La Marchanta — Day One

It's Halloween night. The kids were out in force on my block. Personally, I kept the lights off. However, I did wander over to Jerry and Becky's place to watch the festivities from their porch. Jerry has managed to rig a pulley system from his porch to the Toland's house across the street. Folks on each porch took turns pulling a suspended ghost from one side of the street to the other in attempts to scare the trick-or-treaters. Amusement in lieu of fear is also allowed during this celebrated night. The Cortez's have their house decked out in spider webs and caution tape and etc. Our street has a very festive air.

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Midnight will usher in November — AKA Novel-Writing month. Only two hours away.


I arrived back in town this morning at 5:30 after three days shooting with artist Anne Wallace on her project entitle La Marchanta. I hit the sheets, exhausted, a bit before seven this morning and slept through till two in the afternoon.

Back on Sunday morning I met the group at Anne's place. She lives about six blocks from me in a lovely, funky clapboard home. Monessa Esquivel answered the door. Up to then I wasn't sure if she really knew who I was, but she smiled and greeted me by name and invited me inside. She was trying on some of the costumes her character would be sporting. Anne came into the room and I was finally able to put a face to the voice — I'd only communicated previously on phone and email. She escorted me into the kitchen and fixed me a cup of cafe con leche. Soon Rick Frederick and Ethel Shipton entered, as good friends do, unannounced and through the back door. Rick was officially listed as Assistant Director. But he was as new to production as Anne, our Director. Neither were completely sure what their roles entailed. (Actually, I should point out that Rick, recently relocated to San Antonio from the midwest (Chicago? Detroit?), is an actor and no stranger to a film set, at least in that capacity. Ethel was to be our still photographer. But, as the three days unfolded, they both would prove to be the hardest working and most crucial members of the crew.

There had been some hold up with the camera folks coming down from Austin. But they finally showed. They all seemed to know one another — most had met while taking film classes as undergraduates at UT. They were kids — at least relative to us of the San Antonio contingent (with exception of the youthful and glamorous Monessa).

Ellie Ann Fenton was our DP. She'd rented or otherwise acquired an Aaton super 16 camera. We also had Mike Simpson, first assistant camera. Homer Leal, second assistant camera (who would meet up with us at our first location). Jesse Haas, streadicam operator (he would also be doing the underwater video footage). Marco Pena, gaffer. Robert Garza, second unit (he'd be shooting video elements that Anne wanted incorporated in with the film footage). We'd also be meeting up with Carlos Pina when we reached our first location. And with me, running audio, it took us to 12.

When all the Austinites arrived, we repacked the cars, and soon we were ready to head out. Five vehicles. Luckily I had my truck. We were hauling so much crap, I don't know how we'd of done it without. Next stop, the Rio Grande Valley.

I drove down with Marco. We managed to meet up with Carlos at an HEB on highway 83. Cell phones have changed the world of film production. I explained where we were headed to, and as a valley boy who knew the area, Carlos took the lead. We followed him back on to the highway. After only a quarter of a mile, Marco said: “There's Jesse.” And it wasn't just Jesse' Jeep, it was Ethel's SUV, Ellie's car, and Rick's car. And I thought we weren't caravanning. But I guess everyone else was. Carlos, in his van, me and Marcos in my truck, eased into the convoy's wake and followed them out to Sullivan City, and took a left, toward the river, toward Mexico.

All of us pulled into an unpaved parkinglot. This was the Ebanos Ferry. The ferry holds three cars and, I suppose, as many people as can stand on it. It's positioned at a bit of an angle on the river, so that when it crosses to Mexico, the current pulls it across (the boat is attached by pulleys to a cable that runs from one country to the other). But on the return trip, they have four men pulling the ferry back across.

Anne had cleared things with Homeland Security. And she went to their kiosk to see if things were okay. Things are never 100 percent okay when men wearing uniforms are involved. But she cleared things up with a single phone call. The guy who owns and operates the crossing was another matter. He was wonderful and accommodating.

Our biggest concern was time. The ferry only ran until mid afternoon. And we had made our start out of San Antonio late. We put ourselves into gear, and tried our best. But every new production is on a fresh learning curve. You're never getting to optimal interactivity as a group until at least the third day. So, as the camera crew were setting up equipment, we had to just stand back and let them do their thing.

There was a point when a key got locked in a car. I'll refrain from saying who did what, but I took a photo of Monessa trying to gain access to the car with the only piece of wire available … unwoven from a barbed wire fence.

I made a comment to Ethel about Monessa's character from “As Filthy as it Gets” (a two-woman show written and performed by Monessa and Annelle Spector where they transform into the self-destructive rockers May Joon & Ann Jewlie, AKA, the Methane Sisters). I said she'd never be stymied by such a problems. She'd either just pick up a rock, or —

Ethel held up her hand.

“Or she'd rip out the underwire from her bra –”

“And,” I said diving in, “in one fluid motion she'd bend a hook on one end and slip the wire through the top of the window and whip it back out. Snap, Unlocked! And she'd lean in and root around the backseat, screaming that some asshole had got in and stole her fucking Jägermeister! At which point Ann Jewlie would walk up and ask wasn't her car red? May Joon would then stand up, nod solemnly — the mistake seeping in — and she'd stuff into her pockets the pack of cigarettes and the pair of sunglasses she'd lifted from the car, and then she'd slam the door with her hip.”


We'd met up with Homer at the Ferry. But we only had a short period to shoot there, so by later afternoon we wrapped and caravanned to Roma where our motel was located. We'd be back the next day to shoot more at the crossing.

Anne checked in for all of us at the motel. Four rooms with two big beds apiece. The rest of us began unloading the vehicles and putting the more precious items inside. We decided to go get dinner. But because we were in a small American border town on a Sunday night, we of course decided to grab a bite in Mexico. We then headed to the international bridge. Ciudad Miguel Alemán is across from Roma. It's much more lively. We found a good restaurant and had them pull three tables together.

Click on the photo below for a larger image of Anne Wallace, our director, enjoying a milanesa plate.

I was happy to be back in Mexico, even if it was a border town and just for dinner.


Well, I see it's about midnight. I need to write a November novel.

More Marchanta later.


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