The female filmmakers finally, finally, shoot their indieprod. 2,893 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
For Rachel and Stacey, the making of Escapade was a kind of blissful dream. Part of that feeling came from the European landscapes, which had a sort of abstract beauty since the filmmakers never stayed anywhere long enough or took enough time away from the work to absorb their reality. So they were carrying away memories like photographs. Not that there was anything wrong with that. They enjoyed floating. They were living in their own world for those eight weeks and everything else was just backdrop.
It was so easy, that was the astonishing part. It had begun with everyone’s small investments and then Peter Sandrian’s hundred thousand dollars and just continued, like a heartbeat, with the casting, their arrival in Paris, Hector Passy just walking up to them in a cafe and solving a dozen problems at once.
It seemed that every circumstance conspired at perfection: weather and bureaucracies, mood and coincidence and the currency exchange rate. Every location worked out easily. And Rachel’s unnerving cry of "Let’s put it in the movie!" soon became a standing joke. That was how it went. The movie was as much accident as design. Many of the things people wound up liking best were devised on the spur of the moment. For Rachel it was just common sense to take good stuff wherever she found it and use everything. She hated waste.
She was equally pragmatic about giving direction to her actors. She never couched her comments in Actor’s Studio jargon or Hollywood catchphrases. Instead she’d say specific things like "Give it an extra beat before you talk," or "Fall down when you say that line." Any time acting was in evidence, it was overacting to Rachel. "Don’t show us how hard you’re working," she said once. "Leave that to Meryl Streep."
Everyone remembered Chase’s breakthrough. It was late afternoon, the weather was gorgeous: high summer, hot and cloudless. The July streets were packed with tourists. They were shooting on the Champs Elysee, attracting attention despite their best efforts. The scene was a long tracking shot with Rachel filming from a wheelchair just as she had planned, with the camera hidden under a blanket and Hector with a boom mike hanging out of the van’s front window. The script called for extras to keep coming up to Chase’s pathetic character and button-holing him with question after question. But he played it too distraught. Rachel thought it would be funnier if he acted blasé about the whole thing: "insanely stoical" was the phrase she used. She whittled away at Chase’s response until there was almost nothing left of it, an effort that took many takes. They had no permit to shoot and Stacey worried about the police.
But Rachel didn’t care. She felt lucky. On the eighth take she got the performance she wanted. Everyone, including a dozen street kids and a bunch of tourists from Idaho, broke into applause.
Chase and Rachel exchanged looks. Hers said "I was right, wasn’t I?" His just said, "Thanks."
But she was wrong just as often. The trick was remembering that by trusting other people’s talent and delegating parts of her vision to other people, both hard things for her to do. But in the people Rachel worked with made her stuff better. That proved embarrassing because she wanted to be perfect or at least appear perfect. But it was exciting, too. That movies were a “collaborative medium” was one of those empty catch-phrases she had heard all her life. Only through the abrasive, complex, unnerving process of day-to-day collaboration had it become a fact of life. Moviemaking was full of creative, smart, stubborn people who disagreed with each other. Sometimes they had to argue. Often, they had to give in. It was a system of compromises filled with tiny battles and unwritten treaties, of doubt and demands and diplomacy. It was very sociable warfare.
Rachel had always assumed that she would love directing movies. It was the minimum requirement of her ambition. But she had never really known for sure. That afternoon, she knew. And that knowledge made her happier than anything else.
One blisteringly hot July afternoon near the end of the shoot, when they had gone to the Trocadero for a pick-up or two, they found a film crew already there. It was a major studio film on location. There were six massive trucks filled with equipment, dozens of men to handle it all, miles of arm-thick cable, gigantic lights, twelve-foot reflectors, catering trucks, mobile home dressing rooms, police barricades, traffic jams, actors sweating in costume, all presided over by an officious assistant director barking orders in three languages.
"I guess we have the day off," Rachel said.
Hector stepped up to Rachel as they were leaving. "You know what Orson Welles said: ‘A painter needs a brush, a poet needs a pen, and a movie director needs an army."
Rachel, with her crew of three and her pair of beat-up vans, couldn’t help feeling superior: uncaged somehow.
"And what are we?" she asked him.
"Not an army. A gang."
Then came the biggest accident of all. The script called for Stacey to get arrested with her French Marxist poet at an anti-globalization rally. As it happened, there was an actual anti-globalization riot, and Stacey and another actor participated and got arrested together while Rachel filmed them. To set up such a scene, with that many extras and the cooperation of the police, would have cost many times the budget of the whole film. Rachel took full advantage of the situation. She went to bail them out with a camera stuck inside her shirt and grabbed some great footage inside the prison. She even managed to charm the prefect of police.
They spent very little time with anyone outside of their crew. Sometimes the whole shoot seemed like a traveling slumber party. The women would all sit talking about Hollywood’s of and the men in their lives. Hector joined them occasionally, listening in silence. It was on an evening in late June that Rachel started telling them about her time with Todd. Most of them were appalled, though Stacey seemed to enjoy Rachel’s ironic distance and self-mocking tone.
The most bewildering reaction came from Hector, though. He stood up angrily without warning and stated, "I cannot listen to any more of this." Everyone looked up at him. But he was staring at Rachel. "If you had any regard for what is precious and extraordinary in yourself, this whole atrocious business could never have occurred." Then he stalked out of the room.
Everyone laughed at that, except Rachel. For the next two days, Hector looked everywhere but at her. When they had to discuss a new set-up or a change in the lighting, he tilted his head up and stared at a point just beyond her shoulder.
And then on the third day, he couldn’t look anywhere else. Rachel was constantly aware of his eyes on her. That night in the Villa, it became painfully obvious. Rachel didn’t know what to do, but the consensus among the cast was "Ignore it and it will go away." She followed their advice, and Hector remained his most businesslike self for the rest of the shoot.
But the subject of Todd came up again a few weeks later. They were in Paris and the day’s shooting had been rained out. Rachel had gone to the movies and run into Hector on the way out. They ducked into a cafe to get out of the pelting rain. Rachel ordered an espresso and drank it quickly. She ordered another while Hector watched her.
"Shall I tell you what you are thinking? I don’t need to be psychic to know you are thinking about that man today. You would still like to be with him despite the way he treated you."
"I was an idiot to be with him at all. I’m still an idiot, thinking about him.”
"I did not say that. I said only that you have too little regard for yourself. And you prove it by calling yourself an idiot. You know this isn’t true."
Rachel nodded. "Tt worked out all right, Hector. The day he left was the day I decided to make Escapade."
"Still, you would like to go back to that day. But you cannot and so you think about him. He is with you every moment. I can feel it. He is by your side making you sad, making you doubt yourself, draining the energy from your work."
They lapsed into a comfortably intimate silence; Rachel ordered a third espresso, Hector lit a Gitane. If only she had ended it with Todd and cut him out of her life cleanly. Then there wouldn’t still be these dangling ragged threads of feeling.
Hector sat watching Rachel quietly and concerned. It struck Rachel that he cared about her in a way that Todd never had. Hector took pleasure in the details of her personality. He delighted in her quirks. He enjoyed her company. There was no doubt about it: Hector was a far better choice than Todd for a lover. If only she still had the opportunity to choose.
It was easy to fall in love on a film set, Rachel decided. There was so little else to do. Actors spent most of their time waiting, and sex was much more fun than backgammon. Rachel herself was, in any case, much too busy for romance. She was having a different kind of fun. She was editing her movie.
Hector had talked the Ecole Jean Cocteau into letting Rachel use their digital editing bays in exchange for a prominent mention in the credits. Everything had gone so well that the cast and crew had finished a full two weeks early. That meant two weeks of playing and partying in Paris for everyone else; two weeks of fifteen-hour days for Rachel. The first thing she had to do was study all the footage they had shot the previous months, a ritual that taught her some valuable lessons about free-form filmmaking. The primary one was that she should never do it again. The stuff seemed more unfocused than it had when she screened it for the Ecole’s staff; it was not enhanced by repetition, and the repetition was just beginning.
Hector summed it up aptly. "Every joke you have in the film is surrounded by weaker jokes, like an amusing fellow at a bar surrounded by his tedious hangers-on. We must somehow preserve the jokes while getting rid of the cronies."
It was a big job.
In many scenes she didn’t have enough coverage, and all the angles they did have were wrong or derailed by self-indulgent improvisations. "We’re going to have to be brutal," she said to Hector. "Do you feel brutal?"
He grinned. "Savage."
Chopping the first forty minutes of slack was easy; taking out whole scenes and characters was even fun in a dyspeptic way. The tricky part was making the scenes they wanted usable. Rachel heard her eleventh-grade English teacher’s voice in her head: “Don’t cut it, fix it!”
At intervals, Hector went out for food and coffee, always returning just in time to say something like, "You don’t need that last line anyway," or "Take out some of those reaction shots." The essential thing, finally, was the narrative line. The women come to Europe with certain expectations, everything turns out differently, and they grow up a little. Anything that didn’t serve that central storyline wound up deleted.
Somewhere in the middle of the second week, the movie began to take shape. Rachel actually found herself laughing out loud at lines which had been lost in the confusion starting out. This was power, taking a shapeless mass of raw film and turning it into something mature. There was magic involved, and Rachel knew how to do this. She knew how to make images flow, how to pace her story not just scene by scene or even line by line, but frame by frame so that it gathered a self-justifying momentum that was engrossing. No one had taught her. She had bought books on film editing but had never gotten around to reading them. It didn’t matter. She already knew the stuff that no one could teach her anyway.
Two days before the cast and hd crew’s departure flight, Rachel screened Escapade for them. Students and faculty of the Ecole Jean Cocteau also were invited as well as from the American College. The reactions were amazing: they laughed when she wanted laughter, cheered when she wanted cheers; silent when she wanted silence. The French people around Rachel laughed at stuff that wasn’t supposed to be funny and sat stonily through the big comic set pieces. She decided to ignore them. She concentrated on the Americans and could tell by the brief lagging in their responses where a scene didn’t work. She made notes and spent the afternoon in the cutting room fine-tuning until she streamlined it into a little bullet of a movie.
Then it was time to get falling down drunk on magnums of champagne. There was almost five thousand dollars left over from their budget, even after the film-transfer costs, and Rachel decided to take everyone out to dinner in Paris. The restaurant was in the eighth arrondissment, near the Etoile, and they had a spectacular meal. Everyone ordered extravagantly and Rachel passed bottle after bottle of Tattinger Blanc de Blancs around the table. The bill was more or less what she expected: close to fifteen hundred dollars, with tips and wine thrown in. It was lunacy. But there was a childish, even defiant pleasure in ending the weeks of scrupulous accounting and frugality with a debauch. They all needed it.
By the time they lurched out toward the Faubourg St. Honore, it was after midnight. There was a cool edge to the wind, and . Hector took Rachel’s arm.
"Of course you know I’m in love with you," he told her.
Rachel stopped walking. She sat down at one of the empty tables in front of the Publicis Matignon. "Hector–"
"I don’t tell you this to manufacture any emotion, guilt or unhappiness. I just want you to know what I feel, how it is to be with you." He smiled.
"Hector, I like you so much – “
"I know. You cannot feel more than you feel. Camus said once that all men need one great love of this kind in their lives. Do you know why?" Rachel shook her head. "Because we all need an alibi for our moments of motiveless despair. He was quite cynical. I’m sorry. I’ve made you sad."
"I don’t see why I can’t love you, it just seems so arbitrary, who loves who."
"Arbitrary. But inflexible."
They were silent for a while. The city rustled around them. Finally Rachel said, "I can’t believe we’re leaving tomorrow."
"Neither can I."
"Los Angeles seems completely unreal to me now. I can’t even picture it in my head. I don’t even want to."
"Stay here, then."
She took his hand and stood, watching the traffic, cars and buses full of people with secret destinations, intensely present yet mortal, savoring the same bittersweet silence, sharing it between them like the last cigarette in the pack.
"I love this city," she said.
He squeezed her hand and repeated, "Stay."
"So, in all the movies, American women always say at a time like this, ‘I love you like a brother.'" He took both her hands in both of his. His face was earnest and intent. "Do you love me like a brother, Rachel?"
Rachel answered, "Yes."
"Well, that is enough for me. You see, I was an only child."
He put his arms around her and they stood hugging silently. Paris was the best place in the world to be heartbroken.
Hector left her at the Hotel du Progres as the first light was moving through the streets. He kissed her on the cheek, and then he was walking away, dignity intact, eyes straight ahead.
It was a bad moment, but it passed. In a way it was nice to love a man in the way Rachel loved Hector and not to be consumed with some disastrous infatuation. They would be friends for life. She liked the person she became in Hector’s eyes: funnier, stronger and more talented. She felt comfortably sad, thinking that this really was a much finer story than any she had managed to put in her movie.
Stacey was in the hotel room sitting with her legs straddling the cans of film. Rachel gave her a sideways hug. "I think we did a pretty good job."
"I’ll drink to that."
"It’s going to make a difference," Rachel said. “This movie is going to be the beginning for us."
"If the right people see it. Which may never happen."
"I just don’t want you to be disappointed if it takes a while, that’s all."
Stacey said, "I have a while."
Rachel kept touching the cans of film, pushing against their hard edges with her foot to ratify the fact of her victory with physical evidence.The labels on the cans said everything: ESCAPADE, Written and Directed by Rachel Scanlon. Produced by Rachel Scanlon and Stacey Clark.
Part One. Part Two. Part Three.
One comment on “Escapade
Just the kind of thing I love to read on a rainy day when I have nowhere to go. Loved it. More Rachel, please!