This is a Student Film

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In Blame Logic, all occurrences are the end result of a long and often tedious string of vaguely connected events, strung together by a pitiful individual who thinks too much.  I’m such a person, so I’ve always been a fan.  Let me give you an example of what I mean – My roommate is using the oven to cook dinner.  I go for takeout, and on the way I trip and break my ankle.  Using Blame Logic, the hospital bills should go to my roommate.  If he hadn’t monopolized the oven, none of this would’ve happened.  Blame Logic is a great way for me to never feel responsible for anything bad happening, and a nice way to convince myself that the entire universe is out to get me.

Sticking to this approach, it was really Katie Nelson’s fault that I got into a car wreck on the I-490 and totaled my Ford Taurus station wagon.  Katie was my co-worker at Blockbuster, and I had a disgusting crush on her.  The crush was disgusting due to the combination of its intensity and its one-sidedness.  Like someone who swears the Holocaust never happened, I was in absolute denial that Katie Nelson didn’t have feelings for me.  No facts or evidence would sway me towards recognizing the obvious.  Katie barely paid me any attention when her shift ended at five o’clock and I passed her going through the door on my way to take over her register.  Regardless, I was frantic about getting to the Blockbuster before she left, just so I could savor her cool look as she slid by.

Because of this, I drove far too fast down the expressway and my car spun out of control.  I hit a truck and then went careening into the guard rail at light speed.  As the police cars came and the smoke poured out from under the hood of my demolished family utility vehicle, I could only think, “Damn!  Katie’s got to be gone by now!”

Like I said, it was Katie’s fault that my car was totaled.

Coincidentally, one of the frustrated drivers stuck in the traffic jam created by my accident was Adrian Lozano, who just so happened to be my professor at film school.  Adrian was a fat lesbian who wore all black and disliked everything.  Her range of approval went from mere hatred to all out repulsion.  After screening our projects, certain students would beam with excitement, claiming, “Adrian Lozano only mildly despised my film!”  Perhaps the one thing Adrian disliked more than anything was being stuck on a backed-up highway.  When she found out that I was the cause of it, her lip twitched and she said, “Oh, so you’re the reason I was twenty minutes late getting home.”

I had never felt so ashamed in my life.

Soon after the accident, my mind could only focus on things of the utmost importance: my upcoming final project at film school, the wrecked car, and Katie Nelson.  I became horribly depressed.  Bumming rides to and from school from my friend Richard, I’d hang my head as if all hope was lost.

“Snap out of it!” Richard said.  “You’ve got a student film to make!  Don’t you realize the opportunity you have?  This could be your big break.”

Richard himself was making a documentary on an overweight guy who liked to dance in public.  “It’s going to be called ‘Fat Guy Dancing,’” he said proudly.  “I shot some footage of him dancing by a fountain last night.  It came out really good.  The lighting is perfect.”

With my car out of commission, Richard was my transportation.  He would also be my cameraman once I started my film.  I figured anyone who cared enough to light an obese street dancer like he was lighting Marlene Dietrich had to be worth working with.  Richard gave me some advice about my project.

“Take everything that’s happened,” he said, “and channel it into your film.  That’s what artists do.”

That sounded good, especially since it implied I was an “artist.”  Alone in my bedroom, I poured my heart into a ten page script.  The story involved a man who had accidentally killed someone in an auto wreck.  Now believing that he was capable of anything, he kidnaps the girl he’s crazy about.  He believes he can force her to love him.  But he can’t, and in the end, he sits in a parking lot in his junked car and watches as she goes off with someone else.

The next day, I handed my script to Katie Nelson and asked her to star in my film.

“Who’s gonna play the guy?” she asked.

“I am,” I said.   My student film was turning into a complete exercise in ego: it was about me, would be directed by me, would star the girl I was crazy about, and so it might as well have me in it, too.  Just like in classic painting, I figured – no artist ever painted a self-portrait of someone else.

To my surprise, Katie called me the next day and was enthusiastic about the project.

“I think it’s good,” she said.  “Do you really want me to be in it?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Why do you want me?” she asked.

The obvious answer was, “I desperately love you and see this as my only chance to ever impress or get anywhere near you.”  But I didn’t say that.

Instead I said, “I just need a girl and I don’t know anyone else.”

By this time, most of the other students in my film class had already finished their films.  They showed their work in class to a typically unimpressed Adrian Lozano.

“It’s technically well done,” she’d say, “but I don’t see any emotion in it.”

Aha!  If it was emotion she wanted, my film was going to be stuffed with it.  While the other students aped Kevin Smith, I was putting myself on film without shame.  It was all going to be out there for the world to see – everything I felt in life, naked, captured in crisp digital video.

Finally, the night came when I arranged my film to be shot.  I had more or less run out of time, and so the entire thing would have to shot in one night.  My father let me borrow his car so that I could go pick up my starlet.  Coming out of her house, Katie looked radiant.

I opened the passenger side door for her and Katie hopped in.  Heading in the direction of my apartment – or as I had called it on the phone, “the set” – Katie suddenly began telling me about her sex life.

“So,” she said, “I got laid last night.”

Absorbing the blow of those words, I almost lost control of the car.  It would have been the second wreck Katie would’ve been responsible for.

“What?!”

“I’ve been miserable lately,” she said.  “I decided to sleep with the bartender from Donnie’s.  It was just to cheer me up.  I don’t think I feel any better, though.”

My hands shook on the wheel.  “Why would you do that?” I asked, sneering like Adrian Lozano during my midterm project.  “Don’t you want someone who likes you and would be good to you?”

“No,” she said bluntly.  “Not at all.  I don’t want a boyfriend.  I just want to have sex right now with no strings attached.”

At that point, I might as well have taken her back home and forgotten the whole thing.  It was done.  For the hour or so that we tried to make the film, Richard chain-smoked and worried about the editing of his film, I couldn’t focus on anything other than the mental picture of Katie having sex with some sleazy bartender, and Katie just sat there looking sad.

Finally I threw in the towel and put my student film out of its misery.  Just like that, my ego-trip was over.  All that was shot from my ten page script were a few lines of dialogue and some shots of Katie sitting on my couch, looking lovely.

Later that night, I looked through my prop box in an effort to inspire myself.  I had to shoot something, after all.  Nothing jumped out at me except a fake finger I had in the box.  My new film (shot by me, directed by me, staring me, and featuring special effects by me) consisted of me sitting around chain-smoking.  Near the end, I open the pack for another cigarette and there isn’t one.  Then I take a knife and cut my finger off.  I put the severed finger (which was – relax – the fake finger) into my mouth, light it, and smoke it.  Fade to black.  The end.

“What the hell was that!?” Adrian Lozano gasped.  “It’s terrible!  Poorly shot…there’s no point…what on earth were you thinking?”

Bent over in shame, I muttered, “I thought it would be funny.”

“Well,” she huffed, “I didn’t hear anyone laughing.”

It was true.  That would change, however, in a few moments, when “Fat Guy Dancing” made its premiere.  The class laughed uproariously as the Fat Guy popped and locked to Da Dip.

Squeezing out her words through laughter, Adrian managed to say, “Well done, Richard!  It’s perfect!”

Maybe an artist puts himself on the screen.  Richard put something up there that made people laugh.  In a school of thinkers, his dumb little film turned out to be the best thing made all year.

*

I didn’t see much of Katie Nelson after that.  She quit Blockbuster and moved away.  Taking her words at face value, all she wanted was someone who didn’t like her so much; she didn’t want the pressure of being admired.  Maybe that was my mistake.  Maybe when she passed by me on the way out the Blockbuster door and shot me that cool look, I should’ve returned it.

A month after the disastrous screening of my half-assed student film (in front of the entire film program), I was kicked out of film school.  I didn’t have what it took.  Not the desire to succeed, or even the knowledge of how to work a camera or read a light meter.

“What are you going to do now?” Richard asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Work more hours at Blockbuster, I guess.”

This is a student film – how it works.  A man picks out his star and pictures Hollywood, oh Hollywood, and the titles of his movies on marquees.  Every story of a student film is the story of a dreamer and his dream.  Then, somehow, things happen.  The car gets wrecked, the star goes away, and the movie doesn’t play the same way it did when he pictured it.  When it’s over, he realizes that he’s put his whole heart into an abject failure.  There was a moment of belief, though – not just for him, for his star as well.  She might have left to pursue less ambitious dreams, true, but he can’t forget something.  He can’t forget that for one brief bit of time, she believed in him, and perhaps she even shared a little bit of his dream, too.

Some people can take an image and capture it on film.  They’re the ones who have everything come out just the way they’ve envisioned it.  I’m not one of those people.  My images only take shape in my head, and usually a long time after I’ve first tried to capture them.  I don’t really envy those first people, I don’t think.  It must be depressing, in a way, to take a look at what you’ve done, and know that you’ve seen it all before.

 

*

 

 

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7 thoughts on “This is a Student Film

  1. Bradd Quinn

    ah yes…i remember “katie”. you even pinned her number on the wall next to the calander a la “swingers” counting down the days before you could call her.

    and i remember getting that call from you on 490 from some guys cell phone “hey…man…can you hear me….i (garbled) accident…(garbled)…490 exit on (garbled)..”

    “I’m coming!” i yelled. You and your car were gone before i got there. Just glass on the highway left behind. we wondered if you were dead for like 24hrs.

    and your “Katie” movie, if finished, still never would have held a candle to “The Truth About Porn”.

  2. Okay, so there is no use hiding the fact that I cannot stop reading your posts. Get used to seeing my face around here. I can’t help it–it brightens my day, really.

    Your writing is incredible and I just sit here, snorting (unattractive quality about myself when I laugh too hard) and nodding in agreement. I’m sorry but that lesbian has no sense of humor. I laughed so hard at your finger film. This coming from the girl who delights in Jack Handy quotes. I am sure Christopher Guest’s film teacher never appreciated any of his ideas either, which is why he is so brilliantly funny. Usually the ones with talent are approached with opposition…

    • I’m so happy to be the cause of your snorting! Really, though, my student films were absolutely horrendous and it’s a wonder I wasn’t kicked out of film school earlier. Simple things like focusing the camera baffled me. People couldn’t tell if I was avant garde or inept. And, in the end, I’m happy enough with how things panned out.

      Thanks so much Cara for reading this nonsense! Your compliments make me feel wonderful. : )

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