Scouting for Bluesmen

There is an American-owned bar in town that serves good beer (for a bit more than I like to pay) and has a cozy underground chamber that has live music fairly often. U Malého Glena (roughly, “Little Glen’s Place”) is a very comfortable bar and it turns out Glen is a pretty good guy. Monday fuego and I made the pilgramage to the neighborhood of Malá Strana to scout listen to Stan the Bohemian Blues Man. It was a very good show, and he had that Stratocaster blues sound that I always imagined when working on the story.

While there we also judged whether U Malého Glena would be a good place to shoot the blues concert, but while it had a lot going for it, it is just too small to give us room for the film crew to work. Nice place to hear a concert, though. Our most likely location for that part of the movie remains Blues Sklep, but we would have to shoot during the day. That’s not a real problem as long as the extras can maintain energy. The alternative is to find a place that is available at night and sponsor an actual show. That would be more fun, except maybe for the editor.

I thought it was going to be my last late night out, and fuego had promised his family that the late-night sessions were coming to a close as well. However, talking to Glen before the show (and echoed by the owner of another blues joint in town), we really should listen to one more guy before making a decision. Luckily he is playing at Glen’s Place tonight. By an interesting coincidence, he is already scheduled to play at Blues Sklep the week we would like to shoot. Could we coopt his gig? An interesting thought…

Something fuego Said

I got a text messge from fuego yesterday with all sorts of questions in it. One was, tribute to Get Crazy? For those who don’t know, Get Crazy is one of the finest movies ever made, and includes a lot of good live music scenes. There really should be a a little something in our show that the ten people in the world who know Get Crazy will recognize instantly.

Any suggestions?

Talent and Location Scouting, and a Long Friday Night

Another local blues singer/guitarist was playing in town Friday night, and fuego and I were on the job once more! Jonathan Gaudet is a French Canadian who loves the Mississippi Blues. He and his harmonica player Jaromír Hůla had a gig at a place called Zlat

An Easy Day

Slept late this morning, if you can believe that. Something about going to sleep after five in the morning makes me do that. Luckily, there was no location scouting today. The focus was on getting the key production people together. Toward that end, we met with a couple of key people.

First came Martin, bartender at LCNH and friends with lots of film students. His brother is also an editor, though Soup Boy had first dibs on the editing job. One key team member: a student, Czech, who is unafraid to ask bar and café owners for favors. Bonus if she’s a pretty girl. In our meeting Martin proved to be a more able producer than I am, and that may mean more than anything else. He has a candidate lined up, his brother is ready if we need him (the next meeting proved we did), and he can line up more production assistants than we need. I have some homework now; I need a syposis that can be translated into Czech, and… um… something else. I’m sure I’ll think of it.

We were a little early for dinner with fuego’s family and Tomaš (rhymes with “go mosh”), a cameraman of growing repute (proven by the fact that he’s working right now). We stopped off at Casino Royale, the place formerly known as the place formerly known as cheap beer place. fuego got a call from Soup Boy, the missing element in all our plans, and minutes later he was there with us. The place has changed a lot since he drew the storyboards for Pirates there in exchange for food and alcohol. The reunion was brief, pleasant, and we got a swift “camera, yes, edit no” from him. Alas, he could not join us for dinner.

The dinner meeting was good too. I ate a steak! Man, it’s been a long time. fuego paid for the steak! Right there you have the cornerstone of a good night. MaK and Z-Dawg were there and after I was finisehd eating I was given the kid so the parents could enjoy their meals, too. I have to say that I’m gragually getting a little more comfortable with the little guy. Helps that Z-Dawg likes to jump. I can understand that one, and since I don’t have to last for hours my rocket assist is much more powerful. He doesn’t just jump, he flies!

Tomaš and I once spent a night drinking, starting with his father’s homemade Slivovice, and I think he’s really looking forward to doing it again. On the film side, as noted above he’s working, but he has a few connections that might help us. Apparently there are some Panavision lenses areound here somewhere pining for light. I’m a little fuzzy on the details.

Then home for (relatively) early bedtime. Big day tomorrow!

Lookin’ for a Bluesman

zlato proved useful once more, sending me the info about and American guitarist and singer who works regular gigs here and there around town. It turns out I’d heard Brad Huff play once before on a night spent hanging with zlato, but I had forgotten the guy’s name, along with everything else about him. Last night he had a gig at an American-owned bagel place. “Looks like we’re having bagels for dinner tonight!” fuego replied when I sent him the info.

As the day wore on, I was overcome by deep and profound sleepies. Brad plays often enough, we could miss one night and the world would not come to an end. Through the innefficiency of text messaging fuego and I were not quite on the same page; I was getting writing done and was not inclined to go out, but by the time I stated that explicitly fuego was already on his way.

As well he should have been. Really it should have been me dragging him. This is my sandbox, my budget, and if I don’t drag this bastard project forward through sheer force of will, then who is going to? I resolved to rally. While I was getting my act together I got another message from fuego. He was quite a bit early for the concert, so he’d gone to another place nearby, a potential location for the film. He told me how to find the place and I started on my way.

Brad huff at bohemia bagel

A lonely bluesman at Bohemia Bagel

It took a while to get there by tram. fuego’s directions were excellent, and the place was easy to spot. I got inside and realized that finding the place and finding someone inside that place are entirely separate challenges. It is a crazy labyrinth of stone and metal, filled with mood lighting and kinetic sculptures made from old engines. It’s contrived, but damn if they didn’t get it right. The levels have levels, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. They had Sailor Jerry Rum, which I did not try. I didn’t take any pictures. We had a coupld of beers, discussed it in the context of “Moonlight.” It’s much busier and more modern than I imagined the location in the story, but it’s also way cool, which counts for a lot. It’s a place that is without a doubt Prague.

After a while we headed the few blocks to Bohemia Bagel for the show. We had no idea how crowded things would be, so showing up a bit early seemed like a good idea. In this case, there was no need to worry. Bohemia Bagel is simply not a place people think of when they’re going out for an evening. I assume booking a blues player once a week is part of a campaign to change that. We arrived, sat, ordered munchies and beer, and waited. Before long Brad sat down in the corner and started to play. He was good, and when we talked to him on his break he turned out to be a personable guy who understood what we were up to and was interested in working with us. Not only that, but his wife is a pianist and has worked as a hand double as well.

We talked about all sorts of things; the story he told about being abandoned in Tuba City, NM was especially good. No two ways about it, that man has some tales to tell.

The vltava at night

The Vltava, looking toward the castle and old church

After the show he joined us again for a while and we had a round of Becherovka for good will. Then we went our separate ways. In what has become a pattern fuego decided to do a bit more “location scouting” while we were out. We walked across the river down into the center of town, where the basements are the coolest, and trod the cobblestones looking for likely venues. Nothing presented itself right away, but we stopped off as a place called (something like) Fat Boy Bar, a place neither fuego nor I had even been before. It was fairly quiet in there by then. We got beers and made ourselves comfortable.

A while later I looked up and there was Brad, still dragging his little wheel bag with his amplifier, his guitar slung over his back. I waved, he laughed, and came over to join us. “I got on the wrong tram,” he said. “I used to come in here all the time, but I haven’t been in ages.” Yet there we were, as if guided by some divine practical joker, and more stories ensued. And more beer. Maybe some more Becherovka. Maybe not.

Time continued to stumble ahead toward dawn, clumsily but inexorably, dragging us with it. Eventually it was time to go home. We walked out into the quiet Prague streets. I really like the city at that time of night; one of my favorite Prague moments was a similar walk through fresh snow. We bid Brad goodnight at his (correct) tram stop and fuego and I started tromping homewards. We made it as far as El Paso.

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I wonder if he can play the blues…

El Paso is a bar I pass often but rarely go into. One of those visits was on a very similar walk home with fuego, late at night when we both know better but are willing to forget for a while that we do. El Paso is open almost all night, just closing long enouogh to clear out the drunks before they start a new day. We sat, chatted a little more, mostly about the project, and eventually there was just no denying that it was time to go home. I walked part of the way but I was passing the tram stop just as the night tram pulled up (still night trams — at least it wasn’t as late as last time) and I hopped on for the last half-mile or less. The tram itself was a fairly modern number, but all night trams come equipped with a sleeping drunk guy. This guy is living in luxury; he’s not forced into the standard slumped-forward posture you see on the older trams. I’ll tell you a story about that sometime.

Finally, home, happy to be there, I spent a little while chatting with That Girl. She called me a dork. (She loves dorks, luckily.) I didn’t last long, and then I flopped down on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and was asleep almost before I was horizontal. Quite a productive day, overall…

Golem Club

“Moonlight Sonata” leans heavily on two elements (give or take): locations and music. When we heard that zlato knew some skilled musicians who owned their own place and only opened it once a month or so when they had concerts, I allowed myself to get pretty excited about it. Purely by luck, there was a concert there the day after zlato found out what we were looking for. Attendance, of course, was mandatory.

The morning started out under the shadow of the previous night’s beers, and the last wheeze from an annoying head cold I’ve been carting around. (An aside: on mornings like that I ask myself, “why don’t I have any aspirin in the house?” There is a drugstore literally a stone’s throw from my house. Yet once I’m out and about the hassle of figuring out just what to get outweighs the future benefit. It takes me a good twenty minutes to choose a medication even when I can read the labels. So I tell myself I’ve made it this long in this country without ever setting foot in a drugstore and I may as well keep the streak alive. Who knows how much productivity I’ve lost for lack of a bottle of ibuprofen?) Anyway, I slept very late, schlepped around, and when the appetite was finally back I went down to the local Chinese place and wrote the previous blog episode. From there is was tram 11 up to fuego’s, and away we went.

zlato (rhymes with gold, by the way) had emailed the information on how to find the place. He had mentioned several times that the place was always packed, and the email advised arriving by 20:00 to get a seat. I figured showing up even earlier couldn’t hurt.

It turns out this was a short-notice event, and we were the first ones there. We poked around and discussed what it would take to make the place look right for out project.

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A clean, well-lit place

Unfortunately it turns out that the answer to that is “quite a bit.” The place is the right size, but it’s too clean and too white for the sort of dive where an old bluesman would play his last concert on this Earth.

Still, at least it’s there, and it has musicians, to boot.

People began to arrive in dribs and drabs, and we got our first look at the guitarist for the band, someone we hoped might be a candidate for the role of Old Ray, the bluesman. Not a slam dunk by any means, but there was definitely potential there.

(My apologies, by the way, for the quality of the photos; I was using my phone camera and there’s only so much it can do in low light.)

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The band at work

The place had perhaps twenty-five people in it when the show started. Tonight it was just pianist and guitarist; the drummer was apparently one of the many regulars who couldn’t make it to the show. Right away I knew I was going to have a good time. When you go to a concert billed as ‘jazz’ it can fall anywhere on the spectrum from “so boring it’s not music” through “inoffensive” to “good” to “great” to “so random it’s not music.” Happily, while musically very ambitious at times, Tony Ackerman (guitar) and Martin Kratochvil (piano) never went so far over the edge to where one needs a doctorate in music theory to appreciate it. It was also obvious that they really enjoyed what they were doing. Some of the music I recognized, other bits were original. Tony is American(ish) and enjoyed talking to the group and the whole place had a friendly vibe.

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Bohdan Mikolášek

Then we came to the reason for this hastily-called show: it turns out that it was the 40th anniversary of the immolation of Jan Palach, a student who burned himself to death to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. A freind of Tony’s is a musician who wrote protest songs back in the day and wanted to mark the day. Bohdan Mikolášek’s songs were in Czech, of course, and most of the audience was English-speaking, so he spent some time before he started talking about the time, and what some of his lyrics were. Some of the most poignant came from the song “ Ticho, which was about Palach, and the quiet acceptance of the invasion he struggled to end. “A living man died, but the dead live on.” Lots of good imagery in his lyrics as well.

After the show he paused to talk with fuego and me. He is distressed about the way the world is going, about what it remembers as what is forgotten. For instance, he said more than once that he doesn’t think Jan Palach was a hero. It’s not his act we should remember but the apathy that brought him to that act. We should remember a world where it took some guy doing something like that to wake everyone up. Are we all sleepwalking, waiting for the poignant “heroic” act to get our asses in gear?

All of which has nothing to do with finding locations and talent for “Moonlight Sonata.”

During the post-show milling-around period I introduced myself to Tony, we chatted for a bit, and eventually fuego brought up our project. The venue is definitely a possibility, but Tony immediately took himself out of the running for being the bluesman. He did give us a lead though, a name that sounds vaguely familiar to me. He’s a yonger guy, but if he can move old it might work out.

In the end, it was a good show, but provided no answers. fuego and I wandered the town for a bit, looking first for a couple of places fuego thought might be worth looking at. The one he was most excited about showing me was closed. After that we decided to repair to Pizzeria Roma for a planning session. On the walk I realized (again) how out-of-shape I am, but once in the friendly embrace of the all-night pizza joint (complete with time-warp capabilities) all was well. We ate, discussed the three (rhymes with Holy Cow!) vodeo projects we want to get done in short order, considered Roma as one of the locations (could do a lot worse), and generally had a good time. When I left fuego was still there, chatting with the locals, and when I left I caught a day tram home.

Location Scouting

In “Moonlight Sonata”, the locations are as much characters as the people. It is the locations that will communicate the difference between the worlds of the day people and the night people. We start in a coffee shop, aggressively bright, busy, filled with elevator jazz and noises we’ve all learned to ignore, or at least accept. Then there are the night places — dark, shadowy, uncertain, filled with the music that touches the soul. Getting the right places will be extremely important for communicating ideas that in a written story can come from the narrator. On top of that, I really want to draw Prague tightly into the narrative. On Thursday our quest began.

Enter zlato. The dude gets around. He’s been to dozens of the right sort of places over the years, but better than that, he’s personal friends with the management of many of these places. Finding a good place is only a fraction of the battle; even more difficult is getting the owners to allow us to shoot there. A good word from a friendly source can make a big difference.

fuego, zlato and I met at the Globe, a coffee shop/bookstore that is entirely too comfortable for the opening location. fuego had another objection as well, he knew that the owner of the place would want to be in the movie. Apparently fuego has seen his auditions enough over the years to know that he’s not right for this project.

While I had a sandwich we asked zlato if he knew any old grizzled bluesmen. It turns out he doesn’t, but he does know an international-calibre jazz trio that has their own space, which is only open once a month or so when they play. Could we score one of our venues and a band all in one go? In an amazing coincidence, they are playing tomorrow night. fuego and I will be there.

We spent some more time planning, and off we went into the balmy (almost up to freezing!) Prague afternoon.

After a couple of stops to look at coffee shops I tried to clarify the sort of place we wanted. “Soulless,” I tried. “The kind of place you wouldn’t normally go.” We tried a few more places, but they all had soul. Dang city! The candidates for the dark subterranean bar were all closed; it was too early in the day (good news when it’s time to shoot, but inconvenient today). We stopped at Latin Art Café, where zlato was greeted enthusiastically by the owner. Apparently zlato’s own cobbled-together band with the ever-changing name has played there, and was more than welcome back.

While we sipped hot spiced wine I had the bright idea to let zlato actually read the story, which improved his understanding of our needs quite a bit. Go figure. We continued our quest, but did not find the ideal spot. We ended at a place called Jet Set, a very modern place, with chrome and geometric furniture and fancy rose-tinted lighting. We made our way through to a side area, and zlato objected. “Why are we sitting up here? It’s way cooler down there. It’s pink.” I took the fact zlato didn’t like the side area as a hopeful sign. It is soulless to the point of being barren — there is a large blank wall that looks like it ordinarily has art hanging on it. It’s not really what we were looking for, but in a pinch it will do. The area was fairly empty so we could probably shoot without costing the business too much, but that doesn’t mean they’ll agree to let us do it.

We sat and sipped another round of spiced wine while we discussed our findings. It was not a terribly successful day. We considered alternatives we knew about. Nearby, in a mall, there is another place that fuego and I know. It would fit the bill nicely, but it seems like an incredibly long shot to get permission to shoot there; and the mall might add its own hassles. Still, as we’ve learned in the past, it never hurts to ask. Searching for the right ‘dark’ bar will have to wait until we can visit them at night.

We all hopped on Tram 7, and the driver was really bad at his job, twice stopping so abruptly that people fell. Finally fuego and I arrived alive if not well back in my neighborhood to watch some hockey at the Budvar Bar Near Home. We had perhaps a couple more beers than strictly necessary, then after the game I stuck my head in at Little Café Near Home to see if Martin was there. (I probably should give him a code name, but everyone is named Martin or Tomaš.) Fuego joined me and we ordered beers. fuego realized at some point that he really shouldn’t drink his, so I inherited it as well. Fun was had by all.

Martin has lots of film school connections. “Remember,” he said, “it only takes one student to make it a student film.” We have a limited time and fuego has lots of friends in the business, and with something like this the difference in student-lit vs. pro-lit can be make-or-break, to cite one example. I learned also on Pirates that extra crew running around can really get in the way. Nevertheless, a student could come in very handy when negotiating for places or other favors, especially if the student is a pretty girl. We shall see.