Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Five Most Obscure Things I Quote Regularly

"Well, it certainly sounds like something I'd do..."

Lord Julius in High Society (Cerebus the Aardvark volume 2), written by Dave Sim.

Lackey: Lord Julius! Lord Julius! The Theocrats have the grounds surrounded by heavy pike!
Lord Julius: We'll just have to send in our heavy pike, then...
Lackey: We can't Lord Julius
Lord Julius: And why not?
Lackey: You told me to sell them on the black market to finance your campaign.
Lord Julius: Oh! So now it's my fault, is it? ... Well, what about those two tall guys with the big spears who were walking in front of me when we got here?
Lackey: You told me to trade them for the silver and gold bathtub in the shape of a giant squid...
Lord Julius: Well, it certainly sounds like something I'd do...

"Take two, they're small."

The Butcher Boy (1997)

In this powerful, funny and disturbing film, our hero, Francie, is a portly and deeply troubled boy in 1950s Ireland.

After destroying his nemesis' home by spreading fecal matter on the walls and acting like a pig, he is sent to a Catholic-run "industrial school" for rehabilitation, but a perverted priest bribes him with candy, dresses him up as a schoolgirl, and is about to sexually abuse him when the two are discovered.

Hoping to keep the incident under wraps, the headmaster of the school calls Francie to his office to offer Francie's freedom for his silence. Just before the headmaster makes his offer, Francie asks for a candy from the headmaster's desk. "Take two," the man says. "They're small."

Francie takes the candy and joyfully repeats "Take two! They're small!"

Other Uses
I always end up saying this when I hand out hot bricks to other PAs on set.


State Sen. Clayton 'Clay' Davis (Isaih Whitlock) in The Wire

Clay Davis, the love-to-hate political con artist and unapologetic grafter, draws this word out to several several times its normal length in order to express disbelief.

"What am I looking for... pudding..."

Adam Sandler's character in Punch-Drunk Love.

In the only Adam Sandler movie where Sandler does not play the guy he plays in every other Adam Sandler movie, Sandler is pushing a grocery cart through a store with no apparent purpose when he says this. The quote is striking because of all the things Sandler's character may or should be looking for based on what we know of him so far, pudding is the most unlikely.

Other Uses
You know when you walk in to the living room and you can't remember why you went in there? Say this quietly to yourself, think about the simple ramifications, and whatever you've forgotten will come to you.

cc of the cheungle and I are bitterly divided on Punch-Drunk Love. I think it's both Sandler's and Paul Thomas Anderson's best movie. Cindy thinks, and I may be summarizing here, "Meh."

"Nothing to be done."

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.

Opening line.

May only be used when you have something in your shoe, stop, take off your shoe, turn it over, shake it, and nothing comes out. NO OTHER USES ARE ACCEPTABLE.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Joy of Facebook

Copied and pasted directly from my newsfeed (minus the last names):

Adrian joined the group If I were an enzyme i would be DNA helicase so i could unzip your genes. 7:21pm

Will joined the group Slap A Ho Foundation. 6:11pm

Sunday, December 24, 2006


I believe we are entering a new age of prodigiousness in art.

As usual, my argument for this bold and sweeping claim begins with They Might Be Giants.

Many have tried to describe TMBG, and no description is complete without explaining that they've created a tremendous number of songs about a lot of different subjects (name another band that has over 150 "common themes" in their music.)

How do they do it? For one thing, TMBG, aside from their "Band of Dans," is only two people. They are low-rent. They spent years with just the two of them in their apartment, writing music. You can't do this with a band of six recent college grads.

They are also modest of ambition. TMBG have never gotten bigger than they can manage. Part of their appeal is that they are just two family guys from Brooklyn. They also don't mind doing good work that makes them a lot of money.

TMBG are talented, and they're also portable, modest and sustainable. As a result, they've thrived, and they've created over 1,200 songs (counting alternate versions).

My point is that it is getting easier for everyone to be more portable, modest and sustainable.

I've talked about this before at embarassing length, but take, for example, the comics industry.

First chair of comics Scott McCloud says in his afterward to Flight Volume 1 that the seminal volume represents a new generation of comics artists, one that does the work first, then worries about how it will be distributed.

A lot of these artists made a start on the internet, where it is very easy to publish, slightly more difficult to find an audience, and very difficult to make money, or at least enough money to cartoon full time.

This shows two things: first, these artists are not doing it for the money (modesty of ambition.)

Second, if more artists have greater access to an audience without the pressure of a traditional commercial market, they will produce a lot of work.

It's the same with writing. Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail meme, estimates that he has written over 200,000 words on his blog versus 70,000 in his published work. There are no publishers to deal with, no editors between what we've written and our audience, and (ahem) a lower standard for blog posts than published work.

Film is another medium that is quickly losing its barriers to entry. This month, I produced a six-minute short film for three figures - and I spent more than I needed to because I was scared of screwing up.

The surprising thing about that movie was how many people were willing to loan their time, equipment or labor to make my little nothing movie. People like to produce art. Decrease the barriers, and (link via Boing-Boing)

Last point: I read that the market for particular (non-comic) artists does not correspond to the usual rules of supply and demand. If an artist produces more work, she can participate in more exhibits and generate more buzz. Supply increases, so demand increases faster.

Greater access to markets will not only encourage more people to produce art, it will also encourage a larger audience.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stuff I've Looked Up On Wikipedia This Week

How I've been educating my brain this week. In reverse chronological order, then grouped by related searches. Context available upon request.

Chris Ware

Long Tail

George Plimpton
Dave Eggers

Godzilla (film)
Godzilla (in general)

San Antonio
King William
Santa Fe

Fifty Greatest Cartoons of All Time (via Boing-Boing)


The Second Episode of Rome
The First Episode of Rome
Rome: HBO TV Series
The 11th Episode of Rome
List of the Harveytoons Show Episodes

The Andy Griffith Show
Andy Griffith

Prestige Class
Limousine Liberal
Mallard Fillmore (via Shortpacked!)

Where I've Been Sun. Dec. 17- Sat., Dec. 23

The first, median and latest site I visited each day of the past week.

Sunday, December 17 (129)

Monday, December 18 (115)

Tuesday, December 19 (39)

Wednesday, December 20 (129)

Thursday, December 21 (63)

Friday, December 22 (246)

Saturday, December 23 (221)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Five Things I dislike about Santa Fe, N.M.

ONE: Altitude of 7,000 ft.
While visiting my mom at her house in Santa Fe, N.M. this week I experienced shortness of breath, weakness, stomach pains and disorientation. My mother, who is not a doctor, diagnosed me with altitude sickness.

TWO: Static Electricity
Thin, dry air means plenty of static electricity, which means you get shocked every time you touch a car door or doorknob.

THREE: Race Divisions
White people and Latinos eat, shop and live in different places and different parts of town. This is really creepy.

FOUR: Tourists
I developed a dislike for tourists while growing up in a neighborhood that tourists like to look at. I lived in the front bedroom, the one most visible to tourists, so I had my shades shut for basically my entire childhood.

Let's just say living in New York has not improved my attitude towards tourists.

FIVE: No Subways
Get on it, America!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Uniqueness of Individuals

Maybe it's because I've been religiously watching Battlestar, but I've been thinking a lot lately about the uniqueness of individuals.

This is something that always gets me when I travel. Why is it important that this particular set of brain, body, memories, personality and perceptions be transported to this particular place? Is there any real difference between two people doing the same action?

This sort of thing drives me crazy.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

ribble's Coffee

Coffee is my favorite beverage. It is the only widely available potable liquid with magical properties.

I first started drinking coffee with my mom, who drinks half-decaf, half-caffeinated coffee with sugar and lots of skim milk heated in a small pot on the stove, so that's how I took my coffee.

Then I went away to school in Wales, where the nearest grocery store was 20 minutes walk in the rain each way. Sugar and especially milk were often not available, so I got used to having my coffee black. Also, we had no coffee maker, so it was plunger coffee all the way.

When I went to college, I drank coffee at the local joint. I went through all the different brews and all the different drinks.

My favorite drink (to stay) was the cafe au lait, which at the Dirty Boy a little metal pot of strong, black coffee, and a little metal pot of warm milk. My favorite drink (to go) was the Jamaican Blue Mountain with a double shot of espresso - basically the strongest type of coffee that could be legally sold.

When I left school and got my own place, I bought a bed and then I bought a coffee pot. I got whole beans from one of the many spots around Park Slope and ground them myself. I had no consistent philosophy on milk and sugar, preferring them when faced with mediocre coffee but letting good coffee speak for itself.

Then I started working in media and drinking coffee with Speedrail. We drank either the really cheap coffee from the deli down the street or the really cheap coffee from the gas station at the corner. In either case, it was always large, light and sweet.

I lost that job and started working on film sets. Film means weird hours, stress and very little sleep. If it weren't for coffee, the film business would not exist. Because PAs never really got breaks and always had the least time for meals, I had time to pour in milk but no time to stir in sugar. (Although, on the one Bollywood film I worked, the craft service guys made a really strong instant with condensed milk and only served it at tea time. It was to die for.)

Now I'm a little bit between careers, and I haven't hit a new coffee philosophy. Will I be a writer, keeping the pot going all day and all night? A producer, forcing lackeys to buy me some very specific type of Starbucks? A film star, demanding only coffee made with organic beans and bottled water? Or maybe a film guerrilla, drinking deli coffee when I can get it?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I Made a Movie

By the time I read this, we will be done shooting Ballots Over Broadway, the first film I've produced in over a year.

This feels pretty good.

I've learned a lot about making movies since my last project, and I'm a better producer now than I was then. It's both surprisingly easy and surprisingly difficult to make a movie. Difficult because there's always so much that can go wrong; easy because there are so many people who will make a movie just to do it - for no money, just for the dream of it.

Some people dream of making a movie for their whole lives and never get a chance. I know that this skill, the ability to produce these small projects, it's not something just anyone can do. At the same time, I'm not sure what qualifies me to do it. Really all I did since I left college (with no practical skills) was to work on sets and pay attention. It's the same "high skill/no skill" feeling that I had as a PA.

So, once again, the job is done, and, once again, I'm feeling lost. I know what I can do, but I don't know what to do with what I can do.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Finally, a Post About Scrubs

Here's what I've been doing since Friday: producing a movie and watching Scrubs.

The movie's going fine, so let's talk about Scrubs.

I just discovered Scrubs a few weeks ago. Having giving it a lot of thought (probably 30 :22 minute hours - Scrubs is on a lot) I think the reasons it appeals are threefold.

ONE (1) Scubs is a classic American workplace comedy
I loooove the workplace comedy. Wings, Sports Night, West Wing (just to continue that theme there), NewsRadio, you could make a case for Firefly, The Office (okay it's British, but then we stole it back!), the, list, goes, on. My favorite Arthur Miller play is A Memory of Two Mondays. You don't hear anybody else saying that. Ever.

Workplace comedies work so well because they give a plausible reason to throw a lot of diverse personalities together, there's inherent conflict in working with other people, and they're relatable - most everyone spends the majority of their waking hours at work with other people doing the same thing - while still being a little escapist, which brings me to point #2.

TWO (2) Scrubs is that little bit absurd that makes all the difference
Comedy better be fast, but sitcoms better be crazy. Third Rock From the Sun, Arrested Development, The Simpsons - all of these great sitcoms are also pretty goddamn surreal. Try looking at the episode synopsis I've linked to. Here's an excerpt:

"Mr. Black announces to the campers that Krusty has finally come, but it's just local drunk Barney Gumble dressed as Krusty. This indignity leads Bart to finally snap; he leads the campers in rebellion, driving out Mr. Black and the bullies, and establishing Camp Bart. The newscaster Kent Brockman arrives at the camp to report on the revolt; when Homer watches the live broadcast and finds Bart is the leader, he instantly loses his newly-grown hair and gains back his weight."

Tell me that wouldn't fit fine into a surrealist play.

Still don't buy it? Here's a controlled experiment. Watch any episode of "Ellen". I know, I know, but it's for science. Is it 22 minutes later?* Now watch the famous "Puppy Episode," where Ellen comes out as a lesbian. Wait - what happened? It ... it's funny! What turned it around?

The difference is that in the puppy episode, Ellen is in a much more absurd world than she was in any other episode. Oprah is her psychologist, there's got a dream sequence with melons, it's all very weird. The puppy episode was the first time, after five mediocre seasons, that "Ellen" finally grew some balls. So to speak.

THREE (3) Zach Braff is like the over-moused, sitcom-star version of me. Or maybe Snoopy.
Dr. John "J.D." Dorian is one of the most sympathetic characters I've ever seen on T.V. He's a lot like Snoopy from Peanuts - innocent, prone to escapist fantasies, and somehow existing in a more joyful world than the rest of the characters. I think what I like the most about J.D. is that he has his own way of being and he can't change it no matter how hard he might try.

* What do you mean it's a half hour later? Dude, buy a TiVo.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Get it Done School

I am of the Get it Done school of filmmaking. I see movies (the ones I work on, anyway) as a series of logistical problems to be overcome. That's why the first thing I did when I decided to produce next month's film for First Sundays - even before I decided to produce it, truth be told - was to get two other people to take over the aesthetic aspects of the film, the writing and directing.

These two guys are stars, and they're doing a great job, but, in a way, I don't care. As long as they're getting their jobs done, I'm happy. It lets me focus on getting the logistical challenges out of the way.

Every film needs a get it done guy or it just doesn't happen. I'm watching American Movie now, and it's a bit terrifying. I just need to keep reminding myself that I'm more organized than Mark Borchardt.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A PA Habit

Early on in my PA days I had a habit of thinking about the latest problem to come up (often other people's) and thinking about what I could have done before to prevent them. As it happens, there have been less and less problems that I feel like I could have prevented.

For one thing, I'm a better PA now than I was before, but that's just part of the explanation.

When I looked back, most of the ways I found to hypothetically prevent problems was to tell the people above me about potential problems before they developed.

Now, alerting people above me to potential problems is a tricky thing. Under the wrong circumstances or handled in the wrong way, it could be interpreted as telling someone above me (and when I'm a PA, everyone is above me) how to do their job.

Part of being a good PA is knowing what falls in someone else's area of responsibility from the beginning. The tricky part, for me anyway, is to tell someone once that there's a potential problem and then leave it to them to deal with it in their own way. After all, they may know something I don't know, like that there are other, more important things for both of us to be dealing with.

Taking ownership of problems is tricky, and I'm still mastering it.

The other reason I'm finding less problems I could have prevented is that I now understand that even if I had done everything right before, often a lot of other stuff would have had to happen in order for things to go right in the end.

Now I know why the people on set who are the most experienced seem the most relaxed. Mastering a job means putting challenges in perspective.

ribble's T.V. Experiment

Really it's a "no t.v. experiment," but whatever.

Here's what going on with not watching t.v. during the days for the past week or so:

I'm reading more. Which has made me realize that the prescription of my glasses is probably too strong. It's also made me realize how my friend Emily made it through Infinite Jest in two weeks (no t.v. at all, if you can believe such a thing.)

I'm also spending more time seeing other people more. Partly because I'm bored. Then I'm writing more.

I'm also realizing ... again ... that I don't have enough space in my New York apartment for a lot of the things I'd like to do here.

- Filing, which sounds trivial but really, really isn't; especially if you're trying to be a film producer of some kind. Filing takes space. I mean, I don't even have a desk.

- Playing with legos.

- Playing on the floor.

- Reading Nemo Sundays.

- Putting away all my clothes, which is good news for New York Coat Drive.

- Cleaning my tree (don't ask).

- Producing a movie.

- Any sort of artistic pursuit unless you count blogging.

- Eating a home-cooked meal with another person.

- Cooking, for that matter.

- Getting away from it all.

- Taking things out of their storage places so I can sort them and store them more efficiently.

- Painting the walls.

- Reading in bed.

- Oh, and the lighting's bad.

- Having a pet (although this one I'm on the fence about. The problem is that any name I give a cat could never have as cool a name as my friend Liz's former cat, Dr. Pickles.)

Upshot: because I'm watching less t.v. I'm thinking more. WHO'D OF THOUGHT.

Assumed Fluency

I'm really enjoyed reading Scott McCloud's Making Comics despite the fact that I don't make comics. Partly this is because the guy's an excellent writer - you don't have to act to read Stanislavsky.

There's another, more interesting reason I like Making Comics. McCloud, who has also written a definitive book on comic theory and one on comics in an online, post-superhero world, references a lot of comics to make his points.

I was very pleased that he references a lot of the comics I read regularly, but I was even more excited that he refers to a lot of comics I've never read. I love the idea of following up on the references in the book to find more stuff to read.

I decide which comics to read, or what movies or t.v. shows to watch, by being very sensitive to assumed fluency in popular culture. When someone makes a joke that refers a movie, or two people on a set talk about a t.v. show, or I see an article about an actor and I'm not familiar with the reference, I make a point of following up.

Once I've watched something, I decide if I like it or not just like anyone else. For new stuff, though, it's all about assumed fluency. It's a strategy based on social acceptance, and I realized awhile back that not everyone does it. Still, it allows me write stuff like the best '80s movie blog post ever, so I'm going to stick with it.


Unemployment is boring. It's a recipe for desperation.

In what has been my chosen profession, unemployment comes with the territory. Film people work from gig to gig, and unemployment is what happens inbetween.

The problem is I never know how long between gigs is going to last. One of the problems.

The other problem, the fat man sitting on the seesaw of unhappiness to which unemployment is the fulcrum, is that I hate looking for work. Hate it.

I work to escape the problems I have in the rest of my life, which means when I don't work, I have to face those problems again.

I've come up with a few ways to be semi employed, like writing and tutoring, but they're ultimately unsatisfying. It's hard to feel like these are real work after doing production, where the work is so real it effectively kills off the rest of my life.

That leaves me with ways to kill time, i.e. Mr. Ribbles on the couch with the remote, which, of course, just makes it worse.

There are only a few jobs I feel capable and qualified to do. At the same time, I know most of these jobs are or would be killing me. The crashes after the high of work are too much. Until I can learn how to be happy when I'm not working, I have to give up production.

This happens to a lot of people, and I hate that it's happening to me (by the way, ever see this? Nothing will make you feel dirtier.)

I'm not really quitting production, anyway, since that would just make me more unemployed. I'm just not going after jobs, especially long jobs like features - I'm just doing the ones I'm being asked to do. Here's what you might call the plan:

1) I've stopped watching t.v. during the day. I've been doing this for about a week.

2) I'm producing a very small, very managable short film that will show at First Sundays on January 7.

3) Today, I took my resume to a film equipment rental house in my neighborhood.

4) I've got that writing project I mentioned before.

5) Oh and then I'm blogging a lot. Maybe you could call this series "ribble's Quest For Non-Cinema-Related Happiness."

6) I'll keep working for my regular clients as a PA. They're aren't that many, and they tend to have short gigs.

7) If a big, interesting project comes along, or a friend is doing something and I want to be involved, I'll probably do it anyway, but I'll be choosy.

Not much of a mandate - in particular, I need to carefully consider the merits of a real day job. But, it's a start.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Here's What I Did Yesterday

Here's what I did yesterday: haul equipment and coffee back and forth across a building a quarter of a mile long.

Here's what I'm doing tonight: sleeping.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Playing the Role of Producer: Ribbles

Excellent night.

Tonight my film premiered at First Sundays. My hand-picked audience members liked it. After the film, I successfully mingled with all parties of said hand-picked audience members (not as easy as it sounds).

Did I mention I'm producing next month's audience film?

That's kind of a big deal.

I have my team together, my writer has a solid concept, I'm getting a jump on location, equipment, schedule, so, of course, I'm nervous as hell. This anxiety has manifested itself psychosomatically as issues with my stomach.

Which sucks.

Of course, there are some perfectly sensible, non-psychosomatic explanations for these stomach issues: There is no food in my apartment, I ate some bad enchiladas at an engagement party in San Antonio a little while back, I don't really understand how to cook the pork dumplings I had for dinner.

However, an invisible, annoying and slightly embarrassing ailment which I can't ignore but which may only exist in my mind and is fighting me from the inside functions admirably as an analogy for my current state of mind. (Spike Lee used it in Clockers, and I can't think of better company for any analogy than that.)

Aside from stomach pains, I also get the feelings that I am somehow only acting like the producer of this film. I mean, I'm hiring people, calling in favors, talking with authority, having meetings, making arrangements, working the room - essentially, doing all the things a producer does - but I still feel like I'm faking it.

There's the possibility of failure, of course. The last project I produced was, in many ways, a failure. On the other hand, if I do all the things a producer does, then I am the producer, like it or not. It's like a relationship - if I can be the same person when I fail as when I succeed, I'll know it's for real.

Until then, I'm investing in Gatorade and TUMS.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Beginning of the End?

Early on in my career as a PA, somewhere between my first feature and my first commercial, I realized that I could last as long as I needed to for each job, but after each one I would always collapse in to a physical and emotional heap in the same way.

Let say I had an exhausting three days. On a three-day job, those three days could lay me up on the couch for a week. But on a six-day-a-week, seven-week job I could keep going all month (as long as I hadn't given up my day off).

As long as there's something to do tomorrow, production doesn't leave you enough time to feel pain. Once the end is in sight, it all catches up with me. If I lined up the people with the least confidence in my abilities as a PA, they are inevitably the same ones I drive home after the last day of the job. By that time, no matter the shoot, I'm basically a jelly.

During my last shoot, I got that familiar sense of rising dysfunction and exhaustion, but not for the shoot - for my whole PA career. I knew enough to know what to dread - wrapping out trash and equipment that night, driving while tired, being dysfunctional at home, not getting enough sleep, being anxious about getting to the truck on time, driving tired again. That stuff doesn't bother me if I have to do it, but somehow I know the end is near.

It felt like the moment in a shoot where where I've been on firewatch long enough for the caffeine and adreneline to wear off and exhaustion to set in.

Film Jobs I Could Do

AD (something small)
Office P.A.
Producer (under the right circumstances)
Grip / Electric
Key P.A.
Camera P.A.
Art Department P.A.
Associate Producer

Me on T.V.

So I just got back from seeing a very rough cut of the movie I'm in that premieres this Sunday. In general, I feel taken down a peg, but, and I feel this is important to note, not taken down two pegs.

As long as I hadn't seen any footage of myself, I was just as good an actor as I imagined. Now I see myself as a little worse than I actually am.

So much for taking Hollywood by storm, but, then, maybe my natural talent was never enough.

I was talking with the professional actor who worked on our film, and I became persuaded that acting is a craft, just like learning to light a scene.

It also takes work - not just the running-up-and-down-stairs-in-heels-eighteen-times-in-a-row type work, but finding-actual-paying-jobs type work. This is the much more difficult than the heels work as there are a lot of people who want to act - not just the arrogant snoots like me who think there's nothing to it, but also the real actors, the talented actors, the ones who studied a craft.

With my dreams of instant stardom dashed, what remains? We talked about that, too, and we decided that the only sensible course is to do the job or the art you feel compelled to do.

Just putting that out there.

That said, everyone else involved thinks I did a pretty good job. I definitely camped up this film. And the fact that I thought my co-star did great and she thought I did great means that maybe actor ego has made me think I didn't do as well as I actually did.

Still, I'm limiting my most insistent invitations to the people who are going to be thrilled just to see me being ridiculous on screen - basically, the people who are going to like this film even more than I am.