Sunday, December 30, 2007

so this is Christmas

it's been more like hanukah this year: we opened some presents on Christmas day; tim's birthday is on the 27th, so there were more presents then; last night we had the full family Christmas with becky and brady, and i've heard we even have one or two more gifts that are still in transit.
i remember when i was younger, i wanted toys and decried clothes.  it was fun to be cleaning up the wrapping paper and looking at my pile of presents; between me and my brother we had a couple of good nintendo games, so that we would play one until we got bored and returned to the pile to retrieve another new game.  when we were done with them, there were other toys that we'd temporarily forgotten, and we'd experience a second excitement to remember what new things we had.  in the more recent years beneath the tree would be numerous dvd-shaped gifts.  between myself, my brother, and my dad, there was no need to disguise their shape; we all asked for several movies, and so it was a question of not 'what' but 'which'.  i would admire my new additions to my collection, feeling cinematicly wise [this was especially great that year that tim worked at best buy and my parents got the employee discount].
this year i tried to be mature.  i asked for two dvd [both criterions--i can't express how excited i feel to hold a new criterion movie in my hands] and that was really it for 'toys'.  i set aside some money to go shopping for clothes in the after Christmas sales, and the one or two articles that i do unwrapped are usually things i picked out, tried on, then left alone with mom or dad for a few moments at the store the day before.
so what did i unwrapped this year?  measuring cups, jumper cables, and a paper shredder.
all things i asked for, and i'm excited.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

this one's for you, mandy

mandy:: i know you don't read my blog, but thank you so very much for being that friend who somehow knew when to say hi. that little gesture meant more than you know and turned my day around.

jess, thank you for being so darn awesome and a stellar friend. i can't tell you how much i appreciate you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas day

i was a little curious what today would be like. becky and brady won't get here until friday, and after much discussion we settled on the plan to open some presents now and save a few for when they join us. becky was absent for two Christmases while she was in brazil, so it wasn't horrible that she wasn't here. plus, she would be here in a few days, along with her husband. and thus we kind of had Christmas, and that went quite well. we all got some cool presents, with mom's new bathroom scale being the toy that everyone wanted to play with, and had a good lunch. incidentally, our dishwasher broke yesterday, meaning that mom and i will be appliance shopping tomorrow and that today tim and i did the dishes by hand, which inevitably led to a dishtowel fight. the sad end to this story is that despite me being better skilled with the weapon of choice, he got a really good, stinging hit on me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

12 days of Christmas at 30,000'

seven years ago i was on a plane back to minnesota after having been in japan for two years. i forget if we were flying from l.a. or san fransisco, but the plane was en route to chicago if i remember right. [it was a stormy Christmas season; i ended up spending the night in minneapolis, where my mom coincidentally was, while my family and friends had gathered at the fargo airport]. somewhere over the states between california and chicago, the captain came over the intercom and wished us a happy holidays and announced a game: whoever could be the first to name the twelve days of Christmas would receive a special prize. the engaged couple next to me started working on it while i began to recall the old disney Christmas record we listened to for so many years. i must have been doing something odd, because they turned and asked me if a had it. i said i think so and they called the flight attendance over. i began with the twelve drummers drumming and eleven pipers piping, and by the time i reached the six geese a-laying, people started to clap for me.
i was awarded with a bottle of champagne, which provided a nice final missionary opportunity as i gave it to the couple next to me and explained why i didn't want it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the annual muppet party

tonight's annual 'muppet's Christmas carol and egg nog' party was a huge success. we're getting better at making egg nog [having an electric mixer to whip the egg whites certainly helps] and the turnout was great. we sang along to the songs as best we could, laughed when we wanted to, and there were warm-fuzzies all around.
tonight i noticed just how good of a movie it is. the fun of the muppets is certainly part of it, but it's a solid-made movie at its core.

as we were sitting around the room and talking afterward, jaime reached down into our couch and pulled out mark's missing camera cable. then she pulled out a shoehorn. 'my shoehorn!' i shouted. and then jack reached in and said 'hey, a rolling pin!'
and, sure enough, he pulled out a rolling pin.

Monday, December 17, 2007

o juno, where art thou?

the number one movie i want to see this year is 'juno'. i read about it when it was at the toronto film festival a few months ago, saw the preview for it before 'dan in real life' [which is also worth a look] and knew right then and there that i needed to see it. and, today, as mark and i are looking for a movie to see, i find that 'juno' is playing NOWHERE in utah... GAH!
nevertheless, 'alvin and the chipmunks' is in every theater from salt lake to spanish fork.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

the pretty ballerina

racing the light of magic hour as we shot flaming coconuts flying through the sky, we finished on 'the pretty ballerina' battery, one of our strongest and my personal favorite [it's common to label/name the batteries in one way or another to keep track of them].
we wrapped. four days in utah [which feels like a whole other project months ago] and ten days on the north shore of kauai, which was an adventure like nothing i've ever been a part of. in college i shot 15 or so projects, and have continued to study the art of cinematography since. the most visible aspect of the craft has to do with lighting. a good dp is someone who can sculpt the light almost alchemical. a knowledge of lights, gels, and variations in diffusion is what i brought with me when i worked. and that is certainly a part of it. but it's only a part of it. and while i could tell you that in an essay, i think this project helped me understand it.
i generally expected the director to say 'the camera goes here', and so i'd have my assistant put the camera there and then i'd work with the gaffer to light it and we'd shoot it and then i'd ask the director where the camera went next. repeat.
the catch on this shoot was that there were no lights. and the natural light was such that i couldn't do much to it anyway. but i'm a 'director of photography', but just a lighting cameraman. [i recently watched a documentary on cinematography in which one of them said 'i am a cinematographer. ...not a director of photography.' that's puzzled me, because i've always preferred it the other way] i direct the photography, and that should encompass more than just light and shadow; that should involve the composition of shots, based on the events of the scene, where should the camera be to most effectively reveal the story? i'd better know.
the dp has more artistic power on the set than anyone save the director, and that realization was the scroll of knowledge i found at the end of this journey. that's a lot to carry, but i look forward to my next opportunity to try out what i learned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

the suite life

due to scheduling changes that we knew of when we got here, we changed houses today. we're now down at the other end of the street. still a nice house, though a little smaller, and a little light on the rooms.
once again, paul and i were here first, and once again, we nobly offered to share a room, so we got the biggest room, the master room. beautiful attached bathroom, wonderful shower, two sinks. and one bed.
very large, but just one. i like paul and have no worries about him [well, apart from the sleepwalking, and that fear has subsided some with each passing day], but its still, well, kind of weird. we'll each hug to our own side, and he suggested one of us sleeping on top of the sheet, so there's no possibility of bumping one another.

the aforementioned spacious bathroom has a stylish shower that eschews the traditional curtain in favor of a deep, three-sided stone and glass area. i love the design, but, as we soon discovered walking through the room, the two mirrors across from one another over the sinks are in such a way that you can fully see into the shower from the room's main door. so there will be definite notifications when the room is in use.

mostly, i think what's bothering me is ryan's referring to our room as 'the bridal suite.'

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


remember the opening for herzog's 'aguirre, wrath of God', with the conquistadors slowly moving across the south american landscape? that's what today was for us. we made a 4-mile hike to a waterfall; one that had the advantage of never been used in any major movies before because of its remote location. how herzog's crew carried all that film equipment for his movie is something i can't imagine; i'm impressed that paul was able haul that heavy beast of a camera this far.
we were told that this trek could be made in two hours. we made it in 2:45, during which we traversed many mountains, hopped over waterfall streams crossing our path only to be faced with mighty rivers, with no choice but to hold the equipment overhead as the water rushes up to our waste. there were times where it was difficult discern the correct direction, and while other times presented no apparent way to move at all except to gymnastically maneuver between tree branches.
while this was taxing on both body and mind, the same challenging land also buoyed our spirits with impressive mountains of brilliant green, mist rising amid the hills; the rich blue pacific ocean strecthing to reach the endless sky; bamboo forests and lush jungles, us forgiving our soggy shoes, socks, and pants because the same water provided the majesty all around us.
the waterfall was the capstone of the dual nature of the journey, of trial intertwined with beauty. at the base of the valley the water splashed at the end of what must have been a 200-foot fall. everything was verdant and alive. yet, like so many other locations on the shoot, it wasn't quite as it was when it had been scouted a few months earlier; the water volume had seemingly tripled, creating much more noise and bringing more wind and more spray. despite the blue sky above, it felt like we were perpetually in a mild hurricane. t.i.h., my friends.
but we'd been at this for over a week already, and we knew how to work in this; you just do it. finding places to safely rest the camera while framing a usable shot, doing all that we can to keep the camera dry, and fighting an sisyphean battle to keep moisture off the lens [never had the choice to use a single zoom lens over a set of primes been proven wiser]. wiring the actor's with wireless mics was obviously the only option, and we had a laugh when brian commented that he could hear one of their heartbeats. this was made all the better because this scene involved a kiss, and evidently someone was a little nervous, because the beat got faster halfway through.
the three hours spent hiking in the morning and saving three and a half hours for the return trip [we do not want to be on that hill in the dark] left us with about 3-4 hours to shoot. we worked as fast as we safely could and used every trick we could to speed things along, but in the end we had to cut a scene and shoot it somewhere else another day.
the return hike was reminiscent of the triathalon i did last year; after the first hike and the shoot, i had no energy, and you can take all you want from nothing, it's still going to be nothing. actually, i had run out of energy about halfway over the second of the three or four mountains we crossed at the start of the journey; the rest of the day had been on that mystery energy that comes from i don't know where. so the return home wasn't all that bad, save final 20-30 minutes when the sun had fallen from the sky and it was getting to dark to see much. i saw a light up ahead and was happy to hear ryan's voice; he brought me a light then continued on, going to give help to the group behind me. i was surprised to know that i wasn't the last one, and relieved to see people again. heck, i was thrilled to see.
sitting in the car on the way home was one of those moments when you never thought you'd feel that comfortable again. but if a warm, dry, cushy car seat wasn't pleasure enough, we were rewarded with the one thing i told myself could make this better: we heard the 'huli huli chicken' song on the radio.
t.i.h. this is hawaii.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

for the benefit of mr. seal

we were setting up a shot this morning when some of the crew started wondering off down the beach, saying there's a seal down there. that's cool, since we haven't had a chance to see a lot of ocean fauna here, but brian and i were working on the shot. then someone added that the seal was on the beach.
we've paid to come to hawaii, we may as we see the seal.
and, sure enough, around the bend there was a big, real seal, lying there on the sand. he [she?] was quite a ways from water and had one eye closed. there were no tracks from him to the water, signifying that he'd been here for quite a while. it didn't take a marine biologist to see that we had a beached seal here.
what do you do? that's a big mammal, but i suppose enough of us could maybe roll him back out. as one of the actors got near him, he barked. we were all keeping a good ten feet between us and the sea creature, fascinated but cautious. matt the actor, for whatever reason, began running circles in the sand in front of mr. seal. he didn't like this and began barking at him some more. matt kept running and the seal lifted his head in irritation. alright, the seal can at least move. i think matt enjoyed getting the reaction, as he continued to run around. evidently this really ticked off the seal, because he was barking as he flopped himself around and back out to the ocean. turns out we didn't save his life; we ruined his quiet time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

grace under fire, pressure, rain, wind, and cold

my feet are really starting to hurt; teva-like sandals are made to be worn for an afternoon on the beach, not for days on end through the jungle. but when you're in the jungle, that sense of the exotic eases the sandpaper-like feeling of the sand caught between the strap and your skin.
today it rained. all day long. constant rain. we keep the camere under an umbrella, but it still manages to get wet. everything, everywhere, and everyone gets wet. no matter that i've got my raincoat on, i was still wet. brian [our director] didn't even bother to wear any raingear. you can either be miserable that you're wet, or you can cheer that you're in hawaii.
shooting on the beach still brings the unexpectedly large wave, so that i am not surprised to find water up to my ankles during the middle of a take. our production designer had built the characters' makeshift shelter yesterday and today we decided to move it further down the beach, as we've found a more secluded spot that's also better for sound. we've now got it on a great spot on the beach, close enough to the forest to be sheltered, still receiving enough light from the beach for us to shoot. one of the hardest things about this shoot in hawaii has been the lighting; we have a small grip package and no lights, but with only two two grips/electrics, it boarders on impractical to bring out much to carry through around with us. plus, a 12'x12' silk isn't worth much if there's no sunlight to diffuse. i think that's hard on brian, to pay for this equipment and not be using it.
it occured to me today that i spend a lot of energy focused on operating the camera, designing the framing and setting up the shot; i like that and it's part of the job of a director of photography, but i think that if i had an operator, i would have more energy to tweak the lighting. i've never felt the need for an operator before, but this is taking more work than anything i've shot before, too. as i was looking at the shot, wondering what more could i have done with the resources i have, i realized that if i had set up a shiny board, a silk, some negative fill and a bounce that was giving me the same look, i'd be thinking i was pretty amazing. i'm lucky to have the overcast weather, giving us soft light everywhere; things look pretty good the way they are, which lets us move fast. as i was about that, i saw where i could move a bounce board and separate the actor from the background just a bit; we took a few moments and it that little tweak made a good difference. that's where the art of lighting comes in: like anything, little details make good go to great.
when dumbledore looks into the mirror of erised with harry potter, where everyone sees what they want most, he says he sees himself holding a pair of nice wool socks. i appreciated that more today than i ever have before. i think i would have seen myself wrapped in a thick, warm towel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

welcome to the jungle

today was a good day. i checked the sky this morning and it looked clear--a day of bright sun would be wonderful for our schedule. arriving at the beach, we were met with winds that caused me to wonder how much more devastating are the sandstorms of arabia. brian and i searched for usable spots to shoot away from the windswept beach, and we ended up doing our entire day like that; almost nothing we shot was scheduled today, but we still got a lot of shots completed. we found a a beautiful spot where the light was breaking through with morning mist still in the air. by the time we had the dolly and track set up, the light had moved some and the mist was dissipating, but we got the shot and it looked very good. i've found i much prefer shooting in the jungle to the brushlands of utah; there are no dry and prickly plants and weeds; it's lush and green and moist and the air is rich.
we kept a good morale among the crew [with this group, that's not too hard], and the shots looked good. i had a whole post planned about ponderances of being a cinematographer, but i'm so incredibly tired. another time, perhaps.
how is it that we have 11 hours of available light yet i still feel like there is so little free time?
how is it that i'm tromping through the jungle in shorts and sandals [granted, today really should have been shoes and socks day; those sandals are at their best on the wet sandy beach] while my computer tells me it is 3 degrees in minnesota right now? it's like being in a time warp.
how is it that the weather can change so incredibly fast here. if we don't have the right kind of light for a shot, we literally wait five minutes and we have what we need. of course, then we
have to shoot fast....

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

on an island in the clouds

the power's out in the house. that the internet also goes down with it isn't too much of a frustration, but i am surprised at how dark it is here. so much that it feels like i'm in a photography darkroom.
there are no street lights here, meaning that the streets outside are completely dark when the sun goes down. not just a safety hazard, it means i can't go running at nights like i was hoping to--it's surprising how difficult it is to find your way when it's so dark outside. i don't remember things being this dark at home when the power goes out. it seems like there's always a sort of ambient light when the lights go out. but maybe not. as i've been writing here, my assistant came in to ask what we should do about our batteries; should we used the power inverter and charge from the car, or is there anything else we can do? good question.

today was our second day in hawaii, again on the beach. it's a good location, with enough looks that we can get a lot of scenes out of it. shooting on the beach of a tiny island surrounded by the largest body of water on the planet, the weather changes quite often. today we had rain, overcastness, bright sun, wind, mist, and every possible combination rotating throughtout the day. yet we were very fortunate that to always finish out a scene with consistant weather. we got the first scene all either overcast or rainy enough to make it work, and our next scene on the rocks looked very nice in the diffused light of the cloud cover. best of all, the second long scene in the rocky area stayed sunny long enough to shoot it all. that was the hardest part of the day, and took longer than it should have. we just couldn't seem to block it out right, or at least in a way that was practical. looking from the beach over to the rocks was fine, but any other angle had us precariously into the ever changing water and looking back into the beach of tourists, many of whom found us far more fascinating than the hawaiian landscape.

as brian and i were trudging through the scene, i couldn't help but again realize how little i know and wonder how some of the great cinematographers would shoot it. if they had the same resources as i did, what would they do? where would they put the camera, what light would the use, and how would they work with the director?

our last shot of the day gave us a very calm ocean, which lured us into trying our luck. we needed our actor out in the edge of the water, on his knees in prayer. and the best angle for that had us also in the waves, with the camera very low. you'd think we would have learned from yesterday: we were nearing the end of our first day, shooting at the tree line, far from where even the highest waves were washing up at that time. then one of the actors said 'wave!' and we turned to see water rushing in at us. paul grabbed the camera just as the tripod was almost completely engulfed, saving the camera. earlier that day we were debating if 'pelican' cases were waterproof. i said i thought they were safe to even toss into a lake but didn't want to try it. the mighty pacific, however, had other ideas. i was chasing it as the ocean carried it just out of arm's reach, the black case bobbing in the water. eventually i grabbed it, but as i was coming back, i saw a sad sight: mary's camera case. not a watertight case, but a simple consumer case for a digital still camera. someone grabbed it, but the water had already done its damage. as we were regrouping, i looked out and saw ryan coming out of the water and carrying what was once a 4'x4' black flag. it looked like it had been through a hurricane and lost. the fabric was completely ripped from the frame on three sides. how it was destroyed so quickly was impressive, but, as ryan put it, 'the ocean claimed it for its own.'
today's tides had been, on the whole, much more consistant. we had a few people on wave patrol, watching out while we got the shot. with the layered light of the clouds, the palm trees, and the 'skyfire' filter making everything look like a bold sunset, it looked good.
as we were loading the vans [our grip truck was confiscated this morning as some workers deemed it too heavy to pass one of the many one-lane bridges on the way to set, despite our having crossed it twice yesterday], ryan noted that we've maintained consistancy of light quality from scene to scene. that got me to thinking further that despite my frustrations that not all of my shots are beautiful and crafted to perfection, i couldn't think of anything that was particularly bad today.

being the director of photography brings with it all the connotations of the title. agonizing over the design of each shot, collaborating with the director on where the camera should go and why is followed by working with the grip and gaffer to practically use the equipment that i told the director/producer we need to pay for encompasses the most immediate aspects of it. after the hour meeting with the director and production designer about tomorrow's schedule, i have spent another hour talking with the first a.d. and costume designer about set etiquete, protocol, the inter-connectedness of it all, and the ins and outs of politics between departments. that opened up a previously little-considered realm of my job that almost made me forget i had to make the shot look great, too. i hope i get the chance to be a d.p. again, so that i can continue to practice and improve. but right now i just need to push on through tomorrow. my assistant is fantastic, i think we'll break in some more equipment tomorrow, it's 11:30 now, and the 'hope mix' is on its last song anyway.

Monday, December 03, 2007

the somnambulist

ok, this will be told rashomon style, because no one really knows what happened.

mary's story: "i was asleep upstairs when i heard this screaming coming from down below. i'm thinking, 'oh great, it's the first night and they're already fighting'. i came down to find jeff at the his door, telling me everything's fine and to go back to sleep."

paul's story: "i had this dream that i was looking for something and the next thing i know, jeff is screaming at me and i'm screaming back. it really freaked me out."

my story: i had gone to bed around 10, very tired after that long day of shooting and travel. i remember being awoken by the sound of my screaming more than i remember actually screaming. but i remember it being not just a startled yell or a cry, but a full-on life-in-mortal-peril janet leigh scream. a dark mass that was my roommate was in front of me. 'paul? paul!' i asked, and his response was one of confusion. 'are you alright?' 'yeah. what happened?' neither of us were really sure, but i could hear mary coming down to check on what had happened. i assured her there were no injuries or alien abductors. as i went back into the room, paul was already asleep again. i, on the other hand, still had adrenaline coursing through me and that post-nightmare mentality, where, despite the obvious absence of any sort of danger, the psychological vestiges of terror linger firmly. i laid in bed for another 30 minutes, afraid to take my eyes off the bed across from me.

this did give us a very good story to share on set today. surprisingly, no one else in the house heard us.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

ocean pacific

whenever i'm up for a long period of time, i like to keep track of how many hours it's been since i've slept. i think i'm somewhere around 40 right now.
'yesterday' [being saturday] was a hard day--we had 11 pages to shoot and worked about 13 hours. we were in an office building all day long, but with trending lighting that was too dark to do much for the camera, meaning that for several shots we had to essentially relight the whole place ourselves. for some scenes it worked alright, including our biggest scene which actually went quickly and nicely, but there were other times, often just one shot of a scene, when i wanted to just go home and curl up on the couch.
at the end of it, though, things were feeling alright, and the inches of fallen snow finally made it feel like Christmas time. i got home around 9, having decided not to sleep, since we were meeting to leave for the airport at 3 in a. i planned to get the house cleaned and take care of a few things, but ended up just sitting down on the couch for a moment and watching a movie on tv. i'm always interested in watching movies when i'm making movies, because afters hours and days of composing shots and designing lighting, i'm more attuned to how the big time productions do it.
becky and brady stopped by around 10 and i was finally able to give them their wedding present, now that they've been married for six and a half months. they loved it as i hoped they would, and i was glad i could give it to them before i left for hawaii. and we decided we had time for another part of the bbc's 'planet earth'.
on a movie a few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he had just bought the 'planet earth' dvd set and that it was amazing. i'd seen it commercials for it when it played on the discovery channel but didn't give it much thought. but at his recommendation i put it on my amazon list, though i could never find an excuse to buy it. when 'dadnapped' wrapped, i used that as my reason and grabbed it from a third-party seller just as i noticed it was rising on the bestselling lists. for the past few weeks, it's been among the top three or four selling dvds on amazon, and with good reason, too. this series is incredible: 40 crews, 200 locations, 2000 shooting days, and a look at the world like i have never seen. the first part is a 'pole to pole' look at the different environs of the earth, then each of the following nine 50-minute episodes is dedicated to the arctic, mountains, fresh water, caves, grasslands, deep ocean, etc. as long as the circle of life doesn't bother you, i cannot recommend this series highly enough. amazing footage of rare siberian leopards, underground water caves, glow worms, birds of paradise, otters ganging up against a crocodile, and, of course, elephants! and we've only watched the first four of ten. as a bonus, after each episode is a ten-minute 'planet earth diaries', looking at part of the production and how much work it took to get just a few of the shots. let me just say, i am glad i wasn't on the cave crew....
earlier that day i called my dear sister and asked her if she had time to pick up a pair of sandals and a sun hat for me, since i've been shooting all week and my trip to wal-mart last night was futile. becky pointed out that it is snowing and not really sandals weather. nevertheless, she and her husband showed up at my door with an early Christmas present of nice size 11s and a perfect hat. the best part about the sandals is that they say 'ocean pacific' on the bottom, so that if i ever forget what that large body of water is, i can just check the soles of my feet. oh boy.
having five hours until we left seemed like a long time, yet i somehow found myself throwing the final clothes into my suitcase as anthony knocked on my door. we all met at brian's parent's house on a very cold and early morning, commenting on how none of us had slept. even my new camera assistant had just wrapped a previous movie about three hours earlier.
i'm surprised how much we were able to take aboard as 'carry-on'. you know those little size-measuring things that help you determine if your suitcase/backpack is too big? forget that entirely. our camera assistant brought on the hd camera in its case, which was at least three times the theoretically approved limit, and i carried on a large imac in a carry case. i think paul had to make a small argument for the camera once, but that was the extent of it.
we flew from salt lake to l.a., from l.a. to maui, and from maui to kauai. from maui to kauai the lady next to me noticed my script and asked if i was an actor. i explained i was a cinematographer [i'll admit, part of me doesn't feel worthy of saying that and part of me really likes saying that], and we ended up talking throughout the whole flight, from religion to hawaiian history.
hawaii was pretty much what i thought it would be like, akin to japan or thailand. but with chickens. ryan says he read a sign that explained there was a severe hurricane 10 or 15 years ago that pretty much wiped out all of the farms and their fences, leaving the chickens to roam wherever they desired. waiting at the rental car place, paul the camera assistant offered $10 to the first person to catch a chicken in the open. ryan and ephraim tried with no success, but we've got twelve days here.
it's funny; once the sun is up, one's tiredness goes away. even still, after so many hours, you remember how tired you really are. i think i 'slept' a total of three hours between the flights, but sleeping sitting up like that is hardly rest; i didn't feel any better, and as far as i'm concerned, it's been 40 hours.
here's to shooting a movie in hawaii.

one last thing: we stopped at the nearby grocery store [where milk is $8 a gallon] and noticed their video rental machine. among its selection was 'turnaround', the movie that we had made back in april.
and it was rented out.

Friday, November 30, 2007

the good feeling at the end of the day

we were at the park and ride at 6:15 this morning. the twelve hour turnaround doesn't really apply on this show, and since we're so small, i think people are generally ok with that. we arrived the slc airport around 7, and it seems that if you know who to talk to, it's not all that difficult to shoot at an airport. though the cloud cover didn't give us much light to shoot with until about 8:30, but it was nicely diffused, giving a nice look to those four shots. plus, we were able to get enough distance to get a shallow focus, which i like.

brian commented that being in movies often takes you to places you would otherwise never see. we sent everyone else back to the provo airport and we jumped in a truck with the chief operations supervisor and drive far out to on the runways to get shots of the planes taking off and landing. remember in 'wayne's world', when they hang out on their car under the planes landing? yeah, it's pretty loud.

back in provo we were mostly in a small private jet. as a student, the concept of lighting the whole scene for the master and then only needing to tweak for the close-ups seemed impossible. but today we took time and lit the whole plane on both sides, including a green screen in front of the cockpit, then just shot everything. i considered which side to light from based on where the sun would be coming from if you were flying to indonesia, dismissed in favor of actor placement, then reconsidered it as the effects guy suggested the sun placement, and chose to do so upon review of the blocking. it's also a new feeling being the one the effects guy is talking to, him asking me my ideas for shots and asking me how i'm going to light this or telling me how i can best do it to make the compositing work. two weeks ago i was the runt in the darkroom; what happened? [don't worry, i'll be the runt again come spring, and that's fine]. jumping from shot to shot inside the plane, i would have liked some time to touch up each shot, but we worked a long day yesterday and all of us, myself included, wanted to get out in a good time today. looking back over the last three days, we've rarely waited on lighting very long. i suppose some people with 'asc' after their names would tell me i should light until it looks good and defend myself, but, as i write this, i think they would also say that you have to learn to work within your constraints, and i feel good about my ability in that.

walking up the stairs this evening, i wondered how it was that the d.p.s on the disney movies i've done don't seem more worn out at the end of the day. well, one, i probably don't look as beat when i'm leaving set, either; the rush hasn't left yet. second, they have a crew of 10-20 working under them to shoot 3-5 pages. i have to do 7-9 pages with three people. three people for whom i'm very grateful and am happy to be working with. and they're quite good. i sometimes wonder how much of their work they end up doing, and i either say 'yes' or 'no', leaving me to ponder if i should be asking them for ideas more or less. i think it's good to be collaborative; film is extremely collaborative. ask anyone to describe a job on set and you could easily ask 'doesn't the ______ do that?' and, most likely, yes; the duties overlap and fluctuate, and that's fine. while i could ask ryan to start lighting a scene if i'm unavailable, he would do an excellent job, but when he would ask my opinion, there would be things i like and things that don't work for me. and if he were given the same equipment, he'd probably do it totally different than i do. everyone has their style. certainly, i'm still developing and refining my style, but i think i tend to light bold and contrasty, which comes from my fear of being too flat and dull [though those still tend to sneak in at times]. if this sounds at all boasty or braggy, please keep in mind that being an artist brings with it constant self-introspection and sometimes you have to declare 'i'm doing a fine job!' just to keep from cutting your own ear off.

i'm hoping that things will slow down in hawaii. one advantage to living out on location is that when you are separated from your life, you can't try to live it. all you do is film, which means there is less of the real world to compete for your time.

we go to hawaii in 30 hours and i have to first shoot out 11 and a half pages.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

from one dp to another

it's 11:30 pm; i have to be at the park & ride at 6:15 a.m. i've been home for about 15 minutes. we wrapped around 9:15, i helped clean up, then stayed with brian as we downloaded the footage and looked at everything.

this morning we started in some business offices, and by the end i was feeling rather frustrated, due largely in part to one shot that i really just didn't like. as we were leaving, my friend ryan asked me my opinion on how things were going; i said i didn't like that my camera's ISO was 100 instead of 400 like i expected, that the depth of field was also much more than i anticipated, that my soft fx filter didn't work because of that weird ghosting, and that i sometimes look at a scene and have no idea how do it. it's just that, with art, it's so subjective that it's hard to know if you're doing a good job or not. and i was feeling the results from not having had prepared with the script as thoroughly as i should have. ryan kindly and honestly said that, from one cinematographer to another, i was doing really well with what i had to work with and that i have a very good eye. hearing that was soothing and envigorating, since ryan is a very good dp himself, and that helped carry me throughout the rest of the day.

at the next location we did a fine job of turning half a living room into a basement corporate office, where we spent the rest of the day. i thought we'd fly through, as i didn't plan to relight much. but, whether it was because of my cinematographer instinct or sheer necessity, we did augment each scene as we moved along. by the end of it all, we had an odd, organic maze of lights and stands, the kind of mess that only comes by adding piece by piece as thought or whimsy dictates. the last shot of the day i wasn't too keen on, but my feet were hurting severely [one of those times when you realize you haven't sat down since lunch six hours ago] and we all just wanted to be done. i've heard vittorio storaro [perhaps the greatest living cinematographer and philosopher of light and color] say that he can tell you which scenes he's lit after having worked 10 hours. it's nice to know i'm not the only one.

i once considered moving somewhere new and touting myself as a camera operator, as it looks like a fun and well-paid job that i like to think i'm good at. i don't consider that any more. sure, it can be fun, and i think i have a certain base talent, but in these past two days i've learned how much talent and artistry goes into something as simple sounding as 'camera operating'. framing up a decent shot that looks nice is something the average viewer takes for granted; actually, unless you've done it yourself, you take it for granted. simply keeping nice and effective framing takes a lot of work and technical talent. designing to tell the story on top is further humbling.

i'll get a little over five hours of sleep tonight, and tomorrow we have a lot of work inside of an airplane. and then we end up in hawaii in a few days. wow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

how did i get here?

today was day 1 of production on the island movie [despite seeing the slate all day, i still can't remember the name of the movie]. i like our camera, despite having several issues with it--it's about 25% as light sensitive as i thought it would be, and we got a bizarre reflection when we added in the soft fx filter; until i can figure out why it's not working, we won't be using it, which means that our lovely hd camera will be holding every little detail we record. checking the footage at the end of the day, the majority was darker than i expected, reaffirming the truth that video monitors cannot be trusted. but a little work in color correction and it was looking fine. i think it's cool that we shoot onto blue-ray discs, and video certainly has it's advantages, but there's also a LOT that i like about film and, in some ways, it's easier.

am i getting better? absolutely. do i still have a long way to go? all i'm learning is how little i really know. there are times when i look at the scene and know that there's more that can be done to it, but sometimes i can't even see where else to light when i do have time. but we did have some good shots, too.

by the end of the day, i couldn't even think as brian and i worked through tomorrow's shots; i mostly nodded my head.

sleep is really important. here's to another good day tomorrow.

Monday, November 26, 2007

GAH!! it happened again...

i was happy to have a free day yesterday and looked forward to filling in of the notable moments that have been happening. but i sat down at my computer and found that i couldn't write for the life of me. nothing good was coming out. and so, rather than get behind even further still once again [notice how there are no posts for december last year?], i'm just going to jot down the most notable moments in a few lines and then be up to date.

elephants!--sept. 28 kristin and i went to see the ringling brothers circus. despite all the amazing acts and talents, i still get most excited about the elephants. afterward we went to a cool pizza place and had a whole lot of fun taking pictures. fun times, indeed.

chicken and waffles--oct. 2 l.a. was much nicer than i imagined. i spent the afternoon talking with kirk's wife, with whom i'm very good friends; we talked about life, work, marriage, and raising children. i felt like a girl. we went to 'rosco's chicken and waffles' for dinner; delicious.

they might be the hollywood horns--oct. 3 my full day in los angeles: people are friendly, smoothies are expensive but delicious, it's neither as glamorous nor as dirty as i expected. l.a. tmbg fans are much geekier and not nearly as fanatic as the utahns; we were at the very front of the show, i tossed a quarter on the stage at the admonition of a text message [to make my presence on the show], and they brought with them a horn section. truly madly deeply wonderful.
he called me--oct. 11 as we were prepping the camera equipment for 'dadnapped', i got a phone call from optimus prime himself. he warned me that my roommate mark may actually be working for the decepticons under the alias 'bonecrusher' and that i can help the autobot resistance by buying 'transformers' when it comes out on dvd next week.

the infatuation isn't going away--oct. 12 i still listen to my tally hall cd at least once a day and love it all the more.

thank you letter to the confused receptionist at ihc--oct. 31 i overslept on halloween morning and was awaken by a call from the hospital, confirming my appointment for a ct scan the next day. after a few moments of confusion, she found out i wasn't jeff hall and i realized that set call was salt lake forty minutes ago. i wore red contacts and vampire fangs and no one was upset that i was late.

the loader, the cork, and the hundredth roll--nov. 7 the production celebrates the 100th roll on the camera by having champagne and chocolate strawberries. since i'm friends with the food guys, they brought me two bottles of really good sparkling juice today. i popped my first cork and saved it.
day 25 of 25--nov. 15 in a fluke that neither i nor the producer saw coming, we shot through all but 200' feet of our film inventory on the last day of the show. that was 2000' more than we had even gone through. it was a crazy day, but like the loaves and the fishes, we somehow had just enough at the end of the day. i enjoyed the balancing act and the producer was very happy with me at the end.

dancing the night away--nov. 16 i like crew wrap parties and wish there were more of them. i spent the evening dancing with the producer's cute assistant and remembered what it was like to have a date show that she liked being with you. everyone said we were the best couple on the floor, and a lady who used to be on the byu dance team asked if she could 'borrow' me for a dance. my hands smelled like perfume on the way home. i really liked that.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the hail mary pass

so i'm out driving around town, running some errands, when i get a call from my friend kirk down in l.a.

'do you know what a 'hail mary' pass is?'

'yeah, i think so; it's where you throw the ball and say a 'hail mary' because it's such a long shot, right?'

'that's the way i understand it. i'm about to throw you a hail mary.' [and, with kirk, this could mean anything is coming next] 'i have two tickets to see they might be giants here next week, and i want to give the other one to someone who would truly appreciate it. what do you say?'

i laughed. 'i just saw them here last week. and besides---'

that's about where i stopped. where do i start?
--l.a. is 800 miles away.
--two full days of driving for one concert?
--i don't have $X00 to spend.
--my mom is coming to visit next week.

but he saw my pause as an entry to plead his case, and soon i was realizing that i could fly, thereby saving time; i had just had an unexpected job come up that would pay for this unexpected pleasure trip; and that my mom was coming on wednesday; she can spend the day with becky and i'll be back on thursday.

and so i'm going to l.a. next week.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

eleanor roosevelt fights triangle man

i spent the day listening to naught but they might be giants. yet despite all that had led to what was to come, i wasn't especially euphoric or ecstatic. i donned my black 'apollo 18 tour' shirt and picked up nathan. due to this, that, and the other, we left a little later than i would have liked, and a couple of collisions ['accident' implies that it was unintentional] on I-15, we got to salt lake a little later than we'd hoped.
utah is an unusually big tmbg market, presumably because all us mormons like the goofy, quirky, clean lyrics. sounds about right. thus, the line at the depot was long. 'long' as in 'it snaked back and forth about four times out in front of the building and all the radio promo stuff [playing tmbg music, of course] and went off downt the street'. that kind of long. nathan and i took our place at the end of this long line amidst all these other late 20's-early 30's pseudo-nerds. people began to line up behind us and i felt that feeling that often comes when i'm waiting in line without tickets for general conference: the odd justification that, the more people are behind you, the better chance you have of getting in; after all, the more people who line up behind me, the higher up in the line's percentage i become. never mind that the number of people in front of me hadn't changed; i was now in the top 94%, and after twenty minutes i was in the top 60%.
one of these people was joel hilton and his wife, a good friend of mine from many years back, our friendship being solidly founded on our mutual appreciation of movies and they might be giants. we passed the time with discussions tmbg lore, occasionally saying something intriguing enough or inflamatory enough to elicit comments from other concert goers. on the other hand, mormons and tmbg fans are generally friendly and talkative to begin with.
as we were debating just how good 'mink car' is and what 'fingertips' really means, if anything, we began to hear whisperings that our tickets did not guarantee admission, that this had been over-booked. i told myself not to worry, that we were early enough in line to certainly get in, that this was just a concert and that i had already had an amazing concert experience just two nights before, and began scanning the line for anyone to whom i could plead my case and prove that i was more of a fan than any of these people and certainly deserved to be among the elect.
i texted a panicked message to those who would appreciate the dire gravity of the situation in hopes of consolation or divine intervention. meanwhile, joel left his group and went ahead to the front of the line. when he came back, he was carrying a handful of what looked to be v.i.p. passes. i tried to count and see how many he had, if i would be among the chosen. he passed us and went to his friends just a few people behind me. like kevin costner watching james earl jones enter the cornfield, i confusedly and yearningly watched them walk past me, past all the lonely people, and enter into avalon. i withdrew my cell phone and texted joel, what we would call back in the old ward, a 'cold prickly', thereby ending our friendship, effective immediately. kaput.
eventually, and certainly after the printed 'doors open' time of 7:00, prayers were answered, fears were quelled, and we made it inside. in a narrow entry way, past the shop selling tmbg cds and t-shirts, and up some narrow stairs into the main venue area, nicer than where we experienced tally hall, but about the same size and with a trendy bar in the back.
as i walked in to the room, i rush of elation hit me--it was almost empty!! at the tally hall concert, we fit somewhere in the back, and i would have been happy with that for they might be giants. but, while there were people scattered here and there, nathan and i were able to walk up to about five or six people from the stage. i couldn't believe it......
'I'M 10 FEET FROM THE STAGE!! WE'RE STILL WAITING FOR THE OPENING ACT, BUT I MAY VERY WELL DIE FROM PLEASURE OVERLOAD! = D' i texted to anyone who would appreciate the grandure of the situation.

as demonstrated by my buying a 'guster' shirt even before i had heard them [or the opening act, which proved to be much more paradigm-shifting], i'm firm believer of buying a shirt at the concert you're at. nathan and i took turns going down to the t-shirt booth, so that we would not lose our oh so precious place on the floor. he got the green with the classic u.s. presidents' heads [they might be giants have several motiffs/recurring themes, and past u.s. presidents are one of them]. i got a red one that said 'the mesopotamians' on the front and listed the four 'band members' on the back [a reference to a fictious band from their newest cd--i quite liked the pseudo-in-joke].
basking in the beauty of our spot on the floor, a pair of friends came and joined us: a production designer, erica, from school, and her husband, both of whom had worked on 'food boy' with me earlier this summer. they were relatively new to they might be giants [i suspect nathan and i were among the die hardest fans there, with him being the most devout of anyone there], but tmbg can be enjoyed by all.

the opening act was someone no one had heard of, an irish duo called 'oppenheimer': a skinny dude with a shaved head who provided the drums and vocals, and a shorter, stockier guy with longer hair playing the guitar and keyboard. and that gives you an idea of what their sound was--soft vocals with an electronic+guitar and drum sound. different but it works. the crowd really seemed to like them, which was cool, since they were very nice and had had a very bad day. they announced that their van had broken down as they pulled into town and were in desperate need of a way to get it fixed. but the salt lake crowd genuinely liked them and the two guys sincerely appreciated that.
they were everything than an opening band should be--they got us warmed up and ready for the main event without overshadowing the headliners.

the problem was that we were warmed up and the was no one on stage. the room's density decreased as people migrated toward the bar, and as nathan and i were discussing tmbg lore, my ex-friend joel came up to me, still wearing his v.i.p. pass, and handed me a foam '#1' hand that had 'they might be giants' printed on it. 'no hard feelings,' he said with a smile and a pat on the back.
did i mention that it was autographed by both johns and the band? [john flansburgh's signature was just a blocky 'jf']
i was stunned and feeling like a moron, even if my 'end of friendship' text was in jest. i stammered as joel walked away smiling. evidently scum can text, because my phone proves i sent him this message:
'wow man. seriously thanks. many times over. heart.'
to which he replied with sincerity: 'anything for a friend.'
i never did talk with him afterward to find out the story behind this, though it seems that the v.i.p.s were up on the balcony, and that these hands were given to them, as i saw many up there [though i don't know how many were signed].

after much too long of painful waiting [the ticket said door open at 7:00, i think oppenheimer went on at 8:00, and it was now close to 8:45], parker, the station dj, came out to introduce the show. he thanked the sponsors, as ken garff auto paid for us to have free tickets, and let the dealer representative say a few words.
'well, they might be giants, but we hope you're all ken garff customers,' he quipped.

this is why you never let car salesmen kick off a rock concert.

they did the drawing for a free signed guitar and told us to make sure we continued to listen to 101.9 and then got off the stage.
the house went dark, the lights from the stage shone into our eyes as they might be giants appeared on stage like ninjas.
the music started.
it was all happening.
it was all i hoped for.
it was they might be giants.
and it was fifteen feet from me.

they opened with a song from their new cd ['the cap'm'] and would eventually play a good percentage of 'the else'; and who can blame them? they tour almost continuously and have probably played 'don't let's start' ad nauseum [they didn't play it tonight]. it's got to be nice to play new things. plus, it's made me like the album a lot more.
but the johns know that it's because of their fans that they get to do what they do, and so they repay the favor. the third or fourth song was 'new york city'--this early on in the show! oh boy! i called becky, since it's her favorite tmbg song. not that she's a big music fan; she was amused, but that was about it. i think she'll look back on that in a few years and realize how lucky she is.
a few songs later came 'birdhouse in your soul'--my favorite song in sixth grade, one of my all-time treasures, was being played live right on front of me! i grabbed my phone and called jack--it was too loud to tell if he answered or i got his voice mail, but i just held up the phone for a while, hoping it would come through. [i later got a text from him, saying that he got the voice mail and that he, his wife, and brother all gathered around to listen to it and loved it--we're all a bunch of nerds...]

at one point they turned on a slide projector, showing a cartoon drawing of some tombstones in an old graveyard and announced that they had a telephone that could talk to the dead. that's pretty crazy by itself, but what was really eerie was that as john was talking about this, the phone actually rang! he answered it and it was eleanor roosevelt--calling from the grave! but she was very cordial, and said that she had written a screenplay to submit to sundance. as i write this, i can't help but wonder how she wrote it, but i bet she'll get accepted. think about it: not only is she dead, which certainly gives her a new perspective in the festival, but she's also a respected and notably figure from history.

with most bands, a deceased first lady would be the highlight of the show. here, it was just one of many. their lead guitarist [one of the 'dans'] played an incredible long intro to 'istanbul', hearing 'the alphabet of nations' made me an instant fan [it looked so much fun, i wanted to hop on stage and join them, but i didn't know the words, and most likely would have been escorted off stage, had i known the words and so hopped up there], and when john picked up his accordion about two thirds through the main set, someone yelled 'it's about time!' 'particle man' was just as good as it should be [and inspired me to get my hands on an accordion again and learn that solo], and the confetti canons went of during 'experimental film', which was a visual manifestation of just how awesome that song is.

i was dancing and bopping and jumping for the pretty much the whole show, trying not to be too much of a nuisance [although everyone was moving with me, so i'm not too worried], but there was this one dude very close to me who just stood there the whole time. he didn't move, didn't smile; just stood there with his arms crossed facing the stage. i can't figure out who goes to a tmbg concert, gets as close to the stage as possible, and then does nothing.... if he was some girl's boyfriend and was there just for her and if that girl is reading this now, well, it might be time to find a new guy.
sometime late in the concert a pair of cup-of-beer holding drunk dudes appeared behind us and started yelling for them to play 'spider'. but i'm not going to mention them. instead, i will note that as john was standing in front of the mic with his accordion, getting ready for the next song, some girl in the back yelled out, 'oh my gosh you're so cute!!' that was pretty funny.

near the close of the second encore, john f. came out and displayed their new album, 'the else', on vinyl. with qvc-style background music, he displayed all the features of buying an actual record, including the opening in the second flap, which he could not account for. noting that this was also autographed by the band members, he said he would be downstairs after the showing, selling them for $15 but accepting only $20s and not giving change. and then they played their final song.
nathan and i looked at each other: did he say HE would be selling them?
the song ended, the lights came up, and we moved as quickly as we could whilst still being polite toward the only exit in the back. at the bottom of the stairs, we rounded the corner and he was right there! not standing behind the counter, but out in front: john flansburgh, holding a stack of records and selling them for $20. what surprised me most was how not-mobbed he was. nathan and i composed ourselves and i loaned him my last bit of cash then pulled out my camera. he talked with john while i fired away. i then handed nathan the camera and asked john if i could get a picture. 'i'm just selling records, man.'
ok. i didn't want to annoy one of my childhood idols, so i just quietly stood behind him and told nathan to snap one. and yet the photographic evidence shows me looking off somewhere and the merciful john waving at the camera. who cares? i was walking out with proof that i had met one of the guys from they might be giants. i was grinning from ear to ear.

Friday, September 21, 2007

me and john and john

in middle school and junior high, i would come from school at three, pull up a chair and stool in front of the 13" tv on the kitchen counter, prop up my feet, and watch afternoon cartoons. the tv had a knob to be turned, no remote, and got only the five basic channels: cbs [channel 4], abc [channel 6], nbc [channel 11], pbs [channel 13], and fox [channel 15]. i didn't need a remote because it stayed on fox the whole time: gummibears, tiny toons, rescue rangers, animaniacs, tail spin, and sometimes batman: the animated series.
i didn't have mtv, which i'm grateful for now but felt a little left out back then, and so music videos were a rarity. in the early 90s, there ran a sort of psa/music video by this group of weird looking guys called the barenaked ladies. the lead guy was dressed up like some sort of goofy alien and they sang about racial harmony. a few years later i saw that they had just released a new cd called 'maybe you should drive' in my cd club magazine and bought it. i liked it but no one else i knew knew who they were, so i gradually lost interest and sold it.
around this same time, tiny toons did a sort of 'mtv' episode, where they played animated music videos. most of them were to oldies, such as 'respect' and 'money (that's what i want)'. but they also did TWO songs by a group called they might be giants that i found really cool, one about 'istantbul' and the other about 'particle man'. i really liked the songs but gave little thought to hunting down the tapes.

in sixth grade my best friend told me about this really cool tape he had gotten, i think from his older sister. one of his favorite songs was about a particle man. i couldn't believe it--these songs actually existed somewhere! at this budding age of adolescence, it seemed to me that teenagers listened to music, so it was time for me to start building a music collection [and with large that's grown, i wonder if my parents wish i'd have held an early interest in the stock market]; for Christmas i asked for 'flood' by they might be giants on compact disc. no one in any of my extended family had heard of 'they might be giants', but at grandma's that year i got one of my very first cds [i had actually received 'joyride' by roxette early that year for my birthday, on the recommendation from the mother of popular girl in the neighborhood, but that never really caught on with me].
jamie and i were they might be giants fans. we rode our bikes to best buy and looked through the cd selection. not much, though they did have 'lincoln' on tape. jamie bought it. he eventually acquired 'miscellaneous t' and i got the pink album. and when 'apollo 18', my mom bought that for me--this was back when cds came in the long box; a lot of waste, yes, but that was when cds were new and cool, when it was exciting to look forward to being a teenager, and i kind of miss that.

in sixth grade we had to write about our perfect day. jamie and i both decided that the greatest day possible would be spent at the local video arcade with john and john of they might be giants, where we would have unlimited quarters and could play until our hearts content.
when we had to fill out a personal questionaire, i listed 'birdhouse in your soul' as my favorite song.
that year also mtv did a day called 'al tv', where they let weird al [also one of our favorites] take over for a day. jamie taped it so i could watch it. one afternoon we were sitting on the recliners in his house and al showed the next video. opening shot of the coffee cup and saucer seemed familiar, and we had both recognized the song and shot out of the chairs to get a closer look on the floor before 'the statue got me high' title appeared on the screen. it was a sign that we were not the only ones who had heard of the 'they might be giants'.

in junior high i bought an 'apollo 18' tour shirt from the catalog that jamie had. at this point, the internet was still a very primitive and obscure thing. i was learning how to use compuserve to talk with people in germany, while jamie had a service called america on-line. no one even thought about shopping on the internet. i wore my shirt with pride amidst the sea of pearl jam, metalica, and cyprus hill shirts. i still wear mine now. i doubt any of those other kids wear their shirts.

jamie's dad was a director for the theatre department in one of the local colleges, so we would spend some time hanging out with the older college kids. they had heard of the they might be giants, which further brought some liberation from wondering if they might be giants might be listed in the guiness book of world records as the most unknown band ever.
one night the college radio station broadcast a concert of they might be giants in brooklyn. jamie had them record it and made a copy for me. you can't do that with cds.

to think of they might be giants being played on an actual radio station was as plausible as having my own hoverboard.

shortly after jay leno took over the 'tonight show', they might be giants were the musical guests, playing 'the guitar' and 'the statue got me high'. seeing them on tv was thrilling, and i taped it on my special tape of things to keep forever.

shortly before the start of our freshman year, 'john henry' was released. this was the first new they might be giants cd since we had discovered them. it felt like my own personal moon landing. i remember laying all of my tmbg cds on the floor in my room, just to admire them. i also stood them into a cube because there were six of them.

one day during our junior year i was walking down the basement hall of school with jon [my other best friend and fellow tmbg enthusiast] when jamie came bounding up behind us, not unlike tigger. 'guesswhatguesswhatguesswhat!!!' he exclaimed. 'they might be giants are coming in concert!!'
we had waited our whole lives for this moment. [in fargo, little alternative bands done come by often. guns 'n' roses and metalica seemed to be there regularly, though]
what he actually meant was that hootie and the blowfish [remember them?] were coming and tmbg were opening for them. hey, we aren't choosers. we bought our tickets for $32.50 [agian, this was when you had to go to the counter at sears and buy tickets. buying things on-line was something out of '2001'], dressed up in all our tmbg apparel [i still wish i had that bright orange shirt with green writing that jamie had], painted our faces and put as much gel as we could in our hair [borrowing from the crazed-football fan crowd]. our tickets were quite a ways away and i don't remember much of what they played, but to see them live was thrilling nonetheless. we cheered until they were finished or until our throats were sore, whichever came last. the set ended first, and so, being much too cool to like hootie, we went outside and yelled for john and john to come out. they never did, but we did find some other fans out there.

about a week after we heard about the hootie concert, we found out that they might be giants were giving their own concert down in minneapolis. tickets were $20 and i talked my dad into driving [and even talked jon out of letting his dad take us, for some odd reason; though his dad owes me--the drive coming home was so snowy that my dad to this day still talks of how trecherous the journey home was]. finally, we were at a they might be giants concert. the opening band was a group called 'cub', a three girl punk band who originally wrote 'new york city'. at some point someone called for them to play it and they responded that john had asked them not to [i'm pretty sure it was flansburgh]. then someone offstage obviously said something to them, the band looked back to us and said, 'ok, we can play it.' so they did.
the highligh that i remember from the concert was that, during 'exquisite dead guy', they brought out little puppet heads on very high poles [12-15' if i remember correctly], shone the spotlight on them, and the puppet heads sang the song [or at least the opening 'ba-bada-ba-ba-ba's']

in july 2005 i was in oregon shooting a movie. the day before i drove home i received a number of texts from different friends, all telling me that they might be giants were in springville giving a free concert, that it was awesome, and why on earth wasn't i there.

after 200+ attempts, i have finally won tickets to their concert tonight.

so, yeah, i'm pretty excited.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

i owe tally hall $6

on monday night i got a call from laurie, sometime around midnight. 'did i wake up you?' she asked, holding back her excitement. 'no,' i lied. 'ijustcamefromthemostamazingconcerteveritwassocoolandigotomeetthebandandtheyweresocoolandiplayedmyukeleleforthemanditwasamazing!' she burst forth. still bringing myself back into standard coherence, i asked what amazing concert this was. 'a group called guster', she said. i'll be darned. i had tickets to go to that show in a few days myself. i was considering giving the tickets to some friends who liked them, but earlier that i night i talked with a girl at fhe who was going to the concert, and with laurie's beaming recommendation, i'd be crazy not to go. and she told me that the opening band was really truly deeply amazing, too, and that i was supposed to talk to them afterward. sure.

as i mentioned, i invited kristing to come with me, since she has heard of 'guster'. she's also a ton of fun to do things with, so she seemed like the right choice. i don't go to a lot of concerts, and certainly not a lot of smaller indie shows like this. with the venue being some little place out in the rougher side of salt lake, i was a little curious what the crowd would be like. i didn't feel like breathing a lot of smoke of any sort that evening. as we walked up to get in line, i was happy to see that 'guster' seems to attract nice, normal people; regular people. and i'm guessing at least a third of them were byu students: friendly, polite, talkative, and regularly bathed. the place holds about a thousand people, which meant that anywhere was a good place to stand. we met up with allison [my other friend from monday night] and her friend steve, for whom guster was his favorite band. as we were talking and generally getting excited just for the concert environment, even if most of our group didn't know much about the band, it occurred to me that this was about the same size as the venue as which i was going to see 'they might be giants' in two days; here we were near the back and yet were still 30' from the stage at most. so see 'john and john' like this would be nigh unto incredible.
but that was a few days away, still.
apart from a song on the radio, i'd never heard a song by guster, but as long as i was at the concert and hadn't had to pay for our tickets, i decided to get me a guster shirt. so i did. as we were walking back to our spot in the masses, the opening band was setting up on stage. they looked like missionaries--five guy all in matching white shirts and black pants and each with a different colored tie: yellow, red, grey, green, and blue.

i've often wondered what it's like for married people to look back on their moment when they first met their husband/wife; maybe they knew things would never be the same, or maybe they didn't realize then what it would lead to.
either way, that is how i look back on the first time that i heard 'tally hall'.

five guys in ties up on the stage, they began by talking into the mic with a bullhorn, which sounded really cool as the percussionist in the grey tie beat a rhytm. green keyboardist and blue bass joined in and so the red guy began a bnl-esque whiteboy rap. i was entranced. i'd never heard anything like it. they all chimed in for the chorus, 'we're in the mini-mall, working the carnival, we like to play it all, welcome to tally hall'.
and, suddenly, tally hall was my home.
they did whiteboy rap. they played ballads, alt. rock; their sound seemed to continually change. like the barenaked ladies meets mid-era beatles, yet it didn't sound imitated at all. during a slow song they told us all to grab your sweetheart or your friend or your manfriend and dance; kristin and i gently swayed. at one point they pulled out some tiki trums and sang a faux-african song about bananas that involved both excited yelping and quite whistling. for one of their last songs, the yellow tie guy was singing very quickly through the bullhorn again and the whole thing was rocking when he suddenly stopped, looked perplexed, and turned to the red tie, confessing, 'i forgot the words'. with a little nudging he was back on track, and a few moments later jumped down into the audience and began making his way through the crowd as he sang.

unfortunately, their set eventually came to a close. i was sad. i didn't want them to ever stop. nor did i want to hear guster, no matter how good they may be. i just wanted two more hours of tally hall.
i made my way back to the t-shirt area, regretting my earlier choice. still, it never hurts to ask. 'can i return this guster shirt?' very surprisingly, the lady was willing to take it back and gave me my money [i wore it over my other shirt, so there was no significant trace of me having ever worn it]. i took two steps to my left and asked the dude working the tally hall booth for a shirt. and wore it with pride through the rest of the night.

guster did come on, and they were fine [though, in my opinion, tally hall severely outshone them]. they're scruffy alt. accoustic rockers, laid back and cool. the room was full of fans, and it was fun to see a lot of couples in their 20s-early30s who knew all the words. i didn't know the words, but danced and bopped along with the music, singing along to choruses ['chori'?] as best as i could pick them up--learning 'fa fa fa' was easy enough, though at one point i got a mouthful of kristin's hair as she was dancing and was very grateful that my date was hygiene-conscious. we took pictures, sent text messages to each other about how cool this was, and had a good old-fashioned thorough blast.

being that this is a small indie show, the band members were hanging around afterwards to talk, chat, and shoot the breeze. laurie had given me specific instructions to talk with them, as two days before she had played her ukelele for them after their show in arizona. i made my way through the crowd and talked with joe, the red tie. 'when you were in arizona a few days ago, did you meet a girl who played her ukelele for you?' 'oh yeah, laurie!' replied joe. 'i love that girl.' well, laurie would be thrilled to hear that. i then used this 'in' to talk him into a few pictures with our group. i should also use this as a forum to apologize to the dozen people who stood and waited while the four of us gathered around the 'hot sexy one' [as allison described him] and took three different pictures: thank you for your patience; we sincerely appreciate it.
earlier that evening i had loaned kristin some money so that she could buy herself a guster shirt [which she later got autographed--by tally hall, if the pictures are right]. between her shirt and my shirt, i was left with two $2 bills and a text message from laurie saying i should really buy the tally hall cd. in another act that, in retrospect, may have worn joe's kindness thin [though there was no evidence of it], i showed that i had bought a shirt, was a friend of laurie's, and had only two $2 bills but really wanted a cd. he saw that i was of a true heart and, out of sight to the crowd, passed the money down to andrew [green tie] and handed me a copy of 'marvin's marvelous mechanical museum'. i asked him to sign it; he signed his name and wrote, 'you are jeff- lucky team'.
no idea what it meant but thought it was awesome.
i went off to find the yellow tie, rob. he was my favorite from when i first saw him on stage. whereas joe was dark and handsome with long tossled hair, rob had glasses and a bland haircut. i felt an affinity with him. i again played the laurie card, and he again remembered her. i told him how much i loved the show and asked how the tie colors were chosen. initially they matched their instruments, but now they all have black instruments, so they're just the colors. cool. i had him sign my cd and got a few pictures.
as long as i had come this far, i decided to get the remaining signatures of ross, andrew, and zubin. kristin, allison and steve ran off to get some pictures with the guster guys as i sat and just enjoyed the awesomeness of the whole situation. lastly, kristin wanted a picture with all five guys, so we asked a couple of them and they agreed. we had three of them standing around waiting while the other two were talking with some other people. they called for them, told them to hurry up, and finally walked over and picked up the two and carried them back to us. kristin got her picture.
we played their cd as we drove home.

and the cd was in my car when i drove to salt lake this morning. i was prepping a camera today and they had just installed a stereo for us. so i went out to the car, grabbed the cd, and played it as many times as i dared without severely annoying anyone else around me.
i listened to it a total of eight times today and am absolutely in love with it. so i came to the conclusion that i need to send them to other six dollars, so that i will have paid full price for this cd.

epilogue: i felt like i was one of seven people who know of tally hall, and want to go forth as a missionary, telling everyone i can to buy their music. i suspect they'll be like the barenaked ladies, slowly growing a solid following then one day suddenly making it big. and so it surprised me a little to find that they're already on itunes. actually, that wasn't so bad as seeing the 150+ posts about their cd. it's like meeting an amazing girl--i want others to know they're amazing, i just want it understood that i was here first and like them most.

so, if you've made it to the end and have a dollar or two to spare, please consider downloading one or two of their songs.
i suggest starting with: 'good day', tally hall', or 'the ruler of everything' if you want their original, eclectic sound.
and if you do, please comment here what you think.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

it happened

last week the radio hardly gave away any they might be giants tickets. this began to cause some alarm with me until one of the djs announced what i suspected: they were holding them for this week, and would be giving them out like they were going out of style. [...because, after friday, they would be out of style...]
every hour between 10 and 6 on the hour, 101.9 will be giving away a pair of tickets to the first five callers. and so i planned to keep my radio on all day long, despite the poor reception my little clock radio gets [yes, i listen on the internet, but there's some sort of delay that i can't quite figure out, and time is of the essence here, people]. yesterday i made roughly 20 attempts at 10:00, all to no avail. eleven rolled around and found me with my phone in hand. mr. west [the dj] told me to call and i did. and he answered.
'hi who is this?'
'uh, this is jeff.'
'jeff, what's your last name?'
i spelled it for him, and followed with my city and phone number, when asked.
'and have you won they might be giants tickets from us before?' he asked.
'DID I WIN??' certainly it was obvious that i did. he wasn't going to get all this information from me only to say that they had already found their five callers and to wish me better luck next time. nevertheless, it was too wonderful to comprehend for those first few moments.
'yes, you won,' he replied with the non-chalantity of a man who makes dreams come true everyday.
i let my 'wa-hoo' ring though the house.

and i sat with a giant grin as he later read the names of the winners on the air. he even pronounced 'gustafson' correctly. i felt like i had accomplished something amazing, even though i had done nothing more than make a phone call. to be fair, i had made over 100 phone calls, yet this seemed far too easy. i picked up the phone, dialed, won tmbg tickets. it felt like i could do this all afternoon, give out a new name each time, and bring all of my friends.

so today i went out to the station office to pick up my tickets. i wondered if my guster tickets were still available. i won them a month ago; maybe they gave them up. i was hoping for a large bay window, through which i could see the dj, surrounded by all the panels and dials required to a solid alternative rock station. instead, the office was extremely bland; rather small, with closed doors at either end and a dull reception desk in the middle. the kind of thing you'd expect at the front of a secret government x-files building, a ninja training camp, or a video game test laboratory. ahead of me was a young mom, picking of a pair of tmbg tickets for her husband. i said i was there to pick up some tickets, a pair for guster and a pair for they might be giants. the lady asked my name, and i was prepared to show some id. but she just opened a drawer with no locks or thumbprint identification and pulled out my tickets. she didn't even cross my name off of the list she had. she wrote it on the list. i was astounded at the lax security here. getting back in the car, i contemplated calling jack and suggesting he come down and tell them he won some tickets, too.

actually, speaking of jack, i was faced with a bit of a dilema. i knew a lot of people who would have loved to come to this concert with me. jack would love to go. so would my roommate, mark. and there was a really cool girl at church with whom i had been talking about this and she agreed we would both try to win tickets. how do you choose over a really awesome girl? well, the tickets helped a little: they said it was a 21+ show, and she's 19. but, like many decisions in life, i made up my mind before i had to make the choice. my friend nathan is not only a fellow movie maker but also a fellow tmbg freak. he knows more about them than even i do. he gave me copies of their cds that i didn't have during 'minutemen'. my very first conversation with him, before i even knew him, was about they might be giants [in the production office on 'the outlaw trail' two years ago]. it was only right to invite him.

on the way home, i called to tell him the very good news.
then i called kristin and invited her to guster on wednesday.