Monthly Archives: August 2002

8/20/02 Making movie trailers is


Making movie trailers is about three steps laterally from being a snake oil salesman waltzing through Topeka in the late 1870s. Everywhere else in American corporate society there are pretty strict rules about false advertising, but movie previews remain the one place where lying your ass off is not only recommended, but required. I worked for several of the big movie trailer houses in Los Angeles, and while there was enough money surrounding them to make each place its own hushed enclave of secrecy, the people working there would usually whisper that their advertisements are frequently hilariously off-base.

Most of the time it’s just because the movie sucked. Turd-polishing accounts for most of the misrepresentation, as studios will do just about anything to make a few bait-and-switch bucks back on opening weekend. I worked on one Ephron-esque vehicle that shall remain nameless – a lifeless, confusing, roadkill of a film that had the bloated sheen of the recently dead and they told us to come up with a trailer that was as fuckin’ happy-go-lucky as a juggling clown on crystal meth. And if I were an ordinary Josephine who paid money to see that movie because of the trailer, I would have been very, very upset.

As for the “giving away all the endings” thing, do what we did: blame the studio. They’re the ones that always ask for 19 great ideas and 1 stupid one and always go with the stupid one. They demand that trailer makers give away the endings to movies because they have no faith that your average McNugget-passing schlub has the ability to comprehend a movie unless the murderer is revealed thirteen seconds into the trailer. And thanks in part to the movies the studios make, they’re probably right.

I got into trailers almost by accident, if calling every day for five months seems like an accident. My friend Amy Hill said she wrote trailer copy one summer and the money was good, so I banged on doors until they brought me in. At the meeting, the president of Universal called and said that the trailers for Mystery Men “weren’t tracking worth a damn” and to get someone else on it. They looked at me, and I was thrown to the wolves. Two hours later I returned with twenty ideas, and the head of the department said, “we’re going to make you very, very rich.”

Of course, that didn’t happen, but I did manage to stay afloat in Los Angeles for a long time by writing everything that guy says you know, the “In a world where love means nothing…” kind of thing. And I did have three or four campaigns that went through the roof, the biggest of which was Sleepy Hollow, whereby three words paid for my 33rd year: “Heads Will Roll.”

Los Angeles being what it is, and me being deep-dipped in shit as I was, I lost most of my contacts in the business and moved to New York in mid-2000 and didn’t think about trailers again (unless a particularly awful one was screening). Until today, that is, when I suddenly had to make a trailer for my own movie, and another film I hadn’t seen until Monday. This was more intense than just copywriting, however, this is the whole shebang: I had to pick all of the scenes, marry them to the words, and still make people feel like filing in the door from thither and yon.

Writing for trailer copy is basically the marriage of haiku and commerce with a nice “parallel construction” thrown in. By that I mean:




One of my faves (never used, of course) from the Stuart Little campaign was this:






You get the idea. Looks easy, but you try it. And it’s a lot harder to do on your own movie, because you’re not used to looking at the forest for the trees. Our project seems to be going swimmingly, however our editor Jessie has lots of good ideas and never fails to admit her bad ones. I, too, am finding it a lot easier to say how bad certain things I make can suck. We’re back in the editing bay tomorrow for round two, so I leave you with the trailer for this blog:









our editor Jessie and me on her birthday in February; my hair has been shorn since, as a public service

8/19/02 Yep, that is my


Yep, that is my last unemployment check stub for the foreseeable future. It’s quite an accomplishment, since it means That Internet Job has been paying for me, one way or another, since June of 2000. And it’s a company that doesn’t even exist anymore! They moved me from Los Angeles to New York, paid me for a year, then severance for six weeks, then unemployment for 26 weeks, then with September 11 came 13 more weeks of emergency unemployment. This week is the last week I shall be feeding off that particular teat, and I just want to say one thing: Thanks, That Internet Job. You were a bleeding nightmare and I complained a lot about you, but I have the humility to accept that if it weren’t for you, my life would be so much the lesser.

Speaking of gettin’ on with one’s life, we had the IFP orientation meeting tonight, where we learned the differing style of presenting one’s movie whilst at the festival. Last year, some guy who had an ice cream-themed film rented an ice cream truck and apparently embarrassed everybody, so this year they want us to show a little more class. I’m all for that, since my Pink House Acne Scrub was having a tough time getting off the drafting table anyway.

It was fun seeing the infectiously-excited young filmmakers all checking each other out one of them, named Gabriel, tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself, something that hasn’t happened to me since frat rush. I liked him; he’s got moxie. The only drag of the meeting was finding out that four of the twenty films will be selected for awards at the beginning of the festival, which I understand for press purposes, but still takes the wind out of the sails of sixteen other movies. I told the director of the Market that I’d been beat up too much in 3rd grade to feel good about that sort of pre-emptive exclusion, but I don’t think I got very far.

Tonight, as Tessa went to bed early, I had to stay up and think of trailer ideas for both The Pink House and Martin & Orloff. Making these trailers exercises a muscle in me that has been dormant for a while, but it got erect fairly quickly. What a weird skill to have in one’s arsenal. If it weren’t so demoralizing, I’d probably make a career out of it.

8/18/02 It seems like the


It seems like the only thing worse than something bad happening is waiting for it terrorists use this logic all the time, and it’s why a kidney stone power is so potent. I’m sure any readers familiar with this week’s blog could give half a fuck about this topic, having covered it thrice, but if you ever had one, you’d know what I mean. I’ve never had the sort of mind-body connection that alerted me that one was coming; I think my blog from five days ago was some sort of shamanistic stab at warding it away. I drank gallons of water this week in suspicion, even though I had felt no pain and nothing seemed to be wrong. I just fucking knew. Then again, some religions would posit that I made it happen by mentioning it. After all, the end of the famous Medieval phrase “speak of the devil” is “…and he shall appear.”

Passed the stone at 5:45 in the morning, which was nice; the whole ordeal wasn’t half as bad as last year’s July 4th debacle. The only thing that lingered on was the ghost pain, a heavy-duty Percoset hangover, and yes, that awful feeling of not being in control. It will take a few days to emerge out from under the penumbra of fear and start being cavalier again. Until then, a cookies & cream delight from Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream in downtown Great Barrington will have to do.

Sam and Tessa exchange ice cream flavor ideas

8/17/02 I suppose it’s terribly


I suppose it’s terribly itonic and all, but I got my seconds kindey stone tonight. I’m writing in a brief window iof painlesslessness on 3 (three) Prcoset, 3 advil and something they pushed up my arts so I won’t puke. I’ll probably go back and correct the sentcnes, but not now.

I keep falling asleep during this.

I knew this was comeing, I even wrote a blog bout it like three days ago. Scroll down if you don’t beleve me. I would link to it, but that would be laffable.

All I can say is WHY IS YOUR (my) URETER SO SMALL!? Can’t they make a ureter-enlarger so this doetn’t hurt so bad? I thin its a flawed design, that;s all I’m saying. I got a cat-scan at the hopsital, and it reminded me of the Battering Ram at Busch Gardens.


8/16/02 Can you get a


Can you get a sense of the stifling heat today? Can you feel how steamingly, scorchingly, achingly hot it is jostling down Canal Street around 2pm? If not, click here for the bigger picture, and try to imagine yourself in the bowels of downtown, just getting off the Manhattan Bridge, the pothole-encrusted, 3rd-world, car-damaging stretch of Canal looming out before you. The whole place smells like the bottom of an NBA laundry hamper, and you are already 25 minutes late for where you need to be. The quality of the road plus the quality of the ozone mixes the worst parts of the years 1885 and 2002 together into a post-apocalyptic bouillabaisse. That’s right, kids, it’s our commute from Brooklyn!

My nephews Sean Patrick and Lucas (along with their mom Melissa) were in town today, staying at our place, rocking on the guitar until late, watching episodes of The Family Guy pirated from eBay. Both nephews remain delightfully surreal, and it’s fascinating how many tics, facial expressions and word choices they picked up from Kent.

my extended family also sleeps until noon, which obviously means we’re all Welsh cave hibernators with little use for morning

We met them later today at The Half King for lunch, where Sean Patrick’s friend Jessie told the story of their first short film. Called “Citizen Robot,” it’s about a misfit who befriends a race of feminine androids to improve his social interaction. I don’t want to spoil the ending in case any of you end up seeing it at the Iowa City High School Film Retrospective, but basically, our protagonist frees the race of imprisoned fembots and all is well. Oh yeah, they couldn’t find any girls to be in the film, and they really couldn’t find any girls to be in a cage… and they couldn’t find a cage, so they dressed up one of their hapless friends in a wig and put him in a soccer net. Oh yeah, the robots are also half-rabbit.

Well, the whole thing landed them in trouble with the West High School Art Club, as I’m sure you could guess. I told them that visionaries are rarely appreciated in their own lifetimes. They said that they’ll actually join the Art Club this year and effect change from within.

8/15/02 So the story goes


So the story goes like this: my mom was contacted by two different would-be composers who knew she was a respected, published and recorded musician, wanting to know how much it would cost to get their own choral works recorded. Now, put aside that this is a little like asking Gaugin to help you paint your porch, but whatever: this is the business she wants to do, and doesn’t mind holding a few hands along the way if it means some income. Plus, these guys said they were “totally funded and supported” by “eager patrons.”

To digress, my mom is one of the great choral composers of our time, selling millions for Hal Leonard Publishing, and basically writing, editing and creating music for about 90% of the series kids use in music class today. If you’re under 30 and reading this, you’ve sung one of my mom’s songs. The are two reasons you don’t know this, and one is because she decided to have kids (five of ’em, your author included) and follow my dad’s career trajectory into the high faluting world of conducting. The other is what I’ll get to in a minute.

Anyway, so these schlubs get my mom’s email, which includes detailed accounts of how much it costs to have a small chamber orchestra buttressed by synthesized instruments, a choir, a conductor, an engineer, studio time and tape. What follows is a month of silence – finally one guy writes back and says he’s “still trying to secure support,” which is Artist for “I’m full of shit.” The other has the temerity to go onto a public internet discussion group and post that “some delusional producer” has given him an estimate that was apparently “so far out of line” that he was looking for suggestions on how to make it more “bare-bones and cost-effective.”

Forget that this asshole is the one that came to my mom (not the other way around), forget even that he is so outside any kind of community of recording studios as to be soliciting advice on the god-damned internet from strangers. What pisses me off is that he is so set on ham-and-egging his project that he’s willing to disrespect the only good advice he’s going to get on the subject, dismissing studio costs as “delusions.” What he’s really saying is that musicians and technicians can fuck off with their high prices; he can find someone to do it on the cheap.

Coming from a self-appointed “musician,” this could be construed as self-loathing, but it’s just a small example of a disturbing whole: artists just aren’t fucking valued in this country. I know, I know, it’s a terrible cliché and not worthy of argument, but I’m completely disgusted with the way artists are viewed in contemporary American culture; it’s almost as shameful as the way we treat schoolteachers. Making music or movies or ceramics has long been scoffed at as “not a real job” and yet these folks hone their craft hours a day longer than investment bankers, dentists, and office assistants combined. Most artists in this country are forced to make suck-up, sycophantic deals with the vainest, most full-of-shit people just to get 1/9th of what Canada gives to its artists just for being Canadian.

These people who came to my mom (I’d call them “musicians,” but real musicians know how much toil goes into even the smallest of recordings) most likely have other jobs where they can haggle their costs down to where they think they’ve totally fucked the seller. Artists will usually accept the haggle, going down into the financial gutter simply through lack of choice, and impending rent. I’ve seen truly brilliant minds take on the most cerebrum-dissolving jobs just so they could keep living in their shitty East Village apartments. The only artists in the world – besides the 50 famous ones – who are paid what they deserve are TV writers (and all of them long to be in movies). The rest keep struggling until the realities of health insurance force them into some suck-ass day job.

But we’re not letting our mom get involved with these morons. In my opinion, they were lucky to have even gotten an email back from her like all men without vision, they have no idea how close to greatness they got. My mom is capable of such beauty, of breaking your heart within a few measures, writing songs that are simple, surprising and inevitable all at once. I haven’t heard everything that is on her website, but her music is so sure, so enveloping, that you feel like you’re in such good hands. And of course, she has to pound the pavement for work.

When I get my money, I’m going to put her up in a studio on top of our hill, with a giant window and a black Steinway grand, so that she can make all the music she wants and not have to sacrifice her art at the altar of her kids, her husband, or random bozos on the internet. She should, after 55 years of writing music, be able to do it just for the sake of doing it, smile, and tell everyone else that it is now her job.

mom at Silver Burdett, constructing the music schoolbook series in 1987



Yesterday was my eldest brother Kent’s birthday, a date that is sometimes Friday the 13th, but always ten years hence of my own birthday. He hovers in that decade of space in front of me, very encouragingly I might add, because he maintains an umbilical connection with the bleeding edge of culture and hasn’t lost any of his youthful absurdity. Most hipster kids going to Burning Man and trying out new Tina drugs only wish they were half as hip as my slightly chubby older brother in Iowa City, IA. As long as Kent can keep rockin’ the mike ten years ahead of me, I feel like I have some breathing room.

Kent was our favorite babysitter back in the 70s for differing reasons – when he was high on Linn County’s best dope, we could get away with anything; and when he wasn’t, it meant Melissa was close, and we’d get to play Monopoly. You couldn’t lose with Kent taking care of things – Sean and I would be in the kitchen raping the half-quarts of Oreo ice cream and staying up five hours past our bedtime, while our babysitter was in the basement smoking curiously sweet cigarettes, listening to Yes albums and grooving to the blacklight.

He did get fed up with my dad at one point and lit out for the Territories. While my dad acted as private dick and my mom grew privately hysterical, Kent was on various Greyhound buses traversing the wilds of southern Idaho. I think the adventure ended when he ran out of money at my grandma’s place in Provo, UT, but we treated him with the reverence afforded Cool Hand Luke when he came back to prison.

Kent and I used to barter in backrubs; we used to “owe” each other 200 to 300 seconds worth (slow counting) for doing various favors around the house. Together with Steve, he shared a phlegm-green 1972 Plymouth Fury that had the shotgun door held on with packing tape, and he’d drive us to get Dilly Bars. After that, he got an orange Beetle that became a fossilized snow fort in our side yard. In those days he lived in a communal-looking wooden housing lean-to that he shared with 16 other people en route to a degree from the University of Iowa. It was the most disgusting place I had ever seen until I developed my own bacterium shithole while at the University of North Carolina.

Kent’s the kind of kid that would have easily slipped through the cracks during the selfish, uncaring, kids-as-nuisance 1970s. He was 6’4″, always knocking shit over, probably dyslexic and had trouble in school. He got beat up so bad at the post office one midnight that the sight of him the next morning threw me into a anxious tailspin. But he showed them all – my dad, McKinley Jr. High School, everybody. He married the smartest, prettiest girl in town, graduated with a degree in computer science, and is now one of the most respected electronic/experimental DJs in his field. He also has the patience of the Buddha, raising two kids that will probably win Nobel Peace Prizes (well, at least Sean Patrick will – Lucas will probably be head writer for SNL).

One little moment stands out for me: one time in about 1976, he snuck up on my while I was on the ground playing with two bicentennial silver dollars. Surprised, I accidentally hurled the silver dollars and they hit him in the teeth. His knees buckled and he fell on the floor, writhing in agony. I was sure he was going to throw me across the room, but he got up, closed his eyes, and walked out, still wincing. Anyone else getting a mouthful of bicentennial metal at 40 mph probably would have screamed at least, but he was totally cool. I think I counted extra slow while giving him a penitent backrub the next day.

Kent in 1980

8/13/02 We were talking tonight


We were talking tonight about all the various terrible 4th of Julys I’ve had I consider it a blessing to have sailed through this one relatively painlessly. But last year still haunts me every time I get the tiniest inkling of pain in my side, as it was the year I had my first kidney stone. Now, I didn’t even know what a kidney stone was until I had one – I thought it was something the size of a small egg that somehow gets zapped by a laser and comes out of some opening or other. It didn’t even sound that painful (“gall stones” wins that category) but if anybody reading this has ever had one, I am with you in a silent, wincing fraternity.

What’s weird is how immediately you know something’s wrong: not in the “gee, that feels kind of funny” way, it’s in the “I really need to go to the hospital right now” category. Your body is taken to a higher place, a heightened state of alert that truly has to be experienced to be understood. You’ve had pain before, you’ve sprained ankles, bitten your tongue, had a headache, but this is something else, a primal yowl from the depths of ancestors eight generations back. They say that the pain of a kidney stone is ten times that of natural childbirth, which, I admit, lessens my male guilt a few notches for having experienced it.

What’s worse is that I thought I could dodge it. I kept on playing the guitar, trying to learn the verses of That’s Why I’m Here by James Taylor as the dagger plunged ever further. Three things I remember on the 45-minute drive to the hospital in the middle of rural Massachusetts: the unrelenting beauty of the scenery when the blood has drained from your eyes and blown out the aperture; watching Tessa drive and remembering the Smiths lyric “to die by your side, what a wonderful way to die”; and the warning on the shotgun air bag saying that it could cause immediate death. Not knowing what a kidney stone was, or that I had one, I believed I was close to death, and thought to myself “this is how it feels.” And they’re right, you know, death itself doesn’t seem that bad; it’s when your body decides to survive, that’s when the pain hits.

Spare the details, thanks, but suffice to say I threw up all over the hospital while the fireworks of the 4th of July boomed overhead. 15 hours of unmitigated agony produced a long Percoset-induced sleep at the end of which, I “passed” the stone into a little screened cup. I like to include visual aids with this blog, so this is today’s picture:


Yep, that was the size of it. A period. I kept it in a little hospital jar for analysis at some later date, but I never took it in for research. It rested on my office shelf for months until it developed into a totem, a reminder that something so small can have such an effect on the world. And furthermore, that I had survived it, that it was no longer in me, and though I may be knocked flat by other beasts, this one didn’t get me.

And so I leave you with this, fair readers: drink all those glasses of water they tell you to! Hydrate like crazy and the stones will roll right through you. Drink! Drink! All God One Love! Dilute! Dilute! OK!!!

8/12/02 It’s such a great


It’s such a great thing when kids finally hit the age of three or so, start having a personality, and respond to queries with something resembling logic. Before three, it’s all noise and a vague understanding of the world around them after three, it starts to make sense, even if it is a bit surreal. Abigail (the daughter of Bridget and Neal, whose Easthampton house we’re crashing in) is in the stage when colors play an important part in the day’s events. Her T-shirt is pink, the cover of Marie Claire is purple, and the peppers are orange, and it’s all rather fabulous. She asked me what sound a rhinoceros makes, and I said, “rouuufffffshhh!” I asked her what sound the ocean makes, and she said, “waveswaveswaveswaveswaves,” which makes perfect sense to me. I asked her why her shoes had velcro instead of shoelaces, and she said, well, “you never know.” Ain’t that the truth.

Tessa, Abigail and I pose for the digital camera. Abigail was particularly struck at how the picture appeared on the back of the camera within a few seconds

Around 5pm, we packed our things and lit for the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, where Tessa’s film Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me was playing as part of the American Landscape series. It’s the fourth time I’ve seen the movie, and it’s still fun, especially now that I’m semi-intimately involved with the major players. Tessa is grilled twice about getting married in the movie, which is funny to watch now, seven years after the footage was shot.

I’ve always been proud and lucky, I suppose – to be the last person 91-year-old Tommy Blake ever met (and remembered). He was very feeble, occasionally lapsing into a dreamlike state, when we saw him in February 2001, but he remembered me the next day and said to Tessa, “I’m interested to find out that your so-called boyfriend is a musician.” Which was funny, because no mention was made of our relationship in front of him – likely Muffet said something. Anyway, I played Gershwin on the piano, he clapped in delight, and then his own conversation devolved into a jazz riff itself: a stated topic, with delirious improvisations on it, seemingly incomprehensible, then landing back safely where he started. When we left his house that day, I snuck back to the piano room for one last look, because I knew it would be the last time I’d ever see Tessa’s father alive. He sat on the couch with his tie crooked, staring out the window, no doubt thinking of a song to soothe his mind, a slight smile on his ancient face.

me, Blakey and Tessa on that last day, February 2001

8/11/02 Exactly one year ago


Exactly one year ago today, we finished principal photography on our film, The Pink House. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life (which includes getting dysentery in Jamaica, collapsing form malnutrition a few weeks before my parents’ divorce, and sitting through the first half of the Columbia County High School production of “Crazy For You”).

The year since has been pretty exceptional, and I’m not sure if we are as far along as I expected to be. As I said, it’s the little victories that have propelled us, but if you’d told me on that typhoon-raging night of August 11 that a year from now I’d still be editing, I’d probably have blown a gasket. Yet here we are, and it doesn’t seem all that horrific.

That last night of the shoot, we all met at the local moderately bad Italian restaurant, the full cast and crew, and I was so thankful/ashamed/relieved/exhausted/unsure of the whole thing that I wrote each lead actor a little note expressing my feeling at having worked with them. Here’s one I wrote to Pilar Punzano, who despite being one of the Pink House residents, spoke nary a word of English in real life:

Pilar- I know Jorge will translate this for you, so I wont get on the internet and try to do a translation. Besides, the internet translation tool always makes me sound like I