Illegal Use of Joe Zopp is Here!

All in all, it’s a pretty good story. A group of friends grow up together in a small Wisconsin town, graduate from high school and then college, and start following their own career paths. One gets a job in insurance; another works for a software company. Some stay at home; some move away. My buddy Nick Holle, co-founder of FLYMF, makes it all the way to Los Angeles, where we attend the Professional Writing Program at USC together.

A couple years down the road, though, they start to get the itch. They want to do something. So they chat on a message board they’ve set up, kicking around one idea after another, and finally they come up with a movie. The concept: “a child prodigy turned social outcast returns to his hometown to investigate the circumstances of his own death.”

They write a script. They contribute seed money to get a production company going, learning about cameras and lighting and permits, the countless details you need to pull this off. They finance the movie by enlisting a small army of small-time investors, friends and fans who contribute $25 up front in exchange for a DVD of the movie once it’s finished. As the project begins to get off the ground, they attract notice in their hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, receiving write-ups in the local paper, phone calls from people wanting to know how they can help. One of the local TV newscasts even transitions away from the Oscar broadcast to highlight the folks making a movie at home.

After years of auditions and planning, shooting begins in summer 2006. Thirty-four days are dedicated to the process, each meticulously planned from morning to night with scenes that need to be captured. Actors from out of town are hosted with local families; businesses ranging from funeral homes to restaurants invite the crew to invade. Basements are stuffed with props, and cast and crew are nourished by Nick’s mom, who is making the most of the catering budget provided by their production company, WutWutAlma. Sleep is foregone. Friends drive in to contribute what they can for a weekend, from cookies to holding a boom mike to enjoying a cameo as an irate passerby.

After filming concludes, the real work begins. Nearly forty hours of footage have to be cataloged, with painstaking re-viewings identifying the best takes. Scenes are gradually spliced together. A rough cut is assembled and then, ruthlessly, pared down. Volunteers contribute expertise in sound mixing and DVD conversion. Re-shoots are squeezed into busy schedules to correct gaffes. Finally, four years after the idea was originally conceived, the movie is done.

And it’s good. Just ask the folks at the Landlocked Film Festival or Twin Cities Underground Film Festival. Read the review in the Little Village. Better yet, take my word for it: it’s funny. The movie features a tight-knit, rollicking plot, one dedicated to misunderstandings and mistaken identities. There are kind-hearted kidnappers, men with “fucking big shovels,” laments for lost octogenarian lovers, and plenty of throwaway absurdities to reward repeat viewings. There’s plenty of sarcasm and wordplay, but the film is never cruel in skewering the Midwestern “folks” that populate it. Instead, Illegal Use of Joe Zopp offers an appreciation for the town’s ridiculous decency, even as it rolls its eyes at its excesses.

You should buy this movie (and maybe a T-shirt too). You should buy it to support a true independent production, one constructed at the grassroots level and fueled by a passion for making movies. You should buy it to encourage the WutWutAlma crew to do the whole crazy process over again. But most of all, you should buy it because it’s funny, and you’d like it.

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