I Deserve a Break Today

This is a strange moment. I've not had a moment like this in some time, several years, at least. The sensation is so strange I'm half wondering if I'm imagining it, half wondering if I've missed something truly substantial and that the hard back-of-head smack of my own forgetfullness is about to assault me like a mis-played tether ball. It's odd, just plain odd.

The office is quiet.

I mean the office is really quiet. The body of tasks that I'm supposed to pursue is done for the day, still an hour before my vendors on the west coast close. The shooting company is in the field, only half way through their deep-split workday, but I've gotten no panicked calls. Accounting finished early and headed home thirty minutes ago. The flights are booked and no one has called to change. Supplies and equipment, all ordered, paid for, and distributed. I haven't gotten an irate call from an agent or manager since lunchtime. All the little fires that normally vex my day seem cold and smokeless.

Old-timers, meaning anyone who's tenure in the industry precedes mine by more than fifteen years, tell me that this is how it used to be, how it's supposed to be. My disbelieving ears keep hearing that, once-upon-the-good-ol'-days, a Production Office was a languid place, occupied by just a few souls who existed only to copy Call Sheets, make Sides and proofread Production Reports. The rest of the time was spent practically idle, cracking jokes and waiting for the benchmark calls from set.

The Production Office Life [TM], as I've known it, is a potent cocktail of  money headaches, departmental neediness, bureaucratic frustration, above-the-line yelling, quiet weeping, studio bow-scraping, pounding stress, and a potent dose of an exotic herb called 'fucking-hurry,' all milled together under high pressure for fourteen hours daily, served with a side of exhaustion and garnished with the constant reminder that we're the most anemically compensated of all union departments.

Over the last twenty years, as movie-making has gotten more complex, as productions have gotten larger in scope, as studios have closed the dual fists of oversight and due diligence, and as the analog/chemical modes of working have been subsumed by the chaos of digital/virtual production, more and more work has fallen to the Production Office. While we were once, as it's told to me, simply an in-house printing shop and and record keeping service, now we are the logistical cerebellum of the film making organism, with all the associated expectations, responsibilities, pitfalls, and most of all, hours.

Not today, though. Today the world is quiet and everything is squared away. The shooting day is underway and all the paperwork is done. The muckity-mucks are out of the building and nothing is on fire. Today we get to breathe a little. It makes me nervous.

I'm going to go prep the Sides.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.


What's the Matter, McFly? Are You CHICKEN?!

I don't know that I've reached the age where I get to lead my thoughts with "kids today...", but I'm going to do it, anyway.

Kids today are scardy-cats. They are cowards, absolutely yellow, the lot of them.

Neither my niece, nor her husband, both barely old enough to drink, have drivers' licenses. They're both terrified of driving. My neighbor's twin sons, fifteen next week, have never learned to ride bicycles or to swim in water deeper than they are tall. My college roommate's daughter, now nine, is petrified to leave her house without a parent in tow. I literally do not know anyone under the age of twenty that possesses the spirit of adventure, the lust for independence, or the recklessness that typified youth in any earlier generation.

I'm just barely old enough to have had an upbringing that resembled that of my baby-boom parents rather than that of my generation-me juniors. We had eight, and later sixteen-bit Nintendo, with its pixelated Marios and and bloc-art Links, but video games were not yet ubiquitous until the age of the Play-Station, which was first released when I was in college. In my particular case, it helps that my mother allowed me to own a video game system only when I reached adolescence for fear that it would turn me into a couch potato. I griped and sulked at the time but I am retroactively grateful.  

For anyone my age or older, our childhoods were spent unsupervised and outdoors. On weekends and during school breaks, children would depart their houses in the morning, form packs, and wander the neighborhood until the street lights came on, obligating us to return home. We would climb things, we would dig under other things. We would run. We would ride. We would wrestle. We would go far afield, from the quarry the next town over, past he settlers' ruins in the village park, across the river to the miniature mountain that was so good for sledding in winter and rolling-down in summer. Bicycles, skateboards, sleds, inner tubes, play swords, river swings, discarded tires, jungle gyms, and water balloons were what fun was built from. And, we did it all without helmets, pads, rubberized matting or a tether to home.

And, yes, we got hurt, often. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, bloodied noses were daily occurrences that were shrugged off, not doted upon. Occasionally, we got hurt badly. While I was lucky to have gotten though my youth with only a handful of stitches, John broke his arm when his driveway basketball hoop came out of the ground. Justin took a branch to the head while climbing a tree and had to be carted away in an ambulance for fear that he would bleed out. Kai broke his jaw when the front wheel came off his bicycle. Chuck lacerated his arm to the bone because his army knife was sharper than he realized. Josh had his stomach pumped because those weren't wild blueberries. By experiencing and witnessing these hard knocks, we developed a healthy respect for danger and the means for evaluating risk.

This is how you learn your capabilities. You climb the tree as high as you feel safe doing, and each time you climb higher. Occasionally you fall and you learn how not to fall the next time. It is the risk of injury, the reality of pain, that teaches you to navigate the physical world.

This is what leads so many young people to be afraid of mundane things. They've never put themselves in harm's way. They've never gotten hurt, nor done anything that might get them hurt. They've been indoors, playing consequence-free video games under the watchful eye of helicopter parents. On the rare occasion that they find themselves outside, they're on milquetoast ergonomic prefab playgrounds that take them no higher than the couch they would otherwise be sitting on. They've never gone without hand sanitizer, let alone without a net.

A Google Image Search for the Words "Dangerous Play" Brought up this Picture of Clancy Brown
Go Figure

 I'm not saying that we should be flippant or reckless with the safety of our children. Bicycle helmets are good idea. Nerf arrows and paint balls are certainly better alternatives to BB's. A cell phone in the pocket can be a lifeline, but it should not be a leash. Fireworks warrant supervision. Lawn darts* are best left in the recesses of picnic-tragedy memory. But, making childhood too safe is self defeating. Life, by its very nature, is an exercise in the application and mitigation of risk. Without the opportunity to learn that, our kids end up safe and sound, living, but not experiencing life.

So, parents everywhere, call me a hypocrite if you like. Lambast me that my opinions will change if I ever have a child; you may be right. Until then, though, I implore you, send your children outside. Shove them out the door if you must. If they won't go on their own, go with them. Climb trees, make mud pies, ride bikes. Explore ravines and paddle in the river. Play bloody murder. Scramble over the rocks and under the fallen logs. Let them see the view from high atop jungle gym and let them see how far from home they're willing to wander. Keep the soap, the band-aids and the Bactine stocked and don't fret until the street lights come on. Your kids will be better off for it.

*Those of you younger than 30 probably don't remember lawn darts. They were two-pound steel spikes with plastic fletches that you would hurl up in the air in the hopes that they would land approximately where you wanted and not on the head or through the foot of one of your playmates. Why? Because life was cheap in the Reagan years.

Death, Incarnate


The Best You Can Hope for is do Die in Your Sleep

I came into the tournament with the fifth-smallest stack. Out of a field of thirty-two, all of whom had spent the last four months accumulating points in the twice-weekly regular games, only four had fewer chips than I. The initial chip leader had me stacked better than eight to one. I was doomed.

Or so I thought.

I doubled up less than twenty minutes in but played too conservatively for a while and, by the time we were down to twelve, I was dangerously short stacked. I got aggressive, almost reckless for a bit but stayed in, keeping my stack at almost precisely the tournament median.

The four hand and the three hand rarely made it to the flop. It was all-in's and folds for fifteen solid minutes. I called once and put someone out. The other guy did likewise and it came down to just the two of us. Again, we took turns going all in on our hole cards and letting the other fold. I was weak-willed, I suppose, as I let a fairly substantial lead get nickle & dimed away.

Then I remembered something I once heard Doyle Brunson say in an interview, "When it's heads-up, any two cards will do."

He went all in before the flop and, our stacks almost identical, I called with King-Seven. He had pocket Queens but I caught a Seven on the flop and a King on the turn. When we counted out, I found that I had him covered by less than two percent. I had won.

Sure, it was tavern poker, a free gimick to keep patrons in the bar on slow nights. Sure, the grand prize bounty was only a hundred dollar gift card. Sure, no one but I will remember these events in six months time. The stakes don't really matter. What matters is that, on that one night, on that one occasion, I was a champion.

The truth is that, in any form of competition, there are many more losers than winners. Only a tiny fraction ever get to stand at the top of the podium in any capacity. Many people go their whole adult lives without ever having that, without ever being able to say, "Today I defeated all comers."

For what little it counts, I got to say that.

submit to reddit


Candle & Bell

The  Ex-Wife gave me a book for my birthday. It's a fine, leather bound book, with thick, rough-hewn pages that were milled and pressed by hand. It's a beautiful thing, really, a joy of craftsmanship. And, it is blank. It's meant to be a journal, perhaps a scrap book or a codex for pencil sketches. I'm glad to have it.

But, I've no idea what to put in it, none whatsoever. 

I've kept a steady journal my entire adult life. It's grown to dozens of hand written volumes all neatly stashed on a shelf in my bedroom. It's been a good exercise, both for writing as a craft and living as an art form. Keeping my thoughts on paper has been good for me. I pen my missives in cheap, board-bound little diaries that I buy at Barnes & Noble for three dollars apiece. I'm much too prolific to do otherwise. 

This book, though, is special. I can't simply fill it with the mullings and chaff that overflow my other journals when they get sick of loitering between my ears. I've no skill in the visual arts; I can't draw. I could compose something especially for it, but I tend to go through so many drafts that I'll end up wanting to rewrite whatever I put in there a dozen more times.

It's such a lovely thing, such an artifact that I feel I need to do it justice with what I put into it, that I must counter the thought of its giving with the thoughts behind its use. Do I make a scrap book of it? No, she'd hate that. Perhaps I could take a stab at a more traditional diary? A store for pictures, a memoir of particular occasions, a collection of rubbings? I'm quite at the loss.



The Rockets' Red Glare

It was early morning, not yet seven, and sixty thousand of us had roused ourselves before dawn on a bank holiday and trudged through chill and drizzle to run one of the world's largest foot races.

It was a pretty good event. The rain petered out after the first fifteen minutes. The pace groups were well distributed. The minor changes to the route were insignificant. The shirts were a better design than in years past. The volunteer staff was awesome. Sure, Piedmont park was a muddy mess, but that goes with having sixty thousand exhausted people muddle across the grass following a night of heavy precipitation.

One thing vexed me, though, and vexed me badly. And so, I have this to say to the five or so percent of participants that I hereby declare guilty:

Take your hat off, stand still and be respectful during the national anthem.

I don't care that is was raining. I certainly don't care about the state of your hair. I could give a shit that you were phyching up for a major physical challenge. It doesn't matter if you're a citizen, an alien, or a visitor. It doesn't matter how important your phone call is. I'm not saying you need to salute, put your hand on your heart, sing along, or even face the flag. I am saying that you need to be respectful: lose the hat, quit the chitchat and quit moving.

This isn't about jingoism or about misplaced nationalism. It doesn't matter whether you voted for the guy in the Oval Office. It doesn't matter if you agree with the most recent act of Congress or with a current Supreme Court decision. It is of no consequence if you object to particular statutes regarding taxation, firearms, foreign policy, capital punishment, or the legal status of the unborn. This is not about politics or creed; it's about country.

I fully understand that refusing to stand for, to uncover for or to otherwise acknowledge the National Anthem is a valid form of political protest. But, let's be honest, you're not Tommie Smith or John Carlos, you don't have the world's eye; you haven't organized with like minded individuals to accomplish targeted social and political goals. You're just a prick who thinks you're too important to take sixty seconds to pay homage to the nation that provides for you economically, enfranchises you politically, and defends you martially. You probably under tip in restaurants and talk in the theater.

I'm not proposing a law, nor any other mode of coercion to force individuals' compliance on this. This is the U.S.ofA., after all, and we hold that it's your privilege to do pretty much whatever you want, even if what you want is to be a ass. You're not any less of an ass for being allowed to be.

And, just so I've said it, if you're an American and you find yourself in another country, or in the presence of others from another country, you should pay as much homage to their national anthem as you do our own. It's just the respectful and civilized thing to do.

Play it, Jimi.

submit to reddit


Haste Makes Movies

For as much as I love my job, and as much as I like to talk about it, I've gotten to the point that I don't like to talk about my work with anyone that might want to sell me something. The world at large seems to think that Hollywood is an infinite well of dollars, overflowing with cash. While we're known for some extravagances, a movie is not simply a money spigot. I can't have a conversation in a bar anymore without someone accosting me about either how to get a job, which I've covered before, or how they can they hock their particular product or service to the productions in town.

They're not wrong to do this; doing business with a film production can be very lucrative. I know a number of businesses that truly took off once they began to work with film and television productions. Be warned though, we're a hard nut to crack. Most local companies just don't have a head for how we conduct ourselves. Certain vendors just know how to play the game our way and, most of the time, those are the vendors we go with, whether or not they're the cheapest or the nicest .

All of that said, I have only two pieces of advice if you want to do business with the movie industry: be fast and be available.

Some industries have ingrained turn-around times: by close of business, twenty-four hours, three to five business days. Not with us. Call me back in the next five minutes. You need to have fast call backs. You need to have same-day service. You need to be able to deliver quotes, invoices and other documentation as soon as they are asked for. You need to be able to fix problems as quickly as they arise. We're on a mission, not a campaign and everything needs to be done right now. If I have to wait for something, more likely than not, that means that the whole show is waiting for something. Much like how we're up shit creek if certain people oversleep, we're just as bothered if I can't know in ten minutes if a certain piece of equipment, a certain location, a certain bit of documentation is available.

More often than not, it's the vendor that meets our time scales that gets our business. And, our time scale is almost always right fucking now.

Additionally, we work all hours and we need our vendors to be available at those hours. All of the professional class rental houses, all of the entertainment-centric travel agencies, all of my clearing houses, facilities managers, processing labs and freight companies have after-hours numbers where I can reach an actual person, usually, someone I know by name.

It happens on every show that I get a phone call in the middle of the night saying that the weather has turned south, that an actor has gotten ill or, sickeningly, some other vendor dropped the ball, and we can't do tomorrow's work as planned. Everything needs to be rearranged by six am; can I get the right kind of camera mount, the right kind of vehicle, the right kind of expertise in place in the next few hours?

That's pretty much it. Whether you're trying to get my show to rent your dumpsters, buy your expendables or use your underwater welding services,*  be fast, five minutes fast, have all the information at your fingertips, and be available 'round the clock. Do these things you've already got a big leg up on just about everybody else that isn't already a movie specific company.

To people like me, the most hateful words in the world are "Three to five business days."

*Yes, I've had to hire an underwater welder. That was a fun show that presented some unique challenges.


Hold me Closer, Tony Danza

I was never one of those music obsessed teenagers that poured over liner notes*, but there are some song lyrics that have always bugged me a little.

When Marc Cohn took his walk in Memphis, was it raining the whole time, or just when he got off the plane?

If, as told to me by Alannah Myles, Black Velvet is a new religion that will bring me to my knees, is there either a portrait of Elvis Presley or a cadre of dogs playing poker involved?

Mr. Cohen, Mr. Wainright, and Mr. Bono, has it not occurred to you that if this woman tied you to a kitchen chair, broke your throne and then cut your hair, I assume without your permission, that you might not be in the most healthy relationship?

Does Tommy think it matters if he and Gina make it or not? He seems to be kind of ambivalent about it. On the one hand, he says it doesn't make a difference but two lines later he swears that they will, in fact, make it.

Why does Billy Joel feel so much pressure from watching Sesame Street on channel 13?

Everclear wants to buy me "a new car" that is "perfect, shiny and new." Did they just run out of adjectives half way through the chorus?

What is it that Marvin Lee Aday won't do for love?

Finally, Paul Simon, please explain the entire Graceland album to me. I just don't understand what you're talking about.

Just some things I've been wondering about.

*For those of you born after 1990, we used to get music on physical media, like records, tapes and CD's. These would usually include a booklet containing information about the band, the particulars of the recording and the lyrics to the songs. It was like having your own little piece of Google.