So, I'm lying in the gutter the other night, on a street way up in the Hollywood Hills, trying to set up a video camera to record a couple of coyotes chewing on a stuffed dog.
Who says show biz isn't glamourous anymore?
No, it wasn't for a new reality show called "Extreme Cuddly Toys," though that does sound like a great idea. I was actually helping my friend Rosalee shoot a scene from the movie she's making, called Coyote Nights.
Rosalee is a very talented actress whom I met through my screenwriting group Deadline Junkies. She is also a single mom who raised two awesome sons. Part of the challenge of parenting a couple of teens in LA, was trying to steer them clear of the pervasive drug culture. It wasn't easy. In fact it was nearly impossible. Rosalee found herself literally surrounded by predatory drug dealers whose influence over her young sons terrified her.
She decided to get involved. So, she started asking questions, of her sons, of their friends, even of the drug dealers. And, as an actress and a filmmaker, she decided to videotape the whole thing so that maybe she could share their story with other parents and kids. With the help of her friend Kelly, a reality TV producer, she started making a documentary. She didn't know what she was going to find, she just knew she had to do something.
Cut to several years later: the boys are older now and have moved out of the house. Rosalee decides to start putting together the footage she shot during those tumultuous teenage years. But there are pieces missing -- you can't always have your camera with you when dramatic events take place. The most crucial scene was never captured: the night Rosalee and her boys saw the coyotes attacking the neighbor's dog.
Rosalee has tried on numerous occasions to grab some shots of coyotes out on the street at night, but the damn things never stick around long enough for her to run inside and grab the camera. She's even taken to carrying the camera with her just in case she runs into some coyotes out on Mullholland Drive some night. Which, she does. But, alas, it was too dark and the coyotes were too fast.
Finally she realizes that she needs to bite the bullet and hire some professional coyotes. This being LA, that's not as unusual as you might think. But it is expensive. Damn expensive. Coyotes don't work cheap. They have a very good union.
So Rosalee needs to raise some money.
She signs up on a website called IndieGoGo, which provides a forum for independent filmmakers to solicit tax-deductible contributions via the internet. She emails all her friends and posts the link on Facebook, and, little by little, the donations start coming in. Rosalee is amazed. This dream she's been holding onto for so many years is beginning to look as if it is within reach. But even with the donations, she still needs more. She needs cameras and camera operators. She needs lights and vehicles. She needs permits and insurance. The closer she gets, the more difficult it seems.
One night at Deadline Junkies, she tells me that she feels bad about having to beg everyone she knows for money or time or equipment or advice. So, I tell her the story of Nail Soup:
A group of travelers stops for the night at a roadhouse. They are strangers who just happen to be on the same road together. They are tired and hungry but there is nothing to eat. An old tramp announces that he will make them all some nail soup, using a magic nail he has in his pocket. Just put it in some water and stir it up and soon everyone will have a nice hot bowl of nourishing soup for dinner. "Of course," says the tramp, "nail soup does taste better with some carrots chopped up in it. But we will have to make do without." One of the travelers, however, happens to have a few carrots, and into the pot they go. The tramp smiles, "You know what else goes well in nail soup -- a bit of potato." Sure enough, another one of the travelers produces a potato, and into the pot it goes. And so on, until everyone has contributed what little they have and the nail soup becomes a hearty stew which easily feeds them all.
Rosalee's film is like the nail soup. It begins with an idea, but it becomes a reality through the collaboration and generosity of her fellow travelers. Rosalee sent out more emails, hit up more friends for favors, found out a way to get the permit price reduced, and worked out a deal with the coyotes. So, last weekend, there we were: four members of Deadline Junkies with borrowed cameras and lights, two volunteer interns, one out-of-town visitor who probably had no idea what she was getting into, and two Hollywood coyotes with their entourage -- all to help make Rosalee's vision into a reality.
And as with the nail soup, we all came away feeling nourished -- knowing we had contributed to something worthwhile and taken part in a moment of true creativity. It was an honor and a privilege to be lying in the street in the middle of the night trying to point a camera at a spot of light where two coyotes just might, if we are goddamn lucky this time, decide to hit their marks and do their bit.
There's still a long way to go before Coyote Nights is done, but that's the beauty of nail soup -- you never run out of it.
They say getting a movie made isn't a miracle. But it is a minor miracle.