Days 16 & 17: From Phoenix to Clinton

After five days in Arizona, shooting what amounted to about a third of the film—and a pretty intense, dramatic third at that—we loaded up on Tuesday morning for a West of Her first: today, we would just drive. We didn’t have time to do anything else.

We drove over ten hours that day, covering three states—from Arizona, we crossed all of New Mexico, and then passed into Texas, stopping for the night in Amarillo. There are days towards the end of any long car trip when you start to go a little crazy, when every minute seems to take an hour and every hour seems to take a year. You’ll realize you’ve been driving six hours and you’re still only halfway there, so you'll try to laugh and not grind your fingernails into your palms. This was that kind of day. My main memory is of driving the RV down an empty highway long after dark, listening to the crew watch There Will Be Blood and then Beasts of the Southern Wild on a computer just behind my head. Thank goodness those were movies I’d seen so many times that I could enjoy them without the imagery.

The next day, we were burned out and ragged, so it was a good thing that after a nice breakfast at Waffle House, we had only about three hours to drive before landing in Clinton, OK, where we planned to shoot a little bit of Oklahoman magic hour.

Up to this point, I’d kept quite a lot of distance between myself and the actors. I had made sure I never shared a room with Ryan, and I had made sure I never socialized with him and Kelsey outside of larger group settings. I’d decided early on that it was really important I keep my relationship with them professional, and as a result, after almost 20 days I barely knew this guy I’d been working so closely with.

But now we were in the home stretch, so for the three-hour drive between Amarillo and Clinton, I decided to ride with Ryan in the picture car, taking the seat Kelsey had occupied until now. As we got on the road, Ryan turned on the SiriusXM to E Street Radio, the station devoted to Bruce Springsteen. He’d been listening to this station all the way across the country, he told me, and I was struck. Springsteen is my favorite musician—and all this time I’d been traveling with someone who knew the Boss as well as I did, if not better? And as we drove and talked about Bruce, the conversation turned to Stephen King—now it turned out Ryan knew one of my favorite writers as well as I did, if not better?

That short drive ended up being one of my favorite stretches of the trip. As we left the desert behind and got back to the plains, I cursed myself for keeping as tight a grip as I had on my precious professional distance. Of course there’s something to be said for staying professional with the people you hire, but I’d put up much too high a wall, and it had kept me from realizing that I was traveling and working with someone I liked a whole Hell of a lot.

Our time in Oklahoma was idyllic. We had a vague shot list, but Cam and I pretty much followed our muse. Like our shoot at the Kayenta restaurant, we turned a bright hotel room into a sunset-drenched one. Then we took the camera on a drive and happened upon a herd of cows, using them for some classic unrepeatable moments. And while we’d tended to split off into smaller groups for dinner, that night we all went to a small restaurant where we ate steak and drank beer and watched the sun set across the Oklahoma grasslands.

Back at the motel, we shot another quick scene before calling it a night, and as we finished, Cam sat with the camera, reviewing his footage. Quietly, to nobody in particular, he said in a sing-song voice, “I like making movies.”

It had been a long, tough road, and there had quite a lot of hard days, but now, with the finish line in sight, I could pretty happily say the same:

I like making movies.