A new language to learn, thank god I have a master in Austin Texan John Witham, thirty odd years behind the camera and a performance artist to boot, an ex rock-and-roller. I’ve been hankering to get back on stage or performing again after my one man play a few years back.
JW is careful, methodical, professional. He balances my headstrong urges to rush in and shoot from the hip, it works with me being an action painter yet not in a long, detailed, arduous process like making a movie. And it’s not a short film either. We’re going for a full length feature. Daunting. But we’ve got stories, plenty of them, a backlog from the ones that didn’t make my one man play,” Even If the Mountains Burn.” Grist for the mill.
James, “shoot this part here.”
A film is like a giant moving painting with words. Oh, we’ll use my paintings as characters. In fact, JW has been lobbying for them from the beginning, and now I’ve moved away from the original movie idea which was to use most of my Vietnam stories again. I’m allowing the paintings to start telling their own stories, they are, in fact, how I ended up doing the play in the first place. That will be revealed in the film.
Every time I think something doesn’t really matter it comes back to show me that nothing is wasted. In art especially, there are no wrong turns or dead ends. So the new project is up to date. JW says, it’s who I am now. The war stuff will inevitably reappear but I’m thinking it may reveal all new stories. If you saw the play, this is another chapter, and if you didn’t you can catch part of it here on YouTube.
Anyway this is whole new exploration of seeing that old character. Ways to show the experience I may never have thought about… a fresh take on it. The film is a mystery too – which the play wasn’t In a strange way the war is an old friend, an old acquaintance at least. At this point I’m over the trauma of it, I went through that when I did my play. I think it will be more powerful. I’ve changed, written a lot since then, my artistic voice seems stronger, clearer. I’ve taken writing workshops with local author Robert Mayer, lots of my own writing, out and about doing readings. Keeping it fresh.
Speaking of movies -how does one even start such a notion? …something so vast, so detailed and structured. Well the damn Texan got me into it really, he and all those people I kept seeing in the produce section at Trader Joe’s that kept asking, “when is the next play?” Carrots never tasted the same again. It wasn’t absolutely planned. I’d call it kismet. A slow dripping kismet, it snuck up on me.
JW is a quiet, still-waters-run-deep kind of a guy, humble, self effacing, but he’s got these iron arms. I was impressed with that. Quiet but substantial. He kept appearing in my life, here and there, around town, at parties, at readings, at Counter Culture, quiet but substantial. “I think we should work together, it will make us better men,” he kept repeating, quietly again. This sounds like a movie itself. Two gunfighters. Lets rob a bank, run a herd of cattle to California. Two wild guys that love samurai swords, that love to drive fast.
Hell, if you asked me straight up, let’s make a movie, let’s invest time and money in a potential public disaster, risk something so big, risk it all and trust in our own experiences, our own creativity, just what we’ve got now, whatever we’ve got inside us now, even if it’s 25 cents worth, I’d have said no.
But here we are, I’m writing a new dialogue, a new script, we’re filming my paintings, filming and recording stories, setting up lights, building our first sets and deciding on our first attack. I‘m not scared, but I will be.
Ironically, that’s when I’m most alive.