What can go wrong will go wrong, but it will be in that blind spot where it is unthinkable that the best intentions could pave the road to hell.
Working as continuity on someone’s film, I saw a couple of jovial crew guys proudly demonstrate how they had used the UHF dial of a television in a hotel room to watch the signal of the video tap for a nude scene in the next room. I spoke to the hair and make-up guy who had no problem looking into it and scolding the problem away. That kept the director and the producer out of the loop and nobody got fired. But the day had just begun. The lead actress was in the make-up room for touch ups at one point and the make-up guy (he had a great name but I don’t want to tip off which production this was) asked what I think (of how the actress looks). I quipped, “Great, you can’t see any mustache.” I got a scolding from him for saying, “the wrong thing.” I fully expected her to laugh, because it was outlandish to say that she would have that problem. But you never know. Later, an actor was killing time waiting around and the actress joined us in chit-chat. The actor suggested a game of “pick-up lines” which she could judge. I had nothing. I don’t believe ice-breakers are anything more than that. I started to make fun of the politeness or vulgarity of one when it was my turn and chickened out half way through uttering my proposition. The actor understood and didn’t help relieve the awkwardness. I shouldn’t have participated. I could have begged off and left. Well, the director moments later took me outside and said, “You’re not helping me out if you’re saying disturbing things to the actress.” I told him the context but he had to be concerned for how the young woman felt and so I spent the afternoon catching a matinee of U.S. Marshals. Years later, the director would describe that actress as a psycho, but there is an art to walking on eggshells and I was naive at the time.
In more recent years, I found myself with down time and noticed a Facebook post asking for volunteers to help with a project that seemed to involve holograms or lighting illusions. I e-mailed and volunteered to bring a camera and this person listed me as being there to document. So my contribution would not have been the load bearing pillar of the project, if logic means anything. I had known this woman from play readings years before and almost being in one of my short films but I had only interacted on FB lately so I thought may as well be of use. I decided to bring two cameras, the first for said documentation, the second maybe as back up but I hadn’t used it for a while despite being expensive. It recorded on HDV tapes at 1080p but had to have its footage captured in real time onto the computer. It was good for long, unbroken takes. At the home of the hostess/producer, I shot images of her other volunteers setting up support posts related to the technology she wanted to demonstrate. But she then mentioned that her own camera had a problem with shooting long takes (or some other issue) and suggested using the second camera for three hour-long takes looking at the back yard. I let her place and frame the camera each time and we let it record on three separate tapes. After the shooting was done and volunteering was winding down, it was easy enough to transfer images from my Canon Rebel card to her laptop, and then I had to delete my own personal pix that had to be copied, including some tests with action figures that fully proved my nerd-hood.
Capturing the video from a Canon HX-A1 tape was more of a challenge. Now it turns out that she did not have a capture card or firewire and we were stalled for a while. She suggested I leave the camera and tapes there and maybe by the next day she would have figured it out. So my camera, stock, and tripod stayed there overnight and when I returned the following day nothing had been solved so I brought it home and spend another three or four hours trying to capture and then burn onto disc material from those three hour-long shots. I discovered that there was some pixellation flashes in the footage meaning that my camera heads might need cleaning. As well, the shape of HD-shot material on a regular DVD burn gave it a bit of a curve that had to be recorded. I also had trouble with the third disc. The first two were fine. I decided the expedient thing would be to make high-speed five-minute files of all three and post them on youtube so the footage could be viewed in HD and decided upon. As well, I noted that I could be seen conspicuously walking around the yard to document which might spoil the effect. I sent a text to this effect, as well as e-mail, voice-mail, and facebook. I also sent links to the three youtube uploads. I noticed that at least two of them were actually watched or got a click despite not being shared elsewhere but I got no feedback or instruction as to the next step. I figured I had sent a number of messages and so I should wait to hear back. She didn’t even ask for the two discs that worked. The date of the demonstration must have come and gone and no reminder or update or concern from this person.
Two weeks later I did finally get through apart from voice mails and she picked up. I asked what happened and she said, “You have strange timing.” I misinterpreted that and said I’d call again later and she said okay. Voice-mail and… nothing. Eventually, I wondered did she build up a specific date for demonstration and then blame me for not delivering the material? She couldn’t possibly mean I waited too long to call — I had immediately done hours of capturing and disc burning the day after the shoot and updated her via text, phone (which went to voice mail), e-mail, and Facebook. How much more communication could I have contributed on my end? I don’t know.
Months later, I see a post on FB about her having gone out west to recover from a project that apparently went wrong. Still no communication though if she harbored anything against me. I’m still looking at discs she never asked for and I was wondering if I should delete the youtube clips. I saw another FB post this time about the Wackowski series Sense8 and I only chimed in the same opinion as another person there – that I like their directing but I expect the show to be too preachy. More months pass. Then I comment some quip under a link she posted about The Male Gaze in photography.
There was some back and forth and she seemed to have an edge far beyond the issues being talked about. I pointed out that the blog she linked used as its three examples Fifty Shades of Grey, directed by the woman who shot the International Women’s Day PSA a few years back, and Avengers: Age of Ultron directed by a vocal feminist, and as its example of a movie that manages to avoid the male gaze toxin Mad Max: Fury Road which the article bent over backwards to claim had some “scientific” framing plan that forced women to the center and….. all the while ignoring that the movie was shot for shot the product of George Millers Seventy-Year-old Male Gaze and that if you liked Imperiator Furiosa she was his creation. This discussion (which I lightly engaged in while watching a movie at home) deteriorated into minor debate of the announced 2016 Ghostbusters remake and in hindsight I should have left one comment and unfollowed rather than be strung along and appear “sexist” by challenging the narrative. A fellow I had unfriended the year before chimed in. I should have thought to block him. He helped throw shade on me and provoke more back and forth despite my detached politeness. Someone sent a few screen shots of the guy’s page and some hostile things said or intended to lure further fighting. Also a scene from Robocop where the villain tells women to leave the room before he assassinates one of Robo’s creators – to demonstrate the kind of hostility he had.
I complained on my page about the toxic person chiming in – leaving out names – and the woman I had helped build that up and put fuel to the fire. I saw the next day that a direct message to her was not answered, and that she just wanted to have this open flame war so I removed my posts. (Should have saved a screen shot first) and the next day she was posting about it. She tagged me over and over as she tried to paraphrase the discussion or argument about (for me) movies but for her maybe other things. Her goal was to make sure others on my facebook were drawn to this and for her to play victim. She then tried to draw me into a confrontation with the guy I blocked. I finally unfollowed her so I wouldn’t be provoked by any more of her time-wasting “woke” posts. Next day, I was going to check that mess of re-telling she posted and she had unfriended me. So I remarked at least that is some kind of answer to my message thread after radio silence. We had some back and forth of her characterization of me and her errant memory of a project from the year 2000. She didn’t like being told her history was incorrect and was demanding some sort of apology for….. arguing about movies on her wall? Anyway, she ended with “do not contact me again.” So I blocked her and that should have been the end of it.
Very few people had the e-mail address I used when replying to her call for volunteers. So when I started getting alerts for Instagram profiles made in my name and Facebook accounts using that address, it narrowed down who might do that: one person. When I posted a commentary track on youtube about a guerrilla short from 2000, part of the account was about an actress who showed up and walked in protest despite knowing the script was about “women fight over an abandoned cigarette.” It was about the silliness of cigarette addiction. Well this is the woman who walked and whatever she told herself I was still able to make my movie thanks to another actress stepping in. So I had not harbored resentment over that, only caution. Maybe not enough caution. On that hardly used e-mail account I got a notice for a false profile with a message that said, “I have a podcast” or something to that sarcastic effect. Granted, the first time I tried to record my commentary about that short I did a poor job lighting myself against a greenscreen and my face was dark and the sound was muddy.
That was likely the version she saw (monitoring my youtube after unfriending me). I deleted that and put up a better version but the second time I could not find a prop VHS tape that was part of my comment on the protest-minded woman. She thought the girls fighting was sexist as a concept, and I brought up (this once) having set my VHS to record a movie she had been in where she went topless for a second. I said, “‘I’ll show you the shot,” and then opened the tape guard and pointed to the physical tape. End of joke. Not showing an image of nudity, only the plastic. The next time I attempted the commentary I had misplaced the tape so without that visual joke I didn’t bother. While it might seem unusual to keep that tape, when DVD took over a lot of us got stuck with tapes we stored without ever watching them again, let alone taping over them. And it had been recorded in the first place because of news that, hey, a “friend” was in a movie! But I later learned that even that element of the feud resulted in open badmouthing and spin about my even mentioning a flash of chest in a low-budget movie to someone so political about the Male Gaze these days. I know that at least one friend and his wife ghosted me after that, which I admit makes me sad.
On a personal level, I may have let myself waste a lot of time better spent on creative output sorting through some of the abuse from all that. What can start as a harmless, helpful gesture of volunteerism can result in someone’s undisclosed expectations building into something super toxic.
To top it all off, I had to take my Canon HX-A1 in to Mississauga’s Canon tech office to get the lens and heads cleaned – and clearly stated that over the phone and at the intake desk – only to have an over three-hundred dollar deposit enforced and an equal charge on top of that because likely they would not make money simply cleaning the heads and lens. Lots of life-wasting back and forth. And then I had to journey to a FedEx to pick it up. They had sneakily put more on the form than the straightforward question of what was being asked for. They got people to agree to an overall diagnostics of the whole camera, which gave them an excuse to supposedly replace the main guts of the camera. Like taking your car in for an oil change and having the transmission replaced. I looked for the Better Business Bureau and another intermediary and the dropped the additional $300 + but kept my deposit of the same amount.
A fool and his money. A fool and his time.