by JIM KNIPFEL
November 16, 2014
It was a two-vehicle operation. Brandon, the star of the film, usually drove what came to be dubbed The Murder Van— the dirty white windowless van full of trash, fake money, fake guns, a litter box, a cat carrier, and a cooler containing some food and plenty of beer for when we stopped at night, whenever and wherever the hell that might be. Sometimes if we were filming he had Gates the cameraman with him, and sometimes if we were making a jump to the next stop or the next location, Erik or Brad or I would ride in the passenger seat. It was what you’d call a no-frills van, but it did what it was asked to do.
The van either followed or was followed by a rented sedan which carried the remaining equipment, luggage, and whoever wasn’t in the van. Depending on the situation, one or both vehicles were covered with small Go Pro cameras to capture the passing environs. Along the way we talked about the film, what had happened and what was coming, other movies (Stroszek, Badlands, Night of the Hunter, The Wizard of Oz, and Legend of Boggy Creek in particular, and Werner Herzog in general), made bad jokes (which got worse but somehow funnier as the sleep deprivation slowly crept up on us), sang bad songs, and played dumb car games to pass the time during drives that rolled on for hours.
After a series of increasingly nervous texts from the owners of the Airbnb apartment where we’d be crashing that night, we pulled into Savannah around midnight. Despite the dread and fear that plagued me before leaving Brooklyn, the sub-primitive conditions I’d been expecting, we remained comfortable, well-fed, and occasionally even bathed over the course of the week, so there goes that end of the story. These apartment rentals were more expensive than having the five of us sleep in the car and the van along the side of the road (no room anyway with all the trash and equipment), but a helluva lot cheaper than a motel. In Savannah we were put up on the second floor of a mid-Nineteenth century wood frame house with three bedrooms and all the amenities, including the occasional ghost. It was there, as he stayed up until three copying and backing up everything we’d shot earlier in the day, that Erik came to discover we all snored like animals. Maybe it was for the best we weren’t in the van.
Shortly after sunrise we each grabbed a couple of cups of coffee and headed out into a warm Georgia morning to see what an almost artificially quaint and lovely town Savannah was, with a mix of Eighteenth and Nineteenth century Southern Gothic homes and trees heavy with Spanish moss.
Although there were no specific scenes in the script featuring Savannah, Erik and Brad didn’t want to pass up the free production values, so they got the cameras hooked up and began trolling around the streets as Gates pulled himself out the passenger window of the trailing rental car, settling his ass on the door and balancing his camera on the roof to get the shots he wanted. This made Erik, who was driving, a little nervous, both about his cameraman’s personal safety and the interest such a move might draw from the local police. But like Gates always said, just do what you want until someone tells you to stop, and in this case no one told us to stop and Gates didn’t die.
We pulled over to the curb near a blindingly picturesque park, and while Erik, Brad and Brandon came up with an ad hoc sequence to shoot, Gates spied a bar across the street with an open door.
“Wanna grab a beer?” he asked. It was about nine a.m.
As we were heading across the street, he realized his wallet was missing. His general ensemble had been described to me as “fashionable homeless man,” and yeah, his back pocket sported a massive hole. It seemed likely the wallet had fallen out as he was hanging from the passenger window. Oddly, this turn of events didn’t seem to bother him much. It meant he’d have to replace all his cards, but somehow I got the sense he’d been through that routine before.
Well, it turned out the bigger problem was the bar didn’t start serving until eleven. Instead of returning to the others to find out what was happening next, we went looking for another bar.
We never found a bar, but Gates did describe Savannah to me in unexpectedly poetic detail. As we walked, tourist bus after tourist bus passed us by, all of them filled with senior citizens and a guide describing all the locations that had been used in other films. (There were really too many tourist buses to make any sense that early on a Monday morning, which left me thinking it was just one tourist bus that kept circling and circling that same block.)
“Here’s the headquarters of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee,” Gates read off a building as we passed. “Looks like they have the whole building here. Even have a countdown clock outside.” He told me how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds remained until the next parade, which is apparently a mighty big deal in Savannah. Next door to that was the headquarters of the Knights of the Confederacy, which also had its own building.
Beerless but enlightened, we returned to the park and met up with the other three. They had a plan involving what turned out to be (according to a passing tour bus) the oldest operating movie theater in the country. It also turned out the park itself was where the opening scene of Forrest Gump was filmed, though the park bench had since been moved into a museum.
They sat me down on another, less famous bench and ran off to steal some more shots of Brandon screeching around the park in the van and leaping out in front of the theater. As I waited for someone to sit down next to me and start telling a long, ponderous story, another tour bus passed and paused in front of the movie theater. A man in a white suit bounded out of the theater and onto the bus.
“Hi!” he shouted to the trapped and elderly audience. “Ah’m Forrest Gump! People call me Forrest Gump! You mighta seen the movie they made about mah life. Well, part of that movie was filmed right heyah in this park!”
The spiel went on for about a minute, then he bounded back off the bus and into the theater. Poor man. If he wasn’t animatronic I bet he went home every night, drank too much, beat his wife and kids, and cried himself to sleep.
As I sat and waited and hoped they were able to film that guy, I was able to experience the routine another five times. That’s when I began wondering what the suicide rate must be among Forrest Gump impersonators.
Before I got my answer (kinda hoping he’d blow his brains out right there on the sidewalk), the Noogie crew wrapped another permitless scene, as Gates and Brandon debated the questionable cinematic values of Forrest Gump. Brandon couldn’t tolerate the anti-anti-authoritarian tone, while Gates thought it was the Greatest Film Ever Made, and proved this by reciting nearly the entire script. (It was a little frightening, actually.)
Before the debate was completely settled, we all piled into the van and trail car, returned to the house to pack up and clear out, found Gates’ wallet next to the toilet, and headed north toward the Murder Cabin, but not before another stop at Waffle House.
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