Friday, January 23, 2009

The Money Shot

Sometimes, when life gets a bit messy and hopes and dreams seem lost, I begin to dwell over where I went wrong.

These aren’t exactly moments of clarity. They’re more like sucker punches to the mind.

Of course, your close friends and family assure you that things aren’t that bad. It’s going to get better, they promise. And who doesn’t have that friend who can always top your sob story with another tale of woe…

“I know things seem bad, but did you hear about Bob?”

Damn that Bob. He tops me every time.

The past few days have been particularly heinous. And no, I didn’t say that just because I like the word “heinous”. Suffice it to say that the past few days, I’ve had to seriously question the focus of my life.

It all boils down to two questions: What am I doing? And why am I doing it?

Last week, I found myself dashing around town trying to complete a short film. Was anyone waiting for this short film? No. Was this for a job? No. Was even the tiniest part of my life hinging on this film’s completion? No.

And yet, I lost hours of sleep cutting and honing the two-minute script. Hopped on a subway to race down to Chelsea to record the voice-over. Called into work and said I’d be a few minutes late as I tried to secure the last shots. And stayed up till seven o’clock in the morning editing till I could barely focus on the screen.

My point?

Well, that’s the thing---what WAS the point? What drives me to dedicate my entire life to a short film, a blog post, a one act play, a script, or a novel that no one ever reads?

Anyone, with even a mild artistic temperament, will gleefully admit to a bit of quirkiness. But sometimes I wonder, what am I thinking?

Picture, if you will…

Last week I was out in the cold trying to get pictures of Curbside Christmas Trees---you know, the pine trees people throw out after the New Year. I had a whole photo essay/comedy/parody sort of thing all planned out. Pretty much put my life on hold for a week to see this baby thru.

Last Thursday, I was out with my camera, trying to get a few last shots before I hopped on the train for work. One large apartment building had a fenced in space for garbage and I saw, what I knew would be, a great shot for my film. As I pulled the lens cap off my camera, I heard a strange buzzing overhead. I looked up, and saw a plane flying dangerously low. Not a jumbo jet. But not a two-seater, either. More like a small mini-jet flying overhead.

“Wow. That’s REALLY low,” I thought to myself. Like all New Yorkers, memories of 9-11 came rushing back. I kept my eye on the plane. It barely cleared the Washington Avenue Bridge.

I listened for a crash, but heard nothing. “Oh good,” I thought. “Must just be flying low.”

I lifted my camera and aimed it at a dead pine tree.

A few minutes later, I arrived at work to find my co-workers gathered around the TV.

“What’s going on?”

“A plane crashed into the Hudson.”

“Oh my god, “ I could barely breathe. “I just saw that plane. I just saw it! While I was out shooting. Oh my god. That was that plane!”

When they said “crashed into the Hudson” I couldn’t imagine survivors. As far as I knew, I had just stood there on a street corner watching hundreds of people go to their deaths, then took a few snapshots and hopped onto a train to read my book. I felt sick to my stomach and went outside for some air.

The plane had crashed about five blocks away from my work. Ambulances, with sirens blaring, raced past me towards the river. News media trucks wedged in with rush hour traffic. Cops were everywhere.

It was 9-11 all over again. The chaos, the fear and the cops.

Security to remind you that you weren’t really secure.

I thought about the fragility of life. One moment you’re here and the next… Like those strange, unexplained feelings everyone has as they stand on a bridge or a precipice and silently think, “If I took just one step this way…”

That brief flicker of mortality. The curious death wish we flirt with at the edge. What is that? That archetypal phenomenon. There must be some long German word.

A few minutes later, a co-worker came up to me and said, “Everyone’s okay. Everyone survived. It’s a miracle.”

And then, another co-worker finally got up the nerve to ask, “So, did you get a shot of that plane?”

Suddenly, to a roomful of non-artist types, I had to explain why, with camera in hand; I had failed to get a shot that looked like this:

And instead, took one that looked like this:

As Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson stepped in front of the cameras for Happy Talk---I continued trying to explain why a picture of a dead pine tree was more important than a crashing plane. But frankly, I didn’t know myself. The only thing I could figure was that my brain was so hard-wired to complete the film that it was the only thing that really mattered.

A friend at work looked at my shot and shook his head. “Do you realize that you could have gotten big bucks if you had just turned your camera in the other direction?”

I looked feebly down at my camera. “But this…” I muttered, “...this is The Money Shot.”

But we all knew that the true Money Shot would have been of that plane. This is why I'm not a journalist. I've never seen so much head shaking in my life.

In fact, had I lifted my camera just a few inches, I might have gotten a shot that would’ve paid a few bills or given me some cash to take some time off to write. Do news organizations pay for these shots? I guess if it's good and they want it and you demand payment for your little gem... But what do I know? And if everyone hadn't survived, would I really have demanded money for the shot? Just didn't seem ethical somehow.

I suppose that’s what agents and managers are for---to raise your artistically deluded arm and point it in a different direction. Not necessarily a bad thing. After all, once I’d gotten a shot of the plane---I could easily have turned my camera down and to the left and still gotten the tree.

But apparently, I couldn’t see the forest for the dead tree.

So this week, I find myself with a completed film that my friends watch online and comment upon with short little notes saying things like “hilarious!” and “SO funny!!!”. And that’s so sweet that they take the time out of their busy lives to watch and send little notes of encouragement. Some days, it's the only thing that keeps me going.

But meanwhile, I find myself one week closer to having to pack it all up and move back home to Mom. Mom might find my short film amusing, but she’s more likely to rub her hand across her forehead with a sigh and say, “Oh but honey---why couldn’t you get a shot of that plane?”

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.