It’s dark in the joint – dark and cloudy with smoke – and barely after noon on a Sunday. Church time.
At the bar, the regulars sip their amber-colored drinks, twirling the ice as they chitchat, their fingers V’ed to hold the smokes they’d never be able to suck on in a public place if it weren’t still 1969.
“Hey, when you get a chance,” one drinker beckons the fishnet-stockinged barmaid, “down here!”
So intent are the barflies on their own conversations, they’re unaware that just over their shoulders, two starry-eyed hero worshipers are slurping with the Beat writer Jack Kerouac what might well be their first beers ever.
Unfortunately for them, young Wayne and best buddy Ferg are about to discover that their idol, now no more than a foul-mouthed lush after years of near-anonymity and dissolution, makes a pretty pitiful god.
“We need another pitcher over here!” the grizzled and flannel-clad Kerouac yells, sounding well into his cups.
If Kerouac’s luster is merely an illusion, so, too, is everything else about this scene: the drinks, and the actors who play the barflies, the Kerouac groupies and the flannel-clad writer himself, slouching in the owner’s booth at the Rolling Stone bar on Rosewood Drive.
They’re all as author Deno Trakas of Spartanburg envisioned them when he wrote his short story “Pretty Pitiful God,” being shot this particular Sunday as an entrant in the second annual Expecting Goodness Film Festival sponsored by Hub City Press of Spartanburg.
As Trakas watches paternally behind camera, filmmaker Jeffrey Driggers gesticulates cues and mouths directions.
Driggers’s partner and producer, Drew Baron, takes the messy job of crawling on the wet bar floor so the dolly stays smoothly on track while cinematographer O’Neal Peterson films a track shot of the characters along the bar.
Makeup cases lie strewn at the dark, unfilmed end of the bar, as well as an array of soon-to-be-stale snacks in cello wrap — a far cry from the extravagant spreads of Hollywood film sets.
“It’s really cool,” Trakas says as he watches his short story take life.
A fiction writer and poet, and chair of the English department at Wofford College, on this day, Trakas found it “amazing to watch a film being made.”
“They’re very professional about it. I’m impressed” with the film, the actors chosen for each part and the film’s fidelity to Trakas’s intentions when he wrote his story. Driggers and Baron got it right off the bat, he said.
For his part, Driggers said that “having the opportunity to bring to life such a powerful story as Deno’s really pushes you to give it justice.”
“Over the past few months, we’ve put our heart and soul into capturing the spirit of it.”
Taking a short story set in 1969 presents its own set of challenges.
“From clothing, to locations, to finding someone to fill the large shoes of Jack Kerouac, we prepared for three months to get everything ready for filming. A whole set of people worked tirelessly to bring the story to life.”
Twelve South Carolina authors, all of whom have been published and some of whom have won awards for their short stories, are participants in the Expecting Goodness festival, which will culminate Saturday with public showings of the stories in Spartanburg. Three authors hail from the Midlands: Melinda S. Cotton of West Columbia, and Matthew Fogarty and Susan Levi Wallach of Columbia.
The stories detail family struggles, such as Cotton’s tale of a wise-crackin’ grandmother who routinely frightens the neighbors out of their wits but refuses to relinquish her car keys to her grandson, to Fogarty’s and Wallach’s different takes on the crumbling of love and relationships.
The authors have been paired with “emerging” and experienced filmmakers in order to showcase the best of both that the state has to offer. Filmmakers from the Midlands are Driggers and Baron of Columbia; John Daniel Fisher of Lexington; and Durham Harrison of Chapin.
A few weeks before the “Kerouac” shoot, Harrison and Fisher worked together during the insanely early hours of a Saturday morning, “frumping up” a stunning lake house to shoot “Grammy’s Keys,” Cotton’s short story. The setup and shooting took hours – many, many times the five to 10 minutes their finished product will occupy.
“This is what we love to do,” Harrison said, taking a break from coaching a local actor who couldn’t quite remember his lines or how to keep his face – and not his back – turned toward the camera.
“This is our passion.”
The potential reward for that passion in the Expecting Goodness festival?
A $1,000 award for audience favorite, as well as Golden BUBs — as in HUB-BUB, home to the Showroom festival site — for best film, best actor/actress, best editing, best cinematography and top emerging filmmaker.
Judges are Benjamin Dunlap, Wofford College president; Larry Hembree, Trustus Theatre director; Marjorie Wentworth, South Carolina poet laureate; Peter Wentworth, film producer; and Patrick Whitfill, former HUB-BUB writer-in-residence.