This is part of a series of articles about the final days of preparing for moving to France and what happens when you get here, and those articles are part of a promotional series launching our new book, 29 Days to France, a book that all the writers wish they had had before we started our French adventures. It’s now available for preorder, and those preorders come with a free 15-minute Q&A personal session about your French immigration plans. Click here to learn more.
A professional film set requires a period before the actual shooting called pre-production. Prep for short, it involves not only the glamorous departments like camera or costumes to be primed for the demands of the film shoot, but equally, the mundane tasks like organizing payroll and the on-set office supplies.
As a 1st Assistant Director, my prep starts with breaking down the script by scenes and their associated departmental elements and parsing them out for all the allotted shoot days. I present a rough plan in a company-wide meeting, after which I continue to revise the plan, gathering as much information through departmental meetings…all working toward an ideal plan of attack.
I also analyze contingencies, as there will always be surprises, for instance when the shark didn’t work in Jaws or when Tarantino deviates from the script with a sudden idea not scheduled for work that day.
The secret to successful film production — content value notwithstanding — is good prep. Being prepared for 85% of the possible scenarios of that shoot is good prep for me.
A week before principal photography, prep exponentially accelerates. The screws get tighter. The work days start earlier. They become even longer. People’s true colors surface as pressure to make the creatives happy begins to build.
There’s a lot of hurry up and wait for new information to come in, but in between, there are intermittent smoke-break-sized moments of calm. It never feels totally tranquil, because taking your foot off the gas exposes you to moments in which something falls through the cracks. When I am distracted by my personal issues I’m more susceptible to sloppy decision-making.
I was approaching the move like prepping a film. Gathering information, making a plan, gathering different information, listening to the specialists about various aspects of the move, being surprised by new discoveries and bad intel, dealing with incompetence but also the serendipity of having nice people help me along — also being distracted by my own personal life — causing me to make questionable decisions at times. It was madness. Some of it in my own head.
A French Dress Rehearsal in Hollywood
Of course, as I do, I put yet even more on my plate and that sets me back even further, timewise. In the first week of November, at Paris minus 14 days, I shoehorned a week-long French Film Festival called COLCOA (City of Lights — City of Angels) held at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) headquarters. I had too much on my plate, bien sûr, but French films, French film community, French people for a whole week? I surmised that investing time for COLCOA might very well give me the head-start for Paris that would make Phase 2 a little easier. Besides, DGA headquarters was the epicenter of my long film career. At the very least, it deserved a proper farewell.
I saw a few French films such as Eiffel, ate some fromage with Sancerre and of course, had some café allongé and beignets. I even tried out my French with Nicolas Maury (Hervé on the Netflix comedy Dix Pour Cent, called Call My Agent in America) who was at COLCOA for a movie he directed. I asked him a question in French about his directing approach and he was kind enough to suffer through my French, but sensing he was in a bit of a rush, I panicked and reverted to English…but in a French accent. With my good friend Antoine as a guide to things French, COLCOA was absolutely the perfect full-dress Paris rehearsal — a perfect way to say goodbye to Hollywood and bonjour to Paris in the building that has been in my professional life for over two decades.
P-6: One Week Left Before My Flight to Paris
It was now seven days before Paris Day: P-Day. That made today P-6 (six working days left to prep). I was feeling on edge as I typically do in the last week of prep on any show, except in this show, I didn’t have a team. I had my cat Maddey, my French friends overseas, and expats on Facebook casually passing on advice.
The following big-ticket items remained on the board:
- shoving my entire life in five boxes
- storing, selling, giving, or throwing away what didn’t make the cut for Paris
- getting Maddey’s USDA certificate and prepping her for the twelve-hour flight
- continuing my L.A. Goodbye Tour
- reconciling domestic accounts.
Simultaneously, I was still maintaining my normal life: writing projects, creative coaching sessions with clients, and training for future tennis tournaments. Overstretched on multiple fronts, I was struggling to keep all the plates spinning on my fingers while wrestling with the emotions of leaving my hometown, the anxiety of moving to a new one, and the grief of both losing my mom earlier this year and breaking up with Sarah who was, just three months prior, the other half of our to-be-determined Paris dream. As such, I was losing control over all the systems that were orchestrating and executing my Paris move.
It wasn’t a type of control in wanting everything my way or seeking elusive perfection. At my college gymnastics meets, I fell off the pommel horse a lot, so I am not one who is accustomed to any notion of perfection. But I am accustomed to pursuing high standards. I orchestrated the McDreamy car crash in Grey’s Anatomy. I was a tank platoon leader managing four M1-A1 tanks and sixteen men. I threw a double-back somersault with a full-twist on-the-floor exercise event. In fact, what I was feeling was less about control and more about the conscientiousness needed to maximize my odds of a successful fresh start.
I have big dreams for myself in Paris and unfortunately, I’m not Emily in Paris where it all goes swimmingly. As a man with a Filipino upbringing, I’m not quite the typical American in Paris, n’est-ce pas? I was bracing to face many hardships.
Jumping right into the poorly-built program I mentioned in my piece being 90 days out was a result of not being in control. If I had been in control, I would’ve seen the hundreds of complaints about the owner of this program who was such a polarizing figure that an entire Facebook group was created from the cascade of people who left her page. Her Facebook page was called Americans in France. The breakaway group was called Americans in France: The Open and Kind Group. How could I have missed this blatant clue? In my right mind, I would’ve have seen that train wreck a mile away and instead found TAIP and other non-scammy resources much earlier in the planning process, resources that show a genuine exuberance and passion for helping Americans settle in France. Instead, I dumped a chunk of money I could have used for essentials I needed to flourish in one of the more expensive cities in the world. I got sloppy.
I couldn’t — cannot — afford to be sloppy. With so many moving pieces to manage for a successful life in Paris, a few potential situations relative to scarcity can bite me in the butt and have me back on a plane to the States if I don’t ground myself and take better control of my chessboard.
It wasn’t until now, seven days before Paris, that I was starting to get more locked in. I was well aware I’d only be crossing the finish line for Phase 1. Once I’d get to Paris, Phase 2 would commence and be more intense than Phase 1.
Phase 2 had been lurking in the back of my mind; after all, Paris wasn’t a vacation. I was going to live there, which meant mundane tasks such as validating my visa in France, registering my coaching business in the French system, establishing a bank account, acquiring a carte vitale (for health insurance), getting a French phone number, and perhaps most importantly, generating revenue — getting my coaching business back up and running with my American clients. Just as important for my well-being, I would need to get back to a regular tennis training schedule.
I was probably struggling through a post-project depression after running on adrenaline (and fumes) to obtain my profession libérale visa a few weeks ago. That entire ordeal was intense.
I was still raw from unpredictable emotions triggered by who knows what. I’d be driving on the 405 Freeway, for example, listening to a song lyric like guard your innocence from hallucination, and I’d lose it, driving in the fast lane at 75 mph, tears gushing down my face, because I was cathartically relieved that Paris was finally in my sights, or I’d be missing Sarah, or I was pondering the complexity of my relationship with my mom and her final six months. After fifteen minutes of a good cry, I’d wipe my eyes like nothing happened.
I knew I needed a long break to recharge but at P-6, just like in last week of prep to make a movie, I was burning the candle at both ends to keep up.
Getting Maddey Ready for Paris
For weeks I was jarred awake by nightmares in which my cat Maddey wasn’t being allowed into France by a nonplussed Inspector Clouseau-like customs officer. Another nightmare entailed Maddey slipping out of my grasp while carrying her through the metal detector, zipping toward the far end of the terminal, and disappearing, which causes me to miss my flight, as if it was the last one ever for Paris.
Early Tuesday morning, I took Maddey to the veterinarian to begin the health certificate process. Thanks to heads-up advice from an expat named Jena, I saved invaluable time, which I needed because only three business days remained for the USDA to receive the certificate from the vet, endorse it, then send me the physical copy. As I would not be able to get Maddey on the plane without it, I was nervous. I called and e-mailed the L.A. office multiple times in the next two days to obtain updates, to no avail.
Packing My Life in Five Boxes
I started weeks ago by casually making piles of things I was bringing to Paris but reducing my life to five containers felt so daunting that I kept putting it off. Because I didn’t want to manage too many pieces of luggage at the airports on both ends AND look after Maddey, I paid $450 for a shipping service called Send My Bag to pick up and ship 3 16x16x16 boxes. I stayed up until 4:00 AM to finish packing the boxes in time for their pickup the next morning.
I had read stories about how Send My Bag might not show up on the arranged pick-up day (I planned for this scenario by allowing a buffer of a few days) or that the boxes might get held up at customs for reasons like packing too many items with lithium batteries (TSA only permitted one), or getting stopped over prescription bottles (forbidden), or tearing or breaking in transit, or getting delivered at the wrong place. “Just follow the instructions to the T, and it will be fine,” an expat on Facebook told me.
Even so, I also learned that Send My Bag was just the middleman. FedEx, who had recently traumatized me in delivering my visa, was actually picking up my boxes. I went into crisis prevention mode, only sleeping four hours that night to visualize possible not-so-ideal scenarios and devising more contingency plans. As such, I didn’t pack anything in the boxes that I’d need to access within seven days after my arrival.
Sleep-deprived, I put the boxes outside the gate of my townhouse (the gate phone didn’t work) with a big sign for FedEx to call me because I wanted to make sure I handed the driver the paperwork as per the instructions. The driver didn’t call; he just took the boxes and went on his way. If I hadn’t left out the boxes, the driver would have reported that I wasn’t available for pickup. As in the case of my visa, FedEx was up to no good once again and yet again, I had to stay ahead of them.
My beloved U2 books, favorite spatula, 1988 Dodger jersey, microphone, ten pairs of shoes, blender, and label maker were heading to Paris which genuinely meant that the move was truly happening.
Later that day, Sarah texted me. I hadn’t heard from her for months, but she broke radio silence because she felt weird about not saying goodbye. It was a sweet text, and, another reminder that Paris was becoming real. I pleaded for one last in-person goodbye, but she didn’t respond. I was a wreck.
Sarah sent me a video on the Marco Polo app telling me that a sixty-second video was the best she could do. Experiencing her face and voice brought me to tears. I sent back a long Marco Polo, pleading to see her. She told me she had worked hard to get over me and it would be a massive setback to see me in person. She reinstated her radio silence.
I shut down for a couple of hours, until I was jarred out of my stupor, having just remembered that Maddey’s certificate still hadn’t yet arrived with only one more business day remaining to receive it before my flight.
I called the main USDA office in Sacramento, expecting more indifference. To my surprise, someone picked up. After patiently listening to a five-minute plea, desperate for the certificate before my flight on Tuesday, she said to me, “Are you Vince?”
“YES!” I said.
“I’m filling it out right now. It’ll go out to FedEx today and you should be getting it by Monday.” A sighed a deep exhale of relief, but still, Monday was cutting it too close — I was flying out Tuesday morning. The next most important document besides my visa would be arriving on the last possible day with my favorite shipping company, Federal Express? It was an exercise in extreme patience.
I went to tennis practice later for a bit of release but as it was my last day at Silva Tennis Academy with my young teammates, I cried as I said goodbye to them. Training with them for the past year, I rediscovered the passion to go for big dreams again the way a teenager goes for dreams, and now that this special time was over, I continued to cry the entire forty-minute drive home.
That night, with all the mishigas of the last few days, I went on a bit of a bender. Beaucoup sake and gin and tonics were consumed deep into the night. Part release, part celebration of my last days in America.
At a tennis match the next morning, I received a text:
“Hey man, I have your wallet. It was in the gutter and I saw it as I was getting in the Uber.”
This was the sort of thing that I was afraid of — getting derailed by the small stuff. I was grateful — and quite lucky — for the kindness of strangers.
I threw a Celebration of Life gathering in which friends from various parts of my life came to see me off; solid proof that one should have their Celebration of Life when alive, not at their funeral.
Monday was the last day before my flight. I waited outside the gated fence at 9 am for the FedEx driver with Ruthie, my childhood pal, hours I actually needed to finish packing my suitcases; but I was not going to let FedEx screw things up. By 11:30 am, the driver arrived with Maddey’s endorsed certificate, and voila, I had everything I needed for Paris. I could finally let my guard down a bit.
That night, I took Maddey to the actual airline terminal for her final rehearsal and asked the information desk clerk where the nearest pet rest area was located; he hadn’t a clue it existed. I anticipated that. Searching for the rest area on the actual travel day for her to do her business just hours before we hopped on the plane would’ve thrown things off track. This is what scouts and rehearsals are for: minimizing surprises.
I took Maddey out of her carrier and cradled her in my arms to see how she might react. This was a full-dress rehearsal — she was wearing the harness and leash just like she would on the day. She didn’t squirm, didn’t seem on edge. She was calm, quiet, and pensive and so was I. We were 100% ready for Paris.
Prep was officially over. P-Day was upon us in less than ten hours. I didn’t get to tie all my loose ends, but overall, it was a good prep. I achieved about 85% on my checklist. Maddey and I were both sad we didn’t say goodbye to Sarah in person, but I had a feeling that the door wasn’t closed forever.
I took my last Los Angeles hours to spend time with my 95-year-old grandma. We sat in relative silence. She can’t speak English. I can’t speak Filipino. Reflecting on her life, I was sad for her. She had never had any romantic love since I had known her and she had been acrimonious with my mom — her daughter — up until mom suffered her stroke. Grandma didn’t get to say goodbye to her, same as me. I never really got to know my grandma and I wanted to ask questions about her. But there was no more time. I hugged her tightly and told her I loved her. She knew those words. I sighed. I accepted that I might never see her again.
A friend told me, “You can come back. It’s not like you’re leaving forever.”
Anything’s possible. I don’t see myself coming back to the States for a long, long time. Paris is the grand experiment for me to stay on my authentic path and pursue the big audacious dreams of expressing my authentic voice toward something meaningful. Paris is going to be my home now and its joie de vivre is the butterfly moment I vowed to experience more often since I tried to die. If I cultivate the right support community and don’t get in my own way, my Paris story could be everything I want it to be.
Photo of my garage fifteen days before having to ship my life in five boxes.
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