If you’ve visited local Acme stores recently, you have likely seen DVDs of 3 Day Test, the latest Akron-set-and-shot film from Corbin Bernsen. “The love affair continues,” said Bernsen, who was also behind 25 Hill.
The L.A. Law and Psych actor will be back in town on Monday to sign copies of the DVD from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Acme No. 1 at 1835 W. Market St. He will also be hosting a private screening of the movie for investors, crew and other guests on Sunday. (The DVD, by the way, is $12.99 at Acme through the holiday season — and $1 from each sale will go to the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby.)
The comedy, shot in February and March, involves an accounting executive (George Newbern) who decides to test his family’s ability to survive by turning off all the phones, power and other utilities in their home, and then making everyone stay inside for three days. In a recent chat, Bernsen talked about the making of the movie, how you manage an edgy moment in a family-friendly film, casting locally and his latest plans and dreams.
Building an ensemble? While 3 Day Test boasts names like Newbern (seen recently on Scandal), Megyn Price (Rules of Engagement), Taylor Spreitler (Melissa and Joey) and Bernsen himself, the local flavor includes not only familiar locations, but also faces and voices, from radio personality Ray Horner to young actor Nicholas DeShane.
“I had some auditions and really met some people that could do it,” Bernsen said. For Spreitler’s role, as Newbern’s older daughter, “I met a couple of people that really could have done it. They were really good. But it was important for this movie that we had a few names that we could hang our hat on.” Spreitler is both “wonderful,” he said, and someone with a following from her work on the ABC Family comedy with Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence.
But Bernsen, who already has an idea for his next Akron movie, said that he keeps in mind actors from his movies and from auditions when planning his next project. “I already know the next movie I’d like to do there,” he said. “It’s a romantic comedy. It’s still family, but a little bit older.”
Why this movie? “Making movies the whole family can watch together is one thing,” he said. “But we don’t want to be stuck making just, you know, uplifting movies. … We want to make different movies within that [family] category.” 3 Day Test was an idea he first wrote about roughly 30 years ago, combining an interest in survivalists and the emergence of home computers like Radio Shack’s TRS-80.
“I started putting together this whole thing of technology, and people hiding out together,” he said. “There have been different times when I’ve wanted to do this movie and now we have these doomsday preppers and the Mayan calendar … and it just timed out right.”
And Akron provided a good place to do the film. Other locations could have worked but “in Akron, it really just felt right,” he said, “and I knew that even when I was shooting 25 Hill.”
Fun with the calendar. While the movie takes place at Christmastime, most of the shooting was during “a very mild March,” Bernsen recalled. “We had to make a big change. There was meant to be a huge blizzard that comes and make things harder for this family. And we didn’t get a blizzard. So we said, OK, we’ll make it wind. And we didn’t get much wind. It was so mild, we were fighting buds coming out on leaves.
“We were able to color-correct it so it looks a little more wintry. But then we built that [weather] into the story — isn’t it odd that this is the first Christmas in recollection where there’s no snow?”
The falling toilet. An early scene in the movie has a portable toilet falling from a crane onto the hood of Newbern’s car. As you might expect, there’s some splashdown. It’s one thing to have something like that in, say, Jackass. I asked how you make such a moment family-friendly. And Bernsen, always game, answered.
“I think you’ve gotta see something splash up,” Bernsen said. “The big defining factor is, do you have brown liquid squirting, or blue, sort of windshield-wiper-(fluid)-looking stuff? And we went for the windshield-wiper-looking stuff. I think if you’re going for a Judd Apatow movie, one piece of brown something flies up and hits the window. That’s where we called it quits. We just wanted a toilet hitting a brand-new car. That’s funny. A blue liquid splashing up? That’s funny. The other could be funny, but it wouldn’t be family-appropriate.”
Looking ahead. From the outside it would appear Bernsen has found a groove, acting for hire on one hand and then writing, directing and producing his own movies. His company, Home Theater Films, has also found a regular distributor, EchoLight Studios, which released the DVDs of 25 Hill, 3 Day Test and another Bernsen film, Beyond the Heavens (previously known as Barlowe Mann). But he said he would like to find a permanent investor, “a financial partner, if you will,” to help.
“We’re a little company, and between the writing of the scripts, directing, producing them, the post-production, raising the money — it’s a big, big job. I’m still working on 25 Hill, all the stuff needed to deliver it for foreign sales. And the investment part is a major, major part of it. So we’re looking to find some mechanism to ease up the funding process a bit.”
But not if it means giving up control.
‘‘I won’t do it,” he said. “As an actor, you sort of walk on the set and say, tell me what I’m supposed to do and where and how and why. I save this directing and writing and producing for me having a little more control, having more of a say about the final product. People say, ‘Why don’t you start directing television episodes?’ That’s not what I want to do. I love this writing-directing-acting.”
And other plans? He has talked about a reality show based on the Soap Box Derby, and 3 Day Test includes another reality-TV idea that he would like to try out. But they will have to wait “until I come up for air” after this run of moviemaking. Then there’s Psych, which returns to the USA Network on Feb. 27, and which has viewers awaiting resolution of a cliffhanger in which Bernsen’s character, Henry Spencer, was shot.
“I am under strict orders not to discuss it,” he said. “I will say this: It’s an incredible season coming up, incredible episodes, great guest stars. I actually think it’s one of the best [seasons] yet. So let that be a hint.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles.