I walked into Jim’s trailer and could hear him talking. The fact that no one else was there hardly mattered.
“You work and you work, and all it comes down to is who has the bigger dick,” he said, against the sound of things crashing about the trailer. “I don’t need this. I don’t need any of it.”
“Jim,” I said softly, trying to use my most reasonable tone. “You doing all right?”
“Do I look like I’m doing all right?” he asked as he walked into view.
It was a loaded question. There he stood buck-naked, drenched in a layer of sweat. He was short of breath, and the pupils of his eyes had shrunk to pin points. In his left hand was a crack pipe; in the right, a half-empty bottle of vodka. And, yes, it was half-empty. Optimism had long left this set.
“What can I do to make this better?” I asked, desperate to find a resolution.
“You can walk out there, grab a hammer, and take it to Julian’s fucking skull until it‘s covered in brains.”
That was one option.
“I’m done,” he said before taking a long swig from the bottle. “Get a car, get me to the airport. I’m fucking done with this worthless piece-of-shit film.”
His tone was changing. Underneath that anger was a very unhappy man. He didn’t want to be here. He wasn’t working because he wanted to. There was no other choice, and that infinite sadness manifested itself in so many ugly ways.
“I don’t want to do this anymore…” he said before breaking down into tears.
It would have mattered to no one if this film crashed and burned. Hell, it would have been a mercy killing. This film deserved to die; yet, all I could do was think about holding it together. Doing what I was brought here to do: Finish the job.
“I’m going to get a car,” I said, still hatching schemes to keep this monstrosity going another day. “Take a minute. Get dressed. Have a drink. It‘s going to be all right”
He nodded in agreement. The goal is pacification. Tell him what he wants to hear. He’ll finish that bottle of vodka, take that hit of crack, and in an hour he won’t remember any of it. Then I could take him in that place between catatonia and madness, and get another few hours of usable footage. Hell or high water, this film was going to get finished. We had gone the “hell” route.
I stepped outside the trailer and lit a cigarette. This was the only type of sanity I achieved during this production, tiny spaces between the breakdowns. My phone rang.
I hadn’t spoken to my mother in a month. No doubt she had read some horrific article about intestinal parasites or the dangers of night driving and just had to share it. At this point, I relished the opportunity for some predictable pessimism.
“How you doing, Mom?”
“I‘m sorry to bother you,” she said, searching for the words. “I know how busy you are. I don’t know how to say this…”
“Don’t worry about how to say it, Mom,” I said. “Just say it.”
“Your father’s dead,” she replied. “It was very sudden. It was his heart. They say he didn’t feel any pain.”
Everything went silent, like someone had stuffed cotton in my ears. There was a lot of bass, very little treble.
“The service is on Friday. Your Aunt Becky is helping make the preparations.”
Just then the production manager rounded the corner.
“We need Jim back on set,” she said. “Do you think you can make that happen?”
There will be times when you think you’ve hit the bottom. Sometimes you will be shocked by your resiliency. Other times, surprised by the additional depths you never knew existed. And sometimes you will disappoint yourself with your choices.
“He’s going to need about an hour.” I said, sending the production manager back to set. “Tell them to take an early lunch.”
I went back to the phone and was only able to mutter a single sentence before ending the call.
“Mom … I don’t know if I can make it.”
I did not attend my father’s funeral. I wasn’t there to help take care of my mother or offer support for my family in a time of great need.
And the reality is that decision was not a difficult one to make—not at the time. There had been only about a minute between hearing the news, weighing my options and making that choice. Part of me credits this to the work ethic my father had instilled in me. But I’m not magnanimous enough to believe there was a principle involved here. It was hubris: the belief that without me, this film would have fallen apart. The desperate need to believe what I was doing here had value. That everything I had worked for had meaning. To walk away would be to accept failure—that I was incapable of holding this worthless film and this rotting actor together like the broken fuselage of a crashing plane.
Forward momentum has a way of carrying you. I could feel the sadness burrowing from the inside out. And there were moments where it felt like I was one stray thought away from shattering at the seams and crumbling into an unsalvageable wreck.
It can be repressed with caffeine, liquor, and force of will. You can turn your back on everything you know is right. You can convince yourself that unspeakably selfish acts are the product of principle. For a while you will be able to stomach those lies. Eventually, you will come to accept these awful choices and realize they were the road map to your ruin.
At the beginning it’s easy to be pious, to be quick to judge the actions of others. Decisions are so easy to criticize when you’ve never had to make one. And when you are posed with moral quandaries and situations that question your character, I hope you make the right choice. Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story. I was beginning to wonder if I had become the villain of mine.