Black Thursday (and Friday)

Kid got TKOed. The project is still standing, but I took a beating this week. On Thursday morning I woke up early to get a jump on what was to be a big day. The plan was to meet the art director at the studio at 8, go through all the art direction with her, be home in three hours with the uniforms to meet a couple of the actors to give them the last version of the script. After that we were off to Panavezys to meet with Darius, the primary actor. We were gonna meet his wife too, she's an actress and I thought maybe she could play his wife in the film. I got up at seven to a strange looking red sky. The sun is coming up late now, so it was full night still. I came into the living room, and Dave (who's been sleeping on the crappiest hide-a-bed ever made with a jacket under his head) told me it dumped snow all night. I thought he was joking. Out the window the trees were all dressed in perfect white, about four inches on the ground. We were late to the studio about twenty minutes because of traffic (I bought a car. Its an Opel, which is German. Dirt(y) cheap). The art director was late another twenty. When we got going I asked to see the guns first. There is very little actual shooting in the film, two shots on screen, but a lot of scenes call for guys with guns, and they have to look just right. We got in there and they told us they were all gone. The day before Tom (one of about five film production students "helping") told me all was well. All was not well, all was really bad. No weapons till Dec fifth they said. All the pyrotech guys are in Latvia till then on a shoot. So here is what was going through my head (mom and dad look away if your reading this).

Deep breath. Holly F@#$%@$%@$%@$%@$%@$%@$%@$%CK!!! Deep breath. Repeat till exhausted.

I'm scheduled to shoot in five days, finally got the script just right, finally got the actors lined up, got a good makeup artist, got the locations, the uniforms, the accommodations, the camera man, the cameras, the sound man and the whole goddamn thing is gonna go in the toilet because of a shoot in Latvia? And the "producers" are standing there telling me its going to be OK? So where's the punchline? Its a foreign country, so there is always a cool punchline. After some talk, the guy says, "WELL, there ARE some WOODEN guns we use." Hopeful, myself and the clutch of clowns followed him through the stacks of props to the back where he produced: 1 plastic laser gun toy, 1 broken plastic six-shooter toy gun, and 2 wooden AK47s that look exactly like; really fake looking wooden AK 47s. It was a very very bitter moment. I should have had a video camera. Its not a good feeling when you realize the documentary about making your film would very likely be way better than your film.

Terry Gilliam eat your heart out.

So the only thing I could do is focus on the next thing. We were late at the studio, so I left David behind to run home and meet Martynas and Romas. These two guys are great. Both in their seventies, both cool. I gave them the last version of the script and then back to the studio. Now its noon. The art director doesn't know what she's doing and it seems to me the now Dave and I are really doing all the art direction. She tells me she has to go to the doctor but her replacement is on the way, nothing to worry about, we'll be able to take everything away when we're done selecting it. (gotta skip a bunch of details here cause I can't really find a way to couch them so you'll get it, long story short) we can't take anything till Monday. I need a letter with a stamp on it that nobody told me about. Without that, no deal. I call Tom, one of the producers. "Cy I'm in (some other city) call Ingrida, she'll help you." I call Ingrida, he phone is unavailable. I call Greta, she's not having it, turns her phone off while its ringing. OK, I'll wait till Monday to take all the props. But what about the guns? The guy tells us that there's a television station that also has a gun handler.

We go across town looking for the station. I took Ieva with. She's the replacement for the original art director who now has pneumonia (but can still blaze up a couple cigs on a coffee break?). Ieva is cool, but probably knows nothing about film and is probably a little freaked out by how intense I'm getting. The polyester clad people at the front desk at the TV station look at us with a warm blankness. I can see immediately they are trained to handle people like us, she has "ah ha ha ha" written in italics all over her face. "Here's a number, call on that phone over there". We call, nothing. "Try later, or try on (you guessed it) Monday." Moving on. We dropped Ieva off, grabbed a bunch of equipment and clothes and jumped back in the car (by the way, the cars name is Beauty, I'll explain later) and high tailed it for Panavezys (the fourth largest city in the country, two hours north of the capital). By now its about four and almost dark. We get on the highway, which is well iced by now, still alive, still optimistic that a miracle can happen. A snow storm happened. It dumped like crazy. Sounds bad, but to be honest is was cool. I like it when it snows, so don't count it as another bad thing. But we were late cause Beauty almost ran out of gas.

Darius, the actor we were going to see called to tell me he left two tickets at the front for us when we arrived. We went to the wrong theater first, but this also was not a bad thing. Neither Dave nor I have much enthusiasm for theatre. In fact, I can't ever recall seeing a play I liked (except for when Dave N drove his car onto the sound stage at school), so showing up late was kind of a good thing. Anyway, it was what we expected. Darius wasn't bad, but in general the acting was cheesy and big. We met Darius outside after the show. We went to his favorite restaurant. At first everything was honkey dorey. He asked about the show, we lied, he recommended the squid (no joke) I ordered it to be polite. Then the talk turned to my project, then to his opinion of the script, then (the bad turn) to a bunch of nonsense about my connection to Hollywood which I have yet to sort out, then to money, then to my credibility, then (he's drunk by now) to my options (as a film maker looking for actors in Lithuania) which went like this: "Cy you can go to Kupiskis, maybe find some school children to play this character, maybe some man who works there, you can shoot the film, but what about the results huh? Take some students to the forest, make the film, you'll have a film, but what about results?" I'll spare you, it was a very uncomfortable lecture. We left around midnight headed for Kupiskis. It was a Lost Highway moment. High beams blazing into the snow encrusted blackness, and that was just inside my head, outside it was completely iced up hellbent country blacktop for an hour plus. Was feelin mighty low. Went to sleep with a weird twisting feeling in the middle of my chest, like my throat was all tangled in my heart.

Answers, whether you like'm or not seem to come with sleep. That lonely confrontation that only a ceiling view can provide. The resources don't match the scale of the project. The talent isn't local. Transportation issues. Scheduling nightmares. Lack of rehearsal time. Unease about certain personalities. Signs of alcoholism lingering on the fringes of key actors. Serious concerns about the weather. Inexperience on the production side, rotten gut instincts. So in the morning I pulled the plug. It felt really really bad. I haven't really dealt with a serious failure in a while. Dave and I talked it over in the morning, then we went out to get some food at the grocery store. Beauty was acting weird. I habitually pull the e break when I park. I stopped fifty yards from the house, the rear left tire was locked. The undercarriage completely frozen. We poured hot water on it with flower pots for an hour and it released the break. Tough rolls. We made spaghetti and I started breaking the news to people. We went over to Dalia and Algirdis's house. They made us tea and we talked it over with them, and they understood and foresaw a lot of the problems. Dalia wanted to pour me a vodka shot. Medicine. We went around and around for a while. Algirdis seems disappointed which for some reason really gets me down. He emphasized the local resources again and part of that turned to a conversation about a local guy I know who runs the TV station. Algirdis thought he may be able to help and Dalia mentioned that his wife had just died. I taught both his kids when I was here before. I guess they'd just buried their Mom the day before. That's a check. A film is no big deal, and that's that. Poor kids. So I left it at that.

When I used to paint there was a moment that arrived before every single finished piece that really defined it and it always was the same. I'd have an idea, then start planning it out. Sketch it, lay out the base coats, pencil in the lines, lay in the color until I'd arrived at a moment where the plan ended and the piece should be finished, but it never was. The idea was executed, but it wasn't there. So at first I'd get nervous and angry trying to figure out what was wrong, then I'd decide that I don't care. I'm gonna do something and after that its either gonna be great or I'm gonna toss it in the dumpster and start the next one. That was always the best moment, and something much better almost always came out of it. So I think I'm there now, and here's the plan.

I already told everybody we're not shooting it. Cut all the deadwood off. The producers in Vilnius are gone. The academy is gone. Tom is gone, Elena is gone, the art director is gone, and most of the actors - gone. Dave is here till mid Dec, I think I've got two actors who are free, a car and a little bit of money. We're gonna meet with Martynas and Romas (the old guys) this week and learn some stuff about them, then we're gonna write a step outline for a road movie in Lithuania, then the four of us are going to do the trip and have the guys improvise the scenes. Dave'll shoot it and I'll shape the performances as best as possible, use some of the locations I've already checked out and enjoy the process. That's the idea. Dave is the absolute ultimate trooper. He's put up with a ton of crap, so at least he'll get to see the rest of the country this way. I'll at least get the satisfaction of having something to edit, and the guys will have a project that they can really call their own.

Darius, the theater actor from Panevezys thinks I can't make this film with talent from Kupiskis, after Dave leaves in Dec I'm gonna start the work to prove him wrong. Punk