February, 2004

Doing Business As

February 26th, 2004 February 26th, 2004
Posted in Film making
1 Comment »

If you want to start trading in the UK, you can simply go ahead and do it. The US, not so. Americans love their bureaucracy and setting up as a sole trader is no exception. So on Monday, I went down to the County Clerk’s office and registered Ascalon Films as a business.

I’ve been using that name for filmmaking for the past five years but it’s only this week that it’s become official. Ascalon Films is now a publicly registered film and video production entity. Okay, well it’s still me, trading as Ascalon Films, but somehow it feels different.

After the County Clerk, we went over to TCF Bank to open a business account. TCF is a bank with branches only around the Mid West. Their big advantage is they offer free banking to small business paying up to 100 items a month and processing 200 payments. Nice.

Sitting at the desk is like sitting in another film set. Yes, American banks have those big safe doors open at the back of the room and everything is open plan, like every heist movie you’ve ever seen. It took about half an hour to open the account and now I have Ascalon Films checks (as opposed to cheques).

And there you have it. I immediately sent out my first invoice to the Michigan Theater for making a short film featuring the life of one of their main supporters, Judy Dow Rumelhart. My first paid work in the USA. I’m looking forward to many more to come. And they enjoyed the film too!

All this plus moving house (closing is today–we get the keys!), dealing with appliances being delivered, finishing American Short Film, bidding on another film project (more paid work, yay!), the insurance claim for lost paintings (bah!), purchasing lighting and sound equipment, accounting, organizing Cinema Slam and a heap of other stuff. Oh, and the boys are off school for the week and running riot.

Life is happening extremely quickly at the moment. It’s a lot of fun and lots of good things. Tonight, basketball. Sunday, Oscar party. Next week, birthday. Phew.

Dear Readers

February 17th, 2004 February 17th, 2004
Posted in It's life, Jim...
9 Comments »

Gosh, it’s exciting, isn’t it? You come here each day, never knowing if there’ll be something new to read. Maybe even just an extra comment (I like all the comments, by the way). To tell the truth, it’s just been extremely hectic here. Never a dull moment…

Last week, as you may recall, I got my work permit, which means I can now work. Almost immediately I found myself making a short documentary for the local theater about one of their main benefactors and fundraisers. I also ordered a lighting kit which should mean my producer buddy John and I are now geared up for shooting anything and everything, since he’s bought a camera.

Laura and I also shopped for domestic appliances. This may not sound very exciting, but when I tell you we bought a fridge freezer that’s bigger than my old flat, I bet you’ll take notice. Okay, so it’s not really that big. But it is pretty humungous and it has one of those ice maker things on the door that you just push the cup under. Eight hundred dollars well spent, I’m thinking.

The biggest news, of course, is that we’re moving. We did the house search, decision and offer thing all in the space of about four days. That was three weeks ago and we’re due to take possession next Thursday or Friday.

Houses in the States come in square feet rather than number of bedrooms and there’s various styles they kind of fall into, like Ranch, Colonial or Cape Cod. Ours is an 1800 square-foot Cape Cod which doesn’t include the basement, which is huge. There’s an attached double garage with an electric door and the master bedroom has an en suite bathroom with a spa tub. It’s awesome!

And talking of awesome, I should mention that it’s across the road from the Wolverine Party Store, which means there’s somewhere handy to buy beers and the occasional pint of milk or loaf of bread. It’s also literally around the corner–walking distance–from the fleapit cinema, which I think is pretty cool too.

Our new lot hasn’t had any landscaping done to it at all. The house was built in Pennsylvania, shipped to Michigan on trucks and stuck together here. Yesterday we met up with a contractor to have extra windows put in what will be our office plus an extra door into the garage. This morning we met the first of two landscape architects we’re talking to about putting up fencing, building a deck, adding paths and maybe some plants–as long as they’re ultra-low maintenance (remember Richard Stagg Close!).

Today has actually been insane. After the landscape meeting, I went off to shoot an extra interview for this twenty minute documentary thing. John came out and helped. We got the interview done but Russ, the theater manager, had another person booked to talk to us at 3pm. John went home and I showed Russ the edit so far. He seemed pretty blown away, which is fantastic, and loaned me his Jeep to drive home for lunch.

So, I’ve never driven a Jeep before but people here don’t seem to worry about just getting in cars and driving them, so I got in and drove it and tried not to worry. Made it home without hitting anything and did a bit more editing. A copy of the St Albans Observer turned up, courtesy of Pete, who was kind enough to put it in the post. The paper featured a feature all about yours truly. Most of it was complete bullshit and they’d called me Mr Mr Jefferies thanks to some pretty incompetent editing. I read two or three paragraphs and went back to editing.

Oh, and just to be clear, Pete is *not* responsible for content in the paper. I’m still grateful to him for getting me a copy. Not everyone who works on the St Albans Observer is a muppet. Just the person doing the editing. Unfortunately, the end product is all anyone sees and if it’s unreadable, then it’s unreadable. (Much like some of these blogs…)

Back to the theater and the interviewee turned up with two kids who were also going to appear. Except they had nothing to say and kept fidgetting. I went for close ups. Big close ups. Without the kids. Much better. All lit with daylight, like this morning, as my lights aren’t due until Friday. Or maybe even next Tuesday. Who knows.

Back home again, transferred the rushes and made a toasted banana sandwich which I may try to convince Laura is a traditional British staple. Except that she’ll read this and, of course, the jig will be up. Never mind.

The rushes. Ah, yes. The rushes. This morning’s rushes are great. This afternoon’s have, what’s the technical term? Bugger all sound. The sound lead must have fallen out. I couldn’t hear while I was recording since the headphone socket and sound plug are too close together for both to be connected at the same time. About thirty seconds into the interview, it’s all static. Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger.

I called Russ and left a mesage. Then we went out as I’d blagged free tickets (thanks to the same theater) for Rufus Wainwright tonight. Rufus is a skinny gay dude with slept on hair and a fantastic voice. His influences are operatic and French. Normally I wouldn’t mention the fact that he’s gay but he sings quite a few songs about trying to convert straight guys, so it’s pertinant if only slightly irrelevant.

Rufus drew in an audience that was an eclectic mix of young female college students hoping to convert him, gay couples of various ages hungry for a pretty icon and a collection of folks of all ages and orientations who just enjoy his work. The theater was packed out. I don’t know if they sold out, but it must have been pretty close. The man has, as I say, an amazing voice and a terrific range. The sound system didn’t really do him justice and, when he lifted his mouth to sing over the mic, it seemed like he didn’t need it at all.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll be rushing out buying his albums and all, but if you get a chance, you should go and hear him.

Back home now, another busy day ahead tomorrow. Laura has a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce for breakfast at 7am. We’re meeting another landscape architect at ten. There’s a shedload of editing to be done before Thursday night, including a lot of animation with stills photos and programs, which means I have to use After Effects. Which means I have to learn to use it. Fast. There may even be an interview to reshoot.

There. I bet just reading this has worn you out. If not and you’re still feeling bouncy and full of energy, please come round to help us cut the grass. We’ll be serving drinkies on the deck just as soon as we have one. Just as soon as the snow clears.

Blah blah blah

February 13th, 2004 February 13th, 2004
Posted in It's life, Jim...
3 Comments »

Blah, ran a short film evening at the local theatre last Tuesday… Blah, it was really successful, blah, more people came than went to the main feature. We had sixty, they had just over forty for both screenings… blah blah blah… It was awesome.

So, next day, the theater calls me and asks if I’d like to make a short film for them, a paying gig, to honor someone who’s receiving an honor… I do have my own equipment don’t I? Sure… I call around and find some one who does…

Thursday I meet with the theater boss and plan some of the film. Did I mention the stupid b’s at the shipping company lost all my paintings? Well, they did. It’s an insurance claim now. I decide to spend the money on lighting kit.

Friday, I go to a big facility company in Farmington Hills and choose lights. I buy some gels and say I’ll place an order. Can I try some things out? Sure. I borrow lights for free.

The weekend is all phone calls. By Monday, I have a camera assistant with his own topoftherange camcorder. The Canon XL1s no less. We go filming.

Tuesday, there’s no filming. Laura and I go sit in the INS/BCIS office of manyacronyms and wait. We wait and wait. We join a line to get a number which tells us how to wait. We wait some more. Eventually, we are allowed to file our papers with the official guy. Except we aren’t. He gives a load of them back and asks for the originals of our birth certificates and marriage certificate and other crap. Other crap which they already actually have because if they didn’t we wouldn’t be there, would we? So we have to come home. But he says I can have a work permit the next day.

We call the lawyer who we are paying big bucks to tell us how to file all this stuff and she gets unamused and tells us to go back. The official guy gets unamused too and tells us she’s got it wrong. Come back next day. We don’t need half the forms she’s given us and we need this this and this.

So today we go back. And we wait. But he sees us. And he fills out the stuff. And instead of it being 45 to 60 days to get an appointment for change of resident status–like the genius well-paid lawyer said–it’s more than 100 days. But I can have a work permit. So we wait. And we wait. We wait nearly three freaking hours.

Laura speaks to the counter clerk who says she’ll tell the woman. But she doesn’t. I speak to the other counter clerk, who says oh dear she’ll tell the woman. But she doesn’t because she doesn’t even take my name. Eventually I see the woman who has been dealing with work permits. Oh, and she’s got my paperwork. But not an appointment letter so she didn’t know I was there. She takes my photo and gives me a card and we go.

There’s some more filming and later there’s some vodka and later still, whisky. The theater owner from above says I can use his cabin for filming and I meet half the theatrical people of Ann Arbor. It’s a long day. It’s a fast week. Lots is done. I didn’t mention landscape architects or radon tests or selling my mother’s house either did I? But maybe I will sometime.

Time. It clutches like a whore. Falls wanking to the floor. His script is you and me. Boy.

Time, it moves so fast. And yet, it doesn’t really move at all does it? My nails need cutting and I’ve met nearly all the major players in Ann Arbor’s performing arts community. I’ve even been in a house that has a study bigger than my old flat in St Albans. Which is nice. And I can work! And I will soon have some nice lights. And [you know, stuff]. Oh, and this year, I’m a BlueJays fan and we have tickets. Yay!