Bicoastal Machinations

Hot damn. I’m about to become a festival-screened director (I find it hard to count the Georgetown/Adams Morgan fest, as it basically had zero attendance — and certainly doesn’t qualify for IMDB inclusion). Okay, so I was a festival-screened executive producer already, but it’s not quite the same thing. And on top of that, we’ve also got a screening coming up next weekend right here in DC (well, Arlington anyway).

Okay, some details. First, “Machinations” has just been accepted into the Science Fiction Short Film Festival, taking place February 3 in Seattle, Washington. I’m pretty damned proud of this little accomplishment, and am really excited about the opportunity.

I had actually checked the notification date on the Without A Box website, and was saddened to see that it was past, and that accepted filmmakers had already been notified. Since I hadn’t gotten any such notification, I figured we were out. And then I opened my email — which I hadn’t checked since Friday afternoon — and sitting right there was the acceptance notification. I’ve pretty much been walking on air all day. Hell, I didn’t accomplish squat. I didn’t even shower. Be thankful the Internet doesn’t convey smell.

If anyone wants to fly out — or if any of you West Coasters want to give it a look-see (not to mention giving us the chance to catch up) — let me know and we can get tickets and coordinate schedules!

More locally (well, for our DC-based contingent anyway), the film will be screening at 4:00 p.m. on January 13 at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. This screening will be a showcase of locally-produced films for the National Film Challenge (I actually put together the little “title sequence” for the event), and I’m really happy to have this venue in which to host it (sure beats the hell out of my office’s common room). Tickets are only $5 apiece — and since it’s a restaurant to boot, there’ll be plenty of food and drink available as well. I really want a big turnout for this one — especially since theater revenue (well, once we recover the amount we paid to get the theater in the first place) will be divvied up by which film attendees are there to support (you’ll have a chance to express your preference upon entry). Frankly, it’d be nice to make back some of our expenses for a change... So while I’ll understand if you can’t make it all the way out to Seattle, this one there’s no excuse for missing...

Well, unless you’re a left-coaster, of course.

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Weekend From Hell, or at Least Purgatory

Okay, so it can’t compare with David Seitzinger’s woes, but this weekend is still going to stand out at one of my least favorite for a while...

It all started with such promise; Pam and the girls — along with my visiting father-in-law — had gone down to Virginia Beach on Friday, leaving me here alone (just getting my father-in-law to leave is cause for jubilation — he means well, but...). The plan was that I would attend an off-to-school party for Julia Ames, take care of the cats for one more evening, then follow them down to my mother-in-law’s on Saturday morning. Of course, this meant I’d have to drive the aforementioned father-in-law’s minivan (since, not having any back seats, it couldn’t have fit the kids), but no big deal, right? It’s Virginia Beach — three, four hours tops. Okay, so the van’s A/C is broken, but how bad could it be?

Try eight-and-a-half hours bad. With the alternate routes socked in just as badly as I-95. Of course, I didn’t have my map with me, being in someone else’s car... and it’s Virginia Beach, for crying out loud — I’ve driven it dozens of times, if not hundreds. Little did I know. And to add insult to injury, when it really counted, I couldn’t even get off to get water, a need that became more and more pronounced as the day wore on.

Finally, after phoning ahead for alternate route suggestions, I managed to get off at Route 30 — normally an hour-and-a-half South, but five hours after I’d started this time around. Sopping wet, and literally dizzy from dehydration, I staggered into a 7-Eleven and picked up some Nectar of the Gods. At least nominally replenished, I continued on my way — through one of the worst rainstorms I’ve ever driven through. Sheer determination kept me from making the otherwise sensible choice to pull over, but I was slowed to a five-mile-per-hour crawl.

So much for Saturday.

Sunday was supposed to be my “beach day,” but my daughter’s having been stung by a jellyfish the preceding day made her reluctant to go back. Not that it mattered — the weather was lousy. Sticking around the house wasn’t too appealing an option, as Pam had spent all the preceding day stuck in the middle of the long-running battle between her parents, and was desperate to get out. So we ended up spending the afternoon at the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth; a lot of fun for the kids, but nothing particularly enlightening for the adults. Then it was back to playing middleman (or more like staying out of the way while Pam played middleman... or middlewoman...) between the in-laws.

Monday morning meant packing back up and keeping an eye on the aforementioned father-in-law as he raided mother-in-law’s attic for a few boxes of items he’d left, and then we were back on the road, exhausted but at least moving at a decent clip.

And then we got home to find our back yard covered with mushrooms and our satellite receiver on the fritz. So chalk up another two hours on the phone with tech support (you know it’s bad when you stump regular tech support, and they have to pass you up the ladder), only to find out that the receiver’s dead, and long-since out of warranty. So I’m stuck with shelling out for a new receiver — excuse me, a refurbished receiver, since they don’t make our model anymore.

All right, there were a couple of bright spots (technological, naturally) in all of this. A brand-new iPod made the trip down slightly more bearable. And in the end, I was able to finagle an upgrade to the receiver at a substantially reduced rate (and without committing to a higher monthly subscriber fee).

But I’m still gonna have to pull all those mushrooms...

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Return From the Heartland

As I mentioned, no readily available ’net access in Des Moines (at least not that I could take advantage of). Other than that, though, a very productive trip, the details of which I will commence to bore you with here. Feel free to tune out as appropriate.


Because we had shipped out the equipment beforehand, we didn’t have to worry about getting it onto the plane. Perhaps largely as a result, arrival at the airport was much smoother than I’d anticipated. I needn’t have worried about the rumored nightmare of security checkpoints. Not that we didn’t have a gauntlet to run, but National Airport (I still have trouble calling it “Reagan National,” given that the man’s still alive) really seems to have gotten the procedures down pat. Efficient and polite — even friendly — all around. It didn’t take us any longer to get through the whole thing than it had in the past (taking the shoes off was a little awkward, but certainly not the unpleasant experience I’d feared).

The flight actually took off a few minutes early, and was an uneventful trip. I’d never flown Midwest Express before, but I’d been led to believe that it would be a positive experience. For one thing, they’d widened the seats from the DC-9’s original configuration to fit four seats (two seats, aisle, two seats) across rather than five (three, aisle, two); not first-class proportions, but more accommodating than traditional coach. For lunch, we had a choice between chicken salad and bratwurst. Naturally, I chose the bratwurst — how many times you gonna have that option on a plane? And yes, Kori, they did serve cookies (I figured they would, since their boarding-pass sleeve actually has a picture of the cookies in question).

Canon XL1sArrival was a little hectic; our first interview subject was only available for brief window, starting one hour after our plane’s arrival. Fortunately, luck was with us at the airport, and we got out quickly. Travel wasn’t too difficult, due less to the hotel’s location than the fact that it’s, well, Des Moines (we got a real kick out of what they referred to as “rush hour”). It got tight there for a while (particularly given a painstakingly long hotel check-in process), but after picking up the equipment, we ended up being only a few minutes late. As expected, there was a little confusion at the hospital reception desk at the sight of a camera crew, but everybody handled everything very well, and the interview went off (pretty much) without a hitch. One thing about the midwest — the stereotype of friendly, helpful people is right on the money. The PR department at the hospital was extremely accommodating, and we were given every bit of assistance we could have (reasonably) asked for.

Tuesday evening, our host (in effect the “star” of our video) took our team out to dinner at the exclusive Embassy Club, atop the tallest building in Des Moines — 41 floors up. No skyscraper, perhaps, but in comparison with the vertically stunted burg of Washington, none too shabby. The view was gorgeous (you can see for miles), and both food and service were fantastic. It’s nice to see how the other half lives every once in a while (and you know you’ve hit that point when they don’t bother to print the prices on the menu).


Wednesday morning was our officially designated “B-roll” shooting time at the hospital. Adam — my able right hand on this project — and I headed out a couple of hours before our first scheduled interview to shoot background material to intercut with the slew of talking-head footage. I was a bit concerned about being able to get enough, and with the lack of “must-have” shots. That’s a bit counterintuitive, but I’ve historically found it easier to set up a list of shots, and check them off — gives you a good sense of how you’re doing. In this case, though, the nature of the video (administrative rather than clinical) didn’t lend itself to much in the way of obvious material. Not dynamic material anyway: “Ooh, look, spreadsheets!” We’d have to wander the halls and get a lot of general footage, hoping it would fit together in the editing (“Fix it in post,” as the saying goes). Fortunately, thanks to the help of the hospital’s PR rep, we managed to hit most of the visually interesting areas of the center.

And then it was on to interviews — a full day with a (brief) break for lunch; we found it particularly amusing that the hospital walls are filled with patient education posters touting the evils of fast food, and yet there’s a McDonald’s on the premises. All of our setups went well, with enough variety in the arrangements to keep things at least nominally interesting.

Despite recommendations for another upscale restaurant, we decided to keep dinner a little more casual — I think all of us just wanted a chance to unwind a bit before Thursday’s early start...


Thursday was the granddaddy of taping days, with establishing shots of the aforementioned “star” starting at 6:15 a.m., followed by a virtually nonstop parade of interviews, along with attendance at a larger meeting, both so that our staff could present to the group and that we could get the requisite “meeting” shots. Most of the day ended up blurring together, and — twelve hours later — Adam and I begged off dinner so we could track down the local FedEx office and ship out some of the equipment we had finished with (we knew we wouldn’t be able to set up detailed lighting rigs on Friday).

After that, dinner at the hotel lounge and a few head-to-head computer games (hey, it was Des Moines, for crying out loud) wrapped up the evening.


Friday was primarily a B-roll day, with only one scheduled interview. Everything went well until we started hearing the weather reports. Given that the storm made national headlines, I’ll refrain from going into further detail, but we managed to get out of Des Moines just ahead of it all (although Adam and I did get a slew of funny looks from the security folks as we played our computer games while waiting at the gate).

Right in time to get snowed in at home for three days.

And tomorrow, it’s off to Boston — which, in this case, we know is pretty much snowed in — to try it all again. So far, the flight’s still going...

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