Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Premium Justice

Legacy: He Insures JUSTICE!

For the past week and for the next five weeks, I am in my company’s training program. I’m in a hotel about 70 miles from home, but it looks and feels like the midwest suburbs. When people complain about suburban sprawl, they complain, knowingly or not, about this place. It’s not that it all doesn’t look nice, I just can’t tell where one strip mall ends and another begins. 200 yard across the parking lot from the AMC 30 cinema, there is another multiplex with 22 additional screens. That’s 52 screens sharing one parking lot. But no one’s showing “Bellflower,” (just for example)?

All of this to say, I recently finished the first draft of a screenplay, so I’m writing a short film as a kindof creative wasabe before jumping into re-writes next week. Taking a page from a combination of current circumstances/goings-on, the short film concerns an insurance adjuster handling claims for damage done by a superhero from the brand new, wildly popular, destined-for-greatness card game “Sentinels of the Multiverse” (I obtained permission for the use of their characters).

Well so last night as I was outlining the story – God-willing, it will be under 15 pages – it occurred that a hero or villain’s insurance policy would have to be different from a regular policy, and I needed to understand before I wrote it what coverages, exclusions, and conditions were present in the policy, so that I don’t have to figure it out during the writing. So, as an exercise, I created some specific, applicable portions of the insurance policy in question, from the Greater Good Insurance Group, a premiere insurance carrier for high-risk, costumed clientele (including [for additional premium] the sidekicks, wards, protégés and the like who may reside with them), and their moral counterparts. Here’s what I’ve got:

Please refer to your Greater Good Insurance Group, Inc.’s  S-27 Heroic-Form Homeowners Insurance Policy  – 09/2008, which states in part:

Section-I – Exclusions

We do not cover the Dwelling, Other Structures – including hideouts, caves, fortresses, lairs, anti-aging chambers, and the like – nor Personal Property, if the damaged items were intended for use in whole or in part for any of the following:

 

#1. Serious Criminal Activities – As stated in the Definitions for this policy, “Serious Criminal Activities” are any criminal activities above a normal Misdemeanor offense or which could be punishable by death.

#2. Overthrow of Government – Any use of covered property, in whole or in part, for the proven purposes of the overthrow of any governmental agency, whether local, state, national, or international – and also including governmental and international peace-keeping or organizational agencies – shall be excluded from all losses under this policy.

#3. World Domination – Any damage to property during the planning, building, scheming, conniving, or any other similar preparation with the provable purpose of – or any direct attempt at – total world domination, takeover, destruction, anarchization, or other similar effort will be excluded under this policy.

For all Exclusions, any loss to covered property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination, damaged as a result of any excluded damage caused to property, will be covered under this policy, unless that property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination in any way necessarily impeded the stoppage of the overthrow of government or world domination (e.g – Damage to personal property in a room – as well as any part of the walls, floor, ceiling, and framing members of the room itself – NOT being used for overthrow of government or world domination, but which shares a wall with a room being used, in whole or in part, for excluded activities or measures, which was necessarily destroyed as the best or only means of access to any property being used, whether in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, is also excluded by these policy provisions).

As well, any personal property in any room being used, either in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, will be considered to be aiding and abetting the excluded activities or measures, so long as said personal property resides in said room.

Section-II – Personal Liability

We will cover accidental direct physical loss, damage, or harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial.

We will also cover intentional direct physical loss, damage, or reasonable harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial – provided that such person(s) or property posed a legitimate, provable threat – whether latent or operative – to the Greater Good of all Mankind, as outlined in Section-I – Exclusions of this policy.

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Perfect Paragraph

Sometimes there is a moment in a book that just gets everything right. You read it, stop, think for a minute and recover from the gut-punch. I’m really loving Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and late in the book, there’s that moment, in a book filled with greatness already; but this one could stand alone as its own mini-short story. A complete beginning middle end, conflict, heartbreak, wonder, and writing so good you consider learning how to write all over again.

As they went out of the room Rosa turned to look at Tommy and had an impulse to go back, to get into his bed with him and just lie there for a while feeling that deep longing, that sense of missing him desperately, that came over her whenever she held him sleeping in her arms. She closed the door behind them.



Visual Stimuli

Quick movie-related bits to get back into the swing of blogging:

–Two trailers for next summer movies: “Green Lantern” looks good, not great, we’ll have to wait to see how it’s executed. Ryan Reynolds is earning his paycheck, but anyone want to tell me why we need Blake Lively in this thing Blake Lively-ing it up? Jon Favreau doesn’t like time off, and “Cowboys & Aliens” looks mega-kickass. You see how it’s not winking at us in its purely Western moments? How it doesn’t feel anything at all in any way even just a little bit like “Jonah Hex”? How it’s got James Bond and Indiana Jones in it? And Aliens! I’m excited.

–Double Sequel Movie Day – “Toy Story 3” again at second-run theater [aside from all its other brilliance, do you see how it is in many ways about the writers and creators using their new computer toys to visually remember – and render – what it was like to play with their tangible, childhood toys? Pixar=Meta-brilliance] and right down the street, midnight showing of “Harry Potter 7.1″ aka ‘ ” ” and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,’ which contains my favorite moment (SPOILERS!!!), rendered very nicely, in which Ron defeats one of the horcruxes (-cruxi?) and in so doing, his own worst fear. Great story-telling, I enjoyed the pacing even if I thought some of the more suspenseful sequences could have been handled better. They placed a lot of trust in the three leads, and they handled it excellently. I’m already giddy to see Part 2!

–The Coen Brothers have their remake of “True Grit” coming out, and I just noticed the tagline on their four character posters: “Punishment Comes One Way or Another.” It’s remarkably similar to their 2007 Oscar-wining film, “No Country For Old Men,” whose tagline similarly encouraged: “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” Also a western. Also an adaptation. Also about people trying to hunt down Josh Brolin. The stories are quite different, but the territory is the same. [Also exciting: the trailer tells us the film comes out at Christmas, and the word it offers to cement this is “Retribution.” As a Christian, I’m wondering aloud, here: too soon?]

–Speaking of Oscars, my-oh-my what an off-year we have here for movies. Some gems: “Toy Story 3,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” [RENT IT!] and “The Social Network.” And a few key late releases like the Coens’ film and also “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “Somewhere,” “Blue Valentine,” “Another Year,” “Black Swan” and “The Fighter.” Still, that’s not a large crop from which to choose. My guesses, very early in the game: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress all go to “The King’s Speech” and maybe also Original Screenplay. Director, Adapted Screenplay, and a few other tech awards [cinematography, editing] go to “The Social Network.” Actress to Annette Bening for “The Kids Are All Right” [and for surviving two losses to Hilary Swank] and the film may also get Original Screenplay. Much of this is up in the air, of course, and some of the buzz for “The King’s Speech” could die down if it’s not as brilliant as the early word or if some other film gains momentum. So I really don’t even hardly stand by what I’ve said, except but conjecture is fun for me right about now. If I had my would-rathers, “Toy Story 3” would be much higher on the list.

–Just as an announcement, you can purchase my short film, “Reservations” for a mere $5 here, and I encourage you to do so. The money barely covers all shipping and printing, but the point is that I’d like people to see the film. I’m actually very proud of it. The performances are good, it’s funny, and it’s well-made. There’s even a commentary track discussing the film, if you’re into that sort of thing.

–Finally…writing: I finished a draft of the feature length version of “Trailer: The Movie,” and immediately set to work on the treatment, which meant I also quickly began seeing story, character, and pacing flaws. While conceptually very sound, the scale can still increase a bit more. The second and third act are too similar, the character arcs, and along with them the satire, can be pushed much further. It’s funny, I prefer a lot of chaos in the third act, but what was written was pretty tame. Outlining has become my new best friend. I set up a marker board on an easel next to the computer, divided into blocks that have the broad story beats and specific sequences broken down. It’s a clear, helpful way to get ideas out of my head and onto something I look at and examine. It helps to literally see the flow of the story from one scene to another. And because I love lists, it also fosters even more creativity. I’m also being more disciplined with myself. It’s easy to read books and watch movies [and write blogs] and never get down to business and go, “Well, I have so many ideas, but shucks I just never seem to write them down.” Gone are the days of letting myself off the hook. I sit down, turn off my phone and get to work. Sometimes the pages come fast and easy, sometimes I spent almost all the time outlining, but the time and energy are focussed in the right direction either way. It’s the difference between thinking about doing something and moving toward a goal.

Incidentally, I’ve also been reading about Michael de Luca, who was the head of New Line Studios when he was my age, making films like “Seven” and “Boogie Nights” when no one else would. Eesh. Talk about putting things into perspective.

Things to Do at Work When It’s Slow

(NOTE re: my brain malfunction – originally I wrote “THANKS to do at Work When it’s Slow.” WOW, just… WOW. My sincerest apologies.)

Reading List:

I don't really care for the cover, though.

As if the stack of books in my room I haven’t read isn’t big enough. I may be coming into an explosion of free time soon, so I consider this preparation. The big one on the list for me is Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom. It’s his first work of fiction in nine years (since, in fact, The Corrections, which I will be  re-reading before I start this new one). Of course, I can’t get enough David Foster Wallace, but as much as he interests me, I’m intrigued and apprehensive about reading fellow writer David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, which is…what it says. But. I am interested in Wallace’s own book about set theory (see Wikipedia section below), called Everything and More: a Compact History of Infinity. In college, I really got into deductive logic and this seems like interesting if challenging fun. Also, it is way cheap on Amazon.com. I know some people are wary of ordering books or CDs or DVDs online. I’ve been doing it for years with excellent results. Other books: The Winter of Our Discontent,  by John Steinbeck, was recently highly recommended to me. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. And Russell Banks’ Continental Drift, which, now that I think of it, I might own. I’ve also been feeling like reading more Ray Bradbury, but I don’t know what. It’s difficult to justify buying more and more books that I may never get around to reading. A better system would be to buy a book only when I am going to read it, or a DVD only when I’m going to watch it. But then where’s the adventure in that?

Podcasts:

The Universe expands. I’ve got between 70 and 90 minutes of commute each day. Which sounds like a lot and seems like a lot but isn’t nearly sufficient to bear the weight of podcast minutes each week. So, since things are slow at work, I’ve taken to listening during the day. My go-to podcasts, since the dawn of my iPod, are Filmspotting (which recently had an excellent meet-up here in LA, always great to talk with Adam Kempanaar) and This American Life. I’m also decidedly partial to the great Battleship Pretension, and the Creative Screenwriting Podcast is always interesting and insightful and has great writers discussing their process, projects, how they got started in writing (both personally and professionally). And then there are the shows I love but don’t necessarily listen to regularly, like Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment (which this week has Christopher Nolan, so, yeah, I’m all about that one) and Radiolab, which is essentially This American Life but with science. Thankfully Watching Theology only has episodes every month or so. But then finally, there are two new podcasts; well, one isn’t really a podcast, it’s the weekly sermons of Reality LA, the church many of my friends go to. Nonetheless, the sermons are expertly crafted, spiritually and intellectually sound, and extremely in-depth. The other show is a podcast, and is kindof a cross between …Life and Creative Screenwriting. It’s The Tobolowsky Files, a series of stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry, as told by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. You have no idea how amazing these stories are. How beautiful and engaging and strange and funny and wonderful. It’s a relatively young podcast, fewer than 50 episodes. I’m in the process of catching up, but this podcast is becoming one of the most vital. I can’t really explain it any better than by just imploring you to go and listen to episode 13: Conference Hour, which had me in both outrage and tears by the end. “Tobo” has lived such a rich, fascinating life, and the way he brings us through, the details he offers, the insight he achieves; it’s simply astounding (I usually load 3 or 4 onto my iPod at once and this morning, to my horror, I was out of new ones. Nooooo!!!)

Work:

The question is this. Does a lack of work to do make you complete the work you do have more easily and quickly, or does it make you annoyed to do anything now that you’ve gotten used to your distraction?

The News:

Since it’s one of the few things not blocked by our (hold on, phone call) firewall. So, I’ve been following up with the oil spill and the Senate vote for stricter regulations to avoid another financial crisis, which sounds good except that its critics think maybe it’s not going to really accomplish any damn single thing. I suppose we’ll see. I hope it works. Landmark legislation isn’t really so much of a landmark unless it accomplishes what it sets out to. Otherwise, isn’t it just wasting time? Also, I read a startling piece (here) about the ineffectiveness of regular exercising for people (mostly men) who spend the majority of their day sitting (or just being generally inactive). As someone whose day has been sitting in a car to come sit in a desk to go sit back in the car to go home and sit in front of a computer editing this is kindof frightening! Apparently the exercise can keep us in shape, but it doesn’t counter-act the negative effects in terms of decreasing serious health risks. Scary.

Wikipedia:

What I will look like if I keep working here

Aside from looking up information about every author I mentioned back in the Reading List section, and just a moment ago looking Flock of Seagulls for my Supervisor who’s at jury duty and trying to think of the group who sang “Don’t You Want Me Baby” (It’s Human League, the inter-web taught to me), I also got a cursory understanding of set theory and Russell’s Paradox, which contains the very wordplay David Foster Wallace purloined for his first novel. Mathematical systems have always fascinated me. I look back on the junior-in-high-school me who hit the wall with Pre-Calculus, and I wish I could go back now (Yep, my mathematical prowess here at 26 is that of a 17 yr old. Wow).

Writing:

This gets tricky. My roommate has the ideal situation for non-working-at-work. Graveyard shift, Fed-Ex Office. Eight hours often without a customer. Full internet. Can bring in stuff to work on. If that were me, I’d have a laptop with screenwriting software, a book, maybe a magazine, and untold pages of work done at the end of the night. When you look at it that way, working on personal things at work is the closest most of us come to getting paid to do what we love. I don’t think blogging qualifies, though. And while I am planning to try to do some actual writing after lunch, it’s nearly impossible. The atmosphere is all wrong. There is a focus I need that can’t be achieved with even occasional interruptions of Work-I’m-Being-Paid-to-do. And people. Too many people around. I need solitude. Public places are fine, they preserve personal anonymity. The real problem is co-workers. They know you, but they don’t know you, but they feel perfectly comfortable talking to you, sometimes much more than you’d like. It’s a very strange relationship. Aren’t my headphones a clear indication that I am busy? Or at least not to be disturbed for chit-chat? It seems, No. Because of that daily proximity, you can’t really be a jerk to them, or I can’t, even if I don’t like them. Regardless, their presence pulls me back into the setting of “workplace,” which is not an intrinsically creative one.

And now, here after five hours, after most of my day is gone, I’m taking a break. I’ve got first issue of my Creative Screenwriting Magazine subscription (which is supplemented by aforementioned podcast). Then, hopefully I’ll have a few more tasks to complete so I can feel some sense of worth, and hopefully I can end the day with some leisure reading. I think I saved a short story by Don DeLillo I could read.

Why My Roommate is Awesome

This will be very quick, because I’ve got a few hours of editing to get in before heading out to play Ultimate Frisbee (it’s soooo LA).

This is what I’m talking about right here. Observe below. “Shark Attack II: 2-Shark Attack” kicked off a string of jokes my friends and I were making last Saturday after Movie Night. We were just spit-balling about bad straight-to-DVD (“direct-to-market” for the douchey) movies… which are most of them. Then Adam decided to make this little gem. That he doesn’t make a million dollars a year doing this is the kind of crime that perfectly fits the tenor of Adam’s sad existence.

*(Seriously though, check out his work HERE. He’s insanely talented.)

There is nothing better than a group of friends who can all contribute to a conversation like this. There are four of us, and we don’t miss a beat. It’s the best ending to my week every week. We tend toward the absurd and have a particular penchant for creating ridiculous fake movie titles, franchises, scenarios, et al. Hell, that’s basically how “Trailer: The Movie” ever came about.

I won’t say we never sound totally pretentious, or that we only mock because we love. No. We don’t. We love movies as an art-form sure, but these jokes play more into our fascination with the way the movie industry moves and operates, especially on the outskirts. And shark attacks. Always fascinated by shark attacks. No way around them.

Anyway, we thought it was funny as hell.

Another Shark Attack... And Other Shark Attacks!!!

And… why not:

Only on CBS

Poster Adam created for the Live Show for the popular podcast, “Battleship Pretension

Let's Get Into it, Shall We?

Infinite Jest (II), (III), and (IV)

About  half way through David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus of a novel, Infinite Jest you realize it’s not going to end like a regular book. You realize this because the book tells it to you pretty openly. It spends much of its time ruminating and wondering about and arguing about and analyzing all of the ways in which our expectations tend more to reflect an abstracted definition of success rather than reality. And in so organizing it this way, Wallace gets to the heart not only of his book’s over-arching thematic statements (which incorporate nearly all realms familial, societal, artistic, athletic, narcotic, political)– its raison d’etre (as it would, did, does say)– but also Wallace’s own deep-rooted conflicts about the power of art to change people; of entertainment; of their place and status in our lives, and those of the artists and entertainers delivering them to us.

But it’s even more than all that too. Our expectations (in general, but for the novel in particular too, I suppose) are only important because they can help us try to figure things out or at least organize experience in a way that makes sense from one moment to the next. What should our lives be, what should anyone’s life be? What should we be doing, what does it mean to live life successfully? And in order to answer that, we have to figure out what does it mean to be successful in the first place? Whose definition? Our own? Our parents’? Society’s? And since one of the main ways success is gauged is by achievement, we look at our talents and we look at what achievements those talents can accrue and we set ourselves to the task of achieving those achievements. For Wallace, achievement lies in writing. And so this book is as much about itself as it is about its author trying to figure out what is the best type of book for a single author to attempt to write.

See? This is what happens when you start thinking about this book. Because it’s so big and so dense and can get your mind swirling very easily, I notice I haven’t been able to do more than imply the role that “addiction” in all its forms plays into all of this. But to put it simply, which is nearly impossible to do, to me the book is about addiction – to success, expectations, entertainment, family demons, et al. – and how it takes something more than (and outside of) ourselves to be able to do anything about it.

A Concise Explanation of "Infinite Jest"

It makes sense, then, that the book is all over the place, which it is, though as I said way back in September, not all over the place in a confusing, un-followable way; but instead in an ingenious, alive, playful, searching way. One of the greatest pleasures of the book is its ability to open up your own wonder at how it could possibly have been conceived by another person, how that person managed to juggle and blend and just keep straight all the pieces to the puzzle, while still creating a cohesive, engaging, entertaining piece of literature.

The best comparison I can make is the one that will also identify why I connected to this book so much — Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” Both are sprawling stories in which the unbeknownst interconnectivity of a community of people creates the landscape for the story; in which plot details are not simply vague but indecipherable; in which the past has a vice-grip on the characters and forces them to wonder how far back the patterns go and what, if anything, they can do to change that; and in which the ending can be described as so many different things, among which “conventional” is not one.

Infinite Jest has the advantage of being a novel which allows it to move more seamlessly through many different places in time. As well, because it shows us things with words, not images, it is able to make a character who is almost never actually present the central, dominating force of the book: James O. Incandenza. For fun, I’ll gives the most basic plot outline. James O. Incandenza was an annular- physicist-turned-tennis-academy-founder-turned-uber-anti-confluential-filmmaker (see?) who makes one particular film called “Infinite Jest,” which is said to have be so entertaining that all who watch it cannot look away and eventually die from watching it. A Canadian terrorist cell, “The Wheelchair Assassins” wants to get its hands on the film to make copies and use as a terrorist weapon. Trouble is, the film was never released, so no one has a copy, except but there must be a master copy floating around, right? The filmmaker has three sons, Orin (a kicker for the Arizona Cardinals), Hal (a 17-yr old at the tennis academy), and Mario (who is disabled and shared his father’s cinematic interests). The book also follows Don Gately, who is on staff at the half-way house down the hill from the tennis academy, where he is on parole himself and where he helps others who are connected to the filmmaker and the film itself, though none of them seem to know it. And all of this moves out in larger and larger circles.

When the book begins, James O. Incandenza has already killed himself. The book follows a few major plot lines, chronicling the events of the tennis academy — with about dozen major supporting characters and ### minor characters — and those at the halfway house – with another few dozen supporting characters and another ### minor characters — and then there are Steeply and Marathe, government officials involved in multi-layered double crosses, Marathe being a member of the aforementioned “Wheelchair Assassins.” When your book is 1100 pages long, you’d be surprised how effectively you can keep all of these strands going.

What makes the book powerful to me is the way Wallace balances his book’s world. He succeeds at creating a hilariously absurdist world, which contains so many elongated passages involving multiple complex rationales and some of the flat-out funniest writing I’ve ever read, which exposes the flaws in manmade systems. He also examines the endless minutiae of three very separate worlds – drug additions, sports [mainly tennis and football], and filmmaking – and does so in a way that is neither comprehensive nor simplified and uses them to powerfully extend into the thematic realms.

Because the writing is so funny and so smart and contains so much word-play, there is the very real danger of losing touch with the characters; of populating the world with interesting but ultimately un-identifiable people. And so Wallace deliberately slows things down sometimes and allows characters to talk, to really just talk and communicate and seek and try to make sense of their lives and circumstances and pasts. He allows them to share themselves with others in the hope of creating a connection and maybe just identifying with them. These passages come to us in a few different ways. Some are third-person narrations which take on the particular speech patterns of one specific character, as the events are relayed. Some are told through recollections of other characters, with rich, detailed prose that takes your breath away. Some are told through letters, some through terse transcripts of recorded conversations. There is the tale of the woman who refused to stop using drugs during pregnancy, gave birth to a stillborn child and carried it around like it was alive, so great was her guilt, so crushing was her grief. There is the story of Eric Clipperton, who played every tennis match holding a hand-gun to his head, threatening to shoot himself if the other player did not let him win. There is Mrs. Waite, an old lady who lived across the street from Don Gately and “basically radiated whatever mixture of unpleasantness and vulnerability it was that made you want to be cruel to her.” But my favorite is a monologue spoken to James O. Incandenza as a young boy, by his father. The section details all of the aspirations the father has for his son and also recounts an enormously painful moment in the father’s childhood that involved his father. The monologue is 12 pages long, unbroken by any prosaic interruptions. Just a father talking to his son. I could quote from these passages for a hundred pages and still it would not be enough. There is too much great writing in this book to choose economically.

These small diversions, these “systems within systems” are here because this is how people help other people and this is how Wallace hoped to help his readers, maybe the only way he knew how to. There is so very much of him in this book, so that you establish a personal connection to the writer as well as the characters. This is a writer placing himself right there with his creations, in their midst, on their level. A writer seeking to write something lasting, that will create a bond between himself and those who read the book, as well as between the readers with each other. The book is a constant reference point between myself and a friend who’s read it; not because we’ve created an elite club, but because there is a sense of shared experience between us.

I love books like this. As a writer, it has dazzled me, because it’s something so far beyond the abilities I possess. There is so much skill and craft involved, and yet love of story and of character. I also love it because reading this book is like going to writing class. It’s expanded the way I view writing in every way. It has built bridges to islands of imagination that were hitherto uncharted in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many new ideas to write about.

Infinite Jest can be overwhelming. It takes time. It takes patience. There are big words. But the effort it requires is nothing compared to the rewards that reading it affords. Please read this book. And then call me in 4-6 months. We’ll go get some food and talk about it, and we’ll have a great time.

On-Set

On Set for "Reservations"

The simplest thing to say is there’s nothing like being on a movie set. There’s nothing simple about being on-set itself either. It’s chaos: all busy and technical and clustered and there’s a lot of waiting involved sometimes. But it’s the most exciting kind of chaos: creative. Nine people gathered in a Sherman Oaks townhouse: the DP and a grip talking about camera equipment and setting lights; the other grip setting up our food in the kitchen, just off camera. To the other side of the camera, down in the living room, a large pile of empty bookshelves that had cluttered the dining room with something akin to 500 DVDs and books, which now occupy a hoard of boxes upstairs in the bedroom of the producer. The 3 actors are bopping between upstairs getting into costume and make-up and downstairs eating Red Vines, Almond M&M’s and some new type of Pop-Tart that is kindof like S’mores, but different, too. I’m in the kitchen, too, playing with the concoction of foods and arranging them onto the plates for the actors. It’s about consistency, it needs to look gross and to achieve the effect we had to venture outside what is commonly referred to as “people food.” But I only do one of them, then stash it in the fridge and run over to check on lights, “We’ll be ready in fifteen,” he says, good to know, because upstairs, one of the actors is having hair problems. He can’t get it into a workable ponytail, so we’re scrounging for hair product and clips to hold it in place. I go ahead and explain the shot list to them to try to give a sense of the flow of the night, even though we went over it at our final rehearsal, but with so much going on it gives both them and me a bit of a foothold on everything to list out our agenda. Then back downstairs to make more nasty-fied food, and we haven’t set the table yet. “Which side of the plate does the fork go on, anybody know?” Left is our consensus, but then it’s switched and then a short discussion about napkin placement ensues, because film is in the detail and because this is a thing I don’t know and feel that I should at this point.

Exterior. Set. Night. Awesome.

Once everyone’s ready and we’ve done some final tweaking and we’ve discussed our shots and which angle both of our cameras will be getting and I’ve checked those angles to make sure I’m happy with the spacing – because for this film the close-up isn’t a thing that interests me – and then which of our two boom operators will be where so that no shadows are present, and the actors have all gone to the bathroom and then I’ve gone to the bathroom too, because it seemed like the thing to do and because I wanted to be in private alone for just one moment to offer up a quick thank-you for even getting this far… so after all of that happens, then the fun part begins. “Roll camera.”

“Speed.”

“Speed.”

“And…action.”

Then off we go.

I love how quiet it gets. There’s a short little beat there just before “Action,” that is one of the most quiet quiets there is. Before that moment the energy on set is everywhere; it’s bouncing off the ceiling and back and forth, and people moving here and there and over there too. But then once that sequence of directions and responses occurs, the energy becomes focused in sharp straight lines. The camera points there. The boom mic, angled here. All bodies and equipment point to the action of the scene. And we watch and we listen and then we do it again.

Stand Back... DIRECTING!!!

Maybe my favorite part of directing is calling audibles. We rehearsed the film for a long time, but there is something about being on the set with cameras, props, lighting, costumes that elevates everything. So sometimes during a scene, there will be a line reading or a bit of business or blocking or whatever that doesn’t work like I thought it would. So in the middle of a take, I don’t have to yell cut, we don’t stop rolling, but I can just give little suggestions here or there. Or if I know we didn’t get a certain moment, we can just go back a few lines and get it right. It’s very fulfilling seeing and hearing an actor get something perfect or do something a little unexpected and bring a whole new dimension to a moment. Even if you don’t end up using that moment in the finished film (although lots of times you do) it’s something everyone notices. It’s like a 52-yard field goal. It’s like an extra pass and a three-pointer. It’s like a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. It’s like some other sports metaphor somewhere. It builds momentum for the other actors. It makes the crew perk up just a little bit, it sends a little shock-wave through everything. It makes my eyes go wide and my heart swell and the hair stand up on the back of my neck. What could be better?

**All Photos courtesy of Alders Photography.


It Has Come to This

September 2017
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