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“The Andy Baker Tape” is a powerful depiction of pandemic creativity

“The Andy Baker Tape” (2021) chronicles the first meetings between food blogger, Jeff Blake (Bret Lada) and half-brother Andy Baker (Dustin Fontaine). Utilizing guerilla filmmaking, a form of independent filmmaking that requires a bare-minimum crew, no or limited film permits and few props, in the pandemic, the film is a testament of the ability of the arts to persevere in spite of monumental limitations. 

After losing many acting opportunities, Lada took on the project at the start of the pandemic. Joined by an out-of-work member of the Blue Man Group, Dustin Fontaine, and an Australian sound engineer, Lada embarked on a found-footage film project, blurring the line between fact and fiction. The project was written, edited and shot during a six-month period at the start of the pandemic in New Jersey. The film itself cost only $2,000 according to Lada in a Q&A following the screening at the 2022 Nevermore Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.

It opens with Bret Lada’s character meeting Andy Baker for the first time. Blake is a food blogger, hoping to expand his food career to the Food Network. After using a DNA service, Blake discovers that his father had another child, unknown to him. 

After introducing the story to his online fans, Blake arrives at a broken-down home of Andy Baker. Director Bret Lada said “We try to circle everything around the story… That house is the perfect metaphor when he meets Andy. It’s a broken house, the destroyed car. We were so glad to find that.”

Following a somewhat awkward yet ultimately promising first meeting, the pair learn that they both need to go to Baltimore and decide to travel together. It is on this trip that the romanticized relationship between reconnected brothers begins to unravel. After Baker is pushed to continually film for Blake for his Food Network audition while they travel to Baltimore, tensions rise. Blake’s high standards for filming conflict with Baker’s unstable and at times immature behavior. We begin to learn that perhaps each character has ulterior motives for taking this trip to Baltimore. 

Through his “found-footage” method, Lada invites the audience into the intimate world between two brothers. As Lada stated, “We did found-footage because we were entirely self-funded actors and we could shoot this during the pandemic without having to have a full sound crew on set with us.”

It is also through this method of filming that Lada arrived at the conclusion depicting Blake as a food blogger. “The trickiest part was how do we set these two up in a story. In found-footage, I have yet to see that millennial vehicle being tapped into, this YouTube blogger, but it seemed like the perfect way.”

Food blogging was a central component of both the uniting and undoing of Baker and Blake’s relationship. Interestingly, the only unscripted scenes were those in which Blake and Baker reviewed food on their road trip to Baltimore. Restaurants were carefully chosen, often avoiding noisy environments, yet reactions to food were authentic. 

Yet, Lada insists that,“Those scenes were carefully structured so that we knew the effect that we wanted it to have on the audience. It was either how can we get the guys closer together or pull them apart.”

Overall, the method of filming is raw and authentic, capturing the characters at private and obscure moments. At times, Blake looks into the camera, fixing his hair and checking the lighting, moments we can imagine would be cut from a final YouTube video. Other moments depict interactions with Baker as the cameraman and demands for retakes of imperfect shots. This aesthetic gives the film a sense of realism and ultimately, greater horror as the story unfolds. 

Proof of its artistic strength, the film has won several awards around the country, such as the 2021 Garden State Film Festival “Home Grown Feature,” 2021 Long Island Film Expo for “Best Feature Film” and “Best Actor” and, most recently, the 2022 Nevermore Film Festival “Best Feature Film,” “Best Director,” “Best Editing” and “Best Supporting Actor” for Dustin Fontaine. It is certainly a must-see.

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