Who’s Reed Fish?
A small-town dude writes the screenplay of his life
There are some interesting people in this world. Sometimes you just have to look to a town like Mud Meadows to find them.
Mud Meadows is actually not unlike other small towns: old houses with big porches, endless trees—a place where everybody knows each other, and people know what you’re talking about when you say “driving truck.” You’ve probably driven through a town like that. And that’s where Reed Fish lived.
Reed Fish is a gangly 23-year-old, minus a chin, with a dark shock of hair that looks perfectly styled even right out of bed. He has a certain trustworthy charm that sets him apart from others, which is why locals religiously tuned in to his show every morning on the town’s community radio station. Fish took over for his late father and became the new “voice of Mud Meadows,” covering things like runaway peacocks and making sure city officials were in compliance with the town’s shrubbery ordinance of 1957.
Like many 20-somethings in Mud Meadows, Fish spent weekends at the bowling alley with friends shooting pool over Bud Lights and playing endless hours of Dance Dance Revolution. Life after high school in ho-hum Mud Meadows typically meant finding a decent-paying job, getting married and popping out a few babies. And things were all going according to plan for Reed Fish. He was engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Kate, who sold cars at her father’s dealership, and they were knee-deep in planning for the big day (well, Kate was, anyway).
It may not sound very interesting. But Reed Fish’s life was about to change drastically.
Jill Cavanaugh recently returned home to Mud Meadows while on summer break from the University of Texas at Austin. She was an old friend of Fish’s from school. Jill was happy to be back in Mud Meadows, and missed the breezy, low-stress lifestyle. Fish, on the other hand, was beginning to question whether he was in tune with the sleepy rhythm of small-town USA.
Still, he was in tune with Jill, whose long, brown hair and dimples were accentuated by the fact that she also played guitar and wrote her own songs. Fish talked her into performing down at “Murray’s weekly talent night.” And she did. And she was good. And Reed Fish gave into temptation while walking her home.
He felt sick about what happened, and confessed to his fiancée that he had kissed Jill in the parking lot. He also admitted that he wasn’t ready to get married. The wedding was called off.
Of course, with Mud Meadows being a small town, the news traveled fast. People made nasty calls to Fish’s show. Notes were left under the window wiper of his old Chevy. And things were understandably awkward between Reed and Kate.
The aftermath affected his relationships with his friends and his work. It also gave him plenty of time to think about what he really wanted in life, and he eventually decided to give up the radio show.
So, what happened next? Reed Fish made a movie about life in a small town.
Where is Mud Meadows, you ask? You won’t find it on a map. But you will find Reed Fish in Los Angeles. Yes, Reed Fish is a real person. He’s 33, isn’t so gangly, and his hair probably looks more like a rat’s nest in the morning. Fish grew up in Red Bluff and wrote a screenplay for a movie about life in a small town, titled I’m Reed Fish, about a guy named Reed Fish who grew up in Mud Meadows and made a movie about life in a small town, titled … I’m Reed Fish.
After high school, Fish (that’s the real one) moved from Red Bluff to Chico and worked with the Chico City Light Opera in the early ‘90s, before relocating to the Bay Area. He majored in art at San Francisco State and, after graduating in 1996, devoted most of his time to photography.
Fish had no film experience but was intrigued by the success that low-budget films like Clerks were enjoying. After moving to New York, he began work on a screenplay in the fall of 2000, knowing exactly how he wanted to approach the project.
“I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to make it autobiographical and call it what it is,'” Fish said. “So when I sat down, I more or less had a map of where I wanted to go with it. But then, of course, after four years of rewriting, the map changes.”
The first draft of The Autobiography of Reed Fish (the film’s original title) was more akin to his life in Red Bluff. Fish initially wanted to write, direct and co-star in the film, which was originally going to be set (and possibly filmed) in his hometown. However, due to legal concerns (likeness of characters, etc.), the location was changed to the fictional locale of Mud Meadows, a smaller town that Fish says is more like Proberta: “That joke will play well in the Chico paper.”
The big turning point came when Fish rented a space at a Los Angeles casting agency to audition actors (the non-union type). In typical Hollywood fashion, the person who ran the agency overheard Fish talking about his script and asked to read it. Bader Alwazzan, who had only done casting up to that point, liked the story and offered to produce the film (more than quadrupling the original budget). After some 50 drafts, filming for I’m Reed Fish finally began in June 2005.
With a bigger budget came bigger names. Gilmore Girls alumna Alexis Bledel came on to play Reed Fish’s fiancée Kate, and Jay Baruchel, a co-star in the new romantic comedy Knocked Up, took on the title character. Also making appearances are Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live), Katey Sagal (Married With Children) and DJ Qualls, who played the scrawny dude who ended up wearing the XXXL women’s panties in 2000’s Road Trip. Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek) plays the “other woman"; she also co-wrote and performed “From Where I’m Standing,” the song that became the centerpiece of the movie.
Fish said the six-year process has been quite an experience—from wondering if his coming-of-age comedy would ever see the light of day to having it premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2006. I’m Reed Fish just received limited distribution this month with showings in New York, Austin and Portland. And Fish got to hear David Letterman say his name when Bledel appeared on the June 1 episode to promote the movie.
“For every triumph, right around the corner is about 10 low points,” Fish said. “All this stuff is cliché, but it’s so true. It’s such a roller coaster.”
Case in point is critics’ reaction. The New York Post led off its review with a snarky headline—"Psst: Don’t Order the Fish"—while Variety had nothing but glowing things to say: “Pitch-perfect dialogue, quietly dynamic helming and small-scale action on a widescreen canvas make for a very appealing film that has real commercial possibilities.”
Opening weekend sales in New York’s Quad Cinema in the Village were less than stellar, but Fish is hopeful his debut will lead to bigger, better projects.
“I don’t think you can realistically go into the first movie and think you’re going to get rich off of it,” Fish said. “It’s more about getting a toe-hold in the industry and just have something people can take you seriously with, and I think the movie definitely accomplishes that.”
Fish is already at work on a few new projects—he’s finished a draft of a script and has a couple TV shows in the development stage.
Of course, Fish can’t give any details on his new projects just yet … sort of like how he won’t go into detail about which events in the film are based on his real-life upbringing in Red Bluff and which were pulled from his imagination. Only Reed Fish knows.