The whole place launched into a melee. A bar stool struck the bartender; pint glasses flew; instruments were thrown aside; people were dragged out by their hair. Writer/director Randy Mack was new to the city and had just rolled up to a dark French Quarter drinking post, dumped his clothes in their back-room washing machine, sat down for the next band’s set and watched the scene erupt.
“Minutes later, everything in the bar was back to normal,” Mack recalls. “I had no idea what had just happened.”
As months passed, Mack began to untangle the saga, in part through befriending those involved and by becoming a regular at the bar-laundromat (Checkpoint Charlie). The checkered stories that emerged out of the fight turned into the premise for his latest narrative feature film, Laundry Day, which follows a motley crew of service-industry workers through 24 hours in their beloved New Orleans.
“The story focuses on the lower-Quarter and Marigny-triangle pocket of the city and the service industry that exists there,” Mack explains. “Musicians and artists are our waiters in New Orleans. They have fascinating stories to draw on because they live their lives out in public, out in bars with big laissez-faire attitudes.”
To produce the dark comedy, Mack enlisted dozens of local crew members, mostly young (the average age was 25) and mostly “green,” who worked long hours for little pay. Together, the team shot over 47 hours of footage, filming around every eccentric corner of the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter. Few dive bars were spared. Camera operators rode precarious pick-up trucks down Esplanade Avenue, production designers constructed mule turds for carriage stunts, and actors rehearsed scenes on a pedi-cab rigged to a flat-bed trailer. Local barflies were cast as local barflies.
At its best, the haphazard nature of production resembled the “scrappy resourcefulness” of the city itself, Mack explains. In more dire straits, the film struggled with crew retention. Several producers burned out within short periods of time. Funds were tight all around. Laundry Day also faced the ubiquitous rival of independent filmmaking—big-budget pictures.
“Hollywood South can steamroll other productions,” says Mack. “They can eat up precious resources and just throw money at their problems.”
Mack expresses disappointment that much of the talent from within New Orleans is often underutilized or ignored. Ironically, just before they began shooting in December, Laundry Day lost cast members to Hollywood sequels. The team pressed on.
“When a film is small enough, everyone is on the same page,” Mack explains. “Everyone donates a lot of time for little pay because the success benefits everyone. I think the reason Hollywood production crews get paid as much as they do is largely because they don’t share any of the success of the film. They’re not invested. Independent films have this beautiful scale, which is small enough that everyone can benefit if it succeeds.
“Without an independent-film community, local crewmembers are literally standing in line for jobs on these mammoth sequels and commercials. They don’t advance you in your creative career … They leave town.”
Drawing on his experience working within the film industries of New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin, Mack wants to target what he perceives the New Orleans film community lacks.
“In New Orleans, we have a strong reputation for music, art and food,” he says. “Film is the fourth stepchild. Independent film needs that funky, idiosyncratic, Mardi Gras energy to draw great talent and provide opportunities. We need a local independent film ecosystem that can sustain itself here. And without the high-profile success stories, we’re never going to get the sizzle factor that will move the needle that will motivate the people to get this community going.”
Through the making of Laundry Day and alongside the work of local film incubators, organizations and venues, Mack hopes to inspire more people, from all walks of life, to make and see films in New Orleans. Specifically, Mack wants to help foster films “that are the highest possible quality, that can travel, can resonate on a national level, an international level, gain media attention, build positive momentum and bring more resources and education back [to New Orleans].”
For Mack, keeping money and talent local is key.
“With Laundry Day, I want to keep all production in Orleans Parish,” Mack says. “Development, pre-production, production, post-production, finishing and distribution—to prove that is it possible, and that you can make really good work of it.”
Laundry Day stars Kerry Cahill, Dave Davis, Billy Slaughter and Samantha Huffman and is currently in post-production. The film is set to an entirely local soundtrack and features cameos from many local artists and musicians, including Andy J. Forest, Peter Orr and Beth Patterson, an OffBeat cover subject from June 2013.
Laundry Day will have its first test screening on Thursday, September 11 at Indywood Theater on Elysian Fields. Tickets are available to the public only through the First Look Lottery.
To enter the lottery and to view the film’s latest news and trailers, visit laundrydayfilm.com.