So I’ve told you all about this heavy dark shit that most people take to their graves. Or maybe share once in a lifetime. Me I don’t know, I think I have to share it for my own peace of mind. However, I thought I might change it up and tell you about the first time I produced a film. An independent on a shoestring, no way in hell am I ever going to let that thing see the light of day film.
Let me start by telling you about my best friend and sister from another mister Missy Goodman. I met her while working in a bookstore and I should just tell you now you’ll be hearing a lot about her. Not because we’re dating but because she’s one of those kind of friends everyone should be so lucky to have. She’s the one that took care of me and bore the brunt of the hard stuff when I had two breakdowns in Texas (more on that in another post).
What we discovered at that bookstore was that we both loved to write, we both loved General Hospital (a soap), and we both loved television and movies and books period. And when she came to me to write a romance novel I said yes, let’s do it for the money. That was in 1997. But this post is about Too Far From Texas, our first foray into directing and producing.
In 2004 we had kind of fallen down on the writing end. And our writing partnership had petered out, although our friendship was stronger than ever. But, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this part before, I identify myself so closely with my work that it’s hard to explain to people that while I want a readership who enjoys my work I think people confuse that with me wanting fame. I don’t really desire fame and celebrity. You lose something when you get it, your privacy. One might argue I’m sacrificing my privacy by doing this, but ‘this’ is just another form of self expression for me. A way to address the kind of pain I’ve been through. I value my anonymity and the computer and internet, at least give me a false sense of it.
Anyway, I’ve wondered off topic. In 2004 I was sitting in my therapist’s office apologizing and crying over car wreck I’d had that totaled Missy’s car out. It didn’t hurt anyone, other than her car, but she was justifiably upset with me. I’d been driving sleepy and hit the gas based on the stoplight turning green and not the car which hadn’t moved an inch in front of me. Missy was there, and she told it was okay, that it was in the past (a good year and a half in the past) at the time. Then I started talking about not writing and how I felt like that part of me had just died some kind of death and I was miserable.
I can’t describe to you just how miserable I was. It was like I had deprived myself of food, water, oxygen and then just watched that part of myself shrivel up and disappear. But in 2004 Missy did one of those kinds of things a friend who is more like a sister does. Or what a sister is supposed to do.
She’d been my writing partner and we’d once dreamed of making movies together. But somewhere along the way, my bipolar breakdowns and lack of money had stopped and robbed us not just of the drive but of the kind of passion that drove me to write.
In the car later that night on the way home she looked at me and said, ‘All right. Let’s do this thing. Let’s make a movie.’
With those three sentences she lifted me up out of my despair and we began writing Too Far From Texas. Honestly the hardest thing I ever did in my life was make that movie. Getting the money, casting it, directing it, producing it.
You look up Murphy’s Law in the film production handbook and there we’d be with that film. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. First of all we were so green and had never been in charge of anything business wise in our entire lives, which would later lead to much bigger problems. But young and driven we were determined to get the project done.
The first sign of disaster up ahead was the casting of a diva. Didn’t realize she was a diva when we cast her but first rehearsal she was refusing to curse. She claimed artistic choice. We should have her ass on the spot, but not because of that, but because we don’t need to be off book by shoot date do we should have been a big fat waving red flag that this was someone we didn’t want anywhere near our production. But, we were green and didn’t want to wait to make the movie sooo, dummy here pushed ahead. Then we hired an actor known by her in one of the male lead roles. He was in the active service. We told him cut your hair. He calls up the Sunday before shooting starts and says, I went to get my haircut today but the barbershop was closed. Another big fat red flag. But again we pushed on. The other male lead? Well his story is long, thorny and complicated and man it says it a lot about me and Missy and how we tried to hang onto him for subsequent productions.
He was charismatic, good looking, and had real, raw talent. But he had a drug and alcohol addiction too, and ultimately we had to cut him from pool of talent for our own peace of mind. He had good heart, but he was extremely troubled and once told us, I’ll break your heart. Which indeed he did, but, not on that particular production. He had his shit together for Texas and it made the slide down that much more torturous.
The sound equipment we were using wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world and picked up the sound of the air condition kicking on and off on location. We had to keep it off, so people sweat all day that first day. Just as it was cooling down at the end of day one a hurricane force severe thunderstorm knocked the power out. And the two male leads sat out on the patio getting drunk and looking at porn on the internet after the rain had passed while everyone else slept on location and just trusted these guys could handle it if some criminal happened upon us. Both of them had drinking problems but the one with the talent was also the one who had the words bang bang tattooed on his fingers and had the kind of colorful history which allowed us to think he could protect us and the set. Ah, yes, youth.
In the end we had to do 50 pages of reshoots with almost a completely different cast. We were barely able to edit it because 2/3rds of the cast didn’t know their lines and there was hardly any continuity. It is a shitty product and it’s no wonder no festival will have it.
But what it did do was reawaken my creative spirit. And allowed me to start writing again. To push passed the damage of the mood disorder and tap into the parts of it that actually make me a better writer. I take my meds and my treatment seriously. There’s a school of thought that if you’re on medication it inhibits you creatively. That’s not so. Especially for me. Having been in treatment and relatively stable for the last thirteen years I know I am more productive on treatment than I was before it. Getting in treatment, that honor goes to another creative traveler, Maurice Benard. His courage to speak out about it in an industry that tends to sensationalize it or tell stories from the caretaker’s perspective helped me walk through the doctors doors in October of 1999 and seek help. I owe you both so much.