Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Day At The Races

If I could go back in time, I'd pick the summer I was nine years old. The best summer of my life. The summer my dad rented a house on the beach in Del Mar.
Yup, that was our place, right on the beach. And we had it for the whole summer.

My best memories, in no particular order, are:

1. Meeting Jimmy Durante:
He had an apartment up the beach. I'd knock on his door at every opportunity. He was cool. He played the piano and sang. I hope I wasn't overly annoying.

There were plenty of other famous people in the neighborhood - the only other ones I remember hanging out with were the Arnaz family.

2. Discovering chocolate chip ice cream at Disneyland:
That's the little Chesher Cat sitting in the back left of the hookah smoking caterpillar.
(also pictured: my older sisters Barb, back right; Pam, front lefy; and family friend, Betty Ann, front right)

3. Getting caught hanging out behind a sleazy bar down the beach at ten o'clock at night (seems I've always had an attraction to the dark side).

4. Watching cartoons on the multitude of American channels that we didn't have back home (aka the frozen tundra up north).

5. Body surfing...every day for two whole months...another thing I couldn't do in the frozen tundra.

6. And, last but not least, the Del Mar race track Where the Surf meets the Turf:
A little history I stole from somewhere on the web:
The Del Mar 350 acre horse race track has a Hollywood past. In 1937 it was built and sponsored by Bing Crosby, Pat O'Brien and Paramount Studios. The conception began when Bing Crosby a horse enthusiast and local ranch owner, was asked to organize a meet at Del Mar. He approached the Del Mar Fairgrounds to make a deal with them to build a grandstand and the rest is Hollywood history. Since then it has become one of the worlds most famous race tracks and has entertained stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mickey Rooney, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Jimmy Durante, Dorothy Lamour, Red Skelton, Paulette Goddard and Ava Gardner.
My dad had a thing for race horses. And he liked having his race horses in California. They raced the Santa Anita/Hollywood Park/Del Mar circuit. And that summer I got to go to the track several times. Going to the races was a big deal. We dressed up and sat in the special box seats that were reserved for the owners and celebrities. We ate a fancy lunch. Picked horses to win, place or show. Watched the horses walk around the paddock. Cheered. And once in awhile, proudly stood in the winner's circle.

By now you must be thinking, "Wow, what a spoiled little brat." And I won't disagree. But as luck would have it, all good things must come to an end. And sadly, that amazing summer ended. And then, exactly three years later, the privileged childhood ended too. My parents got divorced and one thing led to another and I quickly found out what it was like to live a much less privileged life.

So that amazing summer was the last time I went to the Del Mar race track. Until this summer.

This time it was for work. To be honest, it was a lot more fun than work. I was shooting stills on the indie feature, Big Heart City starring Shawn Andrews and Seymour Cassel. My anticipation driving to the track was--damn, I can't think of anything worthy to compare it to-- that's how excited I was. And as soon as I got out of my car, poof, I was nine years old again. First, the smell of the stables and then walking through gates. The outside has had a facelift but inside it felt the same. Special. Alive. Like something big was about to happen.

One of the first things I saw was this:
It brought tears to my eyes. Seriously. Not because I knew him (of course I didn't...he died many years before I set foot on this planet). Not because he inspired a generation during the depression. Not because of the movie. These pictures brought tears to my eyes because of our six degrees of separation. Me and Seabiscuit. Forever joined at the hip...by Pixie Wings:
The great-great-maybe even greater-granddaughter of the great Seabiscuit.

After the downfall of the family, my dad still had a few horses kicking around. One was a three year old filly named Pixie Wings. She was a race horse - and I think she was even racing at Del Mar - but she sucked. She was a pretty little thing that couldn't run fast enough to win a race. I think I was about fourteen at the time, and somehow I talked my dad into letting me have her to train as show horse.

In her first outing, I entered her in the Show Hack division. I had no hopes of winning anything. The field was completely dominated by Arabian horses. Pixie Wings was a thoroughbred. And thoroughbreds couldn't beat Arabians in the Show Hack competition. Thoroughbreds didn't have that elongated gate that the judges liked to see in Show Hacks. But the weirdest thing happened. Pixie Wings did pretty good in one of the lower level classes. And people started taking notice. They'd come to watch her. The sweet little thoroughbred up against the throngs of majestic, champion Arabians. They started rooting for her. And then she won an upper level class and qualified for the big one - the Show Hack Stake.

It had been a nice little run, what with the win and her new-found fans, but I knew we didn't have a chance in the Stakes class. I mean, we were up against the heavy hitters. Arabian horses and their snobby owners who knew they were a shoe-in for another Stakes win. So Pixie Wings and I were just there to have fun. Still, it was a tough class. It was at night - you know you've hit the big time when your class is at night - in the same arena where the Calgary Flames played hockey. There were thousands of spectators. And most of them were rooting for Pixie Wings. They were looking for an upset. Rooting for the underdog. Just like her great-great-maybe even greater grandfather, Seabiscuit. (Obviously not on the grand scale as the big guy but, please, let me have my moment.)

Well, like I said, the class was tough. And it was Pixie Wings' first show. She had no experience. She didn't belong in the ring with the seasoned horses. But still, she won the hearts of the spectators. Then, she won the hearts of the judges. And the ultimate, she won the Show Hack Stakes! She beat the snooty Arabian horses! All of them.

The Arabian horsey-set were furious. How could this happen? A thoroughbred stealing the Stakes from the champion Arabians? What could be worse? I don't know. How about Pixie Wings being named Show Hack Champion? Turns out, as much as Seabiscuit was an amazing race horse, Pixie Wings was an amazing show horse.

After her Show Hack triumph, I trained her to do this:
Look at that face, and then check out this close-up of Seabiscuit:
Maybe my horse couldn't run worth a damn but she had that same look in her eye and she had just as much heart.

Okay, back to the present and my day at the races. Did you know that you can go to the horse races at Del Mar for just six bucks? What a deal!

Here's what it looked like this summer:

And here's a shot of the star himself, Shawn Andrews, hanging with the pin-up babes:
I saw that poster on the wall and showed it to Shawn. He posed for me and then the DP shot some footage of it. Hopefully, it will make it into the movie. If not, it will always be here. (thanks, Shawn, you're awesome!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Time Crunch - Part Deux

I worked on that 1 page thing for a while and then bitched for a while and then worked on it for a while. It's a tricky piece of writing. I didn't want it to be one of those dry synopses...you know, this happens and then that happens, etc. I wanted it to highlight the main characters, give a sense of the plot and hit the act break beats. But mostly, I wanted it to entice whoever read it to want more. And I finally finished it.

I talked to my person and suggested we shouldn't submit it until Monday. That way I'd have a couple of extra days to hopefully finish the script rewrite. Any screenwriters reading this are probably breaking out in laughter about now. Are you kidding? If you hand it in on Monday, you'll be lucky if you hear back in a month...or ever. Yes, I know that.

Anyway, I waited until Saturday at noon to email the 1 pager to my person. Guess what? My person emailed it on. And by 4PM I get an email back, the subject: Oh, boy... With the message: Just got the request for the first act. Again, I probably shouldn't be writing all this in my blog. Don't want to jinx it. But I'm assuming that I didn't jinx it last time. Maybe blabbing it as it happens might just be the anti-jinx.

So, what next? I polished the first act last night and today. Also, made a litlle progress on the second act. Tonight, I tweaked the first act and sent it off. And now I'm praying they take their time reading the first act because if (I mean when) they want the rest of the script I don't want to say, "sorry, still rewriting."

Stop laughing, Screenwriters. I know it's a slim chance in hell they'll request more. Believe me, I'm not expecting this specific exercise to result in "the sale." Things like this rarely result in "the sale." I'm just grateful for the externally imposed deadline. And I'll be glad to get this rewrite done and add another finished script to my arsenal. I look at this little jaunt as a barometer. The dry run for the next submission. Which, from what I've been told, could be "the sale" that I really want. One can always dream the big dream.

Promise to get to those other posts as soon as I can. Translation: when act 2 and act 3 are on the page to my satisfaction.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Time Crunch

I don't know about the other bloggers out there but it can take me two to three hours to compose a post.

What? That's ridiculous!

Yeah, I know I'm slow. But you have to consider my posts generally require scanning and finding things that may never be found - even though I put 100% effort into the search. And, I also put a lot of thought into what I put up here, even if it doesn't show.

Today, for example, I planned a post titled "A Day At The Races." It's about my trip to Del Mar yesterday to shoot another day of stills on that indie movie. It's a post that will definitely require a full three hours to create because it also delves far into my past and will expose things about me that most of you don't know. (Wow, that sounds like a build-up that will certainly fall flat in the execution.) And I was prepared to do that today. Take three hours out of my screenwriting time to share how a past and a present can collide (in a nice way).

But then I got the phone call. The phone call had to do with one of the opportunites I alluded to in a recent post. One of the things I don't want to write about because if I do it will immediately be jinxed. Note: This is where this post should end. Right here, right now. If you do not want to be responsible for jinxing me, stop reading now.

Guess what? I've decided I'm not superstitious and I don't believe in jinxes. (Fuck, I hope I'm not wrong about that.) A week and a half ago I got a call asking if I happened to have a suspense thriller script in my bag of tricks. Well, it just so happens I do. Can you send it to me...I have a couple of companies that are looking for suspense thrillers. (BTW, the caller happens to be with a company that made a couple of films that have won the ultimate award.)

No, I can't send it to you. It needs a page 1 rewrite. Can you give me a couple of weeks? OK. (Now you know why you haven't heard much from me) A week ago, I sent the caller the first fifteen of the rewrite, just to see if the concept was something they might be interested in. The caller emailed back with something that amounted to, "your script rocks." During this time, I'm still writing like a maniac, trying to meet my self-imposed deadline of this Monday. (Understand I'm making a lot of changes so it's not that easy.)

Then I get an email yesterday morning. "Get me a logline on this IMMEDIATELY. As in BEFORE you leave for del mar. I have to send out the logline on THURSDAY." Thursday being the same Thursday as yesterday and the same Thursday I have to leave for Del Mar by 9:15AM. Okay, no problem. I throw together three potential loglines and send them off with a note saying "do with them as you please."

Fast forward to today. I 'm driving to rent-a-wreck to pick up my screenwriter houseguest friend and drop him at his friend's place who is lending him a car (obviously a convoluted off-topic story) when I get the call. "Out of the four (could have been five) loglines I sent out, yours is the only one they are interested in. They want to see a 1 pager." For me that's a good news/bad news scenario. Awesome!/Fuck, I have to write a 1 pager? (For my rock'n'roll readers, a 1 pager is a summary of the story that is so amazing it entices them to ask for the script. I've never met a screenwriter that likes to do a 1 pager.)

The result of this? I'm in a time crunch. Not only do I have to steal a bunch of my script writing time to write the 1 pager, but if (I mean when) they like the 1 pager, they're going to say, "send over the script." That means the script has to be ready too. Ha, ha...it's not. And for all of you? You have to wait a little longer for A Day At The Races.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


No, no, no...I'm not talking about this Stills:

I'm talking about the other kind of stills. The ones that get you the IMDB credit known as Still Photographer. Yes, it looks like I've added another flower to the potpourri I loosely refer to as my career.

Actually, I "broke" into the film industry as a still photographer. Short-lived as it may have been. I was hired to shoot stills on Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. (OK, stop laughing.) And then I was fired. Yes, it seems the professional rock 'n' roll photographer couldn't hack it as a set photographer. Well, not exactly.

I think I better tell you how it really went down. The head of marketing called me into her office. She had one of those silvery home screens that she pulled down from the ceiling and a slide projector with a rotating slide holder so she could hit the thumb button and scroll through the slides. The overhead lights were off when I entered the room. Her wickedness sat behind the desk. Her face eerily illuminated by the light spilling from the projector.

"Have you seen your pictures?" she snarled.

Why did she ask? She knew I hadn't. I picked up the unexposed rolls of film from her and returned the exposed rolls of film to her. She had them developed. I was not allowed to see them.

She flipped to a picture. "What's this supposed to be?" she cackled.

"Ah, it's a picture of the ground. Obviously the first picture on the roll. That's what happens when you load the film," I politely offered.

Her thumb presses the button at warp speed, "Look at all these pictures. They're no good. They're all out of focus."

"If you wouldn't mind, could you stop on a picture you think is out of focus?"

She stops on one. Then I hear the projector focus adjusting back and forth. The picture goes in and out of focus. But I couldn't accuse her of sabotaging the focus, even thought I knew she was. I blamed the loose hanging screen. "I think the screen is moving from the air conditioning," I suggested.

She jumps down my throat, "I looked at them on a light table. They're out of focus. Every single shot. They're useless. And so are you. You're fired."

Well, okay then. What can I say?...other than it took several weeks to remove her from my throat. Thank God for that surgeon at Cedars-Sinai.

So, why did she really fire me? Turns out she just didn't like me. After that firing, I got a job at the same film company as a freelance production artist in the art department. I was mysteriously let go from there as well. Sure enough, I found out later that she threatened the art director, forcing him to stop calling me in for work. A few years later, I ended up being hired as the art director. Nothing she could do about it. I was suddenly her equal. And I had spent the better part of two years devising several torturous methods for her ultimate demise. But being the team player I am, I let her previous behavior slide. And sooner than later I won her over. I hate to admit it, but we even became friends. (Please don't tell anyone I have a soft side.) Uh oh, I just rambled on with a story I had no intention of sharing...ever. I guess the point of it was I didn't get a still photographer credit on Breakin' 2. (As if I cared.)

But I have a credit now. What? Yup. It recently showed up. I never even thought about the credit when I offered to shoot stills on a short film, currently titled Easy Winners. I got paid the same as everyone else on the film. Food. But it was a fun shoot with a lot of nice people. The film stars Mehcad Brooks (Desperate Housewives, Glory Road) and was directed by the very cool actor Harry Lennix (Commander In Chief, The Matrix[s]). It was written by and also starred Reggie Nelson, as a vehicle for his acting - and although I haven't seen the rough cut yet, all reports say he did a great job - and exec produced by some friend of his who directed him in a play...I think his name is David Schwimmer. Did I mention they had amazing food?

Here are a couple of "stills" (can't show any of the actual production or DS 'cause that would probably require endless approvals):

Fancy HD camera. Helps when you have a budget.

Relaxing between takes.
That's Mehcad on the left and Reggie second from the right.

Jesse, the 22 year-old DP with an amzing eye, is on the left.
Definitely my first choice for the movie I wrote and will produce.

The guy in the middle is director/writer/producer/friend Peter Basler. Since I volunteered him for the behind-the-scenes on Easy Winners, he volunteered me as the still photographer on Big Heart City, an indie feature he is currently producing. Wow, my second still photographer credit in the past six months without even trying.

My first day on the set was today - an easy two hours at Union Station. I walked in the building and immediately felt the ghosts of decades past.

I think that's one of them on the right side of this photo.

Check this place out. I'm surprised they let you visit for free.

I have no plans to pursue a real career as a still photographer and I promise this won't turn into the first set photographer blog on the internet. After all, I'm writing that book called Everybody I Shot Is Dead and a bunch of screenplays.

So, why am I whoring myself out as a still photographer you ask? Is it for the money? Uh, no.

I call it networking...and then there's always the enhancement to my social life...sad but true.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Exciting Opportunities Abound...

...which means I have no time to put together the post I had planned. And I can't really say anything about the opportunities because if I do, they'll be jinxed. I can only tell you I have a lot to get done in a short period of time.

In lieu of the other post, here are a couple of things to keep in mind, especially for those of us involved in subjective creative pursuits:

1. When one door closes, other doors open. But if you're in the corner crying about the closed door, you'll miss the open one.

2. Not only do we have to create our "art," we also have to create our opportunities.

Back to work.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The follow-up to my U-Haul adventures (prequel in the post before last)...

Even though the truck was a filthy, old piece of crap with a frown on it's face, it rocketed me to the Bay area in a mere five hours. It would have been four and a half without the traffic jam for unknown reasons in the middle of nowhere. Don't judge a truck by it's cover is my new motto. The drive was a breeze compared to the two hours of unloading I did by myself before the volunteer helper showed up to assist with the heavy lifting.

It was a little after 7PM by the time everything was unloaded and I could drop the truck off at the Berkeley U-Haul lot. I was happy the place would be closed so I could leave the truck, put the key in the drop-box and not have to make human contact. Or so I thought. Turns out the place was open 'til eight.

The yard guy checks in the truck and hands me the paperwork. I was about to walk off the lot until he says I have to take it into the office to have it processed. Damn. I'm knackered. I just want to get some food and some sleep. I proceed to the office. Three people behind the counter are engaged in an argument with a customer who pleads with them to waive his late return fee because it wasn't his fault that the keys were locked in the truck since the doors locked on their own when he got out of the truck. Good luck with that one, Buddy. Nope...it didn't fly. A fourth guy is perched on the back counter doing and saying absolutely nothing.

Then it's my turn. The head tough chick grabs the paper from my hand and begins pecking her keyboard.

"We're all set then? I can go?" I ask nicely.

"I'm charging you for the gas." She doesn't even look my way.

"Excuse me? I brought it back with more gas than I got it with."

"You brought it in with an eighth. You got it with a quarter."

"No. I got it empty."

"Contract says a quarter."

"I never got a contract."

"I don't need your contract. It's right here. And it says a quarter."

"It was empty when I picked it up. I wasn't given a contract and I called customer service and they made note of the gas."

"I'm charging your card."

"You can't do that! I'm not authorizing you to charge my card!"

"I don't need your authorization."

Under my breath, "Are you always this snotty?"

Not under my breath, "You need to call customer service. They'll tell you."

"I go by what the contract says."

"How much are you charging my card?"

"$30 service charge and $4 a gallon."

Blood begins to boil. I pull out my cell phone.

"If I call customer service will you listen to them? They know the truck was empty."

"You can call whoever you want. I'm charging your card."

Under my breath, "You are a fucking evil bitch-ho."

Ten minutes on hold listening to, "Thank you for calling U-Haul. All of our agents are currently helping other customers. Please stay on the line for the next available agent."

It's closing in on eight o'clock. Evil bitch-ho and the other two lock up the shop. With me in it. The fourth guy remains on his perch, looking at me as if to say, "You picked the wrong evil bitch-ho, Miss Wonderbread." Another five minutes on hold. I gotta get out of here before the U-Haul Gang forces me to their filthy floor and strip me of whatever assets I have left.

"They're not answering and I have to be somewhere. If they call you will you credit the gas charge?"

"I go by the contract."

"What is your name?" Under my breath, "Cause I'm going to report your rude fat ass to whoever will listen."


As I walk out the door, I can't hold back. I turn toward the evil bitch-ho. "Princess? You have got to be kidding."

Under my breath, "I bet your momma rues the day."

Several days and many arguments with the company later, I get a call from Christine. I bet she's that special person U-Haul employs to handle the really pissed off customers. The ones who make the endless phone calls, screaming at any idiot who dares to pick up the phone. Why do I bet that? Cuase when I pick up the phone her sweet, soothing baby voice says, "I'm so, so sorry for all the problems you've had with our company."

"You are?"

"As a matter of fact, I checked with the woman who rented the truck to you and she backed up every word you said. I can't tell you how sorry we are that you had a bad experience with us. I'm crediting the $50 they charged your card for the gas and I am also sending you $40 in coupons that you can redeem at any of our stores for anything you want."

"Really? Thank you. But what about Princess?" Under my breath, "The evil bitch-ho who completely ruined my life."

"Don't worry. I'm sending a copy of my report, which includes everything you've told us, to the regional office in Berkeley. They'll take care of her."

Under my breath, "I hope they burn the evil bitch-ho at the stake."

Not under my breath, "That's good. Thank you. You're really good at your job."

Aaah...Justice. It's the American way.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Could This Have Taken Any Longer?

I'm assuming I've alienated all of my readers, especially those who were kind enough to enter my last caption contest, because I haven't been taking care of business. I'm not sure when I launched this particular contest. I can't remember that far back. Oh, wait, these blog entries are dated. I can look it up. Please hold on while I look through the cobwebbed archives..... ..... .....just a few more seconds..... ..... .....I've almost got it..... .....oops, it wasn't in July..... .....June?..... .....nope..... .....aha..... .....there it is, hiding behind George Harrison..... ......sheesh, May 22nd.

I'm ashamed of myself. Apologies all around. I have no excuses. Nor will I make any.

And the good news is...thanks to another awesome panel of independent judges...somebody won the contest.

Drum roll, please....

...and the winner is:
"I'm writing this book called Everybody I Shot Is Dead
and I must say I have a lot of pictures of you. "
by Rumely aka Mark J. from Iowa

2nd Place was a three-way tie:

"Stop laughing -- I'm serious! I just saw egret fly up your nose!"
by Brett N. from Texas

"Excuse me, but you DO realize you're drinking
KC Masterpiece on the rocks, right? Right?"
also by Brett N.from Texas

"That's great, that's great. Just shut up and give me that bottle!"
by Adam Battaglia

3rd place:

"No, seriously -- you have a bottle in your armpit."
by Julie O. from Florida

Thanks to all the fantastic judges who volunteered for this daunting task. I would name them but since they didn't give their permission I can only tell you the judging panel was made up of a professional screenwriter/producer, two previous contest winners, an aspiring screenwriter, a journalist, a produced writer/director and a koala.

It seems a couple of the judges thought they could do better than the contestants - they sent their results back with their own captions. Here's the three they thought were winners:

Ron: "You have gorgeous eyes; anyone ever look high enough to see them?"

She’s kidding, right? I’m not sharing this bottle with anyone.

1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor.

Feel free to judge the judges.