Stadium Anthems

I get it. I’m a critic, not a filmmaker. I’m in no position to tell a director how to do his/her job. What I get to do is shamelessly rant about whether they did a good job or not. That said, I have only one piece of advice for any director, writer, or actor, who cares for what little my two cents are worth.

The advice is simple, surround yourself with friends and peers who will be brutally honest with you and your work. People who will tell you your baby’s ugly and then point to its face. Before you head down the expensive road of film production, you have to be willing to place your work on the pedestal of scrutiny and be open to the fact that your baby is not ready to be birthed.

Which brings us to feature film Stadium Anthems from writer/director Scott Douglas Brown. Stadium Anthems has a lot of good things going for it. It’s shot beautifully with decent production values. It doesn’t lack good-looking sets, props, lighting, sound, and its original music is not bad. Lastly, the actors are not bad either. Where Stadium Anthems loses it is in the script, specifically the dialogue.

Stadium Anthems is the story of Dragon Chaser Records. Told in a pseudo-mockumentary style, it takes place just after services like Napster made bootlegging music the way to get music for free. The corporate record industry’s pocketbook is ruthlessly under attack, along with the hedonistic lifestyle of its rich and powerful executives. The company is going under sooner than later.

“The corporate record industry’s pocketbook is ruthlessly under attack, along with the hedonistic lifestyle of its rich and powerful executives…”

Around the boardroom table at Dragon Chaser Records is its executive staff, which includes company president Jim (Jordan Leigh), V.P. of A&R Pete (Christopher Soren Kelly), Warren (Jude Moran) lead singer of flagship band The New Order Gods, and others. Because the world is getting music off the net for free, the record company is losing artists and losing money. The rest of the film is spent figuring out an answer to the revenue problem, finding new bands, and reigniting its lost passion for art over capitalism.

There are a few subplots to muddle things down. First, there’s Heroine (Toddy Walters), an art teacher with a deep eye and ear for real art. Claire (Elizabeth Rose), Pete’s wife, who was once an aspiring musician, but now in the business of real estate and her marriage. Finally, the Warren above, whose band is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but Warren is estranged from his founding partner Johann (Luke Schmaltz).

You have no idea how hard it was to piece just this part of the plot together, and I’m sure I got stuff wrong. I literally had to watch this film a second time, just to figure out the basic story, and then I went to the film’s synopsis, just to make sure I was on the right track.

Stadium Anthems’ storyline is buried deep, deep, deep in this film. Piled on top of it is a non-stop rambling of pithy dialogue in hopes of sounding cool and clever, but coming off as smart-alecky. Just as the plot struggles to surface, it’s quickly shoved under by some punchline or non-sequitur. In one scene, Jim, Pete, and CFO Brian (Walter Anaruk) are talking about scouting new talent at a local club, just as fast as I typed it, this discussion switches to yachts and then the sexual habits of their competitors. Blink your eyes and suddenly it’s all about “milking the prostate” until the scene sticks its landing with a too-much-cream-in-the-coffee gag. These gags and inane dialogue are constantly derailing the story to the point of frustration. I was constantly asking myself, “what was the point of that last scene?”

“…storyline is buried deep, deep, deep in this film. Piled on top of it is a non-stop rambling of pithy dialogue…”

Gags are like cockroaches; they’re all over the place including references and callbacks to the word “pejorative,” a litany of Star Wars references, and visual gags like calling a guy a “dick” and seeing him in a “dick” costume.” On top of that, the majority of jokes are highly sexual in nature. Granted the story takes place in the 90s, locker room talk was still the norm and blow jobs were considered an executive perk.  I’m not against the use of vulgar conversation. There’s just so much of it and there for the cheap laugh.

My last criticism is dialogue. I see this in a lot of indie films from young writers, so it happens far too often, but every character in this movie talks the same. Imagine if writer/director Brown had the ability to possess the physical bodies of every actor in his film and speaks through them like ventriloquism dummies. The result is the way characters phrase every line and delivers commentary on the music industry are all the same. Similarly, the way characters tell jokes and spew some “clever” thought—all the same. Think of the way Michael Pena’s Luis tells a story in Ant-Man. Just like that.

It’s clear that every word and phrase in the script was carefully crafted. Each word has to be spoken precisely to script to maintain the flow of quippy conversation and quick setups and punchlines. But that handcuffs your actors and leaves no room for them to develop characters and make them their own.

In the final analysis, the look, feel, and sound of Stadium Anthems are spot on. It’s a professionally constructed film by a talented crew. The underlying message about creating art without being beholden to the bottom line is admirable. But what it needed the most was a bunch of eyes on that final shooting script and for those eyes to step up and say this script needs serious work before we start production.

Stadium Anthems (2018) Written and directed by Scott Douglas Brown. Starring Jordan Leigh, Christopher Soren Kelly, Toddy Walters, Jude Moran.

3 out of 10 stars

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