Writers Acting Like Writers
Every table in the coffee shop is occupied by young people furiously pecking away on laptop computers. Nathan scans across the room and from his POV each of them seems to possess the talent and self-assuredness of young of a young Beckett, Joyce, or Hemingway. He walks through, staring at computer screens.
This was was a scene description from an early draft of A Short History of Decay. In the story, Nathan’s girlfriend has just pointed out to him that he’s only pretending to be a writer, not doing the hard work, and she’s sick of it. Nathan heads off to a coffee shop to get down to business to prove her wrong.
The scene is meant to be part fantasy, a glimpse inside of Nathan’s fears. When he attempts to write he feels that all the places at the tables are taken and everyone is doing it better than he is.
The original idea was to fill the set with extras and coach them to to behave like writers, absorbed in their own work, soaking up the vibration of human activity in the cafe, and then to have them peer at Nathan as if to say, “you don’t belong here. You are not one of us.”
For months I thought about how to shoot this scene. What would I tell the extras? How would I get them to behave like real writers, not movie versions of writers. And then, well, I remembered that most of my friends are writers and could just “act naturally”
We shot the coffee house scene on the final day of photography on a beautiful fall day in Brooklyn. Almost everyone I asked showed up at 6 AM. The coffee was ready. We had some company: New York Magazine and The New York Times covered the shoot, which became something of an event.
The footage is beautiful, the performances natural and, from Nathan’s point of view, intimidating. And it was a perfect way to wrap my directorial debut. And, mostly it was fun. This filmmaking business is hard work. The potential financial rewards of making an independent film are highly uncertain. The doing is the reward, and so I tried every step of the way to make the doing rewarding. Every day was, particularly this one.
Photos by Heidi Gutman
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