Hello, and good morning/afternoon/evening!
First, let’s start with full disclosure: I have known Dave for decades. I grew up with him and – in fact – he is a partner in my business. Still, I selected him for this article not out of cronyism but, in point of fact, because his experiences and insight are highly-relevant to the sorts of ‘Rockford’s Own’ articles that I enjoy bringing to you. I have waited until the ‘Rockford’s Own’ series was well-ensconced before allowing myself to include him – an actual disservice to him, in point of fact – in order to prevent anyone crying ‘foul’. Suffice it to say, I wished to focus on the things that he has done, accomplished, and achieved – specifically – avoiding inclusion of our friendship or business in the article to do just that.
I personally watched a young Dave Block as he played ‘Otis’ in ‘Christmas With The Conroys’. It was my first experience with a play that wasn’t done by grade-schoolers and – is still to this day – one of the single most memorable evenings of laughter and fun that I have ever had. I wouldn’t trade a minute of that evening for anything.
And so, without further weird explanation, please allow me to introduce to you Mr. Dave Block, founder of Block Films, long-time friend, and the sort of guy everyone wishes that they had around for any number of reasons.
What first drew you to the world of acting and filmmaking?
Well, to be honest, those two things are completely different stories for me. I first began acting in 1987. It was at Rock Valley College’s Starlight Theater, when I was cast in the role of a lost boy in ‘Peter Pan’. At the time, my uncle, Mike Webb, was the director out there. He had come to St. Bernadette’s (where I was attending grade school) and had given an oral presentation about theater and musicals.
After hearing about it, I thought that it would be something cool that I’d like to try. So, I learned a song and auditioned – I just went for it. It was to be my first audition of many more to come. I was so nervous, so young, so inexperienced – and I was terrible. Even so, I still managed to get a part as one of the ensemble. I imagine that my life might be a great deal different, had I been turned away at such an impressionable age – especially after putting myself out there, for everyone to see.
From there my passion – really more of a lust for entertaining – began to take off. I was in two of the three shows at RVC that year. I even did some of the studio theater shows as well, while growing up. I acted in several high school shows while attending Guilford High School, and on one occasion, we were even selected to take our show down-state to perform during my senior year. During my college days at Rock Valley, I continued to act in their shows while enrolled there.
Once I finished school, and moved out of my parents’ house, my acting career was put on hold. I had to get a full time job, and unfortunately, there simply wasn’t time to indulge myself in this pastime that I had so come to love and enjoy.
As for film, that’s a slightly more interesting story. While in college at Rock Valley, I took it upon myself to form an improv group. We would get together every Monday night and just make short movies – all completely improvised. We would sit around a table to start the night off, tossing out ideas. Once we hit upon one we all liked, we called it good and just went with it from there. This was my first real experience with any sort of film making. We shot on an old VHS camcorder and I used a clunky (by today’s standards, anyway) VCR & Radio/CD player to edit the footage. Believe it or not, I still have a couple of copies of these films on VHS. I have, only recently, obtained the ability to dub them over to DVD. Technology has come a long, long way.
We continued to meet every Monday for several months up until – as I mentioned earlier – I moved out of my parents’ home (which was in ultra-close proximity to the school). At that point, I did attempt to keep the improv nights going on a few occasions. However, the feel was somehow different after that and, as such, it didn’t last long. The biggest issue was location, I was now so much farther away from the school. And when the extra mileage was factored in, for the others in the group, the drive time simply wasn’t worth the over-arching reward.
After a hiatus of several years – no acting, no writing, no singing, or any entertainment ventures – I was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to star in several, local television commercials for ‘Insurance King’. This series of opportunities rekindled my love of acting.
To accommodate this, and to grow as an entertainer, I began to take classes at Second City in Chicago. It was here that I first became aware of an independent film that was to be made in Madison, Wiscosin. Suffice it to say, I went and auditioned. The director and casting director really seemed to appreciate my energy and comedic tone. In fact, I had four call backs (two more than usual) and a fifth was supposed to pair me with a fellow who had been on the hit television series, ‘Northern Exposure’. To this day, I remember getting on I-90, heading towards the audition, and receiving a phone call from the casting director.
“Dave, sorry to call you like this,” he said, “but the director just took a gig filming a rock video in Germany. We’ll be postponing the film – possibly for a year. We’ll call you when we’re back up and running. If I have any other films coming up that are in your area I will definitely call you.”
I was beyond crushed. I almost felt as though they were mocking me, perhaps making fun of me for how gullible I was, or having a joke about my quality as an actor. Suffice it to say that I almost gave it all up, right then and there.
Since then, I’ve checked on imdb.com from time to time. The movie – to this day – still has not been made. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I keep my fingers crossed that, one day, I still may get the call.
During my time doing commercials for Insurance King, as well as when I had done my short films in college, I gained a lot of useful experience. As such, I took an introspective look and realized that I had, somewhere along the way, developed all of the know-how and, more importantly, the desire to potentially do it all myself. It was then that I began writing my first film.
This film ended up being ‘Talk Dirty To Me’. As I got toward the middle of the process, I decided that there just had to be a sequel. So, I wrote a second – and third – film script to finish out the series.
From there, I signed on to a casting website and posted for – and held – auditions.
When it was all said and done, I had scripted, filmed, and edited my very first film – and I haven’t stopped, or looked back, since.
To date, what are your stage, film, and television credits?
Without attempting to sound arrogant, there are almost too many to list, individually. I’ve done about ten Starlight Theater shows, four RVC Studio shows, and fifteen television commercials for Insurance King. I’ve acted in three of my own films as well: ‘Talk Dirty To Me’, ‘The Adventures Of Wyatt Trash’, and the forthcoming ‘The Adventures Of Wyatt Trash: The Devil’s Spittoon’. I was also in Matthew Chichella’s ‘Poetic’, Rob Romero’s ‘Cofax’, and have been filming ‘The Graveyard Menace’ since last summer in both Chicago and Bloomington.
As well as acting, I have also been involved in stage crews and set construction for over twenty-five plays and musicals for Starlight Theater & RVC Studio Theater.
Of all of these, what are you most proud of?
I’d have to say my ‘Wyatt Trash’ series. It started out as my second independent film and has become a fan favorite. I have already written three future ‘Wyatt’ films and, the next one, will include a soundtrack written and sung by me.
I understand that while shooting a film recently, you suffered a fairly serious injury – would you care to tell us about that experience?
Oh, man – that. Yeah, in June of this year we were filming a bar fight scene for ‘The Graveyard Menace’. About five days before the incident, director Chase Cavelera had called me and asked if I had any connections for, or could get my hands on, some break-away beer bottles. I didn’t, so I began calling and e-mailing a number of companies – none of them could get the items to me in time for the shoot: unless, of course, we wanted to pay some crazy-high shipping costs.
So I turned to the wonderful world of the Internet. Here, I found several pages offering different methods to make these faux bottles from scratch. I enlisted the help of some friends and we made about twenty from a sugar concoction (just like the Hollywood professionals use). I packed them in a cooler and took them with me to Bloomington on the day of the shoot.
When I arrived on set, and word got around that I had them, everyone was curious and wanted to see the things. I happily obliged, and took them out of the cooler to show them off. It had rained there, just before I arrived, and the resultant humidity remained. The bottles started to get sticky and melt. At which point I panicked because we needed them for the shoot. To try and save them, I put them back in the cooler and, then, put them in the walk in cooler of the bar where we were shooting. Over the next few hours, I checked on them a couple times – they didn’t seem as sticky and didn’t seem to be melting. Just to be on the safe side, we left them in the walk in cooler until the very moment we were going to use them.
Now, when doing stunts on any film, you want to run through them several times – until everyone is comfortable and 100%-for-sure-no-doubt ready to attempt the stunt. We didn’t have this luxury due to some of the bottles having meted, and the others ‘wilting’ when contact with the ambient air occurred. Suffice it to say, it became apparent that we probably had only one shot at making it count.
Fortunately, I had been hit with these sorts of bottles on a number of prior occasions. So I knew what to expect (from a store bought one, anyway, I should probably add here). I gave the guy, who was going to be hitting me in the head, some instructions and pointers. Then, we started filming. The shot itself was a very short one: I, and my brother (played by Conan Calhoun), are wrestling with one of the ‘bad guys’ and each of us had one of his arms. The guy with the beer bottle was supposed to walk up behind me and hit me on the head and I, in turn, was supposed to react, and then hit the ground.
When the hit came, I felt it on the back of my head. The problem was, it didn’t feel right and I immediately saw stars (very similar to those ubiquitous ‘cartoon birds’ in a situation such as this.) I fell to the ground where I laid prone for what was probably a few seconds but felt like five minutes. I heard Chase yell ‘Cut!’ and I began to get up. As I got to my knees, I felt the blood running down each side of my head, and then saw drops of it on the floor. Then I hear someone say, “We need to help Dave! He’s bleeding – bad!”
As I’m taking all of this in, someone tells me not to move. Conan and several others rushed to my side and began pulling the pieces of the bottle that were still lodged in my head out. This done, they began applying a ton of bar napkins to my head in an effort to stop the copious amount of bleeding that was happening.
After several minutes of this, they helped me stand up and walked me over to a bar table. Here, I was bedecked with two bandages to butterfly the wound (I sort of wish I would have kept them for souvenirs: one was Dora the Explorer and the other was all purple). I’m sure I looked just awesome with those beauties jazzing up my dome.
Once the bleeding finally stopped, and I had regained my normal color, and my wits, I was told that I had to go to the hospital. I told Chase that I would be okay to finish filming the scenes in the bar; that I could just get checked out later. Neither he – nor my co-actors – was having any of that. It was probably for the best, to their credit, because when I got to the hospital they gave me a tetanus shot and eleven staples in the back of my head. It wasn’t fun but – hey – I got a good story out of the deal, right?
What is your fondest memory of Rockford?
did a lot of advertising with them. One year, I had the opportunity to drop the puck before a game. After that, I took my season-ticket seat and sitting there – right across the aisle from me – was Rick Nielsen. We introduced ourselves and thereafter – because of our season ticket seat proximity – we would chat and high-five when the IceHogs scored. It was sort of surreal to me. Here was a celebrity who was so down-to-Earth and, in the end, a real person – just like me. He kind of set the precedent. When I’m a celebrity (a guy can dream, can’t he?) I want to be the same, down-to-Earth sort: talking to the fans and other people as just a regular guy. I want to be an approachable celeb. If fans want to talk, get pictures, or autographs, then I’m there for as long as it takes. A lot of celebrities these days want money for autographs and pictures. To me, that’s just not right – without the fans, they wouldn’t be able to do what they love doing. It seems as though, perhaps, a great many of them lose sight of that.
If you could recommend one place/attraction in Rockford for someone to visit, where would it be, and why?
That’s a tough question. There are so many things that I like about Rockford. Still, I’ll stick with what I have found to be of interest to me lately. I’m an avid beer connoisseur or, at least, I like to think that I am. As such, I would recommend Pig Minds Brewery. They’ve got excellent beer, they’ve got a very cool venue, and it’s located by the Rockford Speedway. Their menu is all vegan so I haven’t eaten much, honestly I’ve only eaten their garlic fries and their amazing. They keep about six of their own beers on tap and usually 3 or 4 guest breweries on hand at all times. Their bartenders and wait staff are very friendly and fun, and reasonably priced as a bonus.
Coupled with the above, I’d also recommend The Oasis MicroPub, a bar located downtown, where they have numerous regional beer options. The beer menu there is sort of like a newsletter or a baseball card: there are several beers listed and, accompanying each listing, is information explaining where the beer is from and how much alcohol by volume is in it. The Oasis is definitely a hidden gem that more people should know out about.
When I want that Norm-from-Cheers feeling I head over to Mulligan’s Pub on North Main Street. They’ve got a big microbrew selection, and a very fun and friendly staff. You go there two times and you are made to feel like you’re a regular. And many of the regulars know one another and it’s a cool, home-like feeling. You’ll definitely see me there, more often than not.
Okay, I know you wanted only one, but I couldn’t name just one! The last place that you have to try out, before they close, is the ‘Twisted Crypt Productions’ haunted house, located on State Street, near the old Circuit City building. I of course, have to plug this place because I am the director of the actors, and pretty much spend all of my recent free time there. It’s unique, and unlike any haunted house around the area. They offer a story line that flows from room to room, with trained actors that interact with the guests in an effort to allow them to be a part of the show. The majority of the dialogue is improvised, so each and every time you go through it’s a slightly different show.
With all of the negative press that Rockford has received of late, how do you feel about the city from which you hail?
I’m not a very political person. Growing up, I was always told that you simply do not discuss religion or politics with friends or family. I know that Rockford isn’t the same place now that it was when I was growing up. There is, unquestionably, a higher rate of crime. I’d like to see the city streets get ‘cleaned up’ with regard to both crime and physical aesthetics. I’m not so naive as to think that there will never be crime, or that it will ‘go back to the way that it was’.
I think Rockford really had a chance to pull itself out of its slump a few years ago, specifically when my father, Doug Block, ran for mayor. He was a long-time asset on the Rockford police force, a veteran, a former Boy Scout leader, and is a very civic-minded individual who has a no-nonsense and pragmatic approach to leadership. Unfortunately he did not win and Rockford, unfortunately, seems to be getting worse, rather than better. Rockford needs a mayor who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get a little dirty working on the real issues at hand.
Truly, I understand that making the downtown area more aesthetically pleasing to look at is a good thing. Still, a lot of that feels like a ‘smoke and mirrors’ show to me. Once again – I am in no way a politically well-versed individual. I’m just speaking from the heart. From my perspective – from the outside looking in – I say that you can dress a wolf up in grandma’s clothing, but regardless, it’s still a wolf. And wolves, instinctively, do what wolves do. Likewise, just because we make the downtown area more aesthetically pleasing, that doesn’t automatically mean that there will be less crime, or fewer issues, down there – or in the remainder of the city – because of it.
If there were one thing that you could change about Rockford, what would it be?
Well I think that I sort of answered that question in the last one but, I’d like to add one thing. I think that ‘The Metro Center’ should be called ‘The Metro Center’ again. It will always be the big orange box to me. I don’t think I’ve ever called it the BMO-Whatchamacallit. We’re in Rockford. It’s the center of the town. Ergo, to me, it should remain ‘The Rockford Metro Center’. If we change the name of that, then maybe we should change the name of the town to BMO-Whatchamacallit, IL while we’re at it. Naming rights are nice for the sake of revenue but, I hate to see Rockford lose another chunk of its identity in the process (a-la The Time Museum, The Rock River Raft Race, On The Waterfront, and other things which have gone, sadly, by the wayside.)
Categories: Rockford's Own