“Here’s the deal,” my son Max explained last August. “It doesn’t make any sense, but in order to take Narrative Film making, I have to take Documentary first semester—even though I have no interest in documentaries. Everyone in the class has to submit a documentary proposal by the end of the week. Then we vote, and the top three get filmed. I’d much rather direct my own movie than work on somebody else’s, but it’s a lot of work. Should I send in a mediocre documentary proposal and just hope I can direct my narrative film second semester?”
“You’re going to win whether you like it or not,” I predict.
“Why do you think so?” Max asked.
A few days before college, Max learned “Fifteen Minutes of Name” had been chosen for production. “The good news is I won. The bad news is I got the film crew from hell. Theresa has no idea how to edit.”
“How did you get stuck with her?”
“Mom, the teacher assigned her to me.”
Actually, my son’s film crew turned out to be worse than he thought. Max complained all semester: “Mom, you don’t understand, editing is one of the biggest jobs. Theresa’s doing nothing. Even when she tries, it’s so bad, I have to redo it. ”
“Well, can’t the rest of your team help you? They’re getting graded on the movie too.”
“Life IS unfair,” I remind him. “We have to make the best of it.”
By Thanksgiving Max was in a panic. He and his film crew would have to work all weekend. Karen, one team member who lived in Wyoming, would stay with us. The bathroom my son shares with his sister Sarah was already cluttered with his-and-hers cosmetics. When Karen asked Max to make room for her toiletries, he replied nonchalantly.
“No, I’m not cleaning.”
According to Max, Karen was horrified and burst into tears, and said she didn’t feel welcome.
“I told her SHE was welcome, but her criticism wasn’t. She didn’t take it well.”
At the end of this weekend—which Max assured me was only a small taste of the hellish collaboration with his film crew—Karen forgot a piece of equipment on site at an interview. The interview had occurred on West 29th Street and 9th Avenue, inconvenient for transportation from our home on the Upper East side. Max asked his Dad if he would mind driving him over to pick it up.
“What am I, the chauffeur?” Henry quipped. “Karen’s the one who left it. Tell her to go get it.”
“You’re 22,” Henry said. “You can figure it out.”
Henry had already agreed to drive Max and his crew back up to school with all the heavy film equipment. This is four hours round-trip; Henry wanted to leave by 2 pm so he didn’t have to drive back in the dark. The other team member was waiting in our lobby at 2 pm, but Karen had gotten lost retrieving the forgotten equipment and was running late.
At 2:20, Max called to warn her that we were leaving. Karen told him she was walking down our block, “You don’t understand,” my son said. “My Dad’s not waiting. Run, don’t walk.”
We had already pulled away from the curb, but the traffic light turned red. As we waited for the green light, Karen stumbled into our car, huffing and puffing.
In the end, Max edited most of the film himself, digitally splicing eight hours of film into 23 minutes. In addition to spending part of every weekend talking with Billy Name and sorting through his photographs, Max had set up interviews with Factory super stars Ivy Nicholson (a model who’d starred in some of Warhol’s films) and Ultra Violet (former Salvador Dali mistress) and found pictures of them as beautiful young models to contrast with the old ladies they had become. He also arranged interviews with art historian Douglas Crimp and Serendipity owner Steven Bruce, who had met Warhol and sold his work before he was famous. For background music, he used Nico and the Velvet Underground. Somehow he also wrote 60 pages of his novella and took three other classes.
Max was more sleep deprived than during any other semester. Nobody in the class thought his film would ever be finished—let alone any good. And everyone knew his group was not getting along. Max was not winning any popularity contests, and did not end up directing a narrative film second semester. Instead, he decided to drop the class and work one-on-one with his professor on a TV pilot.
I don’t know what (if anything) will become of the pilot. But “Fifteen Minutes of Name” was chosen for the Kingston Film Festival and won an Accolade Merit Award. As a result of my son’s stellar work on this film, his professor recommended him to a friend to edit her documentary—a great part-time job—while he looks for full-time work.
“It’s not like writing a script for a narrative film, where you control the story. You can’t impose your will on a documentary or choose a direction. If the people you interview aren’t interested in your questions, you have to follow their interests. Sometimes you have let your subject open up and just let the story unfold.”
From bad beginnings (and middles), sometimes a story ends surprisingly well.