July 26, 2007

San Diego Improv

I'm by no means an "actor", although I've done a lot of local community theatre in my day.

REAL Actors, being dramatic!
I think the guy in the sheet's in trouble for something.

Doubtful what I did on "Live on Tape" could really be called "acting" either - but it more or less got the job done back then.

See? All it takes is funny hair, some glasses and voilĂ ! Acting!

Either way, I enjoy getting up on stage or in front of the camera and making an ass out of myself.
Shortly before I left the shining jewel of the Midwest known as the Quad Cities...

Three of the Quad Cities in their "hey day".

...for the brighter lights of L.A. I became involved with an improv group called ComedySportz.

ComedySportz in Rock Island, Ill

This is where I was introduced to what's known as "short form" improv... it's the "Whose line..." type of game improv. I performed in Rock Island for only about a year and half before heading west.

In LA I've performed with a variety of improv groups. Including IO (ImprovOlympic) in LA. I was a founding member and performed with them for over 5 years. I even took workshops from the late Del Closer, their founder and guru.

IO in Hollywood & Del Close... hey, he looks like the guy in the sheet!

IO is now a big machine in LA (which is great) - but that's no longer for me. It became a magnet for actors - meaning, lotsa' pushy people fighting for their few moments on the stage. So I decided it was time to bow out; I wasn't really enjoying it any longer.
Since I do improv just for myself and to have fun, the decision was an easy one. This whole time I was still performing with ComedySportz, but up in Santa Barbara. By then we'd opened a theatre in San Diego called The National Comedy Theatre. And this is where I decided to perform. But this decision came with a price. And that price is: TRAFFIC.

The trek to San Diego to perform improv is something I do about every other week. And it's an endeavor that consumes 12 to 18 hours out my day. The drive to San Diego from where I live in LA SHOULD be about a 2.5 hour drive. That is, without traffic, but there's always traffic. So the best I can hope to make the trip is 3 hours, but it's taken me as long a 6 before. And that's just one way.

Here's a typical trip to San Diego to perform at The National Comedy Theatre. Call time isn't until 6:30pm, so hitting the road at 12:20 should be safe.... yeah, right.

Friday, July 13th 2007. 12:20pm all ready to go!
Friday the 13th?! Aaack! What was I thinking?!
Fortunately, I'm wearing underwear.

Since traffic is such a huge factor in driving in Southern California, very often the quickest way to get somewhere is not the shortest way. The shortest distance from LA to San Diego is down the 5. But during the day, on a Friday or Saturday, it'll be gridlock. So I go around LA, heading East before going South. It adds more than 50 miles to the drive-- but generally it's a hell of a lot faster.

Just outside of Pasadena... Hey things are looking good! Clear sailing!

Driving... nerves of steel... ready for action!

Uh oh... I've got a bad feeling about this...

CRAP! Traffic comes to a complete standstill.
And this won't be the only time...

I've gotten used to this drive, I've been doing it for nearly 7 years now. There's plenty of time to think, reflect, listen to the radio, books on tape, pick your nose, look around...

Ooo, cool car!

That's pretty much how the drive goes... go, stop... go, stop... go, stop... All the way down. It's nerve wracking, but that's what driving's like on the freeways out here. After a couple of hours, I see this:

A BIG bridge! Is it going to attack? I hope it's friendly...

When I see this massive expanse over the 15 freeway, I know that I'm getting close to San Diego. By 4pm I reach San Diego. The drive really wasn't all that bad. Only took 3.5 hours. It could have been a lot worse.

India Street, where the National Comedy Theatre is!
It's up there in the building with the sign saying Marquis. Even though
that's NOT the name of our company, it just the name of the building.

Our theatre is tucked back in a little courtyard area that we share with a British Pub and a British specialty shop... and a pizza place. On the outside the theatre may not look like much, but on the inside... it's, ah... um... pretty much the same. But as a space to perform in, it's great.

Hey! Who left the door open?!

I'm one of the "veteran" players on the team. That's a nice way to say that I'm one of the "old guys". There are a few of us geezers on the team so I'm not alone, but most of the players are young folk. I rarely play on Friday nights, generally I'm down on Saturdays. Friday is when the younger and newer players perform. This is a Friday night.

Katie, Emily, and Kamarra before the show. Katie always
smiles "chin first" for some reason.

Our theatre is not huge, but it can seat about 100 people comfortably, or 118 uncomfortably. The stage itself is great to perform on. It's just got a nice "feel". The theatre is sort of a "black box" space. Not really a formal theatre and not really a club... so I wouldn't really know how to describe it.

Kamarra sweeping before the show... any spare change we can find helps.

There are few things about the way the stage is laid out that have bugged me for a long time... like the door that's cut into the wall dead-center. We NEVER use it and it just looks awkward. Also, the bright yellow strip outlining the proscenium, what's up with that? This is the first time I'd seen that, the strip had just been added. I'll go on record as sayin' that I'm not a fan of the yellow border. Especially when you compare how this looks to other improv theatres I've performed at:

-ComedySportz, Milwaukee Wisconsin-
Practical door, window and openings for entrances

-ComedySportz, Rock Island Illinois-
Turn of the century vaudeville palace!

Okay, this last one's not really fair. The Rock Island theatre above is Circa' 21 the dinner theatre next door to ComedySportz. This year Rock Island hosted the National ComedySportz Tournament and this is the theatre they used - so it was a big fancy-schmancy deal. But their regular theatre is about as nice.

Back to our show down in San Diego... On Friday's and Saturday's we do two performances: one at 7:30pm and one at 9:45pm. Before each show we gather in the Green Room, which is an odd pattern of reds and blues with no green at all, and we get ready.

Joey (lower left) is instantly hypnotized, as Joe (on steps)
plays dulcet tones from his invisible harpsichord.
The fact they share the same name creates this unusual bond.

Katie in the gondola of our blimp ready to launch!
Actually, this is our sound booth.
Katie ran lights and sound for the shows

Joe Birdsong, our ref for the show, warms up the audience.

The show! Full of action! Excitement! And standing around!

Our "loyal fans" enjoying the show.

Both shows go well. The theatre is about 3/4 full and the audience seems to really enjoy it. At the end of the evening it's all hand slaps and high-fives as the crowd leaves. After the show we all pitch in to tidy up the theatre and then settle in for notes on how we felt the shows went. By 12:20 am I'm back on the road, headed for home in LA.

This and the radio will be my only companions for the next 2 plus hours.

If I listen to music on the drive back, it generally makes me sleepy, so I usually tune into talk radio and listen to Coast to Coast on KFI in LA. So I get to hear George Noory moderate a number of loony callers taking about everything from bigfoot, to aliens, to time travel.

12:20 and no traffic!

And then... IT HAPPENS!

A detour?! Aw CRAP!

Caltrans generally does a lot of their road-work at night, so sometimes while there may not be much traffic in the early morning hours, there can be other delays... and these can be really frustrating. This detour forced me to double back on the freeway and go back about 8 miles onto another road before getting back on the freeway again. However... it's not long before I encounter more construction and this one causes a HUGE traffic jam!

1:52 am and gridlock!


Eventually I make it through the traffic. I hit several other pockets of construction that either divert me another way or slow me down. But I've made this drive so many times, that it really doesn't phase me all that much... and by the time I arrive home, the drive is nothing more than a blur that I'm ready to forget.

2:58 am. Home at last...

The drive back only took about 2.5 hours, so it really wasn't bad at all. But when I get home I'm exhausted, yet wired from the drive. It'll take me awhile to fall asleep. This drive to San Diego once or twice a month may seem like a huge ordeal (and it kinda' is) but many times I'll go down early (with Emily) and we'll spend the day sight-seeing or hanging out in San Diego before the shows. Sometimes I'll get there early enough to catch an afternoon movie. So it's not just peforming the improv, it's also a chance to get out of LA for the day.

Believe it or not, the big drive to San Diego, dealing with the traffic, and the long day, is a hell of lot better than dealing with Hollywood actors, and the shows in San Diego are ten times more satisfying.

July 23, 2007

Ho Lilly Woo and the Order of the Phoenix

The world famous Hollywood Sign. It's delicious!

I live in Hollywood... well, okay, not really Hollywood. I live in the Valley.

As it originally appeared in 1920 to advertise the "Ho Lilly Woo",
a Chinese restaurant owned by silent film star Lilly Woo.
Woo, was Irish, not Chinese.

You couldn't pay me to live in Hollywood. It's a toilet. It's where every wannabe actor, musician, writer, and singer who are "trying to make it" are. It's where all the newbies fresh off the bus spill out, thinking that this is where they need to be - they don't. While I admire struggle, there's no reason to start in the quicksand. Begin on firm ground and hope you don't end up in the mire.

People who work in "Hollywood" don't live in Hollywood. It's like deciding you want to work at the zoo so you jump in the monkey cage and hope someone hires you. But instead, the other monkeys in the cage throw feces at you. That's Hollywood: Monkeys throwing crap at each other and hoping something sticks.

After "Ho Lilly Woo" failed, the sign was sold in 1923 to local developers
to advertise a new housing development, "Hollywoodland".

Successful people in "Hollywood" live in Beverly Hills, or Malibu, or Pacific Palisades - I live in "The Valley" which includes none of those places. The Valley is where most of the studios are: NBC, Warner Bros. Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Dreamworks, etc. Since I work in animation this is the place to be. Even though I'm at the bottom of the barrel, lowest of the low: a writer. And as I've been told on several occasions, not even a "real writer" I'm an "animation writer".

Despite this I still have some pride in what I do and a sense of what I like and don't like. One of the things that I like, are movies. And one of the things I don't like are current summer movies.

My fondness for movies stems from the films I saw as a kid in the late 70's (I'm a 1st generation Star Wars fan) and through the 80's (Raiders & Back to the Future). Summer to me meant having great, fun, action films that you can lose yourself in. Films that you'll go back as see again and again.

Okay, I'll admit that I'm no longer anywhere close to the target demo for what studios aim their films at now - I'm an old fart. However I am very forgiving when watching a film. I WANT to like it. I'll let stuff go and try to "come along for the ride". But in recent years so many of the summer films I find lacking.


I grew up reading Spiderman comic books. It was part of my childhood. And I love most of Sam Rami's films. While I wasn't a huge fan of the first Spiderman film, I was able to enjoy it. Spiderman II I liked a lot better... and then Spiderman III came out. I wanted to like it. But it was just a mess. It had the earmarks of executive meddling all over it - as do most films nowadays.

Oh, that's gonna leave a hole.

There were too many villains, the story was disjointed, Toby McGuire looked bored throughout. Venom was just crammed into the story in a hamfisted way. Thomas Haden Church was good in the film and should have been the only villain in the story. The effects were of course cool, the effects are ALWAYS cool in movies now - but effects don't equal story, not when a film's made by studio execs who have multiple agendas on how to "sell" the film to the public. And then there was the tired Green Goblin storyline that was played out yet again. And don't get me started on the embarrassing song n' dance scene in the bar --- oy!

I feel random... oh so random... I feel random, and pointless and gay!

There is one good thing about all the Spiderman flims: J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Throughout the Spiderman trilogy he seems to be the one actor who "gets it" and is in the right movie.

Flathead?! You better be talkin'
about a screwdriver, buddy!

The first PoC movie was a pleasant surprise. Nobody expected that film to amount to anything. At the time it was in production I was working on the Disney lot. I was able to walk around the sound stages and sets. I got to see the treasure cave (before and after it burned down) and walk around blacksmith shop.

The second film "Dead Man's Chest" wasn't as strong as the first. I enjoyed it, but seriously, did it NEED to be that long?

Then "At World's End" came out this summer. I was really hoping for a little of the magic from the first movie. But no. The weenie cart had rolled into the street and into oncoming traffic. There was too much going on, too many characters. Even Davey Jone's Locker was a disappointment--- salt flats? SALT FLATS?!! Are you kidding me?! The rock-crabs okay... but SALT FLATS?! Again, the effects were cool.

All together now, "I'm a little teapot, short and stout..." hey,
there's no rum in my teapot!


I'll never make it through airport security with all this metal.

I'm not all about the hatin' in this post. Really I'm not. I actually thought Transformers was fun... well, the first half. I loved the Transformers cartoon... the Transformers movie looked great, but it just became another ho-hum CG fight-fest in the last half, which, of course, looked cool.

That guy? Oh he's just a semi-transformer.

It was nearly impossible to tell any of the autobots (or decepticons) apart, except for Optimus-prime, cus he had cool colors, and Bumble-bee because he was mostly yellow. Otherwise it was just morphing surfaces clicking and slamming around with no way to tell them apart. A barrel full of silverware shaken around in front of the camera would have been easier to follow. Also, by the end of the film, most of the humor and charm had been left behind.


Mmmm, bite-sized orchestra conductors...

I like Harry Potter. I'm not a fanatic though. I've only read the first book. I plan on reading the rest. Overall, I like the movies. I thought the first two were forgettable, but the last two, "The Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Goblet of Fire" I thought were really well done. "The Order of the Phoenix"...? Um, it was okay, but not great. And it really should have been so much better.


Films where characters are irrationally unreasonable, just in order to keep the plot moving. There's something that can be solved by a single conversation, and the two parties won't speak or act just because, if they do... then there's no more story. That's the sort of stuff that frustrates the hell out of me with Harry Potter.

Harry Potter, the precept is that all the good folk and evil folk, recognize the fact that Harry survived an attack by Voldemort - something no other wizard or witch (good or bad) could ever claim or hope to do. So right or wrong, there's something special about the kid. It comes as no surprise that the bad guys are trying to either destroy him, or get him to join them. Consequently you'd think that the established magical community would take great care to watch over Harry, and not just throw him in school and ignore him... then not listen to him when he tries to warn them when bad stuff is going on!

Spell of... Lightsaberium!

Also, if everyone is so terrified of Voldemort, then WHY, when Harry tells them that Voldemort has returned, do they not at least pay him some creedence? Why would they not at least follow through on some level? Except for the Order of the Phoenix, who act like the magic underground resistance.

I understand the dynamics created in the stories: Evil master returning, his minions gaining power... the good wizards & witches have to work underground because of the bureaucratic Ministry of Magic is immovable. I guess it's just the way it's executed in the films that I find clunky and frustrating. But that may be how it is in the books.

I guess my biggest beef with summer movies is what they're lacking: a sense of fun. They're not as much fun as they should (or could) be. Studio films, are rarely allowed to have the vision of a director. It's all marketing, focus testing, and trying to manufacture a "hit" without caring if it makes sense or is any good. It's just monkeys throwing crap and seeing what sticks.

Hollywood Execu-chimp.

Well, there's always next summer to see what's flying around at the cineplexes.

July 17, 2007

NEW D.C. Dingle Trailer!

American's been asking for it! Well here it is, the story of a true Patriot!
The latest D.C. Dingle Trailer!


Most of the shooting for this 12 minute short took place over the course of two weekends. But throughout post there have been additions, extra shots and some changes. Overall it's gone very smoothly, from what I can tell. Rob Humphrey, who co-wrote (with Jim Peterson) and directed the film is also the editor and he's the one who's been dealing with all the headaches of putting it together. Since I was just one of the guys in front of the camera (in a fat suit) I have the luxury of relaxin' on the sidelines and watching it all happen, and happen it did.

Emily, Mike (on camera) Rob, Tom (D.C.) and Jeff (Wally)
The mortar scene, where D.C. and Wally dish out their
own brand of patriotic justice!

Mike (director of photography) adjusts the lighting so that
the cross scrim makes that perfect "holier than thou" glow.

I hadn't been involved with a shoot in quite awhile. It was nice to be around people where everyone loves what they're doing (yeah, I know that's a cliche) but it's true. I had a blast, even if I had to spend some of the shoot walking around in red underwear with my butt-flap showing.

In position to shoot. Terry (our "bestboy/grip") does not look happy.
Maybe I'm showin' too much flap.

What impressed me most about this project is how many professional tools there are now readily available to anyone wanting to make an independent project. D.C. Dingle was shot in hi-def and included a sequence where the interior of a tank (and the tank itself) is all done with computer graphics (all executed by the amazing talents of Mike Medlock).

John, Mike, Tom (D.C.), Rob, and Jeff (Wally)
Set up to shoot the tank interior.

Wally and D.C. in the "tank"... actual tank interior to be added later.

Example of Mike's CG work--- D.C.'s giant speakers atop his house.

Like I said, throughout post production there have been a few changes and additions. One addition required me to put on a dress, wig, and makeup in order to play D.C.'s mom.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Barbara Bush!

What worries me is that there's a woman out there who actually
fits into this dress. And apparently that "woman" is now me.