Monday, March 30, 2009

And How Was Your Day?

My day started with an email. The location we're supposed to shoot is suddenly not available on Friday afternoon. "Can we shoot it on Thursday? Or anytime from Monday the 6th on?", the site rep wants to know. Well, no. The Director is flying in Thursday morning and we're only shooting Friday and Saturday...pretty much as has been discussed since discussing began weeks ago.

Right about the time this afternoon that it seems our location problem will be resolved I get another email from someone else..."Did you know there's a protest rally scheduled on Friday afternoon where you're shooting that day?" What's it all about? "Well, they're protesting the government bailouts and they're marching from Wall Street to your location...where the march will end with a rally." Uh...shit, any idea how many people they expect? "The organizers say about 1000...which probably means more." (How much police overtime will it cost so they can march to protest wasteful government spending...just asking?)

I don't have a solution for that one yet. Here's what I know. We're shooting for two days in NY. All of our scenes are daylight exteriors. The sun will set on each of these days and then we'll be done.

I plan to dance as fast as I can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Can't Johnny Just Opt-Out; (that Heathen little shit)?

This story is sort of near and dear to my heart since it comes out of my home stomping grounds and it brings back memories of my own days in Elementary School.

Parents of two elementary school students last week filed a lawsuit against the St. Johns County School District, saying their children's constitutional rights were violated when teachers required them to rehearse a song that declares "there's no doubt" the United States is a Christian nation.

The school in question is The Webster School, in St. Augustine Florida, about 30 miles south of where I grew up in Jacksonville. The song in question is In God We Still Trust, by Diamond Rio. Go read the lyrics before you go any further. They're relevant.

You're back? Good. If you're like me, your first reaction (before reading the lyrics) was a little bit of mild outrage that public schools are still making kids sing religious songs. After reading the lyrics, I see it as much more than that. Let's leave aside the question of whether or not teaching lame songs with twangy accents is damaging to children. Should Public Schools really be teaching third graders to stand up on one side (or the other) of a highly contentious political issue? An issue that's so plainly the topic of heated debate? A topic that I'd say is as often misunderstood and/or misrepresented by advocates on either side of the argument.

Yeah, that's right Johnny. This is not merely a religious song. It's an admonition to stand outside those Godless courthouses and tell them to stop trying to take God out of your school. "'s time for all believers to make our voices heard."

I couldn't care less if Diamond Rio and their fans feel disenfranchised by the Constitution. I couldn't care less that they think they should push back against what they view as pushing God out of the public square. I happen to think they're wrong and they'll find me on the other side of the argument. What I do have an issue with is teaching third graders in a Public School (in essence) that all those court decisions insulating public institutions from religious indoctrination are going to make the country go to hell. And that's exactly what this song is about. (A little side note while we're talking about pernicious music: The State of Maryland is considering changing it's State Song since it's still rooted in stomping out northern aggression. “She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb — Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!" I had no idea I was still oppressing them when I visited Ocean City. Oh well).

I honestly don't recommend you read the bazillion comments after the article. There's enough stupidity and vitriol on both sides to make you feel both incensed and embarrassed at the same time. (If you don't cringe about at least one comment by someone on your own side of the argument, I don't want to know you.) Suffice it to say that the comments are filled with CAPS-LOCK-RANTING and no-caps-rebuttals and long paragraphs with no punctuation and grammar so bad that you're not sure what point they're arguing. There are disingenuous comments claiming that the teachers didn't intend to be indoctrinating their students. (If they didn't know that might be an issue, they're too stupid to be trusted with the class aquarium, much less a room full of eight-year-olds.) I may be mixing this up with comments I saw to another article about the same topic, but I'm sure as hell not going to waste time arguing with someone who sees no difference between this song and chorale music by Bach. And another thing... seeing In God We Trust printed on currency doesn't raise my personal hackles but if you keep using that as an argument to justify prayers in school, it will.

The thing is, under usual circumstances, I wouldn't get very excited about this story. I'm fairly confident that the court will eventually stomp on the school and the school will whine a lot, but follow the court order and a bunch of parents will continue fighting over the issue and blah, blah, blah, blah. What got me was this part of the article; one that a lot of people seemed to hang their hats on:

"The suit alleged the Webster School teachers in charge of the assembly -- Dawn Caronna and Debbie Moore, who along with the district and Principal George Leidigh were named as defendants -- told students March 11 if any of them objected to singing "In God We Still Trust," they wouldn't have to do so. But if they didn't wish to practice that song they would be excluded from the entire performance."

That's a situation I have some personal experience with. When I was a kid, I went to a Jewish Private School from First through Third grades. At the time, they couldn't afford to have the school go any further, so in fourth grade, I entered Jacksonville's Public School system. I'm not even going to address the fact that the kids could opt out but only if they wished to be excluded from the entire performance. If you don't get why that little caveat might be a problem with eight-year-olds, you're just a heartless, brainless, idiot and you're incapable of having any discussion I'd like to take part in. (Note: if that last sentence offended you, I'm not sorry and don't expect anything you've got to say to change my mind. If you decide to try anyway, please remember I was referring to that little caveat when I started calling you names.)

No, I'm talking about that innocuous offer to allow children to opt out of activities that they or their parents might find contrary to their own personal beliefs. I remember being allowed to opt out of singing Christmas carols. In order to do so, I had to raise my hand, stand up, and announce to the class that I was Jewish and my parents didn't want me singing Christmas carols. I didn't have to do this just once. I had to do it every time the music class portion of the day was about to begin. After announcing to the class that I was different, I was allowed to go sit in the hall. Different teachers had different ideas about what I should do while I sat in the hall. Some thought I should just sit there and do nothing; others thought I should make use of the time by working on my math homework. Regardless, I didn't feel like I was opting out from an activity; I felt like I was volunteering for a punishment.

Maybe I'm just whining here. Maybe I'm still assuming after all these years that my classmates thought I was somehow alien because of my own voluntary announcement. Maybe I'm just imagining that the idea might have been reinforced when our teacher responded by saying, "Nathan and his family don't believe in Christ our Lord and Savior, so he'll be excused from this morning's lesson". Yeah, that's it. I was just imagining things.

Before one of you suggests I should have developed a thicker skin, you should know that that's exactly what I did do. But is it really right to make a little kid stand up and take some stand that guarantees he'll be treated differently? I'm not talking about giving every kid a blue ribbon regardless of how well they make a diorama or spike a volleyball so that none of them will have their self-esteem damaged. I'm talking about adults expecting children to have the courage of their convictions. They're fucking kids! I'm pretty sure those lessons are supposed to come in stages geared toward a kid's level of maturity. I'm not sure how old a kid should be before he's expected to stand against the tide, but I'm fairly certain that Eight is a little young.

I don't really expect the arguments over separation of Church and State to come to some happy resolution any time soon, but would you all do me one little favor? How about if you stop enlisting children as soldiers in your little war? 'K? At the risk of shoving my own beliefs down your throats, I recommend they shouldn't be conscripted before they're old enough for a Bar Mitzvah.

Edited to add: Having thought about this particular case a little more, I'd like to think I'd have sued if I were a devout Christian. That song is just damned Un-American.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Comb Your Hair and Get Dressed, You Lazy Git.

Today has been one of those days that are weirdly productive, yet, at the same time...

I got up at 6:00 a.m., and in mere minutes, I was on the couch, in my p.j.'s, watching the news and looking at in hand. By 9:00 a.m., I was on the second pot of coffee and I'd already done a fair amount of paperwork for next week's shoot and started emailing forms and letters and permits and, you name it.

By 9:15, my phone started to ring. For the next couple of hours, I was making and taking calls and sending out stuff I needed to send out, non-stop.

At a little before Noon, I realized I was still sitting there in my p.j.'s. Now I don't know about you guys, but regardless of how much work I'm actually getting done, I still feel like a slob if I haven't even bothered to get dressed yet. So I hopped into the shower and got myself done up like a real person.

During the brief time it took to shower, shave and get dressed, I'd missed 3 phone calls and had 7 new emails. It took me an hour to deal with those.

Then I started slacking. There were blogs to look at. I hadn't really looked at a newspaper yet. FARK and xkcd were beckoning.

It's now almost 4:00pm and I figure I got a good 10 hours of work done during the the 6 hours before Noon (when I was being a slob), and about 90 minutes of work done in the 3.5 hours since I decided I should be dressed like an adult.

Clearly, there's something wrong with this. You'd think that seriously earning a day's pay should involve putting your pants on, but the evidence says otherwise.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Republican Strategy Emerges.

It really wasn't all that long ago that Republicans were touting how there was room for everyone in their "Big Tent". And that all worked out for them for a while. But over time, the party started fracturing again...and with a metaphor like "Big Tent", wasn't that inevitable? Think of it this way; if the religious right were the lion tamers, then the Log Cabin Republicans were surely the lions. And is it really natural to expect the lions and the lion tamers to hang out peacefully? Hell no. One of them is supposed to shove a chair in the other's face and expects to dominate.

That equilibrium could only hold for so long. For a while, their strategy morphed into something along the lines of "Sure, Bush isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread, but can't we all agree that the Clintons and their ilk are evil incarnate?" That, too, was enough to keep a tenuous bond going for a while.

In the last election cycle, it became clear that the Republicans no longer had anything uniting them. No matter what they tried, it wasn't enough to get them marching to the same drummer. The current image of the Republican Party is being portrayed by folks like Michael Steele, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Michele Bachman. Surely this shows a party in disarray. And a lot of people see Michael Steele's recent missteps as evidence that they're not going to improve on the situation anytime soon. Well I beg to differ. Steele may be crazy, but I think he's crazy like a fox.

See, here's the deal. He's taking what worked about the big tent metaphor and tossing the parts that didn't work. The big tent was filled with conflict, but the type of conflict where the same people were always winning the argument. Now what metaphor from the circus acknowledges conflict, but let's everybody take turns winning. Yup! It's the Clown Car. It's all so cute and happy. There are just a shitload of silly characters piling out of the thing. They may be throwing pies at each other...shpritzing each other with seltzer...bopping each other with foam rubber frying pans, but eventually, the clown car arrives at a destination with everybody along for the ride. And the genius thing is that each one of the clowns gets a chance to show off their own unique brand of zany.

And guess what. While one of the clowns is keeping you distracted with schtick, another one is sneaking up and shoving water balloons down your pants.

Make light of the clowns at your peril.

Never Heard of the Guy.

If you've been paying attention, you know I'm working on a TV Pilot. It's shooting almost completely in Toronto (yeah, that stuff's happening again), and then we'll do two days of shooting in NY to get some exterior scenes and make you think the whole thing happens here. Well, almost by definition, we're shooting in places that have recognizable landmarks or show off the city somehow.

We'll be spending half a day at a piece of State owned property in Brooklyn with terrific views of the skyline. Their permit isn't particularly onerous to deal with, but they've seemed to me to be a bit overly concerned with the question of which actors would be on location there. It turns out they have a valid concern there because they want to make sure that if there might be crowds of people wild to see the cast and/or Paparazzi there, they'll be prepared to deal with it. (Aside: There are a couple of accepted terms for members of the public who stand around watching us film: "Bandits" and "Lookey-Loos". Now I don't mean any offense to my massive gay audience, but I've always thought the word "Lookey-Loos" was the gayest thing I've ever heard in my life. I'd love to see it replaced with something else, maybe "fungi" or something like that. I'm open to suggestion.)

Anyway, truth be told, I realized today that I had never bothered to ask anyone who, exactly the cast is on this show. I zipped off an email to the producer who sent me back 4 names of the actors who will be in the NY scenes. None of the names rang any bells. I looked them up on IMDB, and, sure enough, I recognized each one of them when I saw a picture. They all have entirely respectable lists of credits, even if there are a lot of single appearances on big shows. But these are not exactly household names, sure to draw throngs of eager celebrity hunters to our set.

Thinking I'd be reassuring my contact with the property, I called and told her who our actors were, assuring her that I didn't think we'd be descended upon by ravening hordes. Instead of being reassured, she sounded disappointed.

"Who?", she asked. "I never heard of any of them".

I hope her disappointment doesn't throw a monkey-wrench into issuing the permit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Minutes for the March 2009 Meeting of the UCF.

On Saturday, March 21st, a meeting of the UCF was held in NYC with only two members in attendance. The minutes of the meeting were duly recorded.


The roll was called. Most names called were met with silence.

Old Business:

Not having a quorum, all discussion of the various He(s) Who Shall Not Be Named (this week) was tabled. It was, however, agreed that any further correspondence received from the latest HWSNBNtw, would be answered by sending a copy of The Jaberwocky. Said copy will have random letters excised from the text and then be laminated. Furthermore, a copy of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephisians in the original Aramaic and of generally matching size shall also be included, implying that there is a code to be inferred if one can only line up the two documents properly.

New Business:

The two members present discussed means and opportunities for extracting cerebral tissue from the absent members. Motive was self-evident and that subject was not expanded upon. Also discussed was the securing of an appropriate location to hide the bodies.

It was deemed serendipitous that the two members present were both uniquely positioned to expound on said topics

Motion to adjourn:

The out-of-town visiting membership made a motion to adjourn. The other member present did not respond as he was trying to get the waitress's attention to order another Margarita.

I Still Don't Know What It Was.

The chalkboard said they had


> Jambalaya


The guy behind the counter didn't know (or couldn't say) whether it was

- a choice of chicken or sausage jambalaya
- chicken and sausage jambalaya
- jambalaya made with chicken sausages

Eating it did nothing for my trove of knowledge. It was hot and filling, though.

P.S. If I get any anonymous messages in morose-code today, I know who to blame them on.

Defective Cats (and Alarm Clock) Available. Cheap.

This is an acceptable time for the cats to wake me up when I have no appointments before 1:00 p.m.

This is not.

Unfortunately, the two things look remarkably similar to a set of eyes that

A.) have just opened.
B.) have not yet benefited from the application of corrective lenses.
C.) can barely see around the cat's ass perched in the line of sight.
D.) all of the above.

Furthermore, it errs on the side of suck, when one doesn't realize how early it is until the cats have been duly fed and the first pot of coffee is already brewed.

All of the above items are available to a good home. Actually, isn't "good" kind of a subjective concept? Just tell me you want the damned things.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Tale Told Badly (By One Who Wasn't There).

I've mentioned that I got my start in the film business at Blake Films, a lighting and grip equipment rental house in Boston. I worked there from 1980 to 1986 and in spite of all the hardships that existed there, I really loved it. Recently, someone started a group over on Facebook for Blake Films alumni and a couple of days ago, someone over there said, "We need some good Ceco mobile stories". Of course, I figured, who better to tell the tale than the guy who managed to avoid most of the saga. I hope the folks who were there will drop in to fill in the blanks and correct me where I've made mistakes.

A side note to the good people at F & B Ceco: Please don't sue me. I don't imagine that any of the people involved with the current company were involved with the company in Los Angeles from the early 80's that figures into this story. If I'm imagining wrongly, I'm sure you were really fine people then and even finer people now and I'm sure you had no idea whatsoever that the trucks you were selling to a company in Boston were complete pieces of shit and even though I have no idea what was paid for those trucks, I'm sure it was a really good price to begin with and that you discounted that price even further just because you were really, really, really nice people. Please don't sue me.

So this is the story of how Blake Films ended up with 1 Cecomobile.

Ceco was one of the pioneers when it came to renting out lighting and grip equipment. They got their start in the late 60's and quickly became the gold standard in Southern California. In the early 70's they designed and built a fleet of trucks that were intended to cater to the specific needs of motion pictures shooting on location. It would be a whole lot easier to tell this story if I could find a picture of one of these beasts, but I'll have to just try to describe them.

First, picture a a modern motor coach...two axles on the rear, one on the front. It has no pivot point anywhere along its length, so it has the turning radius of a football field. Instead of one door at the rear of the box, it has 4 doors opening on either side of the truck behind the cab. Unlike a beverage delivery truck, instead of having doors that roll up completely out of your way, they were intended to fold in half and, when opened, form an awning over the opened compartment.

Other than the turning radius (which was especially bad on Boston's narrow streets), what else is wrong? Having been built before anybody used lightweight metals or even, God-forbid, plastics in vehicles, everything about these pigs was heavy. Driving one up a hill made you empathize with Sysyphus. Opening those side doors required that freakish strength that mothers are reputed to achieve when a child is trapped under a car. And once the doors were opened, their angle made it impossible to get anything bigger than a breadbox off the top shelves. (There was an attempt at rectifying this by setting the support bar to hold the door open at a higher angle, but that backfired when it rained and channeled all the water into the opened compartment.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the trucks had to be driven from Los Angeles to Boston. Five intrepid souls flew out to Los Angeles for this task, expecting to take part in a really awesome adventure. There was a fifth truck meant to also make the trip, because the purchase also included a camera crane. This truck was going to be driven by a Teamster so that everything would be hunky-dory with the union. (This crane was reputed to have been the same one that worked on The Wizard of Oz, and I saw a picture once that made me think this may have been true. It was in such bad shape once it reached Boston that all it ever did thereafter was contribute to a rust farm, but that's another story).

So one day, our four dupes and one Teamster arrive at Ceco and I guess they spent the morning getting familiarized with the trucks. Shortly after noon, the convoy departed. Cheers erupted throughout the land. The trucks performed flawlessly...for three blocks, when one of them sputtered and died. After a few minutes of fruitless attempts to restart the truck, one of our intrepid voyagers went back to Ceco in search of assistance. Rental houses usually keep strange hours to be available to their customers. This means they usually keep long hours. This day was apparently a special one-time-only Rental House holiday because Ceco was closed up tight with everyone gone by 2:30.

So, our heros made arrangements to have a mechanic deal with the problem and they settled in for another night in a Los Angeles motel. Their Teamster cohort went home to find his wife with another man. When they got on the road again in the morning, one of their number had been replaced.

The next part of the journey, I can describe very quickly. The trucks took turns breaking down...many times per day. One of the major problems was that they had sat unused for so long that all of the gas tanks were full of rust. They were buying fuel filters by the case. Eventually, they reached Des Moines, Iowa. I won't claim that this trek was in anyway remeniscent of the Donner Party, but by this point in our story, five weeks had elapsed. Mental illness and mutiny set in. Our Teamster basically said, fuck it and booked a flight back to L.A. One of the Boston contingent refused to leave his motel room until someone handed him a ticket home. (Did I mention that at some point, this trip had envisioned having our drivers camp out along the way to save money? Yeah, like that happened.)

So, this is where I actually come into the story. While I was flying to Des Moines and our Teamster and Boston Retiree #1 were jetting home, the trucks all spent a couple of days at a mechanic's shop where they canibalised one truck to make the remaining trucks (somewhat) roadworthy. The canibalised truck would be left in Des Moines to be retreived at some future date. A day later, I had my first personal introduction to the Cecomobiles. The driver's compartment was huge. I'm talking you could have parked a Volkswagon Bug sideways in the cab of one of these suckers. The clutch stood a good 15" off the floorboards and you had to double clutch to change gears. The steering was manual and the steering wheel itself was damn-near 36" in diameter. The windshield crossed state borders seconds ahead of the driver.

I was given a 15 minute tutorial on driving my new friend, and off we went. Less than an hour on the road, I was given my first lesson on changing a fuel filter (a task at which I became quite adept). Later that first day, we encountered a rain storm. Sheets of rain implying the end of the world was nigh. While barreling along at 50mph (top speed), I searched for and located the windshield wiper control. The wiper made three ineffectual swipes at the windshield and then decided it didn't have the strength to remain upright which point it decided it was easier to perform its assigned task on the truck's grill instead. Like the idiot I was, I opened the driver's side window (a task achieved with two hands while steering with my knees), and stuck my head out in an attempt to see. This was not a good idea since my glasses had no wipers, working or otherwise. Since we had walkie-talkies to speak with each other, we were able to all pull over and regroup after the storm passed.

Long story short(ened). We arrive somewhere in Connecticut. Boston is a physical, welcoming presence, sensed just over the horizon. Someone announces over the radio that he needs a bathroom break...we need to pull off the highway. Someone else announces, on the edge of hysteria, that he's just going to keep driving...the next time he steps out of his truck is going to be the last time he steps out of that truck. I stick with the trucks that are going to stop. Halfway down the long, straight exit ramp, I discover that my brakes have failed. At the bottom of the ramp, there's a red traffic signal. There's a car ahead of me in my lane. One lane to the right of that is an ambulance stopped at the light. (I actually took the time to decide they might come in handy in a moment and I steer to avoid them.) By this point, I'm uselessly standing on the brakes with both feet while pulling down on the steering wheel with all my might. Through sheer luck, I made it through the intersection without hitting anything and finally rolled to a stop a few hundred yards later.

I have no memory of what we did with that truck or how I got back to Boston. Eventually, through the clever use of tow trucks, all of the Cecomobiles made it to Boston. Three of them were never used for anything other than spare parts. The one that made it into operation was reviled by everyone who ever had to drive it or work off of it. The only reason it was ever used at all was nothing but stubborness born of trying to salvage something out of the time and money invested.

Long before it was finally retired, the owner of the company had an 8" x 8" piece of its distinctive red plywood shelving cut, framed and placed on his desk like most people display a family photo. Whenever the uninitiated asked him what it was, he told them it was a stark reminder to beware of brilliant ideas.

Comments, corrections and further illumination are all invited from the actual participants. Have at it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hug Someone You Love Today.

You may have noticed the logo over there on the sidebar or wondered sometimes what we were talking about when the topic of the UCF came up here. A number of people have voiced some pretty loony ideas about what the UCF really is (and, frankly, we encourage rampant speculation).

The truth is that the UCF is just a bunch of people who met online and became friends. Over the last year or so, we've grown closer, developed deeper bonds, and come to care for each other every bit as much as friends made in more traditional ways.

Yesterday, one of our number suffered a sudden personal loss.

Today, she and her family are in our hearts and in our thoughts.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Yikes! What Happened To Your Blog?

That's the subject line and the content of an email I got yesterday afternoon.

A bunch of people asked me why on Earth I had asked for the review that resulted in yesterday's shitstorm. Why do kids lick flagpoles when it's 10º outside? Why do grown men take chainsaws up into trees and make the cut on the wrong side of the branch they're sitting on? Why did the U.S. elect George Bush twice.

I guess people are stupid and as they grow, their stupidity just reaches for more impressive levels of stupidity. Hey! I'm people too.

At one point yesterday, I said I'd be posting a review of my review. When I said that, I thought the comment thread was more or less entertaining. Sure, the insults and the petulance kept going off the rails, but they also kept veering back toward having a sense of humor. As the day went on, and then, when I looked at what had happened overnight, I decided I wasn't having fun anymore.

So, I'm done with it. The only thing further I'm going to say is, "I'm a big boy. I volunteered for the skewering knowing full-well what I was letting myself in for. I have some quibbles with the review and a couple of things from it that I should probably take to heart, and if I have any real complaint about it, it would be that it was kind of a lazy drive-by review. But frankly, it wasn't all that bad. I can live with it."

Side note: Last week's review of the Chinese Christian kid was more like when the retarded kid in Eighth Grade wants to be on the relay-race team and even though you know you're going to get a chance to laugh at her when she runs weird, you tie her shoelaces together just to make it worse. Sure, she asked for it and you can unload both barrels at her, but there's no law saying you have to. Some people's blogs make it clear that they have no idea what they're getting into. There's a point where picking on the clueless just crosses the line into vicious and unnecessary.

So, anyway, I'm shutting off the comments over there 'cause I've had enough now. I'm also deleting L.B.'s last contribution. Why? Because I can. Because I feel like it. Because it is my blog and I can do any damned thing I feel like with it. I'll just let everyone know that she closed with, "Ciao, y'all." That's a welcome sentiment.

P.S. Anyone who feels the need to comment about how unfair I'm being should know that I'll probably just delete that shit too. Sure I'm being unfair. Yesterday, I was fair. Today I'm deleting anything that doesn't smell like candy-coated bunny farts. Electric unicorn rainbows will also permitted. I'll probably even leave in insults as long as I think they're funny. (Hint: I thought Ghost's reaction to being called an asshole and his message to the People of Polybloggovia was pretty damned funny. Some of the rest of the stinky pile?...not so much.)

Anyway, I'm ready to move on with new posts that are too damned wordy, (who knows, I may learn how to edit), and my pointless header (which changes every couple of months anyway), and my sometimes nit-picky posts (which warn you that they're going to be pedantic before they even get started).

Have a lovely Thursday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Review is In.

I'm Toast.

Of Mountains and Mouseholes.

When you manage Locations for a living, jobs sometimes drop out of the sky at the last minute. That's O.K. Most of us have a standard hardwired response to most any question a Producer might ask us.

Sure. No problem. We can do that.

We also have the hardwired internal response that takes effect as soon as you hang up from the first phone conversation.

How the hell am I going to pull this off?

During the summer of 1999, I got one of those phone calls...only I didn't realize it at first. The conversation started out sounding like a really easy gig. The producer told me they needed to shoot some NYC footage for the movie, Stuart Little. We wouldn't have any of the actual cast here, but the Visual Effects Director needed to get some shots of a little animatronic Stuart Little driving a little radio-controlled car into the city.

"No problem. Do you know where you want to do the shots?"

The job starts to sound a little more complicated as he explains that they need shots in Times Square...and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. My brief moment of silence prompts him to say, "Oh, don't worry. We're not talking about the actual roadway. We want to shoot on the pedestrian walkway."

"Ohhhh. That should be easy enough to set up. When do you want to shoot?"

"A week from tomorrow. Oh, and they're night shots." Bear in mind that if someone called me today with this kind of notice to shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge, I'd probably tell them that we didn't have time for the permits. Even in pre-9/11 days, and in spite of the fact that I had previous experience working with the people who would need to issue the permits, this was cutting it close.

Fine! I know what you're all thinking. It's a little 10" long car with a stuffed mouse driving it. You'll be running around with a half-dozen guys and a camera and some geek with the remote control box. How hard could that be? (All movie-biz-types reading this are now directed to stop pointing and giggling at the civilians.) The key phrase to be aware of is: night shots.

Here, let's take a ride on my thought train. First there was a little 10" car. Next, there's the realization that nobody bothers shooting in NY unless they want some expansive shots of the city. O.K., we're not going for a few shots with a frame that's a few feet wide. We're gonna get some shots with an awe-inspiring massive skyline. And it's at night. So it will need to be lit.

And it's on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Stuart Little's little car is...little. The Brooklyn Bridge is...the friggin' Brooklyn Bridge! After I jump on the opportunity to do the job, (we only turn down jobs when we're already booked or when they can't afford us), I hang up the phone and start to organize my thoughts so I can start making calls and sending out letters to set this whole thing up. Now, I don't make my living as a lighting guy, but I've been around long enough to know that this thing is going to be huge. About 12 nano-seconds of thought bring me to the realization that lighting-wise, shooting a little car driving across the bridge won't be very different from shooting the NY Jets vs. the MN Vikings...and then the Radio City Rockettes enter from stage left. There's only so much foreground; there's only so much background; there's only so much skyline. There's a lot of all of that stuff and it'll take a lot of lighting regardless of how small the actual star of the shot is.

Before starting my calls, I call the Producer back and ask him how long he's budgeted to pre-rig the set. He tells me that he expects to start pre-lighting on Wednesday if we have any hope of being ready to shoot Friday night. My eight days to prep the location (including a useless weekend) has just dropped to five days to prep the location (including a useless weekend).

The short (and much less boring) version of this now skips to Wednesday morning. (You really don't care how many letters and meetings I could cram into three days, do you?) Let's start with a little geography lesson, shall we?

If you measure from the set to the spot where the cable can be dropped to the road below the bridge where the generators will be and and then add in the altitude of the bridge above the road at that point, you'll realize that there's going to be something like a 1000 ft. cable run. And since the cable run is so long, you'll need to use heavier cable so you still have some power running by the time it gets to the set. So, the electricians will be running a bunch of 4/0 (pronounced "four-ought") cable. And did I mention that they'll be running a 5-wire system? So, it's not one 1000' cable run; it's five 1000' cable runs. (4/0 isn't really needed all that often, so finding 5000' of the stuff means renting it from practically every rental house in town.) The stuff comes in single-line lengths of 50-100', so that's a lot of pieces of cable. Oh, and 4/0 weighs about 85 lbs. per 100 ft. So, you're talking about quite a few big strong guys to lay out 5000' of cable that show up in at least 50 pieces and weighs damn near 4500 lbs.

And another thing. See that little spot where the cable drop is? It's still another 2500' or so to the spot where the bridge finally drops to street level. That's the spot where they'll have to unload all the cable from the trucks and haul it all up onto the walkway (which as the name might infer, won't accommodate anything bigger than a golf cart...and getting golf carts on short notice was a neat trick too.) And that's just the cable. They'll still need to haul up all the lights and the stands and the electrical distribution boxes and the other cables that run from the distribution boxes to the individual lights and the ladders and the clamps and...lots more shit.

And then they'll need to set it all up.

If memory serves, there were 20 Grips, 25 Electricians, 4 PA's and 5 Teamsters involved in this little pre-light...for three days. And we were barely ready to shoot by the time the sun went down on Friday night.

(One little side note: While our 50-odd people with their 10 tons of equipment and golf carts and such were setting up, they were also doing a really good job of making sure they peacefully co-existed with all the pedestrians and cyclists who use the walkway every day. Ah, the cyclists. They're all such nice people, wanting nothing but peace and harmony with the Earth and their fellow man. Mostly I remember their friendly greetings...either an ear-piercing whistle or a hearty "Get the fuck out of my way asshole", as they sped by at maximum velocity and minimum clearance.)

A diligent search of YouTube didn't turn up any video of the scene we were shooting, but a guy by the name of Steve Spak, was on the bridge that night and he shot some tape. Here's a screen shot from his video and you can watch the video itself, here.

Oh, and while we were waiting for sunset, we had another little shot to that shouldn't have been difficult at all. If you look at the next picture, you'll be looking at the Brooklyn side of the bridge. Directly under the bridge (between the bridge and the lovely green park to the right of it), there's a cobblestone plaza. In the movie, they wanted to have Stuart Little's little Mousetown to be right there on the cobblestone plaza. So all they needed was to get a variety of shots of the completely vacant plaza from a helicopter and then they'd insert the Mousetown with computer graphics.

The helicopter showed up with the camera mounted a couple of hours before sunset. (Remember, we're talking summer, so that's around 6-7:00 p.m.) Me and one other guy went over to the plaza with walkie-talkies so they could tell us when to make sure there was nobody standing in the plaza. In 1999, this was a fairly out of the way area, so chasing people out of the plaza wouldn't be much trouble at all.

So, my radio tells me that the helicopter is coming to make a first pass and since there's nobody in sight, all I have to do is make sure I'm not in the shot, so I walked up the block. Right as the helicopter appears, 10 cars and pickup trucks turn the corner onto the block that leads to the plaza. I valiantly stand in the street and wave my arms to keep them from driving into the shot. I explain what's going on to the lead driver and he says, "Sure, we can wait a minute". I ask him what he and his buddies are up to and he flashes his badge. He's a cop from one of the nearby precincts and they're planning their annual beer-soaked barbecue on the very plaza where only Mousetown should be. He explains that he and his buds need to get set up because a couple hundred cops and their families will be arriving in about an hour.

Normally, I'd be able to get him to cooperate because he'd want to see some movie stars. In this case, a little robot mouse that wasn't even going to show up at this location wasn't going to do the trick. Luckily, I not only had a permit for the location (he decidedly did not); I also had a cop on my side who outranked him.

Their party wasn't delayed by much at all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pardon Me Sir...Could You Spare a Cup of Amusement?

I have all sorts of things I want to blog about today. Let me see...there's squat; there's nada; there's diddly. There's zippo, zilch, goose eggs and if I want to be proper about it, there's also naught. Hmmm. So hard to choose from such a rich cornucopia.

Instead, here's a sampling from fengtastic. I'm especially fond of Cpl. Parsons.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Hero For Our Age.

I don't hunt. I have nothing against people who do hunt, but it's just never appealed to me. The fact is that I love meat. I just prefer that it have its face removed and it should be broken down into its component pieces before the two of us are introduced. Look, I'm not particularly squeamish, but if I had my druthers (druthers Look up druthers at 1895, jocular formation from Amer.Eng. dialectal form of I'd ruther,I'd rather), I'd go on believing that all my steaks originated on a little rectangle of styrofoam with an airtight plastic seal.

Having said that, there really is a special place in my heart for those who are willing to go out and stalk their food. The ingenuity that has elevated hunting from grubbing in the dirt, to sitting in an elevated living room with TV, beer, a barbecue, beer, a reclining lounger, beer, wifi, beer, indoor plumbing, beer and...oh, yeah, your gun, is what made America great. I once went to talk to a farmer about using his property in a movie. When I arrived, he and his family were skinning a deer. You may have visions of some guy kneeling next to a carcass, bloody knife in hand. But that's not how real Americans do it. No, in America, the dear is winched up onto a tree limb, and then a length of steel cable is attached to a golf ball, and all the work and energy are provided by backing up a 4-wheel drive jeep. This is inventiveness that I can respect!

Yes! I respect ingenuity. I celebrate people who take the mundane and use it in novel new ways to make all of our lives easier. I believe they should prosper from their brilliant imaginations. One such visionary is Marcel Fournier, of Concord, NH. For whatever lame reason, the state of Vermont, is happy to let Mr. Fournier shoot a buck, but not a doe. (I'm sure there is some reason, but I've driven down the Palisades Parkway any number of times, and I'm not aware of any deer shortage.)

Anyway, putting myself in Mr. Fournier's shoes, I imagine myself thinking, "I'm hungry. Does doe-meat taste any different from buck-meat? I think not." And the truth is that, in Mr. Fournier's shoes, I would have just felt sorry for myself when I couldn't find a buck. I would have gone home buck-less and meat-less. But not today's hero, Marcel Fournier. Not to be deterred, Mr. Fournier shot the first damned thing to come walking out of the woods and then attached a rack to its head with lag bolts.

And you thought How the Grinch Stole Christmas was just meant to teach children about the spirit of Christmas. The lazy intellects among us watch Grinch and just see the surface message. Mr. Fournier saw dinner.

Mr. Fournier, I salute you!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Incomptenz! I Haz It!

I have a tradition of admitting to SHAMEFUL SECRETS here. Well, not really, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of GoogleSearchers that brings in.

Anyway, I joined Facebook a few months back and mostly haven't done much of anything over there. Every time I search for someone from my distant past, I wind up finding 12 pages of people with similar names all over the country. Hey, the whole idea is that I'm trying to figure out "what ever happened to ______________?" If I knew where they lived now, I wouldn't have to search for them, now would I. And don't think the pictures help either. No offense old friends,'ve aged a little.

So, within the past week, I've found myself connecting with a whole slew of people all at once, owing mostly to re-connecting with some people I went to college with and a Group someone set up for people who used to work at Blake Films in Boston, (my first real job in the Biz). Suddenly, I find myself going from having a piddling 15 or so friends to having a middling 70 or so.

Cool? Sure, this could be fun. But then, as soon as I bother to figure out the inner workings of FaceBook, they went and changed the HomePage. Fuck You FaceBook! All of a sudden, I can't find diddly-squat. Where's my 'pokes' (although poking seemed a little rude in the first place)? Where did my 'Groups' go to? I just got talked into playing "Mafia" and now I can't find my master criminal. (I just bought a pistol and a crowbar and a baseball bat and someone's reimbursing me for that shit if you don't show me where I have it all stored.)

Look, I know you're all saying, "Hey, my grandmother has a FaceBook page and she knows how to use it! Hell, my 7-year-old has 1256 friends and he knows how to find them all." Well, I can't find my stuff. Congratulate your grandmother and your 7-year-old on their massive Techno-Fu, but they're not here helping me, are they?

Here's my plan:

1. I'm going to head back over to FaceBook and confirm this guy as my newest BFF. I just know he'll show me he ropes.

2. I'm gonna just randomly click on shit over there and see where I end up. That may not end up well, but my courage knows no bounds and I'm willing to take the risk. (Pay no attention to the "screaming like a little girl" you hear coming from Brooklyn. I'll get over it.)

P.S. I'm going to write a remembrance of my 6 years at Blake Films as soon as I figure out how to do it without getting anyone fired from their current job, dumped by their current Significant Other, embarrassed beyond recovery, kicked out of whatever professional association, disbarred, arrested or just plain pissed off enough to come after me with a heavy blunt object. Let's just say workplace regulations were a little bit more lax 20-odd years ago. And the sentence "Let us speak of this no more", was uttered quite often.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yarmulkes and Gunracks

Disclaimer #1: This post incorporates one of the worst segues, you're likely to ever encounter in Blogodemia. I blame it on a headline I thought of and really liked...even if it didn't necessarily lead where I was going. On the other hand, having the worst segue ever makes it a truly superlative post. Just run with it, OK?

Edited to add: The website Kosmix, links this page when you search "Kosher Jacksonville". I honestly doubt I'm what you had in mind.

About ten years ago, I did the locations for a commercial being produced by a company from Miami. At some point during the prep, the producer and I got to talking and I mentioned that I had grown up in Jacksonville. She looked at me incredulously and said, "There's Jews in Jacksonville?" I explained that Jacksonville had a lot of Synagogues and that each and every one had a parking lot filled with rusty pickup trucks...many of them on cinder-blocks. (That's a big fat lie, but I think she bought it.)

The truth is that Jacksonville is one of those geographically schizophrenic places. Sure, it's Florida, but it could just as easily be Georgia or Alabama. Jews make up a little less than 2% of Jacksonville's population, but I never realized this as a kid because all of us lived (and I think still do), in just a few neighborhoods on the south side of town. As far as I knew, the town was just brimming with Jews.

So it always came as a surprise to me when I came into contact with some redneck who expected me to have horns, or told me quite sincerely that even though I killed his lord Jesus, his preacher told him he had to forgive me. (I never quite understood that one, but I was relieved, nonetheless, that I was going to make it to the end of the schoolbus ride with my skin intact.)

I met a kid once who was absolutely incensed when I wouldn't admit that I new some Jewish kid from Los Angeles. "C'mon! He's Jewish! You guys all know each other!" And don't even get me started on the neighbor's kids who taught my little brother and sister that "Genius makes it rain".

Anyway, I grew up in my mostly comfortable little bubble of traditional Jewish family life and rarely felt especially different. At least once a week, we went to one of the Grandparents' house for dinner where we had brisket or baked chicken with kishkes or kasha varnishkes or, God-forbid, one of the Jewish variants of smoked or pickled fish. My mother was no slouch either when it came to traditional meals.

[begin lousy segue]
So just imagine my sense of betrayal about 15 years ago when I called my mother and asked her for her Challah recipe. There was a moment of silence and then she said, "And just when is it that you remember me baking a challah? I don't bake challah; I buy challah from Worman's!"

Disclaimer #2: That StreetView picture bears absolutely no resemblance to the Worman's I remember. I'm pretty sure somebody screwed up and just searched for the address of the original Worman's...a site that hasn't seen a Jew in 40 years or more.

So, my mother put my sister on the phone, who was no help whatsoever, ("Let's see...there's flour and water and a little bit of salt"). I was determined to figure out how to bake challah, and I started experimenting. I tried a few different recipes and each one was denser and more brick-like than its predecessor. The only thing that varied was the level of ugliness and disfigurement.

So, I'm pleased to announce that I've found a really good recipe and I'm such a nice guy, I'm going to share it with you. I had to monkey around with the ingredients, because the recipe I found must have been intended to feed a family of 45. Anyway, here's the final product. It's really good. [/lousy segue]


-1 (.25 oz.) package instant yeast
-2/3 cup warm water (about 110 degrees; much cooler or much warmer and your yeast won't work)
-1/2 cup oil (vegetable oil or something light)
-1/2 cup honey
- 2 eggs
-1.5 teaspoons salt
-4.5 cups all-purpose flour
-1 egg white
-1 tablespoon water

Note: Challah is meant to be Parve (neither meat nor dairy so it can be eaten with any meal). I know most of you don't keep kosher, but please do me a favor and stick with the spirit of the thing. Resist the urge to toss in any butter or lard or other such abominations! (My mother refused to have Bac-Os in the house regardless of the fact that they're kosher and don't contain anything that ever walked around on its own.)


1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let it stand until creamy (about 10 minutes).

2. Stir the oil, honey, eggs, salt and 3 cups of flour into the yeast mixture. Beat well. (I use the electric mixer with the attachment that has little rubber scrapers that reach the sides of the bowl.)

3. Stir in the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough is ready when it all pulls together and releases from the walls of the bowl. Dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a bit more. (This may not be strictly necessary since the mixer should have done all the work, but you can't make bread without getting cramps in your forearms -- it's a law!)

4. Lightly oil a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl and turn it 'til it's coated with oil. (I like olive oil for this part because I've convinced myself it adds a little bit of flavor.) Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place until it's doubled in volume, about one hour.

Look! There's a picture:

Look! There'd be another picture showing the dough completely filling the bowl if every shot of that hadn't been horribly out of focus.

[Beautiful picture of risen dough filling bowl]

5. Deflate the dough and dump it out again onto your lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 pieces. (OK, the focus here sucks too, but how could you imagine "divided into 4" without an illustration?)

6. Roll the 4 pieces into ropes with your hands. (The dough is really elastic and this takes a bit of work.)

7. Braid the four pieces into a loaf and place it onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. (If the ends don't want to stick together, just tuck them under.) Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise again until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

8. Combine the egg white and the one tablespoon of water, beat lightly and then brush it over the risen loaf. (There's a lot more egg wash than you'd expect. I brush on most of it before baking and then brush on the rest of it after about 15-20 minutes of baking.)

9. Bake the loaf for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

It should come out with a thin crunchy crust and a dense, soft, sweet inside.

Slicing it is fine, but it's traditional to just rip off the first chunk with your hands and eat it Viking-Style.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine: The Sequel...(well, actually it might be a prequel; time travel confuses me.)

Yesterday, I posted about how I'm not so eager to travel backwards or forwards through time because of the inconvenience of the whole thing, but that I'd happily take on a partner to do the dirty work and then report back to me for fun and profit. (No, I'm not going to link the post. You just have to scroll down a little, you lazy ass.) Anyway, Serendipity has turned her smiling face upon me. (Of course Serendipity is female. A guy with that name would have had the crap beaten out of him before the third visit to "Mommie and Me" playgroup.)

Meet Craig, my future time-travel partner. It seems he's been running around Australia putting up flyers on lightposts with all sorts of interesting messages. The one that caught my eye says:
"I'm pretty sure I've invented a time machine. All going according to plan I'll materialise right here at 11.37am on Friday. This is just a courtesy note to make sure you're not standing in this spot at the time."
I'm sure I can make a deal with someone who is this thoughtful. And not only is he willing to take on the rigors of time travel, he promises to introduce lots of other entertaining activities during respites in the here and now. Lookee here:

Could this be any better? On the one hand, I totally agree with him on the kite issue, (waaaaayyy too much effort to entertainment ratio), and I could take on all the cheese-related activities, thus freeing him from something he obviously finds odious. This alliance has symbiosis written all over it!

There's only one snag in the plan I need some help with. What with my expired passport, and time differences and such, I doubt I could show up at the right place in time for the rendezvous. (Hell, he's going to appear in only 11 hours and 3 minutes.) So, if anyone in Melbourne is reading this, would you kindly show up at the appointed place and time and ask Craig to email me? You will be compensated generously (ok, semi-adequately).

P.S. That spatchcock he mentioned had me worried for a minute, but it turns out to be "a chicken or other fowl that's had the backbone and ribcage removed in preparation for grilling." Hmmmmm! Spatchcock!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Set The WABAC Machine For...

Today, Konstantin invites us all to ponder the question:

If you had a time machine where would you travel first?

Well, first of all, since I'm such an ass, I'm duty-bound to pick nits and point out that the proper question would be when would you travel first. Setting that aside though, I'll admit that his ideas have definite merit. So does Ilya's take on the question.

Myself? While there are just tons of people, places and events I'd love to witness, I have to admit that I'm a creature of comfort. We live in a time and place which has a achieved miracles in the area of personal convenience. Is this a non-sequitur? Not at all.

Sure, it would be great to go back and meet William Shakespeare. Find out if he really wrote all that stuff himself? See one of his plays performed for the first time? Those may be excellent goals, but the thing that I imagine is the Godawful stink of England in the 16th Century. I have a deep abiding affection for indoor plumbing and toilet paper. And another thing. Just tell me you understood Shakespeare the first time you read him. I sure as hell didn't. If you're anything like me, you had to have that stuff explained to you line by line. And what he wrote was at least close enough to how people spoke that even the illiterate masses understood his plays. Hell, I don't even understand modern Brits, much less whatever those guys were speaking.

Let's take this thought just one more step. Most of the interesting stuff in history involves people heroically overcoming incredible danger, hardships and privation. There are wars and famines and volcanoes erupting. The Old West was full of people shooting each other over who got to sleep with the whore who hadn't had a bath in 3 weeks. Christopher Columbus spent weeks having no idea whether or not he'd ever see land again. Witches were exonerated only if you threw them into a lake and they drowned. You could die from getting sneezed on.

C'mon guys! History is a foul, horrible place. And they didn't even have air conditioning. And the future? The future is just that place where everybody thinks you're a fucking moron because you can't figure out how to call anyone. You don't know how to cross the street (if you can figure out what their version of a street is in the first place.) And back to the concept of indoor plumbing? I sure as hell don't want to ask someone how to flush that thing.

Time travel? Fuck that. I've just gotten beyond the point where my laptop was just a shiny typewriter. Here's my take on the whole subject. There are a bunch of things in the past and the future that I'd like the real story on. Many of them are things I can make some money by knowing about. I will happily sign on for a partnership with any of you who are willing to time-travel. You can take a digicam with you and I'll sit through hours of footage with you when you get back.

And why, you may ask, should you be willing to experience all the risk and discomfort only to split the take with me while I sit comfortably in the here and now? Well, it's my damn time machine. In fact, I was going to do this as a 50-50 split, but I've decided I'll take 70% until you bring something other than your reckless disregard for personal safety to the mix.

I think that's fair.

P.S. Don't you dare step on any butterflies while you're back there in the past. I will not tolerate you messing around with my present!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You Can Thank Me Later.

I was boring as shit today and I decided not to inflict it on any of you.

You're welcome.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Did Not Watchmen.

Shameful secret time: I've never seen the Watchmen comics or graphic novels or doodles or etchings or lithographs. Unlike much of the WorldWideWeird who seem inordinately personally invested in the movie version, I am the poster child for Apathy. Meh.

I'll admit that if the bazillion posts I keep running across were gushing and raving and wanting to have the movie's baby, I might add it to my "must see" list, but most of you seem really conflicted about the whole thing. In other words, I have no idea what any of you are talking about and I'm not likely to be enlightened any time soon. All I've been able to decipher so far is that there's a Comedian who has a peculiar sense of humor (right?) and a big blue streaker. This is not enough to make me plop down $13.50 plus the price of a drink and a box of MilkDuds.

I'm deeply chagrined over this gap in my cultural indoctrination, yet somehow, I shall learn to live with it.

In other news, frequent visitor Jeff Hentosz has a really impressive looking new site. It's mostly a site for his business, but the "The Lab" section is described as his Shlog. Go visit and let him tell you what that's all about. (And if you have any need of a graphic artist, there's that too!)

P.S. In honor of Jeff's new site, tomorrow will be "International double-space after every period Day". Jeff will be wrapping his head in Gaffers Tape to keep the mess to a minimum.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Let's Do The Time Warp Again.

Walking from the Kitchen to the Living Room, I can count 15 devices that tell time. Some of them claim to know when Daylight Savings Time hits and to reset themselves. Most of those items refuse to acknowledge any legislation signed by our illustrious ex-President, so if I reset those items, I'll probably just have to do it again in April.

One of my clocks claims to know when D.S.T. begins, (not today), and when I adjust it, it just changes back to what it read before I started. I won't be stepping out of any airlocks without unplugging that one.

So, I've currently got a choice of three different times to believe it is here:

A.) The time on the clocks successfully reset.

B.) The time on the clocks I haven't bothered with yet and the ones that refuse to be told what to do.

C.) The time on the antique school clock which hasn't been wound in a week. That one tells me it's 3 hours and 43 minutes later than I think. (I'll just wait to catch up to that one and then wind it.)

Some people find this whole time-shift disconcerting. I find it comforting that for at least two days a year, I get a pass on when the proper time is to do stuff. Naps help too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This One. (Yeah, Good Luck With That.)

Or, The Post That I Keep Threatening To Post and Keep Not Getting Around To It.

Once upon a time, I recommended that you guys should be reading Elana Frink's Girl on Girl Action. Elana is an aspiring writer living in L.A. Let me clarify that by saying that, as far as I'm concerned, she's already a writer, she's just waiting for the people with all the money to get clued in. She has a warped sense of humor that I happen to like a lot and which, someday, will earn her bags and bags of money. (She also has the kind of written voice that's very distinct, therefore lending itself to famous Directors and faceless Studio Suits completely missing the point and making really stupid pointless movies, but that won't be her fault.)

A couple of days ago, Elana mentioned another blog she'd run across and one post there in particular. On her recommendation, I went over and checked out Ryan's The Glassblower's Cat. The particular post she linked (yes, that one in the previous sentence), is about how actors invariably fail miserably to articulate just how it is that they manage to create the characters they become. Go read it if you want this post to make any friggin' sense to you. Go ahead. It's not that long and you'll enjoy it.

There's a couple of things Ryan didn't mention and there could be any number of reasons for the omission. Ryan may be a very tactful guy. Maybe he's humble. Maybe he has in the back of his head the fact that actors can have an effect on a writer's prospects. (This is a ridiculously incestuous business and basically anybody who has made it in any capacity whatsoever, can order the coup de grace delivered to anybody who is still trying to make it in any capacity. Believe me, if Christian Bale had been annoyed at the boom operator on his movie, that boom operator would have found himself operating a completely different type of fishing pole as quick as you could say, "lots of free time on his hands".) Whatever. I'm not particularly tactful or humble and my sense of self-preservation is woefully lacking.

The central point of Ryan's post is how actors answer the question:

"How did you craft such a complex, haunted character with such a fascinating history?"

The first potential answer that Ryan neglected (an overly honest one), would have been, "Well, you do know that somebody wrote all the stuff my character did and said in the movie." I'm not trying to downplay the impact a talented or brilliant actor brings to a role, do I say this...some actors just aren't very creative. They don't all have a whole lot to say on their own. I've encountered more than a few actors who are absolute chameleons when it comes to a written character, but can't carry on a conversation at the Craft Service table. Just watch some actors appearing on the late night talk shows trying to plug their movies without a script and you'll see what I mean. The truth is that some of them are in deep shit without someone to provide their lines.

The second potential answer is one you'll rarely hear because many actors have minders provided by the studio because they're...intellectually challenged. These are the ones who have lots and lots and lots to say, much of it really stupid. These are recognizable by the fact that when they're asked that question, given their druthers their answer will take all the credit for the memorable character they played. Nobody wrote their lines or screen direction. Nobody told them which word to stress. Nobody told them where to stand. Nobody lit them or photographed them with a filter that took 12 years off their face. Nobody cut the thirty-two takes where they kept referring to their co-star by their real name instead of their character's name.

All of this is a long lead in to telling you about a little episode I had completely forgotten about until I read Ryan's post. In the summer and fall of 1994, I was the Location Manager on The Jerky Boys. The Jerky Boys, for those of you who missed their moment of fame, made their names by making and recording prank calls. If I recall, they were just doing it for fun at first and then, since the recordings started making the rounds of college campuses, they actually scored a record deal with the act. Much of it was very funny. Of course, it led to a movie deal.

As is often the case with movie deals like this one, the idea was the thing. The Jerky Boys are selling lots of record, ergo, they'll sell lots of movie tickets. Nobody expected this to be a masterpiece, just a comedy that would make more money than it cost to produce. We started pre-production with a Director, the stars, (Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed), and no script. I'm not sure if there was even really a synopsis. As far as I can remember, there was just the idea that Johnny and Kamal would play themselves, get into some sort of situation because of a prank call gone wrong, and then save themselves with more prank calls and their quick wits.

Without a script, there wasn't a whole lot for me to do when I started the show. It was decided that I'd just spend some time driving around with Johnny and Kamal and they could show me all of their old stomping grounds. Everybody figured that if I got to know Johnny and Kamal and got to know the places where they grew up, I'd be a step ahead of the game when it came time to start finding the locations for the movie. Hey, I was on payroll and it wasn't keeping me from anything more important, so what the hell.

I think I spent four or five days driving around with these guys. I got to see their childhood homes, the schools they'd gone to, the places they had hung out. That got us through the first day. The second day went something like this: One of them would point at a diner and say, "Hey, we ate there once didn't we?" The other would say, "Yup, I think so." Then I'd say, "We'd better go have breakfast there. Gotta make sure I soak up every bit of Jerky Boys atmosphere available." As the day wore on, we'd find bars they had been to at some point in their lives. Those few days were a lot of fun.

Eventually, we got a script and I hired scouts and we found locations and we went and looked at them. On one of these early scouts, I discovered that this movie was planning to jump the shark before the first day of filming. There's a sequence in the movie where the boys have been kidnapped by mobsters who take them to their hideout which happens to be a meat processing plant. They're supposed to escape by jumping from a second-floor window onto the roof of a delivery van and then driving away. I don't remember why, but for some reason, it was decided that the jump was too high and everybody stood around offering ideas on how to deal with the problem. Jokingly, I suggested that the boys could throw out a "string" of hot dogs and climb down that onto the truck. I was sincerely horrified when the director decided that was a good idea (which is, in fact, in the movie).

Aside: In the scene where the boys are being escorted into the meat processing plant, there's a sort-of "Mobster wall of fame" that shows up in the background. The photos are "before and after" pictures of the gang's ex-enemies. The before pictures are all of big lunking tough-guy types (some of the Teamsters posed for these shots) and the after pictures are all huge piles of hot dogs. The last picture you see is of me (in a horrible plaid jacket), and a pile of maybe 6 hot dogs. -- See, now you have to go rent the damned movie. Hah!

Anyway, back to the whole point of this, eventually we started shooting. One day, there's a video crew on set shooting 'behind-the-scenes' footage and interviews with the cast and the other above-the-line types. I happened to be standing nearby while Kamal was being interviewed. The interviewer asked him something along the lines of whether or not he found acting difficult. He answered that it was a lot of hard work. There were all those lines to learn and lots of long hours to work. And then he said something that really got my attention. I'm totally paraphrasing here, but he pointed at one of the producers and said, "I want that guy's job. I don't know what the hell they do all day but every time I look at one of them, all they're doing is talking on the phone. I could do that, no problem."

I don't recall seeing any of that footage in the promotional material.

P.S. I have a feeling this post will teach me not to hype a story for two days before getting around to writing it. Have a happy weekend.

Edited to add: "The Mobster wall of fame" (That's me on the right.)

More Stuff While You're Waiting For Me To Write.

Via Whatever, (well actually, Whateverettes - on the sidebar), here's some naked German people. I have two things to say about this. One: Uh, it's naked German people. You do the math and decide where you're safe clicking on it. Second: I know this isn't necessarily a reasonable sample of the German population, but there seems to be a dearth of Jewish men.

Just sayin'.