My Rudderless Scene With William H. Macy and Billy Crudup
Through a combination of dumb luck and the most blatant case of type casting in the history of Hollywood – I found myself on April 28, 2013 shooting a movie scene with William H. Macy and Billy Crudup for the film Rudderless.
Now, when I say I was shooting a movie scene, what I mean is that William H. Macy and Billy Crudup were shooting a movie scene. I was sitting on a bar stool in the background lip syncing to one of my songs and pretending to play my guitar. The casting call had been for a middle-aged businessman who wears a suit every day and plays open mic nights. I auditioned, and evidently they decided an actual suit wearing middle-aged businessman who plays open mic nights would do just fine.
Granted, if there was ever anyone who knows how to pretend he knows what to do with a guitar in his hands it’s me, so I had that going for me. Which was nice. I had recorded the song a week earlier in a studio, and when the editing and sound folks were done you’d swear I was actually singing live. Okay, maybe it helped a bit that I’m totally out of focus in the scene.
(Here’s I Don’t Give a Damn in it’s entirety.)
In his infinite directorial genius, Bill (that’s what us Hollywood insiders call Macy) made sure the camera was always focused on Billy, which I guess is understandable since he is technically the star of the film. As a result, in what was supposed to be my big break that would get me discovered, I ended up being a fuzzy human-like figure lurking in the shadows making vaguely guitar like motions. In retrospect, I can understand the artistic decision. After all I’ve seen myself in the mirror.
You’ll only hear the chorus of my song in the movie, but it took about five hours and I don’t know how many takes to shoot my little 20 seconds of out-of-focus fame. Still, the time flew by. My day job has put me in the middle of a variety of video production projects and TV ad shoots over the years, so it wasn’t a totally alien experience. I suppose it was a bit like doing your high school play and then finding yourself stepping onto a Broadway stage.
Macy, who in addition to directing the movie also played the bar owner, was great to work with. My scene involved me finishing my song and then Macy shakes my hand and ushers me off stage. So, for several hours it appeared as if I might actually have an on screen moment with the man himself. But, as the day wore on and we shot take after take the camera stayed with Billy at the bar and my two shot with Bill never materialized. However, if you can take your eyes off of Billy for a second you can sort of see some fuzzy movement in the background as I shake Bill’s hand, so by golly I’m still laying claim to appearing on screen with him.
As luck would have it, mine is a pivotal scene in the movie. Billy Crudup plays Sam, a grieving father who lost his son in a school shooting and is on the fast track to losing himself as a result. Just as he is hitting rock bottom Sam comes across demo recordings of several songs his son had written, and those songs bring Sam an insight into his son’s life that he had never known before. Eventually, playing those songs and working with a young musician provides Sam with the direction he needs to find his own way again.
The first time Sam summons the courage to publicly sing one of the songs, I just happen to be the guy on stage when he walks in the door. It’s the beginning of Sam’s journey back to himself. I would have happily played a ficus standing in the corner to be in that scene.
We live in a time when the world doesn’t seem to know how to respond to unexplainable tragedies. We need a story like Rudderless. Because while the back story involves one of those events that causes so many to resort to blaming and name calling in an effort to explain the unexplainable, the real story transcends that.
This movie is about something that seems in such short supply today – unconditional love. It’s about coming to grips with the fact that while there are many times when we just can’t answer the question “why” we can still choose how we respond.
No doubt, when we react to tragedy, when we try to make sense of that which is absolutely senseless, we will make mistakes. We will often make things worse before we make them better. We will fall and wonder if we will ever get up again. Like Sam, we may find ourselves rudderless.
But, if in our struggles we hang onto our humanity – our capacity to love when loving is all we have – and we are faithful to keeping that love as our North Star – in the end, we just might end up okay.
Yes, Rudderless is all that. But, it’s also a rockin’ good movie about the power of music, and I am so proud to have been so damn lucky to have played just a few seconds of one of my songs in it – to be a part of it in even the smallest way – because music has been so important in my own life. Songwriting has been my rudder for as long as I can remember. It has helped me to navigate all of life’s rough waters and also to celebrate when the sailing is smooth.
I may be out of focus on screen, but you can hear the chorus of I Don’t Give a Damn, and I have a songwriting credit in William H. Macy’s major movie directorial debut about the power of songwriting.
I’m still on cloud nine.