Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Filler

Sorry for the lack of activity the last couple of days; until Thursday I'm barely going to be able to keep up with everything I have to do, much less the stuff I enjoy, like talking to y'all.

Anyway, in the hope of maintaining my daily hit count until then, I'm proud to present this bit of juvenile potty humor. If you think preachers are funny, and you think farts are funnier, boy are you gonna love this! It doesn't appear to be the original version; there was a far superior one years ago -- better expressions, and more realistic sound effects -- but this'll do for now... anyway, you get the idea.

Note: you really want a broadband connection for this; the effect is ruined on slower connections due to the RealPlayer-ish format of the file. The evangelist is the famous Robert Tilton, once described by Frank Zappa as resembling an echidna. And forgive the obnoxious-ness of the surrounding website; I find it amazing that the site is even less mature and dignified than the video file.

I got three hours of sleep last night, and now I have time for about five more hours of sweet oblivion before I have to get back to work, so I'll see you Thursday (probably late-ish.)

Oh, and locals... come to the Hi-Tone tonight (wednesday) with the rest of us to see chess club play, because apparently, from what I've been told, they rock.

That is all.

Update, Thursday, 2:20 AM: As promised, chess club did indeed rock; more tomorrow. Now I'm going to go pass out for, oh, say fourteen hours.
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Sunday, August 29, 2004
And So We Begin

It's time, kids... the convention that every left-minded person I know has been dreading is about to get underway. It's not the convention we fear -- we know what to expect from that (and it will all be dealt with on an ongoing basis in the blogosphere throughout the next three days), it's the protests. Or more pointedly, it's the response to the protests: we fear that New York City '04 will become an echo of Chicago '68. The New Yorkers I know are particularly anxious -- this is, after all, their city that's under the gun (both literally and figuratively), and the last thing they need is civil unrest in the streets.

I think, from those I've spoken to who are going, that the vast majority of people are aware of the necessity of a resolutely non-violent attitude, and they intend to keep their protests above reproach. On the other hand, there will always be troublemakers (from both sides) involved in something this big; the cops, in turn, will probably be particularly high-strung this week. We may have an advantage over Seattle in that here the cops, to a surprisingly not-small degree, are perhaps more sympathetic to the protestors' goals... although, on the other hand, cops are sort of the ultimate blue-collar Republicans: they will follow their orders from the big guys regardless of what it means for them and their community. This all seems to suggest that however peaceable the protestors are, it will be difficult to avoid trouble in New York this week. I sincerely hope that we manage it -- to name our deepest fear, nobody on this side wants to see bloodshed -- but I'll be surprised and amazed if we get through this without some ugliness.

In any case, the city as an entity is immensely pre-disposed to back the protestors rather than the invading Republican hoards. I don't know whose idea it was to have the convention in NYC (seriously, why not just have it in Baghdad?), but I bet they get fired when it's all over. Politicizing 9/11 (the only rationale for doing this) is an exceptionally unpopular activity, and without that, all they've got is a hostile city that, by and large, is solidly liberal territory. Put it this way: this is perhaps the worst week in history to be a Republican tourist in NYC. I'm glad I'm not one of 'em.

(Apparently the only people more concerned about what awaits us all in New York than the protestors are, well, Republicans... but at least our fears aren't riddled with paranoia.)

I don't anticipate writing much about the convention here -- or at least not much that's interesting, since I'm neither a) there, nor do I b) have a source there (unless Randy wants to send in some notes from the front) -- but it's going to be the big news of the week, and the nation is watching with trepidation, so it seems worth mentioning.

PS In other news, it was announced yesterday that Australia's election will take place on October 9, which is pretty much right when Smithers predicted it would be. So 10 points to him for calling it. Maybe (hint, hint) he'll post something about it sometime, eh?
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Saturday, August 28, 2004
Saturday Morning Letdown

I was out rather late last night on film-related business; painfully, I have to be up early this morning to go work on one of Lee's shoots. To be frank, I would rather tweeze off my eyelashes, but I'm obligated. I curse the day I agreed to work on the film... but I've probably bitched about that enough already.

Anyhoo, my standard practice on these occasions -- involving potential for three hours of sleep or less -- is to stay up all night, which makes me feel like shit but not as bad as I would feel if I slept for an hour and then got up to work. Seeing as the overnight period in question was Friday to Saturday, I thought I'd take a peek at what passes for Saturday morning cartoons these days.

I am appalled. I know what I'm about to say is cliche beyond belief, and a sure sign that my youth is mostly behind me, but it MUST be said: Saturday morning cartoons were much better back when I was a kid. Granted, it's been twenty years since I kept abreast of Saturday morning cartoon politics, and the landscape has changed dramatically: back in my day, the lucky kids whose parents paid for cable (including my own at times) were blessed with Nickelodeon, a channel that carried vast treasures from Canadian and British kids TV, giving me a taste for "The Tomorrow People," "The Third Eye" and the unparalleled "You Can't Do That On Television" (but also, to be fair, the less stellar "Today's Special".) We didn't have fifteen channels of all-kids fare at our disposal, just the network stations, the UHF channel, and maybe Nickelodeon.

But even so, I came up during what now appears to be the last gasp of cool kids' TV -- I am (barely) old enough to remember the last days of the Sid and Marty Kroft empire (although I thought "The Bugaloos" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" were shows I'd invented in my head until I was in my early 20s)... hell, I'm old enough to remember "Land of the Lost" seeming technologically-advanced. And I expect I am among the last generation of kids to see cartoons that were not imported from Japan -- which isn't to say there's anything wrong with Japanese animation, just that it has rather taken over the cartoon landscape. And we had crap back then, too -- "Dungeons and Dragons," anybody? -- but most of our cartoons were still pure.

Today, though... ugh. When I was a youngster, it was accepted that the primary role of cartoons was to give corporations a place to plug sugar-coated cereal and cheap plastic toys to highly-impressionable young consumers, but there was still a sense that they had to earn our attention with reasonably cool cartoons. Now, apparently, they don't bother with the cartoons anymore, they just churn out extra-long animated commercials for their crap and assume the kiddies won't know the difference. I was witness to what is, I believe, the first cartoon based on a video game ("Q-Bert"); now, apparently, all cartoons are based on video games. That seems very... sad.

The specific cartoon that offended my adult sensibilities today was "Winx Club". This cartoon is about a collection of female entities that are sort of like fairies, and who are apparently able to pull convenient-but-previously-undisclosed powers out of their cute little asses without explanation. I mean, seriously, that's just sloppy storytelling; even Superman -- the most powerful superhero ever -- still has a set of specific powers and limitations; he doesn't just get to make shit up as he goes along. More important than these too-convenient powers, though, was the image of hyper-femininity portrayed. The Winx' primary purpose in life -- despite the absence of any apparent male counterparts -- was to be pretty, presumably for the benefit of other Winx. They squealed prettily, they sat around in vaguely-provocative poses, they apologized to each other for not having brushed their hair (yes, seriously), and they feared pimples more than death. This is nothing new of course -- yes, I had a few Barbie dolls when I was young, although they did tend to meet bizarre and disfiguring ends even without the aid of male siblings -- but at least Barbie was faintly artful about it. This was not only misleading about the real nature of femininity, it was enormously obtuse and insulting to one's intelligence in the process.

These cartoons -- I'm telling you, they're really making me consider whether it wouldn't be much better just to keep kids away from television until they're old enough to watch it critically. I say that with reservations -- even now I rather pity the kids that were raised in TV-less homes, with their woeful lack of knowledge about Cousin Oliver and Silver Spoons; we kids who were raised on heavy doses of bad television look slightly down upon the deprived with an air of damaged superiority, in much the same way that people who grew up in broken homes secretly look down gently (though enviously) on people who grew up with both their parents. We quietly say to them, "we sacrificed precious brain cells to "Muppet Babies," and we're going to talk about it uproariously and at length, and not care that you're excluded." Our damage is a source of pride. (Yeah, that's fucked up, but it's honest.)

And while I'm ranting, is it just me, or has there been an explosion in movies about princesses aimed at young girls? Didn't we already deal with this Prince Charming bullshit? Jesus... the two most damaging influences in the world to young girls are love songs and Cinderella: both are based on lies, and if those lies are believed, your chances of ever enjoying the real thing -- genuine, healthy relationships with men and imperfect-but-fulfilling love -- are immensely reduced. I'm against 'em.

Bah! Humbug!
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Thursday, August 26, 2004
Two Per Day

In 2003, we spent 10 months at war. In those ten months -- which included the ironically-labelled "major combat operations" -- 482 American soldiers were killed.

In 2004 so far, we've spent 8 months at war. In those eight months, 488 American soldiers were killed.

That's six more dead in two fewer months. In 2003, the daily average was 1.68 dead soldiers; in 2004, it's 2.04... which is a round-about way of pointing out that this situation is not improving. But we keep hearing predictions from the White House that things are on the verge of getting better:

On May 1, 2003, Bush pronounced "Mission Accomplished;" we had turned the corner. Since that day, 618 American troops have been killed.

On December 13, 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured; we had turned the corner. Since that day, 557 troops have been killed.

On July 28, 2004, George Bremer handed over "sovereignty" to the interim government of Iraq; we had turned the corner. Since that day, 112 troops have been killed.

These are 970 families that have lost children, parents, siblings, spouses. Why? What have we achieved for all this death? What has been accomplished that was worth the loss? To all those who are old enough to remember the threat of losing friends, spouses, and family members in Vietnam, why do you now stand by while younger generations are sent to die? How many more lives will you allow to be spent before the cost becomes too high? These are your children, and my generation's siblings/spouses/friends/loved ones. I don't want them to die.

Did you learn nothing from Vietnam?

A distraught father who had just been told his Marine son was killed in combat in Iraq set fire to a Marine Corps van and suffered severe burns Wednesday, police said.

Three Marines went to a house in Hollywood to tell the father and stepmother of Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo that their 20-year-old son had died Tuesday in Najaf, family members said.

The father, Carlos Arredondo, 44, then walked into the garage, picked up a propane tank, a lighting device and a can of gasoline he used to douse the van, police Capt. Tony Rode said.

He smashed the van's window, got inside and set the vehicle ablaze, despite attempts by the Marines to stop him, Rode said.

When the couple saw the Marines walking toward the front door, "My husband immediately knew that his firstborn son had been killed -- and my husband did not take the news well," Melida Arredondo told reporters before police escorted her to the hospital.

"It doesn't surprise me that he was so traumatized. He went crazy," she said.

I'd go crazy too. I never truly appreciated what my family went through during the Gulf War. With my baby, I'm starting to understand.
source


PS No, I haven't forgotten about the thousands upon thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi civilians. God forgive us; nobody else will.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Heh

Looks like the Republicans have Kerry dead to rights with this one:
GOP: KERRY WENT TO VIETNAM TO AVOID SERVING IN ALABAMA NATIONAL GUARD

Guard-Dodging Charges Haunt Campaign

A new Republican-financed negative ad is accusing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of fleeing to Vietnam to avoid serving in the Alabama National Guard.

The ad, airing in most of the so-called battleground states, attempts to contrast Sen. Kerry's alleged guard-dodging with the storied Alabama National Guard heroism of the Republican nominee, President George W. Bush.

In the ad, a narrator asks, "When the Alabama National Guard called young Americans to serve, where was John Kerry? Thousands of miles away, in Vietnam."

The commercial ends with a black-and-white freeze-frame of Mr. Kerry, over which the narrator asks, "John Kerry -- reporting for duty?"
(more at the Borowitz Report)

Thanks to Denny for pointing it out.
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Blah-De-Blah

Well, the new approach to the workshops seems to be off to a promising start. I ended up with an entirely different (and arguably more competent) group, so nobody knew what I was talking about when I said nobody seemed interested last week, but it didn't make any practical difference anyway. We have a tentative shot list for next week's workshop, and people seem curious about what happens next; those were the only two real objectives tonight, so I guess I can call this mission accomplished.

I hung around afterwards and shot the breeze with various Co-op buddies; we really do have a good bunch of people there, and I feel lucky to know them. (And I'm not just saying that because somebody teased me for having a "negative" blog... I really mean it.)

Tomorrow is my designated sleep-all-day-and-never-leave-the-house day. I don't have to work on Lee's film again until Saturday, but I have another sorta-kinda gig on Thursday evening which might -- might -- lead to some steady work. Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see.

I managed to completely miss John Kerry on the Daily Show tonight; I'll have to catch the repeat tomorrow afternoon. Many people are scoffing -- the Democratic nominee on a comedy-news show? -- but I think it's a very savvy move... it won't do much to win the little old lady vote, but I think smartass 20-somethings (and there are many of us) are going to give Kerry some serious respect in the election booth, and some part of that will stem from this appearance. I'm not a big TV watcher, but the Daily Show is utterly brilliant, and it's one of the few things I do try to catch when I can. Great stuff.
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Monday, August 23, 2004
Mistress Novena, Queen Bitch Of The Workshops

Now that Lee's film is (mostly) done, it's time I turned back to the Co-op workshops. I admit, I've been dreading it, not only because they've gone off-track while I was otherwise occupied, but also because I've been courting burn-out. I've been running the workshops for going on a year now, and the last six months have been particularly intense; in that period of time -- 24 workshops total --I think there were only half a dozen that I didn't personally lead (and that counts the recent ones that essentially didn't happen at all.) That's a lot of workshops for one person to handle.

The basic problem is this: I feel like I'm just giving the same workshops over and over and over again. Last week, when I prodded the small attending group what they wanted to do over the next few weeks/months, I got the standard laundry list of workshop ideas: lighting, shot composition, introduction to the equipment, and -- my favorite one of all -- "filmmaking 101". Like I could explain basic filmmaking in two f'ing hours.

Compounding the problem is the fact that this work doesn't pay; there's not really much in this deal for me. I already know this stuff, and the folks who turn up are thankful but not, y'know, appreciative... after a while you start to wonder why you're doing it if it doesn't produce some kind of action in those you're trying to reach. If I were making $20/hour it would be different, I would submit and answer these same questions ad infinitum as it seems I am expected to do. But unpaid, I'm under no obligation to sit still. The punters pay no money, so I figure they owe us in effort.

Most of these people care in only a superficial way. And that's cool, y'know, whatever they do with themselves is none of my business, I wouldn't presume to judge. But if I'm gonna drag my ass up from Mississippi and put all this time and effort into it, they need to fucking well do something to make it worth my time and energy.

Does that sound too harsh?

Anyway, the question becomes, how do we provoke them into ceasing to ask the same boring (for us) questions, and to begin to answer them for themselves? This is, after all, supposed to be a workshop, not a lecture series. We provide the shop; we only ask them to provide the work. The solution we came up with is this: they want to make movies? Cool. Let's chuck 'em in the deep end and see if they sink or if they swim. It's a great way -- maybe the only good way -- to learn: don't know how the camera works? 'Salright, you won't break it... keep pushing buttons till it does what you want. Don't know how to hold the boom? No problem; hold it however seems right to you, and if it sounds like crap, you know that's not the right way. We -- the self-annointed wise ones -- will be there to answer questions and guide the exercises, but we aren't managing them, we aren't running the show, and we aren't going present it all on a silver platter anymore. That didn't work anyway.

So, tomorrow night, rather than talk and show clips, I'm taking a simple scene from a (hopefully) unfamiliar film, and these demanding bastards are going to make something of it. I don't care what they do or how they do it; I only care that they do do it.

(And yeah, some of 'em might not come back; that's okay. It's a whole new crowd, and I'm not especially attached to any of 'em. Better they leave before I go to the trouble of learning their names. Gonna make 'em rue the day they said they wanted "hands-on exercises.")

Addendum: If anyone's interested, this week I'm going to take a very brief selection (about 1/8 page) from Kevin Smith's magnum opus Clerks and make a group of people who know exactly nothing about directing a scene plan out a shot list. The next week we'll shoot it and see where they went wrong. Gonna let 'em learn by fucking up, just like I did.
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Saturday, August 21, 2004
Asylum Seekers

As many of you know, here at home I suffer from an appalling lack of bandwidth; even jpegs tend to make my poor dial-up connection groan with effort. Thus, I tend to save my bandwidth-heavy surfing for the Co-op, where I have a sorta-kinda-fast DSL connection.

For this reason, I ended up at the Co-op this afternoon just as Tim was about to screen (for a select audience of Co-opticons -- ie, whoever happened to be there) a film for which he'd been searching for well over a year: Frederick Wiseman's Titticut Follies. (He'd finally found it at the library at the University of Kentucky at Louisville; they'd let him have it long enough to dub a copy.) Since we'd spent some time discussing it in the past, he asked me to hang around to watch this rather notorious film... to be honest, I was actually anticipating disappointment (so many "notorious" films turn out to just be stupid and/or crass). Suffice to say, I wasn't disappointed in the least.

A quick look at the link above will tell you a good deal about the film; at least as much as most interested parties know. It is the only film ever banned in the US for reasons other than national security or obscenity; it's also the first film of a director who's work is generally obscure, and almost always spoken of in mysterious terms. Wiseman's work is hard to find, but then again, so are most documentaries.

The reviews at the link should give you a reasonably good idea of what the film consists of -- it's genuinely disturbing -- although no review can really get the impact of the film across. What struck me more is that here is a film that, were it more accessible to students of the genre, would surely be considered a pivotal film, much like the Maysles brothers' Salesman or Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line: a film made at a point of transition, when a whole new paradigm begins to emerge. This has to be, I suspect, one of the earliest examples of the sort of cinema verité exposé piece the Maysles are largely credited with developing; it seems to me that it would be nearly impossible to make this film now. (I also have to wonder whether this film had anything to do with the difficulty involved in shooting documentaries in prisons, hospitals, and other institutions; I'm betting it has a lot to do with it.) The Maysles, and to a lesser extent D.A. Pennebaker, were doing similar things, and you could make an argument that their more mundane material actually produces a more profound film (for those inclined that way). In this case, though, the content and the technique are indisinguishable; only the steady, unflinching gaze Wiseman fixes on his subjects could produce something this powerful.

I have asked Tim to make me a copy of the film if he can -- yes, it's illegal, but alas, most documentaries are unavailable by any other means. (I have a growing collection of bootleg docs.) As much as I'd really rather not see that again, it seems to me that it wants repeated viewings. I'd also be extremely interested in seeing Wiseman's other films; it looks like a very compelling body of work. Could it be we've located the unsung genius of the documentary genre?

If you can find it, it's definitely worth a look. I think I've found a new hero.
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Not So Swift, pt. 2

William Rood, one of the only other people on earth who really knows what happened on the day that the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" have called into question (an exclusive group that doesn't include any of the vets who have disputed Kerry's Silver Star), has come out after 35 years of silence to refute the claims made against Kerry.

For years, no one asked about those events. But now they are the focus of skirmishing in a presidential election with a group of swift boat veterans and others contending that Kerry didn't deserve the Silver Star for what he did on that day, or the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for other actions.

Many of us wanted to put it all behind us -- the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry's service -- even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.

But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.

( read the rest )

Can any conservative readers of this blog -- and I know there are at least two of you -- explain to me how smearing the service of not only Kerry, but also of every other soldier who fought in that battle, fits in with the concept of "supporting the troops"?

Although the 15 veterans featured in the attack ad all state "I served with John Kerry," none of them served on the same boat with him. Those who did, such as retired Chief Petty Officer Del Sandusky, 60, of Clearwater, Fla., praise Kerry for his leadership and credit him with keeping them alive to make it home.

"We are really upset at this stuff," Sandusky told Knight Ridder. "They are calling us all liars. They dishonor us and they dishonor all those who died over there."
(source)

Addendum: This is just too good not to post:

Roy Hoffman, today: "John Kerry has not been honest."
Roy Hoffman, 2003: "I am not going to say anything negative about him — he's a good man."

Adrian Lonsdale, today: "He lacks the capacity to lead."
Adrian Lonsdale, 1996: "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers."

George Elliot, today: "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."
George Elliot, 1996: "The fact that he chased an armed enemy down is something not to be looked down upon, but it was an act of courage."
George Elliot in 1969: "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, LTjg Kerry was unsurpassed... calm, professional and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire."

Larry Thurlow, today: "...there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at any of the five boats operating on the river that day."
Larry Thurlow's Bronze Star citation, 1969: "...all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks."

Dr. Louis Letson, today: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury."
Medical records, 1968: "Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry. Under 'person administering treatment' for the injury, the form is signed by a medic, J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago."

Grant Hibbard, today: "He betrayed all his shipmates. He lied before the Senate."
Hibbard's evaluation of Kerry, 1968: "Mr. Hibbard gave Mr. Kerry the highest rating of 'one of the top few' in three categories—initiative, cooperation and personal behavior. He gave Mr. Kerry the second-best rating, 'above the majority,' in military bearing."

Quoth Mr. Drum,
They were either lying then or they're lying now. Take your pick.

(Lifted directly from Political Animal, but for the sake of truth and goodness. I'm sure he won't mind.)

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Friday, August 20, 2004
Not So Swift

Still believe that the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" are a legitimate group of independent vets looking to "set the record straight"?

Nuh-uh; just a bunch of long-time Bush lackeys doing the president's dirty work. And now we can prove it, thanks to the New York Times:
Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family - one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election.

The strategy the veterans devised would ultimately paint John Kerry the war hero as John Kerry the "baby killer" and the fabricator of the events that resulted in his war medals. But on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men's own statements.

Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had lavished praise on him, some as recently as last year.

(oh yes, there's much more)

Also, check out this handy reference chart, featuring the key players' lies and self-contradictions.

If y'all are gonna start throwing shit, you might at least think about doing it with a subject that isn't quite so well-documented.
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Well Well Well, What A Small World

Earlier this evening I got to thinking about slang; and thinking about slang, I harkened back to an excellent webpage run by a college associate of mine. It was a beautiful website devoted to words and creative ways of using them which, sadly, no longer exists. There's so much I wish I could go back and save from that website; Miah (for that was his name) had devised a stunningly long list of "slang" terms -- the quotes are intended to denote that each of his phrases was entirely the creation of his own fevered imagination, and had not, so far as anyone knew, ever been used in wider society before. I don't remember many of them, but I do remember "House Honkies" (the all-white cover band that invariably plays at bars on off-nights); "(to)Play Local Forecast" (taken from the horrendous light jazz played during the local forecast on the Weather Channel, and intended as a sarcastic plea from the audience when the House Honkies start in with an REO Speedwagon tune); and "Dumbassery" (which is just like tomfoolery but performed by dumbasses... this one I've actually seen used, but it's impossible to know whether it actually took, whether Miah unconsciously stole it, or whether it's a case of synchronous co-creation.) So many more -- sweet words, we hardly knew ye -- were lost into the aether, and now reside in the land of dead webpages (along with the Dysfunctional Family Circus, another masterpiece lost to the sands of time. Get a taste of what you missed here.)

Anyway, Miah's big slang coup while we were at college was to actually convince a newspaper journalist that he was a young linguist and that all his slang phrases were drawn from actual speech and merely recorded on his website. This was complete bullshit, of course, but the guy bought it and some of Miah's homebrew slang appeared in, I believe, USA Today in the late 90s.

The only reason I bring this up in the blog is that, in looking for any trace of Miah's old pages and slang dictionary, I found this page. It's curious because, while it contains a (dead) link to Miah's old page, it also lists another (dead) link to the webpage of a current friend of mine. I'm not going to tell you who, because that spoils the fun, but it's someone who reads this blog fairly regularly.

Still, it's nice to be able to quietly catch up on old friends online; I can find several of them active even now. Most of them come by way of Shaw Izikson's American Feed Magazine (apparently currently dormant). His staff and contributors list reads like a virtual "Who's Who" of my life ten years ago, and includes one name I could swear belonged to a guy I knew in the 9th grade... but that's impossible, because that was all the way back in Dallas, and the world can't possibly be that small.

(Similarly, over the weekend I attended a screening of a documentary about Howard Zinn, and in it was a brief interview with the guy who is hopefully about to become my film professor. Same school, mind you... apparently folks from my alma mater really get around, at least within funky liberal circles.)

Update Fixed the missing DFC link; sorry. Hint: you want to read the reviews.

Update 2 Because Doug is a friggin' genius whom I now owe a beer, Miah's slang page has been snatched back from the webpage underworld. Hallelujah. (And, as it turns out, it isn't "dumbassery," it's "dumb-fuckery". And that's how language is corrupted over time, kids.)
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Thursday, August 19, 2004
Bedtime Post

Ugh... I don't feel so good. I don't feel exactly sick -- at least not yet -- but my stomach feels a little "off," I'm feeling kinda lethargic and slow, and, I know this doesn't make much sense, but my teeth and jaw hurt. I'm also flirting with a headache... I really hope I don't get sick; this would be bad timing. Once I finish this I'm probably gonna go take a couple of aspirin and a big dose of vitamin C and curl up in bed, just in case.

I'm wrestling with this short screenplay, and the screenplay is wrestling back. I have pages and pages of notes, but none of those notes seem to translate into a cohesive story; I'm not quite brave enough to attempt a plotless short. People keep asking me what this film is about, and the question is so hard to answer. It's about politics, but not really; it's about being in a given place (Memphis) at a given time (election day, 2004); it's about creativity and obstacles thereto, both external and self-inflicted.

At the moment, it's about two primary characters: one man and one woman. The man's a writer who has come to avoid writing; the woman's a novice filmmaker who has recently taken it up after a divorce, or something like that. The writer has channelled most of his creative energy into politics in the last couple of years, using it as a way to avoid his real work. He has heard a rumor that George W. Bush is coming to town for a semi-secret rally, and he's trying to find out when/where it's happening so he can go write about it. The filmmaker hooks up with him -- not because he wants her to -- and the bulk of the day is spent wandering the city, trying to find Bush's rally. Some stuff happens. There's a protest, and some conspiracy theorists, probably some campaign workers but maybe not. A transformative arc is completed. The end.

I've gone all over the map with this thing; I've gone all deep and metaphysical, teasing out the "deeper meaning" of each of these roles and what their actions symbolize; I've gone stupid/silly, trying out any damn fool thing that pops into my head. (That has actually been more fruitful... why is that symbolism only works after the fact?) I've plotted story arcs, I've gone way-abstract, I've added characters and taken them away again, I've done long character analyses, and I've turned to admired sources for crib notes. Tonight's epiphany was largely inspired by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North; I think it might actually stick.

But I still only have five pages written. (I'm not even happy with them.)
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
My Idealism vs. My Cynicism

This is probably going to sound familiar; I believe I wrote something similar not too long ago.

I led my first workshop in about a month tonight; I entered feeling refreshed and ready to take it all on again, but by the time it was over -- even though it had gone as well as it ever does -- I had remembered why I needed to get away for a while. I am carrying a pair of very contradictory impulses inside me, and I admit they sometimes bother me: on one side of this equation is the vast idealism I feel about the venture; on the other, a deep, almost bitter kind of cynicism.

The idealism is obvious: putting the means of (film) production in the hands of the people is, I am convinced, the ultimate salvation of the medium. It will be complicated and confusing for a long while yet, but when we all look back on this, we'll see that none of what is to come (and I anticipate that to include the best work yet produced) would have been possible without making this transition from industry-based to independent-based. In that regard, I am even perhaps a bit inclined towards outright revolution... storm Hollywood's Winter Palace and reclaim the studios for the cinematic proletariat; we've come to take our medium back, and we shall do better with it than you did.

The cynicism is less obvious, but stubborn. In spite of the fact that I spend this much time and energy inviting people who know nothing about film into the medium, when they do arrive full of enthusiasm -- and unrealistic expectations -- I find myself becoming very impatient and frustrated with them. Most of the time it takes the form of people coming to me looking for "help" (read, unpaid work) on their "films," which are most often ideas backed with a great deal of excitement but no particular plan or strategy. The films they come up with are most often predictable and dull, not worth the effort, doomed to failure. (Are they really? I dunno... but that's how they always sound to me.) They pitch; they cajole; they offer nonexistant money and unlikely fame. We sit and nod politely, only half-listening, and then gently, respectfully push them off, giving them some vague and non-committal advice just to get them to go away.

It is, of course, patently unfair to judge someone for being unprofessional when you have, in fact, invited them in partly because they're not professionals. I think we all feel a bit guilty about that, even though the impatience still comes regardless. A good portion of the impatience, I think, comes from the fact that so many of them seem to want easy solutions, the mythical "something for nothing;" we have neither to give. Each of us who becomes the target of these appeals has one thing in common: we worked very hard, generally for little or no reward, to learn what we know. Even now, when we have some solid accomplishments behind us, it remains an agonizing uphill struggle, a herculean effort, a sisyphean task to continue with our work. Even the smallest film is heroic, which is why we support each other the way we do. But these people who come begging for help... to be an asshole about it, what have they done to deserve our help?

And that's the rub, that's where the conflict between these two impulses lies: we have no right to be assholes about this -- we're not so great ourselves, and we did, after all, encourage them to do this -- but self-preservation seems to demand it. Otherwise, we'd be blowing all our energy and love on other people's failures, leaving none for our own (we hope) successes.

What it boils down to is this: I've spent the last eight years of my life working -- sometimes slowly, sometimes aggressively -- towards a goal: to feel myself worthy to be called a filmmaker, and to earn a bit of recognition for my work. I expect it will take that long again before I feel secure in accomplishing those goals; with what comes afterwards I don't yet concern myself. Morgan is the same, as are the rest of the people in the local scene who find themselves being hit up by newbies bearing screenplays. We have invested years of our lives, a great deal of our (and other people's) money, and most of our prospects in this pursuit. Is it not fair to demand the same of those who approach us?

(But if it is, do I have any business bringing inexperienced people in when I have no serious intention of giving them more than some explanations and demonstrations?)

In any case, I shall of course continue on in this work... I do firmly believe (in spite of my cynicism) that it's the right thing to do. And it's not that I don't want the people I turn down to go away and give up -- that's not what I want at all! -- it's just that I want them to bring something of real value to the table. That's what the "Co-op" part of "MeDiA Co-op" is there for. It doesn't necessarily have to be experience or expertise; it could, probably, be almost anything. Surely there's a happy medium to be found somewhere in here?
1:10 AM ::
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Tuesday, August 17, 2004
See, This Is What I'm Talking About

...in the previous post.

Both of the photos are from rallies in Oregon, which is assumed to be a swing state:

This is George W. in Beaverton; his estimated attendance was 2,300 (plus a few hundred protesters.)



And this is John and Teresa Kerry at a rally in Portland; estimated attendance was 40,000 - 50,000.



Now, obviously, you can't assume a picture gives you the complete truth; things are rarely that simple.

But I'd still much rather my guy be in the middle of the second picture than the first.
1:47 AM ::
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Whisper It

I'm going to ask a dangerous question:

What if the 2004 presidential election isn't even close?

And I don't mean "Bush in a patriotic landslide" not-even-close, I mean "Bush out on his ass" not-even-close.

Even Pro-Bush websites are currently predicting a decisive Kerry win in the electoral college. (For bonus points, check out the "21 Reasons Bush Will Win" and take note of how many of the items considered Bush strengths are actually proving to be Bush weaknesses.)

We shouldn't get cocky; there's still two and a half months to go, and I don't trust the Bush campaign worth a damn. But the fact of the matter is, it appears that they might be a little, y'know, worried:

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

(...)

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

It's business-as-usual in Florida, I see.
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Monday, August 16, 2004
Republican National Convention Schedule Posted

6:00 PM Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell

6:30 PM Pledge of Allegiance

6:35 PM Burning of Constitution (excluding 2nd Amendment)

6:45 PM Salute to the Coalition of the Willing

6:46 PM Seminar #1: Getting Your Kid a Military Deferment

7:30 PM First Presidential Beer Bong

7:35 PM Freedom Fries served

7:40 PM EPA Address #1: Mercury: It's What's for Dinner

8:00 PM Vote on which country to invade next

8:10 PM Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh

8:15 PM John Ashcroft Lecture: The Homos Are After Your Children

8:30 PM Round table discussion on reproductive rights (men only)

8:50 PM Seminar #2: Corporations: The Government of the Future

9:00 PM Condi Rice sings the Billie Holiday classic "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"

9:05 PM Second Presidential Beer Bong

9:10 PM EPA Address #2: Trees: The Real Cause of Forest Fires

9:11 PM Salute to Al Qaeda (without whom we have no purpose)

9:30 PM break for secret meetings

10:00 PM Second Prayer led by Cal Thomas

10:15 PM Karl Rove Lecture: Doublespeak and Telling Lies Made Simple

10:30 PM Rumsfeld Lecture/Demonstration: How to Squint and Talk Macho Even When You Feel Squishy Inside

10:35 PM Bush demonstration of trademark "deer in headlights" stare

10:40 PM John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt

10:45 PM Clarence Thomas reads list of black Republicans

10:46 PM Third Presidential Beer Bong

10:50 PM Seminar #3: Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy

11:10 PM Hillary Clinton Piñata

11:20 PM John Ashcroft Lecture: Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult

11:30 PM Call EMTs to revive Rush Limbaugh again

11:35 PM Blame Clinton

11:40 PM Laura serves milk and cookies

11:50 PM Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself

12:00 AM Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord

Okay, not really... instead they're going to put all their pro-choice, gay-friendly people on. So it'll be a really representative group of Republicans. Heh.

(I don't normally post stuff that's been making the rounds, but this one was pretty amusing, so I made an exception. Sue me.)

PS: Just for kicks, read excerpts of Lynne Cheney's western lesbian romance novel here.
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Saturday, August 14, 2004
So... Where To Now?

As much as I hate to say it, I think Fred Kaplan is probably right:
This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic regime. And there's no way we can just pull out without plunging the country, the region, and possibly beyond into still deeper disaster.

(...)

Meanwhile, the U.S. military -- the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart -- finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks. The Marines could readily defeat the insurgents in Najaf, but only at the great risk of inflaming Shiites -- and sparking still larger insurgencies -- elsewhere. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, as U.S. commanders acknowledge, practically every resident is an insurgent.

It's an important piece; give it a few minutes of your attention. And if that's not depressing enough, read this post by Billmon.
2:28 PM ::
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The Olympics?

Yes, apparently so! I'm as surprised as you are; I had no idea. I suppose it makes sense -- I mean, I know they come around every so often -- but my radar's just not tuned to the mainstream media anymore. Certainly nobody I know has uttered a word about it.

Both of the last two Olympics were, for me, spent in intense romantic struggle. During the Sydney Olympics, I was in a relationship with an Englishman that was on its last legs. I remember sitting on the floor in his living room, looking at Sydney, then looking at him... looking at Sydney, looking at him... and beginning to realize that this probably wasn't going to last much longer. Not that Sydney won or anything... but I might be where I had my first inkling that better things waited for me outside Basingstoke.

(He was a classic case of bait-and-switch: when I first met him, he was a yachtsman, fresh off a round-the-world race; when I left he was an old fart with a dead-end job and too much of an interest in porn... and that's saying something, as I have no real objection to porn.)

Anyway, the Salt Lake City Olympics were spent during an agonizing crush on another guy, made worse by his fanatical attention to them. As it turned out, he was a dick, too, but at the time he seemed to me to be the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Funny how that happens.

In any case, it's rather pleasant to feel the whole thing just sliding past me this year; an Olympics without melodrama is an Olympics I can safely forget when it's over.

Last night I went out to hear Tamaras play for real; she really does have a magnificent voice, rather Joan Osborne-like. Diana, who was doubtless stuck on Lee's shoot, didn't make it over, which was a pity. Yesterday was my first formal day off, though -- I don't have to shoot again until Monday -- and it was one of the most relaxing days off I've ever had. I had a great mail day, and ended up with all kinds of interesting stuff to read (Granta, Harper's, The King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue -- speaking of which, that's something else I should do while I'm off; fresh bread is good for the soul), so I spent the day on the sofa reading and watching Like Water For Chocolate (which was good but not quite as good as I remembered it.) My goals for today are to get all the kinks out of my back and shoulders -- I always used to carry tension in my lower legs, but in the last six months it's all travelled upwards; why do you suppose that is? -- and catch up on some correspondance.

Oh, and get this -- I got my second jury duty summons of the year yesterday. Goddammit! Why can't they pick on somebody else?
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Friday, August 13, 2004
Pleasant Evening

We're experiencing unseasonably cool weather right now; today was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and 75F or thereabouts. We did a bit of shooting at the Arcade Restaurant downtown, and then went to Mud Island to film by the river. I haven't been over there in years, and I'd forgotten about the beautiful little park they have; with the pleasant weather it was particularly nice. Not even many mosquitos.

Afterwards, Diana and I decided to go have a bit of a hang-out somewhere. We went to Cafe Francisco first, but it was about to close, so we strolled up the block to Precious Cargo. I'd been there once before a couple of years back, helping to shoot a poetry slam (not really a happy experience, to be honest), but I'd forgotten how nice it was. We sat down and ordered coffee (for me) and tea (for Diana) and got to talking about the film and filmmaking in general and politics and that sort of thing. We overheard a live performance in the next room -- someone with a beautiful voice -- but we'd come to talk, so talk we did.

After a bit, the music switched from live to recorded. The guy behind the bar came over to ask how we were, and then spontaneously introduced us to a small dark-haired girl; this was Tamaras, the person who'd just been performing. Why he decided to do this I'm not sure, but I'm actually quite happy he did. We started chatting to Tamaras as well; after a few minutes she and her girlfriend joined us at the table. We discussed Memphis and the South (Tamaras was on tour from California), the environment, the back way into the Grand Canyon, Tamaras' music, and our common astrological sign. (We've been playing "Who's A Sagittarius?" on the film shoot -- it's rather uncanny how accurately Diana guesses who is; she and I both are. Due to various influences in my youth, I know more about astrology than anyone should, although I don't actually put any stock in it in real life. Having said that, it's is rather peculiar how many of my closest friends have birthdays between November 22 and December 21. Anyway, Tamaras turned out to be a double Sag with a moon in Aries; true to form, she's something of a fireball. For the record, her girlfriend was a Gemini.) Diana bought a CD (I was cash broke so I couldn't), and Tamaras told us she was playing again the next night at Java Cabana, a place very familiar to Co-op people. Diana and I both hope to go, and hopefully drag a few more people along with us.

Anyway, Tamaras has a website here, and for local people who are interested in hearing her -- she is very good -- she's playing at Java tomorrow night at 9 PM.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Death Match

I have long been a proponent of Frank Zappa's assertion that the world will end not by fire or ice, but by nostalgia. Lately, however, in conversations with my friend Taylor, I have developed a new theory of Armageddon. It will no doubt strike many as a scenario that reflects too many years spent in the southern United States, but I think it bears mentioning, if only so I can posthumously collect on my bet when it finally comes to pass.

The two opposing forces that will bring about the end of the world are -- pay attention, now -- Wal-Mart and kudzu.

Yes, I'm serious. Think about it: these two phenomena are merely two sides of the same dark energy. Kudzu is a pernicious herbacious weed that smothers and ultimately destroys everything with which it comes into contact; Wal-Mart is a pernicious economic weed that smothers and ultimately destroys everything with which it comes into contact. Two irresistable, inviolable forces, they are, in the greater sense, the same thing: one side represents indifferent, ravenous nature, and the other indifferent, ravenous free-market capitalism. Nobody has been able to hold back the encroachment of either for long, and where a seed lands, destruction inevitably follows sooner or later. Kudzu is legendary for its phenomenal rate of growth, but I'm here to tell you that the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Goodman Road in Horn Lake, Mississippi, has grown by 60 sq. ft. per year since it was erected, at least on the inside.

Taylor believes that ultimately the kudzu will win, in exactly the same way that paper beats rock. I'm not so sure; as the kudzu continues to submerge the rest of civilization, eventually the only place left to run will be the fortress housing the sole force strong enough to beat back kudzu: Wal-Mart. At first, the battle lines will be drawn at the edges of the parking lot, the asphalt gradually beating back the vines to accomodate the abandoned cars left by customers who no longer plan to ever leave the safety of the Wal-Mart. The people will gather inside the fluorescent-lit bunkers, singing paeans to Sam Walton as the vines creep around the foundations and the steel girders groan under the weight. Every dollar will be spent inside Wal-Mart, each Supercenter and Neighborhood Market connected to every other by a complex system of tunnels and subways which will be discovered below the foundations of even the oldest Wal-Marts; it will be unclear whether these tunnels pre-date the onset of Armageddon (suggesting an ominous degree of planning on the part of the Head Office in Bentonville), or whether they grew of their own accord after the fact.

Eventually a race of pasty, squishy grubworm-like people will evolve, subsisting only on discount Doritos, Sam's Choice peanut butter cups, McDonald's hamburgers, and 1-gallon jars of dill pickles that only cost a buck. The race will begin to exchange labor for protection from the kudzu, becoming not paying customers but simple serfs; the General Manager will be as a god among men, exercising le droit du seigneur and jus primae noctis. Advanced specimens of the new species will develop the ability to consume and digest any form of synthetic material or fiber, and within their bodies to transform that material into excrement in the shape of a regular, consistent form of currency. Consumption leads to production which leads to further consumption; the perfect free-market cycle will become a closed circuit and humanity will attain its most refined, elevated economic form. Ironically, this form will be based on a synergistic relationship between the hosts and the parasites (Wal-Mart and the grubworm people respectively... or vice versa; experts disagree) and as such will ultimately come to closely resemble classical socialism.

And in the final days of this millenia-long battle between the forces of Wal-Mart and the forces of kudzu, the earth will adapt a dual-strata structure, with Wal-Mart occupying even the deepest parts of the planet's crust, and a thick layer of kudzu completely enshrouding the surface. With nothing left upon which to cling or climb except itself, the sheer weight of the miles-thick kudzu layer will begin to collapse inward, suffocating its own taproots and ultimately -- finally -- bringing about that which seemed impossible: the end of kudzu.

Either that, or the kudzu will become sentient and eventually constitute the Earth's dominant (and only intelligent) lifeform. But that seems a little far-fetched to me.

1:33 PM ::
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Quality Assortment

We got an unexpected day off -- oh, sure, now we get one -- because a location had an unforeseen inspection come up. I mostly spent the day doing something I adore but have been having to sacrifice lately: sleeping. I think I actually spent more of the day asleep than awake. It was wonderful.

It also meant that I could go into the Co-op tonight for what's left of the Tuesday evening workshop. Only two people showed up; a local short was screened and promises were made that things would be back on track soon. By happy coincidence, Morgan had already scheduled a screening of the rough cut of the new film for 9 PM, so I got to hang around and get my first look at what we spent June shooting.

It is, as they say, a challenging piece. Morgan's already given to a relatively unstructured style and a Von Trier-ish aesthetic; this film was even less structured than Blue Citrus Hearts. Bearing in mind that it was only a rough cut, I think people are going to find this one less accessible than BCH. The disjointedness of the film is clearly intentional, but if I hadn't been familiar with what narrative line does exist, I do believe I'd have been quite confused by the end of the film. (Having said that, I am also possessed of a very concrete mind; I'm not afraid of abstraction, but it doesn't come as naturally to me as it does to some, and less-structured material in any medium is generally hard work for me.)

He's got to cut about 20 minutes out for the next stage of editing, and it looks like it's not going to be easy. I don't envy the job.

In other news, apparently there are a few people who read this blog; several people have asked about the result of my talk to Lee, so here it is. I was considerably softer about things than I had prepared myself to be, but that's a normal thing for me. (I have to really steel myself to get any momentum at all when it comes to confrontations.) Rather than stabbing a finger in his face and yelling "J'accuse!" like I did in my fantasy, I inadvertantly waited until he came to me. Yesterday we were shooting at Rhodes, and early on he'd offered an obviously bogus but conciliatory statement of near-apology about his outburst the day before. (He said he was upset because he didn't like to see anyone get hurt on his set; that may have been a small part of it, but neither of us who witnessed the incident really believed that was the heart of the matter. In any case, it was obviously intended as an apology, and given that both of us there were very laid-back types, we let it go.)

Anyway, I explained to Lee that the shoot was just making too many demands on my life, and that I needed to move to a part-time arrangement. He accepted my proposed schedule, and I immediately felt much better about the situation. No, I didn't confront him about the temper tantrum or his earlier sarcasm (the moment just seemed to have passed), but I think it was the stress of the endless shoot that was having the biggest impact on my attitude. I'm still not feeling as warm towards Lee as I originally did, but neither do I feel as hostile as I did a few days ago. I now feel like I can finish this film.

And finally, I'm relieved to note that the summer is gradually beginning to fade. I have to be frank: I much prefer autumn and winter. I was built for colder climates, and this southern heat just wipes me out. We've got some summer still left to go -- down here it doesn't even start to turn autumnal until late October or early November -- but the days are shortening up, which is a welcome sign of a more civilized season on the way. And if I can get to Vermont in January, I'll even get some good, deep snow before the winter ends. That would be fantastic.
1:38 AM ::
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Monday, August 09, 2004
Descent Of The Elvii

You'd think by now, after roughly a dozen years of association with Memphis, I'd have gotten used to Elvis Week. In truth, my horror/fascination has only increased as time has passed. If anything, I'm in much closer contact with The Fans now that I'm in Mississippi than I was when I lived in Memphis proper; down here across the state line, we're actually geographically closer to Graceland than most Memphians. For example, in order to get to our bank, we have to venture into Elvis territory. We don't generally attempt the journey during Elvis Week -- it's just too frustrating; you feel as if you're drowning in a sea of Elvises.

Diana, who's into Elvis, tells me that I really should do the candlelight vigil some year, just for kicks; perhaps she's right. I've actually come to appreciate the inclusive warmth of Elvis a lot more lately; especially in a city with such a history of bitter racial problems and ongoing separation, it's kinda inspiring to see Elvises of all colors and genders congregating in what is generally considered to be a pretty rough, poverty-stricken part of the city. The sheer number of Elvises is the most impressive part of Elvis Week: there are male Elvises and female Elvises (doubtless a few transsexual Elvises, too); young Elvises and elderly Elvises; PoMo hipster Elvises and old-school Elvises; straight and gay Elvises; white, black, Asian, and latino Elvises (and one gay latino punk-rock Elvis, still my favorite... besides Andy Kaufman, obviously.)


People literally descend on Graceland from all over the world, which can only be a good thing. Of course, we also get the road whales and the best of Bovine America...

Anyway, I braved the crowds and drove past Graceland today to see what was going on; given that it was a Monday, things were relatively subdued. Lots and lots of people on line for the Graceland tour, but with the pleasant addition of a huge LED monitor screening Elvis movies for entertainment. (The selection when I drove by was Blue Hawaii.)

It's sometimes frustrating to realize that for the vast majority of the world's population, Memphis = Elvis, period. (There's also a common misconception that if you come to Memphis you can visit the Grand Old Opry... and you can, but it's a bit of a drive.) Beale Street, as tarted-up as it has become in recent years, is still more culturally interesting than Graceland, but most visitors seem to consider it an afterthought. And if you head south down 51 into Mississippi and look closely, the Delta is one big museum for blues fans. The Jungle Room is amusing and all (and not quite as hideous as it looks in the pictures), but it's a pretty superficial representation of Memphis' primary cultural contribution to the world.

I, however, am not really a musical person as such; my interest in Memphis is a visual one. It has long struck me that music is a far kinder medium to the city than film. There is a seemingly infinite number of songs that are about or which mention Memphis, and generally speaking the attitude seems to be pretty positive. I can't think off-hand of any songs about people having a really shitty time in Memphis (and please, if anybody knows of one, let me know; I'd be curious.) Film, however, is only ambivalent about the place. In the movies, Memphis is generally a gritty, rather oppressive city; the closest I think I've ever seen to Memphis glamour was The Firm. The same is true of local film: people are much more interested in dirty, grimy, down-at-heel Memphis. In truth, that's how I see the city, too.

My favorite film about Memphis -- probably everybody's -- is still Jarmusch's Mystery Train. The city doesn't much look like it did in the film anymore; watching it, I always have the disorienting feeling of recognizing the locations but not being able to figure out exactly where they are; the film was made near the tail-end of Memphis' desperately-poor phase, so it looks a lot rougher in the film than it looks now. I do remember those days, though. (And for non-locals, I do not recommend walking from Sun Studio to Graceland. Unless walking for two days through an endless bad neighborhood appeals to you, in which case, hell, go for it.)

Anyway... music Memphis vs. film Memphis: there's a thesis in there somewhere.
10:44 PM ::
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Same Shit, Different Brutal Dictators

Imagine a time in Iraq when people, including children, were brutalized and tortured in prison, deprived of food and water, bound and beaten. Iraq under Saddam, c. 2000? Quite likely. But also, unfortunately, Iraq under our guys, one month ago.
BAGHDAD -- The national guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below.

From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days.

In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices -- metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their back and legs.

(...)

But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson's superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 -- Iraq's first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion.

So much for freedom and democracy, eh?
1:27 AM ::
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Despair, Continued

The film I'd most like to avoid thinking about is the one that refuses to let me ignore it. We had a rough day on Lee's shoot today; things are either coming to a head or beginning to fall apart. We were shooting at a private house -- it belongs to some acquaintance of Lee's --with the three main actors and the usual small crew. It wasn't a terribly difficult scene, although we were still running a bit behind. The crew was exhausted (we'd been up late shooting the night before), but plugging ahead. We got through the bulk of the shooting, and only had an insert shot and one short scene left to do.

The insert shot, however, was problematic: Scott, the supporting actor, tosses a beer to DeVere. Simple, except in execution; the beer was in bottles, not cans, and throwing bottles on a hard surface is, obviously, a risky thing at best. Lee had attempted to work around it by filming action in which to place a CGI beer bottle (which seems to me a dubious solution at best, but what do I know?), but wanted to try to get a real shot of the bottle being caught at least. What happened is probably pretty predictable. The bottle was thrown, DeVere attempted to catch it, but it slipped from his hand and broke against the lounge chair he was sitting in. He wasn't injured, really; he had a minor cut on his thumb, nothing deep although a bit prone to bleeding. Still, it was arguably a rather stupid and avoidable injury; the fact that Lee had pushed to try it displeased the actors. The significance of this, though, is what it helped set up a few minutes later.

Once we'd finished with the last part of that scene, we removed to the front of the house for the last shot of the day. It was another stunt scene: a shirtless DeVere runs across the yard, is tackled and knocked down by Scott, and Scott and the supporting actress drag him back across the yard by the ankles, face down. Given what had happened with the beer bottle, the actors were in no mood to court injury; neither DeVere, nor Scott especially, were willing to do the tackling, and they weren't keen on the dragging, either. Lee had planned the scene as a single shot, though, not leaving much room for doing anything other than a straight stunt. Scott and DeVere refused; Lee lacked a back-up plan. Scott made some suggestions about alternate ways to shoot it that didn't involve full-contact violence; Lee very grudgingly complied. This in itself had some echoes of a couple of days ago, when we were shooting an actor who really, really couldn't nail his lines. Another crewie made a small suggestion in an attempt to be helpful; Lee clearly resented it. I understood his position at that time, although he took it a bit more personally than was perhaps good for him. In any case, Lee wasn't particularly open to directorial suggestions, even though he accepted them in this instance and acted on them.

What eventually happened was that DeVere did the dragging half of the stunt and got a bit scratched up in the process. Lee made some comments that might have been genuine or might have been deeply sarcastic -- it was difficult to tell what his intent was -- about whether or not DeVere was hurt. DeVere responded with his own bit of sarcasm, the shot was wrapped up, and we crewies started to put away equipment.

While I was taking down the tripod, I heard an ominous sound of smashing metal or glass, turned around to look (afraid the camera had been knocked over), and saw Lee getting in his car and driving off in what can only be described as a huff. Diana and I went to the curb to look for whatever had broken -- the only thing we found was a bit of metal from Lee's cap, alongside the cap itself, which Lee had flung to the ground in a fit of picque -- and stood there staring at each other, half amused and half pissed-off. This temper tantrum didn't play well with anyone; the crew was still sore from the uncalled-for sarcasm of the night before, and the cast was simply fed up. The crew continued to gather up equipment while cursing gently under our breath; the cast just cursed. Lee came dangerously close to losing his entire film in that moment; just about everyone was one wrong word away from walking off the film entirely. The cast went home disgruntled; the crew debated what to do next.

After fifteen minutes or so, Lee returned, just as we were stacking the equipment up for loading. He didn't say anything to us; we didn't say anything to him. We humped the equipment out to his car, packed it in, and left.

I understand that Lee is in an unhappy place right now; directing can be very isolating when things aren't going well, and it's always stressful regardless. Lee, I think, is not a person who does well with either solitude or a lot of stress. And I completely understand how he feels about his film -- he spent years saving up the cash to make his movie, and it's the one thing, it seems, he really wants to accomplish. But here he is, that same movie gradually falling apart around him... I'd be frustrated and angry, too. Even so, he doesn't seem to understand why the cast refused him today -- the first lesson we had drilled into us by the old crewies at LFS was that nobody can compel you to do anything you don't feel completely safe doing, and some of what Lee was asking people to do was less than completely safe. (There have been other similar incidents -- I refused to venture out onto a pitched roof to get a shot not long ago, and also refused to climb onto a chair to attach diffusion to a very, very bright (like, 10K) lamp while it was still on... I have this weird thing about maintaining functioning retinas.) You can always ask a crewie or actor to do something a bit risky, but if they refuse, you really can't hold it against them; that's not being a prima donna, that's just self-preservation. DeVere has already been very patient with these requests; I didn't think it was fair for Lee to get annoyed with him for refusing one.

But Lee pitching a hissy fit was really just kinda distasteful and alienating. The director on a paying shoot -- the archetypal tempestuous artiste -- can get away with that shit, but not the director of an unpaid, all-volunteer indie cast and crew. I'm sure Lee was simply overcome with frustration, but it put everyone off.

It also put a bit of a wrinkle in my plan to talk to Lee; after this, I didn't much want to see him again today. I have a position worked out -- I'm going to offer to work 3-4 days per week (but no more than that) if he'll accept the compromise -- but today seemed like a bad time, especially where my issue with his sarcasm is concerned. It still has to be done, but I kinda want to see where he's at tomorrow first.
12:31 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Saturday, August 07, 2004
Despair

I'm so fucking frustrated and discouraged about this film. Lee's film, I mean, not my own.

I've been fretting over this for some time now; the turning point seems to have been the day when we did endless takes of the (now notorious) five lines of dialogue. Sometime during that day, I just lost faith in the production, and for a film from which I'm getting so little in return, it doesn't make much sense to continue.

This is a major question for me: I fulfill my obligations where these jobs are concerned. When I say I'm going to be there for it, I consider it a point of honor to be there regardless of what happens. But this situation is becoming such a losing proposition -- I give all my useful time to it, and nearly every penny I have is going to the effort in one form or another; my personal work and my daily life are both suffering -- that I can't imagine why I'm making such sacrifices.

Point 1: When I initially agreed to do the film, it was with the idea in mind that I would be the camera operator. With only a handful of exceptions -- ie, when it was literally impossible for Lee to do the shooting himself -- I have not gotten to do any such thing. My work is menial and requires no particular skill; I feel like I'm being wasted. If I had more invested in the film itself, if Lee were an established friend, if I were being paid cash-in-hand, it would be different; I would do what I had to do, no matter how lowly. But the whole point of this, for me, was to get some practice, brush up on my skills... I'm not getting any of that.

Point 2: Anybody could be doing the work I'm doing, so I should be easy to replace, at least skill-wise. I adjust the tripod legs (a job that has become jokingly known among the crew as "peeling a grape"); I keep a log of the counter readings. It's not much. Even so, I feel unappreciated, taken for granted. I feel unimportant.

Point 3: It seems as though my every waking moment is spent getting to the shoot, working on the shoot, driving home from the shoot, or recovering from the shoot. The workshops at the Co-op are suffering; I can't write because even when I'm home I lack the energy; there are dozens of things I need to tend to, but can't because my time is already spoken for. My money goes to fuel to get back and forth to the shoots, or to feeding myself because we're not fed on the set.

Point 4: The shoot is becoming a monster. What was originally a two-week shoot quickly became a thirty-day shoot; by the time we began shooting, it was a six-week shoot. Now, because of problems in the production, it has become an eight-week shoot. I counted up the days, and our total production -- as scheduled right now -- is up to 61 days; right now we're in a run of 34 shooting days in a row. That is, without a single day off; not one.

Compounding my malaise is something that happened tonight. We were way too early to start shooting (as always; we arrive two hours before, and end up with 90 minutes of spare time, doing very little but watching Lee fuss), and too early even to start lighting effectively as the sun was still setting. The three of us went out onto the porch for a few minutes, assuming Lee would come get us when he was ready. And he did, in a very unpleasant way: with a comment dripping with sarcasm. I want to stress that it was a fucking tour de force of personal willpower that I didn't walk right that minute; I'm patient and laid-back, but nobody talks to me that way. Because of where we were, I let it be for the time being, but even now I'm seething and trying to figure out how to handle the situation. It was incredibly bad timing on Lee's part; I'm sure he didn't "mean" it (do they ever?), but already disaffected, that put me over the edge. With that ill-considered comment, I went from discouraged-but-trying to simply not giving a shit.

I must say this: I don't really want to leave the film. Not because of Lee -- I'm at the point where Lee's opinion matters very little to me -- but because I worry what impact leaving would have on my reputation in the local film scene. Were it not for that worry -- that people would get the impression that I don't honor my committments, that I'd lose my hard-won film karma, that leaving is tantamount to pussying out -- I'd be long gone by now. I do, however, want it to be over; I'd be quite happy never to hear about it again.

What a fucking mess.

Any advice? Anybody?
11:26 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Friday, August 06, 2004
Tennessee, Moving Bravely Into The Past

For fuck's sake, people...

Unabashed Racist Wins GOP Primary in Tenn.
By WOODY BAIRD, Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - An unabashed racist will represent the Republican party in the November election for a congressional seat after a write-in candidate failed to derail his effort

(...)

In November, the GOP candidate [James L. Hart] will oppose Rep. John Tanner, a Democrat who has represented the northwest Tennessee district for 15 years.

Hart, 60, vows if elected to work toward keeping "less favored races" from reproducing or immigrating to the United States. In campaign literature, Hart contends that "poverty genes" threaten to turn the United States into "one big Detroit."

(...)

While campaigning, Hart sometimes wears a protective vest and carries a .40-caliber pistol, but he said he has run into no trouble.

"When I knock on a door and say white children deserve the same rights as everybody else, the enthusiastic response is truly amazing," he said.

If a black person opens the door, he says he simply drops off campaign literature and leaves.
source

If this keeps up they're going to revoke the National Civil Rights Museum.
1:03 PM ::
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Thursday, August 05, 2004
Real Work Journal

Y'know what? Fuck the other journal. No, I mean it... everything there is to write about the other film has already been written. Anything I write today about any of that would just be repetitive: Lee's getting on my nerves, I wish it was over, we got the shots. Blah-de-blah-de-blah. Seriously, who cares? If anything exciting happens, I'll come back to it; that seems unlikely at the moment.

Anyway, I've got more important stuff to be getting on with. I managed to painfully extract about five pages of 1st draft screenplay from my brain yesterday; at the moment I'm guessing the final screenplay will be about 20 pages, so that's a good start. Alas, those five pages were the easiest pages, and today I'm sitting here just going over notes, trying to build bridges between concepts that are connected only within the deeper recesses of my psyche. What I'm looking for right now are tinfoil hat webpages, crazy political conspiracy stuff. If anyone has any suggestions, please do leave 'em in the comment box. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Am I the only person who thinks the act of writing resembles nothing so much as repeatedly stabbing yourself in the head?
3:27 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Welcome To The Blogosphere, Little Fella!

He said he had a website; didn't tell me where. He said he'd send a link; he never did. But your humble servant is not easily deterred, and when he linked in to the PortaPulpit, I followed the tell-tale trail of crumbs back to the source and uncovered Doug's new blog.

A fine addition to the 'Net if I may say. Although I don't know him that well, I do think Doug here is one of my favorite people in Memphis.

(Also check the band website: Chess Club )
1:09 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Real Work

I hope everyone will pardon me if there's a bit of a lull in the blog. Now that the shooting schedule on Lee's film has eased up a bit, it's time I got started on my own work; I've been gestating the seed of a short film in my mind for a few weeks now, and I've gotta start turning that into something tangible. I hope to shoot in early November, which isn't far away, so I've got a lot of preparation to do in a short period of time (especially considering October is mostly full already.)

The temptation to avoid my real work in favor of this pseudo-work is intense (a major theme in the work I'm doing), but the film, not the blog, is what this is all about. Focus is all-important. (I wish like hell I didn't have the distraction of someone else's film to deal with right now.)

Right now I'm just trying to get the core concepts down, trying to figure out how all these threads relate to each other. This, I think, is the hardest part. I wish I could find a comfortable place to work.

Anyway, I will try to catch the production journal up soon. There's a lot of other stuff going on, too, but nothing the rest of the blogosphere can't deftly cover without me.
1:18 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Welcome To Memphis

How embarrassing:

Iraqis on tour banned from Memphis hall

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.

The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.

"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."

Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered.

(...)

But the delegates seemed in good spirits Monday, after they were able meet with Carol Chumney, the city council member, elsewhere. Shahla Waliy, a 31-year-old native of Baghdad, said she was intrigued by the city's civil rights history.

"I heard there was a kind of majority-minority conflict in Memphis, especially in history," she said. "We have these smaller provinces, and we have majority-minority conflicts in these places."

(source)

Apparently Councilman Brown wanted to give the visitors a lesson in Civil Rights the old-fashioned way: rejecting their presence based on race, color, and national origin. For what it's worth, the guy's a whackjob and has no place making decisions of any kind for the people of Memphis.

And so further proof materializes: the oppressed can indeed become the oppressors.
7:18 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Monday, August 02, 2004
Something To Piss Off Conservatives

Tonight's the night... at 10 PM EST, Mike Malloy's starting his first broadcast for Air America. It's good news for all of us who love his work.

If you're not in a city lucky enough to have an AAR affiliate (as I am not), and not a subscriber to Sirius Satellite Radio (XM is running Colmes instead of Malloy, the bastards), you can catch the show, posted daily, on the White Rose Society Mike Malloy archives, along with some vintage and best-of compilations of Mike's work.

Worth a look at least, right?
1:15 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, August 01, 2004
Non-Journal, Days Eighteen and Nineteen

I feel kinda crappy. I'm not sure what's wrong -- it's partly just sleepiness, but I feel a little queasy, too. Not like getting-sick queasy, more like I ate something I shouldn't have. And I think I know what it was: Krispy Kremes. At the shoot this morning a large number of warm doughnuts was provided -- and god knows a warm Krispy Kreme is the nutritional equivalent of crack cocaine: bad, bad, bad for you, but soooo goooooooood. I only had two, but as anyone who's ever had a warm, greasy, sugary Kreme knows, two is just asking for trouble. Ugh.

Anyway, we've had a fun couple of days (in the vaguely sarcastic sense, I mean). Yesterday we shot all the scooter scenes (we had a rental scooter, a Bajaj... yes, it's Indian), and Lee is still going coverage-crazy. We had a couple of cops holding traffic for us, and these particular two cops were what we in the film biz refer to as "complete assholes." This is the fourth pair of cops we've had around, and each pair behaves somewhat differently: some use the opportunity to have an impromptu cop convention, inviting all their off-duty buddies to come hang out. Some just relax and shoot the breeze, gently mocking us. We like those guys. Some get a huffy cop-tude thing goin on -- they don't like us, but they can't hassle us -- and start pulling weird passive-aggressive stuff: "Oops, did that car get past me and drive right through your shot? Silly inattentive me!" Joke's on them, though... Lee really will keep them there another hour if he needs to; the guy hasn't the least compunction about shooting over the schedule.

Today we were doing the 10K run scenes (I know this means nothing to any of you, but if you ever see the film, all will become clear in retrospect), and the day started out with problems. When we got to the location -- at the Overton Park Gazebo, which had been secured with a permit and fee from the parks department -- we discovered that a church had esconced themselves there already, set up a PA system and speakers, and were preparing to hold their service there that morning.

Now, you may have picked up on the fact that Lee's not always at his best under pressure, and tends to get a bit, y'know, frantic when problems arise. He was squawking down the phone to David, the locations manager, within seconds... the church people declared the Gazebo a "first come, first served" space, and refused to budge. David turned up with the paperwork, though, and the cops showed up (only to block traffic, but their presence lent us further authority), and the church picked up and moved about two hundred feet along to a shady spot under the trees. Crisis averted.

Then we had an extras failure; only five showed up. We needed more like a dozen. (A word of advice to filmmakers needing extras: always book about twice what you need, 'cause half of 'em never show.) Lee discovered he'd failed to recharge his primary camera battery. The pyrotechnic effects took longer to set up than Lee had anticipated, putting us behind schedule. And shooting runners from the back of a moving car was tricky: they wouldn't stay in formation (or Lee would drive off the agreed-upon shooting path), meaning the takes were dodgy. With all of this going on, Lee took on his full crazed-hamster persona, running around in a tizzy, risking peril and bigger problems. When Lee gets himself into a state, he starts overlooking the details, which seem unimportant but which can render a shoot useless if not attended to. There might be extraneous stuff in the shot because he wasn't paying attention when he was taking it; the crew takes longer to set up because Lee isn't communicating clearly and we don't know what he wants; today he almost ran an extra over because he was so distracted. It is an issue.

Still, as always, we got the footage; I was numb from the hip down from sitting in the back of his Beetle with a tripod in my lap for an hour, and the extras weren't overly enamored of their director, but we got the stuff. Then we went downtown for a few more shots, had lunch, took the day's last shots, and went home. It was a long, stressful day, but should -- and I emphasize the word "should" -- mark the end of the harder part of the shooting schedule. We've got most of the meat of the screenplay in the can (or the tiny plastic tape case) by now, so the rest is mostly supporting material. Lee is doing better in some respects... he's a bit tougher than he was when we began, and I think he actually freaks out less than he did earlier on. So progress is being made.

We crewies still do a lot of hanging around talking, though; the topic of the day yesterday and today was the Enneagram personality test. One of crewmembers is something of an enthusiast, and brought a book, which everyone has been curiously going over, gently pigeon-holing themselves (not in a bad way.) I, as it happens, am a solid Type 9, "the Peacemaker;" Google it and find out what my fundamental motivations are. Or not. I think my mom's a Type 6 (the Loyalist), my dad's a Type 1 (the Reformer), and I expect Smithers here is a Type 3 (the Motivator).

Smithers, by the way, is currently in Shanghai, the lucky bastard. Where's my postcard?
10:54 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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