Day 18: From Clinton to Memphis

On Thursday, July 25, we woke up in Clinton, OK, and set off on our final big push, driving more than eight hours to Memphis, TN, where we were scheduled for a long night of filming. It was a routine we’d repeated for three weeks now—wake up, drive, shoot, sleep—but knowing this was the last time, there was a strange charge in the air. Were we really going to pull this off? Would we really stick the landing?

Having visited Memphis a few times before, I knew for certain that we needed to film on Beale Street. Beale is one of the most classically American locations I’ve ever seen, a long strip of neon and blues and BBQ and joy that feels as infectious in midday as it does late at night.

But Beale Street is something like a Southern Times Square, and when we reached out to the Memphis Police Department to secure permission to film in the area that evening, they told us there was one condition: we needed a police escort.

I was concerned by the idea. It would be a hassle coordinating with the department, and our shoot was such a well-oiled machine that any new element could totally upend the equilibrium. Was it worth it?

But when we arrived in Memphis that night and connected with our assigned officer, it was instantly clear that this extra step was more than worth it. For one thing, he was a kind, enthusiastic partner for the evening’s activities. For another…we needed him.

Even on a Thursday night, Beale Street was rowdy. All we needed was for Ryan to walk down the street, doing what came naturally—ordering a soda at a window, applauding a street performer—but even with our small, discrete camera crew, people made a big deal of us. For the first time since uptown Chicago on our first day of production, we were filming in a busy area. But while it’s one thing to shoot an actor while everyone hurries to work, it’s another thing entirely to shoot an actor while everyone gets comfortably tipsy at the end of the day. So people wanted to follow us, ask us questions, ask if Ryan was famous, ask if this was a reality show or something. And, thank goodness, we didn’t have to worry about it. Because we had our cop.

But even more than our time on Beale Street, we needed him when we moved on to our second location. To close out our penultimate night of filming, we needed an out-of-the-way alley to grab a couple of shots, and the Tennessee Film Commission had helped us identify the perfect spot. Filming at an out-of-the-way alley late at night, though, is a pretty vulnerable activity when you have tons of fancy equipment and no idea who might be just beyond the streetlight’s glow. And having a police cruiser at the end of that alley let us do our work comfortably free of distraction. And on top of it all, our officer was happy to transport us between our locations across the city, giving me my first look at what the back of a police cruiser is like (answer: pretty awful).

It was a simple, straightforward night’s work, an almost anticlimactic way to transition into our final day. But, alongside our officer’s work as our liaison, he did agree to take a photo of the team (minus Kelsey, unfortunately). We’d started this wild journey three weeks earlier as a bunch of North American misfits. Now, we were about to end it as comrades, bonded by the strange intensity of shooting an independent film across thousands of miles, with almost no privacy or personal space. But when we threw our arms around each other and grinned, we weren’t forcing a thing. You can’t fake that kind of camaraderie. You earn it.