Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Out like a lamb....

So, this crazy March has come and gone. Don't have too much to say right now, had a very funny and weird conversation at the internship today about Facebook and gmail and other internet stuff, made me think of a little fun thing to do tomorrow...

If you see what I'm talking about tomorrow, try and play it cool and not blow the surprise for people who may not be in the know. If you have no idea what I'm talking about that's totally fine, I'll fill everyone in later. It's got something to do with facebook....

Happy March everyone,


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The G and S Show: Part II

See? Told you it'd be a two-parter. How could I not follow up on my promise?

The big celeb-ridden party was a big success, apparently. A few of my classmates who worked for the Cinema School and acted as "tour guides" for the open house spotted Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Harrison Ford, among a sea of others. Obviously on hand were the ubiquitous Spielberg and Lucas, who gave speeches and did a lot of glad-handing for the new building bearing their names. In addition to being covered by Variety and L.A. Times, I also got some info over Facebook, wheres some friends have posted some pretty rad pics of the industry titans schmoozing in our school.

It's funny, with Spielberg and Uncle George, because they are elevated to such heights - especially among young film nerds, and even more especially at USC - and such a record of hits that they are almost like these fictional characters...more a state of mind than actual people. Its also fair to say that they've both incurred some recent scorn (Lucas more so) since Indy 4 came out and looked more like a G'd video game than an adventure film. Lucas has also come under more local criticism at USC because everyone likes to complain about little problems with the new building. Not that I'm complaining, but people may say thing like its too big, its too flashy, it more for architectural aesthetics than functionality, there's not a lot of areas to sit and work and meet, and that the money could have been better spent on scholarships....(I may share some of the opinions, but whatever).

Anyway, it almost is an afterthought that these two men crafted some of the greatest, coolest, most exciting movies in Hollywood history. This fact is made obvious by an amazing little item that has danced its way around the Internet and right here onto MGH.

It is a complete transcript from 1978 of discussions had between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Larry Kasdan about the script for Indian Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Now, some of my more film nerd friends may already be aware, but to anyone who loves Raiders but hasn't read this yet it is AMAZING. The link to download it right HERE.

At 125 pages, it's quite a tall order to tackle but scrolling down to any piece of it is worthwhile, as the whole time they bat ideas back and forth. Lucas talks the most, but Spielberg's got the best ideas, and writer Larry Kasdan (who also wrote Empire Strikes Back) is just listening, occasionally stopping for clarifications.

There's a million great moments and I'm especially surprised by how often G and S mention the production realities and sometimes go into detail, like about the use of a tiger:

G - Then he finds an exit. I like the idea of Nazis putting tigers in there....You know what its like to fly a tiger in from South Africa.

S - It would have to be a neighborhood tiger.

G - There aren't any tigers out there.

S - I'm not in love with the idea.

G - You could have bats and stuff, make it slightly spooky.

So, yeah, apparently "Raiders" might've had a tiger. Then again, Spielberg isn't in love with the idea....how cool is this thing?! It's like sitting in, being a fly on the wall, in one of the most important conversations in moviedom.

Another excerpt I'll share is when G and S talk further about the action in the 2nd half of the first act and they broach the classic "snakes" line:

G - We shouldn't have any snakes in the opening sequence, just tarantulas. Save the snakes for now.

S - It would be funny if, somewhere earlier in the movie he somehow implied he was not afraid of snakes. Later, you realize that is one of his big fears.

G - Maybe it'd be better if you see early, maybe in the beginning that he's afraid "Oh God, I hate those snakes." It should be slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens this up "I can't go down there. Why did there have to be snakes. Anything but snakes." You can play it for comedy. The one thing that could happen is that he gets trapped with all these snakes.

Who knew? Its just so cool to see that, almost 30 years ago, these guys went through the same idea tossing and brainstorming that all writers go through. I mean, this could have easily been just like a conversation I had with the Red and Yellow team about "Chhk Chhk Boom" back in Glen Ellyn (somewhere on Bryant, perhaps?) or in my writing classes at Second City or here at SC.

It's just very refreshing to take away the Oscars and the blockbuster records and the mutli-million dollar new building and the legendary status and see that it all comes from a couple of guys sitting around, talking about a story they want to tell.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The G and S Show: Part I

"When do we go into lockdown mode?"

This is the question I posed to a classmate earlier today, and since we don't have classes on a Navy submarine or State Prison or anywhere that might usually require a lockdown mode, you may wonder why.

Well, this weekend all students - except for students currently editing a project - are not allowed in our brand new multi-million dollar School of Cinematic Arts building. Which might be mildly annoying, except for the fact that the reason is because this weekend "Uncle" George Lucas is throwing big grand opening party for himself and all the other big Hollywood-types that ponied up the dough to build our splendid little superstructure.

The two most high-profile guests will be the two men for which each wing of the new building in named: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

It's pretty wild thinking that these two barons of the blockbuster will be hobnobbing and schmoozing around the very same halls I stroll and saunter. Just think: Steven Spielberg sitting on the same bench I sit on, Steven Spielberg drinking from the same water fountain I drink from, Steven Spielberg crapping on the same - well, you get the idea.

And G and S are just the tip of the iceberg - top execs from all the major networks and studios will be milling about...Dreamworks, Paramount, NBC Universal, 20th Century Fox....the list goes on and on! It's the networking opportunity of a lifetime!!!

Which is why, of course, students will not be allowed within shouting distance of any of the entertainment elite this weekend. Starting at 5pm PST the building goes into "lockdown mode" - where only special staff and guests will be allowed entrance - until 5pm this Sunday. I can't say I blame 'em. I mean, I'm not one to get too starstruck but the thought of the ridiculous amount of movie moguls that will be hanging out at the SCA building this weekend is enough for me to "explode a Death Star" in my pants and run up to anyone and everyone with a script in one hand, a directing reel in another, and my mouth full of business cards.

Now the editors (including the editors of our documentary) will be allowed access to the labs in the basement for a limited amount of hours, but that comes only after being put on a special list and getting a special bracelet. Even after that, they have strict instructions to dress appropriately, not linger or loiter in the hallways, and explicit orders to not speak to or disturb any of the partygoers who are walking about during the open house.

So as much as I'd like to sneak myself in with one of those bracelets (and I certainly could) I've decied I'd get about as much access to these people as I would standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine shouting at every dark window-tinted BMW that passed by. Plus, considering this is our LAST WEEKEND of filming for the doc, I'll certainly have enough to do already.

But is there a chance I may swing by campus for some silly reason and slowly meander in the proximity of the SCA building this weekend?

You bet your sweet X-Wing there is.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Worst. Post. Ever.

Sorry guys. I spent more than 40 min working on the today's post but then navigated away from the page and damn "blogger" thing didn't save ANY of it so I'm back to a blank page and am too tired and frustrated to rewrite it right now. I will hopefully game up and punch it out again tomorrow.

It's a good post, though. One of the best, maybe, if there are any posts that seem "better" than others. I don't know. I've always enjoyed June, 11 2008. Whatever. It may even be a two part-er.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


One of the cool thing about this crazy documentary I'm producing is that for the class - 547 - we also have a class that meets Mondays where we get to watch a relatively new doc and then someone associated with it, usually the director or producer, comes in a talks about it and there's a Q&A. Some of the notable doc we've watched are the Oscar nominated films The Garden and Man on Wire (which actually won the damn thing - the producer who came and talked was a real sport considering she had probably been out partying all night). Both are good and I would recommend them.

This past Monday we watched a film called WE LIVE IN PUBLIC - it's a crazy story about a dot.com millionaire who created this insanely voyeuristic underground compound in Manhattan in the late 1990's. Here's the trailer:


It's a great film and really, almost frighteningly applicable in this day and age. Especially if you paid attention to the facebook ownership dispute and all the other things about privacy and emails and identities.

But mostly its just a lot of crazy sh*t and drama happening, which is you really what you want from a good documentary. That's actually what we've been learning in class.

Well, not really. But its been true of every doc we've watched this semester. Whenever people give long-winded feedback in class on our docs, I think what they really want to say is: "It's good, but I just dont think you have enough crazy sh*t and drama going on...Could you shoot more? More crazy sh*t and drama, cuz that'd be great!".

We have our last weekend of shooting this upcoming weekend. I'm so excited and yet incredibly tired at the same time. I'd like to point out we've pretty much been filming for, like, 10 weekends straight almost.

I'm goin' to bed.


Monday, March 23, 2009


Forgive me Father, for it has been 11 days since my last blog entry.

Guess that making an open commitment to blog every single day of Lent has backfired because now I feel even MORE guilty for having gone AWOL that last week+4.

But, if you must know, I didn't just spurn one little promise to my readers and my God (well, I didn't really promise GOD that I would keep blogging - I'm not stupid), but I went all-out on breaking commitments, covenants, and commandants in a city where morals are about as celebrated as the NCAA woman's basketball tournament: a city of sin. Sin City.

Okay..... - I went to Vegas.

I know - it's bad. Here I am producing this doc, its Lent, the economy's bad and I scoot off to the land of lights and loose women. But it's only 3.5 hours away! And one man only has so much will power! It was spring break! I was young and stupid! (no, wait, that last one is my excuse for using steroids).

I tried to keep things relatively low-key, as low-key as I could, at least. but I did break my New Year's resolution / Lent "fasting" item of no fast food and splurged on a Double-double with fries and a chocolate shake from In-n-Out burger.

The burger is hyped up a lot by West Coasters and the In-n-Out burger is not so legendary for its taste, but for its addictive nature, kind of like cigarettes....though I'm not sure which is healthier.

Anyway, aside from the fast food (and a couple of other sinful / unlwaful activities which will be known under the umbrella term "shenanigans"), I spent most of the time just taking it easy since I knew that I'd have a heap of work to attend to upon my return to L.A.

Of course, I didn't actually attend to any work until after St. Patty's Day, but I assure you that after that I was all business. Seriously.

So, just to recap, my excuses for the past 11 days are as follows:

March 13-16th - Fast food and "shenanigans" in Las Vegas

March 17th - St. Patrick's Day

March 18-20th - Working on obtaining archival materials for the documentary

March 21-22nd - Back to filming in Hanford, CA.

Just so everyone knows: I may dodge commitments and break promises, but damnit! - at least I'll have a barely satisfactory list of excuses to cover my ass. Gosh, I just realized I that with that attitude I would be a wonderful asset to the Treasury Department!

OK, we'll keep this ridiculous train a-ridin' tomorrow, hopefully.

Even if i don't, I can assure you a damn good excuse.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Da Sears

So, seeing as how I felt the shockwaves all the way out here in LA-LA, no doubt everyone knows about the announcement that floored the Chicagoland and Northwest-Indiana area today.

My first response was much like Roddy Rod when he got the call from the Feds: "Is this a joke?"

But reports on ChicagoTribune.com, Suntimes.com and phone confirmation confirmed it all.

They are going to change the name of the Sears Tower to Willis Tower.

Okay, so what I'm going to say next will no doubt cause similar shock, anger, and vitriol directed at me for being 'out-of-touch', for having gotten too much sun, or maybe, finally, truly, 'gone Hollywood'.

The thing is: I'm not that upset.

Saddened, yes. Defensive, a little. Outraged, no. As much as I usually really don't like him, columnist Eric Zorn made a decent point today about everything. Because here's the thing, having a great and deep love for this city and its landmarks I knew that Sears hasn't been the primary occupier of the Sears Tower since the mid-1990's. I also know that in this economy downtown occupancy rates have been steady, with a few new building getting put on hold or stopped completely, so its very nice to hear that big businesses are still interested in investing in the Loop, in Chicago.

And, let's be honest, and maybe this is my inner "Glen Ellyn-ness" coming in, but, when was the last time you went to Sears? I mean, if you need tools: go to Home Depot, if you need trusted brand clothing at great values: Marshall's or the outlet mall, and if you just want to feel bad about yourself, then head to Denny's!

I'm not happy about it, and I'm not saying it won't make me sad to see the giant SEARS TOWER sign on Wacker get changed, but we should all see the silver lining which is that Chicago is a city constantly changing, growing, expanding.

Chicago is at a very important crossroads as a city right now. We'll find out in just 203 days whether Chicago will be chosen to host the Olympics in 2016. We are the home (like him or not) of a sitting U.S. President, and a damn internationally popular one at that. In recent years we've seen the city undertake new construction like Millennium Park, Trump Tower, and the soon-to-be finished Chicago river walk.

Even though Chicago grew mightily out of its catalogue-selling big department stores like Sears and Marshall Field's, that's not who we are anymore (though THAT I am still pissed about, don't ask me why: %#!* Macy's). Listen, the mail-order catalogue is on the outs, the steel mills are closed and the only thing that's left of the mighty stockyards is the famous limestone gate. But WE are still here, because Chicago is a constantly changing and evolving entity - that's what makes us great.

And, hey, it could be worse. "Willis" ain't too bad. It's got an elegance to it (short of the Different Strokes gags, which have to be exhausted at some point). It could be stupid ole' L.A. where people don't even know the names of the buildings that dot their pathetic skyline [The really tall building in downtown L.A. is the US Bank building, and gaudily bears the name of that bank on its crown]. And let us REALLY count our blessing that we are only losing a name. The skyline remains the same, as we've seen how even that cannot always be a certainty due to the fanatical evil that permeates our time.

The Sears Tower will still stand, tall and proud. It's skydeck will still be available to anyone who want to recreate a favorite moment from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's antennae will still be like a giant barometer for the heart of the city, turning green on St. Paddy's; red, white and blue on the 4th; and orange and blue on those very rare occasions when the Bears stumble their way into the playoffs (by the way, if we are going to get outraged about something in Chicago, how about the failure of Jerry Angelo to get us a real QB or of Pax to just about screw up everything?)

So though this occurence this summer will be sad, let's not get too down. We are still the "Stormy, Husky, Brawling, City of the Big Shoulders".

I do take solace that the label of this great building is forever immortalized in an SNL sketch when the Superfans were discussing New York vs. Chicago, and - as was often the case - a question was posed:

-Would you radder have da Empire State Building or da Sears Tower?



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Clutch = Dutch?

Having been busy lately with shooting and editing my directing project (now finished, thank God) and keeping up with the documentary, I've been doing my best to keep up with the goings-ons in the wide world of sports, but this weeks there have been two items that stand out. They are related by 2 factors: they both featured a clutch performance, and both further depressed me as a Chicago sports fan.

The first is Dwayne Wade's crazy winning shot against the Bulls in, what, double overtime? I mean, for me, right now, pretty much ANYTHING that I see about the Bulls depresses me (they lost again, by the way, helping the Orlando Magic clinch a playoff spot).

The second is the Netherlands surprising upset of the Dominican Republic. Now, at first, I thought this was great. What an awesome Cinderella story to give some spice to the WBC! But then I saw that the victory came at the expense of Carlos Marmol - a one-time unhittable Cubs reliever who has more recently shown some chinks in the armor. What's so disturbing is that if you watch the final innings it looks almost exactly like a typical Cubs meltdown.

Uusally, I can wait til Opening Day to even think about getting disappointed. Glad the WBC could freak me out early. Thanks Bud Selig!....you jackass.


Hard Day's Night

I hate to just complain (no, wait, I LOVE to complain) sometimes about film school. I am aware that most people are dealing with much greater issues and problems, especially in this economy - (a phrase which, by the way, deserves its own blogpost soon). That all being said, I'd like to briefly complain.

I love that USC constantly harps on us as student filmmakers for making sure we are always safe, and never working our actors too hard, having at least a 12 hour turnaround on shooting schedules, and then gives us workloads, classes, and expectations that flip those notions on their head.

I had my directing class tonight which runs from 7pm to 10:30pm. You'd think that 7-10 is enough, but I guess not. In fact, since the teacher will just talk and talk and and the SA doesnt say anything and we go 5 or 10 minutes over. Now its almost 11 o-clock. This all might be okay, except that I've got a class tomorrow morning that usually starts at 9 am BUT, oh happy happy joy joy, we're starting at 8:30 am because there's SO much to go through. AND that class is supposed to end at 11:50 am (it NEVER does), and usually can go to 12:05 or 12:10. Thank God my producing teacher usually lets us start 15 to 30 minutes later and always makes sure we finish on time. I guess thats one thing thats nice about being a producer - people can argue cuts and angles and sound and subjects and choices, but no one can argue with the location of the hands of a clock.

Which, as I can see, are waaaaayy too late for someone who needs to wake up in, like, 5 hours.



Monday, March 9, 2009

Dungeons and Hard Drives

Greetings from the annals of USC's post-production, located in the basement of the new Cinematic Arts building. This facility has quickly picked up the nickname "the dungeon" because of its subterranean location and endless blank hallways, from which there is little escape.

It's a real shame, since our last post-production building, though older and less technologically superior, was at least above ground level, and one could easily see daylight when taking a break. Now, with all the editing computers in the windowless basement, its like a casino where you lose all sense of time, weather, and the outside world in general. Its depressing, soul-sucking, and another little complaint on top of the large pile of petty problems with our fantastic new building.

Almost done, I'll be glad when I'm be out of here.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Quantity over Quality

[So as I try and keep up with a post-a-day, these things will often be shorter, but more frequent. Obviously, there's a trade-off. I'm still not sure which manner of posting I prefer.]

Currently in the process of editing a scene that I shot yesterday for my Intermediate Directing class. What we had to do is pick an already published work that is not a movie and find a short scene (so, essentially either from a play or adapting part of a book or short story) and rehearse and shoot it w/ actors.

I, by more luck than anything else, came across a very well-written little play called "Lip Service" from a scribe named Howard Korder (any theater people may be familiar with his most popular play - Boy's Life).

Anyway, its a really funny play, the scene I picked takes place in a bar and we shot it on location at a bar in Santa Monica. Have mentioned my love of bars? Hell, I'm even starting to warm to bars out in L.A. a little bit.

A little bit.

Shooting went well, editing now, talk to y'all later,


Saturday, March 7, 2009


So, I usually shy away from movie reviews on the blog, but since I'm trying to do a post a day I've got to do something to fill the time. (The 40 days of blogging has yet to garner any response from any of the 3 readers, making me assume that the long hiatus has pushed them over to the empty promises of shamwow.com).

I dunno 'bout in Chicago, but here in La-La, Watchmen is being heavily pushed, almost like a summer blockbuster. It seems the whole town is interested in how this film will open (BIG) and if it will sustain anything.

Since I don't want to get into my own thoughts on the movie (which I "watched" tonight), I will defer to this review from the New York Daily News (or the Daily Snooze, to some Post-leaning Manhattanites), which pretty closely sums up my opinions on this, the first big movie of 2009.


Friday, March 6, 2009

The Hills

So, just as a little update since I've been away from the blog. In addition to producing this documentary about carousels and merry-go-rounds, I've also managed to get a nice little internship.

It's for a production company founded by Ivan Reitman (the comedic genius who produced Animal House and directed Ghostbusters). It's called the Montecito Picture Company and has recently produced such comedy flicks as Old School, Road Trip, and - a personal favorite of mine - Euro Trip. "Oh no, we're in .....Eastern Europe"

For the most part a lot of what I do is reading scripts or books and submitting coverage on them, essentially summarizing the story so that execs don't have to read 121 pages of crap. Occasionally, I'll make runs to get coffee, lunch, ect.

It's fun, and one of the coolest things is that the office is in Beverly Hills, which, up until now, was an area I only went to when someone visited and wanted to see Beverly Hills. Now, though, I work in 90210 two times a week, and am finding out a few things about the neighborhood.

Namely, it's expensive. Very, very expensive.

It's also kind of boring. I know I should be seeing celebs everywhere but I think I just kind of suck at celeb spotting. I need to, like, hang out with a guy fromTMZ or something and hone my stargazing because right now I don't think I could find Brad Pitt at an Ugly Convention.


(get it? because he'd stick out sense he's handsome? eh?....eh....oh.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The 40 / 40 Club

The guilt, the guilt, oh Lord: the guilt!

I have indeed been panged with the big "G" these past few days, weeks. Okay, this whole month.

But whaddaya expect? That's what happens in Lent.

Kidding. (not really) But I have felt really guilty because I have not written anything on the blog since the beginning of February. And I could make excuses, (like about how I'm producing a documentary, and am responsible for coordinating crew schedules, making plans with locations, getting permits, making travel arrangements, and keeping the director on track) but I'm not going to, because excuses don't make for worthwhile reading.

Indeed, the writer's guilt I feel is multiplied two-fold now that I, being the good Catholic boy that I am, am in the self-shaming period of Lent: a time when us Catholics prepare for the coming of the Risen Lord, fast in order to bring us closer to God, and grumble about having to pass on burgers or steaks on Fridays.

You may then be wondering what small-but-significant vice I am giving up for these 40 days and 40 nights, an especially good question considering the wide array to choose from...

Will I be passing on pop? (specifically, Coca-Cola?) Maybe, cutting out candy? Finished with fats? A cessation of Cinemax? A moratorium on mini-cigars? Or, probably the most ambitious, a personal prohibition on alcohol until April 12th?

Well, here's the thing....none of that's going to happen. Sorry. Film school is stressful enough without me pulling my hair out b/c I can't have a beer with friends or relax with mini-Ashton. Besides, I'm not sure God would be that proud of me biting everyone's head off just cause I didn't have a Coke with lunch.

I will say that throughout Lent I am continuing my New Year's Resolution of no fast-food* and, I've decided that in lieu of denying something from myself I am going to give of myself, to you, my friends, family, and random bored people on the internet. (Wow, if that's not a sin of pride, I don't know what is..)

Since I feel so bad about screwing up the whole of February, I am going to post SOMETHING, anything, on this blog every single day of Lent (which, is actually more than 40 days from Ash Wed to Easter Sun, but whose counting, right? Seriously, who? The Vatican? Bene XVI? God? non-partial Jewish accountants?). But the idea seems appropriate, especially since it will simultaneously culminate with Easter and my coming home (briefly) to Chicago for the Holy Weekend.

AND, since Lent started 7 days ago when I got ash'd up, I've got some making up to do. But, since I don't have the time/energy to go back and recount what I would have written the past 7 days, I'm just going to give a quick buffet of the entire past month since my last post.

I'll be honest, one of my favorite things about the blog is coming up with the post titles, so I present to you, with apologies to David Lettermen:


7. Horsin' Around (and Round)

6. The Road to Hanford

5. Jai-Ho!

4. Sandy Eggo

3. He's Just Not that into Bad Chick Flicks

2. P's and C's

1. Hooray for Mannywood!

See you tomorrow! (and the day after tomorrow.......and the day after that, and the day after that....)


*I mean chain fast-food, greasy burger stuff like McDonalds, BK, Wendys, Carls Jr, Jack-in-the-Box, In-n-Out, and others. Absolved from this field are any Chicago-based fast food, such as Portillo's, Giordano's, Flips, ect.