Saturday, July 31, 2004
Like Father, Like Son

Things are looking up, friends and neighbors. The Zogby poll is painting a picture that liberals should be pretty happy about at this stage in the game. Here's a link to the original report, but more easily digestible is this quick look, via Atrios:

Among Hispanic Voters:
Kerry 69%
Bush 19%

Among Southern Voters:
Kerry 48%
Bush 46%

Viewed Favorably in the South:
Kerry 55%
Bush 55%

Approve of Bush's Job Performance in the South: 44%

US Headed in the Right Direction in the South: 43%

Among Young Voters (18-29):
Kerry 53%
Bush 33%

Among Single Voters:
Kerry 69%
Bush 19%

In the Red States:
Kerry 46%
Bush 48%

In the Blue States:
Kerry 50%
Bush 38%

Among People Who Did Not Vote in 2000:
Kerry 50%
Bush 25%

The usual caveats apply: it's still three months till the election; a clean election is far from guaranteed; we still need the electoral votes; things can change; this is only a poll, and one of many. On the plus side, though: this poll was taken before any post-convention bounce could take effect. We can expect these numbers to get better yet.

Speaking of the convention, what did President Bush think of all those great speeches?
US President George W. Bush returned to the campaign trail, one day after the Democratic convention which he dismissed as a venue for "clever speeches."
(source)

Goddamn liberal bastards and their cleverness.
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Don't Talk About Our Son, Martha

As you can see from the previous post, I desperately need some time to wind down. Something with an edge is good for this kind of mood, so it was off to Black Lodge for movies, something to assuage my inner tension.

And I knew exactly the thing to aid in purging some of the bile, one of those films that I never seem to include on my top 10/50/100 lists, but which really does rank among my all-time favorite movies: Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

I have to admit, for a long time I didn't really "get it" about Elizabeth Taylor. As a horse-mad little girl, I'd seen her in National Velvet, and as an adult I saw her in Suddenly Last Summer. She was okay and all, but seriously, why the adulation? Then I saw her as Martha, and she was absolutely fucking phenomenal. I know not everyone likes this particular performance, but I've never seen a performance of the play with anyone other than Taylor and Sir Richard Burton, so for me they are George and Martha; I love them as they are, and I'm reluctant to see anyone else in these roles. I'm open to conversion, but only just.

I'm not even a particularly big fan of the deep character piece -- I detest Bergman's Persona for example, but the writing in this film is staggeringly good, and genuinely funny. Dour Swedes quietly tormenting each other is intolerable, but drunken Americans wittily tormenting each other is pure dark, sick pleasure. This is highbrow dysfunction, and endless stream of perfect lines, all subtext and allusion.

A quick plot summary: George, a history professor, and Martha, his wife and the college president's daughter, invite a new biology professor and his wifey little mouse over for late-night drinks after a party. They then spend the rest of the film peeling away layers of pretense and neurosis, slowly and painfully, until everyone has been thoroughly humiliated and humbled. Sounds like fun, no?

The weird thing is, in a twisted sort of way, George and Martha are very likeable characters, and not the demons they appear to be. George isn't as weak as he seems; Martha isn't as dominant, nor as cold. George may not be much of a history professor, but he can still give the new blood a few hard lessons; Martha, for all her venom, really does love him. It's kinda touching in its way; I think there are probably worse marriages than George and Martha's, if none more volatile.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, you should; it's one of those "classic" films that really does deserve the honor. And as far as pivotal realizations go, I'll take George and Martha's son over "Rosebud" any day.
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Non-Journal, Days Sixteen and Seventeen

You know how I said I might still complain, but not as much? Then forgive me for what I'm about to write... I need to vent.

Lee is turning into a monster. Not an angry monster; that I could probably deal with more easily. What Lee is turning into is a coverage monster.

We had one short scene to shoot today: the main character and his love interest have a brief dialogue -- five short lines -- and kiss. That's it, that's the whole scene.

Admittedly the location was problematic; we were stuck between one construction site and another building that was being repainted, ie, lots of potential for sound problems. We were also on the bluff on the higher riverwalk, with lots of traffic below, another potential source of noise. Also, there was the trolley about seventy feet away, and of course the ubiquitous Memphis daytime sound: trains. Add to that the intermittent presence of walkers and assorted exercisers, and yeah, it was a finicky shoot site. But it was only five lines of dialogue, the construction wasn't continuous, and the rest can be dodged. Ten or twelve takes would have been reasonable; fifteen at the most.

But is that what happened? Hell no. Lee, who is already coverage-mad, routinely taking three or four times the number of angles he can possibly use (I once watched him take seven angles of a shot that won't last more than five seconds on screen... I mean, seriously, what is this, MTV?) took twenty-seven takes from five angles. (Remember, this is five lines of dialogue and one kiss.) Finally he decided he was done and told us to pack up. Hooray!

But wait, no... DeVere asks him, "were you happy with that?" Lee gives him a lukewarm response -- exactly the wrong thing to do with a self-doubting, sensitive actor like DeVere -- and DeVere predictably starts hemming and hawing, asking if we should do it again. This then feeds into Lee's own insecurities, making him further question whether the scene was any good. (It was fine.) After some discussion -- after I'd already gotten everything packed up -- it was decided that they'd go again. Unpack. Set up again. We're re-shooting the whole scene.

In the end, we did nearly fifty takes of the scene; the last few takes had only minor changes from the first few. We spent over forty minutes worth of tape on a scene that will last no more than one minute onscreen. Forty-seven total takes. Five lines of dialogue. Forty-seven, five. Insanity.

I found this especially frustrating (pointing out that I was already tired when we began), because to me it just seems like sloppy directing. How do we get through twenty-seven takes without the director a) discovering and b) addressing the fact that it's not quite working for him? I told him afterwards that only Kubrick got away with that; any professional producer would've been reaming him out after take twenty-five. One starts to get the impression that Lee isn't really sure what he wants when he begins, and isn't sure he's done it right once he gets it. To be an effective director, you have to be decisive, for better or worse... somebody around here has to have a clear vision, somebody's gotta know what's going on. Some days Lee doesn't seem to have that.

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm NOT saying Lee's a bad director. I'm just saying sometimes his actual directing is... well, y'know, not good.

(I'm such a back-seat director... now I have to shoot something soon, just to prove I can do it myself, and to show Lee how it's done. Heh... I flatter myself.)

I'm really dreading this coming weekend... this isn't fun anymore. We've got two days of shooting out in the sun, complicated scenes, lots of extras, lots of floundering around.

And if he should read this: yes, I'm fine; yes, I'll keep going. It's a point of honor for me to see it through. No, I'm not mad, I'm just tired and frustrated and annoyed. Yes, I still like you, although I'd like a few days without having to see you. I'm sorry if I seem disengaged or impatient. I wish I had something more substantial to do. And yes, I should probably say all this to you directly, but after seeing how it upset you when DeVere expressed dissatisfaction, I'm afraid of undermining your confidence even more. I wish I felt I could make this case without it being taken personally, but I don't think I can.

So I stew, and hang on til it's over.

God, I love filmmaking.
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Thursday, July 29, 2004
What's That Slapping Sound?

It's John Kerry, bending little Georgie Bush over his knee and spanking him the way his daddy should've.

I'm damn impressed.


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Non-Journal, Day Fifteen, And Shady Goings-On Elsewhere

We shot some stuff today. Just little pick-ups, nothing exciting. It was over in like an hour; I'm pulling another over-nighter to force myself onto a diurnal schedule, since we'll be doing early shoots for the next four or five days.

Enough of the boring stuff.

The biggest film-related news in Memphis today is this:

Extra claims sex assault by actor, assistant director
By Chris Conley
July 29, 2004

Rising Hollywood comic star Anthony Anderson and an assistant director in the movie "Hustle & Flow" were bailed out of the Shelby County Jail Wednesday night after being accused of raping a movie extra.

Anderson, 33, and Wayne Witherspoon, 42, were arrested late Tuesday by Shelby County Sheriff's deputies at the Shelby County Correction Center in East Memphis after the female extra in the movie ran naked from a trailer on a set, saying she was sexually assaulted.

(...)

Anderson's comic scene-stealing, gap-toothed smile and boisterous presence have made him an audience favorite, especially among children.

He has appeared in "Barbershop" (as the hapless thief who steals an ATM), "Me, Myself & Irene," "Kangaroo Jack," and "Agent Cody Banks 2." His latest movie, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," opens Friday.

Witherspoon, second assistant director on "Hustle & Flow," also has worked on the crews of such films as "Ali," "Star Trek: Insurrection" and the upcoming "Collateral" with Tom Cruise.

(...)

Local filmmaker Craig Brew er said he was inside his trailer at the time of the incident and would not comment on the arrests. Neither would the film's producers, who include John Singleton, the director of "Boyz N the Hood," who is financing the current movie's $2.8 million budget himself.

The arrests stopped a two-day shoot at the correction facility at 1045 Mullins Station. It was unclear how it would affect the movie schedule.

Anderson, who has a key supporting role as a friend of the movie's pimp protagonist, still has many scenes to shoot. Wednesday's filming was at the King of Clubs, a closed strip club on Brooks Road.

Deputies were called to the Correction Center about 4:30 p.m. by George Little, director of the facility, who told them a sexual assault had occurred.

The alleged victim, he said, had been taken by ambulance to Saint Francis Hospital.

A witness, James G. Williams, 60, heard screaming and unlocked the trailer door from the outside, and the woman ran out naked, according to the charges. It was not clear whether Williams, who gave officers a Los Angeles area phone number, was part of the movie crew.

The 25-year-old woman told police she was lured into the trailer by Witherspoon, who then exposed himself. Anderson, she said, joined in the assault. She said her clothes were removed and she was sexually assaulted by both men.

She said the two held her down and took graphic pictures with a camera telephone. Investigators said a camera-phone had been recovered, but not the photo chip.

Little, who said he first assumed an inmate had caused the commotion, described the woman as "distraught."

Deputies "questioned a number of folks," he said, and escorted the two men off the set late Tuesday. Little said his employees secured the scene and kept everyone on the set until the officers arrived.

Et cetera.

Even though it happened late in the day, it was already the gossip du jour all over town by this evening, particularly among the film community. There are a number of conflicting emotions: mild shock, dark amusement, some pity for Craig Brewer, a touch of indignation, and just a hint of schadenfreude. My own responses have ranged from, "thank god I'm not working on that film," to "how the hell is Craig going to pull this one off?" to "well, this is what happens when you bring Hollywood types into the local community."

I really do feel bad for Craig. He's a bit of a smoke-blower, but every time I've met him he's seemed like a decent guy: cordial, friendly, accessible. Some are envious of his success; that's understandable. But even though this ugly incident doesn't necessarily end the shoot, this is some bad mojo for the film. Or, at least, it seems to be at this point. It's just such a mess... certainly Craig didn't deserve anything like this. I have a feeling the men accused won't be quite as exonerated as they claim they will be, although to be sure the facts are far from clear. For the moment, I am blaming it all on the Hollywood influence... often as not, when the Hollywood people come (especially the lower-rent Hollywood people), negative things ensue. This hasn't be the case so much for Walk The Line, which is also shooting in Memphis now, and I hope it won't be. But certainly the Forty Shades of Blue people caused some problems while they were in town... I don't think anybody walked away from that shoot happy.

There just seems to be this assumption among the lesser Hollywood folks that whatever works in LA works here, too. But Memphis is like Mayberry compared to Los Angeles: you can't get away with as much. (Of course, my feelings about LA are conflicted anyway; perhaps I'll try to explain it sometime if anyone's interested -- I have lots of vaguely-metaphysical theories about Los Angeles -- but now's not the most opportune time for that.)

But what a mess for Craig; what a mess for Memphis. I hate to see stuff like this happen, it feels like a big black mark on a film community that's already fragile, even if the worst always does seem to be perpetrated by outsiders. This is the part of the film industry I revile; I wish these leeches would just go away.

Moral: when Hollywood comes to town, you best be on your guard. They bring money and possibilities, but they bring a lot of darkness, too.

Anyway, when I saw Lee today I tried to use it as a teaching model: see, your problems could be so much worse. Another crew member and I are gradually coming to the conclusion that Lee's really just not production material. He'll likely be happier in post, when it's just him and the material, but first he's got to survive this. I try to help him along, but it gets frustrating; he has no feel for the routine, the method, the system that helps get you through a shoot. He doesn't respond well to the pressure (and hoo-boy is there a lot of pressure), he's not that good at creative problem-solving (which is a huge part of production), and he's not much of a multi-tasker... all crucial abilities. He gets too involved to communicate clearly with the crew, and he takes everything too personally. Like I said, he should be great in post; first, however, we have to get him through production.

Thing is, everything he hates about this phase of the process, I love. Film production is one of the few things I've found that really makes me feel like my mind is fully occupied, that I'm using all my abilities well. I like the fact that there are always a dozen entirely-different things to do at any given moment -- creative things, organizational things, strategic things, mechanical things, abstract and concrete things, the lot -- and I like the structure that keeps the process contained. There are elements of the larger film world that I dislike, but I don't assume they have to be relevant to my work; I generally ignore them as far as I'm able. I just love the process, I love it for what it really is, the way you love a person for who they really are, complete with issues and shortcomings.

Would it sound strange to say I have trouble understanding -- I mean, really understanding -- why anybody would take this beast on without loving it that way?

PS: Yes, they were shooting in the same prison block we were shooting in just a few days ago. And yes, that's pretty freaky.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2004
The First African-American President?

I have once again been spending the night watching the main speeches from the DNC: Howard Dean, Ron Reagan, Jr., and Teresa Heinz Kerry. I think I'm in love with Teresa; that's my kind of woman: smart, funny, wise, and not taking any shit off anyone. May she remain that way once she's esconced in the White House and taking the full brunt of endless Republican attacks.

But the killer speech of the night was given by a new guy, Barack Obama. He's running for the Senate in Illinois this year (he's the one who's all but a shoo-in since the Illinois Republican Party imploded after the Jack Ryan scandal), but I gotta say, if he keeps on like this, I think he's got as serious a chance at the presidency as any black man has ever had. He's good-looking, charismatic, a high-energy speaker (potentially even better than Clinton), eloquent, passionate, and has all the potential that a new, unspoiled political prospect always has. And he's got a hell of a story behind him; that alone is political gold.

Since he's so new to the game, his stand on the issues is still a little vague, but there's time to fill in the blanks. What I see so far, I like. And obviously it'll be a while before we see how far he can really go. But the day has to come when we have somebody other than an old white guy in office, and Obama's got the goods.

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation -- not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is the true genius of America -- a faith in the simple dreams of its people. The insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted -- or at least, most of the time.

(...)

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a Black America and White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.

But I've got news for them, too.

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that's what this election is about.

Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

(Read the transcript here; watch the speech here.)

That's what I'm talking about; that's what we want to hear. I'm telling you, I've got chills.

In spite of my reservations about the direction the Democratic Party is moving in, I'm feeling pretty good about the convention so far; it's low on the negative stuff, and big on an expansive, generous, inclusive America. Don't get me wrong: people are pissed off. But they're not stewing, they're coming up with ideas for ways to repair all the damage we've taken in the last few years. I know, of course, that energizing the base is what these conventions are all about, but getting the base excited is very necessary for the Democrats this year; we have a big (but imminently doable) job ahead of us.

So yeah, I'm digging it.
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Non-Journal, Days Thirteen and Fourteen

We've had a couple of pretty easy shooting days; all evening, "golden-hour" stuff. A cold front has created some unseasonably cool weather (without the usual attending thunderstorms), so shooting in the evenings has been very pleasant. The scenes we've been shooting aren't anything too exciting: the main character goes out on his first streak, and the attendant bits thereto. We're doing more of the same tomorrow.

There has been some mild drama just the same. Lee is really having a hard time with the stuff DeVere said the other day, in addition to a new issue: DeVere has apparently decided he won't allow any frontal nudity in the film. Now, this isn't, y'know, that kind of film, but it is about a streaker. There was never any intention of having the lead actor run around naked (which would have been my way of doing it, damn the torpedoes); Lee has found a way to do it quite convincingly through CGI. He's good at that kind of thing. The problem is, DeVere has decided he doesn't want even a suggestion of frontal nudity... which is to say, he's not even cool with a bare-ass CGI stand-in.

This raises some tricky questions. First of all, DeVere has known from the day he signed on that this is a comedy about a streaker... and let's face reality, a naked guy can, under the right circumstances, be a pretty comical sight. You'd think at the very least that this would have been hashed out before we started shooting. But as things stand, DeVere is a member of SAG, and Lee had to sign a contract with him and SAG to secure his performance in the film. That contract stipulates that nudity is by the actor's consent only; the issue is that that consent, for whatever reason, has been "clarified" (or possibly altered) since the contract was signed. If DeVere refuses to allow even a CGI representation to flap his phallus around a little, then Lee's lost a tiny bit of creative control over his film to his lead actor. It's a classic struggle, and Lee is not at all happy about the situation.

Having said all that, Lee is really letting this get to him. You have to have a thick skin in this business, even on the lowest levels. Lee is straining under the pressure, and I think he's taking it much too personally. This shit happens, it's as much a part of the process as anything else; to be honest, it could be a LOT worse (I've seen it, it ain't pretty.) The problem is, Lee's despair is threatening to rub off, and that's bad mojo for the film. He's at a disadvantage in that he lacks anyone to handle this stuff for him (I'm sure as hell not going to volunteer), so he has to focus on too much stuff that has nothing to do with the production work immediately in front of him. It's a lot for anyone to take on; I fear that Lee's risking being overwhelmed.

My advice to him today was to carve out a day off for himself. He's filled his (and our) schedule so thoroughly that he literally doesn't have a single day off until the end of August -- an insane work schedule in any endeavor, possibly suicidal for a film. I don't know if he will or not, but he really, really should. Burning himself out before the production is finished will only mean that all this work was done in vain.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
My Favorite Bit Of Convention Commentary So Far

I'm staying up, watching the best parts of the convention on c-span. Apart from the 9-11 memorial (coming on at 3:30 AM), I've seen all the major speeches. My favorite comment so far comes from Atrios:
Carter speech. Knife. In. Twist. Smile. Brilliant. Leaders cannot mislead. Meet Mrs. Carter. Meet President Carter. They begged for an honest man, and they drove him out of town. Bastards.

The Carter speech was great. He wasn't much of a president, but he's a damn fine human being.

And as for Gore: why couldn't he speak like that in 2000? I know that the pressure of the campaign must take some of the edge off, but god, what I wouldn't have given for such an impassioned speaker back when he only needed a few more points to nullify the Bush campaign. And credit for the self-deprecating kiss with Tipper -- and I don't even like Tipper.
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Monday, July 26, 2004
Non-Journal, Day Twelve

Today was one of those rough days. I did something I've never done on a film shoot before: I completely spaced on the call time. I had checked the online calendar, but looked at the wrong date without realizing it; I thought we were starting at 6 PM, when in fact we were starting at 1 PM. I didn't catch my error until about 2:30 when I noticed I'd missed a call on my mobile phone; it was from Lee, wondering where I was. I immediately called back, embarrassed and apologetic, and told him I'd get there ASAP. At about 3:15 I finally arrived in Midtown, apologizing obsequiously to everyone. Nobody was angry; I was more upset at myself than anyone else. On a big shoot that degree of lateness is a pretty major offense; I could easily be fired for such a mistake. I was mortified.

As it turned out, my lateness was the least of Lee's concerns; he blew it off and told me not to worry. I sensed that there was some tension in the air, although nobody had quite enough time to explain it to me. Basically, what it boiled down to was that DeVere had complained to Lee, and told him that the entire cast and crew was unhappy. That apparently cut Lee very deeply and left him frustrated and distressed. He got through DeVere's stuff quickly and sent him home, then focused on getting the rest of the shots for the night.

Hearing about all this, I began to feel very bad for my own dissatisfaction on the set. I and another guy hung around after the shoot letting Lee vent and shoring up his confidence; we tried to explain to him that film crews just complain no matter how good the situation is. Actors, for their part, often have a tendency to be a bit moody and tempestuous. We told him he shouldn't take it personally, that the crew was fine, that we knew he was doing his best, etc. I've never said anything to Lee about any of this -- for what it's worth, I do recognize that my complaints are pretty niggling and not terribly consequential to the shoot -- but I still felt bad for thinking the way I did.

Which isn't to say that I won't still whinge when we have another long, hot shoot... just maybe not quite so much.
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Sunday, July 25, 2004
Oh, Hey, By the Way...

I am vexed to discover that I'm working evenings clear through the Democratic National Convention this week. I'm sure I'll read about anything interesting that transpires, but I hate to miss all the fun... I don't suppose anyone would be willing to tape/TIVO the Daily Show for me duing the convention? I'd be awfully grateful.

Also, one brief announcement. A little over a year ago, after watching my country invade another country for reasons I deeply distrusted even then, and being stuck in one of the most Republican counties in the US and despairing of ever finding a group of people with whom I could safely commiserate, I ran across a political web forum hosted by a liberal talk radio guy, Mike Malloy. A few months later, duing a massive board schism, I was inducted as a moderator on that same forum. Mike's old station went under a while back (not long before Air America launched), and finally AAR has seen fit to add Mike to their programming. Starting August 2, Mike's show will air on AAR from 10 PM to 1 AM. Unlike many of AAR's personalities, Mike's an old hand and a born rabble-rouser; he kicks ass. If you can get access to the show (they do webcasts), I highly recommend it, especially if Al Franken and the rest have felt a bit too tame for you.

The mods on the forum are currently shitting a brick over what is likely to become a tsunami of new posters, not all of them friendly. But that's what we're there for. Sign up today and get instant old-timer cred for the new arrivals.

Also on this day in history: today is the birthday of my first boyfriend (somewhere in Seattle, he's turning 29 today) and also the second anniversary of my paternal grandfather's physical death. (He'd already been mentally dead, or all but, for a decade.) Day after tomorrow is my maternal grandfather's 78th birthday; he's still very fit and well for a man his age, and a really good guy.

Dunno why any of that would interest you, but it seemed to want mentioning.
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Non-Journal, Day Eleven

We spent the morning shooting at the old Courthouse on Adams, downtown. (It's the same place they shot all the courtroom scenes in The People Vs. Larry Flynt .) Most of the shoot was spent collecting a series of plates for some computer jiggery-pokery that Lee wants to attempt to make a crowd of about a dozen reporters looks like many dozens of reporters. Lee told us to trust him, but I have to admit: I'm pretty skeptical about the effect. I just don't see how it can work the way he says it will, for a number of reasons. However, Lee knows a fair bit about this stuff, and I know next to nothing, so it could well be that he's right and I'm wrong. It doesn't matter in either case... the footage has been taken, we made the 24 plates, and nobody really wanted to do it, but we did it anyway.

Lee was skirting dangerously close to a mutiny on the part of the main actress, but then again, she's an irritable type anyway. She's not a bad actress -- I wouldn't have chosen her for this particular role if it were my film, but it's not, so that's a moot point -- but she is the kind of woman who tends to rub me the wrong way. A bit -- y'know -- spoiled. (She seems to think that she's the only tired/hot/sweaty person around.) But if it works for her, I guess that's cool. Whatever.

We are, all of us, getting fed up with the heat. It seems like every other day entails prolonged shooting in direct, southern July sunlight or stuffy, poorly-ventilated enclosed spaces. As one of the actors put it today, if we were all dogs or children, Lee would be in jail now. It would be okay if we got regular breaks to remove to shade or air-conditioned interiors, or if we had more than tepid bottled water to help with the heat, but we don't. I suppose I shouldn't complain about it, but the noon sun in mid-summer in Memphis can be very harsh -- dangerously harsh -- and we're spending a lot more time in it than I think any of us were led to anticipate.

Still, at least the early-morning shoots are over for a few days. I didn't sleep at all last night, so when I got home in the early afternoon after the shoot, I retired directly to bed and didn't wake up until 8 PM. I laugh at your puny mortal sleep patterns! I am Film-Crew Woman, and I require no such regular cycle! Two hours a day, twelve hours a day; morning, noon, night: it's all the same to me! Mwahahahahaha!
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Saturday, July 24, 2004
Something To Look At

The blog's looking a little blah lately... seems like a good time to post an image. I just couldn't think of what.

So, I went and found a couple of paintings by a local artist I really like, a guy named John Robinette. He used to have a website with his whole catalog, but that seems to have vanished... still, this should give you a pretty good idea what his work is like.


Red Sky, Vertical


I really love his paintings of the Mississippi River delta; this is how the place feels to me. He does lots of amazing pieces of the little churches that cover the landscape; if I had any money, this is one of the first artist's work I'd buy. Great stuff.


River, House, Full Moon


Is that an incredible moon, or what?
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Non-Journal, Day Ten

Nothing so interesting to talk about tonight... really I'm just killing time until the morning shoot. Lee has arranged the schedule in such a way that night and early-morning shoots tend to alternate; I got home at ten tonight, but have to be back downtown at 7 AM tomorrow. Given that my internal clock is set on a noon-to-3AM schedule, the early morning stuff really goes against my nature. I'm just starting to wind down when it's time to get up and get ready to go to work. It really rather sucks, to be honest.

The last few nights I've had this problem, I've decided to try to get a few hours of sleep in the interim. It always fails: I toss and turn until 3 AM, finally fall asleep, and then have to painfully drag myself out of bed at 5, feeling worse than before. So tonight I'm going the alternate route -- no sleep at all. In my experience this is usually a preferrable arrangement, even though around this time, 2:30 to 3 AM or so, the urge to sleep becomes pretty intense. We've only got one scene to shoot tomorrow; I don't want to jinx it by saying it should be pretty _____, but it should be pretty _____.

Anyway, back to tonight...

We shot a news reporter scene at a fancy-schmancy house bordering Overton Park. The owner is a very nice lady (with a very nice husband and a very nice son) who, from what I can gather, is connected to the Shelby County Film Commission in some way. She also lives next door to the head of the Film Commission... apparently the job pays pretty well, 'cause these are some expensive houses. As we got the shoot underway, we started glimpsing some lightning; ten minutes later we heard the first of the thunder. As far as I was concerned, this was great news: it guaranteed a timely end to the shoot. (Lee's a good guy, but a little over-obsessed with coverage... I've literally seen him take five or six angles on one or two lines of dialogue, more coverage than he can possibly use. He also has a tendency to get so wrapped up in what he's doing that he becomes oblivious to the crew and any cast members with whom he isn't currently working; you can't say anything to him because he won't hear you, and he forgets to tell you what you need to know. It's frustrating.)

Just as we got a solid take of the scene, the wind started to kick up, and we scrambled to get all the kit in before the rain began. The nice lady with the nice husband and son and fancy-schmancy house ordered pizza for all of us -- see, I told you she was nice -- and we hid indoors while the worst of the rain passed. I always get nervous when I'm in midtown in a heavy rain; the streets don't drain very well, and it's all too easy to end up with knee-deep floodwaters across crucial bits of road; I've been stranded before. Fortunately I only had one or two small streams to drive through on the way home.
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Friday, July 23, 2004
Non-Journal, Day Ten

We spent yesterday shooting at the medium-security prison out in Shelby Farms. It was... an experience. We had a whole empty cellblock to ourselves, one in the oldest part of the prison (c. 1920), and a couple of guards assigned to us to help out with anything we needed and escort us around as we moved around the prison. Ironically, while the restaurant that was being paid to help out seemed resentful at best to be involved, the prison was a full-service location. They helped us carry equipment (or got prisoners to help out -- that was simultaneously cool and sorta distasteful), supplied us with uniforms/mattresses/power sources etc. as needed, and worked as grips opening and closing the mechanical door on the cell in which we were shooting.

I'd never seen the inside of a prison before, and I gotta say, barring another film shoot someday, I'd be perfectly happy never to see another one. The guards took a special kind of delight in trying to scare the female members of the crew, recounting the prisoner's game of attempting to time ejaculations to hit female guards as they passed the cells. One of the guards also pointed out a line of bars along the top of the cells, which were littered with shreds of old, ripped bedsheets. These, he told me, were the remnants of attempts at suicide (or murder) by strangulation; when they found a body hanging from that row of bars, they just cut the sheet noose off at the top, but never bothered coming back remove the rest. So the tattered remains served as a kind of growing monument to each of those deaths. And we had to work in there.

It was, suffice to say, not the happiest place I've ever worked. It was also really hot (again), and walking from place to place among the prisoners was pretty intimidating. They always had guards watching over them, looking threatening if anyone attempted to do or say anything untoward to the mostly-female crew, but just being stared at was enough to put me on edge.

We ate in the gymnasium -- a gym that would have looked perfectly at-home in almost any of the high schools I attended -- and shared our lunch with the guards who were helping us. They were very nice, very cordial to us, but I could imagine them being extremely not-nice when called upon. And this was only a medium-security joint; I can't imagine what a maximum-security prison would feel like.

While we were shooting, I could look through the windows opposite the cell doors into the exercise yard. At one point the inmate from the women's prison were out, and I kept watching this one woman who sat off entirely by herself in a corner of the yard, wondering what her life was like. On the one hand, I can imagine that solitude is hard to come by in prison; that may have been the only reason she was alone. For some reason, I hope so.

Anyway, the day's shooting was frustrating, only because one of the two actors we were working with in the afternoon simply could not remember his lines. Every take was a torturous process of coaching him from off-screen, and eventually it became contagious; even DeVere, who usually nails his lines every time, starting getting confused and forgetting where he was in the dialogue. The heat didn't help matters any. Slowly, we dragged our way through the scene, and wrapped it up just as the guards began getting ready for the shift change.

Glad to be done with that one.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Non-Journal, Days Seven, Eight, and Nine

This is the problem in falling behind with this journal: when I finally get time to fill in the blanks, it's so over that I have to re-live the days in question to write about them, which is the last thing I want to do on my day off. So pardon me if this all seems a bit cursory; my heart's not in it.

Day Seven... what the hell did we do on day seven? Let's see... oh, right. We spent the day shooting at an office downtown; a long shoot, but pretty enjoyable. I made the mistake of going out for a quick drink with Diana afterwards; I had a great time with Diana, but ended up staying out far too late for my own good, considering I had to be up at 5 AM the next morning.

Day Eight: shooting at Cactus Jack's, out sorta near the airport; a long, long, long day. I woke up in a foul mood, having only gotten four hours of sleep, really not looking forward to fourteen hours of shooting. Once we got past mid-day, though, things picked up, my mood lifted a bit, and I started to enjoy it again. Once we were done we hung around briefly and chatted with the bartender and each other. My exhaustion was eased somewhat by the knowledge that we didn't have to start shooting until the evening the next day.

Day Nine: shooting at an all-purpose reception space in Midtown. It wasn't an easy shoot... there was a lot of annoying ambient noise in the location, and the guy supplying our prop-food (from the restaurant next-door) was kind of a dick in spite of the fact that we were paying. Everything took far longer than it should have(because of aforementioned ambient noise), so we ended up taking seven hours to shoot two fairly simple scenes. Lee got in kind of a tizzy, and the actors were complaining of the mild heat... they weren't in the apartment set, they don't even know what "hot" means. The actors who look down on the crew, even subtly, are the ones I dislike; at this level, we're all in it together. Still, you can't expect much more from 'em; it's not their job to sympathize, just to look pretty and say the lines.

We got our day off today because the day's location, a model apartment in a high-end building, wasn't actually booked for the day by the guy handling the locations. I welcomed the free day, even though I expect I'll regret it later when we lose a day off to re-schedule. Tomorrow's another early morning (I hate those the most), shooting at the correctional facility out in Shelby Farms. It's going to be hot again, but at least there's a clear end-time; we can't shoot past 6 PM.

It's almost 11:30 now; I have another very, very long post I'm working on, but I need to get a few hours of sleep before tomorrow's shoot... the blog's really suffering this week. With luck, next week the load will lighten a bit and I'll be able to catch up. Until then, maybe Mr. Smithers (ahem) will help me out with a post or two. You never know, right?
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Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Checking In

Sorry to the readership (both of you) for my silence over the last couple of days... I've been going flat-out on the shoot, and I've barely had time to shower and do laundry, much less write scintillating commentary on the state of the world. The good news is that I finally got some sleep last night (fourteen hours! woohoo!), and I have a fairly short shoot tonight, so with luck I'll be able to crank out two nice, long posts tonight, and get myself caught up. Check back.

Update: Well, no short shoot tonight... it's almost 3 AM as I write this, so I'm not going to post anything now. BUT, we got an unexpected day off tomorrow (a location fell through) so I'll have time to write those two posts, do some laundry, and take a shower. And email Denny the #$%@#!* Co-op schedule.
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Saturday, July 17, 2004
Non-Journal, Day Six

Oppressive heat is really becoming a defining characteristic of this shoot. We spent the morning and early afternoon slowly braising in our own juices out in the July sun; although I began the day (as always) uniformly slathered with sunblock, by the time we left I'd developed a bit of a sunburn. That really pissed me off. I spend every damn day carefully avoiding sun exposure, and then I go and get sunburnt. Bugger! It's not bad, in any case... it doesn't hurt, it's just kinda uncomfortably warm. I'll have to be really careful tomorrow to make sure it doesn't get any worse.

Anyway, we were shooting some more car stuff... I did another couple of shots in the back of Lee's Beetle (not so much hanging from this time as sitting in with the hatch open), and then we did some stunt shots with an actual, honest-to-god stunt driver. Our shoot attracted a hoarde of neighborhood kids and onlookers, and we even had a few cops around to help close off the street. We felt so official! I, of course, didn't do any shooting at all for the stunt shots... we did a few takes from about fifteen feet from the point at which the stunt driver spun the car, which in itself was pretty intimidating; there was no way I was riding in the thing once I saw that. We had some dummy barricades set up, and one of 'em broke the windshield on the first take. Lee spent the afternoon hustling to find an autoglass place that would fix it on a Saturday afternoon. We need it undamaged for another shoot tomorrow morning. But we got our shots today, and while I haven't see 'em all yet, what I did see was looking pretty good. It should look a lot better still once it's been edited together.
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Wait... Did We Say Iraq? We Meant Iran. Sorry.
US sets sights on toppling Iran regime

By Michael Binyon and Bronwen Maddox

Re-elected Bush would act to foment revolt, says senior official
THE US will mount a concerted attempt to overturn the regime in Iran if President Bush is elected for a second term.

It would work strenuously to foment a revolt against the ruling theocracy by Iran's "hugely dissatisfied" population, a senior official has told The Times.

The United States would not use military force, as in Iraq, but "if Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran", declared the official, who is determined that there should be no let-up in the Administration's War on Terror.

To what extent the official, known to be hawkish, was speaking for the White House was unclear, but his remarks are nevertheless likely to cause alarm in Europe. He hinted at a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying that there was a window of opportunity for destroying Iran's main nuclear complex at Bushehr next year that would close if Russia delivered crucial fuel rods. To destroy Bushehr after the delivery would cause huge environmental damage. The rods would allow the Iranians to obtain enough plutonium for many dozens of nuclear weapons, he said.

The Times (UK)

I don't even know what to think about this yet. It's taking every fiber of strength in my being to resist the urge to denounce this as a predictable load of shit; I may yet. But I am determined to not jump to conclusions... maybe these reports are correct. (Yeah, I know, but fuck it... it could be true.)

But I can't help but wonder: what exactly do we expect to achieve? If these allegations are correct, I definitely don't trust Bush to handle the situation well. And it seems mind-bogglingly stupid to start meddling in yet another Middle Eastern country after what we pulled in Iraq. What painful irony it would be if our "War On Terra-ism" actually undermined and complicated all our future efforts to actually, y'know, deal with terrorism.

And is it just me, or does it seem as if we're intent upon nailing up every single other country we can find before we actually deal with our Saudi problem?

In any case, I'll need a fucking lot of convincing before I believe this is anything more than another misguided, dangerous, deceitful misadventure in an oil-rich country. At the very least, let's get out of one country before we start playing chicken with another, mmmm-kay?

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Friday, July 16, 2004
Non-Journal, Day Five

I almost got another day off today. We had some heavy rain sweep through the area today, which threatened the day's shooting, all of which takes place outside. Lee apparently called everyone up and told 'em not to come; I, however, didn't get the message and showed up anyway. I showed up at his apartment at 6 on the button, only to find that there was no shooting going on. To keep me from having come all that way for nothing, though, Lee offered to take me out for dinner (something he'd promised to do last week, although I couldn't make it then.) We went to the P&H and sat around talking movies; very nice. He started getting annoyed, however, when 7PM rolled around and the promised thunderstorms had failed to materialize. We walked outside and, sure enough, it was mostly clear and not the least bit threatening. (It was still good that he'd rescheduled, because he'd really packed too much into the time alotted... everything was being shot during the "golden hour," but there was no way we could fit everything we had to shoot into that time frame in one night.)

Anyway, on the spur of the moment, he said, "you wanna go shoot some background plates for the CGI shots?" This was stuff he had scheduled tonight anyway, and we didn't need any of the other crew members or actors for it; all we needed was me, Lee, Lee's car, and the camera. I ended up taking several travelling shots, hanging out of the trunk of Lee's Beetle, trying my hardest to get steady shots while holding the camera about four inches above the pavement. It was kinda fun (in a scary way), but really hard work. We got the shots, though, and I was pleased with myself for having survived the dangling-from-the-car stuff intact. We went back to his apartment and he digitized some of the shots, which were all day-for-night stuff and looked possibly still too-bright to be effective. After tweaking the brightness and contrast, though, they looked very good, so he was satisfied. We might have to re-take one or two to make 'em slower (even ten mph looks like thirty onscreen, way too fast for a running figure), but that won't be for a while.

The downside is, all this rescheduling means that my Aug. 2 day off is no longer a day off, nor is the one following that. So it's gonna be like four friggin' weeks before I have a day off again.

He's also experiencing some minor frustrations with the lead actor, Devere. He's a very good actor (and he has a great ass), but he's, y'know, one of those insecure, sensitive-artist types. He needs a bit of validation, a little admiration from his director, but Lee sometimes seems at something of a loss. Still, he says he feels lucky to have landed Devere, so he's doing the best he can with it.

As Lee asked over dinner, "why do we do this?" I dunno, but I don't know what else I would do with myself if I weren't trying to make movies. This is what I live for, so I do what I have to do.
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Meet The New Iraq, Same As The Old Iraq
 
There's a sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 that seems to be broadly misunderstood by many people who went into the film looking for things to be angry at. In this sequence, the people of Iraq are depicted prior to the beginning to the notorious(ly pointless) "Shock and Awe" campaign: playing children, what looks like a wedding, street life. Some have interpreted this sequence to suggest that Iraq was a place of nothing but happiness before the bombs fell, and a hellhole afterwards. I think this overlooks the subtler, but far more powerful meaning: these are real people, living real lives, just like yours and mine. There were bad things, but there were good things as well; people had parties, children did what children always do, and normal folks got on with their lives. This is as true after the bombs as it was before, although those same people (those of them that are still alive after more than a year of war) now have some major hazards to work around.
 
One of the things I most wish would change about this country is our damned isolationism. Only something like 10% of Americans even own a passport, and only a fraction of those, I suspect, have ever used them in a serious way. Once you get your ass abroad and begin to live as a foreigner, one thing inevitably inserts itself into your general awareness: these people are exactly like you. It doesn't matter where you go, how wildly different the culture might be from your own, the simple truth remains: we're all the same, we're all one.
 
The failure to realize this has been a major problem in this war, I think. I can understand why soldiers occupying Iraq might come to detest Iraqis; I can even understand why their families would dislike Iraqis. But the rest of us have no excuse but ignorance. Denying the humanity of other people is the first step towards total moral corruption; the necessity of ignoring the humanity of one's enemies in battle is a major symptom of the simple immorality of war.
 
I have noticed lately that as more and more people die on each side, we're hearing about it less and less. Continual death is fatiguing for the public, but no more so than for those who have no choice but to face it on a daily basis; it seems to me to be the least we can do to recognize and acknowledge these deaths. So why are the reports now buried, where once they were the lead story? Are we simply bored with the war?
 
Just in case you missed it, more than a thousand coalition troops have been killed, and the number of Americans killed is nearly at 900. Add to that the thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been maimed, and we're knee-deep in blood already. If you'd care to keep track -- and you do have to work at it these days -- you can keep up on American casualities at the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, and Iraqi casualties at Iraqi Civilian War Casualties.
 
Finally, it looks like the worries of the people of Iraq are not going to include the expenses of extended parties celebrating their new freedom anytime soon. While the country still sits under martial law, the new Prime Minister is apparently more like Saddam than anyone would like. Summary executions without benefit of a defense or trial? Tsk tsk.
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Non-Journal, Day Four
 
Now that's more like it. 
 
Lee graciously took my advice and let his crewies do their jobs; the result was a smoother shooting day that allowed him to do more rehearsing and still ended not too long after the scheduled time. And we crewmembers got something to take our minds off the suffocating heat, so all were happier. That didn't lessen our joy over finishing up our last shots in that sweat-lodge of an apartment, though; by now the set has been struck and we never, ever have to go back in there. Hooray!

We had a day off today, and starting tomorrow we've got seventeen straight shooting days before our next break on August 2. To be fair, many of those days are quite short, with only three or four hours of shooting per day... but still. I spent the day napping and re-hydrating, and still have some laundry to get through. From here on out, though, most of our shoots take place in pleasantly air-conditioned interior locations, or outside at a time of day that isn't quite so barbarically hot. (The jail scenes, which it turns out we don't shoot until next week, will be an exception... we shoot in a disused part of the jail, and it will be very, very hot once again. But it's just one day.


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Thursday, July 15, 2004
Jesus Christ, Not This

Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher." ...
The Poor Man

I'm a firm believer in Brother Bill's edict to "love ALL the people." I don't buy that children are somehow more important just because they're children; you either love everybody, or nobody at all.

But kids are so defenseless... what on earth could any young boy do that would justify rape? (Even putting the words together -- "justify rape" -- makes my skin crawl.)

I would like to believe that this can't possibly be true. But alas, Seymour Hersh's allegations have all been vindicated so far, with the pictures to prove it.

Is your precious tax cut worth so much to you that you'll overlook the rape of children? Seriously? Are you willing to state for the record now that it's not?
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
This Is What Happens When Naughty Boys Don't Listen To Daddy

I've seen this quote before, but not since I started the blog. And it's just so gratifying, it really deserves to be laid out there as often as possible.

Who said this?
Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible...We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq...there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern of handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

Were these words spoken by some America-hating liberal? Some Bush-bashing anti-war type? A Saddam-loving protester, perhaps?

Nope. Those words were written by George H. W. Bush, reflecting on the first Iraq War, in his book "A World Transformed."

George W. Bush: making his father look better by comparison since 1946.

George H.W. Bush: a liberal traitor according to Fox News

The Republican Party: eating itself alive
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Non-Journal, Day Three

Lee spent most of the night bumping up against the limits of what a volunteer crew will tolerate. He's doing the best he can -- I don't think anyone doubts that -- and his shots seem to be looking pretty good. But the crew-relations department is starting to bend under the pressure.

Last night's shoot was very rough: nine hours, mostly in stifling heat, on stale-corn-chip-and-water rations, without a meaningful break of any kind for the crew. I have seen volunteer crews mutiny for less; it's testament to how much we like Lee that nobody has walked. Still, it's pointing out the weak spots in his production skills; we've still got more than five solids weeks of shooting to go, and this has to improve for the good of the film. People can't work well unfed and unrested; we didn't leave the set until 3:30 AM last night, two-and-a-half hours late (really three-and-a-half if we take into account that the end-time was pushed back even before we began.)

The problem, as it happens, is really quite simple: Lee's still doing everything himself on the set, so it's taking much longer than it needs to to set up each shot. He's been very slow to release control over simple things like camera set-ups and sound checks -- maybe it's something to do with his animation background, where he had personal control over every aspect of the work he did. In any case, he's going to have to get over that if he wants to survive this venture. We've been giving him lots of slack so far (what with it being only the first few days shooting his first feature), but now that he's getting a handle on that, I think it's safe to start encouraging him to delegate more of the work. If we can get him to trust his crew and start directing (rather than micromanaging) the film, we'll be able to get through our shotlists considerably faster, I think.

(And no, I'm not just saying that because I want to get my hands on the camera -- although that too, admittedly. An under-used crew is a bored crew; and a bored crew is a crew that can obsess over how hot it is, how hungry they are, how much fun they're not having, and how much they'd rather be at home in bed than on this film set. Idle hands are the devil's workshop and all that.)
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Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Ten Good Reasons

Reason magazine, by no means a liberal publication (they're solidly libertarian), has published a list of Ten Reasons why no freedom-loving person, liberal or conservative, should vote for George W. Bush.

There are so many reasons to vote against Bush, and so few to vote for him. Even a self-respecting conservative -- provided they are not so blinded by fear and ideology that they can't see the plain reality before them -- should be able to see by now that Dubya's a turkey.

I'm not a huge fan of Kerry, either, as it happens -- for most of the reasons this piece details, in fact, if from a different perspective -- but Jesus Christ, anything's gotta be better than Bush. Seriously, I doubt "America" can survive another four years of this. Whatever is left after a second term of Bush couldn't be much more than a shadow of the nation it once was.

Get rid of this fucker. Worst president ever.
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Production Non-Journal, Day Two

More of the same. Back in the apartment, dripping sweat, doing roughly 40-50 takes in seven hours. The evening was improved somewhat by the replacement of John as 2nd AC with Diana, and the arrival of Doug as violin coach. The crew was perhaps slightly too preoccupied with chatting, but the shooting got done and I know that I, for one, enjoyed the dynamic more.

The heat was softened a bit with a third fan supplied by the lead actor, DeVere; Diana and I also fiddled around a bit with a thermostat we found. The AC isn't supposed to work, but we tried it anyway; just before we left, we both perceived a faint cool breeze in the apartment, perhaps the product of an attic fan or something. Anything would be an improvement.

I'm getting to do pitiful little camera operating so far; Lee is running around like a little hamster on a wheel, and much of the time it's tricky even to get his attention, much less muscle the camera away from him. There's a two-part frustration in this: 1) I just want to run the camera; I'm good at it, and it is, after all, what I was brought on to do; and 2) Lee's still got six weeks of solid shooting to go, and he's going to risk burnout if he doesn't delegate a little more. Still, we're only two days in, so everybody's giving him his space; he's still so captivated by the work and in his special director place that it would be unrealistic to expect him to detach himself on any level.

My work so far has been an odd assortment of 1st A.C., gaffer, and grip; I solve problems, I make suggestions, I generally support and enable. Lee has a good eye (with roughly ten years as an animator under his belt, he should), and I sometimes feel as though I'm in the slightly-awkward position of being simultaneously less and more experienced than he is, while playing a secondary role. I feel like I'm missing something... just not sure what.

We've got two more days in the Anteroom of Hell, and then a day off (the last for a while.) Friday we shoot at the jail downtown, which will also be hot. Then, I think, we move to predominantly indoor, air-conditioned locations, so this should get easier in that respect.
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I Love To See The GOP Squirm

This is funny in a dark way, and heartwarming in a cold, ironic way.

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate apparently spent yesterday trying to delay a vote on their Marriage "Defense" Amendment (aka the Hate Amendment). That's right... they're filibustering their own damn bill. Why? Because they can't even get a simple majority for it, much less the 2/3 majority they need to send it on.

It's actually pretty reassuring to know that in a GOP-controlled Senate, there still aren't 51 Senators willing to vote for the damn thing.

This amendment is an odious bit of legislation that deserves to go the way of Jim Crow and Separate-but-Equal; its proponents will inevitably be viewed by history as the close kin of the old White Citizens' Councils of the 60s. Our new Civil Rights Movement is going to be an uphill battle, folks, but I have faith that tolerance and the concept of equal rights for everyone will ultimately win the day.
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Outfoxed

I really, really want to see this film. (You have to click through an ad to reach the review, but it's worth the extra ten seconds; the review itself will give anyone unfamiliar with the Fox News style an idea of what their pap is like.)

That is all.

(But here's one brief quote gratuitously selected to prod Smithers into action:)
But some people would say that Fox News Channel is nothing more than the private right-wing propaganda machine of a sneaky right-wing billionaire who is -- now these are just the facts, people -- not an American at all but some kind of Down Under, funny-accented, shrimp-on-the-barbie-eating, crocodile-hunting, profoundly un-American Australian, for goodness' sake.
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Monday, July 12, 2004
Not A Production Journal...

...but I still feel compelled to write a few lines about the first day of this shoot.

The overwhelmingly dominant characteristic of the night was heat. The shoot was taking place in an empty apartment in one of those '20s vintage courtyard buildings in Midtown, which of course are bereft of central air. So, in July heat, and given that shooting conditions require that all fans be turned off and all windows closed, with four or five lamps on for most of the night and seven human bodies in the space... suffice to say it got a little warm in there. I don't know exactly what the temperature was, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find that it was 100F / 38C. Everyone was soaked through with sweat; we had to mop the actors (and ourselves) down with paper towels every few minutes lest they drip all over the set. For eight hours. Yep, it was kinda uncomfortable.

Even so, I found myself really enjoying it... the footage was looking great, the actors were quite good, and in spite of the heat everyone was bearing up. Our boomswinger is a nice kid who's home from college, and has directorial aspirations. This is the first live-action project he's ever worked on, so he's going to be tried by suffocating heat... if he still wants to make movies after this shoot, we'll know he's legit. Most people get wrapped up in the glamor, and don't realize until they're in it that 90% of filmmaking is more about enduring long hours of uncomfortable working conditions. If you don't love the work, there are a thousand easier ways to find fame and fortune. But if you're into it -- and I am -- even with the heat it was a lot of fun. Which is just as well, 'cause we're doing it again tonight... and the night after that... and all this week. I see a lot of laundry in my future.
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Delay This, Asshole

The Bush administration wants to "delay" the elections in case of a terrorist attack.

During the Civil War, in which half a million Americans (a hell of a lot for the time) were brutally slaughtering each other on American soil, the national election was never "delayed". During World War II, when the United States was very much "at war" and which was the only other time in which the United States had been attacked by foreign body within its own borders, the national election was never "delayed". If such an attack were to occur, it would be tragic to be sure, and frightening and distressing for everyone. But I don't see any way in which the potential "delay" of the national election benefits anyone but the current administration. In my opinion, if such an attack were to occur, it would only underline the absolute necessity of an election, because somebody isn't doing their job very well.

Short of Armageddon -- in which case it probably won't matter anyway -- I am vehemently, profoundly opposed to the idea of "delaying" the election.

To paraphrase a common sentiment going around these days, it's not that I believe the conspiracy theories about the Bush administration, it's just that every fucking thing the Bush administration does seems to make me think about conspiracies.
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Frank Zappa, Fucking Psychic

Wow... this is at least as good as anything Nostradamus ever produced.

The Idiot Bastard Son (From "Mothermania", TMOI, 1969)

(THE FATHER'S A NAZI
IN CONGRESS TODAY...
THE MOTHER'S A HOOKER
SOMEWHERE IN L.A.)

The idiot bastard son:
(ABANDONED TO PERISH
IN BACK OF A CAR...
KENNY WILL STASH HIM AWAY
IN A JAR)

THE IDIOT BOY! (try and imagine the
window all covered in green...
all the time he
would spend at the church he'd attend...
warming his pew)

Kenny will feed him & Ronnie will watch
THE CHILD WILL THRIVE & GROW
And enter the world
Of liars & cheaters & people like you
Who smile & think you know
What this is about

(YOU THINK YOU KNOW
EVERYTHING...maybe so)
The song we sing: DO YOU KNOW?
We're listening...

THE IDIOT BOY! (try and imagine the
window all covered in green...
all the time he
would spend all the colors he'd blend...
where are they now?)

Just goes to show what really good drugs can accomplish.

Correction: It has been pointed out in comments that this could not possibly go to show what really good drugs can accomplish, as Frank Zappa never did drugs, really good or otherwise. The editor regrets the error, and instead postulates that this is what being a fucking genius can accomplish.
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Sunday, July 11, 2004
God, I Wish This Had Happened To Me

Seriously, if it had, I'd be telling the grandkids about it every single night before bed.
After waiting around for about 45 minutes, the motorcade passed by us again. A few police cars, followed by a van or two, drove by. Then, a Bush/Cheney bus passed, followed by a second one going slower. At the front of this second bus was The W himself, waving cheerily at his supporters on the other side of the highway. Adam, Brendan, and I rose our banner (the More Trees, Less Bush one) and he turned to wave to our side of the road. His smile faded, and he raised his left arm in our direction. And then, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States of America, extended his middle finger.

Read that last sentence again.
I got flipped off by George W. Bush.

A ponytailed man standing next to us confirmed the event, saying, "I do believe the President of the U.S. just gave you boys the finger." We laughed probably for the next half hour, and promptly told everyone we knew.

Now THAT is a great presidential story.

Read the rest here; thanks to Denny for pointing it out.
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Bert: AWOL

All right, dammit... who stole Bert? 'Fess up; I know one of you has him. I'm going to turn around, and when I turn back I expect to see my "Terror Level: Bert" button back in its correct place. If you put it back now, I won't ask any questions.

But seriously... that sucks! Where'd he go? The whole geekandproud website seems to be down. Bugger... I knew I should've uploaded a copy to my own server.

(He probably just picked up a few underage whores and went on a coke-fuelled bender... he is, after all, evil.)

I'm going to give it another day or two to re-appear, and then I guess I'll have to go find some other Terror Alert system to replace it (which is a shame, 'cause I really liked Bert.) Maybe they do a Teletubby terror alert system? We'd never have to drop below La-la...

Update: Bert has happily returned from whatever nefarious goings-on he was up to, and has resumed his place in the left-hand column. Watch the newspaper for details.
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Saturday, July 10, 2004
The Children Of Sick Celebrities

I've never been much of one for celebrity-worship; I've met a couple, and I have experienced the strange, confusing familiarity that comes when you see someone famous on the street. Mostly I've always been astonished to discover that the vast majority of television and film stars are considerably shorter than me, which is a weird sensation.

But there have been a few cases when a seriously-ill celebrity has caused me a bit of low-level, sympathetic sorrow, only because I've known their kids and I feel bad for them. David Bowie's current heart problems are a case in point: I went to film school with his son (the one originally called Zowie, although he no longer uses that name), and now that I'm reading about David Bowie in the paper, I feel really bad for his son. This isn't because Bowie Jr. was a friend of mine -- he was a few terms behind me, and while I met him and drank with him a couple of times, I didn't even realize who he was until just before I left school. We weren't even remotely close. And yet, while David Bowie is cool and all, I feel a lot more sympathy for this guy I barely knew, who's no doubt doing a lot of sitting at the hospital with his sick dad these days.

A similar thing happened a year or two back with Warren Zevon, whose daughter Ariel attended my college at the same time I did. Again, I knew her but we weren't particularly friendly... I always caught a whiff of unappealling snottiness from her, although to be fair that could also have been garden-variety guardedness. If I'd been raised by Warren Zevon, I'd probably be pretty guarded, too.

But when I learned that Warren was suffering from terminal cancer, all I could think about was Ariel -- how awful for her, how terribly sad. It happened again when he died (especially what with that rather black album coming out just prior).

I didn't particularly care about these celebrities; I didn't particularly care about their kids. So why does it bother me in this context?
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Random Assortment

My horoscope for today, excerpted:
A powerful desire to radically change your life might fill you today, Amy, and you might find yourself considering some rather outrageous courses of action, such as selling everything and hitchhiking across Australia.

Were that "everything" was worth enough to pay for that; I'd be gone within the day. Anyway, I've been wanting to hitchhike across Australia since I was 8 years old. (Okay, maybe not hitchhike... I'd cross on horseback, though.) Score one for the dodgy seers.

My recent letter to my old and new potential professors, excerpted:
The Co-op created a massive shift in my perspective on filmmaking. Prior to getting involved with the Co-op (and even somewhat afterwards) I was very industry-focused; I had been trained to be useful to the industry, and I limited my indie enthusiasm to documentary film (which I also adore). Through the Co-op, however, I have met people that made me deeply question my assumptions about filmmaking. First among them, of course, are the filmmakers with whom I work on an ongoing basis, but also included are those who have come into contact with the Co-op over the last couple of years, people like Kelley Baker, Rob Nilsson, and Todd Verow, people for whom independence is more important than popular success.

All of this gradually created in me a new passion: the belief that we are at a pivotal moment in the medium, when technology has finally advanced to the degree that filmmaking becomes a viable means of expression not only for the select few, but potentially for everyone. I believe we're at a revolutionary point, the moment just before the dam breaks and the industry changes profoundly and permanantly. Exactly what the shape of this new industry will be I don't know -- although I am intensely curious and impatient to see. But I look forward to having a vastly expanded body of work -- a body of work that will ultimately rival that of literature, or music, or the visual arts -- and all the new potential for innovation and genius that comes with it.

This revolution is what I am interested in working in now. There are a multitude of questions and issues in play, and I have already spent a great deal of time considering and discussing them with others. It is my wish that I might help foster this shift in some way, and much of my current work is chosen to that end. So, my proposal for my Plan of Concentration should I return to it in January, is to take a systematic look at the issues, problems, and possibilities surrounding the re-invention of film as a popular creative medium. I understand that this is a big subject and not wholly related to what I was doing before (although also, I think, not wholly unrelated.) I'm sure I have a great deal of background to fill in, although I feel that I've done the most important part of that already -- I've been working here in the trenches for several years now, and have formed contacts with people who have been doing this work for far longer. I have not as yet applied a focused, analytical eye on the subject, but I have a reasonably deep pool already in place on which to draw. I am deeply familiar with many of the problems and frustrations entailed (too familiar at times; I would love to see a bit more of the potential). I intend to stay involved, and I suppose on one level I'm looking to establish a basic theory for my future work.

I'm feeling restless and a bit isolated tonight... I get this way from time to time. I need something... but, what? (Well, I actually know what, but best to leave that alone, I think.)

Instead, I'm spending the night curled up on the sofa watching movies... Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (not bad, kindy cartoon-y, not really buying the fountains of blood); City of God (excellent, remarkable); and an old Eddie Izzard special. If it weren't for the mosquitos and cloud cover, I'd go out in the yard and look at stars.

Anybody up? Anyone wanna chat? Anybody out there?

(((sigh)))

PS: I've added a little "quote of the week" box over at the left there. Who doesn't love quotes, right? (Mostly, I've just been wanting to use that quote, and couldn't find any other context. It just makes me so happy every time I see it; it's one of the funniest lines I've heard all year.)

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Thursday, July 08, 2004
On My Agenda

So, there's one feature film down, and one to go. Beginning Sunday afternoon and continuing straight through August and into September, I'm working on another film production. It's an entirely different kind of thing this time -- a lighter-weight film, but a much more structured kind of shoot -- and I am happy to have shed my A.D. duties for camera operation, something I'm much more interested in. I'm a little rusty; it's been a while since I've shot anything but doc material. But I'm sure it'll come back to me easily and god knows I could use the practice.

And hey, I've even got a contract this time. I never assume (or even expect) that deferred payment will ever translate to an actual check in my hand, but if this film should ever find distribution, I've got the documentation on my side. A girl can hope; I think the production is solid, and you never know what'll happen.

I'm currently embroiled in my annual fight with my mother -- it's a long story that doubtless doesn't entirely make me look good, one of those fun multi-day arguments that starts with an ill-considered offhand remark (from her this year) and eventually scales every peak and valley in our relationship, touching on every past argument and unspoken tension in our shared history. She's pissed off at me, I'm pissed off at her, and as I write this we're in our separate corners resting up for the next round. It'll all be okay -- we argue so rarely, we just kinda pack it all into one big fight -- and in another day or two we'll have burned out and peace will once again prevail until next year. But right now I'm seething.

Finally, my application to get back to school is underway. If things go according to plan, come January I'll be headed back to Vermont to finish that pesky B.A. At least it'll get me the fuck out of Memphis.
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Whither Dubya?

There is a debate going on among liberals that has been in progress since approximately January of 2001. The question: Is George W. Bush an evil fuckhead or merely an incompetent ass? Where you stand on this issue, while not something that threatens to divide the team, has a direct influence on your assumptions and anxieties regarding the administration. Those on the "evil fuckhead" side of the discussion tend to be angry and somewhat paranoid, while the "incompetent ass" folks are more inclined towards melancholia and existential angst. The question, really, is one of motive and intent... does Dubya intend to destroy America, or is he just doing it because he doesn't know any better?

Anyway, I read something today that I think fits in fairly well with my own opinions:
I am beginning to think that behind all the bluster, George W. Bush is a frightened, confused individual, totally unable to understand the magnitude of the decisions he got talked into making, and dealing with it by becoming paralyzed, letting the individuals who represent power centers within his administration, such as Rove, Powell, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rice run off entirelly on their own. Those who are able to manage the president's message, such as Cheney, are at a bureacratic advntage. But politically, this White House is a sitting duck, and as a matter of psychology, I think the Final Days of this crowd will make for amazing reading.

The Decembrist, via Pandagon

Although I have spent some time flirting with the position that Bush is a figure of pure malevolence, over time I have gradually been swayed to the argument that really he's just a rather pathetic figure who has been handed the reins of a beast that's far too powerful for him. Painting Bush as an evil genius has some dramatic appeal, but it strikes me as just too tidy for something as messy as real life. I think there is malevolence in the form of profound self-interest inside the administration, and believe it or not, I also believe there is a potent streak of badly misguided idealism at work as well. Staggeringly, I actually think a lot of these folks are doing what they genuinely think is best for the country, and I think that Dubya is among them. His rigidity and sense of entitlement and self-righteousness mean that he has swerved from an arguable position to a wildly, even obscenely unrealistic one, but I'm quite convinced that his particular path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Those in the "evil fuckhead" camp might argue that I'm naive, and that my willingness to give Dubya the benefit of the doubt (on intent, at least) is a dangerous thing that prevents me from fully recognizing the enemy. Maybe they're right. And I absolutely don't mean to imply that just because in his twisted little way Bush means well absolves him of responsibility... there are people in the administration (like Dick "Go Fuck Yourself" Cheney) who I think absolutely qualify as evil fuckheads, and as their purported leader, Bush bears responsibility not only for his own actions but for the actions of those who work under him. That makes it all the more tragic, in some ways... looked at in a certain light, Bush becomes an almost Shakespearean figure, the blundering fool who is brought down by his few potentially admirable qualities, trust and loyalty.

Anyway, to paraphrase my current personal saviour Bill Hicks, why are we arguing whether George W. Bush is an evil fuckhead or an incompetant ass? Can't we all just get along? He's an evil fucking incompetent asshead!
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Tuesday, July 06, 2004
My Little Prayer

Everyone is absolutely certain that Kerry is going to announce his choice for Vice President any minute now. Or sometime tomorrow morning at the latest. I admit, I can't wait to see what the Veep Fairy leaves under our collective pillow.

But just to ward off the evil spirits, let me say this:

Not Gephardt, not Gephardt, not Gephardt, not Gephardt... please, God, not Gephardt.

Update It's Edwards. Yeah, okay, I can live with that. Can we start campaigning for real now?

PS: Yes, I too was greatly amused by Rupert Murdoch's little foray into Aussie Rules Journalism. Life hands you these moments so rarely nowadays.

PPS: Extra points to Kerry/Edwards for announcing the news on the miserable failure's birthday.

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Sunday, July 04, 2004
Just One More Post About Michael Moore

I approve wholeheartedly:

Moore: pirate my film, no problem

Controversial film-maker Michael Moore has welcomed the appearance on the internet of pirated copies of his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and claimed he is happy for anybody to download it free of charge.

The activist, author and director told the Sunday Herald that, as long as pirated copies of his film were not being sold, he had no problem with it being downloaded.

"I don't agree with the copyright laws and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people as long as they're not trying to make a profit off my labour. I would oppose that," he said.

Sunday Herald

So, all those of you who haven't yet gotten to see it because you don't live anywhere where it's been released, Michael Moore is here for you. I will personally entertain requests for copies if anyone's really hard up. (It does play better in a cinema, but that's not the most important thing.)

Also, check out this rather excellent editorial he wrote for today's Los Angeles Times:
I think it's time for those of us who love this country -- and everything it should stand for -- to reclaim our flag from those who would use it to crush rights and freedoms, both here at home and overseas. We need to redefine what it means to be a proud American.

If you are one of those who love what President Bush has done for this country and believe you must blindly follow the president to deserve to fly the flag, you should ask yourself some difficult questions about just how proud you are of the America we now inhabit:

Are you proud that one in six children lives in poverty in America?

Are you proud that 40 million adult Americans are functional illiterates?

Are you proud that the bulk of the jobs being created these days are low- and minimum-wage jobs?

Are you proud of asking your fellow Americans to live on $5.15 an hour?

Are you proud that, according to a National Geographic Society survey, 85% of young adult Americans cannot find Iraq on the map (and 11% cannot find the United States!)?

Are you proud that the rest of the world, which poured out its heart to us after Sept. 11, now looks at us with disdain and disgust?

Are you proud that nearly 3 billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water when we have the resources and technology to remedy this immediately?

Are you proud of the fact that our president sent our soldiers off to a war that had nothing to do with the self-defense of this country?

If these things represent what it means to be an American these days -- and I am an American -- should I hang my head in shame? No. Instead, I intend to perform what I believe is my patriotic duty. I can't think of a more American thing to do than raise questions -- and demand truthful answers -- when our leader wants to send our sons and daughters off to die in a war.

Exactly.

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Funny Joke

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

Seven:

(1) One to deny that a light bulb needs to be replaced.

(2) One to attack and question the patriotism of anyone who asks questions about the light bulb.

(3) One to blame the previous administration for the need of a new light bulb.

(4) One to arrange the invasion of a country rumored to have a secret stockpile of light bulbs.

(5) One to get together with Vice President Cheney and award a one million dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton Industries for supplying a light bulb.

(6) One to arrange a photo-op session showing the President changing the light bulb while dressed in a flight suit and wrapped in an American flag.

(7) And finally, one to explain the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

Props to Doc
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Happy Fuckin' Fourth

I'm always skittish about the Fourth of July (aka Independence Day). As a holiday, it just seems so frought with existential peril... if the 1-penny firecrackers and M80s don't take off a chunk of flesh, then you can at the very least expect to be gently oppressed by some big hairy guy with a beer belly and an American flag decal on his truck. I tend to stay away from Fourth of July picnics for the same reason that homophobic guys tend to stay away from gay bars... I don't want those people to think I'm one of them.

And yet, and yet... this is just a knee-jerk reaction on my part, and doesn't actually have much to do with my genuine feelings on the subject of patriotism. It's just that, while I'd much rather say, "God Bless America, With a Few Qualifications and Caveats, and Pointing Out That Saying This Emphatically Does Not Make Me a Right-Winger, Just So We're Clear On That," it doesn't seem to have the same, y'know, punch as just "God Bless America." Which is pretty much the liberal dilemma in a nutshell.

Anyway, since fireworks and other small incendiary and/or explosive devices are illegal for sale or use in Shelby county (in which lies Memphis), all the people who like to blow shit up have to cross the state line into DeSoto County to buy their fireworks. Thus, the surrounding area becomes a haven for brightly-colored tents housing a fairly pedestrian array of small explosives. My favorite this year is "Jerry Lawler's Fireworks Stand," named for Memphis hero, B-list professional wrestler and former Mayoral candidate Jerry Lawler. I always like seeing Lawler's name around town, not because I once shook his hand at a high school pep rally, but rather because this is the man who bitch-slapped Andy Kaufman on the Letterman show. As such, he's a kind of secondary holy relic to me: this man actually smacked the great Andy Kaufman.

But I suppose the blowing-shit-up crowd needs a day, too, and they'd better seize it while they can, 'cause it's supposed to rain for the rest of the day. Incidentally, none of these fireworks stands (not even Jerry Lawler's) are terribly interesting... they've got the usual assortment of Black Cats and roman candles and sparklers and so on, and always one or two enormous 200-dollar fuck-off motherfuckers to a) impress the yokels and b) give the really drunk guy something to blow a wad of cash on. If you want really interesting fireworks, you have to go Boomtown Fireworks Superstore in Illinois or someplace similar. Those places carry all the freaky fireworks from China and Japan, the latter apparently being particularly obsessed with the Civil War (or, if you want to be Confederatorially Correct, the "War Between The States"; or if you want to be Confederatorially Assertive, the "War of Northern Aggression"... no shit, a surprisingly large number of people down here still have a bug up their ass about the civil war. More on that in a moment.) The Japanese name all their fireworks things like "Johnny Reb" and "Rebel Yell." But my all-time-favorite firecracker, purchased at aforementioned Boomtown, was a Chinese thingy called the "Egg Laying Chicken." It was a cardboard chicken, about two inches long and one inch tall, that blew its little head off in a shower of sparks and shot fireballs from its ass. Brilliant.

The Fourth of July can be a contentious holiday in the South. In Vicksburg, Mississippi (several hours south of here), I believe they still refuse to acknowledge the day completely. Y'see, 141 years ago the town of Vicksburg was sacked by the Union army under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the Fourth of July, and ever since then Vicksburg has been playing the offended Southern belle and refusing to participate.

But Vicksburg has certainly not been alone in the South as far as boycotting (or all but) Independence Day; the South has never been as enthusiastic about the holiday as northern and midwestern regions have been; up in Vermont there were always big parades full of Shriners in vaguely offensive "oriental" costumes and fezzes driving teeny-weeny little cars in looping circles up and down the street, and of course shitloads of marching bands. These parades have always been harder to find in the South, where people are quite happy to take the day off work, but they don't want to put too much effort into it. (This, it seems, is less true for African-Americans, who have enormous community barbecues and family reunions on the Fourth... and there's probably a thesis in there somewhere, but I'm just not up to it tonight.)

Only since patriotism became a Core Republican Value has the South begun to embrace the Fourth of July (no small thing since it's invariably hotter than Satan's nutsack down here in July), which brings us back to where we started... I avoid the Fourth because I don't want those people to think I'm one of them. These days it often seems as if a second Civil War (the War of Southern Aggression?) is ultimately inevitable... there's so much tension between people that it feels as though the country is about to split at the seams. Independence Day has become just another point of tension and pressure.

Could that correctly be called "ironic"?
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Friday, July 02, 2004
Michael Moore / Fahrenheit 9/11 Index

I've done a lot of posting on the subject, so it seems useful to put all of those posts in one place for easy indexing.

In chronological order:

On Michael Moore
Mike Wilson Hates Michael Moore
Bill O'Reilly Hates Michael Moore, Too
Documentary Miscellany
Not My Proper Post About Fahrenheit 9/11
Fahrenheit 9/11, part I
Record Bustin' Daddy
Fahrenheit 9/11, part II
Rebuttal To Hitchens
Record Bustin' Daddy: Update
Oh, And By The Way...
Stirrin' The Pot
Some Thoughts On The Nature Of Documentary
Just One More Post About Michael Moore

PS: The film has continued to do remarkably well, and as of this writing is currently closing in on $40 million at the box office. Huge.
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They Were Brought On

Exactly a year ago today, George W. Bush glowered into a TV camera and dared Iraqi insurgents to "bring them on".

Since that day, 656 American troops have been killed in Iraq. And even though we are no longer Iraq's "occupiers" (what are we, then?), the violence is not yet abating.

Oy. This mess will not be easily solved, but we've already learned a bad situation can be made worse. Losing faith in the folks running the show doesn't mean we want them to lose. But if there are no WMD, and democracy is replaced by martial law, and the violence continues, how do we define winning?
Daily Kos


Happy "Bring 'Em On" Day, Mr. President
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Some Thoughts On The Nature Of Documentary

Every time Michael Moore releases a film, I find myself having the same conversation. Someone -- generally someone who disagrees with Mr. Moore, though not always -- comes along and says, "Yeah, but it's not a documentary." This time around it was my mother... her statement, after lamenting that Fahrenheit 9/11 was all anyone was talking about, was that "it's an editorial, not a documentary!"

After a brief statement to the contrary -- was this really the best tactic to take with her heavily-film-educated daughter? -- I let it drop; the part that I found most irritating was not the refutation of Moore's opinions (I'd assumed that much, what else is new?), but the unawareness of the simple wrong-ness of that line of reasoning. Not that Mom's alone in that -- far from it, although conservatives seem to place a special stake on it whenever Michael Moore comes into the conversation. There are an awful lot of people who have never given the subject much thought. Indeed, outside the cloistered little word of documentarians, society in general is woefully uninformed on the subject, including the well-educated. So, to address the topic once and hopefully be done with it (for this blog, at least), a few thoughts on the word "documentary" and its meanings and implications.

"Documentary film" is an incredibly broad, dynamic genre. One of the best definitions I've ever heard for "documentary" came from a nine-year-old. He said that a documentary was "a movie about real things." In many respects, this is about as rigid as most of us feel comfortable being. Another useful one, posited by John Grierson in "Cinema Quarterly" is this: "Documentary is the creative treatment of reality." This, obviously, can embrace a huge amount of material of all different kinds; the only requirements are that a) reality be involved (separating documentary from fiction film) and b) that creativity also be involved (separating documentary from journalism.) To pull the boundaries in a bit tighter (thus excluding, say, docu-drama and "reality TV" from the category), we might lean on the definition from the Film Studies Dictionary: "[A]ny film practice that has as its subject persons, events, or situations that exist outside the film in the real world." (No, "Temptation Island" doesn't exist outside the show.)

Note what is not assumed in any of these definitions: there is no mention of objectivity as a prerequisite; nor is there is any disqualification for manipulation of material. Obviously, there are other definitions, some of which are quite a bit more rigid than these. When I studied documentary from an anthropological perspective in college, one of the main frustrations came from the fact that, while film is obviously an invaluable tool in documenting other cultures, the imposition of the filmmaker's perspective was highly undesirable. And yet, true objectivity is impossible... as soon as you set your camera up here instead of there, as soon as you point your lens at this rather than that, you've made a subjective choice, and thus have, in a small way, imposed your perspective. For an anthropologist, documentary film is more of an intellectual trap than a creative medium, and many hours have been spent trying to find ways around this problem. Nobody has succeeded yet.

Fortunately for us, the definitions favored by most practitioners aren't nearly as limiting, and we can use documentary film as an artform rather than a quantitative research tool; so for us, the looser definitions will suffice.

Therefore a few misconceptions about documentary film, discussed:

1) Documentaries are supposed to be unbiased.

The only way to ensure a lack of bias is to maintain strict objectivity. Apart from being impossible in this imperfect reality, this is considered neither necessary nor even particularly desirable in a documentary film generally speaking. Documentarians are NOT journalists, and so don't work under the same conventions and guidelines as journalists. To be sure, there is some amount of bleed-over between documentary and journalism, and this is fine, so long as we recognize that journalistic documentary is merely one point along an immensely broad spectrum that also embraces dozens of very non-journalistic sub-genres, including propagandistic documentaries, abstract documentaries, art documentaries, et cetera. A lack of bias is a quality that documentary film can include, but it's far from a defining element.

2. Propaganda isn't documentary.

This is one of those problematic statements, made trickier by the connotations that have been attached to the word "propaganda." You say "propaganda" and all anyone thinks of are Nazis and communists (or, alternately, WWII newsreels, which were heavily propagandistic.) People rarely think of advertising (which is refined commercial propaganda) in this context, although it fits very comfortably inside the definition. You'll also notice that much propaganda still fulfills the few requirements of documentary film.

In the most general sense, propaganda is any message that is intended to serve a particular agenda. If we use this definition as a guide, then every political speech, every campaign ad, every editorial, and 95% of Fox News qualifies as propaganda. And yet, few of those who throw the word "propaganda" at Michael Moore would feel comfortable applying it to, say, Sean Hannity as well. Here we see the subjective side of the word "propaganda" coming into play.

What most people mean when they start throwing around the word "propaganda" in a perjorative sense is that they believe the message in question is false. This becomes a game of semantics -- in order to argue that "propaganda" isn't "documentary," you have to have already decided what you're referring to with those terms -- something few outside the field have considered prior to making the statement. I personally prefer to leave the connotations of veracity and falsehood at the door. It's quite possible to discuss the merits and weaknesses of a given film without making sly innuendoes about one's odious totalitiarian leanings and commitment to honesty. This use of the word "propaganda" also overlooks the fundamental point that sometimes propaganda is true and correct; just because a point is made in the service of a given agenda doesn't mean that point is inherently wrong.

If we apply the word "propaganda" to a Michael Moore film in the less-charged, intellectually-honest sense, then it's a reasonable point to make; indeed, I've made it myself in this very blog. It would be better for everyone, though, if we could limit ourselves to that formal definition. Assuming we do, then propaganda often meets the criterea for the documentary genre quite easily, and I'd argue that Fahrenheit 9/11 is included. Certainly, there are also types of propaganda that don't fit in -- advertising, for example, or propaganda that's so far out as to have little basis in reality (although this in itself presents some semantic issues). Here we start bumping up against the debates that have been frustrating us for centures: questions of libel, questions of artistic merit, and so on. Some propaganda films that espouse appalling agendas -- for example, Triumph of the Will -- were remarkably artistically innovative for their time; and what qualifies as libel is always a sticky subject. Obviously there is very little consensus on the subject as a whole, and I wouldn't claim to have any easy answers. The best we can do is try to look at the world with an open mind and take each case as it comes.

3. Documentaries are never staged or scripted.

We can throw this one out immediately: anyone who has ever watched a documentary that includes a re-enactment of some kind has seen a staged and scripted bit of documentary. No sane filmmaker would go into a production without some idea of what he or she intends to shoot, and any amount of planning is arguably a form of staging and scripting. There is a point beyond which most documentarians will not go; a film that is heavily staged and scripted is moving off into the realm of docu-drama. But there's not any definitive guideline saying how much is too much; it's strictly down to the filmmaker and her material to decide. Again, this isn't journalism, and documentarians are not bound by the same standards and practices. Our primary job is to tell a story that is firmly rooted in external reality, but to do so in an artistically interesting way.

This argument is one that always interests me, because it's one I've been having with myself for a long time now. I feel much less conflicted about Fahrenheit 9/11 than I do with some of Moore's previous work; it's a far more solid film than, say, Bowling For Columbine (in technical documentary terms, of course). In thinking about the question over the last couple of months, I've found that I'm beginning to soften considerably, becoming more willing to take a broader position that encompasses more than I was previously. Mr. Moore seems determined to make me question my assumptions... and fair enough, that's kind of his thing. And as with all things in life, I reserve the right to change my mind.

For the record, I still think there are many better docs out there, though. May they one day get as much recognition as Fahrenheit 9/11.
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The Queers Are Gonna Steal Your Babies!

Seriously, what kind of crack is the religious right smoking?

Almost no attention has been devoted to what may be the more serious political question of who will supply the children of gay "parents," since obviously they cannot produce children themselves. A few will come from sperm donors and surrogate mothers, but very few. The vast majority will come, because they already do come, from pre-existing heterosexual families. In Massachusetts, "Forty percent of the children adopted have gone to gay and lesbian families," according to Democratic state Sen. Therese Murphy.

(...)

But whose rights are being denied depends on how deeply we probe and what questions we ask. Granting gay couples the "right" to have children by definition means giving them the right to have someone else's children, and the question arises whether the original parent or parents ever agreed to part with them.

Not necessarily. Governments that kind-heartedly bestow other people's children on homosexual couples also have both the power and the motivation to confiscate those children from their original parents, even when the parents have done nothing to warrant losing them.

(...)

Failure to grasp this nettle will leave social conservatives exposed to ever more contempt from a public that is crying out for leadership to rescue the family but which has been led to view social conservatives, however unjustly, as puritanical bigots who want to deny equal rights to homosexuals – rights that entail powers of totalitarian dimensions, undreamed of before the sexual revolution.
WorldNetDaily

I'm just going to sit here in slack-jawed astonishment at the mind-boggling ignorance, stupidity and plain old irrational fear and hatred displayed in this column for a few minutes... talk amongst yourselves...


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Thursday, July 01, 2004
Production Journal, Postscript

Tonight was the last night of shooting of any significant kind: a couple of little pickup shots with three actors and a barebones crew. I wasn't even there until the very end, and only then because Morgan needed a prop note I had in my possession (written in my own scrawly cursive; I've hardly ever used it since elementary school). I brought it out to 'em and hid behind a car through the shot... and that was that. End of production.

It was unlike any shoot I've worked on before (apart from a couple of days I spent swinging a boom on Blue Citrus Hearts), wildly unstructured and hard to pin down. It was also, for the most part, free of serious ego conflict or hassle, and the rigor of the work involved paled in comparison to what I used to do in film school. (How I miss those weeks in Studio B at LFS -- literally weeks on the set, leaving only to use the toilet and procure food, sleeping on the studio floor with nary so much as a sleeping bag -- we were hard core, we were.)

But yeah, it was good... I felt a little useless now and then, and while I never mentioned this to Morgan or Amber beforehand, I loathe doing A.D. work. It always bothers me that women, regardless of how technically good they might be, invariably get channeled off into support work and administrative stuff... I can handle a camera pretty well, y'know, and know my XLR from my RCA, my jib from my tilt. But never mind; it looks like I'll get to use all that next time around, and for this film it was enough just to be helpful.

The strangest thing about dissolving a crew, I always find, is the peculiar kind of absence you feel for a while afterwards. About half the crew were essentially strangers to me when we began, and now, y'know, I'll actually miss them. Without going into "we were like a family" cliches -- we were more like a gang of hooligans much of the time -- it'll be strange not to see Mike or Sebastian or Sean every day.

Ginger, however, is still around -- she might as well move to Memphis at this rate, she'd be most welcome. She seems to be having a great time with her crew around her, and she's treating us to all kinds of interesting fun. Dinners, movies, the lot... tonight we saw Spiderman 2 (not half bad), and there's talk later this week of indulging in The Stepford Wives. (I know the remake's not supposed to be that great, but I really like the original, so I'm willing to give it a try. And anything with Christopher Walken in it can't be all bad.)

Tomorrow, however, is the tattoo party. Four or five of the crew are going over to Underground Art to get inked up, at Ginger's urging. I will be going, although I will not be among the inkees; if my first boyfriend, who was a body-mod fiend, couldn't convince me to have a go, I doubt these people can (althought they've tried, god knows.) I'm going mostly to watch and provide moral support in the form of gentle mockery of the others' pain. I did cop to a willingness to get a fresh piercing -- just my left ear, nothinge exotic; I'm pretty conventional when it comes to where I maintain holes -- but it sounds like the people at U.A. are pretty full-up tomorrow, so I doubt that'll happen.

I was asked, though, if I were to get a tattoo, what would I get? This, of course, is a difficult question -- my skin doesn't seem to yearn for illustration like that of some people, and there isn't much I can think of, really, that I feel certain I'd like to look at for the next five or six decades.

But if I did get a tattoo, I think I'd get this:


This is the symbol (vever) for Erzulie, the Haitian Vodoun loa ruling love and femininity and female energy and all that kind of thing. I did a lot of research into Vodoun when I was in college (one of many reasons why no other school will accept my transfer credits), and became an official admirer of the religion, which is actually very subtle and elegant and has almost nothing to do with sticking things into dolls... although it does happen from time to time. Anyway, a vever is a symbol drawn with sand or cornmeal or ground chalk on the floor of the sacred space to "call" the loa in; the idea is that you draw one side with your right hand and one side with your left hand simultaneously. I can barely draw it at all, much less ambidextrously. But over the decade since I first became intrigued, I've been fond of this little ritual diagram. And I think, if I were so inclined (which I'm not), it would make a pretty good tattoo.

Anyway...

Apart from rambling aimlessly, I also want to use this final post as a place to consolidate all those daily posts on the production, so they all link up together nicely:

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven
Day Eight
Day Nine
Day Ten
Day Eleven
Day Twelve
Day Thirteen
Day Fourteen
Day Three, Revisited
Day Fifteen
Day Sixteen

Starting July 11 (give or take) I'll be starting the next shoot, which should be a completely different animal. I don't know if I'm going to journal that one the way I did this one -- it was something I found I didn't want to do after the hard days, and I couldn't think of much to write after the easy days -- but if anything interesting happens, I'll probably post about it.

So... there it is, then.








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