I’m hunched over my computer. It’s 4 a.m. My hands dance nervously over the keys. I cast a quick, furtive glance at the clock. 4:15. Damn it. I reach out and grab my drink and slug it down. Nina Simone is screaming “Sinnerman” directly into my ears. Deadlines. I hate ‘em. But I have to finish. After all, I’m making a movie. In 15 days. With no budget. (With no time to rehearse, and a cast primarily of people who’ve never acted before.) And I’ve got a schedule I’ve got to stick to.[chair2]
March 3- that’s the deadline. As I write this, that date is looming menacingly on the horizon. Here I sit, bleary-eyed, looking at the half-finished screenplay flickering in front of me. 15 days. Christ. Fifteen days to finish this thing, and I need to start filming Monday. It’s Sunday night.
I have the movie outlined. I know exactly what I need to write, where the story is going, and even what I need to film and where. It’s just the words, the images, aren’t coming. I take another swig of my carbonated-caffeine-trying-to-pass-itself-off-as-soda and stare at the screen. Bum-bum-ba-bum-bum-ba. Nina starts wailing in my ears again; the beat of the song a musical clock ticking steadily towards an inevitable deadline. Finally! A break in my creative slump. Piano moaning loudly in my ears, my hands fly across the keyboard. I may just pull this off yet.
Sweet Victory, Agonizing Defeat
Finally! The script is finished. Trick Baby: A Tale of Love and Loss will finally hit the screen! A sense of relief and victory washes over me. The hard part is over with. Now comes the \”easy\” part: getting everyone together and filming this damn thing.
Now, I know I’ve only got a limited time frame. Fifteen days to film so that I can have this baby chopped and scored in time for the Student Film Festival. I would have had more time, but the only advanced notice I got for this thing was one of those “what’s going on this weekend” table tents you find (usually covered in various food items, crumpled in a heap) in the middle of a table in the caf. “Deadline March 3!” it screamed from under a crust of mayo and salami chunks. Not much heads up. No matter- Richard Linkletter directed Before Sunset in just 15 days, and that was a fantastic, thoughtful film. Trick Baby, on the other hand would be a fantastically cheap, lurid little movie. Just over two weeks would be more than enough time.
And so what if the script was rough, at best? They were still writing the script for Casablanca up until the last day of filming, and look at how well that turned out! Trick Baby would be a breeze.
I sit down and map out the script. Most of the scenes are interior shots. The few exterior shots are night shots. Excellent. That will make continuity considerably less of a hassle. I write out a rough shooting schedule, and set out to assemble my cast. Then disaster strikes.
Searching for Scarlet
Trick Baby is the tale of a young woman (\”Trick Baby\”) who discovers, in her freshman year of college, that her entire life is a lie. The father she thinks she knows isn’t her father. Her mother, in her younger and more desperate years, was a hooker and 18 years ago turned a trick for smack. The woman discovers she was the result of this, making her a “trick baby.” Unable to cope with the emotional strain of this discovery, she breaks down, and goes on a rampage. It’s a deep role, and one that requires a firm mastery of acting and the ability to express a wide range of emotion. My casting of Becca Mueller, a friend of high school and talented actress, was just right. She would be able to convey the proper sense of innocence and psychosis that would make the role, and thus the movie, work. Without her, Trick Baby would collapse like a house of cards.
The phone rings.
Becca tells me that she forgot to mention something when she initially agreed to shoot the movie: concurrently she would be doing rehearsals for The Vagina Monologues. No problem, I say, we’ll be filming mostly at night. Your rehearsals should be done by the time we film.
There is a problem, she says. We go on Feb. 28, and in the weeks leading up to then, rehearsals will be longer and more rigorous. I won’t be able to do Trick Baby.
I was quiet on the line. Hurriedly I tell her it’s no big deal. She apologizes profusely. I tell her, no worries I’ll be able to get someone else to fill the role. After a little more conversation I hang up the phone, mind racing. What the hell am I gonna do now? There’s no time to post for open auditions; If I want to do this thing I gotta do it now. So, I hurriedly begin my search for a new Trick Baby. It’ll be like the 400 + casting search they held for the role of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Only this time, it’ll be rushed, on the cheap, and probably encompass more like 20 people rather than 400. It would not be a search befitting a southern belle- it would be a search befitting a trick baby.
Two days and 20 women later, I’ve exhausted my roster of female friends that would be even remotely willing to do this. Surprisingly, not many women are keen on playing a serial killing daughter of a prostitute. What a bunch of squares.
Finally, victory! Someone I wasn’t sure would be game for such an undertaking is enthusiastically interested! I immediately cast my friend Evelyn Gilbert in the title role. While not as experienced in acting as Becca, she had a fantastic sense of humor and the right mix of pluckiness and sarcasm I needed. So, now I was down two days, but at least I had a lead actress. Filming would start immediately. Nothing could stop Trick Baby now.
Rats on a Ship
Two more days have passed and I’ve acquired a strange, hacking cough. Painful, and a serious pain in the ass, both for classes and for, more importantly, filming. But, no matter. I had to soldier on and get Trick Baby made, regardless of the illness.
In the interim I had finished casting, and even got a friend of mine, Zack Nichols, to score the film and be the boom mike operator. Zack, a musically-inclined fellow, was eager to help. The score would consist of a sleazy baseline and the machine-gun wacka-wacka-wacka of the electric guitar. The sound fell somewhere between the themes to Police Story and Deep Throat. It was pitch-perfect. The boom, on the other hand, was somewhat less sophisticated. Essentially, it was just a microphone crudely taped tp a long aluminum pole. But a boom mike nonetheless. Feeling productive, if a little sick, I set out to film the first scene.
Disaster. In the script, Trick Baby returns to her dorm room to talk with her roommate and her roommate’s jackass boyfriend, \”Jeremy\” – the other essential character in the film. And, again, the person I cast was perfect. And, once again, just before I set out to film, I got some troubling news. The actor I cast as Jeremy no longer wanted anything to do with the movie. I was down another actor, and six days.
I had only a little over a week, and I could find no one to cast as Jeremy. To compensate I scratched the scenes featuring Jeremy off shooting schedule, planning to film around those until I could find a suitable replacement. So, I moved on, only to discover, one by one, half of my cast could not, or did not want to, make the movie. That’s showbiz.
The Tuberculosis Cough and the Coffin Nail
Four days have passed. My cough has gotten worse, and I have lost the energy (and, increasingly, in the face of disaster, the will) to make my movie. More cast members have stated they can’t make it, and my recasting efforts cannot plug the various holes in the shooting script and cast list. I am pale, feverish, coughing like a plague victim, and sans cast for a movie that, initially, looked like it’d be the easiest thing in the world to do. I would not, however, be stopped. Feverish, determined, and severely lacking in sleep, I once again attempted to make my movie. At least, I thought to myself, I still have my Trick Baby.
I sat, bleary-eyed, over a breakfast of Styrofoam eggs and grease-saturated bacon when I noticed Evelyn enter the cafeteria. When she saw me, she looked apprehensive. I knew what she was going to say before she even made it half way to my table. I smiled weakly over a cup of viscous coffee and proceeded to hack up a lung.
After patiently waiting for me to start breathing, Evelyn started to speak. Her schedule was very busy, and it would be very hard for her to-
I told her not to worry about it. It was no big deal.
This time, I meant it.
I explained my situation, and the status of the movie. She understood. She stood and told me that she hoped I felt better soon. After another coughing fit, I hoped so, too.
And, as I watched her leave for class, I realized I would. I didn’t mean just getting over this illness that I increasingly suspected was either bronchitis or cancer; no, I meant the movie. I had learned many valuable lessons. Lessons I could apply in the future.
Lessons like:
1. Plan ahead. Don’t give yourself two weeks to make a movie.
2. Know the schedules of your cast before you cast them.
3. Don’t get sick.
These were lessons that would stick with me. I suppressed a cough with a hearty swig of coffee. The experience hadn’t been a complete loss. I got some experience, gained some knowledge, and got a sweet, 70’s cop show/70’s porn movie-style song out of the deal. And after all, there’s always next year.
Trick Baby will live- provided this cough doesn’t kill me first.

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