Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Black Friday

This past holiday weekend I explored new territory: shopping on Black Friday. For years now, I've watched people on the news brag about getting a DVD player for $30 or whatever, and resolved never to set foot into the fray myself.

But this year Steph and I were feeling adventurous, so we made our Xmas gift list and decided to get up around 8 or 9 in the morning and check it out. I ended up waking up at 3:45 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. I knew if I finally fell asleep, I'd sleep til noon. But if I ventured out...

The first store to open was Wal-Mart at 5 AM. Then, Macy's at 6 and the rest of the mall at 8. Normally I relish any chance to sleep in, so if I didn't go then, I probably never would in my entire life. I'd die without the knowledge of what getting up early for Black Friday shopping is like. A sudden, chilling sense of mortality made the decision for me: I grabbed my list of presents and drank a strong cup of coffee and departed into the frigid morning air. Steph was not afflicted with insomnia, so I went alone.

Keep in mind, I normally refuse to set foot in Wal-Mart. My main complaints are that it kills your soul and the crowds are really annoying. But we naively figured if I got there right at 5 there would be hardly anyone there, I could just walk in and walk out.

I got there at 4:45 and there was a line of roughly 1000 people. They were chattering about $250 laptops, but by the time I got to the front of the line - which took 22 minutes - someone came out of the store saying, "Laptops are gone."

Inside there were boxes of sale items stacked practically floor to ceiling around the store. The women's underwear section had a huge pyramid of $98 DVD/TV combos by some brand I never heard of. The boxes were so big and cumbersome they made the shopping carts teeter, but people grabbed them and threw them in like packs of gum at the register.

I learned something about Black Friday: not everything is on sale. On the contrary, it's just a small group of items that are probably overstock or available to the retailers really cheap, generally rather questionable off-brands. I watched two customers get in a fight over a cart, considered whether I needed a $20 electric griddle, and left.

Next stop: Macy's. I arrived just as the doors opened at 6 AM. The sky was still dark. It was the polar opposite experience of Wal-Mart. There were two or three customers, including me. Everything was quiet and peaceful. Hootie and the Blowfish gently wafted from the speakers. Once again, only a small percentage of the inventory was on sale. And I learned something else about Black Friday there: a lot of sales only last until 11 AM or noon. But no matter - I was there at 6, and when I grabbed items off the sale rack and used the courtesy scanner to price-check them, they rang up at crazy discounts - $5 for an Izod dress shirt.

I wandered the rest of the mall, but it was pretty uneventful. Like I said, a lot of stores had deals that ended at 11, at which time they went up slightly in price - shirts that were normally $50 at Express were $19.95 until 11, then went up to $25 for the rest of the day. And the crowds weren't that bad. The Apple store didn't have shit on sale, and at one point it seemed like the mall was playing the same lame song for over an hour. "Bla bla bla save my soul, bla bla bla rock and roll and drift away..." What a turd that song is.

Overall, I would say it was worth it. Avoid Wal-Mart and big retailers like that, don't get up super-early unless you just feel like it. But if you like buying stuff when it's really on sale, then this Bud's for you. I ended up spending $180 at Macy's on an impressive pile of shirts, ties and sweaters. My receipt said, "You saved $685.45 shopping today..."

Frank's Horror Film of Horrors

I feel great. Shot three scenes for the film today. One death, and some other nasty bits of special effects fun. I watched the footage and it's all terrific. While I've enjoyed myself shooting these pickups, they've been a major stress because of my lack of crew to rely on, as I've already mentioned. I was running around for days picking up props from far-flung rental houses, hiking through the park scouting locations, and scheduling, emailing, calling, revising, scheduling, emailing, revising, etc. The classic moment of bizarre indie film desperation came yesterday. I had picked out a nice location to steal in Griffith Park, for a scene where two characters climb a tree. It was really the only tree in the area that was low enough and big enough that two people could climb into it. Well, when we showed up yesterday to rehearse we discovered someone had spray-painted "FUCK" on the tree in several prominent spots.

After all else failed, I ended up doing the strangest thing I've done yet to get a shot. I'm ashamed to admit it, being a committed environmentalist (I'm even working on a new environmental weblog), but I actually went and bought spray paint to sneak into the park and cover up the graffiti.

That's right - I tagged a tree in Griffith Park to make it look like a tree. First with streaks of grey, then a few patches of dark brown. It looked damn good. Of course, I probably started a gang war in the process. I thought of explaining myself, if a park ranger caught me, as being part of the Hasty Beautification Project, whose mission isn't to actually clean up our city's parks, but to make them look clean.

Anyway, for months I've been pretty overwhelmed, and tonight I feel like I've reached a threshold - I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. In the past three days we wrapped a main character (Jacob), a minor character (The Nanny), a major costume (The Bloody Shirt), and our picture car (Little Blue, a powder blue VW bug). Most importantly, I can now count the remaining scenes on one hand. In other words, the end is so close I can taste it, and it tastes like sweet ambrosia. Like booze mixed with sex mixed with Mamoun's Falafel. Actually, that sounds pretty gross.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Useless Tidbits of Information

Been preoccupied with the movie - pickups last weekend, pickups next weekend, more pickups next week. Haven't drawn or written anything. We probably only have about five days of shooting left, scattered out over weekends or odd days when I can assemble the crew and cast, but those five days hang on my neck like a big metaphorical sea-going bird. There's something about being in production, at my extreme shoestring budget level, that takes up 75% of my time but 99% of my mental power. I think it's the pressure, with coordinating schedules and trying to find props and trying to MAKE props and invent special effects and cast without spending the $$$ on audition room rental and breakdown services and such. I'm trying to maintain this level of quality that's damn near impossible... Who knows, some filmmakers thrive under such conditions. But finishing my second feature film made this way, I'll tell you - I live to delegate.

Also, there's the fact that I just got TiVo. That's taking up a bit of my time as well. I got home from work at 3 PM, and came to bed at 11:30, feeling like I got a lot done. Then I realized all I actually accomplished today was clearing out my TiVo "Now Playing" queue.

Anyway, to you random object enthusiasts just dying for #13, I apologize for the wait.

Here's some useful info: a website dedicated to mapping out and identifying neighborhoods in the LA area with fruit growing over public space, free for the picking. Maybe you can make a nice fruit pie for the holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Basket Case

So, I finally got around to watching "The Wicker Man" last night. What a truly bizarre film experience. This is not just a creepy metaphysical horror flick, as it's hyped up to be - it's a musical. As in, "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers". There are whole musical numbers, and the music is bad - both the embarrassingly dated soundtrack music (meandering, Pink Floydish guitar solos) and the "authentic" Scottish druid folk music that sound like rejected tracks from "Godspell". With the 70's vibe and people prancing around in animal masks, the whole thing plays like a deranged Sid and Marty Krofft show. Remember the one with the orgies and pagan sacrifices? H.R. Boff N' Snuff?

The plot has similarities to the horror film I'm in post production on, and I learned a lot watching where they succeeded - and where they succeeded not so much. It builds to a climax that's just as disturbing by today's horror film standards as it must have been for viewers in 1972. The story plays out like a Christian evangelist's worst nightmare - a devout cop slash reverend (?) visits a remote Scottish island looking for a missing girl and stumbles into a heathen wonderland - naked girls romping everywhere, children being taught about phallic imagery in grade school, people playing those twangy mouth harps. Mass depravity. Culminating, of course, with a virgin sacrifice. In this sense, the film is extremely timely, like a Christian cautionary fable of the fanatic Mel Gibson variety. What makes this even more amusing is the similarity between the hero cop/reverend and Chief Justice John G. Roberts. A handsome, noble, conservative superhero. He even states flatly to a flirtatious town girl that he doesn't believe in intercourse before marriage.

Christopher Lee, as the evil, sexually permissive ringleader of the godless town, looks vaguely like John Kerry (if John Kerry spoke like Tony Blair and dressed really gay). This is a ghost story for the born-again set - all that's missing is recreational abortion.

It left me thinking about the bizarre practice of human sacrifices to the gods. The film rightly recognizes that this is a deeply disturbing, primal, part of our souls. I don't really get it. What draws us to the idea of sacrifice? How did humans ever get on this kick? It's something universal - after all, it carried over into Christianity. Blood of the martyr, shed for you bla bla bla. What is Christ, if not the most famous human sacrifice? He died on the cross so our crops would grow.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Number #12

The cupboard was practically empty; just a can of Dinty Moore beef stew, some roach traps and a box of generic cereal.

Friday, November 11, 2005

More Political Crap

Thank A Republican

Actually, that title isn't just an sarcastic ploy to get your attention, like "Free Sex" or "Punch The Kangaroo And Win A Free Laptop". Not just any Republican, obviously - that would be reckless - I'm referring to 22 Republicans in the House of Representatives. I'm still reeling with the news that the House - the House - blocked the budget bill provision for drilling in the Arctic refuge.

People who follow environmental politics are deeply masochistic. We crave mind-numbing repetition of dour reports, and we get it very reliably these days. Reading Google News or The Grist is like burrowing a dull plastic knife into my wrist wondering if today maybe the skin will break.

So yesterday, I responded to the news of the Republican-led coalition to save ANWR like the peaceful Pod People suddenly freed from slavery to the evil Skeksis, staring around and blinking dumbly in the sunlight.

All 202 Dems, under House Minority Leader Pelosi, held fast - which is also extremely commendable. But in these screamingly partisan times, the fact that 22 Republicans, led by Rep. Charles Bass (NH), formed a coalition to support the wishes of a majority of Americans is a startling show of courage and ethics. You can thank them here.

On a side note, did you ever notice how it's always the same photo of the Arctic Refuge that they use in every news article? I wonder if those nine musk ox are getting any royalties...

Number #11

The tiny sticker clung tenously to his wool sweater as he walked across the campus, wondering if it would fall before she noticed it...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Poly Ranty

Been posting less while I act as "guest editor" on a political site I sometimes contribute to. Here's a sample of my posts this week:


An interesting day for environmentalists. The House, which has recently been the far less eco-friendly legislative body, jettisoned the ANWR-drilling provision from the budget bill, along with a proposal for coastal drilling. So the caribou and polar bears are safe, for the moment. They did, however, leave in a potentially disastrous mining measure that could hack up the whole American west.

Rep. Richard Pombo is rapidly ascending to the top of my "most loathsome" list - an admirable feat. First he tied the noose to hang the Endangered Species Act, and now he's trying to drill holes in every square foot of public land. Next he'll propose grinding up bald eagles for cattle feed.

Meanwhile, the Senate is grilling oil leaders over their massive profits, and even Bill O'Reilly has accused them of price gouging. I know there are reasonable, less-than-radical-free-market arguments against a windfall tax. It strikes me that if the Senate is so concerned about how rich the oil giants are they shouldn't have given them $40 billion of our tax money in the ridiculous energy bill.

But I will say this - Lee Raymond, the chief of Exxon Mobil, just looks like the prototypical fatcat industrialist, like he was ripped from some nineteenth century political cartoon where he's hog-tying Lady Liberty while he puffs on a cigar rolled from thousand dollar bills.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hip To Be Brainwashed

So, the other day I was walking my dog Hoover and the song “Hip To Be Square” popped in my head randomly. I started softly singing it, rewriting it, as I do with songs, to include my dog’s name. “It’s hip to be Hoover…”

(I think the reason people never tire of doing this, or of talking in semi-nonsense to their dogs, or of stacking objects on top of their cats, is because animals are incapable of reacting appropriately. Their expressions generally don't even change. It's their inability to comprehend absurdity that is, for some reason, hilarious.)

Then, this morning, driving to work, I suddenly realized that the song “I Want A New Drug” was in my head. Another Huey Lewis song? In two days?

I haven’t listened to Huey Lewis since I was in ninth grade. Which goes without saying, really. Nobody has listened to Huey Lewis since they were in ninth grade. I don’t care if you’re 80 years old, the last time you listened to Huey Lewis was when you’re in the ninth grade.

I didn't catch a snippet of them on the radio while shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond or something. I don't listen to KOST 103 or whatever station would play Huey Lewis, I don't even know. I haven't heard them.

I want a new drug… One that won’t make me sick…

What the hell is going on? It can’t just be me. My brain just doing that. Not possible.

Is it aliens? The CIA? VH-1? What do these messages mean?

Friday, November 04, 2005

little green bag

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Enter If You Dare

Spent Halloween enjoying what used to be one of my favorite Halloween experiences: a haunted house.

Obviously I don't mean a literal house that's haunted, but a temporary labyrinth for the innocent to walk cautiously through, filled with darkness and atmosphere and good solid screams. As a child, I loved them. Netherworlds of unknown terrors surrounded by benign suburbia. There's something ingenious about them; portals to a whole different world, contained in a confined space. It's what I still appreciate about Disneyland, despite the whole corporate Big Brother police state aspect of it. When I was growing up there was one haunted house in my area that I always heard about, but never found, which supposedly had six floors and if you made it all the way to the top floor you got your money back. Looking back, it seems a bit dubious... but at the time it was legend.

I built a haunted house in my home every Halloween. One year, I did aliens - the best effect was a small sponge alien that crawled across the floor with the help of some thread. When I was in sixth grade I broke my leg and was confined to a body cast - hence, a mummy theme.

This gave way to a different passion when my dad brought home a new toy for my seventh grade Halloween party - a rented video camera. In a sense, you could say that my passion for making haunted houses became my passion for making movies. I wrote a 45-page take on Frankenstein, "The Creation", that took several days to film. My dad was one of three people to portray the Frankenstein monster at various points in the movie. I edited it with two VCRs and the "audio dub" function that really old units had. I utilized only the finest music for the soundtrack: Mick Jagger's theme song for "Ruthless People" and some choice cuts from Bruce Willis' "Return of Bruno" album. Classic horror fare.

So when I returned to the world of haunted houses as an adult, many years later, I made a discovery. "Wait a minute - haunted houses SUCK!" They're mostly unimaginative mazes of plywood walls with strobe effects and teenagers in rubber masks, waving plastic knives or chainsaws with no chain on them. No atmosphere, no aura. No portal to another world.

The haunted house we visited on Monday didn't cost money to go through. It only existed for a few days before Halloween to entertain locals and trick-or-treaters. It was normally someone's front lawn, converted into a rather busy cemetery. After walking up the driveway, you turn along the front of the house, and then back down the other side.

But make no mistake - this was a serious effort. We're in LA, after all - the land that takes the artificial and superficial to new heights. There were so many details it took about twenty minutes to go through and see it all. No human performers - it was all animatronics and lighting effects: a skeleton playing a harp in the living room window, eerie glow on a pale nun's face chanting by candlelight, dancing lights in the fog and faces carved in the trees, ghostly figures with no legs pacing among the headstones, fireflies dancing around a tomb with an unearthly glow deep inside. For thirty-three years this house has been host to a Halloween spectacle. We immediately assumed the person behind it all was in the film industry, but instead of the obvious (lighting or construction), it turns out he does sound work. Which made sense - the whole experience was an aural odyssey. Latin chants, ghoulish howls, distant music, otherworldly drones.

Normally it's disappointing to live here during the autumn. I miss it - the colors, the trees, the cool brisk air that whispers of snow, the sweet aroma of rotting leaves on the ground, the deliciously carcinogenic smell of burning leaf piles, the cornfields and barns saying "This is our time," the sense of the whole world bracing for winter, apple orchards, actual pumpkin patches, actual trick-or-treaters. But LA knows how to put on a show. It may not have had six floors and a money-back offer, but it was the stuff of legend.