Thursday, June 28, 2012

Poets, Peaches and Problems: 48 Hour Film Project #10

Well, folks, you asked, and I delivered.  This year's Set Diary!  I don't usually drag my feet this long, but to be honest I've been dreading the prospect of creating a light, humorous yarn out of what was truly our (or at least my) darkest hour thus far in this game.  It will be difficult to paint myself in a flattering light, so I guess I'll just have to own what's right there in the magnifying mirror.  Hope you still like me when I'm done.  Here goes.


5:00  Stuck in traffic on the 805, anxious to get to the kick-off at Hazard Center.  I know Karina, my new co-director, is there, eager and energetic, so that calms me a bit.  Because this year's competition is during the school year, I've had some shenanigans delivering Jarrah to the Rupperts, but it's taken care of and I know she's in good hands.  I don't think anyone appreciates as much as I do that there is no team without them--the filmmaking lifestyle is not child-friendly.

6:00  Waiting.  Karina and I have been joined by new actor Raymond, dependable Mark, David, new actor Jonathon, and our two CT families:  veterans the Voltas (Grace, Carl and 13-year-old Julianna) and the Colliers (Kate and her dad, Mike.)  Kate says "aw, shucks" when she realizes that Julianna's arrival will slightly edge her out of the "youngest Cane Toad" designation, since the youngest gets to pull the genre.

6:30  I'm so nervous.  We've checked in, chatted with Robyn, Duane and Sydney, and learned we're in Screening Group C.  The place is packed, and for once it doesn't look like mostly men.  As the time of drawing our genre draws nigh, I really start to panic we'll get Silent Film.  I just don't think I'd enjoy that, for obvious reasons.  Karina is worried we'll get Musical, which of course I've been yearning to get for the past 9 years.

7:00  But neither of those happen.  We get Comedy!  Our second time--last time was "Burnin' Love" in 2006.  Nothing wrong with Comedy.  We can work with that.  My mind is already churning with ideas involving strippers, escorts or anything else that will allow a little reverse objectification--we have a lot of young men this year.

7:10  The city elements!  Character:  Gretta or Gary Greenberg, newsperson.  Prop:  A cellphone (lazy!?!)  Line of dialogue:  "Where are we going?"  (Also can't hold a candle to "What would Elvis do?" from 2006.)  But Kate and I take off at a run so we can beat the crush out of the parking lot.  There are already about six people at Coco's when we arrive.

7:30  As usual I am yelling in swooping, incoherent bursts from the moment I enter Coco's until at least an hour later.  I've been telling Kate in the car about Woody Allen's 1972 essay "The Whore of Mensa" and how I want to write an "homage" to it, using all our young men.  She's encouraging and it seems like we get a lot done before we even see anyone.

8:00  Man, there are a lot of people here.  I think it's our biggest team ever.  We have all the usual suspects plus a bunch of newbies from Karina--Lance and Raymond from the auditions, Jonathon, Andrew and Kareem.  They are all really nice and very eager.  I do a lot of shouting, putting people in groups, telling them when and for how long they will eat, what tables they'll sit at.  In retrospect, this was probably the beginning of the breakdown.  Karina is sort of swept along in my despotic reign.  Which is typical for anyone who works with me.

9:00  Lots of ideas.  I don't remember some of them.  I'm intrigued by the one from David's team, because it involves a news magazine format, ala 60 Minutes, but invokes an idea I had at our first planning meeting, featuring an alterna-world where an East Coast-West Coast rivalry between two poets has the cultural import of a Tupac-Biggie feud.  I'm pleased that he's bringing it up again, but the group is largely resistant.  However, it's around this time I can see a spark of connection in Hilary, who--like me--has a background in poetry composition.  Hmmm.

9:45  We are headed to our place.  This worked so well last year.  A big, jolly group jovially contributing ideas, making the script better and better.  But just like in Groundhog Day, you can't force history to happen the same way twice.

10:30  I look around my living room, packed with a dozen people, and realize that I'm more concerned with entertaining them and being polite about their ideas than actually hammering out a script.  And unlike last year, we're really disagreeing about the basic plot.  I mean, NO ONE agrees.  Someone gives a pitch, and everyone else grimaces ruefully and we're on to the next one.  I suggest it's time to pare down the proverbial cooks.  Karina agrees and we excuse everyone except her, me, Hilary, Kareem and Mark, who was so helpful last year.  David is in the office, talking tech with Mike.


12:30  Or was it 1:00?  I don't know.  And I don't remember what happened in there.  All I know is that we were no closer to agreeing on a plot, which was becoming increasingly terrifying.  See, here's what happens, and it really sucks:  I am not a storyboarder.  I am, however, a fairly prolific and speedy composer of dialogue.  I can write dialogue, nay, I can spirit dialogue from my fingertips 'til the cows come home, but I can't come up with a beginning, middle and end without help.  So what typically happens?  We argue about the beginning, middle and end until 3 a.m.  And then?  I'm too blunted to write dialogue.  It's a lose-lose.

1:00  We're on to the "no, that sucks" "I don't even understand that" "that's boring" portion of the evening.  Where everyone is so tired and crabby that they lose sight of the big picture, which is this:  WHETHER OR NOT WE EVER COME UP WITH A GOOD IDEA, THE ENTIRE FILM IS DUE SUNDAY AT 7:30.  Having been through this a fair number of times now, time's winged chariot is always at my back.  Suddenly, I felt a weird, hot rage coursing through me.  Where did it come from?  I don't know.  I think it had something to do with the fact that I had my hands tied behind my back and couldn't do the one thing I'm really good at.  And I wanted to do it.   Now.  And at that hour?  I'm not censoring myself like I should.  No one is.  My impulse control is dimmed.  And my impulse was to kick everyone out and start typing.

You are probably thinking, wait, what?  What just happened?  Trust me, you weren't the only one.  I said "I want everyone to go home."  And Karina said, "That's a good idea--let's pare down again," and I said "No, everyone.  You, too.  Out.  I need to write this thing."  Then, as if this wasn't horrible enough, I added "Except Hilary."  I should mention that before this moment, I didn't really know Hilary.  I mean, we'd socialized a couple times in groups, but it's not like I can see into her soul.  But as surely as I knew I needed everyone gone, I knew I needed her to stay.  She would actually help me get this thing in writing.  And may I say that I was absolutely right?  Despite having never done this before, her instincts were tireless and unerring.  I couldn't have done it without her.  Karina stood up, her face burning, and she and the others trudged out.  I said I'd call her in the morning to discuss locations and cast.  The last thing she said was "I trust you."  I appreciated that, but I could tell I didn't deserve it.

2:00  There is no night.  There is no morning.  In the 48 Hour Film Project, it's like a Vegas casino that goes on and on.  You stay in the moment.  If you don't, you're dust.  We started writing instantly.  Like me, she can write wildly, recklessly, chaotically, and then pull it back from the abyss.  We were perfectly in synch.  We went with the poetry idea and we wrote and wrote.  Within an hour, it was looking like a plot and we started on the dialogue.  It was funny, but getting weirder by the hour.

4:00  I started putting stuff on FB.  "Need Brittany Spears-esque or early Madonna accessories."  "Need Victorian dress and snood."  "Who has a space where we can build a theater with a velvet curtain and a spot light?"  There's a luxurious feeling to these postings.  Someone will be reading them. Someone will figure it out.

5:00  I go into the bedroom, leaving Hilary at the table.  She says she'll sleep on the couch, soon.  I lay in the dark, my heart pounding, doing my usual thing which is talking David's ear off when he's attempting to sleep.  It's a compulsion.

6:00  I drift into a pit of nothingness.

7:30  The alarm goes off.  I don't feel awful because it seems like I wasn't really asleep at all.  I get up and stumble to the kitchen.  Hilary is asleep.  I stumble to the computer and my phone, both already chockablock with ideas and requests.  I respond as best I can, but my fingers don't seem to work well and also I want to clear everything with Karina since I've already disrespected her once.  I've e-mailed her the script but she hasn't said anything.  So I call her.

8:00  The conversation is Arctic.  She doesn't mention the script.  I don't know if she didn't read it or she just hates it that much.  I suggest filming at a certain gorgeous, coastal Christian college we scouted a few days before.  She has no response.  I suggest cast.  We disagree on one choice, but I hold firm.  I feel sick to my stomach--because I've been up all night, sure, but more because I can tell we have taken a wrong turn and I'm not sure we can backtrack.

9:00  Lots of phone calls and FB messages and people helpfully posting photos of their prop and set ideas.  Yeah, now that I think about it, that was really great.  I send out some individual texts with costume and prop requests and make the call:  we'll be meeting at the amphitheater.  I'm being vague because I don't want to get sued.  Can't seem to make a move.  David and Hilary leave before I do, and I drag my feet printing a script.

10:00  It's a seriously gray day.  This will not change.  What's more, it's actually COLD.  That is a 48 Hour first.  I am shivering by the time we wrap and relish the heat in my car.  But the amphitheater looks gorgeous in this light and there are already several cheerful Toads and Grace (always a balm to my soul) setting up coffee and bagels.  I'm weirdly starving from having stayed up all night.

10:30  What other way to say this?  Karina is not talking to me.  What's more, other people seem to be avoiding me as well.  This would be disconcerting at the best of times, but in my current state, is almost surreally upsetting.  I soldier on, reviewing wardrobe and figuring out our first set-ups.  David has brought a skateboard and without much thinking I say "Get Lance on that.  Maybe jumping off the steps."  When Lance politely notes that he does not skateboard, I reply "That's why it will be funny."  The boy is game for whatever, and he gets a lot of whatever for the rest of the day and night.

11:00.  Lance shows me the poet-y jeans and black shirt he brought.  Except NOT.  "Everything needs to be skin-tight."  I scan the crowd.  "Put on Kate's jeans.  And one of the girlie tops."  There is a lot of mirth and surprise, but Lance, who is like 6 feet tall and built like a hanger, ends up looking amazing in the jeggings and skin-tight sweater combos we have him in all day.  He also wears fake glasses and a beret, and basically looks both ridiculous and perfect.  Tracy is trying on suit and blouse combos, and Jessica offers to up-do her hair.  A word about Jessica:  she's the unsung hero of the weekend.  In her typical cheerful, competent way, she has nearly ever cast member in full hair and makeup--looking gorgeous--within minutes.  Is there nothing she can't do?

12:00  Shooting some amphitheater scenes.  In grand Cane Toad tradition, the early set-ups require a mind-numbing amount of prep and discussion.  David and Mike are on it.  Mike is another unsung hero.  He's there with the camera, quiet but totally professional, the entire weekend.  He also does sound, lights or anything we need, and never questions or complains.  Lance looks great reading Marianne Moore to the empty amphitheater, but Karina and I give him some conflicting direction and he gets a smidge cranky about it.  I'm fairly sure that's the last time Karina gives direction for the day.  I think she washes her hands of the whole scenario at that point.  I am well aware this is happening and it's excruciatingly awkward.  But I don't have time to think about it.

12:30  Shooting Andra as Beatrice being interviewed by Tracy/Gretta in what Hilary has hilariously named "one of her coastal tranquility gardens."  It's the "one of" part that kills me.  I breathe a sigh of relief watching Andra do her thing.  Casting her was a stroke of brilliance.  Which I kind of already knew from seeing her in other people's films.

1:00  Mark, Ben and Tim are wondering where we are.  We've been so vague about her plans and they've been working hard up at Go-Pro, cleaning and then building our theater from an empty room and a blank wall.  A word about Mark:  the guy is like some kind of Cane Toad mascot.  There's never a time when he's not smiling, working and still remembering to think about others (e.g. he brings food and drink, checks in with FB, asks what he can do.)  He must have been shopping and gathering props all night and morning and I don't think I really got to acknowledge how much that helped.  So, thank you, Mark.  You're a lifesaver.  They text me a photo of the completed theater and a warm, fuzzy feeling washes over me.  It looks so good.  Maybe this is going to work after all.

2:00  Robyn and Duane want to stop by with Channel 8 news.  We're a little concerned this may get us arrested, but don't exactly want to say that.  Mark and Co. also want to know when they'll see us.  We've been dithering for hours about whether or not to stop at Prospect Park, where Hilary has located some gravestones that seem perfect for a poet-y scene.  In the end, we decide we just can't spare the time.  That was the right call.  But I'm a bad communicator and Mark and Ben end up there anyway.  Oops.

3:00  I am wrecked.  Starving.  Freezing.  Needing to pee.  We've moved to the "wedding gardens" which I need to put in quotes because there are no gardens.  There's a big slab of concrete and a jaw-dropping ocean view.  Good enough.  Our newscaster is doing an intro in front of that view, and it looks great, thank you very much.  A weird vibe is developing among the troops.  Most of the cast and crew is lolling on the grass, in a circle, playing some sort of game and laughing their heads off.  Must be nice.  When David gets out of the car, no one offers to help him with the gear.  No one offers to carry the drinks and snacks.  The thing that really shocks me is when someone says "We need sound here" or "Who wants to hold the boom mike?" there are long, yawning silences.  It saddens me.  A few of us are working really, really hard.  Somehow this is probably my fault.  Next year we're going to have someone whose only job is to tell other people what to do, because I just don't have time.  Mark and Ben show up with pizza.  I get one slender slice and then it's all gone.  I nearly cry.

3:30  I stalk off in search of a bathroom.  Finally find one at the security office, where they are bizaarely kind and never ask what the @#$% I'm even doing there.  I feel done with this location and longing to be in a nice, warm Go-Pro with bathrooms on demand, surrounded by restaurants.  During the drive I am desperate to stay awake.  I wonder why this hasn't happened before, and I realize I usually have a car full of people.  This weekend feels lonely.

4:30  At Go-Pro and energy returning.  The theater that Mark, Tim and Ben have cleaned and built is amazing.  I mean, it really look like a night club.  There's a big fridge full of cold sodas.  I set up all our snacks (not for long, as we end up using that table for filming) and start assessing our needs.  First up:  scenes that require daylight.  We start preparing Julianna and Raymond for the "Chakra" interview on the rooftop.  Jessica is a wiz and curls J's hair so prettily she's able to wear it to her choir concert the next day.  I stride by Andrew and bellow "I need your pants off so I can get a look at your underwear."  I've barely acknowledged him but as I pass, I indulge in a slight smile.  Only once a year do I get to shout commands like this.  Andrew's flesh is bared in no time, and he's wrapped in a batik sarong.  He remains thus clad for the next eight hours.  Everyone is making fun of how I say "SAR-ong."  Whatever.

5:00  More costume decisions.  I discover that Andra is no longer in possession of the extensive wardrobe she had this morning--why?  She stopped at home between Point Loma and Cardiff to drop it off.  "Because you knew you were starring in a movie with no budget that had to be shot in one day?  That's why you took it home?"  She is sorry, and says she didn't realize she had any more scenes.  Since I've never shown anyone a script, perhaps she can be forgiven for this assumption.  I tell Kate it's time for her Sullen Goth Teen transformation, and she emerges in a black velvet dress with angel sleeves.  I make a peculiar face when I see her in it.  "You hate it," she says, crestfallen.  "I love it." I say.  "Which is why I want you to take it off and give it to Andra.  ANDRA!   I FOUND YOUR DRESS!"  Just then Jonothan pulls out a very Harry-Potter-esque velvet cape with a hood.  "I found your cape, TOOOOO!"   The hood is too perfect draped over Andra's halo of hair.  I clap with glee.  I'm stalking about, demanding a glop of hair gel here and tighter pants there.  You can't say I don't have a vision.

5:30  Some quick audio-free scenes in the office, including Andra typing at Hilary's antique typewriter with a cup of espresso near her.  I've discovered the espresso cup in a high cupboard, coated in an unidentifiable thick crud.  "Don't drink this," I say when I place it near her.  We also get her composing magnetic poetry on the fridge.  She would like more direction about what I mean by "compose."  I tell her throw some words up there in an interesting way.  All weekend, no one seems to believe me that this is how poetry is made.

6:00  Time for the roof shoot.  It's very windy up there, which interferes with the audio, and occasionally a motorcycle spits through the take.  This becomes a particular problem when we realize that Raymond, though a very funny actor, is a bit of a soft-talker.  Half the time I can't hear him.  Someone helpfully suggests that we'll bring him up in post, but I silence that foolish talk.  We don't have time for that kind of post.  Raymond is also struggling with his lines, since I've given him a grand total of 30 seconds to learn them.  On one take, we all hold our breath and risk asphyxiation when he goes all silent, then reaches out and pets Julianna's head like she's a golden retriever.  It's fabulously weird.  Julianna really shines in this sequence--when she murmurs "I just let the energy flow OUT and BACK," I have to bite my arm so I don't lose it.

7:00  Strawberry time!  Not sure how the shoot got so fruit-heavy (oh, hell, sure I know) or if I ever thanked Jessica for being our Produce Wrangler, but it's time for Lance to get messy.  Of course, in the spirit of the day, he has no idea why he's being asked to get messy, but he doesn't argue.  A word about Lance:  the guy's a rock star.  First of all, he actually looks beautiful wearing the pants of a 16-year-old girl and covered in fruit effluvia, which doesn't hurt.  But mostly, it's the way he commits.  If we want him to sing "dipthong!" like an opera singer or gaze longingly at a half-naked boy with a bowl of fruit, he's all in, because that's the kind of pro he is.  When his director says jump, he says into what.  Fist bump to you, Lance.  In this scene, we've asked him to stare intensely at Tracy/Gretta while fondling two strawberries, and eventually mash them into his face.  Of course, we want to do this in one take, so we have some practice rounds.  The practice rounds are hysterical, but the real thing...well, it takes my breath away.

8:00  Feeling sort of triumphant about the strawberry success, so I announce it's time for dinner.  Mark takes orders and fetches us all a meal from across the street.  As I bite into my burger, I realize it's the first thing I've eaten (save that slender pizza slice) since about 9 a.m.  I almost close my eyes in ecstasy.

8:30  Having some texts with Robyn.  She is probably too polite to express shock and dismay when I say "only 15 scenes to go!"  We have never been this far behind.  Some of the biggest scenes are still to shoot.  But there's nothing to be done except put our heads down and push through.

9:00  Scenes in the Go-Pro lobby.  We have an improv session with Sullen Goth Teen Kate and Greta, which is funny and looks great but doesn't make it into the film.  We have a scene where the two rival poets agree to put their differences aside, which in retrospect probably could have been developed more.  And then we have Twig.  Ah, Twig.  Twig is so Twig that it's now difficult to remember his name is Jonothan.  He's a great, big ball of enthusiastic mayhem, covered in tattoos, guyliner and hair gel, looking like a million bucks.  And because he's come to us pre-advertised as an improver, I've got some work for him to do.  We set him up with Greta, who is simply to ask him "How did you get the name Twig?" and then we run camera.  And run it.  We don't cut; we simply pause, I point, and we go again.  The interplay we get here is definitely the most demented of the day.  From the moment he first responds, "I was born in the womb..." (as opposed to what?? :)) we were all losing it.  As he progressed to "and was delivered with tongue depressors!" everyone is struggling not to destroy the beauty being wrought before us.  Finally, it's the take where Tracy brusquely replies "That's sort of...sad." that we just can't resist.

10:00  Speaking of Twig, he's playing the "renowned performance artist husband" of one of our poets, and oh boy, do I have performance art in mind for him.  In point of fact, I once sat politely through a very long "concert" at UCSD consisting of nothing more than six people in a black box atonally  snapping sticks and crumpling newspapers, and feel it's most certainly film-worthy here.  At the last second (gotta love this competition) we throw in Carl with his conga drum, looking cooler than thou in his fedora, smacking out a juicy rhythm while Twig and Jessica break it down with sticks on each side of him.  Like our other "theater," this one was constructed out of a blank wall by our super-skilled set designers, and it looks amazing.  In fact, it looks so amazing, and sounds so good, that I let camera roll for six minutes while they just go nuts.  Partly, I'm riveted to the show, and partly, I'm convinced the best bit will be at the crescendo of their inspiration.  And I don't think I'm wrong.  I watch them serenely, ignoring David in the corner of my eye making slashing motions across his throat.  I don't have to listen to him.  I'm the director, dammit.  And all this drumming and twig-snapping is so very relaxing.

11:00  Andrew is finally going to get to show off that sarong.  It's been a long day and he's sun-burned, so I ask Jessica to powder him before his big moment, offering a bowl of peaches to poet Lance (aka Wolverine.)  Why?  Well, you'd have to go back to 4:00 a.m. when Hilary and I came up with it.  Something to do with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," I believe.  You know, your average T.S. Elliott visual gag.  Been done a million times.  I had envisioned this scene on a velvet chaise lounge, but since Go-Pro doesn't have so much as a non-velvet chaise lounge, we have to get creative.  I settle on an exercise ball, and we outfit Lance in Twig's smoking jacket (dude's a one-man costume shop) and go for it.  Only for some reason, when Andrew comes in opens with "Forbidden fruit, sire?" in the ponciest English accent you've ever heard, to which Lance rises to the occasion with an even poncier one.  At which point, I literally fall on the floor and curl into a ball with convulsive giggles.  "Um, are we making a Monty Python movie?" I ask, but it takes me like five minutes to ask it, because I'm laughing so hard.  I decide this might be the craziest movie we've ever made.  But it's not.


12:00  The witching hour.  Which is appropriate, because it's finally time to film the epic Poetry Slam between Wolverine and Beatrice.  We've got our candles and our spotlights, our two figures arranged artfully against a red background, both clad in black.  First, we film each one in a bravura performance of their respective poems.  And may I say, if neither has ever felt the Call of the Bard, they must be some of the best actors on the planet?  Because I was convinced.  I spent four years sitting in musty bookshops listening to earnest MFA students shout their latest pages with utter conviction, and my friends:  I was convinced.  I was moved.  I almost shed tears.  Well, I did shed tears.  Because the first thing I knew in my heart after watching them both KILL IT was we would hardly be able to use any of it.  Ah, the heartbreak of the 7 minute film.  They both have their forms of mastery.  Lance, whose praises I've already sung, has incredible depth and range in his voice.  It's all over the map, swooping and dipping, but he controls it utterly.  Andra, sweet Andra, almost luminous in her loveliness, has a tonal quality so rich and buttery, it envelopes you.  It's warm and luscious and you want to roll around in it.  I could listen to her chant the phone book.  For all I know, she did.

1:30  Ish.  Do I really remember what time it was?  Readers, I do not.  I know that I posted on FB "It's a wrap!" when it was close to 3:00.  And I remember how Tracy, wonderful Tracy, who's one of my favorite people, took a bullet for the team and offered to do all her voice overs (and lo, there were many) after everyone else had knocked off for the night.  And not just voice overs, but transitional scenes that the newsmagazine anchor would normally do fresh out of hair at 6:00 a.m. after having napped in the makeup chair and downing two espressos.  Meaning, she had to sound light and perky but COMMITTED, and none of those three things are easy when you've been filming--let's be honest--when you've been SHLEPPING around San Diego for the past 16 hours.  But she did it, and she didn't complain, and her scenes look and sound great, because she's just that good.  After two years of working with her, I know I can count on her.  Actually, want to hear something weird?  I knew I could count on her after a 10 minute conversation at a 48 Hours Meet n' Greet when the toughest thing we'd done together was swap stories of our Junior Years Abroad in London.  I just have good instincts like that.

2:30  David and Mark hard still hard at work recording Tracy's voiceovers, and one of my favorite moments happened.  Ben is sitting nearby, watching with interest, though if he ever does this with us again he's probably going to sleep all day Saturday after what we put him through.  We've already drafted the poor boy into playing MC for our Poetry Slam and he's had to listen to me criticize his line readings.  This after building sets, moving trash, being sent to the wrong location and various other indignities he's suffered on this day, and his real job?  Hasn't yet begun.  He's our editor.  I glance over and see his head swoop down to his chest--once, twice, three times--on the fourth it stayed slumped.  And for reasons I can no longer discern, I whisper.  "Benjiiiiii...Benji..." until he lifts his head.  He smiles.  I whisper, "I need you to get up and walk to the conference room, where Hilary has a camp bed set up for you."  His eyes widen momentarily.  "Oh, I'm fine.  I'm going to sleep in my truck.  "No, you're not," I whisper, smiling beautifically but brooking no argument, "I need you to go lie down now.  We need you fresh in a few hours.  Go."  He doesn't even bother to answer, but rises, walks the few feet to the conference room, and falls on the camp bed in a stupor.  There's a good boy.

3:30  Hilary and I go to my car.  I'm not sure how we ended up spending the weekend together but I'm glad for the company driving home.  Very glad.  There's lots to talk about, and that keeps me awake.

4:30 At the house, we drift--me to my room, her to the couch for her second night under Jarrah's pink blankie.  In time-honored tradition, I attempt to read US Weekly until I realize that my hands and feet are actually numb.  While I'm wondering about this, I black out.

7:00  Alarm.  A pain like a spear slices out of my brain between my eyes, like I'm growing a unicorn horn.  I am able to stumble to my purse for two Advil and back to bed.  That is what I am able.

8:00  I wake again.  Horn has recessed.  I shower.  I tiptoe out to the living room, where Hilary is sleeping coma-like.  I'm afraid I'll scare her, so I move slowly and whisper, but I scare her anyway.  How could I not?  "We should leave soon.  I'm going to walk away now since you probably don't feel like talking."  Neither of us figures out how to eat or have coffee so we have to hope it will happen in Cardiff.

9:00  On our way.  Of course, David isn't answering my texts.  If I know him, he's been up most of the night and has passed out for a bit now.  (This turns out to be true.)  I decide that our first year editing across the street from VG Bakery is a good reason for donuts.  Finally get David on the BluTooth, who tells me that we seem to be missing some of Tracy's voiceovers.  Since we recorded them at 3:00 a.m., I'm hardly surprised.  Time to call out our "all actors are on 30 minute call" privileges.  Tracy is on it.  We tell her to nix hair and makeup for the moment, since we may be able to do this without picture.

10:00  Ben is up and working the rough cut and seems alert and cheerful.  That's good news.  Tracy is on her way, and we've got donuts.  Also good news.  The next thing to tackle is the ending.  David can't find one.  Hilary and I brainstorm a Tracy-voiceover that will make good use of our Poetry Slam footage, and be hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.  That's why they pay us the big bucks.  The two of us are in perfect concert at this point, and when I pose the question:  "What is it that makes us love poetry, that could reach all the people who have been rolling their eyes all weekend?" we are off and running.  The results bring tears to my eyes, though the funniest part is sharing it with Tracy:  I read the paragraph to her in soaring, passionate waves, and when I'm done, she's looking at me with great focus:  "I see.  So I have to make it seem like it's something I really, really care about."  D'oh.  Yeah, that would be good.  I give her an affectionate shoulder pat and say "You're thinking like an actor.  Which is exactly what I want."

11:00  I watch the chunk that Ben has edited and isolate the two slow bits instantly.  I actually thrill myself with my ability to pinpoint pacing issues in seconds.  I'm not sure if it's my experience with this competition, or a lifetime of movie-watching that makes me so sharp in this area, but all I can say is, if I ever figured out how to run the actual software, look out, world.  I'd be editing these babies myself in around 10 minutes.  Which is not to say that Ben isn't a genius.  Let this be a shout-out to Ben:  he's quick, he's clever, and he never condescends.  The opposite, in fact.  I've never had an editor talk UP to me before.  "So you're saying that 30 is too slow?  I figure I could take it to 45 but that's pushing it."  "Um, that's great, Ben.  I have no idea what you're saying.  Can you make it faster?"  He's also the most laid-back guy ever born.  All my sturm und drang ruffles him not at all, at least not perceptibly.  All day he must hear my little flip-flops pounding towards his back, followed by a stream of incoherent commands, but he rolls with it.

12:00  Marie is in regular contact now and I'm the one who needs to make sure she's getting chunks of edited movie to inspire her music.  She, too, is an amazingly fast and intuitive worker, but she requires communication.  The boys wave me away with nods when I say it's time to be sending stuff to Marie, and then promptly forget.  It's around now that I realize why Cane Toad needs me:  men are very good at staying on task.  Put something interesting in front of their faces and they'll knuckle down and do it right.  But what I'm good at is like the trantric god with multiples arms and legs waving in every direction:  "Shorten right here!  Add music here!  Is someone working the credits?  Be sure to spellcheck.  Anyone getting lunch?  Bring up the volume right after this and cut out the drums!"  I have the ability to keep about 20 intentions on my radar at any given moment.  This may be my only skill, but I believe it's a big one.

1:00  Working with David to edit the finale sequence.  This is a nice time.  Considering we are married and always do this project together, we generally see very little of each other during the weekend and speak even less.  So getting to sit down and put our talents together, and then see the marriage of those talents emerging, is good for the soul.  We can speak in a sort of shorthand and the visual emerges quickly.  It's quiet and productive and for nearly an hour we're in our own little bubble, except when people come in to ask about sound effects and captions for our fake US Weekly cover and how we want the credits to look.

1:30  Right about now I get more hopeful.  This might be a movie after all.  It's quiet at Go-Pro today, though we are working in tandem with another team, which is a first.  I'm a trifle saddened that so much of our team from the night before has vanished, and unlike in previous years, they don't check in with encouraging words or offers of coffee, but on the other hand, I don't have to worry about the needs of a couple dozen people, either.  I think it will be good to have a much smaller team next year, and for people to know exactly what they're responsible for before the weekend starts.

2:00-4:00  Lots of stuff happening and actually getting done.  Receiving music files from Marie to review.  They sound great.  David is running some text through some sort of microscope thingo that makes text look, well, textured.  Mike is finding us applause that sounds like a concert hall.  Mark is hard at work on our fake US Weekly cover.  Documents are in order and we're finding the correct arrangement for the credits (why do we never remember from year to year?)  I'm insisting to David that I already know the sequence I want over the credits, and I don't want it edited at all.  I get deliriously hungry and Tracy, who's hanging around in case we suddenly decide to torment her again, gets us some sandwiches that taste like heaven.  In my nervous way, I'm also folding clothes, picking up trash, putting things to rights in anonymous offices we've been "borrowing" since yesterday afternoon.  I can't help myself.  I'm like a shark.  If I stop moving, I will fall asleep.  Which is why this section is vague.  At this point, I'd been awake since 6:30 Friday morning, so it's what I've got.

4:30  Something crystallizes for me around this time and I know exactly what I want, exactly what we need.  I'm able to whiz through the footage and tap into some "feel the force" place within me and say "Stop.  Those three lines are slow.  Cut the third.  Find another take for scene 2 that ends with another beat.  Insert drums starting after 'dipthong' and bring them up right after the ear wiggle.  Drop the strings here and out as soon as he looks down."  I'm paraphrasing, but that's about how it goes.  Whatever time we have left, is the perfect amount of time to do what I need to do.

5:00  It is dawning on me that Hilary has not only co-written the script and masterminded most of the poetry (assisted nimbly by her muses Kate and Julianna) but she has been calmly and effectively co-editing all day and I'm fairly certain she can run the software.  In fact (how can this be?) I've barely sat down with Ben, trusting implicitly that she has it under control.  As I watch the final edits, it occurs to me that I haven't given "take approval" for a lot of this.  And it looks great.  Of course, I have my stuff.  For instance, I want a lot of music, as much as we can wedge in there, even if a news magazine wouldn't.  Movies without music always look rookie to me.  And I like my zippy transitions.  Years upon years of 48 Hours screenings filled with long, luxurious pans across totally ordinary front yards or someone's shoe have shown me the virtue of the fast edit.  Now, I'm not a proponent of the "Glee"-style edit, when you can barely tell who someone is before you're flying after something or someone else, but I don't want any dead spots and by now, I know what a dead spot is.

6:00  We need to render.  Luckily, I've learned by now that it really doesn't take that long, unless something inexplicably won't sync.  Of course, we realize that a scene is missing as we are about to start.  Whither Julianna's fingerless gloves?  A frantic search yields the missing footage.  Of course the film is over time, and we're shaving off seconds wherever we can, and now I want to add something?  Yes, I do.  Ben and Hilary come up with a solution, and the scene is back in.

6:30  We need to walk out the door by 6:45 and not a minute later.  I'm going to the finish line, and Hilary has agreed to go, too.  David will hang back, clean up and collect Jarrah.  Mark volunteers to go with an early edit, one without music.  This has become a sort of tradition for Cane Toad, to guarantee we aren't late.  In recent years, it hasn't been necessary, though I have to sort of strenuously insist that Mark is not to turn in this version unless he absolutely knows the rest of us are late.  You can only turn in one version.

6:50  I'm wringing my hands, stalking around and emitting unintelligible little screams.  The "good" version is out!  Minutes later, a second copy!  Hilary and I grab our envelopes of documents and run for the door.  My heart is pounding, though it sounds sort of slow and muted, like maybe my body is shutting down from the abuse.  As I peel around the corner from their quiet neighborhood and screech towards the freeway, I think I probably shouldn't be driving, and definitely not alone.

7:10  I'm making great time, even though it's a much longer way this year.  All I have to do is remember to take the 805...I watch it sail by.  WHAT AM I DOING?  WHY DID I JUST DO THAT?  Okay, okay, it's okay.  I'll take the 5 to the 52 and then the 163.

7:15  I watch the 163 disappear as if in a dream.  Sam, you are scaring me.  Do you WANT the movie to be late?  Do you?  Is that what you want?  Will it freak you out if I tell you that all of that was OUT LOUD?

7:20  I don't trust myself anymore.  I exit on Friars Road and tell myself it's a long way but at least I know I can't get lost because the drop-off is actually on this street.  I keep my focus on the lights and try not to speed.

7:24  I'm turning left into the parking lot.  I call Mark.  "I'm here, don't turn anything in!  I'm going to make it!"

7:26  I screech up to the Randy Jones BBQ and run for the door.  When I enter, there's a long line, but I'm in it.  I'm in it.  Four minutes early.  After all that.

7:30  I make it to the front of the line before the count down this year.  I'm missing some sort of envelope and consider panicking but then Robyn reaches into a box and pulls out a spare.  Love that Robyn.  And the film is IN.  Hilary is with me and we sink into the nearest table, which is covered with someone's dirty dishes.  I don't care.  The film is in and I'm sitting down.  I consider drinking the watery Coke in front of me.

7:45  We're sort of marveling that we're here, amidst all the buzz, barely able to focus.  The waitress asks if we'd like to order.  Yes, as a matter of fact.  We end up joining Robyn and Sydney at the drop-off table, where we're audience to all sorts of heart-breaking little moments, like the two women who turn in their envelope with the "48" blacked out and "49 1/2" written over it.  Cute.  But it's still late.

8:30  A lovely lethargy is enveloping my limbs.  I've got a Coke.  Some food.  Good company.  And the film is in and actually pretty good.  This is accomplishment on steroids.  Which I guess is why I keep coming back for more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sweep O' The Pirates: Arrrrr!

Can you believe I'm still working on my 48 Hour Film Project 2012 set diary?  Don't answer that.  23 days later, last night was the premiere of our comedy, Rhymes of the Rich and Famous, coming soon to a Facebook and Vimeo near you.

This year, we were ousted from the Eden of Hazard Center, and screened in Poway.  It was a nice theater, and we enjoyed the team dinner at The Brigantine beforehand.  When I took that first sip of my Cosmo, I was like "Oh yes.  I needed that."  It's been a long while since I've had a drink, and driving to the theater felt like I must have crossed into Arizona, it took so long.  This year, it was hard for me to get excited about all the usual stuff I get excited about.  I didn't get my nails done, or buy a new dress.  My spirit is still a trifle crushed from the hardships of the weekend.  But in the end, the thrill of the thing infected me, and on top of my (recycled) black dress, hand-me-down shoes from a Birdie castmate and too much navy eyeshadow from my David and Lisa prop bag, I affixed a feathered fascinator.  That put me in the mood.

Some of our team was unaccounted for.  I have to stop beating myself up about this.  Who knows what happens to people, and why.  I do the best I can as Cane Toad social director; I can do no more than that.  We did have around 20 people at dinner, and one of the cheerier additions was my friend Rachel from Birdie, who wasn't even in town the weekend of the competition, but came out in full celebratory regalia, took photos, smiled a lot and held my hand during the scary parts.  Thank you, Rachel!

We ended up way too close to the front when we finally got into the theater--a first.  Generally, there are about five different factions waving me down with saved seats, but alas, not this year.  I'll try not to read into it.

I felt like the Group C films were uniformly strong.  Clearly, San Diego is both attracting some wonderful filmmaking talent, and grooming more experienced teams year upon year.  It was a lot of fun to watch them, everything from witches to murder mystery musicals to silent films with ink blots.  I almost forgot to be nervous for our film, which was in the second to last position--a very good place to be.

I really did get caught up in the enjoyment of watching our film on the big screen, with an appreciative audience.  They laughed a lot, and applauded heartily at the end.  It felt good.

And then...there were the pirates.  The pirates actually had some other title than just "the pirates," but had they just been called "the pirates" they still would have been the fist-pumping, hootin-and-hollerin champs of the night. Their film opened with a CGI shot of an actual pirate ship coming into land.  Um...what?  And then there were extremely good-looking people in pantaloons, wielding cutlasses and spouting campy dialogue.  Okay, promising, but not a slam dunk...but oh.  Great smash cut to a girl reading a romance novel.  The pirates are in her book.  Oh, no.  The main character is a girl, who's not objectified in any way, and she's READING.  Be still, my heart.  The film was suspiciously polished.  It looked and sounded like a million bucks.  It had people rearing on actual horses.  It had realistic looking fight scenes.  It was funny and exciting.  IT HAD A SCENE IN A BOOKSTORE.  When the lights went up, after the fun and punchy ending, I turned to David and said, "Well, then."  He laughed.

All the filmmakers went to the front of the room to be interviewed.  I was proud of myself for not messing up or babbling crazily.  I also remembered to thank my co-writer when asked about the writing.  When the pirate people talked, the guy was funny, charming, self-deprecating and smooth, just like the film.  Later I told David, "I have a theory.  The guy was as good as the film.  And the film was just too good.  I'm thinking he might have been animatronic."

We decamped to the Brig and a bunch of us snuggled at a couple tables, drinking and laughing.  Unlike in past years, I wasn't that nervous.  I knew we couldn't win against the Pirates, and no one disagreed with me, which isn't typical.  The disagreeing part, I mean.  It took a long time for Duane and Robyn to come in, and when they did, I almost didn't want to stand up.

But we did.  And we didn't come in second.  Or third.  Wow.  That smarts.  For the past three years, we've always been mentioned.  Robyn did come over, very sweetly, and let us know that we came in fourth, which buttered the burn a bit.

David and I stayed until everyone else was gone, and then he helped me, limping, to the car.  But I actually felt pretty good.  Once upon a time it was enough to get dressed up, have a cocktail and see our movie on the big screen with a gang of pals, and I think I was able to remember that. And even Grommets, who went all the way to freakin' Cannes with their movie a couple years ago, didn't win the audience choice the following year.  You can't win all the time.  That would be weird.  But more than weird:  statistically impossible.  We were soundly beaten by the Pirates, as was everyone else, and that's the way it should be.

We learn and grow, and there's always next year.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pssst! Over Here!

I'm still around.  This isn't going to be one of those dusty, moldy blogs with "light foxing" tossed into the corners of the internet, showing up on people's blog rolls with the damning addendum "Last Updated 2 Years Ago."  No, my friends, that is just not happening.

For a while, I was very distracted by our New York trip.  Yes, we went to New York!  Had a wonderful time.  Maybe I'll blog about it.

When I got back, I hit the ground running with interviews and meetings for this year's (early) 48 Hour Film Project.  We finished that film and are awaiting our screening, though it almost killed me.  Emotionally and physically, this was the hardest year yet.  But we got it in on time.  More details to follow.

Jarrah is about to finish first grade.  I don't think it hit me until she brought home a bunch of stuff from the walls this week--all the art projects I helped with week after week, and a very cute "journal" of best wishes from everyone in the class:  theme and variations on "you are smart, you are pretty, you are nice." "Did everyone's say that stuff?" I asked.  "Pretty much," quoth she.  Hey, works for me.  I'd like 22 people to tell me how smart, pretty and nice I am.

I've also been working towards an audition for Pippin, and practiced my audition song--"Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress, originally (and wonderfully) performed by Carol Burnett, feverishly for a couple of weeks.  Of course, then the audition was scheduled for the day after the 48, when I hadn't slept in 60 hours, and spent the majority of my time either yelling or swilling Coke and jelly donuts.  My voice coach reminded me that I can always do my best, and my best will change each day.  My best, such as it was, was enough to get me a callback, though it was clear from the fact that I did not sing (!?) at the callback (I did a jazz combination and cold reads) that I wasn't being considered for a lead role.  Which is okay, because the "Band of Players" in Pippin has a lot to do.

And that's where I am.  Just had the first read-through on Saturday, and am excited to be working with five former and beloved castmates from David and Lisa and Bye Bye Birdie.  So glad to have a summer project, and really looking forward to doing some dancing this time.  Maybe with jazz hands!  Oh joy.

Oh, I also have a little start-up venture in the works.  I've been asked by a former director and some other theater friends to join the board of a fledgling non-profit theater company, which thrills me as I might have some opportunities to direct in future.  I just "took a meeting" to help with writing the mission statement, which I enjoyed immensely.  More info to follow.

We're also talking about a family vacation sometime in the last three weeks of August, when my show closes.  Normally, July and August are structured around ComicCon and 48 Hours, but as the one was early and the other sold out on-line before we could get tickets (a first!  sob!) we are footloose and fancy-free until Labor Day.  My dream is to walk across Scotland, but perhaps in a summer where Great Britain is hosting the Olympics, we should defer.  Other possibilities are a drive through Canada, Montana or Maine up into Nova Scotia.  If you have any suggestions that might delight or at least not bore a social 7-year-old, give a shout, would you?

And I'll be sure to check in soon.  If you waited for me, thanks for that.  Smooches.