It’s done. I’ve taken on another short film. This one is currently enjoying the title The Adventure Golf Guy and you can even read the script online. We’re planning to film it next weekend. Hopefully the snow will have cleared by then. And today we have auditions. And tonight I’m meeting with the writers of the feature film I’m developing. And last week, well that was very very busy…
… I’ve been very busy.
The snow’s falling softly outside. Which makes you think. What would snow be like if it fell loudly? What if it didn’t absorb sound but reflected it back like a canyon? What if canyons absorbed sound instead? This is the kind of weirdness that experimental filmmakers should be exploring and sending to Ann Arbor Film Festival. Mostly though, they’re just sending cack. Now that everyone has a camcorder and a computer, they think they’re all filmmakers. They aren’t.
Which brings me to my new year resolutions…
This year I’m thinking that I should resolve the following:
1. Start making a feature film. Which means…
2. Get the best script possible that can be shot in Michigan.
3. Make at least $36,000 from Ascalon Films clients.
4. Learn to edit on Avid and get more freelance work.
5. Work with Beth Winsten on the Tom Lynch project.
6. Reduce my weight down to 180-185lbs (and thereby reduce my blood pressure) through a combination of better diet, exercise and less alcohol.
7. Be even more confident in my own abilities and experience. At the same time, recognize my limitations and delegate to others where appropriate.
8. Accept people for what they are and not for who I’d like/want/need them to be. As part of that, accept that there are a lot of stupid people in the world and don’t waste time on them.
You realise all this stuff is mainly for my own benefit, don’t you? So I can benchmark what happened in 2004 and see if I went forwards significantly or not. If you’re still interested, read on…
Top concerts in 2004 were: David Byrne, Brian Wilson, BB King, Rufus Wainwright. There was also the Tricodex ballet at the Power Center plus the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and Candide at the Michigan Theater.
Top sporting events attended: Yankees vs Blue Jays, Wolverines vs Northwestern, Mariners v Blue Jays. On TV: Pistons vs Lakers. Top non-sporting events: “trying on” cars at the Auto Show, riding a horse in Sedona (although I’m never going to be a cowboy, woah no).
Travel: Los Angeles (CA), Tempe and Sedona (Arizona), Chicago (IL), New York (NY), Pittsburgh (PA), Interlochen (northern Michigan), Toronto (Canada, twice), Maumee (Ohio). And let’s not forget Detroit (MI).
Top cheek: giving Tom Hulce a copy of The Car on DVD; leaving a business card in the UofM President’s office; getting on the tour bus to say “Hi” to BB King; driving down Sunset Strip in a red Mustang convertable listening to Cake; Tempe.
Achievements: winning Best Short Film at the Texas Film Festival–definitely a highlight, being selected as Critic’s Pick at East Lansing Film Festival, having a sell-out screening in Hollywood, finishing first short in USA, American Short Film, and new short, Serial Dating.
Also being adopted as Resident Filmmaker at the Michigan Theater, being asked to be on the Ann Arbor Film Festival screening committee, being asked back as a judge at the Lightworks Festival at the UofM. Finishing videos for ArtrainUSA and making commercials. Learning to dance swing. Learning After Effects.
And let’s not forget making Cinema Slam happen several times, getting a screening for Fate & Fortune and Last Train in St Albans, screenings for The Car at several festivals, more screenings for other films in London and getting write ups in three newspapers, US and UK (Ann Arbor Current, East Lansing Journal and St Albans Observer).
Best things of the year: getting married to Laura. Followed by buying a house together, travelling, making films, going to concerts, dining out at some truly excellent restaurants, making lots of new friends and, of course, getting new cars.
Finally, this one is all about October to December…
Saturday 2nd: Imelda screening at the Michigan Theater, Q&A session with the director of photography. Nice people but the film wasn’t my cup of tea. Sunday 3rd: Sumo East and West screening at the Michigan. Same people, this time they produced and photographed. Again, not my thang. They’ve now got a feature film deal, by the way, for a fictional film.
Sunday 3rd, earlier: Barn Bash. This was a political rally out in Scio Township, which sounds like a town but is really a kind of area that includes a lot of farmland. I got free food, met some nice folks and looked in the barn but couldn’t see John Book. We bought some more lawn signs and the boys whacked trees with sticks. It’s what they do best.
Monday 4th: Brian Wilson, last of the Beach Boys, at the Michigan Theater. Top concert. I enjoyed. Got a free beer, met some nice folks and clapped along with the three bobble head guys in the row in front of us.
Tuesday 5th: took Sam to soccer practise and read a chunk of the latest Dune novel. We kicked the ball around the park on the way back to the car and I still have no idea why this sport is so popular. That’s just me, I guess, although I’m not worried. More time to try out other stuff if you’re not obsessing on football.
Wednesday 6th: first Leadership Ann Arbor get together at the chamber of commerce. Met some interesting people and was still talking to the last guy as we headed out into the car park. Well, they did say to network.
Thursday 7th: John Desjardin, visual effects supervisor on the Matrix sequels gave a talk at the UofM. Laura asked him a pointed question about art and I asked if they render handles on the digital shots. They do, in case you’re wondering. A whole extra 8 frames, I think he said. Wooo.
Friday 8th: me and m’ baby went dancing. Our first swing dance lesson together with the Russian girl who turned out to be Polish but it’s still more fun to count the steps with a fake Russian accent. Actually, it’s probably more fun to count the Steppes with a Russian accent too.
Saturday 9th: swing dance at the Pittsfield Grange. The grange is like a big converted barn where country folk go for social events. There was still no sign of John Book and I didn’t know much about a lot of things but we learned some new spins.
By this point in the month, I think I was pretty much worn out. I’d flown across the country to both the west coast and the east and done something pretty much every day. The next week was a bit more laid back, at least according to my diary. We went dancing again on Wednesday, another lesson in Saline. Then we met up with Nancy Doyal for cocktails at Zanzibar.
Ah, yes. Vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred) and plenty of them. Laura got there an hour or two after we’d started but soon caught up. We pretty much closed the place down, almost managed to eat (burgers at the Red Hawk) and somehow stumbled home. Next day, we drove to Chicago. What? You thought we were going to pause? Foolish reader. You know we don’t stop. Well, not when there’s a party to be going to, at any rate.
It was the weekend of Laura’s highschool reunion and a chance for me to take in some fine American traditions, like the homecoming parade, free bar and pretending to be an alumnus. Yuk yuk. So, the English accent was a dead giveaway but I’m sure I could have got in more photos, if there’d been any. Which there didn’t seem to be. Which was probably best.
Bank home, some doofus drove his truck into our new mailbox stand, which Richard, the nice guy over the road, had built. It was pretty bent up and I was a bit ratty with him, mainly because I felt miffed for Richard. He’d gone to a lot of trouble making that and we’d had it concreted in place when the guys put the fence up. So, they fixed it but not as good as new and now our mailboxes all lean to the side.
October 20th, I went to a talk by Steve Hayden, vice chair of Ogilvy and Mather. This was the guy who came up with the cool Apple ads when Apple started having cool ads and then went to work on the IBM account. He came up with the cool stuff for them too. As you might guess, it was a cool talk. I thenk yew.
October 21st-22nd: Leadership Ann Arbor Retreat. This was two days at a nice lakeside resort in Ohio. Lots of networking and some steady drinking at the bar in the evening. I discovered lemon drops which seemed to be vodka shots late in the proceedings and I fried the neurone which reminds me to drink lots of water. I made it for breakfast the next day but was a bit spacey for the morning. I don’t think I was the only one.
One more shoot for BMC Media to round off the month and it was suddenly Halloween. Laura took the boys out trick or treating while I manned the door, wearing a Superman T-shirt under a half-undone shirt and some large rimmed spectacles. The boys were dressed as Zorro (Jack) and a knight (Sam) so they were both carrying swords. Jack wimped out part way through so Sam ended up with twice as much candy. The last folks to call at our house appeared to be three college student–one wearing a fuzzy-perm wig, one wearing a top hat and the third with his sweater pulled up over his nose. I gave them Snickers bars.
It was the elections on November 2nd. I went with Laura to the polling station, a local school. Schools don’t close here like they do in the UK when they’re polling stations, by the way. They find plenty of other random reasons to take days or half days off, but not election day. We joined the queue and waited about an hour before Laura got to vote. The official guy wouldn’t let me join her to see the ballot paper, “You can’t go in there, sir!” So I’m still none the wiser about how the whole thing was rigged, I mean what the process was.
November 4th, I met with Bob Crowner at the chamber of commerce to get some business counselling. However, I didn’t really know what I wanted to know so I came away not much wiser although Bob did point me at some helpful resources. November 5th, my niece was 17. It was also the day of the Edible Rex film festival in Ann Arbor. Shrihari had asked me for a Cinema Slam compilation, so I made sure The Car was included.
Monday 8th: random half day at the boys’ school. Tuesday 9th: chamber of commerce member reception at Clear Channel, which I had to leave early because it was also Cinema Slam. Oh, I’d arranged to meet a writer from Detroit called Robert Fox. Robert had sent me some feature scripts earlier in the year and, as I was showing one of his films at CS, it seemed like a good time to meet and discuss them. Following on from that, there’s now a strong possibility of shooting one of them in 2005. Much work to be done before that, though.
Wednesday 10th: Leadership Ann Arbor Development Day. A fascinating tour of the city arranged by Barb Shofner from the chamber and hosted by Peter Allen, a local developer. Peter could sell ice cream to eskimos, I’m convinced. One of his favorite (spelled correct for some you anyway) is a scheme to introduce a cycle route linking one side of the city to the other. To me, this seemed like a great idea and I’ll be following it up in 2005 as a potential video project with Peter to appear on camera as a guide. Needs a budget, so I’ll be following that up too.
Thursday 11th: I was invited (thanks to Shrihari) to join the screening committee of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I didn’t make the first meeting but decided I could take on the commitment and it would be good on many levels. Incidentally, one thing I’m finding extremely useful is seeing so many other people’s films, both good and bad. The bad ones often come so close: they have great title sequences, high production values and maybe even a good script. But all too often they have dire acting. And they fold, like a deck of cards, before they’ve even begun.
Friday 12th: started working my way through an After Effects training manual, Creating Motion Graphics by Trish and Chris Meyer. This is an excellent guide and having now completed volume one, I’d recommend it without hesitation. I’ve learned loads and am now using all these new compositing and animation skills in various video projects on the Mac.
Laura and I also went to see The Incredibles. I’d recommend this without hesitation too.
Saturday 13th to Sunday 14th, Laura’s mom, Nancy, came to visit. Russ called in the morning. “Hey, you wanna go to a football game? I have a spare ticket.” Sure. My first tailgating party, my first jello shot and Michigan won. It was an excellent way to spend an afternoon, especially when your mother in law is in town.
Back at home, I told Nancy I’d like a marble roadway thing for Christmas and put a big star next to the picture in the catalog. She did one of those gentle eye-rolling laughs that say, “You’re a nutter, aren’t you. But I’d better not let on because I don’t know how much of a nutter you are yet.” I smiled back and pointed out that the glow in the dark roadway with luminous marbles would be preferable. Then I watched pro ball on the TV and Jack nearly died of shock, not so much that I’d become a sports fan, but that he was deprived of the god box for nearly five hours.
There was more filming for the university the next week, plus networking, our final dance lesson in Saline and my first screenings with the film festival folks. We also put together a parcel of American goodies for my sister’s family in the UK. Friday, we went to an exhibition of bizarre symmetrical photos by an artist called Mark Mothersbaugh. Sunday, Laura hosted a meeting of the Move On people at our house and they tried to figure out what to do in four years time after this year’s close run thing that really shouldn’t have been so close. According to some. Thwup thwup thwup….
I managed to get a chunk of editing done, worked through some more of the After Effects book and then, suddenly, it was Thanksgiving. We went over to Anthony’s for Thanksgiving dinner and consumed large quantities of food, for which we gave thanks. Laura made the thing with yams, ginger snaps, lots of butter and melted marshmallows on top which can only be eaten in small amounts but which tastes absolutely amazing.
We had a long weekend free after that, so we went to Pittsburgh. We would have gone to Cleveland but Ohio were to blame for the election so that was out. Steel town it was. Hurrah! We discovered that downtown Pittsburgh is eerily quiet when all the office workers go home. Nevertheless, we managed to find a bar which did food and good beers on the first night.
Second day, we hooked up with Barb, one of my online friends, and she took us on an extensive tour of the city. We saw modern art, we saw the university’s Cathedral of Learning, we ate hotdogs at the O, we ate pizza someplace else and we drank beer everywhere.
Back home, I watched more films for the A2 Film Fest, mulched leaves into the grass so that I wouldn’t have to rake them up for the leaf collection on Monday and had a meeting with Bob Fox and his associates on the 29th about the possibility of filming one of his scripts, Awaiting Identification. A dark story. I’m still not sure if I like how dark it is but I have to hand it to them–it is well written.
December started with a random half day at the boys’ school. I did the film fest thing in the evening on Wednesday and Thursday, and on Saturday we had a house party. I’d told the Leadership Ann Arbor this was a networking opportunity, which it kind of was, and a few of them turned up. It was really just an excuse to have a get together at our house as the nights got longer.
Next week was the chamber of commerce Year Ender, with endless free beers for a couple of hours and another chance to meet potential business contacts for 2005. Wednesday 8th was the next Leadership day, which was dedicated to finding out more about non-profit organizations in the area. Groups of us went out to spend the morning with various charities and I visited Food Gatherers, which collects surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants and distributes it to those in need.
That evening was the coolest though, and I don’t mean December cold. Lee at the Michigan had asked if either of us could get some pix of the Backstage Club (Michigan Theater sponsors) at the BB King concert. Which meant we got free tickets to see BB King. And we got into the sponsors’ party beforehand. But even better, we got to hang out with BB King. Laura spent about 30 minutes sitting in the back of the tour bus with BB while various people came and went and she took photos of them with The Man.
Random factoid: we discovered BB doesn’t sign Fenders. He has a deal with Gibson, so no Fenders are allowed on the bus. Oh, and the concert was awesome.
Film festival screenings continued throughout the month. The boys had a karate grading on the 12th and I met up with filmmaker Beth Winsten on the 13th. Beth is making the documentary about Thomas Lynch and I’ve offered to help her edit it in the new year. Wednesday 15th was Cinema Slam, another fine selection of quality short films from across the nation and a few local ones too. Thursday 16th, I met with Joe Marr who runs a training agency. Nice guy. Good coffee.
Friday 17th and Saturday 18th, I was invited to judge student films at the University of Michigan’s end of term Lightworks Festival. So I did. Tuesday 21st, I met with local developer Peter Allen to talk about a project called the Allen Creek Greenway, a potential cycle and jogging route which would run across the city from The Big House down to Argo Pond. This strikes me as an excellent idea and something with great potential for a video to visualize how it could look, where it would run and what it would link.
Thursday 23rd, Laura and I used up some free theater tickets to see Ocean’s 12. I’m glad we didn’t pay. This was a film in desperate need of a good editor. No shortage of talent, but it sucked worse than almost anything I’ve seen sent into the film festival. Then it was Christmas. Did Nancy send the glow-in-the-dark marble chase? Yes. Yes, she did. And there was much rejoicing. I built Spybots with the boys and somehow finished editing Serial Dating over the holidays. Artrain was delivered and I’m set for the new year.
December 31st: New Year’s Eve. We partied. We’re just so deserving, we had to.
July – September
July 4th is, of course, the day we celebrate getting rid of a bunch of angry colonials. I mean, the day Americans celebrate getting rid of a mad German monarch who just happened to be on the English throne a couple of hundred years ago. And isn’t that so often the way? So, July 4th. Independence Day. Not just a day for landing flying saucers in the nation’s capital, woah no. It’s a day for fireworks, flashing and banging things.
We went to a big field in the middle of a park along with thousands of other people. It was like a big family party except bigger and we didn’t know anyone. Families sat out on their camper chairs and had picnics, played games, waiting for it to get dark. We bought some light rope things that glowed when you bent them. The boys rolled them into circles and threw them around. Finally, it got dark in this Close Encounters “stop and be friendly” gathering and over beyond the trees came this huge firework display, a bit bigger but probably close in scale to Verulameum’s November 5th in St Albans.
The week after that, we rented a car and drove up to Toronto. We had great seats for baseball at the Sky Dome and it was a chance for the boys to visit another country. We sat up behind home plate and enjoyed the spectacle and the beers as the Blue Jays beat the Seattle Mariners. We had the hats, so we were winners. Also on that trip we took a ride on the amphibious bus which drives out into the harbour and went out to the big science museum. Jack and Sam’s favorite thing to do there was walking down the up escalator and up the down escalator. Worth the effort.
Back home for the 10th, Laura and I drove out to Ypsilanti for the annual Elvis Festival. Ribs, beer and more Elvis impersonators than you can shake a big microphone stand at. Once again, I found myself sitting on camper chairs in the big field full of strangers all doing the same thing. Bizarre. The plural of Elvis is Elvii, I was told, and there was much singing. A top day out. Recommend.
Monday, we took the train out to Chicago for a trip to Ikea and to visit Laura’s mother on the way. We had a fine lunch at Marshall Fields’ big wood-panelled dining room and dinner at some Greek place Laura’s mom took us too. Then we rented a van on the Tuesday, stuffed it full of Scandinavian flat pack and drove it back to Ann Arbor. There were many DIY blisters from assembling several thousand dollars worth of furniture in days which followed.
July 17th and 18th, I shot Serial Dating in a caravan owned by some neighbours up the road. I’d knocked on their door back in June and they’d said yes. Keith and Stacy. They’d just moved to Ann Arbor from LA, although no one had ever asked to film their stuff out there and they weren’t involved in movies. Mike Williamson from the university came out and did the camerawork for me. He had two lovely Panasonic miniDV camcorders and great Miller fluid head tripods. We got great shots.
July 21st-24th was Art Fair week and I put together a Cinema Slam special consisting of two DVD compilations to be played in the Michigan foyer. I’m not sure how successful this was as the sound was turned down when I dropped in to visit. Maybe next year, we’ll find installation video art-type pieces if we’re doing it again. Still, it was worth a try. Laura and I also bought a painting at the Art Fair, which is a Big Deal and takes over the whole of downtown Ann Arbor. An influx of tourists, cash and insanity, it has to be experienced, if only the once.
We took the boys out to play Putt Putt Golf in July, watched them play baseball, I shot another shoot with BMC Media and we rounded off the month with a highly successful house warming party on July 31st. People spilled out on to the patio and there was much drinking. Our first guest arrived at 7pm and our last bowled in at around one in the morning. Joe Smith, having finished DJ’ing for the night, brought his girlfriend Juliana, who also does graphic design, and the four of us closed up, talking on into the small wee hours.
August started with a phone call. “Tom Hulce is opening his new film at the Michigan. Would you be able to take some still photos for us?” “Sure, that sounds great,” I told Lee Berry, the theater’s marketing director. I immediately looked up Tom Hulce on the imdb because I’m clueless. Ahh, Amadeus. I get it. I burned a DVD of The Car and printed off a copy of a treatment for a possible film. I’m not sure if he ever looked at either, but I did put them in his hand. Mr Hulce was charming, gracious and looked good in all the photos I shot with sponsors of the theater, which was really what it was all about as far as they were concerned.
Having endeared myself to the great and the good of Hollywood, I proceeded to take August by storm. Next day, I discovered the joys of Zap Zone–a laser-tag shoot ’em up game which is mainly played by kids. Hey, I’m a kid. Don’t look at me like that. It was Jack’s birthday celebration and we took on Laura’s ex and his new GF, Miss Kelly (as the boys call her), which was strange and wonderful. Welcome to modern divorce–shooting your ex and his new partner in the dark with lasers. Only in America.
Immigration services rewarded me for my hunting prowess in this regard with a stamp in my passport allowing me to travel outside the US. And Big George’s, the home appliance store people, rewarded me further by commissioning another commercial, which we shot that same week. Actually, I don’t think either of them knew anything about my Zap Zone skills but if they did, I think they’d have paid homage.
The next weekend, Russ and Deb invited up to Deb’s mom’s cottage in the north of Michigan. This was definitely a highlight of the year. The cottage is right by one of Michigan’s many lakes and just a short hike away from Interlochen, a summer music camp attended by budding stars from around the world. Interlochen is kind of like the Kids from Fame go to the Woods. We saw a couple of concerts and I marvelled at the resources, determination and talent. We toured around the beautiful countryside, walked the dunes and discovered wineries. One owned by Madonna’s brother turned out to have strangely perfumed chardonnay. We didn’t buy anything but back at Interlochen I did eat a huge ice cream, nearly bigger than my head but not quite. There’s a warning about that.
On the Sunday, Deb had to fly off somewhere, so Russ took us out on the lake in a boat. A few beers later, I felt the need to jump in and they (Laura and Russ) threw me a tire (spelled incorrectly) attached to the boat with a length of rope. “Hang on and we’ll tow you!” called Russ. I struggled into a life jacket, grabbed the tire as instructed, Russ revved up and away we went. But not for long. The life jacket rose up and started choking me, so I let go. It was all very funny, especially for those on the boat. Hmm. I seem to remember they never got in the water. Anyway, we persuaded Russ (he didn’t need that much persuasion) to take us off-road in his Jeep for the afternoon, then in the evening we made a big fire out of old pallets, drank gin and watched for shooting stars.
We squeezed in a game of putt putt golf and a trip to the drive-in before heading for home, borrowing Russ’s Jeep for the ride back. Next day we met up with pontillist artist Jon Strand in Detroit and next weekend we got in another trip to the Zap Zone. I think there was some kind of activity at the boys summer camp we went to too. They definitely put on a show one morning although I can’t remember which week it was.
On August 20th, mum’s estate was settled and a large deposit was made to my UK bank account. There was enough to pay off a chunk of our mortgage but not only that, with the dollar so weak against the pound, we could consider replacing Laura’s old Honda. We looked at cars. We looked at Pontiac Grand Prix. Mmmm, tasty. We looked at the Malibu Maxx, which we’d seen at the Auto Show earlier in the year and also fancied. We couldn’t make up our minds. So we had both. A second hand Pontiac and a brand new Maxx.
Both arrived just in time for the next Blue Jays game we had tickets for, a corker against the New York Yankees. We opted to take the Grand Prix up to Toronto for a weekend away and met up with a producer friend of Simon Cozens, which was good fun. The Yankees thrashed the Blue Jays and we got to witness a grand slam home run, followed by two more home runs. This time we were wearing the wrong hats but it was worth it nevertheless.
August 31st, the boys went back to school after the long summer break and there were many camcorders to record the event. Ah, the madness, the heartache, the pride of grade school. Y’gotta love it.
Finally, let’s not forget the LA Shorts Fest tape debacle. The Car successfully got into two other festivals–Rhode Island International Film Festival and LA Shorts Fest, which is recognized by the Academy. Yip. Anyway, I wrote to Rhode Island and asked if they could ship the film directly to LA. Yes, they said. They would. I told them it was urgent. No problem, they said. The deadline came, the deadline went. I phone LASFF constantly. Nope, no tape, they said.
The third and final final (final) deadline for LA came and went. Still no tape in the city of the angels. I checked the mail two days later. Sure enough, there was a large envelope. Rhode Island had shipped it via the slowest mail possible back to me. I was, as they say in showbiz, good and fucked. I called LA and they said maybe they could still get it in. But no guarantees. I Fed-Ex’d it and sent an invoice to Rhode Island with a curt note. They wrote to apologize but alas, no cash. Even now, dear readers.
It was fingers crossed at the end of August that The Car was going to be seen in the capital of world filmmaking. We had air tickets booked thanks to frequent flier miles collected by yours truly visiting the USA, so we were going whatever happened…
So, we flew to Los Angeles. We booked a motel to save money and spent it on renting a convertable. A red Mustang convertable. Laura burned a CD of cool music and we were There. In the Moment. First stop, the Arclight, home to LA Shorts Fest for the week. And, relief. The Car was in the program; the tape had made it. We stopped to watch a few movies then drove along Sunset Strip with the top down singing to Cake.
That evening, we headed back to the Arclight where we met up with Joseph, our writer friend, Lynn, his partner, Russ from the Michigan, who’d flown out for a meeting and timed it to coincide with my screening, and Mark, an actor friend who lives somewhere near the theater. I think. This was great–my friends has made it. Except for one small hitch. No, they really did have the tape. But there were no tickets left for the screening.
Imagine, a film screening sold out in LA. In Hollywood, no less. This was incredibly cool except for the fact Russ didn’t have a ticket. So we begged and cajoled and eventually the festival relented and gave us the seat of one of the filmmakers who hadn’t shown up. We were in. And it was good.
LA was a great weekend all round. Far too fast, packed with good times, good friends, happy memories. We drove out to Malibu to meet with another filmmaker friend of mine, Kate, and her husband. We stopped at Geoffrey’s for cocktails and seafood. Laura joined the crazy people on the LA freeways. We hung out with Joseph and Russ and had a blast.
Back in Ann Arbor, life slowed down for a fraction of a second before a special screening of Mr 3000 at the Michigan with the producer and the writers. Lee Berry, the theater marketing manager set it up for me to talk with them and I found myself competing with film students for attention, so I kind of flaked out on that after gifting them gifts from the theater. No production deal for me this year. Hey, I’m not American yet.
Same week, I joined the Chamber of Commerce under the Ascalon Films banner in an effort to drum up more business making commercials and filming events. At the same time, I signed up Leadership Ann Arbor, which is a program taken by the business and community leaders of today and tomorrow. Heck, if I can’t meet people there, I can’t meet them anywhere. Plus I get to find out everything there is to know about this city, or most of it, at least.
Oh, and I convinced Pete he should buy a new computer over here in the States while the dollar is in the doldrums. He did and there was much rejoicing. There was just time to squeeze in another Cinema Slam before I jetted off to New York to meet up with Mr Stevens and deliver his shiny new Powerbook. New York, ahhh… Truly a fine weekend, to be sure. In fact, I think I’ve convinced Pete now that Manhattan is a good place to hang out so I think there’s more scope for badness to be had there in the future. The month finished with a couple more camera work gigs for BMC Media and the start of editing for Serial Dating.
And that was September, 2004. All in all, a truly outstanding month.
This bit is all about April to June.
April started with a special preview of Super Size Me at the Michigan Theater. Special preview because it was (a) set up for students at the UofM and (b) the executive producer came to answer questions about it afterwards. This was April 1st, the same day our landscape architect, Craig, came over to the new house to begin preparing for ground work.
April 3rd, we shot images of the Artrain moving off to start its latest tour. Russ and Deb then took me over to a huge garage that stores custom and classic cars over in Ypsilanti. Every month, they have an open day and you can wander around people’s Porsche’s, Merc’s and classic American automobiles. The same night, Laura and I had tickets for a modern ballet, Tricodex, at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. Weird costumes and whimsical wobbling things gyrated across the stage. From the sublime to the bizarre; it was as far removed from classic cars as you could get. Well, except for some of the mechanical oddities.
On April 8th, Ascalon Films shot a commercial for Home Appliance Mart, a shop belonging to Big George’s which is a well-known local store up on Stadium. Then it was Easter. I can’t remember much about Easter, although we did go to church. Church in the US always seems to involve some kind of performance, or many performances, and even some performance art. It’s a full-on show and they didn’t disappoint.
Easter Monday, we flew to Arizona. Artrain had paid for my air ticket and hotel room to film the Artrain official opening in Tempe. We thought it would be a good idea to pay for another ticket plus some extra nights at the hotel and extend it into a mini-honeymoon, so off we went. We drove up to Sedona and stayed in a cabin for one night. Another night, we were taken out to a sumptuous dinner with members of the Artrain board of directors. We took the Verde Canyon Railroad out and saw American Bald Eagles nesting. We checked out the cactus and we drank many beers. It was a great week.
Cinema Slam came round again at the end of the month and I also went out on my first camerawork gig for BMC Media, part of the university’s medical school. Paid work. Gotta love that. And the bonus with camerawork is that someone else has done all the recce work, organized the kit and will be doing the editing. Nice.
In May, we took delivery of a lot of baby trees–and two slightly larger ones which we could just about wrestle into position at the head of the drive. We planted the other saplings around the perimeter of the property, which took a long day of hard spade work. Craig’s crew came out and built a patio and porch. BMC Media gave me more work and I cut together the Home Appliance Mart ad.
On May 16th, I saw West Side Story at the Michigan and met one of cast who was appearing in the theater’s production of Candide the next week. Russ had already asked me to film Candide and I was now the Michigan Theater’s “resident filmmaker”, a title that has now become official. Kind of. Well, it’s on their website and that’s good enough for me!
May 22nd, a group of us went down to Cedar Point, a giant rollercoaster park in Ohio. Laura’s friend Anthony had organized the trip for some of his Japanese friends, who didn’t speak a lot of English. We joined a line for the first ride and I remember not seeing how high it went until we were right up against it. Uh oh. It hit something like 85 mph after dropping almost straight down then shot us back up. I rescued my stomach and only tried a few more things after that. Madness, I tell you! Madness!
At some point in the month, I met up with local jazz guitarist Carl Michel and asked him to get involved in producing music for the Artrain project. I also had an interview with Granada Television in the UK (by phone) for a series called Animal Rescue which is shot in Detroit. No dice on that but there you go. Russ and Deb had a barbeque for Russ’s birthday and there was much rejoicing.
June was Benji month, Benji being an intern I’d agreed to take on for a couple of weeks from a local school. He helped out with editing and office work and I found it actually helped me stay focused throughout the day and over the fortnight. We got a surprising amount done, more than I would have thought, so maybe I’ll take on someone else another time.
June 4th we went to an “Ice Cream Social” at Lawton School. This was a fundraising event which would be called a summer fete in the UK. I took part in my first cake walk and won a cake. Mmmm. Cake. So did Sam. We brought home lots of cake.
June 6th, we had a fence painting party with straw hats and buckets of white paint. A couple of our neighbours joined us, Kate and Amy, plus Russ and Deb and Anthony. We got about a third of it done then stopped for food and drinks.
In the middle of the month, I helped Robin Browne on a shoot for a local producer/director, Beth Winsten, who is making a film about author and undertaker, Thomas Lynch. This was an enjoyable three days, although I did get soaked to the skin, running to a coffee shop one day in a torrential downpour. We went back to Thomas Lynch’s funeral parlour where I squelched around in wet clothes among the coffins for the morning. The usual surreal stuff. Not.
On June 13th, I went over to Detroit to record music for Artrain with Carl Michel and native American DJ, Joe Smith. June 14th, Current Magazine took a picture of me for the local what’s on guide. June 15th, I had lunch with another native American, photographer Kay Young, and that same evening Laura and I went to the David Byrne concert at the Power Center. He played a lot of new material and a good selection from Talking Heads’ days. There was dancing in the aisles. It was a treat.
At the end of the month, John asked me to help him on camera for his new short film, Europa Society. What this actually meant was, John hadn’t asked anyone else to crew except one other guy to do lighting. Who had no lights. And who left at around midday on the first shoot. I’m not saying he wasn’t good, but I ended up doing the lighting, camera and sound. John dealt with the props and wardrobe. John is still learning about filmmaking. You can see my eyes rolling, can’t you.
I got away in time to see Gone With The Wind at the Michigan, another film I’ve never seen before and a fine opportunity to see this on the big screen. An epic film, if ever there was one. Later that week, I had the first rehearsal for my own micro-epic, Serial Dating. Michael McCallum and Hillary Richmond. We sat down in the basement, drank beer and improv’d around the script for a good long time, then arranged to get together in early July to film.
Where did 2004 go? You know, it was here one minute, gone the next. Asking myself this limp Cartlandesque question, I think it would be a good idea to write a list. And check it twice.
Jan 10th: Laura and I were married. Lots of my friends came out from the UK, plus my sister and her family and one of my cousins. It was great to see them all and it was a beautiful day. The service was lovely, with guitarist Jake Reichbart providing the musical accompaniment, plus Laura’s dad playing piano, Laura’s sister singing and a reading from my sister. Our wedding lunch at Weber’s was really good and staying at the Bell Tower Hotel was excellent. The best bit was probably the evening reception at Arbor Brewing. That, and Laura.
Right before the wedding, like three days before, Dolphin Movers–the UK shipping company–finally turned up with all my stuff from the UK. That’s all my stuff with the notable exception of my paintings. The only really irreplaceable things of real value and they’d lost them. I was unhappy. In the end, I had to file an insurance claim. The money came through–eventually–and I bought a set of lights. I could have bought a camera but the semi-pro models go out of date every six-nine months, so lights it was.
January was also the month when I ordered new spectacles. They didn’t make it in time for the wedding. In fact, I had to take them back three times because the Opticians made up a prescription which gave me headaches. Eventually they got it right and I have cool glasses. With clip-on shades. Dude.
Jan 13th, we went to the Auto Show in Detroit. Jan 14th, I sent in a job application for teaching at the UofM. Nothing ever came of this because, as I found out later, they gave the post to someone internal. However, I did get personal references sent from the UK, including ones from Peter Wilson-Leary at the Watford Observer and Mike Wright at BBC TV Training, which were both great. Those may yet come in useful.
On January 17th, or maybe it was the 18th, we decided we’d like to look at maybe buying a house. Perhaps. So on January 21st we met with Jonathan Boyd, a buyer’s agent, who took us around to look at property on Jan 23rd and 24th. Most were not right for us, a couple were ideal if some changes were made to either interior or exterior. We opted for exterior work as a preference and on January 25th, we made an offer on the Dexter house. One week after deciding to look around. It was that quick.
February 3rd was the first Cinema Slam that I ran at the Michigan Theater and we got a really good crowd. Russ Collins called to ask if I had a camera because he wanted to make a film about something. “Of course,” I said. The next day, I picked up a lighting kit “to try out” from Detroit Power and Light then spent several hours on the phone trying to find someone with a good camera.
Robin Brown, a friend of Geoff Glover’s from the UK, put me in touch with John Beavers, who had an XL1 and we went out shooting a tribute to Judy Dow Rumelhart for the Michigan the next week. Partway through, I picked up my work permit from the immigration people in downtown Detroit. This was timely although we wasted time and money getting it, I think, because the lawyer didn’t have the same information as the INS.
Laura and I went out for dinner at The Earle on Valentine’s Day. We also somehow got the property inspected, financing organized and various other things taken care of with regard to this house we’d found. We met two landscape architects and chose one to fix up the outside of the property. Oh, and we saw Rufus Wainwright, who I’d never heard of but Laura loves, at the Michigan.
The Judy Dow video was edited in a week and Russ loved it. They screened it at a special presentation at the Michigan on February 21st and that led to us meeting Russ’s wife, Deb, who was interested in getting videos made for Artrain USA, an exhibition in four vintage railcars which travel across the whole nation.
On February 23rd, I registered Ascalon Films as my trading name and opened a business bank account. Then I met up for a coffee with Shrihari Sathe, president of the U of M Film and Video Student Association. Shrihari had left a business card with Nancy Doyal at the Michigan and I thought it would be cool to build up a connection between the university and the theater.
The boys were off school that week, so we took a mini vacation at a hotel just north of Detroit. Heated pool in winter, computer games on the TV, dinner in the building… can’t go wrong. Well, they did by not heating the pool, giving us a broken PlayStation and getting the order badly wrong at dinner. Laura wrote a strongly worded letter to the management and complimentary hotel reservation coupons came back.
We drove back in time for our final walkthrough the new house with the property inspectors, then I met up with Russ, who recorded a voiceover for American Short Film for me, then Deb Polich to talk about those Artrain videos. Next day, we closed on the house deal, collected the keys and took the boys to watch a basketball game at the Crisler Arena. On Friday, we went out shopping for new appliances and bought a large fridge-freezer, a washing machine and a dryer.
Sometime around then, a large envelope arrived from Texas. I thought it was a film catalog at first, although it seemed a bit solid and bulky. No. Not a catalog. It was a plaque. The Car had been voted Best Short Film at the Texas Film Festival. A genuine award from real people. I was, and still am, thrilled.
Sunday, Russ and Deb invited us to an Oscar Party at the Michigan. Refreshments, beverages and the whole thing projected large in the screening room. It was a fine way to end a busy month–a February with an extra day. Fine indeed.
March. Yes. I had one of those landmark birthdays in March. We celebrated with an afternoon in the hot tubs at the spa and then dinner at the Common Grill in Chelsea. The rest of the month was just as full as February. We decorated the house, repainted the downstairs, took down and re-plastered two ceilings. I also went out and shot adverts for Custom Transit with John Ardussi.
Early in the month, I went along to a couple of editing workshops at the UofM thanks to now being on Shrihari’s mailing list. These were run by one of the film and video dept’s alumni, Zack Arnold, and I learned a whole heap of invaluable short cuts, insights and new techniques for Final Cut Pro.
We had cable installed and some house wiring projects done, including wiring up the whole house for internet. I got the contract to do the Artrain videos and shot a load of stuff for them, include a walk-through tour of the contemporary art exhibition, Native Views, with the native American curator, Joanne Bigfeather.
We went to a little of the Ann Arbor Film Festival and a lot of the East Lansing Film Festival, where The Car had been selected as Critic’s Choice in the local newspaper. We bought T-shirts and stayed for the Saturday night party. Next day the Hangover of Doom stalked me and I was asked to join a filmmakers’ panel at one of the sessions. I hope I made sense when they asked me stuff.
Before the month was out, Laura had helped me get T-shirts embroidered for Ascalon Films crew, I ran my second Cinema Slam and we went to a party at Lisa Luczek’s. The INS fingerprinted me, Current Magazine interview me and we were invited to Artrain’s gala opening where a native shaman blessed everyone with sacred herbs (including tobacco) and blessed the art works about to travel the continent.
On March 27th we moved out of Laura’s old apartment and into our new house. All of four or five blocks up the road. It took the best part of a day but we got it done. From decision to completion six weeks. Impulsive? Us? Surely not. And we had a living room with an orange wall.
I’m worn out. Aren’t you? I’ll write some more in a bit. And I’ll add some photos later.
Vignettes of Ann Arbor.
The tramps here aren’t your run of the mill down and outs. They’re cultured. This lunchtime we went over to the University of Michigan Art Museum to see a documentary about the Bauhaus and this guy walks in, off the street. Literally. He sits down at the front and proceeds to eat his burger. No one says a word. It’s bizarre. It’s like he had a break from begging–“Hey, I’ve made five bucks this morning.”–and decided to stop for an educational lunch.
Contrast this with life on the other side of town. Laura suggested we go to Whole Foods for lunch. Organic produce for the very well-heeled. You’d think the combination of politically correct organic farming and environmental friendliness would bring out the best in people but no. We watched and waited as two cars, one of them clearly there before the other, fought over a parking space. The second arrival stole it, the first woman blocked her in and honked the horn. Clearly they were anxious to spend some major bucks on very good but very expensive food.
Ann Arbor has a lot of money and a lot of educational opportunities. The President of the University, Mary Sue Coleman, here is the third highest paid public university president in the USA. She earns $677k a year. Nice. I was filming in her office last week, Ann Arbor’s oldest university building. She wasn’t there. We were recording an interview with a couple who are donating $44m to the medical school to help find a cure for diabetes. A good story. Somehow, while I was there, one of my business cards fell out and I think may have been lost in the huge dictionary that was out on display. Filed under “F for filmmakers”. Hey, maybe they’ll show one of my films in the museum one lunchtime. You think?
The Bauhaus film was interesting, by the way, because although I knew a bit, I never knew quite so much iconic design came out of Germany. It’s not all “Two world wars and one world cup, doo daa.” However, the documentary did verge on depressing because of the parallels in current US politics with the right and left halves of the country diverging and the economy going to hell. Mind you, looking around Whole Foods you’d be forgiven for thinking, “Recession? What recession?” There’s no shortage of consumer power in Ann Arbor. Hell, it’s only a matter of time before they start offering courses on Effective Philathropy. Maybe the US trade and budget deficits are all just another big scare tactic by the Democrats. But then why is the dollar doing so badly on the currency markets? Eh?
If nothing else, this week, at least we got Pete’s new mac printing wirelessly over his home network. I call that a result. And this morning, we paid off the major part of our mortgage as America’s debt creates an uncertain future for borrowers. That’s awesome. Today, now, it’s snowing and tomorrow it’s Thanksgiving. I shall give thanks for a great year, thanks for all the good people I’ve met and thanks for Laura. Then I shall attempt to pickle my last two brain cells for posterity.
It’s the end of the week and there’s no energy left in the universe to smoke the place up with a really good rant. It’s all goth-dark out there in the world so it’s probably no surprise that the most promising feature script I’ve read in a while is one which holds out a candle in that darkness. A candle sputtering bright flames to illuminate the tragically beautiful redemption and loss of five unknown characters in beautifully decayed Detroit.
Robert Fox’s script is dark. Really dark. I’ve had his scripts for months now but I met up with him on Tuesday, after a chamber of commerce networking event and before Cinema Slam (now with added forums–go on post, you know you want to). Bob, like more than a few others I know, once worked on a local newspaper but has latterly devoted himself to screenwriting. He’s also big into comics. Needless to say, we clicked.
So there we were in the closest place to hell suburbia has to offer, Starbucks, discussing his scripts. Awaiting Identification starts with all the main characters in body bags and flashes back from there. It wasn’t my first choice of his scripts, but it’s definitely the most tightly written. My first thought was to get a comic artist to start drawing some cool storyboards. My second thought was that I’d really like Mr Ricketts to take a look over this material and see if I’m missing something. I mean something other than the hard sell of all the blackness. I await a pdf to forward.
That was Tuesday, more or less. Cinema Slam was a great show although I sucked at publicity. My opinion. There were quite a few in the audience, I just wanted more because it really was a great show. Wednesday was a Leadership Ann Arbor day. Leadership Ann Arbor is a course I’ve signed up on through the chamber of commerce (sic) which is all about discovering everything there is to know about the local area. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity. We’ve already had a two-day retreat in Ohio. This time it was all about economic development and our guide was Peter Allen, a local developer, who turned out to be a fascinating, enthusiastic and thoroughly knowledgeable guide.
We started in downtown and worked our way out. Things that struck me were the real opportunities for growth here, Peter’s enthusiasm for things like cycle routes, the zoning problems that hold back development (but protect the character of the city), costs of parking structures versus surface lots, costs of dealing with water problems in Ann Arbor including floodwater storage requirements and the way A2 deals with affordable housing. It’s not like St Albans, UK, where affordable housing means someone gets it cheap then sells at market value. Here the property price is locked to inflation, so there’s no chance of building equity. The drawback of that is actually two-fold because, not only does the buyer not benefit economically but the builder has to incorporate the true cost of the property in other buildings, which means the middle value market is lost.
We visited many many places on our day’s travels, among them the new U of M Life Science’s Institute. Two things struck me there. First, the chairs were ridiculously small. I was hanging over the arms in a brand new lecture theater, and I’m not overly large by American standards. I wouldn’t be able to take notes in there. Second, the university is the major player in local economics, employing one in five people directly, another 1.5 indirectly and generating huge amounts of money with its activities. Just the income for hotels and restaurants for visitors attending a football game is colossal.
What else? There was tons. The information was almost overwhelming but it was fascinating and detailed. The day finished at the Arbor Brewing Company (same place we held our wedding evening event), where I tried to chat to lots of people simultaneously, with the result that I didn’t get a chance to talk to half the people I wanted to. However, I did get to talk to Terry who works at Ann Arbor Public Libraries and she knew a comic book artist, Chuck Yates. Which takes us back to Awaiting Identification.
He’s already sent some samples. They’re very good. Very detailed, very clean. But perhaps too clean. I’m looking for grungy, rougher, more spontaneous. Chuck’s focussed my mind, though, which is a good thing and maybe he works in other styles. Maybe someone else will come out of the woodwork. Can I really be contemplating a feature, this feature?
Last Sunday, Laura and I were driving home when she noticed lights in the sky. The northern lights. Aurora Borealis. Way cool. I’ve never seen them before and they’re apparently really rare this far south so we drove out, away from the city lights for a better look. The sky shifted patterns in green then red. Curtains then smoky drifting cloudlike effects, but not clouds. Beams of light the drifting smokelights in the sky. I don’t know about omens but it was, as I say, exceptionally cool.
So I was thinking about Bob’s script some more yesterday and again today and I realised something. I’m thinking about it. Well. Well, okay. That’s actually more than I’ve done with a lot of other stuff I’ve been sent. Also I was thinking I need a casting director, a production designer, I already know an editor (Simon) and two cinematographers (both here in MI). And I know how to break the script down for production and budgetting. We’ll see what happens next. Is this really something I can remain interested in for four, maybe five years? We’ll see. I await a pdf.