'Four Color Eulogy' Merges St. Louis with the Comic Book World

By Michael Haffner
In Culture

Most people think that comic books are all about epic fights, galaxies on the brink of extinction and masked heroes stopping an evil-doer from destroying an entire population. However, those people would be remiss to notice the amount of heart, characterization, and nuance that goes into these stories of individuals who are forced to grapple with catastrophe. That’s what makes “Four Color Eulogy” a comic book movie.

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Sure, aside from the characters that grace the pages that the main characters treat like their personal bible, the film doesn’t feature anyone wearing a cape and tights. But just because you can’t see the costume, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t having to face-off with a monumental challenge.

“Four Color Eulogy” tells the tale of old friends forced back together again after a death close to the family. Through flashbacks, it’s slowly revealed who this important figure was in their life and how this person tied everyone together. Wyatt Weed and Gayle Gallagher from Pirate Pictures have teamed up with Jason and John Contini along with Nicholas Hearne to tell a story that satisfies the geeks, while also not ignoring those looking for just an earnest story with a dash of mystery and self-discovery.

Utilizing local actors, businesses and neighborhoods from across the St. Louis area, “Four Color Eulogy” is as much about the people and city it incorporates as it is about the fantastical worlds on the comic pages that helped inspire the film.

Wyatt WeedI recently sat down with director, cinematographer and editor Wyatt Weed (“Shadowland”) ahead of the film’s red carpet premiere that takes place at Ronnie’s 20 Cine this Friday.

There are more and more comic book films released with each passing year. Now, “Four Color Eulogy” isn’t filled with superheroes but it sounds like it was inspired by the love of comic books. Can you talk a little about that?
Jason Contini, who wrote the story with his father John and then did the first draft of the screenplay, worked in a South City comic shop called Comic HQ for years and years. He and I were both comic book kids—I grew up pulling issues of Batman and Superman off those revolving racks in the corner drug store, and Jason was probably led into collecting by his father. John actually wanted to be a comic book artist—the old pages of art featured in the film are John’s actual, original art, and his characters—Captain Arabia and Prince Lancer—are mentioned liberally in the film. There’s also a scene in the film where the character “Rich” is drawing for a fan, and that’s actually John doing the drawing live on camera.

But I think even more so, we have to acknowledge that we are film and creative media fans in general, not to take anything away from the comics. We love it all—the comics, the movies, the poster art, the trading cards, the action figures, all of it. There’s every pop-culture reference you can think of in this film.

What was the process of hiring so many of the local actors and actresses in “Four Color Eulogy” and how many local residents do you think ended up working on the film?
To begin with, Jason has been a professional actor since the age of 3, so when he wrote the script, he had several local actors in mind for certain parts. He and his father know just about everyone associated with theater in St. Louis, so we had a wealth of people to draw from.We didn’t put out any “cattle calls”—we just didn’t want to deal with that. But despite having an idea of what types we were looking for, we still tried to look at as many actors as possible for each role.

Then there were the extras. The extras were largely cast through social media by putting out a notice and then choosing from people who sent us a response. We had several fairly large crowd scenes—one in a comic book shop, and another in a church. In total, we cast about 21 local theater actors in speaking or featured roles, and then about 73 extras in various scenes.

You have been involved in the film industry for more than 25 years, working all over from LA to St. Louis. Even with your wealth of knowledge and experience, what are some of the challenges that you still encounter when working on a film?
The challenges, at least in the low-budget realm, usually have to do with creating a look or effect that is so easy when you have money and equipment and time, but not as easy when you have limited resources. There’s a rain scene in the film that was created using hoses and nozzles from Menard’s, and even though we pulled that off, we still didn’t have multiple costumes and makeup people, so we really needed to do the scene in one take, which is always a risk.

In another scene, we really needed double the extras that we had. So we shot the scene with everyone on one side of the room, then moved them all over to the other side, then combined the two shots in post. Easy enough in concept, but you still have to be careful, because you don’t want silly things to happen, like the same two people in the exact clothes sitting in the same spot on both sides.

In terms of experience to draw upon, my training in cable TV has helped the most. We used to shoot fast back then, and you only had enough time to get a handful of shots. When all your fancy ideas go in the toilet, you go to basic coverage—master shot, two-shot, single-single, any inserts and you’re done. That’s just simple coverage that tells a story, but those basics have saved me, time and again.

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Was the script written with certain St. Louis locations in mind?
Yes, but within reason. Jason had certain locations in mind as inspiration, but if we hadn’t gotten those locations, we still would have been OK. For example, if we hadn’t gotten Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, we would have gotten a diner somewhere, it just wouldn’t have had the feel of Uncle Bill’s. Similarly, he wrote with a South City house in mind, one he’d grown up in, but if we hadn’t gotten it, we could have used another house. We got incredibly lucky with the locations, though!

What are some of the neighborhoods, businesses, and places that locals might recognize?
Dutchtown, Grand Boulevard, Melrose Bar, Uncle Bill’s, St. Mary and Joseph Chapel, U-Gas in Wentzville, Newcastle Comics in Maryland Heights, Crane’s Country Store in Williamsburg, SSM St. Joseph Hospital in Lake St. Louis, and Webster Groves. I hope I’m not forgetting anything…

Now that you have made a dramatic comedy with “Four Color Eulogy,” a horror film with “Shadowland,” and written a sci-fi film with “Guardian of the Realm,” are there any genres or themes that you haven’t tackled yet that you would like to? What’s next in store for the Pirate Pictures team?

Oh gosh. Let’s see … my very next project is a short film I’ve been working on for a year now, a real passion project. It’s called “REBIRTH” and it’s a superhero “fan film,” that is to say that I’m making a film based on characters owned by someone, so I can’t make any money. It’s purely for fun and will debut on the Internet in late June. It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for 30 years.

Next up on the feature front will probably be Jason Contini’s feature directing debut, “Retribution.” It’s a Western that he wants me to shoot, and we’d like to start it this year, we’ll just have to see how things shape up. That would star Taylor Pietz and John Contini from “Four Color Eulogy.” Once again, not a huge project budget-wise, but when you start talking period Western complete with frontier towns, horses and shoot-outs, things can get difficult real quick! We’re proceeding carefully on this one, taking our time to figure it out.

There are a few other things I would like to tackle, and I have scripts or stories for most of them. There’s a true-life story I want to tell about a standoff with police. I want to do a “silent” film, in that there is sound, but no dialogue. I wouldn’t mind doing a post-apocalyptic film, either some natural disaster or zombies, but it would have to be very different than anything else, because that’s such well-covered territory. I want to do a good old-fashioned monster movie, with a big creature on the loose, stomping miniatures. I’d like to do a hard-core sci-fi movie set in deep space.

I could go on and on!!

“Four Color Eulogy’s” Red Carpet Event will take place at Wehrenberg Ronnie’s 20 on Friday, April 8 at 7pm. The cast and crew will be in attendance as well as some surprise guests.  After the screening there will be a Q&A with the cast and crew.

“Four Color Eulogy” will be playing an exclusive run at Ronnie’s 20 Cine in St. Louis from April 8 – 14.

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