For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I’ve got three more stories to tell, and I’ve decided that they will all come from the set of the first movie I ever produced. It was called Puberty: The Movie and it is still technically in post-production, nine years after we shot it.

I recently spoke to one of the writer/directors on a podcast and we cracked each other up, talking about this project that almost killed us both. And even though I could probably talk about it forever, because the whole thing was basically a 24-hour emergency for three-and-a-half-weeks straight, I will try to concentrate on three major events, starting with the time I almost manslaughtered our star.

 

Killing Joe Lo Truglio

We should have known things would fall apart.

I was anxious the day I picked up the stars of our little movie. It was the night before we were scheduled to begin principal photography, and I was to drive our leading man and lady from New York City to the small town of Sharon, Massachusetts. I picked them up just after dark and we began the four hour drive, excited to finally get to the set. But I was anxious.

I was anxious because, as producer of this film, I needed to be a leader. I had never produced a feature film before, and I was a little bit terrified that that fact had escaped no one. I hoped to make everyone feel comfortable in my capable hands; to project a level of confidence and professionalism that screamed, “DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! SHE’S TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!” And I’d be flying solo with our film’s stars for four hours in my little car. That’s a lot of one-on-one-on-one time in which I’d be wearing my “Best Behavior” hat–the worst-fitting hat in my metaphorical hat collection.

I was also anxious because I was still a little bit star struck. Our movie’s lead actor, Joe Lo Truglio, is a super friendly, funny and warm guy. But when I picked him up that night, I had only ever spent an hour or two around him. He wasn’t my friend Joe, yet, he was a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer –two of my favorite things, ever, and having a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer in the front seat of my car was still a tiny bit hard to believe and totally fucking awesome. Especially since he turned out to be super friendly, funny and warm.

But I was mostly anxious because just a few days earlier I received a disturbing piece of information about my driver’s license. Apparently it had been suspended, both in New York and Connecticut. The story behind this is a really long one, so let me see if I can sum it up briefly: thought I took care of a ticket; turned out I was wrong; both states suspended my license without notifying me; insurance company discovered this and called to let me know they were canceling my policy.

It took years to straighten it all out. It was still very much un-straightened-out by the time we began principal photography on Puberty the Movie, which meant that the film’s two lead actors were being driven from state to state in an uninsured car by an uninsured driver with a suspended license. I was an outlaw; a rule breaker. I could have been arrested! I was paranoid.

I was anxious.

My anxiety intensified just outside of Mystic, Connecticut, when one of my passengers asked me to make a pit stop. Both Joe and Caitlin, his costar, were deep in conversation when I exited and I had to repeat myself a few times to get their attention.

“Um… Guys? GUYS? The car’s not stopping.”

“What do you mean it’s not stopping?” Joe asked. I tried to mask the abject terror on my face as we approached the intersection ahead.

“It’s not stopping. I’m pressing the brakes and it just keeps going.”

It was late and the exit was deserted, luckily, so I ran the stop sign and merged back onto the highway. I managed to stay out of the way of other cars as I called my roommate, Andrew, the only other person who had driven my car for the past year. He had no knowledge of any problems with the brakes, or anything else, for that matter. But he put me on hold and called his older brother who apparently knows more about cars than either of us.

As I waited for him to return to the line, I weighed my options. I could try to pull over on the side of the road and stop the car, but then we’d be stuck on a dark highway. Maybe a police officer would see us and offer to help. And maybe that police officer would ask for my driver’s license and insurance information. And maybe Joe and Caitlin would watch, helplessly, as I was handcuffed and carted off to a Connecticut jail (probably a really nice jail, but still…).

Or, I could exit the highway again and try to make it to a service station. But the next intersection might be more crowded. Had I watched enough Cannonball Run movies to successfully navigate a runaway car through a busy intersection?

Andy’s brother didn’t have any advice for me, so I decided to chance it. I don’t know how much is “enough” but I have seen a lot of Cannonball Run.

We all held our breath as I exited and rolled into the intersection. We were facing a red light and oncoming traffic from both sides, but the cars were few and far between, so I went for it anyway. I ran the light, turned right in front of one car, then immediately left in front of another. As I pulled into the gas station on the corner, I kept my foot pressed down on the brakes, but the car wouldn’t come to a complete stop. So I threw it into park and, with the engine revving loudly, turned the key.

DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! I’VE TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!

We solicited the help of a young kid who worked at the station, and who promised he could fix me right up when his shift ended at midnight. We decided to kill some time at a Friendly’s restaurant across the street. It was freezing outside, but I wasn’t ready to call in the cavalry just yet.

The three of us ate some food, played some cards and talked a lot. I assured them both that everything was going to be fine; that we weren’t stranded in Mystic, Connecticut and that I hadn’t almost killed us all with a Toyota Echo named “Magic Bobby.” I put on a brave face and pretended to have my shit together, but my shit was far from together.

After hours of Friendly’s coffee, several hands of poker and a few trips to the gas station to check the progress of our young handyman, I had to admit that we were stuck for the night. It had begun snowing and we’d missed the last train out of town. I left the car at the gas station and checked us all into a Howard Johnson’s within walking distance.

The woman who checked us into the HoJo was named Sparkling Water. She told me about her Native American heritage as I paid for the rooms, while Joe sat at a small table meant to keep children occupied while their parents checked in and out. He had a blank piece of paper and a pencil cup full of used crayons. When I walked over to give him his room key he handed me a drawing–a small car with a stick figure poking out one window, shouting “Help me!”

I said goodnight to them both and went to my room to call the film’s directors. Just after “Hello” I began to sob, uncontrollably–I was simply exhausted from wearing my brave face for so long. It’s the worst fitting face in my metaphorical face collection.

We were back on the road the next morning–in somebody else’s car. But in the weeks to come we’d look back on that night as one of our more fortunate ones. It was the only night I had to deal with one emergency, rather than twelve. Compared to the rest of the shoot, that death drive was practically a vacation. Or maybe it was just an omen of a shitstorm on the horizon.

We should have known things would fall apart. And maybe we did know. But even now I don’t suppose I would have done things any differently.

Except, maybe take the train.

 

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Founder and editor of online magazine Kittenpants, producer for stage and screen, former writer for the Comedy Central Insider, quoted in both Maxim and Jane: DARCI RATLIFF can do it all, and does do it all (on or before the third date). Buy her book, If I Did It at kittenpants.com.

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