July – September
July 4th is, of course, the day we celebrate getting rid of a bunch of angry colonials. I mean, the day Americans celebrate getting rid of a mad German monarch who just happened to be on the English throne a couple of hundred years ago. And isn’t that so often the way? So, July 4th. Independence Day. Not just a day for landing flying saucers in the nation’s capital, woah no. It’s a day for fireworks, flashing and banging things.
We went to a big field in the middle of a park along with thousands of other people. It was like a big family party except bigger and we didn’t know anyone. Families sat out on their camper chairs and had picnics, played games, waiting for it to get dark. We bought some light rope things that glowed when you bent them. The boys rolled them into circles and threw them around. Finally, it got dark in this Close Encounters “stop and be friendly” gathering and over beyond the trees came this huge firework display, a bit bigger but probably close in scale to Verulameum’s November 5th in St Albans.
The week after that, we rented a car and drove up to Toronto. We had great seats for baseball at the Sky Dome and it was a chance for the boys to visit another country. We sat up behind home plate and enjoyed the spectacle and the beers as the Blue Jays beat the Seattle Mariners. We had the hats, so we were winners. Also on that trip we took a ride on the amphibious bus which drives out into the harbour and went out to the big science museum. Jack and Sam’s favorite thing to do there was walking down the up escalator and up the down escalator. Worth the effort.
Back home for the 10th, Laura and I drove out to Ypsilanti for the annual Elvis Festival. Ribs, beer and more Elvis impersonators than you can shake a big microphone stand at. Once again, I found myself sitting on camper chairs in the big field full of strangers all doing the same thing. Bizarre. The plural of Elvis is Elvii, I was told, and there was much singing. A top day out. Recommend.
Monday, we took the train out to Chicago for a trip to Ikea and to visit Laura’s mother on the way. We had a fine lunch at Marshall Fields’ big wood-panelled dining room and dinner at some Greek place Laura’s mom took us too. Then we rented a van on the Tuesday, stuffed it full of Scandinavian flat pack and drove it back to Ann Arbor. There were many DIY blisters from assembling several thousand dollars worth of furniture in days which followed.
July 17th and 18th, I shot Serial Dating in a caravan owned by some neighbours up the road. I’d knocked on their door back in June and they’d said yes. Keith and Stacy. They’d just moved to Ann Arbor from LA, although no one had ever asked to film their stuff out there and they weren’t involved in movies. Mike Williamson from the university came out and did the camerawork for me. He had two lovely Panasonic miniDV camcorders and great Miller fluid head tripods. We got great shots.
July 21st-24th was Art Fair week and I put together a Cinema Slam special consisting of two DVD compilations to be played in the Michigan foyer. I’m not sure how successful this was as the sound was turned down when I dropped in to visit. Maybe next year, we’ll find installation video art-type pieces if we’re doing it again. Still, it was worth a try. Laura and I also bought a painting at the Art Fair, which is a Big Deal and takes over the whole of downtown Ann Arbor. An influx of tourists, cash and insanity, it has to be experienced, if only the once.
We took the boys out to play Putt Putt Golf in July, watched them play baseball, I shot another shoot with BMC Media and we rounded off the month with a highly successful house warming party on July 31st. People spilled out on to the patio and there was much drinking. Our first guest arrived at 7pm and our last bowled in at around one in the morning. Joe Smith, having finished DJ’ing for the night, brought his girlfriend Juliana, who also does graphic design, and the four of us closed up, talking on into the small wee hours.
August started with a phone call. “Tom Hulce is opening his new film at the Michigan. Would you be able to take some still photos for us?” “Sure, that sounds great,” I told Lee Berry, the theater’s marketing director. I immediately looked up Tom Hulce on the imdb because I’m clueless. Ahh, Amadeus. I get it. I burned a DVD of The Car and printed off a copy of a treatment for a possible film. I’m not sure if he ever looked at either, but I did put them in his hand. Mr Hulce was charming, gracious and looked good in all the photos I shot with sponsors of the theater, which was really what it was all about as far as they were concerned.
Having endeared myself to the great and the good of Hollywood, I proceeded to take August by storm. Next day, I discovered the joys of Zap Zone–a laser-tag shoot ’em up game which is mainly played by kids. Hey, I’m a kid. Don’t look at me like that. It was Jack’s birthday celebration and we took on Laura’s ex and his new GF, Miss Kelly (as the boys call her), which was strange and wonderful. Welcome to modern divorce–shooting your ex and his new partner in the dark with lasers. Only in America.
Immigration services rewarded me for my hunting prowess in this regard with a stamp in my passport allowing me to travel outside the US. And Big George’s, the home appliance store people, rewarded me further by commissioning another commercial, which we shot that same week. Actually, I don’t think either of them knew anything about my Zap Zone skills but if they did, I think they’d have paid homage.
The next weekend, Russ and Deb invited up to Deb’s mom’s cottage in the north of Michigan. This was definitely a highlight of the year. The cottage is right by one of Michigan’s many lakes and just a short hike away from Interlochen, a summer music camp attended by budding stars from around the world. Interlochen is kind of like the Kids from Fame go to the Woods. We saw a couple of concerts and I marvelled at the resources, determination and talent. We toured around the beautiful countryside, walked the dunes and discovered wineries. One owned by Madonna’s brother turned out to have strangely perfumed chardonnay. We didn’t buy anything but back at Interlochen I did eat a huge ice cream, nearly bigger than my head but not quite. There’s a warning about that.
On the Sunday, Deb had to fly off somewhere, so Russ took us out on the lake in a boat. A few beers later, I felt the need to jump in and they (Laura and Russ) threw me a tire (spelled incorrectly) attached to the boat with a length of rope. “Hang on and we’ll tow you!” called Russ. I struggled into a life jacket, grabbed the tire as instructed, Russ revved up and away we went. But not for long. The life jacket rose up and started choking me, so I let go. It was all very funny, especially for those on the boat. Hmm. I seem to remember they never got in the water. Anyway, we persuaded Russ (he didn’t need that much persuasion) to take us off-road in his Jeep for the afternoon, then in the evening we made a big fire out of old pallets, drank gin and watched for shooting stars.
We squeezed in a game of putt putt golf and a trip to the drive-in before heading for home, borrowing Russ’s Jeep for the ride back. Next day we met up with pontillist artist Jon Strand in Detroit and next weekend we got in another trip to the Zap Zone. I think there was some kind of activity at the boys summer camp we went to too. They definitely put on a show one morning although I can’t remember which week it was.
On August 20th, mum’s estate was settled and a large deposit was made to my UK bank account. There was enough to pay off a chunk of our mortgage but not only that, with the dollar so weak against the pound, we could consider replacing Laura’s old Honda. We looked at cars. We looked at Pontiac Grand Prix. Mmmm, tasty. We looked at the Malibu Maxx, which we’d seen at the Auto Show earlier in the year and also fancied. We couldn’t make up our minds. So we had both. A second hand Pontiac and a brand new Maxx.
Both arrived just in time for the next Blue Jays game we had tickets for, a corker against the New York Yankees. We opted to take the Grand Prix up to Toronto for a weekend away and met up with a producer friend of Simon Cozens, which was good fun. The Yankees thrashed the Blue Jays and we got to witness a grand slam home run, followed by two more home runs. This time we were wearing the wrong hats but it was worth it nevertheless.
August 31st, the boys went back to school after the long summer break and there were many camcorders to record the event. Ah, the madness, the heartache, the pride of grade school. Y’gotta love it.
Finally, let’s not forget the LA Shorts Fest tape debacle. The Car successfully got into two other festivals–Rhode Island International Film Festival and LA Shorts Fest, which is recognized by the Academy. Yip. Anyway, I wrote to Rhode Island and asked if they could ship the film directly to LA. Yes, they said. They would. I told them it was urgent. No problem, they said. The deadline came, the deadline went. I phone LASFF constantly. Nope, no tape, they said.
The third and final final (final) deadline for LA came and went. Still no tape in the city of the angels. I checked the mail two days later. Sure enough, there was a large envelope. Rhode Island had shipped it via the slowest mail possible back to me. I was, as they say in showbiz, good and fucked. I called LA and they said maybe they could still get it in. But no guarantees. I Fed-Ex’d it and sent an invoice to Rhode Island with a curt note. They wrote to apologize but alas, no cash. Even now, dear readers.
It was fingers crossed at the end of August that The Car was going to be seen in the capital of world filmmaking. We had air tickets booked thanks to frequent flier miles collected by yours truly visiting the USA, so we were going whatever happened…
So, we flew to Los Angeles. We booked a motel to save money and spent it on renting a convertable. A red Mustang convertable. Laura burned a CD of cool music and we were There. In the Moment. First stop, the Arclight, home to LA Shorts Fest for the week. And, relief. The Car was in the program; the tape had made it. We stopped to watch a few movies then drove along Sunset Strip with the top down singing to Cake.
That evening, we headed back to the Arclight where we met up with Joseph, our writer friend, Lynn, his partner, Russ from the Michigan, who’d flown out for a meeting and timed it to coincide with my screening, and Mark, an actor friend who lives somewhere near the theater. I think. This was great–my friends has made it. Except for one small hitch. No, they really did have the tape. But there were no tickets left for the screening.
Imagine, a film screening sold out in LA. In Hollywood, no less. This was incredibly cool except for the fact Russ didn’t have a ticket. So we begged and cajoled and eventually the festival relented and gave us the seat of one of the filmmakers who hadn’t shown up. We were in. And it was good.
LA was a great weekend all round. Far too fast, packed with good times, good friends, happy memories. We drove out to Malibu to meet with another filmmaker friend of mine, Kate, and her husband. We stopped at Geoffrey’s for cocktails and seafood. Laura joined the crazy people on the LA freeways. We hung out with Joseph and Russ and had a blast.
Back in Ann Arbor, life slowed down for a fraction of a second before a special screening of Mr 3000 at the Michigan with the producer and the writers. Lee Berry, the theater marketing manager set it up for me to talk with them and I found myself competing with film students for attention, so I kind of flaked out on that after gifting them gifts from the theater. No production deal for me this year. Hey, I’m not American yet.
Same week, I joined the Chamber of Commerce under the Ascalon Films banner in an effort to drum up more business making commercials and filming events. At the same time, I signed up Leadership Ann Arbor, which is a program taken by the business and community leaders of today and tomorrow. Heck, if I can’t meet people there, I can’t meet them anywhere. Plus I get to find out everything there is to know about this city, or most of it, at least.
Oh, and I convinced Pete he should buy a new computer over here in the States while the dollar is in the doldrums. He did and there was much rejoicing. There was just time to squeeze in another Cinema Slam before I jetted off to New York to meet up with Mr Stevens and deliver his shiny new Powerbook. New York, ahhh… Truly a fine weekend, to be sure. In fact, I think I’ve convinced Pete now that Manhattan is a good place to hang out so I think there’s more scope for badness to be had there in the future. The month finished with a couple more camera work gigs for BMC Media and the start of editing for Serial Dating.
And that was September, 2004. All in all, a truly outstanding month.