Wednesday, December 17, 2008

So, This Is Christmas:

And What Have You Done?

Another Year Over

And A New One's Just Begun

It admittedly isn't "beginning to look a lot" like anything here in Venice (except maybe the holiday vacation the McCallister's took to Florida in Home Alone 2). There's some snow topping the mountains just outside of LA, but the rest of the Southland is currently mired in cold, rainy, almost "Midwestern" weather (if it was March).

Yet, despite the rain, this semester (and first year) at USC went out with a blast. The screening on Sunday was one hell of a drunken, rollicking party with tons of laughs, cheers, and shout-outs that made your average brew-and-view look like a church basement.

Apparently the crowd isn't usually as rowdy as my class was last Sunday. Some friends who were a semester or two ahead of us told us that we have a bit more alcohol-fueled fun than classes previous.

Speaking of laughs, I'm proud to say that more than a few of the laughs in Norris were provided by the film of yours truly. "Sunshine on Sale" screened right in the heart of the order and I couldn't be happier with the response. It got laughs, a few cheers, and plenty of compliments afterward. I was especially happy it played well because my two actors-Javier and Todd-came for the screening and got to see their awesome performances play out in front of a crowd and I made sure to give them their due diligence during the little post-film speech we get to give.

The whole thing was a ton of fun and will remain a pretty unforgettable experience for the countless little things that went on between friends (and enemies) that night.

I have to say, since I haven't really talked about them in the ole' blog, but the biggest reason I feel like I have survived (if not thrived) out here for roughly the past 12 months has been because of the friends I've made at USC. Some of you have already gotten to meet a few of them, and more of you will get to meet more of them over the Christmas break, but the whole class, and especially the dozen or so people I hang out and drink and smoke with on daily basis, have been the greatest and best surprise that I've had since hitting the road of uncertainty last January. We've spent a year in the metaphorical trenches of filmmaking, and I suspect that a couple of these characters will be around for a long time.

But, of course, there's a reason I have been literally counting the days 'til my return to Chicago and it's because of my awesome family and the incredible friends, from Montclair Ave to St. Pet's, from Benet to Loyola, from Second City and beyond.

I am so damn sick of not being in Chicago and not hanging out with y'all that I've been doing my best to stay pretty busy the last few days: preparing for next semester, doing things I've procrastinated since August, and spending some time with the few people who are still around town.

I've got one more little stop this weekend before arriving at O'Hare airport, hopefully ((KNOCK ON WOOD)) in time to see the second half of the MNF game between the Bears and Packers in, I think, the GE, but maybe downtown. Anyway, sorry as it is, the Monsters of the Midway seem to still have a shot to get to and be defeated in the first round of the playoffs.

Oh, and so I PRRAAAAYYYY that my SA's will be able to get me a DV tape copy of my film tomorrow. Apparently there's a huge logjam made worse by the moving into the new building (more 'bout that down the road) and some tapes won't get printed in time for Xmas.

So, if I don't come home with a copy of "Sunshine" please don't hate me, because I'll already be hating myself. Besides, we can always watch "Chhhhk Chhk BOOM and A Happy New Year" again, right?

By the way, the worst written, but best delivered, line ever has to be Juan Picante saying:

"I think it's going to be......a BLAST"

....and may all your Christmases be white

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merry Mix-mas to All, and to All a Good Night!

......and this ball game is OVA!!!!

I hate to borrow a phrase from the other side of town, but I cannot help to contain the excitement of being DONE! Yeah baby!

Okay, before we get too deep into my unbridled joy/relief, let us step back briefly to yesterday, and what is probably the best Mix-mas ever.

So, like I said, I've been sound editing since the end of Thanksgiving break (roughly Dec 1) and have spent at least some time in the edit lab every day since then. There's just so much sound work that can be done.

Anyway, the sound mix is something that all "real" movies go through. There's a lot of technical things that go into it (most of which I don't understand), but long story short is that I spent a bunch of time editing the sound for my film at a computer screen wearing headphones. But the movie will not be watched like that: it will be watched in a theater. The sound mix essentially takes the sounds that I laid out and mixes them together, brings some sounds out, tones others down, and designs it to play in a large theater (which, in the case of this Sunday, will be USC's Norris Theater). It's fun because you really have think about how your film will play to a theater full of people.

Because the sound mix is such a technical process and the equipment used is so expensive (I mixed on a quarter-million dollar board) we essentially get our sound mixer assigned to us based on the time slot. It's kind of a frustrating process because, though none of the mixers are bad, some are good and some are really f*^# ingeniously talented. It's just the luck of the draw.

So I met with my mixer a day before the mix and it was clear to me based on the conversation we had that he was going to be a "good" guy, which was fine. I would have liked a magic man but what you gonna do?

Then, I get an e-mail from him yesterday morning saying that he will not be able to make it to my mix. Who did they get to fill in for him? Well, only Buddy, the chief audio engineer at USC, who has recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, and others.


Buddy was the magic man. I ran into my SA (Student Assistant, essentially a TA) before the mix and she said that Buddy was watching my film earlier and thought it was hilarious. In the mixing theater he did things to the sounds in my film that I would have never thought of but they ramped it way up. It was great because he really got what I was going for and the whole thing was such an amazing and unique experience. Up until yesterday I was feeling pretty good about the picture edit and a little nervous about the sound. Now, I may be more excited for the sound than anything else. When we finished, he was laughing and said "this thing is going to rock at Norris".

So yeah, anyway, I threw a Mix-mas party (Get it?) at my place last night to celebrate being done and the party was a damn blast. Eggnog, xmas lights, wii tennis, tons of beer, a late-night visit to the beach (don't worry, no one was dumb enough to go in), pizza, Jack Daniel's, and a 3 am drunken viewing of the Chhhk Chhk Boom films. The mess I woke up to this morning is reminiscent of a certain NYE celebration at a certain building's rooftop downtown.

But man oh man though does it feel good to be done. Now I get some time to get a few things taken care of and only 9 days separate me from returning to my big, beautiful, wacky-weathered, corruption filled home sweet home Chicago.

Ah yes: Blago. I mean, we all knew he was a crook right? I just can't believe he was so stupid to say all that when he knew he was under federal scrutiny.

"I've got this thing, it's f***ing golden!"

By the way, is it bad that I'm kind of happy about all this because I get to see more Chicago in the news? I mean, I'm so desperate to see my city that I'm watching CNN and stuff just to see their correspondents report from Daley Plaza or near the Aon Center. The WGN news at noon and nine (10am and 7pm here) just isn't enough anymore. I want my CHI!

So, yeah, the screening is at Norris tomorrow. I'll be there with the whole class plus most of the cast and crew and we'll watch the thing and drink and party some more and then I'll be done with my first year of film school.

THAT will certainly require a contemplative blog post.

But now, I've got a Mix-mas mess to mop up. We'll see how the screening goes....hopefully somebody laughs.

Merry Mix-mas everyone! See you soon....

Monday, December 8, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Well, 'tis the season!

Of course, aside from the music on the radio and some lights awkwardly strung up around a palm tree, you wouldn't know it out here in La-la Land.

Indeed, if you were to check the Mark-o-meter right now I would say "Chicago-longingness" is close to an all-time high. My favorite time of year and there's no snow, no cold, no CHRISTKINDLMARKET in Daley Plaza. I guess it's all for the best, since the past week and these next few days I am immersed in a tedious, time-consuming, (seemingly) never-ending world of sound editing.

Yeah, so as I mentioned a week or so ago, we picture locked on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I'm very happy with the picture edit I locked, and since Dec 1st I have been adding a soundtrack to that picture.

Since we shot everything on old Arri S cameras that doesn't record sound we have to create all the sound that will be in the movie. That's EVERY SINGLE SOUND. The whirr of the computer, the typing on the keyboard, the car horns in the distance, the breathing through the nose...hence the tedious nature of the work.

And what gets really frustrating is that the more sounds you add, the more you feel like you need to add. At first, you see the actor walking down the hall and you think "okay, lets just put in some footsteps". Go out record the footsteps, sync them up, put the sound in. But then you watch it and you realize "well, we should hear his pants 'swooshing' as he walks. And his vest. And shouldn't the bottle he's holding in his hand make a noise? What kind of noise does a bottle even make?"

This is why it seems never ending, because life is so full of sounds, and you have to create all of them to enhance your movie. So even when you drop a bunch of sound in, someone watches it and says "You could add this sound here" and so on and so on.

However, it is really strangely satisfying when you get good sounds that truly improve the film. Plus, I have enjoyed working with a composer who is going to write a musical score that perfectly suits my film. This, I'm very excited about. Gone are the days when we'd have to edit the picture to fit a Beastie Boys song, now the music perfectly compliments the image.

My composer is from USC's special composer program, which is the only film composer program like its kind anywhere in the world. So you know these guys are good. As a friend of mine said just earlier tonight "These guys are much better and experienced composers than we are filmmakers", and I'd have to agree with him. And since I am an amazing filmmaker, you can only imagine how good these guys are.

So there's the good, the bad, and the ugly of this final stage of my film being made. Gone is the planned insanity of production and the story structuring (or restructuring) of editing. Now its just me, my movie, and a sleigh-load of sound.

We sound lock this Thursday and on Friday we have the sound mix (a fascinating process which I'll hopefully have time to write about. That is, if anyone's interested...?).

Only two weeks until I'm back in the CHI. Keep the cocoa warm, the brats hot, and your ears open.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Gather Together....

...for turkey, futbol, and Vegas.

Okay, so I'll admit it wasn't the most traditional Thanksgiving, but I did the best I could.

Indeed, it was a bittersweet day of thanks for me. With picture lock happening just last Wednesday, plus writing assignments and sound editing on the horizon, making the flight back to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends was a regrettably unpractical thing to do.

But, in order to take my mind off the fact that I was missing mom's turkey, Grandma's sweet potatoes, and beers with old friends at Curly's in the GE, I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner at my apt for anyone else who stayed in L.A. for the holiday.

Which means that, despite the vote of no-confidence from some friends back home, I took it upon myself to prepare the Thanksgiving turkey. And I have to say two things: 1) I'm not too shabby in the kitchen when it comes down to it, and 2) Cooking a turkey is a lot of work and pressure and I'll be happy if I never have to do it again. To all the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers out there: a tip of the cap is in order. Thanksgiving is a lot easier when all I have to do is go to the store to pick up a bag of ice and watch football all day.

And though I couldn't be home, I did enjoy bringing a lot of my classmates together and had some real fun with some of my foreign friends who were celebrating their first Thanksgiving ever. Luckily we had enough food for everyone to experience the true meaning of the holiday: eating so much that by the end of the meal you feel sick.

Man, I love America.

Indeed though, the foreign devils even got kind of into the spirit as once the food had settled an impromptu game of soccer was started on the beach. As much as I wanted to throw the pigskin around, I decided that between the palm trees outside and sushi next to the turkey, this Thanksgiving was already less-than-traditional. Besides,, who really keeps track of these things?

Indeed, the whole weekend took an even more interesting turn when a couple of my friends and my roommate decided to forget heading to the malls the day after, we were going to hit Vegas.

So we traded the twinkle of Xmas lights and crowded stores for sparkling neon lights and crowds of whores.

(Sorry, but it rhymes and there are a lot of loose women in Vegas...)

It was just a one night thing, had to get back to work on writing and get ready for these final two weeks of sound editing. But it was a nice break and a fun reward for a challenging couple of weeks. I felt a little strange about it all at first, but celebrating turkey day in 60 degree weather had already set the bar for strangeness. I'm just thanking God I won't have to make do with a California Christmas.

Speaking of my favorite time of the year, I saw Tom Skilling on WGN this morning talk about the first snow of the year. Damn, am I jealous.

Oh least I won $200 playing roulette at the Mirage!

Happy Shoveling!