The true story of “Defenders of the Convoy” – The Days of No Shame
At sixteen I drafted every single one of my friends to act in my new movie, dramatically titled “Defenders of the Convoy”. My teenage productions were never inspired by emotions, messages, themes or content; they were merely the products of the practical resources at hand. That summer I’d received a small video camera which could shoot in sepia. I’d also spotted a particularly large and barren sandy lot from the window of a bus, which upon inspection proved convincing enough as an endless desert if shot carefully from the right angles. A random collection of cowboy music, Purim cowboy hats, younger brothers’ toy guns and grunge-era plaid shirts sealed the deal: we were making a western.
It was my biggest production yet, involving transportation, catering and make-up for the first time, and it took up every day of my vacation. The hardest scenes called for the presence of the entire cast of twelve, none of whom were as devoted to the movie as I was. I spent as much time wrangling in my wandering friends and quieting everyone down before a take as I did actually making the movie. At times they became bitter, especially when the thick, long sleeved shirts and the fake facial hair became unbearable under the beating sun. For the most part they all had fun and were laughing throughout the day.
I shot and directed my friends from a skeletal script I’d written that contained scene summaries of no more than a sentence or two. There were no real action descriptions and absolutely no text was written for any of the characters; all dialogue was dictated on the spot or improvised heavy with private jokes, and some of the action was accidental as well. It was a bold exercise in experimental filmmaking, and I grew more excited about it with every passing day. I’d close my eyes and see it all on a big screen, exploding onto an avid audience and elevating me out of my unpopular highschool existence.
The production itself broke down to fourteen shooting days. By the thirteenth day, which was the final one featuring the entire cast, exhaustion had set in and the takes dragged on. I decided to allow a break for water and rest in the shade. As the convoy of actors trekked towards the only tree on the lot, one of them wondered aloud who was going to see this movie when it was done. Another one worried, “I think he wants to show it to the entire school”. This stopped them in their tracks.
My friends turned to me, shocked and concerned, and exclaimed “You can’t show this to anyone!” Though I was usually prone to opening my big mouth and leaping blindly into any argument, at that moment I stood still and remained silent; awkward and surprised. They argued around me as I scrambled to understand what was going on. What had they thought? What had made them assume we were making a movie that was meant to be seen by no one? Meanwhile the cast was quitting on me. Fake beards were ripped off, cowboy hats and toy guns discarded.
“This is ridiculous,” one said.
Another said “It’s embarrassing.”
“I never would have done this if I thought someone was going to see it.”
“I only came ‘cause I was bored and everybody else was here.”
“There are no girls in this movie. It’s humiliating.”
“We can’t show this to people at school, everybody will laugh at us.”
It never turned into an argument or a fight because I never said a word. They were sixteen years old, they had girls and sex and popularity on their minds and they were painfully ashamed to be seen running around a vacant lot dressed as cowboys. They’d grown up faster than I had and had learned to be embarrassed years before I had. They picked up the props and left. I stayed put. They felt bad for me, and on their way down the hill turned and said “You should find some other actors. Reshoot your movie.” I bit my lips. There were no other actors. There was no movie.
I left the site of my betrayal twenty minutes after my cast abandoned me there. We were all headed in the same direction but I couldn’t bear to face them. I found the bus stop empty and rode alone in the back of the bus. I’d been careless and had gotten sunburned, my face had a heartbeat of its own in each cheek and my eyes stung. All I wanted was to sleep.
When I got home one of my friends called me. He asked, what are you going to do now? I said, nothing. He said, you have to go on with your movie. You have to finish it. “How can I?” My voice wavered. I hadn’t learned yet to be embarrassed by my amateur endeavors, but I knew well enough to feel scared and ashamed of crying. He said “If you give up on this movie now, it will be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in your life.” I said nothing, afraid of opening my mouth to a whiny, tear choked response.
I lived alone with my failure for a few days. The limbo was good to me. My friends forgot all about the movie. They had only been along for the ride, and now that the ride was over and done with it freed up their days so they could make the most out of the remainder of their vacation. I maintained my silence until I was sure my voice had steadied. I swallowed my pride, called them up, timidly asked them to come back and agreed upfront to all their demands. They returned to the location happily and never rubbed my nose in it. We resumed shooting and completed the movie under that one condition: that no one would ever see it.
I spent two months editing the footage together into an incoherent jumble which we all found highly entertaining as nostalgia, as friends looking back on silly old times. I loved every minute of it. I never critiqued my own movies at that age; I was proud of my creations. Embarrassingly proud. My chest ached because I could not show the movie to anyone.
The tape was shelved. Later it was lost, inadvertently assuring that I would stay true to my word indefinitely and never allow it to be seen. It was the only movie of mine that I’d ever lost. I still had a tape with scattered scenes from my first project, shot when I was eleven years old, but “Defenders of the Convoy” was gone, along with the days of no shame. It was a matter of a couple of years before shame would suck all the joy and pride out of any exposure on my part. During those years before all was lost I wore that tape down with countless repeated viewings. Towards the end it got so bad at certain points that I could barely see a thing.