A Super Sexy Santa More Than Mitigates My Holiday Disdain

I’m essentially an introvert as well as a recovering social phobic. And thus I’m constantly shocked by how well (at times) I can navigate social landscapes. Back in my early twenties I wrote a fairly autobiographical short story where the protagonist worked a series of jobs in the service sector during the graveyard shift so that the only people he had to interact with were mentally ill or seriously intoxicated. The ending left the central character dubiously and most certainly ineffectually trying to convince himself that the world at large is nothing more than an extension of those familiar spaces in which he is already comfortable moving through. Nothing more and nothing less than rooms leading into other rooms. It took a couple of decades of me trying to make sense out of the adult world to finally embrace that concept as a reality. And, certainly, the city of San Antonio makes this worldview so easy. I know a lot of folks who live here (natives, and transplants, such as myself) who move through this city as though they are welcomed everywhere; and every neighborhood, every business, and every institution is filled with family members. This is a tightly interconnected city. And, honestly, if someone doesn’t know how he or she is related to you, it assumed by all that a very short conversation (which may or may not happen) will clear it all up. And so it is la familia, all around. San Antonio is clearly the city where everyone is considered to be related. And even if all evidence points to the contrary, we all just assume it’s simply a lack of digging deep enough.

This week’s been fairly busy, with me moving from room to room filled with people whose lives, in so many different ways, I’m intertwined.

Highlights included:

A little volunteer gig at URBAN-15 where we did a tech-run with the newish A/V equipment they have purchased from a recent grant. About twelve members of the drum ensemble were present, as well as about ten dancers. We were set up in the sanctuary. The URBAN-15 Studio building used to be a church, and so this is what they call the biggest space, which is used for dance rehearsals, performances, movie screenings, poetry readings, laser shows, etc. The old choir loft had been, at one point, converted into six little offices. Four of the offices have windows which look down into the sanctuary, and they are part of a sort of mezzanine level. One of these offices is where the TriCaster has been installed.

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I’d never worked with a TriCaster before. This is a video switcher on steroids. It’s a device a bit bigger than two shoe boxes. It takes multiple video and audio feeds and allows you to mix them in real time. The resulting signal can be stored on the machine’s large internal hard drive, shunted to another hard drive, sent to a monitor, a video projector, or streamed live in the internet (using a wide variety of A/V compression formats and codecs); or, do all of the above. It also works as a standalone video editing suite, as it comes bundled with NewTek’s robust and intuitive video editing software, SpeedEdit. NewTek is a San Antonio company. Their TriCaster doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a real workhorse. For the past few years, mega-churches have been the primary market, as they have some serious in-house production and live broadcast needs. But as more organizations are thinking of broadcasting via the internet, the market for these boxes is steadily growing.

Jonathan gave me a crash course on the system. We were doing a very simple test. Two camera’s, both standard definition. One was the remote-controlled robot camera which was mounted on the north wall. It was also purchased with the grant monies. Catherine, the artistic director of URBAN-15, has a habit of naming everything, from pets, ghosts, hard drives, and, yes, remote-controlled robot cameras. This guy’s Klaatu, from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Now Catherine knows her way around science-fiction films. She may well know that Klaatu, in that film, was the humanoid (played by Michael Rennie), while the robot was named Gort. I’m pretty sure I knew this once, but I had to head to Wikipedia for a reality check. And even if she made a mistake, it just makes it the easier to give a name to that second remote-controlled robot camera which will be purchased and installed once another grant comes through. But I digress. The second camera was my DVX, parked on a tripod down on the sanctuary floor and hardwired into the TriCaster via a very fucking long s-video cable. For the moment, the switcher is the space bar on the keyboard hooked up to the TriCaster. The controller to the robot is much more interesting. It has chingos of presets. But best of all is the joystick. It allows for incredibly smooth zooms and pans. This works great with Klaatu, as the camera handles low light quite well. It’s widest angle is maybe equivalent to a 35mm or 45mm lens. Could be better. It does, however, hold a clear image when it’s zooms in tight. I was able to read an URBAN-15 volunteer signup sheet on a clipboard 30 feet away from where the camera is mounted on the wall.

I had a lot of fun running that little production studio as we ran through three numbers several times each. The whole setup has a great deal of promise.

Highlight #2:

“Rudos y Tecnicos.” This is a performance created by Victor Payan and Pocha Peña, AKA Aztec Gold. Pocha y Payan have been working on this collaborative project for several years. They began Aztec Gold in San Diego (or so I assume), and they continue it here in San Antonio, as well as any place they can go and work their magic. The core concept is a series of videos, presented in TV magazine style, where the host, Lou Chalibre, a masked wrestler, does run-and-gun interviews. He’s been seen talking with folks such as Jack Black, Los Bros Hernandez (they of Love and Rockets fame), and even San Antonio icons like Monessa Esquivel.

This “Rudos y Tecnicos” show is something they’ve done at least twice before that I know of. The basic idea is to get local artists to develop wrestling personae. Masks are encouraged. The artists are expected to come up with socially relevant issues against which they are struggling. Mexicano issues are most pressing. Immigration, drug trafficking, language and cultural cohesion, questions of nationalism, queer identity in a minority setting, etc.

A quick note on the name. In the world of Mexican wrestling, there are bad guys and good guys. The bad guys are los rudos, the rule-breakers, the brawlers. The good guys, los técnicos, follow the rules and they are proud of their sophisticated understanding of the elaborate moves of proper, traditional wrestling.

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This dichotomy allows Pocha y Payan to consider the metaphoric subtext. They ask the question: “Are you a rudo or a tecnico?” And because this is culture-jamming performance art, they extend this metaphor all the way down to the chaotic backstories of the Mesoamerican mythos.

I’m very found of Victor and Sandra (AKA Pocha Peña), and when they mentioned, months ago, that they wanted me to be a part of this “Lucharrific San Antonio Extravaganza,” I of course said a very encouraging “maybe.” And sometimes my noncommittal “maybe” become clear in the ears as “hell, yeah!”

So, the other day, I found myself attending the photo shoot at Gallista Gallery. The photographer was from the San Antonio Current. And it seemed that this Lucha thingy will be the cover story. So, of the various photos being snapped, one would, I assume, be splashed on the cover. Perhaps one featuring myself.

I was there to help out however I could. Artist Jim Haught had built a stage / wrestling ring. I helped him assemble the roped stage. And so I watched the stars of this project gather: Marisela Barrera, L.A. David, Adan Hernandez, David Zamora Casas, Joe Lopez, Sandra Torres, and, of course, Jessica Torres.

Victor and Pocha were wanting me to reprise my role as the Minuteman from the photo novel Pocha did of me playing the role of a white bigot. I had held up a sign — “America for Americans” — and these Minute Maids (a concept Pocha developed as an absurdist way to fight these white supremacist armed assholes) would be there, on the front line, trying to deflate the tension via a sort of comedic form of non-violent interaction. The slide show we’d done some months back involved me being harried by Sandra and Jessica Torres, a mother / daughter team whose diminutive stature made me look like a threatening giant…a giant who was placated by their maidly domestic skills of removing lint from my gimme cap, brushing my face and glasses clean with feather dusters, and offering me a refreshing glass of orange juice.

So, me playing Santa was switched to me as a big-mouthed white bigot.

The idea is that Pocha’s original slideshow with me and Jessica and her mom would be screened, and THEN is when I’d take stage. So, I wasn’t given a mask. Just this insanely weird red, white, and blue sequined jacket that Victor and Sandra had found at an estate sale which would not have seemed unusual on Evil Knievel…mutha fucka! (And when Payan pointed out to me that “these colors don’t run,” Jim Haught responded: “But they sure do clash.” This man, Jim, he needs a fucking agent!)

This means that if the group shot is used as the cover of next week’s Current, I’ll be one of the few people not wearing a mask.

Whatever the outcome, the whole afternoon was great fun.

But it DOES mean that I need to come up with some sort of schtick….

Highlight #3:

I’d been requested to video tape the First Friday show at Jump-Start Performance Company. Often for First Friday they will do some free performance in their large window which looks out onto the wide alleyway in the Blue Star Arts Complex. For December the show was called Behind the Mistletoe, a Christmas burlesque show which would be just as sexy as one would expect from a free and publicly viewable event. There were to be two performances, and this was good for me. I would be able to cut material from each show into something more closely resembling a multi-camera shoot.

I got there early and made the rounds of several galleries and studios. Talked to several friends. And finally got to meet artist Chicken George (AKA, George Zupp), who I’d only ever know via FaceBook emails.

The Jump-Start show was broken into two levels. A warm and homey domestic set outside, where ST Shimi sat in a comfy chair next to a Christmas tree and roaring fire enjoying a hot toddy. She was wearing a long and flowing silk robe which I was pretty sure would be tossed off before the evening was over. Twice. With a pre-recorded voice-over narration, she pretended to read from a gigantic book (presumably of sexy Christmas stories). And then we’d transition to some curvaceous bombshell in the window divesting herself of various holiday costumes–elf, reindeer, toy soldier, etc. Eventually Annele Spector, dressed as a very very sexy Santa came out and danced around with Shimi.

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They both walked into the theater. And then, Shimi was up in the window, taking her turn at the striptease. All very sweet and innocent. And of course, sexy.

(This new Burlesque is far from new. It’s right out of the fifties and sixties, fairly devoid of raunch. Though I do like all the tattoos and the wide range of body types. It is a far cry from the hyper-raunchery of my time as light and sound man at a sleazy “burlesque” theater in New Jersey decades ago. The dream job for a 19 year old kid–I was that kid. I remember when Hyapatia Lee came to perform for a week. The regular girls were in awe. “This is real, old school burlesque,” one of them said to me. And she was good. Classy in comparison to the other girls, barely a rung above the “go-go dancers” of whom they were so contemptuous. Hyapatia had props, like a giant champagne glass she’d climb into. And when on tour her husband would take over the lights and sound–they had this super-cool rotating glass disk of technicolor clouds with a powerful light shining through it stage-ward. Naive at the time–call it youth–I wasn’t aware that she was also a fairly big name in the porn movie market. All I knew was that what had become tiresome bumps and grinds had shifted to, for a week, at least, something almost classy. The real burlesque of a time gone by.)

Highlight #4:

This weekend was the San Antonio 45 Film Experience. I’ve wanted to run my own team. But I was in a holding pattern concerning a job which may or maynot happen out of town. It didn’t. But I didn’t know that until the last minute.

I had two requests to join teams. Drew Mayer-Oakes. And Rod Guajardo. I kept them in the “maybe” limbo, because, truly I didn’t know my schedule.

But Friday night, while I was between the two burlesque shows, I noticed I had a text message on my phone from Rod. He was still wanting some audio equipment. I called him and said he could borrow my shotgun mic, boom pole, and shock mount, if he still needed them. He said yes he did. He also wanted my assistance as a general crew member. They were going to start shooting at ten o’clock. That night. I suggested that I might be able to make it in the morning, but not tonight. He said, fine.

And so, Saturday morning, I drove out to a large horse ranch — one of those places where privileged girls who own ponies, board their critters. It was a great location. Loads of production value. I mean, fucking horses, hay bales, barns, and shit like that. Can’t go wrong.

The first problem was that my audio equipment was useless. Both of my long XLR cables have shorts. Really, I should just shell out the thirty or so bucks to get a new one, but I tend to spend all my money on rent and food. I’d thought Rod was going to bring a cable, but he’d forgotten in the rush. Anyway, they’d been using a Rode microphone plugged into a tiny Zoom solid-state recorder–all using mini plugs, so perhaps it was best that they kept using that set-up for continuity.

Ultimately, I don’t know if I was really much use. I held the slate. Made a few suggestions. Oh well. I hope it comes together. I had a lot of fun. Many of those people I’ve worked with before. A great cast and crew. But I get somewhat uncomfortable when I’m on set and can’t find a single complete copy of the script. Sometimes you can get by with winging it without storyboards and shot lists, but, why risk it? It’s easy to gin out basic plans even when on location.

We wrapped on time. That was impressive! And Rod and a couple others headed off to begin the editing process. I headed home and thought no more about it.

Sunday evening I realized I didn’t know where my phone was. I checked in my truck and found it. There was a message from Rod. He called around 4:30. I didn’t hear the message after seven in the evening. The deadline for turning in the finished edit had passed, I presumed. His message led me to believe that he had been having problems printing to tape. I tried to call back, but just got voice mail.

This has come up in past years. Not just with the San Antonio home-grown 48 Hour film race, but the national one as well (which I used to work for). There are people out there who make movies, particularly amateur filmmakers, who have never worked with Standard Definition video. Their work originates on HD, either tape or more commonly files on hard drives or removable cards. And because these folks never work with media which originated on miniDV tape, they just aren’t used to providing a finished product in this manner. I understand the frustration of hitting a wall with a deadline looming and what you thought would be easy, just isn’t.

Someone I know was bitching on FaceBook about this whole miniDV tape issue. Her problem was why would someone demand that a movie which was shot on High Def be delivered on SD mDV tape? Well, contest, festivals, movie races, and so on should be treated as clients. The rules say the deliverables have to be on miniDV, so don’t make a big deal out of this. Take some time in advance to learn if this is something you can do. Also, if you’re shooting and editing in HD, you’d better find out how long it will take you to create a standard definition NTSC file on your editing system and your computer. And then know that you can hook up a camera or deck and record that file to tape, and budget your time accordingly.

Bitch all you want to. But I’ll back him up. If Drew wants the finished short films delivered on miniDV tape it’s because this is a stable and standard format. When he gets around to making the master tape or DVD for the eventual screening, he’s already burdened with a variety of frame-rates and aspect ratios. My suggestion is that if you want to bitch and kvetch, please spend some time programing a film festival before you toss stone number one.

All this aside, I’m looking forward to seeing the films that were hastily cobbled together this weekend.

Oh what the am I saying. Most of them are gonna suck.

People, it’s supposed to be fun. Not good.

And when it’s both?

Bravo!

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