I’ve been bad lately.
I haven’t been writing as much as I should.
Some of this is due to the New-Jersey-Nightmare I was on this weekend and the recovery from such, but a conversation I did have there illuminated something for me.
The movie was about cos-playing would-be-lesbian college-agers who hook-up and pretend to be elves. It was shooting all on the property of one house, which was nice, but it was the directors’ (plural, already a problem) first film, which is something I didn’t know I was signing on for. Worse than that, for their first (and presumably final) film, they were shooting 35mm with heavy lighting of nighttime-exteriors, one of the more costly options it was possible to shoot. What resulted sometimes worked but other times, like a junior-level film, felt rushed and abandoned, exploiting both the crew and the film itself in the worst way, not least of all because the directors had staked so much money on the project.
It wasn’t all bad; filmmaking rarely is when you are a film student. I brought my friends on set so I almost always had someone to hang with and my friends are more up-beat individuals than I, the grumpster. Matt Chao’s indefatigable animating his school project between takes along with Andy Roehm’s usual tales of drunken-hookups with women whose names he doesn’t remember made for some fun times. We had a French mom cooking for us for our meals (exquisite) and the actors were both cute girls one of whom was intellectual and the other of whom had a righteously nasty sense of humor, which is very hot in itself.
It was the actress-intellectual I ended up having the good conversation with. She was a young woman named Sarah-Doe, oddly enough (“Would you be offended if I call you ‘Sara’?” I asked her. “Yes”: her reply.) When I’d asked her in the perfunctory sort of way a script supervisor might greet an actress, the question of where she had gone to school, she named an acting studio I’d never heard of and I dropped the conversation with an “oh” and moved on.
But upon further prompting, it turned out that she had graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, the alma mater of our president and one-time first-choice school of yours-truly. She told me she was an English major there, which she somewhat regretted as she thought taking Economics would have made her a more interesting person.
“And a less happy one, probably.” I told her.
“Yeah, I suppose.” She said. “But sometimes as an actress I feel crushed by words, by English. My degree is in it, I’m using them, expressing them, deconstructing them. In my life I feel so word-centric. I wish I had a different way to view the world.”
Which made me wonder: “You don’t have to be acting.” I told her. “You could get a job a lot of places with that kind of degree.”
She had told me about her job, working as a communications person at a Builders’ Union. The hours were flexible and the pay was decent, but my perhaps-trumped-up opinion of the University of Chicago as a place I almost went, was that the people who graduated from there were supposed to be serious intellectuals, pursuing graduate school, if not various endeavors to ameliorate the world.
“Yes.” She responded. “I suppose I could do something else.”
And she paused, considered.
“But I feel stifled when I’m not acting. I feel like I’m living a half-life. I feel like I’m a breathing with a rag in front of my face or that I’m not getting air–or what have you. I feel like acting is a part of me. And I have to try to do that.”
I respected what she said. I went on talking to her about how I felt about writing and acting and directing and all the things I do, or sometimes do, or try to do, or wish I did. I’m sure I talked her ear off and certainly apologized for my talking her ear off–but just hearing from someone the same sort of feeling I aspire to or try to engender, another person hellbent on a path that seems sometimes only as a road to self-destruction, I felt a connection.
I didn’t really have a lot more time to talk to her on set. I worry now that I creeped her out or that I took liberties with her time; actors are vulnerable people on a film set and its hard to know when you’ve taken advantage of them. Still, that moment for me, that moment of ecstatic exposition, redeemed the rest of being on set, of being on this new-jersey-nightmare.
Being a script supervisor is the art of striking a balance between being ignored and forcing people not to ignore you. You want to be ignored for much of the film, because you are essentially bothering people that need to have their minds on other things. At the same time, if you are completely ignored, people lose faith in you, you can’t do your job and you get locked out of the set. As such I spent most of my time on set, cloistered, in corners, trying not to make myself known until necessary.
But in life, if you feel for a moment a connection in an unexpected place, it’s like a glimpse of the sun or an interesting girl while you’re crossing the street; there’s something there thats needing and unknowable, but it’s both sad and necessary to look away or else the Prius-hybrid-taxi-cab is going to hit you or at least honk a lot.
Which is not to say I wasn’t happy to be home, when I got home.
To my bed, which was not a couch in a home where I’d be attacked my dogs while attempting to pee.
To my computer and TV, which I could examine and luxuriate with in my bed without squinting at my phone in the scrutiny of others.
To my next morning, getting an email from my Lincoln Center editor telling me to write a post busting A.O. Scott’s chops, which I could just roll-over and DO.
That’s the thing about set, I suppose. It makes you appreciate the little things in life.
And what a wiener.