Monday morning I was thinking about crawling out of bed and facing the day. But, really, why? I'd put the trash out on the curb the night before. So I was good there. And then I heard the rumbling of a diesel engine that didn't sound like the trash crew, and it was just idling in front of my house. So I peered outside. It was a truck with a sign on the side: “Speed Hump Crew.” Great! They were going to start early morning construction in front of my house installing one of those horrible speed bumps. But, wait. All they did was put up a “Work Crew Ahead” sign. They then headed down to the next block to fuck with some other layabout's sleep. I crawled back in bed. And then I heard my neighbor Jerry shouting across the street to my other neighbor, Bradley. “So, Brad, I see you're heading into work? You didn't get the day off?” Suddenly I realized it was a holiday. Fuck! Another goddamn day where I knew my check from that national film organization (who still haven't paid me) will not arrive. Therefore I had no earthly reason to get out of bed. But I couldn't manage to drift off, back to sweet oblivion.
I was working on my first cup of coffee and checking out the blogs of a San Antonio artist new to me, Dawn Houser. She had introduced herself to me through MySpace. She's working in that fascinating growing craft subculture that's definitely not your mom's macrame and decoupage. Among the photos of her garden and studio and pets was a wealth of writing. I read some about her recent experience at Stitch, an annual event in Austin that brings together the armies of the DIY handmade expression revolution.
And then the phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it, but I took a peek at the display. It was Deborah. And I never ignore Deborah. She wanted to know if I wanted to videotape any of the Dia de los Muertos alters at Centro Cultural Aztlan. This was my last chance. The show was coming down that day. I said I'd be there in thirty minutes. So I took a shower, packed up my camera, and headed out. I detoured down Crofton to bypass the Speed Humpers (which sounds like a particularly lame New Jersey rock band, circa 1989).
Deborah was holding off taking down her own alter at Centro until I got some footage. I made a round through the gallery taking close-up slow passes of about a dozen Dia de los Muertos alters.
Ramon happened to be there. This video taping was connected to a potentially larger project. Ramon Vasquez-y-Sanchez, one of the founders of Centro Cultural Aztlan, had been the first person to think to bring these alters which remember the dead into the realm of the art gallery. Me, Ramon, and Deborah are considering a video project to explore this pivotal point where a cultural phenomenon transitioned into an artistic expression and eventually became the commercial entity it is today.
Deborah asked Ramon is he'd like to sit down for an interview in the gallery and give his history in this development. He said he had to go do something with one of his sons. And then Deborah realized she was supposed to head over to Bihl Haus to babysit the gallery while artists from that gallery's last group show came by to remove their works. And I had to get ready for a writers group later in the day at Gemini Ink. We decided to get together the next day and have breakfast in La Rancherita's (where Ramon used to have breakfast every day before work back when Centro was located in Las Palmas Mall). I hadn't been to La Rancharita's in two years or so. This was where me and Deborah and Ramon first began to lay down the framework for what eventually became our group identity of Proyecto Locos, resulting in a trip to San Miguel de Allende, a short documentary on that city's Dia de los Locos festival, and the first annual Dia de los Artista parade and festival here in San Antonio.
We agreed. And we all went our separate ways.
I returned and sat down to read four prose passages by my fellow novel-writers in the ad hock “class” at Gemini Ink. Everyone is supposed to share their first 12 pages with the group, and we all provide one another with feedback.
The first two were well-written but very mediocre. I expect that in two years we will have a computer program that can write stuff like this. The other two pieces both had heart and made me smile. The sort of stuff computers probably will never be able to write (though I might be wrong … I, myself, might be a computer — really, who can tell these days?).
I scribbled out some lame, but supportive comments.
And then I did my best to clean up the first 12 pages of my own November Novel. I'd already posted it on line through my blog. It was a mess. And I've cleaned up some of the dumbest typos. The first person to shame me was Thorne. He pointed to a blunder in the very first line. Thanks man, for pointing it out … also for mentioning it in an email and not a blog comment.
I sat down and read through the 12 pages again and found typo after typo. It's currently fairly clean. Perfect? I doubt it. I'm a horrible speller. And my grasp of grammar is, as you, gentle reader, can heartily agree.
Anyway, I printed up ten copies of my first 12 pages and headed to Gemini Ink. The group is pretty good. My second meeting with them. Some decent insights being shared. And at the end of the night I passed out my pages, and headed on home.
Tuesday morning, at La Rancharita's, it was the return of the prodigal son. Felix, the owner, ambled over and sat for awhile, commenting on how long it'd been since he last had seen Ramon.
I'd gladly give a plug. A great family-run Mexican cafe on the southern westside. It's on General McMullen Drive, just a couple blocks north of Castroville Road. Light and fluffy corn tortillas.
We then headed to San Fernando Cemetery No.2, which is just across Castroville Road from Las Palmas Mall. This is where many of Ramon's family are buried. We walked to his grandmother's grave and he set up an alter of things meaningful to her and to him. As a Native American offering, he lit some sage in a clay pot. Deborah attached a wireless microphone to his shirt and I framed in a bit of sky over the gravestone. He gave us a solid oral history of his memories of the day of recuerdos while he was growing up. He then segued into his work bringing the alters into his gallery. And he finished up with a commentary of where things currently stand, with shows all over the country (and abroad) on the second of November.
It turned out very nice.
I grabbed a bike ride later in the afternoon. And I made the mistake of lounging among the fire ants in the grass on a hill overlooking the San Antonio River. It took me a moment to realize I had company, but when I felt the first bite, I sprang to my feet brushing off those evil little bastards. I'm still blaming every poor decision I've made during the last two days on the formic acid no doubt still toxifying my blood stream. The pustules are finally beginning to subside.
Oh my god! I've the title of my next short film! Finally I feel inspired to make movies again. Tighten your belts, folks. “The Pustules Are Finally Beginning to Subside” will hit the multiplex near you — summer of 2008!
Back home I found — FINALLY — a check awaiting me from a particular national film organization. It only took eight weeks. But good. I was assuming I'd have to live on the bounty of my pecan tree. I was down to “seeds and stems,” as George Cisneros is found of saying, channeling the argot of Richard Linklater's sophomore film.
I was in a pretty good mood when I arrived at the downtown library for the Film Commission's final Film Forum of the year. It was all about animation. Folks on the panel from Prime Eights, UIW, Geo Media, New Tek, NESA, and the Film School of San Antonio.
Before the forum began, I was chatting with Michael Druck. When he realized I had seen Bryan Ortiz's recent short film, Stand, he asked what I thought of it. Well, I know that Bryan and Michael work pretty tightly together, so I tried to be kind. I began by saying I assumed it was done on a schedule crunch, because Bryan usually makes tighter, cleaner short films. My criticism didn't seem to bother Druck over-much. He was curious of my option. I followed it up with the observation that, had anyone else done this, I'd be fast with the praise. But because Bryan's work is so smart, clever, and professional, I just wasn't impressed. He's set the bar very high for himself. If all anyone had seen of his stuff were these shorts: Compose, Goodbye Digital, and Last Chance, he or she, after watching Stand, would assume that this was the earliest of these four shorts, and not the most recent.
But no disrespect to Bryan. He's one of our truly gifted emerging filmmakers, and I know I'm not the only one who expects great things from him. And, also, it always good to see Paul Scofield, who is a great underutilized San Antonio actor. So, it'd be a killer film were it directed by, say, Erik Bosse. As a piece given to us by Bryan Ortiz, it's merely so-so. However, I'll certainly be waiting for the next one.
And then Janet, from the film commission, came up and requested my “technical expertise.” I explained I had but a modicum. She wasn't dissuaded. And so I walked up to where the panelists would be seated. I took it that I was to feed the panelists' DVD demos into the Film Commission's laptop which was hooked up to the Film Commission's video projector.
Little did I know, the AV folks with the library had gone home for the day. And there had been no one there to vet the manner in which the equipment was hooked up. Each panelist had a microphone, but the volume, we learned fairly late, was set very very low, and the controls were in a side room behind a placard written in an angry Sharpie: “Do Not Touch Equipment!”
It really was no problem, the hall was small, so the voices carried. And because the turn-out was fairly slight, those who couldn't hear could move closer. But Drew (our film commissioner) has been providing these film forums as audio pod casts, so we needed to know that everyone had a live microphone. I was thinking it'd all work okay, because the mics were picking up their voices — the output through the speakers to the audience was the problem.
When I tried to play to first DVD of the night, which Angela of the Prime Eights had given me, it just froze up on the computer. And I was trapped, in semi darkness, trying to remember how to operate a PC (me having become a Mac guy). This laptop is what they're stuck with at the Film Commission. I borrowed a laptop of theirs before. And for those filmmakers out there that think Drew and Janet can wrangle them massive $$$$, I ask that they look at the old equipment they're having to use. Their resources are always stretched thin, and we need to applaud all the work they do to creatively make their limited funds deliver tangible results — such as these film forums.
And so, I had to shut down the computer. I hoped that by starting it back up, we'd get the disk to play. Nikki (our moderator) thought I'd resolve this issue quickly. She has too much faith in me. But when she realized how long it takes to shut down and restart an old laptop crammed with software, she finally decided to move from making film-related announcements, to talking to the panelists. Fine. Because Angela's DVD failed the second time. I was ready to blame the computer and not the disk. Angela and Mark had given me a Prime Eights demo disk a couple of weeks back, and it played fine.
I saw that Lee, who was busy taking still photos, had brought his own laptop. But he said it didn't have the right sort of output for the projector.
And at that moment, Rick Lopez saved my ass. He said his Mac Book Pro (which he had with him) had an s-video port. Konise from NESA hauled out an s-video cable. I quickly conscripted Rick as the AV guy and gave him my chair.
Nikki kept up her conversation with the panelists. But I was having a problem getting the projector to recognize the s-video feed. The guy from UIW (University of the Incarnate Word) quietly handed us one of those Mac VGA monitor adaptors. Rick fed it into his computer and suddenly we had picture.
It takes a village … indeed it does.
Picture, but no sound. Rick aimed one of the spare microphones toward the built-in speaker of his computer. It helped a bit, but not much. I'm thinking it was picked up for the audio pod cast, but the audience had to strain.
Oh well, I think we got the point across.
With the third DVD, Rick's swank Mac was having problems. And, because the video feed was showing his computer's desktop, I could see that he had already tried about four different methods to play that particular disk.
I told Rick to cue up the next DVD, and I would try the Film Commission's laptop on this particular DVD. Maybe it was a Mac issue. It wasn't. It was a fucked up DVD. I won't name names, but when the panelist gave it to me, it was the only disk not in some sort of case or protective sleeve. And it was scratched and smudged. From the look if it, I can only assume this individual has been transporting the demo reel inside a mayonnaise and gravel sandwich for quite sometime. It simply would not play.
Luckily, Rick's computer quickly got aboard the library's wifi service and we were able to see some of the work being done by this panelist which is posted on the web.
All in all, it wasn't awful. I was feeling a bit embarrassed that the technical problems, which had been given to me to handle, were only slightly handled. Thankfully Rick was there. But, ultimately, we had some people saying some interesting stuff. And, really, it's a free forum.
So, as I was helping pack up the equipment — while the rest of the room was getting deep into their networking opportunities — I was somewhat perplexed when Nikki and Janet ambushed me, pleading that I not savage them in my blog.
I was amused by their appeals to my compassion.
Maybe Nikki had recently read the blog entry where I had some snide things to say about the San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs. She was obviously thinking I had just gone nuts! I told them not to worry.
But I guess the biggest pain in the ass was that I suddenly felt my own performance anxiety. They were expecting that I'd be blogging about the event. IK actually hadn't planned on it. I mean, I am supposed to be writing a novel. But, guys, here you go.
As we all walked to the library parking-lot, Janet did her best to give us a smiled which failed to mask the obvious tsunami of frustration of a night she thought was an unmitigated disaster. (Janet, it was no such thing.) She wanted to know who was up for a stiff drink.
Later, at Ruta Maya Coffee House (they have a liquor license), I discovered that Janet's notion of a stiff drink is a single glass of red wine.
And if that's all it takes to smooth out an unmitigated disaster, you've done well.
It was a fun night. I was able to see some great animation work being done in this town I hadn't even know about.
The only question I have is to Pete. You get any helpful info about rotoscoping?