Thursday, November 30, 2006

TMBG + Walter Sobchak OMG WTF?!

My God. How is it I didn't know about this before?

Here, this is my impression of myself seeing Fritalian for the first time not ten minutes ago:

FIRST VIEWING: Hmm ... catchy, but vaguely xenophobic.
SECOND VIEWING: Wait, is that ... Big Dan Teague?!?!
THIRD GOOGLING: Why does that domain look so familiar?
EIGHT TIMES :30 LATER: [Dies of intersecting-personal/cult-favorite capitalist bliss.]

Hold on. I've got to call Speedrail and find out why he didn't tell me about this earlier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm Going to Make a Million Dollars

I'm going to make a gazillion dollars. I spent a lot of time this past week playing with my baby brother (note: no pictures).

I noticed, after hearing the thing approximately 80 hundred time, that his singing piano has the same voice as his cloth-paged singing book. Here's my first million: children's toys with the voice of Dennis Hopper.

Heh? Who's with me?

Earth for President

Electing a president is about electing a vision of the world.

The world I want:

Rising quality of life for all people, especially the poorest and those with the least resources.

An ecologically balanced world that is not systemically hostile to life.

An end to the most unconciousable injustices.

A world ruled by just people. Governments that control the legitimate use of force, that are powerful and wise enough to quash the inevitable groups of self-interested men with guns.

Freedoms rising for all in the Amartya Sen sense.

A world where people understand those in other nations.

The president I want:

A person with the intelligence and charisma to unite a nation.

A person smart enough to know what can't be acheived, but idealistic enough to know what must be acheived.

Someone who feels accountable to everyone. Someone who will make the right decision even when many people disagree (at least publically). Someone who admits his or her mistakes, and does his best to address them.

Someone who wants a better world for everyone.

A person who can communicate his vision to everybody.

Someone free of scandals and distractions.

Someone who does his job sustainably, so that after eight years he could still do eight more.

A person who can run big things.

A person who exemplifies the best aspects of our nation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Long, Introverted Post No One Will Read

About a week back I PAd for a short my friend Jay is producing. We were walking back from parking the van, talking about how it had been a hard day, and Jay asked, politely, "Are you having any fun at all on this production?"

This is a question I get at least once on every production. My answer is usually "I don't think 'fun' is the right word," but that tends to end the conversation a little quicker than I intend. Jay's a friend, so I decided to give him a fuller explanation.

"I don't do productions to have fun," I said. "I know some PAs do jobs to have fun, if it's early in their careers or if it's their first job, but I don't do that. I'm a professional.

"Production overall might be fun, but there are so many parts of this job that are inherently un-fun, like moving around trash, so you sort of have to take the good with the bad."

Then I told him about Surreal Moments of the Day and how that day I'd gotten in to a sort of tug-of-war with a clown, and I'd enjoyed that. But the natural next question is, if I don't PA for fun, why do I do it?

Some Excellent Reasons Not to Be a PA
PAing isn't the most thankless job on set, but just because there are so many other contenders. PAing takes skill, but it's an entry-level job, which means I'm often treated as a beginner until I prove I'm not (and often even then) and I often have a nagging feeling that anyone can do what I do.

I've thought a lot lately that I'm too good a PA to keep doing it. It's pride fucking with me, of course. I believe that good PAs find their niche and then move up to better jobs, or they work on commercials for the money, but I don't really like doing commercials.

It also bothers me to see other people doing a job on set when I suspect, right or wrong, that I could do better at the same job.

Last week I watched as the key told a very green grip (too green to know he needed to bring gloves to set) to take a double out of an HMI. The kid struggled for awhile before finally suceeding in unclipping the gel and diffusion from the light (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, just know that this is bad.) I winced.

Of course, I'd be second-guessing people at their jobs even if I weren't at the bottom of the filmmaking hierarchy. It's just that at the higher levels, it's actually someone's job to second-guess other people. At my level, it just pisses people off.

Oh, and because it's an entry-level job, the pay is shit.

Why I Do It
First, in a very real way, I don't see an alternative to being a PA. 9-5 has never appealed to me (I have worked 10-7, but that was something else entirely). I can't move up to something without risking incompetence, and I have a complex about that I'd prefer not to get in to at the moment.

I've consistently been bad at job hunts because I get overwhelmed and I have trouble starting things where I don't know a clear path to the next step.

PAing is also a low-responsibility job. It's not my fault if production was delayed four hours on a job because the camera wasn't ready. It's hard (but not impossible) to screw things up too badly as even a semi-competent PA. Of course, I balance this out by owning problems too much.

Then there's the fact that production is addictive. There's a new environment almost every day, new people every job, new problems to deal with every moment. It's always intellectually stimulating.

Like any addiction, however, production is unhealthy. I don't sleep enough. I put my body through the oddest things. The stress has broken lesser men.

But Here's Why I Really Do It
The best and worst part of production is that it does not leave space for any other part of my life. That's the big reason I do production - it leaves no time or energy to face the other problems in my life. I have no choice but to ignore them. It's a tremendously unhealthy place for me to be.

After each job, once the high of finishing and having my life back wears off, once I feel I've used all the time I could excuse doing nothing, I inevitably have the same problems I had before the job and I crash very, very hard.

So I'm now in a position where I have to give up production to survive - or at least limit the amount I work so I don't allow it to take over my life. I have to work on my problems so I can be happy when I'm not working. I have to figure out how to move my life on to something else.

Which is not to say I'm announcing my retirement from PAing, film or anything else. I don't know what else to do or how to do it. I'm stuck, and I have to figure a way out.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Surreal Moments, oh yeah p.s. I Am In a Movie

More of my most memorably surreal moments from the film industry and the scoop on "Smooth Milkshake" starring me and premiering Sunday.

I'm called in to the room where our principal actor is doing his last scene before returning to Russia. I am charged with holding up the cue cards that have all his (English) lines written out phonetically in Cyrilic letters. I have to keep ducking behind the cue cards to keep from laughing at his delivery.

We are shooting a very complicated scene outside in the middle of the night. Everyone was excited because we get to work with these giant rain poles, but they turned out to be underwhelming, like sprinklers on 30' poles. We had to be off the street at 1:00 a.m. and it is now 1:30 a.m.

I am positioned at the end of the street to block oncoming traffic once the camera rolls. This is an easy job because there is not much traffic in the middle of the night and it gives me a great view of this gigantic scene we've set up.

The AD's running around. There's lights set up on roofs and fire escapes and the site rep's annoyed and FINALLY everything's set.

"Roll camera!" says the AD as he dashes across the street. "Roll sound! Rain! I need rain!"

Right on cue, the rain begins.

PAs are often taken for granted, which is fine and natural and happens because a PA's time is, by definition, the least valuable time on set. That's why PAs get jobs like sitting in a truck - someone has to do it, and everyone else has real work to do.

Then, one day, I was called on to act. My job was to carry a box of doughnuts through a door. I got in costume and held the doughnuts. Suddenly I was the center of attention. The grips, electrics and DP all stared at my face trying to get the light right, the camera department rehearsed my walk to the door and took measurements to get the focus right. The director even asked me if I wanted to talk about motivation, which I thought was high-LARIOUS, although no one else seemed to get it.

I've acted before. Given half an opportunity, I will always (always!) try to steal the scene. First take. Cut.

Director: Richard, that was great. Great! One thing. Just don't do all that stuff with your face. Just act normal.

I do. After several more takes, it's a wrap on Richard for the shoot. Everyone applauds.

Monday I got to act again. The inestimable Jay Stern runs the First Sundays Comedy Film Festival and every month he chooses an audience member's name out of a hat to star in a short comedy film for the next month. November 3, they chose my name out of a hat.

Upshot: I am starring in the film "Smooth Milkshake," which will premier 7:00 p.m. December 3 at the Pioneer Theater, 3rd St. at Ave. A, Manhattan (it goes without saying, but you are all invited). (Also, there is free beer.)

I'm in two scenes, and the first we shot very early Monday morning in Brooklyn Heights, overlooking the East River. The main character is going to jump off a bridge and my roll called for me to run around a corner yelling "Maya! Maya!" and then try to talk the girl out of jumping.

I did my part with great volume and enthusiasm. It was only after about half an hour of yelling and overacting that I noticed about a half-dozen downtown Brooklyn types in suits sitting on a bench, eating their breakfast and watching me make a fool of myself in the cold.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

And 'Writing about Writing' Was Going to Be 'Blogging about Blogging'

Blogger has just released in to the wild a slew of new beta features, including the ability to "label" posts. This has effectively allowed me to breakdown my 147 published posts by topic for the first time. Here they are, from most popular to least popular.

Method notes: if you add up all these numbers you will get a number bigger than 147 because some posts fit in to more than one label and also I've labelled some posts I haven't posted yet. DEAL WITH IT.

Media = Culture (43)
I thought calling this topic "culture" was too snooty (it's a little weird to say "culture" about, say, T.V.), but I didn't want to say "media" because media means something else at this point. "Media = Culture" says it all. It could be this blog's thesis statement.

'Media = Culture' covers everything from reviews to that big-long essay about long-form media only Speedrail actually read. I consider the top ranking of this label to be pseudo-scientific proof that whatever 'Media = Culture' means, it's the thing I think about the most.

That and Katrina Kerns.

But case in point, you know?

Film Industry (37)
I'm probably going to change the name of this topic to "The Business" even though it's a little less straight forward. I started writing about my career in film as a diary sort of thing. What kept happening was that I'd write after the first day, and the next time I wasn't too exhausted to write would be when the production was over. Now I write more by topic.

My Cousin the Revolutionary (19)
Not so much a topic as a subject. One of my few recurring characters. I have to wonder what people think of MCTR when they have only my blog by which to judge him.

Writing about Writing (17)
I tried to keep these to a minimum, but, then, on the other hand, why bother? Mostly I'm happy Writing about Writing is 9% of my posts instead of 50%.

Where I've Been (16)
The continuing series that has stuck around mostly because it's really easy to do. I'm rather bored of it now.

Me (14)
I'm not super surprised that I am not my own favorite topic. These posts also tend to be shorter, on average, than those in other topics.

I am either too modest or too chicken to write about myself except when I really feel compelled to, like when I am trying to figure out my career.

Big Long Essays That Take Forever to Write (11)
Honestly, why do I bother? I like explaining big ideas that I took a lot of time to think through, but I don't know if anyone can actually make it through the damn things. I also feel that working without an editor has allowed these essay to run long, but then I hardly ever reread them myself, so I honestly don't know.

Of course, by the time I've thought one of these topics through enough to write about them, I effectively lose the option of not writing them because I feel compelled to get it all out.

NY F'in C (10)
I spent most of this week in Texas, and it's weird NOT spending all my time talking about New York City. Talking about New York is the only way to survive living there.

Labelled Unlabelled (8)
I feel like most of these are the odd and specific memories I like to catologue, but then if they did have a common topic, I'd be able to say what it was.

ribble's Quest (5)
Probably holds together better than any other topic. Not a bad place to start reading this blog, come to think of it.

Wales (4)
Some day I'll tell you more about Wales.

Boris (3)
Boris is easy and fun to write. When I tell people about him offline, they consider me crazy.

I should write more Boris.

Best PA Moment in Recent Memory

Working on a Russian film late last month. I am in a room right next to set with a (non-union) crew that respects me. I call rolls and cuts, locking up a door and the crew for sound. I act friendly and a little goofy as a way to more effectively do my job. I act on special requests (I even manage to get a deck of cards for the grips). I stand in for the AD when he's 10-1.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seven Film Industry Uses of the Word "Hot"

1. Lighting: Much light falls on a particular area or object.
"Dial down the variac, that 1k is too hot on the side of his face."

2. Batteries: Fully charged.
"Hot brick to set."

3. Stunts: Fast.
"You were coming a little hot around that corner."

4. Post-production color correction: Yellow (versus blue).
"See how hot this is? If we cool it down, it brings out the blue in his eyes."

5. Angry.
"He says I get hot, and I know I blew up on the first day, but he gets hot, too."

6. High in temperature.
"Don't touch that scrim! It's still hot!"

7. Very good.
"The lockup's in place? That's hot."

[update 7/17/09
8. Loud
"The mixing - the levels? The guests were a little hot."
via this Planet Money Podcast (iTunes link). I voted for David Kestenbaum]

Some Surreal Moments from Production

Filmmaking is an inherently surreal process - for example, I just worked four days on a short film about a woman who falls in love with a clown (the clown was very polite. Offscreen, I mean.)

Each day I work on a production, I try to identify a Surreal Moment of the Day. Here's a few of my most memorably surreal moments of production work.

We are on location at college in the woods in New Jersey. I'm walking to the 15 passenger van to pull it around to the front of set when I see a small woodland creature (possibly a gopher run under the wheels of the van. I don't want to run it over, so I run at the van waving my arms and yelling "Fuck off! Fuck off! Fuck off!"

After that, I thought I had my surreal moment of the day for sure, but later I got a call to come to set and replace the art director, who had to leave set. Here's what he told me:

"Ribbles, come sit in this stairwell and make sure you duck behind that door because it's in shot. Now, for every take you're going to have to put a quarter cup of pudding on the shelf just outside the door to set, then you'll have to put a jelly sandwich on the plate next to the kid on set. Inbetween takes, you're going to have to make a stack of jelly sandwiches and a bunch of these quarter-full pudding cups - we're about to run out of pudding, but Jason's coming back with more in a few minutes. Make sure the jelly sandwiches are really full and messy, because they have to drip out of the sandwich and on to a keyboard during each take. Oh, and between takes you're also going to have to clean the jelly out of the keyboards with this bottle of water, these paper towels, these Q-tips and this knife. The knife is to pop out the keys of the keyboards so you can clean inside. I know it's a lot to do but you'll have to work quickly. They're going to yell at you because you have to do it alone and they're doing a lot of takes and the takes are really short and I'm really sorry but I have to leave right now because I have to catch the train back to the city and I really appreciate this and good luck."

Get all that? You can re-read it if you need to.

So for the rest of the afternoon I was sitting in a stairwell making stacks of jelly sandwiches, putting 3/4 of each of these cups of chocolate pudding in styrofoam cups, and cleaning the jelly out of keyboards with bottles of water, paper towels and Q-tips. Which is pretty goddamn surreal.

But if I had to narrow it down to a single moment? After a few hours of this I was exhausted. Another PA, a good kid named Toby, had come over to help. I was covered in chocolate pudding and jelly. We were working in silence because any sound would ruin the take.

I was about to make another stack of jelly sandwiches and I turned the jar sideways and I found that jelly makes a funny noise when you're really tired and it's rolling down the inside of the jar.

Really funny.

Like, irresistibly funny.

Kind of a "squishy-squishy-squishy" sort of noise.

So now, in addition to having to worry about the jelly sandwiches, the pudding and the keyboards, I need to worry about cracking up in the middle of a take. I tried the old improv trick of biting the bottom of my thumb, which succeeded in suppressing the noise but not in making that squishy-squishy-squishy noise any less funny or me any more functional.

Finally Theo (who was getting a little annoyed) suggested I just take a break, which I did. I went outside and laughed my ass off for a minute, and then I came back and asked Theo to take jelly sandwich duty until we wrapped.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ways to Look like a Professional PA

Call rolls and cuts no matter where you are or what you're doing. Loud. If you're doing this right (especially if you're the only one), the crew will know and respect you. Or, if they are from India, they'll yell "Quiet please" at you whenever you walk by.

Keep track of what everyone wants.

Get there first.

Leave last.

Get things done quickly.

Do it yourself.

Ask clarifying questions instead of just running off like a schmuck.

Take it to two.

Help people move heavy things.

Answer to nicknames.

Buy maps (and etc.

Learn, first, how to stay out of the way, and, second, hot to help while staying out of the way.

On the Advantages of Wearing a Hat on Set

First, and of primary importance, it absorbs the sweat I work up when I, say, run to the roof of a five-story walkup carrying, say, four 25' 100-amp whips.

It gives me a cool place to clip the clothespins I find lying around (essential for lighting work).

It keeps me warm when I'm ourside and it about 50 degrees (although 40, not so much).

Then I suppose it also keeps the sun out of my eyes.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

ribble's Dream Girl

I don't post news, but I do post Michelle Kwan.

I ran in to this little chesnut on the train today (and check out that photo - business wear Asians are go vis hotness).

That article appeared in that part of the main section where you've made it through the day's serious news and you're just starting to think if it's going to be worth it to take a shot at the editorials or if you should try leafing through Dining In, so I gave myself a moment for a little Michelle Kwan fantasy.

See, I had always believed before that my dreams of settling down and making a life with Michelle Kwan could never be. It may be that we're made for each other, but nowhere among the many circles in which I travel is the tight-knit world of professional and Olympic amateur skating.

I was sure that, sadly, I would never be able to comfort Michelle about the late-season injury preventing her from the shot at the 2006 Turin gold that was rightfully hers. It seemed then that the only thing we had in common was out ages, nationalities, and our destinies to be the voices of our generation.

But now, Michelle is moving that much closer to my area of expertise (seeing as I was an International Relations major). If the current rate keeps up, by the time we're 30, we'll be working in the same cluster of cubicles and sharing a T1 line.

Or at least a boy can dream ...

ribble's status

Around Sunday, I started to understand which way was up again and put together a list of things to do. I have now done all the serious things on my todo list, like the 38 pounds of laundry I didn't have time to do during production. What's left is the sort of bullshit stuff, like watching Brisco County, Jr. DVDs.

So a few days ago I was looking over my bullshit todo list and I thought "maybe I should having something about finding my next job on here."

So far, that's as far as I've gotten.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ribble's Dream

Last night, I passed out on the couch while trying to watch election returns. All the lights were on, and my roommate came in to turn them off and generally try to figure out what the hell was going on.

"Richard," she said, "all the lights are on."

I apparently responded by muttering a string of obscenities, more directed at myself than anyone else.

She started turning the lights off.

"They're working," I said.

"Well, I'm turning them off," she said.

"No," I said. "I mean I think they're working in this scene."

At this point my roommate decided that I was spouting gibberish, turned off the lights, and decided, quite sensibly, to leave the room.

Here's what I thought was happening: last night, I dreamed that someone was making a movie in my apartment.

I don't remember much, but I do remember either red and blue boxes or very boxy red and blue clothes. Also, one of the setups was on the roof.

I didn't quite know what my job was on this film, so I remember spending most of the dream sitting on the couch, feeling distressed, and trying to figure out just what my responsibility was.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

State of the Person

I'm at that spot where the production recovery daze wears off and I try to figure out where I stand.

I am working, semi-guaranteed, three of the next four weekends. I need more work, but this is fine for right now, and I feel like I'll be able to get work no problem. I'm more qualified and more confident than I was four months ago.

I need to catch up with everybody. Production, by definition, shuts down this part of my life.

Now that I know I can grip and can make an educated guess I'll be decent at it within a few months, I'm starting to feel like I am capable of doing many other jobs in the film business. This is significant because the last job I was in charge of was not 100% satisfactory for the client and it scared me off being anything more important for a PA for a long time.

Now I am thinking about other projects I can do.

-I want to adapt this porn I wrote (long story) so it is a comedy starring puppets.

-I am starring in next month's First Sundays Film Festival "Wanna Be a Star" contest film.

-This post could be a short film (the '80s part).

-I want to get in on an indie feature film as an actor, electric, associate producer, key PA, anything. I want to be part of a project like that from start to finish again.

Also, I'm reading a textbook on how to be a production manager or coordinator, which will lay out the basics the production-side stuff I could do.

I asked Full Stealth (originally from Vermont) how long it takes to be a New Yorker. He said "six years, but you can subtract a year for every mugging."

Well, I've been here two years, but I am a New Yorker.

-I'm planning to stay here forever.

-When I was from Texas, everyone thought I was from New York anyway.

-I have been to many places in this city, and I haven't generally travelled there just to be there - I've had legitimate (like work and friends) reasons to be there.

-I have many memories in this city.

-I live in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. 'Cuz Manhattan is for tools.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

ribble's in a daze

When I finish a long stretch of work like the one I just did, I always feel dazed and disoriented. For about a week, I can't really think or function. It's like a combination of being jet lagged and getting out of prison.

I never know what time it is. I will look at a clock and be able to read the hands, but I never seem to believe it. I will miss appointments by exactly one hour.

I can't do anything. It's not depression - I feel fine - but I get super lethargic. I have to walk really slowly. If I leave one room to get something to another, I will make it to the next room at a complete loss as to what I am doing there.

I also feel strangely alone - not lonely, but alone. On a film set, there are always 30 people around working on different stuff and trying to figure stuff out. At home, there's me and my roommate. I am suddenly the only one I am responsible for or to, and I don't know quite what to do about it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gripping Part II

Today I did G+E on a more serious job, a music video shooting in and around a five-story, no elevator building in the Bronx. I'll keep this brief, but here's my lessons for today:

Firstly, and most obviously, G+E is a very physical job. It may have something to do with the fact that I am just starting out, it may have something to do with the fact that in ten minutes, I will literally be asleep, and it definitely had something to do with the five flights of stairs I had to haul all that equipment up and back down, but the fact that this job is so physical seems to blot out everything else about it.

So the sheer exhaustion my body is experiencing right now is the big surprise of this particular job. Tomorrow is going to be even more of a surprise as the sourness really takes hold.

I also find myself worrying about making sure my body will work in another 30 years, and that reason enough for me to admit I don't want to be a G+E all my life.

Other things I knew before or should have:

G+E is a very insular group. Working as a PA, I got to know people in lots of different departments, I usually got to know the neighborhood where we were shooting that day, I had lots of different bosses.

As a grip + electric, there is one guy, and I have to do my best to keep him happy. It's more like having a normal boss, but for I film set I find it disorienting.

Last revelation because I need to get some Zz's: I really do not know what I am doing. I've got the rhythm of the work cycle wrong, it takes me too long to do things because I am doing them for the first time and I don't know where to find the right thing on the truck or where I'm supposed to be.

It'll go away eventually, but not anytime before I go to bed, so I'm going to get on that now.