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Two students handcuff themselves together and film documentary on road trip

As Corey Rudell takes a one-handed shower, his right hand is sticking outside of the shower curtain, handcuffed to his best friend’s left hand. Andrew Neylon sits on an ottoman that he placed next to the shower, reading with his free right hand. It’s December 29, and they’re staying the night in News Brunswick, N.J. The two are exhausted after completing four days of their road trip, but they still have another six to go until they arrive at their destination in Ottawa, Ontario, to retrieve the key that unlocks the handcuffs. All the while, a camera crew is filming their adventure for a documentary called “Me & My Shadow.”

A sophomore English literature major in the Honors College, Neylon looks the part. His dark, well-kept facial hair, slim, black-framed glasses and slender figure add to his writer persona. He talks slowly, but his speech doesn’t drag. Rather, he enunciates each carefully chosen word. Rudell, on the other hand, looks nothing like Neylon – about the only common physical trait they have is their heights (both are around 6 feet tall). A senior telecommunications and theatrical science double-major, Rudell is stockier with dirty blonde hair and a boyish grin. He talks much faster than Neylon, but it doesn’t affect his diction. Instead, the speed of his speech conveys his enthusiasm.

Neylon and Rudell have been best friends for four years. They share everything. They talk about women. They finish each other’s sentences. They’ve even been on road trips together before. But not like this. This adventure would be the ultimate test of the bounds of their intimacy.

From the beginning
It all started one night in 2010, when Neylon and Rudell were watching a TV show about two characters who were handcuffed together and couldn’t get free, a popular trope called “chained heat.” “I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if two people tried to live a week of their lives handcuffed and tried to do normal college things, like go to parties, go to classes, just try to do all the stuff you normally do?’” Rudell said. “Because it’s been done all the time in fiction, but no one’s ever tried it outside of fiction.” The two discussed the possibility, and Rudell wrote it down in his book of ideas for films, but they wouldn’t revisit the idea for about a year.

Then last fall, Neylon had just finished writing a show for the Middletown Theatre Project, and Lori Byers, Associate Dean of the College of Communication, Information, and Media, approached Neylon about writing a film for Cardinal Filmwork’s annual Frog Baby Film Festival. Neylon and Rudell then starting brainstorming and came across the “chained heat” idea.

From there, the two formed a plotline for their documentary, in which they would act as both the subjects and the directors. They decided they wanted to do something on a bigger scale than just trying to get through everyday life handcuffed together and expanded the idea to encompass a road trip along the East Coast over winter break. The catch would be that the two friends would send away the key to the cuffs and then have to travel to retrieve the key. Since neither of them had ever been to Canada, they decided it would be their destination. On the day that I interviewed Neylon and Rudell before their trip, they had just connected with the woman to whom they would send the key on couchsurfing.org, a networking website for travelers. The woman lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

“There’s going to be two almost independent storylines,” Rudell said. “There’s going to be the logistical: we have handcuffs on. People are going to be reacting to us, people we’re meeting. But then there’s also hopefully going to be the story arc of how our relationship develops and changes, even within this trip.”

As the writer for the story, Neylon emphasized the theme of relationships and intimacy. He explained that this documentary would be a social experiment. “We live in this very sort of isolated world today, where increasingly, through the proliferation of mass media and things like that, you would think we would be getting closer,” Neylon said. “And in reality, we’ve actually gotten further apart. Andy Warhol’s theme of the fifteen minutes of fame that everyone wants has become fifteen minutes everyday, through things like Facebook and Twitter, where everyone has this individual voice. [Corey and I are] both, in some respects, very guarded people, and we wanted to explore what totally intimacy meant, in terms of the person that you’re closest with.”

Now all they needed was a crew. They recruited four other students to accompany them on the trip: Patrick Ball (Director of Photography/Primary Camera), Marcus Carroll (Grip/Secondary Camera), Danny Delaney (Sound) and Chloe Anagnos (Producer). Because the project is completely student-run, they were able to network and utilize different Ball State students’ areas of concentration. “It’s like a people grocery store,” Rudell said. “We have a PR major doing our public relations. We have music majors writing our music. We have an English major writing part of the film. We have telecommunications majors making the film.”

Before they knew it, the project had grown even bigger than they anticipated. All through fall semester leading up to the road trip, the two planned and promoted their project and were able to gain faculty support. “They have done such a fantastic job that they don’t need my help,” said Chris Flook, the faculty advisor for the project and Honors College alumnus. “They had a clear-cut idea of what they wanted. They picked an excellent team to go with them and to produce everything…There’s nothing more I could’ve done, other than just be hands-off and let them do what they need to do.”

What exactly are we getting ourselves into?
To prepare for the trip, Neylon and Rudell did a trial run to practice doing activities together in handcuffs, during which the two baked a cake. They got into an argument 10 minutes into it.

“It was about the water,” Andrew told me, remembering the day last fall.

“It was the wa…!” Corey said, cutting himself off. “OK, here’s the thing…”

“Corey,” Andrew said in a please-don’t-start-this-again-sort-of tone.

“I’m going to talk, and then you can talk,” Corey responds. He then turns to me and asks, “When you are baking…Do you bake; do you cook?”

“Occasionally, yes,” I respond.

“OK, when you have a cup, like a one-cup measuring cup, and you need to put a cup of water, what happens if you only fill it three quarters of the way up?” Corey asks me. “Is that a cup? No,” he answers his rhetorical question.

“That’s three quarters of a cup. [Andrew] fills it up, and I was like, ‘Andrew, that’s not full,’ because he had a quarter of an inch left to the top. So we started arguing about it, and I filled it up all the way. And as we were walking over, Andrew pulled my arm, and it spilled.”

That’s a lie,” Andrew said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“It is not a lie!” Corey responded.

Needless to say, they finished the cake with a better understanding of what they were getting themselves into.

When asked about his expectations for the trip, Neylon said, “There is an element of risk to this…There’s an element of, are we going to be able to do this for 10 days? I don’t know. I hope so. Either way, I think it’s going to be probing.” Rudell added,  “Since we’ve started the project, I’ve long predicted when we come back, we’ll either be much, much closer, or we’re going to hate each other. Either way, it’s going to make for an interesting film.”

The road to freedom
Neylon, Rudell and the rest of the crew began their adventure at 3 a.m. the day after Christmas. Deciding who was going to drive was easy enough, as Neylon is legally blind and is therefore not eligible for a driver’s license. So Rudell had his left hand free to drive, while Neylon had his right hand free to write. From Indiana, they made their way to West Virginia, which took much longer than they had planned. They were hoping to camp there, but to save time, they drove straight through to Baltimore and stayed with a family member of one of the crewmembers. Next, they went to Washington D.C., where they had their first run-in with security guards who were less-than-thrilled about the sight of two young men walking into one of the Smithsonian Museums in handcuffs with a camera crew. This was not the last time the handcuffs or the camera caused the group grief. Throughout the trip, they were kicked out of quite a few McDonald’s, and they were also kicked out of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City three times.

“There’s so many things that we’re going to have to do that would not really pose a huge problem, except for the fact that we’re in handcuffs,” Rudell said, “which is like…[pauses to think].”
“Sinister,” Neylon finishes his thought. “There’s something unsettling about handcuffs.”

But they continued their journey. On day three, they drove to Philadelphia, where they decided to ask a group of girls they had just met to dinner. The next day in northern Pennsylvania, they made another new friend, Matt. Neylon describes Matt as a “kid who did not have a lot of advantages in life.” Matt was hanging out with other kids who didn’t seem like “the best of people,” and he shared with Neylon and Rudell that he had lost touch with a few of his older brothers who are in prison. But when Neylon and Rudell told Matt about their project and how they wanted to explore the importance of friendship, Matt’s response was, “So you guys are like heroes?” Neylon said this encounter was one of his favorite parts of the trip.

By day five, the group had traveled to New York City, and they stayed through the next day with the intention of watching the ball drop at Time Square on New Year’s Eve. It didn’t quite work out because of overcrowding at Time Square, but they ended up having a great time at Central Park instead, where they danced all night and watched fireworks. The following day, they left for Canada.

Crossing the American-Canadian border posed a challenge, and they knew that going into this trip. Dr. Barbara Stedman, Director of National and International Scholarships, supported Neylon and Rudell’s road trip plans and promised to bail them out if they got arrested at the border. For the sake of not giving any part of the film away, they wouldn’t tell me any of the details about it. They did say, however, that it wasn’t nearly as bad as they had anticipated.

Although crossing the border was easier than expected, unforeseen complications arose immediately after arriving in Canada. The group started to run low on money, so they spent their first night there in a grocery store parking lot. Neylon and Rudell didn’t mind because it was reminiscent of previous road trips they’d been on together, but they said the rest of the crew wasn’t exactly thrilled. The next day, their main cameraman, Patrick Ball, got very sick. It got so bad that Rudell said he was worried they wouldn’t be able to finish the trip and would have to fly him back into Indianapolis. But Ball wasn’t about to just give up.

“I just knew that I had to give it all I had,” Ball said. “So when I had to sleep, I went to sleep. When I had to film, I would wake up, film and then go back to sleep or just go rest. So I was pretty sick. I was the sickest I think I’ve ever been in my entire life, and it happened at a very inconvenient time. I told them, ‘pain is temporary; film is forever.’ Because I knew that the project was bigger than me being sick.”

By day nine, the group morale was low. Everyone was exhausted, and with Ball being as sick as he was, they decided they needed to get the key soon. They made their way to Ottawa, where they stayed their last night in a motel and made friends with the owner, Chuck. The next day was the big day, and the two were ready for it.

“Finally at the end, it was like, we need to be apart from each other,” Rudell said. “And it wasn’t that we were angry or bitter at each other; it’s just that we were tired. We were tired and needed alone time.”

Neylon had also reached his limit with the project.

“You’re on camera for 10 days, so that means you think everything you do matters for 10 days, which is not a very healthy attitude,” Neylon said.

So the two handcuffees and their crew went to the address where they were to find the woman who had been holding their key to freedom. Once again, Neylon and Rudell did not want to spoil any details of the documentary, so they wouldn’t tell me much during the post-trip interview.
“What I can say is that when we went to the address that she gave us, she did not live there,” Neylon said.

The rest of the story is a mystery, at least until the film is released. When I met them after their trip, though, they were no longer in handcuffs, everyone on the trip had survived and Neylon and Rudell were still best friends.

The final product
Neylon, Rudell and the crew made it through the road trip, but that’s just the start of the work this project entails. They now have 10 days worth of footage to sort through, edit and arrange before they have a polished documentary. The final product will even be a surprise for some of the people involved in the project.

“They started to tell me stuff, and I literally asked them not to because I wanted to be excited when I actually see the movie,” said Chris Flook, their faculty advisor. “I asked, ‘Did anyone die? How’s the equipment?’ They gave me rundowns of production and some elements of the story, but by and large, they kept that separate because I want to be just as surprised and interested when I’m watching it as anybody else.”

Neylon and Rudell plan to make a 40-minute cut for the national-level Student Oscars, which will be in April. Then, they will produce a full-length (one-and-a-half-hour) documentary to submit to national film festivals, including Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes.

Flook has high hopes for the documentary. “I suspect that it’s going to have some traction because it’s such a way to analyze relationships and a lot of stuff that we take for granted,” he said. “They’re very good friends, and they wanted to kill each other by the end of it. I don’t think they would’ve been this way had they just gone on vacation up to Canada. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen that done before in this way.”

Not only are Neylon and Rudell close to achieving their goal to complete this documentary, but they both agreed that the trip itself was everything they wanted and more. They didn’t end up doing everything they had planned to do, and “a couple of hiccups” arose along the way. But it all worked out in the end.

“[Neylon and Rudell] really gunned through that entire thing,” Ball said. “There were hard moments, but any time the trip should’ve beaten them, they never let it. They were awesome guys. They were two guys who were meant to be handcuffed together.”

Story // Emily Thompson
Photo // Patrick Ball

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