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Making “9 Items or Less”
by Joe Gillis
"9 Items or Less" started back in 1992 when I meet Tim Walton and both of us wanted to make a film. I had an idea I got one day while at the supermarket about a customer who had ten items and decided he would go into the 9 items or less line anyway, but would be stopped by a very persistent cashier. I'm also a huge fan of black & white and the silent era, so I thought it would be great to add these elements. I started, and finished, the script in '93, which I opted to write in an untraditional format, breaking it apart by shot instead of scene. But before we could start shooting my vision of supermarket hell, and exaggerated look at real life, we were going to need a set and some props.
Joe and Tim on the first day of shooting
I recruited Tim to build the set wall and set out to find someone to help with the painting and the props. That brought me to Odin Abbott who I somehow I talked into helping (He’s been regretting that visit ever since.) On the weekend of the 4th of July in '94, Odin, Denny Bernier (my hair stylist for the film) and I began work on the "huge wall-o-people" in his aunt and uncle's back yard. By the end of the weekend we were done (and well cooked.)
After we finished the set we started work on the 150, or so, cans that were going to topple over on the actors and hit the store floor. I sat down with Odin and tried to figure out a way to make “soft cans” since I was afraid of injuring the actors or damaging the floor of the supermarket. We tried a couple of different ways to make cans with weight but still soft enough not to hurt the actors or the floor. The first thing Odin tried was making a foam casting of a big can of pineapple juice. This looked great but cost, and took, way too much time. In the end we ended up taking soda cans and filled them with dirt, wrapped them in foam, and covered them with silver wrapping. Then we put on our made-up label. I think it looked perfect in the final product since I was going for an old time look and feel (In the old silent films whenever you'd see someone fall off a roof top or out of a moving vehicle they would cut to a dummy and when it hit the ground they would cut back to the actor. It looked very fake, but it was effective.)
The rest of the props we made were the hanging signs, wet floor signs and the tabloid. The signs were made out of poster board that I painted to look like wood. Odin made the wet floor sign because I wanted to have the sign change when the old lady, Crazy Granny, comes after me for making the cans fall on her. So instead of saying the “The floor is wet” on the bottom like it does when the Fellow walks in - it says “The floor is still wet” (and the person slipping is also different.) The tabloid, which has since appeared in the Groovie Ghoulies music video “Running with Bigfoot”, was created the good old fashion way of cut and pasting. Neither Odin, nor I, had any computer program that we could do the whole thing in (remember this was ’94), so it was the only way we could do it. The tabloid is called Wayne’s World News, not because of the SNL sketch and movie, Wayne’s World, but because my middle name is Wayne - and it was - my world. And as a little fun side note, or Geek trivia as my wife would say, in the Ghoulies video it has a caption about the capture of Crazy Granny on one of the covers.
Most the film was shot at Corti Bros. in Sacramento, California (now gone.) It was this small market nowhere near supermarket sizes, but they were the only ones kind enough to let us shoot. Lane Hayashi helped (and donated his time) me secure the location and, since he was an assistant manager, stayed while we shot after hours. They would close around 9 o'clock and we would start setting up right when the doors were closed. They were great! They allowed us to tear up the store and create the supermarket I wanted. We would re-arrange every isle after a shot was finished in order to make it seem like the enormous supermarket I envisioned, along with, shooting from both sides.
There were two other locations, Dave Baxley (the composer) and Jay Leek’s place and a big empty warehouse on R st. in downtown Sacramento. The first day of shooting was in Dave's garage of my point of view when I'm in line. As for the warehouse… we were only at the location for 24 hours... straight! We shot the sequence where I'm walking up to the 9 items line. Also, where the people are lining up, and when I approach the cans. I'd like to note the little noticed gag. The second person (played by Odin) in line is waiting to rob the store. You also see him in the isle sequence, lost, trying to find the register in the huge supermarket.
Shooting in Dave's garage.
Dave is on the right hand side.
“9 Items or Less” opened at The Crest theatre on Wednesday, July 5th 1995, playing with "Betty Boop Confidential."
Behind the Scene Photos
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