Hollywood

Let’s put the amount of time and logistics spent traveling to and from Moscow in perspective; in order to get all the gear through Russian customs and baggage check, we left for Sheremetyevo airport at 6:45 pm (Los Angeles time), with a scheduled arrival in L.A. at 8:50 pm the next day. We had 25 checked pieces of gear, and 4 carry-ons, all of which weighed close to a ton. Hollywood and I packed, loaded, and moved all this shit by ourselves because the other two members of the crew were useless as goose shit on a pump handle and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed at 5:45 am to go with us to the airport, or help in any way once they arrived.

The process was as follows: we loaded the van at the hotel in Moscow; unloaded the van at SVO airport; collected luggage carts and loaded onto those; unloaded the carts to put everything through the x-ray machines at the door to the fucking terminal; loaded it all back onto the carts to get it to the counter; unloaded it to check it in; loaded the oversize stuff back onto the carts when we discovered it had to go somewhere else to get x-rayed again; unloaded it there; loaded it onto the baggage trailer because the fucking Russian manning the thing couldn’t be bothered to lift such heavy shit by himself; loaded it all onto carts again at JFK to clear US customs; put it all back onto the plane to LAX; loaded 7 small luggage carts at LAX; unloaded those carts into a GMC Yukon that was packed to the gills by the end; then unloaded all of it again at my house.

Did it mention it all weighs around 2,000 pounds? Between that and the bi-polar producer/director turning into a bit of a haradin near the end, it cast a bit of a pall on what was otherwise and awesome trip. I hate to say goodbye to Moscow on that note, however, so here are a few tidbits of information about the weird, amazing Russian capitol to ponder.

  • Most Russian men look like Mr. Whipple.
  • Women in Moscow wear either flats, or five-inch heels. There is no middle ground.
  • A “parking space” in Moscow is anywhere you can stop your car, including (frequently) sidewalks, driveways, and even (seriously) the center of intersections.
  • Russians don’t eat Russian food. Their diet consists mainly of pasta, lamb, and chocolate.
  • There are three bicycles in all of Moscow.
  • All conversations between two Russians encompass at least one argument accompanied by shouting, and end in humorless laughter.
  • No one has ever smiled in Moscow. Apparently, this is both illegal and sinful. Russians must have utterly hateful sex. I find this very exciting.
  • Moscow has far too much American capitalism for its own good. Alongside the assload of Subways and McDonald’s in Moscow, we encountered Баскин Роббинс (Baskin Robbins), Пизза Хит (Pizza Hut), Старбуцкс (Starbucks), Синнабон (Cinnabon), Венды’с (Wendy’s), Дункин Донутс (Dunkin Donuts), TGI Friday’s (they just call it that), and others. And, yes, I had to teach myself to read Cyrillic while we were there.
  • The Moscow metro has some of the most ornate, elaborate, beautiful stations I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been on subways all over the world.
  • Muscovites are elitists and consider the people from countries in the former Union to be third-class beings. Mongolians and Siberians seem to get the worst treatment of all.
  • There are miles of secret Metro tracks that were once used by various arms of the Politburo and KGB. These tracks are still an official secret, no one outside the GRU knows where they actually run, or if they are still in use today.
  • Moscow street vendors haggle badly. Vendor: “2,000 Rubles.” Hollywood: “What? No. 500.” Vendor: “No, my friend, very best. 1,800.” Hollywood: “550.” Vendor: “Okay, 600.”
  • The smog in Moscow is thicker than it was in L.A. in 1980, except for weekends when everyone leaves the city.
  • The Soviet Cosmonauts Memorial Museum is a stunning disappointment.
  • Your average two-week trip to Moscow is likely to include the following kinds of vehicular shenanigans: driving up one-way streets, on train tracks, on trolley tracks, over medians, on sidewalks and on bike paths; parking on the sidewalk in front of a bus station and waiting for the bus to leave; turning right from the far left lane; turning left from the far right lane; making U-turns across 7-lane high streets; getting blocked by gridlocked trolleys; merging with the fifth lane of traffic crammed into a two-lane road; swerving to avoid city buses which turn randomly in front of you; getting stopped by the police for turning left… from a left turn lane; etc., etc., ad infinitum.
  • It is necessary when making the above-mentioned U-turn to announce it as a Crazy Ivan in honor of the submarine maneuver from Hunt for Red October.
  • Russian tea is stronger than American coffee.
  • Somewhere, there is a central storehouse that supplies every single tourist shop in Moscow with the exact same 17 shitty T-shirts. This is not hyperbole. Every. Single. Store. Every stall. Every vendor. The same 17 shirts, most of which are horrible. This is an area ripe for aggressive expansion.
  • Like Spanish, the Russian language seems to now grow largely by transliterating words from other languages. For example, “supermarket” is “supermarket” (супермаркет), and though the Russian word for chicken is kuritsah, it’s being supplanted now by “чицкен” (chicken).
  • Night Flight, the world-renowned strip club in Moscow, apparently has no strippers. We went, had a world-class dinner, then sat baffled in the bar for ten minutes while 25 very attractive, but fully-clothed women, asked us if we “vanted company.” I’m still trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

I could go on and on. It’s a fascinating place and a fascinating city. I’d love to go back someday and really take the time to dig around. Maybe on that mythical vacation I keep planning…

It’s been a long week. My intention had been to blog every day, but between work and the afternoon crashes from dealing with obligations back home every night instead of sleeping, it wasn’t gonna happen.

Moscow is fascinating. It kills me that I’m here working 16-hour days because this is the kind of city I could easily just head off into with no real destination in mind, the way K & I used to explore.

The everyday contradictions here are mind-boggling. These people very much want to be of the future, but their past still defines them.  As I write this, I’m shooting time-lapse footage of the Kremlin, an act that would have once landed me in Lubyanka prison without question. Today, everyone photographs the Kremlin, but we all do so expecting a tap on the shoulder. Even though I know nothing will happen, my passport is in the van so it can’t be seized if I get arrested.

The cognitive dissonance comes from the fact that so many people here expect the Communist era to return, and many of them, while they dread it, long for it at the same time. Every Russian over the age of 40 who has passed has eyed me and my camera with a combination of fear and indignation. They cannot believe my audacity, they cannot believe I’m getting away with it, and they long to turn me in… but there’s no one to turn me in to.

It’s apparent in the Soviet era monuments — and there are a lot of them — that they simply don’t know what to do with their history. They’re told to be ashamed of the Communist era, and they are, but at the same time, they have great nostalgia for it.

Hollywood & I in the Garden of Fallen Heroes

A perfect example is the Garden of Fallen Heroes, a park containing all the statues of Soviet era icons that have been pulled down over the last 20 years. There’s a huge statue in the Garden of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the father of the KGB. He was one of the most hated and feared men in the USSR, and yet today, someone is still putting roses at the feet of his graffiti-laden statue.

All of which is way too much to contemplate, so let’s talk about women.  Moscow women are striking. They’re tall, in good shape, and most seem to wear crazy-high heels, even when out walking. It’s a bit like visiting a city populated by high-class hookers. I approve.

The project we’re shooting is something I’ve never done. It’s a documentary about an artist, Grisha Bruskin, and his work. That seems straightforward enough, but the director, Shannon, a pretty young art history professor who hero-worships Bruskin, wants the doc to be a living analog to his sculptures.

As a result, most of what we’ve shot have been explorations of various sculptures. Hell, I’ve been here a week and haven’t shot a single human… just statues, buildings, and statues on buildings. If I’m being honest, I don’t think Grisha’s work is quite equal to the amount of attention we’re paying to it, but it is interesting.

Shooting a city’s architecture tells you a lot about its people. The Russians are obsessed with symmetry, and they were terrified of America. Everything in their cold war public works screams overcompensation.

When I say we brought a LOT of gear to Moscow…

Because we were so unsure of exactly what the hell we were filming until we got here, we brought an insane amount of gear. A lot of it will go untouched.  Naturally, a lot of shit we now know we needed didn’t come at all.

Getting this pile of equipment to Russia was actually easier than we expected, and everything arrived intact. Getting it out of Moscow airport was another thing entirely, and we sat in baggage claim for three hours while Hollywood ran from one end of the airport to the other working out how to get us through customs.

On Sunday and Monday, while Hollywood and Shannon scouted locations, I built and prepped cameras (the Sony FS-700U is fucking awesome). As a result, I spent the first two days at the hotel and didn’t really get to see the city until we headed out on Tuesday.

Moscow has a well-deserved reputation for horrible traffic. It’s partly from the awful road system, and partly from the fact that the drivers in Moscow treat all traffic signs, laws and restrictions as something to be ignored. Hollywood takes great pride in having driven in some of the most congested cities on Earth (say, Cairo) and he fits right in.

Since arriving, we’ve driven up one-way streets, driven on the sidewalk, been stopped for an illegal left turn and run from the police. He’s accomplished some of this stunt driving while texting and shooting pictures with a Canon 7D at the same time. Literally. He’s having the time of his life and I’m learning to read the Cyrillic for “restaurant” at a distance since slowing down simply isn’t an option, even when we’re looking for somewhere to eat.

The spire of the Cosmonaut Museum

Our first few days were spent shooting in Grisha’s apartment, which is in an old Soviet-style building. We had to take our gear up in a battered old elevator the size of a closet since the stairs had been gated off to build more apartments in the stairwell landings.

No, really. In a fire, those people are doomed.

That elevator actually worried me a bit, and I don’t spook easily. If the Indiana Jones ride were an elevator, that rattly little lift is what it would feel like. If it weren’t for the fact I know those old Russian women in that building have been using that Cabinet of Horrors since before the birth of Christ, I would have been genuinely concerned.

On Saturday, Hollywood and I got up at zero-dark-thirty to shoot time-lapse of sunrise over Moscow. Our lookout is apparently a popular spot for young Russians to get drunk and hang out all night. I had a drunken Asian Moscovite flirting with me in broken English (at one point, she grabbed my junk to illustrate some point about me being a man; I replied by grabbing her ass, which was met with approval.

Our interpreter, Natasha, and the mind-boggling USSR fountain

By sunrise I had a small cadre of Russian twentysomethings asking me questions. These were largely about what I thought of Moscow, asked so they could then expound on their feelings about Moscow.

Yesterday was more B-roll, mostly of gigantic monuments to the USSR. North of Moscow is a giant park dedicated to the various countries of the union, with the biggest, most ornate fountain I’ve ever seen. There’s also a museum dedicated to the cosmonauts, highlighted by a pretty stunning metal spire honoring Yuri Gagarin.

It’s been a great trip. The job can be frustrating, and I’m anxious to get back to work on C&E. I’ve been doing a lot of flirting with the girls back home, but mostly I miss LL. Looking forward to seeing her when she gets off work Friday night. Until then, I’m enjoying this bizarre city and it’s interesting, serious people. The Russians are so surly, they make me seem downright cheerful by comparison.

Can you imagine such a thing?

After we wrapped at 7 a.m. this morning, Hollywood & I cleaned up, and then drove from Mobile, through Mississippi and across to Slidell, Louisiana so he could get to the nearest Chase bank… 160 mile round-trip.

This is me getting a ticket for going 93 through Mississippi on the way back. I’m sure the fine is huge, though I have no intention of paying it. Surely, I can avoid Mississippi for another 7 years…

For those who don’t get the reference, it’s from Star Trek. A “dunsel” is a part which serves no useful purpose.

As I near the end of my interminable, self-imposed exile in the wilds of Alabama, I’ve been reflecting on my life. Being on the wrong side of forty, this tends to happen more often than it should. Contemplating the accumulated consequence of my life’s work to date, the words “insignificant,” “trivial,” and “irrelevant” come to mind.

As a filmmaker, my career consists of bad, unfinished, or embarrassing mainstream films, and a laundry list of inconsequential porn films. My career as an actor stalled years ago. As a writer, well… I write a lot of porn scripts. Case closed.

As a person, I’m not doing much better. I recently had another girl I was banging (that’s five in two years for those of you playing the home game) decide to stop seeing me because she was falling for me. In this particular girl’s case, I would never have dated her. But the two previous girls who made this same decision were absolutely girls I would date, so it isn’t a commitment issue, at least on my part. Apparently, the consensus is I’m just unworthy of affection. It’s like a scarlet letter, but in reverse.

That might be the worst analogy ever coined in the English language. But you take my point.

To make matters worse, lately I’ve been a truly miserable fuck. Yes, I’m always bitter and angry, but this has been bad. I’ve been avoiding contact with my friends as much as possible because I don’t want to inflict myself on them. Alice has made a creditable attempt at reaching out, but I know I’ve been driving her insane. And Mischief, if she understood me better, would do anything to make me happy, but I would never let her because she’s supposed to be gaining distance from me.

Until very recently I was actually formulating a plan to simply vanish when the Alabama job was finished, starting a new life under a new name (don’t ask how… I have my ways) and beginning again. Except for cats, and several girls who don’t want to fuck me lest they catch a bad case of the Bryn, there is very little tying me to L.A.

I think the idea sprouted out of the hurt stemming from this (seemingly) constant rejection of me as both a worthy companion (whether I want to be or not), and the more recent, implicit, rejection of my worth on a professional level. I got replaced as the DP on two porn gigs a few weeks ago, and not only did the shoots go smoothly, several people were genuinely relieved to be rid of me.

Given my current mindset, it was an easy leap to make from there to just removing myself from the entire equation, because the fact is, I really wouldn’t be missed. Not for long. I’m not being melodramatic, I’m being logical. People adapt, and move on.

K has her own life and a budding career as an artist. Hollywood, like me, is a pragmatist, and after some initial angst, would conclude it was my decision to make. Alice would feel obligated to miss me, but it would pass pretty quickly (I’d like to think her feelings wouldn’t become actual relief, but it’s possible). Red recently told me to go fuck myself. Blue and D and the rest would mentally shrug and get on with life, as would my old friends and exes. Mischief would be more crushed by my disappearance than anyone, but frankly, my absence would be the best thing for her.

But I can’t. As tantalizing as the notion of running away from home is, I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s cowardly. It also wouldn’t solve anything; as I said to Alice, my biggest problem is myself, and I’d just be schlepping that around with me.

So, instead, I’m going to not give up.

Here’s the new plan: Unpack in my “new” apartment and make a fucking life there. Focus on the steampunk short, Cowboys & Engines, I’m going to be doing at the end of the summer with CM50 (a moviemaking colleague) producing, which is something I’m really excited about. I’ve got lines on getting both The Blood of Virgins and Director’s Cut off the ground that I’m going to pursue. I’m hoping REDACTED, the micro-budget horror film I shot last November, will open some mainstream doors. I’m going to start submitting to auditions again. And I’m going to re-establish myself as a porn director, because that chapter of my life has been pretty good to me, and I need to begin respecting it.

In short, I’m going to try… try… to be happy. It’s not my best talent, but I’m gonna have a lash at it anyway.

And maybe, along the way, I’ll find some filthy little hooker who likes dirty old men. And maybe she’ll want to hang around for a while.

Just a thought.

To Captain Dunsel.

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