Wow. Every weekend we get closer to finishing principal photography. Thanks to our incredible team, I am floored every time I look at the raw footage.
But wait. Uh oh, guys. It’s another SRS GLYNIS POST.
This weekend we filmed one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wrote it for our partner Ralph Fontaine. I’m in it, but I’m silent, no dialogue. I can’t really tell you what it’s about, of course. But writing, producing, stunt choreographing, and acting it made it the most personal piece of art I’ve ever created. Or, in this case, helped create. Because as much as I sometimes felt like it, I was never once alone.
When I was younger I was heavily influenced by Absurdist playwrights like Beckett and Pinter. I also started my writing life as a poet, heavy on imagery and repetition. Now, you can write abstract, poetic dialogue like that, but it sounds pretentious and full of shit if you just play it straight. You have to have that cliche thing: motivation. A scene, as abstract as the words might be, has to be about something.
We made it about something. It’s a dream sequence, and it drives the action of the next scene, which gives our main characters action and agency and some pretty fine heroics.
But the dream. The dream. The nightmare. It was horrific. The entire week leading up to it I began having rolling panic attacks. There were things, traumatic things, that I drew on from my life and the lives of people I knew and loved to make just two goddamn angles of one goddamn shot that half a dozen people told me not to do at all.
It was a closed set, just four people, for privacy and adult themes. While performing, I didn’t feel one single kind of pain except the adrenaline of acting during the work itself. I watched playback for the technical aspects of our stunts. I talked with our director about which take felt the best. I got up after every stunt and did it again, padless and covered in dirt.
I came out the other side of the shoot bloody, bruised, and feeling like I had been shot in the gut and left to die slowly in the sun. I couldn’t even feel human. Not the rest of that day, not the next day. I had nightmares, waking dreams, trauma flashbacks. I barely slept. I couldn’t stop crying. I was an embarrassing mess on set the next day.
That night we were going to watch the rough footage. For reasons irrelevant to this narrative, I didn’t get to. But I knew — I knew — that I had to. It wasn’t about exorcizing inner demons. I think most of the time when people say that about their art it’s a crock. (Not all the time. There is great art spun from pure suffering.) Go take a boxing class if you need to punch your demons in the face. Or get a LiveJournal account. Whatever. (I run, and lift weights.) I think my partners may have worried about me seeing the footage so soon, that it wasn’t the right time, maybe I should wait and heal up. But I just knew.
The panic didn’t stop that night, and got bad enough that I asked a friend to drive me to the hospital. By that time, the scenes had been uploaded to our Dropbox. She and I watched them on my phone while sitting in the ER.
And suddenly, the pain I had felt went away. All I saw was something beautiful. Not pretty, no. Terrifying, sure. I could hardly imagine the bravery of my crew, my acting partner. They were magnificent. And I helped a little, by writing a stupid bunch of words that could have meant nothing, or worse than nothing. Who cares about a skinned knee when you see that light, that angle, that camera move, that expression? Why would I give one flying fuck about my pain when they performed such alchemy?
My therapist asked me earlier in the week: Why do it at all? Why retraumatize yourself?
I guess I did relive some trauma. For a weekend. One weekend. But finally seeing what we’d done, I got it. This hurt wasn’t about me. These weren’t my “demons” or my issues or whatever. This was about everyone I knew who had been hurt by other people. I couldn’t claim this story. It’s not just mine. It belongs to many, now including the artists who made it happen.
My friend that I watched the footage with said, “Wow. That was…I wish I had a camera so I could have captured every expression on your face as you watched that.” I don’t know what I looked like, but she was the one who originally told me about the difference between pretty and beautiful.
I wish scary things didn’t happen, but they do. As artists it’s our job to be honest about them. Being honest is hard. But in the end, somebody has to tell the scary stories.