Friday, August 30, 2013

The History of “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® 2000-2013 Part 1 of 5

The High School Years

Holy Cross High School, the institution to blame for all of Joseph's annoying video facebook posts

The story begins in room 100 and 101 of Holy Cross High School in Flushing Queens.  It’s September 2000, it’s the start of Joseph Ammendolea’s senior year.  He just began taking a TV Production class to fulfill an art requirement in order to graduate.  His first assignment was a still picture project that would teach the students how to use the Casablanca editing software.  Mr. Burns’ required all the students to develop a production company name of their own choosing. Joseph was stumped, especially when compared to fellow students’ brilliant ideas.  His classmates seemed to derive their names from their own brand of self identification. Chris Blaine had devised Poke My Mom Productions, George Theodoropolis referred to his company and The Greek Pictures.  If Joseph was going to top these, he was going to have to dig deep into his own interest to define what he and his future production company would be about.

It was called The Inferno, an underground newspaper that would eventually evolve into  In 1997 this forgotten media outlet published an article written by Bill Wikstrom titled I Like to Have Fun, I Play with Toys, a introspective piece about his journey to a toy store. It reminded Joseph of his own childhood and his appreciation of the many toys he played with and the stories he imagined up.  It seemed fitting that this one little article and its concept would be the foundation of the name.  After all, isn’t the filming of a scripted story the same as playing make-believe or the dreamed adventures of a boys action figures? Joseph shortened the title to better summarize the overall theme of the company and “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® was fashioned.

A Girl Lost In Bellerose

The first video project assigned to the class was to help the students learn how to use the video and editing equipment.  Many of the students made a simple project of pictures pertaining to topics than interested them with music playing in the background; Joseph was more ambitious in his endeavors and proceeded to develop a story around the photos in his project.  He consulted David Rerecich the only amateur filmmaker outside of Holy Cross that he knew.  

In the year 2000 when discussing textbook amateur videographers David Rerecich was the picture you found in the encyclopedia.  Along with his creative companion Bill Wikstrom their work was quirky enough that it was lost on the masses but normal enough that friends and family watched their art in pure amusement.  Dave and Bill were the think tanks behind such Bellerose classics as Battles, Homophobia, and Kristmas. Joseph remembered Dave’s work on these subversive stories and sought his guidance for a storyline.  Dave’s stories were always Bellerose themed and he encouraged Joseph to follow the same trend. 

A clip from one of Dave's movies.  This is currently the clearest image possible due to the age of the tape.

A Girl Lost In Bellerose focused on a girl who got lost in said town while on the way to see her boyfriend.  Once a storyline was settled on, Joseph set out to find is cast.  He recruited his Met Food coworker Kelly Smith to play the leading lady.  Joseph had yet to flesh out the entire script and decided he would write as they go.  The first part of the project didn’t require videotaping. It was a simple matter of purchasing a disposable camera and snapping a few photographs.  The two met up on an autumn afternoon to start their project.  Joseph snapped a few pictures of Kelly around the town of Bellerose but as time wore on it was apparent this still pictured tale needed an ending.  They proceeded to visit Matt Leabo for assistance in finishing the saga.   While on the way to Matt’s house Joseph and Kelly encounter Greg Grima driving his sister Darlene’s car.  Joseph snaps a quick photo of Kelly asking for directions.  The improvised shot made the final cut of the video and gave Greg a rare but cherished “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® appearance.  Kelly and Joseph ended up on Matt’s front door.  Unsure if Matt was home, Joseph rang the bell.  Luckily for Joseph, Matt answered.  Matt agreed to a quick appearance.  After a few minutes the photos were shot and the first part of the project was completed.   More significant was the beginning of collaboration between Joseph and Matt that continues to this day.  

Matt Leabo was the local funny kid with a real talent for art. It was apparent to those who knew him that his destiny would be artistic.  Whether it was acting, drawing, sculpting, painting, or puppeteering Matt had genuine talent.  Whatever his creative talents touched resonated with all who were lucky enough to observe it.  Joseph was among the masses that recognized this flair and would reliably call on it time and again for his projects.

Matt's first appearance in an "I Like To Play With Toys" Productions® video.  If he knew what he was committing to, he probably wouldn't have answered the door. 

After the photos were developed, Joseph proceeded to record and upload them to the school’s editing software.  After a few hours in the editing room the photos were arranged in such a way that it told a story.  He then dubbed the compilation with the song Last Child by Aerosmith.  The first video every created by Joseph Ammendolea under the “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® name was complete.  It premiered in the TV Production class shortly after.  Joseph received an A for the project and attained the accolades of his peers.
The next two assignments were directly related to the school.  One was an advertisement for the Holy Cross Science Fiction and Comic Book Club where Joseph was a loyal member.  The other was a news piece about the Holy Cross Student Council. Both items would air on Holy Cross Television (HCTV) upon their completion. 

                                                 Never before posted online, the original version of A Girl Lost In Bellerose

Science Fiction and Comic Book Club

The Sci-Fi Club video was envisioned by Joseph as a larger-than-life commercial that would surmise what awesomely nerdy things existed in the world of Science-Fiction. It was to include epic lightsaber battles, phaser fire, wookies, and students sitting in the back corner of the room playing Magic: The Gathering while being completely oblivious to the world around them.  In the forefront a spokesperson would promote the club while specifying meeting times and how to join.  This vision was a beautiful tapestry in Joseph’s mind.  The execution lacked the same details. 

On October 20, 2000 Joseph took the school camera home with him for the weekend to begin shooting his grand commercial.  He recruited the help of IntraVenus lead guitarist Mike Cody for assistance.  As evening fell upon the earth the two boys proceeded to tape one another playing with toy lightsabers in front of Joseph’s house.  Later in the evening Dave Rerecich and George Hernandez arrived to help frame the lightsaber fights with a staged mugging.  The lighting was awful, the scene made no sense.  The video showed a man getting mugged via lightsaber in a Queens neighborhood.  Dave rounded out the nonsense with an almost deliberately poor acting role.  Dave’s performance was too large and too silly to be deemed usable.  

A lightsaber mugging!

Joseph would not give up on his vision, instead of going back to the drawing board and creating a script or even an outline he plowed on and deduced that the scene needed to be shot in the daytime.  On October 21, 2000 Dave and Bill Wikstrom arrive to assist in this day shoot.  Joseph unsuccessfully tried experimenting with some camera techniques that could mimic the Star Trek transporter.  The trio breakout into more unchoreographed lightsaber fights with a mishmash of nonsense.  The shoot was a failure.  

Dave playing an alien invader from the planet Zorkon while Bill is wishing he thought of that idea first.

On October 22, 2000 Joseph gave his project one last effort.  He recruited Diana Weaver, and Savera Pasha to assist him in his surreal lightsaber battle.  He created a scenario where a card game went wrong and a fight would break out.  Dave arrived again to assist in the project. Savera was in the first take while Diana ran the camera.  The scene was simple, the three would be playing a game of poker that goes wrong and Joseph and Dave would start fighting.  After the first take Savera swiped roles with Diana.  The continuous takes concluded with Dave breaking character with too many jokes and overacting.  He did not follow guidelines set out by Joseph and the scene was abandoned because Joseph was tired of having objects thrown at him via Dave.  Then came the final promotional spot.  Joe believe he could still salvage the shoot by having Dave ramble out a promo for a club that he was never a member of in a high school he never attended. Joseph felt he had enough footage from the prior shoots that he could perhaps cut a video around the antics if coupled with the right speech.  Dave proceeded to take the simple idea of “if you’re interested in science fiction and comic books stop by room 204 for more details” and stretch it into a twenty minute rant of useless video. Joseph begged Dave to stop talking but the actor refused and kept forcing through take after take.  The sun actually set before Dave finally consented that the shoot was over.  It was a complete directorial disaster.  

Joseph attempting to kill Dave with his plastic lightsaber.

Joseph spent the entire weekend shooting and finished his endeavor with nothing he could use for his ambitious commercial.  The project was abandoned and Joseph had to start all over from scratch.  He proceeded to reconceptualize the entire theme of his project.  Joseph took clips from popular sci-fi and comic shows and movies, then dubbed Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by William Shatner over the clips.  At the end of the montage a text appeared stating where a person can go to attain more information about joining the club.  As the text pops up William Shatner yells “Mr. Tambourine Man” in a way only Shatner can.  The commercial aired on HCTV for the remainder of the year whenever there was a Sci Fi and Comic Book club meeting.  It was regularly met with a confused silence when Shatner yelled “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  While Joseph deemed the commercial a failure when compared to his original vision, the commercial accomplished capturing the attention of the entire student body every time it played during homeroom announcements. 

The commercial that ended up airing.  It is still used as one of the main advertisements used to promote the Holy Cross High School Science Fiction and Comic Book Club. 

Student Council

Jeremy demonstrating his knowledge of the school.  He had to sign a waver granting permission to use his  bewildered expression throughout the news piece.

The Student Council project was smear campaign orchestrated by Joseph Ammendolea after being thrown out of the election due to a controversial speech that was made by him while running for class president.  Joseph recorded a speech that referred to the Council President as a faculty puppet and was removed from the ballot.  The fallout of his controversial speech lead to HCTV doing a week long depiction about students’ opinions regarding Student Council.  Joseph teamed up with fellow classmates Albert Diallo and James Fares to provide their slant on the issue.  It was a power trio that created a classic slander piece demonstrating how students either knew nothing or hated the Student Council. 

Rupert Murdoch would later reference this video as his inspiration for Fox News

Fun With Dolls!

With the completion of the school-centric pieces, it was back to more creative endeavors.  The assignment was to make a stop motion animation video.  Joseph was determined to do something that was unique when compared to his classmates.  He also wanted to create a clearly comedic video with jokes that everyone could understand.  While viewing the animation projects created by his classmates, Joseph carefully observed what techniques worked and what items were disjointed.  He discovered that whenever the camera moved along with the stop motion figure it did not appear as any movement took place.  The camera needed to be stationary for the stop motion effect to work.  He also noticed there was no clear storyline in any of the stop motion stories. George Thedoropolis’ video was a dye-cast car driving straight.  Brian Duffy’s project centered on McDonalds toys racing one another with a confusingly climactic battle on top of a toilet bowl.  Joseph vowed to top these pieces of art.

A still from the opening scene

The idea conceptualized by the 17 year old student at the all boy catholic high school was truly original.  G.I. Joe would put on Barbie’s clothes and dance around. Joseph had the Barbie sized G.I Joe’s but lacked Barbies.  He borrowed the dolls from his cousin Angelica, locked himself in his room and began to create his masterpiece.  Joseph’s vision was again lacking a script but that didn’t stop him.  After some animation testing Joseph designed a simple apartment set where three Barbie dolls leave their apartment together and the G.I. Joe’s enter.  They proceed to get drunk, change into Barbie’s clothes and dance around.  Two of the women arrive, witness the shenanigans taking place and proceed to join in the festivities.  The third Barbie arrives moments later and runs away in horror.  Another G.I. Joe returns and kills everyone in the room.  The last living Barbie returns, hugs her “hero” and the story is concluded. The video was dubbed with the song King for a Day by Greenday.  When it premiered to the class it was met with cheers and applause and demands to be rewatched immediately.  The movie was rewatched three times in the class with certain segments being analyzed in greater detail.  It was the biggest hit “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® had at the time.  It was very possible that Joseph had peaked.  Nothing could have prepared the world for what followed.

The video was so well received it was later screened at the St Johns University Film Festival


This is the part of the story where the photograph is taken.   This was before digital cameras, Matt used the entire roll of film.  

When talking about the beginning of “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®, many would state that Photograph was its true start.  The assignment was simple, make a music video using any song and any concept. The summer of 2000 Joseph was at Mike Cody’s house listening to music.  Mike played Photograph by Def Leppard off of their greatest hits album.  The song called out to Joseph, it orchestrated a story in his head.  Every time he played it the story became more vivid in his psyche.  When the music video assignment was handed down, Photograph was the only option.

On the surface Photograph appears to be an atypical MTV inspired video.  It was a band performing the song while cut around melodramatic narrative.  Factoring in the available technology for amateur filmmakers in 2000/2001, Photograph was an ambitious endeavor. 

The obstacle was syncing the band’s performance with the original music track. The current music dubbing method was editing on the school’s non-linear editing software, and then recording it onto a VHS tape.  Next, input the silent video into a separate audio device that would allow the tape to be dubbed over with the preferred audio. 

Def Leppard in the original video.  Joseph tried to mirror his band shots the best he could with the timeframe he had.

This method however effective for past videos, would not allow for the precision required to match the lip-syncer and the song.  Joseph needed to be able to edit the video with the audio and not add the audio after the video is completed.  If done the using the current system, it would be too time consuming to film a band singing the song and interlace a story around it.  After consulting with his teacher Mr. Burns and the computer manual, it was determined Joseph can edit the video according to plan.  This would be the first time in HCTV history that the audio and video were edited in sync. 

With the technical logistics sorted out Joseph’s next task was casting his story.  Joseph placed himself as the leading man.  He recruited local Bellerose band IntraVenus to perform as Def Leppard.  He also siphoned extra roles out of the band members to better tie the band scenes and story scenes together. Lead guitarist for IV Mike Cody was cast as the Def Leppard lead singer (Joe Elliot) and the story’s antagonist.  IV guitarist Matt Leabo was cast as a generic friend in the piece.  Joe Herbert performed on drums as well as an extra in the story.  Anthony Ardezzone handled bass responsibilities.

IntraVenus as Def Leppard.  A classic image that followed the band throughout music their run.

Casting the boys in the piece was a fairly simple endeavor.  The problem arose when looking for a leading lady.  The original choice was Kerri Corbert, daughter of former Floral Park Mayor Steve Corbert.  Kerri was unavailable for the shoot because she was away at college which left Joseph scrambling for a new actress.  Attending an all boy high school did not give Joseph regular access to girls.  It was especially difficult trying to find a girl willing to act in a boy’s silly music video.  He asked all his sister Mary-Kate’s friends for their help.  Most declined right way, the rest declined after finding out they had to kiss the leading man (Joseph) at the climax of the video.  He was at a loss and was going to have to scrap his idea for lack of an available actress.  Luckily fate intervened on Joseph’s behalf, and while taking the bus home he ran into Bellerose local Jenna Guercio. The two began discussing common interests and Jenna mentioned she would like to be an actress.  Joseph pitched the music video project and Jenna enthusiastically signed on.  With the cast all squared away, Photograph could begin production. 

Jenna portraying the leading lady, unlike Matt she had the good sense to never return for another production. 

Joseph had yet to screen his work to anyone outside of class so he didn’t have the trust of his actors when directing the video.  He also had yet to write out a script which made for a chaotic shoot.  He was filming everything off of his memory which was disorienting to a cast that didn’t fully understand the video concept to begin with. 

The band shoot flowed easy enough over the course of three days.  The first evening involved a shoot at Joe Herbert’s home.  In order for Joseph to get IntraVenus to agree to help him with his project he needed to make a video for them. 

They filmed on a rainy December night at Herbert’s house.  The original plan was to shoot in Joe Herbert’s basement where his drum set was.  Herbert recommended moving the shoot to his backyard.  The yard was somewhat dim so Herbert suggested setting up his halogen light to record the band better.  Once the band was situated Joseph elevated himself on the back deck of Herbert’s house while shooting a master shot.  He followed the first take with close-ups on the ground as the band performed the song.  They ran through the song three times and Joseph called it a wrap. 

The famous final band shot in Photograph
The next band shoot was scheduled the following weekend during the day.  Mike Cody contracted a cold and his mother refused to let him leave the house.  This forced Joseph to fill in for Mike as lead singer.  It had also snowed a few days prior which prevented the band from setting up outside.  Thus the second shoot was done in Herbert’s basement and the footage was essentially scrapped because it did not match the look of the prior shoot and Joseph felt an inconsistent lead singer would not go over well with his overall vision.  Due to these limitations a third shoot was done on a more scaled down version.  This encompassed Mike and Joseph as a musical duo.  Mike singing and Joseph on guitar.  Joseph preferred this version as opposed to himself singing in alternate shots because it was more consistent and also tied the story together by having the two leading male characters performing together.

The main actors performing together.  If you look carefully the fingering is off on the guitar playing.

The storyline sequences were filmed over two days; the fight scene was shot first and was constantly disrupted with background shenanigans.  Much of the pandemonium was due to the cast’s lack of faith in the material.  The additional sequences were completed on a Saturday afternoon but were rushed to accommodate Mike Cody’s schedule. 

Mike Cody was the guitarist for IntraVenus; born and raised in Bellerose, Queens he taught himself how to play the guitar at the age of 14.  He was as exceptional at playing the guitar as he was lazy.  He could create some of the best rock music on the fly, but he never took the time to commit his tunes to memory or perfect his craft.  He had an easy going personality and spent his time dreaming of being a rock star.  Photograph was the perfect opportunity for him to live some of that dream.  It also was the first on many collaborations with “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®.  Mike Cody and Matt Leabo have the most appearances in the works of “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®.

Mike jammin on the one
The last shot of the video was the most complicated, it was the reconciliation of the couple that ended in a kiss.  Joseph wanted an overhead camera circling around the two as they kissed and walked off happily ever after.  Since he did not own a jib Mike Cody came up with a compromise where the camera would be held out of the back of his 1984 Silverado as it pulled away.  In the first take Mike pulled the car out too fast and thus Joseph got covered with show that was spit out by the rear tires of the car.  The cinematographer Andrew Cody (Mike’s brother) almost dropped the camera.  The subsequent takes flowed much smoother and really rounded out the project with a visually dramatic ending.

The final storyline shot of the video.  Andrew Cody almost dropped the camera during one of the takes. 

When principle photography wrapped Joseph began editing his work.  He had some light consultation from close friend Steven Bari about the clarity of the piece. He also realized that some of the shots were never really filmed.  Since Joseph was in most of the video he trusted that his camera people attained the footage he needed.  Without a script to reference they only had Joseph’s descriptions of the scenes to go by.  They did the best job they could with the tools presented to them.  Ultimately Joseph did not have the time or patience to reshoot and edited his film around the issues.  Joseph edited the story parts together first.  As the lines “I want to touch you” are sung the boy and girl are supposed to kiss and close out the video.  This meant Joseph had to edit in the band shots to allow for this end moment to hit at the right music cue in the song.

The problem became syncing the pantomime and the original audio track.  Every time Joseph added a band shot he needed to play through the entire song.  The opening of the video was easy enough but as the process wore on toward the end, trying to tweak the lip-syncing to match the audio became a grueling process.  The technology of the time was fairly state of the art and Joseph was also the first person in Holy Cross High School to attempt such a feat.  He was forced to compromise many of the band shots he filmed because he was on a deadline to complete the project.  He could not easily interchange and experiment with different takes to see what worked best.  From Joseph’s perspective, Photograph resulted in a compromise of his true vision.  He was happy with the overall result but vowed to improve from the shortcomings of the experience. 

In addition to the creation of Photograph, “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® also produced two other videos at the same time. These videos were not included in the curriculum and were made entirely for fun. The first was Paradise City by Guns N Roses and involved IntraVenus stripping down to their underwear lip syncing and dancing around.  The other was IntraVenus performing One Step Closer by Linkin Park.  Paradise City was completed in one take.  One Step Closer interlaced additional footage that was recorded through the making of Photograph.  Joseph created the videos to fulfill his promise to IntraVenus that they would get a music video if they assisted him with Photograph.  They ended up with three videos that defined the band long after the group disbanded.

The original version of One Step Closer, it was made a bit more artistic than it's more popular 2003 reedit. Some of the choices were due to a time crunch while using the high school editing software.
Paradise City as only IntraVenus can do it.

Photograph premiered to the class with mixed reviews.  The story was received with mediocrity for being slightly unclear while the technical aspect of it was lauded for demonstrating an improved editing method.  The shots utilized by Joseph were unique when compared to the class, as they were not as ambitious. Photograph would not achieve its real success until several months later. 

This might not be the best video ever produced by "I Like To Play With Toys" Productions® but it's one of the most respected early works.  

How TO Be Stupid

A “How To” video was the next assignment for the class, many of the students created simple videos that demonstrated their personal strengths.  Jamil Jerome created a video about how to start a manual engine and shift it into first gear.  Billy Stormont teamed up with Eric Harlacher and did a video on how to get hit by a car.  The highlight of that video was watching Eric get run over.  It certainly had rewatchability.

Joseph decided to play to his and his friends’ strengths by tapping into his past experiences in making prior videos.  He decided to emphasize the antics that went on behind the scenes of Photograph and were also so prevalent in Paradise City and One Step Closer.  His video would be How TO Be Stupid.  It was heavily Tom Green and Jackass inspired whilst including their unique senses of humor.  The majority of the events in the video were written by Matt Leabo and performed by Joe Herbert during an evening at Teen Club.  Many of the participants from earlier work also made contributions or appearances.  It truly rounded out the year and all the videos that were produced.  Greg Grima, Mike Cody, Anthony Ardezzone, Andrew Cody, and David Rerecich all had a part to play either in front or behind the camera. 

Matt getting tossed to the floor after taping Joe H going to the bathroom
The opening is a now infamous shot filmed by Dave of Justin Grima wandering Gregorian Hall during Parish Youth.  The rest of the segments show Joe Herbert being thrown on a table, dancing and wrestling with a chair.  Matt Leabo is pooped out of a Herbert’s butt and then tossed in a garbage can and thrown all around the room by the other boys.  All of the clips were randomly assorted together for added non-linear montage confusion and enhanced stupidity.  It was targeted at easy laughs.  The opening scene of Justin walking was dubbed with the closing theme to Glory to trick people into believing the video was going to be a serious piece of work.  The rest of the video featured Dare to be Stupid by Weird Al Yankovic and kicks in just as Joe Herbert is tossed onto a table as it collapses under him.  The stupidity grows from there. 

It was a hit on all levels.  It was a different take on the assignment when compared to the more traditional approaches and also a hit with the class.  It was in the same spirit as One Step Closer and Paradise City.

How to be stupid with its original music, never before posted on the internet. 

The Big Premiere

Constant pressure from the actors in Joseph’s projects finally persuaded him to exhibit his videos at the St Gregory’s Teen Club.  He aired everything that was created to date with rousing success.  It was the talk of the evening and was met with positive feedback on all levels.  Fun With Dolls!, One Step Closer, Paradise City were all received with their expected laughs.  Photograph was well praised and everyone involved truly grasped the full scope of what they had all spent so many hours creating.  It was a fitting end to the year.

Movie Trailer

In was spring 2001 and the school year was coming to a close.  The last assignment of the year was creating a movie trailer for any movie the student wished.  Instead of just taking clips and movies and mashing them together into a montage, similar to the Sci-Fi Club video, Joseph wanted to pursue yet another original approach.  His plan was to do a remake of the Pee Wee’s Big Adventure trailer.  He created a Pee Wee costume from an old gray suit and was given a homemade bowtie courtesy of St Gregory’s Theater Group.  Joseph planned to use stop motion animation for some of the more complicated action sequences in the trailer and shot several portions of the trailer.  He finished about one third of the principle photography but time was against him and he had to abandon the project for a simple Top Gun trailer.  He took clips from the movie and played Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins while different pieces of dialogue were presented.  It fulfilled the assignment and closed out the year.  It would also be the last thing produced by “I Like To Play With Toys” Productions® for 2 years.

Written by
Steve Rogers - Writer
Christmas Snow - Writer
Joseph Ammendolea - Owner/President
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®