Here in Southern California, tiki culture has been part of the landscape for many years. Its laid back, easy-going vibes have been adopted by people of all ages as a way of life. Let’s not forget that their drinks are pretty killer, too.
When I heard that a “tiki” movie was going to be made this semester, I immediately jumped on it to find out what it was about and who was behind it. That led me to Tod Brewster (BFA/Film Production ’16) and James Thompson (BFA/Creative Producing ’16) on the set of their film
Ray’s Shrunken Head Lounge
The film is about a man who, after his father’s death, is forced to decide between staying with the family business (of owning a tiki bar), or following his own aspirations and saying goodbye to his heritage forever.
“I was developing some other ideas for my thesis that didn’t really pan out. I’ve always been into tiki bars and tiki culture, so I had this story idea about someone with a tiki bar, and wrote the first draft on my own,” said Brewster, director of the film.
It’s no surprise that Brewster was into the culture, as it was very much a part of where he grew up in Fountain Valley.
“You either went to the club, or you went to the tiki bar with the surfer kids. The tiki bar always appealed way more to me,” he said.
On the other hand, Thompson was not into the tiki culture, but over the course of producing the film, he found a love for it. He was immersed in the culture for almost a year, and found it fascinating.
“Not to mention the fact that the Hawaiian nachos at Don The Beachcomber are amazing,” Thompson joked.
On the subject of tiki bars, early on in the pre-production process, the team researched a lot of them, such as Don’s, Tiki Ti, The Tonga Hut, and more. They wanted to give Ray’s Shrunken Head Lounge a sense of history and having been around forever, so they reached out to others in the tiki community for help.
“We rented a lot of stuff from Oceanic Arts,” said Brewster. “They showed us this big book of tiki bars they’ve done all over the world, and they were very open to helping us.”
When it came time to actually build the bar itself in Stage B, Sara Polito (BFA/Film Production ’17) did a masterful job with the production design.
“She killed it,” Brewster said. “She had these ideas I had no idea how she was going to pull off, but she blew us away with everything she did.”
The build itself was big; they had 3 days to get coordinated and built before filming was to begin.
“We were originally told we had a week or two to build before the shoot, but due to some errors, we only had 3 days,” said Thompson. “It was one of the biggest challenges, especially because it wasn’t a one-dimensional set. We had four walls, and it was very immersive. But we pulled it off.”
Part of the reason for their success in doing the build on time, and for the shoot going so smoothly, is because of the laid-back atmosphere they created on set.
“Mostly everyone knew each other before hand, and all of our outings as a group where on the tiki circuit,” said Brewster. “By the end of weekend two, everyone was wearing Hawaiian shirts and really into it.”
“It was one of the most relaxing sets I’ve been on,” said Thompson. “The tiki bar on the sound stage gave us a relaxed culture, and everyone was having a good time. We worked hard, but had fun along the way.”
This also came from the community effort they felt from Dodge College, as well.
“So many people here helped us make the film a reality, whether from getting the stage together to letting us borrow props from them,” said Brewster.
“Even from the tiki community, as well,” said Thompson. “We had someone in the film who is one of the performers at Trader Sam’s. We felt an outpouring of support from the Dodge College community and the tiki community.”
The team working on the film all contributed to it in fantastic ways as well.
“I realized I can’t do everything,” Brewster said. “I wanted to step back, and let everyone have their own creative contribution, and really collaborate with everyone involved. Much like a tiki bar is a random collection of stuff, I wanted that feel on the film, too.”
“We did have a great team of people working on it, and when you have that, everyone does their thing and does it well,” said Thompson.
For example, Brewster’s best friend, Molly Maier (BFA/Film Production ’16) was the cinematographer on the film.
“Molly’s entire team was a group of strong women, and really sharp, and they were amazing,” said Brewster. “They don’t get nearly enough credit that they deserve, they were awesome.”
At the end of the day, though, they are right: it all comes down to teamwork and working with the people who you know will do the best they can.
“For a producer / director duo, when you find someone you can really click with, it makes all the difference in the world,” said Thompson. “We don’t have too defined roles, because it’s more a collaborative and creative relationship.”
“It’s the idea of if you’re not willing to listen, you’ll miss out on an awesome idea that someone may have,” said Brewster. “That’s how James and I work, and that’s how we work with everyone on set.”
Ray’s Shrunken Head Lounge
will screen on Friday May 6. You can find out more about the film on their