25 days. That’s how long I was on the set directing Delirious. Out of 6 years; 25 days. I’ve often wondered what was my job all the other days–the days before and all the days since. Bill collector, delivery man, inmate, prison warden, shrink, priest, pimp, dope pusher, dog catcher, coffee getter, freaker outer.
But for the 25 days of the shoot I felt more alive then I ever have in my life. Shooting a low-budget movie is like warfare, without the bullets. The stakes are almost as high. The unexpected accidents and disasters require almost the same superhuman effort to recover from–to adapt to; to find creative solutions to. The victories are intense. The defeats are numbing and demoralizing. So many times my sole purpose was simply to keep everybody going, and from going home.
Certain fragments from the battlefield stand out. The night we snuck onto the subway; just me, Michael, Frank DeMarco and a handheld 35mm movie camera. NYC was in the middle of a subway strike that miraculously ended the night before Michael was due to leave for Japan for 6 months to do another movie. We shot all night, just the three of us–on the trains, on the platforms, jumping over turnstiles, leaping into cars–and not a single person stopped us. Afterwards we had breakfast; beer, tequila and jelly donuts at Michael’s apartment in Brooklyn.
Shooting the music video with Alison. Although only 45 seconds of it appear in the film we decided to shoot the whole thing in case we needed it in the editing room. Alison took the performance very seriously and practiced the choreography for days. I only found out after hiring her that she is a trained singer. It is her voice singing the lyrics. The song, I’m happy and sad to say, was written and performed by me. I needed something believable as a pop song but also something that was just a little bit stupid. I’ve been told I succeeded at both. The video was Alison’s first day of shooting. The song is about her refusal to let being dumped by her boyfriend bring her down. She sang and danced all day in a tiny pink bikini and let me dump several buckets of water on her without a single word of complaint. I’m proud to say I think we made the world’s first sexist feminist music video.
Working with Steve. The give and take of creative ideas is so fluid and effortless it’s like we’re playing music. There is no ego involved whatsoever. Every idea is considered. He knows I only want the best for him and from him and he trusts me completely. Steve is a brilliant improviser. He’s got the amazing ability to make his departures from the script, his leaps out into the void, always grounded in the themes of the film. In one scene he takes Toby to visit his parents and ends up getting into an argument with them. The scene was to end with his father stomping out in disgust. I kept the camera running. Steve sat there with Michael and his mother and kept going, driving the end of the scene up to another level. The actor playing his father, standing in the other room, heard what was going on and just decided to walk back in and re-enter the scene. What resulted was so sharp, fresh and spontaneous I left it in.
One day, in between shots, Steve picked up a guitar and started singing a ballad to Michael, asleep on the couch behind him. It was an improvised ode to Toby, his “Homeless Boy.” I grabbed the crew and we turned the camera on. We got it on film. It didn’t make it into the cut. You’ll have to get the DVD to see it.
The night we shot the Fly. Toby realizes his relationship with Les has become destructive and he must somehow find a way to leave. They’re sitting in an all-night diner and Toby glances down to see a fly stuck in a pool of syrup. The shot was an enormous Close Up of just the fly so we did it at the end of the night when all the actors had gone home. The prop man had 3 flies in state of semi-hibernation. The first one just stood in the syrup and didn’t move. The second one suddenly flew out the door, leaving us with one last fly.
The prop man eased it onto the table and nudged it into the syrup. We rolled camera. Suddenly the fly began to struggle. I motioned to the operator to zoom in and keep filming. In the monitor I could see the fly straining backwards with all its might, lifting one leg out at a time until it was finally free. We all burst into spontaneous, emotional applause. The fly’s successful struggle to free itself was the perfect metaphor for Toby’s state of mind. The fly gave a performance that was as stirring as any actor’s in the film. I should have given it a credit. It still troubles me to know that 24 hours later it was dead.