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By Chris Gore | April 14, 2002

Trace Fraim and Michæl Covert are not as dumb as they act. But you wouldn’t know that if you only saw their first feature. As the co-directors and lead actors of the indie film “Dirt,” the filmmaking friends play simpletons Junior and Scooter, dimwit brothers who begin the film having lost their mother. The nimrods then attempt to establish some kind of relationship with a woman, any woman in order to replace the love of their dear mom. All attempts to attract a lady into their lives prove unsuccessful and they finally just kidnap a woman to live with them. The set up for “Dirt” sounds like dumb fun and it is, due in large part to the performances of the Gump-like brothers who are the catalysts for all the humor and a good portion of the drama in this impressive debut feature. I caught up with Trace and Michæl in this midst of Dirt‘s final sound mix.
How the heck did you two get together? ^ Michæl Covert: I was a Plexiglas holder and Trace was a fluffboy working pornos. ^ Trace Fraim: We met through an ex-girlfriend. Our backgrounds are very similar. We both started as actors. We soon realized that it is easier to get parts if you also write the script and direct the movie. Actually, when you see so many other people failing miserably, you think well, why not me? It¹s a control thing. I want to do it all. Maybe just not at the same time.
What was the inspiration for the story for Dirt? ^ Trace: That was inspired by the holidays at the trailer park when Santa used to bring a box of dirt every year. The title was inspired and is in direct correlation to the budget we had to work with. ^ Michæl: You lucky bastard, I had dreams of getting a box of dirt for Christmas. It started out as a horror film until I got to the point of the gravesite in the opening scene and decided the world didn’t need another story about misogynistic homicidal maniacs on the loose. It then became an odd bastardization of the Peter Pan syndrome instead and an ode to my mother, to all mothers.
Is there anything in the movie that is right out of your real lives? You guys aren’t really dimwits, are you? ^ Michæl: Huh? How do you look for women? We can’t afford the pay per view Ultimate Fighting Challenges so every other Friday night we have a Rock’em Sock’em slugfest at Trace’s place. ^ Trace: That depends, what’s a dimwit? There is an inherent need in all men to replace their mother. You look for certain aspects of your mom in a woman, then you pay for it the rest of your life.
When did you decide to cast yourselves in the lead roles, or was this always the plan? ^ Trace: We didn’t have enough money to hire anyone else and Screech from “Saved by the Bell” passed on the script. We didn’t know until the week before we started shooting which one of us was going to play Junior and which would play Scooter.
Can you give me a breakdown of a timeline for making the movie, when you came up with the idea, writing the script, production, completion, first screening? ^ Michæl: Ten years ago Dirt was my first attempt at screenwriting. I kinda liked it so I stuck it on a shelf for the day I could make it. ^ Trace: Yeah, after everyone had passed on it. ^ Michæl: Irrelevant. Anyway, we started shooting in November 1999, wrapped just before Christmas and will finish post April 2001, the day before LAFF. gulp!
What problems did you run into during production in terms of keeping that budget so low? This film was made for practically nothing. ^ Michæl: Having to keep the toilet of the motor home cleared! Well, you know we shot on location in Texas and as tough as it was not having any dough it was also as wonderful. The people down there don’t have the attitude that seems so prevalent in LA where they see a camera and think it’s an opportunity to make a buck or ten. You don’t need permits or police or firemen and everyone goes out of their way to help. The only location we paid for in Texas was a house that we burned down and that cost us hefty $200. Heck we even offered to haul away the debris after but the owner didn’t want to bother us. ^ We had some damaged footage that we had to re-shoot in LA. For a one day shoot here the set fireman cost us more than our entire Texas location budget. LA needs to wake up; I think it trains its neophyte filmmakers to film elsewhere and once they see what they can get in other places, they won’t want to come back.
How did you go about casting and get Oscar nominee Jennifer Tilly and TV star Patrick Warburton to be in the film? ^ Michæl: They needed the money. ^ Trace: We play poker with Jennifer and she owed us a lot of money. Patrick was easy. He’s fond of small farm animals and we have pictures. ^ Michæl: We’ve known them forever and they’re like family – stuck.
Isn’t Patrick a well known prankster? There has to be a few stories here? ^ Michæl: Hee-hee. Warbo called a couple of days before he was to come down to Texas, said he had this great idea to redo a scene. The scene was to introduce him as being a lawman missing his wayward wife, he wanted to change it from him being drunk and watching Jerry Springer reruns and finally blasting the TV with his service revolver. Well, Warbo tells us he wants to start the scene tight on him as he’s making love, talking sweet to his wife and soulmate who’s come back to him. We slowly pan down and see that it isn’t his wife at all but a blow up love doll, at the height (or not such a height) of which – the doll pops, Patrick jumps up and the quickly disinterested doll deflates held aloft impaled by his manhood. ^ Well, we think he’s full of it and yanking our chain. So I tell him, “sure, you bring a plastic love doll with seconds in case you pop one prematurely, and we’ll shoot the scene that way.” Patrick shows up with three of the cheapest love sluts I’ve ever seen, I mean not that I’ve ever seen one, but. Anyway we shot the scene his way but sad to say it didn’t make the cut. It will live within reach for us to bring out when least appropriate. ^ I would’ve given anything to have been at the cruddy love shack when Warbo asked the clerk for three of’em; I bet they still snicker out loud about Puddy’s voracious appetite for the ladies.
It really seemed like you had a lot of fun making this movie, any wild on the set stories? ^ Michæl: Impromptu shooting meets in the middle of filming. We’d be off in the middle of nowhere and they’d see our prop guns and that led to show and tell and before you knew it everyone would have a gun or two out and we’d have to kill every tin can in sight. ^ Trace: We closed down the oldest bar in Texas. When Luke showed up, he had to be escorted out the back door before the girls from the Rodeo college could hog tie him. ^ Michæl: Olivia. ^ Trace: We were supposed to shoot at a federal prison the day after inmates had killed a guard in another facility. The Warden wouldn’t let us shoot that day. We made our Producer cry in front of him. He felt bad and locked us in the yard and let us film all day. ^ Michæl: Olivia. ^ Trace: There were many crazy nights in the wild town of Sanderson, Texas. ^ Michæl: I’ll never eat Spam or mayonnaise or iceberg lettuce again. ^ Trace: Olivia!
Tell me what you’re working on right now. ^ Trace: Mike and I are pitching a television series. I am finishing a script that I would like to shoot in the middle of nowhere, Mexico.^ Michæl: In addition to the TV thing, I’m waffling between finishing adapting this novelette and an original story about a couple of reservation losers who find an old treaty their great-grandfather had signed – giving away half of Minnesota for the right to field a team in the then fledgling National League.
Check out the official Dirt web site.
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