There are a lot of things I dislike in this world. Opera, Oprah, and meatloaf are a few. I also dislike a fair bit of Victorian era novels. If you are a novelist from the Victorian age and your last name is Brontë you can get the hell out. I’m not interested. Seriously, how can three sisters become writers and everyone one of them bore the life out of me? I suppose there is something special about that accomplishment. Of this group of authors, the most infamous of these, in my opinion, is Thomas Hardy. If it wasn’t for Thomas Hardy I might just be in Hollywood right now prepping for another glorious night at The Oscars. Forget about my lack of talent, ambition, drive, or skill. It was Thomas Hardy that ruined me. Hardy and his crappy book, The Mayor of Casterbridge. How is my lack of success in the film industry tied to Thomas Hardy? Glad you asked and I shall tell you and you shall weep with me at the end.
It was the fall of 1992. I was a senior in high school trying to con my way through AP English. I didn’t like English class. Wasn’t my “thing”. Nevertheless, I found myself in this world in which I didn’t belong and the only way out was through. Even worse was that 12th grade literature was focused on British works and the teacher seemed to love inflicting Victorian authors on her students. I had hoped to get through it with only minor pain but then the worst happened. We were assigned a PROJECT. That most dreaded assignment for high school students. Something that required creativity, planning, and execution. Yeah, not exactly what I was “in to” at the time.
Apparently I wasn’t alone. A cadre of other students who just also happened to be friends of mine joined forces to oppose this PROJECT and through impassioned debate fought tirelessly to end the oppression of the “authority” but, alas, we failed and the PROJECT was assigned. We took a fallback position and argued for a team approach. We would take this book, this horrible, boring, book and turn it into a true work of art. We would make a film and show the world that this story might have life after all.
To my great surprise our film was green-lit by the “authority”. We were given permission to work as a team. Little did she know this was just my plan to do something fun instead of that whole tedious school work thing. HA what a chump right? My friends and I were going to get to hang out for a while, have fun, AND turn it in as the PROJECT! I thought it might be one of my best cons ever. Interesting how we are so often wrong about our perceived cleverness isn’t it?
With the PROJECT to complete, we first spoke to another member of the “authority” about using her contacts at a local university to get access to some editing hardware. Once approved, we were ready to film. A script was quickly developed. Of course none of us had read the book so we had to base it on the first chapter. The book was Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. A most painful read even at the beginning but it would be enough. There were few characters and even fewer points of real action. The only problem was that a female factored prominently in the action. This was a problem for us considering we were all male but another classmate most graciously volunteered to enter into the production with us and the filming was on.
Over the next few weeks all the scenes were shot. I had the camera so I got to direct. That fact that I am death to a film if on camera wasn’t to be known until later but we will get to that soon enough. We found locations wherever we could and taking inspiration from Monty Python we worked though the action. Must laughing and arguing was had but eventually it was done and we were off to the editing bay. Our hopes for a triumphant film debut were quickly dashed as we were informed that our efforts were wasted. Our film was worthless because we didn’t have a lead in for each of our clips. The scenes could not be edited together. Time was up and we had nothing but hours of raw footage that could not be used.
The day the project was due came and we proudly entered the class room with our raw footage and the knowledge that our greatness would be acknowledged and an extension of the PROJECT would be most graciously granted. Only, we were betrayed. Betrayal from one of our own. Betrayal most foul! One of our members, our compadre, our co-conspirator completed his own project on his own! The united front that we had planned on crumbled and failure was but a red ink pen away! Those of us left, the strong, the willing, the unapologetic ally stupid, fell on the mercy of the “authority”. We begged for another shot and were graciously approved and we began anew.
We re-shot the entire film again. Some locations remained the same, some actors changed. Some things were better. Some were worse. In the end it was done. Over an evening it was finally edited and then we put the finishing touches on the film. Some music here, some really bad credits there, and it was complete. Even I made an appearance in the film. I was never meant to be an actor. My camera never recovered from the shock.
In the end we got a B, I think, and even an honorable mention at the art show. My hopes and dreams were crushed. I blamed it on Thomas Hardy and his crappy novel. If only I had better material to work with!!! I turned from film and focused on other things always with a sense that I missed my true calling but never able to fully get over my first experience as a director. Other films were made later in life but never with any heart. I was done. Ruined by Thomas Hardy I could never enjoy the experience again.
It is with a heavy heart and a lot of humility that I post that film here. It was a crowning achievement and I wear it on a troubled brow. Shot so long ago I can see the technical limitations of VHS and the complete lack of experience but I can also see hope for the future and that bit of humor that has stayed with me over the years. Will this be what I leave for the future? Oh boy, let’s hope not!