Bodies falling out of moving vehicles.
These generally don’t come to mind when most folks think of family home movies.
But these things do occur to Spokane siblings David Ball and Donna Larsen. For them, these are staples in the movies they’ve been filming together for 11 years.
On Jan. 7, they premiered their newest film, plus two others at the Garland Theatre. Although they’ve shown their home movies at smaller venues, this was their big screen premiere. “We’re so excited!” Larsen said.
Their evolution as filmmakers began in 1988 when the extended Ball family had grown so large that exchanging holiday gifts became unmanageable. Larsen said, “In lieu of exchanging Christmas presents, each family had to provide some form of entertainment for the other families.”
The rap numbers, game shows and skits that ensued proved to be more fun than unwrapping presents. In 2000, Ball and Larsen joined forces make a short movie as their contribution to the festivities.
“Our first movie was the ‘Lynda Blair Witch Project’ – it had lots of vomiting,” Ball said. “We used green Jell-O.”
His sister grimaced. “I didn’t like that part.”
When asked if either of them have had any theatrical training, both laughed. “No!” Larsen said. “This becomes apparent when you watch the movies.”
Ball comes up with the ideas, but there is no scripted dialogue, and the first three films were shot on one continuous tape. “We didn’t know how to edit,” said Larsen. “What we shot is what we got.”
Most of the films run 20 to 25 minutes.
By the time they were ready to make their seventh movie, Larsen cajoled her friend Tony Horpel, a professional wedding videographer, into filming and editing their flicks.
The joy the siblings take in working together is apparent. “We’re always quoting lines to each other from our own movies,” Ball said.
Larsen agreed. “We have a lot of fun.”
And judging by the enthusiastic laughter and applause at the Garland on Saturday night, the large crowd of friends and family had fun, too.
The first movie shown, “Yaak Commandos” was filmed on location in the Yaak River Valley in Montana – a favorite family haunt. By way of description, Larsen said, “We’re serious about our huckleberries.”
Indeed they are. In the film, when the siblings discover their favorite huckleberry site has been picked over, they go commando. “There’s other ways to get berries,” Ball intones.
Donning camouflage and face paint and carrying AK-47s, they proceed to terrorize hapless campers and steal their huckleberries.
Friends and family members serve as extras in the films, but Larsen carries most of the scenes. In fact, one of their movie credits reads: “Featuring David Ball in yet another frustrating secondary roll.”
Ball admitted, “I egg her on.”
This became apparent in the second movie screened at the Garland: “Doppelganger Donna – The Evil Twin.”
In the film, Ball undergoes a series of mishaps from falling out of a car to dropping over a bridge. The accidents are caused by Larsen’s evil alter-personality, “Moan-eek.”
Filming the movie apparently allowed Larsen to work out some childhood angst. “I was a bit of a handful growing up,” she said. Then she grinned. “I was misunderstood!”
Their most recent movie, “On the Lam,” shows Spokane in all of its glory. Ball and Larsen think they’ve witnessed a murder and the “bad guys” pursue them all over town. Scenes were shot in Riverfront Park, downtown Spokane and the Civic Theatre. Even the exterior of Al’s Motel on North Division Street is featured.
The siblings have no intention of slowing down. Ball is already dreaming up ideas for their 12th film. “We’re going to keep doing this until we’re little old people,” Larsen said.
Ball nodded. “We’ll be filming in our wheelchairs when we’re in the nursing home.”