It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Perils of Independent Film Production

One can learn quite a few things about independent filmmaking at places like USC Film School or the Sundance Film Festival. You have to finance your production in creative ways. You need to be flexible in the way you cast and shoot the film... Useless crap like that.

However, there are some very important things they don't teach you. One is that if you decide to shoot a low budget production simulating gun battles and standoffs, that you might want to inform the local constabulary in advance, lest they decide to jack you up in the parking lot.

A bunch of high school filmmakers in Fernanadina Beach, Florida learnt this very lesson on Thursday evening when they descended on the local post office to do a film for their school Spanish club. Someone saw some of the students entering the building with toy guns and then, after a few calls to the building went unanswered, rang the local police, who showed up in enough force to do battle with one of the Medellin cartels, and made the students "assume the position" as they left the facility.

I'm not sure why toy guns were necessary for a Spanish film club, unless perhaps they were remaking the Brian De Palma version of Scarface ("Diga 'Hola' a mi amigo pequito!"), but clearly not even the bright orange plastic that toy weapons are required to have on the end of them these days is enough to dissuade some people from overcautiousness.

The students did get the permission of the local postmaster in advance. He gave it under the assumption that the sight of young people invading a local federal building en masse with imitation weapons and speaking a language other than English wouldn't "frighten" the local citizenry. In restrospect, this kind of capacity for logical reasoning explains a great deal about the U.S. Postal Service.

The AP reports in the linked article that the director of the independent "film", one Devon Menendez stated that he would not be accepting any offers to direct additional films. Of course not; even the most famous directors have run across some very dictatorial producers, but how many of them ever pointed a .357 at Hitchcock's head and told him to hit the ground or we'll blow your ******* head off? Besides David O Selznick, I mean.

If Stephen Speilberg had been roughly thrown to the ground and had an assault rifle pointed at his head by the L.A.P.D. while filming Sugarland Express, Jaws might have been adapted by John Landis. The massive car chase at the end would have been all wrong.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Wretched Service

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you have a ready made venue for venting whenever some unpleasant experience comes along in life, such as waking up. Fortunately for you, I'm saving that post for a rainy day.

Cue myself, sitting in front of a international American take-away restaurant chain in my car at 9:30 p.m. (that's 2130 for you Europeans), 30 minutes before the place is scheduled to close. I'm sitting in the car because I'm trying to finish a phone conversation with Stew about a drama piece we're doing for church. The phone conversation is all rather complicated, so I'll save that for another time. (Translation: We shall not speak of it again beyond this: Stew spent most of the time trying to calm one of his kids - I'm not sure if humming Inna-Gotta-da-Vita was the best solution.)

Anyway, the phone conversation was reaching its end as Stew had moved on to singing Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music, I was tired from a bit of indoor football (soccer), and I was also quite peckish. As the conversation was winding down, the customers who were in the restaurant at the time, oh - let's refer to it as SUBWAY - because that's what it bleeding was, anyway - the customers who were in there came out and I was wrapping up my call to Stew, who was now doing a medley from West Side Story. That's when the clerk behind the counter did a very strange thing. She came to the door and locked it a full 25 minutes before the restaurant was due to close. At first I thought, "well maybe this is some sort of security precaution at night, but that hardly made sense since customers are exponentially less liable to do business with you from behind a locked door. I figured maybe she had just fiddled with the handle for some reason, the way I do with the car door after I've locked it seventeen times (just to make sure! No "Monk" jokes, please!) The "Open" sign was still on and most importantly it was a full 25 minutes from closing time, so I bid adieu to my fellow DOUI'er and went to the door.

The door was in fact locked tight. I knocked on the door and this sullen, 20-something young woman comes up and opens it a crack. She asks, with all the friendliness and professionalism of a Nazi at a Spinoza book-burning, "Can I help you?"

"I came to get a sandwich."

"We're closed."

"The sign says you're open until 10 p.m."

"We have exceptions."

(I look closely at the door in mock concentration for and posting that the place might be closing early) "Are they posted on the door?"

(Sullen and rather obtuse silence from a clerk who wouldn't know sarcasm if it slapped her across her unblinking face. More silence, as she's not really listening, just barely resisting the urge to slam the door in my face so she can get back to defrauding her employers.)

At this point, I requested the clerk's name and the name and number of their manager. She provided me with a name and number but I have no way to know whether they are real or not because the honesty of a person who closes the place of business they are supposed to be minding 25 minutes prior to the posted closing time is worth slightly less than a politician caught in a sex scandal. At least the politician might fess up for fear of a homicidal spouse or campaign manager. The only thing someone working at Subway has to lose is a low-paying fast food job and their dignity...well, what's left of it. She didn't seem to be working with much to begin with anyway.

I will not reveal the name of the person except to say it's the name of a month in English that we have not quite entered into yet. I will be calling the management. I might yet get an apology or a free sandwich or two out of the deal...or Blimpie's endorsements as I'll be going there from now on if I don't get the apology or sandwich. I recommend Blimpie's to you as well, given that they also don't post murals of burgers flying into the World Trade Center (see link above).

Finally I added the following: "I hope wherever you're going off to early tonight is worth your lousy job you selfish, sandwich hoarding, lazy sack of offal!" Then, I drove my car through the front window of the establishment, right into the Genoa salami and banana peppers, laughing like Robin Williams in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen all the way.

Actually, I didn't say or do that last paragraph. It would have been extremely rude and also, I didn't think of it at the time. Plus, my car insurance couldn't take the hit.

I did point out that it would have been much easier to make the sandwich than deal with the employee hell she's sure to get if the local Subway franchisers give more than a passing damn about their business. I believe her response was to breathe ever so slightly louder.

Then, about 3 minutes after closing the door again, she turned off the "OPEN" sign, her brain at long last registering the cognitive dissonance. I believe she finally blinked then as well.

Now, we all make mistakes sometimes. I myself am haunted by one evening at an overnight job where I got little work done because of a long, religion-involved conversation a friend struck up with me early in the evening. I'm still embarrassed by this, especially since I let down the very nice bloke who was my assistant manager at the time. So, that, and my beliefs as a Christian remind me that forgiveness is paramount, because we all ruddy well need it. All clear on that? Right.

Still, a hungry person, a single sandwich... I don't think I'll ever understand the arrogance that leads people to do thoughtless things like shut the door on someone trying to frequent your business. It would have taken 10 minutes at most. Plus, the individual in question was probably cheating their bosses, ringing up the timesheet at 10:30 in the name of anarchy, that sort of thing. There were no plaintive excuses like, "Me mum's in the hospital!" or even "I need to get to the big match!" Of course, few people talk like that in America, but you do get my point. It was pure petulance on her part. It was an outburst of gittishness.

So if you happen to be in a Subway in the middle of the US where a staffer by the name of the month in which Americans do their taxes is working the late shift, do me a favor and flick an olive at them will you? Aim for a flared nostril. Tell her you wouldn't normally do that but sometimes you "have exceptions." Just make sure it's the one we're talking about here. Otherwise, I don't know you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Happy Birthday Bill Shatner!

It's William Shatner's birthday today! What perfect timing. We hope he has a happy one. I say "he" instead of "you" because there's only a infintesimally miniscule chance he's reading this.

Hat tip: Andrew Stuttaford (Who shares a birthday with Shatner and is also probably not reading this.)

Music for the Ages - The Dark Ages that is

These days I often recieve gift cards for bookshops and records stores for my birthday. This is to ward off the inevitable reaction I have when people just go ahead and buy me music themselves, which is to hold my nose, cross my eyes, and make loud gagging noises. To be fair, that's just me doing an impersonation of what I think the CD will sound like.

This can leave a very bad impression whilst people are trying to enjoy cake.

The positive side though is that I get to buy my own music, which is more practical in the long run anyway.

I simply have difficult, very eclectic tastes that run from Post-Romantic classical (Bruckner, Mahler) to Modern (Ives, Messaien), to Religious Minimalism (Gorecki), to flat out cool rock (U2, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, REM), some nostalgic Classic Rock as well (Beatles, ELO, The Who), and of course great music from cartoons.

I realize many of you were expecting a very silly list. To keep you from being disappointed, please substitute the following paragraph for the previous one:

"I have very eclectic tastes that run from Post-Bavarian neo-electric polka (Kurt Schinglepricken und Der Mad Steiners, Gertrud Frocken von Schnickertush and her Frankenrumpsters) to Country Ska (Country Joe and the Gunja Gang, Boxcar Ziggy), to Gregorian Punk (The Most Solemn Brothers of Club Venezia Monastery and Pub), to Neo-Renaissance Electronic Flatulence Beach Music (The Toots; Beans, Wind & Fire; Silent but Deadly!, Pull Our Fingers, and Jan and Dean), some nostalgic Big-Band Anarchist Jazz (Benny Switchblade and the Hoboken Revolution), and of course music from cartoons."

Anyway, every once in a while I get a thirst for something out of my comfort zone. No, I don't mean a country-western album or a rap CD. I'm looking for something different to enjoy, not trying to work up the nerve to slit my wrists.

This week, I found just the thing. It's different, it's funny, it's peculiar, and I've secretly always wanted to own it. Yes, I finally went and purchased William Shatner's The Transformed Man.

This is an album to be treasured. It has a rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on it that Paul McCartney reputedly described saying, "It's wrong, but it's so wrong it's great." It has a version of Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man on it that ends with Shatner screaming "MISTER TAMBOURINE MAN!!!!!!" as though the bloke were a serial killer who jingle-jangled people to death.

On top of Bill's hammy, extravagantly over the top performances of 60's pop hits and monologues from Shakespeare, possibly Man of La Mancha, and other works, there's some of the most cliched arrangements of music you'll ever hear. The arranger must've been the Ed Wood of music, gifted in an awful and terrible way that will have you in tears of laughter, even as your eardrums are screaming for mercy. Somewhere, Spike Milligan is saying to himself, "Why couldn't I get THAT guy? That guy kills!"

Don't believe it can be that awful? Listen to this, and this, and also THIS!

Oops, that last one was Sebastian Cabot of Family Affair "singing" Like A Rolling Stone. That's just hideous. I'm sorry you had to hear it. That was rather sadistic of me.

With Shatner's magnum opus we get a kind of egocentric genius that defies ridicule and embarrassment and for that matter singing, since Bill recites all his lines like a beatnik in a smoke-filled coffeehouse. All that's missing is the collective snapping of fingers at the end of each piece. Admittedly, he may have had actual beatniks in the studio, but they were probably to paralysed with shock to move their fingers...the ones that survived.

No matter what Shatner intended (and from the precious liner notes, you'd think he was recording The White Album) the result is a glorious, legendary mess. His recent "follow-up" album Has Been is actually fairly competent and even quite entertaining in a reasonably normal way, so of course, it completely fails to measure up to the lunatic heights of "Transfigured."

So, I'm quite happy this week. I may even have to go out and purchase a Leonard Nimoy album, just to keep up the mood. He actually sings on his though, so it might not be as fun.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Fount of Money We Have Not...

...So says Britain regarding the "Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain." The fountain was originally budgeted at $5.2 million (Not sure what the pound conversion rate is. The AP writer didn't feel the need to check that.) Now it has splurged to $9 million for various reasons, including well over a million pounds on the VAT (Value Added Tax) that some no-hoper bureaucrat forgot to include in the original cost.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says that the cost overruns are due to "basic project management failures" but rumours abound that the actual additional costs are due to special features put in the fountain:

  • Sprays a jet stream of hot water at Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, whenever she passes by. This little extra was personally commissioned by Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Fountain switches from spouting water to spouting Guinness whenever Prince Harry is within a 100 metres.
  • When Prince Charles approaches, a life-size anamatronic statue of Diana rises up out of the granite and gives him the "up yours" sign.
  • Special Elton John lighted spectacles that sit on top of the fountain and switch on at night.

To reduce costs, the name of the fountain is being changed to the "Princess Di Thingy", which will save nearly 150 pounds on the engraving and signage. The other option was to sell the naming rights to the highest bidder, but local residents objected to the fountain being named the "Emirates Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain and Football Stadium."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Vacation! Oh, the things I've planned!

I'm currently on vacation. Unfortunately, it's one of those where I don't actually get to go anywhere. So, rather than jump across the pond to catch a match at Highbury before they convert the old ground into posh flats for entertainment and banking mid-management types, I'm sitting here typing this for you lot.

This doesn't mean I don't have plans though. In fact, I feel as though we've become so close over the last year that I can share them with you. Actually, I can't think of anything else to write here this afternoon, as I'm so stroppy (see #12 below). So, here are my top 12 things to do for vacation:

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12) Sleep until 1 p.m. every day. Of course, I'd do that every day if this were my regular job. Then I'd sleep until 3 on vacation.

11) Bacon at every meal. Now, that's a vacation. Stew was witness to this yesterday, as I had a meal that was approximately 40% bacon. 20% was sausage as well, so it's almost a full English breakfast, except that it was lunch.

10) Play football everyday. I missed yesterday, so I'm behind. Video football counts. I've got the new Winning Eleven game Mrs. Fando bought me for my 41st. Unfortunately, at this stage when I play Arsenal, Thierry Henry looks rather like Steve Bould with the ball. Must work on that.

9) Blog everyday. Except yesterday. And maybe tomorrow. I'm still up in the air about that. Just count yourselves lucky I was bored today.

8) Write the Great American Novel. If Juan Carlos Vega can try it, surely I should take a shot. At least, I'm an actual citizen. Surely, INS isn't reading this. If so, I guess he could blog from Central America.

7) Play guitar every day. For those of you who didn't know, I play a bit...mostly Gregorian Chant which is pretty easy except for the one chord change. Also, does anyone out there know how to make a B chord without your ring finger cramping up?

6) There is NO number 6!

5) Parachute into Afghanistan, find Osama Bin Laden, and bring him back on a meat hook. That would make the week...for everybody.

4) Send in my American Idol demo tape. I know I'm too old, but I just want to make them sit through it, especially Paula. I do my own highly personalised redition of Bohemian Rhapsody, where I do all the harmonies live. Zimpter once said it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. I'm not sure that was a compliment.

3) Run 3 miles a day. All right, that was an outright lie. The real number 3 was "Lie about running 3 miles a day," so I can check that one off my list.

2) Nude skydiving.

No, I'm just kidding. I just wanted to make sure you hadn't wandered down to Stew's posts. Trust me, you wouldn't want the nude skydiving at my current stage of fitness.

1) Make DOUI the number one blog on the planet! I realize that's a little ambitious. I may need an entire fortnight for that one.