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Patrick Burritt met Veen Viscal shortly after joining his group house in Shaw. He was blasting his stereo when he heard an unfamiliar beat: Banging on his door was Viscal, his new neighbor, demanding to know, “Who’s playing the punk rock?”
Burritt, 25, had just arrived from New York, where his passion was filming experimental shorts as part of the East Coast’s Negative Space Moving Image Collective. He financed them with VJing stints at “six-hour, real-deal, gas-mask, ceiling-leaking-toxic-waste” raves. But club owners had blacklisted him, he says, for slipping leftist political content into his shows, so in 2000 Burritt left town and took up with Negative Space D.C.
When Viscal, a former New Yorker, discovered Burritt’s films, he pressed him to make the creative leap to a feature movie. Viscal even had an idea: He wanted to make a film about a bodega owner modeled after the folks who had sold him produce in New York.
“At first, I had no interest,” says Burritt. “I like German, New Wave stuff. I like Harmony Korine. I like real off-the-wall, left-field stuff.” But Viscal was persistent, and “I was like, ‘All right! Here’s somebody who actually wants to make something in this town.’”
The two targeted a bodega in Jersey City, planning to recruit New York actors they knew. But the grocery demanded a hefty compensation for lost business, and they were forced to reevaluate their plot. Their vegetable vendor became a bartender.
“Once we switched over [to a bar], it was like the faucet just came on with the ideas,” says Burritt, who with Viscal spent eight months writing a screenplay. Burritt, Viscal, and Eric Helton, the film’s director of photography, created Line of Sight Films to market the movie, while Negative Space members contributed video-editing skills. Shooting during mornings at Kingpin, a U Street bar that Viscal co-owns, they finished the 48-minute digital featurette Dive this June.
In Dive, Viscal plays Ace, a bartender working in a kind of hipsters’ purgatory. (“You look like you’re gonna get all Ian Curtis/Joy Division on me, man,” one drinker tells the depressed drink-slinger.) Ace works hard, helping to put his girlfriend through law school. But she wants him to take a Friday off for a lawyers’ dinner partyif she goes alone, she says, her friends will think she’s a lesbian. Dive examines Ace’s dilemma: Should he cave in to his woman’s dependency or serve his regulars, who are equally dependent but at least never told him to grow up?
To get into the role, Viscal greased his hair and stopped sleeping, cultivating a haggard look and hoarse voice. He learned to twirl bottles and swept the trash that accumulated at Kingpin each night. “On other productions, they usually get someone else’s hands [to do such things], and the actors go somewhere else,” says Viscal.
Of course, “we really didn’t know anyone beyond ourselves,” says Burritt. “We’d rather be mixing stuff than hanging out.” So for equipment, Helton called in favors from friends in film production. The lighting alone “would’ve run us $300,000, but it cost us: free,” says Helton, who also pulled strings to find the movie’s cast of unpaid extras.
Dive sold out a July screening in New York, but Burritt isn’t expecting a Miramax contract just yet. “What we’re banking on is that it’s fun doing this,” he says. Viscal apparently concurs: “It’s really cool that I got the part,” he explains on the Dive DVD, “because as an actor I really didn’t have too much going on.”
“Once the free cable goes, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I have to do something with my life,’” he says. “You could just sit and get handouts, but that’s a drag.” John Metcalfe
Dive screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW, and at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at Signal 66, 926 N St. N, Rear. For more information, call (202) 842-3436.