Mat Capper, EAP’s special correspondent from Liverpool, reminded me the other day about the first time we met. It was in Sefton Park, in Toxteth, in Liverpool, on the set of REVENGERS TRAGEDY. I was producing the film, and he was acting in it.
The scene that day was a marquee in an open field, where a wedding takes place. The bad guys invade the tent, kill the guests, and proceed to steal their money. Mat played one of the bad guys. The guests were all extras, recruited from who knew where…just people who wanted a laugh, or people who knew one of us, or people passing by…that kind of thing. All Liverpudlians. Scousers, as they’re otherwise known.
Some minor prop error had occurred, and we discovered we didn’t have the play money needed for the robbery. Heads went together. No problem–Lucy, our excellent production accountant, was there with the cash to pay the day players. ?3000 is what I remember, then about $6000. Without much more ado, we scattered the real cash all over the extras playing dead, and shot the scene. Collected the cash, went on with the day, and didn’t think much more about it.
Until I had to listen to the horrified cries of outsiders, . “You did WHAT? Where? In TOXTETH? One of the worst neighborhoods in Europe? Don’t you know about Scousers? They would’ve stolen you blind!”
Only they didn’t. We didn’t lose one ten pound note. It hadn’t occurred to us we’d lose one ten pound note. And you know why? Because everyone there was having fun, they were all essential elements to the film, everyone was being creative together. There isn’t much more fun you can have in this world short of having sex with a loved one. Which is another form of creative group activity, come to think of it.
I thought about that this week, when Alex and I were on a road trip together, sharing the car (we brought the dogs for fun) so I could go to San Francisco to spend the day finalizing design for the first two EAP books, and he could show the rough cut of REPO CHICK to a roomful of technicians who are going to do the effects.
The EAP designer and I had a blast. It was (and is) a ton of work. But there’s a big difference between the kind of work you do because you’ve got a creative and practical goal, and the kind you do because you think you have to, for whatever reason. We got through everything we had to do, and I suggested we hop over to Berkeley and watch Al’s screening. (On the way over, on BART, we designed the EAP catalog. That was fun, too.)
The screening was at Phil Tippett’s place. Phil Tippett Studios, you may or may not know, is one of the most highly regarded special effects joints on the planet. They do a lot of the high end studio special effects. And they wanted to do REPO CHICK, outside of normal working hours, for just about zero money–just for fun.
So this was after hours. All thirty or so people sitting in the room rigged up for a screening had finished their work-for-pay for the day. The mood was festive and alive; when Mike and I got there, we discovered my dogs had been given the run of the facility (along with a surfeit of corn chips). There was pizza and beer. We sat down and watched the film; a discussion followed of what had to be done. Phil stood up and warned his crew that it was a lot of work, and that they had to remember about their day jobs. Everyone greeted this news cheerfully and went back to discussing REPO CHICK.
Later that night, sitting over a cup of chamomile tea, Phil said, “This reminds everyone of why we got into all of this in the first place. Everyone’s always asking me what it was like back in the day when you worked with creative people just for creative reasons, and not all the time for money. And this is it. We need this; it reenergizes everybody.”
When Alex and I talked it over on the drive home, we laughed about the reason why the dominant culture drives it into all of us that to do something for fun is childish, not serious, not worth anything culturally. That’s because if everyone indeed acted as if the purpose of human endeavor was joy rather than gritting your teeth misery in order to collect some cash, some dominance, some prestige, the whole economic house of cards would just come down. And the Great and Terrifying Wizard of Oz would be revealed for the shamefaced snake oil salesman he has been all along.
(And if you want to read something by someone who has spent a lifetime working for joy, read Danbert Nobacon’s PERFORMANCE AND EVOLUTION? in this month’s EAP. It makes you want to get out and start your own rock and roll band. What is it with these guys up North?)