August 2, 2012. The first day of shooting.
There was not much sleep in the weeks leading up to this. There was not much eating. Hell, I barely even drank beer. I lost 15 pounds. (I looked good. Lean. I was ready for my close-up.) As Rikki Jarrett called it, “The pre-production diet.” I wasn’t hungry. Or thirsty. Or tired. I was BUSY. We were all BUSY.
We planned an eight day shoot. Five days on, one day off, then the final three days…
Most everyone I talked to thought we were insane to do an eight day shoot, and they were right. I wasn’t ready (or able to pull that off). I had anticipated a two week rehearsal process that would turn us into a finely-tuned machine that would be able to show up on set and shoot the movie with expert precision in one or two takes. Hardy har har.
We still shot the movie in mostly one or two takes. We just didn’t rehearse.
But I was dumb enough to do it anyway and not worry.
The worrying came soon enough.
So we’re at our location in Studio City…
A little bit about this location: The owners were going to remodel, so no one was living in it at the time. Which is a great thing because we had the run of the house and there weren’t valuable personal items lying around that we could break. Because let’s face it, on this movie, it would get broken. Also, as I learned, a production can be like a virus that consumes its host. Can be. This is not to deter you from letting me shoot my next movie at your house. I’ve had my shots. And I provide insurance, just in case. I’ll clean, mop, whatevs…
The flip side of no one living in the house in anticipation of a complete remodel was that the house was EMPTY. No furniture. No beds. No tables. No sofas. No chairs. No bookcases. No pictures on the wall.
Maybe this is a set designer’s dream… But for us, it was one of many logistical
Here’s some good advice that I got which we only partially took (paraphrasing), “Rent a truck and drive to each of your friends’ homes and take whatever they are willing to part with during production.”
We sorta did this. We also rented furniture. Part of the reason for renting was for the “reality” of the setting. It’s supposed to be the home of a moderately successful talent/commercial agent, Joanne, played by Suzanne Sena. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005409/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Joanne would want nice things. Keeping up appearances. This is L.A. You live in a place that costs more than you can afford. You drive a Lexus when you can only afford a Toyota. You shop at Whole Foods when you should be shopping at Trader Joe’s. And you either dress up so people think you’re important, or you dress like a slob so people think you’re important. If you dress in between, you look like a tourist. And you don’t want that.
So we got furniture. We got some art. We got some really cool photo art from John Allen Phillips. http://www.johnallenphillips.com
We had a sandbox to play in.
We had a crew.
A first AD.
A script supervisor.
A makeup artist.
A studio teacher.
What the f-ck is a studio teacher?
It’s someone who gets paid $250 a day or more to be on set because a child is there. The child was mine. Andrew. He’s in the movie. His mother is in the movie. My mother was there to watch the child. My sister in law was also there to lend a hand. He was twenty-one months at the time, so there was no TEACHING. But SAG rules…
(We did have another kid in the movie for a few days, also. A toddler. His mom was there as well. And so was our $250 a day studio teacher.)
I had sorta forgotten about this until just a few moments ago…
OK, the storm has passed.
And this gets me to the first truly crazy moment we had.
We’re getting ready to start the day, actors are arriving, getting coffee…
Hey, this is like a real set.
I’d only been on one real set. When Rachael was shooting a campaign for Toyota and they were filming in North Hollywood. Jody Hill, the director, he’s done FOOT FIST WAY and EASTBOUND & DOWN, told her she could invite me. Great guy. He actually let me hang out with him for the day and stand right by him while he did his thing. (I gave him space while he worked with the actors.) This was the spot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPqenAw-gs0
There are A LOT of people here. But that’s cool. I felt good. It was like a dream. I had been building toward this moment for EIGHTEEN YEARS.
I had arrived.
It was all going to be “b-tches and champagne” from here on out…
I was trying to keep it loose. One thing I learned from watching Jody (Hill) was that he was relaxed and VERY SUPPORTIVE of his actors. He LAUGHED. He made them feel good. Feel funny. I could see the positive effect it had.
“All actors are walking on a tight rope. Comedic actors are trying to fly.”
Wow. That sounded very bold. Dramatic.
If I told you that Judd Apatow or James L. Brooks or Adam McKay said that, would you believe me?
OK, maybe not. I just made it up, on the spot, right here at 12:19 am.
So I was trying to be cool. And I felt cool.
Right up until the moment when we were sitting around a wicker patio table (borrowed, not rented) and little Andrew (my first born son) ran up to our table, with my mom chasing after him (she was afraid he was going to grab one of the many cups of steaming coffee that were sitting on the table…) and she slipped… She was wearing flip-flops…
She went down hard.
Meet stone patio.
And just like that, the cool, calm, confident director was gone.
Because I’m a selfish prick, the thought did cross my mind, “You gotta be f-cking kidding me.”
We were thirty minutes away from starting the culmination of nearly two decades of hard work, failure, pain, perseverance, agony, doubt, self-destruction, humiliation, torture and many other words, and it was all over before it even started. For a moment, I was the protagonist of a Coen Brothers movie. I was right there, I could taste it (the b-tches and champagne), but it all came crashing down at the last moment, in the form of my mother crashing down on the stone patio.
As Ted, my father in law, recounted: “I was sure she had broken her hip.”
This is my father in law. He’s in the movie.
So it was over. I could see it all play it out in my mind… She was hurt. Not too bad. But bad enough for an ambulance, a trip to the ER, a postponement of the movie. Enough to allow all my fears and doubts to rise and shout that I was wrong. That I had wasted everything in pursuit of something impossible. I was not meant to have a career as a filmmaker. Even trying to will it into existence with my own script and family and friends supporting me every step of the way…
It was not meant to be.
Fate had spoken. Loud and clear.
But that didn’t happen.
Why didn’t it happen?
Because my mother is a tough little motherf-cker.
(Can I say that? She is small. Five feet tall. Filipino.)
She went down. Hard. Her bell was rung. She might have had a concussion. She was in pain. Her body ached.
But she got up, shook it off, and the show must go on.
She’s not a “woe is me” I need all the attention type.
I guess that’s where I got this stubborn resiliency from. It could be a heroic trait or a tragic flaw.
We’re not the biggest. We’re not the strongest. Fastest. Or *smartest. But we are relentless. We have endurance. We will keep coming. We will get you in the end. Haha. No, I’m serious. I’m Irish and Filipino. We hold onto things like Hatfields & McCoys. (When I say “we” I mean “I.” I don’t want the rest of my family to sound like a psychotic movie villain.)
*Hardest realization in my life: I’m not as smart as I thought I was when I was younger. It was the one thing I had and it’s been taken from me…
My mom assured me she was OK. And I chose to believe her. (I guess in this situation I’m the assh-le high school football coach and my mom is the star quarterback and she just got lit up by some 300lb lineman who’s got a full ride to Alabama, but we’re driving down the field in the fourth quarter and the state championship is right there in our grasp, so I give her some smelling salts and send her back out onto the field.)
A crisis was averted.
But it was a harbinger of things to come… I’ll use these SAT words every now and then to feel good about myself and my English degree, which has withered away like a neglected house plant while I’ve served a billion hamburgers.
NEXT WEEK ON HOW TO MAKE A MOVIE IN 18 YEARS…
ROLL SOUND. ROLL CAMERA. ACTION! (Or something like that, it’s my first time. Every other thing I’d done was shot with a Sony Handycam in my living room.)