Production Day 1: Cognitive Dissonance on the Set; Love Song with Warning; Morally Hazardous Statue of Liberty Impersonation (Cheyenne)

April 6, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance.

It is 6:30 am the morning of the first day for shooting “Bailout.” Fox has forgotten about his lit cigarette as he paces intently around the porch.  I dread the conversation that’s coming and try not to grind my teeth…

Six months ago I came to John Fox with an idea for a movie: a guy stops making his mortgage payment and after several months gambles the money in Las Vegas with his Chicago buddies in protest over the too-big-to-fail banks, which engage in lossless gambling courtesy of American insanity.

To underscore the moral hazard inherent in such a caper, we had the buddies traveling to Vegas in a Winnebago.

Fox thought it was a great idea and we started working immediately. Fox has written for television shows going all the way back to “Happy Days.” Fox is a stand-up comic with a genius for pounding dialog into high-impact one-liners.

When we had 15 pages, we took the idea to Sean Fahey, a local director and days-gone-by drinking buddy.

“It’s a great concept, but this is in narrative form,” Sean said. “I’m not sure it’ll work since you guys aren’t actors.”

And so began the transformation of “Bailout.” It started out as a narrative, then it became a documentary hybrid. While Fox was doing a month-long series of gigs in California, Sean and I settled on a full-fledged documentary, where “Bailout” has stayed for the last four months.

Despite working on a documentary, Fox kept turning out scene after scene complete with dialogue.

“Check this out, man,” he’d say, handing me more pages. “Lira takes a huge dump that stinks up the toilet so you make up the no-poop rule.”

“But this is a documentary, Fox. What happens if Lira doesn’t shit in the Winnebago?”

“It’s a 2000-mile trip, are you kidding me? He’ll have to shit some time,” he said triumphantly.

So I know what’s coming the morning of the first shoot…

“Listen,” he says, finally drawing on his cigarette. “This is a big day. We really need to set up everyone losing their job so we have a strong premise. So when I come into the bar I’m just gonna say, ‘Fuck! I can’t believe I got fired!’”

“But you didn’t get fired, Fox,” I say for the umpteenth time. “We’re only showing stuff that’s real. Forget about lines. It’s just real people talking.”

“Okay, I can work with that,” he says. “When I come into the scene I’ll just say ‘Fuck! I can’t get a job!’”

“Goddamnit, Fox, you haven’t looked for a job in decades,” I say.

“So?”

*            *            *

The situation is worse than even I can imagine on set in Stroh’s Hideaway, a bar not far from my bunker in northeast Indiana. I bought the place two years ago when it became apparent that many big American cities like Chicago will experience food riots. Northeast Indiana is a giant quilt of beautiful farmland and glacial lakes and Amish buggies.

I’d spent a lot of time there talking with people about the local economy, which has a lot of RV factories and other heavy equipment oriented businesses that are sensitive to high oil and gas prices. When oil sailed over $130 per barrel in Summer 2008, I started tracking unemployment data for Elkhart and the two counties flanking it, St. Joseph and LaGrange. The ensuing bloodbath was grisly enough for Barack Obama to pay Elkhart two separate visits, one when Elkhart’s unemployment ranked #1 nationwide.

A lot of people in Stroh have been adversely affected, many permanently so. The Hideaway would be the perfect place to launch an anti-bankster journey to Vegas in a Winnebago.

I sit beside Manwhore (Dave Byers) at the bar, near the door. The lights are up and cameras rolling and we start shooting the breeze like we always do. I don’t even worry about steering the conversation to the economy because it happens all the time around here anyway.

My small comfort that things will play out naturally is shattered when Sean cues Fox to enter the bar.

“What’s up, you pricks!” Fox blasts from behind me.

I turn in horror.

Fox’s voice would fill a baseball stadium and his wild azure eyes do a two-step dance on mine without locking. I’m not sure he recognizes me. Fox points toward my head.

“You get that haircut with a weed eater?”

Fox’s maniacal laugh fills the entire bar.

Then it hits me. Fox’s “character” is stand-up comic John Fox facing down a gang of relentless hecklers. He turns to dispose of his next victim.

“Are those press on nails, lady? It’s a bitch pulling those out of my asshole.”

The scene is surreal. A werewolf is prowling the set of “Inside Job.” That’s the whole movie.

“I’d call you a cocksucker but I know you’re trying to quit.”

I am ruined, I think.

I turn around and look at Sean. He can’t stop laughing.

Maybe it’ll be okay, I think.

*            *            *

I try everything to stop the out-of-control John Fox from destroying the set of “Bailout.” Ignoring him is just not an option.

In one shot, after Fox drills me with an insult, I try to snap him out of his mis-reality.

“You’re totally fucking up your lines, Fox!” I scream.

“No I’m not.”

Fail.

In another shot, I give him a quick series of violent bear hugs when he walks in. He looks dazed and wanders off.

After that things settle down and I stop freaking out, aided in large part just by drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon with Manwhore.

The reality behind my newfound calm is that Sean Fahey and his crew are consummate professionals despite their age. Sean is the old man of the bunch at 34. The rest of them are kids in their 20’s. Every one of them is laid back.

In contrast with the youthful crew, the male “cast” members are middle-aged (arguably). I’m 45, Fox is 57, Ruben is 61, and Sergio won’t say. But he’s old enough to have played guitar on stage in the 1960’s.

We invited 26 year-old Nicole Erhardt along for the ride just so we wouldn’t feel like a complete batch of geriatrics. Her non-stop energy reminds me of Martin Short when he joined the somewhat jaded cast of SCTV late one season.

After getting some good testimonial shots, we wrap up at the Hideaway and head for my place, where Sergio sing his epic back-stabbing song.

We call it a day after shooting a couple takes of Sergio serenading us around a blazing campfire. The song is “Sing Me a Song.” Like all of Sergio’s songs, this one is a love song.

But unlike every love song you’ve ever heard, “Sing Me a Song” carries a very serious warning for people who engage in back stabbing. When I hear the phrase “back stab,” I think of American Express. Shortly after AmEx became a bank just so it could get its hands on TARP money, they sent me a letter cutting my credit limit from $8900 to $600 and doubling my interest rate.

Each and every one of the bailed out banks engage in back-stabbing ordinary Americans. In fact, back-stabbing has been Wall Street’s entire business model since TARP passed on October 3, 2008.

Sergio’s song lays out a reasonable course of retribution to be levied on back-stabbers. It is not workplace safe.

[Can we post a clip of Sergio’s campfire song?]

The energy level is high for all of us. So are other levels. I decide to pay homage to “Inside Job.”

Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning documentary traces the history of the financial crisis. It does an outstanding job of explaining the breath-taking extent to which boundlessly greedy and sociopathic bankers have controlled at least three presidencies and eight congresses, as well as the regulatory bodies putatively overseen by both.

Make no mistake about it, there is a one-party system in the United States of America today. It’s called the Bailout Party. And you’re not invited.

“Inside Job” ends with a helicopter shot of the Statue of Liberty and a Matt Damon voiceover: “Because some things are worth fighting for.”

Damn right, Matt, I think.

I retrieve fireworks from the house so I can do my new Statue of Liberty impersonation. Fox helps me load the canisters with a wild array of explosive devices.

At this point I’m giddy and start giving Fox shit.

“You’re fucking up your lines all the time Fox. If you don’t stop, just get back in the house and start writing some fucking dialog.”

I hold a loaded canister and light the fuse before hoisting it like a torch.

“Because some things are worth fighting for,” I say above the safety hecklers.

Pandemonium ensues.