Scrappy Upstarts

Alex and Richard

It’s a Monday night and none of us have to be here.

The warehouse is borrowed, one of us works there. The tables have been cleared and restocked with meat and cheese trays, a boiling kettle and a packet of black breakfast tea for the actors, who shuffle to and fro to keep warm while the gaffer and the camera op tweak and tweak and tweak the lights until the shadows fall just right on the jawline of the leading man, who swaps barbed insults (in a goodnatured way) with the first AD, a man perpetually checking his watch and scribbling notes and asking Are We Good? Can We Move On?

And really, none of us can. And that’s alright.

The cast and crew are predominantly college alumni, who bonded in the hall of my alma mater over late night paint calls and chorus lines and student films and a steady diet of Tim Hortons, overpriced sandwiches, brutal winters and tuition debt. One by one, we loped across the mountains to settle in Vancouver, a rogues gallery of shooters, soundmen, pretty faces and mousy scribes. I reckon I fall into the last category.

We’re paying too much rent and living in a city that doesn’t see the sun half the year just for the pleasure of PERHAPS working in a film industry they say is perishing by the minute as the larger movies pack it in and head south or east or overseas. In return, all we get is cheap radioactive sushi, lovely beaches flush with naked hippies, skin free of frostbite and sharp prairie winds, and the intermittently aligning schedules so we can all convene behind a warehouse to shoot a vampiric romcom that I cooked up. Nine times out of ten, when we shoot our own projects, we are the first ones we call to ask to hold the lights and aim the lenses and add the dialogue to the idea. There’s no money, the budget only runs as deep as our own pockets. It’s a long shot on an empty plain.

It’s a Monday night in Vancouver and none of us had to be here.

And yet, here we are.

Home Button

Because I’m simply no good at starting these things, I’ll just start at the now and go backwards.

Like a stylish thriller.

Except it’s not.Image

Home is the ground level of a Vancouver special with strange rattles in the ventilation, oddly-colored walls, a fireplace that doesn’t work but affords a mantle that doubles as a stand-in bookshelf, a hot water tank two sizes too small. Judging solely from the dialogue that seeps in through the walls, you would assume we lived next door to a Chekov play. The house is on a hilly East Van side street close to a skytrain, a Superstore and swathes of trees that I’m sure will be prettier to look at once the fog and the rain and the general greyness passes through and the city is granted it’s Two Months of Paradise. It’s underheated and overpriced but the location, central to all prominent friends and loved ones in the general vicinity, makes it priceless.

Before that, home was a shutaway apartment in Coquitlam, a fortress of solitude only occasionally invaded by welcome friends who brave the highways or train lines to reach us, a high-class looking kind of place only afforded thanks to a friend of a family who felt inclined to support a young upstart by cutting the rent and not asking A) Many questions and B) for a security deposit. Despite the protestations of friends and roommates, the Fortress of Solitude worked quite well as a safe haven of silence and peace until it was undermined by a plague of motherfucking bedbugs. 

Home was a four studios and a mainstage in Central Alberta, a Pride Rock for a pack of theatrical lions whose roars drowned out everyone else at Kareoke nights at the campus pub. For twenty-four months, that pack was as thick as thieves and close as cousins, treading the well-worn boards, speaking in Shakespeare and Mamet and Tennessee Williams and sharpening our fangs for the waiting world we sized up as if they wouldn’t kick back. It was, as the speaker at the convocation would later say, “A womb with a view.”

Home was a suburban monolith surrounded by other suburban monoliths, an Edmonton satellite spinning lazily about ringed by growing refineries and shrinking farmers fields, with a father whose furrowed brow could summon a encyclopaedia of Prairie wisdom, a mother who could decipher the indecipherable for the blind, and a sister who shredded cars before she found a bird in her throat and started singing, and I mean really singing. The streets, the trees, the flowerbeds, the families all perfect, perfectly arranged.

Even the grow op down the street had a well-tended topiary.

Home was a ramshackle country house near the Saskatchewan border, surrounded by endless oceans of grain and canola sliced throughout with dirt roads. It was a patchwork of skinned knees and woodpiles, shooting practices and cattle barraging unintentionally through our backyard. It was an old Mitsubishi, it’s white rusting away week by week, a model that still worms it’s way through my subconscious and into the latest draft of whatever screenplay I’m writing. It usually doesn’t survive the first or second round of edits, but it’s there. Same with the suburban sprawl, the theatrical lions, and bits and pieces from every other split-level, rented room, dorm complex and basement suite I’ve holed up in to stay and scribble awhile.

I’m putting together a home, better than any of those bozos on the Home and Garden channel, a piece at a time.

And this is my damage deposit.