A quick note: I wrote this last Monday, but didn’t get it typed up and sent out. This week, I have different things on my mind. THE MIRROR GAME is — spoiler alert — about a woman who wants to have a baby, but on her terms. This kind of choice is just a different point on the same continuum of reproductive freedom that has now been denied to the women of many states across the country. I can’t pretend I’m not feeling scared, furious, and devalued as a human being as a result of having a huge part of my bodily autonomy outlawed.
That said, I still wanted to share what I wrote last week with you all. It’s all still true. I’m not a pundit; I’m a screenwriter. The movie I made, I hope, makes a statement about one facet of everyday feminism even as it entertains. As a writer, a producer, and whatever else I am, I find it’s often challenging to make art and entertainment from a place of despair. But I’m trying to take on that challenge, and I hope doing so can offer a little sustenance to those who need it.
I’m writing to you from a coffee shop on Hillhurst. It’s not a very long street, Hillhurst — not by LA standards. It’s not one of those famous names — no Sunset, no Santa Monica Blvd. But it is one those streets that you learn, if you live here for a while. You might hear it referenced on an LA-based podcast or an episode of Mr. Mayor. A former roommate of mine used to work at a candy shop on Hillhurst and would (half-) joke that she couldn’t believe she’d never sold candy to the actor Jon Hamm. Purportedly, Jon Hamm is a frequent diner at a restaurant down the street called Little Dom’s. This rumor was confirmed by my friend Katie’s roommate, Shey, who used to work at Little Dom’s. It’s a small world, LA, once you’ve been there for a while.
So small, in fact, that one night a few years back, I met Jon Hamm. And, God help me, I told him about the candy store on Hillhurst, and my expectant roommate.
“Where on Hillhurst?” he asked.
“Next door to the place where you paint your own pottery.”
“Oh, over there by the frame store?”
This past weekend, I was far from Los Feliz1. Planes, trains, and automobiles were all a part of my trek to the capital city of Indiana. Somehow, I’d visited Indianapolis only as a middle schooler (for Science Olympiad tournaments), and never since. Now, here I was, over 20 years later, on duty for my first solo festival appearance, at the Indy Film Fest. I was charmed by the city, or at least the couple square miles of it I saw. My hotel was on Massachusetts Avenue — “Mass Ave” — a street I’d never heard of, but which was obviously important locally, as a convenience store at the Indy airport is named after it.
A mile down the road from the hotel, I found the Kan-Kan Cinema, where THE MIRROR GAME would be screening. I went to watch some short films and scope things out — both things, I’m learning, are pretty standard items on the filmmakers’ festival checklist.
The shorts block opened with two trailers. One was for a film called ANCHORAGE and the other was for our movie — my first time seeing our trailer on the big screen. When the shorts were done and I’d met the programmers, seen the greenroom, and sneaked a peek at our cinema for the evening, I went out to the lobby. My mission was to snap a selfie in front of the step-and-repeat2. As an Elder Millennial, I’m not totally at ease with the spectacle of photographing myself in public; to boot, my hands were full of tote bags. So I asked the pink-haired, glitter-flecked guy who’d just politely stepped out of my way if he’d take my picture.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
It was then that I recognized this guy and his companion; they were the actors from the other trailer I’d seen! So we struck up a conversation — where had we travelled from? For all of us, the answer was Los Angeles, by way of Chicago. The pink haired guy mentioned that his trip down from Chicago involved taking a train from the city to Gary; my parents took that same train to work every day back when I was Science Olympiad age. He told me he’d just learned the adage, “never date a girl from Crown Point,” and I laughed a little too hard. I don’t know much about Crown Point, Indiana, but the specificity of the reference filled me with that same feeling as when I’m talking to someone who knows that the frame store is on Hillhurst is right by the ceramics shop.
My screening that evening was delightful. I got to answer thoughtful, writer-centric questions from an engaged audience. It had felt imperative to attend Indy because my youth in Northwest Indiana made this festival a kind of homecoming. This felt true even though, as I mentioned, I’d barely been to Indianapolis before. The word “Indiana” is spoken by both characters in the movie, and each time it happened during the screening, I felt a little wistful. See, I bought you with me LA! I put you on the screen, if only in this tiny way. During the Q&A I was asked about my connection to the state, and it was with a smile on my face that I proclaimed, to a comprehending crowd, that I was from “The Region.”
After I left the theater, I walked home, kicking rocks along a sidewalk-less stretch of Mass Ave that ran beside a set of train tracks, thinking all the while that, despite its distance from Lake Michigan, its time zone, and its skyline, Indianapolis was more like Porter, Indiana than I’d have guessed.
That night, there was a festival-sponsored party at a place called “Fowling Warehouse.”
“Fowling, like bowling with an ‘f’ as in ‘football’,” I’d been advised, little knowing that, hours later, my Lyft would drop me off at a literal warehouse where guests attempt to knock down bowling pins with footballs while drinking. Minding our heads all the while, I chatted with a few of my fellow filmmakers, including the ANCHORAGE guys. All of us had feature films that were grouped into a category the fest called “American Spectrum3.”
My ears pricked up when their director mentioned that he used to work at Little Dom’s. I asked if he knew my friend Shey. And yes, not only did he know her, but they had been in some movies together.
“I just saw her in a ‘90s-themed production of Twelfth Night at Idle Hour!” I said. I was as confident that my present company would know the barrel-shaped NoHo restaurant as I’d been earlier when I referred to Northwest Indiana as “the Region” to an audience of Indianans.
“Wait, they put on Shakespeare at Idle Hour? The barrel bar??” one of the other filmmakers asked.
I had travelled through three states over dozens of hours to get to that warehouse. I was drinking a beer I’d never heard of next to a sport I didn’t know existed. And yet, I got the distinct impression that it really is such a small world.
The Los Angeles neighborhood near mine that Hillhurst runs through
this is the term of art for that backdrop at events that has the event logo plastered over it, so as to brand photos taken in front of it, selfie or otherwise
It seems worth noting that THE MIRROR GAME won two awards at the Indy Film Fest; one was for best American Spectrum Feature; the other was the Grand Jury Award for best feature. That was nice.