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Feature Mon Apr 29 2013
Here I was, on the South Side of Chicago at an old decrypted warehouse surrounded by a bunch of nutjobs. Gathered at the massive space was the lackluster circus known loosely as the Born Ready Films crew.
In full character, here were the yacht-club yuppies, hood-ass rappers, hardcore metal freaks and white-trash weirdos. Hours prior I was told that these strangers were supposed to play each other in a tournament of dodgeball. Uncertain of everything but surprised by nothing, I the objective bystander was supposed to interview them for a film.
When I volunteered to help out my friend Drew (Morris) with his new project, Red Balls, the mockumentary-style comedy detailing the Chicago underground dodgeball league, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Filmed as a live, largely improvisational film, a dodgeball tournament was organized. The winners and losers weren't scripted. The action, dialogue and antics were off the cuff. Several nut shots, black eyes and fights later, the feature length film has been accepted into a number of comedy festivals around Chicago and LA.
The production was done by a gaggle of talented young-guns, fresh out of college on a very small budget.
To categorize Born Ready Films (BRF) into a genre would be an injustice. To list the staff would be damn near impossible. At any given point their cast may include any of their friends as well as family. BRF is driven by the visions of Mr. Drew Morris, the quarterback and director. His crew is a loose collective of friends, actors, comedians, filmmakers and Columbia College students. As with most of his creations, Morris simply likes to draw from his own life, whether a trained professional or not, he can find a role for his companions in his films.
Morris is a chameleon. He started behind the lens filming his friends skateboarding, while later in college transitioning to comedy films. A year ago he traveled across the country chasing train-hoppers and hitchhikers for BRF's first documentary, Exile by Choice, and recently he returned to his roots by creating a Chicago skateboarding comedy film (Ratchet City).
The twentysomething-year-olds of BRF grew up through the late '90s boom of skateboarding; simultaneously the television hit Jackass was easing into the culture at the time. Every skate rat thought to themselves, "We could do that, but funnier." Any young kid could borrow their dad's camera and go film some pranks or skate skills on the streets of their neighborhood.
BRF core member Grant Stakenas elaborates on the progression of today's filmmaking process. "You get access to so many more stories now, anyone can pick up a camera and anyone can torrent some editing software and so it's easier for people to get their ideas on tape," he says. "Our generation is really focused on change because we don't like the way the guys before us did things. Everything was proper and censored. Most of our peers are saying 'Screw that. Let's do it our way, let's show the people the unedited version of what's going on.' It's all one big movement."
Meeting the Born Ready fellas, you get the impression that they simply don't give a shit about image. In fact they'd rather take stereotypes and blow them the fuck up. In a time where many post-graduate adolescents succumb to lesser occupations and aspirations the cast of Born Ready believes they are simply here to do one thing: make funny and intriguing films for the rest of their lives.
Quarterback of Born Ready Films, Drew MorrisTheir dedication and effort is exemplified by creating three feature-length films and 40 comedy shorts in the past three years. Besides the tremendous quantity and quality of works they produce (which improves with every video), more impressive is how BRF manages to create their visions with hardly any outside funding.
Always ballin' on a budget with hardly any outside funding, BRF is always looking to shave dollars off their productions. Sometimes creatively and illegally the group's resourcefulness shines through. Morris elaborates, "We kind of got back to our roots of skateboarding with Red Balls, where it was like, we aren't supposed to be here but fuck it, we want to get this footage so just film it. That's really influenced the way we can pull off certain shots and certain things with no budget."
Reopening the age-old rift between skateboarders and rollerbladers, BRF created a satirical sequel to the Disney classic Brink. With Brink 2: Val's Revenge, the crew demonstrated their appetite for guerilla filmmaking while Morris filmed illegally on Lower Wacker Drive to pay tribute to Christopher Nolan's epic Batman flick, The Dark Knight, which was largely shot in Chicago, "With that particular shot, the area was blocked off for construction so that worked to our advantage. We decided to just use my car to move the barriers out of the way and drive around it and film out the sunroof. It was sketchy but totally worth it."
As the champion Brink "blades hardcore" up a Wacker Drive ramp that the Bat-mobile once cruised, the epic closing lines ring out: "Because he's not a hero, he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a soul skater."
It was there in the dingy warehouse, with trash rotting in the corner and graffiti tagged all around, that I realized the brilliance of the Born Ready filmmaking process. It wasn't very far away from the childhood filming days -- friends were still filming friends. The plot and characters were as outrageous as they wanted to be -- many scenes were improvisational or unauthorized -- and everybody was laughing there asses off. The shaky, buddy skate videos were replaced with a better camera and trained cinematographers with ambitious minds to offend as many people as possible.
Weaved throughout each day are funny or intriguing ideas. When the Born Ready crew have a party at their place, at some point the cameras are pulled out and something will become of the footage. Whether it's the scene of a rap music video (their rap alter-egos, Suits N' Du's) or B-roll for their new skate video, Ratchet City.
To the BRF crew, a few cameras, laptops and YouTube were the essential ingredients needed to test their creativity. But their vision has always exceeded the comedy short format.
Morris explains their ambitions. "I originally thought that times are changing. I thought YouTube is the way to go, that's the way to break through specifically with comedy. It worked for a decent amount of people. Then the more we did it, the more we realized that we're more of a feature length crew with more full stories. With YouTube we definitely used it to get more fans but we just use it as a really fun way to stay busy, to keep getting better and just keep putting out content. We want our bigger projects be the ones that take us somewhere."
Something about the gritty charm of the Windy City allures many funnymen and women. But sadly, as with many comedians, Chicago becomes the Midwest midwife for their talents, while they eventually test their comedic concoctions at the east or west coast. The crew of Born Ready Films recently moved to LA. The move, to them, was inevitable. "I'd love to stay in Chicago and make movies but all the business happens out here (west coast), all the work is out here," Morris says. "Yeah, it seems like comedians don't really stay."
With their Midwest charm, twisted sense of humor and work ethic I'm sure they will be fine wherever they end up. The collective of Born Ready Films prove that a little resourcefulness can go a long way.
As Morris concludes, "We never really made a movie before with a real budget. We never had that luxury and that forces us to work a lot harder. Rather than rely on money to make a scene happen, you replace budget money with creativity."