Blue Like Jazz Crew Shoots on Campus
The cast and crew of Blue Like Jazz arrived on campus last week to a bittersweet surprise: sun. Saturday was one of Portland’s rare breaks from the winter gloom, a perfect day of blue skies, near-warm weather, and vitamin D. For those of us back from winter break, it was a glorious (if deceptively optimistic) start to the semester. For director Steve Taylor, however, the bright skies came with a dose of irony — on its first day filming at Reed College, the crew of Blue Like Jazz had to make its own rain.
Blue Like Jazz’s dedication to weather authenticity did not, unfortunately, extend to the scenes shot the following day. Sunday extras were instructed to ditch heavy coats and scarves in order to appear outfitted for “spring” weather. While shivering in the background of a lunch scene for half an hour, I considered showing the costume designer a photo of myself in May of 2010, decked out in a down jacket, scarf, and fur-lined hat, frowning miserably at the camera. To be fair, Portland does have the occasional week of absolutely perfect, warm, cherry-blossom weather, but shouldn’t Reedies’ annual struggle against eternal winter be immortalized on the silver screen? While standing around jacketless in Sunday’s cold, I certainly began to think so.
Despite the overly optimistic depiction of Portland spring, the director and writers of Blue Like Jazz seemed dedicated to capturing the essence of Reed. “They were working really hard to be true to Reed,” Erin Jacot, an extra for Sunday’s shoot, observed. The cast and crew were enthusiastic about Reed’s quirkiness and intellectual vigor, and were excited to discuss their vision with actual Reed students.
While Steve Taylor appeared loyal to the Reed spirit, some fact, due to the difficulty of translating Reed culture for a larger audience, was sacrificed in favor of accessibility. A key example of this can be observed in Blue Like Jazz’s treatment of Renn Fayre.
“They were really excited to film Renn Fayre,” said Jacot. “They loved all the crazy clothing that the extras brought.”
While Taylor seemed eager to capture the colorful, joyous, chaos at the heart of Renn Fayre, he did so within a more identifiable framework – that of a massive, glorious costume party.
Calls for extras in Blue Like Jazz’s primary Renn Fayre scene, filmed in Tennessee, requested that actors arrive “wearing a toga, a Greek god or goddess outfit, a devil outfit, a Moses outfit, a superhero outfit, or any other person or deity that could or might be idolized.” Extras in Sunday’s shoot, while asked to dress in genuine Renn Fayre garb, and filmed partaking in authentic Renn Fayre activities (like passing out drunk on the front lawn), were accessorized with Halloween masks and elaborate face paint. While the addition of ‘idol’ costumes and masks slightly obscures the reality of Renn Fayre, it does so in a manner that will perhaps make the scene more identifiable for the average viewer, and more useful for linear narrative.
Blue Like Jazz’s vision, while clearly more ordered and accessible than the Reed reality, seemed to be aimed at communicating Renn Fayre’s ultimate truth – that of unbridled joy, celebration, and, well, glitter. Beyond Renn Fayre, the cast and crew seemed dedicated to portraying Reed as a challenging, colorful, and intellectual environment.
“I would hope that Reed students would see the film and feel honored by it,” said Don Miller, author of the original book. After a day of witnessing the cast and crew negotiate scenes and enthusiastically discuss the Reed spirit, I’m fairly confident that we will be.
Blue Like Jazz is scheduled to be released September 2011.