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The broke front man of a burgeoning indie rock band gets a phone call from his brother and bass player, who’s been arrested in Chicago 100 miles away, on the eve of a major world tour – Booked.
Writer/Director: Aaron Cassara
Writer: Meghan O’Neill
Johnny’s band is about to start their first major tour. The kick-off is in Milwaukee, their hometown. His brother—the bass player—is nowhere to be found. The eve of opening night they play a secret show, mostly friends, family and industry people, and the bass player from their opening act has to fill in. After the show Johnny’s band gives him an ultimatum about his brother: one more fuck-up and he’s out of the band. Just then Johnny gets a call from his brother. He’s been arrested 100 miles away in Chicago. Johnny has to scrounge up the money and transportation to get his brother out of jail and back to Milwaukee in time for the show, which is 17 hours away.
The film will explore the perceptions and misconceptions about fame, wealth and the intersection of the two.
Johnny, the front man of a burgeoning indie rock group, is back in his hometown, Milwaukee WI, for the launch of his first major world tour. He’s been struggling into his mid 30s keeping the band afloat, going broke and racking up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. The band is getting big, but his fame is bigger than he is.
The night before the opening of the tour, Pitchfork hosts a secret show. It’s an industry event and a lot of friends and family of the band will be in attendance. Johnny’s brother and bass player in the band, Bill, is nowhere to be found. The band gets Len to fill in for Bill last minute. This is not the first time Len or someone else has had to fill in for Bill.
After the show Johnny bumps into Aidan, the younger brother of a friend of Johnny’s and now a journalist. Aidan is also doing a story on the band. Aidan drives Johnny in his dilapidated car over to a hotel where there’s an after party and where the band is staying. On the way to the party Johnny and Aidan have some mild flirtations with each other.
At the party Johnny mingles and talks to old friends and family along with industry people, all the while attempting to keep up a cool veneer. However, some of his old friends are a bit more revealing about Johnny’s past and raucous than Johnny would like and some of his insecurities seep out. Johnny makes his way out of conversations and gets Aidan back in his room. Aidan thinks he’s getting his interview, but Johnny is interested in hooking up. Aidan is flattered and goes along with it. They start to make out when there’s a knock on the door.
It’s the band minus Bill. They kick Aidan out for a band meeting in which they give Johnny an ultimatum about his brother Bill. That night was the last straw. If Bill screws up one more time, he’s out of the band. Johnny is sad about it but understands and assures them he’ll be there tomorrow night for the big opening night.
Aidan reenters the room and Johnny goes in immediately for the kiss. Aidan backs away and explains he’s not into that. He explains he’s not gay and also it’s unprofessional. Just then Johnny gets a call from a weird number. It’s Bill and he’s been arrested in Chicago and he’s broke with no way to get to Milwaukee in time for the show. Johnny asks Aidan if he can borrow his car.
— First Act —
Johnny and Aidan stand in the parking lot while Aidan goes over the numerous quirks and issues with his vehicle. Johnny thanks him and promises an interview after the opening night show. Johnny drives out of the parking lot. He stops off at a bank and withdraws the last $300 out of $316.57. Then he drives out of Milwaukee, with the marquee of the theater he’s performing at tomorrow towering over him.
On I-94 Johnny quickly runs out of gas at dawn. He exits the car and grabs a gas can from the back seat. He checks his phone for the closest gas station, which is a three-hour walk. He starts walking. He looks around for a chance to hitchhike, but there aren’t any cars on the road.
The sun is high in the sky. It’s now morning. Johnny approaches the gas station, gas can in hand. He pumps the gas and pays with his debit card. He starts walking back to his car and someone pulls up and tells him to get in.nInside the car the man, 30s, recognizes Johnny. He’s a fan of the band and going to the show that night. But is a little concerned. They shoot the shit and Johnny is dropped off back at his car. He fills up and continues driving, stopping again at the gas station to fill up some more.
Johnny enters the Chicagoland area and runs into traffic as he approaches the neighborhood his brother is being held in. One of his songs comes on WXRT. He jams out a little. The traffic halts to a stand-still. He decides to get off early near Wicker Park. He gets a flat tire on a side street. When he opens the trunk to get the spare tire, he finds there is no spare.
— SECOND Act —
After bartering for a spare tire Johnny returns to his borrowed vehicle to find it being towed.
He pleads with the tow truck driver, even playing the fame card. He offers tickets to his show, to no avail. The tow truck driver very pleasantly explains where he can retrieve the vehicle. Johnny returns the tire and makes his way to the pound on Lower Wacker Drive where Aidan’s car is being held.
At the impound lot desk he uses, with hesitation, almost all of his money to get the car back. After paying for the tickets and the tow the clerk explains what he’s to show the next clerk: documents he doesn’t have. At the next clerk he pleads to check the documents in the car. An officer escorts him to the vehicle where he finds what he needs. When he gets back to the clerk, the clerk explains that it’s not his car and he can’t release the car to him.
Outside of the lot Johnny attempts to call Aidan. As Aidan answers the phone, Johnny’s phone dies, an older iPhone 4s. Johnny walks out from the depths of Lower Wacker and attempts to use a couple people’s phones. He gets Aidan’s voicemail. Finally he gives up and asks where an Apple store is.
In the Apple store Johnny learns they’ve discontinued the iPhone 4s chargers. They just got rid of them the night before. However, he could get one on Ebay. In the Apple store a few fans approach Johnny. He’s hesitant at first to take photos with them but then he gets an idea. He uses one of their phones to post about a show he’ll do in Wicker Park to raise money for a good cause.
On the train to Wicker Park Johnny encounters a musician with a guitar. She knows who he is and he asks her for help in exchange for a back stage pass to their Chicago dates. She agrees. His fame is finally getting him somewhere. They jam on the train and sound good, and other riders applaud.
In the park a crowd gathers. Johnny explains why he’s doing this and asks if they could please donate to the cause. They quickly receive some donations in the guitar case. The impromptu show goes well and there’s a substantial amount of money in the case. Johnny asks for the time and realizes it’s getting late. He counts the cash and gets on his way.
Johnny stops at the train station, which is close to where Bill is being held. He inquires about two tickets to Milwaukee. He doesn’t have enough to bail out Bill and get two tickets. He thinks for a moment and buys one. He’s contemplating leaving his brother. He stands by the train entrance.
— THIRD Act —
In the police station Johnny pays a clerk. His brother is released. Johnny starts lecturing right off the bat. Bill doesn’t want to hear it.
Johnny explains how they’re going to get on the train. Bill has no objections. Johnny distracts the conductor as Bill sneaks into the car and then the into bathroom. Johnny shows his ticket then boards.
On the train Johnny uses the last few dollars to enjoy a beer. After the first stop he switches places with Bill in the bathroom. A few stops later a passenger alerts the conductor to a suspicious bathroom situation and the brothers are caught and thrown off the train in the middle of nowhere.
Johnny and Bill stand facing a large field arguing which way I-94 is. Johnny finally just starts walking because he knows he’s right. Bill joins. They finally make the highway and start walking north while hitchhiking. It’s getting close to showtime.
They’re finally picked up. It turns out their drivers are going to the show they are about to play.
They pull into town and are dropped at the front of the Pabst Theater where the bouncer gives them a hard time. Johnny distracts him and runs into the show with Bill right behind him. They enter through the seating and some people start to notice who they are.
Johnny gets on stage and grabs a mic as Bill scurries into the back. Shortly after, the curtains open and we cut black. Credits roll as a live performance commences.
is the leader of a newly popular indie rock band. He’s in his late 30s and has been struggling to make it for the better part of a decade and the break is finally here. However, he’s completely broke and drowning in credit card debt because without running up his credit cards, his shitty string of restaurant jobs wouldn’t have cut it to keep the band and his dreams alive. Johnny is worn out and beaten down on the inside, but outwardly projects a cocky rock star veneer because he knows that ticket has finally been punched—or least he thinks so.
is Johnny’s older brother and bass player in the band. Bill has just been coasting through life and being in his brother’s now-successful band is one more stroke of luck for him, unless of course he fucks it up. This would not be too hard for Bill. He’s been in a lot of trouble and Johnny and the band are always bailing him out of bad situations and often jail. He’s a heavy drinker—not that out of the ordinary for rock stars—but he’s also a fighter. When starts flowing the fighting is harder to resist. Bill also loses any sense of responsibility when he drinks.
is the younger brother of one of Johnny’s old friends from childhood. He’s a journalist and is doing a story about the band. Aidan is five years younger than Johnny and always looked up to him. He’s always had a friend crush on him and now that he’s a big rock star those feeling are amplified.
Music will be essential to this story, and a majority of it will be diegetic coming from an invented band for this film. The band was formed in the Midwest, in the Rust Belt city of Milwaukee, and were all raised liberal in lower-middle-class homes. Although they are not political in nature the music will reflect the struggles of the everyman; some songs could come off that way. They are far more subtle and understated than, say, the Clash or Rage Against the Machine. Ideally The National would read the script, love it and insist on being a part of it. However I think there are many bands that could fit the tone of the film.
There will also be more traditional scored moments peppered throughout the film. I would be very interested in having the band brought on to create the fake band score the rest of the film. I also see some already-written music in the film, perhaps from some bands like The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and The Alabama Shakes.
The story takes place in Chicago, Milwaukee and in between.
Milwaukee is often referred to as smaller version of Chicago, a little brother, much like Johnny to Bill.
The physical distance between the two brothers reflect the distance of their emotional states and what’s to come for the two of them. Johnny is in transition from his old life of struggling to keep the band alive and paying the bills. He’s also starting to get a lot more attention. As the frontman of the band most of the media attention, good or bad, falls on him. For Bill not much will change. He never cared as deeply about the success or making it. He was just doing because he loved it and to support Johnny emotionally, despite Johnny having to support him financially from time to time.
This is a classic Golden Fleece story: The hero leaves town for one reason but discovers something else along the way. In the case of Booked, Johnny is humbled and realizes there’s a longer journey ahead of him even though his band has made it. The journey itself is a character in this piece.
I’m a Chicago native and know the city intimately. I have also spent a fair amount of time traveling to Milwaukee for shows. It will be a real pleasure scouting for these spaces, and I already have a good handle on a lot of the locations I would pursue.
I’ve always been interested in the struggles of the middle and lower class. The way the system is set up it, more often than not it feels rigged to keep people down. A specific example is that police officers have a quota for the amount of tickets they need to write, which seems to go against the whole serve and protect tag line.
In 2015 my father-in-law’s car was unjustly towed. It cost a few hundred dollars plus a lot of running around. I had to get notarized authorization from my father-in-law and then quickly get to the tow pound, otherwise they would start charging me by the day. I rapidly got everything together and made my way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where the car was being held. There were a couple of disconcerting sign posted that made me question whether or not I would even be able to get the car. Everything went pretty smoothly; I got the car back and contested the ticket and towing and won.
However, while I was in line at the pound I spoke with a man who was driving a work truck from Philly and had none of the documentation needed to get the truck back. I felt so bad for the guy but secretly was thinking, “There’s a film here.” Parking tickets are on a long list of things that are nothing more than a tax on the middle class, and fighting them is a bureaucratic nightmare. But the problem this man faced was extreme. While I haven’t had to deal with exactly what he was dealing with I could relate in big way. It’s deep struggle to get ahead without ever seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
As a filmmaker I’ve always been drawn to subtlety and naturalism in all aspects of the filmmaking process. I think that’s why I listen to a lot of underground indy music, because I can relate and it feels like they’re telling my story.
While thinking about what Booked was going to be, I was reminded of a Marketplace segment on NPR I’d heard back in 2012. It was an interview with Matt Berninger, the lead singer of the band The National. It was a deep dive into his song, Bloodbuzz Ohio, which is about the struggles the youngest generation faces with credit card debt and the recession, things I’ve always been interested in exploring as a filmmaker. Berninger also alludes to his own struggles with money and credit card debt in both the song and the interview.
The National struggled for years while receiving critical praise, never quite breaking through until 2008 and 2009 with the release of the album High Violet, which was documented in the film Mistaken for Strangers. It reminded me of countless stories I’d heard about bands I loved, and friends I have in well-known bands, coming home from tour and crashing on friends couches, living at home with their parents, working dead-end jobs and just struggling in general.
Many people have a misconception that because you’re famous you’re rich or very well off. I’ve found this again and again not to be the case. By portraying a rock star who can’t make ends meet I will demystify the allure of rock stars and fame, and how it seldom solves all your problems.
Booked takes place in a 24-hour period. Somewhere between the rush of A Hard Days Night, the loneliness and isolation of Inside Llewyn Davis, and the misadventures of After Hours lands Booked. The film's visual aesthetic will be movement. Johnny is in a constant state of movement throughout his struggle to “make it,” and especially during the time we see him in Booked. Translated to process, I will accomplish this with three modes of cinematic storytelling.
Firstly, I will rely heavily on a handheld camera to tell our story. This filming style will mimic and play off Johnny's nervousness and sense of urgency. Like the films of the Duplass brothers, Booked will accomplish a strong sense of realism due to the handheld method. My cinematographer will establish an immediate and intimate connection with our main character this way.
Secondly, Steadicam will be used for street, dialogue, and traveling scenes. Smooth camera motion here will beautifully offset the frenetic energy of the time spent close to Johnny. Lastly, much like the Coen brothers, Booked will use simple, wide static lock-offs to tell the story of place and location. These will not be trite establishing shots, but labored and dedicated opening and transitioning frames that will see character movement and dialogue as well as location.
A key theme throughout the film is a sense of displacement. Johnny is at a point in his life where his fame doesn’t match up with his reality. Visually this will translate to a motif wherein Johnny will be placed in the frame so he appears belittled by whatever he is facing. The marquee of the venue touting his band's name towers over him as he drives to Chicago; the band ridicules him about Bill from a powerful standing position while he sits in despair. Johnny will compositionally be disadvantaged. This theme will also enable interesting and atypical framings.
Another motif I will establish is the sense of the unknown. The film will be successful in translating Johnny's subliminal states to a visual on-screen product. His emotions and frustrations induce a detachment in him. He’s in a fog and every experience and encounter is uncharted territory. Much like the handheld method in Son of Saul, the camera in Booked will be with our main character, with focus on him, seeing events transpire in the background. By playing with focus this way, I’ll create tension and urgency, apprehension and distance. The world is unfamiliar to our hero, and the audience will feel the strangeness, as well.
I have designed these styles and motifs to play off of and with each other throughout the course of the film. Ultimately, Booked will resound to a confluence of these motifs and styles, which will mimic the narrative arc.
Aaron Cassara: Writer/Director
Aaron Cassara is a Brooklyn-based, Chicago-born filmmaker. His short film, Barista, about how the costs of health care and education affect young people, is currently in festivals. He just finished a short film called Out to Dry, about a feisty young woman who finds herself in hot water when she swipes a towel from her buildings laundry room to help out her boyfriend. He’s also in production on a documentary about a Midtown Manhattan shoe repairman and in pre-production for another short about a couple on a make-or-break weekend in the Catskills.
Meghan O’Neill: Writer
Meghan O'Neill has studied at the Guthrie actor training program, the national theater London, Iowa Writer's Workshop, second city, UCB, the pit and the magnet. Her work as a writer/actor has been featured on HBO's Animals, Billy On The Street, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Late Show With Stephen Colbert, as well as Vulture, The Hairpin, Refinery 29 and Above Average. She has also written and performed as part of ours nova ant fest, NY sketch fest, and The Women in Comedy festival. She's a multi-award-winning artist from the New York television festival including: Best Comedy, Best Actress and 2016 Super Deluxe Pitch Deal.
Tiffany Fisher Love: Producer
Tiffany Fisher-Love is a Brooklyn-based producer and Chief of Staff at Upworthy. She’s worked on projects across the globe from Broadway Across America, to Vans Warped Tour, along with numerous shorts and webseries. Barista, about how the costs of health care and education affect young people, is currently in festivals. Other recent projects include: Feme Frequencia’s #Goinghomeless webseries, Aaron Cassara’s short Out to Dry and Aldrich Productions’ short Walk Me Through It.
Jonathan Nelson: Cinematographer
Jonathan Nelson has been working in the New York City film industry for the last 10 years. He has worked on the Oscar-winning Twenty Feet From Stardom (about backup singers in the music industry), operated 2nd unit on last year's The Witness, and he recently wrapped principal photography on Trollville, a new comedy web series for IFC. Jonathan is currently in post-production for I LIVED: BROOKLYN, a short-form documentary series concentrating on place and identity in Brooklyn's neighborhoods.