Friday, June 11, 2010

Film, Video-tape and No Lie Hi-Def

I've shot film, then video tape, now digital, down through my sordid life. Film was a commitment, you shot it, then either developed it or sent it out to a lab and prayed they didn't fry, over-develop or horrors, lose your negatives.

Then video tape came along, nice package, loss of picture quality, but most of us would accept the quick and easy use of it in exchange for waiting for the film to come back from the lab.

Now the wonders of digital. Hi-def allows us to look at the real, un-retouched subject.

Which is scary as hell for people in the movie biz who got by on soft focus lens all these years.

Now, everyone can be Fellini.

Just bring the talent.

Don't worry, there won't be any hi-def video here.

I'm still using video-tape..........for the time being.


Everything was set, actors were in their places. The train moved a few minutes later, went down the tracks and stopped. We sat there, then went forward again. Stopped. We backed up to the station, went forward again, stopped.

During this time, I'm watching the camera crews outside, setting up cameras, moving them around, adjusting for angles. Virginia asking me questions the whole time. I explain to her that you can set up, think that it'll be a good angle, then find out that something affects the shot. So, you move the camera, get set up and try again. This was interesting, for about the first three times. After we had been up and down the same stretch of railroad tracks about a dozen times, she was getting bored with it all.

We took to looking for unusual landmarks, strange scenery, you know, stuff that's never going to be seen if you only go past it one time. Crew pissing against trees in the woods, stuff like that. It was very convenient, they fed us, put us on this train, then we find out that the toilets don't work. OK, it wasn't that they didn't work. They had been removed. Which tends to keep people from using them. As you might guess, this upset the ladies more than the gents. We just took to the woods. Still have to be careful, the city boys didn't know about the funny leaves. Which can give you a nice rash in a tender area. You have to be careful when going splishy-splashy on the side of that tree. It might get its revenge in a couple of days. Poison oak and poison ivy love to break out all over. Don't itch that rash, use a scrub brush on it! Hey, you didn’t really wipe with that leaf, did you? Your girlfriend is going to hate you.

After they had shot some exteriors, we were allowed to take a break and gnaw on some snacks. Which was nice of them, since it was only about 1PM. Yes, I know that it would only be 10AM in Hollywood, but lunchtime is lunchtime. Here, we call it ’dinner’ and some people eat at 11 AM. Which is normal if you work ’farm hours’. Try arguing with your stomach, it always wins. We did another three hours worth of 'work' before taking our lunch break, at 4 PM! You know that you're working for Yankees, most Southerners eat supper around 5.

They took the train back to the station and let us out. The lines at the porta-potties weren't long, but the expressions of relief were priceless. We all chowed down, wondering what was next, since we were only four hours late, according to the shooting schedule. Which as shooting schedules go, really isn’t too bad.

Before we headed in for lunch, a near fatal mishap occurred. The Star and some of the crew were engaged in what could only be termed as 'screwing around'. Someone had decided that they should throw rocks at a telephone pole, while waiting for the next camera set-up. Virginia and I sat in the train and watched this event.

The train was stopped near a trestle over a road, which was about 40 feet below us. The telephone pole was on the other side of the road, probably a good two hundred feet away.

Now, I don't care who you are, even with a rocket arm and throwing a perfectly round stone, you're going to have a hard time making the distance, much less hitting the telephone pole. It was like watching schoolboys, egging each other on. Virginia shook her head in amazement. The schoolteacher in her was probably screaming to discipline them. I watched for a while, head turned to look out the window behind me. It didn't take too long to get bored with the whole thing. So, I missed the most exciting event of the day.

One of the couples, who were truly a couple, some young married kids who both got hired to be on the film, were sitting across the aisle from Virginia and I. They had wandered outside, then came back in. She had gone forward to the platform between the cars and was watching George Clooney as he threw rocks at the telephone pole. She came rushing back to where we sat.

"He just fell down! He nearly slid down the embankment!" she exclaimed as she hurried towards us and her husband.

I looked over at Virginia and then back to the newlywed. "Who fell down?"

"George Clooney! I can't believe I saw it! He climbed back up, stood up and pulled his pants down. He's wearing blue underwear!"

I gave Virginia a surprised look, when the newlywed exclaimed, "Look, you can see where he tore his pants."

She was pointing out the window behind me. I swiveled around to see George Clooney standing there, explaining to the producer what had happened. His pants were soiled and torn at the right thigh. I looked back at the newlywed.

"Did you get a photo of it?"


"Did you get a picture! Do you know what a tabloid would pay for a photo of George Clooney dropping his pants on a movie set!"

She shook her head. She didn't have her cellphone out when it happened.

I dropped my head, shook it, then looked over at Virginia. "Another million dollar opportunity and me without a camera!" I could see the headlines in my head, ‘Clooney Moons Cast‘, ‘Clooney’s Undie Tips; On Monday, It‘s Blue Boxers‘, Clooney shows Choo-Choo Town His Good Side’, ‘Hey Baby, Have You Seen My Scar?’.

You don’t get chances like this everyday, more like once in a lifetime.

And me, without a camera!

Monday, June 7, 2010


To follow is a blog post written a couple of years ago. I’m posting it now to complete this series of posts. At the time, I didn’t know if the movie was going to be a hit or not. Like the vast majority, it wasn’t and posting about it faded as an interest for me.

When I left for Chattanooga to do the movie, I told people that I was going to a ‘job interview’, most people around here still don’t know that I worked as a ‘background extra’ on a feature film. It wasn’t the first time I had been in or worked on a film, since I used to be the Film Commissioner in Dayton, Ohio.

The experience was important, since it gave me insight on how the common man and woman reacts to being in or around ‘stars’ or people perceived to be of social importance or status. It’s fascinating to watch people modify their behavior, adapting to the circumstances of the moment. The star can act pretty funny, too.

On location in Chattanooga.

From breakfast, I went over to the wardrobe people. The men had been told to wear 'plain white dress shirt, dark dress pants, black or dark blue tie and lace up shoes'. They also wanted us to bring overcoats. This led to a quandary for me. In the past few decades, I've usually worn leather biker jackets, since that's the preferred gear when riding a motorcycle. When it came to business, I've got an almost antique trench coat to go over my business suit. Buried deep in the closet was something from out of the past, a cashmere overcoat. Hadn't worn it in years, but women love it.. .it's dark blue, didn't look or smell like it had died, so I took it with me. The only things I forgot was a scarf and gloves. No hat either, but they would fix me up in wardrobe. Like I would have a Fedora lying around the house. Cowboy hats, ball caps, watch caps, motorcycle helmets, an old ‘Civil Defense’ helmet, but no Fedora. I am so unstylish.

First thing the wardrobe folks did was take one look at the cashmere coat and pitch it. I was given some checked, beige-green wool thing, scarf, gloves and a hat. The gloves were a bit tight, as in too small. Not like I would need them, it was about 65 degrees on the set! It was going to be interesting, shooting a winter scene on an unusually warm spring day. It's the movies, they can fake the cold, right?

The tempo started to pick up around the set. Men were sent to their dressing room, which was a tent, as were the ladies. People were told to dispose of their cellphones, briefcases, unnecessary coats, etc. get ready to get on the train. It was already pushing towards 10 AM and we were about to lose our first background extra. One of the local wheeler-dealers was having a hard time getting separated from his cellphone. He was micro-managing his office from the set, got flustered, decided that they weren't going to shoot the movie on his timetable. So, he walked. Took his paperwork out of his briefcase, handed it to the casting agent, gave wardrobe back their clothes and headed for the office. Only thing he kept was his haircut. Now, he'll never be able to brag about being in a feature film. I'm sure his office workers are disappointed too. They probably would have enjoyed a day without his forced march attitude.

We all trooped out into the sunshine. Ladies transformed into wives, flappers and gun molls of the twenties, men looking like dissipated business men or flat-cap wearing college boys. We clustered around the tents, mugging and doing bad gangster imitations. Which may have led to the second loss from our ranks. One of the young ladies, flapper-type, evidently did a near swan-dive. Maybe she got too close to the Star as he moved through the area? It was a matter of conjecture for the rest of the day. She was immediately cared for by the medical crew, who insisted on hauling her to the hospital. You are not allowed to either faint or die on the set! Another poor soul with fame snatched from her grasp. The inhumanity of it all!

A production assistant came around and started the herding process, driving us like so many sheep, cattle, chattel? towards the train cars. We were picked over, sorted, graded and sent to our doom. Directed towards seats, shuffled, then moved again. I was pointed to a seat next to a window, a large 'X' on it. The train’s wooden benches faced each other. There were three other men sitting on the benches, we barely had time to introduce ourselves. Another PA came by and told us that the Star would come down the aisle, lean over and look out the window.

Since I was sitting next to the window, I nearly fell out of my seat. This meant that there was about a 50/50 chance that I would be in the shot with him!.

That's when another PA came by, told me to get up and move, I had the wrong type of hat, they wanted 'flat caps' in the seats. I was directed to another car. Here, they paired me with a lovely woman.

I was now ‘playing the part’ of a couple. Virginia didn't seem to mind that she had been stuck with me. We were placed in the center section of the train car, facing each other, both of us sitting next to the windows. The PA told us to fake conversation, lean towards each other, make hand gestures. The typical, "I'm interested in what you have to say" kind of stuff.

We did the, 'where you from, how did you get here' thing. After all, we were going to be on this train together for a few hours, might as well make it bearable. It went beyond that, it was great. Virginia loves motorcycles, traveling and movies. We talked about everything.

One of the PA's told us to be quiet and nodded towards the front of the train.
Suddenly, everyone in the train car got quiet. The Star had appeared. As director, writer and star of the movie, he wanted us to know exactly what we were going to be doing. At least, that's what I think he wanted to tell us.

As he talked, people around us looked over, shrugging, mouthing the words; "Can you hear him?"

I yelled "Speak up!" but he was almost done.

A PA gave me their version of a dirty look. I glanced around, nobody had understood a thing The Star had said, a trainload of blank faces.

Virginia shrugged, shook her head when I asked if she heard what the Star had said. Nope, it was all a mumble to me and everyone that I talked to later.

Perhaps he should do more stage work, learn to project his voice.

Filming was about to begin.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Then the Rains Came

June is one of those 'benchmark months'.

I try to have the garden in, equipment repaired, a book done and out to agents, things of that sort.Thought I would have more done by now, but the monsoon-type weather we have had over the past 6 weeks has slowed me down.

The floods of May have left everything down here in a quagmire state. The garden is so wet that it's more mud than dirt.

Working at the shop can be a bit nerve wracking. It's an all metal building and welding during a thunderstorm isn't a good idea. The Baja Bug and Yanmar tractor projects are slowly getting done.

So, I've read a bunch of books and worked on my videos. Will be posting them to Youtube next week.

I'll also be adding some comments to my posts on the Richard Clarke cyberwar books.