“This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.” — My Own Private Idaho
Our last few days on the road shooting season 3 of EastSiders were some of our hardest and most rewarding. We took in the Badlands, clambered out onto a precipice in the Black Hills and shot a kissing scene at Mount Rushmore. We got snowed out of Yellowstone by a freak storm that also flung the camper door open so hard that it shattered a windshield. You can actually see the garbage bags we used to keep the rainwater out in a few shots. We ended up getting some beautiful footage in the snow but had to scrap a planned sex scene at Old Faithful. We also had to drive a whole day out of our way around the park, adding Montana to the 16 states we passed through on the trip. The road seemed like it would go on forever, but eventually we landed in Idaho, exhausted. We had no idea that the adventure was really just beginning.
We’d managed to collect a handful of important scenes on the road, but the bulk of the work we had done was gathering establishing shots and b-roll footage for montages. Most of our interior scenes and driving scenes were scheduled for Boise. Well, for half an hour outside of Boise. I’d booked us an Airbnb on a mountaintop that had space for the camper on the grounds, and it looked like it could work for a few different exterior shots as well.
I failed to take note of the fact that the only path to the house was a winding dirt road with no guardrail and no room for cars to pass each other, much less a camper trailer.
John and I stopped at the grocery story to pick up pizza and wine (it was always a race to get to a town before liquor stores closed for the evening, a mistake we made the first night and did not repeat when we saw what it did for morale) and the crew car went ahead to the house. Van called me as soon as they arrived, with panic in his voice.
“I don’t think you should do this — the road’s too steep and there are literally elk everywhere.”
He was right; it was harrowing. We nearly drove off the mountain swerving to avoid the wildlife, but after what seemed like an eternity we made it to the summit alive. I ended up driving that goddamn camper up and down that mountain at least eight times as we shot at different campgrounds over the next two weeks. By the end, I felt like a stunt driver; I could back that goddamn camper up a goddamn hill. And we even got those goddamn elk in a shot.
We originally chose Boise for our shoot because my director of photography had relocated there. There are a lot of different types of terrain in Idaho that we were able to fake for other parts of the country, and Lincoln was able to bring on some local crew and offer some insight into where we should scout. It wasn’t an easy place to shoot, though, largely because of how far removed the house was. And after a rainy night, one of our local crew members got his truck stuck in the mud on the steep driveway going up to the house. The entire cast and crew had to come down and push his car out. I don’t have any idea what we would have done if we hadn’t been able to — there’s no way a tow truck would’ve driven up that mountain.
Idaho’s also an overwhelmingly red state: 59 percent of the population voted for Trump and less than 28 percent voted for Clinton. Most of the people we encountered in Boise were friendly, but we suspect we lost a couple of locations because the show is about a gay couple. Everything was set to move forward at two of the private campgrounds we had scouted … until we disclosed the name of the project. Then communication suddenly ceased with one and the other wrote back that it was no longer allowing filming. It’s hard to believe these kinds of things still happen today, but they do. My home state of Mississippi still has a disgusting “religious freedom” law, House Bill 1523, that effectively allows for anti-LGBT discrimination. We made a decision to start referring to the project by an alternate title, Go West, and when asked about the plot we would say it was about “two friends” on a road trip across the country. We felt a little gross about it, but we were on a tight schedule and couldn’t afford to have any other locations fall through.
We also encountered some surprising sentiments from a crew member from Los Angeles (uncredited, as he parted ways with the production for other reasons), who panicked after sharing a tube of toothpaste with a gay member of the cast and point-blank asked him if he was in danger of getting AIDS from sharing toothpaste.
Like Thom and Cal, by the time we arrived in Idaho we were all ready for long nights of drinking and deep conversations. After a week on the road together, we had run out of frivolous things to say to one another. John and I made large family meals for the crew every night: lasagna, tacos, his Minnesotan family’s chili recipe.
We had a lot of fun times, but if I’m being honest, I was depressed. I had envisioned an exciting adventure, an explosion of creativity and energy, but I felt drained. In the mornings before we shot, I was working on a writing deadline for a pilot I sold and was reviewing footage and mapping out the next day every night after we wrapped, running on less than four hours of sleep many days.
When we finally stopped running around and got to hunker down in the camper-trailer for a few days shooting interiors, I was relieved. Finally, we got to breathe a little and focus on the connection between the characters, the real shit we were doing.
My favorite scene in the entire show is in this episode, where Cal wakes up to find Thom drinking alone late at night. Thom tells Cal an uncomfortable truth — “This is how downward spirals start” — and Cal faces it head on, asking him what he sees when he looks down. They confess their darkest fears for their relationship, laugh and cry together. I’m immensely proud of it, and a lot of people have told me that it’s a meaningful moment for them too.
In that moment, I think we captured the spirit of what making the show has meant for us, both as filmmakers and as a couple. There will always be uncertainty. And we’ll always be scared of it. But we’ll face it together.