On The Wagon

by twhalliii
April 24, 2008 4:05 AM
  • |

Is it possible to work in the film industry and not drink alcohol? Let's find out.

This past January, I attended a party at the Sundance Film Festival. It was my first night in Park City, and I scored an invite to a private affair, hosted by friends and by all accounts a lovely gathering. While I was enjoying getting caught up with familiar faces and colleagues I had never met, I was also a little disappointed in myself; I had arrived at the party committed to not having a drink of alcohol and within fifteen minutes (and having slurped down two club sodas) all I wanted was a cold beer. I knew what that meant; One beer meant a few beers meant a fitful sleep meant a hangover meant an exhausting start to the festival. I caved anyway. I drank a few drinks, stayed longer than I planned and I regretted it instantly. Let down by my utter lack of willpower, I woke up the next morning feeling like shit. Again.

Let's not even discuss my last three weeks in Sarasota, where drinking alcohol feels like a job requirement.

Having a few days to think about things while wrapping up down in Florida, I started getting a little bit worried; Can I actually decide not to drink and then follow through by not actually drinking? If I can't, do I have a problem? I decided it's time to put myself to the test.

I have been working in the film community since 1997 and with a decade of parties and festivals under my belt, from Sundance to Cannes to Toronto to The Hamptons to Sarasota to who can remember where else, I know that the abundance of free alcohol is one of the great factors in the social equation that is the "community" of the film business. I don't consider myself an alcoholic and I don't look down my nose at people who drink and enjoy themselves, but man, it struck me a few days ago that in this working environment (and given that it is also a highly social environment), it feels almost impossible for me to say no to alcohol.

It's not that I feel pressured by my peers or colleagues to drink; I've hung out with many people at festivals who choose not to drink at all. I think a lot of it has to do with social and professional anxiety; Striving to please people, feeling nervous and, after hours on end of incredible stress, enjoying the ways in which alcohol calms the nerves and eases my inhibitions. I've tried not to drink at work events; It might be time to make a change when you order a club soda and colleagues wonder aloud if everything is ok. Having a glass of water? An eyebrow might be raised or the assumption made that you're paying the price for a prior indulgence. "You sure you don't want a beer?," they ask. "A gin and tonic? Hair of the dog... I'm going to the bar..." And then, my inevitable collapse.

Alcohol is the norm. And it is always there, free, in abundance. Is there a single film event that doesn't either happen in a bar or have a liquor sponsor? Of course not. And why should there be? Enjoying a drink or two is part of the fun of being a grown up, right? My main problem is, of course, moderation. It would be great if I could slowly nurse a drink or two and call it a night, but I have never been one to do that in any part of my life; I just am not a moderate person. One of the things I want to work on with myself is developing a sense of moderation, of enjoying new experiences instead of constantly feeling like I have to keep up with everyone and drinkdrinkdrink. I assume it will be better for my health overall which is important (and which is, honestly, another important motive for me in all of this, but more about that soon). And so, my three-step plan is as follows;

1. Take a few months off from the drinking altogether
2. Try moderation in all areas of personal consumption
3. When I feel ready, enjoy a beer or some wine as part of a more moderate lifestyle.

I am eager to put this plan to the test at TriBeCa this week and look forward to some fun, sober nights on the town (and happy, hangover-free mornings in my apartment). I also think that by writing this I am making a sort of public commitment (well, at least to the ten people who read my blog) and therefore am more likely to honor it; Maybe this is another way to inspire myself to stick to the plan. Either way, I am committed to taking some time away from the sauce while re-connecting with the cinema, back home in Brooklyn after months away from my favorite movie theaters, my friends, my family. It's time for me to take a break in order to savor everything I've been missing while I've been away in Florida. I'm more than ready.

I know I'm probably stating the obvious, but I'm interested to know what others think about this... Feel free to comment and I'll publish in regular intervals.

  • |

More: Personal


  • Tom | May 20, 2008 2:51 AMReply


    One month down, narry a sip and not even a remote desire to have one. Cold turkey has been no problem and I feel much more lucid and happy. I think Toronto may mark my return to a beer here and a glass of wine there, but now I know where I stand.

  • screedler | May 3, 2008 1:19 AMReply

    I am a recovering alcoholic and avid film buff and have always enjoyed your site. This post obviously aroused my interest enough to comment. I am not one to preach. However, in AA which I count myself as a proud member there is a simple statement for newcomers who are wondering if they are alcoholic. Here it is - if you find that when you want to quit you cannot or if when you start drinking you can't control how much you drink - you might be an alcoholic. I think your experiment is wise and hopefully you will pass. If you don't pass you might want to try a meeting. I know a lot of people that have thwarted an unhappy destiny by doing so. Good luck and check out this site (www.discoveringalcoholic.com)if you have any more questions. It's informatiove and even has a movie review or two on it.

  • brian | April 26, 2008 6:04 AMReply

    bravo tom, i'm so with you.

    and by the way, this blog entry, and the resulting comments have already been optioned by ifc and vh1, who are (finally) coming together to produce a grittier spin-off of "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" which they're calling Festival Rehab, because we all know alchohol imparies your vision, indie....vision that is. (oooooooooh damn....next!)

  • David Lowery | April 25, 2008 6:12 AMReply

    I've been in the same position a few times (including last year's Sarasota FF!) and usually don't have any trouble abstaining for a while when my body tells me it's time for a break. What really helps is having a night or two of perfect lucidity while everyone ELSE is drunk...its a whole different kind of fun! Seriously, though, what always helps me when I'm feeling the urge to join my campadres in embibement is remembering that hanging out with friends is always fun, and that I don't need a drink to be social.

  • Mark Rabinowitz | April 24, 2008 11:05 AMReply

    Wow! Good on ya, with a caveat:

    Many doctors will tell you that stopping cold turkey when you're used to drinking as much as "we all" do in this biz can be dangerous. They usually recommend a more gradual slow down. For example:

    Cut out all hard liquor. Don't drink 2 days in a row, don't have more than 2 drinks/night. Do that for a week or so, then cut it down to one drink, every other day, then stop.

  • tully | April 24, 2008 2:39 AMReply

    i had this same realization a few years back. went six months cold turkey, had only about three drinks for an entire year, and now when i go out i can't seem to drink like a fish the way i used to. i used to DRINK. now i just get full and tired. perhaps it's an age thing, but i'd like to think it's the firm stance i took with regards to cutting out the sauce for a forced amount of time.

    my amateur hunch is that taking at least three months off is a great way to test the waters and i, for one, fully support you in your mighty endeavor. maybe when you decide that you're ready to test the alcoholic waters again you'll realize that the urge to overdo it has dissipated a bit. it's a good day when drinking only two drinks feels like the more appropriate urge as opposed to caving in and making it seven or eight.

    it isn't just the night of drinking that makes our lives so gross and unhealthy. it's tomorrow's hangover, when we feel depressed and awful and one of the only seeming cures is to ingest more awful junk into our system to coat the tummy-ache (during the day, junkfood; at night, more drinking!). it's a vicious cycle, and the only way to break it is to keep the hangover away. and the only way to keep the hangover away... well, you know what you have to do, young man.

    as for the other problem with not drinking and being social, it isn't a problem at all. being sober will keep you from staying in the same annoying location for more than two hours (and who ever needs to be there longer than that?). when i'm sober, two hours is my absolute max. that used to be when my night was just beginning.

    good luck. it can be done. and if it means not going to as many parties, no offense to anyone in the industry, but who fucking cares. stay home with your wife and watch a movie. that's a better life anyway.