The two most difficult genres of films to really succeed in are the Mockumentary and the Movie Musical. It's the rare filmmaker who can hit a home run with either of these genres and that's why few attempt it. It's a treacherous territory of film making, so it's extremely surprising that an independent film maker with no formal musical training and on a bare bones budget would attempt to make an indie musical. Film maker Dan Mirvish isn't like most film makers. Well known as one of the founders of the Slamdance Film Festival, Mirvish has built a reputation for breaking down the barriers traditionally confining independent film makers with everything from self theatrical distribution to a ballsy campaign to resurrect an Oscar category. With Open House, Mirvish shows that a ton of creativity, a lot of wit and an immense amount of enthusiasm can pave the road to success even with the most impossible genre.
Following the story of two adventurous couples, Open House is a musical romp which explores the world of "Sexy Swipers" - a term to describe couples who use open houses to have roll-play filled sex. Their story of open house adventures gets entangled with heist subplot, a no-nonsense alcoholic real estate agent (played excellently by Sally Kellerman), a pair of house-hunting cops and a super enthusiastic real estate agent (played by Anthony Rapp).
For the most part Open House plays a lot like a British Farce - each character that gets introduced has their individual story tied to the main plot, leading to a grand musical finale. Along the way there are some real notable songs. The film's key song "Fantabulous" is sung by musical vet Anthony Rapp (best known as Mark in Rent). It's an infectiously catchy song that will stay with you long after the film ends. Other notable songs include "Do You Love This House" and Sally Kellerman's "Sellin' A Dream". It's unfathomable that these songs come from someone with absolutely no musical training.
Open House is a fun and enjoyable romp. It's funny, creative and succeeds in a spot where so many films have failed. Fans of Anthony Rapp and Sally Kellerman will be delighted by the film. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming "Fantabulous" for weeks after seeing the film.
Open House is presented in full frame (1.33:1), its original aspect ratio. Open House was shot on digital video and the picture has a soft, slightly washed-out look. But considering that it's a very low budget film, it actually looks pretty good.
Open House is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Again, the audio source comes from a digital video indie production so it's not enveloping but it works.
There are a dizzying number of extras on the Open House DVD. After making Open House, Dan Mirvish had a fairly serious accident. So while producing this DVD he was confined to his bed, and consequently included every extra you could ever possibly imagine.
Trailer (with Intro) - Rather than get the standard film trailer, the trailer is introduced with footage from the Slamdance film fest complete with Dan Mirvish's pitch to raise more money for the film. The intro is a lot of fun and gives a real flavor for what it's like to be at the Slamdance film fest. (The intro runs 4 minutes.) The trailer itself runs longer than your standard trailer and gives a pretty complete look at the film.
In addition to the film's main audio track, there are two other audio tracks included. The first is the first-ever musical commentary, featuring the song "This is the DVD Commentary". The other is the audio track recorded at the film's premiere at the Slamdance film fest. Each of these two alternate audio tracks have introductions by Dan Mirvish and he sets the context. One of the great things about this is you actually get to see video of the people who talk on the commentary, so you have some sort of mental picture of the people talking. The musical comedy is intermingled with some non-musical commentary giving a ton of information about the making of and challenges behind making an indie film. The Slamdance track is interesting if you're curious about the festival experience, but it wasn't something I'd see listening to all the way through.
Sing-A-Long - Open House also features a sing-a-long with lyrics to many of the key songs appearing on screen. The film is a musical so there is a lot of in-between singing that isn't covered by the sing-a-long.
Fantabulous in One Take - A split screen look at Anthony Rapp as he sings the film's key song all in one take. On one side of the split screen is a look at the shooting of the scene and the other is the footage from the film. While he sings the song there are also little factoids which relate to the scene and song.
Alternate Scenes - Six deleted scenes from the film, including an alternate beginning with a realtor paying little kids to plant flags and signs in the neighborhood, it's a pretty dark opening and it was a good call to cut it; alternate middle - another group of people get a tour of the house including a rendition of "Fantabulous" in Japanese, Rapp is funny in the alternate middle but I'm sure it dragged down the pace and flow of the film; alternate endings - a much longer ending; alternate ending outtake with Jerry Doyle calling Sally Kellerman 'Hotlips'; deleted scene from alternate ending - between the two cops. The final Alternate Scene is introduced by Dan Mirvish who talks about product placement in the film, the scene is a lampoon on product placement and dovetails from the alternate middle.
How-to-Featurettes - a series of 6 featurettes which goes into depth about the making of Open House, it's a great guide to true indie filmmaking. Together the run about an hour.
Jumping off a Bridge with Dan Mirvish ... of How to Shoot a Movie in 17 Days - interviews with the actors about their experience making the film. It's interesting to hear some of the more veteran actors remark on the speedy and creative method of making the film. There's a lot about working with Dan Mirvish including a nice scene with his daughter cooking cookies for the set.
How to Cast a No-Budget, Independent Film...and did we mention it's a musical? - Liz Jerisky, the casting director, speaks about the process of casting the film and the challenge of finding actors who could actually sing.
How to Make Finger sandwiches...and Die Young - An essential part of any open house and low budget indie musicals.
How NOT to Shoot a Film in 17 Days - A completely unglamorous look at the movie making process, all the things that could go wrong and did.
How to Make a Musical - How the musical aspects of the film were done... live on the set.
How to Win an Award - One of the very cool things Mirvish and company did to promote Open House was to mount a grass roots campaign to resurrect a not very well known Oscar category. This featurette has a nice interview with Brian Flemming who created "Batboy: The Musical".
Even More Special Features - Yep, there's even more.
KABC Report - A segment from Eye on LA on Open House that gives a bird eye's view of the film. It focuses on exactly how little money and time that they had to make the film. The segment runs about 6 mins and it's actually a nice consise look at the film.
Trailer Gallery - Trailers from other key Wellspring/Genius Ent DVDs including: Wild Side, Palindromes, King and Queens, The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Coming Attractions - Trailers for Reel Paradise, Dear Wendy and Unknown White Male
Final Thoughts - It's hard to imagine a more packed DVD for an indie film. Dan Mirvish has obviously poured his heart and soul into this DVD and it really shows. Open House is a light and fun musical comedy that would be easy to overlook. Indie Musicals shouldn't be this great or this fun, and the Open House is one of those rare treats we're happy to label 'Hidden Gem'.