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Cults, Cops, and Cameras

March 21, 2008 - Wes Burns
LAST TIME ON A STRANGER'S OPINION: Myself and my friends Matt and Alex were preparing to film the first scene in Matt's first movie only to find our path blocked by numerous cars on a deserted country road in Iowa. Only after traffic cleared and the camera was set did we see the flashing lights behind us.

Alex and I looked at each other, confirming that we both indeed see the police behind us. We were aware that some explanation was going to be necessary. I started to get out the passengers seat and turn to talk to the police. This was going to be really funny, if they thought about it.

The police were in no laughing mood. I emerged from the car to be greeted by three officers of various local law enforcement agencies all at the ready. By “at the ready” I mean they were out of their cars with their weapons drawn. Needless to say this was a bit of a shock.

Alex and myself saw the writing on the wall and placed our hands above our heads. I've seen COPS; when the officer has their gun out you just cooperate and tell your side of the story after they make sure you aren't going to try and hurt them. I understood this. Alex understood this. Matt had a different interpretation.

The first words we hear are “PUT THE WEAPON ON THE GROUND!” This is news to me as I was unaware that any of us was in possession of a weapon. Then came the realization: Matt and his antique sickle. I turned to see Matt, still standing in the weeds dressed as Death, holding his prized prop. The officer repeated “PUT THE WEAPON DOWN!”.

Under normal circumstances a person in Matt's situation would simply place the sickle down and explain themselves. Matt is by no means a normal person. His response to the officer's request? “IT'S NOT A WEAPON!” and continues to hold the sickle. At this point both myself and Alex are shocked that, despite the commanding tone of the officer as well as some rather authoritative firepower, Matt had decided to retain possession of his sickle. The officers were not happy about this.

As the police approached us and their sidearms growing ever larger in my field of vision I told Matt to just do what the officer said. This being a family publication I cannot repeat his response but he was against the idea, fearing that dropping the sickle would result in damage. Within a few more seconds of yelling and a few more feet of the officer's advances Matt relinquished control of the sickle, much to his dismay.

The police quickly questioned us as to our activities that night. I explained that we were here to film a movie. One officer asked to see the camera; I explained that it was on the front passenger's seat. The release of tension was palpable as the officer saw the camera. He quickly got on the radio and explained that “we've got an independent filmmaker out here”. Apparently the vehicles passing by were calling 911 on their cells to inform them that a cult was practicing on a country road and that they were worried we might be sacrificing kittens. Seriously.

Two of the officers left and only a Sheriff's Deputy remained. He explained that the road we were filming on, the road that Matt had “scouted” the day before and claimed as deserted, was in fact a detour for Highway 30 which was currently under construction. Matt, still furious that his shot had been ruined, informed the deputy that we were going to come out and finish the shot later. Alex and I were unaware of this plan.

Then something I really didn't expect happened. The deputy asked how long we needed to shoot, fortunately we only need about five minutes of footage. The deputy made a deal with us: he would back up the road a few hundred feet and put on his back flashers to stop traffic if we would get the shot and leave immediately. We were more than happy to comply.

As I said in the first part of this blog this was a story about the police. What you might not have expected, and frankly neither had I, was that in the end the police helped us get the shot and gave us a great story. So if by some small chance he's actually reading this and remembers us from almost a decade ago I would like to thank Deputy Sauders for all his help. The lesson? Be nice to the police, you never know when they might think you're a cat killing cult member and then later help you with a movie. Not really a concise lesson, but a lesson all the same.


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