Back in 1996, I worked in a video shop.
Loads of people who want to make movies end up working in video shops and cinemas, for at least a while, whilst they try and get their careers started. I worked in Blockbuster Video, Westcliff. Blockbuster had just taken the store over when I joined; previously it had been a Ritz Video, and the takeover had meant all of those thousands of distinctive yellow sleeves had been replaced with blue and white ones. I’d attended an interview but failed to get a job at Ritz about a year previously, so the new regime of blue and white had bolstered my confidence to reapply. Exactly the same guy interviewed me, asking much the same questions, but this time I got the job.
Lucky, lucky me.
The vast majority of jobs are little loops of routine presented with very minor variations on a daily basis until you are fired or die, and this applies to jobs in shops even more than most. From the opening rituals to the closing rituals, it started out unfamiliar, then became comfortable, then became soul destroying. I can still picture every shelf, and could have a pretty good stab at telling you where the majority of individual titles were located upon them.
After I’d been there a few months, an edict came down from head office that all branches were to play a single 45 minute trailer tape, presented by Ulrika Johnson, on a loop throughout business hours. This is the sort of thing that doubtless sounds wonderful in a board room but can have a calamitous effect on the sanity and well-being of staff; at least Bill Murray had a whole day to play around with in Groundhog Day, whereas living the vast majority of your waking hours feeling trapped in a single 45 minute loop is cruel and unusual torture. I kept a tape of music labelled ‘The Jonsson Solution’ tucked under the counter, and would play it over the shop’s PA system whenever I felt like I was at breaking point. To this day I can’t hear her voice without wincing, and will forever associate the first song on that tape (“Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (You Shouldn’t Have Fallen In Love With)?” by The Buzzcocks) with sweet, sweet relief from Jonsson’s voice.
I wrote the first odd little fragments of what would eventually become the screenplay for TrashHouse whilst standing in that video shop, although those fragments wouldn’t end up gelling into any sort of coherent whole for six years or so. I can clearly remember writing ‘It’s raining. A girl in a red cloak walks up a hill towards a dark house’ on a notepad beside the cash register, and that became the opening scene of the movie.
Except the hill.
And the cloak.
And the rain.
And it wasn’t quite the opening scene, because we had to add a pre-credits sequence to get a gore shot in nice and early.
But there was definitely a girl and a house, so the point remains valid.
I quit Blockbuster at one point, then somehow ended up getting rehired a few months later when desperate for money. I can remember that first shift back, standing behind the same counter, looking at the same shelves, thinking “Fuck, I’m never going to get out of here”. Every time I see the last shot of Clerks 2, it resonates within me so much I can’t express it.
On 20th February 2006, TrashHouse was released on DVD across the UK. I went for a long walk that day and spent a lot of time thinking. In the early afternoon, I found myself in Blockbuster Westcliff. I hadn’t been there for a few years, even as a customer, (I’d moved house a couple of times and it was no longer my closest branch), but I walked in and saw my movie on the shelf. It was, actually, the first time I’d seen one of my films on a shelf anywhere. Available to the public.
Available to rent in the shop where I’d stood for thousands upon thousands of hours, dreaming of making films but worrying in my heart of hearts that I’d never get to do it.
If I get ten moments as good as that in my whole life, I’ve got nothing to complain about.