New mockumentary comedy, ‘Wheel It Hard!,’ pokes fun at Portland’s adult roller skating community
We all remember the dude who sailed around the roller rink, swaying to sweet disco moves from when we were kids, and soon a new film will conjure up those memories again. Independent Maine filmmakers Jeffrey Charles Day and Michael Panenka are in post-production of their newest self-financed comedy film, Wheel It Hard!, co-produced by Andrea Nilosek. Judging by the trailer alone (set primarily around Portland's Happy Wheels roller rink), this film is going to be rolling in the laughs.
The story centers around two impassioned groups of devoted roller skaters who plan a voting party for the coveted Friday night time-slot at their local roller rink.
The film expanded out of a seven-minute short film that Day, Panenka and editor Geoffrey Leighton co-wrote, co-directed and produced in 2009 called Flippy Day, about a similar band of wayward characters that frequent a roller rink. Day and Panenka had just two full days to make that short for Portland's 48 Hour Film Project, whereby everyone got a prop, a tagline and a character they had to work with and incorporate into the short.
"The owner of Happy Wheels, Danny Dyer, allowed us use of the rink, exclusively, provided we were 'family-friendly,'" said Day.
Flippy Day happened to win the 48 Hour Film Project, which got Day and Panenka thinking: "Why not make this into a feature?” said Day. “I sent Bob Marley, the comedian, a link to the short film after it was finished and within 10 minutes, he said 'Holy crap, this is wicked funny.' Marley declined the role due to scheduling conflicts, but recommended Jake ‘Krazy Jake’ Hodgdon, who signed on immediately.”
Wheel It Hard! is a new film loosely based on some of the characters from Flippy Day. "It's a whacked out comedy in the format of Frederick Wiseman documentaries, with a tip of the hat to Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer mockumentaries," said Day.
Even after viewing the trailer, many people told Day they didn't realize it was a comedy because the characters were so realistic. "We wanted a lot of verisimilitude," he said. "Because when you watch the trailer, we all know a few people in Maine who are just like our characters."
Unlike many feature films shot in Maine, this one didn't have a big budget or a lot of backing. "It's taken a lot of time to write and shoot this film," said Day. "We worked on it when we could, and it was entirely self-financed. I'd earn the money and then Andrea would assemble the cast and crew. And we told all of the crew members, the night before a shoot, look, if you have a paying gig to do tomorrow, take that instead. Sometimes, they did and we had to scramble. But, we were going to get this done come hell or high water."
Day also appears in the film himself as the guy with the mullet (watch for him in the trailer). He said he had to wear that hairstyle for nearly a year and a half, never sure when they'd have time or money to shoot.
Not only did he co-write the film, he had a very special soundtrack in mind with original music crafted by The Rustic Overtones, ShaShaSha, Hessian, and Jennywren Walker & Nate Soule of the Mallett Brothers.
Day is working from a rough cut of the film now and it will be feature length when done — he hopes late fall.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org