Keep on Truckin’

Where are we?  Texas.  On the Gulf.  We are living as if there were a little umbrella in our glass of tropical repose, or a plastic mermaid in our mixed-emotions margarita……  After several weeks of deep desert, and 4 months of mostly isolated destinations, we have found ourselves in a land of many (people, cars, stores, towns) and constant cell service.  I’m feeling wistful.  It’s pretty on Padre Island, but we can’t help but feel like we’ve crossed over into a different zone.  This has its perks, too– the kids are happy and the timing is good– but I can tell both John and I are accepting the shift with a sentimental sigh.  Even Harvey, at 30ft the beautiful runt in this RV Mecca, looks content to take a nap, as we all seem to want to do.  We have worked really hard lately, especially in West Texas, so perhaps a little classic R&R is good.

Ok, a road recap:

Bisbee, Arizona: one of the coolest towns I’ve ever seen.  It springs upon you out of the desert blue, after miles upon miles of tumbleweeds and happy-trails-to-you.  You’ll be heading Southeast from Phoenix when of course you decide to check out Tombstone, which is such high-fructose tourist candy your eyes ache.  But 30 miles beyond, a tortilla’s width from the Mexican border, is Bisbee.  An old mining town  with the most funky, European vibe, it’s built upon a mountain where the open-aired houses perch in tiers connected by aged iron stairs so steep you’d never follow their lead if you weren’t so damn intrigued.  The tiny town thumps with a laid-back, creative pulse–lots of artists, antique-hounds, and supposedly ex-convicts, migrate to Bisbee.  I even ran into an old friend from NYC who’s there now, living in high style.

In SE Arizona we started to learn a lot about great Apache warriors, like Mangus Coloradas, Cochise and Geronimo, and the weight of their stories really sinks in when you’re roaming the vast, gorgeous land of the Chiricahuas.  The Coronado Forest was just a blank space on our map, but when we drove back into the Chiricahua Mountains, it was like we’d stumbled upon buried treasure: great eagle-nosed cliffs hulking above oak-lined creeks (and the occasional brush-hidden stone relic warning “Explosives!” on its rusty door).  
[It was here that we explored how much we could get away with shooting a night scene with only fire light– that authentic campfire feeling we really wanted to capture on film.  Our deal is that we work with what nature is sending our way– sunlight, moonlight, shadows and fog…. It’s real, it’s gorgeous, and it’s free.  It’s also all we’ve got.  But I’ve begun to think of our so-called limitations as our film’s charm.  We are only four, but we get the job done.  If Wonder Wheel had the budget and crew of kings, I bet you a thousand pennies that I would miss running and gunning as a tiny band of makeshift moviemakers.  The Canon 5D is amazing and flexible, and John is very innovative.  It’s also very satisfying having heavies like Harvey the RV and Mother Nature herself in our cast; they really deliver.]

Next, Silver City, New Mexico and then the unexpected little Stonehenge dopple-ganger, City of Rocks.  They really get right to the point, huh?  But that’s exactly what it is: a burst of low-rise rocks in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.  We shot a fun sequence for the film here using just our shadows; the rocks act like mirrors in a fun-house, our shadows all warped and stretched out like taffy.

I had some VO work in Santa Fe.  Loved it.  New Mexico has the purplest mountains and most beautiful bruised-sunset skies…. What a great state.  While John did a nice long slow dance with the computer, editing up a storm, the girls and I fell for the sweet Adobe charm of Santa Fe.  We went to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, saw a lot of good art, ate lots of chocolate and good food (The Shed!), talked to friendly locals…. We stayed in a residential hotel that gave us a big two-floored loft…. Uh huh.  Santa Fe was good to us.  
Then we drove south and spent one night in a freaky state park called Bottomless Lakes–right out of Twilight Zone, as you might expect an alien’s wink away from Roswell– only to have to have to turn around and head back the next morning to Santa Fe to redo one line for a voice-over I did there.  A four-hour trip turned into thrice that, as we ran into a fearsome blizzard (see Harvey blog) en route.    

Carlsbad Cavern = endless underground wonderground….  You gotta go! — and take the hike down, instead of the elevator.  

And then….. TEXAS.  John and I have a romantic attachment to SW Texas, especially the far-flung splendor of Big Bend National Park and its tiny neighbor, Terlingua.  This is a massive Park, where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Rio Grande meets the Chisos Mountains.  Big Bend was the first trip John and I ever took together, in 1996, and it was like cement between two bricks; we were bound as lovers and glued to that land.   This, our third visit, was busy:  we shot more than we hiked, and when we hiked, we were shooting.  We knocked out a big chunk of the movie, and still found time for a sweet RV Xmas.  The park was putting on some good wildlife shows, too — coyotes, javalinas… and Harvey almost kissed a big burro in the road one dark dangerous night.  
Terlingua is an old ghost town, now known for its chile cook-off and the bustling Starlight Theatre; a speck of a town and teaming with colorful denizens of the desert.  Marfa, 80 miles to the north, was once known for the mysterious string of lights that some claim to have seen along its night horizon (John and I saw them!), but now it is a chic, artsy oasis.  Lajitas, to the west and inside my favorite corner of Big Bend, is another minuscule gathering spot, and where we jumped into 2011 with spurs on.  
John put his acting hat on in Texas, and he wears it well.  That man’s cup runneth over with do-it-all and do-it-well talents: he shoots, he edits, he records, he composes, and now he acts!  You should see the guy halfway up a cactus-mangled mesa, starting the camera, then running down, jumping agave like OJ in an airport, to meet us on film, then running back up to turn the camera off…. It’s awesome.  But when our shots are together in closer quarters, we all pitch in with the on-offs and boom mike.  The kids love to put on the earphones and take charge of the sound board.  And when we’re driving we found a way to rig the camera with a bungy cord on the dashboard.  He’ll estimate focus then climb on the car hood to peer through and check, and he’ll repeat until he’s got it.  We put mikes everywhere we can, and we’re off to the races!  It’s working well, too.  Having already edited most of our visuals, John is now tackling the sound.  A big job, but he’s making big progress.  Very exciting!    

And so, having hustled hard in the desert, we were ready to take the shooting siesta the Gulf seemed to offer.  But now we are back at it and find ourselves in Austin, in a hotel, where we have started to record some of the additional voice work for the film.  Austin is fun and chockfulla good things.  We head to San Antonio tomorrow to see our good pals, Alex and Olga, then it’s onward East.  We’ll try to finish off the remaining scenes, somewhere quiet, and keep on keepin’ on.  No denying, a film is a mountain of work.  But John and I, and even the girls, look at our 4.5 months of work, and we can’t help but see …. a movie!  We’re making a movie, damnit!  A feature-length, one-of-a-kind Wonder Wheel production, and that feels really, really good.