Alligators and Machine-Gunned Toilets

Yesterday was quiet after the hullabaloo of the King William Parade & Street Fair of the previous day.  My neighbors were, for the most part, on their second drinks of the morning when the parade kicked off.  And they kept at the festival work throughout the day.  When Sunday rolled around, there was nary a soul stirring.  I was on dog patrol for Phil.  I took Cutesy down to the river so she could sniff around the wildflowers.

I got up early this morning to collate and staple a hundred or so sets of forms for the youth film fest I'm coordinating.  I have appointments at two schools.

And just as I stepped out the door to drive to my 9am appointment with George Ozuna at Harlandale High School (AKA, the Film School of San Antonio), the skies opened up with some heavy, heavy rain.

The San Antonio Current is our local free weekly “newspaper” — it promises hard-hitting regional journalism with a vaguely left-leaning slant and delivers neither.  Recently the Current had it's Best of SA 2007 issue.  The opportunity to praise those restaurants and clubs which have never defaulted on their weekly advertisements.  There are also those categories which were never offered to the readers to vote on. This allows for the staff writers to gush in unrestrained efflorescent prose more colorful than a baboons behind.  That's not to say that these subjects of celebration aren't deserving.  Best Film Teacher is awarded to George Ozuna.  And even though the readership of the Current weren't consulted, who else could it be.  George is the man.

I was looking forward to see what his department in the Harlandale magnet school looked like.  I was very impressed with the place.  He's only been there for three years, but it seems to be running smoothly, with growth and expansion in the works.  He teaches the advanced students.  Dago runs the earlier classes.  Russ is there teaching animation.

After spending time in George's class, he took me down the hall to Russ' room.  I watched Russ do this thing.  He played a wonderfully surreal work by Run Wrake titled Rabbit.  Eight and a half minutes of beautiful kitsch madness.  Then he turned them loose to work on their projects.  Dago poked his head in and we all visited for a while.

Dago asked me and Russ if we'd care to visit the set of Pablo Veliz's current feature, 7 Kilos.  Pablo had already shot a scene where the lead actress gets shot at in a public restroom.  But Pablo needed to build a replicate of the toilet stall so he could shoot it up.  Dago said it would be a quick scene, and that they'd be filming around five.  Sounded fun.

“Give me a call when you guys head out,” I said.

I left to make my second campus visit of the day.  Just as I stepped out the door of Harlandale, the skies opened again.  These were those fat heavy cold drops of water that make you think hail or a tornado is coming in fast over the tree line.  But only rain.  And it lasted just long enough for me to get to my car.

There was some nice flooding around town.

When I arrived at Northwest Vista College, the rain was pretty well sewn up for the day.

With ten minutes to spare I made it to the media arts department.  Bill Colangelo met me.  He toured me around, introducing me to students he thought might be interested in submitting to the festival.  I left plenty of forms.  The classrooms are large and open, yet manage to be cozy.  They have plenty of toys.  A great bank of computer work stations.  There's a classroom devoted to audio work, with a sound-booth.

I headed back to my neighborhood.  Stopped by Pepe's Cafe for Monday's special, chili rellenos.  I was sipping coffee and reading the San Antonio Express-News.  There was a story about an alligator which had crawled out onto the highway on the far southside.  Loop 1604.  The cops closed down the highway until the animal control agents could escort the critter back to a nearby lake.  What got my attention was that it was an eight-foot gator.  That's damn big.

And then I got a call from Sam Lerma.  He wanted to know if I could think of location for a film project he's working on.  He wants an interior which will work as the home of a decaying family, once well-to-do.  Something Faulknerian.  I explained that there were plenty of places in King William, but the folks I know live in more humble homes.  If anyone out there knows of a possibility, get in touch with me or Sam.

I should point out that Sam was also in this San Antonio Current's Best of … issue.  Third place for best local filmmaker.  He should have gotten first place.  I can say this because I voted for him.  Still, it's some sort of recognition.

Sam told me that he was the only news shooter on the scene for that alligator event.  He instructed me click over to the KSAT website.  Go to their Video section.  And scroll down for the video.  It's called “Gator Slithers On Freeway, Snaps At Police.”  They've no committed link location, so check it out before it buried by too many traffic jams and drug busts.


Russ dropped by around 4:45, and we headed off to the eastside, just a couple of miles away, to meet up with Pablo and his crew.

The address took us to a small strip mall of three businesses.  A barbacoa place, hairdresser, and a building contractor.  We didn't see any film people.  But soon Pablo showed up.  We were indeed at the correct place.  The contractor opened up a side gate, and we began loading equipment into a small warehouse in the back.

The owner, Adrian, had built a perfect public toilet stall.  A guy — I believe his name was Gabriel — had placed squibs on two of the walls, which would explode in a manner to resemble the strafing of machine gun fire.  He said he had experimented with electric detonation, but it didn't work as well as firecrackers gouged into the wall from behind and lit with butane lighters.

It was one of those wonderful “movie magic” opportunities.  You know, where a shit-load of people cram into a small space and obsessively spend several hours to capture footage that will translate into 30 seconds of movie time.

We had two cameras.  The Panasonic HVX200 high def camcorder.

We set up three lights, but only used two.

Dago assembled his crane and we used it as a jib.

When in doubt, use duct tape.  Still in doubt?  Break out the clamp.  It ain't goin' nowhere!

The call-time was about 5pm.  We wrapped by 9pm.  It was a very time-intensive shot.  And when Pablo shouted “action” we had only one take.  The squibs went off perfectly.

It was a real privilege for Pablo to allow me and Russ help out on crew.  I've seen his previous two features.  I'm quite a fan of his stuff.

The people on the set, and I only got maybe half of their names, were all comfortable working together.  And even with all the good-natured banter, things seemed to got fairly smoothly.


Tomorrow I start a new assignment with the Company.  I'll be scoring standardized tests for a couple of weeks for the evening shift.  The thought of real work, even part-time, is making me pissy.  Oh well, I've got bills stacking up.


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