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The creative process often sounds like a romantic notion. It conjures up images of butterflies navigating the mind, or a well-oiled machine churning out aesthetically pleasing scribbles. Such an experience hasn’t found its way to me yet. Unfortunately, creativity is often a mangled, bloody mess that twitches when you poke it with a stick.
I was in my junior year in high school and my friends were itching for a shared creative endeavour. The seeds for an indie film project were planted in the cold February boredom, and grew during the slightly-less-cold Ottawa spring. We were all quite enthusiastic for something to do; eager to accomplish something – anything that could set us apart from our peers.
Needless to say, we were film enthusiasts. Like all aspiring amateurs, we worshipped the stylishness of Quentin Tarantino; the unfamiliar nostalgia of Wes Anderson; the obsessive fervour of Stanley Kubrick. We shunned James Cameron and Michael Bay, and were determined to craft something lively and different. We decided upon an upbeat story about hiding a body, because we all shared a sick sense of humour.
Our story centred around a group of friends partaking in recreational drugs. When one of the characters abruptly dropped dead from an overdose, the others decided to honour his memory by “burying him in the woods and never speaking of him again.” With a sled and some garbage bags, the friends would drag the deceased into the woods, where a hole was to be dug. In the climax, a eulogy would be given and one of the friends would abruptly murder the others, then the credits would roll to the tune of Blues in My Shower.
In this project, I was the writer. Working with me was the sociopath, the main antagonist of the narrative; the director, who detested acting and preferred the tech of the camera; and a protagonist character played by a theatre-enthusiast named Miller. My brother was largely indifferent to the project, and so the character he played was mute.
Together, we elected our docile friend to be cast as the dead body, as he was pleased with the prospect of death. He was the smiling centrepiece of the film, fit to fill two pillows-worth of garbage bags and buried underground. He didn’t have a single line, and we never reached a final decision on his character’s name. Our working name was Guy, and thus our working title was Guy’s Dead.
For a long time we became obsessed with our own characters. While the sociopath was optimistic and perpetually calm, I wrote my character to be a smirking, spineless perfectionist clad in a vintage Hawaiian shirt.
Tensions began to stir when I pretentiously insisted that we have a theme for our story. While others meddled over camera positions, I racked my brain for a unique “message” behind our film. Surely if it meant so much to us, it should mean something to someone else. Giving up after weeks of chin stroking, I settled upon the easy route of postmodernism, and decided that maybe the film was supposed to be a metaphor for life: completely pointless. Just to be sure that the audience was aware of my genius, I hung a piece of Dadaist art in the background – a bicycle wheel on a stool.
The script we’d pushed out in February made us cringe, prompting us to write draft two, then three, and later four. With each version, our tone would change in a way that caused the ire of at least one of us, and we were all too democratic to ignore petty disagreements. At one point, I arranged to have tea candles brought into the scripted funeral scene, which made the sociopath feel that he wasn’t being taken seriously enough.
We ran into more trouble when our cadaver up and left, sparked by an unrelated fight with the director. We later learned one rainy afternoon that the director was not only managing the production of our short film, but also the shaky relationship of our corpse and his girlfriend. The two lovers were quite determined to keep their feelings for each other alive, even at the cost of dragging a mutual friend into the matter. Needless to say, the results weren’t pretty. A shrill, jovial friend of the sociopath was cast as the replacement corpse.
Countless afternoons were spent on the storyboard, which I, as the only semicompetent visual artist, designed by hand. Working at the sociopath’s home, I filled panels that spread out across vast sheets of paper, each with a whiteness harsh enough to make my creative mind freeze in terror.
Pizza and junk food kept us motivated through the gruelling layout stages, and we would frequently veer off topic to the director’s favourite subject of music. We would film each other procrastinating to the music of Death Grips, our neglected work clearly visible in the background.
After staying at the drawing board for hours, our eyes would bag down debating the feasibility of our camera angles. It was during this time that I learned how to snore with my eyes open. I was kept awake by the biting of the sociopath’s Labradoodle, and everyone would recognize my exhaustion whenever my illustrations turned expressive and vulgar. At long last, it was complete, and we shoved it deep into a dark drawer as our reward.
Pretty soon, the calendar turned against us. Time was running out until summer vacation, when the sociopath would be off vacationing in British Columbia. The scheduled date for filming shifted with the passing days of June, and a subdued panic began to set in. Our biggest problem was Miller. He had vanished off the face of the earth, and we were left behind in the dirt of our half-dug grave – abandoned by the protagonist of our very own narrative.
The nature of the short film was no longer murder; it had become stillborn. At this point it was so postmodern, it had become the very bicycle wheel that I had so brilliantly dangled behind our dialogue, significant only to a small circle of dedicated un-artists.
Oddly enough, the experience has stuck with me as a fond memory. Unproductive and irritating, we never did make the film but, the process was an enjoyable mess of effort. I forget which one of us said, “We’ll just have to do it next year,” but I’d like to think it was me.
Alexander Zoubek lives in Ottawa.