“Shoot That Rat!” Gets Shot

A flying jalopy, a garbage dump, an L.A. starry night and two teenagers on an unpredictable first date — that’s a recipe for an unusual film, and its making was equally unusual.

During 10 days in June, Mikael Kreuzriegler, assistant professor in the School of Film and Television, shot a live-action, feature-length film on campus, and he thinks he may be the first SFTV faculty member to do so.

Kreuzriegler was drawn to “Rozznjogd” (“Shooting Rats”), by Austrian playwright Peter Turrini, for philosophical and practical reasons. The play, which Kreuzriegler first read 20 years ago as a teenager in his native Austria, is a love story and a critique of consumerism. But when he decided to make the film, he found the story’s social commentary more relevant today than when it was written.

“The play is about surfaces and superficiality,” Kreuzriegler explains. “When it was written, Europe lagged behind the United States economically, and consumerism was emerging. But today, Europe has caught up. Everything is advertising, brand names and surface-oriented. The play is much more current than it was then.”

Kreuzriegler translated “Rozznjogd” for his film — titled “Shoot That Rat!” — while updating some of its elements. As the two characters increasingly reveal themselves to each other, he says, they discard their trappings such as DVDs, iPhones and iPads, none of which existed in 1971.

Kreuzriegler’s budget was stripped down, too. He received a $10,000 faculty research grant from Stephen Ujlaki, SFTV dean, that he decided just might bankroll his film. He knew “Shoot That Rat!” would be straightforward to produce: a small cast and one location — a junkyard, which could be created on an SFTV stage. “I knew I didn’t have a lot of money,” he said, “so the fewer actors and locations, the better.”

About two dozen undergraduate and graduate students made up the crew and handled almost all the production jobs. Kreuzriegler directed. Only the two actors and the make-up person, who were paid, were from outside the LMU community. And students had the rare opportunity to shoot a film in sequence.

The shooting took place in a whirlwind: The 10-day shoot translated into filming nine script pages a day. To add to the frenetic pace, Kreuzriegler was sick the week before production, limiting his planning. He never outlined daily shot lists, for example. “The film was improvised on the set,” he said, “because I didn’t have time to do things the usual way. I was only one day ahead, which was very challenging for the first three days. But we all became very confident. Had I had the time to plan, the film would’ve been more conventional.”

Kreuzriegler’s next deadline is in late August, when he will screen a rough cut. By late September, he must have the film ready to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, both scheduled for January 2013. The film’s unique production process won’t factor in whether it gets selected, the director says, but that would be a point of interest if it does.

Photo by Justin Lai ’14