As an eager, early-career filmmaker, Brian spent the low point of his one-year tenure in Los Angeles at gunpoint in a dilapidated motel in Las Vegas.
This Hollywood story begins when Brian landed a job at a small film studio through a connection made by a college professor. It was Brian's lucky break...
Like many LA-based film studios, this one aspires to more than the straight-to-cable-TV filler it’s been churning out for 10 years from a small bungalow office in a suburban Hollywood neighborhood. Brian joins the team as the Location Manager on an international production led by an Executive Producer of Trainspotting.
For two weeks, the film is in pre-production and Brian’s on the street securing filming locations. Then production begins. It’s smooth sailing on location for a week, and Brian joins the production team as Second Assistant Director—he prints the working scripts and provides off-set communications and coordination to the First Assistant Producer. LA wraps with an iconic sunset shoot on a heli-pad in the Hollywood Hills. The cast and crew depart to Las Vegas for 10 more days of production where Brian’s studio colleague explains “location scouting will be done on-the-fly.”
A few days at the casinos and on the streets of Vegas pass by fast. 22-hour work days are the norm now, and the Production is “running out of money fast.” Brian forgets what short-term memory feels like. The Scottish writer-director is clinging to his cinematic vision in the face of certain cost-cutting. Limos go un-rented. Talent and crew intermingle with camaraderie in the wake of a punishing shooting schedule.
In the afternoon on the third day of shooting, Brian is following the Writer/Director and Producer (the aforementioned Executive Producer) lead the cast and crew off "The Strip" and onto the back lot of a casino. The air is sweltering, and the sun is electric yellow. At this point, all norms of professional behavior have been discarded. Cameras are shuffled into place. The Producer yells to get the actors ready. A scene is hastily completed, with crew scattered about unsure of how to best help.
Around the corner of the casino, Brian sees an official-looking golf cart emerge on a path to confront the film crew. In an inspired moment, he realizes that coordinating with location contacts falls to him. He steps toward the road to intercept the cart. The distance closes as the whine of the cart's engine grows shrill, and a two-man team comes to a stop in front of Brian.
"How can I help you?" Brian says, knowing full well it's the wrong angle.
The large man at the wheel in a sweat-ridden polyester gray suit worn over a Hawaiian shirt looks at Brian with fat, steely eyes.
"Who's in charge of this outfit?"
"I am," Brian offers with feigned authority. No one else on the production steps closer, and all are apparently frozen.
"You're on a casino lot. A private lot. How much have you paid to be here?"
"Nothing sir. We just—"
"Nothing?" he said incredulously.
"Sir, we can pay you $500 in cash to shoot a short scene here in your parking lot."
"You've already shot a short scene in our parking lot, and I think you'll pay a lot more than $500 for it. We charge $3,000, and we only take cash."
Brian was in an awkward position. He knew the Producer had $500 cash, and would be willing to spend it on the shoot. He may have had $1,000 in cash, but that would be an extraordinary amount for a scene that technically was already completed. He certainly wouldn't pay $3,000. At twenty feet away, he wasn't making any move to resolve the situation.
"Son, I want to remind you that you're on private property, and you are breaking the law. And that makes me the law." And with that menacing line, the sweaty man pulls back his suit to reveal a holstered gun. The sun bounces off the smooth metal handle and hits Brian in the eyes. Or maybe it the man's large, gold pinky ring reflecting the sun from the gun.
Instincts kick in.
Brian offers a hasty "Sorry, sir," and starts walking toward the gloriously public Strip. It's only about 100 feet away. Everyone in the production follows, cameras and all. No one dies that day.
At 2 a.m. on the fourth day (technically fifth day) in Las Vegas, on the balcony of a two-story "budget hotel with suites" overlooking an expanse of parking lots and unhealthy shrubbery, the First Assistant Director, Howard, approaches Brian. He speaks quietly and with urgency.
"I'm leaving in the morning," he says. "You can come with me, or stay. They'll probably ask you to take my job if you stay."
"I'll be coming with you," Brian responds. He doesn't think twice. He can't really think much at all due to exhaustion.
At 5:30am, after only a couple hours of sleep, Brian leaves his room with his small duffle of personal items and makes his way down to the rental car. The sky is a faintly orange as the sun peaks over distant desert mountains. His comrade is waiting, and they pull up in front of the check-out office a few hundred feet away. Brian hops out to return the keys to the desk manager.
As he approaches the glass door, he sees the Producer at the counter talking to the manager.
"Hi Brian. What are you doing here?" he asks.
"Howard and I are leaving for LA this morning. You'll have to get by without us."
At that moment, Brian feels the deep sting of quitting. He's never really quit anything before (unless you count synagogue classes when he was five years old or piano lessons when he was 12). He's certainly never tried to sneak off a job site at the break of dawn.
"It's too bad you've decided to leave, but it's not too late to change your mind. You can have Howard's job, and I can mentor you. I studied with David Lean. I'm very well-connected." He rattles off this brief recruitment effort with a feigned politeness.
David Lean is, of course, the director of Lawrence of Arabia.
"Naw, I think I'll be going with Howard. Thank you for the offer. We're tired of being treated badly. Good luck with the rest of your film."
Brian drops the room keys on the counter and turns to go, but is halted as an arm falls across his chest.
"If you leave now, you're a quitter. I'll make sure you never work on a film again."
Brian is at the end of the gun for a second time in two days. Or, at least, near guns and their proverbial career-related counterparts. He steps awkwardly to the side and steps quickly out the door. Howard is ready with the car started, and they pull away as the closer brings the office door to a gentle rest.
On the way out of town, Brian and Howard stop at a second-rate casino and lose $20 each at a Blackjack table. It feels like a refreshingly simple way to lose at something.
Pasty Faces is available on DVD, but perhaps you should read the reviews first.
At EdLab, Brian contributes to a range of projects to create and enhance learning opportunities at EdLab, the Gottesman Libraries, and Teachers College. Recent work includes collaborations as diverse as co-producing Seen in New York, a video series highlighting unique and innovative learning opportunities in New York City, and leading the development of Pressible, an innovative Wordpress-based blogging network. You can find him on Pressible and Twitter. And, just for fun, here's his TC dissertation.