James Nghiem admits he was a bit naive when he took on his first full-blown film project.
Originally devised as a shot-for-shot remake of Kevin Smith's 1994 cult comedy hit “Clerks,” the Norman comedian/musician's “Clerks Too” instead became a 37-minute short about one man's misguided quest to create a shot-for-shot remake of “Clerks.”
“Honestly, I think at the time I just didn't have anything to do. Like I thought I could do it in like a week. I thought ‘Clerks' was kind of a simplistic production,” said Nghiem, who works as a freelance video editor. “I was just coming off a job, and I just didn't have anything to do. I didn't have a script written, but I still wanted to be active.”
Nghiem, who turns 29 on Jan. 5, began joking that he was going to remake “Clerks,” and people loved the idea. So he decided to try it.
“It was really hard. It was a lot harder than I thought. I don't know, I didn't realize the amount of organization skills it would take to put this thing together. Because in my brain, everybody's seen ‘Clerks' and they could just show up and do the movie super-easy,” said Nghiem, who is releasing the movie under the indie comedy label he founded, Robot Saves City.
Plus, he had a tough time finding convenience stores where he would keep shooting his homage to Smith's black-and-white breakthrough film.
Nghiem's directorial debut will premiere Saturday night after “The Post-Apocalypse Bash,” a stand-up comedy show at City Arts Center featuring some of the funnymen who appeared in the film.
“‘Clerks' is one of my favorite movies from when I was a kid. Also, I wanted to get like everybody in the comedy scene involved. And if I was gonna redo a movie that had just like a million random parts, I would think of ‘Clerks' 'cause there's like a ton of small parts that people just pop in, say a line and disappear,” he said.
As he encountered various obstacles to making the movie, Nghiem's “Clerks Too” took on different forms. He originally wanted it to be surreal shot-for-shot remake in which the actors delivered the same lines but with different emotions. He then devised a sort of David Lynch version of “Clerks” in which two or three sets of actors would play the same parts in kind of parallel universes.
Eventually, he was able to incorporate elements of both ideas into the final film, a story of an aspiring filmmaker (Josh Lathe) who sets out to remake “Clerks” in a wrongheaded effort to win back his selfish ex-girlfriend (Crystal Ecker). Nghiem cast himself in the role of the supportive friend who constantly questions the wisdom of the project.
Along with filming the movie in Oklahoma, Nghiem recruited local musicians such as Depth and Current, I and I, Grandpa Seth and his brother, David Nghiem, with whom he plays in the band The Nghiems, to cover songs from “Clerks.” The director didn't have time to get into the studio to cut a song for his own short film because he was too busy trying to finish it.
Although it took more than a year — rather than a week — to make “Clerks Too,” Nghiem is glad he finished the project. He is now writing an original screenplay and has learned from experience what will be involved with his next film project.
“It's been a weird year, man,” he said. “This has especially been kind of a fun, stressful but weird year for me.”