Ross is 30

Posted on December 30, 2012


Ross McNamara, my comedy partner for the past… 10 years… turned 30 on December 25th.  His sister / my junior high friend Courtney McNamara asked a bunch of friends and family members to write a story for a scrapbook she was going to give him as a present.  Here’s what I wrote.

ross robin hoodRoss and I have made a lot of movies together over the past ten or so years, but the funniest (or at least the most tragicomic) story from our entire filmmaking history happened when I wasn’t even there. But before I begin that story I’d like to note that I’ve always admired Ross’ bravery in performing his own stunts. From slamming his head on a concrete pool deck to belly-flopping on asphalt while balancing Big Gulp’s in both hands, Ross will do whatever it takes to get a laugh. The guy has guts. (Or he is just a crazy person. You decide).

And so it was in the spring of 2003 that Ross volunteered to swim across the icy Atlantic Ocean (or so the viewer might believe through the magic of cinema) for our epic (20-minute) film “Dollar.”
Towards the end of the movie, my character Frankie Tedesco and Ross’ character Barry have traveled to Europe so that Frankie’s dog “Dollar” can see the world before he passes away. (Dollar had recently been diagnosed with an incurable disease). As the trio leaves Spain, the viewer realizes that Robin Hood [also played by Ross. (Eat your heart out, Peter Sellers)] has been following them this whole time. (This is not a good thing, though, as one might expect. Whenever Robin Hood popped up in our early films, it was always to steal from and/or kill Frankie Tedesco). (I’m also realizing as I write this that this movie sounds INCREDIBLE. Let me assure you, it is not. It’s borderline unwatchable to anyone who isn’t named Matt Houchin, Ross McNamara, or members of their immediate families who love them unconditionally).

Next in the script, Robin Hood dives off the coast of Spain into the Atlantic and swims to the United States, emerging just as Frankie and Barry’s plane touches down in America. (Robin Hood does things old school). Unfortunately our budget didn’t allow us to actually fly to Spain and back, so to create the illusion of this, we used the coast of Lake Michigan, right there in our college backyard of Evanston, Illinois. And to really make the viewer extra-believe this was taking place in two different countries, we had our one extra (Paul Bork) alternately playing soccer and playing football on the two different beaches (even though it was the SAME BEACH!). (Brilliant).

We had one major obstacle, though. This was March. The water of Lake Michigan was still dangerously cold, and the weather on land wasn’t much warmer. We waited for awhile, hoping a warmer day would come. Eventually one day the temperature rose to around fifty degrees, and we made the decision to get it over with. This could be our only reasonable chance in the foreseeable future to shoot this without Ross freezing to death. Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t line up with everyone else’s, so Ross, Paul, and my girlfriend Becky headed to the shore of Lake Michigan without me…
Becky points the camera at the frigid, biting waves.
Paul, wearing a beret, begins to juggle a soccer ball.
This is Spain.
Ross, in full Robin Hood regalia, takes a deep breath and sprints by Paul, diving headfirst into the arctic water.
He musters up the energy to swim out a good distance (we want this to seem REAL, after all).
Becky refocuses the camera, and gives Ross (now 60% popsicle) the ok signal to swim back to shore.
Paul kicks the soccer ball away and tosses his beret aside, grabbing the football.
Paul tosses the football up down. Up and down. Up. And. Down.
Ross’ freezing muscles battle the hostile, gelid lake. (Yes, I looked up ‘icy’ in the thesaurus for this part of the story. But we all learned a new word, didn’t we? “Gelid”).
After what seems like an eternity, Ross pulls himself out of the water, gasping for warmth.
This is America.
Paul throws Ross a towel.
Becky puts the camera down.
That’s a wrap (as we say in the biz).
A second take could’ve been deadly.

Not many people have ever seen the movie “Dollar.” This was years before YouTube, so it could only be screened for friends and family either on my computer or on our one VHS copy.
That being said, however, NO ONE has ever seen the scene of Robin Hood swimming across the Atlantic Ocean.

A few hours after the shoot, I was more than excited to see the footage. Becky delivered me the tape, recounting how incredibly cold the water was, and how blue Ross’s skin became.
I rewound the tape and hit play. I saw the edge of campus, upside-down and shaky. I heard the three of them discussing the upcoming shot, along with the frosty wind blasting the camera’s microphone. Uh-oh. I knew what this was. Becky was unaware that she had already hit the record button. “Please tell me what I think is about to happen ISN’T going to happen,” I prayed to both the filmmaking and comedy gods. Then, I saw the shore for a split second. As Becky thought she was hitting record for the first time, she inadvertently stopped the videotape. The next thing I see is a shot of the ground again. I hear Becky and Paul laughing, along with Ross groaning miserably. The wind howling. Then nothing.
Understandably so, Ross did not volunteer for a re-shoot. “Dollar” would have to be finished without it’s most impressive set-piece.
Ross learned that day that he should never make a movie unless the two of us are together.
We are now both rich and famous co-filmmakers. We even got to meet Pauly Shore once (…who, not surprisingly, Ross had never heard of).
Happy 30th Birthday, Ross. As we continue to get older, the letter jackets we wear only get funnier.

UPDATE 3-31-13: After months of this video being unavailable in the United States due to copyright issues, it is now AVAILABLE:

Please make sure to pirate the low-quality snippets of Time After Time, The Macarena, et al contained within.

The movie still remains unavailable in: American Samoa, Canada, Germany, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, United States Minor Outlying Islands, United States Virgin Islands.  Sooooorrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyy!