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For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1. To see all 30 stories, start here.

For anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, today’s the last day of this story-a-day challenge (MATH!). As I have done every day of this challenge, I woke up this morning without any clue as to what story I would tell.

Before I begin, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who have followed along, cheering and commenting–some of you even participated! And extra thanks to Brad Listi, for putting up with my daily emails and for posting a couple stories that were less than awesome on your awesome site–all for the sake of my personal writing challenge.

See you guys in 2012!

 

Day of the Donkey Punch

I made it all the way to the end before I had to explain the donkey punch.

Puberty: The Movie was as juvenile a script as its title suggests. It was chock full of funny, grown up, dirty words said by children (which made them even funnier). In one scene, an 11-year-old actor was asked to say the line, “Donkey punch that bitch.” Out of context that seems uncalled for, but I can assure you, it was almost completely called for.

Parents were informed during casting that the movie would require some potty-mouthing from their children. Only a few objected and passed on the project. The rest gave the material a thumbs up and issued their sons and daughters a license to swear.

A few weeks before shooting began, we gathered all the child actors together in a small theater space to read through the script together. The moms watched as their future superstars pretended their little hearts out for us. When our lil’ guy got to the “donkey punch” line, the directors and I held our breath and waited for them to continue.

“What does donkey punch mean?” he asked, nervously. He knew that whatever it was, it was dirty.

We looked back into the expectant faces of six teens and tweens, staring at us, waiting for an explanation. One of the moms chimed in from the sidelines: “Yeah, I’d like to hear what it means, too.”

As producer, one of my jobs was to keep the talent happy, and in the case of child actors, that means keeping the parents happy. There was no way I was about to explain the mythical donkey punch to a room full of children and their parents.

“It’s probably best that you don’t know.” I said, and we moved on.

I continued to dodge that bullet over the next few weeks. But as the fun of filming wore off, the moms in the green room became less accepting of the “best that you don’t know” line. When I was in the room and I heard someone–anyone–mention the dreaded donkey punch, I found somewhere else to be, quick.

I can’t say it was best for them not to know what it meant, but I am certain it was best for me.

My last day on the set was maybe my least favorite. The small Massachusetts town in which we were filming had been hit by a record-breaking blizzard. All weekend long the entire crew both began and ended our 15-hour shooting days by digging our cars and trucks out of snowbanks. When half the city lost power and parents wanted to take their kids home to safety, we said, “No,” which I’m pretty sure was illegal. And the built-up stress on set led to a pretty ugly blow-up between one of the directors and me.

Well, he blew up. I walked outside, lit a cigarette and prayed that he would get hit by a bus.

I did not wish hard enough, so we made amends and wrapped up all the producery business I had stuck around for. Then I said my goodbyes and headed to the green room to grab my coat and my keys. No amount of icy highways had kept me from the set, and none were going to keep me from getting back home to New York, either.

Our costume designer was leaving the green room as I approached it and she laughed a little when she saw me. “Have fun!” she teased.

I stopped her. “What did you do?”

“I just explained donkey punch to all the moms,” she said, smiling, and left me to manage the fallout.

So close! I almost made it! I suddenly knew exactly how those buddy cop characters felt when–just two days before retirement–they got handed some dangerous murder case! I took a deep breath and entered the room.

The moms saw me and began to circle. I was very quickly surrounded by stage moms who all of a sudden cared what garbage we had been making their kids say on camera.

“Is that a real thing that people really do?” one Mom began. She didn’t even bother saying “donkey punch”–one look at my face and she knew that I knew that they knew.

“No. It’s not a real thing,” I assured them. It’s a silly made-up expression that seventeen-year-old boys think is funny to talk about. But no one really does it.”

“Is that your target audience? Seventeen-year old boys?!” another mom asked, accusingly.

“Kind of?” I answered. “You’ve read the script, right?” (HAD SHE READ THE SCRIPT? My guess is no.) “Besides, I think it’s funny, too. I mean, your son is eleven, and his character is so sweet and innocent. And then he says something so shockingly inappropriate. That’s the joke.”

She thought about this for a second, but was still concerned. “I’m just not sure I want my son to think that this is an okay thing for a person to do to someone.”

“Right.” I said. “That’s called parenting. That’s your job. My job is to get a pre-teen to say ‘donkey punch’ on camera.”

And with that, I left the room, the set, the state of Massachusetts and the stage mothers of Puberty: The Movie speechless.

 

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

Day 29! Day 29! I’m so close I can taste the end of this silly experiment, and it tastes deloycious!

Today’s story is one I’ve told too many times before–another from the set of Puberty: The Movie. Hold on to your drawers. It’s about to get shitty in here.

 

The Shit We Do To Make Movies

Every once in a while, someone asks me about the movies I’ve worked on. Often they want to know, “What exactly does a producer do?” I tell them there are different kinds of producers, but on the low-budget, independent films I’ve worked on, a producer’s role is to do “whatever needs to be done.”

Sometimes it’s kind of cool. A producer is like a boss and it is sometimes fun being the boss. It includes being part of the casting process and putting together a crew and making some major decisions about the script and the locations and it can be pretty fun stuff.

But being the boss also means being responsible for everyone and everything. If something needed to be done and no one else could do it, I’d have to. I tried to remember how fun those casting sessions were while I was cleaning off tables, running errands, making sandwiches and acting as a human suggestion box for complaints.

On the set of Puberty: The Movie I tried to absorb all the drama to protect the directors so they could work. I couldn’t shield them from all of it, but I could sometimes postpone their involvement until our nightly production meeting. Those meetings lasted as long as the day’s shooting, making sure none of us ever got any sleep, which led to more and more mishaps.

By the second day of shooting, I had completely lost my cool. I vaguely remember biting the head off our Assistant Director in front of the rest of the crew. In my defense, she completely fucked up. But in her defense, no one should ever have to hear, “YOU’RE NOT HERE TO THINK, YOU’RE HERE TO DO WHAT I FUCKING TELL YOU TO DO!”

Not cool, boss-lady. Not cool.

The next day I got all yelly again, this time with our Unit Production Manager, who made the small mistake of forgetting to call in all of our extras and the giant mistake of interrupting me while I was talking. That was the same day I realized that I hadn’t peed in 24 hours. It’s a fucked up thing to sit on a toilet and realize that the last time you urinated was “this time, yesterday.” But bathroom breaks were a luxury I couldn’t afford on day three. That’s how crazy day three was.

After the fourth day, I took a break from the shoot to go back to my regular day job. By that time, the eight hour round-trip drive and three days of full time employment was like a vacation. I still took calls all day and night, and continued to work on administrative aspects of the production, but at least I could sleep in my own bed and urinate on my own schedule.

It was during these first few days away from the set that I took a breath and realized that I needed to learn to keep my cool. I didn’t want to be the person who yelled all the time. I wanted to be steady, unshakable and in control. So I made a promise to myself that I would roll with the flow, no matter how totally insane the flow rolled.

Frankly, the degree to which things were falling apart had long since passed “shocking” or “upsetting” and were instead becoming “hilarious.” Once I was back on set, I was Ms. Cool, rolling with the punches (there were literally punches!) and calmly taking on whatever problems arose.

Until shit happened. Literally. Someone took a shit. In a middle school. On the floor of a janitor’s closet.

We were filming for most of the weekend at a junior high school in Sharon, Massachusetts. Our directors had to beg for permission to shoot there, but once granted, they opened the doors for us and left us to our own devices. We’d need to return to the same location two more times, so we had to be on our best behavior and leave everything just as we found it, so as not to lose our privileges.

I don’t remember who found it–the production crew, when not on set or running an errand, spent most of their time exploring any open door they could find. All I know is that in the evening on our second day at the school, two of the kids from the art department found me to report that there was shit on the floor of the janitor’s closet.

Human shit?” I asked.

“Has to be,” one of the kids confirmed. “There haven’t been any dogs here today, and besides, it’s too big. Want to see it?”

I could already feel the barf forming. I did not want to see it. If I saw it, we’d have two messes to clean up. I didn’t lose my cool (or my lunch), but I did wonder who could have done it and why. The janitor’s closet was right next to the boys’ bathroom. Did somebody open the wrong door and just run out of time?

But the real question was what to do about it. The one thing I knew for sure is that it had to be cleaned up before we wrapped for the day. And I couldn’t in good conscience ask one of the production crew to clean it. We were already overworking and underpaying them all–I refused to ask them to do a job that a toilet had already turned down.

But I couldn’t do it myself, either. Until that moment, I had been a real go-to gal. I was up for whatever challenges faced me. No job was too big, too small, or too humiliating. I was willing to get my hands dirty. But not this dirty. This was a line I couldn’t cross. I could take a lot of shit, but I could not clean it up.

I found Eric, one of the directors. I laughed a little as I explained our predicament and he made, I thought, a pretty reasonable suggestion.

“Start at $40 and go up in increments of $20 until someone agrees to clean it up.”

We were so low on money, but this seemed like an extremely affordable plan. I was about to spread the word when Steve, the other director, came around the corner and asked, “Where’s the shit?” Eric and I pointed at the closet door and Steve went right in, without hesitation.

A minute later he was carrying a wad of paper towels into the bathroom. Then he walked out, clapped his hands together the way you do to communicate “It’s finished” and headed back to the set.

“Let’s wrap this up!”

The shit was all we talked about the rest of the night; we all speculated about which one of the crew members was responsible for leaving it, and eventually agreed on a suspect. But we never mentioned it to him. The shit was a punchline to countless inside jokes for the rest of production and since, but as far as I know, no one has ever brought it up in front of the probable culprit.

Of course, no one has actually talked to that guy since production, either. I mean, shit in a closet once, shame on him, but shit in a closet again, and shame on everyone for letting him into our closets, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how that saying goes. I’m from Texas.

Steve told us later that the shit was full of rocks. ROCKS! And that it was still warm when he cleaned it up. I was really proud of him for stepping up that day. When I was refusing and Eric was bargaining, Steve sailed in and TCB’d like nobody’s B. And that, to me, is what makes a great filmmaker.

I don’t know if Dennis Weaver shit in a closet while filming Duel, but I’m almost positive Spielberg wouldn’t touch it if he did.

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.