We’re On A Road To Nowhere

This is one the scariest things I’ve read recently. I never liked our president but I didn’t realize we had such a blind zealot in the office who pushes his own personal beliefs upon this country whether they have a basis in reality or not.

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored “road map” for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman — the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress — mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

“I don’t know why you’re talking about Sweden,” Bush said. “They’re the neutral one. They don’t have an army.”

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: “Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They’re the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.” Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. “No, no, it’s Sweden that has no army.”

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. “You were right,” he said, with bonhomie. “Sweden does have an army.”

You might need this if you’re not registered with the NY Times website.

Fall Is Here

This weekend was the first time it really felt like Autumn in Los Angeles. We had our first big rain starting late on Saturday and continuing off and on throughout Sunday. In fact we are supposed to have rain through Wednesday. I’m glad it’s raining. We certainly can use it. It continually amazes me though how quickly an arid landscape like LA can flood with just a few tenths of an inch of rain. Today I drove over the Los Angeles River and it was a raging torrent. Of course not nearly as bad as when we had an El Niño several years ago, but still with what many areas of the country would consider a light rain, Los Angeles floods like crazy.

The temperature has dropped too. It is these low to mid-60s days are the Octobers I remember from my youth. Actually it’s even a bit warmer than I remember. Of course those were Mid-West and New England Octobers. The kind of Octobers where you’d wake up and the orange and brown leaves that had fallen would be frozen to the ground with the first signs of frost. The kinds of Octobers where you could see your breath when you chatted with your friends while waiting at the bus stop for a ride to school. The kinds of October where if you didn’t wear gloves when you picked up your pumpkin from the local patch, your hands would be ice cold in minutes and you’d spend the entire drive home blowing on them, trying to warm them up.

So it’s not quite the same October that I remember as a child. But it’s still Autumn.

Farewell To A Place Now Gone

Yesterday morning I met my father for breakfast in Pasadena. He was in town most of last week teaching a seminar at the Hilton, just outside of Old Town. We were saying our “goodbyes” before his flight back home to Florida. After a buffet of scrambled eggs, hash browns and some assorted melons, I left at about 9:45am to drive back to my apartment in Burbank.

As I was heading north on the 5 freeway, I noticed that the two Holiday Inn towers that dominate the surrounding buildings were obscured by some kind of haze. We have had some thick fog the last several mornings but most of it had burned off by that time. All that was left was some low-hanging clouds around the Verdugo mountains. It seemed unlikely that there would still be fog around a couple of buildings and no where else. Then I noticed what appeared to be diagonal white lines coming from the haze.

Within a minute I was close enough to realize what I was looking at: A low building south of the Holiday Inn was on fire. The haze was the smoke and the white lines were the water spraying from hoses at the top of extended ladders on fire trucks. In another minute I was coming up on the exit for Olive and passing the burning building. I had a sudden shock when I thought I knew what building it was but I had to get closer to be sure.

I got off at the Olive exit and immediately started to encounter police road blocks. Three blocks around First Street and Santa Anita were cordoned off. By driving around the perimeter I saw that my initial thought was correct. International Recording was burning. I was filled with a strange sadness. Not the sharp pain of a personal loss but still a melancholy.

International has among other things a few dub stages. Four years ago I spent a lot of time there when they mixed several films I worked on: “Play It To The Bone”, “My Dog Skip”, “Urbania”, and “The Contender”. Bill Schlegel, the owner, was always a nice enough guy to me and it was sad to see all his hard work disappear. In fact International was an even larger accomplishment for Bill than one might expect. He and a few engineers hand-built most of the components and wiring used by the two main stages. It took an enormous amount of time and energy to put together his post-production facility but it was something he could truly call his own.

International Recording is probably best known to the rest of the world as the stage where “Dances With Wolves” was mixed. In 1991, Jeffrey Perkins and Gregory Watkins mixed the sound for Kevin Costner’s film and the Academy acknowledged their excellence by awarding them the Oscar for Best Sound.

I had my camera with me so I took a few pictures. Being three blocks away, I couldn’t see much more than the fireman at the tops of their ladders directing streams of water into billowing clouds of black and white smoke, the news vans scattered around the scene, the policemen directing traffic and the few gawkers like myself. It seemed that there should be something more to mark this solemn moment. Something more than curious bystanders and a police officer telling me, “I don’t know what it is—some kind of post-production place.” Something that said, “Bill put his life into this place and now it’s gone.” My writing certainly doesn’t do it justice but I wanted you to know.

Fireman on the ladder

Two firemen fight the fire from above

Head Above Water

Well it has been a long, crazy several days for me culminating in a 26-hour marathon day in the office. But now it is done. The movie has been screened for the studio. Every one is happy. And I was finally able to get some sleep.

Little did I know when I walked into my building at 7am on Wednesday, that I would not be leaving it until 9:30am the next day. Thankfully those kind of days tend to be few and far between, but they do occasionally happen. In fact somewhere around 2am when the picture assistant showed up with a big bag of chili cheeseburgers and fries for the six of us who were trying to get the mix done, someone (I don’t remember who) said, “Ah! The glamour of Hollywood!” And it’s so true. If you watch E! you see the beautiful stars attending their hip parties, but in reality a lot of the work that it takes to get their faces on the screen is not pretty. It’s the kind of work that knocks on your door at midnight with new videotapes, a stack of change notes, and coffee and Pop-Tarts from the local 7-Eleven.

I don’t get invited to parties to rub elbows with Jim Carrey, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Naomi Watts. If I’m lucky, the studio will buy me a pizza when they tell me I need to work until the wee hours of the morning to get things done. Now, I’m not saying that I hate my job. The overtime when you put in those kind of hours is certainly nice. I just want everyone to realize that in some ways my job is not all the different from yours. And in many ways it’s probably a lot more frustrating. And when I’m driving home after a 26-hour day, I definitely don’t like the heart-wrenching surprise when I realize that I fell asleep for a split-second while stopped at the traffic light.

The positive side to an experience like that comes when you get that phone call from the post-production supervisor saying that the studio loved the film, that people were really impressed with the sound and felt that it helped reinforce the temporary visual effects shots, that everyone is happy and that you did a great job. That’s what makes it worth it. That’s what brings the smile to my face. That’s when I say to myself, “I am good at what I do. I would like to see someone else accomplish what we did under the same conditions. Yay, me!” And then I pat myself on the back. Ok, maybe not. But you get the idea. The difficult task that is completed successfully is more rewarding than the easy one. Hopefully though it’s not all difficult tasks.

One of my favorite quotes from that day:

Oh good! Coffee! I haven’t been jacked up on caffeine in a couple hours.

After sleeping through the majority of Thursday, I got up refreshed and went back to the crew I was working with a few weeks ago. I still felt a little detached from the world that day, almost as if there was a piece of gause separating my brain from the rest of my body and another one keeping me just out of reach of reality. But that feeling soon passed and things are pretty much back to normal. Cross your fingers for me, this next show should keep me on a regular 9 to 7 up until Christmas.

Too Many Hours In The Office

Subsisting off fast food, candy bars and coffee:

Late Night Food

Thankfully, opening a Pro Tools session with 64 voices, 40 busses, 8 sub-master auxes, 10 reverbs, 4 EQs and so much automation that your screen looks like crawling ants in Volume Graph mode on Mix Plus hardware in OS X takes a little while, so there’s time for some music:

Cam On Guitar

Where Is Jon?

The good news is that I have been working a lot recently. The bad news is that it’s been crazy busy and things like reading my favorite websites, writing for my own website and sleep has suffered for it. The show that I’m working on right now makes me wish I could give more details that I can about the movie. It is so goddamned funny I wish I could share with everyone. So I’ll say this: there’s a moving coming out next summer. It’s very clever and quite funny. You should go see it.

Does that help you? 😉

We are actually cleaning up tracks from the Avid, smoothing out dialog and adding FX. This weekend and early next week we will mix everything down to stems. It’s basically a mini-temp dub in the Pro Tools. This way the studio gets to see the director’s cut of the movie with a decent soundtrack. It’s a huge undertaking. When Cameron was given the task, it was just going to be him for 3 weeks. That’s nearly impossible so the second week, he was able to bring in another editor and this final week, I came on too. Even on a small movie we might have a crew of 5 working for 3 weeks to do a temp dub. That’s 15 weeks of editorial labor. On this show we’re getting 6. Plus we have to do the mix ourselves. I suspect we will be seeing more and more shows like this in the future.

When I left last night I had been working for several hours on a large crowd scene. Crowds are probably one of the toughest things to cut well. Trying to keep them dynamic and interesting and have them react naturally to the events around them isn’t easy. Of course there’s really not time with this to spend anything like that on the crowds. I’m doing the poor man’s crowd reactions. The editor already had a bed of babble and reactions in his tracks. To give the big swells when exciting things happen, I pulled a steady white-noise-like extremely large crowd cheer from the sound effect library and looped for the entire length of the scene. Then I changed the volume over time with big spiky movements to simulate large crowd cheers.

I was able to kill two birds with one stone: cut crowd reactions for a ten minute scene and mix it all in one step. Now I’m adding in small group cheers (5 to 10 people) on all the crowd close-ups to give it a little more definition and I’ll call it done. It’s certainly not the quality that you’d want to turn over for a final mix but for this early stage of the film, it give them a decent sounding crowd quickly.

And of course in the month that I’ve had my Tivo, I’ve managed to go a little Tivo-Crazy™. Four months ago, I could have missed an entire month of television and not cared. Now thanks to easy viewing and recording I have a hard drive full of crap I’m never going to watch and I’m already saying to myself, well maybe I should record these to DVD in case I want to watch them in the future. I’m actually up early making DVDs to free up space so that I can record the “Farscape” marathon that Sci Fi channel is running for the next couple of weeks. I could go to the store at lunch and pick up every episode of “Farscape” on DVD and not worry about this. But no. Has to be recorded on Tivo. I’m definitely going to have to sit myself down at some point and get a little more rational about the Tivo.

Well I have to jump in the shower and get off to work (after I put in one last DVD for recording). But I’ll leave you with one of the funnier comics I’ve seen in the last week, about another fun thing that I haven’t had the time to enjoy:

PVP - Star Wars: Battlefront

Movers Anonymous

Today I moved offices yet again. Boy, I sure am getting sick of playing pack-horse. My actual office just moved down the hall from the room I was in for the last two weeks. However, several editors were starting on a show today and we had to move a couple Pro Tools systems from the offices / storage rooms at Universal to Burbank. Four hours of manual labor plus several hours of assembling Pro Tools systems. Long day.

At one point we had to get a couch out of one of the rooms and move it into another. I flipped it up on it’s side and started to slide it across the floor. Dana, the other assistant, got a surprised look on her face.

“Look at you.”


“Throwing couches around…”

“I used to be a mover. Didn’t I tell you?”

It’s true. When I was in college I had a job driving a big truck, picking up students stuff on the East Coast and driving it to Chicago. I have moved way too many boxes, trunks, microwaves, and couches in and out of houses and dorm rooms. Plus I drove pick-up trucks for several years which meant that I was always the friend to call when someone was moving.

Hi, I’m Jon and I’ll be your mover today.

You Can Call My Laptop, Popeye

From the Washington Post as reported in MIT News:

[Researchers] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have used spinach to harness a plant’s ability to convert sunlight into energy for the first time, creating a device that may one day power laptops, mobile phones and more….

[They] discovered that protein building blocks called detergent peptides could be manipulated to keep the [photosynthesis] proteins alive up to three weeks while in contact with electronics.

If The Bard Had A Sweet Tooth…

…perhaps “Hamlet” might have been a little different:

To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the carb; For in that sleep of death what Twinkies may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal Ho-Ho, must give us pause; there’s the respect that makes creme-filled treats of so long life.

Oh yeah, and the maker of Twinkies has filed for bankruptcy. Thanks, Xeni, for the wonderful Twinkie death soliloquy.