Short Stories: Summer before High School – Part 2: The Lake House

Day 18: A series of anecdotes


High School in middle class America: In spite of the hassles of growing up, It was also pretty bad ass.


 

At the lake house, the daily schedule was not too different than being at home but it was like a vacation because you were with a different group of people that you don’t see that often, theres a swimming pool, and the lake with a ski boat plus a crazy uncle who loves to drive the boat towing teenagers on the tube who hang on for dear life and a hot aunt who is so bubbly it’s almost flirtatious (from the perspective of a hormone junky 15 year old boy). Tubin’ with Ray’s uncle was an experience that no one I knew would undergo twice without lots of goading, which is typical in a boys club; he loved doing a slingshot which is pushing the boat up to full throttle then taking a hard turn, whipping the tube and rider around at 60+ mph, forcing a high speed wipe out crating a sense of fear hard to top by any school bully or standardized test. The house was basically just like any other back in town. It had a TV with cable and even HBO. (I think I watched Batman like six or seven times that summer). I had only been friends with Ray for about a year. The way that the group came to be was that a bunch of guys lived out in the rural suburb a couple miles outside of town. When I was in the seventh grade, one of them came up to me at school one day (we only kind of knew who each other was).  He said, “hey man, I think we’re on the same team”.  I had been playing baseball since the 5-pitch days (It’s kind of like pee-wee football except for those who prefer the bat to the pigskin).  It was one of my favorite things to do all the way up through my senior year.  I was average size, so not a home run hitter but fast, and had pretty good stick; grounders and line drives mostly.  With a batting average in the .350 range, and being a quick runner, I was always 1,2, or 3 in the lineup. Clint and I were both signed up for the spring little league.  Sure enough, we had been put on the same team so we started hanging out.  Ray was one of the guys I’d met through Clint and we all got to be pretty tight.

The summer before high school, I was invited to go out to the lake house. One day, while Ray and I were kicking around out in the back yard, we recognized a couple guys hanging out at the house next door. By coincidence, the twins’ (Mike and Matt) grandmother had a house next to Ray’s. Mike was there with Josh, a guy I had seen around school but didn’t know. We kind of waved to them and they waved back so, we headed over to talk and see what was up. We hung out for ten or twenty minutes and chatted each other up a little before heading back over to our own pad. I already kind of knew Mikes brother Matt from computer class, so with these new acquaintances, school & baseball connections, all the pertinent introductions that setup the high school experience had been taken care of.  By the time we get to senior year, there were other clicks that merged together on weekends and grew the group, also other clicks that I hung out with on the side, but by mid-august the day that we went from top dog, back to low man on the totem pole, the core of my social universe had been assembled.

 


Being a teenager is a challenge and I don’t think I would want to go back and do it again because of the obstacles and peer pressure that you have to deal with, but high school is the universal experience that, good or bad, is action packed.  It reminds me of what a Radio DJ told me once when I called to get the results of a contest that I’d entered and made it to the finals.  He didn’t know but said with a  grin, “Stay tuned, somethin’s gonna happen”!


 

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Short Stories: Summer before High School – Part 1: The Fireworks Show

Day Eighteen: A Series of Anecdotes 

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I was still one year away from hiring age, so had to resort to mowing yards if I wanted to earn more money than my allowance gave; that or go back to lumber-jacking on the farm, which was one of the hardest, hottest, exhausting, sweaty and risky jobs one could imagine.  I was a budding adrenaline junkie in my youth so the risk didn’t bother me.  In fact, it was exhilarating; cutting into a 100 foot tall pine tree while listening cautiously for the tree to sound it’s warning of snaps and cracks before the entire trunk buckled on its own base, coming down with so much force that it jams its branches so far down into the dirt that the entire tree trunk settles 10 feet above ground, creating an air bridge that you can walk on (if you dare) with the growling chain saw in your hands.  Limbing a giant tree as you walk on top of the 10 story natural skyscraper is definitely a bucket list item.  But, wearing kevlar chaps, earmuffs and a hard hat in 100+ degree heat during a drought year in a forest full of briar patches, mosquitos and biting flies with every exposed centimeter of skin caked in deep woods off is no party…so I went with the lawn mower.

With a couple yards per week, I slowly amassed my firecracker fund.  As the summer progressed there was little to do except avoid boredom with any activity that did not involve “inside”.  Vegging out on MTV and CMT music videos was the default for teenagers who would soon enter the first year of high school, but one can only stand so much of the artistic stylings of want-to-be film directors and this new art form that exploited the seemingly idyllic lifestyle of middle class and suburban America of the late 20th century.  I grew up in the city but spent the summer hanging with my boys, who lived out in a small rural suburb.  This is the same neighborhood where my aunt and uncle, two cousins and their bull dog chopper lived (The city population was over 75,000 so this was an interesting coincidence).  It was August 30th, 1990 and it was hotter’n hell.  The fireworks had been on sale for a few days but this was the first weekend day, so discussion of the afternoon’s activities were only a formality.  The plan was to meet up at Ray’s house.  I still had a year before driver’s ed class so my mom dropped me off in the “vanilla bomb” (1978 cream colored Impala station wagon).  Before long we were joined by Clint, one of the other 5 neighbors/soon to be fish at Robert E. Lee High School.  We got in a little MTV fix before heading out for the fireworks stand, just down the road from the perpetually blinking yellow light at the only major intersection in the area which marks the location of the one and only retail establishment in the community…the Dairy Queen.  The selection of fireworks seems endless when you come prepared.  But, in spite of the selection, Texas Pop Rockets are hands down the favorites with irresponsible teenage boys because you can throw em and dare each other to hold on longer than the last.  It’s kind of like the flinch game where you fake punch your buddy and if he flinches he gets a real punch with the middle knuckle.  After picking up our pop rockets and sundry other recreational explosives, we proceeded with the usual itinerary carried over from the middle school years which was to walk around the area and explore, cutting through plots of land using one of Ray’s “shortcuts” to end up in some other unfamiliar neighborhood (being a city boy, I wasn’t familiar with the layout, so I never knew where we were at.  I was just following the leader).  As we went along, we got started lighting up the black cats, roman candles, and Texas pop rockets.  By now we were old enough to be talking about girls and who had made out with the most during the last school year and speculating on what it would be like to be in high-school or about the trip to Ray’s grandparents’ lake-house later that summer, which was becoming an annual tradition.  As we walked, we worked our way up to the rockets.  I think bottle rockets are now banned but back in the day, they were pretty popular (probably because they had the word Texas in them….I wonder if there’s such a thing as a Wisconsin pop rocket?)  Being 15 and in a group, there’s not a whole lot of sense to the culture from an adult perspective because teenagers just don’t think like adults…because they’re not.  Once the goading, daring, and all manner of peer pressure gets started, very few teenaged boys will back down, no matter if it goes against their conscience (which is kind of the point of a dare).  The Texas pop rockets have a delayed pop that shoots a dozen or so fireballs out the top.  This is probably the reason why they’re called “bottle rockets”.  If you launch them from a bottle, then its a pretty safe bet that the fireballs go “up” instead of “down”.  After various consumer grade and highly patriotic incendiary devices went off without incident, we were feeling pretty confident and entitled…I mean, after all, we earned those fireworks, and to a kid who still gets an allowance, they ain’t cheap.  The dares begun with the first pop rocket (held by the stick that is meant to go inside the bottle).  As we walked along a rural road with the occasional house every several hundred feet, we were not paying attention to the long orange/beige colored grass.  It was a common sight and in our youth, we didn’t keep up with the weather or the yearly rain total.  The first pop rocket was lit and the count began – T minus 5…4…3…2…1 and after it was thrown into the air, it started to spin end over end, alternating between right side up and upside down.  The first one was a pretty nice toss and it ignited while being fairly upright, high in the air.  Of course, as grown ups, its obvious to us that this is all about luck, but to a 15 year old boy its a contest of courage and skill.  After we each took one or two turns there were no major incidents.  It was so long ago, I don’t remember who threw the last rocket, but as it did somersaults over the long dry grass of a small field in a remote neighborhood, it started to descend rapidly….not a great toss…. POP!…This one had ignited upside down and a dozen or so fireballs shot out straight into the grass.  That was not the plan and a total surprise to us all.  We froze and watched in horror as each fireball caught in the grass.  “Oh Crap!” we exclaimed almost in unison.  We bolted in a frenzy towards the impending disaster, intending to extinguish them by stomping them out with our shoes one, by one.  Being young, another thing we didn’t realize was that each stomp was like a stiff pump from a bellows and soon the 12 little fires had grown into a sizable single one.  Not being prepared for that, we ran.  Fortunately, someone saw the smoke and called the fire department.  As we ran back through the woods to Ray’s house, we hadn’t gotten very far when we heard sirens.  At that age, we had no idea what the penalty was for something like that but knew that we could get into some serious trouble, so we kept running (I wonder if this is the same mentality that young banking professionals caught up in the financial crisis had when they helped their corporate employers to deceive low income homeowners and farmers in the various financial crises of the last 3 decades).

The next weekend, we went back to the scene of the accident to survey the damage.  A pretty large section of the field was charred black but fortunately the fire truck got to it before it could spread throughout the neighborhood and threaten peoples homes.  It sounds unbelievable that it would take a mistake of that magnitude to learn responsibility but it does…particularly when egos are involved.

 

 

 

 

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Map To The Past

Day 17 – Let a Map be your Muse

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If you take a flight into DFW International airport, you’ll take I20 headed east from the Big D and within two hours you’ll come to Hwy 110 where you’ll take a right and follow the signs until you come into E Front Street in Downtown Tyler.   Take another right at the light and in less than a mile you’ll turn left into the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden Complex at the corner of E. Front and Rose Park Dr.  The Rose Garden Complex is the place that houses all the history of the East Texas rose industry. When I was a sophomore in college, I applied to film school which meant that I had to make a movie for submission with my application.   So I went there with my video gear and the staff was more than happy to accomodate.  At the time, they had over 450 varieties and many more on the way to being approved for inclusion as new species of rose.

The Rose Capital of the World was not always so hyped up about roses.  In 1846, the year that Texas was accepted as a new state into the Union (a controversial decision), Tyler was founded as the Smith Couty seat.  This is only 10 years after the Republic of Texas won the revolution by capturing General Santa Anna and his Mexican army.  Of course, my friends from Monterrey Mexico would tell a different story.  In their history classes, they were taught that Santa Anna never had the authority to surrender on behalf of the Mexican government, and accordingly, they say, Texas still belongs to them. Tyler, from its inception till the 1890’s was a thriving community, nearly on par with Houston and Austin, named after U.S. President John Tyler who supported the new Republic for statehood.  Dallas Fort Worth was a cow town outpost that, it was thought, would never become anything else because they were not on a trade route.  Tyler was a port city on the Sabine River making it the perfect place for a headquarters for the thriving shipping industry.  And then there was also agriculture (some kind of fruit, I think).  Within a few short decades, the railroads came through and bypassed Tyler in favor of the cowtown in no man’s land out west.  The new rail lines took over and killed the City’s shipping business.  Soon after, the agriculture industry was crippled by a blight and the city’s economy was practically ruined.  By the 1920’s the city rebounded by working with the state agricultural extension office to figure out a new crop with which the farmers would rebuild their prosperity.  It turns out that the region’s sandy soil is perfect for roses and that’s what the county put its resources into.  Very quickly, the city was producing 80 percent of the roses sold in the U.S.  (This is how Earl Campbell earned the moniker “The Tyler Rose”.   (See the Video Below for a look at my first film).

Pleas excuse the the minor technical problems (The film was archived on tape).

After checking out the astounding catalogue of roses, you’ll want to tour the museum and take a gander at the $40,000 dresses worn by past rose queens during the annual Rose Parade, then push your eyes back into their sockets, jump back in the car and head east, the way you came, but don’t turn on 110.  Instead follow E. Front a short distance until you get to Broadway Avenue and take a left.  You’ll quickly arrive at the town square where you’ll take a right on E. Erwin street and follow the square around to the left and park.  Across from the monolithic Modern courthouse (our original historical courthouse was torn down in 1955 by the county in spite of the fact that the city residents fought to keep it) on the East side of the square, you’ll see the old Arcadia Theatre.  This movie and vaudeville house was build in 1925 an with its Spanish style architecture, matched up nicely with downtown’s brick roads, a historical artifact of the pre-modern era that the city chose to preserve (If only we had the old courthouse to anchor to the style of the newly restored town square….oh well).  The Arcadia theatre was in operation until the 1970’s when broadcast TV had taken a significant amount of business away from the movies, and the new multiplexes started attracting folks with their more modern tech.  This classic theatre is where my parents had their first date in 1972.  You wouldn’t believe what movie they decided on….do you want to know?  Ok….I’ll tell you….It was “Deliverance”.  Ha!  I’m not sure whose idea it was but I’ll bet there were some wide eyes when they got to the Sueeeeyyyy Sueeeeyyyy scene.  Anyways, when I was in college the building was being used by a Pentecostal church for Sunday meetings.  I was hoping that someone would restore the place back into a movie theatre, but I think its now a restaurant.  After grabbing a bite to eat, jump back into the car and continue east on Front Street till you get to 155.

Arcadia pic color

Take a right on 155, follow it until it turns into Troup Hwy and then pull over.  There’s a Michael’s Arts and Crafts store somewhere around there (You brought your smart phone with GPS right?).  Google the location and stop in for a quick stroll down through the prime arts and crafts store.  Locate boy oriented isle.  It’s the one stocked with nothing but model rockets, cars, and airplanes.  This is where I used to buy all of my afore mentioned models as a kid…including an AH-64 Apache helicopter, a model car of some sort (it was too hard so I chunked it and can’t remember the make/model), and a Big Bertha model rocket (That sucker takes a D engine!).  Purchase the model rocket of your choice, one engine (only one), and an ignition switch (the ones with the key are the coolest).  Then get back into the car and head north (left) on Troup Hwy.  Follow it around as it curves left to Broadway Ave.  Take a left on Broadway and after less than a mile, you’ll come to Amhurst drive.  Take a left and this will put you in the Green Acres neighborhood.  This is my old hood where I probably rode a couple thousand miles on my bike in elementary school.  After a few blocks, you’ll come to Pollard Park, one of my biking destinations.  Here I used to fly kites and shoot off model rockets on the weekend, or just bum around when I was bored.  You can park on the street and walk over into the park.  Head straight to the middle, just in case.  If you made a good choice at Michael’s, then you bought a sleek rocket that takes at least a C engine.  That means it will blast so high that you probably won’t be getting it back (hence the single engine purchase).  Set up your rocket on the flattest surface you can and wire that puppy up.  Stand back, start rolling on your phone’s video camera and get ready for blast off.  Make sure you do the T minus 10 countdown and then hit the ignition.  Whoooooooo….Look at that sucker go!  While enjoying every last bit of that adrenaline rush, you can watch the rocket float slowly down, down, over, over some remote area of the neighborhood, into somebody’s back yard.  That’s a free rocket for some lucky kid.  Now get back onto the road and head back down Amhurst till you get to Fry Avenue and take a left.

After a couple blocks you’ll get to Andy Woods Elementery School where I spent 5 years learning how to draw Ant Lions and run foot races.  In the 4th and 5th grade, I place first and second (respectively) in the annual root race.  The second year I was beat out by Steven Sikes.  The school that you’ll see is not the original Woods Elementary.  The old school was torn down sometime around 2010(ish).  It’s a shame because it was a cool school with lots of style.  There was a 4th grade annex that was an octagon with eight classes around the outside and a 9th room in the middle, separated from each of the classes by a rolling divider.  It wa sort of built into a dugout on one side of the school yard, surrounded by red brick walls (red brick is sort of Tyler’s thing because between the wide swaths of sandy soil are deep pockets of red clay).  The 9th room of the annex was the computer lab where we spent an hour every Friday on original Macintosh computers playing learning games…that is, if you didn’t get into trouble (I spent my share of Friday’s sitting out computer time.  I blame this faulty disciplinary logic for my lack of math skills).  When planning the new school, I think the deal was that the district was supposed to preserve this unique set of classrooms when they built the new building, but when I drove by last I think it was gone….oh well).  There’s no need to get out, but being in the place will help you imagine the old single story school with its red brick accents and mid century architecture.  As you cruise a full circuit around the school, you’ll drive past the various intersections transversed by crosswalks.  One year I got to be on the crossing guard squad before and after school (this was an exclusive honor.  I wore my orange vest with pride and carried my crossing guard flag like it was made of gold).

After soaking in the nostalgia, jump back on Amherst and head East over to Jan Avenue.  Take a left on Jan and go all the way to the top of the hill then turn the car around.  This was my favorite place to ride my bike because its a pretty steep hill that goes on forever.  It was a massive pain to get to the top because the last part gets super steep and there’s no car dropping you off when your 8.  But once I got to the top it was all down hill from there (Pardon the Pun).  Now head down the hill and imagine you’re eight years old on a bike without a care in the world because its Saturday and you don’t have any homework to do and you have a whole day to just explore and have fun…maybe ride over to the park or down to the Green Acres Baptist Church family life center for a game of ping pong and a couple rounds of Castlevania.  Then there’s still daylight enough to meet up with your buddy who lives a couple blocks a way.  No doubt, he’s still grinding away at the latest level of Kid Icarus on his Nintendo and you want to stop in to be sure he’s making progress (You beat the last level and gave him the code, so now the ball is in his court).

It’s been a pretty full day and you’re probably getting hungry so It’s time to get back on Broadway and take it down to Loop 323 where you’ll take a right.  If you’ve never had Tex-Mex before, then you’ll have a pleasant surprise when you roll into Mercado’s, a few miles down on the left.  It’s an old school enchilada joint that’s been around ever since I can remember.  There are a lot more choices these day but this one has alway been a staple.  It’s not the healthiest food on the planet but, man, its good.  If you want to stay the night, there are several B&B’s in town; a few in the historical district which is close to the square.  That’s convenient if you want to check out a movie at the renovated Liberty theatre (near the Arcadia) before turning in for the night.

I hope you enjoyed your tour.  Thanks for stopping by and have a safe trip back.

 

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Stereotypes in the Media

Unknown / Public Domain – Hollywood: Primitive Era

It’s amazing how much national ethos, and the technology that spreads it can shape perception of ourselves and those around us.

In college, one of the most stressful times of the semester was registration because it was a race to figure out which professors in which time slot to request.  Outside the library near the tower, the staff set out tables with butcher paper on top and each class/professor was listed under their own heading.  Students would meander by and write their reviews under the heading for each class.  One of the classes which consistently ranked as favorite was history of narrative film.  I’d have to say it’s on my list of top 3.

One of the eras the course covered was the primitive era of American film which ended in 1915 with the release of the first blockbuster narrative film, “Birth of a Nation” (B.O.A.N).  The film was extremely controversial because it stereotyped African-Americans as villains.  The director, D.W. Griffith was lambasted because the film came across as racist.  When you watch it, it’s pretty clear that all of the African-American characters were one form of a negative stereotype or another.  Some of the most vocal critics of Griffith attribute the invention of these stereotypes to him and cite B.O.A.N as the springboard for the continued use of these stereotypes in the media for many decades.  But, Griffith actually took the history of the civil war and the reformation era from Ivy League text books and the stereotypes had existed previously in literature.  When the film was screened at the White House, the president made a statement that praised the film (After the emergence of the controversy, the White House subsequently denied this saying that the president never screened the film at all).  Griffith was lambasted so much that he made another film called “Intolerance”.  He was a believer in free speech and opined that film was a great opportunity for working class Americans to engage in a dialogue about all sorts of issues.  He called this new concept “the working man’s university”.  In his view, anyone who disagreed with the perspective of another filmmaker should simply make his own film in order to join the dialogue; very post-modern.  Griffith was a futurist; ahead of his time.  He also was an aspiring writer who studied history on his own because he came from a poor family who never had the resources to send him to college.  These two facts help explain why he was so adamant that this emerging artistic medium be used as a tool for dialogue; to educate those underserved citizens.  When you consider the fact that there was no TV or newspaper access to a large portion of the population (those generally left out when new technology was rolled out across the nation; particularly rural residents), it makes even more sense.

Some of the more politically liberal critics demand that he be held to account for his error and be labeled a racist.  It’s no wonder because we can see from this case study that stereotypes in the mass media can cause extreme hardships for those affected (reviewing this history and learning its lessons is the whole point of a formal education for professionals in the media production field).  However, to say that the man was racist, may be a bit extreme.   Griffith made another film called Broken Blossoms.  In this film he created his protagonist, a Chinese man, a hero who tries to save a poor white girl from the clutches of her abusinve father.  When he can’t get there in time, he shoots the father and carries the girls body back to his home where he blesses her over his shrine to Buddha and then takes his own life.  The race of the protagonist (and that of the antagonist) is significant because in this era, discriminatory groups in the U.S. hated Chinese immigrants more than any other group including African-Americans.  So, with this story, Griffith duly noted the previous feedback spurred by B.O.A.N. and responded in kind to clarify his original point which, in his mind, had nothing to do with race, rather more to do with manipulation of poor irrational individuals by powerful political groups; namely, supporters of the radical-reformation movement.  The stereotyping was a regrettable side effect of telling a story that was historically accurate relative to the university level books legitimated by academia.  In short, Griffith’s message was mis-interpreted.  But this, too is significant because, in the end, the mis-interpretation contributed to riots, deaths and a surge in the membership of the KKK organization.  As storytellers, this is the lesson that we learn from film history classes, a lesson that Griffith did not have the opportunity to learn due to the fact that he invented the language.  This language is still used today and was even studied and adopted by filmmakers around the world as early as the 1920’s.

The reason this film was so damaging was because so many people saw it and Griffith was so damned good at his job, the audience related to the characters in a way that modern-day directors strive to duplicate (sans the stereotypes of course).  This film was the first real occurrence of Mass Media (Before this film, the banking industry wasn’t heavily involved in the film industry….nor were government regimes for that matter).  After B.O.A.N., that all changed because of the influence of the medium demonstrated by the visceral response from the public and because the film grossed (some estimates say) as much as 1 billion dollars in today’s currency values.  The man seems to have had a significant role in the emergence of the phenomena of mass media.  How could he have predicted the negative effects of storytelling?   The caustic criticism today is excessive since hindsight is 20/20.  Errors like this are much more egregious when it happens in the 21st century because we have 100 years of history at our disposal, used to hone our professional sensibilities.  Given the biases in the news these days, this error probably happens often but doesn’t get noticed because only a few people see it.  If the circulation is low then it doesn’t really have much impact on society, but in 2012, during the Olympics, Brian Williams anchored a report from the British Royal Palace about how stupid Texans are.  That was the whole message behind the report….aired during the Olympics; an event that surely fits into the “mass audience” category.  Having traveled around the U.S.  since I was a kid and meeting quite a few American transplants here in Texas, I can tell you that this attitude towards Texans is nothing new.  I’m sure that this report made things worse.  I wonder if this seemed like a good idea because Williams dropped out of school and never formally studied the history of media, journalism and the effects of stereotyping people.  At any rate, it’s interesting to note that with these highly influential historical figures, who made the same error, both skipped the formal education before becoming professionals working at the highest levels of their respective industries.

It’s also interesting to note that every time I’ve encountered this attitude personally, (I can’t even count the number of times) it’s been from Americans.  I attended the largest U.S. University (over 50,000 students) and we had quite a large number of foreign students.  One day my Asian friend (In Asia, western media has low exposure)  approached me and asked what the “others” we’re talking about when they made comment about my accent.  I said, “what do you mean?  I do have an accent”.  She was taken aback by this.  With surprise she said, “really?  I had no idea”.

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Quotes Challenge D.W. Griffith – Day 3: It’s about the Images

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Illustrator Unknown

The rules:
Thank the person who nominated you. Thanks Bharath

Nominate 3 bloggers to participate in the 3-day Quote Challenge. @layeyeblog

Post 1-3 quotes each day for 3 consecutive days. Quote #3 coming up

[on sound movies] It is my arrogant belief that we have lost beauty.

– D.W. Griffith

Griffith started making movies in the silent era.  The major difference between the then, new storytelling format and the theatre, was that the flexibility of camera perspective meant that instead of people sitting in front of a stage (bring the people to the stage) you had a camera moving around to capture whatever perspective the director wanted (bring the stage to the people) for each individual shot.  After working with the technique of editing for a decade or two, directors learned how to manipulate the audiences perspective by combining images in different ways and this solidified film a “visual medium”.  In contrast, theatre involved a lot of dialogue and heavily weighted the performance technique of the actor (and still does).  This is why, in the quote above, Griffith laments the invention of sound films.  Even though we use lots of dialogue in movies today, the nuts and bolts are the same as when Griffith discovered the language of film one hundred years ago.  The addition of the sound element is a relatively small change.  The craft of screenwriting still distinguishes itself from playwriting in that the story needs to be told visually.

When I submitted my script to a college instructor one year, she told me that I couldn’t move forward with the production because it was too “talky”.  It’s a strong criticism that I was forced to deal with by figuring out a way to make it more “cinematic”.   In the end I did so, in spite of its talky, theatrical form.  Thinking like Griffith, is a good reminder of what  about movies (and even the most popular novels of the 19th century) that people relate to…it’s about the images.

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Quotes Challenge D.W. Griffith – Day 2

 

The rules:
Thank the person who nominated you. Thanks Bharath

Nominate 3 bloggers to participate in the 3-day Quote Challenge. sharingiscaring00

Post 1-3 quotes each day for 3 consecutive days. Quote #2 coming up



D.W. Griffith and the early days of Hollywood:  Griffith started making movies in Hollywood in the primitive era of film after producers declined his proposition to film a story that he wrote based on the history of the American post civil war period. He was hired to be an actor instead, and after a short time, Griffith had played in so many stage productions and short films that he knew how they got made.  A producer recognized this, needed someone to direct and and he took the reigns.  After several years of bucking the system and making films the way writers told stories in novels, he had invented the film language that would be studied and copied the world over. This film language is still used by directors to this day.

Quote # 2

I pick out young people and teach them in less time than it would take to alter the methods of people from the boards, and I get people that look the parts they have to fill.

– D.W. Griffith

Here’s an statement from an American legend that describes one way that screen acting differs from the stage.  Some directors prefer to create meaning and emotion through montage (the juxtaposition of elements in a specific way to synthesize meaning in the minds of the viewers) rather than rely on the actor to emote in such a way as to capture and control the audience’s interpretation.  Some actors prefer the challenge of doing it without the help of the director, camera and editor, but others like to collaborate and they appreciate what the camera perspective and director bring to the process.  They say that it takes 10 years to master any craft, but the quote above suggests that a screen actor can learn much quicker than that if film is considered more of a director’s medium.

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Quote Challenge D.W. Griffith – Day 1

Creative Commons

Photo Courtesey Orange County Archives

Creative Commons “Directors Mack Sennet, DW Griffith, Cecil B. Demille circa 1915” Licensed by CC BY

 

The rules:

Thank the person who nominated you.  Thanks Bharath

Nominate 3 bloggers to participate in the 3-day Quote Challenge. @christachn

Post 1-3 quotes each day for 3 consecutive days. Quote #1 coming up


Sweet!  My first challenge.

My three quotes will carry a theme: D.W. Griffith and the early days of Hollywood, but first…a little background on Griffith.  He started making movies in Hollywood in the primitive era of film after producers declined his proposition to film a story that he wrote based on the history of the American civil war era.  He was hired to be an actor instead, and after Griffith had played in so many films that he knew how they got made, a producer needed someone to direct and and he took the reigns.  After a few short years of bucking the system and making short films the way writers told stories in novels, he had invented the film language that would be studied and copied the world over; this film language is still used by directors and editors to this day.

Quote # 1

[Instructions Griffith allegedly gave to his assistants during the making of one of his epics, quoted by Josef von Sternberg in his memoir “Fun in a Chinese Laundry”]

Move these 10,000 horses a trifle to the right, and that mob out there three feet forward
– D.W. Griffith

Does this quote shows the eccentricity of genius…

or the extent of the ego of powerful people?

 

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Best Holiday Memory Ever

 

fireworks3

When I was a kid, my family would often go on an outing for the 4th of July.  One of the best trips around was a 2 hour ride west to “The Big D” to take in a ball game.  This is one of my favorite memories because in those days, everything seemed perfect.  My sisters and I had plenty of friends, the pressures of life in America were relatively low for kids in a middle class family, and we were too young to realize that the family car wasn’t cool (It would be a couple more years before that hit me).

Arlington Stadium seemed huge to a 12 year old.  It could seat 3/4 of the population of my home town and every Independence day, it did.  All those people cheering for the home team…it was a big deal.  We were each allowed to invite one friend and the 1978 beige Chevy Impala station wagon (later to be dubbed, “The Vanilla Bomb”) was just big enough to fit one mom, one dad, two sisters, myself and three friends.  So one summer in middle school, we all loaded up and headed towards Dallas.  The station wagon had a seat in the rear that faced backwards.  Only a few short years earlier, when we were all in elementary school, there was a rule: Whoever manned the rear seat was responsible for doing the hand sign that signaled 18 wheelers to blow the big-rig horn.  But, we were too old for that and since there were no iPhones or game boys to be had, we mostly just horsed around the whole way there.

Fireworks2

Upon arrival, we’d thread our way through the masses to our seats and then beg our parents for hot dogs and popcorn and whatever else we cold finagle.  I can’t for the life of me recall what we talked about as teenagers for hours on end, but with the relatively new experience of teenage society and the optimistic attitude that existed in American society back then, I’m sure we could have filled hundreds of innings with superfluous (yet entertaining) jibber jabber.  It’s been a while since I’ve had the luxury of sitting in the stands (I work a lot of ball games professionally but I spend my time inside a TV truck watching dozens of monitors and paying more attention to the video than the game) but, if I remember right, that’s pretty much what ball games are for; eating junk food and talking to your people in between the plays (which is the bulk of the 3 hours).  Of course, when the ball is hit (particularly a fly ball into the outfield) the crowd snaps to, ready to boo or cheer or yell expletives to that one outfielder that the working class kind of hates because he’s too much of a celebrity and spends too much time dating pop stars rather than dodging the paparazzi.

fireworks4

After the fourth inning, I switched from junk food to candy.  My buddy Steve was sitting next to me and we were shooting the s#!% in between innings and plays, like you do at the ball park.  I was having a good time in not paying close attention to the game and decided to show off in front of all of my fans  I used to be a little bit of a showoff, even around the house with just one or two family members present, but today the stadium was jam packed and I had an audience of 41,241 to impress.   I was stuffing my face with piece after piece of bubble gum (I think it was hubba bubba…you know the cylindricalish pink gum in the blue twisty wrapper with the cartoons on ’em.  The stuff that’s so hard that it takes you half an inning to break it in).  When the 5th inning started, the Rangers were down 2-0 and Ruben Sierra was up at bat.  By now, I had several pieces of hubba bubba going and I started to blow.  Sierra took the first pitch…Ball.  Little by little, I got more and more brave as the bubbles got bigger and bigger.  My buddy Steve was watching my antics, laughing and threatening to burst my bubble.  Back at the mound…the wind up…the pitch….Ball 2.  Back up in the stands, I was feeling preeeeeeettty cocky.  I started to realize…”this hubba bubba stuff is hard core…Son!”, we’re talkin’ industrial grade chewing equipment!  Steve and i found out how indestructible it was when he was twice unsuccessful at ruining my bid for the record: “Biggest bubble ever blown at a baseball game on the fourth of July with the home team staring down a two run deficit with Ruben Sierra up at the plate”.  Epic fail Steve…back to the farm league for you!  This bubble I was on was getting so big, I had to take a breath and then keep going.  Science can’t explain what happened next, but it was no coincidence…you could feel the electricity in the air.  Those who don’t believe in the supernatural would say that it was just the youthful anticipation of the big fireworks show to follow the game or just my immature ego inflating along with the wad of semi-edible rubber.  As Sierra settled into the batters box, Dave Johnson was ready to let loose on his third pitch and I was on my third breath.  As I got halfway through the exhale, Johnson opened fire.  As the ball sailed across the plate, Sierra took a hard swing.  Up in the stands my eyes were wide and focused…not because I had some premonition of the ensuing contact at the plate but because I was in awe of the thing in front of my face that was nearly the size of my head.   I couldn’t see any part of the field but I could see the fans around me and hear Steve laughing and making the comment “holy crap” as he witnessed the final lap of the race for my place in bubble gum history books.  Down on the field….CRACK!!!  Up in the stands POP!!! The crowd, on their feet, roars!  I knew what had happened… well, at least half of it.  I could feel the fans around me rise in sync and hear them cheer like mad citizens in the ancient Roman Coliseum.  Sierra got all of that ball and it’s headed out to center field.  The problem is that I can’t see anything!..except the pink latex mask that had plastered itself to my entire face!  Because of the uproar, I knew I was missing out on the biggest event of the game which, is a problem because home runs are the whole reason that 40,000 people are willing to sit through the rest of the “action” and wait a whole hour just to get out of the parking lot on a work night.  It’s kind of like the crashes at Nascar.  So, I’m frantically trying to participate in the home run but it all happened so fast that I don’t really know what’s going on.  I’m kind of sit-standing and groping around for my bearings while my sense of sight is trying to put two and two together.  Meanwhile, Steve is having the time of his life because, not only does he get to participate with the other 41,240 Texas fans in this 4th of July miracle (one that would surely be the start of a rally that would give us the W on this best holiday for a ball game in the gamut of American holidays) but he also gets to bear witness to my crash and burn on the hubba bubba, 4th of July bubble gum record attempt.  By the time I get the gum off my face and could see again, the moment was over.  The crowd had settled back in for more junk food, superfluous jibber jabber, and playful cussing.  But, on a semi-good note, Steve is still laughing.  Dang!  I can’t believe you missed that!” he barely squeaks out in between frantic attempts to breath.  I recall clearly that I couldn’t believe it either!  I was so dejected.  But, in hindsight it was one of the coolest, freak accidents that one could have happen.  I mean, the bubble burst right there, almost as if on cue from the family vacation gods who’s job it is to make sure something memorable happens that you’ll recount many decades later and, unfortunately for the youths of the group, this often means some sort of minor humiliation.

Fireworks 1

“Title Unknown” by #EpicFireworks license – CC BY

Lucky for me, there was another home run that same inning which pulled the Rangers back into the game with a tie score to end the 5th.  I got to witness that one so, everything was cool. In the end we lost the game but that’s ok.  Most of us were there just to hang with friends and family and watch one of the most bad ass fireworks shows that you’ll ever lay eyes on.  It’s like the show goes on forever.  And I’ll never forget it because at that age, the experience is truly, indescribable.  For me, it actually had the effect of elevating my mood so much so, that the feeling didn’t stop until the vanilla bomb pulled back into Tyler, Texas well after midnight.

Happy Fourth Everybody!

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Reality Is a Perfect Universe

Blake Hole Sun

“Suzaku Catches Retreat of a Black Hole’s Disk” by ESO/L. Calçada is licensed under CC BY. Some Rights Reserved

 

Day 15 – Take a Cue

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

— Astronomer Carl Sagan

Question:  What does the above line mean to you?

This line is about a perfect design.  Which is invisible until we use perception, purposeperspective and possibilities in the right way.  At times in my life, I’ve been low man on the totem pole with no direction and at other times the golden boy with vast opportunity and full support from nearly everyone in my social network.  It’s strange how this status can shift back and forth but even stranger that I wasn’t aware of it at the time.  Only through hindsight do I see all the opportunity that I missed and realize how many people didn’t respect me when I thought they did or vice-versa.   I can also see how my perception affected actions taken to exploit possibilities or let them fly by as if invisible.

I had a lot of expectations at 20 (like most people that age).  We were all taught a formula for growing up and making it in the world.  The formula says, “If you do A, B, C, D, give it all you got, then you’ll “make it”.  The adoption of this conventional wisdom and the entire thought process behind it is natural because it’s reassuring.  It relieves our anxiety by giving the perception that there’s somewhere to get to and a way to get there….a destination guided by a pre-destined purpose.  Conventionally speaking, purpose is possibilities pared down to the one that was custom made for me.  Not only is there a design to everything, but it’s pretty much paint by numbers!  “How could I possibly fail?”.  I mean, it’s tangible.  I can comprehend it.  I can measure it with a 5 year plan.  Sometimes I can even touch it and taste it.  The concept was so comfortable that it blinded me to the history knowledge that I studied in college; a history that espoused a bleaker picture of reality, that looks at trends of shifting societal foundation, and indicates that western society is starting to degrade; that we’re a society, having peaked in the mid-20th century, already on a back-slide.  It’s not my fault…I was 20 and had just gotten my rocket ship to the future, so who can blame me for not fully paying attention.  Ten years later (give or take), my perception of reality changed when the conventional didn’t work out and I needed to know why.  Why all that work didn’t pay off with the prosperity that I was entitled to as a hard working American; as one of the heirs to the throne of the great western kingdom.  I think we all take for granted that our kingdom is a social experiment involving democracy, freedom, egalitarianism, and prosperity for all.  These were once radical ideas, well understood, but now several have been forgotten and the prosperity concept is a corollary (conventionally speaking) of, so-called, smart decisions like drinking the Kool-aid exactly the way its served up by conventional institutions.  One of my college institutions was top 3 in the U.S…the other was top 5.  I drank but my thirst was not quenched.  The more I tried to succeed, the thirstier I got.  This conventional myth about truth and reality becomes ossified in our modern era beliefs and this means we have no room for alternatives, in spite of the fact that alternative wisdom is engrained in all of our western traditions; conservative ones, liberal ones, religious and secular.  Another relevant observation is that: Yes, I was self-entitled but, understandably so, and it’s a flaw that made me only hurt myself.  I got out before my entitlement problem had a chance to do damage to others.

Getting to this stage is a (insert expletive)!  However, the ability to see this new reality for what it is and understand how I was mistaken and mislead by the prosperity gospel means that a new perspective has been reached.  I don’t mean to say that faith and purpose don’t play a role in our lives.  After all, there’s plenty of alternative wisdom in the Biblical stories that recount events of the ministry of Jesus Christ that happens before the story of the Passion.  I just mean that the road I thought I was on was not necessarily that road.  The 20th century, conventional perspective learned at an early age created a perception of stability and correctness of the path I was on, which removed any desire to consider the less conventional concept of understanding possibilities in order to fulfill purpose.  That’s the setup of the conflict to come in the second half of any good narrative.  The seemingly calm waters of life, just before the midpoint of a movie when, everything goes haywire.  The calm before the storm.

I won’t go into that.  But suffice it to say that when it all starts to go south, it’s like your space ship gets hit by a meteor causing your first engine to lose all its fuel, then your second one explodes leaving you stranded, and just when your math says that you’ll be able to survive long enough for the home base to launch a rescue mission, you find that a hungry black hole just popped up out of no where and has started to suck you in.  When all this happens, it’s freak out time…I don’t care who you are.  But, eventually, you stop struggling and let it happen because, ehhh… what can you do?  Now that I’m through it, I find that, not only have I not split up into innumerable molecular components, not only am I not dead, but I’m now in a whole new dimension where all possibilities are sitting here waiting on me, to make a choice.  I feel like I’m back in second grade reading class where I settle on a choose-your-own-adventure book, and now my whole life is back ahead of me yet again.  Conventionally speaking, that sounds incredible, but it’s true never-the-less….a paradox.  When making reality work depends on the ability to accept the existence of paradox and move forward, sans the 5 year plan with all previously scheduled tasks checked off, this alternative wisdom stuff really starts to make sense.  The most common alternative statement I’ve ever heard is: “Stop looking for a destination and learn to love the Journey”.  Now, if I can do that, perception of purpose can’t hold me back and a new perspective deals me a fresh hand with all the possibilities I never knew I missed.  With all this opportunity, the future is idiot proof, and impervious to attack because, I’m on a new plane that doesn’t follow the rules of convention.

The crazy part is that the perfect universe  was there all along and all I had to do is know about it!

Incredible.

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“On The Day”

Day 14 – Recreate a single day

I knew that I needed to get back into the habit of making media on a regular basis.  The last major project broke me (more than once).  After wrestling with it for a few years during a time when the world seemed to be abandoning film for digital (but digital was not in the budget for independent producers), I knew that I needed to shelve the film and come back to it when the climate was right.  Now that I’ve spent 7 or 8 years reading , studying and reflecting on the world, I’m back in the creator/producer seat.  The environment is a little funky right now because so much is changing with markets, media technology and the public’s viewing habits, so I thought “instead of investing in old workflows like I did the first time around, I’ll get ahead of the curve.  I’ll go the digital media – self distribution route as my re-entry after banishment to filmmaker Outer Space”.  So, I spend a measly $1,500.00 on video production gear that turns out to be surprisingly good for that ridiculously low price.

JVC package and books

Then, use my experience and knowledge of what’s working out there on the web and come up with an idea for my own series.  I started with a very general idea and used the fiscally fail-safe New Wave cinema principle of “do what you can with what you got” to tell a story.  With only a concept, no treatment, no script, no earthly idea how this thing would pan out, I searched for an assistant to help shoot a local Austin event and…got one taker.

Trisha and Sun

Hi Trisha!

9:00 AM – “on the day”
I was planning to meet Trisha at the Expo Center to film the event but she sent a text saying that she had to stay late but was available later that day so, I said…”Cool. No problem, that works too”.  So, I told her to just text me when she got off work and then I headed out with my new production gear all setup to document the ride over.  I’m not very good on camera but I needed a show host and, in the N.W. tradition I’m the most available so, why not.  I’ve taken three drama classes and read two books on the theory of acting (I have the third on my book shelf but haven’t gotten around to it yet).  “Maybe I’ll even learn how to act”.

10:00 AM – “on the day”
I text my contact at the Expo Center who walks over to meet me, and then proceed to shoot b-roll material in the parking lot as I’m walking up. I meet my contact and we discuss what I need to shoot. After conferring, she sends me an assistant as an escort and we’re off in the golf cart to see the sights and shoot whatever I can get in the space of one hour (Yikes! Only one hour).

10:10 AM – “on the day”
We get to the thunder dome and unload, which is easy because with only $1,500.00 worth of gear, I’m traveling light.  As I get into the venue, I start winging it and the stuff I’m shooting to begin with is pretty terrible (particularly the shots with me in them trying to act like a host).  Then my photographer/producers mind starts kicking in and I’m all over the place shooting anything I think I can use later; how?… I’m not 100% sure.

Dirt Track

10:40 AM – “on the day”
After half an hour, my escort informs me that we’re running short on time and maybe we should move on if I wanted to see the other stuff we talked about. I said “Yes. That’s a great idea! I’d lost track of time.” So we packed up and motored on to the next several stops which were a barrage of places and people all flashing by at 8 Mph.

10:50 AM – “on the day”
We arrive at the pavilion where the vendors are setup and there’s not really much going on so I really have to use my imagination and look for something interesting (this will have to happen in the editing).  So I shoot what I can and then I’m back at the cart because my hour is up.

11:00 AM – “on the day”
After packing up the gear I thank the staff and start back for town when I get a text from Trisha saying that she can be there at noon.  I wave her off since I just finished shooting the venue and suggested that we push back to 6PM since there are more festivities going on downtown related to the event.  “Cool.  See you then”.  Just around the corner from my house, I run into some of the bikers in town for the Rally.

Bikers WAve 1Bikers Wave 2

11:15 AM – “on the day”
As I get back into town and head home for a debriefing with my camera, I reflect on having shot the event myself and it occurs to me that the more I shoot, the more ideas I get… the idea soup is thickening.

5:50 PM – “on the day”
Trisha shows up and we sit in my apartment talking about the footage from earlier and the plan moving forward.  I now have a pretty solid idea for the main series elements and ran it by Trisha (sort of) who was good with it (which is good, because she’s now my guest for the episode!).

Trisha Pointing

6:15 PM – “on the day”
Trisha and I finish rigging up the mustang for the shoot and I head back up to the apartment to get Snoop (He’s my sidekick/Navigator for the show).  We head out and recap the earlier discussion.  Pretty soon, we’ve got a good rapport going and on occasion some interesting dialogue happens.

7:00 PM – “on the day”
We’ve been driving around for a while and the material we’re getting is pretty good!  We turn back to drop Snoop back off at home (He loves riding the navigator position but animals go against one of the tenets of N.W. film production; they’re hard to work with and increase the budget.

Snoop Navigator

7:45 PM – “on the day”
Snoop is back at the house.  Trisha and I are getting close to downtown Austin where we park and unload.  After another 45 minutes of drivin’ and riffin’ we’ve got more good stuff and I’m feeling good about this indie web series show that I’m creating “on the day” (with some much needed help from my assistant).

8:30 PM – “on the day”
We arrive downtown and park.  By the time we get to Congress avenue where the parade is going on (we’re still shooting as we go), I’m starting to get a feel for my weaknesses as talent in front of the camera.  That’s a good thing because I now have stuff to work on for  future episodes.  We spend a couple hours downtown filming and then our stomachs start growling so we pack up and head out to search for a 24 hour diner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11:30 PM – “on the day”
Trish and I stop off at Magnolia Cafe on South Congress, the traditional late night food joint and get some really good enchiladas and one of the best IPA’s I’ve ever had (I wish I could remember the name….oh well, that’s a good excuse to go back for seconds!)

Magnolia at night

11:59 PM – “on the day”
We’re pretty tired; Trisha has work in the morning, and I’ve got footage to offload, so we head off, each in our own directions…mission accomplished.

 

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