Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dreading the Day "That's the Way (I Like It)" Comes On

Conversation in the car today:

Jarrah: What San Diego Old School?

Sam: It's music you can dance to...for people Mommy's age.

Jarrah: What this song? Break house?

Sam: "Brick House." He's singing about a girl...and she's big and strong.

Jarrah: And what else?

Sam: And he wants to dance with her.

Jarrah: And then what?

Sam: They dance and...she's very powerful.

The song ends. "Slow Hand" by the Pointer Sisters starts up.

Sam: Cool! [turning it up]

Jarrah: What this one about?

Sam: It's about hugging people.

Jarrah: And then what?

Sam: And how you should take your time. Not rush. Because hugging is really nice.

Jarrah: And then what?

Sam: And that's pretty much it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm A-Goin' Straight to Hell

...because I took Jarrah to see The House Bunny this morning. Here's my defense:

1. It was the "Crybaby Mommy Movie Morning" at our favorite theater. I think they mean actual babies, though. There were a number of them present.

2. Jarrah's out of school this month, David works long hours, I don't have any family nearby, and our babysitter has a new full-time job so no special "mommytime" afternoons for me.

3. There's no way David was going to see it.

4. I wanted to see it anyway, because I am a witless moron when it comes to chick flicks. (I mean actual chick flicks, with lots of pink-wearing chicks in them. I don't count movies that are about love or feelings or romance. I say fie on those being chick flicks.)

5. Jarrah has a cough, so getting together with other little friends was out.

6. Even with a cough, her waking words were "Where I'm going?"

All right, the defense rests. Here's the prosecutor's challenge:

1. The movie is about a bunny. A Playboy bunny. Whose life ambition is to be Miss November.

2. The bunny "saves" a college sorority house by showing the girls how to wear makeup and gel-filled bras.

3. The movie is about a sorority house filled with girls who don't actually seem to attend college.

4. The bunny's best dating advice is to "be sexy" and "say 'Oooh, huge biceps, now kiss me!'"

5. This part is not parentally egregious, but the movie does culminate in one of those speeches about being yourself, scored to string instruments in minor chords.

6. They use "the B-word" a LOT. (No, not bunny.)

Okay, the defense is back:

1. It's really, really funny when Anna Faris says, "Let's play up your eyes! The eyes are the nipples of the face!"

2. I think there's a message about honoring one's community of women in there somewhere.

3. There's an entire montage of the bunny reading books. Really, really big books. And making it look fascinating.

Okay, you can bring the jury back now. I'm ready for my conviction. (The World's Worst Mommy Award?)

P.S. Jarrah was completely uninterested in the movie. Her one question, repeated incessantly, was "Why the policeman put her in jail?" And I mean incessantly, even though it happens in the first 10 minutes and the whole scene is maybe a minute long. When I told her the policeman put her in jail for living in her car, she was far more disturbed, I think, than she would have been had I explained the real reason, which I'm just going to let you wonder about as it might adversely affect your verdict. Let's just say the reason is the dirtiest thing in the whole movie. On the way back to the car, I asked Jarrah what she thought of the movie, and she said, "The policeman put her in jail for living in her car." I asked what else happened in the movie, and she said "I have no idea." Phew!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Scary

Jarrah is going through a new scaredy-cat phase. She's not afraid of the usual stuff, like new people, or heights, or the dark (though she does request a night light these days.) Her fears are unpredictable, and--though I try to be understanding--totally bizarre.

A few nights ago, we went to Santee (Hi, Robyn!) for dinner at the Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse. (A small aside: I was really disappointed that it's a chain. A chain of three, but still. I liked my fantasy that we had our very own slice of Route 66 Americana just up the road.) The place is dark and woody and the walls are thick with chopped-off men's ties, each hanging beneath an index card with a name and a date. You take your leftovers home in a paper bag with the menu printed on it.

When we requested a table, there was no waiting, and the hostess smilingly gestured us to follow her. But not before Jarrah, hawk-eye that she is, spotted the entryway decor, which included an iron sculpture of a cowboy on horseback. On the wall above his head hung a weathered Western saddle. It's true, the arrangement doesn't make much sense. Why are these two items juxtaposed? The scale is all wrong. It's like the saddle is a synecdoche or something.

Still, far be it for me to be offended by interior decorating. I'm not going to take much notice unless someone is trying to hang it up in my house. Jarrah, however, skidded in her tracks, pointed, and asked in a quavering voice:

Jarrah: Whas that?

Sam: It's a...statue. Of a man on horseback. Let's go eat.

Jarrah: Statue can get me?

Sam: No, it can't get you. It doesn't move. That's why it's called a statue.

Jarrah: Why it scary?

Sam: It's not scary.

Jarrah: It is.

We whisked her from the room and once ensconced in our booth with a big basket of bread and some crayons, I figured she'd forget about it. And she seemed to, for a minute. Then she got that haunted look in her eyes again and moaned:

Jarrah: I don't want to go near the scary.

Sam: We're not near the scary. It's in another room. We're going to sit in here and eat some chicken. Won't that be nice?

Jarrah: The statue is very scary. Why it scary?

Sam: I think it's just your perception. Would you feel better if our waitress told you it wasn't scary?

Jarrah: Yeah.

Our waitress wore an expression like I was asking her to strip and dance in tasseled pasties as I attempted to explain our needs. But she made a game effort.

Waitress: No, it's not scary. It's just a statue. I work here every day, and it's never bothered me once.

Sam: Does that make you feel better, sweetheart?

Jarrah nodded, but her eyes were round and unblinking. Our food came, and as I was cutting her chicken, her eyes welled over with tears, and the moaning began again.

Sam: Honey, we're not anywhere near the statue. It can't move. We're in another room.

Jarrah: I not hungry. The scary might try to get me.

At this point, I could tell we were not going to have a light-hearted family evening of wholesome fare and happy conversation. Instead, Jarrah was going to moan and weep, and David and I would eat furtively between attempts to reassure her that a hideous Western-themed lobby sculpture was not going to tear her limb from limb at its next available opportunity. Such is the glorious spontaneity of life with a child.

By the time we were leaving, most of the restaurant knew our story, and a lot of people, including the manager, were trying to mollify Jarrah. The manager even suggested that they should think about painting blue eyes on the black hollow indentations where the rider's eyes should have been, to help humanize him. Frankly, I doubt it would help, but Jarrah looked like she was ready to wield a paintbrush right now. We were so discombobulated that we left my precious "Two Sisters and Ewe" diaper bag under our table (I guess we need to find a new name for it) and had to go back the next day.

Jarrah didn't want to go back, for any reason. She said the scary was going to get her. But she had to, and David went right up to the scary to show her it was actually friendly, or at the very least, disinterested. He asked Jarrah if she was still scared, and she said no.

David: Would you like to come a little closer?

Jarrah: I will--in five weeks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Circus Week

I can't let the Olympics go by without saying something, and these Olympics are special because they're held in my daughter's country of origin. This isn't the China post, though--I'm going to write that one next. But then there's my childlike enthusiasm for all things gymnastics, as well as the alarmingly patriotic feeling that swells in my chest whenever I see a medal ceremony or watch Michel Phelps win, even though I sort of resent my own knee-jerk response. (Heart-jerk response?)

In a fun coincidence, Jarrah attended a week of gymnastics camp during the first week of the Games, her first experience with the sport. I thought she might enjoy a completely new experience, and of course she did. That child is enthusiastic about everything. She attended a local gymnastics "academy" with her friend Amelia, and the two of them were clearly the youngest and smallest in their group--some of those girls were easily 8 or 10. That didn't faze them--neither of them are shy. The camp runs in weekly themes, with this particular week being "Circus Week," though I never really figured out what made it so. The place is a huge two-story warehouse on a street of other warehouses, which sounds kind of grim except that it was also filled with state-of-the-art equipment, and bathed in natural light from the many windows and doors. The teachers, Corey and Britney (you can tell when they were born) seemed very sweet, and Jarrah was sweaty and full of stories each day when I picked her up.

A few times, I arrived early or stayed late on the observation deck upstairs, with a big window overlooking the studio from whence one can spy on the action below. I can't say that I saw much that resembled gymnastics, but I saw them stretching (Jarrah is very flexible) and doing somersaults, playing what looked like "duck-duck goose" and knocking down a "house" built of marshmallow bricks from the foam pit. One day, I saw Jarrah climb up on the regulation vault and leap into the pit below, seemingly without hesitation. It was a long way down, though of course the pit is extremely soft. It did make me wonder if she got her confidence from the hours of diving she and I had watched the day before, girl after girl spinning and tumbling from great heights into the pool below, then showering nonchalantly mere seconds later. Perhaps she's taken a cue about heights from them. Hard to say.

It's hard to say anything, really. I expect some parents wait for signs that their progeny have inherited their belt voice, their handiness with a racket, their fleetness of foot. They might watch to see if their baby is graceful like Grandma or forever knocking things over like Daddy. Perhaps they are smug, or simply satisfied, when their expectations are realized. Perhaps they are secretly disappointed when they're not.

But I don't have expectations about any kind of prowess that might be described as genetic. I can't. And while this makes Jarrah a clean slate where accomplishments are concerned, it makes me the same. She might do anything, or nothing at all. She might do a hundred things with great enthusiasm, or she might be passionate about one thing she's really, really great at. I just don't know.

I've asked other moms, how do you know what to offer your child, what activities to encourage, how to shape nascent talents? They look at me quizzically, with something resembling a gentle tolerance for my ignorance, and they don't say much. I press: did you watch them clinically for signs of genius, musical promise, an amazing throwing arm? They don't answer. The most I've ever gotten is: they tell you. You don't have to convince them; they'll let you know what they like, what they care about, and that is where they will excel.

Really? I think of my own childhood, the years at the piano, that hulking piece of furniture behind which I hid, tonelessly plunking out my required 30 minutes a day. The daily hours in the pool, gasping through workouts, cringing through meets, never finding "my" stroke. I think of how I longed to tap dance, to draw, to learn guitar--stuff that never happened. I really have no idea why I didn't do what I like. I'd have to go back and ask my 10-year-old self what the hell I thought I was doing--or not doing.

I watch Nastia Liukin delicately flinging her weight around the high bar, and wonder if she inherited her father's talent, or just his interest. I watch Michael Phelps's mother, on the edge of her seat, wringing her hands as her boy swims into history, and I wonder if she always sensed he had it in him (and I don't mean swimming ability--I think the mental and emotional strength has to be just as great or greater.) I well up when I see Shawn Johnson's exultant grin as she realizes she is nailing her floor exercise when it counts the most, and it reminds me of Jarrah's beautiful, wide smile as she leaps across the gym mats, when she has no idea that I'm watching.

Will she continue in gymnastics? Or will it be karate? Cello? Watercolors? Soccer? Something I haven't even thought of...beach volleyball? (Why are they in bathing suits?) Will she tell me what she cares about, or will I have to figure it out?

And the dirty little thoughts at the back of my mind...will she simply enjoy gymnastics, or will the world (or some portion of it) enjoy watching her enjoy it? You see what I mean. Is it my job to find her talents and nurture them, or just to stand back and let her figure it out?

This is hard for me to talk about. I'm trying to be honest here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Smile, Though Your Heart Is Aching

Jarrah had her first dental work on her unfortunately crapcake teeth this morning. I have been so stressed about it, I informed David he'd be coming with us. It was a good thing he was there. As soon as Dr. Baker started explaining how two of her molars are so far gone he needed to put crowns on them (at age 3!) I was blinking back tears. Way to go, Miss "Me Strong Like Ox" Mommy. David already has experience sitting by a hysterical female from this family while she endures probing in her orifices, so when they said only one of us could stay with the patient, I was out of there like a shot. Later, David squeezed my arm and said, "It's good that you weren't in there." Apparently, a little nitrous is not enough to ensure my daughter's docile cooperation, though it might have worked on me.

I sat blissfully ignorant in the waiting room, where I flipped through magazines about cooking and sleeping better while watching some revisionist version of Cinderella with half an eye. They were in there a mighty long time, I thought. In my mind, I kept seeing them running through the door screaming (or just one of them, alternating who in each variation) so I think I resembled a nervous bobolink whenever someone did come through the door, which was often.

When they finally emerged, the nurse led the way and Jarrah tottered into view, holding two balloons. Her little face was puffed up and dotted with chunks of dental crud. She looked at me, and at first she just looked sleepy. She focused on my face for a couple seconds, and then her expression crumbled like one of those cliffs that's just been dynamited. I put out my arms, she walked into them, and then she quietly began to weep. "Are you okay, sweetie?" I murmured into her hair.

"I cried," she whispered. "I cried because it hurt."

"It's okay to cry, sweetie. Do you want to hear a secret? Mommy cries at the dentist, too. I still think you're very brave." One of her molars was entirely encased in a silver crown, looking very gangsta.

The nurse told me that they were able to finish one side of her mouth, so we only have one more visit to do the other side, and we can do it before school starts. I'll be amazed if we can get her back there without a fight. Amazingly, though, she cheered up very quickly, and when I mentioned "Me Cluss-house" (My Kids Clubhouse) which is only two blocks away, she was eager to go.

"Or we could just have some fro-yo, go buy a toy, and have a rest at home."

"Let's have some fro-yo, go buy a toy, and then go to Me Cluss-house."

Ah yes, that's a better plan. When she got to My Kids Clubhouse, she made a bee-line for the snack counter, and--remembering all too well that I'd offered her every heart's desire--ordered a Lunchables and chocolate milk. I swallowed my automatic "In your dreams, babe" and quietly paid for it all. After making all food and drink disappear, she announced that it was time to play, and that's the last I saw of her until Joy arrived with the promise of pudding. Every time I saw her after that, she was sweaty, laughing and running, a pilled princess gown sausaged over her clothes.

Her mother, however, remains a wreck, though very proud of her brave girl. Still, not looking forward to doing it all again in a week and a half.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm in Big Trouble, Young Lady

Just now, Jarrah was yowling like a tomcat while David was trying to brush her teeth. I filed this yowling in the periphery of my brain for five minutes or so, until it suddenly leaned over and shoved everything else--including my reading of blogs--aside and hunkered down in my cerebellum in a manner I could no longer ignore.


Jarrah: (tears, more yowling)


Jarrah: (appears in doorway, eyes brimming) Are you going to yell again?

Sam: (ashamed) No, and I'm sorry I yelled before. I shouldn't do that. But I really wish you would cooperate with Daddy about your teeth.

Jarrah: You better not yell or the policemans will come and get you. And then they will take you to prison. That means jail.

Sam: (darting eyes towards David in alarm) Wouldn't you miss me if the policeman came and got me? You better not tell him.

Jarrah: If the policeman comes, you better run, kay? Run really fast so he doesn't get you and take you to prison.

Sam: Okay. I'll run.

Jarrah: But policemans are nice. They take you home when you're lost. And that's good, right?

Sam: Right. That part is good.

Monday, August 11, 2008

48 Hours of Fun

I'll end the suspense right now. We were bedeviled by an over-long running time. When we tried to fix it, other things broke, and before we knew it we had to choose between making the deadline and being disqualified, or making it perfect and turning it in late.

We turned it in late. Sigh. But we had fun, I didn't fight with anyone this year (and I only cried very briefly) and I suckered a few more unwitting friends into joining the team, where they found themselves infected with the 48 Hour Film Project bug--there is no cure, unless you count the annual booster shot of doing it all over again.

It's hard for me to keep this concise, but for anyone interested, here's my second annual set diary:


7:00 p.m. - Robyn (who has flown in from San Antonio only hours before) and I are enjoying some post-Nia fro-yo when I call David. We've got our elements. Drumroll, please...

Genre: Holiday Film (ack!)
Character: Joe or Josie Beeble, Construction Worker
Prop: Tweezers
Line of Dialogue: "Hey, have you heard the news?"

7:30 p.m. - We head over to Denny's, where we've reserved the private back room for the night. The team has grown to 20 people this year. We order some eggs and pie, introduce ourselves, and get down to business.

9:00 p.m. - Somehow, the earliest ideas all revolve around a lesbian couple who are driving their kids to visit their father for Father's Day. The gimmick is that they both used to be married to the same man. This keeps morphing--they become sisters, it's actually Mother's Day, they discover the dad is dead, the dad is a construction worker directing traffic, the construction worker randomly gets in the car. Someone suggests an epic piece in which we see a brother and sister as both children and adults, and they have some sort of bonding experience on the way to a holiday reunion. I get super-excited about the idea of filming at Inflatable World, a theme park near our house. I go to the bathroom for three minutes and my Inflatable World dreams have been crushed, or deflated if you will, and there is no going back. I'm concerned that we are planning to film the entire story in the car. "Too stagnant!" I yell. "Too static!" "Too other things that start with 'S'!"

10:00 p.m. - Desperation time. Happens every year. I start to think there will never be a plot.

11:00 p.m. - We're going around and around and are no closer to a story. Everyone seems dumbstruck when I call out for more ideas. The brother/sister/learning and growing in the car idea wins by default. We have new writers, Hal and April, who are young and vigorous. They agree to have something ready for us to shoot in the morning. I am profoundly relieved, though worried about the car thing (and on this point, I am distinctly Cassandra-like.) We're going to make our base of operations at Jake's house in Elfin Forest, which sounds adorable. At any rate, I'm grateful that no one is suggesting our house again, after which our bathroom looked like one in a gas station.
12:00 a.m. - Robyn and I say good-night at my house and agree to meet in the morning for our long drive to Elfin Forest, which is near Escondido. David wants to take a separate car for all his equipment.

3:00 a.m. - I wake David (I sure wasn't sleeping) and yell at him for making decisions when I was in the bathroom. "I thought I was the f-ing director! Are we starting this already?" Neither of us sleeps very much.


9:30 a.m. - We're wending our way through a leafy canopy of trees on the road through Elfin Forest. It's like we're going to a resort instead of to work. Jake's parents' house is incredible. I really do feel like I'm at a spa. There's even a babbling brook outside. Pretty soon the cars in in the circular driveway are triple-deep.

10:00 a.m. - I sit down with Hal and April to talk about the first major scene of the script. They have some great dialogue about the book Future Shock. We do several read-throughs with the four cast members--Craig (who works with David) Grace, Julianna (Grace's daughter, 9) and Ryan, 16. The family will be traveling in a mini-van. I'm dreading it already. The first few read-throughs are tough--the dialogue is complicated and there's more to memorize than usual. They are total pros, though, even the kids (neither of them complain once the entire day.) Before long, they are sounding like a real family, and the two kids are punching each other like they mean it.

12:00 p.m.-ish - I don't really remember how long we were rehearsing, or how long I was offering "helpful" suggestions on how to move the script forward. Lucky for us, Hal and April were on top of it, and though I was constantly pulled away, they kept their heads down and finished the script by mid-afternoon. I do know that I sent everyone to hair and makeup at some point (by which I mean to Robyn and Grace in the bathroom downstairs) and that they then sat around in their trailers waiting to shoot after that. (Too bad their trailers were imaginary.) I know that "the boys" (David, Jason, Kevin...who else?) spent a considerable amount of time strapping the camera to a crafty rig in the mini-van...keep right on inferring the drumbeats of doom whenever I mention filming in the car.

2:00 p.m.-ish - Gretchen and Kanda bring pizza. In fact, they bring everything. No sooner do I say, "Do we have a highlighter? Scotch tape? A clipboard? A clown nose?" then someone is placing it in my hand. Sweet. People are getting antsy to shoot. I feel for them. Trying to remain calm.

2:30 p.m.-ish - We pack into the van for our first big scene. It's a long one. Craig ("Mr. Beeble") is driving; Grace ("Mrs. Beeble") riding shot gun. Ryan (Joe) and Julianna (Josie) are directly behind them. And where am I? Crouched in a pile of cables behind THEM. With no seat. Reading a script. Backwards. Watching the monitor to choose the best takes. With the windows closed. And no air conditioning. (Can't have anything competing with the audio.) Is it any wonder that my dear husband makes it up and down the winding road a couple of times before shouting that he's car sick and needs to go back? I stay, though, and Jake joins me. I think we're back there about two hours. How I don't throw up is truly a mystery. At one point, Craig makes an abrupt U-turn, and I pitch sideways all the way to the opposite wall. When I look down at my script, sweat runs down toward the center of my face and drips onto the page. When we finally get back to headquarters, everyone leaps out, shuts the doors, and walks away, leaving me alone on the floor in back. It's several minutes before Jason comes to rescue me, and he has to go find the keys before he can. I am boiling over, and blink back a few furious tears.

5:00 p.m.-ish - Discovering that the only car (some sort of power issue) we'll be able to shoot in is the size of a Toyota Starlet, we head back out to shoot several consecutive scenes with Jake and Robyn as the grown-up brother and sister. Kevin is lying down in the trunk space with the cables and the monitor; I'm crushed against the window in the back seat. Apparently not crushed enough--in the finished film, you can see my tan arm waggling around like a ghostly hitchhiker in several frames. The fading light is blazing through the windshield, blowing out the picture every time we round a corner, so we peel off to the side of the road to change direction every two minutes. After a while, Robyn matter-of-factly announces she's going to yak. Knowing that we are losing the light, however, she soldiers on, and later I tell the rest of the crew how you can tell the girl worked for Disney: the footage shows her barely restraining her spew except when someone yelled "Rolling!" at which point she is instantly as radiant as Miss Universe. See for yourself. Ultimately, things get so guerilla between our light issues and our vomit problems that Jake becomes a whole new kind of multi-tasker: for the close-ups, he is simultaneously driving, acting, filming and reading his script.

6:00 p.m.-ish - We shoot two short scenes on the verdant lawn behind the house. We only moved the camera a few feet between each one, but that's the magic of film; it looks like a new location on screen. The first scene features the Beebles enjoying an apple pie on a blanket under a tree, and as David says, "it's trippy." No one can put their finger on it, but watching them eat that pie is gosh-darn hilarious, especially the close-up of Grace, awash in beauty lighting, holding a forkful of pie aloft and announcing, "I think Aunt Millie was on to something." It reminds me of the scene in Airplane! when the concerned wife says (inside her head) "That's funny. Dick never vomits at home."

6:30 p.m.-ish - Mary and Paul arrive with Jarrah and Joy, who are looking freakishly cute in their short dresses and pig tails. Jarrah yells, "We are like princess!" I am a bad mom because I haven't thought of her since Friday afternoon, instead relying totally on how much she loves to be with M, P and J, and how good they are to her. I can see Jarrah is a bit crabby with me, possibly for not snagging her a role that would secure her SAG card. By some miracle, we finish outdoor shooting by sundown. Kanda and Gretchen arrive with Chick-fil-A, which I've never had before. Those chicken biscuits are devilishly good.

8:00 p.m.-ish - We have one indoor shot, which turns into one of our wacky moments. It's a cutaway to Aunt Millie getting excited for pie, and Marie is in full granny regalia, complete with flowered apron and powdered gray bun. She looks too good to waste, so we get a few shots of her. The hands-down favorite features a demented-looking Marie rising up out of her shoes to exclaim "I love apple pie with extra cardamom!" while brandishing a cake server. You can hear me busting up in the background.

9:00 p.m-ish - Marie is up yet again, doing a voice over for our possessed GPS. The boys set up equipment in the padded sound booth, "otherwise known as Jake's closet," Kanda remarks. Indeed, Hal and I are deep into coaching artificial cadences from our lovely songbird when I suddenly exclaim, "I had no idea men were allowed to have so many shoes!"

10:00 p.m. - I am suspicious because all our shooting is done (save a few daytime exteriors) and nothing is crashing or without sound. We say goodnight and most of us head home to get some rest before the Sunday editing crunch, but David and Jake drive to CineForm to transfer all the data. He's home before midnight, too.

12:00 a.m. - I'm strangely serene as I prepare for bed. Maybe this will be the year when nothing goes wrong, I wonder. Even as I think it, I know it's not possible, but I sleep fabulously, if not for long.


8:30 a.m. - Robyn picks me up for our drive to Solana Beach, where we'll be editing at CineForm. We express our gratitude that we'll be working in air conditioning today. (Note another harbinger of doom.) We feel so relaxed that we stop for an al fresco breakfast at Zinc Cafe on Cedros. It's a gorgeous morning. I know it's the last time we'll see daylight today.

10:00 a.m. - David is the only one at the office. He's beaded with sweat. "For some reason the air conditioning isn't working." Uh-oh. Robyn and I see people in another office and pay them a visit. It bodes ill that their door is propped open. "Oh, yeah, the building charges for A/C on the weekends now. You have to pay in advance." Jake has overslept and we're missing a car we need for exteriors. The morning is a slow-starter. Robyn and I busy ourselves by putting the credits together, and recruiting Craig to arrange them with photos and a video clip of Aunt Millie dancing. People start trickling in, and once Jake arrives, he's glued to the super-premium big-screen editing suite he's constructed in his office. Luckily, there's a cushy chair next to his, just for me. I spend most of the day there.

12:00 p.m. - Things are going pretty smoothly. The footage looks great, and David and Jason have completed a parking lot shoot of people getting into cars and hands switching off the GPS. Stuff for continuity, dontcha know. The most popular spot is the couch in Jake's office--Jake is not only a great editor, he's a fast one. His concentration is Ninja-like, and then suddenly, the changes are there. Luckily, he's also very receptive, which means I'm not totally superfluous since I can't operate the equipment. We watch all the available takes and choose the best ones. Then we choose the best PARTS of the best ones and splice them together. It's laborious and precise. But it starts looking really great. That's pretty much how the afternoon goes.

1:00 p.m. - Greg works in his office, from whence a great techno rumbling pours every now and again. He's composing the score. The musician always has the hardest job, since we edit until the last minute and then say to the composer: "Here. You have 10 minutes. Stick an appropriate soundtrack into the following scenes that you've never even seen before." Luckily, he's not fazed. Jake is surrounded by empty and half-empty coffees and energy drinks. The office smells like tuna and meatballs from the subs Kanda's brought in.

3:00 p.m. - Editing is going, but slowly. There are so many scene transitions, and so many decisions to make on the ratio of close-ups vs. two or four shots. We're see-sawing between the past and present with the mini-van and car scenes. I start to feel a rumble of nerves, and realize I have heartburn.

4:30-ish p.m. - Jake's office, where most of us are crammed, is perhaps 10 degrees hotter than the conference room, and maybe 20 degrees hotter than outside. Someone has lined a bunch of chairs up in the outdoor hallway, which overlooks an atrium with a waterfall. The scene is so far from our reality that I can see myself diving from our third-floor perch into the "lake" below. It's no longer clear to me how close we are to a finished version. This is the part every year when I no longer have any control; I have to throw my trust into the editors. Which is hard because they're great editors, but not great delegaters. I could do the delegating myself, if I only knew what needed to be delegated.

5:30 p.m. - I rock. I have Marie fact-checking the liability forms, Robyn filling out our team paperwork, Craig on credits, Hal checking on Jake. I'm reminding everyone to send files to other people so work doesn't languish until the last minute. David's on color correction, and hopefully, "arm removal." It's all coming together. Hopefully, we can render in a few minutes and make our 7:30 deadline.

6:00 p.m. - Series of disasters: The credits will not export from the Mac Craig is using. The arm cannot be removed. Then, the biggie. We all hear David scream. The movie is nine minutes, including credits. A second over eight, and we're disqualified. How did this happen? No one knows. David and Jake feverishly begin cutting the opening driving sequence, and cutting back every other car shot in an effort not to lose any dialogue. We're all on a tightrope.

6:30 p.m. - By some miracle, Jake has cut enough to fix the time, and while there are a few audio glitches, nothing to prevent us copying the final version. The machine says it will be ready in 29 minutes. David remarks that gives us exactly three minutes to play with before we are late. Everyone stalks around wringing their hands.

7:03 p.m. - IT'S DONE! David gathers up all his stuff and runs for the door. Marie has gone ahead to wait in the valet parking at the Doubletree Hotel finish line. As David runs by, I see he is beet-red. He's through the door before Craig says, "There's a problem. The last dissolve isn't working. And the credits dropped off the back end." "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?" I yell. "No credits!" David yells back, and keeps going.

7:04 p.m. - We are glum. Everyone stares at the floor. We talk about how bad this will make the last shot look. But there's no help for it. The phone rings. It's David. He wants to know how I feel about him coming back, making it perfect, and submitting late. I say no way. I don't want to be late two years in a row.

7:10 p.m. - Craig comes out of David's office. Bad news. Unfixable bad news. The latest version had crashed while they were transferring computers, and no one had noticed that it really was still too long. Robyn asks, "Exactly how sure are you that the film is still too long?" "100 percent," he calls back. We call David to come back, since now we're going to be disqualified anyway. Now we have to find Marie, who otherwise may be standing in the valet parking for the rest of the night, wondering where David is.

7:30 p.m. - David is back. He and Craig are going to fix all the problems and submit a "perfect" version before midnight. Robyn and I are going to pick up Jarrah. It's past 7:00 p.m. and I've turned back into a pumpkin mom. I tell Robyn that having her here helps me in two ways: one, she's good company and takes my mind off things, and two, she was right there for every bump in the ride, so she knows how I'm feeling.

8:30 p.m. - Jarrah sleeps in the car, exhausted from her stimulating weekend. I know how she feels. We toss her right in bed when we get to the house. I make a picnic, and Robyn and I do the post-mortem.

10:00 p.m. - Robyn leaves. She flies home in the morning. I call David and he tells me he's waiting in line at the finish line. There are four teams in front of him, and two more call while he's standing there. So we're not the only late ones. In the end, it turns out 31 of 43 registered teams make the deadline. 10 teams are late, and two are never heard from again.


Just found out we're not eligible for "Best of San Diego" this year. Apparently, some of the teams cried nepotism last time, since CineForm was the only late film to make it in. According to the organizer, CineForm had the only late film that was GOOD, but I guess that sounds a little suspicious.

But we're still eligible for the Audience Award. So bring your friends and come on down to see us on Saturday, August 16 at 3:00 p.m. at the UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas. The long running time means there's more of us to love.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sequel, Part Cinq

This coming weekend is the San Diego incarnation of The 48 Hour Film Project, and David and I will be participating for the fifth time. The basic premise is that you have from 7 p.m. on Friday to 7 p.m. on Sunday to write, shoot, edit and complete a short film, using only volunteer resources and talent. At the kick-off, each team pulls a genre out of a hat (in order, ours have been Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Comedy and Fantasy again) and then every team is also assigned the same Character, Prop and Line of Dialogue that must be incorporated somewhere in the film.

As you might imagine, the adrenaline runs high on this sort of project--I've cried at least once during each of the previous efforts--and relationships are forged or torn asunder. Ultimately, we have crossed the finish line on time with a working disc three out of four of the years--last year, sadly, an eleventh-hour rendering issue made us late.

All the films, late or not, are screened at a San Diego theater during the following week, and those that make the deadline are also eligible for prizes, including the Audience Award, determined by ballot at the theater. Most years, I've leaned over and whispered to David, "We just lost the Audience Award" when the obvious winner finished screening; last year it wasn't so clear. Despite our tardiness, last year we were screened a second time in the "Best of San Diego" series, which was really nice.

This year, I'm excited to be working with some friends who haven't been part of our team, Cane Toad Productions, in the past (although I'm also mourning the loss of Matt Archer, our acting "mascot," and Adam Shaw, our wizard composer from last year, who are both forming their own teams this time.) My friend Robyn is flying in from Texas to join the fray, and my friend Grace--a faithful screening attendee in other years--is coming aboard. I've also recruited two former students--now married to each other--April and Hal, as writers.

I'm a little nervous, because while I have served as writer, actor, acting coach, editing assistant and craft services in past years (often all at once) this year I am tentatively scheduled to direct. It just seems a natural progression, as I am extremely bossy and end up ordering everyone around regardless. While it's true I'm not technically proficient, I do have an extensive knowledge of film, so I'm hoping that sort of counts as something akin to credentials. Most important, my dear husband is totally down with the idea (except if we draw Sci Fi--then I think he'll withdraw his support.)

If you're a local film buff, I hope you'll consider attending the screening, which will take place Saturday, August 16 at the Ultra Star Mission Valley Theater at Hazard Center at 3:00 p.m. 'Course, if we make the Best of San Diego, you'll also have the option of seeing us at 9:00 p.m.

In the mean time, check out videos of our previous films, Burnin' Love and Sir Late-a-Lot. Just type these titles into the search window, and enjoy!