There is a valid reason that I have been posting here very infrequently the last month or so. I quit my day job. My last day was Friday. As of this morning, I am working fulltime for myself and the mighty Hard News, Inc. I will be doing multimedia consulting, freelance writing and continuing to [...] [...more]
There is a valid reason that I have been posting here very infrequently the last month or so.
I quit my day job. My last day was Friday.
As of this morning, I am working fulltime for myself and the mighty Hard News, Inc. I will be doing multimedia consulting, freelance writing and continuing to move forward direction, shooting, producing and editing my own (streaming) video projects.
This move is one that is both exciting and terrifying for me, but I keep singing to my self the siren song of the New Age-y types, you know, the one that goes "there is no growth without a little pain" yada yada blah blah. As with most cliches, it is a cliche because it contains a core or truth. I have learned all that I could learn from the day job at the law firm (although the front-row seat on the police misconduct melodramas was constantly amusing), and now it is time to throw myself into an arena where I will be challenged and forced to grow & learn more.
My first big gig is a contract with the U.S. State Department to go to Santiago and Concepcion, Chile, to deliver a series of presentations on the changing nature of the internet, convergence, new media and the art of fostering conversations and innovation. I will be giving these speeches in Spanish (which already makes me sweat – I am fluent, but rusty, shall we say), and the schedule is pretty relentless. I will be talking to a roomful of newspaper publishers, editors and executives, an auditorium full of university students, and a roundtable of new media/website managers.
Seems that the landscape is changing on this – just a little bit at a time, but the fact that some people are daring enough to swim against the current seems to be paying off … admittedly, mainly in media coverage about how daring they are. But as this article points out, that fawning media [...] [...more]
Seems that the landscape is changing on this – just a little bit at a time, but the fact that some people are daring enough to swim against the current seems to be paying off … admittedly, mainly in media coverage about how daring they are.
Landmark’s highest-profile experiment with release windows took place earlier this year, with Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Bubble.’
The movie didn’t do well in theaters, but Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner
later told me that it more than covered its production costs in DVD
sales, thanks to the copious free publicity the movie received.
Now, the movie Ten Items or Less, made for less than $10 million, is going to be hitting various distribution platforms all at the same time. None of this “theater first, DVD second, TV last” release schedule. Which is going to really upset the apple cart … while putting more $$ into the Apple bank…
There’s a much longer, and larger post about the kinks that are getting worked out on digital distribution of HD content (and also about how Mark Cuban may not be sitting in such a high & mighty seat), but I am still fighting the bronchitis that has laid me low these last three weeks, and my head is stuffed with Sgt. Schultz’ favorite strudel…
The fourth day of shooting started with me driving the ‘Sclade to the alley behind Ted’s house – yes, that same Ted that appeared in Day 1. He had generously offered to allow me to shoot in the alley behind his house, because it’s pretty photogenic – well, for an alley – and it has [...] [...more]
The fourth day of shooting started with me driving the ‘Sclade to the alley behind Ted’s house – yes, that same Ted that appeared in Day 1. He had generously offered to allow me to shoot in the alley behind his house, because it’s pretty photogenic – well, for an alley – and it has a slight incline and a leftward curve at the end of it that read well on camera.
It allowed me to cheat my picture car at the end of the alley so that it matches up well with the footage that I shot on Day 3 in the alley by my house. I had originally wanted to use an alley that I scouted that is just south of Pico Blvd., but that would have involved a helluva lot less time on set … if I had shot this project as originally envisioned, that wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But the script was re-written at least twice in the week leading up to this shooting day (which apparently prepares me perfectly for working on higher-budget shoots … as below, so above, apparently).
As I was driving west on the 10 freeway in the Escalade, tunes cranking, worrying about what shots I was going to try to get first, I had the compulsion to just keep driving past the Overland exit. Do a Thelma&Louise … just keep going all the way to the Santa Monica pier, crashing through the steel safety grate in this unstoppable behemoth of a car, and then down the pier at 80 mph and finally off the end to hang in the air, suspended and being captured by thousands of tourists who packed their cameras for just such an occasion, before crashing into the ocean and blessed oblivion.
The weight of anxiety was starting to get to me.
I felt that each day that I managed to survive in this
production was some kind of a trick. That I had somehow managed to fake it through to the end and safely escape … but then the next day, I would awake and find that I now had to add another deck to the house of cards that I was constructing.
Add another deck, and then move everyone else in the cast and crew onto that flimsy waxed-paper flooring and move around and perform and do our thing.
All the while trying to banish from my mind the sheer certain knowledge that we were all standing on the flimsiest excuse for footing, and that it was sure to come down around my ears at any second.
And yet. And yet. It didn’t.
Although the beginning to this day certainly seemed to augur that way. I arrived on the set to find that not only were we totally socked in with clouds, but that it was beginning to drizzle. I immediately saw the future – the storm would roll in off the Pacific, we would sit in the backs of our cars with the trunk gate open, chatting to kill the time, and every so often someone would stand up and shout out that they thought they saw a break in the clouds, and we’d all get excited for a minute … and then the rain would really start to pour down again.
Hey, I lived through a shoot like that – a Nissan shoot where they had a poor guy in an animatronic lion head costume in a tux, shooting on the Bel-Air mansion of the strange Persian family that owns the B____ chain of high-end fashion stores. The rain kept pouring down, the Japanese video crew got desperate, so they sent the guy out there in costume, and the rain started shorting out the little motors that were supposed to move the eyebrows and mouth and started shocking the guy inside the suit, who started screaming as smoke began to pour out of the outfit and they tore at the buckles and belts to get it off his head before it electrocuted him…
Meanwhile, the actresses were around the front side of the house (I hadn’t been able to put up the sign yet telling them to come around back) and calling the phone that I had forgotten back at my house in my rush to get out the door.
Eventually, it lightened up a bit and I began by shooting the whole Jamie and Mandy get honest with each other scene.
This is a really intense bit of acting, because it is when the two women drop their pretenses and tell each other what’s really on their minds. This takes them from contempt to anger to shame to defiance to resolution. And then at the end, the Jamie character is left amidst the garbage, with a
choice to make – whether she chooses to stay there amidst the place where her choices have led her or to make a new choice and try to get out. And just as she’s come to a realization that she has to make a change in her life, that she can’t keep living this way, exploiting other people’s pain for money – that choice is taken out of her hands.
No good deed goes unpunished. The one person in the story who makes a choice to live honestly and with integrity winds up being the one who gets screwed the hardest.
Hey, folks, it may be a comedy but it’s based on what I know and what I saw when I was working at the tabloids. Virtue is punished. Sin is rewarded. That’s the way it is.
I ran through this scene a number of times, and let the actresses really feel it out for themselves. Then I made a few suggestions – such as to Brynn that she would be trying to sneak away, and would have gotten away clean, except that she heard the two girls discussing their relationships in a way that just outraged her, so she had to stop and comment. Like Hamlet not killing his uncle in the chapel when he had the chance, this pause was her fatal flaw.
OK, maybe not exactly like Hamlet … but you get the idea.
I also cautioned them to really let things build a little more before they started screeching at each other. And Kelly Kay Davis, as the neighbor/friend Rachel really did a lot with her role – she brought this whole “been there-did him” jadedness and yet smart and goofy sense of humor that fleshes out a role that could have been totally two-dimensional.
She was also patience itself – I used her in the first
shots of the day and the last shots of the day, and in between, she had to do a whole lot of nothing, while I ran around fighting with the light and the noise.
The light and the noise and the heat.
Because, you see, about an hour into the filming, the sun started to come out. Patchy clouds at first, but soon, the sun was just burning down relentlessly. And all the nice even light that I was getting turned into patches of extreme brightness and dense shadows. Good luck making that match with the footage I shot the day prior. And then my actresses started getting sunburned from being out so long waiting for the light to get right. Both Brynn and Erin are very fair – Erin started getting freckles on her face coming out and Brynn’s shoulders were lobstering.
Meanwhile, every goddam plane at Santa Monica airport used the airspace overhead to take off, land and circle in. The light and the noise worked hand-in-hand.
When the light was good, the noise was bad. When the plane went away, the clouds opened up and the sun burned down. I couldn’t catch a break.
The raw tape of this period has much cursing and waving of fists at the sky on my part. I began to regret even bringing up the subject of Fitzcarraldo, because I felt I had jinxed the production.
So during lunch, I worked with the guys in the car. I got Chris to run down the alley. And again, as my other actors did, he managed to make what couldhave been a very flat scene into something interesting. He ran and danced and bounced around like Jim Carrey. Great physical comedy, very smart. At one point, he picked up a tree branch and carried it in front of him like camouflage. And then at the wall he kicked his feet, scrabbled for purchase, and then upon hearing the Mandy scene from Day 2, began humping the concrete post. Great stuff.
It was after lunch that things really started to get away from me. It was getting hotter than hell, and I was unable to get the one shot that I wanted, because one of Ted’s neighbors had parked his pickup truck in the alley, pulled the whole freaking wheel off and was hammering on it. Right in the middle of my shot. So I had to try to improvise around it.
Luckily, Jon showed extreme courage and trust. He HUNG OUT THE SUNROOF OF A MOVING ESCALADE AND SHOT DOWN AT CHRIS AS HE GRABBED THE TRASH.
If any one tiny thing had gone wrong – if Jay had twitched the wheel to send the car into a concrete wall, if Brynn had faltered and fell under the wheels, if a crazy kid had screeched into the alley from the other direction and caused a head-on crash that decapitated everyone …
but it didn’t.
Nothing went wrong.
The footage looks fantastic. Chris is triumphant. Brynn dashed out again, and again into the street, stopping right on her mark and screaming “NO!” in desolation and despair into the camera. Great stuff.
I am still missing a couple of shots. I need to get the garbage truck coming closer. I need to get a close-up of the bag o’ trash in Brynn’s hand.
And I’d like to get a shot of a garbageman laughing and smoking a stogie while operating the hoist. But these can come later…
At the end, sunburned to within an inch of my life, tired of chasing after my clipboard of shots, sleep deprived, I sagged into a chair.
Jon looked up at me – he was about to snap shut the last plastic lock on his big camera case. When this last catch snaps home, we’re wrapped. Last chance to get a shot in, he said.
I wearily shook my head no.
I can’t think of anything, I said.
He snapped it home, turned around and stuck out his hand.
“Good job. It was a pleasure working with you,” he said.
The third day of shooting dawned with me already running behind. I was supposed to be using a borrowed Range Rover for the picture car. That had fallen through at the last moment. So at 10 p.m. the night before, I was calling around to rental car agencies, trying to nail down a place that [...] [...more]
The third day of shooting dawned
with me already running behind. I was supposed to be using a borrowed Range
Rover for the picture car. That had fallen through at the last moment. So at the night before, I was calling around
to rental car agencies, trying to nail down a place that would rent me a
big-ass SUV. I managed to find Budget
was a real blast
from the past for me, since back in the tabloid days, I had
rented a Ferrari Mondiale from them and driven it to the Hotel del Coronado for
a stakeout of Donald Trump. It was a
blast going down, and then the weather changed – to the point where, when the
photog and I were staking out the private airstrip that The Donald was using to
ferry hoochies in and out, it actually started sleeting. Not exactly the weather for cruising up the
PCH with the top down.
Anyway. I awoke scrambling, with acid already in the
pit of my stomach. I drove with Janine’s cousin to the Budget to pick up the
car, and got my first nasty surprise of the day. Apparently, that Budget also rents the big
U-Haul like trucks and Saturday is the day that everybody chooses to do their
moving on. So the line was already out the door. It was a ½ hour wait to get to the counter,
at which time the guy behind the counter had apparently had a car accident
recently and gone through the windshield. He was not motivated in any real,
seemed to have problems focusing on anything other than
the cleavage of the sweaty girl one station over.
Meanwhile, the lighting fixtures
in the ceiling were falling out unpredictably – the electrician had just been
there and had “fixed” the lights, whilst being staggering drunk.
It would not have been out of
place for me if at this point, Death Himself had shown up with a scythe and
skeleton-raven on his shoulder, laughing at me. I was drumming my fingers on the counter like Keith Moon at his most
deranged, when someone finally recognized that I was about 10 minutes from
decapitating everyone on the premises and taking off with whatever cars I could
get. They tried to pass off some shoddy
mini-Lexus SUV on me. I held out for the Escalade. I knew that I was going to
need as much space as I could. It cost
me about 4 times as much as I had budgeted for this prop, but at last I got in
the car and sped off.
A side note here. If you ever get
the chance to cruise through Beverly Hills on a Saturday morning behind the wheel of a big black Escalade, pumping out heavy bass tunes – do it. You will feel like the star of your very own
hip-hop video. I laughed because every
damn station on the radio was tuned in to badass hip-hop music. I think I saw the glitter of an expended 9mm
shell on the floor mats; or maybe that was a chip off some fool’s grill after
one of Suge Knight’s boys had dribbled his face against the dashboard like
Steve Francis pounding the ball on his crossover dribble.
I got back to my house, which
doubled as the set, and pulled the SUV into the alley. The crew was already there. Chris was late,
because he had been out until
with a bunch of Vivid Video girls. Or so he would have us believe.
Jon looked up at the bright
overcast sky and said, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re lit!” I guess the lighting conditions were actually
rather fortuitous. I had been afraid that it was too dim – that I was going to
have a problem matching the footage because it was dim and then would clear
later – but that turned out to be a problem that only materialized the next
Shooting outdoors proved to have
its own challenges. Not the least of
which was the sound – throughout the morning, helicopters kept passing overhead
right when I was getting good performances out of Chris and Jay.
Now for the complimentary
stuff. I knew that I had made a right
move when I cast two good improve stand-up comedians for these roles. I knew that I would need them to go off script
a lot to make these roles come to life. And that turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made. They
improv’d well, you could see that they actually liked each other and got along,
and they made my movie funnier than it would have otherwise been.
So we shot them clowning and
emoting in the alley next to my house, and by noon, my mother’s words about
“getting the worst sunburns on overcast days” turned out to be, like most of
the wisdom that my mom attempted to impart to me in my life, absolutely true
and necessary. I had spent most of my
time leaning over to
peer at the monitor stuffed into the back of the truck and
thus the sun had baked the shit out of the back of my neck. Yes, I was, as I
have been so many other times in my hick-goes-to-the-big-City-life, a genuine
walking redneck. Yee-haw!
When it came time for my actors to
start driving around in the SUV, I gulped and said a quick prayer. I had tried
and tried to get insurance through the Filmmaker’s
program, only to find my calls and emails falling on deaf ears (eyes? Internal organs?). So I was flying naked. In the picture that you see of my running
away down the alley in front of the car, I half wanted to just lie down in front
of it and let it run me over. One wrong
turn, one little old lady with a shopping cart or the car being backed up too
far, too fast, and I turn into a guy with a bad moustache at the border
crossing at TJ, lining up to work as an English teacher at the college of the
Americas under the alias of Sven Nater.
It was hot and sweaty out,
although not as hot as it had been the previous weekend, when we had set
all-time records for heat in
. If I’d been trying to film in that heat, we
would all have been either dead, or very very dizzy. I had bought a giant
canvas carport from Pep Boys two days before, and I expected that we were going
to have to put it up and then use it as a sunshade and diffuser… but like I
said, it was overcast and I got lucky.
The most challenging shots both
physically and acting-wise were the s
hots where Jay had to drive the ‘Sclade
at 50 mph
and have a gradual, tearful breakdown. We had to cut for the lights, weave around slowpokes and give money to
the withered crackhead stationed at the left-turn lane at La Brea and Venice
(Jay gave her money and asked for a joke. She had none.) But still, Jay managed to break down
repeatedly. He drove and just started
crying – he changed the mood in the car. That was good stuff. We had six people
crammed in there – my two actors, me, Jon the cameraman, Adam and the Brian laconic
sound dude. Thank God and Sunny Jesus I went for the big SUV. The mini-Lexus
would have been a disaster.
Oh yeah – and all this took place
on my birthday.
So happy birthday to me. It’s the
most expensive present I’ve ever given myself. I still don’t know whether it will ever turn into anything other than a
testament to my own vanity or hubris or silly nostalgia. But I freakin’ shot
Next up: the most difficult day was saved for last.
The second day of shooting was at the former mansion of Slash (formerly of Guns’n’Roses). The first time I had been there in the early 90s, there were about 25 Harleys parked inside the house. It is currently owned by Peter Brennan, creator of Judge Judy and Judge Joe, who I knew because he was [...] [...more]
The second day of shooting was at the former mansion of Slash (formerly of Guns’n’Roses). The first time I had been there in the early 90s, there were about 25 Harleys parked inside the house. It is currently owned by Peter Brennan, creator of Judge Judy and Judge Joe, who I knew because he was the Executive Producer of A Current Affair and Hard Copy. Peter is one of the titans of the TV-tab industry and it felt very apropos to be filming such an intense, sexy scene in his house.
Yasmin Brennan, who I have known since I took her out on her first assignment for the Star back in 1989, was instrumental in securing this location for me. When I say that corporate speak phrase “instrumental in securing,” what I mean by that is that I wheedled her into her calling her dad (who is currently in Houston, setting up another Judge show) and asking him if I could shoot there. I’m not sure what I did or said in the past that made such a good impression, but apparently Peter thought this was a cracking good idea. So let this be my first public thank-you to both Yaz and Peter.
Now to the nuts&bolts. My foremost worry was that during the tech scout that Jon and I had done the previous week, the big master bedroom that we had wanted to use was closed and the A/C was off. Now remember – the previous day had been the hottest day in the history of the State of California, and it wasn’t any cooler when I arrived on the set that morning. The first thing I did was go into the Master suite and turn up the A/C. It was already sweltering – I’ve gotten spoiled by years of living in Los Angeles, because while it may get hot, it is almost never humid here. This is because when you get down to it, Los Angeles is located in a desert (see Chinatown).
This day, however, was like a Turkish bath. I was wearing Beavis-esque shorts and a linen shirt, and
within minutes, I was soaked. So rather than try to cram the crew into this stifling hot space and then turn on hot lights, I figured the best thing to do would be to shoot the “Jamie gets a phone call” scene in another room. This was a scene that I had added that week, because the actress I had cast had proven to be so versatile that I wanted to give her something more to do – and I wanted to give her character some more obvious motivation other than jealousy or pure malevolence.
So I kinda sprung this seen on Jon, and it was not a welcome surprise. But there was good natural
light in the room, and we managed to get the props arranged while Brynn was getting her makeup on (hey – it was a couple of trash bags full of what would look like the possessions a young woman would grab when being thrown out of her apartment – yeah, I know – trash bags, how thematic. I should see if I can get some product placement coin from the Hefty Trash Bag people…)
I have to say that Brynn is one of the ultimate troopers I have ever met. On one of the hottest days ever to hit L.A., I dragged her into a stuffy room, shone hot lights on her and then asked her to bundle herself under a down comforter. But she managed to loosen up and get in touch with her frustrated inner bitch so that when the audience first meets her, they will see a woman who is already feeling pretty edgy and agitated.
All the while I was shooting this scene, I kept checking on the temperature in the Master Suite to see if the A/C was kicking in and getting it to a level where we would be able to stage the scene in there without having my actresses burst into flame and spontaneously explode under the hot lights.
Meanwhile, Erin was nervously going over her lines and sitting outside in the garden, around the pool, where Janine took her picture various ways to use as a prop in other scenes. And also because the girl is so damn photogenic.
The most difficult part of the filming, however, was not the logistics of the location – unlike the two looming exterior dates – but the profusion of props that I had and wanted to figure out how best to employ to try to support the storyline and move the narrative forward. Wearing the hat of Art Director and Set Decorator on top of writer/director/producer was, in retrospect, not the brightest decision I’ve ever made; there were just too many details to try to keep track of insofar as making each shot work visually while also trying to stay on top of whether or not my actresses were giving me what I needed performance-wise.
So I’ve had to trust an awful lot in my talent, and to shoot the shit out of the scenes to make sure I get different moods, so that when I go to cut all this together, I won’t have a nasty surprise waiting. This however, translated into my having to shoot the Mandy on the bed scene at least 20 times from different angles. And perhaps taking her cue from Brynn, Erin hung in there all the way with me.
Despite having to fake faking an orgasm (now there’s a hall of mirrors to walk down) in a room full of strangers again and again, she never betrayed a moment’s anxiety and was utterly comfortable and natural in front of the camera … and this despite the fact that she had just arrived in Los Angeles five weeks before this, and this job was the first audition that she had ever gone on.
I was astonished by the way that Erin could turn it on and turn it off – how she could go from the throes of passion to sitting back on her heels and grinning at me when I said cut … relaxed and ready to hear what strange and addled advice I would give her next.
By far my favorite part of the day was shooting the interactions between Brynn and Erin. It took me a while to get down to the core of what I wanted from them in the scene – just the blocking of their bodies on the bed so as to show that Brynn was trying to hide her desperation and her anger at Erin, but that she would allow it to come out when Erin wasn’t looking. It was a tough range to be able to play – from bring outwardly friendly and ingratiating to pissed and resentful to feeling self-loathing for having to go through someone else’s drawers and possessions, to, finally, mean-spirited triumph.
Jon helped me out with a great idea to get a real sense of what it was that Brynn was giving me – he curled up in a ball next to the bed and shot the scene from the condom’s eye view.
A word about the condom. I had originally planned for it just to be a shrunken, stiff object. But I left that dried-out condom at home. Instead, I had to fake up a tied-off and still … uh … juicy … condom by putting in some cream cheese and mixing that with tap water. Yeah, I know. Bleah. But it looked realistic.
Part of the scene called for Brynn to open a file folder, discover the condom within, and then shriek in horror/disgust and fling the condom flying across the room.
And a big shout-out here to the good people of Ramses. That condom got tossed, thrown, stomped, shoved around with the sharp metal end of the file folder, splatted against the window (more about that in a bit) and finally squished up into a garbage bag. And it never sprang a leak. I’d send this to the Ramses people to use in their ad copy, but I’m not sure if that is the kind of testimonial that they really want. Then again, what the hell.
I did notice that I was the only person on the set who would actually handle the damn thing. I don’t know if my cast and crew thought I was some kind of sick freak who would actually subject them to a real, live actually used in combat kind of condom – or if they were just being squeamish to stay in character – or if they were being deferential and only allowing the Prop Master (yeah, that’s me again) to be the only one to handle the prop. At any rate, after each take when Brynn would fling the condom (I’d call it a rubber for variety’s sake, except that it wasn’t made out of rubber, so that really doesn’t apply) I would have to go crawling out of the video village over cables and around lights, and go pick up the squishy little fella and put him back in the file folder with the torn wrapper and say “OK people, back to one. Now let’s try it this time with a little more of a pause for you to recognize this thing, before you go tossing it across the room.”
Then I had to sit on the bed next to Jon (who was shooting most of this scene hand-held – an act which was wearing grooves in his shoulder) and throw the condom at the window again and again. I will confess something that I didn’t tell the people on the set at the time – to make the condom stick to the window was a real trick. The outer lube had long since been rinsed off and rubbed off on the shag carpet. And if I had used water, it would have just slid off. So I used … wait for it, perverts … saliva. I rubbed spit on it. And then flung it against the window. Where it stuck.
I was going to go peel it off, when Jon, with great cinematic instincts, stopped me. No, wait, he said. I think it’s going to come off on its own. I can see it peeling … peeling …
And sure enough, the condom sloooowwwwwlllly peeled off the window and dropped to the floor.
Man, I wish the special effects on my last shoot had even once worked that well, Jon said. That was perfect.
Either this scene is going to be gross-out funny, or my audience is going to barf and then run out of the theater and beat me over the head with baseball bats.
So all you budding auteurs out there, take note. Sometimes there is no substitute for a combination of luck, ingenuity … and the timely application of bodily fluids … to get the shot you need.
One other note from this day’s shoot: the actresses all coveted the walk-in closet. I think that Erin would have gladly moved into the closet and paid rent, just to be near all the Jimmy Choo shoes.
Finally, we wrapped after I got Erin to do one last take of the bouncing up and down shot, this time shot MOS and with a close-up on a mirrored box on the armoire so that we only see her head going around and around in reflection. Erin later told me that she had done the motion so much that her thigh muscles were sore and quivering the next day.
After everyone left, I changed into my shorts and jumped into the pool and just soaked and floated for a couple of hours, talking to my other grip, Martin, who was driving back up to San Francisco. The other two grips had left and were headed back to Sacramento – I didn’t envy them having to go through the Central Valley and back into that blast-furnace heat. If I could have shot the rest of the shoot in a place where at the end of the day’s efforts I could have just laid back and soaked in a pool, I sure as hell would have. Because what was coming up, the exterior scenes, were to make the controlled (or at least partially controllable) conditions that I experienced doing the interior shots look very desireable.