Sweep the Leg, Johnny

Several times a year, some major league athlete/asshole does something profoundly stupid and socially unacceptable. They issue a public apology, give an interview with a major sports news* outlet about how the situation got away from them. They get suspended or fined by the league and they get some sort of token legal punishment. There are several hundred hours of commentary on the twenty-four hour networks but that's pretty much all there is to it: some chit-chat and a slap on the wrist.

Notice, though, that these overgrown teenagers never really get hurt, not in the literal sense. Commercial athletes are, by virtue of their profession, in very good physical condition, highly confident and of larger than average stature. Generally speaking, they're not the kind of guys that get their asses kicked in public.

For a few months during my junior year in college, I bounced at one of the toughest clubs Atlanta. (This connects, I promise). Most such establishments hire steely-faced men better than six and a half feet tall to marshal their patrons. This makes a certain degree of sense. Your run-of-the-mill bouncer type is intimidating and can, without being overtly hostile, get what he wants out of people simply by his imposing size and threatening glare. This works very well if you need to inspire fear in belligerent frat boys. However, if you club is full of disenfranchised skinheads, bar-wrecking urban motorcycle gangs and South American futball hooligans**, then you have a plurality of your clientèle that is constantly itching for a fight and that probably knows how to win one. Simply being big and mean-looking doesn't cut it with any these people.

During my time at the club our security staff consisted of one former prison guard, one Marine reservist, three former cops, five discharged Army Rangers, and five part-timers that all had day jobs as martial arts instructors. One of those part-timers was a one-hundred and five pound woman named Liz who I once saw shatter a cinder block with her bare hands. Then there were a half dozen college kids like me that were all aspiring bartenders or DJ's. Most of us didn't know how to handle people when we first got hired but the "fifteen brass men" brought us up to snuff pretty quickly. Nobody on our security staff was taller than 6'1" and we were very good at marshaling an inherently violent clientèle, even when outnumbered.

Well-trained bouncers can easily marshal a person, even a person that outstrips them in size, without causing injury. That is unless the person being marshaled is gunning for an all out fight and is sober enough to actually have one. That usually ends with the instigator taking a ride to the hospital.

What happens if one of these pampered tough guys from the world of multi-million dollar emotional children were to get in a row with someone like one of my old colleagues. What if they got in a fight with someone with the experience and wherewithal to competently fight back? Suppose a star NFL quarterback were to swing a broken bottle at my old friend Liz and ended up with a shattered kneecap, a blown-out elbow and thirteen fewer degrees of peripheral vision than when he arrived? Exactly this did happen to a pipe fitter. He spent six months in jail for assault and, when he tried to sue the club, he lost and was successfully counter-sued.

I doubt it would come out that way if the pipe fitter had been a nationally famous athlete. Sure, he might have spent the night in jail or in the hospital but he wouldn't have actually done time. His suit probably would have been successful and, though his athletic prowess is probably insured through Lloyd's of London, he'd be awarded a million dollar judgment against a working class woman who was only defending herself against a man thrice her size.

People wonder why I hate sports so much.

*"Sports News" might be an oxymoron.

** This was on Sundays, Thursdays and Saturdays, respectively. Ska night, 80's night and Brazilian Carnival night.


The Food is Terrible and the Portions are so Small

"I'm sorry, but we just don't have anything for you."

Those are hard words for a waiter, someone who makes their living by providing for others and by winning their good graces. Unfortunately, it was what I had to say.

This family was of middle-eastern descent. The mother wore a hijab. They asked polite but in-depth questions about how our kitchen was kept. They were clearly Muslim and devoutly so.

"Do you take issue with food that is fried in the same oil or cooked on the same surface as haram?" I asked.

"No, we can't have any of that, I'm afraid," the father said.

"Then, I'm sorry, but we don't have anything for you. The pork sandwich and the burgers are cooked on the same flat-top. The pork ribs and the steaks are cooked on the same grill. We cook the pork egg rolls in the same fryer as the chicken and everything else. You could, perhaps, have a green salad, but I have to warn you that we have chopped bacon on that kitchen station. I'm really very sorry."

The father started to get up and his family followed suit. He shook my hand and said, "No, don't be sorry at all. Thank you for letting us know. I'm sorry we can't eat at your restaurant."

They left smiling, albeit without having a meal.

The general manager saw them leaving and pulled me aside. I explained what had happened and he took me back to the office and admonished me never to do such a thing again, indeed that I would be written up if I ever told customers to leave the restaurant.

Their religious proclivities do not matter, he told me. If I hadn't told them the configuration of our kitchen, they would never have known. They're being overly sensitive and I'm costing the store money by coddling them. According to him, we're there to make a profit and not to cater to "every religious fringe crackpot that walks into the place."

I'm glad I don't work there anymore.


Man is a Giddy Thing

I don't often get startled by a twist of phrase, particularly not by song lyrics. I'm too widely read and too jaded. Once in a while, though something leaps out in a moment of half-paid attention.

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

From Mumford & Son's Sigh No More.


In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

I cannot sleep tonight.

I normally sleep like a narcoleptic rock that's recently had a concussion. I fall asleep after only a few minutes and you'd have better luck rousing Kurt Cobain that you would have waking me.
I can sleep through storms, traffic noise, neighbors' parties and street concerts.

One Saturday, when I was in high school, my stepfather suffered a mild heart attack just after dawn. My mother woke me for the fifteen seconds it took her to tell me what was happening, that I shouldn't worry and that she would call me after the ER doctor had seen him. She tells me that I asked if I should come with them and that she said no, though I honestly don't remember the conversation because I was really still asleep. I then proceeded to sleep through an ambulance and three fire trucks, with lights and sirens on, pulling up to the house, a half dozen EMTs tramping through the house, dragging a stretcher up the stairs to my parents' bedroom and hauling my stepfather out through the garage. I slept through my mother calling three times from the hospital. I only woke up four hours later when my parents returned home and actually shook me to wake me up and tell me that everything was okay. I'm not heartless; I just sleep that deeply.

I own four alarm clocks. It takes that much to wake me up.

And I cannot fathom why I can't sleep a wink tonight. Nothing's on my mind. I've no deadline looming and no personal crisis to contain. I'm good for money and pretty much happy all around. Things have been going pretty well for me lately, save a bump on my bike but I'll heal from that in short order. I got plenty of sleep the last few days and I'm not hugely off my circadian rhythms but here I am looking dawn in the eye on a one cup of coffee day and I'm not even drowsy.



The Secret to Low Budget Film Making

Actually, the two secrets.

I've worked on a number of small shows, from the simply low-budget where I was paid on the lowest tier union contract, the one specifically crafted for producers that don't have any money to throw around, to micro-budget shows where I was paid less than I would make frothing cappuccinos, to all deferment shows where I was paid nothing at all.

Some of these productions ran like well oiled machines; some were agony for producers and crew alike and this had next to nothing to do with available funds. Despite all the warnings from college professors and indie rags about the difficulty of getting a good crew for little money, it's not actually that hard provided you do two things right.

Film crews, even crews full of seasoned professionals, will strip naked in the winter and crawl miles over dirty broken glass* provided you remember two things: food and paychecks.

Simply, you must feed your staff. You must feed them tasty, hot, professionally prepared, abundant food and you must feed it to them on time, everyday. No matter how small your show, find someone with experience on big movies and have them handle your catering and your craft service. Do not be afraid to spend and even waste money in this regard. If it comes to a choice between catered meals and a second camera, or a fancy crane or an expensive location, put your cash into the chow. It will save you money and time in the long run.

The Crafty table must be stocked with hot coffee, bottled water and an abundance of beverages and snacks every minute of the working day. Lunch must have several hot choices, as well as salad, side-dishes and other accouterments and there must be enough of it so that the entire crew can eat as much as they want without risk of running out. Your crew must be able to sit down somewhere warm and dry and have a full thirty minutes to eat. Lunch must be served six hours from general crew-call time and not one second later. Do not serve pizza. If your shooting day goes more than twelve hours, you need to serve an additional meal. You should also serve breakfast if you can afford it.

The reasons for this are two fold, first, food keeps your crew well-fueled. Set work is physically grueling, emotionally taxing and the hours are horrendous. Making sure that your people stay fed, caffeinated and hydrated ensures that they will have the energy and the will to carry out your vision. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it makes your crew feel valued. It is the most obvious, most visceral thing you can do to let them know that their hard work is appreciated. It goes a lot further than a pep talk or assurances of how great the finished movie is going to be.

If you have any real budget to speak of, you will have a professional crew that expects to get paid. Paychecks must be delivered on time and they must be correct to the penny. There is no wiggle room on this. While the popular conception of American film shows us a world of glitz, glamor and wealth, the truth is that most people in the industry are working-class mercenaries that are doing it to make a living. They are probably taking a steep pay cut and enduring a major headache by working on your project. You have to show that you respect their experience and participation by paying them the correct amount and paying it to them when you say you are going to.

If your project is truly micro-budget and you are either paying your people a token stipend, (I did a show for $20 a day, which worked out to about $1.40 and hour), or if your crew is entirely volunteer, you must make up the difference in pay with food. The less your people are getting paid, the better you have to feed them.

This post is probably a let down to those of you that googled independent film making looking for tips on how to get your movie picked up for distribution or how to get slots at prestigious festivals. The truth is, how well your crew is treated, how much faith they have in you as a producer or director and how committed they are to your project, affects the entire endeavor. Keeping your crew on task and moving efficiently by force of will alone is going to burn you out, turn you off to your own work and make you unpopular with the very people that should be most behind you. Keep your people full and properly compensated and your production will be a thousand times easier.

Heed my advice, food and paychecks. Everything else will take care of itself. Here endeth the lesson.

*This is a metaphor any hyperbole. Do not actually ask a crew to do this.