Balls of Steel: Lights, Camera, Anxiety Attack

On a cold, rainy day in February 2011, I witnessed a young couple arguing outside Starbucks. Being a bit of a voyeur, I tweeted their body language, capturing the heartbreaking tale of love at an impasse, all in 140-character bits.

Months later, I turned that 45-minute tweet session into a short film script, Impasse, to be directed by Michael Bekemeyer.

As I’m writing this post, it is a mere two days before I get on a plane to join our cast and crew in Orlando – the people who will bring my words to life.

I was going to write about being a first-time producer, preproduction hell, how when one becomes a producer, she magically transforms from artist to bitch, and all the insurmountable details that have to be taken care of.  But as I hung up the phone with my co-producer a few minutes ago, it hit me – my words are going to be fondled, caressed, spit out and reshaped by other people.

People are going to mess with my baby.

I want to throw up.

I’m going to take off my producer hat and share with you the mind of a writer on the brink of being produced for the first time.

I have no idea what it’s going to feel like to sit on that set in a few days, watching actors Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods interpret my words. To not only hear them speak the dialogue I wrote, but also to see them transform before my eyes into the dysfunctional, married couple I created out of thin air.

Okay, that made me smile to write, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.

The coffeehouse “flirty guy” is being played by Daniel Wachs, while the young arguing couple is being portrayed by Andrea Jordan and José Miguel Vasquez. Their challenge will be to convey the emotion and struggle of the lovers’ quarrel with no dialogue whatsoever. I can only imagine how exciting and horrifying that task must be for an actor.

But for me, as the screenwriter, watching these actors convey what, up until that moment, were only thoughts swirling in my mind and slices of life I witnessed, leaves me feeling anxious and vulnerable.

I do trust the talent we chose in our cast and crew, who I will introduce you to in a future post. But that still doesn’t calm my nerves or ease my fears of the words not translating to the screen the way I imagined.

The best analogy I can give of my anxiousness is describing the moment I brought my first born home from the hospital. For the nine months prior, I was her producer. I created her, named her, orchestrated how I wanted her birth to be, designed the set of her bedroom, chose her wardrobe, and had all the props in place.

I was ready for her arrival… until she actually arrived.

As I carried her into my restaurant (yes, I owned a motel and restaurant – long story), the staff and customers cooed over her, plucked her from my arms, and analyzed her beauty and innocence. They saw a miracle. But to me, all I saw were people messing with my baby. I couldn’t wait to get her safely back in my arms. For the nine months prior, she belonged only to me. Now she was out in the world, ripe for criticism and crazies. I wanted to rewind time and have her back inside my womb.

This is going to be my lesson this weekend on set: Letting go. Trusting the director, the actors, the crew, the DP, and later the film editor, to understand my intent of theme and story, and to do Impasse justice.

As John Malkovich’s character says over and over in Dangerous Liaisons, as he broke Michelle Pfeiffer’s heart, “It is beyond my control.”

In my nervousness last night, I tweeted out, “My heart is on those pages. Trusting people to bring it to life is so hard.”

In response, I received wonderful advice from my friends:

  • Robert Pilkington: “Trust your director, DP, and editor. Everyone’s name will be on it.”
  • Michael Cassidy: “Before it gets too crazy this week: good luck on set! Savor it.”              
  • Wonder Russell: “You can do it. They can do it. Guardians of the work. Stewards of creativity. Trust, breathe, invite the unexpected.”
  • Camilla Castree: “The universe, plus the talent and desire of the team, will conspire to bring it together.”

Bottom-line, Impasse is no longer my script. Everyone on that set, and in postproduction, now has ownership.

I’m going to spend the next few days breathing, savoring the moment, being a producer when I need to be, but remembering to stop, watch and soak it in… my words coming to life.

The birth of my baby.  My own personal impasse.