july 5, 2005.
The morning of July 5th was the worst day of the shoot.
Jeff Parkin picked me up at around 5:30; my wife Angie had died about four hours earlier. I don’t think I’d slept for most of the month preceding that. I’d sit up all night beside my wife pressing the button on that little morphine pump. You can’t overdose the patient, but I had no idea when the pump had reached that point, so I just kept hitting it like a Jeopardy contestant trying to ring in with the right answer…or is it the right question?
Anyway, when we showed up we realized that there had been a communication mix-up and Bill Nelson (Phillip) would be at least two hours delayed. That’s not a good thing when you’re making a movie because it pushes everything back. Jeff told me to go sit in a Winnebago and sleep until an alternate plan was devised.
I sat down and immediately crashed – only to wake up about five seconds later trying to ring in with my question. It was more funny than poignant, so I had to go tell Jeff what happened and just start doing my job.
And then something really weird happened. I was suddenly competent…which is newsworthy. I knew what to do, I knew how to fix the problem, I felt supported and strengthened and fitted for whatever followed. By that night, friends had stopped to extend their love, my family had arrived; and as I watched those amazing students carrying massive lights on their shoulders across very cold streams, I sort of suspected everything might be okay. Eventually.
July 5th was the best day of the shoot.
And that may be the true genius of this movie. It was Angie’s genius. She wouldn’t let us stop and whenever I even suggested it, she’d have nothing to do with that.
Now as you may have experienced or might imagine, bringing yourself and your adolescent children through a season like this is bloody business. How could we possibly survive? But a year or two afterward, as we recalled making the film, my youngest said, “That was the best summer I can remember.” So that’s Angie. Keep busy, folks. Don’t navel gaze. There’s work to be done. You’ll be happier than you can imagine.
The movie is what it is, but the act of making it was profoundly important for our little family. Thank you, sweetheart.
But Angie wasn’t the only hero. Jeff Parkin carried the entire production on his capable, talented shoulders and he had the wisdom and sensitivity to see through my Captain Sunshine impression – usually at the precise moment I needed to take a breath or cry in the woods.
Scott Howe and Craig Shapiro are the reasons we have anything to watch. I think it’s interesting that these two good men are doctors. Their generosity healed my family; it healed me. I’d like to think that the film itself offers comfort, hope, and healing to those who’ve experienced difficulty in their own lives.
The list goes on: Clay McCaw, Travis and Irina Cline, Bill Nelson, David Banner, Spencer Russell, my entire extended family… I can’t possibly mention everyone.
The movie exists because of these selfless souls and dozens more – all going far above and beyond.
a very good king.
Here’s the song we sometimes have trouble living. But every person who worked on the film or who helped our family along the way knows it by heart – whether or not they remember the words:
Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel, when a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling, yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain, right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither, you and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together, through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger. Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly. Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted; heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing: Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.
That’s the movie.
an excellent icebreaker.
And here’s the last bit of Angie’s genius.
Her husband is an awkward man. Like oops-I-forgot-I’m-an-idiot kind of awkward. When she died, I’d enjoyed 20 years of happiness. I know it’s funnier to make jokes about marriage and spouses. Sorry, I can’t. Our time together was wonderful (probably more for me than for her…but still).
When this film played at the Mendocino Film Festival, Clay McCaw was unable to give me a ride from San Francisco. So he called Courtney and asked her if she could give me a ride. Courtney and I were married about a year later. The bliss continues. Thank you, sweetheart.
I’m grateful to all of the dungbeetles out there.
All those who obscurely, quietly help others with their unglamorous baggage – building homes from ruin…making beauty for ashes.
Life is worth the scary parts.
Thank you for your patience. Thank you for watching our film.
- tom russell