A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be appearing in a horror movie. I suppose it might sound made up, considering this site has also claimed that squirrels live for 800 years, and that redheads are allergic to cardboard. But it's true — I am playing a character named Doug in "The Killing of Jacob Marr," written and directed by Brad Rego. Who is Doug, you ask? Well don't, because I'm literally the Red Shirt in this movie. Regardless, I spent the weekend of January 8th at a cabin in South Kortright, New York, and learned a few things worth sharing. First of all, it's not called long underwear anymore, it's called baselayer. We knew in advance that the temperature was going to be somewhere between Iceland and Hoth. It's been years since I needed long underwear, but I figured my life may well depend on it, so I did a little shopping. I wandered aimlessly around EMS for a good ten minutes before I realized I was looking for something that doesn't exist anymore. "Long underwear" is something your mom made you wear to go play in the snow when you were nine. These days? Drop the term from your vocabulary. What you need is baselayer. Baselayer is ... well, it's long underwear, but it's long underwear that sounds 500% more bad-ass. It'll keep you warm in the tundra, it'll keep you cool in the desert, and if you're outside in extremely normal temperatures, I suppose it'll keep you comfortable in that too. That's the danger of walking around a place like EMS — they make everything sound so cool, you wonder how you ever got by without it.
Bing's mapping software needs some sort of internal setting that knows what season it is. Five vehicles made the trek to the cabin. I rode up with my friend/cousin (long story) Gerard, along with Amy the costume designer and Scott the sound guy. Gerard's scenes don't film until the spring, but he's a jack-of-all-trades technician and kind of crazy so he volunteered to come stand in the cold with us and lend a hand. We hit the road at 7:00 PM Friday, with directions printed out from Bing Maps. In theory, Bing saved us twenty minutes by sending us on a nifty shortcut through some winding back-country roads. In reality, it was snowing in earnest and Bing sent us on a shortcut through some winding back-country roads. At one point, as we hooked a precarious left, I asked, "Wait, is this paved?" It wasn't a joke, I actually wanted to know. Sliding into the ditch was probably inevitable, the only surprise was that no one was hurt and the car wasn't damaged. However, it was definitely stuck. One of the front wheels had nothing underneath it, and was spinning freely in the air. There was no way to get out unassisted. We needed help.
If you crack wise a lot in your general day-to-day life, people will have hard time adjusting when you are serious. Brad answered his phone, and I told him we were stuck in a ditch. He took the news in stride and sounded surprisingly cheerful. Then he figured out I wasn't doing a bit. For once.
Much as we hate to admit it, we live in the future. Look, I know, we don't have jet packs. Or flying cars. Or robot housekeepers. The year 2010 doesn't feel all that futuristic — I'm right there with you. But we veered off the road mere moments after drifting into a pocket of cell phone coverage. We grabbed our GPS coordinates from an app (42.22N 74.41W, if you're curious) and texted them to Brad, who plugged them into a nav unit and showed up in his 4x4 pickup. Ten years ago, that's science-fiction. Even two years ago, there's no way he finds us that easily to pull us out of the ditch.
Well, eventually pull us out of the ditch. Because, as it happens ...
Sometimes, meeting a truck full of guys from Long Island on a dark road is a good thing. All we know about them is that they were two brothers and a buddy, up for a weekend of skiing. The brothers were Tim and Tom, though we never did catch the other guy's name. Nor did I ever determine which was Tim and which was Tom — the only thing I can tell you is that the younger brother was 6' 2" and built like a cross between a bison and a Zamboni. They stopped to help, and didn't leave until the job was done. At one point, Little Bro lumbered off into the trees like a golem and came back with a fifty-pound rock to stick under the dangling wheel. Brad didn't have anything to tie to the car, so they drove back to where they were staying and returned with a heavy-duty tow line. We owe that truck full of guys from Long Island a case of beer, on the off chance that someone out there knows who they are.
Delaware County is the poorest in New York State. After an hour and a half stuck in a ditch, getting pulled over by the state police wasn't really a shock. The evening was clearly off the rails anyway, what's another wrench in the works? We were following Brad's truck at a very safe pace, so we knew it wasn't for speeding. Gerard, no stranger to the glare of police headlights, ran the drill: Engine off, keys on the dashboad, interior light on, license and registration out, hands in sight. That led to this exchange:
State trooper: "Are you with the other vehicle?" Gerard: "Yes we are, officer." State trooper: "He's just got a headlight out, is all. Where you headed?" Gerard: "South Kortright." State trooper: "Okay, but where?" Gerard: "Not sure, we're following him to a cabin. He's directing a movie that we're making." State tropper: "Oh? What brings you to the poorest county in New York?" Me: "Uh ... infusing the area with cash? Economic stimulus sort of thing?"
Alright, I never said that. But seriously, who advertises their county as the poorest in the state? Is it their motto? Does it say that on their official letterhead? Should I be capitalizing it? "The Poorest County in New York™" or whatever? If another county surpasses them, do they have to print new letterhead? If so, where will they get the money, seeing as how they'd still be the second poorest county in New York?
A turkey sandwich, some proper(ish) tea and a glass of Old Mull can trick the body into thinking the night just started. This is true even when the mind is looking directly at a clock that displays the time as 2:30 AM. Thus did we don our baselayer, crack open some pocket-warmers, run our lines a few times, and trudge outside to begin filming.
Deer are noble animals, and it is sad to see them suffer in the snow, even when they are fake and shipped in pieces. Not to give anything away, but the movie involves the unfortunate acquaintance of a deer with an SUV. Brad found a place in California that rents out eerily realistic wildlife, and they shipped him a deer in three segments. The deer was more or less the V.I.P. of the weekend, since any damage would instantly make it the largest budget item on set other than the camera. They say it's a good omen when the first shot of a film goes well, which ours did. But that was just a shot of the vehicle moving — once we had to, you know, move around and say stuff, things got more complicated. In between takes, we huddled together for warmth and took turns sitting in one of the cars with the heat blasting. The moment Brad called a wrap on the deer, the dark blue light of sunrise began to creep along the horizon.
If you go to bed at eight in the morning, don't accidentally get up a few hours earlier than necessary. "Ready to go at 1:00" and "Out of bed at 1:00" aren't exactly the same thing. An honest miscommunication. Hey, at least I was the first one ready for the afternoon. Filming in daylight was a refreshing change of pace, as were the indoor scenes that lasted into the late evening. Then, as the clock sailed past midnight and the temperature dropped well below zero, we headed back outside. Right now would be a good spot to say something measured and poetic about the sacrifices one makes for art, but allow me instead to dip into the New England vernacular of my youth: It was wicked fuckin' cold.
Brains are weird. Go long enough without sleep, and your mind starts to take artistic license with external stimuli. Down does a fairly good impression of up, while up develops some distinctly down-like tendencies. Conversations in the next room sound as if they are coming from a distant cavern. The air feels fuzzy. The people around you become shapes — glyphs written in three dimensions, representing the perfect essence of those people. As they move, so do these runes, forming new sentences in the air that are cannot be read, yet you understand them. When the woman next to you shifts her body, you are aware of it not because you hear it or see it, but because these shapes form a new context. Her motion is like a radio broadcasting in Braille. Also, Sour Patch Kids taste better than usual.
The weather will cooperate when you need it the least. On Sunday, with the sun shining and the mild winter air inviting the world out to hike and ski and sled, we finished shooting in twenty minutes. Bloody typical.
Photos courtesy of Scott Smitelli and Katerina Sharm.