Sunday, October 07, 2007


For tax reasons – and if you’re making a movie in Canada it's a sure bet it is either for tax reasons or because you've been banished from Hollywood for sleeping with the wrong executive - we are filming BRIDAL FEVER in Hamilton, Ontario, a Pittsburgh-lite about an hour west of Toronto.

Our morning call times are dreadfully early, the only flaw in the otherwise brilliant plan designed by my First AD Robyn (who is as far from the last Canadian First AD I had as one could possibly get – see previous blogs for details) -

- and with my ritual of going to the gym before arriving on set forcing me to awaken at 4 am, I have fallen into the habit of breaking the law daily by exiting the hotel parking lot and making an illegal right turn, going the wrong way down a one way street in order to cut five minutes out of my travel time. Given my location at the corner of Crack Street and Hooker Drive, the local gendarmes are apparently busy with bigger fish and have thus far left me alone to my life of crime.

(Not to say that my hotel is a den of iniquity or anything as sordid as all that; it's actually a beautiful place, the height of elegance, but it just so happens to have been plunked down squarely in the middle of some rather declasse surroundings and the neighborhood denizens are the sort that one normally can find only in the more modestly priced tattoo parlors. The following is an actual conversation I overheard as I walked along the street on the way back from dinner last week:

Hooker 1: "How are you and Danny gettin' along?"
Hooker 2: "He's in jail."
Hooker 1: "Jeez, everybody's in jail, eh?")

Traveling so early that my exfoliating night cream is still causing me to shed the outer layer of my face as I drive, one assumes there would be no other traffic with which to contend. This morning, however, I was startled to see a pair of headlights approaching from the end of the street and, not wanting to force an automotive confrontation before breakfast, I pulled over to the curb to allow right of way to the oncoming car. But instead of simply making his way along the now-empty street, the driver decided to editorialize the experience, rolling down his window to shout “Wrong Way, Dummy!!” at me as he passed by.

Wrong Way, Dummy?

For some reason, this stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. And it wasn’t just the anachronism of “dummy” – who says “dummy” anymore? – nor the sheer absurdity of somebody actually taking the time to stop, roll down his car window and question my intelligence regarding the rules of the road. His voice replayed in my head as I worked out at the Hamilton YMCA – a very well organized fitness center, I must say, although like the Montreal Y, the “premium” change room features not only grooming products and fresh towels but also the rather grim spectacle of obese, middle aged men washing their nether-regions astride the water jets of the locker room whirlpool – and even echoed when I arrived on set passing by the one-armed beggar stationed in front of our shopping center location in the city’s downtown core.

Speaking of him, I should point out that he was playing an electric keyboard, so technically he was in fact not a “beggar” but rather a “street performer”. When I first encountered him during our location scout for this movie, I considered introducing him to the One-Eyed Flute Player I’d met previously in Toronto (see “My Glass Eye” blog for details).

Perhaps, I thought, there was a market for an entire band made up of people with missing body parts: one can imagine them on some American Idol-type program where they would surely win the popular vote. Television audiences LOVE people who overcome adversity; one can only imagine the feel-good thrill they'd receive watching somebody hit a high C from a wheelchair.

But to be honest, he wasn’t very good. That may sound harsh, I know, but if you’re going to put yourself out there in the professional music industry you’ve got to be willing to face the critics. Granted, he only has one hand to work with, but it could be argued he’s made the wrong decision when it comes to his instrument of choice. If I were him, I would’ve gone for a drum.

Anyway, back to the Shouting Driver.

It was only a passing insult, hurled by someone I didn’t know and would likely never see again, but I couldn’t help wondering if maybe he was right? Did my crime, slight as it was, really make me out to be a complete idiot? What if there had been children on bicycles, or perhaps Nuns, hurtling toward me, their shiny faces caught in my high beams in those last few seconds before being smeared across the pavement? How would I have felt? And would the ensuing investigation make it onto Entertainment Tonight?

But then I wondered what exactly this bellowing curmudgeon was doing up at four twelve in the morning himself anyway? Was he too on his way to a film set where he would do work that he loves, directing a hundred talented people to make a movie which would be enjoyed by millions?

Possibly not, which would certainly explain his foul temper; I've been told there are a great many people out there who spend the better part of their lives toiling at jobs they despise and while I can't exactly relate to that particular experience, I am after all a creative sort so I can imagine how it must feel.

More or less.

Perhaps he felt free to insult me because he saw me coming out of a hotel and decided that, since I was obviously a transient, I was fair game. Such is the lot of the Constant Guest and, having lived most of my adult life in various inns around the world, I have come to appreciate both the advantages and disadvantages of my existence.

Take, for example, the phenomenon of the Hotel Bar.

The advantage of this particular institution is obvious: booze on demand. The disadvantage, however, may not be so immediately apparent. I refer of course to The Fellow Traveler.

They come in all shapes and sizes, and varying genders, but they share one thing in common: the desire – nay, the NEED – to connect with those around them. This is certainly an understandable human trait and one that I would welcome in any other situation – a plane crash, say, or finding myself stranded on a desert island with absolutely nothing to read.

However, when one spends one’s days surrounded by a very large group of people -

- each of whom has at least a dozen questions which demand immediate answer “OR PRODUCTION WILL GRIND TO A HALT” (tantamount, in our business, to Armageddeon), the very last thing one wishes to do is spend one’s precious few minutes of downtime – the Martini Hour, as I call it – making small talk with some Out-of-Towner who feels we must have Something In Common because we’re staying in the same bloody hotel. Unfortunately, it would seem that just showing up in the lounge sends some kind of signal to these people that you are just dying to make conversation.

And OH what conversation it is! The questions never vary. “Where are you from?” “How long are you here for?” And the dreaded “What are you doing in town?”

Damnable honesty prevents me from dodging the latter, although I have often been tempted to say “penis enlargement surgery” and hope that this would be enough to send them back to their soup. But usually the Bartender, well-intentioned, will pipe up with “Mr. Oliver’s here making a movie…” which then leads to the usual queries – who’s in it? What’s it about? What do you do in the movie? After a few minutes of this tedious inquisition, there inevitably comes the one statement which I’ve learned to dread with the kind of stomach-churning horror usually reserved for “the test results are positive” or “where are we going with this relationship?”:

“You know,” they say, settling back in their chairs as if about to deliver a pronouncement to rival the Dead Sea Scrolls, “ MY life would make a great movie!”

This ominous sentence is then followed by a rambling, drunken history of the Teller’s invariably un-cinematic life, usually centered around some imagined slight against their own worth as the Best Damned School Teacher/Financial Systems Analyst/Buffalo Breeder who ever graced the planet. And unless I wish to abandon what is often a very well-made Martini (well-made because I have instructed the hotel staff exactly how to do it, by the way – I’ve lost track of how many Bartenders around the world I’ve had to teach that vermouth is to be used sparingly, like cologne or French), I am forced to endure this torturous babble with my smile frozen on my face like I’m Dr. Sardonicus until they finally reach the conclusion and turn to me and say:

“So? What do you think? I give you the story, you write it and we split the money!?”

The money. It’s always about the money.

There was a time when one told one’s stories to help one’s fellow man, to instruct, to share a bit of wisdom hard earned in the hope that maybe the Listener could avoid hardship in the future and travel an easier path.

But that was when we lived in caves, or in the shadows of the trees. Now, in this era of American Idol and Big Brother – the Oprah-ization of Culture – stories aren’t for the telling, they are for the Selling. And as a commodity, I’m afraid that the existence of the Common Man has become something no longer done quietly, with small victories and personal failures weighed against the final accounting of a Life Lived. Simple human calamities are now treated as plot points to be used for entertainment or, worse, competition, and my Fellow Travelers no longer see the road beneath us as a Journey.

They see it as a Movie. And they seem to think we all should, too.

But as I said before, there are advantages to Hotel Life. For example, as I write this, I see a familiar face coming toward me…a certain Academy Award Nominated Actor of my acquaintance, and his smile and warm hug alone makes all of this nonsense worth the price of admission.

Because even if this life I’ve chosen means a constantly shifting landscape, the odds are fairly good that once in awhile the sands will align and the strangers will fall away, to reveal that one’s family – chosen and otherwise – have been traveling too.

To paraphrase Shirley Jackson in her classic novel "The Haunting of Hill House" - “journeys end in loved one’s meeting…” and if, as that passing, early morning reprobate so graciously pointed out I AM going the “wrong way, dummy”, it is at least MY very own wrong way and for that reason alone I shall keep on driving.


Anonymous Simon said...

Got fuel to burn
And miles to drive

10:12 PM  

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