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Tales from the Trenches: Making Movies is Back-Breaking Work

Tales from the Trenches: Making Movies is Back-Breaking Work

Articles - Directing

Tales from the Trenches is MovieMaker’s latest weekly feature where we hear how independent moviemakers of all stripes overcame seemingly insurmountable circumstances to get their movie made. Think you’ve got a war story that can top this one? Send it (less than 1,000 words) to {encode=”Tales@moviemaker.com” title=”Tales@moviemaker.com”}.

I made a movie last year called Teary Sockets. It was a comedy, and it almost killed me. So did my wife.

You’ve all heard of folks who say they “broke their backs” making their movie. I did. I don’t really know how we came up with the whole idea of a movie set almost entirely on a dilapidated old school bus, shot half in Los Angeles and half in Mississippi, but we did. I guess we thought that since we didn’t have very much money for sets and location fees, that we could save a lot of money if we just shot everything on the bus. After a little bit of looking we were able to find what we were looking for: A used short bus, with wheelchair access doors, but with all of the seats and the wheelchair access lift removed. These things were important because we were going to be shooting the movie inside the thing; we needed as much access as possible and complete freedom in how we configured the interior. The high ceiling gave us room up above to keep the boom mikes out of our shots, and the steps up from the standard school bus doors gave us a place for the director of photography, Neil Broffman, to stand with the camera locked down to the handrail, to shoot. It was perfect, and it was just the right price: Cheap.

After driving the 400 miles to Tennessee to pick up County 60, as we affectionately called the vehicle, and having to replace the cracked engine block, there couldn’t be any reason in the world why we couldn’t just drive to California now. Could there?

Four times the bus left for California, and, thanks to various technical problems, not once did it make it past Newton. After spending three times the initial cost of the bus, and never even making it 40 miles west, I came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no chance that the thing would ever make it to Los Angeles under its own power.

We were going to have to tow it. We had an entire film crew that would be waiting to start filming in one week, and they were going to have to be paid if the bus made it or not. So we divided up our resources. The assistant director and Neil would have to start filming without us and Jackson, the director, and I, the producer, would haul the damned bus.

I threw caution, and money, to the wind and bought a 26-foot gooseneck flatbed trailer, hooked it to my GMC and forced the bus up the ramp onto the trailer. We chained the front of the bus down with a logging chain and binder, then tied as much else down as we could with nylon tie-down straps. In Dallas the temperature began to drop and the rain started. By the time we made it out into the open plains of west Texas it was 27 degrees and snowing. The overpasses were iced over and we were just sliding across them trying to make it to the next town to find someplace to stop without wrecking. We didn’t.

I was driving crossing an overpass just outside of Sweetwater. It swept to the right; we went straight. I’m not sure how long we were air born. It seemed like a pretty long time. Long enough for me to look over at Jackson and say, “Looks bad.” Then all kinds of stuff started happening real fast.

We hit the ground, hard. A great big highway sign was coming at us then the truck hit its pole and the sign slammed down on us, smashing the roof and the top of the windshield. Sparkly little bits of glass rained down everywhere. We ran up the embankment and across the oncoming lanes then slammed against the guardrail and came to rest looking up an ice-slicked hill, hoping not to see any vehicles coming our way.

I tried to turn to check out the trailer and bus but couldn’t. Somebody was shoving a red-hot poker into my upper-spine every time I tried to turn my head.

“Jack I can’t see, is the bus still there?” I asked.

“Damn, everything’s still hooked up, it doesn’t even look like its moved,” he answered.

“We got to get out of here,” I said. “If a truck comes over that hill, we’re dead.”

I shifted the truck into four-wheel low and we pulled away from the rail, down the bank, drove over a fence and got onto the access road. We crippled the 14 miles into Sweetwater, Texas and called the police. Two days later we got back on the interstate—the top of the windshield splinted with duct tape, looking out through the spider-webbed glass—drove on at 15 to 20 miles per hour headed for California.

We passed 31 wrecked tractor-trailers, and an overturned salt truck in the next 75 miles. We later learned eight people had died on that stretch of road in that storm.

In Los Angeles the electrical problems returned and the bus died repeatedly during filming, leaving us stranded on the 110, the 101 and the 210 freeways with traffic zipping around us. After that, all shooting on the bus was done with it on the flatbed.

I returned from Los Angeles and had X-rays made of my spine, which showed that what I had diagnosed as a disc problem was in actuality a compression fracture of the T3 vertebrae. When my wife found out she threatened to break my neck.

For more information on the film, which was indeed finished, visit www.tearysockets.com.

Scott Anderson is a cancer physician, with multiple international publications. In the past he has served as a Navy Diving Medical Officer and has worked with the special operations community. He is also the author of a regular monthly column, Una Voce, in the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association; a novel, Time Donors Wanted, which is in final editing; a collection of short stories called Una Voce; and several screenplays, including Teary Sockets and Still Standing Tall, which was written for the Williams Brothers and is currently in development. He was also the producer of Teary Sockets.

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