Forget “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” For a real mythology, check out “G-Sale,” director Randy Nargi’s clever, detailed spoof on garage sale culture. Remember the first time you saw Rob Reiner’s classic “This is Spinal Tap,” and couldn’t tell whether you were watching the abysmal deterioration of a real band – or a brilliant mockumentary? The fact that “Tap” so convincingly balanced itself on that tightrope of “is it real, or is it Memorex,” even to the point where you might be convinced that a late drummer did, indeed, “explode onstage,” it created an entirely new genre. And if Reiner is the godfather of mockumentary comedies, Christopher Guest (appearing in “Tap” as tongue-flashing, amp-cranking guitarist Nigel Tufnel, before going on to direct his own films) is the movement’s clown prince. With “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind,” Guest has created an influential niche from funny, fake documentaries.
Enter “G-Sale,” which shares Guest’s trademark shrewdness. Initially unveiled to the festival scene in 2003 and recently resurrected onto DVD, “G-Sale” champions subtle giggles over flatulence-powered, Farrelly Brothers humor. Remember the dry one-liners thrown out by a sarcastic grandparent or old college professor? That’s the type you’ll find here. There’s nothing as side-splitting as the body-waxing sequence from “The Forty Year Old Virgin.” However, it’s likely that you’ll carry Nargi’s tart gang of obsessive-compulsive garage sale freaks in your long-term memory, reflecting back from time to time with a pleasant grin. How many contemporary comedies can generate guffaws without hawking shocks and pushing poop-jokes? “Napoleon Dynamite” is the only one that comes to my laugh-starved mind – until now.
Nargi’s satire-rich onscreen playground is Bogwood, a Seattle-area suburb inhabited by slightly insane collectors. You know the type. They peruse newspapers for yard sales, show up an hour earlier than the announced start-times, then burn up afternoons at Value Village, Buffalo Exchange, and a dozen other “vintage” thrift shops. At night, they go online, haunting Ebay for that half-eaten hot dog found at last season’s Super Bowl, or a hunk of used Kleenex that supposedly serviced Mick Jagger’s nose. There’s opinionated retiree Mr. Fenwick (Wantland Sandel), who resents his wife’s plan to have an estate sale. “Estate,” the crusty codger complains, implies that he’s dead. And although Fenwick might be up in years, he’s still a collection-crazed geek, fixated on mosses and lichens. “This one I got through the National Moss Association in Vancouver,” he explains, proudly pointing out his sizable backyard accumulation of the thick green stuff.
Vicky Bell (Mary White), a pragmatic realtor who makes Martha Stewart come across like Oscar Madison, proposes a sickeningly functional Garage Sale Ratings System. “G” would indicate baby gear, “A” could represent antiques, and “CES” would identify a Certified Estate Sale. “To get certified,” Bell elaborates, “you would need a death certificate.” Just don’t tell Mr. Fenwick.
Scott Burns is hilariously deadpan as one-time game designer Ed LaSalle, whose fame and fortune evaporated in one cruel twist of fate. “Game players went delusional,” he describes of “Caves and Beasts,” a particularly vivid role-play competition. “A secretary decapitated her boss. There is such a thing as bad publicity. That killed sales.”
Perhaps most memorable of all is Dick Nickerson (Ted D’Arms), a bearded Teddy Bear of a commercial voice-over announcer. “My voice is at a frequency that many people have a hard time hearing,” he explains. “It’s ideal for disclaimers.” Ultimately, Nickerson and a handful of other G-Sale terrorists mob the Fenwick’s garage in hot pursuit of a valuable, antique board game. It’s here that the “every man for himself” nature of Nargi’s mercenary motley crew reaches a crescendo. “I don’t know if this is worth anything,” says one rabid deal-hunter to an accomplice, “but I want you to hold onto it, ‘cause that little weasel wanted it!”
This is funny stuff. And like all great mockumentaries, “G-Sale” could easily be mistaken for a real doc, so convincing is its colorful cast of searchers, hawkers, and flippers. Viewers can be forgiven for exclaiming, “Hey – I know someone just like that guy!”
Nargi and spouse Jessi Badami (who co-produced “G-Sale,” and acted in the film as yard-raider Angela Cocci) recently took time out at a Bellevue coffee shop to discuss Bogwood Films, their local production company. In addition to launching a handsomely packaged DVD version of “G-Sale,” Bogwood Films is currently touring their short-film spoof, “Showering With Spielberg,” on the festival circuit.
What kind of a mind churns out the elaborate, off-kilter universe presented in “G-Sale?” Nargi and Badami might have a twisted sense of humor, but they’re courteous and warm in person – a far cry from the insecure, borderline-scary eccentrics of Bogwood. In fact, the avid animal-lovers even guide me to a local dog-walking park for Chloe, my overweight labrador retriever-in-tow. These are genuine human beings, and “G-Sale” is genuine Seattle satire of the first order.
KJ: Based on “G-Sale” and its mockumentary style, I’m assuming that both of you are big fans of Christopher Guest.
Jessi : Yes. In his first film, you didn’t know any of the characters. It was brand new. It was so perfect, along the lines of getting you caught up in it, but not realizing if it’s real or if it’s a mockumentary. Slowly, you realize that it is fictional, and it’s hilarious. But it’s also very real and believable within its own world. I think that Randy did a wonderful job of creating that in our film. There was a film we saw relatively recently that I felt went too far in the direction of “do you know if it’s real or not.”
Randy: It was called “Forgotten Silver,” and was one of Peter Jackson’s first films. “Forgotten Silver” is really good for what it does, but it’s so realistic you don’t know it’s a spoof at all. It’s about an early filmmaker. The forgotten silver of the title is the silver oxide from a bunch of early films supposedly found in an old barn. That’s the premise. It’s a fascinating story.
Jessi: But by the end of the film, I felt really frustrated and angry. To me, it was going too far. You end up feeling like it was some inside joke that you sat through, getting caught up in something you felt was real.
Randy: Apparently, it was first aired on T.V. in New Zealand. People thought it was real. They were all proud of it, because it was supposedly about this pioneer filmmaker. Articles were written about it. It was horribly disappointing when they found out it was fictional.
KJ: Both of you are originally from New York, before migrating to Seattle. Was “G-Sale” something you had created in New York, or was it something inspired by life in the Puget Sound area?
Randy: In 1999, we moved to Bellevue from West Seattle. We have joked that Bellevue is “Bogwood.” One thing that we suddenly noticed was signs for G-Sales. Even though we had been living in Seattle for almost ten years, we had never experienced G-Sales as much as we did in Bellevue, which probably is the real-life G-Sale capitol of the world. We thought it was really funny that people felt they could abbreviate “Garage Sale,” and that people were so into it, others would know what they were talking about. Then we started going to them for fun…
Jessi: Especially me. We’re very much into “New Country Modern” everything – like design and architecture. We’re fans of it. So we would look for stuff that you cannot find anywhere else, for memories of our sixties and seventies childhoods… here I am sounding like Angela (laughs).
Randy: You see the same people at these garage sales. Sometimes you get trampled by the same people!
Jessi: I went to an estate sale advertised as having a lot of New Country modern furniture. All these other cars are pulling up – heavy- duty antique dealers and pros. People were looking in windows, and going around the whole house. I was first in line, and a woman opened the door. I wiped my feet before entering. It’s just ingrained. But these two women behind me just rushed right past me. I just about went down!
Randy: The people that kind of trampled you… I think two weekends after that, we went to another garage sale, and they were there. You said, “See those two women? They were the ones!”
KJ: One memorable “G-Sale” character, Mr. Fenwick, is uneasy about having a formal estate sale. He feels that the term “estate” implies that he’s dead.
Randy: I made that up. The word estate often signifies someone dying.
KJ: As far as talent, some of the actors looked familiar from local television programs.
Randy: Tracey Conway (playing Helen Ziegler) was involved with “Almost Live” (Seattle-based comedy television show).
Jessi: Ted D’Arms (embodying Dick Nickerson) is a big presence in theatre here, and in New York. He’s pretty well known to the theatre crowd.
Randy: The actors aren’t immediately recognizable stars. But certainly in this area, many have been character actors. Jimmi Parker, who plays Doris Fenwick, has acted alongside JohnWayne. Some have been in movies and television shows that were shot locally, like “The X-Files.” I’ve worked with a lot of these folks in advertising. That’s my background. So I’ve shot commercials with them, and done radio spots. I was very aware of the strength of the local talent pool we have in Seattle.
KJ: How much of “G-Sale” is improvised?
Randy: It’s about five percent improvised, and ninety-five percent written. I think that’s a very direct contrast to the movies of Christopher Guest, which are almost entirely improvised. Or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a show that we love, which is heavily improvised from an outline. With “G-Sale,” it would be really tough to do that, because of all the interweaving plot lines and little details. It would be tough to have that amount of coordination with improv.
KJ: For whatever reason, some mockumentaries fall flat. But “G-Sale” is genuinely funny.
Randy: Humor is very tricky. It’s so subjective. Most people have particular things that they find funny. For “G-Sale,” I basically asked, “What are things that we find funny?” We’re certainly big fans of Christopher Guest’s style of humor, and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Seinfeld.” We wanted to do a film that was funny, but also intelligent. I think that’s the common denominator. It’s not gross-out humor, or simply physical humor – which is fine, but it’s not what we want to go for. We wanted to make people think a little bit, as they’re laughing. While showing “G-Sale” at film festivals, we could sit in on every showing, and hear where the audience was reacting. We could fine-tune the edit. The movie probably went through three or four revised edits. Tweaking here and there. It’s always fun to see where an audience will pick up on a joke. You’ve planted the seeds of the joke, and maybe ten minutes later, it gets paid off. It’s gratifying, because if people laugh at that, they have obviously been paying attention to the story.
KJ: Where do some of these characters come from? Clayton Fenwick, for instance, has a bit of a moss and lichen fetish. Have you ever known anyone like that?
Randy: We’re drawing from our own experience. Jessi has a huge collection of orchids. She’s been to orchid shows, and things like that. We kind of pulled from that. I think that if you look at the undercurrent of “G-Sale,” it’s about people who are obsessed. In the case of Angela, she’s obsessed with her past. Or mosses, with Clayton. Or about finding that last game. I think that’s fascinating, as a character study.
KJ: The term “flipper” came up in the film. In fact, Jessi’s character was referred to as being one. Can you explain what that is?
Randy: There are different reasons people go to garage sales. Some people see it as purely a moneymaking venture. They’re gonna go find something, take it home, and sell it on Ebay for ten times what they spent. There are people who do that full time. We wanted to set up conflict between these characters, as well. Ed is a collector for the love of the objects. He has a game collection, and collects things just because he loves them. Other characters are a bit more mercenary about this, and Ed doesn’t approve of that.
Jessi: He’s being interviewed in one part, and is very discouraging towards people he refers to as flippers, who have no emotional connection to it. Angela, however, is like, “Hey, I can make some money from this.”
Randy: Angela is recreating her past with these objects.
KJ: Have you ever come across items during your real-life G-Sale experiences that were weird – but also perhaps something that you really could find, like the film’s elephant sculptures made from compressed coconuts?
Jessi: Yeah. I once found a night light that I remember from when I was little. Another Angela moment (laughs). It was a little plastic thing that looks like an outside street lamp. Such a little, insignificant thing… but all of the sudden, I can see my old kitchen when I look at it. I bought it for about a dollar. The people there had kind of a shocked look that someone would actually buy it.
KJ: That’s great. For Angela, reliving the past is her objective. Someone else might be in it strictly for the fun and the passion. Other people re-sell, like the flippers.
Randy: Yeah. And for characters BJ (Robin Douglas) and Helen (Tracey Conway), that’s their job. They are buying inventory to sell at their shop. Then there’s Dick Nickerson, going for the big score.
KJ: Once the film was out, how did you promote it, via the film festivals and DVD release?
Jesse: An Indiewire list came out that named “G-Sale” one of the top twenty undistributed films of the year. We hadn’t planned that. All of the sudden, phones started ringing and e-mails started coming in. People were requesting screeners. We were invited to a bunch of these festivals during the second year. We always thought the festival thing would only last one year.
Randy: I think a lot of independent films can be challenging for audiences, because they are a very distinct vision that someone had. They appeal to a smaller group than mainstream films. We were trying to pick a topic, then do a film in a style that isn’t just for a select group of people. We wanted a film that would appeal to a large group. As a result, all of our screenings at every festival sold out. I think we were very fortunate on the festival circuit. The film festivals themselves differ in terms of opportunities for filmmakers to network and get out there.
Jesse: The Sarasota Film Festival was amazing. It was really a celebration – not only of the festival itself, but also with the whole community getting involved. I sat on a panel of other filmmakers, where kids from local schools were brought in. We did a Q & A with kids from the schools. They had parties and celebrations that everyone was invited to – not just the visiting stars. We were at the same party with William H. Macy.
KJ: Has Christopher Guest ever made contact with you, concerning “G-Sale”?
Randy: We sent “G-Sale” to him, mostly because it’s obviously inspired by his films. It’s an homage, with a few scattered references throughout. We would have loved to hear his thoughts on it, or receive some sort of contact.
Jesse: Any kind of feedback. There’s a fantasy belief in my head that when you reach a certain level of success… it’s like a karma thing. Like, “Hey, here’s a little piece of advice” for people who are up-and-coming. Not everybody has that karma thing.
Randy: We didn’t hear any feedback. It was interesting. We were reading an interview with him from a few months ago, where someone said, “You’re the father of the mockumentary, and there have been other films that are mockumentaries.” Kind of in a deadpan, he said, “Oh, are there other films like mine? I didn’t know that.”
KJ: I notice that there were certain items in the film obviously inspired by other things that were on the market. For instance, instead of “Operation,” you made reference to a game called “Brain Surgery.” Did you think that there might be some liability concerning products that were already out there?
Randy: Yeah. We certainly didn’t want to infringe on any trademarks. That’s a concern. I’ve heard of people who shoot, and they have a Mickey Mouse picture in the background, and all of the sudden Disney’s upset about that. We try our best not to infringe on anyone else’s intellectual properties.
Jesse: I was kind of the “paranoid police” for that (laughs).
KJ: I saw your film two years ago at the Seattle International Film Festival. So often, a person sees a festival film, then never hears about it again. But you’ve taken the next step, by releasing a DVD.
Randy: It was always our hope to get “G-Sale” out to a wider audience. We got such positive response from the festivals, and e-mails from people asking when it was gonna come out on DVD.
Jesse: At every festival we went to, people would ask when we were releasing the DVD. We were getting international responses. We decided we had to do it.
Randy: We tried to get it out through the typical distribution channels. We learned the hard way what distributors are looking for, and what they will take a chance on. Unfortunately, because of the marketing costs, it’s tough for them to take a chance on something that doesn’t have known names.
KJ: Did you self-finance the film?
Randy: Yes. This is all self-distributed and self-financed.
Jesse: We’re living off of ramen noodles (laughs).
Randy: We hope to use the DVD to get the word out about “G-Sale,” and who knows? Maybe it will get picked up some day.
KJ: I noticed that “Entertainment Weekly” magazine ran a blurb concerning the DVD’s release. Had you approached them?
Randy: Yes. We sent out press releases when the DVD came out. We sent to some general entertainment publications, but also some that were very specific, like antique magazines. Something else I’ve done that is kind of fun is taking 5-minute chunks of the film and putting them on video podcast. They’re actually up at the Apple iTunes Store for free, so that people can get a little taste of the film.
KJ: I understand you have completed another film, “Showering with Spielberg.”
Randy: Yeah. That’s kind of a fun film that we’re trying to get into the festival circuit.
Jesse: It’s just a seven-minute short film. You mentioned that Jesse bears a passing resemblance to Madonna. We’ve heard that so many times that it’s incorporated into the film. We have a tremendous actor, Stephan Weyte, playing Spielberg. He’s a great vocal actor from Broadway who ended up in Seattle. He gets stopped at restaurants all the time by people who think he’s Spielberg. They’ll ask for autographs.