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The Complete Guide to Low-Budget Filmmaking, The Filmmaker’s Guide to the Universe of Indie Success, The Essential Guide to Do-It-Yourself Fame, How to be Part of the 1%, A Step-by-Step Guide to Wishing Your Way to Hollywood, How Not to be a Twentysomething Loser, How to be a Global Celebrity, How to Win an Oscar Before You Turn Thirty, How to—I flipped and flipped through each of the really encouraging handbooks, stacked like superyummy pancakes on the communal study table. Used my trusty ol’ smartphone to snap superpretty pictures of what I thought were like the most important pages, the most relevant footnotes in each. I’d been snapping superpretty pictures for the last three hours, cooped up tight in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, snapping superpretty pictures and piano-pounding my anxiety into my laptop keys because I like totally needed to get going here. Because I like seriously couldn’t believe bitchy blonde Lola was almost done! Because I mean what the fuck? No fair!
A seriously disgusting smell bumped my glasses off my oily but still supercute button nose. I blinked, I gagged. Oh no, oh God, a 21st century urban leper was like actually about to sit down at the table, at my table. And like right across from me too! AH! Totally about to pass out and die, I watched the deformed, pus-pimpled crone untie her crinkly chain of grocery bags and inflate some kind of psychedelic sewer pillow. Then I watched her drop her slithering head of knots and close her chupacabra eyes. There were full-body snores. There were fungus farts! Ewwy eww! Gritting my tiny teeth I swiveled my head round and round the scholarly cathedral—angelic frescos gliding like Venetian gondolas across the vaulted ceiling, blueyellow light purring down through the taller than tall windows—I swiveled my head round and round, looking and looking for some kind of solidarity or upper-middle-class support but none of the Australian globetrotters prowling about with their waxed surfboards, and definitely none of the academic eggheads stooped like autistic monks over the communal study tables, bone-white headphones plugged in, spiral-bound notebooks out in front—like none of them seemed to notice or care or nothing! Well I definitely did! I raised my really thin arms. I waved them back and forth, back and forth till I caught the security guard’s one good eye. I pointed at the bag lady. I breathed a very sincere sigh of relief as the screaming harpy was then brutally dragged out of the bookish basilica. Out of my bookish basilica . . . Thank you. Thank you very much, sir . . .
After another hour or so of snapping superpretty pictures I figured I was like definitely up to speed on the current state of indie filmmaking, and even though it definitely would have been really helpful to have taken more than that one post-theory, post-narrative, post-technique, post-Metropolis philosophy of cinema class in college, at least I definitely had the basics down now. So that was definitely definitely good . . . I checked the time on my smartphone—2:03 PM. I smiled a sinister smile and gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back for like actually having had the nerve to call in sick today (food poisoning, explosive diarrhea). Because even though I obviously felt kinda bad about the whole “lying” thing or whatever I definitely knew it was the only way I could get some serious work done on my application. Plus I got to sleep in! So yea, I was definitely feeling good. Feeling proud . . .
Whistling, dancing, whistling I packed up and left the bestselling pancakes on the communal table. Winking at the security guard’s one good eye as I floated out of the arena-sized study hall . . .
(I made a quicker than quick pit stop at the drinking fountain. Tossed another Provigil down my throat. Licked my lips. Then rolled down the stairwell and landed on 42nd Street.)
The partially clouded December sky sticking to my lotion-lacking face, diesel fumes rotting my adorable little lungs away, I sat on the busy sidewalk and picked at my candy cane nails, that members only, midtown Versailles directly behind me—the Bryant Park gardens fenced off from the minimum wage plebs by hedge fund fountains, by a paycheck-charging café. I sat down on the really cold sidewalk and debated whether I wanted to cab it or not, whether I like cared more about the time or the money, the time or the money . . . I nodded and floated out into the screeching street with two or three delicate fingers held high in the winter smog . . . A couple of car crashes later, a yellowblack taxi-snail pulled its shell up to the curb. I smiled and dived right on in . . .
West 19th Street. With a reluctant groan I tipped the turbaned cabdriver five percent—even though I definitely didn’t wanna! Because I mean I’d like seriously never seen a city cab go so slow, or seen a city human be so chill, and I definitely didn’t like it, didn’t trust it, didn’t want it anywhere near me or my money! Holding on tight to my canvas tote bag I stomped through the rental house and cut in line ahead of all the wannabe Wim Wenders, the fake Jim Jarmusches, the poser Claire Denises—like totally ignoring the annoying herd of film students who wouldn’t stop throwing their external hard drives at me as I stepped up to the counter, took my smartphone out, and started reading off what I seriously needed and seriously needed right now!—a DSLR camera able to shoot Full HD 1080p video at 24fps, a 50mm prime lens, a telephoto lens, a 32GB memory card, a shoulder rig, a tripod, a professional lighting kit, a shotgun microphone and boom kit, XLR cables and adapter—the dorky dweeb behind the counter chowing down on a sloppy joe sandwich while slowly, slowly inputting my very very urgent requests into the mainframe . . .
When I was finished reading off my list to fame the dorky dweeb took a sloppy bite out of his sloppy sandwich and turned the computer screen so that I could see the daily rate. I gulped, I gagged. $3000. Tax definitely not included. Spasms disfiguring my sweaty but still supercute face I reached into my tote bag and brought out Daddy’s extra-platinum, ‘only for emergencies’ credit card. Well, I thought, swiping the magnetic strip—this was like obviously an emergency. Obviously. I signed Daddy’s very Polish name on the receipt. Jozef Dreamstein.
The heavy keys jingling like jawbreakers in my extra-small hands I yanked open the driver’s door and pulled me and my really long legs up into the unmarked cargo van. Because the one really good thing about being from the suburbs was that I like definitely knew how to drive and I like definitely didn’t take shit from asshole truckers or state troopers or UFOs or nobody. Definitely not. Even though I’d like obviously never driven a van before and I’d definitely never driven in Manhattan. But oh well, I figured this would just have to be one of those learning by doing kinda things or whatever . . . Licking my lips I turned the key in the ignition, put the automatic shifter in drive, and jerked-a-jerked my bitch out of the alley tunnel. I bumbled down 7th Avenue . . .
A pedestrian minefield. A demolition derby.
So first things first—mumbling and wedging the van in tight between a jaywalking granny and a convertible sports car—I needed to pick out a really nice restaurant for tonight’s really important scene. Because obviously Giacomo and Sophie would be going to the Drunken Clinamen for after-dinner drinks, but before that I wasn’t so sure. I was thinking either Titian’s Tiramisu (an intimate trattoria in the West Village), or maybe Die Welt als Willie und Sauerkraut, the hip new German joint which everybody was saying was definitely like the spot to go for a Thursday night date. But then again there was always the John Henry microbrewery in Tribeca, where you definitely couldn’t go wrong with their palm-hammered steak frites . . . Ugh, I seriously couldn’t think straight. I needed caffeine. Now! Straining the huge steering wheel hard to the right I pulled a U-ey back up the one-way avenue and double-parked alongside a Budweiser delivery truck. I left my hazards flashing and dived inside the first bodega I could find . . .
There was something flap-a-flapping away on my bitch’s windshield when I strolled back outside. Great. Just great. I tore up the stupid parking ticket without even looking at the number of zeros giggling up at my glasses—the bastards! I chugged the first of my three nameless and totally burnt coffees, then locked myself in and turned the radio all the way up to 11 . . .
My supersmart brain pleasantly abuzz now, heavy metal sounds shredding through the speakers, I launched off toward the Bowery, headbanging and running over potholes, kamikaze go-karts, gnome-driven rickshaws, stray toddlers, ex-convicts and pataphysical puppets—the rented equipment in the back slamming against the side of the van as I took a sharp left and cut across the crowded sidewalk, accidently amputating a little girl’s future and foot. Oopsy daisy. I probably definitely should have got that insurance—shrugging and bouncing back on the road, my road. Oh well . . .
On Houston and Broadway I had to wait for a really annoying ambulance to go wailing through the intersection. I sipped on my second or third coffee and turned down the music. Listened to the traffic. To the engine drone. I poked my supercute but really tired head out the window, gagged on the existential exhaust, and watched as the success-horny buildings went about their success-horny business. I waited for the ambulance to pass and wondered what would happen if I never got famous. If I like never became a massive deal. Because what was I going to do with my life if I like never made it to Hollywood? And what if I just wasn’t meant to be an award-winning director? Like what if none of my perfectly perfect dreams were ever ever going to come true and I was like just meant to be a stupid gallery geisha forever and ever and ever! . . . I shook my supercute head and hocked a yellowred loogie out the window. Because I definitely definitely couldn’t think that. Gnashing my tiny teeth I slammed my blue and yellow vintage sneaker down on the accelerator—and the van catapulted through a red light, through a construction zone, through a citywide wormhole . . .
I handed the heavy keys to the valet and told the skinny pipsqueak there better not be a single scratch on my bitch because I’d like totally sue and he’d like totally be liable and I like totally wasn’t playing and like just try and fucking test me you scrawny bastard! I gave the gangly stork a good long glare. Then I spun on my sneakers and sprinted inside Die Welt als Willie und Sauerkraut . . .
They were just getting ready for dinner. With a few early eaters singing at the tacky Bundesliga bar and knocking back Bavarian lager with a side of Strasburg sausage. Clenching my extra-small fists I walked right up to the bowling ball-breasted hostess slap dancing on top of the empty tables in a skintight, brown and green lederhosen.
“Excuse me but I’m going to be shooting a movie in here tonight.”
The barmaid jumped off the table and stared at me. She tugged on her pigtails.
“I said, I’m going be shooting a movie in here tonight.”
The barmaid jumped back on the table and stared at me. She swung her pigtails over her head.
“Ja! I heard you the first time,” the barmaid jumping off the table and slapping me in the face with one of her pigtails. “But that’s not going to happen.”
I pulled a pickled hairball out of my dry but still supercute mouth. “Why not? I’m obviously going to pay you if that’s what you’re so worried about.”
The barmaid snickered, then slapped me again with one of her pigtails. “Nein! Anyone who wants to use the restaurant for anything other than eating or drinking has to take it up with our events manager at least two or three months in advance. You can’t just walk in here and start shooting a movie. This isn’t a Polish hot dog stand.”
“But this is important! We’re like totally talking life or death here! I need to use the restaurant tonight—tonight!”
“Das is mir Wurst!” the barmaid laughing and slap dancing away in her skintight lederhosen.
Ugh! I definitely couldn’t help yelling after her—“You know you’re the type of stuck-up cunt that just stood around and let the holoca—”
I waited for the skinny valet to bring my bitch around. It took way too long. And I definitely didn’t like the creepy smirk the gangly stork gave me when he finally handed me the heavy keys. And so that’s why I definitely didn’t tip him. No way. Definitely not . . .
4:30 PM or so. Ultraviolet rays peeing through the grayer than gray clouds. Peeing and spraying me through the brand new cracks in my bitch’s windshield. All this invisible pee irritating my hedgehog eyes as I sped back across the Island Kingdom, deftly maneuvering the van around a broken-down bus, a left-to-rust aircraft carrier, a wandering cripple . . . switching lanes, switching lanes, switching lanes and suddenly aiming for a rage-red fire hydrant on Houston Avenue which was like seriously bothering me and seriously needed to pay! The van’s front bumper letting out a crunchy sob as I quickly backed up and rallied on out of there with a sinister smile on my flushed little face . . .
A few fender benders later, after playfully peeking into the rearview mirror, I pulled the e-brake and drifted up Bedford Street, easing my bitch into the really quaint West Village where I was hope-a-hoping against hope they’d like definitely be a little bit more accommodating.
And they totally were.
Greeting me at the door in a fitted black and white tux, the curly-haired maître d’ didn’t even put up a fight when I shoved him back against the intimate grotto and said—“Hey you. Yea you. I’m going to be shooting a movie in here tonight.”
He just smiled a gold-capped smile. “Not a problem, signorina. We charge a standard fee of $1000 per hour with a minimum of four hours per shoot. All of which must be paid upfront and is completely non-refundable under any and all circumstances.”
I gulped, I gagged. “Do you take credit cards?”
Twitching, sweating, twitching I swiped Daddy’s extra-platinum credit card.
The maître d’ nodded his razor-thin face. “And how large will your cast and crew be?”
“Oh, um,” thinking out loud, “I guess on this shoot I’ll have to be the director and cameraman and DP. Hopefully I’ll be able to set up the lighting and sound equipment on my own. Extras obviously won’t be a problem. So I guess it’ll just be me and Giacomo and So—AH!” Fuck shit fuck! Who the hell was going to be playing Sophie!
The maître d’ curled back his waxed mustache. “Si?”
“Two or three!” I blurted. “They’ll just be two or three of us.”
He nodded. “Bravissimo. We have you down for a two- or three-person, four-hour shoot. With any additional hours charged at the standard overtime rate of $5000 per hour. Your shoot is scheduled to begin at six o’clock this evening. Ci vediamo più tardi.”
I paced back and forth, back and forth in front of the trattoria. Because I seriously couldn’t believe I’d like actually forgotten about Sophie’s part. Because I mean could I like be any more of an idiot or what! I took out my smartphone and scrolled though my contacts. Ugh this was not good. This was definitely not good! Where-oh-where on earth was I going to find someone who at the drop of a hat, my hat, could like totally nail the role of a green-eyed tease from Southern California? Besides it’s not like I knew that many actors. Actors like seriously gave me the creeps. Actors were justso—so something . . . My little finger scrolled over her yummy-yummy name. Oh boy oh boy, could I, would I, should I? I mean, she did have greengold lamb eyes, and she was from Southern California, and she had majored in theatre or performance studies or something. But wouldn’t it be like ridiculously awkward if I called my ex’s new girlfriend? If I like called the real Sophie Strudel and told her I was making a movie that was kinda but not really about her?
I called anyway. Because this was like definitely an emergency. I bit my lower lip and waited for my former friend’s voice to pop up on the other end of the line. But of course it went straight to voicemail. Ugh, why! Tiny tears tightening up my tiny throat I left a twenty-minute message begging Sophie to please-oh-please come help me finish my film school application because I’d like obviously pay her or take her to Disney World or buy her fancy clothes or like whatever she wanted!
I hung up, climbed back into my bitch, and since I definitely didn’t have any other choice, barreled uptown. But this time I was like totally hell-bent and definitely wasn’t about to waste my precious little time with the law or any other inhibiting distractions. No stopping, no fretting, no dillydallying at stupid red lights, at procrastinating stop signs or laid-back pedestrian crossings. This time I blazed and blazed up the West Side Highway, the gray Hudson frothing to my left, the Manhattan icebergs to my right, the needle locked on 90 mph as I rammed the wobbly van through bird shit showers, through FBI roadblocks, acid rain avalanches, sarin gas clouds and Mad Max biker wars—squeezing the huge steering wheel harder and harder until my extra-small knuckles broke through the supertaut skin in a burst of bone and blood and bliss!
The gargoyle lifted his atrophied brain out of his smartphone.
“That’s right,” I said, taking a really stern step out of the beer-thick shadows. “I’m back. And now could you please give this to Miss Sophie Strudel whenever you see her.”
“Wha-wha-what is—it?” The bodybuilder bouncer unfolded the neon-pink sticky note, tried to remember how to read. He whispered, “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t wa-wa-want any, trouble, from, you.”
“Oh come on,” sighing, hands on hips. “It’s just a note. It’s not like a bomb or anything. Just tell Sophie I really need her help tonight. I know she stops here for drinks every Thursday.”
The gargoyle slipped the note underneath his ketchup-spotted wifebeater. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, do it.” He licked the lard off his lips. “But you o-o-o-owe—me.”
“Fine,” I said, and twirled out the door, gagging.
I was driving through the park, down the West Drive. And even though I’d smashed through the ‘Official Vehicles Only’ barrier at the 77th Street entrance I figured people would like just take one look at the white van and obviously think I was like an undercover park ranger or something. Only problem was, I definitely didn’t like how my bitch was handling. Something was off. Something felt seriously wrong. There was a loud scraping noise. A really scary thump-thump beneath my feet. I poked my supercute head out the window and had myself a looksee, the chilly wind slashing my bangs across my very concerned forehead . . . Ah, I knew it! A fucking flat! NO! Screaming my adorable little lungs out I pulled over underneath a pin oak tree . . .
A flat tire in Central Park. It was almost funny, almost absurdly hilarious. That is, if it wasn’t all so horribly horrible! A trillion tears fogging up my glasses I bent down and examined the deflated, the useless, the totally disgusting rubber skin. With a full-body shriek I pulled out the red pocketknife which someone had maliciously stabbed into my bitch’s tire. Then I ripped off the valet parking receipt tied round and round the keychain loop. Oh that bastard! That skinny, that gangly bastard! Luckily Daddy and Mommy were Triple-A members so I called for immediate roadside assistance and waited. I waited in this overpopulated forest of forking paths, forking furies. Where every time the five o’clock whispers blew through the leafless trees I could like actually see the suit-and-tie corporations scratching each other’s backs on the other side of this flatter than flat lake. Breaking bread on the GO BIG OR GO HOME balconies. Celebrating with tequila shots, with rough sex. Celebrating and sneering down at little ol’ me, stranded way over here, on the anywhere but right side of this manmade Sargasso Sea. I nibbled on a bitter blade of Central Park algae and waited for the cavalry to arrive . . .
Rolling on a new tire I rushed downtown, holding my breath and carefully crashing and flipping the van down Park Avenue’s gilded shores. Snowballing past the cosmetic surgery shrines, past the investment banking brothels, past the luxury car dealership and right through the Helmsley Building peephole—where I had to pump-a-pump the breaks because of a three-car pileup on the viaduct! AH! Like actually about to freak out and die I slowly, slowly wheeled my bitch round and round the smoldering heap of lost time. Wheeled my bitch round and round the uglier than ugly MetLife Building. Round the Grand Central chicane. Round the last slice of gray sky and back down to the Park Avenue dragstrip. I floored my bitch into the night . . .
Blue and red sirens twinkling in my rearview I pulled the van up onto Union Square and swung my raccoon eyes over the human haystack—back and forth, back and forth—crying with relief when I finally spotted him on top of his collapsible step stool, neon-pink shopping bag at his side, scarecrow head and beard howling at a family of somewhat intrigued hermaphrodites who every now and then tossed a goodluck quarter at his black combat boots. I honked. I honked and honked and honked till I got my favorite preacher’s attention . . .
But even when I did I still had to bite down on my anxiety and wait for him to finish using his superhairy genitalia to bless and threaten all of Manhattan. Like only when he was good and ready, his Sasquatch eyes lit up by a flickering streetlamp, did my favorite hobo zip up his camo cargo pants, flip up the supergreasy collar on his extra-large jean jacket, and shuffle on over to the van. My van . . .
I rolled down the passenger side window. Giacomo poked his Minotaur horns in and growled at me—“What are the fuck are you doing here? Can’t you fucking see I’m trying to help these motherfuckers save their immortal fucking souls!”
I rolled my lemur eyes. “Yea yea, whatever. Look I’m really sorry but we’ve got like a ton of work to do tonight. So please get in.”
“Fuck no. Why?”
“Because we’ve got to be at the restaurant in like twenty minutes. Everything’s ready to go and we’re like actually on the clock here.”
“I don’t fucking know what the fuck you’re talking about. I fucking told you, I’ve got to help these motherfuckers save their immortal fucking souls before it’s too fucking late. I’ve got to help them get the fuck off this failed planet!”
I sighed. “Okay, so here’s the deal. You’ll have as much coffee as you want. You’ll have as much pasta as you want. And just think about how many immortal souls you’ll be able to save once we’re like ridiculously famous and ridiculously rich. Just think about that.”
Giacomo scratched a clump of rat feces off his Gorgon dreadlocks, chewed on the eternal question—yay or nay, or nay yay, or—
“Get in now!” totally yelling at him because by now the pervy pigs had spotted us and were closing in fast—crouching and crawling, sweaty swine-hooves unclipping sweaty holsters, aviator sunglasses grinning in the dark. Grinning, targeting, grinning.
With a centaur’s paranoid yelp Giacomo hopped into the passenger seat and I slammed my vintage sneaker down on the accelerator just as the first 9mm round slammed into the van—Bang bang!—I swerved and dodged—Bang bang!—I swerved and dodged—Bang bang!—I swerved and dodged and zigzagged all the way back to the West Village . . .
The fuel gauge hovering a throttle blip above empty I told my favorite gutter wolf to wait for me inside the restaurant. I was like totally tired, totally comatose. Ugh I just wanted to sleep. Forever. But I definitely couldn’t. Not now. Not yet. Shaking my heavy head. Smoothing out all the wrinkles in my favorite sweater (blue stripes, white stripes), then heaving myself to the back of the van and pulling out all the equipment for the shoot. I pulled it all out duffel bag by duffel bag, the redpinkorange twilight swirling overhead, the noisy traffic swirling down here, my tense but still supercute neck caked with city soot, a trio of really senile grandpas catcalling at me and my bubble butt as they hobbled out for the last hard-on of the day and the first of what was about to be their endless night. I pulled and pulled. Oh how I pulled . . .
My great sidewalk pyramid finished, a Nile river of sweat sliding down my armpits, my thoughts too frail to focus, I slumped down on top of my rented tomb and with the last of my coffees swallowed another Provigil. Another two or three tasty Provigils. Then I pulled out my storyboard drawings, and like seriously hoping I knew what I was doing here, read over the really harsh but really helpful comments Professor Amís had scribbled in for this ridiculously important scene. I pulled out my smartphone and scrolled through the superpretty pictures I’d snapped and snapped at the library today, trying my very best to memorize the hints, the cues, the dos and don’ts of low-budget filmmaking. Seriously hoping Sophie wouldn’t bail on me. Seriously hoping everything would like just work out perfectly perfect for once in my twentysomething life . . . A really impatient voice called out from inside the restaurant—something about time, something about money. I put away my notes, gulped back my doubts, and definitely didn’t answer Precious’s text or phone call. Not now. Not yet. Holding my breath I hoisted the camera bag across my shoulders, gripped the light kit in one hand, the sound kit in the other, and then wobble-wobbled into the intimate trattoria. Because it was like definitely time to get going. Because it was like definitely time.