Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday night countdown to the T of R

The crowds are finally here. Lots of portable fireplaces are burning and gas heaters are cranked up as everyone is counting down the minutes to midnight.

I took a walk along Colorado and Sierra Madre - saw basically the same scene I do every year in the neighborhood.

This year, however, was a bit different.

There's a propane station just up the road, and as I was walking towards it, I noticed one big, tall flame shooting up into the night sky. But, there weren't any fire engines around.

When I arrived, I saw that this "accidental" flame was intentional, and probably the most talked about fire pit on the last mile of the parade route tonight!

Sunday afternoon countdown to the T of R

OK, it's official. The crowds are arriving. The sidewalks are blocked. Traffic is horrible. And the sound level has increased by several orders of magnitude.

New Year's Day is coming to Pasadena.

Sunday morning countdown to the T of R

The "bustle" is coming to town, and by tonight, all those tranquil scenes I posted yesterday will be chock full of campers.

Most of the media coverage centers at the start of the parade route, but the last 1/2 mile or so is all residential. Families camp out on the sidewalks and traffic islands for years, sometimes generations. And, although camping is technically illegal until noon today, locals have already been marking their spots, such as below:

And just to clarify, in case some of you thought that the RV's didn't come out in convoys - take a look at this one gathering:

The one good thing about having hundreds of thousands of people camping on your city's streets overnight? If you really, really need "to go," you'll never have to search to far:

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Countdown to the T of R, Part 1

Saturday morning was really nice in Pasadena. Too bad it won't remain like that for long.

In just about 24 hours, parade viewers will be able to legally camp on sidewalks and traffic islands to secure a place to the view the parade come Monday morning.

Consequently, businesses are preparing for this public decampment, complete with chain-link fence, security guards, barriers - everything sans the concertina wire (reserved for federal buildings 365 days a year).

Geez. You know it's bad when even the Christians put up a blockade which shouts, "Stay Out!!"

Friday, December 29, 2006

Dueling reviews

One of the last seminars I took in grad school was by Margery Wolf, who wrote a somewhat-famous book on postmodern critiques of ethnographic research, whereby seemingly obvious and objective observations are interpreted, re-imagined, and disseminated through the particular biases of different observers. (See? Too much graduate school education affords one the ability to spew theoretical vocabulary with the best of them.)

I felt a bit like one such observer this morning, as I was bounced back and forth between two competing print reviews of Miss Potter, which opened this weekend in Los Angeles.

A couple weeks ago, I attended a SAG pre-screening with a Q&A by Christopher Noonan, Renée Zellweger, and Emily Watson. Frankly, I enjoyed this movie, and recommended it to my friends, even though biopics tend to bring out the notoriously fickle reviewer in all of us (i.e., “Did so-and-so really do that?” “Did people dress/act/speak like that?”).

Two reviewers - Carina Chocano in the LA Times, and Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly – obviously had their own list of fickle points to hit after viewing the movie.

For instance, gripes about Renée Zellweger:

LA Times

“Thirty-six and unmarried in 1902 (though, unaccountably, the movie makes her 32 the year she published "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," because, let's face it, nobody wants to see a movie about a 36-year-old spinster, there are limits)…”

LA Weekly

“Bronzed and russet all over, with quaintly autumnal production design to match, Zellweger’s Beatrix bustles about, flashing the Zellweger sour-lemons smile, dispensing maidenly charm and no-nonsense practicality as she shepherds her little tales from soup to nuts….”

And, the acting abilities of Ewan McGregor:

LA Times

“Still, the movie is redeemed by excellent performances. McGregor, in particular, lights up the film, and in her scenes with him… His Norman is a pure, puppyish innocent with a bounding enthusiasm for Potter's work.”

LA Weekly

“Smiling nervously as if not to unseat the mustache precariously affixed to his upper lip, this Mr. McGregor does nothing to convince us that the pallid swain is the love of Beatrix’s life….”

Take a read yourself, and perhaps even see the movie, then make up your mind.

On the other hand, I think Ella Taylor had her own Xmas wish-list for this end-of-year movie:

“Unfortunately for her, she has Emily Watson at her elbow, acting up a storm as the independent sister of Potter’s doomed fiancé. Which had me wishing the two actresses would either trade places and have done with it, or run with the promisingly homoerotic current that courses through most close same-sex friendships of that period.”

Oh, well. It is the LA Weekly that has all those costly-per-minute phone numbers listed in the back pages.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A native view of the parade

Since I am a native-born Pasadenan, I get asked questions about the Rose Parade all the time. (The most useful? "How do I deal with the street closures and parking?") That's for another time.

So, this year I decided before the weekend crowds decamp in the Rose City, I would show the readership of this small corner of the blogosphere what the "real" parade route looks like - instead of the one-dimensional example here.

First, the floats line on Orange Grove.

Then, they make the sometimes perilous turn onto Colorado Blvd. proper.

After the long trek down Colorado, they then head up Sierra Madre - on the "wrong" side of the street no less! Bet you didn't know that.

One of the last obstacles for tall floats is the 210 Freeway overpass. If you've ever wondered why all those really animated floats have to collapse down to a certain height, you're looking at it.

Finally, the parade ends at Pasadena High School/Victory Park. Years ago, float viewing was free on the grass at the park, but around 1978-1979 there were massive rainstorms, creating one big, festive mud pit, courtesy of the City of Pasadena.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Welcome to town. Now, obey the signs

There's not too much to report to my readership, given that I haven't been on set since last week.

There is, however, the impending arrival of the Rose Parade in Pasadena. (I'm a native - so please indulge me.)

Last year, we had a deluge of rain on Jan. 1st - causing teenage marching bands to be wet and gloomy, and seeds, petals, and banana leaves on floats to peel off and add to the general accumulation of trash on Colorado Blvd.

I walked to the end of my block and tried to watch for about an hour, complete with backwoods raingear, only to retreat when my fingers went numb, and I was completely soaked from the knees down.

But this rarely happens. The last time it rained on the parade previously was somewhere around 1949 - about the same year downtown Los Angeles had its last recorded snowfall.

But, things might change. Today we had a bunch of rainstorms blow through the LA Basin, and tonight we have (cold) Santa Ana winds gusting at around 40 mph, with occassional gusts up to 70 mph.

Next Monday might be very, very interesting.

In the meantime, the city is going a bit crazy with last-minute construction of bleachers, viewing areas (like this), and the general pandemic of "No Parking" zones, like in the pic above.

Enjoy the view, but just don't park anywhere nearby, or pay $200.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's hiatus, and the nerds are coming to town...

OK, it's hiatus in the industry, meaning almost all production in town is shut down through the first week of January, cast and crew members go scurrying across the globe on vacation, and almost everyone opens up their unemployment file.

About the same time in Pasadena, Colorado Blvd. starts sprouting bleachers like a poorly tended lawn sprouts mushrooms, Good Sam Club RV's pop-up on side streets, and the No Parking signs go up.

Then, things get weird.

If you haven't heard, the 118th Tournament of Roses has picked George Lucas as the Grand Marshall, to be escorted on the 5.6 mile route by almost 200 nerdy Star Wars fans (courtesy of today's Pasadena Star News).

I'm sure the founding fathers of the city never thought they'd see that (nor, of course, the year that Kermit the Frog was Grand Marshall).

Keep in touch - "bleacher shot of the day" will be coming soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Vocabulary on the day

A couple weeks into December marks the beginning of winter hiatus, the inevitable slow-down in production as television shows cease taping over the holiday break, movies may or may not continue filming (one I just worked on wrapped their US filming schedule, and moved overseas), and agencies generally slow down. It's the time when lots of folk in the industry go on unemployment.

So, I was lucky to get a few days this week, including one today on a show I haven't worked for months - and they remembered me (!), which was a nice bonus.

Anyway, a DGA trainee was on set, learning all the ins and outs of a working set, and starting up the steep directorial ladder (Trainee, Production Assistant, Key Set PA, 2nd 2nd AD, Key 2nd AD, 1st AD, and Director). But he was really cool about watching the crosses and timing, no chips on his shoulder, no bossing the background (most of whom have been doing this longer than he has), etc.

And as we chatted between takes (we were deep - a long way away from the boom mike), he admitted that he tried to keep out of his "normal" conversations the peculiar vocabulary that we all pick up on set.

If you use terms like the following with civilians on the street, you know you're too far deep into the industry to change:

"Copy That" Almost everyone in production has a Motorola, and those on set have earpieces. There's an old joke that the AD's always hear "voices in their heads," which is true. So you might be talking to the Key Set PA, who will then cock his head to one side, grab a microphone clipped to his shirt, and say, "copy that" to whomever has asked him to do something. Funny thing is, you do this dozens of times a day, and it become normal, or at least, you think it's normal. On one gig, a PA told me she heard her roommate say "copy that" to her mother on the phone, in lieu of "yes." "

"Flying In" (A personal favorite) When something is "flying in," it's being rushed in."Honey, can you bring the salad from the kitchen?" "Sure. Flying in, Mom."

"Flashing," and "Striking" Wardrobe always wants to take polaroid or digital photos of background in their own clothes or costumes so they can match the shot, if need be. Inevitably, they will always say, "flashing" before snapping the photo. Juicers will also sometimes call out "flashing" or, I am told more commonly for arclights and the big stuff, "striking," before switching them on. (Don't laugh - stages are rigged to go from night to day with the flick of a switch.) One friend told me her boyfriend, a gaffer, has it so ingrained in his daily habits, that he says, "striking" when turning on the lights at home.

"On The Day" (My all-time personal favorite) When the cameras are rolling, and you are acting, it is "on the day." So if the PA says, "On the day, cross over to that desk, make conversation for five beats, then peel off, banana around the principals, and exit camera right" it's crystal clear. At least, to those of us who do this for a living.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's About Time

OK, so I'm spending my Sunday afternoon doing some serious housecleaning on the blog.

Frankly, it needed it.

Dead Like Me

It's little-known outside the background community that being cast as a corpse constitutes bragging rights (toe tag, versus upper torso, versus whole torso, versus chest-torn-open, etc), and endless discussions in holding about who was the "better" dead fellow.

So it was delightful to hear a piece on NPR's Sunday Edition this morning about this topic. You can listen to it online here.

Weekend Edition Sunday, December 10, 2006 · The number of corpses on prime time television is on the rise -- and it presents a challege for TV's casting directors. Playing the part isn't easy. It requires more than just holding your breath and being able to stay still for a long time.

And as for me? Nah, never been a corpse. Someday...someday.

Friday, December 08, 2006

How not to make movies

Great article in today's Los Angeles Times about the control author Clive Cussler had over the making of Sahara, from his novel.

The best line, of course, is from one of the writers hired to polish the doomed script:

James V. Hart (Steven Spielberg's "Hook" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula") was paid about $600,000. He found Cussler difficult, but not unlike many novelists — protective of their material and unable to grasp the transition to cinema.

"I've worked with a lot of live authors," Hart testified. "The dead ones are easier to deal with."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Down the drain

One of the first things you learn on set is that "not all is as it appears to be."

All those nice offices, airports, hospital rooms, and even small town Americana, are constructed for the "look," and ease in filming.

This means that for a certain coverage shot, a whole wall might be unscrewed, unbolted, and moved out of the way so the cameras can get a better angle, usually in a matter of minutes. I've also seen the gaffer make the decision to take a portrait off the wall and have a large hole cut to bounce a light into a shot. Picture goes back on the wall, and no one is the wiser that there's a big gap behind the nice painting.

And other things which you take for granted, such as electrical outlets, phones, televisions, and trash bins are probably just props, and non-usable.

For instance, on show I used to work with an airport set, newcomers would often throw trash into the "official" looking bins, only to have props yell at them - the "real" trash cans were Rubbermaid bins with plastic liners.

But sometimes, even the vets forget this principle.

So today, I watched one of the leads on a show throw a cup of cold coffee down a kitchen sink, only to get yelled at by the crews as if he was a newbie backgrounder.

The sink's plumming was non-existant. That drain poured that bad cup of coffee onto the floor.

At least, today, they couldn't blame the background.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

The British journalist Toby Young once wrote a scathing tongue-in-cheek book, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” about his experiences working for Vanity Fair. He landed a choice job with excellent prospects, and proceeded to take the goodwill of everyone around him, and throw it back in their face.

I recently worked with someone like that.

“I don’t like doing this job.”

"Don’t like seeing my face on screen when I’m doing background.”

“I got something better to do tomorrow.”

The guy sure tried his best to channel his inner Toby Young. He refused to have make-up applied, until the 1st AD threatened to send him home. He kept folding his arms during the shot when the AD’s asked him not to. And at the end of the day, props was running around looking for him and his stuff to turn back in - he was nowhere to be seen.

During our downtime on set, they guy kept complaining, “I’ve been doing this for five years. I’m waiting for my career to take off,” then griped about not working enough days.

I said, “At least this time of the year you can see free screenings with Q&A by cast members, or the director, if you’re not working on a given day.” (Which is true: Voting season is approaching and all the PR machines in town are cranking up the buzz quotient to eleven.)

“Nah. That stuff is for wanna-be actors who suck.”

Wonder how our casting director will like hearing back from production that this guy took off without getting de-proped by the assistant prop master?

Oh yeah, and he was union.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday morning on film

Yes, Los Angeles in an industry town, just one without many meat packing plants. So the local papers are full of stories about "the business" that focus on things other than celebrity marriages, break-ups, and awards ceremonies.

Today's Los Angeles Times contains a couple such examples. Hidden away in the Business section is a highly informative article on the recent history of Panavision - one of the major manufacturers of motion picture cameras, including more recently, digital cameras.

Then, after throwing away a few pounds of glossy advertisements, I finally reached the Calendar section, which contains another good article on the travails of working with the new digital technology, specifically on Gibson's new flick Apocalypto.

Now, it's not just the inner nerd in me that likes to keep track on changes in cinematography, such as HD (high def), sometimes when on set, you need to know this is stuff is about.

Friday, I was on a late-night shoot, when the AD pulled out a few backgrounders from holding for the "HD sliver." A couple people asked, "What did he mean by that?"

If you've ever watched a football game on an HD television set, you know that resolution is much wider than "normal" feeds. Hence, when shooting the master shot in HD, the field is much wider than the so-called "Academy" ratio, so you need to fill those section of the room with people, otherwise the scene looks too spread or empty, and lacking in "atmosphere" which is what we are listed as on the daily call sheet.

In fact, if you ever get a chance to peer at the video feed monitor from a camera shooting in HD take a careful look - there will be two vertical lines showing the "standard" resolution covering about 80% of the screen, with the section on either side reflection the HD feed.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Have wardrobe bag, will work.

Sometimes in this business you feel like a medical intern; long hours, little sleep.

Because this week has been particularly slow for me, I went on the overnight rush lines last night (to fill vacancies created by the sick, wounded, or those with last-minute auditions in the morning).

I finally get the call around 2:30 am:

"Want to work today?"

(Duh...) "Ah, sure, why not? What's my role?"

"You're playing a doctor."

Told you.