Category Archives: Production

The Quenching Waters of Shame

 

Let me tell you about one of the most shameful moments I have ever experienced. Let me tell you about the awful time I wanted to disappear into nothingness because I was so humiliated by my thoughtless actions. Sometimes Truth is a venom and when it works its way into our hearts it hurts fiercely but it also helps if you let it. It can burn away all the fat of reality until we experience only the kernel of humanity that is left.

Let’s begin…

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The heat in Africa is like someone holding a blow dryer in your face on a July day. It’s like eating mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs in a Jacuzzi. It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.

 

When you get a bottle of water, you don’t sip it. You slam it. You slam it if it’s cold and freezes your throat. You slam it if it’s room temperature and feels like spit. There is no casual thirst here.

 

And now, standing in the dirt, covered by the shade of our van and wiping sweat from my face, I see Ryan, a Ugandan who’s tagging along with us, kill an entire bottle in no time flat. He wipes his mouth and says, “I know dis guy named Geronimo – he’s a big guy. Will take a whole bottle and just drop it right down his throat into his big belly.”

 

I lift the piss-warm water to my lips as my mind wanders back to America where a faucet gives me ice-cold water and I don’t have to worry about microbes giving me diarrhea and headaches. I say, “How fast you think you can slam that bottle?” Ryan shrugs and I pull the stopwatch up on my phone.

 

“GO.” Ryan kicks his head back and goes bottoms up. The clear liquid birdie-drops past his teeth and he doesn’t spill a drop. “Eight point five seconds. That’s insane.”

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He grabs a second bottle from our stash in the van and hands it to me. “Ready, Johnny?” I nod and watch his thumb hit the timer. I flip the bottle up, trying to imitate his method, but instead water jets up my nose and covers my shirt. I cough and water sprays out of my mouth. Ryan starts to laugh as I go into a choking fit. “Haha! Twelve seconds, Johnny! I win!”

 

No! I can do better! I can do –”

 

But my thought is cut short and the contest is forgotten forever as I realize where I’m standing, as I realize where I am and what I’m doing. “Maybe . . . we shouldn’t . . . do this . . .”

 

Staring at us is a small group of Ugandan children, twelve in all. Some of them are barefoot. Some of them wear shoes that are tied to their feet. One kid has a hole in his pants so big I can see his penis hanging out. Their shirts are either too big or too small for their bodies. Their skin is as dark as a plum and the dirt they are caked in is like a powder. One child has a herniated belly button the size of a kiwi. Their white eyes look at me. Look into me.

 

I’m not just in Uganda. I’m in the slums. I’m down here shooting promotional videos for an organization that houses abandoned babies, an organization that takes infants who have been left for dead inside of dumpsters and places them with new mothers. I’m down here representing them. And I’m down here representing America. And I’m down here representing humanity. And I’m supposed to be helping. I’m supposed to be in the dirt with these kids, giving them the tiniest shred of hope in their day. Earlier I was doing close-up magic—making a small coin disappear—and teaching them secret handshakes and they were chasing me around and hugging me and laughing and shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”— an African term that means white traveler—and a humbling happiness came over me wherein I knew I could not help them all and I knew I could only help in this moment.

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I look at their houses and I see mud walls with tin roofs. I see a canal, an undeveloped sewage system, that is one foot wide filled with human waste running in front of their homes. I see someone from my team open up a bag of suckers and I hear 30 children scream with so much glee that at first I think someone is being murdered. The children run around waving their candy in the air and laughing. I watch a two-year-old drop his sucker in some kind of dark brown mud. I watch him pick it up, wipe it on his shirt, and stick it back in his mouth.

 

I watch the mothers look at me and I know what they are thinking. They know where I come from. They know what I have. They know what they never will. Their mats in the dirt are as good as it gets and are as good as it ever will get. There is a quiet hopelessness that my presence rubs their noses in.

 

A drunken man wanders down the street and begins shouting at us in Lugandan, the local language. I ask Ryan what he’s saying. “He doesn’t want us here. He thinks you’re going to take his picture and make money from it and he will get nothing.”

 

“Can you tell him that we’re going to take the images to raise money for the babies?”

 

Ryan says, “He doesn’t care. Those babies are not in this village. Uganda is a big place. We might help someone but we won’t help him.”

 

We can’t help everyone.

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The man disappears and comes back holding an iron rod. He cranks the volume on his voice and begins waving it around. The man gets up in the face of a local girl and begins pointing at each of us wildly. Ryan translates for me, “Why are you helping them? They are white, and they don’t care about you! When they are done they will leave and forget about you and you will still be here, poor and broke!”

 

It’s easy to paint this man as the bad guy, but the truth is that he’s spent his entire life being treated like an animal as we all come from our homes and take pictures of him in his natural habitat. He feels exploited.

 

When he’s spoken his mind, he stumbles away.

 

In a place like this – where you have so much more than everyone else, where you’re the richest guy in the room and everyone knows it—it’s easy to start thinking of yourself as some kind of gracious Mother Teresa type. It’s easy to start believing that you’re sacrificing yourself for The Children. Vanity moves in fast.

 

“I’ve come from America to save you! Do not fear, simple African people, for I have brought you the best thing I can: myself!”

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I reach out and I take a child’s hand and I look into her eyes while I wonder how filthy those fingers are. How much human excrement is on them? I say, “How are you? What is your name?” while I scan her for any cuts that could infect me with HIV.

 

I’m down in it. For tonight only. And I am helping. But not this kid. Some kid somewhere will feel the effects of this video we’re making. It will raise awareness and it will raise money and that money will help some kid. But not this one. Not any of these. And the guy with the pipe is right. When I’m done here I am going to go back to America and you will still be here. And you will still be poor and broke.

 

But I won’t forget you. He’s wrong about that.

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The sun is dropping down, and this close to the equator it only takes 15 minutes to go dark. The kids chase after us, laughing and dancing, smiling and shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as we walk to our van.

 

We get to the lot and I’m sweating. Ryan slides open the door and grabs a bottle of water, “I know dis guy named Geronimo—” And that’s how it all plays out.

 

How quickly we forget ourselves.

 

And now here I am, my eyes connecting with each one of the twelve kids. I think I know who they are and what they are. I believe that I am deep enough to understand the sorrows of their culture. And with clean water rushing down my chin and into the dirt, pooling in the dust at my feet, I realize that I am filled with more shit than the ditches in front of their homes.

 

I feel my heart break. Not for them. But for myself. I am baptized in shame. I swing my pack off and reach inside. Please, please let there be more. Please. My hand wraps around warm plastic and I pull out a bottle of water. I push through the crowd to the tallest child and say, “Are you the oldest?” and he nods. I hand him the bottle of water and I point to the crowd. “Share.”

 

Half the kids get a sip as it’s passed carefully between them, and then it’s gone and is discarded on the ground before they all look back at me. Nobody is multiplying fish and loaves here.

 

Our driver hollers. “Suns down. We gotta go.” And he means it. This is no place for a mzungu at night. I jump into the backseat and the kids all press their hands to the glass. “Mzungu! Please! They babble in their native tongue, shouting pleas at me.

 

I can’t help you.

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The engine fires up and the van shifts into drive. “Mzungu! Mzungu!” I press my hand against the glass and we start to move. I thrust my fist into my pocket. Where is it? Where is it? Hurry up! Hurry up, you fucking idiot! You fucking selfish idiot! The pocket is empty. I go for the other one—just a bunch of wrappers and lint. Where is it!? Where did I put it? There! My hand wraps around a single coin worth 100 shillings or about 3 U.S. pennies – the one I was making vanish with my close-up magic.

 

I swing open the door and reach out to the smallest kid, front and center. “Here! Here!” He holds out his hand and I drop the coin into his palm. His eyes turn into saucers. “Thank you, mzungu!” They all see the coin and they look at me and they start shouting, “Mzungu! Shilling! Mzungu!” They reach out for me, 12 dirty hands asking for my help, as the van speeds up.

 

I do them the courtesy of looking them all in the eyes as I slam the door in their faces.

 

I’m sorry. I can’t save you.

 

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First World Problems

Sometimes too many words are just too many words so I’m going to keep this one short.

While visiting Nicaragua I heard a man say, “If you can fix it with money, it’s not really a problem… if you can’t fix it with money, then it’s a problem.”

Really simple words that have stuck with me for the last six months and have given me a simple clarity to most of my everyday issues.  I hope you can take a moment to meditate on that phrase and then go have a GREAT WEEK!  See you next Monday!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/101108613″>First World Problems</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3183899″>John Brookbank</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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oh shoot, it’s PATRICK AND MOLLY!

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STUPID MACHINE!

I had about half a page of this blog written and was about ready to start inserting some photos and I hit the backspace key to erase something (what else would the backspace key do?) AND IT BACKSPACED ME A PAGE AND WHEN I CAME BACK ALL MY MEANINGLESS DRIVEL WAS GONE!!!

So now I’m starting from friggin’-A scratch.

Sometimes machines make me crazy. Sometimes robots make me crazy. Sometimes if I don’t take my medication I get crazy.

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So “Patrick and Molly and all the small things” is in the can. I hate it when people say “in the can”. There are certain film terms that I just can’t stand and “in the can” is one of them. It really has nothing to do with the fact that it sounds like you’re about to put it in the pooper, I just don’t like it. You’ll never hear me say it. Ever. Unless I’m talking to my wife.

Somehow I feel like an imposter, sitting here and rewriting the same stupid jokes that I’d written before my computer ate my draft. Oh well.

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Many of you perhaps……or none of you mayhap…….are wondering what the mysterious Patrick and Molly look like? Will they be played by llamas? Are they caucasian, asian? Are they ragin’ and pagin’? Do they like to text? Will they text message you?

Maybe.

Let me introduce them.

PATRICK. Inventor. Last in his class (almost) and lovin’ it.

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MOLLY. Photographer. Is scared of bird flu.

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man oh man. What beautiful people. Let’s look at a few photos of them pretending to be a young married couple, shall we?

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There were no problems on set. There really weren’t. EVERYTHING went smooth. VERY smooth. Ex-lax smooth. We’d planned for everything and everyone did their piece of the pie and the invention worked like clockwork. This neither makes for good drama OR comedy so I’m sorry. I’m sorry no one got burned by a light. I’m sorry an actor wasn’t in a car crash on the way to set. I’m sorry my house didn’t burn down and I’m sorry no one crapped their pants. This last bit happened to a friend of mine once…..

…….he was at work at went to the bathroom to drain the main vein. When he put the salamy mommy back into his shorts he accident released a bit of leftover urine and it soaked through his pants, creating a wet spot about the size of three quarters. He called his boss from the men’s room and told him he had to go home. He’d had a wardrobe malfunction.

True story.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions on set…..unless you count this:

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I’ll probably begin editing the pieces in about two to three weeks and then we’ll begin posting them online about once a week or something like that.

OH WAIT!!! I DID just think of something that happened on set…

We had to leave the house for one of the setups when Patrick is stranded somewhere due to a flat tire. Poor fool. So we drove down the street about six blocks to this real industrial neighborhood.

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So we were shooting next to Jade’s and mine…..Jade’s and my car…..the car that belongs to Jade and myself – our Pontiac Vibe – when we saw these two Volksvagoons.

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Jade suggested using one of them as the prop car rather than our own – just have Patrick stand next to it, we’ll fire a few shots off and roll out……so we did….

…and then we heard this deep rusty voice say, “DON’T TOUCH MY CAR!”

…and we all looked around and no one knew where it was coming from so we just proceeded.

And then another rumbling and this drunken bum – someone who certainly could have played a Santa Clause type character emerged from the trash heap that was his home across the street. No shirt (no pants?) and sticks his head out from between two wrought iron gates and says, “DON’T TOUCH MY CAR!”

Matt – our cameraman – speaks up and asks if we can just shoot here if we don’t touch his car. The brute tells us that we can but if we touch his car he’ll come out and “bash our skulls in”.

He was pleasant.

We came back, unscathed, had some dinner and finished off the day.

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I really like the above photo of Matt, Scott and Vanilla Ice.

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Anyway, that’s that. I don’t really know what else to say. I was CERTAIN I would have tons and tons and tons of things to say once I got going but really…..that’s about it.

I’m just going to take these photos and lay them in one after the other for your viewing pleasure.

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Here’s me pretending to be creative. Please don’t judge me because my pointer finger looks like it belongs on The Penguin.

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Blurry people doing things.

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A real life Ryan Reyes playing real life Super Mario Bros. We turned the system on and everyone was drawn to it like flies. Everyone was telling him where the secrets were, “jump here – jump there! Go down THAT pipe!”

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Girls don’t like video games. Girls like doing bills and washing dishes.

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This is Ryan being a creepy pedophile looking character…I didn’t write this.

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Givin’ a fist bump to The Fist.

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Lacy’s torso, Nellie and Serrone our sound guy (pronounced Sir-ownee, like macaroni). This one time I was digging around in the fridge, searching for a refreshing beverage when he asked me for a Diet Coke. I gave him one. He said I should probably give him two because he was really thirsty. I gave him two but thought, “man, it’s going to get warm fast – you should really just leave it in the fridge”. But he’s a grown man, he can do what he wants with his own soda. So we kept shooting and wrapped the set about five minutes later. Once we’d cleared out I noticed two empty Diet Coke cans on the stove. This guy knew how to drink the DC and I respect him for that.

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Second to last setup of the final day. The last time I was in a bathtub filled with men I was in college and experimenting.

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Final setup. We’d all taken an ice cream sandwich break just before this. Gotta keep everyone happy!…..actually, there’s a chemical in ice cream that makes people happy. It’s called Terramagestarin. It affects your brain.

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Two editors pretending they’re not editors.

And THAT…….is all. That’s everything. These photos, plus possibly a few more will end up on the JRP website shortly as will the videos once they’re completed, so stay tuned for that.

Oh yeah – and that nightshift job I told you about – the one that wanted me to start IMMEDIATELY and I said no, no, no because I had to shoot Patrick and Molly? Well I got it!

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

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All that and a bag of C.H.I.P.S.

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I have a dream.

And that dream is me floating around on a marshmallow cloud, riding a unicorn, eating popsicles, listening to music created by garden gnomes.

I also have a nightmare.

And my nightmare is that one day Erik Estrada would come into my life and try to steal my wife.

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Notice, if you will, the way he has his beefy latino arm all up in my wife’s biznuss while I stand there like some fruitcake with a poodle. Look at that dumb dog – she’s just staring right into the camera.

And the worst part is, she’s bought into his game! Look at her blurry gaze, staring deep into his Mexico face, reaching up with her hooked fingers to claw at his throbbing man breast. He’s using his B-list celebrity power to hypnotize her. She wants it – she wants nothing more than to wrap her arms around his dark hips and stick her fingers in his shaved naval while he cruises down the highway on his hog.

She desires to live dangerously.

And what can I offer her? A shirt with a lion on it? I probably won’t even technically be a man for another five to eight years. I JUST GOT MY FIRST PUBIC HAIR!!!

How did this happen??? How did I find myself in this situation? Why does my wife love the salsa rojo so much?

I can only tell you what I know.

It all started with THIS GUY:

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This is Jade’s “boss”. He’s the photographer she works with and this is his first foray into the world of movie making. He’s one rude, crude dude with a taste for danger and a charming smile.

Here’s Sean riding a homemade dolly as a skateboard. He is awesome.

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Travis – the guy on the far right, the guy that owned the dolly – was like, “Hey dooood, watch it – that took me a while to make”. Man, I wish I could’ve made it……but now Erik Estrada was going to be making it with my WIFE. Where was the white C.H.I.P when you needed him – the tortilla chip? I needed someone to come in and show this punk a thing or two.

I went over and tried to be friendly. Tried to show some hospitality. Tried to tell him, yes, Mr. E, you can eat anything from the craft service table and I’d even be happy to grab you a water or juice but puh-lease keep your greasy nubbins off of my wife’s greasy nubbins.

He laughed right in my face.

I laughed back but I didn’t really know why – just being polite, I guess.

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So, when he turned around, I flexed my big-azz muscles – RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE BACK OF HIS HEAD!!!!!

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LOOK AT HIM GETTING READY TO CRY! Oh, boo-hoo, I’m just a big baby. He’s lucky I didn’t give him the donkey punch-a-rino right then and there.

I went to consult with Sean and Jeremy and the 16 foot monster truck they’d brought in for the shoot – it also transforms into a giant robot. LOOK AT THAT FRIGGIN’ THING! I’m the same height as the wheel! The guy who drives it has some strange sort of little man malfunction that keeps him up at nights. Just kidding – it’s actually just made out of styrofoam.

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They said not to worry about it. They said they’d already taken care of the situation. They’d already disconnected his brakes. They were going to make sure their movie got big – the last thing Estrada ever did – now only on youtube.

Brilliant. These guys play dirty and I loved it.

I smugly walked over to where Erik was talking to my wife……..AGAIN. I get up there and he says, “hey – you look like that bee-a-U-tiful actress – what’s her name?”

I say, “Kate Winslet. She gets it all the time.”

And he says, “She just won an Oscar.”

And I say, “Kate Winslet – she was in that movie with Leonoardo Dicaprio – Revolutionary Road”

And he says, “Revolutionary Road….with Leo Dicaprio”

And I say, “Yeah…that’s the one”

Jade blushes and whispers in my ear, “do you think he’ll sign my boobs?”

That was it. I’d had just about enough. I tossed my banshee she-wife into the backseat and burned out, hit the stupid curb, made a fool out of myself and went home, gripping the steering wheel in anger.

The last picture I have in my mind of EE is this:

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Ol’ Erika E. sitting there, crying on the ground because I stole his trophy. Sorry DOOOOD – you’re gonna have to bag your own beeyatch. This is LA and NOBODY messes with The B.

NOBODY!

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Eat your hearts out.

Peace.