our abilities as film makers and were very proud of the work we did on our film “Caveman Chronicles” but we were all extremely excited to have won.  Having said that, it would not be an understatement to say that we were also surprised to have won given the strength of the competition; which makes winning all the more gratifying.  In particular, we remember the good cinematography of “A Beautiful Debt,” the hilarious concept of “Leftover Lenny,” and the great set design of “Fwd.

NYC MIDNIGHT:   Do you have any ongoing or upcoming projects you would like to talk about?


Sean: Well we’ve always wanted to shoot a remake of “300” with monkeys.  But we’ll have to wait until the original comes out in March before we plan our next move.


Publicist: La Toalla Del Rey is a massive group of individuals, itself comprised of several smaller production crews such as Black Lotus Productions (, Fat Addict Productions (, and Monsterbox LTD (  The teams continue to work on films and projects independently and collaboratively, including commercials for business, audition tapes for actors, and writing feature scripts.  Check out the websites for more info!

NYC MIDNIGHT:  How do you plan on using the cash and services you won as part of the grand prize?

Michael:  How much does a lake cost?


Sean:  I will fill Michael’s lake with pennies and proceed to swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.


Publicist: Honestly, money is a tough issue when dealing with this many people.  How do you evaluate any one person’s contribution to a massive project such as this and then give it a monetary value.  Coming into this project, no one was even thinking of the monetary prize, because straight out of film school all you think of is building your resume with awards and experience, not monetary prizes.  So I guess there are really two types of awards – the ones the line your resume, and the ones that line your wallet.  The best and most fair way to think of this is that everyone now benefits from the former, and those who contributed financially to the budget will benefit from the latter.

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Will you be back to defend your title in 2007?

Sean: I’m not going to let the success of succeeding go to my head, especially now that I’ve succeeded at ridding myself of successlessness.


Michael:  Yes, provided Brazil sells me more monkeys.


Publicist: All joking aside we really enjoyed the opportunity to compete in this…uh competition and are extremely grateful for the award and prizes as well as the opportunity to share our experiences with everyone.  We would like to thank the fantastic people at NYC midnight for hosting an excellent festival this year and responding quickly to any questions we had before, during and after the competition.  Having said that, it would be great if we could manage to keep a group this large together throughout the year, especially those who are graduating and possibly moving away. However, the team really enjoyed the experience and would love to defend our title next year.  Had it not been for this amazing team, this interview would not have been taking place.



PHOTOS from the production of "Caveman Chronicles : The Quest for the Eternal Flame"

captions by Sean Janzen and Michael Arkof





















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