He wanted to do lunch early, something like 11:30, I think. China King lunch buffet. There was sweet and sour [fried] chicken, sesame [fried] chicken, pork skewers that glowed neon pink.There was more and more, spilling over the edges of his plate on to the brown, plastic tray. I didn't think anything of it at the time.  It had been four years since I saw Paul. I was finishing my second year of film school and the next year I would make my thesis film, Harvest.

The spring of my second year I had contacted Paul, left a message on his home phone. As a filmmaker I am used to not having my calls returned. Possible documentary subjects, employers, producers, none of them seem to like to return filmmakers' calls. So, you can imagine my surprise when Paul picked up the phone before I finished leaving the message. Surprised doubly, actually. An everyday surprise I miss now is the ability to pick up a call, mid voice message recording. So, this was a surprise, indeed. Paul's voice sounded just the same and it sounded like he was as excited to hear my voice as I was to hear his. We set up lunch to talk about my upcoming project.

After we finished our meals we pulled out scripts. I had sent him Harvest ahead of time, and there was no ice to break here. Paul and I had ruminated over life and its living for many days in the cherry orchard. We lit right in and he was charged up, blazing trails onto tangents and themes and meditations that I hadn't yet ever talked to anyone about. It was a real god damn piece of luck when I think back on it. A man whose situation, plight, and physicality inspired a character and a story, and now he is also intellectually in tune with the very heart of the work. There, on the spot, I asked Paul if he would be interested in being my Hank. He responded, "I'd love nothing more. How much?" that Cheshire grin crept across his soy stained face. I have a feeling I could have said you'll get whatever damn wage I can afford and like it, and he would have accepted. But, I am glad he asked. He didn't have a nickel to his name. Turns out a poet laureate who moves back to the mountains to write essays and diatribes on religion and government needs a little more than the meager profits of a start-up handyman operation. Paul needed work and I am glad he treated the chance to work on this film as work not a favor.

Things moved along pretty quickly after that. I started to nail down key crew positions and cast smaller roles. But, one of the key supporting acts was still a question–Hank's dog. Bonnie Buchanan was a trainer in Sanford, NC. She had several production credits and even some dogs with Westminster experience. Sure, Hank's dog shouldn't be a blue ribbon specimen, but I liked that Bonnie was a professional and it didn't hurt that she didn't laugh when I told her my budget. She asked for the script.

After two days she called me back. "I really love the script. Love the story. But, I have two concerns." What's on your mind? "Well, I wish Hank didn't swear so much. And, I am not sure how my dogs will react to all the smoking." She suggested I bring Paul with me and we get to know the dogs and most importantly we smoke some cigarettes. See if the dogs will still heel. I didn't change any of the dialogue. 

I met Paul at a gas station along Interstate 40. He got in my car and when I went to greet him I could see the back seat of his small four door sedan was filled with empty two liters and cartons of cigarettes. I didn't think anything of it at the time.

We arrived in Sanford and we met all of Bonnie's dogs. We particularly fell in love with a Border Collie named Wrap. And, despite Paul giving his Marlboros hell all afternoon, Wrap would stay right in his shadow. Seemed we had found Paul's best friend.

Principal photography was set to start at the end of September. On Sunday, September 5, I was sitting on my front porch. The morning sun hits it early and warms it up just right for a morning cup of coffee. My cell phone rang and it was a number I did not recognize.  I always pick those up with excitement. I guess I always feel like a stranger has something unexpected to offer. The voice was a deep and dusty woman's voice. She told me her name and I don't remember what she said it was. She told me she was a friend of Paul Hodges and that she had found him yesterday morning dead in his house. Before I got off the phone I thanked her for calling me and I asked her once gain what her name was. I still don't remember it.

Paul was a friend and he was the reason this movie was written. I told people that I just couldn't find an actor to take on such a big role in such a short amount of time. I told people that was why I was going to have to call off the production. Truth is I didn't want to find a way to make the production happen. I was scared, sad, and I was pissed, and I just didn't want to try to find someone else to play the role meant for Paul. He had been on stage and he collapsed. He was air lifted to the hospital, he was treated, kept two nights and then released. Friends in town saw him that day. He had been in the grocery store, he didn't look too good but he was back to his usual self. That night he apparently died alone at his home. I remember that the very week this happened I had heard, for the first time, Hazel Dickens' song "Pretty Bird," and whether it was my situation that had me primed for such a sentiment or not, I felt like this song was one of the most beautiful songs put upon this earth. Paul was the character of Hank and so the story of Hank had to end with a bow from Paul's ghost. This song would be his curtain call. So, at the end of Harvest Dickens' soulful wail sings from the radio in Hank's house.

I should say that, at the time, her soulful wail sang on the page. It took me two years to decide I had to make absolutely certain that this film would be made, to make absolutely certain that the song was actually heard, and to make absolutely certain that the my script became a film.

So, I am back at the beginning of my story. The film has been postponed a second time, but this time it's nothing that can't be licked.

From now on I will only post things in the Harvest Series as significant pieces of the production unfold. Right now it's fundraising, but soon, if all goes well, it will be much more.