Cowboys and Film gods
Imagine, the biggest storm cloud you’ve ever seen passes over your set making a wonderfully diffused light but manages to never pour rain. You think to yourself, “Man, the film gods are looking down on us today!” At least, that’s what I always think. I like to invoke the term “film gods” when something amazing seems to go right for a project against adverse conditions. This could be inclement weather, location trouble, lack of proper gear, or whatever else the indie filmmaker could experience. It’s not any kind of real being, so don’t worry you’re not breaking the Commandments. The film gods are simply that added edge the project has you never could have planned! On Friday afternoon, the film gods aimed their mighty lens right on me in a very tangible form.
I was lying on the floor of my office staring at the ceiling panels. This is something I often do when I feel a bit down, or at a loss for inspiration. Bandit was at the big window growling and whining at the various dogs passing by below. Suddenly, there was a knock on my door. I jumped up to find it was my old friend Bob Connolly. “Saw your dog in the window, figured you were here,” Bob says in his drawn out cowboy speak. Bob is a local musician and has been playing music around the Columbia Gorge going on 30 years. I met him one night at Double Mountain, and introduced myself since his set consisted of a few Gram Parsons Townes songs. We’ve been friends since that night, and I’ve come to learn Bob is a huge fan of Westerns. He’s even built his own saloon!
Out of the blue Bob says to me, “Well, when you planning on finishing that Western?” He’s referring to Pine Grove. I’ve been trying to think of way to end it for over a year. I wrote a 5 page voice over for it once and planned on having Ernie Garcia read it, but he moved to Pennsylvania. Then I had considered doing something with old Buck Smith. The point is, nothing ever materialized. Before I could even answer Bob he tells me “Well, Hell why don’t we finish it tomorrow. I know you’ve been wanting to get that done so we could move on to the next one.” He’s right, I have. I think it was one of those things that I was scared to finish, because I wasn’t really sure what it was. Bob can see that I’m about to make some excuse, so he cuts in, “Come over tomorrow morning. We’ll get it done.” He took a swig from my bottle of Jack Daniel’s I keep here, told me how he prefers blended whiskeys and then left.
All of a sudden the 5 page script doesn’t matter. None of my notes matter. What mattered was that at 7:30am the next day I was going to shoot the ending…and we did. Friday night I started to think about what I wanted this to be. Leigh and I had made up the story and we knew the tone we wanted the finished film to have. I decided to interview Bob as if it was for a documentary on the story, since that seems to be what I was most equipped to do in terms of gear. When the narrative stumped me, I turned to documentary! When we arrived yesterday morning, the camera was rolling on everything. Bob was playing the part David Settje plays in the main story and this was as if we found him 40 years later. I gave him the characters background on the spot, and then asked him questions like I’d do on any other docu shoot. Immediately, he fell into character and I think we got some great footage that I would never have been able to write! Bob become that person! As a filmmaker, it was actually quite rewarding. It was like filmming a séance with a long dead person, but that person is someone you created to begin with!
Where do the film gods fit into all of this? Well, I believe on this one occasion they sent me a film angel. I know this all sounds cheesy, but all the elements fell into place. Much like Barry and AboutFace have been my inspiration for finishing Psychopath, Bob came and forced me to finish the short film. And the best part about being an instrument of the film gods? You may not even know the good you’ve done for a filmmaker. Thanks Bob for pushing me on this one!