Benjamin Caro

The Moth StorySLAM: Filmmaking with the Homeless

24_THE_MOTH_STORYSLAM

Last year I went to Los Globos in Echo Park with my girlfriend to throw my name into a hat and have the chance at telling a story on stage for The Moth, one of the most widely recognized nationwide storytelling events. I didn’t invite any friends, because although I rehearsed and wrote and planned, there was no guarantee I’d get to do anything other than enjoy some great specials on Red Bull drinks.

We happened to go during Red Bull’s 30 Days in LA (which, incidentally, is starting up again), so the show, while free, was packed. Usually everyone gets a turn. This time, there was twice the turnout of a usual StorySLAM event. So if I did go up, I had an audience.

Look at that crowd. Look at those hipsters light bulbs.

Of course, instead of assuming I would go up, I ordered a price-so-low-that-you-have-to-get-one Red Bull vodka, and immediately regretted it once I downed most of it and my foot nervously pounded the floor like a tiny soft jackhammer. My name was called and as I waited to walk on the stage, suddenly realizing how jittery I felt, I wished I’d been responsible and simply had a few shots of vodka instead.

Just kidding. Nobody wants shots of vodka.

Since your set could only be five minutes, I had been tightly gripping my iPhone all week, using the voice recorder to get the story under that running time. Trim this section, cut that section, figure out what’s important, what’s the beginning/middle/end… It was certainly fun for a writer. I was prepared, but a bit off-base. It seemed that night everybody just wanted to talk about fucking: where they did it, how they did it, whom they did it with. Instead, I was about to talk about time I exploited homeless people.

Good reading the room! Check out the video below. The effects of the Red Bull are obvious.

 

I’ve transcribed the story below for you readers out there:

My first job in LA is on Skid Row. I’m visiting from Boston on an internship. I’m 20 years old, and filmmaking to me is art, and authenticity, and honesty. And I’m so excited because this movie is about a girl who’s run away from home, and she’s living on the road with homeless people.

I don’t really know much about LA, but I’m headed downtown, and suddenly downtown is looking kind of scary a night. And it’s an overnight shoot. I finally get to the set. I’m part of the art department, so I’m going to be setting up the set, all the tents and all the homeless blankets. And I’m also running interference, which means you have to keep people from entering the filmmaking.

I ask a fellow PA. “How do I do this?” And she just says, “If people look too interested, just tell them you’re working on a tampon commercial, and then they’ll lose interest.” So I’m like, “Okay, that sounds not really helpful, but thank you.”

We get to the site and throw the truck against the sidewalk and unload all the tents. The art director says, “Let’s hurry this up, because the longer we’re here, the more we’re in danger.” And I’m like, “What do you… what do you mean?” And she says, “Well, we’re in the worst part of LA. Just so you know!”

And you know, I probably look like I’m 12 years-old-at the time, so I’m kind of scared. I realize all of the homeless people are just around the corner from us, just rows and rows of actual houses and tents and trash bags. And I feel like once they get a whiff of people with wallets around the corner they’re going to just tear us apart like a zombie brigade. And so we’re trying to get things done really quickly because we’re on the front lines. There’s only four of us and the rest of film crew hasn’t shown up yet, so it’s just us and the zombie apocalypse. We’re throwing down the tents, and then one guy comes out, and I’m like, here we go. We’re told to ignore him, and we ignore him. Eventually the art director says, “Get out of here.” And he goes away. And I’m thinking, okay, crisis averted.

The tents we’re setting up are newly bought. They’re like, from Target or something. They don’t look like they’re old, so my job is to take this tank thing and spray it down with water and grit and basically just ruin these tents, and I couldn’t help but notice that just around the corner are real tents and real trash bags and stuff that people are actually living in. And here we are, just ruining this nice new stuff. But I figure it’s for sanitary reasons, so I’m like, okay, whatever.

Another homeless guy comes around and I ignore him, but he’s right behind me as I’m ruining this tent, and he says, “What are you doing?” I start to feel guilty. The art director takes care of him and he leaves, but another one comes, and I’m kind of feeling overwhelmed like the enemy’s at the gates. But then the art director starts talking to this guy, and she’s talking to him like a five year old. She says, “We told you to leave. You’re not supposed to be here. Get out. You’re not listening.” He slowly walks away and I’m thinking, well, we’re actually in his spot. This is where he lives.

When we get done with the tents, she looks at them and says, “I don’t know if this is good or not. I have an idea…”

So I’m spraying, and she brings one of the homeless people back and starts to talk to him like a real person. And I’m thinking, well, that’s nice. But then I hear her say, “Is this realistic? Can you help us? Does this look like a place you would live?” And I’m shocked, and pretty embarrassed. But the guy, to his credit, he’s kind of excited somebody’s talking to him. So he says, “This one looks too formal, this doesn’t look good.” So she says, “Thank you.” She says to us, “Destroy this all.”

So we do. We tear it up, we spray it down and we throw chairs everywhere. But I see the conflict on this guy’s face, because he’s finally being used but he’s just watching us destroy something he could’ve used. And we’re not helping them at all, you know. We’re just using them. At that point I felt nauseous. The rest of the film crew came and I finally felt safe, but I’m wondering whether I should’ve ever felt unsafe in the first place. And I think I realized then that filmmaking in LA wasn’t going to be about truth. It was going to be about making things smooth and contributing to the illusion.

I walk across the street. I sit down and watched the ironies unfold. This guy kind of pops up next to me, out of the blue, out of nowhere, and he says, “Are you guys shooting a movie?” And I’m a filmmaker now, essentially, so I tell him the truth. I look him straight in the face, and I say, “Well, we’re shooting a tampon commercial.”

And he believes me, and he goes back inside, and he loses interest.

 

1 comment
  1. u4fifa twitch says: May 29, 20166:21 pm

    youre really talented.

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