Babysitting sucks; Filmmaking and pinball don’t

Monica LaBelle

To mark the number of people who dream of writing a screenplay, stretch your arms out so your hands are as far away from each other as possible. Now bring your hands shoulder-width apart – that’s how many people actually do it. Bring your thumb and index finger together so that they’re a hair’s width apart – that’s how many people actually write, direct and produce a quality feature-length movie independently.

Tara Spartz, a 25 year-old University graduate, is a member of that inventive, if slightly insane, minority.

Drawing on her and her friends’ adventures in babysitting, Spartz made I Hate Babysitting, the story of two high school girls who will do anything to throw a party on their last weekend of summer.

Their obstacle? Babysitting the offspring of stoned, drunk and oversexed parents.

“(The film is) mostly about the parents and how ridiculous it is to be learning responsibilities … your mom pushes you to go out and learn responsibility and you’re learning if from the most irresponsible adults,” says Spartz as she relaxes in a kiddie pool at her mom’s house. Because, oh yeah, she’s pregnant and pretty much bedridden until September, when the baby is due. Of course, her pregnancy is netting her plenty of “isn’t that ironic!” comments.

Spartz’s response? “The kids were the least of my problems when it came to babysitting.”

Her pregnancy isn’t stopping her from planning a strategy to push her film in the highly competitive festival circuit.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine much could. From finding funding to making the final edit, the movie took her three years to complete; all the while she was finishing school, working, planning her wedding and dealing with morning sickness. To promote her movie to festivals such as the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Seattle Underground Film Festival, she has brought on Jeff Stahly, who helped create an ad campaign for Ralph Nader’s rally at the Target Center last September.

An ensemble of almost all volunteers (the three main characters were paid “a little bit” says Spartz) pull off an impressive performance. The cast consists of “friends, family and whoever was around at the time,” says Spartz. “A lot of times scenes would fall apart or pop out of nowhere so we’d have to scrounge, because it was such a shotgun production.”

Spartz tried to use people whom she thought already fit the part (including her grandma, who hides out in the bathroom). “We’d spend a couple minutes going through it and then they’d just hit it.”

Spartz had a real family (the Benolkins) play the family of one of the babysitters, affording palpable mother/daughter tension on screen. With shots of sprinklers, trampolines and mothers who can’t help but talk in a Minnesota accent, Babysitting creates a familiar atmosphere for anyone who spent their teen years babysitting for below minimum wage in the Midwest.

The film has found local success without gimmicks. It premiered to a packed crowd at the Walker Art Center’s Women With Vision film festival this past spring and the City Pages recently named it the “Best Film” for 2001 in the alternative weekly’s “Best of the Twin Cities Search.”

So Spartz has already struck a promising chord. “It just seemed like such a rich topic, totally universal, yet pretty much unexplored cinematically.”

Spartz isn’t looking for Blair Witch success. “I made (the film) for the same reasons I make all of my movies,” she says. “To tell a good story; to challenge myself to tell it better than my last.”

Her last film was Balls Out, a short film about some “bad-ass” girls in a pinball tournament. It played at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the New York Underground Film Festival as well as festivals in Prague and Russia. “It really did well, I guess” Spartz says of her short. “I was surprised. It was rough, it’s kind of crude. But it comes off to audiences somehow.”

Currently she’s finishing a script for a local film producer – a feature-length takeoff of Balls Out. “It’s a cross between Switchblade Sisters, The Karate Kid and The Wizard of Oz, with pinball.”

 

I Hate Babysitting will screen at 8 p.m. on July 6 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. (612) 871-4444.