Beaner on the Big Screen


Beaner 4

Guy “Beaner” Patton

Longtime Birmingham voice Guy “Beaner” Patton shares his latest endeavor, action movie Pearl.

If you’ve been around Birmingham for a few years, you might remember a man named Beaner. If not, stick around, and I’ll introduce you.

Beaner is an old friend of Birmingham, and his name isn’t actually Beaner at all—it’s Guy Patton. Patton moved to Birmingham in 1998 to pursue a career in radio at what was then WRAX. He’d gotten into radio in high school in Florida and developed a name for himself on radio in Jacksonville. Dave Rossi, of WRAX, invited Patton to come to Birmingham, where he eventually did the morning show. It was during his time in Jacksonville that Patton earned (what he calls the “ridiculous”) nickname of “Beaner.” He brought the moniker—and his skill—with him to Birmingham. “I still consider it the most creative periods of my career on the radio. A lot of things really clicked in Birmingham—I was partnered with Ken Heron, another really creative person, and we were given a tremendous amount of freedom on the air. Also, Dave and the whole crew were really into coming up with big promotions and discovering great new music and bringing it to the audience,” Patton explains.

“There was a real commitment on everyone’s part to being a world-class radio station, and we were. I’ve lived in DC, New York, all over, and I’d put WRAX in its prime up against anyone, anywhere. A big factor was the reception: Birmingham was into this station. We broke bands, we were a national tastemaker, and people were proud to have it in town, and I was proud to be a part of it.”

In 2001, Patton made the move from Birmingham to Washington, DC, where he says he fell in love with the city, but not the job he’d moved for (and he continued to telecommute to Alabama until 2006, when his show ended.) After his DC contract was up, he and his wife, Dana, found themselves at an impasse and inspired to do something different. “We didn’t want to go chasing after a big paycheck all over the country anymore; we wanted to settle down and do some things we’d always talked about,” Patton says. One of the things they’d been interested in was improvisational comedy, which they fell in love with during a trip to New York City. The idea of more of that, combined with the fact that Dana was originally from the New Jersey area, helped them decide to move to NYC. “Some years ago, my wife and I went to NYC on vacation. We went to see an improv comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. In the show that night was Amy Pohler, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Andy Daly, among others, all giants in comedy today. They were amazing, and I couldn’t believe they made it up on the spot,” Patton says. “I performed live on the radio every day, and I thought I was pretty good at it, but this was some next-level stuff I was seeing. I wanted to learn how they did it. My wife is an actress, and she was interested in adding improv to her arsenal, so when we had the chance, we moved up to the NYC area and started studying improv at the UCBT.”

Beaner 1From there, Patton got involved in sketch writing teams at UCBT, eventually winding up on Stone Cold Fox, the theatre’s longest-running sketch ensemble. All of this paved the way for something he and Dana had long been interested in: filmmaking. “[The UCBT sketch program] is the proving ground that lots of SNL writers are plucked from. But seeing as how I was 15–20 years older than most of my colleagues, I doubted that was going to happen for me,” he says. “I started to focus on turning those sketches into short comedy videos for the Web. I made dozens of comedy videos, some of them very well received, and this ended up being my film school—jumping in and making videos, trial and error, and with no budget. Great training for indie filmmaking.”

In 2010, the two set out to make Pearl, with Patton as writer and director and Dana starring in the film. Patton says he figured that with all of their experience, it would be an easy transition—but it was harder than he thought. “I’d made a ton of comedy shorts, and my friend John Kingman and I partnered up and were making TV pilots, again with no money, on spec, to submit to festivals and so on. These were a lot of work, and there is a lot of competition, and so we thought, ‘You know, for all the work we’re putting in here, we could probably make a feature film! It would just be like making three pilots!’ Patton says. “And we were so wrong! It was way harder to make a feature. It’s not like making three pilots! You have to keep the same cast and crew together and working on the same project for a much longer period of time, and in our case, for no money. Fortunately, our time at the UCBT brought us together with a lot of great actors, and they all came through for us.”

Pearl is action, a different genre for Patton, who is used to writing comedy. “To be honest, I wanted to make an indie that I could actually sell. Most indie movies are of the arty variety and feature a lot of talking and crying. Those can be great, but since I was going to pay for this out of my own pocket, I wanted it to be a little more commercially viable, and so it was action or horror,” he explains. Dana stars as the main character, who survives a home invasion and then launches a campaign of violent retribution. “I was inspired by the gritty action thrillers of the 70s, like Death Wish, so that’s sort of the aesthetic I went for,” Patton explains. “What happens so often in revenge movies is that Person A is wronged by Person B, so Person A gets revenge on Person B, credits! But that’s not realistic. That’s what is unique about the first Death Wish: The protagonist doesn’t go out and get revenge on the people who hurt his family—how could he even find them? He’s just a guy, not a trained detective or ex-SEAL or Liam Neeson or whatever. Instead, he just takes it out on whichever criminals he encounters. I tried to do the same in Pearl.”

Beaner 5Making the film was not without challenge, though Patton says figuring out how to work through the issues was part of the fun. Pearl was made for about $15,000, which all came from Patton and Dana. He says that with a budget like that for a feature-length film, one of the main challenges was the need to get creative with the ways they made shots happen. “Given the tight financial constraints, we had to figure out DIY solutions to get the look we wanted. I couldn’t afford to rent a camera dolly; I built one using skateboard wheels that rolled on a track I made from PVC pipes. We couldn’t afford to use exploding squibs to simulate bullet hits; instead I rigged up tubes full of fake blood and shot compressed air through them. Fourteen-year-old me had a blast making all this stuff, and in the end I think the results look pretty good. I hate all the CGI stuff; I like to do most of my effects practically,” he says.

“We couldn’t afford to do things like build a set and make it look like a seedy motel, we had to actually go and shoot in a seedy motel. There were bed bugs, crack pipes, prostitutes roaming around the halls. We had the cops roll up on us in the parking lot, and I thought, ‘Oh, they’re gonna bust us for shooting here without a permit.’ No, they just wanted to make sure we weren’t actually staying at this motel.”

After the writing and prepping stages were complete, Pearl took about a year to shoot—they shot mostly at night and on the weekends—and it was then edited. After that, it spent a while hitting film festivals and is now available on a number of streaming services. “Seeing this thing I’d made with an audience was a great experience. I’m used to being on the radio, where you have a huge audience who are listening far away from you in cars or whatever, and your only immediate feedback is from the people in the room with you,” Patton says. “Watching your movie in the audience is more like being on stage doing a show: You hope they laugh when they’re supposed to and gasp when you wanted them to, and when it works, it’s great.”

Beaner 7What’s next for Beaner? He says he’s keen to give moviemaking another go, especially with all of the knowledge he gleaned from making Pearl. “I’d like to make some more movies. Hopefully people will see Pearl, so I can make my money back and give it another shot,” he says. “I’ve learned so much making this one; I think I could do some amazing stuff next time around.”

Pearl is available on iTunes, Amazon, X-box streaming, and through Target’s website (search Pearl: The Assassin). More information and the trailer can be found at pearlfilm.com.

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