Movies like “Black Dog”, “Breakdown”, and “Joy Ride” focus on truckers, but in a more menacing manner. With Truck, filmmaker Adrianne Jorge, as a junior thesis project (along with Tamy Ojala, who worked on this as her senior thesis project), sidestepped what Hollywood is usually comfortable with when it came to big-rigs, and plopped down in the seats right next to these men and women of the road, on the long, wide highways through the United States, interviewing them about their lifestyles, their cargo, and what it’s like when your home is thousands of miles of asphalt.
I must say that this is one of the most creative ideas I’ve ever heard of for any student film project. What made you curious about the life of truckers enough to film them?
Tamy and I both had our own reasons for our curiosity for big 18 wheelers. She had driven around the country a few times by the time we embarked on this project. She had a genuine passion for the “open road” and had met truck drivers along her travels. I had a very different background at that point in my life. I was a fresh faced college kid who had grown up in a really strict working class immigrant household in Massachusetts. My parents were not fans of traveling and pretty much kept me in my small New England home town my entire life. I couldn’t wait to see the world.
How did you set about getting truckers keen on your project?
Very soon after that, we started driving up and down the Massachusetts turnpike, stopping at every rest stop, asking truck drivers for advice on how we could travel in trucks and document their lives. We had a very difficult time at first. Most truckers hate driving in New England because the roads are so old and narrow in just about every town, there are so many tolls on highways along the northeast, and the Department of Transportation in some New England states are nationally known for being ruthless in busting truck drivers for any violation they can come up with. So after many failed attempts to find willing drivers to participate in our documentary, we decided to place an ad in the personals column of a trucker magazine that we picked up at a rest stop. We put a personal ad out because it cost the least. We had no money, but lots of ambition. Well, that issue of the magazine came out on December 1st. At midnight of that day, the calls started pouring in. We had put both our home numbers in the ad. Our roommates wanted to kill us because we had truck drivers calling day and night for the entire month from all over the US and Canada. We estimated that we got probably close to 500 phone calls over the course of the month. A lot of our friends and people at Mass Art were concerned that our idea was far too dangerous and that we were too naive to really pull this off. I can’t say any of them were wrong to feel that way. I remember the school being reluctant to lend us equipment for this trip because they were already concerned for our safety, never mind the security of the equipment. So we decided to shoot it on two 8mm video cameras, one that I owned and one that Tamy borrowed from a friend.
What about whittling down the number of people that responded?
We interviewed as many truckers as we possibly could over the phone in the first few weeks of the month and selected a handful of guys who seemed most sincere and enthusiastic about the project, and also willing to let two college students travel in their trucks with them. Jamie Barnhard picked us up in Boston in the middle of the night on December 18th and took us with him to Gloucester, which is where the film begins.
And off we went on one of the most exciting and fascinating months of our lives.
On average, how many days were you on the road?
We were on the road for most of that month. We had a few days off in Minneapolis over Xmas with a trucker who was home between loads and a couple days off in Phoenix while Gene was waiting for a load to pick up. Actually, the truck driver we were with over Xmas never made the final cut of the film. It turned out he was totally camera shy, and even though he had so many stories to tell off camera, as soon as one of us would whip the camera out, he would just clam right up. We tried to shoot with him for almost a week, and then finally gave up and had him drop us off at a truck stop to find another ride….which is actually how we found Gene.
Did Gene Rauschnot ever reveal why his handle was “Shithouse Mouse”?
I think I can honestly say across the board, that most truckers didn’t want to reveal where their handles came from. That’s still an interesting phenomenon to me.
Those Army backpacks were so large that I was glad for you both that those truckers were able to accommodate them in their cabs. What were in those?
We had very little clothing and toiletries, a lot of video tape stock, some microphones that actually never ended up working, super 8 cameras, point and shoot cameras, film, sleeping bags, canned food, fresh fruit, and our journals. It doesn’t seem like much, but these items filled up a big backpack pretty quickly.
Was it easy to be on board those trucks?
There was a lot of discretion involved with the journey. Having unlicensed passengers is against most company policies. So a lot of these men were taking a great risk by having 2 young women in there truck. Not to mention the serious prostitution problem at a lot of truck stops. Just being a woman walking through the parking lot is enough for a police officer to stop you and, in some cases, bring you into the station. We heard a lot of stories about women truckers, some traveling with their husbands, getting harassed by police officers with accusations of prostitution. We always had a different story with each trucker to use in case we were questioned about our affiliation to him. They were all either uncles or cousins. But when it came to weigh stations, it was time to hide in the back. Some of the truckers could have lost their jobs if they were caught with passengers. There were a few times when Tamy and I had to hide under blankets, crouched in fetal positions on the floor in the back of the cab. We had heard accounts of hitchhikers being taken from trucks at weigh stations and just placed on the first Greyhound bus heading in any direction.
What were some of the experiences you had on the road that weren’t filmed?
In mid January, we started getting nervous about returning to Boston in time for the spring semester. The weather had been so bad in the Northeast that we couldn’t find a ride home. We were in Kansas City when we met a man who claimed to be heading to Boston. It was the only time I felt really unsure about a ride. Something just didn’t seem right about him. It was the middle of the night when we found him and we were just desperate for a ride and very tired. You can’t fall asleep at truck stops; otherwise you might get kicked out for loitering. Well, he drove us about 20 miles outside the city and then pulled into this warehouse parking lot, claiming he was going to sleep there for the night because he had to unload his truck there early in the morning. I’m sure you can already tell what the man had on his mind. He thought we were going to sleep with him. He never got forceful, thankfully, but Tamy and I did have a few angry words for him, to say the least. And we all did manage to at least pretend to get some sleep that night in that tight little cab. But he never did unload that truck in the morning. In fact, he drove to the nearest truck stop down the road and told us to take our stuff inside to take showers and he gave us some shower tickets. When we came out of the bathrooms, he was gone. So now, instead of being at a major truck stop in Kansas City, we were stuck at this really tiny Blimpie/Texaco station, where we sat for the next two days, awake, on a bench trying to find a ride home.
“Truck” was a junior thesis project for you and a senior thesis project for Tamy. Did the other students have a chance to see “Truck”? What were their reactions?
We returned a few days into the spring semester. We had a really hard time finding rides back to New England because that was a really really bad winter up there and we were basically snowed out of the Northeast. So we had to hit the ground running as soon as we got back with logging footage, of which we had 90 hours of! And at that time, there was one Avid in the entire department, and a bunch of linear video editing systems for different video formats. Since we had so much material to work with and so many other students that needed to edit their projects, the only system we could get enough time on for editing was an SVHS editing system. It took us the entire semester to get an extremely rough cut of the project in order. We were in way over our heads. But our professors were so impressed with the magnitude of the film, that Tamy and I managed to pass our film classes in spite of the fact that we never finished the project. But we did screen the rough cut at the end of the semester in the auditorium to an audience of about 200 students and friends and got a really great response from everyone. I mean the same people that thought we weren’t going to make it back alive, were patting us on the back and commending us for our courage and perseverance.
What’s your drive towards your underground DVD label, TVEye Video? What kind of titles do you plan to feature?
Well, I was inspired to do the label because I had become really disheartened by my efforts to get “Truck” into the festival circuit. I had a lot of success with festivals with a short I had done in 2001 called “Songs of Azores”, but with “Truck”, I had just been sending out entry fee after entry fee and getting back one rejection letter after another. I had been learning how to author DVDs at a DVD Authoring firm in Manhattan, where I worked nights as a Quality Control technician. Well, it just occurred to me one night that instead of pouring my money into getting festival screenings, I should go the home video route, where I might actually be able to make a small profit from sales that can go towards all the money I had already invested into my film. And then that got me thinking about all the other underground filmmakers of every genre that I know who face a lot of the same challenges with their projects. I guess my vision is to put out work that normally doesn’t fit within the palette of most film festivals.
After all of this effort, all of this time, how do you now view “Truck”?
I think of “Truck” as both an experimental film and a documentary. But it isn’t exactly what you would imagine when you think of either of those 2 genres. I remember one festival curator for an experimental film festival in Chicago telling me that I shouldn’t have entered “Truck” in his festival because it’s not experimental. But at the same time, I was getting rejections from documentary-based festivals that seemed to cater to more well produced, slick documentaries. I just began to feel like most festivals were not as open minded as they claimed to be and that films had to fit into a certain formula in order to be accepted. “Truck” did have some really successful screenings at the New York Underground and the Chicago Underground Film Festivals. And I definitely appreciated the support that those festivals gave me, but I still wanted “Truck” to have a life beyond those two festivals.
Check out “Truck” at the TVEYE Video website.