But seriously, these kids make up in sheer moxie, determination and enthusiasm what they lack in knowledge, experience and common-sense (because nobody in their right mind would attempt to pull off what they're doing); and even there the learning curve is so steep that you can literally see the process improving on a daily basis.
I wasn't involved in the first "season" shooting, so I only have the recollections of those who were there to go by, but by all accounts, this second go-round is decidedly more ambitious both in scope and execution. For example, last time, they shot with a single High-Definition video camera, while this time, they're using two, which makes getting all the different setups and angles go much quicker. Also, they've secured the services of a bona-fide Director of Photography, which again, has streamlined the process tremendously, as well as ensuring some really nice footage. And finally, they've expanded the production to include a whole range of support personnel: assistant camera operators, grips (the people who move lighting equipment & scenery around), props managers, production assistants, food services, etc., etc., so not only are there more bodies involved, but there are now people assigned to specific tasks, thus freeing up the cast and director from having to do all of this themselves, which is pretty much how they handled things previously.
So, we've generally had roughly 15 - 20 people involved in each day's shooting, including actors, crew & support staff. That's miniscule by professional standards, but by just about any other measure it represents a tremendous amount of logistical organization to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and that the work gets done on-schedule. Because the producers have alloted a mere 10 days to complete principle photography for a 13 episode "season", there's very little margin for error; one bad session (as happened on Sunday - see Scotto's journal entry for more details) can throw the whole process into chaos. Fortunately, we were able to make up some of the lost time, but as of yesterday when we broke, pretty much all of the cushion of extra time set aside for just this contingency has now been filled, which means the remaining 7 days have to go exactly according to plan.
Which, even by the most optimistic estimation is pretty much impossible.
Still, it's been very impressive seeing what these kids (and by that I mean mostly 20 - 30 somethings) have been able to accomplish thusfar, given the considerable obstacles of nearly non-existent funding, time pressures, and dependence on mostly all-volunteer labor, not to mention the goodwill and generosity of literally dozens of friends, family members and supporters. And despite the extremely modest conditions, even the reporter from Wired Magazine who spent most of Saturday on the set with us seemed suitably impressed (it probably didn't hurt that the producers wisely decided to fully immerse her in the experience by giving her a cameo as an Evil Christmas Elf).
What's even more impressive, however is that when they complete the shoot by (hopefully) the end of next weekend, they fully intend to have the first episode edited and ready for downloading by the middle of June - which surely is going to bring several of the primary participants close to the edge of physical and mental exhaustion, but again, it just goes to show how much they believe in what they're doing that they'd even attempt such a feat.
They've got heart and spirit, drive and will, along with a base minimum of resources, so even though the odds are somewhat against them, I'm glad to make a modest contribution to helping them realize their dream.
Because you know what? I think they might just be crazy enough to pull it off.
Season one was apparently successful enough (from an "eyes on the page" perspective at least) to warrant a second go-round, and shooting of the 13 six-to-seven minute episodes will commence this Friday evening, and run almost continuously through the 4th of June. That's the equivalent of shooting roughly half of a feature-length film, and done with little-to-no budget, mostly volunteer labor, and in an atmosphere that can charitably be described as "organized chaos", which from my experience at least, is typical of just about any similar kind of production, regardless of size or amount of money involved.
For those of you not familiar with TV/video production, the Production Assistant is one of those jack-of-all-trades type positions: part gofer, part cast wrangler, part, here-hold-this-thing-for-a-minute extra set of hands, part - well, "whatever it is that needs to be done, but there's nobody else around to do it, so you get to" type job; the industry's equivalent of the utility infielder position. So, I'll no doubt be doing a lot of different things, some of which will come as complete surprises. It's all about the flexibility, the flexibleness, the flexy, to use Whedon's idiosyncratic writing style, but I do know that part of the job will require assisting other departments: props, lighting, craft services (i.e. feeding hungry actors, crew & extras), and even a brief on-camera stint as one of the "undead".
I'll try to post here-and-there along the way, just to give you a sense of what this kind of thing feels like "as it happens", but needless to say, I don't think I'll be terribly bored for the next week and a-half.
On It's Back, Wheels Spinning Like A Cinema Classic
Great way to start the day: I'm at the bus stop, 20th & Union, waiting to catch a #2 to take me over the Hill to pick up my bus, which has been in the shop over the weekend. It's a brilliantly sunny morning, temperature already in the mid-60's.
In front of me at the intersection, an SUV stops to let a middle-aged gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat cross the street. I'm momentarily distracted by the glint of sunlight bouncing off his glasses has he turns to acknowledge the driver.
Screee - Bang! BANG! Tinkle.
I turn my head just in time to see three cars bouncing off each other like those little clacking metal balls people used to have on their desks: the SUV in front, a black Volvo in back, and a small green sedan caught between them. The woman driving the sedan already has her hand up to her neck, feeling the first twinge of whiplash. All of this happens not more than about 20 feet from where I'm standing.
Car collisions in real-life never sound like they do in the movies. There's generally no extended screeching of the brakes; no thrashing or rending of metal; no heavy-object-in-the-dryer tumbling end-over-end; no punctuating the sudden silence with the sound of a wobbling hubcap rolling down the road. Usually, it's just exactly what I described above: the short, high-pitched complaint of brake pads pressed too hard into the drums, cut short in mid-whine by the sharp report of plastic and metal merging. Maybe a small sound of broken glass falling to ground. That's about it.
It's all over in a fraction of a second, barely time to blink my eyes and wonder, "did I just see that?" the answer being of course, "yes, I did." The evidence lies all around me: shards of broken headlamp skittering to a stop against the curb just inches from my feet; pieces of shredded bumper and body trim flailing briefly on the asphalt like landed trout; the needs-to-be-ironed wrinkle of a crumpled hood; the asymetrical lean of a spare tire case.
With a timing that borders on synchronicity, a Pushman cart driven by a Traffic Enforcement Officer comes down the hill at the exact moment of impact; she probably saw the whole thing happen right before her eyes. She pulls over to the side of the road, as the other vehicles do likewise, everyone engaging in the "are you okay?" post collision ritual, while simultaneously digging through glove boxes and seat consoles looking for insurance information. Cellphones are unclasped and pictures of the damage are already being recorded. Nobody seems seriously hurt - at least at first glance. The PEO pulls orange traffic cones from the back of her cart and begins setting up a diversion, while a line of drivers attempt to either gingerly weave through the gauntlet of broken glass and metal, or else drive obliviously through it, the shards crunching beneath their tires like hard candy.
A two foot-long piece of black plastic lies in the roadway. A woman who's been standing with me at the bus stop cautiously steps out into the street, picks it up and carries it back to the curb, then drops it onto the green strip next to the sidewalk. In a few hours, it will probably be the only physical evidence left at the scene.
By now, the three drivers are exchanging information, making cellphone calls, getting their stories straight. The Volvo driver, a young woman who appears to be in her early 20's is appologizing effusively; she knows she was in the wrong, and has the temerity to admit it.
The bus arrives, and I step aboard, swiping my pass through the card reader, say "good morning" to the driver, and take a seat. As we pull away, an SPD unit is just coming down the hill.
Tales of love, lust, and miscommunication take place in a gondola in Venice, a hot-air balloon over Egypt, an Antarctic iceberg, a rest-stop bathroom in Kansas, a Peruvian temple, a South Seas island, the Great Wall of China, and a Soviet space capsule. Wild theatricality collides with comic and bittersweet stories of innocence, hope, betrayal, and hot monkey love.
WARNING: Some of these plays include explicit sexual material.
Allow me to introduce "Little Nellie". And a sporty thing she is, surprisingly maneuverable, very stable, lots of power, and rated at 115 mpg, although the dealer says, after break-in, 100 mpg is more realistic.
I probably shouldn't have, but with gas now over $3.00 a gallon and not likely to come down all that much in the near future (if ever), it seems neither prudent, economical, nor environmentally sound to continue relying on a 30 year-old VW Bus that, at best, gets about 16 mpg in-city. My rough calculations indicate I should only need to spend around $2.50 - $3.00 per week for gas expenses. Plus, it uses a lot less oil than my bus, and doesn't emit anywhere near the same amount of hydrocarbons & noxious fumes. Double-plus good all the way around.
(And before anyone says it: yes, I am well aware of the existence of public transportation, and I fully intend to use it as-needed. But, there are times when it's just not convenient, especially travelling any of Seattle's east-west corridors. In addition to which, I will now reduce my commute time by about two-thirds; and all for only a few dollars more in operating expenses - including financing and insurance - than the cost of a monthly bus pass.)
If you're familiar with the dense, chewy, polyphonic sounds of "Awesome", then clearly you shouldn't need any prompting. If you've never seen this septet of highly skilled, imaginative, and eclectic performers, then you really owe it to yourself to go find out why this band is causing such a stir around these parts.
I've previously gushed ebullently about these boys, but the truth is, every time I see them perform, they just get better and better. In "noSIGNAL" the harmonies are richer; the blending of instrumentations more subtle and dreamlike; and always their amazing ability to weave seemingly random bits of ephemera into something not completely coherent on a conscious level, but which nevertheless resonates deep inside you, like the pure vibration of a quantum string struck in the heart of a supernova a thousand light-years away.
"noSIGNAL" differs from their previous work, "Delaware" both in terms of its structure (there being somewhat more of a throughline, if not exactly an actual plot), and in its development of thematic explorations: Bees, computer operating systems and the hivelike activity of corporate drones figures prominently, as does the notion of how individuals respond to a new environment when cut loose from the comfort and security of the collective.
While it's never easy to say just exactly what an "Awesome" production is about, the closest metaphor I was able to come up with after seeing the show last night was that of an all-you-can eat banquet served up by a four-star chef: you can pig out to your hearts content, if that's your desire, or, you can choose to sample small portions, savoring each morsel. But either way, you will end the meal feeling satisfied. It's a rare thing indeed to walk out of a performance and feel that sense of having been more energized than when you walked in, and realizing that every other member of the audience feels exactly the same way.
There's so much density to the production that people are naturally going to experience it based on how much they can observe or absorb; and whether that's a little (as in the case of the 50 or so Moses Lake High School students attending last night), or a lot, (those of us who've previously been fully immersed in "Awesome"'s musical, verbal and visual psychedelia), you're guaranteed to come away feeling you've just experienced something both satisfying and wonderful.