Thursday, January 28, 2010

Top Secret Work

As you may remember from last year when I worked on Star Trek, producers can get pretty crazy out here in trying to keep things quiet about high profile projects.  And it makes sense -- how much fun is it to see a movie like that if you've already seen the costumes, props, scenery and/or know the whole plot?  To that end, they make you sign (several) confidentiality agreements, keep close tabs (or take away) cell phones/cameras on or near the set, and threaten you with termination (from the job ;) or even litigation if you break the confidentiality agreement.

All that said, I'm blessed enough to get what will hopefully be a few weeks background work on a project that has similar standards of secrecy.  So, unfortunately I won't be able to post any specifics about what I'm doing or where I'm working.  But, the good news is that at least I DO have some work.  And of course, when the project is released I'll be able to tell all -- so stay tuned!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome Back, Old Friends!

After many, many days away, Mr. Blue Sky and Senor Sol made a triumphant return to Southern California today.  The only trace of the past weeks' storms was the detritus on the roadside left by the receding flood lanes...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Peer Recognition, SAG Style

This weekend is the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards -- where actors' performances win awards based on voting by other actors. You can catch it Saturday night on TBS.

I LOVE the SAG Awards!  There are a couple reasons: 1) I get to feel like I'm really a part of the Hollywood film community voting for my 'peers,' and (maybe more importantly!) 2) I get to see a ton of free movies.  This year, in addition to the screenings set up around town, we were sent 5 DVDs of films with nominated performances including Up in the Air, An Education, and Inglorious Basterds!  All that dues money is finally paying off ;)

As a baseball fan, I love it when writers publicly disclose their MVP and Hall of Fame votes, opening themselves to public ridicule and judgment, so I'll share some of my votes:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Mo'nique (Precious)
Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Motion Picture: An Education

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series: Steve Carell (The Office)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Dexter
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series: The Office

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Critic as Artist?

On his thought-provoking and insightful blog, The New Dork Review of Books, my buddy Greg recently posted about literary criticism (and to some degree, criticism in general) as art, at least partly inspired by a conversation he and I had last month.  I thought it worthwhile to reiterate the discussion a bit here and ask for other opinions. Here is an excerpt of Greg's original article and then some of what I had to say in response.  Please click the link above to see other folks' comments on the subject and add any of your thoughts below:

A few years ago at a Zadie Smith reading I attended, a young man stood up during the Q&A and asked Ms. Smith what she thought about the role of the critic in contemporary literature. In addition to her terrific novels, Smith has also written some insightful essays and reviews on fiction, so her answer was authoritative and fascinating! She resisted the temptation to spout academic theories regarding New Criticism vs. Post-structuralism, and instead explained that she believes that critics are artists themselves, and that reviewers and literary critics who bring a new understanding (or new audience) to their source texts are infinitely valuable for furthering the cause of literature.

Now, I'm not sure if this particular idea of criticism has a name, but I love it and agree wholeheartedly! Anyone who has ever spent an hour rewriting the same sentence until it's just right — whether in a piece of fiction or in a piece
about a piece of fiction — certainly understands the craft, skill and dedication required to write meaningful prose. To me, good writing in most forms is art. For instance, essays and other "creative non-fiction" that move or inspire are widely regarded as art, right?  I mean, if you can spend 2,000 words describing a tree, and keep your reader interested and focused, and give him/her something to take away from your piece, I say you're definitely on par with the writer of a good story!

Not everyone will agree, of course. Cynics will spout their cliches: "Those who can't write teach, and those who can't teach, review," or "Critics are nothing but failed novelists." To that, I say: "Step down from your high horse, and join us here among the grounded."

But even if you do agree with the notion of criticism as art, there still may be discussion about degree. In talking about this with my friend Jeff — a very good bellwether on topics like this — he basically agreed, but also said "I suspect there is no substitute for those who actually create." I guess it depends on your definition of "create," but this point is well-taken, too...

The sad thing is, especially in this wiki world, where opinions and blogs are like noses (everyone's got one, and some are larger, more forceful, and more slanted than others), good, thoughtful criticism — the kind that Ms. Smith thinks is art — is disappearing rapidly. Too many newspapers are cutting their book review sections and it seems that amateur critics who, for whatever reason, thoroughly enjoy eviscerating a book, just to make themselves feel better, are proliferating. (And yes, I fully realize the irony of decrying blogs that exhibit bad criticism ON A BLOG — which may or may not be considered bad, depending on whether I've pissed you off at some point.)   

There's really no agreed-upon definition of what "art" is. And what inspires folks (either to write or while reading) is as widely varied as opinions on particular pieces of art themselves. So I can't wait to hear what the community has to say about this one!

My response:
There are some book/film/art critics who write in a much more artistic (read: creative and insightful) way than others, that's certain. But it's true I don't believe there really is any substitute for those that actually create. At its most fundamental level there's this: without the creators, what would the critics have to discuss?

But, also, more vital to this discussion, I believe that there is a certain risk in creating that for the most part isn't there in criticism. After all, what is criticism but an opinion? If people disagree with your opinion, oh well, that's what opinions are for! I think there is a more visceral vulnerability for the brave soul that puts a song or short story or exhibit or performance out there for the public to see than there is for someone who comments on that piece.

I think in some way at least, my point of view develops from personal experience. I have always fancied myself a pretty good critical writer. I appreciate the essay form, the making of an argument and then supporting that stance. In grad school we had to produce a "substantial scholarly work" for our masters thesis. OR we could choose to do a creative thesis (i.e. write a play or novel, etc.) Though I wish I had, I didn't have the courage (nor likely the talent, I suppose...) to choose the creative thesis,     and instead spent 40-some pages formulating a detailed theory on the use of technology in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet. I think the paper was solid; it was logical and original and thoughtful -- but I wouldn't classify it as art. But, again, just my opinion.    

One final note on critical analysis though: I think that close readings of other works only makes an artist better when creating his or her own art. Which leads me to say that I love the profoundly brilliant talents like Zadie Smith (and perhaps Greg Zimmerman?!) who have the capacity and wherewithal to both create and critique.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

West Coast Funnel Clouds?

Expected Weather in LA: Sun?  Of Course!  Rain?  Ok, sometimes.  Flooding?  Maybe.  Tornado Warning?  Huh?

Winter Wonderland, L.A. Style

Dear L.A.: ever hear of storm drains?  I went to meet my buddy for coffee in the valley today and thought I had somehow gotten onto the set of Waterworld.  A few photos from my (unexpected!) adventure.  I would have been better off taking my canoe...

EDIT: Updated as of Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. - there is a thunderstorm out here - well, some thunder and lightning, more than I've seen out here before.  And crazy wind and lots and lots of rain.  Word is that there is another storm on the way tomorrow that will be even worse than this one.  And who says it's always sunny in L.A.?!

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm With Coco!

Hundreds of fans lined the street in Burbank -- in the pouring rain! -- shouting and waving pro-Conan signs.  Bet NBC loves that...

Jeff Boehm -
IMDb -

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The Golden Globes were held this evening in a rainy Beverly Hills, and as usual, it was an awards show that offered very little in the way of surprises.  Ricky Gervais hosting got a few good zingers in, notably about people being able to buy their Golden Globes, the NBC mess, and Mel Gibson -- in between sips of his beer and the hawking of his projects. 

Seemed like the most heartfelt -- and to me, the best -- speech of the night was by Austrian Christoph Waltz who won Best Supporting Actor for his amazing turn in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.  James Cameron won for Best Director and Avatar won for Best Film (did you see his strange hair??)  I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the Hollywood Foreign Press went for that movie instead of less populist (but perhaps more deserving?) folks and films.  It will be interesting to compare the results of the Globes to the Oscars next month.  From those who watched: any favorite moments?  Surprises?  Disappointments?

Friday, January 15, 2010

More Work for Hollywood Soon?

Unless you've been living under a rock, undoubtedly you've heard at least something about the debacle going on with NBC late-night.  Of course out here, the Jay vs. Conan vs. NBC saga is front page news.  Why?  Well, mainly because by NBC agreeing to take Leno off his 10 pm nightly spot, that means 5 extra hours of prime-time programming.  And that means more potential jobs for actors, writers, producers, script supervisors, set designers, prop masters, transportation captains, caterers, etc., etc.  So, no matter what happens with The Tonight Show, we all say thanks for finally getting rid of Leno in prime-time! 

Of course, while NBC is looking at what to fill those hours with, the network is also frantically trying to straighten out it's late night mess.  The most current update on the late-night stuff from Nikki Finke and

BREAKING NEWS! EXCLUSIVE! 9TH UPDATE, FRIDAY 7 AM: I can confirm that Team Conan reassembled in Los Angeles last night, and O'Brien's reps are still "figuring out how to settle" but at the same time still lobbying NBCU chief Jeff Zucker to keep Conan as host of The Tonight Show. Their negotiations continued with NBC. Unlike the network which wants a resolution by end of today, the agents-lawyers-managers are in no hurry to accept what NBC is offering to end this late night crisis and the resulting PR nightmare. Team Conan is banking on it getting worse, not better, with every passing hour and day as the media and public stay obsessed with the network vs Tonight ShowStay tuned. host story and all its drama. "This will get off the front pages," NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker predicted to Team Conan. "You are 100% wrong," one of O'Brien's reps shot back.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January Madness!

Hamlet vs. OthelloMidsummer Night's Dream vs. Merchant of Venice!  Who will prevail?  Who will spring the upset?  To gear up for those upcoming NCAA pools, join "The Battle of the Bards" where you pick your favorite Shakespeare plays in a tourney style format!

Directions can be found HERE on Padfoot and Prongs' blog.  It is very easy to get involved, you just need to pick the results of 15 weekly match-ups, BUT you must e-mail your picks by Monday, January 18, so get crackin'!

Incidentally, I was just assigned a scene from Hamlet to work on in class, so I'm rereading the play and I must say, that Bill Shakespeare sure had a way with words...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"11, September"

There is nothing quite like solid, thought-provoking, wonderfully acted live theatre!  And if you're up for a night of just that, check out my friends Paul and Liz in the two-hander, "11, September" at the Odyssey Theatre in L.A. (Click on the title for more details about the show).  The provocative show is about coincidence and fate, truth and denial, and those chance encounters that define our lives...

EDIT: HALF-PRICE tickets for the show available HERE.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Message Delivered

I had the opportunity to see a screening of The Messenger last night.  Like The Hurt Locker, it is a war movie that's more about a warrior.  Unlike that film, The Messenger is a war film that takes place entirely on home soil.  But don't let that fool you; this film is just as gritty, uncompromising, and viscerally jarring as The Hurt Locker.  Another thing the two movies have in common is incredible, unflinching lead performances -- here Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster -- and powerful, poignant supports -- notably Samantha Morton and a surprisingly sensitive Steve Buscemi.  I would not be surprised to see some love thrown these actors way as awards season continues... 

The Messenger's intensity and raw truth is at times hard to watch, but it is a film not to be missed.

Shopping at the Job Market

Well, I have certainly realized that it is tough to get a foothold on consistent income doing the acting thing out here, so I've decided to look in earnest for some decent paying, non-acting related part-time work.  And I've noticed so far that finding such a position might nearly be as difficult!  The whole process of searching and sending out resumes/letters can be tiring, especially when you imagine that likely any job you apply for will also be applied for by a hundred (at least) other folks.  But, that's the current job market anywhere I suppose.

As I was telling a friend the other day, 8 hours behind a desk seems so much more daunting to me than 14 hours on a set right now.  Or maybe I'm just afraid that the desk symbolizes giving up on the actual goal of being here to act.  In any case, I'm just hoping that I can score a consistent acting gig sometime soon to make a potential desk job unnecessary (or short-lived!)  That said, if anyone has any leads on solid part-time work out in LA, please let me know :)

Final e-mail test

Thanks for bearing with my testing of mobile blogging.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Most Disappointing of 2009

Yesterday I posted my favorite movies of last year, today I go the other way: my most disappointing films of 2009.  I say "disappointing" because, honestly if I go see something that turns out to be exactly what I expected, or should have expected (i.e. the hour-too-long Transformers 2, the awful Obsessed), I kind of get what I deserve, right?

Here are some though that I had higher expectations for:

The Unborn - with its pedigree, David S. Goyer (co-wrote The Dark Knight!), Gary Oldman, Idris Elba (who was also in the dreadful Obsessed -- rough year for a brilliant actor) I expected more than a run of the mill, lame horror film.  That was the best you guys could do? A perfect REVIEW.  Also falling into the lame horror movie camp: The Haunting in Connecticut.  Awful.  And these (as well as my next pick...) really stuck out in a year with some smart and very, very entertaining horror flicks such as Paranormal Activity and The Last House on the Left.

H2 - I was pleasantly surprised by last year's remake of Halloween, so had high hopes for this Rob Zombie sequel.  Much bigger budget this time, much more mediocre results.

Terminator Salvation - Call me crazy for expecting good things from this latest incarnation of the man vs. machine war, but the trailers looked pretty great and Christian Bale is always good (especially when he's not growling or cussing out a DP.)  The look of the movie was perfect, but the story quickly devolved into complete absurdity.  It has been widely reported that the original script was great -- and get this, actually made sense! -- but that Bale demanded his part be bigger and so many scenes were rewritten/added to.  Ugh.  For a much more entertaining use of your time, go google Bale's on-set rant!

The Men Who Stare at Goats - Expected Three Kings, got three headaches trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  Or why this movie was even made... Shallow, unfunny and boring -- although it looked like the immensely talented actors had fun making it!

What about you?  Any major disappointments at the cinema this year?

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Favorites of 2009

It's time again for the annual list of my favorite movies.  A few caveats, as usual: 1) these are my personal favorite films of the year, I'm not trying to claim they are the best, 2) they are movies I saw during 2009 (some had early releases in 2008) and 3) there were many, many movies released this year that I didn't see, some of which might have ended up on this list if I had -- but there's always next year!

10) The Cove - doc about the emotional intelligence of dolphins and the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan was the most difficult to watch movie of the year, and a damning indictment of a culture that lets something like this happen.

9) 500 Days of Summer - quirky, fresh romantic comedy with a kickin' soundtrack.

8) This Is It! - doc about Michael Jackson's preparation for his final tour is a peek into the creative process of a singularly talented performer and is unmissable, no matter what you think of Jackson the man.

7) Fantastic Mr. Fox - smart, visually interesting stop-motion take on the Roald Dahl classic featuring some great voice performances and clever dialogue.

6) The Road - nearly pitch-perfect translation of the desolate, hauntingly beautiful novel.
5) Star Trek - big budget reboot that was entertaining while remaining true to the spirit of the original.

4) The Hurt Locker - a non-political war film?  yes.  and likely the most intense film of the year.

3) An Education - beautifully acted, deliberately paced coming-of-age story that hits all the right notes.

2) The Wrestler - saw this last January, and it stuck with me all year.  mickey rourke was amazing, and heartbreaking, as Randy the Ram.

1) Up in the Air - a wonderfully acted, perfectly crafted little slice of what life is like at this moment in time; from the economic recession, to the impact of technology on work & life, to the lack of interpersonal connection in modern society.  Clooney was great, as was the supporting cast, and there were some spot-on cameos as well.  nice work, Mr. Reitman.

Honorable Mention: Angels & Demons - Ron Howard's action-packed thriller/mystery!  (and my first SAG principal credit ;)

Among other movies I really enjoyed this year: Whatever Works, Up, Inglorious Basterds, Moon, Taken, Paranormal Activity, The Visitor, Drag Me to Hell, District 9, Let the Right One In, and Every Little Step.

Am I way off on any of these?  Other favorites?  Let me know!

Thumb Down

I was enjoying the beautiful, sunny, 85-degree day yesterday on the softball field -- that is, until I jammed my thumb diving for a ball.  I have broken a bone in my hand doing the same thing before, and I was a little worried I might have done so again.  Fortunately, a few x-rays later, I learned that it was not broken, just badly sprained at the bottom knuckle.  So, I now have a highly fashionable splint covering my slowly purpling, sausage-esque thumb.  But, it should be good as new in a few weeks!  Maybe in time for the madly anticipated softball playoffs?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Overeating and Shivering Done...For Now

Back from the land of snow, Christmas lights, home-cooked meals, family, friends, single digit temps, warm fires, George Webb breakfasts, and $7 pitchers of beer, I am once again enjoying the Southern California sun.  Now, my task is to burn off the several dozen Christmas cookies -- among other native Wisconsin delicacies -- that I ate... 

The time back home seemed to fly by quite quickly, and I didn't get to see everyone that I had hoped to, but I was reminded just how lucky I am to have friends and family that are so supportive of, and encouraging about, my "non-traditional" career choice -- so thank you all.  See you again soon!  (Or if you'd like to experience some winter weather that doesn't freeze your face, feel free to stop by ;)