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.

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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.

5 responses to “30 Stories in 30 Days: Day 29”

  1. Oh cool, I was hoping to hear more about the film after reading the unlicensed-uninsured-driver-in-the-no-brakes-car story.

    The janitor’s closet? People, eh?

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