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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wrap up, Thoughts on AFM

Well, we've been back now a few days from Santa Monica.  Resettling, unpacking, reassessing, etc. Like I mentioned in my last blog, the American Film Market has made quite clear the divide between artistry and commerciality. This remains at the foreground of my thoughts on filmmaking.  It's a hard divide to try to connect for beginning filmmakers who want to make good work, but also would like to make a living doing that work.  It's been particularly difficult with my first film which we took to AFM. It has a name star in it, but tries to splice two genres together: art house meets horror. It's too artsy for commercial buyers and festivals don't generally choose horror films. The horror genre seems to scare programmers of big festivals away. There is a long way to go before horror gets the proper respect it deserves as a valid and potentially artful genre. But nonetheless, this film still serves as a calling card and has begun dialogues with several industry folks out there.  That is what is crucial in this strange biz.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.

But I digress.  My point is, despite the emphasis I heard over and over again at AFM about creating the "package" (stars, good script written in a recognizable genre, credible producer and director), this concept of the right package hinders most of us out there.  I know so many colleagues that wait and wait and try to get certain actors interested in their script.  Ten years go by and they are still working on that "big film," trying to get actors attached in order to bring in money. I don't need to remind you life is short.  Making a film every ten years just won't work.  So, are films just nice shelves where actors are on display? Or can they just be works that we create because we love the story and the locations and if big name actors are attached, great, but if not, we make the damn film anyway?

Filmmakers have to just make films, and lower their expectations about what sort of return they can expect.  I would tell all filmmakers to just get out there, grab a camera, use your friends and family and make a damn movie, but the chances of that thing ever allowing you to make money back to make another film is pretty slim. Expect to make lots and lots of micro-to-no budget films before you can really start to think a bit bigger.  And once you think you can go bigger, realize you might just have to go back to thinking smaller.  By no means rack up credit card debt, sell organs, become a surrogate mother, to just make your film.  That's just plain stupidity.  Invest some of your money, not all of it, into your work.  Again, it's about being realistic in this extremely expensive high stake world. And don't look at dollar signs as a measurement of your success. 

And go to film markets!  Go. Listen. Learn.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reporting Day Two at the American Film Market


Our trip getting here was very interesting.  Due to a bird getting stuck in some mechanism of the plane, our flight from Austin was delayed enough for us to miss our Denver connection.  I love birds but I cursed this bird.  We caught another flight three hours later and landed in Phoenix to find lines and lines of airline staff standing with white roses near our departure gate.  We found out later they were honoring a fellow staff member that had recently died in an accident.  Well, as we were getting our baggage, we found out his body had been sent off on the plane we were in and getting his body off the plane meant that we did not get our baggage for an hour after getting off the plane.  Death had delayed us, and we were grumpy and tired, mad at death for slowing us down on our journey to Santa Monica.

Well, we are here now.  The crowds are about what I expect. Suits and high heels. Jeans with jackets.  The food is also what I expect.  Twelve dollar hotdogs and five dollar bagels. Even the cooler weather (it’s 57 right now) I planned for. The amount of people sitting around with their dogs was not something I expected. Dogs at the American Film Market. Since mostly older men had them, and one flaunty blonde was all about leaning over to pet a particular bulldog, I guess they are used as chick magnets.  Opportunities for these men to glance down curvy busts as the women lean over to pet the poochies.

As I write this, some woman’s ass is like two feel from my face. Ha ha.  It’s that crowded.

We picked up a bunch of the trades (Hollywood Reporter, Variety etc.) and I spent some time looking through the various advertisements for films being screened at the AFM. Most looked pretty bad due to the ad design. It made me wonder about where the art of film poster design has gone.  If I were twelve years old, I might find some of these poster designs appealing, but honestly, it looked like they had hired a high school kid with horrible Photoshop skills to create these things. Putting some paint on my cat’s paws and letting her walk around on a piece of paper would have created a more appealing visual work than these pieces of crap.

The most prevalent aspect of the AFM, as reported by these trade magazines, is the definition of a successful movie. Clearly, it is about how little money can be spent in relation to how much money a film can rake in at the box office. There is no discussion about performances, a great story, etc. I am not pretending this is any surprise after all, this is the American Film MARKET. So commerce is key here.  I guess my childlike idealistic side still refuses to believe that superior craftsmanship of a film with a great unique story is not enough to make it interesting to the “paying and viewing audience,” whoever THAT is supposed to be. It is about formula within genre and being interesting within the first twenty minutes.  Quick pacing, faces people recognize. Attaching a star to your film so suddenly it matters. 

I am not blaming anyone for this.  Hearing these people talk, and even getting the chance to meet some of these buyers and sellers, I completely understand their logic.  It just makes me wonder as always about the relationship of creativity to commerce.

So can art even exist in cinema?  Sure, for the rare few filmmakers that seem to have been able to navigate this torrential storm where your film becomes a package of attractive elements: producer with track-record, well known director and name cast.  Just like a frozen dinner. Salisbury steak with creamed corn and chocolate brownie square.  But I am not sure how these filmmakers with more creative control managed to get where they are, but it seems like a combination of luck, timing, and a bit of determination. It almost seems that if a beginning filmmaker is interested in making unique artful work but wants to also make a living at it, they may want to redirect those creative impulses into something else, and make commercial work.  Either that or just make artful work and keep the day job. 

I think what is even a more difficult question is, can a film be artful and still be a commercial success?  Of course the answer is yes, but the issue of commerciality or creativity seem to be contrasting aspects of a film.

I think this will have to be a topic for another AFM day, written while killing some time in this Loew’s Lobby.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wept the Rose Trellis in Shades of Nematoda

A bit more prose.  More surreal this time. Roaches and worms having a divine picnic on the chin of a sleeping young woman.

Your parents named you Rose. It was your mother's favorite flower.

Rose.

Rose, while walking home at night, you think about the horses of your youth. The brown shiny ones your dad said he'd always try to buy you or the ones that Santa had promised you when you left cookies out for him every Christmas, sometimes on Easters too. Soft gingerbread shaped like stars and bells. You'd ask mom to go out and buy them from the Piggly Wiggly sometimes. You'd ask for the most expensive brand they had. Didn't matter. Santa never brought those horses.

Rose, you walk home down Prytania late at night after you've sweat and toiled and tried to carry dirty trays of turtle soup to impatient unforgiving customers. Your arms are weak, your jaw a broken cliff of dry mud and shale.

Rose, everyone at work thinks you are weird. A strange-looking girl who can't hear very well. You came to work one day wearing these new earrings you had bought at the Everything's A Dollar store, a pair of faux silver hoops that made you look like a secretary, but you thought it might improve your appearance. Maybe people would talk to you, ask you to come out to get a Rolling Rock with them at the Half Moon Pub after everyone had gotten their tips at night.

Rose, you have never kissed a boy. But you have kissed the paper boys in a teeny bopper magazine, all before you turned eighteen. The Piggly Wiggly of your youth didn't carry the magazines, so you had to walk to the drug store every Friday afternoon after school to pick up your three favorite magazines. The check-out girl had red hair and knew your face very well. She giggled to herself when you walked out the door with your magazines. After she finished laughing at you, she would stick a piece of cinnamon Trident in her mouth.

Rose, you started your period when you were fourteen, while in P.E. class. Everyone had to wear an outfit for gym class, green shorts and white shirts with their last names stitched in green thread on the left side of the shirt. Your class was playing volleyball, and when you went back into the girls' locker room to change for the next class, there was blood on your underwear and a little on your green shorts. You were scared.

Now, thirty-one years old with a brand new bachelor's degree in Library Management, you walk home at night late, tired from your noisy restaurant job. Your feet hurt and you soak them in warm water and Epsom salt in a bucket the color of a Satsuma. You listen to the public jazz station and to your neighbors above you fighting in Cuban Spanish and listening to noisy Spanish TV. Their food smells yellow like spicy old chicken and it drifts down to your apartment and makes your bath towels smell.
Rose, there is a hole near your kitchen faucet and at night the roaches come out and look for you. They look for you and your chin at night, when you go to bed at one in the morning.

Rose, after you've cared for your weary feet and washed your black socks in the sink and hung them over your bathtub, you climb into bed and bring the sheet to the bottom of your head. You enter the world of sleep immediately and then that is when the acne on your chin begins to move.

The holes on the swampy cliff at the south end of your face begin to open and small green worms, loving and happy fuzzy creatures, come out of their warm hiding spaces, tired of sleeping for hours, ready to breathe. They come out and greet each other happily:

FRED GORE the worm: "Jill Q! How are you this evening!?"

JILL Q the worm: "Greetings, Fred! I am just fine. Thank you for inquiring. Yes, sir, Mr. Gore. I've rested well and I am hungry and waiting to see what our friends can bring to us today. And look who is also awake! But groggy, no doubt!"

TED the worm: "Jill Q and Mr. Gore! Pleasure. Pleasure, to be sure. I am awake. Slowly coming around."

FRED GORE the worm: "How was your rest, dear friend?"

TED the worm: "Oh, most disturbing to be sure. I had the most awful nightmares, about which the consequences are indescribable..."

JILL Q the worm: "Oh, do tell!!"

FRED GORE the worm: "Oh, yes. Do tell. But wait, because here comes our dear friend, Lucia. Let her in on the details of your nightmare. No doubt we can all learn from your other-worldly dream experiences as they are always educational."

LUCIA the worm: "Greetings, my neighbors. Did I overhear that Ted has a fantastic story to tell!?"

JILL Q the worm: "He had a nightmare last night and he is about to tell us all about it. But I do fear that I might want to cover my ears if it is too horrible to experience!"

TED the worm: "No fear, dear Jill Q. I will be sure to explain only that which will not offend anyone. The mind does work in strange ways. Sort of like Chinese opera."

LUCIA the worm: "Do tell, dear Ted. You have piqued my curiosity."

TED the worm: "Oh well. Alright then. Here it goes. The condensed version for the ladies' delicate ears. Last night, I was dreaming a most intense dream upon which this worm has NEVER experienced before. The dream began pleasantly, as I was resting warm within chambers that vibrated and thumped softly and moved like a lump of bread dough within a mixing machine. I realized I was a human womb. And housed within me was a large Mack truck with an umbilical cord attached to its tail pipe. It had one large brown eye and it barked at me. I woke up...now this is all in the dream mind you. I actually DIDN'T wake up in reality. So, in my dream I woke up and the Mack truck was barking at me. 'Mother, mother!' It was saying to me, tears dripping from it's one large brown eye. 'Mother! I have something to say! Please listen to me, dear mother!' The Mack truck stopped crying and looked at me. 'It is time for me to leave you, my dear mother. I must attempt to venture into the world. It holds many curiosities for me. I hear it calling to me. COME TO ME, YOUNG MACK TRUCK. THERE IS MUCH TERRITORY FOR YOU. FOR YOUR SOUL WE GIVE AND POUR LIFE'S SWEET HONEY BUTTER INTO. OPEN YOUR MOUTH, YOUNG MACK TRUCK, AND LEAVE THE SECURITY OF THE WOMB. IT IS TIME TO COME TO YOUR FUTURE.' The Mack truck began to weep and bark again. I told him that it was okay. I understood his need to leave and become his own man. He looked at me with his wide brown eye and suddenly there was a large gush of liquid! Watermelon-colored water poured fourth between the Mack truck and I. A pair of shears pierced my side and sliced the umbilical cord and separated us. Wet brown fur that smelt like watermelon candy spilled out of the sliced umbilical cord and the Mack truck began to fall out of me, barking, weeping and his one brown eye rolling in his head. 'Good-bye, dearest mother! Good bye!' The poor Mack truck was crying and breaking my heart like a China plate while the umbilical cord thrashed about, spilling wet fruity fur...oh, dear me. Am I being too graphic for the ladies?"

LUCIA the worm: "Oh, dear no, Ted. Please continue. I think we are all quite fascinated by your dream."

TED the worm: "Excellent. Then I shall work on, my friends. The Mack truck was thus born from me, the Womb. And as soon as I felt his last tire escape my body, I felt a wrenching pain start to pour over me. I blacked out with a scream and when I opened my eyes, I found myself swimming as a dolphin. Swimming in water colored pink, filled with other dolphins that laughed and played and sang chorals that praised the human founder of a religion called Christianity. I think his name was Jesus Christ. The sun was shinning brightly and we dipped into the water and then to the surface to see, on the nearby shoreline, a group of pink human beings, much nicer-looking than the one within whom we reside. Their flesh was smooth and even and they all had bright blonde hair and wore pieces of animal fur. They waved at us and ate bunches of grapes and mangoes while listening to music from small black radios. Back in the water, one dolphin came to me and offered me bubble gum which I accepted. I took it within my mouth and as soon as I bit down, I found myself once more in a new environment. I opened my eyes to find myself as a large human male with a tattoo of a cobra and a knife blade across my fuzzy breast. I was in confinement. Presumably, a mental institution. The walls were padded and my arms had been bound around my body with a strange and uncomfortable jacket that was dirty and smelled quite sour. Everything was very quiet and a little dark. I looked around me for a while, for a few hours it felt like, waiting for something to happen. Well, something did happen after a while. A section of the wall started to glow and become bright with a pink light. A single rose bloomed forth and exposed its bright red head to me. It looked at me. I could feel it looking at me. 'Come to me,' it said. 'I have something to share with you.' I came to the rose and looked within it. 'You must know that your son, the Mack truck, has become an influential dictator of the country, Germany. He wields much power and possesses much charisma. He is stubborn like a steel bridge. The world beckoned him. The world pulled him forth from you. Now he glows. And now I bleed.' The rose began to bleed a sticky thick red substance over the floor of my cell. It was a cold cold blood that slowly filled the room as I stood and said nothing nor moved. In about two days, the blood was up to the base of my nose and I began to breathe it and it suffocated me and I began to drown, but with no struggle. I began to die as a human does from not being able to take-in the invisible power of air within itself. It was a feeling like that of falling into a cup of old coffee perhaps, or stale cabernet. And then I woke up."

FRED GORE the worm: "Wow, Ted, my friend. That by far is the most amazing dream you have yet managed to have."

JILL Q the worm: "I must agree with Fred on this one, dear Ted. Quite an amazing experience. I should like to have this one documented in some form. Perhaps we can get together tomorrow night and I can bring my tape recorder and you can repeat your experiences?"

TED the worm: "No telling, Jill Q. Dreams fade like light. I will do the best I can when you present your tape recorder to me."

LUCIA the worm: "I am highly fascinated by what your mind brings to us and the world. Thank you, Ted, for sharing that wonderfully imaginative dream with us this day."

JILL Q the worm: "So, what part did you edit out for us, dear friend?"

TED the worm: "Well, the part about the human females on the beach of course. Back when I was a dolphin."

JILL Q the worm: "Why did you edit parts out?"

FRED GORE the worm: "Why, Jill Q! You are a curious one!"

JILL Q the worm: "Well, we are all friends and neighbors here. I am simply curious of the dream expedition that Ted had last evening."

TED the worm: "Well, the human females simply exposed their breasts. That is all. They were sunning themselves, I imagine. Some fed small human children from the pendulous pieces of flesh that hung from the upper parts of their bodies."

LUCIA the worm: "Silly things, they are. Human breasts."

FRED the worm: "And all mammals have some form of them too. Odd. Odd, indeed."

LUCIA the worm: "Oh, look, my friends. Look to the wall. I think we have our friends coming to us now."

The worms stop talking and look to a small hole in the wall where a small army of roaches curiously peers out.

The roaches, seeing that you are asleep, climb to you, strange Rose. Odd girl flower in the weed garden of humanity. Climbing over the bed sheets, the roaches bring pieces of pastry, pieces of ├ęclairs and Napoleans, salamis and German sausages, goat milk cheeses, fine Godiva chocolates, bubblegum, and a magnum of perfect Veuve Clicquot champagne. Without a word, the roaches mount your chin with their goods, these five fine sleek brown roaches that are shiny like the asses of show horses. They bring the food and present their wares to the worms, with only smiles on their tiny brown heads. They give willingly and happily and watch as the worms devour the ambrosia laid before them.

TED the worm: "Oh, I must say. This chocolate ├ęclair is simply divine."

JILL Q the worm: "This Manchego is simply the best that I think I have ever had before. Our friends have truly outdone themselves this time. I wonder which restaurants they had managed to locate this evening?"

The worms eat for hours, sharing conversation, stories of their childhood or commenting on the taste of the foods they ingest. The roaches stand happily, content, and still on the bed sheets before your chin, Rose.

Then your alarm goes off in a dose of violent AM radio and you hit the snooze button. Realizing their picnic is over, the worms quickly dust themselves off and return into the open acne pores in your chin where they say prayers and meditations. After wishing each other pleasant resting, they begin to sleep. The roaches scatter across your breast back to the hole in the wall, taking the left over food and trash with them, looking forward to the next day when they shall be able to bring more fine food gifts to their friends and listen to their dreams and stories.

Rose, you rise to scratch your scalp and heat water on the stove for your cup of Sanka and a Lender's bagel, toasted with strawberry cream cheese. You look out your window to the pigeon that struts on the sidewalk looking for food or a fuck. Today, you need to take a bus to the Goodwill on Magazine Street. You have to buy some shoes for work today. Your old ones have holes in them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Scissors

More prose from the Traffic series. This one is short. 
metaphor. june. juxtapose. speed or brilliance. music is a jealous lover. hiding in a corner and waiting for me to come around again. back of your head and black tray above and the ring finger and the black water who turns and stirs under the back of your head. and the hope that music will not be a jealous lover in june, hiding. its all fun for you in the circus. the circus really stinks like speed and brilliance. it really stinks like nectar gone all over your thighs. again go all over like the niece of nicotine. her name was a middle name groping around the carpet on the floor trying to find my unsharp scissors to break this nexus. I thought I was gone. you thought I was going to drive over the bridge swimming inside too much prozac
and a quart of warm quick sand
to rephrase my indecisive steps.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Interim (from Traffic)

Part of the Traffic short prose series I wrote a while back.  I've been bogged down with reviewing footage and school so I haven't really had the time to write much of anything. This piece is from a while back, about angry grasshoppers.

"Shut the fuck up, you fucking hippie." Jayma growled at Big 900 and twitched her antennae. "You fuck."

"I guess we really don't understand each other." Big 900 placed his beer on the dresser and pulled a goat head from the back of his paw.

"Shut up, you fucking earth rabbit weakling. You're not hearing me. Listen. I'm tired of you talking about your 'wonderful' mother and how much you admire her. I'm sick of listening to the details of your past two relationships and how you 'learned from them'! I'm always comparing myself. Why is it every time we talk about us...you have to talk about PAST relationships? Hey...look...just go roll your penis blunt, smoke it, and get the fuck out of my apartment before I slash my wrists over your bag of Kind. You heard me?"

Big 900 closed his mouth over his large incisors and nodded his head. Jayma could never get him angry. No matter how hard she tried, how much fowl language she'd use, Big 900 never ever got angry.

"Yo, Big." Jayma lit a cigarette and opened a can of spicy V-8. She really wanted to get him pissed. "Your mama used to stick candy canes up her bunny cunt. It's how your sorry ass was conceived, huh?"

Big 900 laughed and Jayma heard Big's friend, Jeremy, giggle from the hallway as a toilet finished flushing. Jeremy walked into the bedroom, his antennae moving like sugar cane.

"You have a nice bowel movement, Jeremy?" Big 900 cut the side of a cigar open.

"Yeah, I had a great B.M. You rollin' one now, Big? You haven't even waited for me to start on mine."

"Well, sit down and start already. I'll teach you a thing or two-"

Jayma cut in. "Yeah, how to be a soft-hearted faggot rabbit!" She sucked on her cigarette like an Orek vacum, her boggy black eyes tried to pierce Big's skull.

Big 900 and Jeremy stared at her. Jeremy laughed softly, sounding like a slipper stuck in mud. She shot him a strong look. Jeremy was a yellow grasshopper. Jayma was bright green. She didn't trust the Yellows. They were too common.

"Oh, she's got you good on that one," Jeremy whispered.

Jayma stared back at Big 900. He just continued to empty the tobacco that was within the leaves of the cigar.
"Had a rough day at work, dear?" Jeremy called to her.

"Hey, fuck you." Jayma sat on her bed. "I don't know why I even invited you assholes over. I don't smoke weed and I have to work tomorrow. A double shift on a Sunday full of Churchies."

"It's 'cause Big is trying to steer clear of those Night Hawks. They're out. They're hungry. It's a full moon. They can see anything from those Trans Ams of theirs."

Jayma pictured Big 900 getting picked up by a Night Hawk. She visualized him getting his spine smashed with a pair of mighty talons on a vinyl back seat and, like the Greek Prometheus, his liver picked apart by a gold-studded beak to the tunes of Judas Priest. The thought made her feel strangely empty and sad. Big 900's bunny blood all over the back of some Trans Am, puddles of thin red liquid splashed over old McDonalds French fry boxes. She shook her scaly head and puffed on her cigarette, those emotions were too strong for her to deal with. She had to turn the soap opera off. Why did she hate him and care for him at the same time?

"Bottom-of-the-Food-Chain, come here." Jayma sat on her bed next to Big 900 and called to her cat, the fat white ball of five year-old kitty flesh. He rolled over passively to her and sat at the foot of her legs. He purred thickly like milkshakes and mud and Jayma pet his tail. "This is the only love I need. The only man I need is this cat."
Big 900 laughed as he licked the shaft of his blunt. "You could broadcast that on the internet."

"Yeah, giggle away, rabbit fag. Lick your dick, funny bunny. You were shitty to me. Always shitty."

"What harm did I ever do to you? I never wanted to hurt you. I never want to hurt anybody," Big 900 said.

"Fuckin' Peace Core slogan writer here." Jayma grunted.

Jeremy laughed and began to run his fresh blunt through his mouth feelers.

"You want to know what you did, cotton tail? I don't know why I have to repeat this to you, you lame brain." Jayma pushed her pink Care Bear off of her bed and stood up on her back legs. "You fucking played me like a die. Rolled me over and tossed me in your paws for a while, threw the die, and then walked away. What...got a bad number...huh?" Jayma extinguished her cigarette in her empty can of V-8.

"I didn't get a bad number," Big 900 retorted. "I just wanted us to be friends. That's all. You are a wonderful grasshopper, Jayma. I want you to be part of my life. Okay? But not if you are hurting all the time...I don't want to hurt you. Gotta fire, Jerms?" Big 900 held his paw out to Jeremy. Jeremy emptied a pink lighter in it.

Jayma's feelers were shaking. Brown juice was starting to ooze from her mouth. She stood herself up taller. "And then you go off and get nasty with some fucking newly hatched chicken. Right after me...what's up with that?"

"Look, I'm all about showing love. She was just this wonderful wonderful chick and all we did was kiss, exchange some words, drew a little. She's going off to Rhode Island to study art this fall after she leaves the nest. And then that is it...no big deal alright. I felt guilty about it..but didn't think I should have. Look, I care about you, but I don't think you are understanding that situation."

"Yeah. I don't understand how someone can be all excited about someone, like me, and then NOT be excited about me, and then go off and get all close to someone else after telling the OTHER person, me, that they didn't want to be sexual, be close to anyone, blah, blah. How fucking two-faced is that. You surprise me all the time. You know what..." The brown juice was flowing steadily from Jayma's mouth and began to drip to the floor. Jeremy looked at her, feeling like he shouldn't be listening to the conversation.

"Hold it there, girly!" Jeremy grabbed a mug of pencils, emptied them out, and put the cup under Jayma's dripping mouth on the floor. "You gotta catch that stuff. It's good to smoke when you soak hash in it. You trip out like DMT, but it ain't no three minutes. More like mushroom length."

Jayma ignored him and let the brown grasshopper juices flow.

"You know what, Big,” she was shaking. "I think you are a confused little rabbit with latent homosexual tendencies. In fact, I cannot tell you how many people have thought you to be gay. Yeah, sure. I gave you a hard on. I got you off. You spewed so much stuff, I could have shaved my legs with it. But I think you don't know WHAT you want...ever. You're just some fucking pathetic rabbit dude who has more hormones than there has been lava on planet earth. You will grow up and be ugly and wrinkly like your loser dad and have some wife and then leave her because you found some good-looking jackrabbit or some rooster or donkey ass to penetrate. You'll find a nice ass...out grazing in the meadows...waiting for your patient princely penis to find it's rectal palace. When you get there, when you make entry and sodomize, you'll know what your true calling is. Your search will be over. Until then, you try to deceive yourself by fucking members of the female species."

Big 900 started to light his blunt. "Sex is not part of that," he mentioned calmly. "I'm not about free sex. Just showing people love." He lit his blunt and inhaled deeply, then passed it to Jeremy who'd been running his blunt over with the flame from a pink lighter.

"It makes you no different from some player in a cocktail lounge. You are intimate with the ladies. That is worse than casual sex. You teased with no prolonged consequences of a serious relationship."

"Well, Jayma, looks like we aren't understanding each other." Big 900 exhaled.

He doesn't even have the audacity to aim the smoke at me, she thought. She could never piss him off. Meant he didn't care. Or that he had smoked too much weed to care about anything but weed.

"How you like my blunt?" Big 900 rolled his tiny black eyes to Jeremy.

Jeremy exhaled.

"Fuck, yeah. Nice job, Big. Try mine." He passed the blunt to Big 900.

"Just like little faggot boys...exchanging their phallic toys." Jayma glanced down at the mug under her mouth. It was full of brown juice. "Jeremy...you want this shit from my mouth? I don't want it. I'm about to trash it. I need my mug back for my pencils." She picked it up and started for the kitchen.

Jeremy exhaled quickly and reached out for the mug, almost tripping on his antennae. "No! No! Don't trash it! It makes great smokes! Let me have it if you don't want it."

"Well, get me a different cup for it."

Jeremy looked around him as Big 900 eased back on the bed, oblivious to his environment.

"Someone put on some Marley...please. Or some Burning Spear...please,” Big 900 called from the bed. His eyes were glassy and small like the abdomens of ants.

Jeremy came up to Jayma with an old McDonalds styrofoam coffee cup he had found on the floor.

"You need this for any pencils or anything?" He asked her.

"No, you can have it." She passed the mug to him and he poured the substance into the foam cup and handed the mug back to her. She walked to the kitchen to wash it off, the wood floor creaking under her numerous legs.

"I don't hear Marley. Anyone?" Big 900 called softly from the bed.

"You're not disabled...put your own fucking CD on, fag." Jayma called from the kitchen sink where she turned the faucet on.

I have to get out of this relationship...but I've been saying that for months now, she thought and grabbed the soap from under the sink. He hurts me with his freedom. He has no remorse about what he did to me. I was just some girl grasshopper, a card to shuffle with all the others he did the same thing to. He doesn't think about me anymore. I used to be attractive and now I am not. I used to think that I was so strong and good and wonderful and that once some dude got to know me that he would have a hard time NOT wanting to be in a relationship. Then this fucker goes and rejects me and suddenly I feel like I'm not good enough anymore...for anything. What did I ever do wrong? I have to get out of this relationship with him...even if it is 'just a friendship.' I give too much of myself so now I am empty. I always have to play these control games, these head games to make him say he cares and that he wants me to be part of his life. I feel like some insecure little girl hopper. I am not that...or am I?

Jayma put her mug away and looked at the big bottle of aspirin and half a prescription of Paxil on her shelf. 

Maybe both would be enough...mixed together with Jim Beam. Those and the rest of the St. John's Wort.

She twitched her feelers and flapped her wings to stretch them. Walking back into her bedroom, she put the pencils back in the mug and placed it on her drafting table.

"You fuckers done smoking? You ready to leave so I can shower and go to bed?"

"I didn't get my Marley..." Big 900 had not moved from the couch. He had a stupid look on his furry face.

"Dumb rabbit." Jayma said quietly and twitched a feeler.

"I say we go find some smashed toad carcasses on the road and make a bonfire. Whassup with that everyone? We do it? You heard me?" Jeremy's black eyes were moving within themselves, black holes over the dry desert of his crustaceous body.

"I'm hungry. I just want some chocolate. Let's drive to Rite Aid and find some chocolate." Big 900 sat up, his ears lopsided. Bottom-of-the-Food-Chain meowed. He was licking the floor for some reason.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tricks (from Traffic)

I'm in the middle of school and reviewing footage from the film I shot this summer.  I figured I'd try to keep adding material to this blog so I'll put some of my old prose here.  This is from the short prose series Traffic I wrote a while back.

Sylvie was sitting in a trailer on the top of the mountains in southern Colorado. The sun was setting like an old worn-out butt on an octogenarian. There was not enough candy in the trailer, just some old pieces of toffee that tasted like dirty bed sheets. Lots of bears and mountain lions were roaming around looking for fresh meat, no doubt. Good thing she wasn't on her period or they'd all be knocking on the door, looking for a taste. She could see her tired face in the reflection of the mirror in front of her. She focused on the pupils of her lopsided eyes, up to her unevenly plucked eyebrows. Her black hair was turning red from the excess of sunlight while living in Colorado. God. The honesty of the mirror was biting. The toilet didn't work in the trailer either. It smelt like piss and potpourri. When she went pee pee or poo poo outside, she had to save the used toilet paper in a baggie and throw it away when she went into town.

It was getting cold and all she wanted to do was eat but all she had were peanuts, vegetables, and weak coffee perked in an aluminum container. She remembered that she had read somewhere that cooking in aluminum containers caused Alzheimer’s. Maybe Ronald Reagan had eaten all of his jellybeans from aluminum containers, and here she was in her trailer drinking aluminum-flavored coffee. Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s.

"I'm drinking sugared Alzheimer’s," she commented to herself.

It was an unsatisfactory meal. In town tomorrow, she could pick up some Ben and Jerry’s and some potato chips.

However, at least the tape player in the trailer worked. She popped in an old experimental ambient tape a friend had sent her months ago. Sylvie had never said thank you for it. Sylvie was always too busy to be with friends, but never too busy to fall in love with skateboarders. The saps. Until now. The last one, she resolved. Last week was the last one she'd ever let into her life.

"I will never fall in love with another skateboarder. Those fucking assholes. Trucks this, tricks that. Punks. All of them. All of them useless children with diarrhea spurting from their urethras and their mouths simultaneously."

Sylvie lit up a Winston lite. Burned. Burned going down. Down like fowl cum. Satan's spew. (In her view, all skaters were Satan.) She had not smoked in over three weeks. Today, on her way up to the trailer, a pack of smokes just had sounded godly. So she bought some when she got gas at the small town at the foot of the mountains. At the gas station, she had walked past a teenage blonde girl who looked like she loved horses, daddy, and tennis way too much. Sylvie wanted to smash in her Noxema commercial face, but got ten dollars worth of gas instead and a Diet Mountain Dew.

"Fucking skate-or-die-pies." The cigarette was hurting too much and she put it out in an old can of diet Dr. Pepper. "My dad had a skate board shop back in the '80s when Tony Hawk and Mike McGillis were the creamed corn of the crop and I even fell in love with them. Hung their pictures up on my wall next to my Duran Duran poster. Then, Dad's shop failed. It was cursed. I was cursed. Skaters. Losers. Trucks and bearings and tricks and ramps and fucking police and baggy pants. Mother fucker children. They are all children with small penises. Make my eyes baggy with tears. My scalp dry and stinky."
The sun was going down. She wrote a quick letter to a friend back home and ripped it out of the book, the perforation a shitty job and the frills stuck to the page.

"Feed that last skater to a mountain lion. Wish I could. Yes. Wish I could." Sylvie grabbed the container of Folgers out of the fridge. She was going to perk more coffee. "Shit. I sound like Yoda."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Link to Filmmaker Magazine blog

Hi all...I'm providing a link to a blog I wrote for Filmmaker Magazine about micro-budget filmmaking.

http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/news/2011/08/the-microbudget-conversation-script-v-story/

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fiction: Songs of Dead Children

As post-production tends to be a slower time, I won't have much to post most likely.  So, I'll share some fiction here that has been accumulating for the last 15 years.  This is from the late 1990s. One of my faves:

Year 21. Week 1252. Day 6264. Hour 62,640.

Philip double checked the doors on the fifteen office suites to ensure they were locked. He listened to the hum of hard drives in the reception lobby and turned off Mrs. Newton's PC. Mrs. Sally Newton always had a habit of forgetting things. Phillip did not blame her as he selected "shut down" from the option menu. The woman had five teenage boys.
Philip walked into the men's restroom and changed from his navy tie, dress shirt, and dark slacks into the puffy cotton space of a clown outfit. He shaved his face and poured a small cup of water into the dry pot of a forgotten Chinese Evergreen that rested on the ledge of a frosted window. Men make poor gardeners, he remarked to himself while banging his razor blade against the sink to free it from shaving cream and clumps of grey and black stubble.
With his backpack in hand, and his work clothes wrapped in a tight ball, Philip set the alarm to the building and locked the front door. The bike rack was warm against his hands when he unlocked his ten-speed. He noticed a pigeon had shit on his bike seat, and he flicked the dry mound off, dusting the remaining stain away with his polka-dot sleeved elbow.
"Damn birds. Damn damn pigeons."

Before mounting his bike, Philip hitched up his clown pants so they would not catch in the chains of the bike. This was the last thing irritable mothers of birthday girls and boys liked to see: a party clown dirtied with bike grease. Because he had forgotten the name of today's party girl, Philip took his day calender from his backpack pocket and flipped to May 17. Party. Alyonushka - girl. Anna - mother. 5306 Cielo Drive. Philip practiced the girl's name four times, upset that the girl had the difficult name and the mother had the easier one.

Philip returned his planner to his back pack with his work clothes, then dug deeper beyond his spaghetti sauce stained tupperware containers and a box of party favor pens to make sure the gun was there. He felt the cold solid surface against his fingers, and zipped the bag up. With the back pack on his shoulder, he mounted his bike and began to ride through networks of subdivisions in New Russia Town, peddling quickly to make lights while they remained green.
He did not make all the lights, and stopped at one, his breath falling heavy out of his body, his sweat wetting his back where his backpack rested. Cars passed, staring at the clown without the wig and nose, and Philip's mind flew over his check list of things to do.

"Called Office Depot. Cancelled the order for software disks. Backed up all on the mainframe. Made a P.O. for a new drive for McKee. Bought bullets."

Philip stopped breathing as a teenage boy in a Bradley Braves sports jersey threw a large paper cup at him. It bounced off Philip's tire and broke into shining pieces of Coke-stained ice.

He had forgotten to buy bullets. Philip ignored the green light and the walk signal flashing for his right of way. He had forgotten the most crucial thing today: bullets. He had not written the instructions down on his yellow post-it note pad titled "To Do Today!" on each repetitive page. How would he complete his list now? How would he be able to leave the Russian girl's party after an hour or two of balloon-twisting and ride to the alley way behind the Dairy Queen? How would he be able to wait until all the workers were gone to pull his friend from his backpack, sing his favorite Beatles' song...I need a fix 'cause I'm going down, down to the bits that I left up town. I need a fix 'cause I'm going down...while holding the warm gun face to face, eye to eye?

Philip heard an ambulance running in the shrill distance, watched cars begin to pull over, a Mazada with a pony-tailed mother, picking up the bottle of formula her son threw from his car seat, a Mexican in a truck with ladders and paint cans, a city bus with tired faces peppered inside, a woman in a forest green S.U.V cursing this inconvenience of an emergency and digging a plastic fork into her Ranch McDonald's Salad Shaker. Philip watched these vehicles passively rest on the side of the street.

...The man in the crowd with the multi-coloured mirrors
on his hobnail boots lying with his eyes
while his hands are busy working overtime...

The doppler effect of the sirens came to Philip like sleep. He watched the heat lift from the asphalt, distorting the fenders of halted vehicles, and gripped his bike handles. He moved his bike to the edge of the curb. Five second more, he whispered to himself as Beatles lyrics swirled in his grey brain. He looked away from the pony-tailed mother who picked up the bottle a second time. He pressed his brakes. I am sorry little Alonush...Alanuskia...whatever your stupid name is. Sorry there won't be a red rubber nose to squeeze and a yellow balloon of a unicorn to force feed the icing from your white cake. Two seconds more...And most of all, I am sorry, Star. Precious Estrella. Sorry. One second.

Philip released his brakes and peddled to the intersection with dark bursts. As his body met the front of the speeding emergency vehicle with a great pop, the squeals and cracks and breakings made the salad woman look up with a jerk. Over the intersection, like God had dropped something important, Philip's dislodged arms and legs rested, stuffed in a polka-dot swatch of cloth saturated with blood and soft matter. His back pack ripped open, blooming with a white dress shirt, a navy tie dirtied with pasta sauce, wrinkled slacks, and party favors that rolled from their cardboard box over the street. The salad woman dropped her plastic fork, spit out a crouton, and vomited in her lap while the local lite rock station ended a Kenny G hit and went to commercial.

...Mother Superior jumped the gun
Mother Superior jumped the gun...

It took two hours to clean what remained of Philip from the intersection of King Street and Little Broadway. A policeman shifted traffic flows around the mess and shouted "There's nothing to see here, keep moving on" when pale curious faces rolled down windows to see blood. The police man was upset that his meal break had been interrupted. The only thing that pleased him was to pick up a small red pen with a sliding trolley car inside of it. He flipped it over and over, watching the car slide left and right, then tucked it in his pocket with a smile. He would later give it to his little boy.

...She's not a girl who misses much,
do do do do do do do, oh yeah,
She's well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand
Like a lizard on a window pane....

* * * *

PHILIP V. (b. 1946-d. 1996)

Dear Nella,
I hope you find this letter. There isn't much time left. Remember when mama said that granny went on a full moon and that's why she's in heaven? Well, the full moon starts tomorrow.
See...I loved the girl in the red polyester. I met her when she was a size six and her hair matched the New Mexican soil. She had stars on her cheeks and blue velvet eyes. She was eating a rare steak and these french fries thick as a man's thumb. I saw her. I loved her. She smiled at me. No matter what it looks like, I loved the girl in the red polyester.


Philip's father had always told him that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, success only came to those that worked hard for it. So, Philip worked hard for his visions of large houses with multiple car garages and a wife that had everything she wanted. But his father failed to mention that the language of myth provokes incredible hallucinatory visions, desires too big for their britches. When he was ten, Philip's mother often touched her son's shoulder at the buffet line at Luby's Cafeteria, roast beef piled like shingles on his plate, and told her son: "Somebody's eyes are bigger than their stomach."

For Philip, hard work didn't bring a house layered like cake, a yacht docked at Fire's Island, or a wine cellar of 1982 Bordeaux and Ports. Hard work only left Philip with an unusable amount of sick leave, boundless respect from his peers, fatigue, and florescent tinted skin.

But Philip waited, waited for a big bundle of cash to bounce from the sky, a reward from God who would not force Philip to live retirement in a small house that needed a new roof, live in a retirement without expensive wines, sherries, void of sailboat rides in the Gulf of Mexico. Philip knew God would not continue to punish him with two jobs and no relaxation. God knew, surely, that Philip had himself to feed. And he had his wife, Estrella, to feed.

I remember when she first heard disco music.
"What is this stuff?" She whispered in my ears.
"They call it disco," I told her as she smiled. God. She was fifteen years younger than I was. She should have been carrying thick text books to classes and have a backpack slung over her shoulders.
"Let's go dance," she grabbed my hand. I followed her, watching her curls bounce and swing under the flashing blue and red lights."

* * * * *

Philip meets Estrella in the winter of 1978.
He is 32.
She is 17.

Philip and his friend Frank are passing through Newark. Their future weekend in Manhattan brings them hopes of honeys in platform shoes and short sequined minis.

"So Wanda split the shit, eh?" Little Frank bounces over the seat with each small road bump.
"Yep. No note." Philip spots a rode side diner with blue brick walls. The black pipes of industries behind the diner give white smoke to the air. "She left nothin'. Gone. Figure she took off with that German she met doing her Peace Corp thing."
"Sorry, guy."
"No big deal. She was a bad catch anyway. Let the German have her. Maybe the bratwurst will kill her!" Philip laughs and pulls the car into a space in front of the diner where they will use the restroom and stock up on cigarettes. Disco clubs and bars on the Island are infamous for charging high prices for tobacco.

The diner is warm and smells of maple syrup and fried eggs. Bright green plastic plants with parasitic dust clumps hang from the ceiling. There are a few truck drivers sitting in orange vinyl booths over oatmeals and plates of bacon. Philip sees a women sitting at the bar of the diner, near a boy with hair as thick, curly, and red as hers. Little Frank looks at the red head once, and continues to the urinals. Little Frank only thinks of Latina honeys, the roses of Spanish Harlem, with meaty breasts. But Red catches Philip's eyes, and she returns his gaze, her fingers clutching french fries.
Philip continues to watch her as he walks to the urinals. Red puts a fry into her mouth and grabs her coffee cup.
The door of the men's restroom shuts behind Philip and he stands near Little Frank to unzips his jeans.

"Red was watching you, Phil." Little Frank zips up his fly and washes his hands.
"I noticed." Philip smiles, and watches his piss quietly coat the white porcelain of the urinal.
"Are you gonna talk to her?" Little Frank blows his nose into a crisp paper towel.
"Nah. She's with somebody. Some kid."
"Ah. Didn't notice." Little Frank laughs and runs his fingers through his dark hair. "Well, there'll be plenty of reds in the city, I'm sure, if that's your flavor of the day. Hey, I'm gonna get some cigs. Then I'll be out in the car."
"Okay. I'll just grab a Coke for the road, and maybe a slice of chocolate cream pie. Be out soon."

Little Frank looks at his teeth in the mirror, then walks out of the restroom. Philip leaves the urinals seconds later, almost running into an old man who hobbles with a clunky walker. Philip strolls to the counter, near enough to Red to hear her cutting her steak into small pieces. A skinny saggy waitress with silver hair comes to wait on Phil.

"What can I get you?"
"A coke. And do you have any chocolate cream pie?"
"No, just peach and key lime today."
"Okay. Well just some peach then. And I need that wrapped to go."

The waitress walks to a plexiglass display of desserts that spin under a florescent light and removes plates of dumpy chocolate cake to find a slice of peach pie. Red looks at Phil and he feels her eyes prickling over his skin. He hears her jump off her bar stool, and feels her warmth as she stands behind him.

"Do you see any Freshen-Up in there?"
Philip looks over his shoulder down at Red. "What's that?"
Red moves to stand next to Philip to look at the glass display of colorful gums and candies.
"Freshen-Up. I love that syrupy stuff they put inside it, especially after the gum's been in your pocket and it's nice and warm. I wonder how they do that you know, put that syrup inside."
"Oh, technology. You know." Philip grins and scratches his elbow.
The waitress brings Philip his peach pie wrapped in aluminum foil and a glass bottle of Coke. Philip pays her the dollar and twenty cents she asks from him, and when she smiles, he stares at the crooked brown incisor planted inside her gums.
"Enjoy your pie, sir."
Philip turns to Red and places the eighty cents in change into her small white hands.
"Here. Buy yourself all the Freshen-Up they've got."

Red looks up to him as Philip walks to the door, his palms are sweating. He sees Little Frank sitting in the car, a cigarette protruding from his mouth, leaking smoke into the diminishing January sunlight.
"Hey, you!" Red calls to Philip. He stops with the front door open and the bells tied to the handle bang against the scratched glass. Philip looks back to her, to her overloaded blue eyes and his guts shake.
"My brother and I are sorta hitching it into the city and were wondering if you guys were going that way?"
Philip smiles, the chills leave his body. With a toss of his shoulders, Estrella, her brother Jonathan, and five packs of peppermint Freshen-Up gum travel with Little Frank and Philip in a black Chevette to New York City.

Nella, see, I didn't know what I was getting into when I brought Estrella back home with me. How could I have known? Estrella didn't know either. My precious Star. She never told me much about her past, except that her mother was an "insane bitch" who often ripped open Estrella's stuffed pandas and teddy bears while the child watched. Her father was a man who had given up on life, and spent most of his time gambling. He'd come home to sleep, piss, and pat his daughter on the head. And that was all Precious Star ever saw of him. Her brother was her only source of solace. Until I came along.

The weekend passes well for the four. Little Frank finds a stumpy brunette with amazing skin who smokes very long brown cigarettes. They return to her apartment in the Lower East Side. Estrella dances with Philip in nightclubs with names like "Lucky Four," "Gem's," and "Luscious." She wears a pair of tight red polyester pants and adores the music called funk and disco. Philip buys Jonathan too many White Russians and has to drag his limp body back to the hotel early Sunday morning.

When the weekend spree ends, Philip knows that Estrella and Jonathan have no place to go. He invites them back to Jersey with him. Estrella says yes, and Jonathan stays in Manhattan to look for a job. A year passes, and marriage and a new job bring Philip and Estrella to Illinois where corn is always cheap and fresh. Their house is comfortable and the yard is healthy from the effect of Estrella's green thumbs. She buys cook books, exploring daily the culinary histories of all the world's countries. On Saturdays, Philip drives Estrella in the company Chevy Caprice to record stores to buy Beatles albums for his collection and albums by Bootsie's Rubber Band and The Commodores for Estrella. On Wednesday evenings, they lie in their white bed together with a bag of Cheetos and watch Dynasty.
"Star?"
"Yeah..."
"Where do you want to go when I retire?"
"Africa."
"People starve in Africa, hon. Remember Ethiopia."
"Rome."
"Rome. Okay. Italy. That sounds nice. We'll drink wine every day and eat pasta."
"Here, have a Cheeto, Phil."
As Estrella places the orange Cheeto in her husband's mouth, allowing her fingers to linger over his teeth, Philip touches Estrella's soft freckled rear from under her pink satin nightie. She does not wear underwear to bed.

Yes, I would have liked to have had a son, or maybe a daughter, with hair as wonderful as Estrella's. And you could have been an aunt, Nella! But Star couldn't have children. We checked everything out. She was as sterile as they come. We thought of adoption, but it just didn't feel right. I think this all hurt my precious Star a little more than she let on. She's just kept cooking these wonderful dishes every night. Pruning the tomato plants and killing the Japanese beetles by hand. But from that time on when we found out that we couldn't have our own kids, there was a sadness to her, her eyes were a darker shade of blue than they'd ever been before.

After Philip's suicide, his only sibling, Nella, opted to take care of the details of closing up her brother's life and sorting out the matters of the world he had left behind. Death was an easy situation for Nella who worked in Dallas at a retirement home. Philip would not take much of her time with weeping or memories, since the last time she spoke to him was seven years ago for a "Merry Christmas!" phone call. Shutting up his life neatly would be as simple as placing a pill under the tepid tongue of a patient.

Nella tackled the house first, to separate trash from treasure. But the only useable thing Philip had left behind was a collection of work clothes and clown outfits of various shades and patterns. Nella would donate this to the local Good Will, if her family did not want them.
"Dad, do you want Phil's clothes?" Nella would ask later that evening from her hotel phone.
"Why would I want his clothes?"
"He was your size."
"No, he was fatter. How's the house look?"
"It's really a mess. The wall paper's peeling. The toilet downstairs in the basement doesn't even work. Hasn't been used for years. The carpet's stained. Bare in place. I even found all these rags everywhere, covered with hair or dried food."
"You should donate the furniture to Good Will. They're good people. And tax deductions."
"No, dad. The furniture is ruined too. Broken tables. I even found dried cat poo on a couch."
"Lord have mercy. Your mom better not ever find out about this."
"How is mom?"
"She's still curled up in a ball in the bathtub, crying her eyes out over her nuts son."
"Is she still not eating?"
"No. Not eating. Tried to give her some warm milk and turkey meat. For energy. Refused it 'til I had to raise my voice at her and force her to get out of that damn tub."

It was said for many years among Philip and Estrella's neighbors that Nella never grimaced once when discovering the awful trash behind the heavy oak doors of 2115 Fern Drive, that she remained as she always was in the face of death, calm and collected, there to do her job then go home. Neighborhood children with jump ropes and bikes, who were convinced that Philip's ghost remained in the house, made rope skipping songs about the things Nella found.

One two, one two, chicken bones in a shoe!
Three four, three four, brown mouse under the door!
Five six, five six, gonna be sick, gonna be sick!
Seven eight, seven eight, dead kittens in a crate!


* * * * *

I don't know when it all started happening, Nella. I just remember that one Sunday, I got myself up early to make breakfast for us. It was a beautiful cool summer morning. I put the coffee and pancakes out on the back porch table and went upstairs to wake Estrella up. She put her bathrobe on and came downstairs with me. We began to walk outside to the back yard and right when she walked out the door, she started screaming. Screaming like she was in pain. I thought she'd stepped on a nail, but there wasn't any blood on the floor. She ran back inside and flung herself on the couch, clinging to the pillows. I held her and kept asking what was wrong. She could only look at me and shake her head. "I don't know. Don't make me go back out there." "Of course not," I said. After that morning, she could never go outside again. She shut all the blinds in the house. She would scream if I mindlessly opened up a window and let some sunlight and fresh air in. Her rose garden died. The vegetable garden died. Her indoor herb garden too. The house became dark all the time. She slept all day, was up all night. I tried to tell her that maybe she'd like to see a doctor but she insisted on her sanity, saying she would soon feel better, and that she didn't need to see anybody. She'd cry for an hour if I mentioned bringing someone over to the house to see her.
"He'll smell like daylight once he's in here." She'd start crying.
"Well, I must smell like daylight when I come in after work."
She'd just look at me. "No. It slides right off you when you come in. I see it slide off you, like banana peels, falling to the floor and cracking, running frantic like lizards into the cracks between the wall and the ceiling."

Philip leaves the house several hours before he is required to be at work. He leaves before Estrella wakes and starts to do something he cannot tolerate or change. Philip showers at 6:30 a.m., shaves quickly, and dresses, surrounded by the smells of bleach. At 7:10, he drives to the local Butter Burger on Main and Clarkson where he meets five other restless aging men. They sit in a far orange formica dining booth and drink bottomless styrofoam cups of black coffee. Some smoke harsh cigarettes, some talk about broken garden hoses, or how good their college football teams were when they played on them, but all talk about their wives and flatulence while the morning crew of Butter Burger employees pull frozen hashbrown from cardboard boxes and fill a coffee creamer display.

When the morning rush of suits and ties in nice cars come, the old men remain in their corner booth, hoping to see the skinny blonde in three inch heels come in as she does every Thursday and Friday to order her small black coffee and a fat-free apple bran muffin. All the men and the teenage cashier watch her as she walks out of the Butter Burger doors, and as she slides into her silver Audy to drive into Chicago. They watch her smooth legs move like milk and perfection.
When Philip is at work at 9 a.m., he slips into his comfortable routine, safe under the fluorescent lights. He tidies his desk, picks up paper scraps from the floor, dumps pencil shavings, and greets every employee with a "Good morning!" He smiles until 4:45 p.m. every work day, when then he watches his co-workers eye the minute hand on the clock, dump out old coffee, stuff papers into drawers, and zip up purses. He envies them, these happy people content enough with going home to be with loving families. They would have an evening of conversation, diner, and interaction in beautiful homes. They would have their spouses to make love to when the children were tired of watching Fraggle Rock and went to bed.

When the minute hand hits the 12 marker and the hour hand hits the 5, everyone waves goodbye to Philip who stays, reading the local newspaper, or scrubbing out the coffee pot in the break room with a Brillo pad. When the clock reads 7 p.m., Philip panics. The janitor would come to clean soon and doesn't like Philip in his way. Philip then leaves the office, but slowly, delaying his return home with whatever distraction he can find. He chats with Gina, the parking lot attendant, asks about the well-being of her two small boys. He drives ten miles under the speed limit. He stops at a grocery store to buy milk, Frito corn chips, a can of chili, while walking up every aisle to watch the blur of colors and letters on the cans and boxes before him. In the frozen food aisle, he picks up vanilla ice cream to share with Estrella, if she is in the mood to eat.

When I'd get up in the mornings, and when I'd get home from work, I'd find all these paper cut outs of these models that Estrella plastered over the windows. She'd tell me that she'd pulled out pages from these magazines and covered every window in the house with them so no light could leak through. So, everywhere I'd go, I'd have these models smiling stiffly at me as if they knew something I didn't. Once, I found Estrella talking to a cut-out of a well built dark-haired male model. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but she wrung her hands, and gently shook her head at him. He kept smiling at nothing.


Philip had always known that Estrella had been a curiosity of her neighborhood. When she and Philip first moved into their house, they had quite a few neighbors being neighborly and bringing over homemade breads and jellies. Estrella accepted everything with a smile, but never invited the women of the neighborhood into her home.
"They're gossipy hens, Philip." She once told him in the first week of their new home.
"Well, just stop answering the door then."
So, Estrella never opened the door to one of her neighbors again, or to their children who were selling cookies or chocolate for school fundraisers. After futile knocking, the children began to think she was a crazy witch, casting spells in her basement over a pot of boiling poison.

The last time Estrella was her old self was four months, two weeks, and six days ago. I'd returned from work and found her on the couch watching The Honeymooners. She was curled up in a small ball, her red hair curling over her knees. She had my blue bathrobe on. She looked at me when I came in and smiled. Then I remembered the diner outside of Newark. I remembered the peach pie in my hand, the pile of silver coins in hers. She asked me to sit next to her on the couch. I did. She put her arms around me and I put mine around her. We sat like that, in the sinking middle of the couch, through two episodes of The Honeymooners, through an episode of All in the Family. She got up to go to the bathroom on I Love Lucy.

* * * * *

When Nella began the second day of cleaning Philip's affairs, she had found in the silverware drawer in the kitchen, an old cassette tape labelled in Philip's precise handwriting: "BEATLES MIX: ALL TIME FAVES, PT. 3." But when Nella played the tape on an old Sony portable, she instead found it full of Philip's muffled voice. He talked about a small tree he had planted when he was nine, how he had watered this tree everyday and watched it grow. "It was some simple blue spruce tree that didn't make any berries, and didn't smell beautiful. It just grew on the side of the house. When we all moved out after I graduated from high school, the tree was really tall. Then when I'd come back to town, I'd always drive by the old house to see the tree. Every time, it was always a little fuller."

Then he talked about his wife as the tape hissed and clicked:

"Estrella has started collecting pieces of food out of the garbage and placing them all over the house. I can't understand why. She tells me that if the house is a little messy, then light will never come in, that her stupid neighbors will never bother her and knock on the door. So, she just goes through the garbage, collecting little meat bones and putting them in jewelry boxes next to her silver earrings. She's also completely destroyed her prized record collection by melting 'em down over the gas oven. She couldn't tell me why she did it, 'cept that 'it was a recommendation.' But probably the worse thing she's doing now, the thing that just makes me...cry...when I see her doing it, is when she spreads our cat's shit on the inside of the closet, then washes her hands with pure bleach after until they are swollen and red. I wonder sometimes if there's any reason to hope she'll get back to normal. I don't know what to do. I couldn't stand to watch her being dragged out of the house, screaming, by a bunch of men who have tied her in a straight jacket. No. She's better off here. But I can't understand why she's said nothing to me this past week. She doesn't even look at me now. I've tried to tell her things that might make her smile. Memories of our marriage. Our honeymoon back in New York City when I took her to see A Chorus Line. She loved it and I bought her the soundtrack the next day. She played it incessantly for weeks. I could remember all the songs on the record. I tried to sing them to her tonight, what I could remember anyway. I sang her that strange song...how's it go...the one with 'tits and ass' in the chorus? I could remember the melody clear as day, but only a few lines. She stopped and listened to me, laughed a little, but still didn't say anything. Then I tried singing some of Donna Summer "I Feel Love." She didn't pay attention, just stood in front of the oven, motionless and quiet."

Nella kept the cassette tape and called her mother that night. She had finally come out of the bathtub and was eating again.
"How's the house look, Nellie?"
"The house is in great condition and everything's fine, mama. Should be an easy sell."
"And his wife? What is going to happen to her? Have you talked to her?"
Nella stopped. She had never been good at lying to her mother.
"Star is fine mom. She's going to live with her parents for while while she recovers from the shock of it all."
"Good. Good girl. The poor creature."

After the phone call, Nella sat against the bed frame of the stiff hotel mattress, listening to the air conditioning blur with the sounds of the local nightly news running a small segment on her brother's death. Over the television screen came images of Estrella in her soiled nightgowns being led out of the house by three men in matching outfits, her red hair matted against her neck desperately as she wailed and screamed against the light. Nella shook her head at a detached reporter clutching her microphone: "His mysterious wife had been kept for years within the house when she desperately needed psychiatric help. She is survived by no known family members." A delicate wind flipped a glossy swatch of the reporter's brunette hair into her mouth which she removed with red-tipped fingers.

When an Energizer Bunny commercial emerged, Nella popped the cassette in to her Walkman to listen to the rest of her brother's monologue. But he had finished recording over his tape apparently as the chorus line of his favorite song abruptly began:

- gun
Happiness is a warm gun
When I hold you in my arms,
and I feel my finger on your trigger
I know no one can do me no harm
Because happiness is a warm gun (bang bang, shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm -Yes it is - Gun..........

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Production is wrapped!

We wrapped. I am overjoyed. We are done.  Kind of.  I have a few more minor scenes and a pick up scene to shoot due to lens flaws, but it's pretty much over.

Our apartment is a mess. My cat misses me and bites me in the mornings to let me know it. I look aged with fatigue and want nothing more than to find some body of water somewhere and just lie down near it, nap, drink beer, eat expensive cheese, and watch the sunlight bounce off the water's surface. I'm mentally exhausted.  This has been the most grueling production I've been on.

This is due to two reasons: working a full-time job while shooting, and...multitasking on set to the point of being overwhelmed.

The small crew meant that most of us had to take on more than one job. Some jobs were learned on-the-fly. Not really a problem but I've had to babysit more than usual. When I attended a talk and screening with Joe Swanberg at the Alamo last month, I recall him saying how much he really disliked having to spend so much energy on set attending to the egos of his crew, that he basically got rid of the crew and shoots his films mostly on his own.  I understand this issue greatly after this film. I guess it's like a relationship.  Things might seem rosy at first, but the more time you spend together becomes the true testament of your ability to really create a harmonious relationship.  Hand pick your crew very very carefully even if you have a small crew, and if you can afford it, get a good sound recordist.

Generally, with the exception of that chubby man walking his dogs I mentioned in the last article, most of the people in Austin have been wonderfully accepting of our presence.  Police have passed us without as much as a glance, letting us shoot unbothered. A convenience store owner allowed us to shoot in his shop, and even acted for us. A barber allowed us to shoot him giving a character a haircut in the shop he worked in.  A few days ago, a bus driver permitted us to shoot in his bus without charging us fare, and even asked other passengers boarding to keep it quiet so we could shoot.  While out in public, we've had people try to to convince us to shoot their rap videos. People wait for us to finish a take before crossing frame.  Strangely enough, the one individual that has been the biggest pain in my side has been my landlord who had some false logic about us shooting in our own apartment complex.  Her rationale that we were making noise and shooting on private property honestly makes no sense as I am a paying tenant.  I am not shooting other people's apartments, and kids screaming and shouting at a pool while their parents blare their radio make more noise than a crew of four and one actor swimming. This further contributes to this notion that some people are more threatened by the process of making a film as opposed to other artforms.  A group of musicians playing in public are unbothered while a group of filmmakers shooting is suddenly a big deal. 

Anyhow, it's over and now comes my favorite part of this long process: post-production.