(EXCERPT from I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames…(my recently finished humor memoir dealing with my family and my autistic kids.)
Before Mom and I started getting professionals to bring our scripts to the screen, we played every role, including actors. Years before that, we tortured our family members by putting a camera in their faces every time one of them turned around. At some point they became used to it, and the whole family got involved. Freud would probably have something to say about the fact that in every story, one of us is either mentally or physically tormenting the other.
My filming obsession might require a twelve step program at some point. But for now, those in my sphere will just have to deal with it.
One year, we planned a birthday celebration for Nanna and decided to kill two birds with one stone; scripting an idea for a short film that ended up requiring a bit of improvising.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, not much is sacred in my family.
Nothin’ says lovin’ like being made the butt of a deliciously inappropriate joke for their birthday, then having it posted to one of the most visited social-networking-slash-video-sharing sites on the internet.
Nanna was seventy-nine at the time, and in retrospect, we could have given her a heart attack. But that’s not what we were thinking about when we called the funeral home and inquired about purchasing a cremation urn identical to the one that housed my grandfather’s ashes.
After a nice birthday celebration and the distribution of presents, my mother, sister and I hid in the upstairs bathroom with the urn stand-in and hatched our plan. Aunt JoAnn wasn’t in on the scheme, and it might have been a good idea to clue her in.
Mom put the wooden box into a small duffel bag and set it at the end of her dock by the lake. We lured Nanna outside and Resi held her hand, just in case she got too close to the side. We didn’t want her going into the water since she can’t swim; killing Nanna on her seventy-ninth birthday wasn’t the plan.
Giving her ticker a little jolt was.
My step-father took me out on the water in a small, aluminum boat so I had a front row seat from which to film.
As Resi pretended to show Nanna a turtle in the water, Mom snuck around, removed the box from the duffel bag and prepared to toss it into the lake. Okay, so here’s where the ‘short film’ portion of our little escapade went south. Mom chucked the box; it landed a mere three feet away from the dock and bobbed in the water.
Nobody said anything for a long time, awaiting Nanna’s response.
“That’s not your father,” she said, rolling her eyes.
JoAnn, however, was a bit more gullible. There was a fair amount of yelling. This, set against the backdrop of me laughing from the boat as the camera jerked around, ensuring anyone viewing the video footage later would need a Dramamine or two.
Kind of like The Blair Witch Project.
Nanna yelled at Mom for making JoAnn upset, while Resi and I waited for the right time to spill the beans. Of course, we let the camera roll for a while first.
“Okay, now go get the God damned box!” Nanna yelled.
The script flopped, but we were bound and determined to get it right, so after fessing up, Nanna and JoAnn decided to play along. I came in off the boat, found another angle and we prepared for take two.
We’d use the footage from the beginning of the scene, up to the yelling, and then we’d improvise, adding more conflict.
All good stories need conflict.
Resi decided it would be funny if someone actually went into the water, and the rest of us decided she should be that person.
JoAnn pushed past Resi and Nanna, tried to get the box away from Mom, and in the process my sister ended up in the water. It didn’t occur to me until after Resi had joined the box in the murky lake that it was full of snakes and alligators.
For those of you interested in the behind-the-scenes lead up to the previous video, here you go!
Nanna's YouTube Page: