Right off the bat, I want to say that Jason McHugh’s Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal: The Musical is the best low-budget moviemaking journal I’ve read since Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel without a Crew, and it’s definitely a book I wish had existed when I made my own low-budget feature film (which was actually heavily inspired by Cannibal! The Musical).
McHugh, a producer/actor on the cult classic Cannibal! The Musical, takes readers through a personal journey that spans his early interest in movies, his experience at film school and how he came to befriend UC-Boulder classmates Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who would later go on to create Orgazmo, Team America: World Police, The Book of Mormon and, of course, “South Park.” But before any of that, the three of them were just a bunch of young, like-minded film geeks looking for the next step in their careers. As with Rebel, Shpadoinkle gives readers a first-hand account of the steps the writer and his friends took to make their low-budget feature a reality and, later, what happened when they made their way to Hollywood in hopes of selling the film.
Though many of the practices detailed in Shpadoinkle are now a little outdated, the lessons and experience McHugh offers is irreplaceable. Each chapter opens with a song lyric (many from musicals like Oklahoma!, various rock/folk acts or Cannibal! itself) and closes with some “friendly advice” and inspirational quotes that tie into the information covered in that chapter. Throughout the book, Jason shares several great stories about the challenges the Cannibal! crew faced in raising their budget, getting (and losing) a lead actress, coping with equipment malfunctions, crashing the Sundance Film Festival, selling the film to Troma and all the other various problems, difficulties, injuries and fights that are universal to producing a low-budget feature film. Some of my favorite stories in the book—for example, Jason working as a PA on the infamous music video for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and the many live amateur productions of Cannibal! that have slowly made the film into a sort of Troma-style Rocky Horror Picture Show—don’t involve Matt and Trey at all.
Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal: The Musical is available for purchase online in paperback ($14.95) and hardcover ($24.95). If you’re looking for more information on the making of Cannibal!, you can always check out the bare-bones diary McHugh posted online a few years ago, or even my interview with him from last year, but nowhere else besides Shpadoinkle will you get all the juicy details from the set, the in-depth lessons on getting a feature made and sold and a personal behind-the-scenes look at Trey Parker and Matt Stone before they took over Hollywood.
Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer who lives in Austin, Texas and studies in the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio Television Film program. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 150 short films and one feature, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy is currently a director and staff writer on the Texas Student Television show “Shenanigans” and continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.