“To grab the brass ring” is a metaphor derived from 19th-century carnival practice of holding out rings (mostly iron, with one or two brass) for riders to attempt to grab. The individual who manages to grab the brass ring would receive a prize — usually a free ride. “To grab the brass ring,” then, means to strive for the highest prize, or live life to the fullest. As such, it makes an excellent title for this documentary, sent to me in screener format.
THE BRASS RING (2009) follows a group of amateur filmmakers in rural Ohio as they set out to make a zombie film. Led by the intrepid, enterprising, and determined writer-director William Schotten, with a battle-cry of “Hell, let’s shoot this thing!” the documentary traces the birth of the film DEAD LIFE (2005) from it’s conception (including the earlier filmmaking experiences that William Schotten used as a learning experience on the way) through casting, special effects, shooting, editing, marketing and distribution. Blended in throughout is interview footage with Schotten and his cast and crew, discussing the creative process.
It’s always a treat to have the curtain pulled aside and see the magic going on behind the scenes on a movie set. THE BRASS RING starts a little disoriented, but quickly finds it’s feet and moves forward strongly, showcasing the creation of DEAD LIFE and providing a very raw, very honest cinema verite look at the film, including the influence of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on both DEAD LIFE and, interestingly, THE BRASS RING.
The documentary brings the audience into the creative process of DEAD LIFE, emphasizing the close friendships between those involved in the film, and making the viewer a part of that. There’s just this fantastic energy and vibe throughout of fun and good cheer, even in the most taxing of moments — a scene is discussed in which, on a particularly cold morning, a young woman has to lay almost naked on the cold ground, covered in sticky, cold Karo Syrup “blood,” a task she performed without complaint and indeed, with good humor. Another scene, emphasizing the notion that Schotten and his crew are friends first, showcases a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors — to see which zombie-actor gets the scene in which an uninfected actress’ breast is bitten.
Overall, I found THE BRASS RING to be a fun, relaxed, and informative look into the microbudget filmmaking process, and I wish Schotten and his crew all the luck in the world on future endeavors.