River Manor: Behind the Series!

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My friends and I created a season of television for the internet. I guess you could call that a web series. Or a miniseries. You can call it whatever you want. I wrote 6 intertwining stories and then we filmed them and now we’re showing them to the world to see if the world hates them. That’s the gist.

Here is where I’m going to post all of them and then write about each one along with adding behind the scenes photos and videos, mostly for my own enjoyment, so if you happen to take something positive away from this or are entertained in any way, that’s all gravy to me. Okay cool!

Oh also, S1E1 means Season 1 Episode 1. We’re all learning!

S1E1: “The Deli Caper”

I’m not good at writing pilots or introducing characters. I don’t like spoon feeding exposition and that is what a pilot wants to be most of the time. I had to be reminded the whole time we were filming this to make sure and say everyone’s names so the audience knows what to call us. Even that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like insulting an audience’s intelligence, although in retrospect I should have bowed to that whim a bit more than I did.

I decided as I was writing the season that I was just gonna throw the audience into a whirlwind and see how they like it. Which is what this pilot ended up being. Also, the pilot sets up a big theme for the series which I call “filling the shot.” I wanted most shots to have 2 or more things happening in them at once. I wanted the audience to have to watch the episode a few times to catch everything. One of my favorite movies is Ocean’s 11 – I’ve watched it around 25 times and I still catch new things to this day. It gets me going, so I assumed it would get other people going as well. If you’ve already watched this, watch it again and see what new things you find. In fact, that applies to all of these episodes. Watch them all about 10 times if possible.

Oh, and the shot of us running across the backyard and Marc getting pummeled? Jo really hit him. Hard. Don’t be fooled by her tiny stature. She hits like a monster and we did that 6 times. Marc was sore for a week. It was hilarious.

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S1E2: “Everyone is Poisoned”

This is the first episode we shot which was purposeful. I wanted our first go at making this series to only have the 4 main characters in it so that we could build some semblance of chemistry and then carry that over to other episodes where there are more characters with screen time. This is also the day we realized GBaby’s character is wonderful in his simplicity which would be a constant theme throughout the season.

I go back and forth between what episodes are my favorites and this one always seems to pop up in my mind. I love Steph’s makeup, I love the Frasier scene & the good cop bad cop with Marc and Elliot, I love the dubstep Frasier at the end and how GBaby keeps eating the poisoned food the entire time. In fact go back and watch this episode and just watch GBaby. You’re welcome.

Marc and I acted out the good cop bad cop scene most nights for 4 months prior to shooting this. In fact that is the way most of this series was fleshed out. Marc and I sitting on our porch and acting the entire episode ourselves. We rewrote the entirety of episode 4 that way, but more on that later. Also, as a last note, this is the episode we had Alex Meeske on set for and you can tell if you know him that he was there. That warbler line G says? That was his. Fun facts!

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S1E3: “Elliot Finally Shuts the Fuck Up”

This episode was to do 2 things. First off I wanted to show that Elliot’s character is basically the house scapegoat and secondly I wanted to introduce every character the audience hadn’t met yet.

At Elliot’s forced wedding we meet his insufferable brother Peter played by one of our Executive Producers, Johnrobert Vergati. You also get to check up on our local cockneyed talking delusion ridden Milk Toast played by our EP/DP Dylan after meeting Milk in episode 1 along with the ever quiet and mysterious Olive Druthers played by Stephanie Vergati who has a nice lil’ monologue in this episode. Then we add Olive’s best friend Lola Montez played by Allie Rivera, one of the funniest humans I know, throw in some Robinson Mahler, who brings a sort of grounded delusion you don’t really get anywhere else in the series played masterfully by Justin Hagen and then Jo is back, no longer tied up and in straight up in the dating game with Marc who is eye banging her most of this episode. Oh, and I can’t forget Abigail playing Elliot’s new Russian mail order bride, Ulyana Larinov!

This is a good time to talk about how we shot these scenes. There was no script. There was a detailed outline – sometimes I would give people lines to say, sometimes I didn’t. That means we built every new scene from scratch as we filmed it, did an average of 6 takes per shot with two cameras running, and usually used the last take.

We talked a whole lot prior to shooting about these characters with every actor who I chose specifically for their ability to make funny shit up on the spot. Some of the best parts of this series are things I didn’t write, and that’s my favorite. I bring this up soon after bringing up Abby’s Uly because she was so super worried she wouldn’t nail the Russian accent that she had me write every word of hers out. She then came in and murdered it anyway at which point I started making her say more things she hadn’t practiced, much to her dismay and much to my delight. And hopefully yours as well.

Also, it was raining that day. All of these shoots were one day long and that day the wedding was supposed to be out in the back yard but it was raining. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the garage looks like the absolute worst place to have a wedding, which Lola points out and to me makes it that much neater.

Here’s a behind the scenes video of JR hitting Elliot in the balls a bunch of times:

S1E4: “In Stapp We Trust”

Up until a few weeks before shooting began in the Summer of 2015 this episode was something completely different. Originally this episode was going to be called “Bed and Breakfast” of which the general gist was going to be that the boys opened up a B&B a la those food carts people open sometimes where their main selling point is being mean to their customers.

The boys plan goes awry once the first two people trying out the B&B is Lola and Olive and Lola basically takes over the entire day as GBaby and Marc escape by swimming away down the river while Ryan yells at them to come back and follow through on an idea for once instead of running away. In response, G and Marc tell him to shut up and keep swimming.

In all reality I wanted an episode that explained how good of friends Lola and Olive were and that idea was my chosen vehicle. But from idea to execution it felt weird. It just wasn’t written well and I didn’t like it which is something I made clear to Marc one night after coming home from the bar. And it was in that moment Marc pitched that he start a cult, and then I pitched that it be about Scott Stapp, and then we both improv’d the entire episode in the hallway in about 15 minutes. Then, still a little drunk, I opened up my laptop and wrote the episode, intertwining the Olive and Lola story line into the Stapp story line. Marc gets a writing credit on this one and deservedly so but he also brings a gravitas in this episode that was absolutely amazing to watch from the other side of the camera. He hit his stride acting wise as a cult leader, nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s the one we all laughed the most on set and that’s for damn sure.

S1E5: “Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool”

Most of the people around me thought this episode would suck from the beginning and I can see why. This is the most insular idea I chose to do. It’s based on inside joke after inside joke that I had the task of making into outside jokes as well. Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool acts in dual capacities. One is as the 5th episode of the first season of River Manor and secondly it is basically a time capsule for my late 20s. And from the outside looking in that looked like, to everyone else around me on the project, like not that much fun.

Until you see Marc and I screaming at a camera, or G fighting a plant, or Elliot dumping Sunny D on himself – Until you hear the soundtrack that JR put together – until you see that this episode is by all accounts a concerto of dialogue that ebbs and flows with a rampaging sense of urgency – until you see all of those things live I can very much understand how you could think it would suck.

Thankfully I love this episode and how weird it is. AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO sorry that was pushy have a nice day LIKE IT LIKE IT NOW.

S1E6: “Olive’s Low Key Get Together”

Season finales are important to me. When I was being a child I didn’t read enough, and it’s not because I didn’t enjoy reading. It was because Television was so god damn entertaining.

As I started to figure out what stories were and the kinds of them that I liked, I realized that one of my favorite parts of a Television series is that it’s stretched out. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end – and all of them matter. With a movie you can skip the middle sometimes and still be just fine in the last 20 minutes. Television doesn’t allow for that. There are small details everywhere, there are character developments that happen in mere moments, and there is an ongoing decay that you as the audience member are tasked to observe and understand. The season finale is the ultimate payoff for all of it.

River Manor is not exactly like television, though. Character arcs are sporadic, plot details are heavy handed, and each episode can choose to be closed into itself at any given moment it chooses. That is, until you reach the finale, at which point you will perhaps realize it was all connected the entire time LIKE MAGIC. Hopefully. At the very least, that’s what I was trying to do. You, the audience, can be the judge of the success of that.

On a more grounded level, this finale was shot on one very long Saturday that was a day of pure exhilaration for me. We were filmmaking by the seat of our pants that day more than any other time we broke out a camera and hoped for the best. It was so much stupid fun.

If you liked this series at all I would urge you to watch it again. Every episode is meant to be watched multiple times with tiny little details you’ll pick up that you didn’t see before including running gags that wrap themselves up in the finale – one of which goes 6 episodes long and is my favorite thing ever.

But anyway, thanks to everyone who worked on this project and thanks to everyone whom enjoyed it. This is my favorite thing I’ve ever done. Okay cool bye.

 

 

 

 

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One Man Show

Yesterday started so normal. Then. In other parts of yesterday. It got weirder.

I’ve had this idea floating around in my brain for like 4 months where I would make a short film about all of the embarrassing but incredibly normal things we as human beings do when we are home alone in our comfort zones. It is being alone with ourselves that I find the most interesting. (that sentence makes me sound like a freshman Philosophy major who sleeps through class because he doesn’t respect the value of a dollar.)

So. Yesterday. Yeah.

I went to work. On a Monday. Because it was a Monday. And you know this thing about Monday’s – and I’m 100% sure no one has ever mentioned this before and I am the genius who came up with this first forever…Monday’s aren’t great.

And you know why they aren’t great? Because on the weekend, if you were lucky, you got some alone time. And alone time is the best. It’s when you get to think. And feel. And love. And hate. And Master….skills. You thought it was going another way there. But I didn’t. Because I’m an adult.

So I had this video idea of being by yourself but narrating everything that was happening in your brain and I had a web-series that I’m writing. So, I thought hey, let’s destroy two birds with one stone and put those two things together. That’s my life right now by the way. The web-series that we’re shooting in June. I’m writing it and I have been for 6 months. It’s been done for 3 months. I’ve been editing every day. Rewriting entire episodes. It’s sort of all I think about when I’m not talking. Just for perspective.

When I was re-writing an episode I had the idea of making all of the characters do this thing where they narrate what they do by themselves and we see the differences between all of the characters. I thought it was a good idea. But it just didn’t work for me. I got no juice from it. I couldn’t wrap my head about it fully, so I had another idea, and wrote it. But I still liked the by myself idea as a concept.

Then came yesterday. I was bored. Finished my work. Low on creative energy. And a spark hit me which was so cool because it doesn’t happen very often. I texted my talented friend Steph, asked her if I came over her house in 30 minutes if she slap makeup on my face gracefully, she said yes because she’s the nicest. I went there. We talked about the video. She told me what it should be called, “One Man Show.” And then I left. Got home. Got the camera. Took out my new Rode Smartlav+ Microphone that hooks into your iPhone and or Android device. And went for it. 3 hours of shooting. Made it all up. 39 minutes of material. Imported it all. Edited sound on 27 clips. Synced the audio and the video. Edited for 3 hours. Cut it down to 8 minutes or something like that. And it was done and on YouTube. This entire paragraph is a humblebrag that makes me feel uncomfortable.

And I like it the final product of the video, which is a nice thing too.

I think I want to make this a series because it was fun to make and other peoples alone stories fascinate me. The stuff you do when you’re alone is so weird, and gross, and self righteous, and full of hubris, shame, love, hope, fear – you cover every emotion on the spectrum in complete silence looking at popcorn ceilings and sunsets. That stuff is beautiful and normal and so so so so so so funny. To me, it’s the times with no audience whatsoever people have the ability to be the best or worst versions of themselves – and that journey by yourself, I think, is inherently funny.

Also, for the record, I do hope very much that I get at least a C in my freshman Philo class – that Prof is such a narc.

Buried

Before you read this I’d recommend you watch the film because I’m about to spoil it below:

In 2011 I wondered if my friends and I had it in us to make a film. Now we’ve made 3 while also having a large ensemble cast web series being scheduled to shoot in 2015. Stay tuned for updates on our Facebook page.

Making movies with my friends is the favorite thing I’ve ever done. Last night one of those good friends asked me how I get all of these insanely talented people to help me every time. I told her I have to trick them into it, which is half true. When you are writing and directing, the first step outside of yourself is convincing people that the thing you want to make is going to be good even when you aren’t 100% sure of that fact. But they keep saying yes. So. That’s incredibly nice of them.

Buried was created around a table of friends at my apartment in 2013. The premise was that a guy accidentally kills his best friend’s girlfriend who no one likes and then decides that if he can convince his best friend to murder his girlfriend before he finds out that she was already dead, he’d be off the hook for the accidental death he caused. Or at the very least, he’d have some help with the situation from a sympathetic party.

It’s a super weird premise that just made me keep laughing and laughing. Just a guy grasping at strings in the most intense moment of his entire life trying to convince another dude to kill a girl who’s already dead. That is my sense of humor in a nut shell.

When it comes to the actual film itself, I as the director ask the audience to go along with a premise that is all or nothing. Whether or not the audience ends up jumping on board is still to be seen, BUT even if they don’t there are a few things in this film that I think will be for everybody.

First off there are shots in Buried that are crazily pretty. Dylan (my EP, Editor, and Cinematographer) came in to the shoot day after a few brief conversations about the shot list and with a whole lot of jet lag as he had just gotten back from a month in Asia. I’m telling you that because the sequence where Marc is doing the actual burying has a shot while the sun was going down that is so freakin’ gorgeous I want to cry and Dylan was sprawled out in the mud to capture it while somehow not falling asleep.

Dylan, as my Cinematographer, is there to add his sense of aesthetic to my shot list. So basically, he’s there to make me better than I am. While operating within that framework he consistently goes above and beyond and the camera work in this film proves that. As for our second camera run by Adam Carner, I use him as a wild card. I don’t give him a shot list. I tell him to find a cool shot and go with it. The side shot of Marc kicking the corpse prior to dumping it in the hole is all Adam. Every time he works with me he does something I’d never think of by myself. You need people like that if you want to make something cooler than you could ever make alone.

The second thing I wanted to highlight from this film is the music; particularly the music during the burying sequence. The way we at BFF pick music is a long and tedious exercise that our music supervisor, JR, performs beautifully. Every year South by South West (SXSW) releases about 6 gigs of free music for the purpose of filmmakers using it in their films royalty free. It’s an amazing service that has helped us immensely on all 3 of the films we’ve made. It’s JR’s job to get an insane scene note from me like, “I want the song in this burying sequence to be ominous but in a weird and quirky upbeat manner” and then subsequently make sense of it.

Then after he does that impossible task, he listens to all 6 gigs of the music (51 hours of songs for those of you wondering) and makes a ranked list of his choices that I, with the help of him and the EPs, use to pick the song. The song in the burying sequence, in my mind, is perfection and I hope you guys like it too. And even if you don’t, it makes me all warm and fuzzy every time it comes on and that’s all I could ever ask for.

Before I go I will add that this film is better because my other EP Abigail, who is my script editor as well, killed it on every note she made during this entire process. Add to that the three actors in this film whom all had multiple jobs within the process when acting is hard enough all came to play on the day of the shoot (of which we only had one) and laid down solid takes that made picking only one tough to do the entire time editing this film. I’m almost bored when it comes to talking about how good Marc is because it’s just the truth and, hell, Steph had to hold herself above the ground and then let go so her face slammed into it 3 times in a row for this film and didn’t question it once. (All in the gag reel btw) That’s insane. Friendship is insanity.

This film marks the first time I didn’t act let alone play the lead in something we’ve made which allowed for a few things. One is that I had to put all of my trust into the actors to say my words the way they are on the page while simultaneously infusing them with a very real weight and personality to which I was not disappointed. The second opportunity it allowed for was to be ingrained in every single step that occurred from the concept to the final cut. Ian and the Bishop and Zer0s are movies that I adore because for me they tell so many stories both personally and artistically but this film is the first one that is in my voice entirely.

Artists talk about searching for their voice all the time. Finding a way to make a product that genuinely describes an artistic moment in their life. If nothing else Buried will be a perfect reminder or who I was when I was 27, how reliable and talented my friends were, how supportive my family was, and how I have a deep love for the place where I grew up for both making me this person and being a beautiful setting for all 3 films we’ve made so far.

If you have any questions about Buried or anything else let me know. I could talk forever about these films. I like them a lot. If not just enjoy this gag reel of my friends being silly little geese and I’ll cya in 2015 for our upcoming comedy webseries. K cool.

Ian and the Bishop – A Short Film

If you don’t want to read my long winded diatribe about making movies and dreams coming true then here is this movie. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

 

Oh – You would like to read about my love for filmmaking and how important friends are? Okay. Well then, here you go.

Ian and the Bishop started as a novel. It was about a character that was depressed and started drinking again only to be forced into saving himself by a new acquaintance and his drunken alter ego. It was based off of a very real character in my life that got thrown into a romantic dramedy setting because that’s what I know how to write. I got 4 chapters in before I realized I was writing a screenplay, not a novel.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make movies. I saw the film “Tall Tale” when I was a kid and it clicked in my head that this wasn’t just a fun story unfolding in front of me. This was a creative endeavor that real human beings put an incredible amount of hard work into and then came out on the other end with a finished product. I wanted that. I wanted to tell a story. But one person can’t make a movie, or at least, not the movie I wanted to make.

So I called my friend Dylan. He’s everything I’m not. He’s a wildly talented creative mind with a knack for the aesthetic piece of life. I needed him to say yes before anything else could actually happen. I was driving through New Haven, Connecticut on my way to Long Island for work way too early in the morning late in 2012 and called him with an epiphany.

“I want to make a movie.” I said.

“Umm. Okay. What kind of movie?”  He replied.

“I don’t know yet. But I want to make one.”

“Oh….Alright then. Sure.” And Dylan was in. Way easier than I expected.

That week I took my fledgling novel and turned it into the first draft of the screenplay. When it was done I sent it to Abigail. She was the second piece of this puzzle that was absolutely essential to making a movie. She’s my box. And by that I mean, I come up with over the top crap and she brings me back down into a place that can actually happen. Everyone needs that kind of person in their life, and she’s mine. I sent her an email with the screenplay attached that started with, “Hey. Remember when you told me months ago that this novel would be better as a movie? Well…you we’re right.” She was both excited that I told her she was right and taken aback by how much work I had done in such a short amount of time. So, Abigail was in. We’re moving right along.

Then, very quickly, it all became super real. We were scheduling the audition date to fill out the cast. I was filling out paperwork/asking my favorite local restaurant locations very politely to secure locations. I was writing a shot list (basically, making the movie in your head before a camera even turns on) which I had never done before. We were editing the script. A lot. The final version of the script is very different from how it began. Dylan, Abigail, myself, and two script editors (Allie Rivera and Robert Pinney) helped me out a great deal in that department. The entire ending is different from how I first wrote it because all of them knew it had to be.

I asked my roommate Elliot Smith if he could be the Prop Manager because he knew how to get things. I asked my other roommate Ryan Gentner and friend Adam Carner to be additional cameras on the project – which by the way, some of my favorite shots came from both of them plus Dylan taking my ideas and making them better, which is exactly what a talented crew is for. I asked my friend Mike Storiale, the most well organized and level headed human being I know, to run the production from a logistics stand point. He made a calendar, which should not be overlooked. The hardest part about making a movie, hands down, is the schedule. Getting everyone in the same place at the same time. It is a true nightmare and Mike and I threw it at the wall and then hoped it stuck. Thankfully it did. I then asked my friend Marc Gibson to be a production assistant – the jack of all trades on a movie set – and he also obliged. He also ended up playing my older brother Tom in the film and in my opinion steals every shot he is in.

A few weeks before the casting call I realized movies require a hair and makeup artist. It is in this area where I was lacking in the friend department. When I came to this realization I scoured Facebook for people posting pictures of hair or makeup jobs they had done. I came across a friend I hadn’t talked too at length for a while – but her work was stunningly brilliant and I knew she would be perfect. I called Dylan and asked him if he thought Stephanie Gagne would help. He replied with something like, “I don’t know, probably, maybe just ask her?”

That’s something else I learned while making this film. Sometimes, if you just ask someone to do something, they will do it. It’s crazy. So I asked her, and she said yes. And through the movie I started talking to her and her fiancé/current husband JR who became a production assistant on IatB and would later become a Producer on the new film we made this year. But more importantly, he is the most passionate and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. Through just asking I added two crazily talented individuals who made the movie that much better as well as two amazing friends. I asked her to be a part of the movie in early 2013. Last weekend Elliot, Marc and I were in their wedding party. The crew/my best friends screamed Africa by Toto on the dance floor at Steph and JRs wedding at the top of our lungs. Twice. I fucking love making movies.

The crew was set. But I still needed to cast 6 characters. 4 women and 2 men. Tavis and Marc filled the two male roles, bringing more talent to them that I could have ever imagined, but we still needed the women. Abigail ran casting like a well-oiled machine, and all I had to do was show up with a script and watch strangers say words that were once only in my head. They each read for two parts – the girl breaking up with Ian in the first scene and the female lead whose name was Emma. I was nervous to say the very least. Without an Emma, we had nothing. Just some pieces of paper that resembled a story.

As the auditions were happening we were finding very good actresses. They were beautiful and talented but they weren’t Emma. I knew Emma. She had been in my head for a year at that point. I knew her favorite book was The Fault in Our Stars and that her dream was to be a dancer. I knew she loved her father but missed her mother every day. I knew she wanted to go on adventures but she believed an adventure alone wasn’t an adventure at all. She wanted someone to make her better than she already was. And that person was Ian.

Casey McDougal was my Emma. She nailed it. From the moment she walked into the audition room until the moment we wrapped, she embodied that character. She made decisions that I didn’t write that made Emma real. When she left the audition I resisted the urge to chase after her and beg her on my knees to take the role. Thankfully she took it anyway, minus the begging. When I watch this film now all I can think is, “That is my Emma. And within every wonderful flaw, every matter of fact smile, and every time she hits Ian out of pure frustration, she was absolute perfection.” I thank the stars every day Casey came into our lives and I think Ian does too.

With that I need to take a moment to thank JD, Grace, Sehee, Samantha, Marc, and Tavis. I am incredibly thankful you all took the time and helped me create something so important to me. The movie is better because all of you were in it.

One more technical note before I go. Movies are made up of pictures and sounds. Sounds are half of the experience. We used most of the money from the Kickstarter campaign to buy microphone equipment that has served us well. Problem was, we never made time to really learn how to use it prior to shooting, so the entire shoot was a long uphill lesson in sound design. Some of the movie was only recorded in mono; some of the movie had the mic pointed the wrong way, etc etc. Sometimes it’s just bad. And I had to come to terms with that. A large reason this film took a year and a half to release is because I hated how it sounded. But with some elbow grease and a few hours of Dylan’s magical editing a year later we made it the best it could be. When you all watch our next film (Zer0s, coming to YouTube October 3rd) you will notice the sound is better. That is because my friends (specifically JohnRob, Marc, and Elliot) took it upon themselves to be better the second time around and they succeeded.

Making this film was an incredible learning experience and by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I never went to film school. I just wanted to make a movie. It was my dream. The thing I thought about late at night while staring at ceilings. And then I somehow tricked my friends into helping me do so. AND THEN I asked for donations to get us off the ground which exceeded my expectations and we were funded within the first two days. It was and still is pure insanity.

This film is not perfect. Not even close. But it’s done. And my friends/crew, family, and Kickstarter backers should be incredibly proud of themselves. You guys helped create something from nothing and to me that’s beautiful. Thank you so very much.

Bill

I met Bill because a Spanish man was furiously masturbating for 8 hours straight 2 feet away from me.

…Yeah.

I had broken my ankle playing dodgeball, or as I was telling people, “I fought a bear. And you should see the bear. But you can’t see the bear. Because he is dead. I fought a bear and murdered him.” I was on a lot of morphine guys, you must understand that. And as a side note I totally get morphine addictions. It’s the best. I could have broken a few more of my bones for fun while on morphine and laughed it off like I just saw a child fall in the supermarket after screaming bloody murder for more Oreos. It was pure hilarity.

I got to the hospital at a brisk 10pm and was told by a scary German doctor that I wouldn’t have surgery until the next morning. So after he massaged my bones around and my girlfriend at the time left for the evening I got wheeled into a room and they told me to go to sleep. What they don’t tell you is that they are going to wake you up every two hours to check your vital signs but they will only give you pain medication every 3 hours or so. So every time those horrible horrible people (they were great but when you’re in pain you say mean things to nice people) woke me up, the nurse and I would just sit there and listen to the man on the other side of the partition really giving it to himself. At first I played it off as normal because that’s what the nurse was doing. She was acting like she was sitting at a coffee shop on a bright sunny afternoon. Maybe everyone does this in the ER? I don’t know. I’ve never been to one. I could be the prude one in this situation. But, just to make sure I wasn’t a straight crazy person, I made sure to mention something to the nurse before she left to restart the countdown of waking me up again in two hours.

“Hey” I said “so, that guy?”

“Oh yeah. I thought you couldn’t hear him. He is here a lot. He doesn’t know any English and tries to scam doctors out of drugs.”

“And…the….”

“Oh right, the masturbating, yeah he does that almost the whole time.”

It was at this point that I realized I was absolutely the crazy person because my response was verbatim, “oh. Well. Alright then.” And then she left. And he stayed. And I tried to sleep to the soothing sounds of what I can only assume we’re two birds of prey fighting for scraps.

The next morning my surgery was scheduled for 10am so they started to give me morphine at 9. It was the best, for the record. A minute or two into that magic erase liquid seeping into my veins like molasses in January my mother walked in. Panicked is the word I’d use for her. And justifiably. Her first born was in the ER. He hadn’t been since he was a baby. I get it. But again, I was on drugs.

There was hugging. And lots of “how’s” and “whys.” To which I slurred back one cohesive word –  “IdunnoMom.” Then the silence hit where she just looked me over in anguish. Then that silence was broken by a Spanish man beating his crotch to a pulp.

“What’s that?” My mom asked.

“A Spanish drug addict jerking himself off,” I replied with a smile on my face and my eyes rolling into the back of my head.

My mom freaked out. She called nurses. She yelled at doctors. She yelled passive aggressively at the Spanish man which did not deter him in the slightest. He was persistent if nothing else.

Hours later my surgery occurred. More drugs. Some new pieces of metal holding my leg together and a lifetime of knowing when it’s going to rain hours before the sky darkens. All great things. When I awoke I was being wheeled into my new room which prompted me to break out into a rousing rendition of “on the road again.” Fun fact: you can scream in jubilation post-surgery and no one will stop you. Give it a hearty try if you get the chance.

When I got back to my NEW room it was 10pm. My mother had gone ballistic for hours which was just long enough for her to convince the hospital to put me in a single room turned into a double with a cloth partition in the center.

When everyone was finally gone I was left alone in a dark room with my ankle pounding and swollen with 2 hours until I could have any more drugs. And I started to cry. As you do when your life is taking a sudden negative turn you didn’t expect and you’re no longer on morphine. A few whimpers in I sniffed loads of mucus in hard (gross, but true) – and during said sniff the television on the wall across from my bed and in the middle of the room turned on. It was on Fox News.

“Bill O’Reilly is a fuckin’ moron.” A low raspy voice rang out into the void of darkness now lit by Bill O’Reilly’s forehead. I opened my eyes and looked over to the blue cloth partition. I had no idea anyone was over on the other side until then. Probably because I wasn’t hearing anyone violently whisper in a language I couldn’t comprehend while flogging his own bishop to no end.

“Ha. Yeah.” I wiped the tears out of my eyes like he could see them.

“I’m Bill. You are?” He asked like he actually wanted to know.

“Ryan.”

“How old are you Ryan?”

“I’m 22. How old are you?”

“Old enough.” Bill pushed his words out with force like if he didn’t sharp shoot them into the world they’d dissipate before he could say them. “What are you doing here? This a vacation for you? Palm Springs or this? Those your options?” Bill was funny.

“I broke my ankle playing dodgeball. Although I’ve been telling people I fought a bear.”

“Yeah I’d stick with that story. The first ones not so great.”

“I caught the ball though! That’s what counts. I got the guy out and held onto the ball through twisting my leg like a pretzel.”

“Yeah, well. Alright then. Still. I’d stick with that bear story of yours twinkle toes.” Bill was really funny.

Bill and I talked for the next 12 hours straight. We covered everything. My College years. His prison years. His Harley collection. My Kia Sorrento. His family. My family. Bill O’Reilly’s stupid face. Favorite kinds of rocks. The best and worst nurses (the tall one my mom yelled at was the worst. She was bad at sponge baths. Scrubbed too hard.) How morphine rocks our socks off. His terminal cancer. Everything.

The chemotherapy didn’t work for Bill. He said it made him sick and he’d “rather be dead than do all that bull shit again.” So that’s what he was going to do. “I got 3 days. Maybe 4.”

I wanted to ask if that scared him. Thankfully I didn’t have too. “Good riddance!” He raised his voice slightly and coughed. It was lung cancer from smoking since he was 13, hence the John Wayne-esque tones coming from his tar ravaged throat. His words, not mine.

We only stopped talking for an hour in the morning when Bill’s entire extended family came to say goodbye. Bill reacted like they were going to too much trouble…like they were trying to pay him for lunch and he was shoving the credit card into the waiters face assuring them that he’s got this. His brother had ridden Bills Harley to the hospital and parked it outside so he could look at it from his window and say one last goodbye. I don’t know why but that’s the part that still makes me cry sometimes.

Bills wife was long gone. The room consisted of Bills brother, a gigantic balding man with a goatee and a riding vest on. His cousin was also there. Also huge. Also bald. Same vest. There were 3 other impressively large guys he called brothers as well but they weren’t and they also had the same vests on. One older woman whom never said aloud who she was to Bill was there as well. She only talked about whiskey. Bill loved whiskey and she just so happened to bring some. And by some I mean a lot. Bill was pleased.

As the family members cycled in and out of the room they would say hi to me when they got to my side of the partition that was still blocking my view. When they’d say hi Bill would yell “that’s Ryan! He fought a bear!” Bill was really very super-d duper funny.

At the end they all cried along with Bill. Through the tears I could hear Bill over and over “y’all are being pussies and it’s wearing off on me.” They’d all laugh quick and then go right back to sobbing openly with each other. When they all left I didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say.

“What do you want to do, Ryan?”

“What?” I was startled by the conservation. Bill wasn’t crying anymore. He was back to spitting his words.

“You’re young. What do you want to do now?”

“Well, I guess I just want my leg to heal.”

“No!” He shouted it. “After that you idiot. You have an after. So. What is it?” I had an after and he didn’t. That’s what he meant. I thought about it quickly.

“I want to be happy.”

“Oh yeah?” You could hear the smile while he talked. “And how you gonna do that?”

“I honestly don’t know.” I honestly didn’t.

“Do you want some advice?”

“Yeah. Please.”

“When you’re really really sad just put your hands up in the air and scream like your life depended on it. It releases endorphins into your brain or whatever. You’ll feel better immediately. Also get a dog that loves you.” There was a few seconds of silence. “And that’s pretty much it.”

“Thanks” I said. You could hear the smile in my voice. “I will.”

My eyes grew heavy from not sleeping the entire evening and I slipped into a deep sleep while watching more Fox News in silence. Two hours later they woke me up and handed me crutches. I was leaving the hospital. I put on regular clothes and stood up for the first time in three days. I lumbered on over to the wheelchair and through the sweat and the pain I got myself into it. The nurse started to push me out.

“Wait!” I said turning around to say goodbye. I was in such a daze of drugs and pain that I’d almost forgotten.

But when I turned he wasn’t there. “Where’s Bill?” I asked the nurse in a panic.

“Oh him? It’s time for his sponge bath so he’s down the hall. I’ll say goodbye for you.” I reluctantly accepted her offer and was wheeled down the hallway.

As I was adjusting in my seat and waiting for the elevator to come I heard some screams from down the hall.

“Ow! Owwww! Woman I’d rather see my ex-wife than you.” His voice echoed through the hallway. “You’re the god damn devil!”

And I smiled. Because I never saw him but I knew him. And he knew me. And I never had to say goodbye. But mostly, because I knew that giant nurse was scrubbing him way too hard and he would hate it if he knew I told all of you about it.

And I miss him.

My Emmy Picks

If I was in charge of giving out the awards of the 66th Emmy’s – this is what it would look like. Bold and black is who I think will win. Bold and Red is who I want to win. If there is just a black name, then it’s both. Ok cool, good conversation.

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Breaking Bad had an amazing last season – House of Cards is a tour de force – and True Detectives is highly overrated in my opinion. Downton is something my mom talks about sometimes and Mad Men is there for kicks. Here’s the scoop guys, Game of Thrones is the best piece of entertainment, tv show or otherwise, that is currently available for our eyes and ears to take in. Breaking Bad might get the nod just because it was the last season, but GoT deserves this. Sons of Anarchy and The Americans should have replaced True Detective and Mad Men on this list as well. 

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

Orange is the New Black is an amazing Dramedy that I’d say leans more towards Drama than comedy, but okay fine sure. I’m glad Veep and Silicon Valley are on this list as well. They are quality television shows that deserve some recognition, especially Silicon Valley that is the new kid on the block with young comedic talent that will shine in the coming years. The Big Bang Theory needs to stop being on this list next to shows like Louie and Modern Family, though. It just isn’t the same caliber, and honestly, it’s not even close. The Mindy Project should be on this list instead of The Big Bang Theory if anyone was wondering. I think Modern Family comes away with another win due to some of the best writing in television history, but Louie or Orange is the New Black could swiper no swipe it away from them with ease. Also on a related note, Rick and Morty is the best comedy on television currently and will most likely never be taken seriously, but I needed to mention it here so that I could, ya know, sleep at night. 

Outstanding Miniseries 
American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

Fargo was super weird and super entertaining and more importantly, it stood up to the monster of a movie it was based on. (That’s a good thing.) The one downside to Fargo was its finale, that seemed lackluster in retrospect. Because of that I won’t be surprised if American Horror Story nabs the win on Emmy night.

Outstanding Television Movie 
Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful

To me this is a two horse race. Sherlock vs. The Normal Heart. Sherlock for its wildly entertaining writing and acting (although the 3rd season of the BBC hit did not live up to the masterpieces season 1 and 2 were), and The Normal Heart for both of those things plus a little extra. It’s heartwrenching and it’s about AIDs. So, in line with most award shows (COUGH that travesty called “12 years a Slave” that should never have beaten “Her”) it has heavy material that attracts award show wins like no other.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

I think Brian Cranston will get a last season of a monster hit show bump with this one. Jeff got his last year, Jon Hamm is on this list as a placeholder (he’s great, but not Spacey great) speaking of – Spacey could absolutely steal this one and if he did I wouldn’t be mad about it. He is wonderful in House of Cards. Woody wouldn’t beat out Mr. Alright Alright Alright from the same show he is on and on that same note Mr. McConaughey’s performance was grasping at Emmy strings from the moment he came on screen. He should not win, but he just might.  Oh, and if James Spader is around he might just Kanye West this shit and take the award for himself for the work he is doing on The Blacklist this year, one of the only bright spots for NBC this last season. 

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lizzie Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

In my world the best performance gets the prize, but this isn’t my world. Lead Actress in a Drama is always a huge toss-up. It’s like they put their faces on a dart board, blindfold themselves and hope for The Good Wife to win. My pick is Kerry Washington in the sickeningly entertaining show Scandal, but who the hell knows in this category. Robin Wright might get the nod because Spacey’s category is so stacked. Julianna Margulies might get the nod because the Emmy’s need to remind people The Good Wife exists. Claire Danes is still on one of the best shows of our entire generation and Lizzie Caplan is finally getting some recognition for something other than her chest. Hopefully they are solid dart players over there at the Emmy’s.

Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luthor
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo

If we’re talking performance alone, Mr. Billy Bob wins this category. But we’re not. I think The Normal Heart is about to have one hell of a night and this award will come right along with it.  

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon

I gotta go see about a girl who should win this category but probably won’t.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

The Emmy’s have a raging hard on for Louie. They use giving him awards as if to say, “Hey look Alt Comedy crowds! We totally get you!” Louie is a writer first and actor second. He shouldn’t be winning these acting awards on acting grounds alone, although he already has. House of Lies needs the bump much more than Louie does and Don Cheadle rocks it in that show as one of the worst characters on television, in a completely loving way.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black 

Orange is the New Black and Taylor Schilling delivered a 2nd season that was better than the first and the main reason was because Taylor was just hands down better this time around. Either way I think they will still pick the safe HBO choice with Lena Dunham, though. This list is also missing Mindy Kaling for the Mindy Project btdubbs. 

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Josh Charles, The Good Wife

I don’t care. I’m not picking Aaron Paul as amazing as he is. He already got one of these. The Dink, for that one scene in the court room, deserves an Emmy for the next 10 years of his life. Give this man a stupid trophy and a box to stand on for his well-deserved acceptance speech. Oh, and one more thing, Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones is left off this list? How in the holy hell is that possible? 

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

Skylar is SO ANNOYING. But anyway…Lena Headey plays a character you love to hate sometimes and hate to hate most of the time and at the end of the day is the real winner because she keeps us watching one of the most reprehensible characters ever created for books or television. Still though, last seasons of shows like Breaking Bad carry a heavy weight that usually comes along with awards to spare. 

Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart

Sherlock, at its core, is a 2 lead show with two gigantic movie stars in the roles that made them this famous. Martin Freeman is fantastic. The Normal Heart doesn’t care though, and will be pillaging this award as well.

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart

They want so badly to give Julia Roberts an Emmy. They want nothing more. But Kathy Bates will straight up hobble them if they don’t give it to the right lady, which, for the record, is her.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep

With Brooklyn 99 snubbed from outstanding comedy series, they gotta give them something while Fred Armisen is one of the most under-appreciated talents of this generation . Also, Ben Schwartz (you might know him as Jean Ralphio) should be on this list for his brilliant work in “House of Lies.”

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Should and I think, will win. Plus she was Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager before she was a Russian lady in Orange is the New Black. Mad props. 

Outstanding Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

You know how many times I’ve had this exact conversation with people: “Ya know, I don’t like Jimmy Fallon but god damn he is killing it.” The answer is, lots of times.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

I don’t care but also if Top Chef doesn’t win nothing else matters.

My Favorite Tree

There’s this one gigantic evergreen tree that stands alone in an open field near my house. It is big and tall enough to be the world’s Christmas tree, I always said to my Mom. I truly envied it. It had all the room it could have wanted to grow. All the space it could have ever asked for to flourish and every bit of sky above it to be rained upon and to gain the light of the sun. This tree had pride.

One day while driving by I saw a crowd gathered in the open field. In the center of them all stood a lowly tree stump protruding with gusto from the ground where the tall evergreen used to stand.

I parked on the side of the road and walked over to the crowd, pushing my way to the front. “Where did my tree go?” I offered up to no one in particular.

An older gentleman with heavy brown boots and weathered corduroy suspenders chirped up, “Someone came in the night and took it.” The crowd murmured tiny notes of agreement.

I dropped to one knee, my pants soaking in the morning dew from the ground. My eyes fixed on the stump. It was like someone grabbed the linchpin out from the machine that ran me. The tree was a part of home. When you get off the highway you pass the poorly painted building, you see that crazy lady yelling at her eight dogs, and you gaze upon the magnificent lonely tree. But not anymore. Someone had taken that from me.

The top of the stump was not a clean cut like it had been sawed off. The bark that remained was angled and sharp like it had been pulled into two by the hand of God.

“That’s not what happened.” A little voice no one could hear but me said out loud. As I turned my head I saw a little black haired girl in a white sun dress with pink flowers all over it holding her father’s hand. Her words had been falling on tall ears. Her other hand was holding on tight to an old book that was practically falling apart.

The little girls gaze met mine momentarily before she looked back at her tree. “What do you think happened?” I kept as quiet as I could to try and keep this a private conversation between the obvious child and the little girl.

“I don’t think anything” the girl scowled at the thought that she was only hypothesizing, “I know where my tree went.”

“Okay. I’ll bite little lady. Where did it go?”

“It left.”

“Left?”

“Yup. It had grown all it could here.” She looked over at me for a moment to see if I got it yet. I didn’t, so she continued to explain. “I used to come to this tree every morning and read it this book about the rain forest. Every time I talked about the number of trees in the rain forest the wind blew and the branches swayed. It was my tree but I knew it wouldn’t be forever. One day it would have to move on. Today is that day.”

My eyes blinked uncontrollably. “Why did it have to go?”

“Because it was looking for friends.” She said as a matter of fact.

“But you read to it every morning. Weren’t you its friend?”

“Yup. But I’m a person. It wanted to go somewhere where the other trees were.”

“Like the rain forest?”

“Yup. Like the rain forest. I guarantee you” Her eyes locked in on mine, stolid and true, “You go to the big rain forest and one tree there will look nothing like the others.” She looked back towards the stump. “He had to go find where he belonged.”

“But doesn’t that make you sad? You lost your tree. The place you used to go every morning to read your book.”

The little girl shook her head. “Nope. I feel just fine. He was never my tree. I was just borrowing him from the ground and this ground was just borrowing him from anywhere else on earth it could ever be.”

“But, aren’t you going to miss it?” The crowd started to disperse and the little girl got pulled by her father in the other direction. When I looked up for an answer she was skipping away. As I gathered myself I realized that on the ground next to me now was the little girl’s tattered book. In a tizzy I picked it up and stood to walk towards the father and the little girl.

“Hey!” I yelled, “You forgot your book!” The father didn’t notice my yelling at all as the little girl turned back, but only slightly.

“That’s okay! I was only borrowing it!” she yelled and smiled before turning back around and continued skipping. I turned back to look at the stump, then down once more at my new book, and held it tight to my chest.

Now when I go home I pass that poorly painted building –

I see that crazy lady yelling at her eight dogs –

And I sit down to read about the rain forest and think about that one tree that doesn’t look the same but is right at home. And so am I.