Here Comes My 19th Nervous Breakdown

I’m writing this because I do not live in NYC, LA, Austin, Seattle, or any hub of indie moviemaking. (Actually, LA isn’t really an indie film hub, though I do know a few indie filmmakers that live there.) I live in a part of upstate New York where it’s difficult to find jobs, period, let alone film jobs. Nobody likes a pity party, especially an internet based one, but at this point, I’m not sure what else to do.

Three years ago, I started work on a film I’m still working on. Maybe I was naïve about all this, but I honestly didn’t think it would take this long to make it. For starters, it took me well over a year to write the first draft of the script. During this time, I was laid off from the job that inspired the project, and because those jobs were shipped to the Philippines, my co-workers and I were given Trade Act Funding (TAA). Since I figured this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I decided to enroll in an online program through SUNY Morrisville. Since I already have a four year degree, I signed up for the one-year certificate program. I was hoping that when I finished the program, in 2012, I’d be able to shoot the movie then. May 2012, I finished the program, but no movie.

To compound things, I had to look for a job. I thought that once I had a decent, well-paying job, I could really focus on the movie again. 2013 came around, and my unemployment ran out. In the meantime, though, I did manage to contact a producer I met at SXSW 2012 to write a budget for me and she agreed. She suggested that I whittle it down 120 pages, which I’m still working on.

I attended SXSW 2013 with the help of family and friends. There was more in going down there than it was to stay up here and continue looking for work. With the exception of 2010, I have gone down every year since 2008. Since 2009, I have attended the festival as press on behalf of The Film Panel Notetaker. It wasn’t a terrible festival experience by any means, but it also was more of a letdown than it’s been in the past. I didn’t see all the people I normally see. I hoping to gain more momentum for this project, and came away disappointed. After I got back, though, I did do a little work on the script (namely, whittling it down) with a friend of mine, who, unbeknownst to me, was already becoming very sick.

In May, I caught a bit of a lucky break. A break that I wish had happened ten years ago, five years ago, or maybe even two years ago after I was laid off. The Amazing Spider-man 2 shot some second unit work in downtown Rochester. I got hired on as a Set PA for the final two days of shooting. Spider-man may not be the movie I ultimately aim to make as a filmmaker, but it gave me an opportunity to work on a movie that wasn’t my own, and a chance to see how “The Big Boys” play. I took this with the hopes that maybe I can parlay this experience into doing more work on the production side of things.

The David Byrne and Kathleen Hanna quotes I posted earlier resonated with me. I’m at a point in my life where the hardships are just getting to be plain hard. Kathleen Hanna had a lot more notoriety at my age now (the age I believe when she had that breakdown), but I can identify with feeling like I’ve put in a lot of effort into my passions without having much of a payoff.

For awhile, I began to explore the wine industry as a possible day job. Wine is the big industry here, and I began applying to every winery within fifteen miles of where I live. Earlier this fall, I worked as a harvest volunteer at two wineries. I learned a lot about the local wine industry and met some very nice people. But ultimately, I realized that it was a way of avoiding the inevitable…dealing with the unhappiness of my current situation.

Last month, I attended the Woodstock Film Festival, even though I wasn’t (and still am not) in the best financial situation. As an opportunity to have a respite from my recent problems, it was great. It had its highlights: Seeing Martha Frankel and her Actors’ Dialogue is always a pleasure. I also enjoyed the documentary panel, wherein Judith Helfland gave advice that I wish I had heard five years ago: if you want to work on film, especially if you’re a woman, find work as an editor, or as a soundperson. I don’t know if I care much about editing, but location sound work sounds interesting to me. Or at least operating a boom sounds interesting to me. And I liked all the films I saw. On a certain level, though, it was a bust: other than seeing Frankel, I didn’t see anyone I really knew, or liked to see. I had to drive everywhere, and one night on the way to a party in Kingston, I had a panic attack driving down Route 28. Driving in the dark in the rain on a road I barely know was just too much. I ended up skipping the party entirely, drove back to where I was staying in Saugerties, and called it an early night. One thing this festival DID do for me, though, was that it made me realize that I still want to do film, but that maybe I need to do something different.

At the end of October, I got hired for two jobs at The Outlet Mall, one permanent and one seasonal. Unlike last summer, I don’t miss not working. Yet, I don’t feel like I really belong in customer service anymore. I’ve never particularly enjoyed doing customer service positions. In the past, I could put up with doing them, though, because the payoff was that I could travel to SXSW, NYC, or any other festival and network. I’m not making as much money as I was in the summer, but I feel like I would feel this way if I were making more money in a tasting room. After more than a year of seriously looking for work, the Outlet Mall is the best I can do? Between this and what I have to deal with in terms of my film career, I feel like I’m juggling disappointments.

I don’t want to get out of film, but after nearly six years of going to festivals, giving money to the Kickstarter Campaigns of other filmmakers, as well as working on my own project, it bothers me that my efforts have yet to yield any real payoff. I’ve never been asked to work on anyone’s film, though that doesn’t bother me as much as people not committing to my film. Aside from the producer, I’ve had a couple of prospects, but no one genuinely interested. The one thing in my life that I’m truly passionate about is giving me more pain than pleasure right now, and it’s been that way for awhile. Until very recently, though, I’ve been in denial about it.

What am I not doing? At a panel I attended at SXSW, the panelists talked about that it is helpful to live in a place where you can be plugged in. Craig Zobel talked about living in Athens, GA for awhile after his movie The Great World of Sound came out, and felt like he was not as “plugged in” as he had been. I’ve stuck it out here because of this project (as well as other factors). Now, it’s beginning to feel claustrophobic. Yet, I cannot afford to leave. I desperately want things to start happening on this project, and would like to shoot it sooner rather than later. Having to find a job better suited for me (if not a “dream job”) makes things all the more complicated. Out of fear of being snarked at, I’ve avoided talking about this in the past. But I feel that for as long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve earned the right to complain.


1 hour 30 minutes

Rated R (Language and Sexual Content/Nudity)

Directed by Craig Zobel

Starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, and Bill Camp

4 out of 4 stars


I don’t think I breathed at all the whole time I was watching Compliance. The movie is shocking, disturbing, uncomfortable, and had the audience muttering “Oh my God” under their breath. It takes place in one day in a ChickWich fast-food restaurant in Ohio. The manager of the place, Sandra (Ann Dowd), is a 60s woman who deep down seems really unhappy about her life. She’s dating an unromantic guy named Van (Bill Camp) and doesn’t exactly fit in with her younger employees. On a soon-to-be busy Friday Sandra gets a phone call at the restaurant. It’s a man (Pat Healy) who says he’s an officer from the local police department. He claims that a witness has just come forward and told him that one of the employees, a pretty 19 year old named Becky (Dreama Walker), stole cash from her purse at the counter. Sandra has Becky come in and explains what happened. Becky is totally shocked and says she didn’t steal anything. The cop speaks to her on the phone and tells her that she’s in serious trouble. He tells Sandra that Becky has two options: she could come to the police station and probably spend the night in jail OR Sandra could strip search her right there…

Ok. That’s really weird. Something’s not right. Becky strips to her bra and underwear. Sandra tells the cop that there’s nothing hidden in her clothes. But that’s not enough. The cop tells Sandra “Ok. You need to get Becky to take off her bra and underwear because there’s an easy chance she could be hiding the money in any of those places.” WHAT?! WHAT?!?!?!? Ok, so this isn’t a cop. This is a nasty, disgusting, perverted, sadistic prank caller. The things he has Becky do throughout the film (which I won’t say because I’ll spoil everything) become unspeakable. Basically Compliance is a movie where we have to watch an innocent young woman be tortured for 1.5 hours. You might be thinking “Oh come on. How can Sandra and Becky not realize that there’s something very wrong here?” There are 2 reasons for that. 1: he says he’s a cop, and though he’s not a cop he does an incredible job of sounding authoritative. He tells Becky that there’s a big investigation going on involving her brother, who he’s accused of selling marijuana. This makes Sandra and Becky obey the guy’s orders more. And 2: Sandra and Becky aren’t very intelligent. Does that make the movie too unbelievable? No! There are idiots like these people all over the world!

If you don’t believe a second of the movie then try and remember that it’s inspired by true events. For over ten years in over thirty states there were seventy reported cases like this one. In grocery stores but mostly small fast-food restaurants in rural parts of the US a guy would call the manager, say he was a police officer, and force female employees to strip. The last incident, which is pretty much the basis for the movie, took place at a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky. After 3.5 hours of a female employee being naked and humiliated the manager finally realized that something was wrong. The real cops got involved and finally arrested a man in 2004. The fact that this happened seventy times is just horrible.

Compliance is a powerful drama about the power of authority. It makes us wonder how far we’re willing to go to obey someone that has greater control of us. Authority is necessary in life, but it’s also dangerous. We’re always told to obey the police and the President and judges in court which is fine, but perhaps we do this too much. Writer/director Craig Zobel creates incredibly real dialogue that I can only imagine was as true as the incident in Kentucky. He’s made a small movie, for sure, but a bone-chilling small movie. There’s no overly suspenseful music when the guy is asking Becky to do horrible things. We only hear the dialogue and an occasional grumbling sound effect in the background. I never have to put my hand to my face in shock during movies, unless it’s for a pathetically sick film like The Human Centipede. With Compliance I had to squeeze my eyes in shock and say to myself “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.” I’m sure the audience was with me.

The performances here are incredible. Dowd, in particular, gives her character a subtle secret agenda. She seems to want to obey the guy’s orders but as the movie goes on she realizes that she is being authoritative over Becky, a dream she’s seemed to have wanted for a while because she’s so unpopular at her job. This becomes a story about an unpopular woman getting revenge on a popular girl. Then there’s Walker. MY GOD. To have the guts to be naked for pretty much a whole movie is just audacious. The guy here is played VERY creepily by Pat Healy. We only hear his voice on the phone until ½ way in, when we actually see him. I didn’t like this at first and wanted his character to be a mystery. Yet once we do see what this guy’s life is like it makes the movie fifty times more shocking. For that reason, it’s necessary.

You might have trouble with Compliance. Good. That’s what the movie wants. It wants you to be disturbed because this actually happened. It wants you to think twice about obeying authority. There was controversy when it premiered at Sundance last January because some audience members walked out and thought it was a snuff film. Believe me, THAT’S NOT TRUE. The torture of Walker’s character is not for entertainment purposes. This is the opposite of a snuff film. It’s creepy, excellently-acted, well-written, and will leave you talking about it for hours. It has one of the best endings that I’ve seen all year.