Recently the word was let out that director Joe D. Casey passed away of a heart attack last week. He was 48. People who are in the loop of the Tampa/Florida indie scene know who this guy was in our local scene. Joe was one of the most unique people I have ever met in this industry.
Joe and my time spent with him represents some of the craziest memories I have involved in this industry bar none which I don’t have the time or energy to explain them all. However, I would love to share some.
I never forget the day Vito Trabucco gave me a copy of Tampa's Weekly Planet with a listing looking for actors. Not only were they looking for actors but the ad said PAID actors. A rarity in Tampa. I called up and the guy who answered the phone was JD Casey. He said he was doing a Sci-Fi Movie called "We Are Coming to Help." This was around 2002 and it sounded like an interesting project to me. Especially when Joe mentioned he was going to have a few “names” in the project.
I mentioned that a guy I knew was Vito Trabucco and he operated camera. Joe invited us both down to meet him at Fridays which is across from the University Square Mall in Tampa near USF. I picked Vito up (as usual, Vito never had a car that worked) and we drove to the Fridays. During our drive Vito and I got excited about possibilities. We were thinking this could be our huge break, what kind of names does Joe have attached to his movie, do we actually even have a shot, and so on and so on.
Vito and I arrived at Fridays and were sat in the left back section of the restraunt. No one was near us. I saw a man already there sitting in the dark with a huge portfolio of pictures on the table with his head down. The man who looked up was J.D. Casey. Joe was a rail thin guy, big glasses, long shaggy almost hippy type hair, huge beard and yes, the now famous 1 tooth.
He was very nice when we met him. Vito and I sat down and ordered. Joe ordered too. I will never forget. He ordered Fish and Chips and never touched an ounce of his food. I think the reason was because he was so excited about making his first movie. He first explained who he was and what he was doing. Joe by trade was a truck driver and maybe the biggest crazed fanboy I have ever seen in my life for horror and B-movies. Joe was a truck driver who would drive around to all the horror conventions around the United States since it was easy for him to just about get anywhere. Joe was a photographer and actually pretty damn good one, too. What he would do is take photographs of B-Movie actress’ and then next time he met them at the next convention give the photos to them for free which made him a lot of friends in the process. His wit and odd charm I am sure helped him in a lot of ways too.
Now in this article I may say this a few times but “with all due respect” JD Casey had the creepiness factor in spades. By a glance and the way he spoke one would think this guy could be a serial killer. I actually learned in the truck driving lingo from him that a “Lot Lizard” was a prostitute. Joe loved hot girls, horror movies and everything that came with them. Underneath the odd exterior Joe did have a heart of gold. I always saw him treat women as God’s gift to the world. He would do anything for anyone and that’s why a lot of people in the B-Movie community liked him.
Back to Joe’s film which was called “We Are Coming to Help.” Yes it’s on IMDb. He told us the TWO names he was going to have in the movie were Brinke Stevens (Slumber Party Massacre) and Debbie Rochon (American Nightmare, Tromeo and Juliet). This was huge news to Vito and me.
In a weird twist 10 minutes into our meeting at Fridays Joe offers me the part of Ryan Touplaik. I was shocked. He never saw me act, he knew nothing about me being a theater major (just graduating college at the time) or any of my resume, and the craziest was I never even looked at one word in the script. I of course took the part immediately not knowing what I was getting myself into. Joe also offered Vito a job to operate camera. Both paid positions. Vito and I left Friday’s on cloud 9. Joe said he would send us the script tomorrow and we would shoot in a few weeks.
Joe felt it was a must to pay everyone. He was one of the first and very few in Tampa that I ever saw do that. He wanted to make it a business and have everyone happy that they worked with him. He even told me wanted to make a J.D. Casey production letterman jacket. Every actor in his movie would get one with a patch with the film they worked on.
I woke up the next morning pumped to read the script and it was already in my email box at 8am. The email was sent to Vito as well who I called and asked if he was reading it which he was reading the script at work. I got off the phone and read “We Are Coming to Help.” It was and once again “with all due respect” one of the most difficult scripts I have ever read in my life. Some examples of why it was a hard read were dialogue from one character that would go on a page or two, conspiracy theories of aliens coming from another planet that were difficult to understand and so on.
The story was about aliens coming to the planet Earth and their only communication was “We Are Coming to Help.” The entire movie took place in one room at one table. The story was unfolded through different sections of the government coming together to discuss these messages. Their mission was to figure out why these Aliens are coming to help.
How did I fit into the story being a 22-year-old actor (at the time) who looked like he was 17? My character was named Ryan Touplaik (Joe Casey’s Mom’s Maiden Name) a young Sci-Fi author whose genius books were very similar to what was happening in the story. Joe at one point told me my character was basically a younger version of him.
When reading the script I literally got a migraine headache. I felt the complete works of Shakespeare were an easier read than Joe’s script. However, I wanted to call Joe and tell him that the general idea was valid and interesting concept if pulled off correctly.
This is where things got crazy and the classic memories of Florida Filmmaking come to mind. Joe once again was excited about shooting the movie once I called him but he wanted to do some things that I have never heard of in making movies.
1.) He felt that 51 pages of straight dialogue could make a 2-hour movie. I explained to him that I wasn’t sure if that was possible.
2.) He wanted to shoot the entire movie with one camera angle never moving the camera.
3.) He wanted to have 2 days of rehearsal which was fantastic, but on the other hand shoot the entire film in 3 days.
4.) Then the craziest idea, he wanted to shoot the entire movie in 1 take!
My first thinking was “God Bless this guy he is trying his best, but there is just no way.” Then I started to have some self doubt thinking even Al Pacino couldn’t pull this off.
A few weeks later I ended up calling Brinke Stevens and introducing myself. I expressed my concern, but told her I wanted to do the best I could. There were other actors involved that I knew locally including my acting coach, Jack Amos. Everyone among themselves thought there was just no way but we all went in and did the best possible job we could.
The rehearsals came and went and so did the shoot. The shoot was like a boot camp for acting. I would go home on the nights in between and have nightmares about the script it was so difficult. Everyone on the show regardless of how ridiculous wanted to do a good job for Joe. Everyone was very professional and we did what we had to get it completed.
During the shoot of course Rick Danford showed up and tried to nose his way in to kiss up to Brinke and Debbie. I will never forget Rick calling Tom Savini on the phone in front of us to try to act cool. Here is how the conversation went:
Rick: "Hey, Tom how you are doing? Ahh….It’s Rick….Danford…..Ahhh Florida…movies….you were in Web of Darkness."
Hahahaha Savini had no idea who he was and we all chuckled about it. Even Joe had a good laugh.
In the end Danford and Prol “the sound guy” were supposed to edit the movie. Prol in a move I never understood recorded the entire movie on DAT even though we were shooting on Mini DV with the camera right there.
For one reason or another the Renegade group couldn’t or wouldn’t edit the movie. That’s when I enlisted my good friend (and now roommate in LA) Travis Stoffs to make some sense of this movie and edit it together. I told Joe I would do anything possible to see this movie finished and we made his dream happen.
When the movie was finished lots of people said really negative things to my face. Like the movie was worse than an Ed Wood movie. My own Grandmother couldn’t even watch it. However, Joe loved it at the time. It was his dream and he made it happen and I was happy for him.
After this film was completed Joe was one of the biggest people involved in making my first feature happen. This guy took extra shifts driving trucks to help raise a little money for the movie. He also drove us to Baltimore to shoot a scene with Debbie Rochon once again measuring the true merit of this guy’s heart.
For those of you who know me it seems like the single most known movie people associate with my name is "B-Movie: The Shooting of Farmhouse Massacre." I think it’s about as ignorant of a movie a person can possibly make, but something that’s close to my heart because it represents a time frame of my life. The movie “B-Movie” was partially based on our experience being around Joe. It was a Mocumentary about a bunch of idiots making the worst “B-Movie” ever called “Farmhouse Massacre.”
Joe did not grasp the concept of a Mocumentary even though we explained it. He really thought we were making a movie called “Farmhouse Massacre.” God bless the guy. Vito felt that Joe was such a character that it would only help the movie to have a camera on him all the time. Joe played himself and the DP of the fake movie.
After the “Farmhouse Massacre” portion of the movie was complete Joe became very upset with the cut as he felt in some ways the movie was making fun of him. This caused an unfortunate fall out between our group and Joe. He later admitted to me he actually like the film.
All in all because of my time with Joe Casey I learned a lot of stuff and have a lot of memories. Some of the stuff I learned was how to NOT do things, but he also taught me the importance of conventions and fans for horror films. Next weekend I will be sitting as a guest at my first convention in Burbank thinking about Joe Casey.
I look forward to seeing Brinke and Debbie at Fangoria next weekend and catch up on some memories.
Also here is a link of some trailers and footage from “B-Movie.” Joe laughing at the end of the trailer is something I will always remember.
Joe, as far as I am concerned, the hatchet between you and me has been buried for a long time now. Thank you for the fun memories I will have with me forever. Rest in Peace, Man.
"My Middle Toe Is Longer Than Yours" is ©2007 by Mark Terry. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.