I recently discovered that a short movie I wrote and directed a few years ago, had actually been viewed by over 100,000 people on YouTube. This sort of floored me, mostly because it the odds against that little movie even being made were enormous.
Our story begins in the summer of 2005 when my life as I knew it had capsized. Without going into all the gory details, I’d fallen in love and followed said love back to the east coast. The move wasn’t entirely motivated by l’amour. My work life in L.A. had taken a few hits and I was beginning to wonder if maybe I should consider a mid-life career change. Then without warning, the bottom dropped out of the love boat when I discovered that the object of my affection had been rather busy every time I'd left town on a business trip.
On August 11, 2005, I found myself back in L.A. standing at my kitchen sink at 8:00 AM, wondering what the hell I was going to do now. I was broke, agent-less and emotionally devastated. Everything that was supposed to have worked out; everything that I’d tried so hard to manage and cajole out of my life had evaporated. I knew in order to rebuild on this dung heap, the first thing I needed was a job. However, landing a job meant finding a new agent. Finding a new agent meant writing a new spec script. Writing a new script would require an enormous amount of time, commitment and energy (and a very good idea). None of which I had at the moment. I was fucked.
Then as I stood there wondering if I could scape together enough parking change to purchase a handgun, something very strange happened. A story idea popped into my head. It was something that had been rattling around in my head for a while, but it had never fully taken shape until that moment. It was a clever concept for a mistaken identity comedy. I knew it wasn’t enough to sustain a full-length movie, but it could easily make a nice little short film. As the plot began to crystallize in my mind, something even more remarkable happened. I laughed. I laughed out loud. Something I hadn’t done once in the three weeks since returning to L.A.
For the next few minutes, I stood frozen at the sink, fighting off the idea. Short movies were for film students, not reasonably mature writers like myself. Plus, I didn’t know where next month’s rent was coming from; how the hell would I pay for it? The agony I was already experiencing spiked as I realized how miserably trapped I felt. Anger rose up in me, and out of nowhere I heard myself shouting “Jesus Christ, David! What the hell else are you doing today? Go upstairs and write the fucking thing!” By 10:00 pm that night, I was staring at a 15-page script for a short film called “Available Men.”
Sitting in my darkened office, I now had a script; and a pretty damn funny script, if I do say so myself. But given how emotionally wrecked I was, I wondered if I was deluding myself. Maybe it was crap. To test my theory, I emailed it to three writer-friends and fell into bed. When I got up late the next morning, all three of my friends had replied; and each had essentially said the same thing: “You should make this film.” I stared at the responses and considered all the daunting budgetary and logistical problems -- the biggest one being the fact that I’d never actually directed anything before. However, by nightfall, I found myself repeating those fateful words again: “Jesus, David! What the hell else are you doing?”
A chain of small miracles began to occur. One of the writers who had encouraged me called the following day and offered me five grand to make the movie. I was floored, but realized that I was being offered a lifeboat and I could either take it or drown in indecision and doubt. A few days later, the deal was sealed when an unexpected residual check arrived. I began to believe that I might now enough cash to make a bare-bones version of the script. I felt excited, but insane. I was spending money I might need for groceries next month. But given how utterly desperate the situation was, I literally had very little to lose. Apparently, I was now going to make a movie. My movie.
I got on the phone. And I stayed on the phone, begging and borrowing, conning and cajoling until thirty days later, I found myself on-set, sitting in the director's chair. I was surrounded by an all-volunteer cast and crew made up of both old friends and total strangers. Miraculously, I’d managed to corral a very talented group of producers, designers and actors (most of whom were far more qualified to direct this film than me). As each one joined the team, I had laid my cards on the table. Wearing my ignorance on my sleeve, I'd made it clear that there would be only one rule during our extremely brief two-day shoot. They were allowed to ask me anything they wanted as long as it was a multiple choice question. I would live and die by my decisions, but there was no time for me to magically gain directorial expertise before we started shooting. That turned out to be the single most important and best decision I could have made. Ninety-five percent of the film was shot in one grueling 13-hour day and I’m still astounded that we pulled it off. The next day we shot the exteriors in less than 6 hours. That night as I collapsed on my sofa with eight mini-cassettes of digital film in my lap, the whole thing felt like a dream. But the job was far from over.
I put my head down and with a will of iron, hammered through editing and post-production. Ninety days later, I screened “Available Men” at the Sunset Screening rooms with an invited audience of friends. To make a long story short: They laughed. I cried. And the next day, my phone started to ring. Over the next 18 months, “Available Men,” would screen in over 130 film festivals and win 17 awards. It received distribution, brought me a new manager, a new screenwriting gig and inadvertently was responsible for my winding up with a reoccurring acting gig on a TV show. It got me in the running for two directing jobs and reinvented me as a comedy writer. Considering its final budget was a paltry nine-thousand bucks, it was money well spent.
When I watch it now, all I see are the mistakes, but I remain proud of it (especially the hilarious work done by the cast, who couldn’t have been better). Making the short represented a turning point for me personally and professionally and reminded me of the transformative power of creativity and the importance of occassionally sticking your neck out. At the time I shot it, I didn’t think the story of “Available Men” had anything to do with what was happening with me personally at the time. Now, it couldn’t be clearer what was subconsciously being worked out through the making of the film. Just like the characters in the movie, sometimes you walk into a bar, looking for something (love, money, power) that you truly believe will make you happy. And sometimes those dreams crash and burn, but if you pay attention, out of the ashes can come some deeply hidden, but personally liberating truth. And truth will right the ship every time.
If you've got 15 minutes and would like a couple of good laughs, check it out on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og-9HYAC-mk Have a good week, Hollywood.
Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv