Word of warning to my younger readers: this post is going to be a little different than the things I usually put up here. I’m actually supposed to be writing something else at this moment, but I have to get this down first.
Years back, before I discovered writing children’s books, I was into filmmaking. Writer-director: that was my dream job. I worked on a few films for pay — but a lot more often, for “no pay.” All through my final year of high school, all through three college degrees, I was writing and making movies. Short ones, longer ones — once, I directed a feature, with a cast and crew of 60 working for ten frantic, packed-to-the-gills days.
But that film is another story. Today I’m thinking of another project I shot, one of my absolute favorites. It was a silly, simple project I made during a video class in graduate school. Maybe seven or eight minutes long. It was a fake news investigation — a funny concept made hilarious by super talented actors whom I let improvise and embroider.
At one point in the piece, the investigative reporter decides to go straight to the top — in short, he goes off and interviews God. Via satellite, of course. I’d had this idea that it would be funny if God was played by a kid, maybe 8 years old. The trouble with this idea was that at that time, I knew only one eight-year-old: a cousin of mine, Merrill. And I only saw Merrill, really, on holidays. So not only did I have one available actor, but I had only one chance to work with him: on Thanksgiving Day.
So fingers crossed, I created a purposely shoddy “set” involving blue sheets and cottonball clouds hung from the ceiling in a room at my parents’ house. Then, between turkey time and pie time, I gave Merrill a script and a toga, turned on the super-hot lighting kit, and we went to work. I remember being quite nervous because he had some fairly long passages of dialog to recite from memory, and about an hour to get everything shot — and no backup plan.
But passage after passage, the kid nailed it. Word for word. I didn’t even have to give him line readings — he was like a real actor, trying different things, giving each take a different feel. It was perfect, better than I could have imagined. Like the others, he elevated my material. And, of course, when I screened the finished project, Merrill ended up getting some of the biggest laughs. I couldn’t have been prouder of him. I don’t know if I ever actually told him that.
That whole episode is on my mind today. It has been since last night. That was when I got the text from my mother about Merrill’s accident. Yesterday afternoon, he was riding his bike near his house with some friends, when his brakes went out and he ended up having a nasty crash. Head-first. He’s still unconscious. And he’s still unresponsive. And that’s the extent of what I know right now.
My wife is at work, and my dog is asleep — dreaming of a run in our back yard, perhaps. I really want to watch my DVD of that whip-smart eight-year-old with the perfect memory, and it is bothering me tremendously that I cannot find it. I’ve looked all over, and I can’t find the thing anywhere. Most likely, it slipped through the inevitable cracks that form across 5,000 miles of home moving. But this thought keeps nagging like an itch — a thought that is both untrue and unshakeable. What if it never existed in the first place?