At Larrrrst!

I may be jumping the gun here, but word from the director is that Pirates of the White Sand is finished. What can be fixed, has been fixed. I haven’t seen the result yet, but I’m stoked.

Holy crap. More than five years for a 14-minute-long film. I’m not sure I even want to know how many hours fuego’s put in on the thing, but I suspect it’s a large number. This summer between rounds of croquet in Moravia I got glimpses of progress, and a few more tantalizing looks in Santa Fe this July, and the audio was improving steadily.

For those who don’t know, my brother and I co-wrote a script that won the Fellini Award at a screenplay competition. The seven winners were assembled for a week, given crews of uncertain capability, and after three days of shooting and four of editing the films were judges by a star-studded panel. Ours was easily the best script but was hobbled by technical difficulties. Still, we won the Audience Choice award, and our star took best actor. Several other folks donated time as well; I’ll try to put out a thank-you post when I have time to come up with a list. Everyone loves lists!

For the last several years my brother has used his film expertise and connections to gradually work away at fixing the technical flaws. Now, he says he has run out of things to fix.

If I was smart I’d wait until I talked to him to make this announcement, but I’m just too damn excited. Another step toward world domination complete!

8

Pirates of the White Sand Now Shipping!

Well, it’s not everything I had hoped it would be, but it looks like things aren’t going to improve any time soon, so I’ve given up waiting and I’m now proud to send out the Official Director’s Bootleg of Pirates of the White Sand.

For those new to the scene, Pirates is a short film co-written by my brother and me. The script won a competition and the prize was the opportunity to participate in the Duke City Shootout, where the movie was created by a volunteer crew with three days of shooting and four of editing. There were, alas, some technical difficulties, particularly audio problems that cannot be repaired (the czech version sounds much better), but the result is still a bunch of fun. I mean, come on, it’s pirates!

I have now mastered the technology to produce copies of this DVD, and I am ready to send them to those who might want them. The catch is that I need addresses. If you would like a copy, send me an email with your mailing address (I don’t recommend putting it in a comment), and I will burn you a DVD, label it before I’ve had too much caffeine in the morning (my penmanship is not too good even in ideal circumstances) and pop it in the post for you. You can find my email address in the first comment for this episode.

Just to keep things sane and keep my postage costs finite, I think I need to limit the number of copies I send out. Let’s start with the first ten people to request the DVD getting one, and we’ll see how that goes.

2

I hear those stunt men are crazy

I don’t want to give too much away (as if anything I’m putting in the script now will make it to the screen anyway), but I just wrote a new Most Dangerous Scene To Film. The old Most Dangerous Scene To Film involved two open cars tied together, speeding down the highway while people clamber all over them. Lots of people, fighting one another with cutlasses. Oh, yeah, there’s a big rig coming the other way. (I figure that part’s just a matter of editing magic.) The new MDTFS requires a convertible overflowing with people to jump over a sheer canyon, while other cars crash and fall in.

I’m sure fuego will wave his hands and say “No problem! We do crazier things all the time in this business!” Still, that seems pretty nuts. The stunt people are definitely going to earn their pay on this one. If, that is, we find a way to pay them.

Immediately after writing the above, I returned to the script and wrote the Most Impossible Scene To Film. Oh, but it would be sweet. The moment after the final credits that would just seal the movie, and reward those who stayed. Let’s hope for editing magic.

2

The Mysterious Secret Message

I got a text message from fuego, leaping wide oceans in a single bound. “Pirates script due Jan. 8.”

I assume he is not referring to the script we have already written, as, well, a deadline in the future would not be very noteworthy. Unless it’s a Pirates script that includes the ad-libs and other changes made during the shooting, that are not reflected in the master document. That might be it, but what would the point of such a script be?

No, I’m guessing that for some reason we need a new Pirates script, of unknown length (probably significantly longer), for an unknown audience, for an unknown purpose, and for some reason the window of opportunity closes on January 8th.

A good guess is that we need something for a feature-length movie or a television pilot. I hadn’t considered how different those two things can be until tonight as I sat down and started thinking through an outline of the plot. For a TV pilot you need to establish the style that the series will adopt, which limits you to styles that work in smaller chunks and won’t confuse first-time viewers. That means you can’t get too carried away with nonlinear structures and other devices that take time to build. Also, a pilot defines the main issues the characters will face, whereas a movie resolves them.

Getting a polished work of that size done in a month will be a big, big, challenge. We’re with Unlikely on Impossible’s front porch, and we’re ringing the doorbell.

Hopefully by the time I can get this posted I will already have the answers, but right now I’m anxious to start working. If only I knew what to work on.

Post Script: It’s all cool now. I’m a little rusty with english, apparently – I didn’t recognize “jan” as an abbreviation for “June”

2

Gotta be there

It’s the little things – the timing that could be a wee bit better, the fill-in radio chatter that needs to be written, the F-117 keychain hanging on my wall that’s needed for a shot. The way they are afraid to push the music forward when atmosphere is more important than realism. Not to mention, Charles the Second needs his Becherovka.

I spent two months on the production of Pirates of the White Sand, and it would be difficult to point to any one thing and say, “Dang! Jerry kicked ass right there.” (Aside from my part of the writing, of course, but that happened long before.) I was (so I tell myself), a general lift to the entire production, leaving very small marks everywhere. There was the general good feeling on the set. I provided pure pie-in-the-sky American Dream. Pirates was not a goal but a vehicle, a stepping stone to something grander. The film was itself theCrusader, a pirate ship ready to storm pop culture. I painted a vision so grand that no one else could be embarrassed for dreaming big. I did that. And honestly, I’m a little bummed that that didn’t show up more in the raw footage. There was sloppiness there that didn’t echo the belief that we were building a new pop-culture franchise.

The last day when, after my incessant whining, we set things up so the pirates could do some serious shouting, it was golden. (Credit must also be given to a crew who gave us a day to go back and do stuff like that.)

Also, I brought an enormous number of breakfast burritos for the crew. And a machine gun.

The part where Moab says “lay a course for the Sierra Madres”? I happened to be paying attention just then, made a comment, and then C-2 used that to change the cut by a fraction of a second, and it was better. So most of the credit goes to Chuck II, because he had the skill and immediately knew what I was talking about. Dude knows his shit. Not to take away from fuego, he was there too, and it was actually a pretty tough cut. They worked together on it for quite a while. I really came to appreciate how many hours of post production go into each second of film you see.

But I made the comment. They probably don’t need me for that so much now that they have time to be picky, but I bet there are places in the flow of things that they are just used to, places where they understand more than the audience, that could be better. I know that’s the way with my writing.

And there are the relationships. I was on the ground for the Duke City Shootout longer than they were, and I just got comfortable with people. It doesn’t sound like they are having any trouble in that regard, but they are dealing with people I would like to see again, whether or not my participation would be helpful. If you’ve been paying attention, you know who I’m talking about.

When it comes right down to it, while intellectually I have surrendered the vision of the story to people with the skills to make it happen, emotionally I am still wrapped up in the thing. I hear reports from far away, encouraging noises, and I know things are in good hands. Skilled hands. Passionate hands.

Just not my hands.

2

Back to the bay

The festival over, the parties past, fuego and I took refuge up in Los Alamos for a few days. fuego took care of some personal stuff and we didn’t start fretting about getting back to the editing bay for several hours.

We were caught in the space-warping effects of the Black Hole – days slipped by, but there was no word when we would be able to start editing Pirates. I got some writing done (mostly editing existing works in progress) and fuego started a draft of the pilot/feature version of our movie. I found it difficult to collaborate, though, for two reasons: I had other stories on my mind and we needed a place we could drop into an insulated cocoon and just throw ideas around. Towards the end I was getting back into the mood, and started being more helpful.

Friday we finally got word. There would be facilities available off and on, and we could get started on Saturday. There is one editing station, shared by all the teams, so access may be sporadic. Honestly, though, most of the other films don’t need it as much as we do. Simpler ideas, simpler shots, no disasters in editing, the other movies were closer to being presentable. fuego and I hopped in the car and swept back in the Duke City Saturday morning.

Somewhere along the Santa Fe bypass, about halfway to the big city, fuego said, “I forgot the keys to the Hotelsmobile.” That meant until we got back to Los Alamos we would only have one car, and the giant Olds would remain stationed outside the the Byrne’s house, props we need to return securely locked within. Oh, well.

The editing facilities we found were really nice. Charles the First and fuego set to work, making sure all the bits were there and getting a general feel for what needed to be done. I was simply there to provide an occasional opinion: “We need the sound of the engine roaring there.” “The timing feels a little off.” That kind of thing.

In only a few minutes they had gone over the first part and were busily making changes. I watched as the things gradually improved, from more consistent background sound, better balance of exposure and color between shots, to improved timing of lines. (Note to self – there’s still one pause that bothers me.) Still not perfect, but much better. As the intro improved, so did my spirits. We were going to have something to show people. Eventually.

Next came the opening credits. They needed work for a variety of reasons, from confusing cuts in the map sequence to misspelled names. Misspelled names. My hair stood up when I found out about those. I had created a list of names, and every cast member had checked off on the spelling of their name. I had delivered that list to the guys doing the credits. “Do NOT use the spreadsheet. Use this list.” I said. “The spreadsheet has errors and is not complete.” I said this more than once, to more than one person. They had used the spreadsheet initially because the list was not available yet, but then they never went back and checked their work.

While C-1 and fuego tackled the animated sequence (with lots of more-or-less welcome input from me), I set to work trying to repair the credit graphics. The only catch: I don’t have the list anymore. I had given it to those guys. I hope I can track it down, or people may be left out. Also, I don’t have the original layered file they used to create the credit graphics, so I spent much of the afternoon trying to reconstruct the original background graphic using bits and pieces of various credit screens. So, I was a bit grumpy as I worked away trying to fix mistakes I felt were unnecessary. Also, I was getting hungry.

The good news for the credits is, now that we are not so strictly bound to the 1-minutes for credits rule, names will stay on the screen long enough for people to read them.

Progress on the credits was slow. We were trying to put all the transitions to the beats of the drum, and use the music as a guide. For one drum roll we created a stop-action animation feel, zooming in and sweeping north along the treasure path. (Note to self – I think we tried to travel too far on those beats). We were not done with the credits when the guys who own the place said they had to go. They had given up a large chunk of their Saturday to be there. They made sure all our stuff was squared away so they could transfer the project to another machine, then gently kicked us out. That was fine with me, I was starving by then.

The first step now is to make the slightly longer, more polished version of the flick that showed at the shootout. The next step, which may take weeks, is to beg, borrow, and steal time to recut the movie the way it should be. Big Byte, a data storage company here in town that hosted the original editing for the shootout, will have one station available for crews to use. They are very generous to make that available, but we had wanted to edit on our own gear on our own schedule. Unfortunately this is impossible as we are not allowed to copy any media from the original shoot. (Not to self: I bet Coppola has copies of his original footage.)

I will probably not wait here for the full version to be completed. I have places to go, people to see, and a language to unforget. It’s summer in Prague. I need an agent. I need a bar with cheap beer within walking distance of the place I’m sleeping. I need to write something.

2

The Cast and Crew

the whole crew

I will not list them all here – my apologies to those not mentioned. Not being listed here is in no way in indication that someone was unimportant. This blog is all about me, and the people here are the ones who had the largest effect on me. Note that, except where I am given permission to use a person’s real name, I am using pseudonyms. People are listed in the order I think of them.

fuego
My brother, co-writer of Pirates, and director. If you’ve been paying attention, you know all about him. Before writing Pirates, I never knew collaboration could be so fun.

Rudolph
I also refer to him as Rudy fairly often. Although he had experience on a few films he had never been a producer before. Soon after we were notified of our winning the Fellini award, fuego and I began to get emails from Rudy. He had gone through the script and was already putting together the team to make the movie work. He notified us of potential problem areas and what he was doing about them. “I like this guy!” I wrote to fuego. I still do. He worked hard, long hours, juggled dozens of priorities, and when the tide changed he went with the flow, bending without breaking. He embodies one of the key lessons of this whole adventure: You don’t get what you want if you don’t ask. From the Crusader to the Director of Photography to the helicopter, Rudy got what he wanted.

Bonnie
She can build furniture and charm a car dealer out of a couple of SUV’s. I’ve already written about her, so I won’t go into detail here. I do wonder, though, if she’s read that other bit. Kinda makes me nervous.

Seldom Seen Smith
As the name implies, Seldom is most notable for his absence. Every crew was assigned a mentor, an industry veteran to guide them through the moviemaking process. Seldom has directed a couple of major motion pictures, and although we felt we had things under control it would have been nice to at least hear from him. Finally I heard through the grapevine that he was working on a different project and the schedule had been stretched. You can’t blame a guy for that, but it would have been nice to get at least an email from the guy explaining the situation. In the end, he was a bad example of how the business works.

Moab
The actor who eventually came to play Moab was critical for the casting of not just pirates, but for all the movies. It was he that guided (or misguided in a couple of cases) the actors during auditions. I was the only writer to participate directly in casting, so Moab was left to interpret the other scripts on his own. Moab is Pirate through and through. During casting he said he was not available on the first days of shooting because he had a big pirate ho-down to attend. He is a member of The Society for Creative Anachronism, in a section specializing in pre-flintlock pirates. He had all the gear, and even before we cast him had loaned us a bunch of swords and other props. Aye, maties, Moab be a pirate, and his leadership skills showed as the pirates came together as a unit.

Louie
Louie is a big guy, friendly and enthusiastic, and had been taking courses in film production. He had some camera experience, but on our film was assigned to the sound crew, where he had no experience at all. He was there to help, no doubt about it, and didn’t want to miss any part of the production. I was a little worried during casting, when he would make noise while people were reading for parts in other movies. It wasn’t that he was impolite, far from it. He was one of the nicest guys around. He just wasn’t quite aware of all the things expected of him. He would require careful guidance on set, with lots of feedback, in order to perform well during production. He didn’t get it.

Smithers
Smithers was not directly part of our crew. He had the unenviable job of getting seven movie productions going simultaneously. He is an intense, just-so hardass who will repeat himself many many times after the matter has been decided. He can be frustrating to work with, and made it difficult to get the resources we needed. A festival like Duke City Shootout would not work without someone like him.

Seldom Seen Smith Jr.
Perhaps an unfair monniker. SSS Jr. was assigned to us as Assistant Director after our first one had to quit before we even got started. Seldom Jr. was working on Wildfire, some sort of TV series filmed in New Mexico, but he had never been an AD before. He arranged to take the days we would be shooting off of work so he could help us. The thing is, much of the AD’s work comes before the shooting starts. AD is a vital planning and communications role. No one had explained the role of an AD to him, and the people who assigned him that role this time made no effort to fill him in, or even to see if he was available to do it. fuego ended up doing much of the AD work himself, with some support from Rudolph.

Giovanni
Our Director of Photography was one of the most respected camera guys in the state, the guy who taught many of the other camera people participating in the festival. He came with a whole truckload of equipment as a bonus. An easygoing, funny guy, he had the knowhow to get things done, and had plenty of good suggestions for improving shots. He brought along with him several other key people.

Pablo
We were burning through mentors faster than Joan Collins through husbands. When would it end? Would we have a mentor when the shooting started? Other teams had established actors (Adrian from Rocky, for instance) or Hollywood producers. We were doing all right on our own, but feeling kind of left out. One night, with shooting immanent, we get word that our latest mentor had flaked, but the home office had lined up another. Enter Pablo. He’s not some hollywood big shot, but he is a grizzled veteran of Shootouts past, and he knows what it takes to get things done. He strength is editing, which fit beautifully with our needs. He and Charles the First had worked together before, and knew how to move as a team.

Charles the First
Our lead editor lost his day job just in time to give us his all. Chuck 1 is skilled, abrasive and outspoken. “I know Chuck is not for everyone,” he told me one night. After one meeting where he told Smithers he thought a particular policy was stupid, we forbade Charles I from speaking to Smithers ever again. Alas, this policy was impractical and he went on to piss off Smithers on more than one occasion. In the editing bay he was often the first one to find a problem with the equipment, and he had no problem being the squeaky wheel. C-One gets it done, and he’s not afraid to tell you that. He is also a master of barbecue ribs.

Charles the Second
C-2 is another old friend of fuego’s, and a long-time veteran of the film biz. When he learned of our impending production, he managed to hollow out a tiny space in his schedule, rented a car, and drove out from Los Angeles to operate our second camera. Smithers really didn’t want us to have a second camera. I never heard the end of it. Giovanni was OK with it, so long as it was clear the he was the Director of Photography. So we had a second camera. It was a tough job; one day he was forced to drive around the southern half of the state in a car with two of our prettiest crew members. He had to leave as soon as shooting was done, much to the disappointment of Cynthia.

Corky
Corky, our innovative makeup guy, was also responsible for making the alien fetus in a jar. Not only was he makeup, he was our set Emergency Medical Technician, and overall mother hen. No one was going to get sunburn when he was around, by damn! He made our pirates into ugly SOB’s, concentrating most of his uglification on Kentucky Jack, giving him as misshapen nose and covering him with scars. One of his best moves was to bring Cynthia on as his assistant.

Cynthia
Well, what’s to say? Nothing, if you’re Cynthia. No worries about her making noise on the set. By the end of the week we heard complete sentences from her, and I even had a conversation or two. She was part of the makeup team. It’s easy to overlook the contribution of people like her on set – when you don’t have to delay shots because the actor has gotten too shiny, all you know is that things are going well. She’s probably going to be pissed that I spilled the beans about Charles the Second, although Corky spilled them to me.

Archie
I started breathing easier when Archie volunteered and was assigned to our team. Need a boat wheel that fits on the steering wheel of a car? “When can I see the car?” On and on like that. Archie knows tools, and knows how to weld up an anchor out of spare staircase parts. Archie knows tools, and he has tools, but he can’t use them at home; he lives in a teepee and has no electricity.

Morgan
Giovanni has taken this young lady under his wing, convinced she has talent as a camera operator. I’m not one to judge that stuff, but she is a vivacious, outgoing, and totally hot film student. She was dreafted onto the set by Giovanni and did a good job making herself useful. Hot she may be, but she’s also nice to have around.

Dog Bone
Biker, actor, and general hell-raiser. The organizers knew him, and asked us to make him a pirate. At the same time, they were asking him if he wanted to be a pirate. We each thought we were doing a favor for the other. It was cool, though. He was a great pirate, but the stories he had to tell were even better. How many Asian prostitutes was that again, Bone?

Kentucky Jack
A lawyer in a former life, the actor who played Kentucky Jack was actually part of the legal battles surrounding the treasure story we based Pirates on. Our X on the treasure map in the credits is reasonably accurate, thanks to him. We have footage of him becoming Kentucky Jack: First one of his eyes pops open, then the other, this his mouth one bit at a time, until he is transformed into the craziest of the pirate crew. It’s awesome. Kentucky Jack was also the source of some excellent ideas which found their way into the production. On the last day he came up to me and said, “I know what we need! A midget!”

Ruthie
Compared to the rowdy boisterousness of the pirate, our Ruthie was a down-to-earth actress. Her performances were not always consistent, but she steadily improved during the shoot. Chemistry between Ruthie and Moab was, well, not smooth, but they put that aside when the camera was rolling.

Izzy
We almost lost Izzy to another film in the Shootout, but luckily for us he decided to go with this role, despite having almost no lines. He is a terrific physical actor, and the chemistry between him and Moab was tremendous. His quirky, odd character was a show-stealer.

3

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 Café 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

Shooting – Day One

NOTE: I plan to add pictures here, but words come first.

After finally surrendering to sleep at about 2:30, I set the alarm for 5:30. That wasn’t necessary; when it went off I had been up for an hour already, sucking down caffeine and trying to set up rocket igniters with shaking hands. I put things aside and went downtown for the last, most appropriate, and silliest of the pre-shoot ceremonies, the traditional shotgun start. When I got there the streets were blocked off, and Central Avenue was filled with milling film wanna-bees like me and film pros like fuego. A city bus was parked in the middle of the street. I had missed the big arrival of Coppola’s crew in their rolling set, but the man always likes to make an entrance.

His movie is either going to be brilliant or it’s going to suck hard.

Poof! The fake shotgun fired confetti into the air, at which point the Directors of Photography were supposed to race to their cameras, giving the event a sense of urgency. Right. Someone who’s been around long enough to be a DP isn’t going to race down the middle of the street in front of a lot of people. After a dignified stroll by the seven top camera guys it was time to rally the troops and get them out to the site.

Tired and wired I made my way back home to pack up the potato – this damn tuber-based special effect that has dominated my waking hours and haunted my dreams. Soon it would be over. I did a little more setup, testing the balance of the spud in the holder. Meanwhile, I needed to print up a set of storyboards. Pablo was coming by the house to pick them up so we could put them up on the wall at the location. Maybe it was the humidity, maybe sunspots, maybe I was just doing it wrong, but that damn printer did not want to work. I would get perhaps a page or two — sometimes none at all — before warning lights flashed, a klaxon sounded, the reactor scrambled and the neighborhood had to be evacuated.

The evacuation was necessary to protect the neighbors from the choice stream of invective issuing from my throat, complete with a spray of blood-tinged spittle.

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Anyway, by the time Pablo got there, about two-thirds of the pages had printed. I gave him those and promised the rest when I came out to the set. He left and I continued. When my vision wasn’t too clouded by blue spots caused by hyperventilation I worked on the potato, carefully taping sparkler fragments to rocket igniters, sorting them into piles of red and green. Finally I was ready to pack up and head out to the set.

Before I left I checked my email quickly, and waiting for me was a message from a musician buddy of mine. I hadn’t heard a response from my last nervous plea and had written him off, but Harvey had come through. He and Doug had put together a cover of an old sailor’s tune, All For Me Grog that rocked. Perfect for the last remaining musical hole in the flick, which starts with a shot of an empty pitcher with GROG written on the side. One listen to the music lifted my spirits immensely.

The morning was already heating up, and the humidity was becoming oppressive. As I wove down the deserted highway one of the lenses fell out of my sunglasses and the potato in the trunk started making an odd bubbling noise. The car began to glow…

No, wait, that’s Repo Man.

When I reached the set shooting had begun. fuego had decided to start with an exterior shot while the sky was still relatively empty. A big, loud fan was providing wind enough to hold Jolly Roger stiffly flapping, just as the script called for. I watched for a while as they repeated the shot in different ways, sometimes optimozed for wind, sometimes for sound. We paused when trains rumbled past nearby or a light plane buzzed overhead.

“Let’s move on,” fuego said, and the first shot was in the can. More than a hundred shots to go, but the team was working well.

I set up an area inside the bar and laid out the potato tools, but I held off carving up the stunt spud in case we wanted a hero shot of it in Kentucky Jack’s hand first. There was little for me to do then, except lend an ineffectual hand to Bonnie and her assistant Alex as they completed set dressing, undermine Archie’s productivity as he tinkered away on props in his mobile workshop, and hand out by the food table. I was a cheerleader more than anything else, but the pirate energy was gradually mounting, and there was a buzz on the set that things were working.

After the parking lot scene, it was time for the pirates to load up into the Crusader and head out onto the highway for the trickiest shot of all. The Sheriff’s department was there to seal off the road while we shot, the pirates filled the crusader to overflowing, the flag snapped in the breeze as the mighty vehicle pulled out of the parking lot for the first run. What followed was a long, grueling, sun-baked period, fuego’s voice crackling over the walkie-talkie: “Let’s do it again.” Finally we were as close to getting the shot as our equipment would allow, which meant it was not bad but not great. The editors had a lot to work with and there was coverage to fall back on if the shot just didn’t work out. Archie had created a superb “Crusader” nameplate for the back of the craft that gave us a nice alternate shot.

Some time later that morning the documentary crew showed up. There were two cameramen, a producer… and the woman I had see at the party the night before. The one who looked like Rose. She was interviewing crew members during the lunch break, and eventually she asked to interview me. “My name’s Delilah,” she said. She has dimples and an open smile. Her eyes were behind sunglasses.

The cameras focussed on me. The last time I had been interviewed was long ago, and I had been wooden and awkward. Not this time. We were making a movie, based on words I had helped write, and I was floating. I projected my excitement back at Delilah and into the camera, and they were all smiling too, and I could feel them catch the bug. I don’t remember what all the questions were, and I don’t remember very many of my answers, but Delilah and I had a nice chat. “We’re making a movie!” I said more than once.

She ended by asking me about the creative process. My answer to that is different than what most people expect, and I wish I had another chance to express it for the cameras. Later, I came up with a much more succinct answer than the ramble I gave the cameras: Everyone is creative. Artists are people who use their creativity and finish what they start. That last part is important. How many creative projects have you, dear reader, started and not finished, or simply planned in your head, hoping to do one day?

After the interviews, Delilah and crew stuck around for a while, to get some footage of one of our particularly choice shots. Perhaps it was my imagination, but she seemed to be hanging around next to me more than was strictly necessary. I was all right with that, though when Moab came over to discuss the woman he had slept with the night before (complete with body language) it did kind of spoil the magic. “Are you in love?” Delilah asked. “Oh, no,” replied the pirate captain. “My primary lover is here in town.”

I think it was my imagination — the hanging out part, that is. Finally I had to prepare the potato, and I didn’t see much of Delilah after that. I carved and taped, and Archie provided improvised toothpicks to hold the stunt potato together. I broke a potato probe, but fortunately the electrician had a spare. All was ready, or as ready as it was going to be. I went back outside but Delilah was gone. She would not see my big moment on set, when my pyrotechnics would either make or break my career as a special effects guy.

As it turned out, I wouldn’t get to see it either. I was hunkered down in the dirt behind the bow of the Crusader, watching Pablo for a signal when Kentucky Jack stuck the probes into the potato. Finally all was rigged and ready. I lay in the dirt as we went through a couple of rehearsals. I watched Moab and the crew working together as if they had been sailing together all their lives. Nobby Pete was off-the-wall looney and added to every shot. Rehearsals done, I gripped two wires between sweaty fingers and watched for my cue.

“Hold on,” Giovanni, the Director of Photography, said. A glitch was fixed and we were ready.

“Train,” Sam the sound guy said. We waited for the lumbering freight to pass. I wiped my palms on my grubby shorts and waited along with everyone else.

Finally, fuego said “action.” Paul gave me the cue and I touched the wires together. After a small but agonizing delay I heard the hiss and saw the look of surprise on Pablo’s face. “It worked! It worked!” hollered Nobby Pete, ad-libbing. I wanted to holler, too.

I had ammo for three more shots, and we used it all, and it worked every time. We adjusted for the delay and things got even better. On the last take the delay was longer than on the others (it used a different style of rocket igniter), and (I am told) Nobby Pete had time to put a disappointed look on his face before lighting up along with the potato. I scrambled up out of the dirt and my work was done.

The rest of the day passed. The plan had been to use the last part of the day to rehearse the biggest scene, an interior shot, but things went so smoothly we had time to go ahead and shoot it. We wrapped for the day, tired, dirty, and ahead of schedule.