Have Camera and Bicycle, Will Shoot

It’s never really been my practice of making New Year’s resolutions. Basically, I rarely can stick to anything long enough for it to make a difference in my life. True, I’ve managed to lose over a hundred pounds in the last year and a half (kept it off, too — though I need to get out of this holiday malaise and return to running and eating less shit); however, that didn’t originate from a New Year’s resolution. So, maybe I am capable of sticking with a plan. So, how about I make a resolution to get back into writing more often (such as working on this blog again) as well as becoming more deliberate and proactive on my creative projects. 2012 was insanely productive for me. But, really, half or more of the creative projects I worked on were initiated by other people, and the energy I put into these things might have been better spent on my own work (or, maybe not — sometimes my own stuff emerges as fairly lifeless).

We’ll see if this happens. My last blog entry was about this time last year. And it begins almost exactly the same. 365 days between blog posts isn’t too encouraging.

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As I’m trying to make sense out of my work — reading old prose and watching old films — I’ve decided that I need to write tighter fiction and shoot looser films. I’ve generated about 42 short stories all set in the same milieu which I hope to weave into a coherent (though episodic) novel. The problem is that they are all over the place. They need some serious polish. However, the problem with my film work is the stodgy manner in which I tend to shoot. One of my favorite scenes is the dinner party in Sunrise, a short I did about this time last year. It featured Amanda Silva (one of my very favorite people) on a sort of rootless joinery through the city one night. Towards the early part of the evening she stops at the home of some friends where a casual, relaxed dinner party is underway. I shot it all handheld in an organic, intuitive manner as a real dinner party of some of our friends was happening. Everyone was having a good time and soon forgot all about the camera. They were all probably fairly drunk and maybe some rather stoned. I’ve tried to recapture this loose style to varying degrees of success. In theory it’s really simple to do — in practice, it’s irritatingly easy to fuck up. The other great success in loose and intuitive shooting was Night Bloom, a beautiful film featuring ST Shimi I shot entirely in slow-motion back in the summer of 2012.

And so, I decided to make a short film for the 2013 Jump-Start Performance Party with this fun and often successful loose and intuitive approaches to shooting, and, certainly, I wanted to shoot it in slomo. I wrote a little monologue about the uneventful passing of the Mayan “apocalypse,” and called up Martha Prentiss to star in the film. We recorded the audio in the afternoon, and as the sun set on that chilly day, we shot several scenes in twilight and darkness in the Southtown and downtown area. I cut the piece to about four and a half minutes, dropped in the audio, and added some pleasing ambient music I found on the Opsound website. I hit the final edit with some effects from Magic Bullet. But, it all seems sluggish and Quaaludy. Martha’s an extraordinary actress, I feel I should have managed to do more with her talents. But, ultimately, the piece, as written, has little depth to do much with. I think I’ll just look at it as it is: a polished bit of ephemeral work which was contributed to a festive evening of performance fun, one of the annual fund-raising events for Jump-Start Performance Company.

Another film project I approached with this loose style seems more successful. Though I haven’t yet managed a final edit, I think it works because it’s essentially a music video, which, because the editing is informed by a musical beat instead of spoken words, is a much more forgiving genera. This is the piece I’m working on with Zombie Bazaar.

Zombie Bazaar, on their FaceBook page, refer to themselves as a “Tribal Fusion Dance Troupe.” Giomara Bazaldua heads this group, and from a few sources online it appears they’ve been active for maybe four or five years. When I first heard of them I admit I dismissed them as just another of the many belly dance groups in San Antonio. And, add to that, I’m sick of all things zombie. But because they are one of the hardest working dance groups in the city — they perform fucking everywhere, sometimes multiple gigs per day — I’ve been able to see quite a bit of their work. A very interesting melange of styles. I love that the troupe is comprised of women of various ages and body types. They are also completely committed to group work, was well as reaching out to many of the same art and cultural nonprofit organizations I visit and work with. They’re also beautiful and wear cool costumes. So of course I said yes when Gio asked if I’d like to make a video with them.

The concept was to have the troupe riding around town on bicycles, handing out flyers to a performance. The video would end with them at that performance. We decided to break it up into two nights of shooting. The bike scenes one night. The performance another night.

It was a bit chilly, so I dressed in jeans and a jacket. I hopped on my bike and rode out to one of the cemeteries on the east side. Eventually, Gio and the zombies showed up, most on bikes, and a couple in an SUV. I was expecting the cops to show up, but Gio just shrugged and said they danced at night in the cemetery all the time. The dancers finished getting into costume in the dark. A few tiki torches were lit. The Patrón bottle was brought out. I had a couple of small battery-powered lights (we also pointed some bike lights on them) and I shot them going through a few dance routines.

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We continued to the Southwest Workers Union (where they often practice) for a few shots. Then Gio wanted me to shoot them doing some basic bicycle charro-style riding in one of the parking lots of the Alamodome. Then we took an interesting secret shortcut through the Alamodome to get over to the Alamo Street Eat Bar. After that, we did some shooting in front of the Alamo.

The final location was the rooftop of an old apartment building downtown. I’d shot there before because I know one of the tenants. I’d rather not name the building because we really didn’t have permission to shoot there. Because there weren’t any handy bike racks on the street, we crammed the lobby with about ten bicycles. We took the elevator to the ninth floor. Previously the staircase up to the roof had been open. This time it was locked. The only way up was to get out on the fire escape and climb a fifteen foot rickety iron ladder to the roof. And because there was a hump at the top you had to navigate, you had to pivot around to the outside of the ladder, with nothing between you and the street nine floors down. Only Gio and three of her Zombies were game for the climb…and if the four of them hadn’t bravely scrambled up, I probably would have opted out. But if I had in fact chickened out, well, I don’t think I could have survived such a savage blow to my already fragile machismo. It was, of course, a blast. It helped that no one died. I should point out that the climb down was slightly more unnerving.

The second night of shooting was much more sedate. Gio and Jessica opened up their eastside home for a backyard fan-appreciation-party / performance-video-shoot. It was a perfect cool night for it. There was fire-dancing and fire-eating, and I got to shoot some beautiful slow motion footage.

Now I just need to edit this all together.

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