A Baleful Stare From Beneath Matted Bangs

This weather isn't getting any more civilized.  It's cold and miserable and wet.

And I had to be in Seguin at 9 this morning for a fucking production meeting.  This meant getting up at an ungodly hour because, added to my normal morning schedule, I also had to walk my neighbor's dog.  Hmmm.  This has already become part of my morning schedule.  Leastwise on the weekends.  Damn that dog!

I let myself into Phil's house and looked around for Cutsie.  I found her in the bedroom. The dog shot me a baleful stare from beneath her matted tangle of bangs — she wasn't keen to be coaxed off the bed.  “Come on,” I grumbled, “it'll be invigorating.”  I looped the leash around her neck and dragged the poor beast into the clammy drizzle.  It made me think of one of Ivor Cutler's (RIP) short performance pieces I heard ages ago on the John Peel show.  Cutler was talking about a gruff working class Glaswegian family where the father suddenly looks up from his paper and ominously proclaims to the wife and kids: “We're going for a walk,” and with a sinking sense of dread, the family bundles up and follows dad out for a ghastly stroll around the grey neighbor of crumbling council flats as freezing rain creeps down all their collars.  But it's what Scottish families do in the evenings; they go out for a damn walk around the block, because it's a pleasant thing to do.  So shut up and enjoy it.

Once outside, Cutsie perked up.  She sniffed everything.  I had no hat, no umbrella.  I hunched my shoulders, ground my teeth until they squeaked, and ran through my generic lists of oaths which conveniently damn everyone and everything … in perpetuity, throughout the universe, as the lawyers like to say.

Eventually, I returned the dog to her master's bed.  And, back at my place, I finally fixed my morning coffee.  Ate a banana.  That was better.

The rain picked up on the 30 mile drive to Seguin.  What a mess.  At least I could enjoy my truck's heater. 

The meeting was held at one of the chief locations slated for this, the second feature film coming from the Nations Entertainment Group (NEG).  The film is to be entitled Leftovers.  And the DP (and co-producer), Russ, had secured the house of a friend of his to use for the protagonist's home.  He'd praised the place to me on many an occasion, and I was looking forward to seeing it.

Two things lifted my spirits today.  The great people on board as crew members.  And the incredible house we had at our disposal.

The house is on the Guadalupe River.  The banks are literally in the backyard.  It's lifted up, with garage and and a nifty woodworking shop on the ground floor.  Up on stilts, the house proper is wood and stone.  Large open rooms with sublime views out onto the river.  Dark-grained wood everywhere.  Quirky architectural devices throughout the place.  It's a stunning house.

It brought to mind the locations and sets of some of David Lynch's films.  I'm a huge fan of Dune.  True, there are some great actors doing some horrible acting.  The story is presented in such a stiff, unyielding fashion, that it's hard to follow the plot.  But, the art design sings!  Hand-carved ornamental paneled walls on a space ship?  Hell yeah!  That's the future I'm hoping for.  Twin Peaks had some of the most incredible interiors of any TV series, ever.  And one of the few things I remember about Lost Highway is the house's interior.  A clear attention to design and interior decor is a hallmark of Lynch's work.  This location will give us something to work with.

It was a male-bonding morning.  Robin (writer/director) wasn't there.  And for some weird reason, there are no woman in the key production roles.  (Russ mentioned something about the art department being staffed with “a bunch of girls;” a statement that hit a solid “yikes!” on my stereotype meter.  We'll just have to wait and see how things play out.)

Anyway, it was Kevin, Russ, Bob, Mark, Eric, Rudolfo, Larry, and me (that gives us one too many Eric/k's on set).  We spent a few hours working in the house with the equipment, testing things out.  We set up lights, ran sound, and shot picture.

The camera is on loan from a San Antonio software company.  The JVC HD100.  Yep.  We're going high def.  I'm dubious if this makes much sense.  I still think standard definition, intelligently lit and shot, can blow up well enough to a 35mm print.  However, that's unlikely for this project.  Though, certainly, it will give us an edge on visual resolution.  How much of an edge?  I still haven't developed an opinion.  But we'll do our best with that advantage.  Also, on a positve note, Robin and Kevin are set up to edit in HD.  The “in-kind” donation quotient is very high on this shoot.  And that's always good news.

Over a year ago I attended a sales session where a representative of JVC had given a pitch about the camera to me and maybe ten other people.  I was unimpressed by the footage they showed.  It didn't look all that cleaner and sharper than what I'd seen on well shot SD projects, such as what AJ Garces does with his Canon XL-2.  But I was still very impressed by the camera, and the system built around it.  JVC had obviously given serious thought to make themselves desirable for low budget narrative films.

Today, however, was the first time I was able to hold one of these cameras.  It's lighter than I expected.  Not Fisher-Price light.  But not as substantial as, say, the Canon XL-H1 HD.  But I like it.  The lens it comes with (which, like the Canon, can be replaced with a high-end professional lens) works quite well.  The focus, zoom, and aperture ring are all set up like a real film camera.  I'm looking forward to returning to more of a photo work flow, where we can use discrete and specific information like zoom setting and aperture, and matching this stuff for reverse shots.  We'll be needing a tape measure!

We're trying to figure out how to acquire an HD field monitor.  If anyone wants to loan us one, shoot me an email.  I'm assuming my non-high def field monitor is useless.  But what do I know?  This HD world is a new one to me.


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