Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spring Fever 2007

Here we are at the last day of May. Almost halfway through 2007 already. I've been a busy boy. It will take me the rest of the year to finish the films I've shot this year. As if I won't start any more projects. Even though I probably shouldn't until some of this and last year's work have been finished. Maybe just a couple of sixty second spots for kicks to keep the monthly juices flowing. I spent last night and this morning looking at Dangerous Writing. It's looking really good and won't take long to cut that together. If we're not careful, it will be finished prior to Made Crooked. Which has been abandoned while we have been shooting DW.
What a glorious Spring. The Mets have the best record in the National League. They seem to have completely rid themselves of their hapless ways the past couple of years. They sit solidly on top of the NL East while the Yankees are out of contention and in last place of the AL East. I'm as happy to see the Yankees stink as I am to see the Mets prosper. I hate the Yankees with a passion. Living in New York as a Mets fan during the years the Yankees won several World Series was hell. Yankee fans are awful. I'd be in a deli at eleven o'clock on a Monday night and some mook that just moved to New York after college would say some crap to me about my Mets hat. Or even worse, heckle Henry when he was a baby for wearing a Piazza jersey. The worst of it was the countless idiots that were Yankees this, Yankees that, but couldn't name a single player on the team aside from Derek Jeter. My opinion is that Yankees fans are Yankees fans and Mets fans are baseball fans. I may hate the Yankees, but I can still tell you who is in their lineup. Some of my friends are Yankee fans, but I try not to hold it against them. It's not easy. I'm passionate about baseball. I read the box scores every night. It used to be in the morning before the internet. Two of my children are playing Little League, and while neither seems destined for the big leagues, I'm loving them in their little uniforms.
I leave in two days for a workshop in Maine with Doug Hart. Hart was Gordon WIllis's 1st AC for many years. He wrote the book and teaches the premier course for camera assistants. We'll be working with both 35mm and HD cameras. I've made the decision to steer my set technician career toward the camera department. There's a need in the local market and it suits my sense of organization and willingness to take on the high-pressure position of being responsible for the picture being in focus. I'll also be able to work later into my life than I would as a grip/electrician.
Honestly I would rather not have to think about anything but directing. However, I'm not a commercial director and I can no longer put my family in the position to wait for the elusive big payoff from directing independent films. I need to earn a living and loading film, teching HiDef and pulling focus is the way I plan to do it from here on out. I've bounced around in different departments for long enough. People like to know who they're dealing with in this industry. Director-writer-producer-grip-editor-production designer-acting coach-electrician-rental house manager-actor-cinematographer is far too many hyphens. This last year has been about shedding hyphens. I'll never be one to keep it simple, but I can continue to streamline things a bit.
I don't think I'll be blogging while I'm away, so enjoy the first ten days of June and I'll fill you in on my training and the return to Dangerous Writing when I return.

Pasta and bagels,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 179

Krzysztof Keislowski could shoot as close as he wanted, he could shoot straight into my eyes. He was allowed, because he said what I wanted and I understood it. It was like a complicity that has no boundaries.

Juliette Binoche

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This Man Has My Back

Dennis Brenhaug has done more for my filmmaking than anybody in a long, long time. He has my back in the truest sense, pushing me to take more time, to follow my vision. He's a producer in the old school vein - concerned more about the film than the budget and the schedule.
Thanks to David Millstone for capturing such a perfect image.

Ezra and The Professor

DW Days 6 & 7

It's probably needless to say that I'm a bit tired. We've been going at it steadily since Saturday. We got out of the loft location and hit the streets. No permits, no lockdowns -- we threw ourselves at the mercy of the public. It didn't turn out too bad. I really should give Marcus Aurelius an associate producer credit on this one. Every time something goes "wrong" it brings up a new perspective that helps serve the film. On Memorial Day we were in front of Stumptown on Belmont. Thanks to Stumptown for sure. They let us do whatever we wanted without a peep of complaint or interruption. Our takes are on the longish side as we are shooting most of this film in one-ers. We would get almost there, passersby walking through the frame unaware of the camera giving us free atmosphere and then they would notice the camera and do a huge triple take into the lens. We ran one scene 25 times or so. That was my first scene as a bit player in the film, written the day before, so I was all too happy to get warmed up and tweak the dialogue as we did it. Next up we had a more important scene. We ran that one about forty times. I was stressed out for the first fifteen takes, worried we wouldn't make our day if civilians kept ruining our takes. I talked to Dennis and said let's not worry about scene 3 today, let's just get out of the scenes involving Stumptown and our day-playing actress Maura. That took the pressure off of the next twenty-five takes. In doing so we realized the scene was bogging down in the middle. We adjusted. We did the scene so many times that the actors just talked to each other, assuming the take would be no good anyway. Furthermore by dropping Scene 3 from the day we realized that it wasn't needed as Scene 4 got us right into the story better. Deciding that allows us to look at a later scene relating to Sc 3 that was bothering me anyway. So we can take both of them off of our advance schedule and the story and our schedule are better for it.
Day 7 went well up until the sun dipped behind the West Hills during the second take of our coverage last night. Aurelius speaks again. I was going to shoot coverage on that scene because a very brutal murder takes place. I thought I would let the most violent part of it play just out of frame. But I think after seeing it in the master that I will stick with my avoidance of coverage in this film and let the brutality show. Anybody recall the cabbie strangulation in the Dekalogue? We scouted yesterday's location in the morning. I took a look at my scouting photos today and realized that when we go back it should be in the AM. We should reshoot the entire sequence rather than just the end. Not only is the light better, but the time of day is better for the story and in the rush of last night I compromised on some of our angles. Now that the actors have done it, we can shoot out of sequence and get our important bits up front.
Anything that happens at all, happens as it should. Almost makes me believe in God.

Signore Direttore

Ezra Answers the Call

Visitors on DW Location

My happiest moments on set were when my family was there.

Monday, May 28, 2007

DW - Day Five

We just wrapped day five of our twelve day schedule. I'm feeling much better about the way I experienced communicating with cast and crew. We had a new grip on board, also named Ezra, that was a pleasant addition to our small band of filmmakers. I liked all of our shots. Most of which I storyboarded an hour before arriving to set. I had this big breakdown in mind for Ezra, but I never got past the idea of it. I never was able to see it. I trusted that was an indication that I needed to rethink the story. I opted to make it much simpler. Which fits the minimalist tone of the rest of the film much better. I've been wanting to shoot a film like this for a long time.
I also added a scene and a couple of new characters today. Gives me a chance to do some acting, which I enjoy. The character I'm playing is a good chance to make fun of myself. Always a good idea.

Buona Sera,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Pursuit Race

I was very excited to get back to shooting yesterday. We had a good day and got lots of really great stuff. Performances were very good. Everyone did a fantastic job. Joey not only did a great job on screen but he jumped in and helped with breaking down locations and loading gear. I liked all of our shots yesterday. We did some frenetic dolly shots, a very tranquil and oblique long shot and a couple of very slow dolly moves - a push in and a glacial crab. The crab was so slow that you couldn't tell the camera was moving. My hope is that it is akin to the moves in Goodbye South Goodbye where you think the camera hasn't moved and then you realize the frame has shifted during the shot.
We had a good day. Yes, I said it again. When you get your shots and take the time to make sure you give everybody a chance to do their best work beyond a usable take, you've had a good day. Especially when you have a tiny crew and jump to four locations. I need to remind myself we had a good day because I have some remorse about it. I felt like I was fighting the clock all day. Someone was a half an hour late - during which I took deep breaths and promised myself not to look at my watch until they showed up. First shot was at my place, so I slowly set up equipment and reminded myself that everybody was doing their best. However I only have so much stamina for that patience crap. I noticed that patience got thin as one thing after another went wrong - car crash on Hawthorne, wardrobe miscommunication, ran out of batteries for sound, fight choreography, tricky camera move (I was operating camera), specialty props, babysitter took forever getting the kids out of the house, random duder wanted to talk about learning to direct, neighbors' home improvement projects, et cetera. All the while I felt like we were racing the clock - in a pursuit race with time.
My ideal when things go wrong is to say and feel that I'm glad it happened, remembering Aurelius: Anything that happens at all, happens as it should. But sometimes I can't meet calamity with serenity. I feel my stress level spill into the way I talk to actors, to the way I direct them. It makes them want to do a good job, so as to be one less stressor to their director. It brings tension to their perfomance and ignores that they are not responsible for my stress level nor should they even sense it. I say shitty things like, "Acting 101, don't blah blah" What a dick. How about, "Hey guys, that was great. Remember your blocking basics and shift if someone gets between you and the camera."?
The bottom line is I'm asking a lot of myself on this one. Maybe it's not supposed to feel good the whole way. Maybe that's expecting too much of myself. Maybe I have to live and learn like the rest of the human race. Maybe. I get really caught up in worry that I'm letting people down emotionally, my own behavioral performance anxiety. It's a downward spiral. Without making excuses for untoward behavior, I don't have the opportunity to decompress much between shots or setups. I'm going to have to trust that the cast and crew realize this, yet still feel my support. That's really the key, that we're all supporting each other. It feels like all eyes are on me sometimes, and they are, but it's a two way street. A street that we're paving as we go. I want to experience those rough patches with a smile. Not only for the people that are essential to realizing this vision, but for myself as well. We all deserve it. Being able to do this is a gift. A glorious, wonderful privilege.

Signore Direttore

Saturday, May 26, 2007

create your own visited country map

Folk Wisdom 026

When trees are planted and their roots aren't given enough time to grow deeply into the soil, they're sure to fall during a storm.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back to Work

Tomorrow we resume shooting Dangerous Writing. I haven't exactly had the week off. I foolishly thought I might get some other things done in between shooting weekends. Live and learn. There's always way more work to do than I ever admit to myself.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's scenes. We've got some fun stuff on the schedule, covering a lot of ground. The page counts are not as spectacular as the first weekend. We're back down to earth. I think we only shoot a couple of pages on Sunday.
The prop gun arrived today. It's pretty convincing. I have some new ideas about the story. It's really working on me. I spent the morning going through the story in my head, with careful attention to transistions. Found some good stuff. I think that's a strong skill that I've acquired though hard work -- being able to keep the whole script in my head. I've worked with a few directors that seem to have the backstory to every scene in mind or their projection of what the story is about, but rarely have I worked with directors that really know their story in a way that allows it to breath and change and grow as its being told. I'm not precious but I know what to guard. Or so I think. This could be a friggin disaster in the end. Which is okay by me, (to quote Elliot Gould's Phillip Marlowe in Altman's The Long Goodbye.) I'm not afraid to fail.

Signore Direttore

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Master Says 178

The will must be stronger than the skill.

Muhammed Ali

Nasty Private

When I was in advanced training in the Army, we got called out of the barracks one morning, lined up facing one another and told to call each other nasty privates. We were called upon to suffer this humiliation for failing to pass a barracks inspection.
Why has this come to mind?
I just realized I haven't taken a shower since last Thursday or Friday.

More French than Italian,
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ezra Rosen at Work

The Master Says 177

Fear of rejection, give that up. See, all fear, you have to give up. All hope, you have to give up.
Because there's no such thing as hope in Hollywood. There either is doing it or not doing it.

James Coburn

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Master Says 176

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us...

Marcel Proust

The Master Says 175

Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.

William Faulkner

Monday, May 21, 2007

Three Days Later

Over the past three days I've been a bit busy. We shot forty-five pages of our film Dangerous Writing. How is that possible? I know how it's possible, but I don't know how to tell you in a sentence or two. Mostly I feel very fortunate. I definitely have worked hard, as have a handful of others, but in a lot of ways I feel like it has simply presented itself to us.
Like today, we did the first shot of the movie as our last shot of the day. There was some static on the microphone cable. We were ready to go except for that. We spent the next half an hour trying to figure it out. We had an HMI bouncing into the room. It was our last resort aside from needing to replace equipment. We turned off the light. Solved our sound issue. The light coming in the window was perfect on its own. As we prepared to roll, David said he had lost his prep. I inwardly grinned. Not because I don't trust his preparation, but it seemed like a good thing to me intuitively. We rolled our first take. Pretty good. Couple of adjustments. Going again. It was good. More than good. Something in my gut thought that we had it, but how could it be that easy? Watched playback. Unanimous approval. That's a wrap. We resume shooting Saturday night. I can't wait.

A bit tired,
Signore DIrettore

Sunday, May 20, 2007

DoP of Tommorow

Nicola brought the kids when she stopped by to do makeup for Dangerous Writing this morning. We gave Henry a turn behind the camera. He looks pretty good back there.

Homing In On Fellini

We started shooting Dangerous Writing yesterday. Without getting ahead of myself or becoming too self-conscious, it appears that I am getting closer to working like my virtual mentor. Weeks ago, I laid in bed musing on the fourteen most interesting faces and voices that I knew. I imagined them in a room together. Instead of putting words into thier mouths as the master would have done, I trusted them to come up with dialogue far more unexpected and immediate if I conjured the right given circumstances. They didn't let me down. I have been saying things like listen, put your attention on the other person in the scene, stay alive even when you're immobile, trust your impulses, et cetera for a very long time. Yesterday I said some of those things to a room full of people and then I walked back to camera and hoped like hell it would happen during the fifteen minute take or the five minute take. Most of the time it did. Or it progressed toward it in layers. The producer and the DP were chirping in my ear about how flat everyone was getting. But I had a bigger issue that I had to get across through the leading actor in the scene. I wasn't going to get the rest of the cast buzzing in their seats until it was time. But I didn't tell anyone that. I didn't snap any nasty "I know!s" or "let me work!s". I just kept hammering away at my objectives, trusting that we would get where we needed to go.
Fellini trusted his producers and camera men. I do, too. That's part of the reason I listened to them and tucked their observations away until it was time to address them. In another more profound instance, the producer was instrumental in preserving my vision yesterday. We were getting close to lunch and we didn't have a complete take of the fifteen minute scene I was trying to shoot in one take. A fifteen minute take that gets fourteen people and a baby into the room and introduces each of them, with a uniquely compicated camera move. As one of the crew guys (always reliable sceptics) said after we wrapped, It's a tough way to go. It is a tough way to go, but we were getting close. But not close enough, so I started to employ the Plan B I had tucked away. I shared with producer and DP where I thought to make the cuts and break the shot into three. DP was nodding like a fiend. Yes, yes, yes, he panted (What makes those guys so conservative?) God bless the producer as he sputtered, Sure you don't want to try one more? I think you got it.
Ah, sweet music to my ears! We went back into the room and voila, four more takes. All of them usable and only ten minutes into meal penalty. About which no one griped or even seemed to notice.
The same guy that said it was a tough way to go, asked me if I got what I wanted. Yes, I did. And I suppose I should have said so as simply as that. But, I said I don't know. I'm not the type to fall in love with what's on the monitor. I'm not the type to fall in love with a rough cut. I have to come to terms with things over time. I feel good enough to move on to the next scene. I'm also starting to feel okay about making a crappy film. That's why I'm willing to try it the hard way. I'd rather fail doing something ambitious than something safe.

Signore Direttore

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fresh Frozen

This oxymoronic headline grabbed my attention in Variety this morning:


If a sixty mil budget is indie, what do you call a film with a three thousand budget?
Maybe instead of Dangerous Writing, we could call it Movie From Another Planet.
A very impoverished planet.

When my paternal great-grandfather was a young boy, he walked behind a covered wagon from Minnesota to Oregon. He died debt-free but poor on the farm that they built when they arrived in Pendleton. My maternal grandfather dived for sponges in the Adriatic, set pins in a bowling alley and worked in coal mines in Pennsylvania all before he was eighteen. In 1978, he left a small house in NE Portland and thirty thousand dollars to his wife and children. He considered himself a wealthy man. Hell, my father currently works in a candy factory in Boise, Idaho and will never be able to retire for lack of a retirement plan. So I don't know if I can justly term our three thousand dollar budget, the free time to do it and the twenty-five thousand dollars worth of gear that I own as a blighted existence.

I ran into this production assistant recently cum producer at the camera rental house yesterday. I was doing my weekly internship, studying a Varicam. He asked if I was getting ready to do a little project. I said yes and asked him if he was getting ready to do a little project. He laughed and then said he was producing a music video for a local band. I could have hit him with a 'never heard of them' which would have prompted some predictable 'up and coming' blather. Instead I forgot the slight of the little comment and gave him my full interest and support. We exchanged numbers and I think I'll call him.

There's a lot of freedom in low expectations.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Greenest City in America

Folk Wisdom 025

Fine friendship requires duration rather than fitful intensity.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Countdown to Danger

It's Monday of the final week of prep for Dangerous Writing. I've started to work with a producer/assistant director lately. It has required me to let go of a lot. Which is a good thing in many regards. Where it is difficult is that Dennis is a working AD and when he works on commercials he is MIA. Something I respect for sure, yet I sit and wait to see where we are with but a few days to go.
I've been drawing storyboards and assembling gear. I re-read the script the other day and gave some thought to transistions. This morning I walked down to the waterfront to shoot some stills from the Hawthorne Bridge. I discovered that the shot I had in mind is a bit flat and that shooting over the actors toward the bridge is a better idea. Or I may shoot through the willows on the bank for an even greater departure from formalism.
Audio has been a big concern and I'm doing a little more than crossing my fingers. I've hired someone and am turning it over to him. I'm trusting an awful lot to others on this one. I've discovered that someone with my resources can't make very ambitious films without trusting in others. I would rather be in control, but that's just a fantasy anyway.
I've got a lot of set dec to do as we failed to hire an art director again. I have a lot of art experience, but I am taking on a bit too much by doing it.
It's been hitting me the past few days that I'm asking a lot of myself on this one with or writhout trusting others. We're shooting ten minute takes on a jib arm mounted on a dolly with the camera supported by a bungee rig. I'll be operating camera while Jordan pulls focus, directs photography and manages media. I'll be directing fourteen people in the opening scene. Fourteen people that I want to be alive and in the moment, improvising as well as hitting marks and saying lines. I imagine that I will have eithteen cast and crew asking me questions at once. I welcome their questions, yet fear the limits of my bandwidth. I'll have to choose my battles and let go.

A side note: last week I worked on wrapping the stage for Untraceable. While we were accounting for the lights and cable and loading the trucks bound for California, the sets were being struck. There were piles and piles of windows, set walls and wood. Over the course of the week much of the sets came down. It gave me cause to become conscious of the enormous impact that a single studio film has on the environment. I also thought a lot of the excess gone to in order to create illusions of reality. As I've watched films since then, including Spiderman 3 with my son and his friend, I can't help but see the sets and the artificial light, the green screens and the translights. I got a bit jaded about the whole movie-making enterprise -- a bunch of people that make a tremendous amount of money to spend a lot of money to create entertainment for our uninspired consumer culture. To top off my disillusion with filmmaking, I had dinner with an old friend of mine that has done very well for himself in the business world. He told me he would help me get into the same business if I liked. But you know, even if I could make a few million dollars over the next ten years, I would be ten years older. Ten long years not doing what I love. And that's no way to live at all.

Rich in spirit,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Master Says 174

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Ray Bradbury

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Master Says 173

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Master Works 004

Trouble in Paradise
Ernst Lubistch

Ernst Lubitsch was obsessed with the beginnings of his films. He would not proceed until he knew exactly how to begin.
The opening scene of Trouble in Paradise pays wonderful tribute to his obsession with beginnings. In 1932, if a film were to open in Venice, convention would call for a shot of gondolas on the canals. Lubitsch expands on convention masterfully.
He begins with a man picking up a garbage can on a dark night. The camera pans with the man as he carries the garbage and dumps it onto a trash barge in a dark canal. He breaks into song as he climbs on board.
We then see a man in silhouette jump from a window into some bushes. A crime has been commited. Another cut to a distinguished gentleman on a balcony looking out onto the canal. A waiter asks him how he would like to begin the evening's meal as a beautiful lady arrives below in a gondola. The gentleman responds that he needs the waiter's help as beginnings are so difficult. The waiter responds to each of the gentleman's questions with a snappy, "Yes, Baron". The Baron informs the waiter that "the meal must be marvelous. We may not eat it, but it must be marvelous." A few more "yes, barons" to the Baron's "I want to see"s and then finally, "And waiter, I don't want to see you." "No, Baron."
The scene could end well there, but Lubitsch has one more treat for us. The waiter plucks a leaf from the Baron's suit jacket. He pardons himself as he hands it over to the Baron who tosses it from the balcony.
Ah, The Lubitsch Touch!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Master Says 172

There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.

Conrad Hall

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Easy (Like Sunday Morning)

I'll never forget one of the performances at the talent show when I was in the fifth grade. Tammy Primiano, a seventh grader, did a dance routine to Easy by the Commodores. I sat transfixed as she swayed and moved in her leotard. She was beautiful.
Twelve years later I ran into her in a bar. She was just sort of ordinary looking, not at all the type of woman that captivated me back in the fifth grade nor in my early twenties. I, on the other hand, had grown into my looks and was all too aware of the effect I had on women. She was with a grade school friend's older sister. Tammy and I had never met, so she didn't remember me when we were introduced. I went straight into seduction mode, though I blew it by mentioning the Easy dance routine too soon. She was embarrassed to the point that the conversation ended with me trying to convince her that I wasn't making fun of her. And that was that. I never saw her again. But I can still feel my hands clapping for her at the end of her performance.

This Sunday morning doesn't feel so easy. Little children in my charge as a wife runs off to a photo shoot doesn't make for an easy- like Sunday. In fact I'm a bit anxious this morning. I'm thinking a lot about audio for my films. I wonder if it's the next layer of micro-budget filmmaking that I need to address or if it's my way of infusing some anxiety into an otherwise assured sense of my filmmaking abilities. Like a need I have for everything to be jittery. Excitement junkie that I can be.

That's what finally brought me to end my lifelong cigarette habit. I started smoking at the age of nine. I watched my grandmother die of lung cancer in high school. The health benefits of quitting never served as a sufficient incentive. It wasn't until I recognized that it was cutting me off from the moment that I was able to quit. I was getting deep into directing, acting, writing, producing, teaching. Really pouring myself into mind and body, but then I would go smoke a cigarette. I started to notice this punctuation -- like I would be sticking all these full stops, commas and semi-colons in my day.

I think I've switched from smoking to telling myself that I'm not enough or don't have enough to punctuate my days. I've practiced letting go of the more mundane consumer comparisons, like scanning the other cars and trucks while driving, trying to determine the perfect automobile to meet both my practical and egotisical needs. Or getting caught up in the slavery of constant home-improvement projects. Our kitchen and bathrooms look almost third world for lack of paint and modern appliances and fixtures. I would have never let that happen in the past. Lately I say, I want what I have as a mantra when desire creeps in. Not always, but more and more.

Fact is, I have big appetites to feed. Getting enough is not easy. Common sense told me I shouldn't start Dangerous Writing. Not until I had some other stuff sorted. There were some practical reasons to push on, mainly David going away to grad school. The thing that really got me was how much it was working on me. I couldn't ignore the story. I sheepishly brought it up to my wife and then to Dennis. They were both in favor or going for it.

I still want the kitchen to look nice, but I've learned to wait. To respect that as an artist, I don't get to have it both ways. Bohemian delights in an upper-middle class wrapper. Same with my films. I can't sit around and wait for the Studios' greenlight. Nor do I want to spend my precious time raising money. But I want my films to look and sound good. I like to buy gear because I don't like to spend money on rentals. For many things you need insurance, which I don't have. Then you need to reserve it, go pick it up and return it. A lot of phone calls and running around. To top it off, rental houses base their rates on twenty rentals paying off a piece of equipment. If I'm going to use something twenty times in the next two years, I try to find a way to purchase it. I write it off on my taxes and I rent some of it out. I've made as much money this year renting gear as I have working. On top of that I have really good credit, both personally and for my business, so it's all too easy to make purchases.
The thing about audio gear is it doesn't go obsolete like cameras. I remember the salesmen trying to tell that when I bought my first audio stuff. If only I had thrown down the cash once. But I didn't and "if only" is an attitude that will kick my ass if I let it run free. Good sound people are worth their weight in gold and they know it. To hire one of those guys they charge a minimum of $700 per day. With their gear. That's their indie, I'm doing you a favor rate. Even when you're ready to kick that amount down, they are rarely available. And they often want a mixer and a boom op. Totally understandable, but hard to accomodate with no money. And I love to keep these crews tiny. Keeps everybody focused.

My thought is to turn to one of the guys that has some experience but has no gear and to put some quality gear in his hands. I also need to learn what makes good sound and check in with them until they've proved to be competent. Unlike on London Calling with planes flying overhead and the soundman saying, Not hearing it. Go ahead. Only to find he'd turned the levels down so far that next to none of the dialogue was landing on the DAT.
I'm going to talk with a couple of the up and comers this week. My dream would be for them to hustle their next jobs using my sound package. I would make them a sweet split. We'll see.

I have a lot of Dangerous Writing meetings and rehearsals today. That's probably some of my anxiety -- i just want to get to work. There's been some wonderful synchronicity happening.

Take it easy,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Master Says 171

I would rather people feel a film before understanding it.

Robert Bresson

Cinco de mayo


Having lunch in a little Mexican town called Cholula. Menu del dia which is
always a bargain. Four small courses and a drink for a buck. Lots of
students in this cafe. One dusky Mexicana with hips like two battleships
isn't being coy with her stares. You know how those things go. Her lunch
companion is my lunch companion’s teaching assistant.
We offer them a ride in our car. On the
way to the car I step off of the high Mexican kerbside to the dirt street
as she tells me her name. Paloma.

You have to say it like she said it. “P”'s are not aspirated in Spanish.
Put your fingers in front of your mouth and say p-words until no air
comes out. That's the spanish p. Soft and pretty.


Very confident girl. The way she walked. The things she said. Si,
vamonos. She said when I asked her out.
No importa that I am a professor? No importa, she said. No giggles.
That Friday night I took her to Puebla, the colonial
city near the university. We had drinks in an old building lit only by candles and
torches. She told me to tell her stories. You are a writer, tell me your stories. I was shy to
talk about sex in Spanish back then.
All of my stories seem to be about sex. Since then I've made Cuban girls blush. I told
Paloma some of my stories. She listened. She did not blush. Or giggle. We walked around the old
city in the dark second world night. In the quiet of the thick-walled narrow streets I heard her say my name under her
breath again and again. That made me feel more triumphant than
sexual seduction ever did.

I seduced Paloma Hernandez Gallardo one afternoon after lunch. She came
to my office a few weeks after our date. She sat at my desk and looked at my writing. She read a few
lines aloud. Her English was pretty good. She giggled finally. I took my shirt
off. She gasped. ¿Por que? she asked, fearing all the pictures
and words on my body. I can't tell you she learned to appreciate them. Though
she continued to visit my office in the afternoon
to interupt my writing.

Paloma seemed like a woman in every way. Her hips and mind and lips. Her
hair was thick and dark and wavy and it seemed most of all like the hair of
a woman. Buy me a chocolate cake manana. It was her birthday, she said. The next day
Paloma turned sixteen. I only thought to ask her age after I saw the
way she ate that chocolate cake.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Master Says 170

A writer ought to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

Mark Twain

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Another One Down

We finished Klepto today. Sean put the finishing touches on the sound effects and music. I did the titles and end credits. Jordan did a little color grading. We'll be putting it on DVD for the cast and crew in the next day or two. Then I'll put it on the shelf until a local festival calls for entries.
I'm kind of numb about it. In part because I'm quite tired from being up most of last night. Though I think there's something else going on, too. Like I don't want to get too excited about it. If I get excited about it and you think it's lame or just okay; I'll look foolish for being enthusiastic about my work. Playing it cool is what I do best. Back in the eighth grade my homeroom teacher wrote a little couplet for each student when we graduated. Neal Corl always leans way back in his chair as though he has nary a care. I would have preferred something about my love for basketball or my disruptive antics.
Anyway, I finished a film. That's progress.

Too cool for school,
Signore Direttore

BlahBlahBlah - HeroZeroZeroHero

I've never been a big sleeper. I know people that can sleep until three in the afternoon given the chance. Not me. Even when I was out and about and up past the sunrise, I was still up before noon. Since I've had kids, it's been even worse. If I pull an all-nighter, I'm still up around seven -- dehydrated and feeling hungover in spite of the fact that I haven't had a drink in years.
I often come to in this dry and semi-lucid state with a somewhat inflated sense of myself. A sort of euphoria that tells me I can conquer the world. Because I ultimately don't believe I will have any success, I exploit my manic perspective to envision grandiose fantasies. It's an optimism I am not accustomed to and try to squash as soon as possible. Whatever I have accomplished, I minimize and shortly thereafter fill myself with shame for having thought I might have come up with something that should even see the light of day.
My fear of success is evident in the many unfinished projects and mountains of insulation piled in and around my edit suite and office. I'm trying to change that dynamic. The solution is pretty simple - I show up for the work, I ask for help and I let go of the results. I don't do any of the former perfectly and I've learned that I don't have to. All I have to do is show up. Being able to do this is a big deal for me. I've encountered mucho resistance to it.
One of the projects I've been working on for the past year is Made Crooked. From the beginning, I was determined that for once I was going to embrace mistakes. I let go of the idea that I would make something even close to perfect. Hence the title, which came to represent so much more than my willingness to make something not perfectly straight. It was made crooked because I didn't tell the actors we were even making a film. It was made crooked because I knew the story I wanted to tell and yet it revealed itself to me through its telling. It was about a family, which brings to mind a leafless tree as well as a graphic diagram of lineage. It was based on a quote from Ecclesiastes, claiming that no man can make straight what the divine has made crooked by design. This brings to mind all the wonderful organic shapes in nature -- none of them rectilinear, all of them perfect. It was made crooked because as much as I wanted to make mistakes, I vainly knew I was onto something bigger than I had ever imagined. I selfishly and irresponsibly took the spoils, finding out just out made crooked I myself am.
When the dust settled, it seemed this magical film had some serious shortcomings. Nonetheless, I tarried on; after all wasn't that the point? When we finally sat down to edit it, It seemed that it was an irredeemable mess. There was no way it was going to cut together in any way close to my vision. So I gave up on it as a film, but was determined to use it as a valuable tool to improve my filmmaking. I really wanted to stamp my feet, point some fingers and indict myself for being a hopeless hack. There was a brief period last fall in which I resolved to give up directing and limit myself to writing. Thankfully I didn't want to cut and run without assembling the footage from our made crooked experiment in order to serve as a coherent record for all that had invested their time and energy in the project.
And special thanks to Cassidy for believing in my work enough to commit to a remake of Made Crooked. With that unexpected turn of events, the motivation to create a record for what we had done was even greater. I would use the original to rewrite the script and to prepare to direct a more experienced cast and crew with a much bigger budget. It would serve as part of our presentation to actors, crew and investors as well.
I've showed it to a number of people over the past few months. Jordan and I have gone round and round, frustrated and angry at each other. We would often lament how close it was -- if only this shot was better, if only we had done it this way, if only, of only, if only ... He thought there was a short in it. I was adamantly opposed to reworking it until I saw the story laid out for better or worse. Where's that scene? It's shit, completely unusable. Okay, forget it. Put a Scene Missing title card in its place. The scene missing card was put off. We were closing in on wrapping it up. We chose a few key scenes to print onto DVD and showed that to people. Positive feedback. Some yeah buts on my part in response. I don't want to make a film I have to qualify or apologize for. Blah, blah, blah. Hero. Zero. Zero ...
Looking at the calendar I realized we were coming up on the year anniversary of filming. I offered Jordan a little cash bonus to try to meet an April 30th deadline. Just finish the damn thing, it doesn't have to be perfect. As we toiled, we found ways to make it work. Suddenly there were no scenes missing. We didn't actually need every last shot to make it fire on all cylinders. We started to trust. And we even had fun coming up with solutions. Some things came together surprisingly quickly. Other things that seemed like they would take but a second became laborious. As the day became night, we chose and fought our battles well. As the night became morning I started to fall in love with the original Made Crooked. It was good enough. I started thinking maybe it could stand on its own, that we didn't need to remake it after all.
Then I came to after a few short hours of sleep and started thinking Made Crooked just might launch my career after all. If I ... and get so and so to ... and finish that ... I'll take a bunch of meetings and ...
Stop. Breathe. Do. The. Next. Right. Thing.
I'm going to take it easy today. A little time with Baby June this morning. Finalize the sound on Klepto with Sean. Henry has a baseball game this evening. I'll see how I feel about Made Crooked after I have had a full night's rest. I didn't go through all of this to revert to an ego-driven approach to filmmaking. All I have to do is show up, ask for help and let of the results.

See you in Hollywood!
Signore Direttore