Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Moving On...

It's time to elevate to the next level, as far as my film career is concerned. I'm still writing (as soon as one of the scripts or treatments gets picked up for production, I'm joining WGA) and still aspiring to direct (working on the money aspect to greenlight these projects), but as for the every day get-money gigs, I'm really, really, REALLY tired of PAing. In New York, at any rate. Lately, perhaps because of the latest twists and turns in the economy, or maybe because they are self-serving bastards, the production companies have been taking longer and longer to pay their crews after production is wrapped. That's fine if you're a working DP (Director of Photography), a Gaffer, a Key Grip or such who gets paid a lot of dough that they can put aside and live on for months, but if you are a PA, that's hand-to-mouth money. Such as it is, a PA can't wait three weeks to a month to get a measly pittance. It creates hardships that are less forgiving because you make less than others. And because PAs have no union to back them up, they are at the mercy of the production company, which as I've mentioned have been taking their sweet-old time about paying the crew lately.

No, it's not cool. So other than securing a shotgun or greenlighting your own productions, you have to move up and out of the position, at least to ensure that you get a better rate and more protection with the unions behind you. So what's next up from PA? I can go in a few directions, but I'm choosing the one from the picture because it's quicker and easier to learn than the others. Not to say I want to continue going up in this direction, but it's a new vine that gets me closer to my objectives.

Can you guess what I'm gonna do next? >;)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Democracy Deferred?

Here is where I'm likely about to lose readers, loyal or otherwise. If you cannot ascertain the fundamental gist of what I shall say, then good riddance.

There is a poll that suggests that Democratic candidate Barak Obama will come close to winning the election... but only close. It suggests that he will likely fail. It suggests that he will likely fail because of one thing. It suggests that beyond all of the evidence that suggests itself that he is the most likely candidate to effect change in a society that needs it, he will fail because said society will not change one crucial apsect of itself.

That aspect is racism. Pure, uncut, unashamed? Passive, apologetic, prejudicial hybrid? You tell me.

I heard on a program on MSNBC a term I had never heard until now: grievance politics. Grievance politics is a new code phrase that suggests that a person or party that complains in public or a political forum that their rights are alienated are inasmuch practicing an unfair and hypocritical form of fascism; one that reverses the tyranny and hardships that this person or party that suffers on those who are only "guilty by association" of fascist, tyrannical and hateful behavior of their own. That is to say, "by gaining the upper hand, you would instead become the villain and inflict racism upon the innocent; those who are only guilty of being descended from the unenlightened, why should you blame us for our fathers' sins?" In grievance politics, Malcolm X is evil because he returned the hatred that was first inflicted on his people by Eugene "Bull" Connor. In such politics, Martin Luther King would be in lock step with Governor George Wallace for his supposed passive-aggressive views on racism. Jesse Jackson is a hatemonger for his comments about Jews in New York and Al Sharpton is despicable for race-baiting that dates back further than Tawana Brawley.

But here is a man, Columbia and Harvard-educated (magna cum laude) and representing the honor and hopes of a democratic theory without trumpeting the fact that he is descended from two races that "ostensibly" are polar opposites of one another, and this poll suggests he will fail in his mission, simply because he is defined by half of his race; a race that is considered by many in passing, declaration or in silence as inferior and dangerous. Already there is editorial rhetoric about how history will come to vindicate George W. Bush for the many ignorant and evil decisions and costly indulgences that have come to nearly destroy this country and perhaps the world; saying that "he made the country safe." But what will history say about a country that failed it's fundamental principles of equality and justice when it could not consider the possible election of a non-white candidate, not based on flawed policy or theories of his or her own, but because of prejudice towards his race?

What does this ultimately say to non-whites? That no matter how hard you try to appease, succeed or grow beyond such ignorance, there will clearly be a majority of the voting population that will never trust you, never allow you to form policy that will alter or govern their lives and decisions, never allow you to compete or strive to embody the principles they themselves hold dear. Level playing field? After a defeat based on this idea that this poll suggests, you will never be allowed on the playing field again.

All the apologies, all of the reassurances, all of the explanations and promises, all of the "wait a little longers" and "wait 'til next years" will rightfully fall on deaf ears. There will be no explanations that justify why a majority of our nation continue to ignorantly fear the brightest, strongest and most honorable of our ranks, to explain how those who played by the rules are still remanded to the sidelines. Those who by all standards possible have achieved the highest of plateaus are torn from their stanchions and flung to the cabin floors, to await the repercussions of daring to dream, daring to work and daring to achieve beyond their assigned station inside a nation that loudly proclaims it's disdain for divisions. If what this poll suggests should come to be the deciding factor on a competition of principles, then the Constitution should be dissolved and the nation torn asunder and thrown to its creditors abound. History? History will only talk of the overwhelming failure of human nature to abide by words that do not exist: humanity, civility, democracy and freedom.

Understand this: this is not a threat to those that disagree, but a threat to the principles that all men are created equal, that freedom is an inalienable right and that democracy is worth fighting for. Democracy cannot exist where there is not freedom for all. Slavery continues to bound those who cannot see and think on their own. So yes, I don't like it. But I will not leave until those who tell me to do so leave from where I would go. Shall we continue to fool each other and ourselves about what defines the United States of America? To paraphrase someone who knew quite along time ago, "remember, remember the fourth of November."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Milk Is Killin', China's Illin'...

I like milk. But I'm glad we don't import it from this place.

With all of the corruption and perhaps ineptitude coming from this area lately (leading to massive casualties there and around the globe), why can't we just say no? Is it worth saving a buck or two when the person you're trying to sell your product to is dead or dying?

While we're at it, how about reigning in some of that outsourcing, huh?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Snoopy Goes Home: Bill Melendez

Bill Melendez, multi-award winning animator, and the "voice" of Snoopy, died today in Santa Monica, CA at age 91.

Melendez, a great-grandfather 11 times over, was the chief animator for Charles Schultz's "Peanuts" productions, and was the only animator permitted by Schultz to work with the characters. He was known well for his handlebar mustache, as well as the grunts, groans and guffaws that underlined Snoopy's pantomimic actions on screen. Before that, he was an animator for Walt Disney, working on several classic Disney movies and shorts like "Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Dumbo" and "Bambi" among many others. We also worked for Warner Brothers, doing animation for many of the Merrie Melodies and Loony Toons characters. After leaving Warner Brothers, he developed a prodigious portfolio of commercials and films for several production companies; one of which brought him on to animate several car commercials involving the Peanuts characters.

Several years later, Melendez and Schultz teamed up with producer Lee Mendelson to create "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which in the initial opinion to all was a collosal failure. "Oh my God, we killed it," moaned Melendez to his staff. Even the network executives were down on the final results. But serendipedy favored the luckless trio as the network executives were forced, because of time constrainsts, to release the movie as scheduled. The rest was history.

A few thoughts stand out in my mind... one is of Melendez with Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown, talking about the recording process and how he had to instruct the children how to inflect moods and tones in their voice acting. Because he spoke with a heavy Spanish accent, Robbins said, he often repeated what Melendez said verbatim... including the accent. "And he even copied that!" Melendez laughed.

Another thought is of the animation style that Melendez employed for Peanuts; static backgrounds and simplistic line variations, but easily identifiable with it's source material. Melendez used colors and shadows in a way that made the world of children seem bright and inviting, or foreboding in the mind's eye of a child. Comically underwhelming, yet artful.

My favorite moments in Melendez' Peanuts animation are many, but the ones that stand out the most are (in no particular order:)

-A Charlie Brown Christmas: the dance sequence (especially that kid doing the head-bob and shoulders thing, along with Shermy doing the Running Man and Sally the twins with a simplified version of The Wop), Linus' immortal speech about the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown's agony over "killing" the tree he bought, and the gang's redemption and subsequent revival of the tree and themselves. The closing chorus of "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" still brings me to tears.

-A Boy Named Charlie Brown: "I Before E Except After C", Linus' struggle to find his lost blanket, Snoopy's ice skating solo, Linus finding his lost blanket, Charlie Brown's ignominiously tragic defeat in the Spelling Bee after surviving to the last round (notice how the scene lingers in a wide shot on a slumping and humiliated Charlie Brown alone in the spotlight on the darkened stage after blowing his last word), and the closing sequence where Lucy pulls the football from Charlie Brown as he flies in the air and crashes (to the strains of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" sung by the illustrious Gene Kelly), signifying that life would go on as usual.

-A Charlie Brown Halloween: Linus' lonely vigil as he waits for the Great Pumpkin, only to be disappointed, his vow to "wait 'til next year" (and his fear that he may have forever alienated the Great Pumpkin by letting slip with a phrase that implied doubt), and of course, "I got a rock..."

-Snoopy Come Home: One of the most heartbreaking moments in movie history was the good-bye party for Snoopy, who felt obligated to return to his original owner, who was sick. After all of his friends tearfully spoke in front of a podium and gave him a goodbye gift, Charlie Brown approached the stand, bowed his head, struggling silently to say something... and screamed as Snoopy wailed loudly beside him. After Snoopy left, Charlie Brown sang himself to sleep, looking over his empty doghouse. You'd have thought Snoopy had died the way Charlie Brown was carrying on over him, and perhaps there was more to it behind the scenes than we know. It was an honest way to deal with loss as a child.

-Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown: This was Snoopy's showcase, mind you, but we did have a ball with him going from one place to the next, First Class all the way. Of course, the best parts were when he was flipping off the French drivers as Marcie yelled at them in fluent French. But who can forget, "Loaf de bread, sie vous plais? Mer-ci!"

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown: Somehow, this is my sentimental favorite. Charlie Brown shows some leadership for a change, yet we realize that for all his triumphs and moments of personal growth, he is constantly undermined by his friends, well meaning and otherwise. At the moment of victory, the girls overzealously celebrate and knock all of the boys overboard before they reach the finish line, allowing the camp bullies, who had been dogging them and cheating throughout the entire race, to pass them. However, their overqualified vessel sinks after having absorbed much of its own abuse. When Woodstock fashions a makeshift sail to continue the race after his and Snoopy's tube is grabbed and punctured by the bullies and their nasty cat, the cat takes aim to strike again, but Snoopy, in one of the greatest moments in Peanuts history, knocks the cat out with one punch, securing Woodstock's victory. (In a later scene, the cat tries to catch Woodstock again, but Snoopy bum-rushes him and applies a well-deserved beatdown...)

-It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown: Charlie Brown finally gets the girl of his dreams, and she smooches him at the big dance, setting off a satisfying flight of fancy for ol' boy (too bad he didn't remember how gangsta he was after that...)

And this one, which for some reason has only been seen a couple of times: I think it was a vignette in "A Charlie Brown Celebration"; it was an update on the older Linus & Lucy joke, "Put in the mouth!" in which Linus has programmed a new arcade video game starring Snoopy and Woodstock, frolicking in the meadow searching for Easter eggs. Lucy happens along and watches Linus demonstrate the game, during which Linus nervously suggests that she may want to skip the monster that tries to catch them. Of course Lucy demands to see the monster, and Linus is forced to reveal a giant Lucy roaring and chasing the video-game Snoopy and Woodstock. Outraged, Lucy grabs the joystick and manipulates the giant Lucy monster to swing at the video screen, and "POW!" Linus is seen laid out on the floor, stars floating around his head.

As with Charles Schultz, Melendez informs much of my own artwork. Knowing that he also worked on some of Disney's most memorable animation makes me feel much better about his influence, being that as I do love Peanuts and the feel that was created in their shows, it was not fulfilling in terms of the style I seek in my won work. Bill Melendez was no one-trick pony, to say the least. He will be greatly missed in this part of the world.

Keep Yo' Eye On Yo' Luggage!

"Yes, he has his bags back, but the cash
and underwear are missing..."

Dang. You lose your job in one city, get a job in another one and on Day 1, before you can even settle down and get to know the place, someone takes off with your cash and your drawers. Do I even want to know what he intended to do with the underwear?

And the thing is, you were caught on camera taking the stuff. The best excuse you could come up with was that your teammate, who was also cut, asked you to pick up his luggage, which just happened to be outside the head coach's office. No, the TEAM PRESIDENT"S OFFICE!!! I'm the team president of an NFL franchise, yet I personally want to meet with the guy my coaches cut last week... so I can wish him a happy career elsewhere? Make sure he got all his crap out the lockers?

And hmm, he brought the luggage to a female accomplice's house... never mind if she took the money, what if she took the underwear? Do you trust a woman who would steal another man's underwear?

I find this all to be mildly entertaining, obviously. That's what happens when the Yanks miss the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years...