August, 2003

Approved!

August 25th, 2003 August 25th, 2003
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Hey, the US of A has approved our fiance visa petition! Which is effectively the same as saying that the world’s most powerful country has blessed our marriage. How cool is that? I get to be with my love! That’s the coolest.

Today I am mostly exhibiting the jaw-aching perma-grin.

Digital Beer Mats

August 21st, 2003 August 21st, 2003
Posted in Film making
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One reason celluloid has survived so long is that it’s a universal standard. You can show a 35mm print running at 24 frames per second in any country around the world. It’s simple and straightforward. Essentially you just hold it up to a light source. Put the same movie on a disc and you end up with a coaster. The same can be said of any other file too. Digits are a means to an analog end.

Yesterday should have been the sound mix for The Car. I got to Mosaic about ten minutes late but Peter was working on something else anyway so I had to wait. No worries. I opened up the PowerBook and played around with the credits. It had only occured to me the day before that I’d have to give Dolby a credit, a condition for doing a Dolby encoded surround mix.

So, new credit added, although it looks like a digital freak in amongst the other credits which were cunningly crafted by printing them on sheets of paper and sticking them in front of a clockwork camera. Hey, I bet you didn’t know a clockwork camera only runs for 19 seconds, by the way. No, neither did I. I do now. The other thing I didn’t know was the benefit of putting through 100 feet of film as a test roll at the lab. Test rolls are free. I paid the minimum charge of 100. Drat.

I tool around and eventually Peter’s other project reaches its conclusion. The happy-go-movie fee-paying types leave the studio and we get everything copied over to a Jaz drive. Then we go round the corner to another company, Lipsync, where we’re doing the Dolby mix. They’re busy, we wait. Peter mentions something about a 48 hour film making project which happened last weekend. I make a mental note when he says both he and his son own DV cameras–you never know when you’ll need a camera–and meanwhile I rubberneck the premises.

Lipsync is a truly tasty facility house. They have pictures up on the wall showing some of the fantastic graphics sequences they’ve created. They have glass windows looking into some booths boasting a cornucopia of gadgets. And they keep their reception area stocked with glossy film mags and professional jailbait. No less than three Emma Bunton lookalikes giggle past before a runner appears with tea. In china mugs. Soho swirls soundlessly outside. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The runner returns shortly after to take us to Theatre One where we meet up with Mike the mixer.

Now here’s a thing–a strange thing. I’ve noticed that the more high spec, high tech a facility house gets, the more carpet they seem to have. Peter’s new studio at Mosaic has floor covering which goes half way up the walls, so we know it must be good. But it’s not enough. Lipsync’s carpet goes right to the ceiling. There’s no pulling the rug out from under these guys. It’s all leather sofas, halogen spots and tasteful wood niches which serve to both baffle sound and store manuals. One wall alone stands bare. Actually, it’s not bare at all. It’s completely covered by a projector screen. Directly opposite, across a floor space as big as my lounge, is a huge sound desk and, behind, a raised dias for producers to sit in swivel chairs while fretting over their budgets.

Mike is affable, paunchy and radiates the confidence of a man who knows exactly what he’s about. He has more jailbait on hand to help him. Carol loads Peter’s Jaz disk up on the Mac. She pulls the file across into ProTools. And it doesn’t load. Peter uses a different software and ProTools 6 doesn’t like it. They try another file. They try AudioFile, the software which is in the sound desk. Yes, the desk is another computer. Another assistant appears, this one apparently even younger than Carol, to try converting the file. Heads are scratched. Mike remarks that he’s been working since 7.30. It’s now 5pm. Rebooting the Mac into OS9 doesn’t help. Peter goes off to make more files.

When Peter returns, Carol and Mike manage to get all the audio files loaded into the desk. But not the timeline. This means the computer has a lot of sound clips but it doesn’t know what order to put them in. I dangle. Different people come in to help. I sit quietly in one of the leather chairs, silently fretting and idly wondering why the arms on the chairs don’t have frustrated gouge marks in from clenched nails. After forty minutes of this fun and games, we call it a day.

I should have guessed it would be a nightmare when I saw the sound desk. It looks exactly like the freakish automated monster Michelle used on Fate & Fortune. The nightmare one with all the programmable faders and gizmos. The one which looks impressive when it worked but crashed all the time. I put that jolly thought out of my mind. This isn’t the same studio, the same mixer or the same desk and Mike reschedules time for us on Friday afternoon. We’ll get the mix done, regardless of incompatable, incomprehensible computer files. Yes, as I said at the beginning, that’s why film exhibition keeps on rocking and a’rollin’. Analog rules. Well, for some things at least.

During a lull in file swopping, Mike says, “I miss sprocket holes. There was none of this incompatability, no way you couldn’t play something back because it happened to be the wrong format.” “Yes,” remarks Peter, “someone came in last week with a project which had a lot of material with an old original soundtrack. You could hear every pop, crackle and drop-out.” Mike winces. “Ah, don’t. I was almost nostalgic for a moment.”

On the way out, we pass the obligatory trophy cabinet. It’s full of certificates and several small golden statuettes of faceless figures. You know the ones. Yes, those ones. The guy doing the mix has his name up there. Which is nice. “We love short film makers,” he says, “They come back later with great professional projects.” We love this attitude. Mike rocks. I don’t think he’ll be too worried that I can’t add any more credits to The Car. Well, we already have an award-winning writer on board. Heh.

Mixing The Car

August 16th, 2003 August 16th, 2003
Posted in Film making
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Sound mix is on Wednesday at a place called Lipsync. They’d like a credit. That could be a leetle treekie since I’ve already shot the credits and don’t have any money left for more. Not impossible, mind, but treekie.

After that, the film needs grading and conforming–ie. someone with a high-end edit system needs to make all the film footage match up with the cuts, disolves and other stuff on my Mac.

Then I can have a screening.

Airline Poker

August 14th, 2003 August 14th, 2003
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Transatlantic travel–it’s a gamble. Like how many babies will be on the red-eye? Will I sit next to a passenger whose concept of self extends beyond their seat and into mine? Can I get an exit row seat? Can I? Can I? Que sera sera. Whatever will be will be. Will it be chicken? Cooked to death veg? We’ll have to wait and see.

Getting an exit row seat means enough room to fit in my legs. To stretch out even. Getting an exit row seat is all-important if you’re over six foot (and I am) so I’m at the airport at least three hours before departure, if not sooner. There are three people in the line before me and two check-in clerks. Naturally, being a British airline, it takes them no less than twenty minutes to process them all. It feels like twenty minutes. Eventually I shuffle forwards with my suitcase and guitar in hand (don’t!).

“And is there any chance of an exit row seat?” I inquire. “Let me just check.” Check-in–more than just a clever name after all. She checks. She prints out another boarding pass. She hands it to me. “You’ve been upgraded to business class.” Outside I am a model citizen, a picture of calm. Inside: Snoopy dance. I grin. “Awesome! Thanks! Can I use the lounge?” We love the lounge. The lounge has free beers and peanuts. She shakes her head. It was pushing it. I wander off through Heathrow, smiling graciously at my subjects. Today I am a Patrician, business class in my jeans and tatty old travelling shirt.

Scheduled flying is a lot like getting a hand in poker. If you’re ticketed for baggage class, then sitting in the exit row beats getting wedged into a standard seat. It’s like having three of a kind playing against a pair. However, if you manage to get a row of empty seats all to yourself, then that’s better than either. A full house. You can push all the armrests up–not possible in the exit row–and sleep.

No babies crying is better than babies, naturally, so that’s a pair, although you can sleep through that. It’s possible and sometimes inevitable. One extra seat to dump crap and stack food trays is a pair of kings. Getting an exit row seat at the front of the cabin on a Virgin Atlantic 747 when they’re transporting members of the armed forces beats a straight exit row because you get spin-offs like endless free beers–“Shhh! On the house!”–and huge quantities of pistachios moved down from the cabin above. That’s a royal flush.

Nothing beats getting the whole row full-house, however. Except an upgrade. An upgrade is four of a kind, every time. First class is the ultimate goal, but business still beats economy. Thanks to British Airways striking staff, they’re having to shift more passengers than they have economy seats, so although many hundreds were losers earlier in the month, a good number of us are winners this week. Especially me. And I paid for half my flight with air miles.

Don’t you just hate a smug bastard? Well, BA has parked the plane at the far end of the terminal, a good ten minute walk down interminable corridors to a metal bunker without air conditioning. They keep us waiting for half an hour in the best traditions of UK service industries. No explanation. No announcement. No apology. Given a choice, I’d fly an American airline every time. British companies are just plain rude. Still, we’re talking priority boarding here and I smile benevolently at my fellow travellers, the hapless line of plebs starting their holidays in sweaty discomfort.

“Bastard,” their eyes say as I skip lightly down the entryway. Like I’ll be hearing their tightly-packed groaning back there in the hold. I put my plush leatherette seat into ‘bed’ mode and stretch out… except… No! You won’t believe this but BA’s business class seats create a bed that’s less than six feet long! Good grief. It’s not like that time I used frequent flyer points to travel Business First with Continental. Whatever. I still don’t care. These seats are wide enough to curl up on. I tank up on free g&t and do a little video editing on the laptop. Then a few glasses of wine–“Chardonnay? Or chardonnay?” (it’s BA; they’ve pulled out all the stop, singular)–and I’m zonked out.

Thunder storms over Toronto, plane diverted, two hours sitting on the ground in Ottawa, eventually I arrive and call the hotel to tell my love I’m there and late. The hotel don’t tell me she’s driven out to meet me. Ho, no. Far too easy. They wait until I’m actually at the hotel, twenty dollars distance. On the phone they say things like, “Nora? Nora Fresher? How do you spill this pliz?” It’s Laura, I tell them and leave a message.

I collect my guitar, suitcase, jump in a taxi and am at the hotel in no time flat. “Oh,” says the desk clerk. “Oh, Miss Fisher has gone to the airport to meet you.” He stares at me hopefully, like I’ll have an answer to their incomprehensible behaviour. I stare back at him, an expression which says, “Now? Now you tell me? Thank you. Thank you so bloody much.” He repeats, “She has gone to the airport,” clearly unable to comprehend my presence. “Yes. Well, I can’t do much about that now can I?” He gives in and gives me the key.

Well, I can’t leave my love standing there but I can’t play tag in taxis either. We business class patrician types aren’t all made out of money. It takes four phone calls to find someone who is not just a real human being but who can actually do the paging thing for Laura at terminal three. I trust the Hilton staff all get baggage class seats at the back of the cabin from now on. Let them try making out the film soundtrack over the engine noise as I recline my seat from the front in their general direction and, through a domino effect, squash them. Flat. And I block their toilet for good measure. There. We can never go back.

At last–an endless journey later–I have my girl in my arms, for a few days. And then it is an endless now. And airline poker is reduced to its true status. A sideshow. Freakish and gaudy. Love. Love is all. And love is now.