If you’ve ever walked into a pitch-dark house, only to have blinding lights turned on to a room full of friends who scream, “SURPRISE!!!”… That is the best way I can described my extreme shock and speechlessness of my siren screeching ambulance ride pitching me left and right as it darted in and out of traffic, my crash-cart rush through the ER as the excruciating knife jabbing pain pulsated in my chest, my gurney’s dream-like sleigh-ride down halls, up elevators, to the final sky-dive landing into the operating room, my left wrist burning like a forest fire. My body lay motionless, my mouth agape, gasping for air, my eyes blinking at what I felt to be warm sunlight streaming sheer white-light from the overhead tungsten halogen lamp illuminating my chest. Faceless blue Angels dressed in scrubs prepped me for my heart surgery. I’m having a fucking heart attack.
I cannot believe this was really happening to me! When the cardiologist doc handed me a form to sign to okay the surgery, I took the pen, made a giant X on the form and said “whatever you have to do… just do it” He whispered, “I can’t use any anesthetic, we have to keep you wake.” I think I said, “Whatever just do it.” I turned to the masked staff in scrubs and said, “Now, all you little people pick a job and do it… chop-chop! The last words I remember…
After day two, lying in bed with tubes in every orifice, all I could think about was The Venice Walk, and getting back to shooting, I had a morphine induced idea for a new scene. In the pilot, Paco, my character, is shot in a in a dope bust gone south. I wanted a hospital scene where Paco is on life-support. How fortuitous, I have a have a location, my actor (me), now all I needed was my camera. I called Bret Hudson, explained the new scene, and asked him to bring a camera (we’ll shoot available light) up to Intensive Care so I can get this additional scene. After stunned silence, Bret informed me I was “a sick fuck” and “deserved to die” if I don’t get well quick and finish the picture before the lease ran out on the equipment rental. Before he hung up, he advised me to ring the nurse for more morphine, and get a good nights rest. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my film, and how I could make it better from my near-death hospital bed. I felt helpless and sorry for myself. My body had let me down at the most important time of my new life.
To use a sports analogy (being a jock at heart) to describe a film project, I see the whole deal as a team effort, with the director as the head coach. He follows and makes adjustments to his game plan, the scri pt. The director is in charge of player personnel; he drafts the very best players to fill the available positions (actors, department heads, and crew). He scouts the locations, options the music, and draws up the plays in order to create the total mise-en- scene, and give his players and the team the best chance of producing a successful project into a winning team (both an artistic and financial victory).
Day three, flat on my back, in the dead of night, the constant beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor recording every breath and heartbeat I took, I prayed, but for=the first time, not for myself but for everyone else. I prayed for all the young actors who told me with exuberance that The Venice Walk as their first break, and who visited me in funeral home silence, wired up like a death row convict ready for electrocution. I prayed for my right hand human, Andrea McDonald, our friendship, confidence and dependence on each other in the heat of the game growing with each successful day shooting. I prayed for my family, who saw The Venice Walk as my comeback project, and who, at that time, once believed in me. Then, I closed my eyes, I just let go, cried tears of pity, tears of rage, tears for my friends and family imagining life with out me.
And after the gut-wrenching sobbing… I took a deep, (at the time I didn’t realize it), life fulfilling breath, exhausted, played out, my mind no longer running scenes from The Venice Walk in my head, my mind finally blank, tabla rasa, a new beginning, I sunk into the hospital bed and surrendered. I for the first time in my self-willed, “my way or the highway” POV, I was desperate and willing for whatever my higher power had in mind for me, be it life or death, I would accept it as his will be done, not mine. It was up to the Head Coach in heaven whether I would ever play again.
On day five, my doctors told me I was making a rather miraculous recovery considering the 7.9 Richter Scale heart attack I had endured, I was released and informed that the bottom tip of my heart had suffered perhaps permanent damage and was effecting the pumping (squeezing action) of blood flow. I had orders to not do anything strenuous for at least four to six months. And to avoid stress at all costs.
On day six after my myocardial infarction, I assembled my cast and crew. I could see the fear and anxiety on their young faces. Hell, I was older than most of their parents, and they probably never knew anyone who almost cacked from a heart attack. Was the production to be postponed, or at best canceled indefinitely? What would become of their break, and getting that cherished first footage of themselves to help get more work and move their careers a little closer to being self-supporting?
First, I let them see I still had my sense of humor. My explanation for having the heart attack was that was on Viagra and had just had sex. However, I reminded them that at the end of the commercial there is a “disclaimer” about the adverse effects of Viagra:” If you have an erection for more than four hours go to the emergency room” Well, I told them after four hours Mr. Helmet was still at attention, so I went to the emergency room to receive immediate medical attention, and started having a three-some with a couple of the young nurses. (Well… at least they laughed)
Production started again on day ten after my heart attack. I believe from the bottom of my damaged heart, The Venice Walk was becoming bigger than my vision. Actors and crew were now owning it, owning their contributions, owning the project. The Venice Walk had taken on a life of it’s own. It gave me back my life. It breathed fresh air into my lungs and pumped the blood for my body when my heart felt weak. The Venice Walk gave me my life back.
As The Venice Walk’s Head Coach, I had the satisfaction of watching the actors execute their parts just the way I drew them up on paper (my scri pt). Everyone played harder knowing that if I could get off a convalescing bed to fulfill my vision and a promise to them that The Venice Walk will be a way we can all be self-supporting and eventually earn a living, they did their part: they showed up, suited up, and scored time and time again with each scene they played. And when the clock ran out, and I looked up at the scoreboard, they were the winners. They made it happened for the coach on the sidelines.
The Venice Walk was no longer about just me, alone staring at a computer screen, sitting in an editing bay, or laboring over what actor would best fill the shoes of a character I’ve drawn up. Today, the locker room is filled with eager young faces. I promised if they followed me, their reward for working for free, donating and dedicated endless hours and days for my vision, I would take them to The Big Show. I would create a job, paying work for them to earn a living doing what they love; acting, editing, and producing, And you know what? I will. If a heart attack can’t stop me, nothing will. Because it’s not “my self-will” be done… its God’s will. I’m just one of many players on the team called The Venice Walk!