by Michael Kimber
Michael Lipka looks into the camera and you see the soul leave his eyes.
He is a handsome Patrick Bateman type. What he's watching is me. His party smile dissolves and I'm guessing he's imagining what it'd be like to see me die. Not me exactly. The character I'm playing. Melvin.
"Cut. Good. We got it," says Elias, our director. "Kimber and Eitan, we need you at the bar."
What we are doing is shooting a bar scene inside Get Well. We don't technically have permission so we are doing it quietly. If we do it quietly enough we believe no one will notice it's happening.
It's the very first day of shooting for Just Cuddle. I'm going to be at the bar. I'm going to take a tequila shot with Eitan. And then we're going to high five. The story calls for us to be best friends.
Elias approaches us. He tells us exactly which way we have to turn and describes the actions he wants us to perform.
I notice Dexter, our Director of Photography, subtly hiding his camera and getting us in frame.
I wait for the hand signal that means action. It's not going to come from Elias; it's going to come from Tabitha, our intrepid producer who has hidden herself to the left of us.
I order the shots.
It's real tequila. Call it a production expense.
I notice the portrait of Joseph Stalin on the wall. I wonder what he would think of Just Cuddle.
I catch Tabitha's eyes. She mouths, "Get ready."
Let's go back a few months. Our group's table is located about twenty feet from my bar stool. April 11, 2015. My thirty-first birthday.
Listen carefully to the sounds of people playing arcade games. Our producer Tabitha is stealing chairs from different tables so we can all have a place to sit. She is always very quietly making sure anything is possible. In this case, sitting.
Seated next to me is Elias. In the last few months he has become my writing partner and best friend. We are born four years and six days apart. This is also his birthday party. Our birthday dinner was a mixed bag. Tiny portions from Rock Lobster and perfect dessert from Salt Wine Bar. "The churros were fucking fantastic," Elias exclaims.
Out first writing project together was a murder mystery called Typo that we made with our super talented mutual friend, Tom Pepper. Within three weeks, we came up with an outline for the series and created a trailer. We pitched it to the Independent Production Fund (IPF) as a web series. This all came together, in large part, because of our producing ninja, Tabitha. We were all incredibly proud of the trailer even though we didn't make the second round of the competition. Elias' response to this rejection was fairly typical: He said we weren't going to give up on it. He is a rock like this for anyone lucky enough to call him a friend. And since then, we've developed it into a one hour drama that we're really excited about.
The sound of the shot glasses being laid down on the table.
I look up and see that it's Winter. Two weeks prior, Elias and I went to her improv class performance. As I was admiring her delivery and the way she commanded attention on stage, Winter was plotting to drag me from the audience to compete in an improv game. She's a dick sometimes.
"Shots bitches," she intones solemnly.
We all take one. We raise them like a prayer and enjoy the second before your lips twist, your throat burns and your eyes water.
"Now," she says.
We each take the shot like little children jumping off a diving board into uncharted territory.
And suddenly, I'm in my happy place - where there is the slightest remove between the words that occur in my head and the ones that are said out loud. There's this warm buzzing in my skull like my brain just became a Jacuzzi. I realize how much I like these people.
"Is this why they call it shit faced?" Winter asks. "Because after you drink this it looks like you ate shit?"
Yes. I LOVE these people: The way Tabitha is telling a story; the way Elias is listening to her story, like he's totally unaware the rest of the world exists; the little quirk in Winter's lips as she tells a joke.
Suddenly, some words occur in my head.
"We should make something together."
No one heard me. Be loud. Be very fucking loud.
"This year we should make a film or something with all of us together."
There's maybe a second before people respond.
That was our version of a blood oath. There would be no looking back. We would make something.
I get the signal.
I take the shot.
I turn and high-five Eitan. It's a miracle. It's friendship. I hug him.
I get a memory of that night we made our tequila oath. My head is lit with the same shimmering lights, in the same bar where the magic began with a superstitious act of resonant faith.
It began here. With a group of people who once they made a drunken promise wouldn't look back. Nothing could stop us. To make this work we would have to keep doing this. Putting magic moments from our lives into our productions.
Oh yeah. they're still filming.
I think I'm supposed to do a speech here. One that no one will ever hear.
"Motherfucker!" I proclaim. Eitan's eyes widen. He isn't actually one of my best friends. I just met him. If he was, he wouldn't have expected this. I can't make him cry. We're shooting that scene on Sunday. "You are like Simba and I'm Timon and Pumba combined. Because I have a skinny, hyperactive personality and I'm a little pudgy right now. No worries for the rest of your days. We will kill whoever killed your father. We'll find that fuck and we'll kill him. Even if it's your uncle. Don't worry."
Eitan nods enthusiastically. Maybe tequila makes him a good listener. Maybe he's a little scared.
"We will take back the kingdom. Circle of life. It's go time, baby Simba. Go time. This is our time."
Elias has a habit of saying "cut" late. Oh yeah. He can't say cut right now. I break eye contact with Eitan. I look back.
He is laughing. Uncontrollably.
And that's it.
A shot of tequila. A few moments. A friendship that lives forever in the imagination of everyone who watches the series. Welcome to the world of Just Cuddle.