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THE HERO RV  

Posted by:

Mark Medoff

,  Las Cruces, NM, June 6, 2009.

It will be known hereafter as “The Hero RV,” the movie-making appellation for not a champion or Superman vehicle so much as a vehicle of vital significance.

Long ago, when Phil Treon and I started working on what is now REFUGE, the Hero vehicle was an Airstream trailer and the project was called AIRSTREAM.  We realized there would be copyright issues with that title so we renamed the project RV.  Then Robin Williams made a movie of the same name, so the project became REFUGE, a much better title, if less blaring in telling an audience what the movie was going to be about – or at least be told inside of.

In the last several months, as my producing partner Ginger Perkins and I began to put together the myriad elements to make our Ultra Low Budget feature, the search for the right recreational vehicle was high on our list of things to get for as little as possible. 

(My first producing experience, the movie HOMAGE in 1994, my partners and I had the good fortune to hire a Unit Production Manager named Rae Reynolds.  Early in the process of putting together those myriad elements, we were going out to negotiate an arrangement for an important location.  I asked Rae what we should offer for the location.  He said, “Always start with ‘free’ and work from there.”)

Six weeks ago, there was a feature about three movies prepping to shoot in the Las Cruces area in the Las Cruces Sun-News and Las Cruces Bulletin.  In the section about REFUGE, I mentioned that we were looking for an RV.

I heard from a man named Jack Malone, who is a flight nurse with considerable acting experience when he was younger.  We began an e-mail correspondence across town.  Without demanding a role in the movie, he offered his RV to us for the shoot if we liked it. 

Jack had recently bought the RV and it was being rejuvenated at Bogart’s Auto/RV Repair on Valley Drive in Las Cruces.  Jack was going to Paris but we were welcome to go look at the RV.  My production designer, the renowned sculptor Stephen Hansen, and I went for a look.

The RV that Jack bought and was resuscitating is a Classic 1976 GMC recreational vehicle, which for you Ken and Barbie fans out there is the one fashioned as the “Barbie Star Traveler.”  Stephen and I loved the look of the vehicle and found the irony of Amelia and Jack Philips living in a Barbie and Ken mobile irresistible. 

I took Director of Photography Reuben Steinberg out to Jack Malone’s backyard to have a look.  Jack had been kind enough to leave the RV unlocked (Yes, in Las Cruces you can still do that.  Jack also left a mountain bike leaning up against his back porch.) and we spent some time blocking out scenes and shots, assuring ourselves we could shoot comfortably in the vehicle – so long as nobody was in it but Reuben and the actors (though there are a few scenes where I can hide in the bed area with Jack (Philips, the character, who is dead there, not Malone, the RV owner).

On June 3, Jack Malone returned from his vacation in Paris.  On June 4, we met at The Bean (owned by Costume Designer Mary McGinn, mate of DP Reuben).  Jack (the RV owner, not the character) is 54, looks 45, with the features of a Native American Irish Italian.  He has great presence and I immediately cast him in a role in the movie in my head. 

On June 5, DP Rueben and I made an appointment to meet Jack – with the RV – at The Bean for a test drive.  Jack called to tell me he’d be a little late – he was having trouble elevating the rear end of the RV with air to get the butt off the ground (Reuben and I were concerned about some dips were we going to ask Jack to drive over on the west mesa of Las Cruces).  I told Jack not to try to park in The Bean’s small, packed-with-cars-and-motorcycles gravel parking lot for fear we’d never get out.  Jack parked across the street in front of Andalé (one of our terrific Mexican fare restaurants). We chatted in The Bean, had good coffee, crossed the street to the Big Fella.  Maiden voyage.  Months of waiting to hit the road in the Hero vehicle.

Big Fella wouldn’t start.  I brought my car across the street.  Hooked up jumper cables.  Click, click.  

Jack told us he’d only driven the RV once since he bought it, but it had started right up at his house and had come across town without complaint.  Jack tried to fire up the generator to kick-start the battery.  Generator wouldn’t kick over.

On a budget such as ours, we can’t afford to have a driving day planned, say, and find out we can’t drive the thing we’re planning to drive on the planned driving day.  Though not much given to panic, I did contemplate whether a movie dependent on a moving vehicle was a mistake I, as the writer, could remedy.  Could the only means of conveyance to Amelia Philips, as she takes it on the lam after accidently killing her husband Jack, be…comfortable flats or orthopedic sneakers? 

Jack called Bogart’s.  In your town, you’d wait hours, maybe days for a mechanic to leave where he was and arrive where you were stranded with your dysfunctional vehicle.  Chad from Bogart’s was there in ten minutes. 

Loose wire.  Massive relief on part of movie-makers and RV owner/dad who wants his RV’s audition to be successful.  

Just to be safe, I drove my car; Reuben, with the viewfinder and a camera, rode with Jack.  We headed upward to the high desert west of Las Cruces on I-10.  Got off at the Las Cruces Airport, headed west on the frontage road, then north onto the Coralitas Ranch and deep into vast, magnificent desert (see photo above). 

Reuben, Stephen, Ginger, and I had scouted the two lane blacktop road for a good fifteen miles northward.  The road had many flood control dips.  We were concerned whatever RV we got would not be able to navigate those dips.  I slowed at the first dip, put on my hazard lights to remind Reuben to warn Jack that he might be about to lose the undercarriage of his vehicle.  I watched in my rearview.  Was elated to see the RV take the dip with 18 inches of clearance. 

There was a fork in the road we wanted to reach, a point at which Amelia would stop the RV and make a decision about which fork to take.  (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”  Robert Frost, “The Road Less Traveled.”)  

Reuben will shoot from a high point – east or west depending on where the sun is when we are there on The Day.  The fork moment will be a nice moment in the movie for Amelia as well as a beautiful shot of the Las Cruces surround.  (Part of our shooting strategy is to juxtapose vast landscapes to the claustrophobic scenes in the RV and just outside the RV when the vehicle acts up several times and forces Amelia and her hostage, the young high school English teacher and self-defined failed novelist, Darryl Tripp, to stop at various sites in Amelia’s run from the law.) 

I got out of my car; Reuben hopped out of the RV.  We patted the vehicle like a horse, cooed to it as if it had just won a big one at Ruidoso Downs. 

I called Ginger.  Back in Los Angeles, dealing with myriad other details that were not nearly as much fun as driving around the high desert on a lovely June morning, she was grateful not to list “Find another RV” on her to-do list. 

We had our Hero.

 

THE HERO RV

ITSELF



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AT THE BEGINNING  

Posted by:

MARK MEDOFF

,  Las Cruces, NM, June 2, 2009.

Though I love the collaborative process in theater, film, and team sports, I've never had the desire for a writing partner. However, I did collaborate on an early draft of what has become REFUGE with my friend Phil Treon and for that reason Phil shares story credit with me.

At some point, Phil graciously told me I could go wherever our screenplay lead me. Twenty-five drafts later, it still resembles what Phil and I started with, though a major plot threat -- a female sheriff chasing our two main characters -- went away twenty-four drafts ago. I focused myself on the story of two lost souls, Amelia Philips and Darryl Trip, she a hospice nurse in her forties, he a young high school teacher in his twenties. Each arrives at the abyss on the same day, and on that day, happenstance throws them together into a very small, at first collapsing, universe.

I've always felt I had the ability to find humor in my characters in difficult situations, so there is in the serious journey Amelia and Darryl go on for 22 hours a great deal of humor that comes out of who each is and how each reacts to the other in their nearly untenable situation. Her husband is dead in the back of their RV; Darryl's bad first novel is stinking up a stationery box in the front.

There have been a nauseating number of older man-young woman movies over the past couple of decades. Having been radically feminized by one wife and three daughters, I have calculatedly written major roles for women in my theater pieces since 1980. My film experience had been that most studios and independent producers don't want movies with a woman above the title.

REFUGE is an entirely independent film. I mean, my partner Ginger Perkins and I are independent of everyone except the several friends who have made this movie possible. We are shooting at a very small cash budget, living off the favors of friends in Las Cruces, NM, who have provided every, single location to us for nothing.

Though we are still looking for a small cash infusion, we are making a movie with a woman at the center -- and a woman in an age range often considered by Hollywood standards to be "over the hill" -- playing opposite a young man who is just on the edge of his celebrity breakthrough. We don't feel self-righteous (not yet, at least), but we do feel good about the movie we're going to make and its potential to appeal to an adult audience interested in a movie built on character relationships.

It Hollywood it always helps to play the game whereby your movie becomes a promise of Such-and-such MEETS Such-and-such. If you've seen the opening of Robert Altman's brilliant THE PLAYER, you know what I'm talking about. If I thought it would help bring us that last infusion of cash and were pushed to the wall to offer one of those analogies, I'd say REFUGE is NATURAL BORN KILLERS meets THELMA AND LOUISE. But not -- because it is its own hybrid of the 36 plots (what my mentor told me at 19 was the total number available to a writer).

There are real joys for me in this process of preparing to tell a story for screen media: Ginger Perkins and I have been friends for almost forty years. We have worked together in theater, film, and academia. Our cinematographer, Rueben Steinberg, is the son of two of my closest friends in life, Phyllis Frelich (for whom I wrote CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD and four other plays) and Bob Steinberg, my alter ego and one of the finest set designers in my experience. My brother's son, Brooks Medoff, will the First Assistant Director for me for the second time. Our production designer, Stephen Hansen, is a world renown sculptor and has been my go-to person on questions of logic and continuity, as he claims by having to waste time reading my script over and over, he doesn't have to work in his studio. Doing at least part of our music is JD Hinton, who was co-composer of the movie Ginger produced and I directed called CHILDREN ON THEIR BIRTHDAYS, based on the Truman Capote story.

[CHILDREN ON THEIR BIRTHDAYS was a PG13 movie, a family movie. It opened and closed very fast, as we did not do big business our first two weekends. First weekend business remains crucial in the movie business (You know the one that goes: It's not called Show Art, it's called Show Business), so, frankly, we're hoping that this website and periodic blog may help us not only dig up some more cash, but prep and interested audience to get out of their homes and to a movie theater near them when we first open a year or so from now.]

We are in the casting process right now. We saw fifty wonderful young actors this past week. Our Darryl was there as well as his fiancée, Helen. Helen is an assistant D.A., living in the southwest but having recently left Brooklyn. As fiction will have it, the day Darryl is kidnapped by Amelia, Darryl and Helen are having an engagement party -- which Darryl misses. Trouble ensues.

We are after our ideal Amelia. We are close to having her. Once we have her, we'll cast the rest of the players. We'll keep you posted.

AT THE BEGINNING

Mark Medoff



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