Never Bring Cocaine to a Border Crossing
Episode 005 of the Daughter of Godcast podcast. I am Dan Kelly, Writer and Director, and these are the harrowing and hilarious stories of the making of my featurette, Daughter of God, a parade of inspired stumbles, spectacular bumbles and a gradual coming into resonance with the entire cosmos.
Last Saturday, I asked my spiritual sibling, brother rabbit and fellow movie maker James Schaberg what he thought of the podcast so far. As a new-ish parent, he's in his own Holy Trinity, defined by Mark Dillon back in 1984 as, father, mother and child. James is super busy doing Dad, working at the NON GMO Project and setting up his trinity for the *Oregon* winter in their hand built off the grid tiny house. At least that's the lame excuse he gave for only listening to the first two episodes of my freaking awesome podcast! Anyway, he said that the Daughter of Godcast differs from most other podcasts he listens to because it's all about the past and other podcasts are about what's happening now. Maybe I should call it the Daughter of Godpast. Podcast. Daughter of Godcast podcast. That's actually kind of cool.
For the disillusioned and cynical palate, the sweetness of my now could be cloying, unless prefaced with a bit of salt and savory spices from the past.
My present is fairly brilliant - I've broken through to some phenomenal clarity about reality construction. I'm loving the gentle release of my 11 year long featurette. I have a delicious physicality and enjoy hanging with my extended family. I can even feel the way forward for the most enlivening outcomes on our shared spaceship, Earth. Yet since I've started this podcast, the past is almost as exhilarating to me as the present, because I get to remember, with you, dear listener about how I got to where I am now. Amongst the growing Daughter of Godcast audience, I wonder who might be tracking the deeper story that maps to all of us here on the pale blue dot, lost in the infinity of the big empty.
Before we leave meta mode and get back to the next episode of this gritty, spellbinding story, some announcements. If you haven't checked out the actual web pages for each episode, there's all manner of tangental pictures and movies posted there. Scroll down on episode 002, for example, and you can actually watch me getting arrested wearing the awesome orange Patagonia jacket Lauren Discipio gave me. I've had iterations of black Patagonia shells ever since.
This is not an advertisement for Patagonia by the way, just an excuse to mention Lauren DiScipio's name. Lauren DiScipio.
Last thing. The episodes are gonna get longer, starting today.
Daughter of Godcast Episode 005, Never Bring Cocaine to a Border Crossing.
In Episode 004.1, supplemental we lept ahead to 2015 and got a quick glimpse of the scrumptious weirdness that continues to unfold around Daughter of God. The energy of this movie is pulsing, right now. Booming practically. She is coming.
In Episode 004, I fixed my Canadian felony record at the border in Landsdowne, confirmed that we were shooting on the big boat in Kingston Ontario and returned to Brooklyn with less than two weeks before starting production. We now return you to the primary narrative.
Those last 10 days were a blur of equipment testing, organizing, packing, making reservations, coordinating rehearsals - 1000 essential outcomes either achieved or reclassified. All encapsulated into two vans and aimed at Canada.
April 10, 2006. A sunny morning on St Marks Ave in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Horns honking euphorically, two vans pull away from the curb and form the smallest convoy possible. Together they slam and bump over hastily patched potholes and thick steel plate, thread through archaic ramps and bridges, slowly shedding New York City and heading upstate. (Rhyme) Eventually to go beyond America altogether. Each van a potent mix of technology and humanity, the cast, crew and gear for Daughter of God.
A few hours late departing, not much wiggle room left in the schedule. The plan was to cross the Canadian border in the afternoon with plenty of time to tour our location, the big boat Alexander Henry, settle in at the b and b, crash and get an early start the next morning.
Seven laughing, ecstatic people. The team. The magnificent seven. Actually 7 in spirit, we still had to rendezvous with our producer in Binghamton, NY.
We could have used a few more. We were very light on crew. Dangerously close to the bone on crew.
The hyperbole of movie making is that's it's like going to war. I've never gone to war, but because I cultivate a vivid imagination, I can imagine what going to war might be like. My friend Bob Cissel is a Vietnam veteran and he's never seen a cinematic depiction of that war he can recognize. I'm pretty sure going to war is not like you see in movies, maybe it's the other way around, maybe going to war is like making a movie. Except with rivers of real blood.
Rather than prop up silly metaphors, it's simpler to say that making movies requires a lot of preparation and an small army of competent people.
We had a very small army.
Not for lack of recruitment. I wanted to be surrounded with solid allies on this very scary, unprecedented undertaking and so I reached out to my most trusted and capable friends. I asked Martijn to be my cinematographer, but he was busy making real money, tho he did give us a great rate on renting his Dedo light kit. I wanted my favorite Gabonese cat Ndong to handle audio, but he had complications. I invited both Bob and Cynthia to come along for production support and makeup respectively, but they had other priorities. My location guru Maho didn't fancy leaving her man or her cat. Claire was locked into her commitment to the theater company The Builders Association.
Who did answer the call?
Melonie Steffes did, that northern michigan painter and singer/song writer with an affinity for power tools and problem solving. Melonie is also a mom, and I guessed moms would bring a soothing influence on the set. I'd been impressed with how Melonie had adeptly balanced her expressive obsessions with the needs of her son, Seamus, a mad genius even at the age of 7. Melonie's a petite, genetically optimal if slightly mutant powerhouse, able to sustain creative focus indefinitely. Funny. Iconoclastic. Raunchy. Our Assistant Director.
Ann Loeding generously offered to join up, leaving her 9 month old infant Ada Bee in the care of her partner, Gary. Ann is a tugboat captain and literati with experience assisting professional documentary productions. She had salvaged sunken ships, bent burly, chauvinistic deck hands to her will and finessed unbelievable outcomes involving intractable non profit boards and scarce foundation funding. She's rock steady in crisis and as loyal as they come. We've been friends since high school. Producer.
Eiji also joined the party. Another accomplished painter and musician, Eiji is an ingenious explorer of the arts, and had been fueling his passions as a virtousic bartender at expensive, trendy clubs in Manhattan. Picture a Japanese fusion of James Bond and Picasso, suave and smiley. That's Eiji-san. He hates being called that by the way, at least he did when he was in his 30s. Audio.
Layna Roberts. Layna was my only gift from Craigslist. I put the call out for makeup artist and she promptly answered. We met and I liked her immediately - good heart, radiant with easy going energy, super competent. She had a dual USA and Canadian passport, so she wouldn't even need a work permit, and she could do hair too. Makeup.
Dan Kelly, yours truly. A polymath, dreamer and apprentice wizard, with just enough magic to get into serious trouble. Director and having run out of time, also default cinematographer. And supporting actor. Phew! The character of Uncle Joe was the least demanding of the three parts. Still - way, way, too many jobs.
A very small army and 10 days of production, April 11-21, just enough time for 3 set-ups, establishing shots and B-roll for a novice director. Maybe.
And right in the middle of the schedule, April 16, 2006 would be Easter Sunday, celebrated by Christians as the resurrection of Christ. A holy day. Help me Jesus.
Aside from me playing Uncle Joe, the rest of the cast was optimal. Along with Carmen as Christina, Steve Zilliax took Gerry, the recluse down the hall. My pal Laurence Schroeder once once again hooked me up, I met Steve during her dance production at sculptor Benar Venet's studio.
Steve is a gregarious and gorgeous guy, a Canadian with a deep and resonant Northern Ontario accent. He actually has the sexiest Canadian accent I've ever heard. He radiates a easy going super chill vibe, while subtly conveying the sense that he'd be a good man to have at your side in a bar fight. Aside from his charismatic presence, he also came with feature credits. Likely the most cinematically experienced among us, Steve brought a sense of plausibility to the project. He's Classic Canadian, (like this guy).
A very small army, 10 days and 2 vans. Costumes and props packed. All the technology inventoried and stowed. Passports and work permits at the ready. Checklists checked. Dramatic life changes approaching. No turning back.
In the beginning we were cruising giddy, trying to pass oranges between the vans on the open highway, but I sobered up pretty quick. A lot was at stake, plenty could still go wrong without us helping. Well, maybe not cold sober, not yet.
Carmen hadn't driven in America and she was spoiling to do so. She kept asking if she could drive. I was a little reluctant, we already had plenty of skilled native drivers and better to err on the side of caution. But we were making good time, still behind schedule but doable. When we pulled in for gas about an hour out of Binghamton, I relented. Carmen would drive the ultra cush Odyssey and I would drive in the rented cargo van.
Bladders voided and gas tanks full, we pulled away from the pumps. Carmen decisively turned the Odyssey in the wrong direction and roared away. I watched her with a sinking heart. I immediately gave chase, but she had already gotten several cars ahead and was just flying. I tried calling on the cell but reception was shit. Every minute in the wrong direction was twice the time lost, I had to stop her. After 10 minutes of impotent pursuit and feeling more frustrated with every passing second, I downloaded the stunt driving app from the Matrix. With a square jaw and steely stare, I played the gas pedal like a Hammond B at a revival meeting, and in spurts of 90 to 100 miles an hour, leap frogged from one car to the next, scaring the piss out of the other drivers and pegging my adrenaline in the process. Finally, we were behind the Odyssey and I flashed the headlights to pull her over. I got out, told Carmen she was going in the wrong direction and that she was done driving, perhaps without much diplomacy. We were now an additional 45 minutes behind schedule.
We pulled up to the border crossing in Landsdowne near dark. I told the agent in the booth we had work permits and he instructed us to park and go into the office. All the work permits were fine... except Carmen's. They wouldn't let her in to Canada. Discouraged but not defeated, we decided to take everyone back to the US, find a hotel and straighten out the situation with Sonya Di mambro of the Canadian Foriegn Worker Program Entertainment Division in the morning. At least a half day of production lost. We spun around to the US border and the officer there instructed us to park and enter the USA office. We did so, and the situation went from bad to worse.
The US agents were in an ugly mood. Eiji, Steve and I are over 6' tall, and these guys were all shrimps. Warty little trolls, if memory serves. They took one look at our contingent of international babes and were overcome with envy. All our passports were collected and an inquisition ramped up. They brought Layna to tears asserting that she wasn't actually a US citizen, even though she had been born in Hawaii. They googled Steve and found some reviews for theater he'd done in NYC. They asserted he'd been working illegally in the USA and refused to let him back in. Now we were truly fucked, we couldn't proceed into Canada and we couldn't return to the United States . While the agents were typing up the official paperwork, Eiji sidled up to me and said, sotte voce, I need to talk to you. We went outside and stood by the parking lot, bathed in the eerie glow of sodium vapor lights and lovingly monitored by ubiquitous security cameras.
"I uh, found some cocaine in my jacket pocket."
My face automatically dropped into a shape utterly void of emotional content, airbrushed into inscrutability, a fleshy cipher. Nary a micro expression flickered. Looking straight ahead and barely moving my lips, I said, "Uh huh."
"There's this guy who comes into the bar, he's some kind of fancy gangster. He's very friendly with me, I mix his drink, a big tipper, and the other night when I was leaving he put $20 bill into my jacket pocket and said I forgot to tip you for the big tab. I said thanks and he was smiling funny, later I just took the $20 out and put it in my wallet. Just now I was looking for gum and there was this lump in that pocket and I thought it was gum but it was a tinfoil packet of cocaine in there. He must have put the cocaine inside the $20 bill. I don't do drugs, but he must think I do. Like this must have been the real tip."
Painfully aware of the cameras trained on us, I smiled at him in a friendly way as if he had mentioned bacon cheese burgers and said, "and so?"
His face was white and tense. "Well I threw it out, in that garbage can right there."
He feinted deftly with his right hand indicating the perfectly ordinary garbage can not 10 feet from where we standing.
In front of all the cameras, I thought to myself.
I widened my grin and chuckled a little, doing my Oscar winning performance of the man with nothing to hide and whispered,
"So you threw a packet of cocaine out just now, in front of all these cameras? Ok, well, possibly we're all going to jail tonight. The two moms are going to separated from their children, and that will be my fault. Their kids will effectively be orphans because of me. All we can do is wait and see. These customs guys have already screwed us royally, let's just trust they were having too much fun reaming Steve to bother watching you throw drugs into a US border office garbage can."
He nodded and managed a sickly smirk, and we ambled back into the office.
The agents finished up with Steve. He was barred from entering the US for 10 years! We realized that the only choice for Steve now was to go forward (or back) to his home country of Canada. Carmen could re-enter the USA. So Steve and I would go to Canada in the cargo van and Ann would take the rest of the crew back into the US with the Odyssey. We said goodbye, put on our seatbelts and entered our seperate countries without further incident. Bullet ducked.
Holy flying fucksickles.
As Steve and I drove into Kingston, he took in the reality of being deported.
"All my stuff is in New York. I have three girlfriends there. Now what am I supposed to do?"
I felt terrible. "Man, I am so sorry. That was a lot to give up for this project."
Steve, "I guess I knew the risk."
Me, "Those fucking wimp border guards. They were obviously just jealous of you."
Steve, stoically, "There's nothing else to do but make this movie now, eh?"
I'll take care of everything when I get back, Steve. Well, maybe not the girlfriends, but all your stuff, I'll ship it to you. Whatever I can do."
We rode in silence through the dark. A light rain speckled the windshield.
Steve uttered a stretched out,"Fuck."
I replied , "Fuck."
We hit the Holiday Inn in Kingston, dragging, exhausted. I made two phone calls. One leaving a message with Sonya Di Mambro informing her that Carmen's work permit had been rejected and could she please do something as soon as she got into the office that next morning. Then I called Ann.
"Let me talk to Eiji."
Eiji came on, "Hello?"
"Listen, I'm firing you. I know it's not your fault that there was cocaine in your jacket pocket, but these are little details I expect everyone to be aware of before we attempt to cross a national border. We could have put two moms in jail and Ann's got a 9 month old baby. So you're getting on a bus home tomorrow morning.
"You won't tell anyone what happened?"
"No, we'll just say you had a family emergency. That's what you tell them tomorrow. I'm sorry man, I really need you, but I have to take responsibility for the safety of the crew. I don't even know if we'll be able to get Carmen into Canada anyway."
"I'm so sorry"
"It's not your fault. This is just how it's gotta be. See you in a couple of weeks."
I asked him to put Ann back on, and I let her know what happened, gave her the plan and the cover story.
I hung up, thanked Steve for being the bomb, and climbed into bed. My project was now split between two countries, my male lead had been deported, we had lost at least a day of production on an already tight schedule and were now totally short staffed. Deciding to give zero fucks, I fell into the starry night.