Tired of the monopoly women seem to have staked out on chronicling their bad dating experiences, a while back I wrote about my truly awful, massively disappointing, unintentionally funny post-divorce search for love in New York City in the Huffington Post here and here. Retelling my tales of woe helped me to put them behind me, and I was able to find all of the humor that had escaped me at the time.
Much to my surprise, my dating life proved entertaining and the posts went viral. Readers, it appeared, wanted to know that a guy could have it as bad a woman could. But that, I thought, would be that.
A few days after part two posted and while I was writing a book about my experience, I got a phone call from a Los Angeles-based commercial producer named Lance O'Connor. I knew Lance casually through his brother, a very good friend. "Hey, Robert, I love this," Lance said. "Let's make a short film out of it."
I had written on some sitcoms, and sold, re-written, or ghostwritten a number of screenplays. But the idea of a film of mine actually being made, even a short, was enticing. Lance brought in Sam O'Hare, a talented commercial director/VFX artist he represented who was itching to do his first narrative project. He brought in a terrific cinematographer named Pergrin Jung to shoot the film. And Lance had the money to produce the piece, so we wouldn't have to do the usual begging. In a matter of days, we had a story, a writer, a producer, a director, and a DP.
Immediately I began to adapt the two-part blog post. All of my dating experiences were real and thematically unified. But real-life stories can often be deadly onscreen, and so I was cognizant of the fact I was creating a story from my life. I suggested an on screen map that would show the increasing distance from my apartment I was forced to travel for my dates, and I attempted to make the comedy of my plight translate visually while trying to keep a quick/fun pace throughout the script. We were to shoot in our Brooklyn neighborhood on the very same streets where I had been so miserably lovelorn, and in the fall, when Woody Allen used to make his movies.
Then it suddenly hit me -- someone was going to be playing me. And someone else would be playing the girl who I wound up with: Evin. This was going to be weird.
As we got closer to the production date, I sent a draft to a film director I knew who suggested an actor he knew named Adam Busch to play me. Adam had loads going for him: he worked all the time, was terrific in everything he had been in, he had even directed a feature of his own. And, in the added bonus department, he was a little younger and considerably better looking.
I sent Adam the 25-page script and, over the few days while I waited for his response, I panicked. What if he doesn't like it? What if he doesn't relate to it? What if I'm forced to accept whoever the producers chose to play me? Very rarely does the writer of a film, even if he's the subject of it, have any power over who is cast. Two days later, Adam called and said, "Yes." He happened to be in New York the following week, so we met. He told me he had just ended a long relationship and was suitably miserable. He was perfect for it!
But the producers, no doubt, wanted to keep their options open. Maybe they were worried I was too close to the character and was being proprietary about my life, but I just felt Adam understood the character and would make it his own. After I turned in another draft, they invited Adam to read for the role, something I told him was just a formality, though I wasn't really sure that was the case. The director and I watched him read a few key scenes over Skype and it was immediately apparent how great he would be. After the audition, they were sold, and officially offered him the role.
As the production date neared, we had a script, we had a cast, we had locations all around the city. We even had Evin, who works in the lighting department of movies and shows like Girls, agree to help light the movie.
Over the course of the nine-day shoot, Adam and I drove to the set every day talking about dating, love, friendship, show business, and our lives. On the set, we used a shorthand we had created to play with the script improving on lines that were once funny when I wrote them in my apartment but which now weren't when we shot it at a food truck on the corner of 24th and Broadway two months later. Near the end of the film, when Adam delivers a monologue about how all that dating had pretty much convinced him he would never find love, it was like I was watching myself.
On the last day of production, Natalie Kuhn, the actress who would play Evin, arrived on set. We shot the scene where Fictional Evin meets Fictional Robert as Real-Life Evin and Real-Life Robert stood twenty feet away. The entire thing was an out-of-body experience--watching ourselves meet. Nine shooting days, twelve dates, and a crew of a few dozen later, we wrapped one of the most glorious experiences of my personal and professional life. The entire undertaking was a dream come true.
And now, the short film is finished, long for a short at 24 minutes -- more like a comedy pilot with an ending. Adam is now starring in the second season of TBS' Men at Work. Evin is returning to work on the third season of Girls while she plans our summer wedding here in New York. And I'm blogging regularly about our wedding plans from the groom's POV for The Knot under the name "A Groom With A View" as I deal with all of the stress that comes from getting married and planning a wedding. But what I realize now is that dating and finding Evin wasn't the end of the story. It's really only the beginning of more stories and more experiences I feel others can relate to.