Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

     Like everyone else, I've shed more than a few tears over the senseless tragedy that occurred this weekend. And, just like everyone else, I have no answers as why it happened or what to do about it.  Bad things happen.  They just do.  There's no getting around it.  And when they do, our first impulse is often anger.  The desire to lash out, to revenge ourselves on the evil that has taken from us that thing we hold most precious and dear.  That is a natural and human instinct.  Sometimes, our first impulse is to blame, to finger-point and make wholesale declarations on how to stop another tragedy like this one from happening again.  Often, these statements are born out of raw, wounded emotion that clouds our reasoning and logic, leading to ill-advised solutions that only make things worse.  Again, this is a natural and human instinct.  When unpredictable events disrupt our lives to the very core, it is only logical that we react just as unpredictably and with equal ferocity.  
     But, just like every other tragic event in our history, there are tales that emerge of bravery and courage, of those who survived and those not as fortunate.  Tales of those who were taken too soon, of the lives they touched and the lives they changed.  And tales of coming together, of picking up the pieces and finding some way to move forward, to heal.  This has been the way of things after every catastrophic and heartbreaking event in our time, and of all those that came before.  For an all-too-brief moment, we put aside the things that make us different and focus on the things that make us the same.  We realize that we all have something in common, something that makes us all threads of the same tapestry.  We remember that we're all a part of something bigger, and that we're all a part of it together.  It is the greatest strength of the human race to come together in times like this.  It's just a shame it takes times like this for us to actually come together.  But again, that is just a natural and human instinct.

     In times like this, people turn to whatever they can to bring some kind of comfort or distraction to their heartbreak.  I can't pretend to know the kind of pain being experienced by those directly affected by this senseless act, and it would be foolish to think anything I have to offer would be of any solace or significance to them.  But every year around this time I like to watch some of my favorite holiday movies to get into the spirit of things and this year is no exception.  Before the events of this weekend I watched Scrooged for the umpteenth time.  It's not exactly a classic by any means, but Bill Murray is always good for a laugh and he gives a great speech at the end about the true meaning of the season.  As the film closes, this song plays over the credits.  It's an insignificant piece of 80's fluff, but it has never failed to bring a smile to my face and put me in the holiday spirit, which is something we could all benefit from right now, if only for a moment.  And while the lyrics are kind of corny and old fashioned, I think the message it conveys feels very appropriate for these days.  I hope there is a light at the end of this very dark tunnel for those who have lost so much, and I hope there are better days ahead for us all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


So, we'll just come right out and say it.  We want your money.  We'll take anything.  Loose change.  That extra five dollar bill you found crumpled in that old pair of jeans the other day.  Your kids' college fund.  Whatever you can give, We'll gladly take it off your hands.  Why?  Well, me and my friends are trying to make a movie.  A real one.  Full-length.  With color and sound and everything.  It's going to be funny and romantic and dramatic and all the things you want in a great movie.  Only problem is in order to make the movie, we have to pay for it first.  I mean, don't get me wrong, we've done everything we can to keep it ultra-low budget.  Super-ultra-low budget.  From the script, to the cast, to the locations; we've taken great care to keep it as cheap as we can.  But, even with all our meticulous planning, we still need an extra buck or two (or twenty) to get it done for real.  So, what do you say?  Help us out?  We promise to make a damn good movie everybody can be proud of, and you will have made a life-long dream for us come true.  Win-win all around.  So, have a look at our Kickstarter page and consider helping us out.  Consider donating all the loose change from the floorboards of your car.  Or the coins buried under your couch cushions.  Or that giant bag of money you swiped during that armored car heist last week.  Like I said, we'll take anything.  Then tell your friends, your family, your neighbors, people on the street, that guy in line at the grocery store, and ask them to take a look, too.  We appreciate any and all support you can give us!  It's going to be a great movie!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture...

There's a big item on my to-do list.  It's been on my list since I was 5 years old, and it's about time I got around to crossing it off.  The biggest goal of my life has always been to write and direct a feature film. Not an easy goal, to be sure, but it seems that patience and time has finally started to pay off.  This is a "pitch reel" for a script I wrote called "It Is What It Is," a romantic comedy set in Birmingham.  It follows a young couple, Josh and Lara, about to be married.  After a 4 year engagement, and despite some last minute jitters, they are finally taking the plunge.  To celebrate, their friends decide to take them out for a wild night on the town.  But when Josh's old college roommate, Terry, comes into town, secrets from Lara's past come to light, changing everything.  I've written other scripts over the years, but this one was designed specifically from the ground up to be shot for a limited budget.  It is our hope that this trailer will help us raise the funds we need to shoot the actual film within the next few months.  Stay tuned for more updates, including when we will be posting the trailer to Kickstarter.com and how you can help us make this film a reality.  But for now, enjoy the trailer.  It features some incredibly talented folks in front of and behind the camera that will be helping us make the real deal.  Just FYI,  a word or two is NSFW.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't Stop Believing

40.  The number of times I've been all the way around the sun.  In the cosmic scale of the universe, 40 years is nothing.  A nanosecond.  Barely the blink of an eye.  And in truth, that's how long it feels like sometimes.  As you get older, it really does seem like time moves faster and faster.  25 feels like last week.  10 feels like last year.  5 was two summers ago.  I always thought when I turned 40 I would feel old, but instead I feel like barely any time has passed at all.  But then I stop and actually consider all that has happened in my lifetime, and it boggles my mind.  It is then when I start to realize how much can happen with each orbit around the sun.  So many events I have witnessed, so many people whose lives I have crossed.  So many sights, smells, laughs, tears, and meals I have shared.  They say your brain keeps a perfect record of everything that has ever happened to you, we just don't know how to access it all.  If we did, there are so many things I would want to experience again.  And probably just as many that I would want to keep locked away forever.  But looking back on all the times I do remember, I marvel at how every one of those experiences led me to this point in my life.  Everything I have ever done in my 40 years on this planet has brought me to right here.  So many triumphs, so many failures.  So many good times.  So many not.  So many things I wish I could do over, exactly as they were, and so many I wish I could do over, period.  But despite the regrets I may have in my life, I don't regret the life I have.  It has been a hell of ride so far, one that constantly surprises and mystifies me.  I'm still figuring it all out, and in truth I probably will never understand it all, but I kind of think that's the point.  We're all part of some giant science experiment designed to see what happens when crazy is allowed to run amuck untethered.  Half the fun of life is watching us bump into each other, trying to understand what the hell we're all doing here and why.  Sure, it can get volatile sometimes and bad things happen when the wrong chemicals mix, but when the right kind of crazy interacts, the results can be magic.  In just the past year alone I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  So many things I wish I could undo, just as many I wish I could relive over and over again.  With a year like that, I'm sure voyage around the sun number 41 will be just as amazing, frustrating, exhilarating, disappointing, spectacular and heartbreaking as the last 40.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  Somebody once said,  "It's not the destination, it's the journey." I really do believe that.  Then again, we could all be saying it wrong and it could actually be, "It's not the destination, it's the Journey," meaning the 80's rock band fronted by Steve Perry.  And considering how crazy everything else on earth can be while we spin around the sun, that almost makes more sense.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

You've Got to Come Back With Me

So Doo Dah Day is tomorrow.  It's a great event in Birmingham, sort of a giant love-in for dog lovers put on every year by the Humane Society.  People from all over bring their dogs to the park for parades, music fun, and games.  The Humane Society also helps dogs find forever homes, which is always a good thing.  It's a great event, one that would be even better if I actually had a dog.  I'm almost afraid to go down there this year, I might be tempted to pick one up.  I'd love to get a dog, actually, but my lease doesn't allow them.  Then again, my landlord is pretty great and I bet if I called him up and asked, he'd let me have one in the house (almost makes me afraid to call him, then I'd have no choice but to go down there).  However, there are a couple of ladies living in my house already that might have some thoughts on the matter.  Not sure if Sammy Jo and Captain Kitty would take too kindly to someone else moving in on their turf.  I'll get in touch with their people and see what they have to say.  It's hard to get a face-to-face with cats if they don't want to see you.  Sure, feeding time, lap time, sleep time, they're all up in your business.  But need to ask a serious question, they are harder to reach than Old Yeller (what, too soon?).  Anyway, one of these days I have a feeling another four-legged friend will make an appearance around these parts.  We'll see what happens.  But oddly enough, when I think about Doo Dah Day, my first thought isn't dogs.  Instead I think about driving to the beach in the middle of the night, putting on a suit, and watching the sunrise over the ocean, hoping the rapture doesn't occur.  It sounds strange, but that's exactly what I did around this time last year when Joe Walker asked me to be in his Sidewalk Scramble film and had the crazy notion of driving all the way to the Gulf Coast to get a shot on the beach at sunrise.  It's also the date when crazy Harold Camping told everyone the rapture was going to happen.  Since we only had one shot at this shot (and only 48 hours total to complete the whole film), we were relieved when Camping proved to be a wackjob.  God never showed so we were able to finish the film on time.  And after we drove all the way back to Birmingham, bleary-eyed and exhausted from staying awake all night, we arrived smack dab in the middle of Doo Dah Day.  There were dogs everywhere, dressed in all manner of doggie costumes, which took forever to navigate around in order to get back to our cars to finally go home and get some sleep.  It was like we had escaped the real rapture and found ourselves in the middle of some bizarre doggie version where all dogs go to heaven and get to wear funny hats on the way.  So this year, I think I will forgo the beach trip and look into finding a dog that might need a place to stay until the real rapture occurs.  Who knows, maybe if I get one, I can take them to the beach next year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Deconstructing Bad

I am addicted to Breaking Bad.  I came to the party late, I only started watching it over the last few months, but I have made up for lost time very quickly.  I have just wrapped up the third season and am about to embark on season four.  Everything about the show is amazing; the cast, the writing, the cinematography, the use of Bob Odenkirk; it's quickly moved up into my list of all-time Top Ten television shows.  It may have even pushed Lost off the list.  Blasphemy, I know, but the show is just that damn good.  For those not familiar, it stars Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a middle-aged high school science teacher who learns he is dying of cancer.  In order to provide for his wife and handicapped son before his impending demise, Walt starts secretly cooking and selling meth with one of his former students, a slacker pothead named Jesse Pinkman played by Aaron Paul.  Things go good for about five minutes.  And then shit starts hitting the fan.  Constantly.  What transpires over the course of the show is something I won't dare spoil here, suffice it to say that it is well worth the time to find out.  Watching the show is like getting a master class on filmmaking.  The episodes are compelling, exciting, funny, violent, and all manner of surprising.  The relationships between the characters and how they weave the story together is something I find huge inspiration in.  It is a show I have tried to not only enjoy as a viewer, but also study as a filmmaker.  There is one scene in particular that I remember watching and thinking, "Wow, this show is working on a different level than most."  It's not a huge moment in the overall arc of the show, but it's a perfect example of the kind technical artistry on display on both sides of the camera.  It's a moment involving Hank, Walter's brother-in-law (played by Dean Norris) who just happens to be a D.E.A. agent.  I'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but the scene is in the second season of the show, when Hank is trying to track down a meth dealer known on the street as "Heisenberg."  Heisenberg's meth is something of a legend in the meth world, far purer and stronger than the normal stuff cooked in somebody's bathroom.  The search for Heisenberg has become Hank's obsession, one that has put a huge strain on his home and work life.  What Hank doesn't know is that the dealer he is looking for is Walt, who is doing anything and everything he can to keep Hank from learning the truth.  In the episode, Hank has finally tracked Heisenberg down to the old RV he produces his meth in, sort of like a mobile drug lab.  Thinking he has Heisenberg cornered, Hank is  about to move in.  Suddenly gets a call on his cell phone, informing him his wife has been in an accident and is in intensive care.  Suddenly, everything in Hank's world changes.  The color in the picture drains away, the contrast increases, the sound becomes muffled and dark.  It cuts to a frantic Hank, speeding away in his car as fast as he can drive, arriving at the hospital.  He's panicked as he races down the hospital hallways, desperate to find his wife.  A nurse finally calms him down and tells him they don't know what he is talking about, there haven't been any accidents today.  Hank stops.  The realization washes over his face.  Heisenberg faked the call from the hospital.  It was a trick to get rid of Hank so Heisenberg could escape.  The anger on Hank's face sells the moment perfectly, but here is where the technical wizardry at work really started to catch my eye.  The sound slowly comes back, and the color begins to return to normal.  But ever-so-subtlely the color starts to increase.  The reds start to take over a bit, combining with the light reflecting off Hank's sweating face, to turn his face red.  It seemed like Hank's blood was boiling over, like you could almost see steam rising off his face.  It was subtle, but it was beautiful.  I played the scene back a couple of times and really started to deconstruct it, paying close attention to the editing, the lighting, the framing, and all the other elements, trying to learn the magicians' tricks.  But these are tricks I don't mind having spoiled for me.  I have been very fortunate in the past to have seen up-close how a lot of movies and TV shows are made, but sometimes when you are working on a set, you get so caught up in the rush to get things done on-time and under budget, you can lose the artistry of it.  There's so many different moving parts that it's not always possible to keep them moving properly.  I have worked on many projects, large and small, where when I watched the final product, it was a letdown.  Just one wrong moving part and it can ruin the entire thing.  Pick the wrong actor, the wrong location, the wrong costume, or even the wrong caterer, and you can doom a project to failure.  Believe me.  I worked on this, I know what I'm talking about.  But, on those rare occasions when they do get it right, when you find a film or TV show where all the moving parts are working in unison, it gives me hope that it's not impossible.  That if you keep your eye on the details, and surround yourself with other talented artists who can keep an eye on them too, something genuinely moving and worthwhile can be created.  Of course, I say this now.  I said the same thing about Lost at the end of it's third season and look what happened to that one (A light in a cave?  Really, Lindelof?  A LIGHT IN A FRAKING CAVE?  REALLY?????  Sigh.  Sorry, I'm still a little bitter).  Anyhow, I hope Breaking Bad keeps up the amazing work on both sides of the camera and avoids the pitfalls that have sometimes befallen past shows when they try to land the plane (coughLostcough).  But for now, I am glued to the screen for the rest of the ride Breaking Bad is taking me on.  I'll also be taking lots of notes along the way.  And if my film plans don't work out, the show will probably have taught me how to make meth by then, so I've got that to fall back on.  Who says TV isn't educational?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Trivial Characters

          I hosted trivia at Rojo tonight.  Something I signed up for on a whim a couple of months ago.  In some ways the only surprising thing about it is that I hadn't signed up to do it sooner.  My head is filled with useless information I'm not doing anything with.  A storehouse of random crap I have gleaned from years of watching movies and TV.  Things like who the director of Buckaroo Banzai is (W.D. Richter) or who plays the voice of the talking Johnny Cabs in Totall Recall (Robert Picardo).  I don't remember a word of French from college, but I do know that French new-wave film director Francois Truffaut is in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Go figure.  But for some reason, those are the things that stick.  Anyway, since my head is jammed packed with a lifetime of irrelevant information, I have labored to find a useful purpose for it all.  I mean, if it's going to take up space, it might as well make itself useful, right?  Well, tonight I found a great way to put it to good use.  This giant trivia-soaked sponge of a brain inside my head provided me with plenty of material to choose from when crafting the questions I asked.  Granted, the teams who played were very sharp and answered some of my most challenging questions with ease, but I felt like the range of questions was broad enough to make it interesting and they weren't all walks in the park.  Folks seemed to have a good time, and that was the main thing, but I did get to dive deep into the recesses of my random brain and pluck a truly trivial fact out.  This was a random fact I have been storing inside my noggin on the off-chance I might get to show it off one day.  It's not impressive, it's not important, and for most people, probably not that interesting, but it's mine, dammit, and I finally had a place for it tonight.  It was so special I saved it for the last question of the night.  And here it is.  Who is the only actor who appears in Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the 1989 version of Batman?  No Googling.  Any guesses?  No one at Rojo knew the answer.  It's not something the average person probably thinks about ever.  At all.  Not even once.  It's a piece of knowledge that has no bearing on anything useful, productive, or revolutionary.  I doubt there is a single situation where this fact would be of any use to anyone anywhere at any time.  But it's in my brain.
          The answer is William Hootkins (Who?).  An American character actor who played Red Six (affectionately known as Porkins) in Star Wars, Major Eaton (one of the Army Intelligence officerswho gives Indy his marching orders) in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Lt. Eckhardt (the fat, corrupt police officer who gets shot by Jack Nicholson right before he becomes the Joker) in Batman.  He one of the those guys who most people have seen before in small roles in big movies, but never give a second thought to.  But those happen to be three movies I have seen dozens (and in the case of Star Wars, hundreds) of times, so after a while those esoteric details kind of crystallize in my brain.  I remember realizing one day that the same guy showed up in all three of those films.  It was like a lightbulb went off in my head.  It made me realize that I know way too much about this sort of stuff.  No offense to Mr. Hootkins, but I have a feeling my knowing this fact about his choice of roles in films probably pushed out an important fact I once learned but had to lose in favor of this piece of fluff filling the space.  I used to know Algebra, Physics, and other science facts.  I used to know the names of Roman rulers and Prussian poets.  Now all I can remember is that William Hootkins played Porkins in Star Wars and gets blown up right after Biggs Darklighter tells him to eject.  Come to think of it,  how do I know that Biggs' last name is Darklighter when it is never once mentioned in the film?  Or that he is played by Garrick Hagon?  See what I mean?  Useless!  Hopefully I will get to host trivia again and I can put some of the rest of this useless information to good use.  And maybe if I start sharing some of it, it will be replaced with better, more useful information.  Like how to defuse a bomb, or save the rainforests, or design a longer lasting lightbulb.  But, considering that I know that the weird guy in Robocop who says "I'll buy that for a dollar" is named Bixby Snyder, I doubt it.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Much is That Kitten in the Window?

Yesterday around 3:30 in the morning my phone rang. Good news never comes that early. Jen was on the other end sobbing uncontrollably. In a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, she said to me, "Kitten just died." My heart instantly broke. It came completely out of the blue, as most news at 3:30 in the morning does, but this was particularly hard to believe because Kitten was barely 3 years old. She was always in perfect health and had shown no signs of illness. But it turns out she had an undetectable heart condition that unfortunately took her far too early.

When Jen and I were still together, we shared our home with 4 cats, all with distinct and wonderful personalities, but Kitten was special. She was our cat, the one we picked out together at the Humane Society. Sammy Jo was already Jen's cat when we met, and Baby Kitty was taken in by Jen when her sister Rachel found her under her car one morning. But when Jen and I moved in together a few months later, we decided to add a third to the mix, so one sunny Saturday we visited the shelter and took a look around. I will never forget walking into the cat room and inspecting all the cages that lined both sides of the room. I walked down the end of the line to the last cage on the bottom row and peeked into it. This little furball bounded over to me, stuck both of her front paws against the cage and gave me a tiny "meow." At this point we were still a little unsure about adding to our kitty brood, so we decided to take a minute to think it over. We put her back in the cage and walked out of the cat room. As we passed by the big windows that looked into the cages from the outside, I took another look into Kitten's cage. I couldn't hear her, but she bounded over and stuck her paws against the cage again, looked me in the eye, and gave me another (silent) meow. And that's all it took. From that moment on, she was our cat.

Kitten was unlike any cat I've ever met. She was outgoing, friendly, and wasn't scared of anything or anybody. Whenever people would come over to visit, while the other cats would run and hide, Kitten would just walk over as if to say, "Hey, how's it going? Come on in." She had beautiful, long tortoise-shell fur that was softer than any I've ever petted. And no matter how bad your day might have been, when you came home she was always there to put you in a better mood. It is an understatement to say that Jen took a particular shine to her, which was made very evident one night when we came home from a movie about a year later and discovered our back door had blown open and the cats had gotten out. We found the other 3 right away (Captain Kitty, a stray we discovered living in our back yard, had joined the household by this point), but Kitten was nowhere to be found. We scoured our neighborhood into the wee hours of the morning, but couldn't find her anywhere. Jen was inconsolable and terrified that we would never see her again. Exhausted and teary-eyed, we decided to finally go to bed and resume the search at first light. But as I pulled open my dresser drawer to fetch a t-shirt to sleep in, a little furry head popped up. Shocked, I quickly surmised that Kitten had crawled into the drawer before we left the house for the evening and I had inadvertently shut it with her inside. We had never been more happy to see a cat in our lives.

When Jen and I split up one of the hardest parts was figuring out kitty custody. Sammy Jo had taken a shine to me over the years, so she came with me, along with Captain Kitty. But Baby Kitty and Kitten had become playmates in that time, so it only made sense for them to stay together. And I have to admit, I had no doubt which one of us was going to get Kitten. Jen had a special bond with Kitten, partly I think because they have such similar personalities (well, as much as a cat and a human can be similar). They are both outgoing, friendly, kind, and have never met a stranger. I was sad to see Kitten go, but if there is anyone on the planet who loved that cat more than me, it is Jen. And I know in these last few months with Jen she was loved more than any kitty could dream of being loved. Even though she is gone, I will always remember that little furry face of hers staring back at me at the Humane Society almost as if to say, "Hi, I'm Kitten. Will you take me home?" Rest in peace, Kitten. We'll miss you.