Lawrence gets crash course in 'Dorm Daze'

It is about a sausage.

It is about a bag of money.

It is about a case of mistaken identity.

Bottom line is that the new film from "National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze" concerns that critical phase in many college student's life: living in a coed dorm.

Produced and directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand, the film is a comedic look at an unusual day in the fictitious McMartin Hall, located at the equally fictitious Billingsley University. Following a cast of more than a dozen principal players, the slapstick effort chronicles a bizarre chain of events, including a foreign exchange student mistaken for a prostitute and a coed who happens upon a purse full of cash, that plagues the inhabitants of the dorm.

The filmmakers, who visited Lawrence on Saturday to promote the picture, recall the unusual way it fell into their hands.

"We found the script at Hollywood Video," remembers Scott Hillenbrand, who went in to rent a movie and was handed the screenplay by one of the store's employees. "We were the second people to read it because they had just gotten into town."

Highly impressed by the script, penned by Minnesota natives Patrick Casey and Worm Miller, the brothers began the journey of bringing it to the screen.

"We knew from the beginning that we had to create the right vibe, the right atmosphere to pull everyone onto the same page," David says.

"We took this to our casting director, and asked him what do you think of this material," recalls Scott. "How do you think the really cool, hip, brat pack of today actors will respond to it?"

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Special to the Journal-World

Patrick Renna plays a girl-crazed party boy in "National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze."

His response, "Phenomenal."

College casting

Danielle Fishel, best known as Topanga from the popular sitcom, "Boy Meets World," signed on to portray the fast-talking Marla. Unhappy about a prostitute visiting the dorm, she and cohort Lynne, played by actress Jennifer Lyons ("Can't Hardly Wait"), take matters into their own hands.

While visiting Lawrence with Fishel, Lyons explains the love-hate relationship they felt for their respective characters.

"I knew girls like this," she says. "The reason I didn't go to live in a dorm was because of girls like Lynne and Marla."

Even though the film is about the antics of campus housing inhabitants, the cast feels one doesn't have to be a student to connect with it.

"I think anyone, who's ever been in college or not -- if you are between the ages of 18 and 25 -- are going to find something you have been through or something that is really funny to relate to," believes Fishel.

Patrick Renna, star of such films as "The Sandlot," stars as Styles, the quintessential goofy party boy perpetually on a quest for beautiful women. He also feels the movie has something for everyone.

"The guys all have these beautiful women to look at," he muses, "and the girls will all have me to look at -- something for all ages."

Orchestrating the 'Daze'

One of the biggest challenges facing the directors was the sheer enormity of the cast. The finale brings the majority of the principal players together in a fast-paced, door-slamming, comedy of errors.

"The final scenes were one of the hardest to choreograph," remembers David. "From the filmmaking standpoint, it's so many planes of action. You're focused on one person, but as they walk past, another door opens on another character."

The Hillenbrands also found it important to keep the cast's energy level up. One of the ways this was accomplished was by playing music between takes -- a favorite being the soundtrack to the hit musical "Moulin Rouge."

"We wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone was happy, excited and lively," says Scott. "The music sets the mood, so we played it constantly."

The directors also encouraged improvisation from their players, noting that many of the mannerisms of Styles were developed by Renna himself. Taking this to extreme though were Fishel and Lyons, who overindulged in several scenes that called for them to eat copious amounts of chocolate, peanut butter and ice cream.

"We had to do the scenes so many times, that by the time we had done it four or five times, we were on such a sugar high," remembers Fishel. "We were laughing so hard we had tears streaming down our faces. And after that we got sick."

Taking it on the road

Upon completing the production, the brothers showed the film to National Lampoon. The franchise brand known for comedies like "Animal House" and the recent "Van Wilder" agreed to release the screwball comedy, despite having no creative involvement with it.

"The folks at National Lampoon jumped on it," Scott says.

Now all that is left is getting the college age demographic on the bandwagon. With ample gross-out gags, gratuitous nudity and all the other ingredients for success, the filmmakers and cast are taking that show on the road.

The Lawrence and Kansas City areas are their first stops on a college city tour. While in town promoting the movie (which opens this week at Hollywood Theaters' Southwind Twelve), they also visited local night spots Abe & Jake's Landing and Last Call.

Fishel summed up her feelings about her visit to Kansas: "The first time I was here, I was only here for one night. But today we sat on the balcony and were like, 'We really LIKE this place.'"

With plans for a possible sequel and other ventures based on the film, the actors and directors are very excited to see how it plays with the college demographic. Overall, they believe the university crowd will enjoy it.

"We have it all," exclaims Renna. "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Sausages, hookers and a big bag of money."

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