Barry Bonds may be an egomaniacal jerk. Still, he's no Bret Packard. As Packard, one of baseball's most adored and successful players, approaches the mark for most consecutive games, he's hatched a twisted plot to utilize his teammates as pawns in a depraved game of control. The very fabric of our national pasttime is stretched taut. Its future rests on Packard's whims.
Baseball fans out there scratching their heads trying to place his name may now relax: Packard is the fictional central figure of the independent film Ball Of Wax. He's a creation of Dan Kraus, a former Independent film critic who now resides in the blustery city of Chicago.
Filmed entirely in the Tar Heel State, Ball Of Wax follows a bizarre season in the life of the Carolina Devils, a major league team whose leader, Packard, has decided to tear apart purely for his own pleasure.
Kraus wrote, directed and edited the film. He was living in Wilmington when Ball of Wax began to take shape. "There was an existing draft, and in January 2000 I sort of came back to it and spruced it up," Kraus says. "We started pre-production that summer and began shooting in October of 2000."
As with nearly every independent film being produced these days, money was a key issue in getting underway. "We didn't raise enough money to shoot until about 10 days before starting principal photography," says Kraus. "We were rehearsing for months, just hoping that things would fall into place. We were scouting at the Carolina Mudcats' park when we got the call from (producer/actor) Jason Davis saying, 'We got the money!'"
"That," Kraus remembers, "was a good call."
Several name actors expressed interest in the film, which would certainly have made fundraising and distribution easier. Still, the director and his team deferred. "It was one of those things where we were feeling 'This is never going to happen,' or 'We're going to be strung along forever,' a few months before we were planning to shoot. We had worked with our actors for so long that we weren't just going to dump them because some TV yahoo expressed a passing interest." The crew shuttled back and forth from the coast to the Mudcats' Zebulon, N.C. stadium nonstop for three full weeks.
Once shooting wrapped, Kraus faced the daunting prospect of editing down hours of footage into a coherent film. "I dumped all of the footage down to Mini-DV so I could edit it in my kitchen on my computer with Final Cut Pro," he says. Once he had a working cut, he began to brainstorm about the way he wanted the film to sound.
Kraus and producers Allen Serkin and Jason Davis had a few discussions and approached the agent for Eric Bachmann, former member of Chapel Hill's Archers of Loaf and the driving force behind Barry Black and Crooked Fingers. "We had spoken to Eric's agent about some different projects, scoring a documentary we were working on," Kraus says. "He's one of my favorite musicians, so it really seemed natural. Luckily, he was playing in Wilmington and I spoke to him there. I sent him a rough tape and he called up a week later and was fully into the idea."
Bachmann, for his part, was eager to be involved. "I had had some songs that were used in movies, but never something specifically for film," Bachmann says. "Barry Black has had some things on soundtracks and the Archers had a few songs used in movies but this is the first actual scoring thing I've done." After Bachmann's first viewing, the collaborative process proceeded relatively smoothly. "Dan gave me concrete ideas about what to work with," he says. "Some of the ideas he used as templates were similar to things I had already written on previous records so it was easy for me to say, 'Yeah, OK, I know what you want here.' He was open to everything."
The end result is an original CD titled Short Careers, a haunting collection of songs constructed by Bachmann and performed by a number of contributing musicians. "Dan mentioned the film Requiem For a Dream, and said he liked the strings a lot. So I felt that (violinist) Andrej Curty and (cellist) Eunice Kang would be just perfect. He was good about saying 'I want this kind of thing,' reducing my options, which is good."
Like legendary composer Bernard Herrmann's music once accented the visuals of Alfred Hitchcock, the minor key melodies in Bachmann's eerie score grip the viewer in Ball of Wax. "When I first heard it, I was a little worried," Kraus admits. "It sounded so good I was afraid it might make the film look shoddy."
"There has to be a certain aesthetic that doesn't outshine the movie," Kraus continued. "Eric was tuned in to that and able to mix really professional sounding string arrangements with some grittier elements to make the music appropriate to the level of the film, adding to it instead of blowing it away."
Nowadays, both artists live far from their former Carolina homes. Kraus is preparing for the coldest winter of his life in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood while Bachmann is moving to Seattle from his current home in Atlanta.
"For me, Seattle's got a little more going on musically than Atlanta does," says Bachmann. "I'm getting a new band together in Seattle and I've got about 20 people who are interested in playing. In Atlanta I could barely find two."
As for Kraus, like most freelance writer/filmmakers, he's got a number of irons in the fire. "I've had a few other things that I've been putting off in order to get this film out of my life," he says. "I've been shooting a documentary for the past four years, tentatively title Half Hell, that I've had on the back burner. I literally couldn't do any work because my computer was full of Ball Of Wax. I had no memory left."
Overall, Kraus seems pretty pleased with the end results of nearly two full years of work. "Don't get me wrong," he says, "I could harp on a million different things. It's a totally different film from the script, but in general I'm 90 percent happy with it."
"I edited out most of the things I didn't like, which makes the film a little more obtuse and challenging and maybe a little harder to understand," Kraus says. "But on the other side I think it's better. I think it's more mysterious and I like it more than I ever have, but I can't speak for the rest of the world yet."
Odds are, once Kraus has fans in the stands, his Carolina Devils will keep them entertained. Let's just hope Barry Bonds doesn't get any ideas.