The Awards Ceremony

After learning of the editing disaster I ran a couple of errands and bought some more tickets to the gala for people who had helped us, then went to fuego’s hotel to hang before the ceremony. I took the laptop down to the gardens, where a crew was busily setting up for a wedding. I found a table in the shade, settled in, then went to fetch a beer.

I tried not to think of the upcoming festivities. From this point, far distant, I know I wrote, editing one of my works in progress, but I have no specifics. It’s not important. It was a pleasant afternoon, and I was in a pleasant place. I roused myself to go share an early supper with the folks, who are as excited about this whole thing as I am, and from there I went down to the Kiva, a big ‘ol theater at the Albuquerque convention center. There was no way we were going to fill that place. Not with the price of entry at eighteen bucks plus fees, twenty-five at the door.

I heard that fuego was on the way; they had finished an “exhibition edit” of Pirates only half an hour before. I cornered him when he arrived. He was near-delirious from sleep deprivation. “The cut the judges got,” he said, “has problems. Chippie never rendered all the title graphics, and there’s a couple other holes.” I was dismayed by the title graphic thing, as whole disaster had been when they copied the files to the master machine. Everyone had assumed they were done. Chippie just had a different definition of “done”. The version the crowd would see was much better than what the judges got. At that moment I wrote off any hope of carrying away the grand prize.

Each crew got a block of free tickets. The number of tickets for our crew was far from adequate, so I had bought a bunch more so everyone could get in. I stood near the ticket window, intercepting our crew members and giving out tickets. The show was starting, time was running out, and I still had a couple of tickets. Effin’ Genie had asked for eight tickets, but I had held the line at two and a DVD. She was a no-show, leaving me with two extra very expensive tickets.

Meanwhile, the line stretched across the lobby. This was a hot ticket indeed, and my days of bitching about the ticket price seemed unfounded. People were coming. They were excited. This was a Big Event.

The show was starting, but I needed to get a beer before I went in. By the time I got inside it was dark, and I couldn’t find the rest of my people. I missed the introductory speeches, boo hoo, and groped my way to a seat as the first of the sorts, Sympathy for the Devil, began. It was good. There was not nearly as much to the script as we had, which gave them the time to show some beautiful scenery. The movie is, at heart, a single joke, and they did it well. They got a big round of applause and deserved it.

Next came Confessions of a Reluctant Bra Buyer. This flick was a sweet story of a girl coming of age, and the whole production lived or died on the girl they could cast in the lead role. I had been around for much of the casting and I was worried for them. Not a problem. The lead was on it, sincere, and cute as heck. She was natural and easy in front of the camera. A couple of the supporting roles were weaker, but overall the movie worked. Big cheers, well deserved, etc.

Between flicks I had been trying to find my people, but at the start of the third movie I was still standing in the back, just behind the sound guys. The third movie was Pirates of the White Sand. I stood, rigid, nervous, as the camera moved from the pirate flag flapping in the breeze to Captain Moab, for his first line. People were laughing. There was a buzz about Pirates, and people were ready. I wasn’t thrilled about the audio in the first bit, but things were working as we hammered into the opening titles, Bird and Dway’s fucking awesome music launching us into the movie as we watched the Crusader roaring down the empty highway.

Then they turned it down. I was all over the sound guy. “Can you turn it up? This is rock and roll!” he pointed to the next booth over. “It’s their call.”

I popped over to the next booth and there was Smithers. “I need it louder!” I said, and he hopped out of his seat to talk to the sound guy.

By the time he got there, the titles were over and the dialog had started. “Oh, Hell,” Ruthie said, booming though the auditorium. Good thing they hadn’t turned it up. “Que?” asked Miguel, almost inaudible. “You know those guys?” I stepped back from the sound console and leaned against the back wall for support. The editors had spent long hours before the disaster trying to compensate for terribly shoddy sound work on set, and most of that had been lost. I stayed for the whole movie, but just barely. The audience was still reacting well, getting into the whole pirate vibe, but I was dying. It wasn’t just the audio, the lighting was unbalanced and harsh. Some of the acting wasn’t up to par. The last was my fault. Ruthie had been steadily improving during the shoot, but Miguel never showed on set what he had in his audition. Maybe in the future, when fuego as director doesn’t have all the other shit to worry about that an AD would normally handle, he will be able to spend more energy on the performance of the actors. There are times when I decided to keep out of the way when a choice comment – “Jimmy! Give me more! Show me what you had during casting!” may have made a difference. In this way I failed fuego, the crew, and myself. Sure, it’s easy to say in hindsight, and hindsight is the devil’s currency, but there it is. I could have done better.

A tougher time when I knew things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, but sat back and relied on the experts: I came to the set to find a very subdued set of pirates. They were trying as hard as they could to put out, but the sound guy had told them they were too loud. I sat outside, head in hands, listening to quiet pirates. These were the same guys that had swept me along with them with their shouting during rehearsals, soaring on the joy and unfettered exuberance. Right then I should have had a smack-down with the sound guy. “Buddy,” I ought to have said, “We’re all here to serve the story. And in the story people are shouting. Your challenge is to make it work.”

I didn’t say that, but on the last day of shooting we set up the boys again and let them holler. A lot of that footage is in the cut. We needed more. We needed more even miking. We needed fewer boom shadows ruining sweet takes. We needed a sound pro on set. Our main guy may have known sound, but he lacked leadership, did not tutor or demand the best of his crew, and I found myself listening to an emergency cut with audio problems that, in my ignorant opinion, should never have made it off the set. “Cut,” says the director. He looks at the Director of Photography, he looks at his sound guy, and he says, “Print it.” He is counting on his crew to tell him if there were problems. Sound guy’s biggest flaw was that he was quiet when he needed to make noise.

As the showing of our little flick ended I ran into Dog Bone, who had played one of the pirates. He’s been in a big movie or two, and only reluctantly joined our scurvy crew, based on his belief in the strength of the script. He was pissed at the result. I was pissed too, and neither of us did anything to diminish the other’s pissedness. He went off looking to beat up Charles the First. I just wanted out of there.

More flicks came and went, and many of them were good. Coppola’s work was, frankly, tedious, but a lot of people ate it up. I must have missed something.

Blah, blah, blah. On to the awards.

Moab got best actor. He is the single reason that we couldn’t fit our little story in twelve minutes. There was just so much of him, and it hurt to cut any of him out. He deserved it, and let’s all raise a toast to Cap’n Moab. Toooooooooooooast!

The audience did not see the same film the judges saw, and that is part of the reason we won the audience choice award. We had a lot of shouting on our side. We stood up on stage, fuego and I, holding our little plastic trophy in sweaty hands, as they announced the grand prize winner. It was not us. Nor should it have been. It is possible, when we get the real cut together, that ours will eclipse the other entries. We certainly have the most to gain by throwing off all the other restrictions – we have footage wew couldn’t use, and we have the time to tell the story right. I’m really, really anxious to see how it comes out.

2

Disaster

High noon brought the last of the obligatory press events before the awards ceremony. This one is pretty clever – a mock court proceeding where the seven films are submitted to the judge as evidence that Art is not dead. I was early, so I drifted around the downtown Albuquerque for a while looking for a breakfast burrito. Not on a Saturday, pal. Sure, you can finally find a parking space, but forget starting the day with green chile.

I held off phoning fuego until 11:30 — I assumed he would try to catch a few winks between the editing deadline and the ceremony, but I thought is would be a good idea to make sure he woke up in time to stagger over for the event. There was no answer on his phone when I finally did call, but at least it rang this time. No worries — if fuego slept through the ceremony I was there to represent us. I gave up searching for breakfast and walked to the courthousse through the rapidly-heating morning.

I got there in plenty of time, and Rudolph was already there.I sat with him and exchanged idle pleasantries, all of which had to do with some movie-releated business or other. He said we were lucky Pablo was on our crew; when Rudy had left the editing bay at 1:30 the previous night Pablo had moved from working on the opwning titles to helping with the movie, and he was flying.

Other people drifted past, connected either with the festival or with one of the other movies. “How’d it come out?” was the most common question. “I have no idea,” was my reply.

One of them (I don’t remember who) asked, “So did you recover from your problem last night?”

“Problem?”

“Didn’t you hear about it?” asked Rudolph. “The documentary crew was in your editing bay. It was crowded in there, and Delilah stepped on the power cord. The computer shut down and Charles the First lost an hour’s work.” I groaned inwardly and wondered how anyone can work for an hour without saving. Still, that’s just the kind of thing that can happen that eats into precious time. I had been right to worry about getting the editing done in time, but things could have been much worse.

fuego arrived, looking tired. He sat next to me and people around us asked how the thing had come out. “We had some problems,” he said. “It would have been fine, but we were using a Mac.”

A little background here. We had been provided computers to do the editing. These were fairly high-end Macintoshes with gigantic hard drives. The first step of editing is to capture the video off the tapes from the camera and store it on the drives. This is a very time-consuming process and the resulting files are huge. Our raw footage was approaching a terabyte in size. During the editing process the files are modified as the editor tweaks the color balance and the audio, but the sheer size of those files makes them impractical to back up. (Note: Impractical but not impossible. Maybe it’s just me, but I would have kept unadulterated copies of the original footage in a separate place. I’m just paranoid that way. It probably comes from using a word processor that is constantly in development and is by definition untested.)

Unlike Windows, when you copy a folder to a new location that already has a folder by that name, the entire previous folder is replaced, not files within that folder that have matching names. Each time a new version of the Mac OS comes out I check to see if Apple had finally pulled its collective head out and given me the option to make folders merge rather than replacing the whole damn thing.

By now you have guessed what happened. In the early hours of the morning the editing crew had moved the files for the title sequence from one computer to the main editing computer. fuego had started to make a new folder for the files, but Charles the First had already started the transfer. The folder with the title stuff had the same name as the folder with all the video for the movie. When the warning came up asking if he really wanted to replace the folder, Charles I, and experienced mac user, tired and distracted, said “yes”.

Blammo. No more video files. It would take hours to recapture all the video segments that had been deleted, and even then the work balancing the colors and working with the audio would have to start all over again.

The powers that be had granted us some extra time to recover from the disaster, but the judges were going to need their tape soon. fuego sat next to me at the ceremony, slightly dazed, while Chuck one worked feverishly back in the editing room, trying to make a presentable cut of the movie. The footage had all been recaptured, but there was still a lot of work to do. Disqualification from the contest was a real possibility. After the judge’s cut was complete we would be allowed to keep working to make a more presentable version for the gala premiere.

We went through the motions of the ceremony as each team approached the bench and presented the judge with their tapes. fuego went up in his turn with a placeholder tape, and the judge announced he was accepting it as exhibit 7. He then announced that the decision on whether art was still alive in New Mexico at eight o’clock that night. Pablo had been recruited to close the ceremony, humming Taps into the microphone from the witness stand. He was gratifyingly awful and a good sport to boot, and everyone left the room feeling jolly.

Almost everyone, anyway. fuego paused to talk to the documentary crew before drifting back to the editing bay, and I went to find food and a place to write. I was worried, bit while we had lost several hours, we had been given a few hours extra to make up for it. We would at least still be in the running.

2

Anticipation

I managed to finagle my way into the editing room yesterday, but it did nothing to put me at ease – in fact, it did the opposite. The sound was uneven, thre was no background audio, the music wasn’t in, the lights were harsh and flat, and there were still plenty of rough spots in the flow. The movie is only allowed to the twelve minutes long, and this cut was fourteen and a half.

Charles the First didn’t seem worried. He estimated five hours to have something good enough, and the rest of the time until this morning to make it continuously better. He knows far more about the biz than I do, but I’ve been the boss of enough optimistic software engineers to trust my instincts when they give me an estimate. What it boils down to is that when you have lots of little things to do, and each time estimate has an error of half an hour, when you estimate your safety factor you have to combine the estimated error range of each task. I was seeing a possible creep of several hours just to get the piece to a showable state.

I wasn’t worried about the length until later, when I realized that a whole sequence was missing from the version I watched.

They asked me for feedback, and I pointed out a couple of problem areas, but the sound was bad enough that I didn’t think about other issues until later. Over the course of the afternoon and evening I left a series of messages with fuego about lighting and timing of certain parts. I never heard back.

Part of me (most of me) says “Those guys are pros, anything I spot they can see also,” but they’re awfully close to it now. They may just be accustomed to the way certain things are, and not be able to see that the comedic timing is off.

It doesn’t matter anymore. The tape was due more than an hour ago. I have heard nothing from them, but they must be tired. While I slept last night they were down in the trenches. However it comes out it won’t be for lack of effort or lack of skill. Pablo is with them, and he’s damn good. Another editor down from Santa Fe Arthur the Dog-Face Boy, was putting the finishing touches on the title sequence last I heard. The work could not have been in better hands.

Still, skilled and dedicated workers or not, the second hands keeps sweeping around, minutes and hours tick past, and no amount of skill can stop them. They are sleeping now, I hope, with smiles on their faces, knowing they have done well. All I can do is wait.

2

Bonnie

I first met Bonnie during casting. She had been tapped as Art Director for the film, but there was no one to handle casting so she was doing it. It’s a complicated job coordinating actors, agents, and times, and not one that gets a lot of attention. Still, it is important, and Bonnie did it. That’s just the way she is. She had other things to do as well, things that actually put beans on her table. Bonnie does artistic tile. When not wrangling props and actors, she was completing a proposal to the city to beautify some project or another. She could have used the time she gave us to hone that proposal, to improve her drawings and increase her chance of success. Instead she was spending long hours setting up auditions, finding props, and scouting far and wide for shooting locations. Through it all she kept a low-key, easygoing smile on her face.

Even though I’m just passing through, I was disappointed to learn, while out on the road with her, that she has a boyfriend. Her eyes are clear and blue. Her hair, brown with highlights, falls in ringlets past her shoulders when set free. When she is working she puts it up, but a few locks inevitably escape. At Wild Horse Mesa Bar, after a long day of work, grimy and sweaty in her tank top and shorts, she is far from glamorous, but she looks good. The smile is still there as she slings her cordless drill, installing the last set dressings of the day with easy confidence. No, not glamorous. Far better than that.

Bonnie, for all her competence, maintains her sense of fun and adventure. I saw a little of this at the fireworks store. We were on our way to the Black Hole when we stopped in Pojoaque at a year-round vendor of barely-legal pyrotechnics. I just needed a single box of sparklers, but we explored the aisles, looking at all the most fiendish and destructive toys ever made for a child’s pleasure. There was nothing concrete that happened there, no single comment or incident that I can point to, just a feeling that we were kindred spirits.

We talked about stuff on that trip, exactly what I don’t remember. On the way back south we had resolved to drop by Raphael’s, a potential location. Few of you who know me will be surprised to hear that I missed the exit. It was six miles south to the next chance, then six miles back north. I got the exit this time, and as we crested the ramp I pointed out the bar. We were talking about the place, surveying the frontage road that served the bar, her eyes were blue, and I found myself on the ramp to get back on the freeway heading north. “This is why I need to live in a place with public transportation,” I said as I backed back up the deserted ramp.

It was Bonnie who sweet-talked the car dealership into loaning us a pair of black suburbans, complete with drivers. Bonnie was always on set before me, and always there when I left, unless we left together. She still has a lot of work ahead of her, getting everything back where it belongs. I have never, ever, heard her complain. She has the respect of everyone on the production, but she doesn’t seem to understand why.

Last night we had a gathering, pirates and crew in a nice pool hall, reliving the fun of the previous four days. Bonnie was there, of course, and she looked great. BoB (Boyfriend o’Bonnie) joined us later as well. BoB seemed like a good guy, but he was working awfully hard to impress us. That’s only natural, I suppose, when you’re surrounded by legends of the film industry like us. Moab, an outspoken individual of the first stripe, found BoB very annoying and judged him to be unworthy of Bonnie. I wasn’t around for it, but I know Moab can be a real asshole when he puts his mind to it, and his wit is quick and biting. According to him, he was shooting BoB down every time the poor sap got rolling.

Bonnie and BoB disappeared for a while, and when Bonnie came back she was barely holding it together. No one else seemed to notice, but as soon as she sat back down I asked her if she was OK. She nodded yes and soldiered on, gradually finding her way back into the conversation. The tears weren’t far beneath the surface, however. BoB was still bubbly, so I don’t know if her distress was BoB-related or came from somewhere else.

There is, I must confess, a selfish part of me that hopes she broke up with BoB. Although maybe it’s not that selfish — Bonnie deserves the best. Unfortunately, lazy unemployed workaholic who lives eight time zones away is really stretching the definition of “best”.

Shooting – Day Three

Drove out to the set with Charles the First and a whole bunch of breakfast burritos in tow, to supplement the meager fare provided by the Shootout. I was immediately a very popular guy. Yes, you can buy friendship, if you use the correct currency. There was a good buzz on the set as we set up to finish the interior shots. I had my laptop with me of course, and on the computer was the rendition of “All for Me Grog” that was going to form the backbone of the music. On tap for today was to finish filming the interior, leaving us with helicopters and re-dos for our last day of shooting.

I hooked up the laptop to the boom box that served as the bar’s sound system, so we could play it before action started, allowing Kentucky Jack to get the time for dancing on the table. The shot was a long boom/dolly shot that followed the pitcher from a table back to the bar, showing all the pirates partying madly on the way. When the pitcher reaches the bar there is business with Ruthie, Moab, and Izzy. We rehearsed the shot a few times, and then went for it, me turning the musing on and off and then hiding behind the bar. Kentucky Jack would dance wildly for the duration of the shot, then do it again, and again. The dude was in shape, no doubt about it.

Finally it all worked perfectly. Everything moved together, the dialog between Moab and Ruthie was good, and all were happy. Except Giovanni. He stood up from the camera and said, “boom shadow”. Everyone groaned. fuego made a colorful comment in Czech. The microphone boom was casting a shadow on the far wall, obvious in the shot, ruining it. No one had told Louie how to wiggle the boom to see where its shadows were. I doubt he was even aware that it was part of his responsibility to check for shadows. Giovanni calmed himself, they figured out a new place for the boom, and kept trying.

I left before lunchtime – no sense in using up more of the precious food, although by now Rudolph was making runs to a nearby casino for trays of extra food. I needed to get back anyway, to sit with Pablo and go over the opening credit sequence. Progress on that front was slow; the treasure map wasn’t even done yet, and the other elements of the animation were not ever begun. So we sat, I went over how I would like things to move and how the story of the treasure was to be revealed along with the story of who had made the film. After that I called fuego, to see if there was anything I could take out to them on the set. “We wrapped early,” he said. “We have everything we need.”

I thought of things I wanted them to take another shot at – shots of pirates when they are allowed to raise their voices was at the top of my list, and it looked like after the helicopters in the morning we would have time to go back and try several of the things that we good but could be better. Giovanni was arranging to borrow a longer boom for the car pull-away shot, and we could go for better performances in a couple of key places as well. Word from the editing room was that audio levels were good, and we were all feeling the excitement of a production going smoothly.

Shooting – Day Two

After a successful first day and a good night’s sleep I was floating across the clouds, feeling the return of prose to my cluttered and overtaxed little brain. The drive out to the location was glorious, and (as I have already written) I felt like a writer again. When I reached the White Horse Mesa Bar things were just getting underway. Pirates were milling about, waiting for makeup. “How’s it going, Jerry?” asked Nobby Pete, shaking my hand.

No need to feign enthusiasm. “I feel friggin’ fantastic this morning,” I said, or something like that. I went through them like a tornado of enthusiasm, and I could feel the mood lifting in my wake. Not that the mood needed much lifting anyway; things were going well and the pirates were already building up their reserves of chaotic madness. Today we would be shooting interiors, picking up from where we left off the day before.

There were some worries – flat performances by Ruthie and Miguel the day before threatened to undermine the production, and there just wasn’t enough food.

For all I appreciate the good work that the Duke City shootout is doing, and the unbelievable opportunity they are giving fuego and me, I do have a couple of bones to pick. One of them is about the food. I was told the catering budget for each crew was $200 a day. We have a big crew and we knew that we would have to pick up some of the slack, but this has just been ridiculous. Next year I’m going into the catering business. If Duke City Shootout is paying two hundred clams for peanut butter sandwiches, somebody is getting rich at their expense. At lunchtime Rudolph drove to the Route 66 Casino and rounded up a buttload of tacos to supplement the meal. That made him very, very popular with the crew.

Partly because of the lack of food I skipped breakfast and left the set before lunch time. No sense making things even worse. I had things to do in town anyway, and I wanted a chance to do some writing. I headed for our “Production Office”, the Flying Star CafĂ© on Central, where they have free Internet. I took care of some communications, farted around for a bit, and set to writing. A good way to spend an afternoon. I was in my happy place when I got a call from Rudy: “Can you go to the Bird and get us another keg?”

My stress level jumped in an instant, partially fueled by one too many free refills of Iced Tea. Imagining that production had come to a screeching halt I hustled over to the place we had purchased the first keg. “I’m working on the movie with Rudolph,” I said. Rudy had told me they would know the name and could put the new keg on the same tab.

“I don’t know anyone, and I don’t know nothin’ about no movie,” the man answered, responding to my stress with stress of his own. I took a breath to calm myself. It didn’t matter. I just needed to buy a keg. They were out of the sort of beer we had started with, so I explained that we needed whatever beer looked most like the first. It took them a moment to realize I didn’t care in the slightest how the beer tasted. We would just be pouring it out, anyway.

Finally, armed with a few gallons of crappy American light beer I was on the road, gobbling up the miles between the suds and the stymied crew. I blew into the parking lot in a cloud of dust, jumped out and hauled the keg out of the passenger seat. Other people watched me with vague disinterest. “Do they need that inside?” Charles the First asked.

They were not out of beer. They had been planning ahead. Imagine that.

I stayed at the location for the rest of the day, generally not being helpful but enjoying watching the process. After we wrapped for the day, even farther ahead of schedule than the previous day, we paused and had a couple of beers. We were in a bar, after all.

I gave Giovanni a ride back into town, talking shop, mostly. He was on the phone, trying to arrange his next paying job, hoping to exchange the work for more equipment. He was thinking about how much better our opening car shot would have been if we had a longer boom and a remote-control head that could move the camera as it hung way down in the car, tilting it as the boom lifted and the car pulled away. We talked a little bit about writing; he asked if any of my novels would make a good movie. “Yes,” I said with complete confidence. I may be the wrong guy to ask, but The Monster Within would make a great movie. My answer got Giovanni to thinking. “fuego thinks it would take about $80 million to do it right.” Giovanni was a little taken aback by that, but not too much. “Keep making contacts,” he said.

I’m a writer again

During the last weeks of non-stop prep work for filming, I have been so busy with technical details that even when I sit down to chronicle my adventure, I have been typing more than writing. I haven’t been able to get my head into that free-flow state, looking at things a little bit sideways, measuring the effect of the world around me on who I am. This morning, a full day of shooting behind me and with no clearly defined role in the remaining production, I felt myself slide into that happy place.

I was driving, enjoying the sweet clean air of the desert morning, tunes up loud, and the words started to come. I remembered experiences over the last few days that had meant little at the time, but now I could take the time to feel them.

Buggy asked me about it once. I don’t remember his exact question, but he wanted to know if writing about my road trip as I went along affected the way I experienced it. Was I detaching myself from an event as it happened, imagining how I would write about it later? Sometimes it’s true. There are times when, as I look at a sunset, I’m experimenting with different words to describe it. It’s like when someone goes to a museum and takes a picture of a famous painting, then moves on without looking at the painting itself. Sometimes I have to stop the little typewriter in my head and just enjoy things.

But I’ve missed that voice lately. I’ve missed putting words together just because they sound nice next to each other, and carry a little extra meaning. I miss putting a little more of myself than I’m comfortable with into my writing (which I don’t do very often anyway, alas). This morning I had the feeling again, and even as I write this I’m off in another place, reflecting on the last few underreported days.

Stay tuned.

1