FEAR & LOATHING @ SUNDANCE PART 3: Boozie Movies Nurses A Hangover With Bullets And Coffee
I wake up in the back of a van.
I immediately recognize that waking up covered in your own blood in the back of a van is not a good thing. Why am I not in an ambulance? I think I'm going to die tonight, or is it now today, or is still this morning? Whatever, I don't know what fucking time it is.
I should be in pain, I should have a splitting migraine, some type of hangover. But I feel numb, slightly euphoric actually. And this worries me. I don't think I'm in shock. The gash on my leg is deep but not deep enough for any radical trauma.
The only reason why I'm not convulsing in pain and throwing up from a skull crushing head ache is because the quaaludes are still doing their job. Too good of a job. It's sometimes better to feel pain. It lets you know your limits. I've already far exceeded mine.
I'm not alone in the van though. There are three other men surrounding me, maybe women, I can't be sure. The thing is, they're all wearing masks and baggy black clothing.
Maybe I'm not actually conscious; maybe this is some fever dream. I can only hope that I'm really stretched out in an ER triage packed with Hollywood actors in cardiac arrest from bad coke right now.
The sliding door on the rear side of the van has been bashed in from the snow mobile with
extensive cosmetic damage. This thing is going to need a lot of pricey bodywork.
Why aren't we filling out a police report? This just feels wrong.
I'm going to feel so goddamn relieved if I wake up.
But then I smell something. I can't recall ever having any sense of smell in a dream.
I smell two things actually, one more recognizable than the other.
One of the three other passengers is sitting in a row of seats in front of me. He has removed his mask and is smoking a spliff. It must be packed with dank. It smells like a hooker's asshole.
But there's another smell too, it takes me a few moments to place it; cordite. There's nothing else quite like it. Someone's fired a gun recently and that gun is here in the van somewhere.
That's when I realize that I hear a rattling sound as well, a very distinctive rattling; the sound of shell casings rattling in their boxes. This is when I notice stacks of ammunition on a seat behind me.
The man smoking the joint turns to face me. He's African American with dreadlocks, a septum piercing, and blood shot eyes. Also, I know him.
He smiles and says, "Hey, Film School, it's funny running into you out here. Just what the hell have you been up to? How you living? Man, it's been forever and a day hasn't it?"
I try to not act like I'm concerned that I'm sitting in a van with strangers in plastic masks with a shit ton of bullets stacked around me. Instead, I try to act normal and greet an old friend.
"Hey, G- Clip. It has been a while. I think the last time I saw you was right before the shooting."
SUB CHAPTER: THE STORY OF FILM SCHOOL & G-CLIP
2006. I was living in Bedstuy, Brooklyn right off the G- Line. If you know Brooklyn, you know the G-line, often referred to as the Ghost train and more commonly referred to as the Ghetto train. I lived directly across the street from the Marcy Street projects, birthplace of The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z. The Crown Fried Chicken next door to my apartment had a shrine of Polaroids with the famous rappers enjoying their chicken there.
I know exactly how awful and potentially racist that sounded, but fuck you, that detail is true.
The gentrification and hipsterization of Williamsburg was still spreading, an outbreak epidemic of white washing and red lining. But it hadn't quite reached my block yet. I probably lived in the last affordable housing that wasn't protected under rent control laws in all of NYC.
I was paying $700 a month and had my own 7 by 11ft room with a bathroom and private roof access. Never mind that I had seven other housemates and lived in an area that most cab drivers would refuse to go to at the end of the night.
I was working as a production assistant in film and television. I started as a day player on Spider Man 3, worked my way to everyday additional on Rescue Me, and became staff on Law & Order.
The first thing I learned about the professional film world is that you're automatically regarded as a clown if you went to film school, which I did. You're an even bigger clown if you actually love and respect films as an "art form."
Spend one year working on professional sets and you learn that making a film is like building a car on an assembly line.
I made the mistake of wearing an Eraserhead shirt to set one day. Production crews are like fraternities. Your fellow P.A.'s become your best friends and family, but trust has to be built first, and that usually comes from some form of hazing or another. As the aspiring filmmaker fresh out of film school wearing an Eraserhead shirt to set, I got the shit hazed out of me.
I was teased and taunted nonstop with A.D.s and Keys calling me Film School. But as I pushed on, the name took on more of an air of spirited affection.
I would get calls for jobs from complete strangers. When I answered the phone, they asked for Film School. They heard about Film School, that he's dependable. It became more than just a nick name.
Although, I'm not so sure if it was that cool that my name on the daily call sheets was printed as Film School too. Once you earn enough days to be eligible for the DGA, you're required to turn in all of your call sheets, and if there are inconsistencies with your name, you can be disqualified. If I had worked my way to the DGA, I might have ended up being royally fucked.
Again, my whole life, I can never really tell if I'm being fucked with or not.
I first worked with G-Clip on Law and Order. I'm not sure how he got his nick name. Then again, he's black, probably one of the six black P.A.s working at the time. It's a shame, but of course he's going to get stuck with some stupid nick name like G-Clip.
He wasn't only the token black guy on the crew, but he was the resident weed dealer for the production as well. Every set has one. When you're working a minimum 12 hour day that's more likely to become 18 or 22, there's always someone making supplemental income with some much needed pick me ups or turn me offs.
G-Clip was hugely popular on set. He's a charismatic guy. It was only natural that he headed the second team unit. Oh, not clear on the lingo? He's what we call a goat herder, managing all of the extras.
There's nothing worse than a career extra and it takes a certain personality to keep track of 40 to 50 underpaid aspiring wannabe actors getting $75 bucks to sit around in a room for 13 hours so they can show up in the background of an exterior shot.
G-Clip was eventually fired for allegedly stealing from the petty cash bag.
After I crashed and burned with Law and Order's shooting schedule, I ended up working a stint as an additional on American Gangster. I got the job from G-Clip who was then working as a Key P.A. on Ridley Scott's film. It was a convenient shoot; they were filming in Bedstuy which meant I didn't have to deal with two hours of train transfers in order to get into Manhattan.
But then again, we were filming in Bedstuy and the locals didn't take kindly to our presence. I half wondered if that's how G-Clip was able to get the job after being fired for theft, strictly to help with crowd control.
We were filming a pivotal scene in the film, an attempted drive by hit on Denzel Washington's character and his wife as they enter a Chinese restaurant on a busy market street at night.
Well, the street is deserted in the film, but packed in real life. Doing a lockup across three commercial blocks in Bedstuy, Brooklyn was something else.
It was one of the worst productions I've ever worked, worse than locking up Fifth Avenue for Spider Man or Times Square for I Am Legend. To really describe what it was like would be a political correctness minefield, so I'm going to leave it alone.
I've never had so many threats made on my life before, is the short end of it.
We were in the way of local businesses, legal, and not so legal.
When some dealers threatened the production with violence, no one took them seriously. This was New York after all, you can hardly go through an entire day without having someone say,"they're gonna fuckin kill ya."
After wrapping for the night, those dealers made good on their threat and shot up all of the production trucks, trailers, and transpo vans that were left parked on set.
No one was injured, or at least, no one was reported injured. The crew returned to work the following morning to find all of the vehicles riddled with bullet holes. More than a hundred rounds had been emptied out.
I had heard the shots from my room a few blocks away and thought it was just kids playing with fireworks.
Production was shut down for a few days and when I was called in to return, G-Clip was nowhere to be found.
It turned out that he had been sleeping in the Honey Wagon, a term we use for the production office's base of operations on a location shoot.
G-Clip lived out in Jersey City, which would have been a two hour commute by train from Bedstuy. And as I mentioned earlier, the average work day on a feature film is often 18 hours. It's often pointless to go home for sleep. There ain't no work restrictions or protection when you're a P.A.; you're less than human until you make it to the union.
While it's not kosher, P.A.s often sneak into actor trailers or work vans to get their 5 hours of sleep before call rather than wasting any more precious time commuting home.
G-Clip was hit by two stray bullets. The production wasn't insured for it but also didn't want to deal with a lawsuit. I heard they had settled out of court. The type of settlement that initially sounds good to a young black man working for 12 bucks an hour until a few years later when he smartens up and realizes just how bad he was fucked and that the cash settlement he got can't even pay for his medical expenses from getting shot over some stupid film.
G-Clip disappeared from the production world after getting his hush money and I haven't seen him since.
CHAPTER 5: V IS FOR DILDO CONTINUED.
G-Clip is offering me his joint which I gladly accept as he fills me in on all of the details of his legal battles with the producers of American Gangster.
"Man, they gave me a car. It was a picture car, you know, something they were using for the flick, and it was a period piece and all, so I was stuck with some fucking gas guzzling Oldsmobile from 1973, but shit, I had a fucking car. They gave ten thousand dollars cash up front and promised me another 30,000. They had me sign all these papers and I was happy as a pig in shit. And then I never heard from no one again. I never got that other $30,000, and the bill I got back from being in the ER for a week was over 80,000. That shit fucked me up real good, fucked me up for 5 years trying to pay them hospital bills."
I finally exhale and nearly cough out a lung which irritates the prostrate infection like you wouldn't believe.
G-Clip continues talking.
"What of you, you still crewing? You here with any films? I heard you got fucked up too."
"Yeah, I ended puking a pint of blood on Law and Order and spent a few days in the hospital myself. We were pulling 20 hours a day every day straight nearly two months. I was completely exhausted. We all were. I was throwing up all of the time. I thought maybe I had an ulcer but didn't see a doctor till I thought I was dying. Turns out I just had a really fucked up case of acid reflux, probably from all of the red bull I was drinking. Had I known, I would've done blow to stay awake instead. I was throwing up so much that I eroded a good portion of my esophagus. Not a huge deal, but it took 2 days of extensive testing for a diagnosis, and I left the hospital with a $20,000 bill myself."
"Shit, man. Were you covered?"
"No. The only reason I took the job with Law and Order was because it was the only production in town that offered health benefits. But the office intern in charge of processing my info fucked up and forgot to put my papers through. Legally, by state law, the production wasn't required to provide insurance until after 6 months of employment even though I was told they would be effective in 3. I was 2 weeks away from 6 months, so my insurance info was tossed, and I ended up quitting."
"You didn't get a lawyer?"
"No. I was young and dumb. Now I'm 30 and still just as dumb."
Former film crew members have a way of talking amongst each other like vets sharing war stories.
And until now, I've completely forgotten about Dan.
"Hey, G-Clip, where's the other guy I was with?"
"Didn't see no other guy."
I'm not sure if he's lying, I don't see any reason for him to lie. But then again, I can't ignore the smell of cordite and the rattling of bullets all around me. I can't be sure of anything right now.
I imagine that Dan is OK. With all of the stories and rumors surrounding him, you'd think he was indestructible. From what I've been told, he should have died 15 times over by now. I imagine he's stumbling around in the snow still drunk and bleeding, swearing to the heavens, and joking about his predicament on Facebook with his phone. Or maybe he's curled up asleep in front of the lodge. I hope he's OK.
I tell myself, "I'm sure he's OK." This will just be another epic story that his peers will whisper amongst themselves about in the future. Although, I don't know if that's a good thing or not.
An uncomfortable silence blankets the van. The other three passengers are now looking at me and I can finally make out the type of masks and outfits they're wearing. Everyone has a Guy Fawkes mask on, those cheap Halloween V for Vendetta masks that have somehow become an iconic symbol for backseat revolutionaries these days.
G-Clip loses his welcoming smile and the tone of his voice drops as he speaks to me.
"You know you fucked up our van?"
"Uh, yeah, about that, I'm sorry. I never drove a snow mobile before."
"I don't think that was the problem, man. I found yer bottle of quaaludes. You were and probably still are, high as a kite. And I can smell the whiskey on your breath."
"But we're not hurt and you're not hurt... all that bad. So we'll forget about all of that. Also, we crewed together, and that means something."
It's a thin line between production assistant and soldier.
I sigh with relief and try to ease the tension that's now occupying the van with all of us.
"So, G- Clip, what are you doing in Park City?"
The van comes to a screeching halt.
Dawn is upon us. The soft glow of a Park City sunrise paints the van's interior a warm shade of amber.
Looking out of the passenger window, I see that we're now in the center of town. One of the Guy Fawkes guys opens the van door.
G-Clip gives me a stone cold glare.
"I hope it's cool that we drop you off here."
As the Guy Fawkes guy crouches out of the way to let me through, I see that he has a full sized 9mm Glock tucked into the back of the pants.
I can't help but think of Chekov's gun idiom. If you know Alfred Hitchcock, then you know that
this gun is going to have to be fired at some point before the end of this story. I hope I haven't already ruined anything for you.
I decide not to push my luck and quickly get out of the van, waving farewell to my old co-worker from another life.
"I'm sure I'll be seeing ya around, Film School."
I lie and say, "Yeah, I hope to catch up more with you, G-Clip."
The broken van door shambles shut and they drive off.
I turn around to find a Starbucks directly behind me.
Good. I'm going to need a cup or 5 of coffee right about now.
CHAPTER 6: IS THAT A FUCKING IPAD? YOU GOT THAT SHIT FOR FREE?!
Park City during the film festival at dawn reminds me a lot of New York during the same early morning hours.
You can still smell or at least sense the previous night's excitement in the air even if it's now deathly quiet.
The streets are mostly deserted of people. You see some women, probably interns and aspiring actresses, making their walks of shame back to wherever they're staying. You can clearly read the combination of strained hope and regret on their faces. Tonight, they'll be out networking, trying to make the right impression on other hot shots while trying to ignore and forget the fledgling filmmaker a few feet away who got whiskey dick and kept licking their arm pits the previous night.
There's a few rock star type males limping around, still fucked up, trying to remember where they're staying.
Then you see all of the hack types, television cameramen, industry journalists, drivers, grips, electricians, and the people who keep this festival running. They're already starting their work days, preparing for the coming craziness, pretending to give a shit about this stuff so that they can manipulate others into giving a shit. They watch the stragglers making their way back to their rooms with equal measures of self righteous indignation and jealous resentment.
It reminds me of riding the 4am subway to work during my time in NYC. Throes of attractive young people still in their club clothes, still drunk, coupled up, on their way back to their lofts to fuck and crash. I hated them, but I also kind of wanted a taste of what they had. But I was needed on set at 5am to make sure some actor's egg sandwich was ready when they arrived and prepared just right to their personal specifications.
Park City itself is a surprisingly ugly little town. It's tough to accurately describe as I'm not an architect and know nothing in terms of lingo when it comes to architectural styles and trends. I know that Park City is fairly new as a rich person resort. It's not old money like Aspen. It lacks the classic village charm of that town.
Park City was once working class. When Redford Silver Van Wagenen brought their festival here in 78, all of their Hollywood buddies started buying up property, turning this into a reclusive safe haven for the rich and famous. A whole ton of money was poured into the town throughout the 80's. And well, the whole place just has that ugly architectural look of the 1980's. Everything about this place feels antiquated and archaic. Mostly, it reminds me of that strange wooded psychiatric treatment center from Cronenberg's The Brood.
As you make your way down the street, you can see the evolution of the town with the addition of newer buildings designed with a newer sense of style. It's all very jarring with no cohesive vision but I guess I sound like a fucking film critic right now. It's just kind of an ugly place structurally.
I find that my leg is still incredibly stiff when I walk. I can feel the dried blood cracking and flaking off. I should probably be worrying about a possible infection.
I haven't even looked at the wound yet. I don't know how large or deep it is. I can't even tell if it's still bleeding.
Fuck it. That's the beauty of being high. I just don't care.
I step into the Starbucks to find that it is packed with fellow critics and bloggers. There are dozens of young white males wearing trendy glasses with goatees, soul patches, beards, and other styles of facial hair. They are crammed together in packs at the small rounded tables, typing away on their Macbooks, notebooks, and tablets, rushing to make their deadlines, speeding through their reviews, transcribing their interviews, and developing their screening schedules for the rest of the week.
In the future, people won't watch films; they'll just read the reviews. It seems like most now form their opinions from culminating a group of others'. Actually watching films anymore almost seems secondary to the cultural discussion of them within this scene.
And from all of the over-saturation, this house of glass business has come to cannibalizing itself. I see critics sharing notes and opinions, critics reviewing other critics, interviewers interviewing other interviewers. Even the roadie can feel like the lead singer now.
I can't help but feel like Dante continuing his journey as he enters the 7th circle of hell for those who practice in heresy. The scene outside in the cold being the 2nd circle of hell with the consequences of a drunken night of lust.
I order my grande, verde, whatever the fuck size it's called coffee black and sit down to nurse
I keep thinking about G-clip and his band of Glock carrying Guy Fawkes hoodlums. Guns and masks are usually a bad combination and I wonder if I should contact the authorities. But I'm also thinking that my pupils are probably still dilated and it's probably a horrible idea for me to be walking into a police station looking like this.
I pull out my smart phone to check my Facebook newsfeed to see if there might be any other friends to connect with here for the festival.
Sure enough, half of my Facebook friends are tweeting from Park City, but Facebook friends are a different thing from real friends and I'm not seeing anyone who'd I'd actually want to hang out with.
I'm already seeing a fair amount of pictures and tweets from fellow film people in regards to their early morning routines here. I notice some updates going live with pictures of the Starbucks that I'm sitting in right now. Hell, I see myself looking all frazzled and disgruntled in the background of one of the pictures.
The thing Orwell got wrong about big brother in 1984 is that it's not going to be the government that invades our privacy and tracks our every impulse and movement, it'll just be us. We've become our own internal monitoring system.
An older balding man sits down next to me. I can immediately tell that he's not here for the festival; he's a local. He's wearing a flashy yet hideously ugly ski jacket that probably costs more than my car. I don't care if it's winter clothing; no man looks good in a puffy pink coat with yellow diagonal stripes. Christ, he's even wearing a fanny pack to the side. And is he walking his pet cat on a leash? Of course, the cat is wearing a hand knit tailored sweater vest, special ordered no doubt. Only old money is clueless enough to spend so much in order to look so stupid. This guy is a native for sure. His head slowly turns from side to side like a mounted turret as he takes the crowd in with exaggerated displays disapproval. He loudly sighs and tisks at everything he sees. He probably dreads this week every year.
I can't help but wonder if this is that same guy from the notorious video of The Woman's screening scandal a few years back.
When you think of it, the audiences at a festival like Sundance are the worst. The only people seeing these films here are those who made them, jaded critics, and wacko Park City locals who are completely cut off from reality. Sundance crowd reactions are a terrible indicator of how a film will play to a wider audience.
I try to say hello to the man now sharing my table but he just tisks at me and turns his head pretending that I'm not here.
My instinctive animal compulsions return and I unconsciously find myself spitting at the floor again.
And that's when I see her.
For reasons of confidentiality, I'll again refer to her as "M."
I met her during the Philadelphia Film Festival back in October. She reps for a film industry
payroll company in P.A. We seemed to hit it off back at that festival but I was in a weird place when we connected. I think we both were.
Still, in a few short days, I fell head over heels for her. Can I say that? "Head over heels?" I don't wear heels, is that a gender specific term?
Anyway, she was there when the gates of hell were opened in Philly. I had spared her the explicit details of what happened. That was, until she read it here online. She stopped answering my calls after that.
C'est la vie. She likes dating guys in rock bands anyhow and that's generally a red flag for me. I was just an eccentric curiosity for her. Either way, I was destined to merely end up as a new platonic BFF while she complained that her rock band boyfriend was cheating her. That's what guys in rock bands do, that's why they join rock bands.
I decide that I should make an ass of myself and go talk to her. And if it makes her uncomfortable, fuck it; I'm the grand master of making people uncomfortable. I might as well stick to what I'm good at.
I make my way over and greet her. At first she doesn't recognize me, but then again, I look like a crazy man who got into a snow mobile accident a few hours ago. When my voice finally registers with her, I can tell she's surprised, and not in a good way. She looks at me like I just took a dump in her coffee. From how wide her eyes are, I'm thinking there might be undigested baby parts in that dump as well.
And then I see who she's sitting with, the director of Philadelphia's biggest non-profit film organization. I'll again refrain from using names so I'm not assassinated in my sleep by ninjas working on this woman's behalf.
Let's just say that I made some jokes vaguely referencing this prominent figure in my community before and people caught on and it lead to all sorts of trouble. Then again, I did save this woman from being killed by my miniature Anti Christ doppelganger back in October. I guess it's good that she was able to escape the other demons and hellfire that took out the majority of the rest of Philadelphia's film scene.
I remember now that M often collaborated with this woman professionally. I wasn't surprised she stopped seeing me. She'd never get ahead in film in Philadelphia if she's dating the court jester.
The non-profit director is busy going through a large gift bag filled with all sorts of high end
goodies. She pulls out the shittier items and places them in front of M as gifts giving her the
short end of the stick and expecting gratitude.
M finally speaks.
"What the hell are you doing here? What the hell happened to you?"
I ignore the question and ask my own. "What's with all the stuff in that bag?"
"All of the big wigs get them, there are gift shops set up by the festival's biggest sponsors everywhere. All of the celebrities and top tier festival goers get gift bags."
"Is that a fucking iPad?"
"Yeah, and an iPod classic, and a GPS, and a Seiko watch, and whatever, what of it?"
"Dude, that's like $1000 worth of shit!"
"And you guys are getting all of that for free?"
In this moment, it becomes my number one goal to get into one of these gift shops. Fuck the films. I want a free iPad. Not because I need an iPad or even like iPads but I can fucking pawn that shit for rent money.
The non-profit director shoots me the stink eye. I can see the gears turning in her head. She's debating with herself whether she wants to say something to me. But she remains quiet. I guess she doesn't want to go on the attack against a crazy man caked in dried blood.
M repeats her first two questions.
"What the hell are you doing here? What the hell happened you?"
Again, I ignore the questions and change the topic.
"I was really looking forward to seeing you again, M. It's not too late to start over."
"You're out of your fucking mind, Greg."
"Yeah, I keep hearing that a lot lately."
"After those stupid articles got published, I had to go around telling around that I wasn't actually seeing you. You know what kind of lies I had to make up about you to distance myself from you in other people's eyes?"
"And now you're here at Sundance."
"And now here I am. And how did you get here?"
"I honestly can't remember. I tell ya as soon as I do though."
M shakes her head. I'm not sure if it's in disgust or pity. One thing is for sure, she's still beautiful. Fucking Christ, I've always had a thing for red heads.
I find myself laughing for no discernible reason. I think I might need to get some sleep. I decide to head back outside. I doubt there are any hostels or YMCAs in Park City. It's far too cold to be sleeping on a park bench as well. I have no idea what to do.
I make my way up Main Street when I find Dan crouched on the sidewalk against the wall of small boutique now doubling as a media hot spot. He still has the now empty bottle of cheap whiskey I stole the night before.
I knew he made it out OK. This guy is indestructible.
I sit down next to him. Words aren't needed. We communicate with grunts and hand gestures.
He points up the street where there's a large mess of police cars parked around a large industrial dumpster.
It's still early enough where there isn't much foot traffic so that Dan and I are the only witnesses to whatever it is that seems to be going down.
Dan finally speaks.
"They found a body in the dumpster."
"Someone OD? Drank too much and slipped on some ice?"
"No, they're being all hush, hush, but she was murdered."
"How the fuck would you know?"
"Cause I'm the one who found the body and reported it."
"I may have tried to go to sleep in that dumpster last night."
"There was a young woman in there, all cut up. Looked like someone stabbed her, a lot."
"Jesus, a murder at Sundance? The press is going to love it."
"That's what I thought. But the police tell me that shit like this happens every year during the festival. But they'll have that cleaned up before everyone hits the street and no one will ever know about it."
"Did you recognize the body? Do you think it was someone famous?"
"No. Didn't recognize her at all. She had tattoos though, a lot of them."
"That doesn't specify so much anymore does it? Everyone has a lot of tattoos now."
"She had this really weird one. It was like, a giant brain with eyes and a mouth."
I have to ask, "Where was the tattoo?"
"On her breasts. Can you believe it? What kind of woman wants to get that on her tits anyway? I mean, really? If I'm making love to a woman, the last thing I want to see is some creepy brain with a face looking back at me."
I can't be sure, but the only thought that comes to mind is that Michael Cera really wanted his phone back.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV : OPERATION CHAOS, 10,000 BULLETS, & A FREE IPAD