Monday, May 21, 2012

New Frontier

One thing I've always liked about this blog is how it can act as my own personal news source in my own little ego orbit. It allows for more than just a Facebook status update or the 140 characters of a tweet for those times when I feel like getting on a digital soapbox to rant and rave.

Or when I want to make a big deal of something.

And that's what I'm looking to do today. Now, don't worry it's not THAT big a deal, but it's a little something related to my time writing on this blog.

I know what you're thinking: "But, Mark, you've been SO prolific on this blog!"

Of course it has...I mean, just look at all the activity and posts these past 8 months!

By the way, the whole "animated gifs" thing seemed to break just as I was in post-grad panic mode (a mode that has lasted some 372 days so far...?) but I must say its a shame I wasn't quite aware of them when I was blogging so much more prolifically.

ANYWAY, this is off-topic. What I'm getting to is that I'm going to be putting any future blogging on hiatus as I gear up and shift my attention towards a new online adventure.

Now, since I haven't really blogged much at all the past year this isn't THAT big a deal, but I'm a sucker for closure and making a thing out of things so I wanted to at least leave this blog in a place where I'm happy with it as a cohesive work. Like, if some sad porn-blocked kid in a Midwestern state stumbled upon it one night, they'd be able to find a cohesive narrative if they wanted.

(Wow, such ego I still have! This from a star office PA on America's Kidz Got Singing)

But it has pissed me off that I haven't kept up on this a whole lot because I always liked having a forum and being able to bring stuff up and comment on things. Once out of film school though, its been harder to fill the blog because there's kind of sensitive info going on. Not top secret Deadline: Hollywood shit (well, maybe once), but I'm not the type who is going to blog and post every time I have a job interview or a potential opportunity arises.

Obviously I'm not opposed to self-promotion, but I'm also not too crazy about it either. That's why I've never really pimped this blog a whole lot. I like that the audience is almost exclusively made up of past residents of the western suburbs or Loyola University Alumni, it allows me to make obscure jokes about pulling a foul ball (?) over the Markese's house in tennis baseball or "respecting the pool rules".

But now I've decided to move on to something a bit bigger. Something that I can pimp out and talk to people about and grow and so on.

With that, I'd like to introduce y'all to GUST.

GUST is kind of the culmination of my years on this blog, spent complaining and commenting on my experience as a Chicagoan who has been enamored and angered by the City of Los Angeles, and packaged as an inclusive and expansive place to share what I've learned from the experience.

It's a website / blog made with the hope of brining together these two places I've called home in my life: Chicago and L.A.

Specifically, it's really a place for Chicagoans who--like me--have relocated to L.A, temporarily or permanently, and still pine for a stronger connection to the amazing sense of community that you often take for granted in Chicago.

One thing I want to make clear is that GUST is not anti-L.A. I mean, it might skew that way sometime but it's really about the intersection of these two great American cities. It's about creating a place and a community for people who may sometimes feel disconnected from this parking lot and smog tester-filled town.

It's ALSO about opening up Los Angeles to both newly landed Chicago folk or lifelong Los Angelinos. It's a website that I hope is just as informative as it is entertaining. A place that can link people together who live two thousand miles or two blocks away. A forum that will still allow me to spout off about Italian Beef or being new in town while hopefully reaching beyond those who can easily point to Galena, IL on a map.

And so to focus on GUST, I'll have no immediate plans to be blogging again on MGH anytime soon. This blog has been a great precursor and made me realize how much I like venting about stuff like Carmaggedon or McDonald's ad campaigns. Now I'll feel free to push GUST in people's faces without having to make them sit through a description of my latest short film or more retrospectives on USC.

Hopefully I can return to this blog, in one way or another, at some point because it has been an important way for me to stay connected to folks back home ever since I moved out here.

But it's been tricky enough to keep up on this blog with my post-grad adventures and I am ready to move on and move forward to something different. Something that I hope can become...something someday.

I'm not sure. I do know that it will be a way for me to keep writing, which is always a good thing.

It's always nice to have this or any blog as a free spirited break from the scenes and structures and spec scripts that I seem to fill up so much of my time with these days.

So the good news is that I will still be writing.

Just not at anymore.

I do hope that you all take a long tour of GUST and let me know what you think, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and please PLEASE feel free to hit me up with any suggestions and constructive (or destructive) criticisms you might have.

That address, just so everyone can scribble it into their trapper-keepers, is

Anyway, I'll sign off here for now with the intrepid image that pushes me and hangs above my monthly calendar from one of my all time favorite shows, "The West Wing" -

It's a commonly uttered phrase by President Bartlett and his staff and it calls to mind that we are always best in motion, looking forward, and ready to jump into the next thing right away, whatever that may be. Also nicely typified by Sam Seaborn in this clip.

So thanks, family and friends, for stopping by this blog o' mine.

Hope to see you around the next thing as well.

- MK

Time to go out with a bang with some inspirational and vaguely phallic imagery!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

USC Moment #1 - MANGINA (or the Most Important Thing I Took Away from Film School)

So it has come to this. It has taken me nearly a year since graduating to finish this thing I originally said in Feb 2011 I'd have done "before graduation."

But I think it may have taken 365 days-ish to be able to at least get a sense of what the most important thing I have taken away from USC film school is. And now I can truly say I know what that is, and can sum it up in one word:


Now, you can head to the Urban Dictionary if you don't know what a "mangina" is, but to get the gravitas behind this seemingly crude term you have got to know the story behind my #1 USC Film School Moment.

It was second semester, fall of 2008, and we were finishing our 508 films. This was back when each of us thought our 5 minute shorts shot by complete amateurs was going to be our one-way ticket to Sundance (granted, it kinda was for some, but mostly everyone ends up with a five minute kinda-blurry movie that just screams "first film").

This had been a long semester and an even longer year. Take the fun stress of moving to a new city and add it to a ridiculous production schedule and mountains of pressure heaped upon yourself to make the next "Songbird," and by the time the semester is over all you want to do is bathe in river of whiskey and cigarettes and never hear about the 180 degree line as long as you live.

That was my mental state when it finally came time for the class to screen our films in a big, fun, blow-out screening at USC's Norris Theater. It was a great feeling, to be DONE. And to all be done together. Everyone made their own individual films, but we had all accomplished something.

That night we did what we'd been doing all semster: we DRANK.

Like.....a lot.

Norris has hosted some of the biggest names in cinema, from Hitchcock to Spielberg, and is a pretty classy spot. But that night the back row looked like New Orleans after Mardi Gras. We had gotten a little boozy at the screening earlier in the semester, but this was a total party. Everyone was excited and thrilled to be done.

Like this.... x50

Yeah, it was great. Some folks had films that really impressed and showed the promise of future projects. Some.....didn't. And one film terrified and confused the hell out of people. After each film, each director gave a little speech where they either totally embarrassed themselves or whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and somebody was always screaming "NEWMAN."

Because that's just what we did.

I gave my speech and all I remember is that I had quite a bit to drink and don't remember anything else. I think I was either funny or well above the legal limit to be speaking in public. Either way, people laughed.

Totally shitfaced here. Now an MFA graduate.
After the films screened, we took the reception outside and the party continued. But after the hands were gladded and compliments bandied about, it was mostly classmates who were left. At this point, we engaged in a tradition that had started when the first half of students screening in October.

The tradition....was Mangina.

See, there's this statue in the area around the Norris Theater. There are actually many statues, but there is one in particular that is officially called "Reclining Male Nude" (I looked it up).

But as you view the picture below, you'll see this "Male Nude" doesn't seem to be much of a man at all- at least not by Michelangelo's "David" standards.

"Reclining Male Nude"

And so we called it Mangina.

But we didn't just call it Mangina...where is the dignity or respect in that?

It was christened "Mangina" in a ceremony of the utmost grandeur and solemnity.

Or, to be me more accurate, somebody smashed an empty liquor on the statue's crotch while we all hoot and hollered like Brits at a mongoose fight.

It was fucking hilarious. And if you fail to see the humor, let me explain it again: we smashed an empty liquor bottle onto the groin of a nude statue.

The act really speaks for itself.

And what was special is this was the second time it was done, so it wasn't just petty vandalism anymore. Now, it was tradition.


For years to come, for documentary shorts and narrative films, when enough of the class comes together.... Mangina gets hit like chicken wire at Bob's Country Bunker.

Now, yes: hitting works of art in their vaginal areas with whiskey bottles is a great story and an amazing moment in anybody's life. But, the #1 moment from all of USC film school?

Better than Favreau? Better than Coca-Cola?

Better....than Spielberg?


When we smashed the shit out of that Jameson bottle on Mangina, we did it as a collective class. Or, some of our braver, more inebriated members did it while everyone else watched and laughed.

I'll forever remember Mangina because it reminds me that the greatest takeaway from film school wasn't  learning how to set up a shot or hearing advice from a working Hollywood director or getting a degree that could (supposedly) open doors.

The greatest asset of film school was people.

Specifically: classmates.

Classmates who held boom poles on your set or gave you notes on a script. Classmates and--really: friends--who helped you blow off steam on the worst days and told you, honestly, that something worked on a good day.

My classmates and friends fostered my creativity and ambition more than any single teacher ever could. They help you out, you pitch in for them, and you all come up together.

USC was and is amazing because it does an especially good job (in the grad school) of bringing together all kinds of creative types from all over the world and gives them an opportunity to work and make movies with one another.

Not everything always works out, but having to work with people you don't agree with is part of the process as well. I learned just as much from my bad film school relationships as I have with the good ones.

Not that I had too many bad ones, especially with my incoming class, the class of winter 2008, which may come out looking like the 1927 Yankees of film school classes. Seriously, not to #humblebrag, but my class is out in the real world kicking ass right now.

We've got a Nichols Fellowship Finalist, successful independent producers, some exceptional thesis film directors, a TV associate producer, a struggling blogger, and a rock star guy and director who is about to shoot his first feature with an Oscar-winning actress.

That's about as impressive as it gets post-film school.

Could there be some kind of mystique to the Mangina?

Something is definitely going on with that group of fifty or so students who awkwardly met one another in the old Lucas Building lobby some half-decade ago. Now, I know of plenty of good folks and success outside of our class, but there's always something unique about those people you first got to know.

So as different classmates pursue individual career and life goals and separate and move away more over time, and as some reach dizzying highs of success and validated parking while others sink into a well of despair and broken meters, it is nice to know that there is a unifying figure that stands out as a monument to how fresh and nervous and stupid we all once were.

Something that reminds us of our one-time confidence and uncertainty.

Something that binds us as having all started at roughly the same place.

Something that is really just an over-elaborate dick joke.

I'll always have the classmates.

And we'll always have Mangina.