The New Short and The Wine That Kept It Alive

There was a particularly succulent wine one evening, tannic, bold and beautiful. Coming in the next morning I felt it magnificently, which is to say horribly. Breakfast hadn’t helped. Coffee: a beacon of hope.And as you’d suspect, coming into work, longing for that whiff and taste of roasted Colombian, I found no cups. There was a few people in the break room, wandering and lost, and all the more sour as they peeked in this and that drawer hoping for some forgotten and lonely spare. They would’ve settled for a led-ridden tin had its presence been reality. Desperation, luckily, causes many oversights. Two years ago I was particularly hungry, having had to stay four hours longer than I orignally intended, and was searching for something to eat in the cabinets, high and low. There was cans of chili (not vegetarian) and some “Que Bueno!” cheese, which was tempting, but I had to suspect that orange and viscous plastic provides no nutrition and probably no satiation either. Behind the food left behind, forgotten to grow mold and live a life of its own, was a small mug. A thin, grey clay, sturdy little thing. And now, two years later, had it been touched at all? Checking, I found it had not. Washed, wiped, sniffed. All clear. One of the workers eyed my discovery, her eyes long with envy. Can’t say I recall her talking to me ever since that morning. I do hope our relationship has not been permanently scarred.

With our wine the previous evening, we had just happened to watch The Wrath of Kahn. James T. Kirk states one of his most famous lines in that movie. No, not “KAAAAAAAHHHNN!,” but instead, as he lifts an apple, taking a triumphant bite he lifts a cocky brow, a man in control, a man who planned, and says “I don’t believe in no win scenarios.”

From the set of “Wrath of Khan,” 1982.

 Rutherford Ranch 2010 Cabernet Sauvingnon – $20
– A zest of lime, perfume and a alluring hint of something that can only be described (and alluding) as pure pink. It’s what I imagine Mary Kay wreaked of, something sweet and comforting.
– Chalk and flint minerality leave a coating upon the roof of your mouth. It’s dark and lingers, full in the middle and heavy. You soon discover that’s it’s fruit heavy, and again, that pretty-in-pink shines through, emphatically. This Rutherford cab reminds you of a gabby, bitchy and pampered woman who you love all the more because of it. Worthy.

Herbaceous Musa was slapped together last year for the annual X96 film festival, a local radio station’s attempt at cajoling better publicity. There’s not much to talk about in terms of story when speaking of Musa– no good Hollywood elevator pitch to tell of. A banana springs to life and attacks a man because he ate his family, the bunch of bananas he bought from a local grocer that was procured from an importer from Ecuador. The banana won in the end. I thought it was an unexpected ending, hoping to gain a slice of clout. It got some laughs. It looked better than it should have, yet lacked a certain visual spring to its step. The film is only a beast of the moment, only showing my continued and obsessive wont for eating a banana every day, like a bad OCD tick, and (at the time) a recent viewing of Steven Sodenbergh’s Che, part 1 and 2. Only, I rather found part 2 to be a bummer. And as such, I made Che win this time.

I am merely a creature of the present.

Gnarly Head 2011 Pinot Noir – $8
– Smells like “a wine,” tastes “like a wine.” Nothing feels really whole, nor truly separate. A light flourish of the nose, a somewhat cohesive whisper of a linger. Nothing cheap is exactly present, however, it just exhibits a flabby feel and a boring kind of personality. It’s like watching Seinfeld if wherein Jerry was a troglodyte and had no affinity for Superman or cereal. And Kramer died in season one. Which is interesting in itself I wold guess. For the price, worthy.

In lieu of a well planned and choreographed last duel between my herbaceous protagonist and his homosapien captor I had utilized the fade out, jump cut technique to build suspense, to let the mind fill in what the battle must have been like. I closed with a shot that, while both purulent and phallic-esque, I had chosen to show the banana as victor, inching out from deep inside the throat of his captor. This – even to me – is hard to say whether or not this had something to do with the character I wrote being a latent homosexual or that I have an intrinsic fear of the bananas I so dearly love blocking my trachea one day. It’s also hard to say whether or not this death would be noble or not. Perhaps just ironic.
LMset5It did not win the festival. Another film took the grand prize (a trip to the Cochella music festival) by making some film about a man in an office, selling off invisible merchandise. That’s really all I can say about that film because it didn’t make much sense. I don’t say this lightly; there was a single shot sequence of a man dancing around the office when suddenly a few other people came into the room to take away invisible items from him, paying with invisible cash. If there was a plot, it escaped me entirely. I like to think this was some statement about the illusionary concept of money, a play in which we all play along. People laughed, and so did I, but I can not fathom or recall what humor was possibly utilized. One of the lost (or a Youtube search away) mystery’s of the world.

To Herbaceous’ credit, it had a good poster and a fun soundtrack. I don’t have any business making music of my own, being self-diagnosed as tone deaf and having no musical affinity of any sort. Yet I was able to conjure some bone-crunch-stomp of a synth track that had every right to be shoe-horned into a cheesy B-flick. A commenter said it was Carpenter-esque. I can die now with no regrets.

A year later, amid the clashes of pin strikes and incessant laughter of a group of teenaged beauties heard from twenty-five lanes down yonder, Andrew, a good friend, poses a question. Will You be entering this years x96 festival? I had put it out of my mind. I was done with short films. I was a writer now – until some big feature film opportunity had a chance to land head first into my lap. “No,” I said, waving it off, “didn’t even now it was going on.”

“Well, if you do it,” he said, shuffling his shoulders about, “I’m here to help.” That cock. That helpful, sweet cock.

Robert Mondavi 2011 Pinot Grigio – $8
– Bright with hints of clove and petroleum on the nose.
– It’s alright. It’s bright and aloof, as the nose suggested. The sweetness is considerably held back, tight instead of loose. The fruit and grape-forwardness of it all is pleasant and uplifting without exhibiting a cloying Jolly Rancher meets Pixie Stick head-on attribute that many cheap white wines tend to lean on like a inefficient crutch. Worthy.

Herbaceous came back into mind in a flash. Not only that little film, but every other film I’d ever made. The times I felt alive and whole and useful – like I had a purpose. A smile sprang on my lips, defying my inner protest.

“Well, If I think of something…sure. Probably,” I continued, with a twist of my lips.

Of course I thought of something. Fourteen hours while sitting on the dingy throne of my work’s toilet I sent him a message explaining that we were now in pre-production. This is the problem with hard, isolated labor: you have too much time to think. My mind raced for the first two hours of the shift thinking up the plot and characters and what I had wanted to say that was still left unsaid. I still have a banana a day, but I have explored that ground before. What has been on mind recently is science fiction of any kind, the trenchant origins of mythologies and a re-awakening of my love for classic film orchestrations. Boom. Little Moon.

A creature of the moment.

The story involves a uncle explaining to his nephew about his parents’ prurient events leading to their divorce. By way of a b-film sci-fi analogy, for comforts sake. We have reality, then we have a glimpse into a mental play, a theater of the mind. This gave me an excuse to film in silhouette, another penchant of mine. Not that silhouette images are easy to produce (and they kind of are), and it’s not that I felt I needed a quick, visually stunning escape (which I did), but rather I became enamored by the prospect of what a silhouette image is actually saying about storytelling itself. Back to the theater of the mind: your mind fills in whatever is left out. It has to. And when your told a story, especially as a naïve child, you can’t visualize or even process all the details your told. Instead you have this broad stroke, this sort-of grasp of what is being told. Stories in themselves are registered in a personal way, a unique way, by each and every one of us. No story has ever been the same for any two man or woman. Just as no two breads have ever had the same spring and structure.

A day later it was written. Three hours after that, it was edited, looking sharp. The proceeding day, finalized. Another two days, cast, read and revised. It was ready to be filmed. Not only was Andrew on board to film, as he said he would be, but a group of others as well.

The real credit of this little film coming together belongs to two men, Nic Edwards and Adam Judd. A deft cameraman and emerging D.P. tour de force and a guitarist cum filmmaker, respectively. While not friends, the two have been terrific acquaintances. They have a love for creating that I admire in people. This is what sets them apart and makes them loyal, determined and passionate. Yes they may have a puerile nature, a misogynistic side and a oh-look-a-shiny-object sense of being, but it’s actions that count in the end. They’ve been out on there own, working and growing, making the contacts and capturing whatever, whenever. Adam has been assisting directors of other short films, and so, took on this film with the same title. Nic has been a camera operator for years, only lately delving into director of photography land. The two are nearly joined at the hip. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them share a blanket, or cuddle up to each other whenever the wind howled and the thunder trembled the earth. Inseparable is the word. I got one, and naturally, had the other. They also had ties to the SLCC film crew, good friends still wrapped around Production Two, and already exhibiting the know-how and guff of a seasoned Hollywood grip.

The first day of filming was sour cream down a baked potato, smooth and slow as all hell. We had all the help that was needed, if not the budget or the time. Volume counts. On my film sets, we are fed and out on time. I like my crew, yes, yes, but I’m the one who tires so easily, thus we all leave early. All said and done, it was “good enough.” Good enough, is not always good enough, but when you have only five hours, a handful of props and people working for free, good enough is good enough. Luckily, good enough looked terrific. The acting by Eric McGraw was great, always stiff at first, then coaxed to intolerably natural after a few takes, while Nathan Dobbin, playing the child, was a smiling fit-of-happy who has never known pain. A few takes later, it was manageable. It’s a short film. What the hell. No one gives a fuck but me.

I’m entitled to tell myself this, to believe this.

Guenoc 2011 Petite Sirah – $ 12
– Big, juicy and heady and proud of it. Nothing too complex; it’s really all about the power. For this, which is how most petite sirah’s go, it does a great job. It’s a kick in the head for simply being a sipping wine, but that’s exactly what it is despite. It is restrained, thankfully, by a 13.6% alcohol level. Worthy.
I leave the set happy with everything and grandly excited. I edit the first dailies the next day, drink some tea, smirk and nod. Happy as can be at my editing bay by the sea. Well, minus the sea, but I could make an argument out of my city’s environ looking like a place by the sea. Rampant smog has hung in the air like a blanket of collected despair for weeks on end. Luckily you could not tear me away from Photoshop, creating this and that, star backgrounds and rock cut-outs, the film’s special effects long enough for me to keep brooding about the drabness of it all. Creating, jubilant.

“’Cause when life looks like Easystreet, there is danger at your door.” Since when has Jerry Garcia ever been wrong? Maybe with the whole Gone to Heaven album, but besides that?

Day two was a dreadful mess. I’m going to go ahead and call it the worst day of filming I’ve ever had. The man who ran the business of the photography atelier, who I’ll call Mr. Frazzle, simply because he was all-a-frazzle about the film crew and I arriving. He had forgotten that, not only myself, but Nic and Adam had talked with him just a few days post-hence about the O.K. for us to shoot in the studio for a few hours that evening. To Mr. Frazzle’s credit, the human brain is an inferior medium for storing a surplus of information. And thus, he yelled me up a storm, scoffed off my sound man (who arrived ahead of me) and left us without entrance the the studio. Nic and Adam we’re running late because of car troubles – something to do with the battery. The next two hours, in brief, proceeds as: my voice slowly began its descent to croaks and gurgles, a kicking-and-screaming cold creeping back to kick my ass; running around the building shaking hands and apologizing to the crew and actors for the wait, getting them coffee and attempting this concept called “small talk;” rendezvousing with Nic and Adam, huddling together, only to have them leave us waiting to retrieve the keys from Mr. Frazzle; and finally finding my nerves, wits and patience tested to the max, knowing full well that by the time we were granted access to the building, there would only be three hours of shooting time left.

The Atelier

The studio space, I knew, was too small for any sort of adequate filming for our matte silhouette. There was two important aspects, and reasons, for filming in a studio space for these specfic shots. One was a need to shoot low, at foot level; the second was a wide and long berth between the overexposed background and the actors, as to not have any light spill on their very reflective costumes. We were granted by the gods none of these two necessities.

 The test shots before we were finished setting up proved it. There was a no win scenario here. Something major was going to be compromised across the board. But, like Captain Kirk, I’ve learned to abscond the very thought of no win scenarios.
I staged the actors, had them play their parts under uneven light and made them do take after take with uncertainty of its captured success. We improvised, experimented and carried on as if filming footage the equivalent of a six month Guyére – something fucking fantastic. The whole setup looked like a silly haphazard jumble, like a whale tossed up onto a beachside care dealership after a tsunami. Out. Of. Place. But hell, I cheered them on, coaxed the impossible, made everyone work on something. All the setups were completed in an hour. We filmed the three minute script segment in one hour and thirty-six minutes. It was akin to grabbing a scathing, waspish alley cat by the back of its skin and throwing it into a cauldron of sulphuric chemicals. We didn’t escape without a few scratches and a bleary-eyes amazement of what had just happened. Did anyone else see that shit?

“We finished early,” Adam said to me, a little stunned, a little happy, with a vague done-with-it-all kind of glance.

“Ye-, Amz-n. Pro. W- dd we-ll.” I said through the phlegm, breaking through the sandpaper fight-back of my throat’s surrender.

NV Killer Red Blend, Kiler Grove – $12 (unreleased)
– We were given a taste at a recent bottling of this “Killer Red,” which is Kiler Grove’s first attempt at a more economical, every day sipper. Notes of tellicherry pepper and a light chocolate undertone. On tasting, no sign of catering to the sweet side of peoples palates. Smooth, leveled and tart. Not as robust and exploratory as its spicier and brusque brothers and sisters, more Melville than Proust.
– We should be seeing this rolling out soon. Follow them on twitter @KGWWine

I made sure everyone ate, set everyone packing something and got the hell out of there like a Daft Punk fan in a fusion jazz museum. Posthaste. I knew we had something workable. I would not have left otherwise. But the atelier began to feel like a furnace to my senses. The three hours felt like ten. It’s was the feeling of licking Elmer’s Glue from your aseptically redolent desk in grade school, expecting something resembling the taste of cookie dough, only to be left with nothing but a bad linger and a bruised ego. A defeat of sorts.

Wine fueled.

Wine fueled.

But what’s a defeat, really? Assuming you did not die, it’s an opportunity to lick your wounds and come back kicking and clawing, more resilient and more willing to take a hunk of flesh out of something with your bite. That’s my way of hyper-contextualizing sitting at a computer and editing a film with a tea in hand, a biscuit with a lovely crumb withing reach. You say that sounds lovely? You say, that sounds like the life? Well…yes. I suppose it is. But Hell! It’s a lot of work shaping into something worth calling “creative.”

It takes at least…two – possibly three! – boxes of Earl Grey, cereal in the morning,many bananas and a willingness to burden yourself with the most severe case of continual eye strain you’ll never want to experience again.

That’s dedication.

I’m jesting a bit. Really, it was quite hard wrangling the nearly-unusable footage from day two’s shoot. Essentially it was pondering everything I had learned about chroma keying before absconding it entirely, rethinking the whole proper usage of keying tools in today’s editing programs. It was a reverse engineering, a deconstruction of what we think of as an image, replaced only by the malleable-something resembling a black ink outline that could be utilized for isolating two objects in a frame that were not remotely useable before hand. It was Ulysses taking on the Cyclops, only much more digital and much less sweaty, messy, and tiring – and with tea!

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