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July 10, 2014 By:
Philadelphia Filmmaker Shoots Transcontinental Road Trip
Marc Erlbaum put an optimistic spin on his recreational vehicle recently breaking down in Las Vegas on a day when the thermometer went north of 100˚.
If it had happened a few hours earlier, during a stop in the Mojave Desert to take pictures, the filmmaker said he, his wife and their six children might have been in serious trouble. As it turned out, they were just off the Strip, holding the kosher milk shakes that had been their reason for stopping in Sin City.
“Getting out on the road gives you an opportunity to break down somewhere and see how you react,” said the Merion resident who has directed films such as Café, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, and produced Everything Must Go with Will Ferrell.
Erlbaum is now exploring ways — some smaller, others just different from his feature films — to continue bringing entertainment content with a positive message to audiences. Think of it like the multi-platform efforts of John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, who not only writes bestselling young adult novels but also constantly produces YouTube videos with educational content and directives like, “Don’t forget to be awesome.”
On his five-week transcontinental family journey — from Philadelphia through Dixie and the Southwest into California and then back through the Midwest — Erlbaum is filming vlogs every few days in which he mixes stories about life in the RV and philosophy, much of it from Judaism.
His "Making Every Moment Meaningful" tour is sponsored by Eflixir, a company Erlbaum launched earlier this year that allows customers to purchase streaming movies online and donates a portion of each sale to Free the Children, a nonprofit that supports youth around the world.
The company also curates content with an uplifting message and provides recommended links where customers can have a discussion or donate to other causes related to the movie they just watched.
“The whole notion of this trip” — and Eflixir — is “about utilizing every aspect of life for good. Even when we are just being entertained, that can still be a time of growth and productivity,” said Erlbaum, who also founded a television and film company called Nationlight Productions, in a phone interview.
The Eflixir site will also features shorter videos that Erlbaum produces about subjects like a college skier who became paralyzed in an accident but continued to compete and also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Erlbaum started sharing his short videos, which feature a nice dose of his dry humor, before the family had even left the Philadelphia suburbs. They were already having trouble with their vehicle.
“So far everything has been as smooth as … a cheese grater,” Erlbaum said in the third vlog on the morning they were to leave.
The RV's battery died; the generator wouldn’t start; the jack system for the wheels stopped working. And then Erlbaum realized that the magnetic Eflixir signs he had made wouldn’t stick to the RV walls “because this baby is made of fiberglass.”
“I closed my eyes and went to my special place and sulked for a few minutes, and then I realized what an incredible blessing this is. This is exactly what we needed: a reminder at the very outset that there are going to be plenty of bumps on the road ahead,” Erlbaum says from inside the cabin of the RV.
Once on the road, they make their way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, to a Chabad house in Nashville, to caverns in New Mexico and across the Continental Divide. On the Fourth of July, they were in Huntington Beach, Calif., where Erlbaum gave thanks to his home country.
“I can worship as I please and raise my children as I see fit. I can rent a 33-foot recreational vehicle with no prior training or special licensing,” he said.
A few days later, on their way back to the Keystone State, the Erlbaums, with children ages 2 to 15, decided to stop at Adar Kosher Pizza Restaurant in Las Vegas. After seven hours of waiting for a mechanic to replace their starter, they drove the RV to a nearby campground and laid down for a restful night’s sleep.
Until 1 a.m., when the air conditioning stopped working and the RV became a makeshift sauna. Fortunately — and Erlbaum did use the word “fortunately” — it was just a short walk to a motel.
On Tuesday, they were still in Nevada, stopped for more repairs. They expect to be home around July 20 if their vehicle cooperates for the rest of the trip.
Erlbaum, who is Orthodox, talked about the Modeh Ani prayer he recites each morning and explained how it helps him stay upright. Modeh means not only “thank you” but also "to bow," he said.
“The very first thing we do every day is to bow,” he says in a video reflecting on the RV troubles. “We envision ourselves like a reed that blows and bows in the wind rather than like a tree that stands stiff against the storm and is likely to get blown over.”