Taking a break from writing on this Mardi Gras to watch a little New Orleans royalty.
Always so mysterious to me, even as an adult. The vast, polished white floor and dim lighting, images that were burned into my mind as a child while watching it on late-night PBS on Mardi Gras eve with my parents. This is what the rest of the country needs to see when we boast proudly about our special Tuesdays once a year.
I want to write about an experience that happened to me during my first month back here in New Orleans, a very full-circle experience that vindicated in some ways my second coming in this city. The experience turned out well for me, because it opened up a new avenue that I would never have thought possible just nine years ago in pre-Hollywood-South New Orleans. It in fact only took twenty years, but a few weeks ago, I was up on the silver screen.
When I was 15, I was rabid for the idea that I wanted to be a film director. Having been given access to a rented VHS video camera for a family vacation to Walt Disney World, my parents just went ahead and purchased the thing because quite frankly I wouldn't let it go after the week was up. That camera was the seed of obsession that saw me making videos that I entered into a student media festival at LSU throughout my four years in high school, and I won the damn thing all four years in a row.
But at some point this urge to make movies faded, and I always site the reason being that selfishly, the collaborative process at the time proved too much. I went to college and made a movie my freshman year, but then I was just done, off and running into the void that would eventually end up with my deciding that the written word would be my main mode of storytelling. In retrospect, I also believe that I would have given up long before Hollywood South and their glorious tax incentives would have ever come to town.
And now back to our story.
It all started during a random conversation with filmmaker John Beyer and actor Corey Stewart, both of whom participate in what is known as The 48 Hour Film Project every year, which they thought I could contribute something to this year in front of the camera. The 48 is an international competition where filmmakers are given a genre to work with, a line of dialogue that needs to be spoken, a character name and a prop that needs to be used and then are told to go out and make that movie in forty-eight hours. The New Orleans-based competition is moderated by an old Bourbon Street friend of mine, Pedro Lucero, and that fact alone should have told me that the universe was about to place me somewhere that I needed to be.
And so on the morning of July 19th, 2014, I was emailed a copy of the script for "Sis-Tours" that had been written overnight and then I was told where to go. I made coffee and grabbed some semblance of a wardrobe from my closet and headed out. When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was the silent efficiency of the set located in an office building that was given to us for the day, with crew members that scurried here and there setting up lighting and camera equipment and set decoration.
I got dressed and was then asked to go into makeup where among other things, the artist made sure that my bald head -- which I dubbed at the amusement of the crew as the "chrome dome" -- was dimmed-down enough as not to be too shiny for the camera. When this was done and after some waiting around, it was then time to do my first take, a voice-over line that I was told just to read. Being at least good at reading things, and knowing that I had the luxury of doing it with no memorization necessary, I nailed the inflection and made director John Beyer giggle.
So far so good.
But next was my first actual on-camera scene, a talking-head shot in which I had to deliver lines without reading them. I stumbled at first and then asked if I could do it again as a stifling hush filled the room that I didn't care to interpret at the time. And when I did it again and opened-up into character under the direction of John, the result was another break-up behind the camera and a restoration to my confidence.
The rest of the day went unbelievably well, and the collaborative experience of this very-ensemble piece -- which also featured Corey Stewart, Laura Flannery, Karen Gonzalez, Jamie Choina, Ed Hubert, Brian Bonhagen and Chris Fontana, and the behind-the-scenes work of Todd Schmidt, Laura Duval, Matt Bell, Alex Payne and Franz Wise -- was as gratifying as anything I can remember in recent years. The ease with which I navigated this environment made me nostalgic for my high school years, where all I wanted to do was make movies, an instinct that perhaps I should never have let grow dormant. The universe is funny that way.
With my part of the eight-hour shoot done, the crew was then off and running to the next location. I went home and officially began waiting for the opportunity to see the finished product. I also did quite a bit of writing that day, inspired by the creative atmosphere that I'd just left.
People in love with storytelling are my kind of people, as are film people, which I learned that day firsthand.
I'd now like to fast-forward to the night of Thursday, July 24th, 2014.
The entire team -- dubbed now "The Sullen Ducks" -- arrived at the National WWII Museum theatre in the Warehouse District of New Orleans for the second of the festival's four screenings. We all filed inside, and a bit of a reunion took place between myself and moderator Pedro Lucero. This recognition would in fact carry-over into the auditorium where as we all sat and they got ready to begin the screening, Pedro pointed me out in the second row and announced into a hot microphone, "And Ted Torres is here!"
That moment meant more to me than you know, Pedro, and I thank you.
And yes, there I was projected fifty-feet high for a few moments that will stay with me forever, strictly for the sake of punctuating how fast things can happen when one simply allows the universe to nudge them back into place.
And ... scene.
I am constantly recording voice memos to myself. It's kind of part of the gig. I used to carry a notebook, now I carry my Android phone. And here's a transcript of one that I left about a week ago:
It's April 19th, 2011. I do not need be obsessed with numerology when it comes to quitting smoking, with regards to how many cigarettes I smoked today, or the date, or anything like that. I just simply need to stop smoking. Especially considering how I feel today -- short of breath, heart palpitating, tingliness in my head and scalp, pain in my jaw, and just the usual symptoms of everything pointing towards blood pressure, hypertension, circulatory problems, etc., etc., etc., all from smoking! Smoking, which couldn't possibly help any of these symptoms at all. I need to stop smoking, and I need to stop smoking … right … now.
That was around 5:30 p.m. that day, and I haven't had a cigarette since. But what I did do was remember this "60 Minutes" piece that I saw not too long ago, one that gave me hope, one that forever banished the consideration of patches, lozenges, and even a recent obsession with "electronic" cigarettes. I went out and bought this product immediately. Sure, it's replacing one addiction with another, but in the end, at least I'm not lighting something on fire and sucking the hot exhaust into my body!