Movie Shoot – Day 3

It’s late at night when we leave the Greyhound bus station. I’m chauffeuring our first supporting actor to come on set tomorrow. Actor-Man.

Fighting a swirl of exhaustion, I chatter the entire one hundred miles back to the motel just to stay awake. I talk about the shoot, desert windmills, rattlesnakes, anything to keep the conversation alive. Actor-Man seems disinclined to add to the chatter. Does he know my eyes are dangerously crossed right now? Does he know how close I am to swerving headlong into the hazy oncoming headlights? Am I really driving a hundred miles after a day of shooting, driving a tightrope away from a bad car accident just to get him? Is this a bad dream? I am batty, blurry-eyed, sun-stroked, dinnerless, and ready to fall into a coma. And still I keep chattering.

Almost home (by that, I mean motel). I make a weird U-turn. I’m talking too much; I missed the turn. Actor-Man by now is starting to feel wary about riding in the car with this madwoman who’s hired him to be in her movie. He answers in monosyllables and only when he has to. Then, out of the blur of my eyes, I see the red and blue lights behind me. I stop, relieved to give a rest to my blurry eyes, tense death-grip hands on the steering wheel, and non-stop motormouth. The cop saunters up to my car window, looks down… Uh oh. I am still wearing my grungy pants full of caked fake blood and dirt from a day of moviemaking drama. They are torn front, side, and back. I am in bloody tatters. He stares at Actor Man, his eyes shooting rays of laser light. He doesn’t know the blood is fake. I see the story running in his cop brain. Husband beats up wife to within an inch of her life. Maybe he’s shot her in the thigh. He makes her drive out into the desert to finish her off.

“Oh…no no no,” I say. “This isn’t how it looks. We are shooting a movie.”

“Yes, yes, we’re shooting a movie,” Actor Man pipes in. “It’s fake blood.”

The cop stares at the blood again. It looks so real. I swipe some on my fingers. “See? It’s cornstarch and food coloring and sticky stuff. Not real.” He won’t touch it.

“OK,” he says, only half convinced. “Don’t go making weird U-turns now.”

I promise, Officer.”

Once he’s gone, we break out in hysterical giggles. “He thought… he thought,” I try to catch my breath, “you were trying to kill me.” I don’t know why this is so much funnier than it should be. Finally, calmly, we proceed to the motel.

I made this prosthetic DIY

…Morning time. I feel way better. Nothing like a couple of hours sleep. I give Actor-Man the coat he will wear to cover up his lack of a leg and the crutches he will use as my crippled brother. Two 99-Cent Store walking canes, actually. With curved hand rests. They can extend to almost a full man’s height. But not quite. I give him some iron rods I had a blacksmith make me for twenty bucks. “Sorry, they won’t be comfortable. But it’ll make the sticks the right height.”

We try out the iron rods but they don’t work at all and won’t stay put inside the hollow canes. This crutch thing is very important. My brother must have crutches. He’s missing a leg. What to do?

“No worries.” He throws the iron rods away. “I’ll do it without them.”

“You’ll fall. They’re not the right height. I’d fall on my face.”

“I’ll be fine.” He parades around the motel room, showing off his 99-Cent Store walking cane style. Stooping low and manouvering himself on the spindly supports without falling. Under the coat, he’s got one leg tied up with a belt. Yes, it looks realistic. He’s walking one-legged. I sigh in relief. Walking stick crisis averted. There wasn’t a one-legged Plan B.

Our first scene of the day is a light-hearted one with lots of camaraderie. We both seem to welcome it, kicking back and having fun, in spite of an unspoken testiness between us. Is it me? Is it him? Is it a weird chemical reaction between our personalities? I can’t figure it out. This is a scene we semi-rehearsed during our one single rehearsal at a public park. But we fall into it naturally. Looking at us, one would never know while the camera is rolling… But there is testiness. I can feel its pulse. Still, things are clipping along and I am happy at the improved filmmaking pace of things.

Lunch is late. Mountain Lady has agreed to bring lunch every day. But phones don’t work up here, so we agree every morning on what time she will come, always meeting at the same crossroads. We send one of the crew guys to meet her so she doesn’t get lost in the wilderness of Joshua trees.

Mountain Lady is not only an hour late. She drives up in a tire screeching swerve, sobbing that she’s late (as if we don’t know), crying that she got lost (same crossroads every day, just like the last two days) and that she knows I’ll kill her (I have never talked about killing her or given her any time ultimatums. In fact, I’ve been pretty fluid about time). But sob she does, like she’s facing a firing squad, leaning her head into the young crew guy’s chest, sobbing like I’m approaching with the gun already.

“Shh”, the young crew guy consoles her. “No one’s going to kill you.”

“You sure she won’t?” she says.

“I won’t allow it,” he says. Happy now that the evil villainess in this soap opera has been neutralized, her tears dry as quickly as a sudden desert storm. She is happy we will now forget her hour-late faux pas, all eyes turned towards the evil villainess instead. But we do end up talking about her anyway. The Moroccan chicken papusa-like dishes she leaves us are making us are lick our fingers. Oh Mountain Lady, you’re bad, but wow, you’re good.

Mid afternoon – we are trying to get a long scene done before the sun gets too low. We’ve got another long one to do after the sun sets. Just as we are almost finished with the last day scene, an elderly hiker guy comes jauntily down the trail, right into our movie set.

-Hey, what are you doing?
-We’re filming a movie.
-You from Hollywood?
-You ain’t got a permit, Hollywood Lady.
-Yes, I do. I have the owner’s permission. Earth Desert Man.
-No you don’t. You’re lying.
-I am NOT lying. I paid him. And we even signed a contract.” (I dread that he might ask to see it; I do have one, but I left it at the motel. Thankfully, his own anger distracts him).
-You good for nothing Hollywood types, you don’t even know about this land, you know nothing about it, you just come up to shoot your films. YOU DON’T KNOW THE HISTORY OF THE PLACE, DO YOU? WELL, DO YOU?
-Well (I say though gritted teeth), it’s true, I don’t know, but it’s very beautiful land, and we are taking good care of it, we leave nothing behind. And we do have permission.
(I shoot a guilty look at the pretend fire we’d set up, which ironically, we had already decided we wouldn’t light because it’s too windy).
-Well, sir, we weren’t actually going to light it. It’s too windy. It was just for show.
-You’re liars. You better not. And you know nothing about this place. Come with me up the hill, and I will show you what this place is about! The history of it.
-Sir – (a heroic amount of will is now needed to stay courteous, but it is fast evaporating) please, we are trying to shoot a film and we have to get back to work. We are losing our light.
-NO..! (I bite my lip, cutting off the GODDAMN MOFO that almost slips out).

I turn away, signal the cast and crew to get back to work, but… a crew member, whom I will call Mr. Alpha, comes and saves the day, grabs my elbow and softly mansplains that he’ll handle this, that I have to let the old codger have his way. They will all go with him, and it won’t take long. I stare at them all in stupefied wonder, as the old guy leads the entire cast and crew up the hill (minus me, the DP, and the Mountain Lady-consoling crew guy, who have stayed behind to guard equipment). I finally find my voice when the others are tiny dots up a distant hill.


-I – AM – LOSING – MY – LIGHT!!!!

And sure enough, the sun is shedding a haunting golden light on everything that signals the imminent loss of daytime.

The DP and Mountain-Lady-consoling crew guy just stare. Maybe Mountain Lady was right, their faces say. Maybe I am the evil villainess who might kill someone. It’s the one time I allow myself to vent in front of my cast or crew the entire shoot. But maybe, I justify to myself, it doesn’t count, as there’s just two of them. Though I’m sure the entire crew will know by tonight. I take some deep breaths, try to hyper ventilate myself back from the brink of werewolf-dom into calm-director-lady waters again. My one movie shoot temper tantrum.

Mountain-Lady-consoling crew guy quietly says, “I’ll go get them.”

“You do that!”

More hyper ventilating from me as he trudges up the hill to get the others. The DP says nothing. My deep breathing is the only sound that breaks the calm desert silence.

A long time later, they get back. I am somewhat calmer, though more and more worried about losing the light, which has turned more golden yet. At least my eyes have quit whirling madly in their sockets. That’s a good sign. And the old guy, they’ve done wonders for him. He is peaceful as a lamb. He smiles happily as he says good bye, glad that someone took a few moments to listen to him today. “You guys have a good shoot.”

“Bye.” I am flummoxed. What did they do? Give him a drug? His jaunty legs take him on down the valley and he is soon gone from sight. That was a near mutiny that just happened. But OK, my crew did pacify him. They turned him into a lamb. That counts for something. It was a job for the people persons. I’m glad I stepped back. I am not a people person. Especially when I’m mad.

We say nothing more about it and get back to work. Night brings on another Siberian winter. A cold night shoot. We clock in thirteen hours for the day. Would have been twelve if the old guy hadn’t intervened. We tiredly haul generator, movie gear, props, and trash back to the cars. And now we have one more helping hand. Actor-Man, who’s taken over generator duties. All jobs are hyphenated around here.

And…we’re done.