MJE volunteered to let some film students shoot a short movie in her house for two days this weekend. If I knew then what I know now I might have been a bit more cautious. I’d been told there’d be 8-10 kids, turned out more like 15-20, all with endless needs and bottomless stomachs. They arrived at about 7:45am in a fleet of cars, a UHaul truck filled with gear and toting a bag of bagels. They set up a little food table outside, followed immediately by what would become standard operating procedure. Would I happen to have a toaster? Hot coffee? Sugar? Cream? Soy milk? Lox? Eggs benedict? I cooked enough lunch to feed the homeless population of San Francisco and even that wasn’t quite enough. One of the vegetarians requested a meat free tomato sauce for the spaghetti and followed that with a hope that I would accommodate the glutenophobics in the group. “Listen kiddo, tell those cretins that tomatoes don’t have gluten and not to eat the goddam pasta.” Capiche?
But there’s more! Would I happen to have sheers for the windows to filter the light? And tape. Batteries, a smallish statue in the style of Jane Austen, a lighter, extension cord, tweezers, pliers, a cordless drill (sorry, why do you need that?) magic markers, white board markers, zip lock bags, rubber bands, toothpicks, staplers, Xanax. Would I happen to have an old timey- looking file box, and files? And a dark and scary place to “hide” them? How about some firecrackers or maybe an air horn to scare off the birds who were making too much birdish noise. Could I also turn off the heat and AC, too noisy. How about unplugging the fridge, ditto. I watched aghast as five kids struggled to carry a massive dolly upstairs and damn near had to knock back a double nerve steadier on the spot. Fortunately I’d carried around my coffee cup all day to maintain my composure. Ever the perceptive smartass, Bandoleira-Saturnalia remarked “Whatever you’ve got in that cup I know for sure it’s not coffee.”
Between moments of hyperactivity there stretched eons when the kids slouched all over the house, feet up happily clacking away on their little devices. Or alternately tipping back in my tiny French dining chairs or hunching over the 18thc table which they covered with spiral notebooks, wads of production notes, assorted writing implements and clunky bits of equipment. At one point I spied an open bottle of acetone and could have won the olympic100 meter dash with the my sprint to grab it.
They hired a third rate hack and flew him in from LA to play the main character. He neglected to tell them that he was hypoglycemic and needed to sit down and eat every 15 minutes (which adds up when he works for eight hours and not a minute longer) and couldn’t tolerate the cold. And he was deaf. In one scene he was to come in from the porch and it took the entire houseful of people screaming his name to get him to open the door and make his entrance.
He chewed so much scenery that I thought he was going to collapse after every take. The student actor they hired for the second character was clearly not ready for primetime either. Between the two of them there wasn’t a moment when there weren’t tears of every stripe: streaming tears, tears being choked back, desperately squeezed out tears, tears being wiped away. When they did manage to be dry eyed they delivered their dialogue at a decibel level to rival the sounds of the munition explosions wafting over from Parris Island where they probably heard it and wondered what all the weeping and wailing was about.
When Ethyl Merman belted out that there’s no business like show business I get it.