A Call From Stump

I returned a call from Greg Stump yesterday.

I ran into Peter Pilfian, he says, mentioning our Edge of Never cinematographer. Saw him outside the theater in Jackson. We just caught the new Tarantino.

Right on, Greg, I say. How was it?

Beautiful, man. Pilafian and I talked about it for an hour.

That’s a pair that’ll beat a full house, I say.

He says you’re finishing your film, says Stump.

I tell Stumpy that I am. It will be done and ready for the tour in two weeks.

Pugnacious, he says. That’s my line for you.

I laugh.

Bloody unstoppable, he says, slipping into one of his Stumpy radio voices, this one with the accent of an English rock star.

I like Stumpy. We’re both short guys with big dreams. Both haunted by doubt, choosing paths to challenge or escape it. Four years ago I was honored to be able to hire him to shoot Super 16 camera in Chamonix on The Edge of Never. It didn’t turn out well, but we’re friends again anyway. If you live long enough and stay loose all the things that seemed final become not so.

I tell Stumpy that I appreciate the good words, but I don’t feel unstoppable. What I feel is like a man trying to return a thousand tennis balls shot from a cannon, while drowning in molasses. Most films would have a sizeable staff to accomplish what my producing partner Peter Schweitzer and I are doing.

Do you like it? Stumpy asks. The film?

I do, I say. It’s the film we set out of make and I’m proud of it.

After two test screenings and final adjustments, the film is picture locked. The additional changes are technical in nature only. Audio sweetening, color grading. Titles, credits, lower thirds. One by one we settle rights and clearance issues. Music rights negotiations are ongoing but progressing. And today we just secured the seven tracks I chose of the mighty mighty Micheal Franti and Spearhead. We are blessed. Wicked blessed to have the Franti vibe in our film. Our fall barnstorming tour is mostly booked with 30 stops so far, another 20 to come. Response from the film, from the handful of people who’ve watched it, trickles in. Most of it is embarrassingly positive. The praise fills me up, of course, and then rolls off. The criticism, however, sticks like pine pitch. I tell Stump as much.

Fug em, he says. Lotta people said I was nuts. Still do.

In a flash, comes a memory: I’m 24 years old, working as a bartender and projectionist in The Slope après-ski movie bar in Vail. It’s down a thin stairway that begins 100 feet from the Vail Village base chairlift (before the fancy Vista Bahn). Your eyes take a moment to adjust as you lean your skis against the wall and step through the heavy door, out of the bright afternoon sun. Down into the dark. You’re enveloped in dank and warm, parting a humid curtain of odor: dank carpet mold, sweaty feet, beer and popcorn. At the front of the room glows a movie screen. Stretching away from it in the dim light are an elevated set of shag-carpeted tiers, each wide enough to lay a body down on. The tiers are covered in oversized pillows, ski bums, and the odd tourist in various states of embrace, drunkenness, and slumber. To the side of the screen is a small bar made of old skis.

And there I am, behind the bar, scrambling to serve. A Lenny Bruce favorite called Thank You Masked Man finishes on the screen. And then I’m running back to the narrow corridor behind the bottles to thread the next film. The waitress yells for me to put on the flick that’s just come in. I do so, gladly. Something new is a tonic. I can beat Warren Miller to his punchline every time. I’ve already been on Dick Barrymore’s journey with the K2 Performers so many times that I’ve taken to telling the barflies who wins the hot dog and wet t-shirt contests before they happen. Roger Brown and Barry Corbet have tripped me out with layout front flip into what would later be named Corbet’s Couloir enough times to let me think that it’s no big deal. The Ski Chase. Moebius Flip. Ski The Outer Limits.

This new film is not on film at all and I don’t have to thread the old projector. It’s on video cassette. The VCR projector is a hell of a lot easier and faster. The tape is in and playing.

Day glo Club A clothing. Limes and lemon yellows. This is something new. There’s a guy with a three-inch Mohawk haircut riding on top of a car. Guys I’ve never heard of: Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt, Mike Hattrup. Who are these yahoos? They’re not World Cup racers, but man they’re having a helluva time. The narrator sounds like a radio DJ, which it turns out he is. From Portland, Maine. The film is Maltese Flamingo, by a new guy named Greg Stump. And it’s a revelation. I see freedom and fun. A bunch of rebels following a crazy dream. Maybe a seed was planted there for me. Maybe it’s just another moment along the path. Either way, it’s a memory and I’m having it.

Kerig, here’s the thing, man, says Stumpy, bringing me back to 2009. You gotta make a hit.

I’m trying, Greg.

No you’re not. You’re doing. Not trying.

There is no try, I say, quoting Yoda. Only do.

Stumpy misses the reference.

Just knock the fuggin’ thing through the wall.

Thanks, Greg, I say, and I mean it.

Lots of love, man, he says.

For a moment the molasses doesn’t seem so thick.

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