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It's a Good Day: A Personal Essay
The gray rain wall dropped out of the sky. Lightning. Then thunder.
We, the already-tired crew on the feature film Yellow Day, were stuck. We quickly covered the large cameras in heavy plastic and donned rain gear while Bob, our Dutch production manager, called it for the day.
Forty employees sitting idle is not cheap. And I’m the executive producer/writer of Yellow Day. I’m looking at every rain drop and thinking each one costs us a dollar.
I look out onto the set, which is anything but a set.
This is the Pavilion. The Pavilion at Camp Grace.
Camp Grace is normally covered in sun and green with kids running across its plains. Camp Grace, the beautiful and sweeping land nestled on the edge of Mobile, Alabama. Camp Grace, which hosts special needs camps, retreats, and other various outreach programs throughout the year at no cost to participants. Camp Grace, owned by the generous Pilot family.
We were shooting a movie at Camp Grace, and now the wind, rain, and lightning said, “Stop.”
Rain was bound to happen, but for two weeks we’d been in the clear. It now seemed God saved all the rain for one day and was cashing out. Angry rain. Slamming the Pavilion roof.
I really haven’t talked about the Pavilion yet.
The Pavilion at Camp Grace was the best place to be when the rain came. Had the rain come when we were at the ropes course, I’m not sure what we’d have done. But the rain came on the Pavilion shoot day. The Pavilion. Spacious and open with a thick, metal roof. A full, industrial kitchen. A large stage and walking area, seating hundreds of people. The Pavilion, which rests on the edge of a majestic lake stocked with fish for kids’ rod and reels. The Pavilion, made of beautiful wood and black iron. Looks kind of like a docked ship. I’d often thought it seemed a pirate ship with the tough film crew. A film crew now capsized, with jaded faces, far different from the bright campers around us.
Yep. I said campers. They were all around us, about a hundred of them as volunteer extras. The rain had not stopped their excitement. After all, it’s not every day a movie comes to camp.
It’s funny, for a long time, I had no plan to include so much camp in the film. I had only intended one good Camp Grace scene. That changed on hearing Camp Grace stories. I had listened to them intently, told by the bright-eyed Camp Grace Director Melissa Whatley. Melissa, Yellow Day’s director Carl Lauten, and I met at the Camp Grace Lodge, a beautiful log cabin building with a deck overlooking the fish-filled lake. It was at the lodge, sitting out on that deck in the cool, spring weather, that Melissa lit up, talking camp stories. One person kept coming up who I would come to know well. She was a former camper. Her name is Krisanna.
Melissa’s stories did not focus on Krisanna’s cancer, or how Krisanna left this world at fifteen. These facts were after-thoughts compared to Krisanna’s life, her joy, and her spirit that so well represented Camp Grace. Krisanna lived for camp, and even when the chemo and cancer gripped her, she insisted on going to camp. There, she could just be herself.
In Krisanna’s final months, she was asked to describe her better days with a color. That color was yellow. Her exuberant accompanying expression, “Have a bright sunshiny yellow day!” was infectious. It reminded everyone that no matter what, there is a reason to smile.
I’m not a real sentimental guy. I’m a bit more of a critic, an artist, and a tad too much of a perfectionist. But hearing about her, subsequently meeting her beautiful mother, and then meeting other campers like Krisanna, I saw the side of camp Krisanna saw. I saw beauty. I saw Krisanna’s Yellow Day, and the film transformed. It was clear to me, Krisanna’s story and others would now be featured in the film. Our heroes would be these campers. It was all so fantastic, beautiful, and fun.
This idea of a Yellow Day seemed a bit distant in the rain. The crew looked antsy. Terse words, tight muscles. That is what rain in crunch time will do. Gray, it seemed, cloaked everything.
Everything except those campers.
All of the campers, dressed in yellow (for the movie), chattered excitedly and moved about. Their energy stood as a great contrast to everything else. I watched as they found our actors, and started taking pictures. Smiles slowly began to emerge in some of the crew. The chatter grew. People loosened.
This loosening paled to when the music started.
People were just beginning to walk around and talk, when suddenly, out of the speakers blasted the two opening orchestra hits from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
And then more commot ion. A seventeen-year-old guy, a known lover of camp, is the culprit. He’s hitting every move of Jackson’s dancing masterpiece. With all the spins, bobs, and hand moves, he’s a sight to see, a yellow streak against that dull rainy palette. A yellow circle forms with him in the center. A big, bright, living sun.
Then the whole yellow living sun begins to move. Smiles break out. Muscles loosen. Singing. Laughter. Hugs. Camp.
And then the Arri.
An Arri Alexa camera captured Daniel Craig leaping from rooftops in the latest James Bond movie. Now, however, the film pirate crew, broken out in smiles and laughter, focus an Arri Alexa camera on our seventeen-year-old, Michael Jackson-dancing, yellow streak (who, incidentally, has Down syndrome), as he’s still moving like there’s no tomorrow. Now he’s the movie star.
And I’m smiling. I realize we’re capturing something you can’t direct, can’t get from a script. But more than that, I’m seeing yet again how camp brings a new light, a new feeling, a blast of sunshine to an often gray world.
It’s a good day, one of the two best days we had on the shoot. Something I’ll never forget.
So many of us are determined to worry, control, perfect, rule, when all God really needs from us is our joy and service, our light, our dancing.
For more information, visit www.yellowdaymovie.com.
G.P. Galle, Jr., is executive producer and writer of the feature film Yellow Day. He is a graduate of University of Alabama Law School and Auburn University and has over ten years of experience in production. He currently lives in Mobile, Alabama, with his beautiful wife and young son.
Originally published in the 2013 July/August Camping Magazine