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Saturday, March 27, 2004

Wrapped

So my failed little experiment has come to an end. The show wrapped a few weeks ago - it was an amazing success and generally I am thrilled with how it turned out. I think it's great and I know that I have zero objectivity at this point so I won't really know if it IS great until it airs which will be some time in the fall.

I've thought a bit about why I only blogged a handful of times...aside from the obvious reason that I was swamped and couldn't keep up with my dry cleaning, my bills or my friends, much less my blogging.

Reasons why my blog failed:

1. I am a profession writer - as in, I write to make money and therefore associate writing with work. I've never been a diary keeper (more on that later) and so after a while, keeping this blog started to feel like work I wasn't getting paid for.

2. Paranoia. I know I mentioned this briefly before, but I've come to feel that this is the major stumbling block for me. It's strange because I'm generally considered wildly open, but as time passed I started to realize that I feel about a blog the same way I feel about a diary or homemade porn. If you write it down, take a picture of it, or tape it - someone, somewhere, somehow is going to find it and then you are done for. In the case of this blog I really cannot afford to write down all the juicy little details and then have someone connected to me find it. I've seen several bloggers quit on account of someone in their community finding their blog and they were hounded, or embarrassed or forced into an uncomfortable situation.

If you live in Canada and have cable, watch for my show in the fall. I realize I've neglected to give out any salient details like the name, the subject, or the network. Maybe you'll watch it and won't know it's mine, maybe you'll figure it out 'cause you're really smart.

In any case, thanks for reading...bye everybody!

Friday, January 30, 2004

If you dream it, they will build it

Thank God we're back in the studio. In the studio I don't have to spend all my time worrying about how cold I am, how cramped it is on location, how much I would love to shower....

In the studio I know the secret place that the kraft people hide the m & ms they buy just for me. I can take my pants down to wardrobe and get them sent out to a tailor, I can sit in my office and watch rushes, or hang out with actors, or watch the next scene or just bum around and visit different departments. I am learning just how much fun being on set can be, and why people get addicted to this industry and never want to leave even though they're doing shitty jobs and working long hours.

It's intense and it's creative and for the most part, everyone is smart and everyone is a problem solver and the whole machine feels like one giant toy. All the different departments are geared toward creating whatever you need, making it big and beautiful and fabulous.

I feel like I'm living in a fantasy world. Yesterday I had a dream about placing our season finale in a labyrinth. Can we build a labyrinth, I asked our production designer.

Of course. Of course we can.

With money, we can build anything. This is the truism of the film industry. Nothing is too elaborate, nothing is too crazy. Everything can be gotten, built, modified. What if the nice people we're renting our locations from don't feel like giving up their house to us after this year? What will we do then? Well, we'll build it of course.

The whole house, I ask?

The whole house. An exact replica. All the rooms, all the furniture. All the window dressings and the wall colours. This is what they did with The Gilmore Girls. They shot to first season in a small Canadian town. Then they got a second season and they build the town. They recreated the whole thing from scratch. It sounds normal I guess, but seeing it happen feels immense. Realizing that if I dream it, they will build it feels bizarre.


Thursday, January 15, 2004

Clouds: God's camera filter on the sky

They really are you know. The past few days have been (cold, and snowy and) cloudy all day long. A dream for us. When there is cloud cover, the light is all diffused and you can basically just point the camera and shoot. Today the sky was clear so the camera department was wrestling with reflector boards all morning and it wasn't snowing so we were all freaked out because it won't match the scenes we shot the day before and they are supposed to cut together and, and, and...

I spend my time hovering beside the director, peering at the monitor and then running after him to hesitantly offer up a concern I have about a line reading or a story issue or a performance tweaks. 90% of the time he agrees with me and I trot back to video village, happy to be of service.

Tomorrow night is my first all night, all outdoors shoot - it's gonna suck. Let's hope it's worth it.


Shoot day four

The past couple of days have been a new kind of hell. We're shooting a big portion of our show in a small town outside of Toronto. Originally it was going to be all golden and leafy and charming, and when my partner and I talked about it in hurried conversations between meetings we always smiled and pictured ourselves there, wearing tank tops, sipping soft drinks and getting a great tan.

If you live anywhere near Toronto, you know that the past few days have been frigid. Correspondingly, I have found myself with a whole new focus: Avoiding frostbite.

My first day was a disaster - by day three I was a pro - ready for an arctic expedition. Instead of thinking about story arcs and actor performances I was thinking, "If only I can figure out how to warm my extremities, everything else will fall into place. I spend my time on set quizzing the hardened veterans on their gear. Talking to them about the Swedish overalls they had shipped over, or the best way to position your hot shots in your boots. Twice I almost went up in flames when my (highly flammable) jacket got too close to the (entirely useless) outdoor heaters.

Cold is something you can't relate to unless you're feeling it. You're all probably reading this thinking, so - you were cold, so what? I've been cold before, it sucks but you get through it.

And I say back to you - I seriously doubt that you've been out in -32 degrees for fourteen hours straight.

I won't go into too much detail about the system I worked out, but at this point my basic philosophy is that the closer I get to looking like a giant snowball, the better. Today I was wearing so much clothing that I could barely walk. I waddled around, no peripheral vision, muffled hearing and smiled to myself, realizing that I felt great. Aside from the fact that the saliva in my mouth kept freezing, I felt just great.

Friday, January 09, 2004

We shoot Monday

Today was the last day of prep. We did publicity shots of the cast, I got to talk to them about everything from their kissing scenes to how our director had told them that they are not to improv any of the lines because, as he put it: "these scripts are fucking well written, and unless you have something brilliant or witty to add, don't bother".

Yeah! You tell'em!

At then end of a very long day, we had a big champagne toast moment and all basked in the glow of how great everything was. The sets are dressed, the props are ready and the whole thing felt unBELIEVably exciting.

Regarding a scene in which an actor is supposed to walk around outside with a large frog on his shoulder.

Line Producer: Calliope, we have a problem.

Me: Problem? What problem?

Line Producer: Well it turns out that the life expectancy of a frog in -15 degrees is oh...about nine seconds.

Me: Tropical creatures aren't they?

Line Producer: Quite.

Me: Hmmm. Can we put a little sweater on him or something?

As you can see, I'm mostly pretty stupid and not all that helpful when it comes to suggestions. It's only occasionally that I come out with something *actually* useful. But, bless them - they continue to ask me my opinion, even when I sound like a moron.

(BTW: Toe is still broken, walking around in Rudolph's shoes. I look like Ronald McDonald)

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Tanned and broken

I broke my toe yesterday.

Rudolph and I were playing pirates on the beach and I ran into him and something snapped and I screamed and that was it. Goodbye yoga classes, hello revoltingly swollen foot and very impressive and colorful bruising.

Oh well. At least I have time to read...

Calliope's holiday reading list - all are recommended
The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Girl with the pearl earring (FABULOUS)
The Gift, imagination and the erotic life of property (For the big brains out there...)
The patron saint of liars

On Monday I return to Toronto, and to the start of production. I'm missing a visual effects meeting (what visual effects - we have no money for effects!) and a stunt meeting - really bummed about that. I really wanted to be there to talk about the stunts. In the meantime I'm just hanging out by the ocean, limping around pathetically and wondering frequently (and aloud) how I could possibly have been so stupid and careless with a baby toe.

Oh...it also looks like we've finally named the show that cannot be named. I won't tell you what it is, but it's a compromise between 6 parties, and as with any and all compromises - no one is happy with it.




Friday, December 19, 2003

One more week of Prep

The sets are up, the locations are booked and the production office is a revolving door of kids coming in for wardrobe fittings. I spend my days flitting from wardrobe to sets to the cafeteria for yet another chocolate fix. People wander around carrying plastic axes, or large taxidermy emus.

Discussions about the title are reaching a frenzied pitch. We still don't have a title and our distribution people are breathing down our necks. It's kinda' hard to sell a show that doesn't have a name. Everyone has a suggestion and none of them are very good. My partner and I are despairing - we know the name that is eventually picked is going to suck and we are bracing for the inevitable.

I turned in yet another unacceptable outline today. If I have to rewrite that thing one more time I think I'll scream. We are also very close to finishing our casting. It's interesting what I'm learning - I actually made a decision today that I swore up and down last month I would never make.

I voted in favour of casting a 22 year old to play a 16 year old. Can you imagine such a thing? Remember my post ridiculing the idiots who cast people in their twenties to play young teenagers.

Well...today I realized that it's not that I'm so brilliant and everyone else is so stupid. It's that sometimes (read: often) there is no one else. In that case you have a choice - you can cast someone who is dull as a rock to play this very crucial role or you can cast someone fabulous who isn't the right age.

And that's when it all comes into focus. A shitty actor you can't live with. That doesn't leave you very much choice.

Another eureka moment happened this week with regards to ages of our cast members. One of our leads is fourteen. She is fourteen and she's playing fourteen. Great right? How authentic, how wonderful.

Actually, it's a disaster. The actor's union (ACTRA) is very strict on child labour (as they should be), and there's a world of difference as far as they are concerned between a 14 year old and a 16 year old. 16 year olds are adults and you can work them to the bone. 14 year olds are children. They can't work overtime. They can only work 8 hour days, with a 10 hour day thrown in there once and a while. When you think that your typical day is easily 12 hours, having a lead that is in a 100% of the show is not just unfortunate, it's unworkable. Which means we have to now spend lots of time and effort cutting our LEAD out of the show.

Yuck.



Saturday, December 13, 2003

One hairless albino rat coming right up

We started prep on Monday. Our big empty school in the middle of nowhere suddenly was filled with construction guys and coordinators and a line producer and locations people and on and on. Cheesy eighties posters started going up on the walls in the offices (big empty classrooms, actually) and best of all, lunch was catered every single day.

By the end of two days, the sets were up. Three days later, they were all painted. By the end of next week they'll be almost dressed. It's amazing to see the speed at which everything gets done. I'd walk downstairs from my office every twenty minutes and suddenly find that four new walls had just gone up.

Speaking of offices - I was amazed to find that people started decorating them as if they were going to live there. My partner brought lamps, a blanket for our couch and a couple of pillows.

You're probably all wondering what this has to do with a hairless albino rat, right? Well last week we had our animal meeting. I absolutely had a ball.

This older guy comes in. Introvert type - turns out he's a professor of entomology and he can get us whatever kinds of animals we want. Live or pickled. So we start hesitantly asking him...can we get a frog, can we get a ferret and soon it becomes clear that the sky is the limit. We can get absolutely anything, for a price of course.

The thing is that we want weird animals. Not just an ordinary frog, a rainforest frog with big red eyes and flash marks on it's hind legs. Not just a rat , a hairless albino rat. No garden snakes for us. We have to have red and yellow pythons, or even better a two-headed snake, if he can find such a thing.

In the end we settled on the following:

A hairless albino rat.
Tarantulas
Maggots
A rainforest frog (something cool and weird looking)
A snowy owl
Pythons
Horned cockroaches

I'm so psyched for the animal days. I'm going to get right in there and hang with the pythons.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Drowning in too many drafts

How do you write a script about a guy who commits suicide by jumping off a building without ever using the words 'suicide' or 'kills himself'?

I'm making a list because this is exactly what I've been asked to do.

1. takes a dive
2. goes over the edge
3. splat@#$!

Instead of Jimmy commits 'suicide', try:

Jimmy takes a dive. Jimmy goes over the edge. Jimmy goes SPLAT!

It just doesn't have the same punch, does it? Another day, another draft. We're trying to get all the scripts in draft form before Monday. Impossible you say? Yes, it is impossible.

Pre-production starts on Monday. That means I get an office! My first office ever, though I'm sharing it with my partner, but that's okay. Who wants to sit in a big, old empty classroom all by themselves anyway.

It's also the start of giving notes, instead of taking them all the time. I quite like giving notes. It's way more fun to point out the problem to someone else and let them go fix it then to have eight people all hurling ideas at you and then you have to go away and try to make a story out of it.

We're almost done casting as well. I'm quite happy with all our choices - they're a terrific little bunch of actors. Skinny too. No insulation there - I don't know how they're going to handle 12-hour days in the freezing cold. Wardrobe is going to have their work cut out for them.

How do you make a kid sexy and aspirational in a giant parka?

Monday, November 24, 2003

Stories

Rudolph and I were watching Castaway last night. For those of you who don't know the story - it's about a guy (Tom Hanks) who gets shipwrecked alone on an island for four years. With nobody to talk to, he draws a face on a Wilson volleyball, props it on a stick and starts halfheartedly chatting with it.

About three quarters of the way through the movie, he's been on the island for four years. His relationship with this volleyball is no longer a lame attempt to feel less lonely. Wilson the volleyball is, for all intents and purposes, his only friend. It's around this time that Wilson gets blown off the raft that Tom Hanks was trying to esape on, and bobs out to sea.

So I'm watching Tom jump in the water to go and save his volleyball, his only friend, and I'm crying and I'm thinking about stories and about why I love drama so much.

My basic feeling is that there is nothing more powerful in the world than a well told story. We've all been conditioned from a very young age to understand the rules of the story - and we all know that if you don't play by the rules you won't enjoy yourself.

The rules are that you must sit quietly. You must focus. Above all, you must throw your lot in with the hero. In a movie theatre, we sit down in the dark with strangers and under our collective breaths we say to the moviemakers: tell us a story, make us feel something. Take us out of ourselves, into someone else's world.

And if the moviemakers do their jobs properly, then they have complete control over us. We will like who they tell us to like. Hate who they tell us to hate. Cry when they want us to cry. What could be more powerful?

This idea about the power of stories was never made as clear to me as when I saw a movie about a pedophile. It was a small arthouse film - some of you might remember it.

Throughout the film this guy, this father, this pedophile is either fantasizing about molesting children or actually doing it. Normally in movies with pedophiles, the moviemakers make it pretty clear to the audience how we're supposed to feel about the 'pedophile' - we're supposed to hate him. And that's fine, that's great, that's a position we're comfortable with. Is there any more universal position than the hatred of the pedophile? At least that's something we can all agree on, right?

That's what was so amazing about this movie. In this movie, the pedophile was the hero. And the crazy thing is that halfway through the movie you realize that you are rooting for the pedophile. You want him to get the kid. You want him not to get caught. You want all these crazy CRAZY things. All because the story is beautifully done...it reels you in, makes you care. Makes you want the protagonist to get what he wants.

After all that's all a story is ever about. We the audience watch the hero try to get what they want. If it's well done, then we will also want, we will care deeply and hope and pray for the hero's success.

This is the amazing power of stories. You can make people feel whatever you want them to feel, you can change their opinions about things...all because whenever we watch a film we put ourselves into the shoes of the protagonist. We identify with that person...whether it's a guy who's made friends with a volleyball, or a pedophile.

Breathtaking, isn't it?

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