A ‘bloodbath’ in Uptown

For a ragtag film production, an Uptown bar transforms into 1960s Chicago.

Actress Rachel Grubb rehearses a scene from

Chelsea Gortmaker

Actress Rachel Grubb rehearses a scene from “The Tiki War” before filming at the Red Dragon in Minneapolis early Sunday morning. “The Tiki War” is director John Ervin’s fifth film production.

Callie Sacarelos

On the first night of shooting his fifth feature film, John Ervin and his entire cast and crew walked out to the Red Dragon parking lot after nine hours of work to find that all of their cars had been towed.

The group was shooting “The Tiki War” overnight at the Minneapolis restaurant long after real customers and workers went home to bed. The restaurant owner forgot to notify the towing service that their cars would be parked in his lot outside of business hours.

The next night, one of the actresses had an allergic reaction to her hair dye. She came in “looking like an abstract painting” and tried to run through some lines, Ervin said. Although her puffy face and bugged-out eyes added to the appearance of her heroin-addict character, she ended up at the hospital when her symptoms didn’t clear.

Troubles haven’t ended there — there have been issues with learning lines; shooting has been canceled due to weather; and, once, someone snuck in during shooting and stole money from cast and crew members’ bags.

But the filming must go on. And while Ervin paid everyone for their work, they didn’t put up with the exhausting hours and unexpected disasters to pay their bills. For them, making movies is an obsession they pursue outside of their full-time jobs and regular lives.

“The Tiki War” is the second of Ervin’s films in which local actor Scott Carson plays a lead role. A salesman by day, Carson didn’t start acting until his late 30s, when he decided to take acting classes at Illusion Theater.

“I was kind of bored. You can only hang out in the bars and chase women for so long,” Carson said. “I would go to movies and watch TV and think, ‘If that guy can do it, so can I.’”

He got his break as the lead in St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Odd Couple,” and he continued with stage productions before pursuing roles in independent feature films. His next mission is to get voice-over work, and he hopes to be living and working in Hollywood in 10 years.

“Acting is definitely a drug,” he said. “And it’s a good one.”

Location, location, location

“The Tiki War” is set entirely in a 1960s Chicago tiki bar, owned by a secret drug dealer, Ray, and his unknowing business partner, Stan.

Drama unfolds when a rival club’s heroin-addict chanteuse, who is having an affair with her piano player, stops by after work. Ervin wanted the final image to mimic a scene from Taxi Driver, with a long overhead pan across all the dead bodies and spattered blood.

The scene called for a seedy, dark and retro-looking bar, and location coordinator Charlotte Ariss knew just the spot.

Ervin had a few bars in mind after he saw photos on Ariss’ website. She showed him what he wanted but brought him to Red Dragon last because she knew it was exactly what he was looking for.

“It’s one thing to know about the place,” Ariss said. “It’s quite another to have the owner’s telephone number and to have the invitation to come back with 18 people and a camera crew.”

A newcomer to the Minnesota film scene, Ariss said she feels incredibly welcomed into the small community.

“The nice thing about the production people in Minneapolis is that there’s always room for one more and they will embrace you and help you,” she said.

While New York and Los Angeles have a monopoly on the film industry, there is a certain advantage to working in a smaller market. Opportunities come less often, but when they do, cast and crew have a better chance at nabbing one.

“The little guy can win here,” Ariss said.

Ervin, who works in the medical records department at Fairview Health Services, said he’s more of a writer than a director. He started making his own films as a way to take charge and get his work on the screen.

“It doesn’t seem worth it to be involved in some minor crew production for some big movie. It’s not really your film,” he said. “People working on ‘The Tiki War’ take pride in knowing that this is their film.”