The Shoot (Part Eight)

The bearded man’s name is Drago. He says he used to be a conflagrationist but hasn’t really kept up with it lately. A conflagrationist, it turns out, is distinct from an arsonist in that the former needs to build something before setting it on fire whereas the latter only burns things that previously existed. The best example I can think of is the Burning Man festival. Someone needs to build the effigy before anyone can burn it down.

Lately, though, Drago has been moving on to other media. Every day it’s something different, he says. Every day is something new. Every day is an adventure, but when anybody asks, he always gives them his stock answer: “Oh, you know. Same old thing.”

“I know what you mean,” I say. “It’s impossible explain everything that’s going on and how it’s all connected, so you end up saying you’re not doing anything.”

“Yeah,” Drago says. “Exactly.”

“Happens to me all the time,” I say, and Miranda tells us to pick up the pace because we’re losing light.

The five of us are crossing Henry Avenue on our way to a park on the far side of the street. Worth noting is the fact that it’s freezing out and none of us are wearing anything heavier than a blazer. Cars are barreling down on us from both directions as we reach the far end of the intersection, and the drivers are barely slowing down not so much to avoid running us over as to figure out exactly what we’re up to.

Mike is dressed as a tiger in a metallic blue cape. Natalie is wearing a sheer silver blouse, furry kitten ears, and a tail. Drago’s face is obscured by the combination of his beard and a feathery mask. I’m still wearing Mike’s blazer and tie and lugging a guitar and bass toward the park, and Miranda, perhaps in a spirit of solidarity, is wearing Spandex pants and a glittery shirt despite the fact that she has every intention of staying behind the camera.

“Come on, guys,” Miranda says as we lay our gear down under the roof of a stone gazebo. “We need some establishing shots.”

From what I can gather, establishing shots are very important because we spend the next ten minutes getting them, and when I think we’re done, Mike asks Miranda if we got enough establishing shots. When it turns out that we haven’t, Miranda calls for more establishing shots, and Natalie pounces atop a trashcan and balances herself on top of it. Not to be outdone, Drago leaps on a picnic table, then lunges for a wooden support beam beneath the roof of the gazebo.

“Is this a good idea?” I ask Mike in a whisper as Drago wraps his legs around the beam and hangs upside down, belly exposed in the cold, winter air.

“It’s fine,” Mike says. “They do this kind of thing all the time.”

“They do?” I ask, images of Drago and Natalie splattered on the concrete floor of the gazebo dancing in my head.

How will I explain it to the paramedics, I wonder? Or worse, to the police?

When Natalie and Drago finish their establishing shots unscathed, Miranda spots a hill and tells us to start descending it.

“Okay, stop!” she shouts, and we all freeze as she moves to another angle and tells us to resume our march. After repeating this process about a dozen times, we reach the bottom of the hill, much to everyone’s amazement.

By now, the cold is starting to sink into our bones, and even the most adventurous among us are starting to feel it. Drago notes that it’s getting late. Natalie mentions that her lips are turning blue. Mike reminds us that he has papers to grade.

But Miranda has other plans.

“What we really need is a story,” she announces. “Any ideas?”

caputure marc 23 seconds, tree with guitar grave yard

Just a guy with a guitar jumping out from behind a tree in a cemetery.

The Shoot (Part Five)

Back at the house, Mike is grading papers, which makes sense because he’s an English teacher, and English teachers spend every spare minute of the day grading papers. That I’m an English teacher as well makes me wonder if I should have brought some papers along on today’s adventure, but Miranda is of the opinion that Mike’s grading is ruining the mood.

“We’re shooting a rock video,” she says. “It’s supposed to be fun!”

“Just one more,” Mike says, cross-legged as he looks up from the sea of papers circling him on his bed like the ridges of a crater. “I’m almost done.”

I’ve heard that before — mainly because I’ve said it before. Grading papers is the ultimate excuse for avoiding life.

Mocha, meanwhile, is still barking, and Miranda is on the phone. With whom, I don’t know, but they’re making plans to meet soon. Which means, I suppose, that our shoot must be nearing an end. What’s next? A few takes with me and Mike frolicking in the snow-covered backyard? We can knock that out in fifteen minutes — a half-hour at the most. Then I’ll be heading home, and I can resume my regularly-scheduled life.

“Good news!” Miranda says when she gets off the phone. “Natalie’s in, and so is her boyfriend!”

“Don’t let me hold you up,” I say. “Let’s get this shoot finished, and I’ll leave you guys to your plans.”

It then occurs to me that we’re all in Mike and Miranda’s bedroom, which is less of a bedroom than a gallery space with a bed. The room is filled with comic books, artwork, and vintage toys — all arranged in perfect, touch-me-not order. The other rooms in the house are pretty much the same, giving the place the air of a hip, funky museum.

“What plans?” Miranda asks. “We’re going to Roxborough to pick up Natalie and her boyfriend, and then we’re shooting the rest of the video.”

“Roxborough?” I say, silently gauging the number of hours the excursion will add to the one I’m already on.

“Can’t they drive out here?” Mike asks.

“No,” Miranda says. “They don’t have a car. Besides, Natalie says there’s a field by her house where we can do some filming.”

“What about the dog?” Mike asks.

“What about the dog?”

“It’s almost his dinnertime.”

It’s almost my dinnertime, I want to say but for some reason don’t.

“Then feed him,” Miranda says.

Mike trudges off to fetch some dinner for Mocha, and I start to feel bad for being such a misanthrope — even if only in my own head.

“I really appreciate what you guys are doing for me,” I say because, really, who else would volunteer to direct, shoot, and edit a video for someone just because they like a song?

“Are you kidding?” Miranda asks. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done anything creative? I sit behind a desk all day.”

It’s worth noting that Miranda studied art in college. One of her big projects involved covering every inch of a room with playing cards and then inviting people in to pose as if they were attending a cocktail party.

In the nude.

Or something like that.

I probably don’t have to mention that I wasn’t involved.

“It’s actually good for me, too,” I admit. “I mean, just getting out of the house. That was one of my resolutions this year. Get out our more. Be more social.”

The smell of canned dog food fills the room as Mike sets a bowl on the bed where Mocha is accustomed to taking his meals.

“Marc was just telling me that his new year’s resolution was to come out,” Miranda says.

“Really?” Mike asks, and Mocha starts barking at his food.

“Not come out,” I say a little too quickly. “Get out. More often. And be more social.”

“Come out, get out,” Miranda says. “The point is you’re having fun.”

Right. Fun. I almost forgot.


Me in the Pop Culture Wing of the Museum of Mike and Miranda’s Peculiar Interests. I’m dancing with a 3/4 scale model of Michael Jackson, and the dog is barking at me. My shoes are off because I’ve just spent the last half-hour stomping around in a wet and muddy cemetery.



The Shoot (Part Four)

The story I’m telling myself as Miranda and I drive to the cemetery is that I’ll be home by dinner. Considering that it’s half-past-three and Mike is still, to the best of my knowledge, in the shower, it’s less of a story than a baldfaced lie, but it’s a lie that I cling to as I sling a guitar over my shoulder and start jumping out from behind trees and rising up from behind tombstones per Miranda’s instructions.

“You’re supposed to be a rock star,” she says from behind her camera. “Don’t be so stiff.”

The “rock star” appellation is less a description of who I am than of the role I’m supposed to be playing. There are four characters in the mini-drama that Miranda has scripted: The Hot-Rod Kitten, the Pet Detective, the Rock Star, and Mama. I’m the rock star, and Mike, stretching any and all definitions of the word, is going to be Mama. What doesn’t occur to me is that a Hot-Rod Kitten and a Pet Detective have yet to be cast.

“Move your shoulders,” Miranda says. “Rock out!”

The song I wrote and recorded is playing on her phone. It’s called “Never Talk Back” and tells the story of a prostitute who gets killed because she doesn’t bring in enough money. I think Mama is supposed to be her pimp, actually. Or something like that. It’s been a long time since I wrote the song, and the seven-page shooting script, which we’re pretty much abandoning as we go along, has very little to do with the lyrics. Thank God. Or, to give credit where credit is due, thank Miranda, since she wrote the script.

And, it turns out, is a pretty good director.

The truth, I realize, is that there’s something vaguely comforting about following orders. I don’t have to worry about what to do or say. I don’t even have to run any of my “normal people behavior” scripts. I just do what Miranda says to do and trust that it will all work out in the end, so I try to play some guitar riffs along with the song and start to mouth the lyrics.

“Maybe don’t sing along so much,” Miranda suggests. “We don’t know which clips we’ll be using where.”

“Got it,” I say, settling gradually into the role of the rock star.

“And remember,” Miranda adds. “Don’t be so stiff!”