Somehow, folks over there went for it. Bedankt, you guys. What else can I say? Do you know what this means to me??
Three years ago, I was cowriting with my friend Brian Jobe, the author. We had previously collaborated on reediting Regulate, a short of mine shot in 2009 (watch commentary for that project here). Now, in 2016, we were developing a feature-length screenplay I was very excited about: three thirty-minute shorts that would combine to make a feature, each refracting different themes borne out of Jobe's passion and writings on Martin Heidegger. Like anything based on Being and Time, however, it was taking forever. We were getting together week after week at the Veggie Grill, demolishing nachos and stalling.
That's when my friend Jeremiah Moon, the musician, suggested I shoot something myself, quick and on the side. Tell me an idea, he said. What would you create on your own right now?
I told him what I saw, on another afternoon of us laying about watching David Lynch material. I saw a man and a woman walking in the woods who are not romantically linked; that was the starting point.
The woman was Eleanor Moseley, the best actor in Seattle and with whom I was dying to work with again. The desire to collaborate on a second film with her was the lead motivating factor in all of this. I didn't know who the man was yet, nor that it would turn out to be Martyn G. Krouse, the other best actor in Seattle (yes, you can have two bests without contradiction– ask any mother with more than one child!). That we would receive the miracle of actually landing these giants was unknown to me then, of course. For now we just had two people in a forest.
Why were they out there together, and what was connecting them? I know a bit about certain aspects of life I've observed but not experienced, but one thing I know I know nothing about is having siblings; they couldn't be sister and brother. This needed to be something else.
I've drifted toward the belief that people are most potently defined by what they lack. By what they're searching for. What have you not yet found, which drives you? Is it deeper, and simpler, than you think it is?
Every soul on this planet, alone in the waking dawn; the way we sit there, rendered still by feelings that can't be turned into thoughts. What have you lost, the loss of which has made you who you are? How have you chosen to define that loss? What do those moments of searching for that definition, creating it, look like?
The most meaningful connection between these two characters, I realized, was going to be negative space. "If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack, " a character muses in Terrence Malick's 1998 masterpiece The Thin Red Line. There's no presence like an absence.
These ideas tossed about in my head, intriguing but unformed. Then, a month or so later, I found myself driving my car one evening in September 2019. Was it a weeknight? I wish I remember.
I was traveling south on 1st Avenue Northeast in Northgate, approaching Northeast 100th Street. It was late enough for it to be dark, for the streets to be largely empty. When it was safe to do so, I executed a left turn at the blinking yellow onto eastbound 100th. The light crossing the Transit Center entrance was a stale green and I proceeded forward, shifting up to third gear. As I passed Third Avenue, I weaved slightly to avoid the damaged pavement and shifted to fourth because why not, it's late. Fifth Avenue Northeast was red. It's always red. The recently repainted stop bar is behind the weight sensor for the light; you have to go over the bar to trigger it, and then roll back (simpler in a stickshift) to the correct spot because even at this time of night, buses will still be rounding the corner onto 100th and need the space.
Colored light reflected off pavement. I had a ways to go to my destination; I drifted to the rhythm of the music, distracted into the multistranded, absent-minded present focus that only driving can create. The song playing was La Femme à la Peau Bleue, lyrics by Vendredi sur Mer and production by Lewis OfMan.
The heater was on. The music was up. I was alone. The light was still red, and the blinking hand for cross-traffic was still counting down.
Before that light turned green, the entire screenplay came to me in a flash. It wasn't my insight; it didn't feel like something I created but something I discovered already exists, that I had not known before. Chris Doyle says Western filmmakers believe in creating the best shot, whereas Eastern directors talk about finding the best shot, of being a vessel rather than some self-contained genius. On this night I was a vessel.
It all came tumbling out– two sisters at a nightclub, the French, the quiet young man after an unglamorous job, the conversations later and dimensions they never knew in youth, the touching of new wisdom, new connection, an acquaintance suddenly becoming the most important person, the only person who understands, the trust and teaching and patience and innocent laughter, love that is serious but kind, reflective souls burdened by being human, weighed down with questions this universe refuses to let us in on, questions which define us nonetheless. The thought that you might not want to "get over" something, not now, even if you could. Even if you know it is healthy.
I drafted the entire screenplay that night, immediately after the traffic signal turned green. I rushed home as quickly as possible, because this sort of thing doesn't happen any old time, and you've got to grab it when it's real. I hadn't written a screenplay since reading Joan Didion's A Book of Common Prayer in 2008, and had been searching for something to say on film ever since. Here, finally, was the passion.
How do these things work? Those details on the road must have had something to do with it, right? Some hidden alchemy of life and light and the soul, the ineffable mixing together with buckled pavement and silent streetlights.
The red light facing Fifth Avenue was the starting point for what we have now– a crowd of filmmakers and festival attendees in the Netherlands who must have responded, who chose this over all the other international films there. I think back to the old logo for Landmark Cinemas: a woman's British voice speaking over an image of a spinning globe, sounding equal parts sophisticated and sultry: "the language of cinema... is universal."
Isn't it just. Thank you, Amsterdam, for this gesture. You felt a bit of what I once felt at the intersection of Fifth and 100th, and maybe more. Thank you for applauding this attempt of mine to reach you.