My friend Dan is a professional filmmaker. I don’t mean that in a way where he’s paid to film product videos for Mattress Factory; the dude gets grants to make movies and they win awards at film festivals.
Part of being a professional when making legitimately difficult-to-watch movies means recruiting every difficult-to-deal-with shitbag moron in his social circle that can climb out of their depression long enough to stand in front of a camera.
I like to think that Dan places me on the higher end of that “screwed up but reliable” spectrum. But maybe not. After all, I tried to back out of filming this movie about a month after I agreed to do it.
The film tells the story of a guy who decides to get into shape through a rigorous home workout routine. Within this already torturous idea, the viewer is treated to a delightfully disturbing subtext of the destructive features of toxic masculinity -- like how you can manipulate your body to enhance your appearance, which comes at a price. I had little experience with the concept, with the exception of a two-year period in my late teens when I ran for 90 minutes a day to make myself feel better about being dumped by my Grateful Dead-loving internet girlfriend. It was a remarkable amount of time to exercise for a guy who was eating roughly 300 calories a day.
After some heavy contemplation, and my feeble attempt to quit the project before it even began, Dan appealed to the one part of me that doesn’t fit in with the rest of my self-deprecating persona: Vanity.
“Just think of it,” he said. “If you pull it off, it just contributes to the weird story of who you are. It will grow the Drew Ailes legacy.”
I’ve always been somewhat delusional. I agreed.
Dan sent me the script. I didn’t really read it. He gave me a notebook outlining my workout routine. I didn’t really look at it. Weeks later, I found myself in front of his television in his bedroom, marching in place and trying to figure out how resistance bands worked.
Let me paint the picture. I’m balding and have a scraggly beard. At this time, I was markedly out of shape. Per Dan’s instructions, I’d been eating pizza to add on a few extra pounds. I could already humiliate myself by standing naked in front of a mirror, but I needed to be profoundly slovenly for my “transformation” into an “infallible man titan.” I think those were Dan’s words.
I’m a pile of shit keeping just enough weight off because I can’t afford new clothes. Dan, however, is an intense dude. Dan goes to the YWCA and lifts weights with a guy named Shirtless Tony. Dan doesn’t need to worry about the inevitable jeans-threatening bloat that comes from drinking eight beers because he doesn’t drink. Dan was doing mixed martial arts years before it was a televised event that thick-necked ogres pay $50 to scream at. Dan got fired from a job once for fighting a guy who spit in his face.
I’m supposed to work out in Dan’s basement every day for 90 days straight. After I’m done working out, Dan makes me a smoothie in his kitchen, and then we film scenes in his home. This is the routine. As I look better, my character looks better. I’m advised to stay away from salt and saturated fats. I start taking supplements I don’t understand.
At first, I can hardly finish one of these grueling, hour-long instructional videos, which are hosted by some sort of leathery, fish-like man who seems to criticize the women in his videos just a little bit more than the men.
I’ve made movies before. Most of them involved my friends, who were kind of high, and just kept whatever take they found to be the funniest out of three. Dan, who has never been kind of high, keeps the take that is exactly the way he needs it to be. We filmed a scene where I criticize my girlfriend while shaking a protein shake probably 20 times.
I don’t feel comfortable criticizing women, even if I’m playing a dickhead character. If I’d read the script, I would’ve known that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a lot of things.
I spend a lot of the movie in my underwear. The underwear seems to get a little tighter and more revealing as I’m able to fit into more and more of Dan’s actual underwear. I didn’t enjoy knowing there was a camera filming this pasty vessel that I’ve spent my whole life hating. But I preferred that to the scenes in the movie where I have to simulate sex with my co-star, a nice lady I hardly knew.
How do you do a sex scene? I still don’t know.
In the movie, it looks like two people could be having sex while one of them seems to be treating it like another strenuous workout. I don’t like that idea, but this is the best possible outcome of having me in a sex scene. There is a part in the movie where I almost got into a physical altercation with the director because I believed the camera was literally filming my asshole.
I still can’t watch the masturbation scenes, especially when they’re appearing on a screen in front of people I know and love. Or people I will never meet; people who will never find out that I’m not some bizarre sexual deviant -- just a normal, run-of-the-mill degenerate.
Maybe that’s for the best, as the girl I was dating during the filming of this movie still doesn’t seem to understand who I am.
I ate spinach, chicken, and olive oil for a month. Originally, that salad also contained red onions, but I was asked to stop eating them due to their sugar content. As the movie certainly suggests, to “get shredded,” you incorporate a lot of odd and seemingly irrational behaviors into your daily routine for reasons you don’t understand.
Did you know that under the right circumstances, anyone can become delusional? Maybe it’s from cocaine or prolonged alcohol use, puberty, or stress. Or maybe it’s from obsessing over your body while memorizing chants from the Necronomicon before playing with your hardcore punk band on the weekend.
Dan wouldn’t like me to say this, but I don’t really want you to see my movie. I don’t want you to see almost every inch of my body and I don’t want you to think about me in any sort of sexual manner.
I don’t want you to see the part in the movie where I am actually crying or see how by the end of the film, I still can’t do as many pull-ups as I feel I should be able to do after working out for three months. I’m very proud of what we did, but I exposed a lot of myself for the sake of creating something meaningful and challenging.
I guess if I could control what people saw, it would just be the scenes of me wearing Ed Hardy knockoff shirts, the gold foil shimmering brightly and contrasting against my swollen blue eyes.
And maybe the parts where I slam my hands on my hips, implying someone should blow me, like that wrestler dude used to do. Because that shit’s actually hilarious.
IF YOU GO:
3258 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis
7 and 9:15 p.m. Thursday, October 20
Click here for tickets.