Friday, February 20, 2009

Documentary Spirit!

I'm currently editing my documentary, "Bollywood Steps," and I'm in the midst one of the most interesting stages in a production, next to actually shooting the film.  Editing a large project like this isn't easy - I had 30-35 hours of video to go through before I began the process.  Even then, I'm not entirely sure how it all will fit together.  I have an idea, of course - but I don't see the "magic" until I start piecing together all the parts of this multi-layed audio-visual puzzle.  Only then can I start to see in intimate detail the patterns that make an entertaining and watchable film - the personalities of the subjects, the unexpected stories that emerge when I start piecing together hours of interviews with all the subjects of the film, and the visual "poetry" that's really critical in a film that features so much dance. I'm starting to see the spirit of the documentary - the energy that, hopefully, reflects what I saw and felt during the 8-9 months I was in production.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The World Vs. Me

I can't really determine what my earliest memories are of my hometown in New Hyde Park.  We lived in the same house from the time I was about a year old to my eleventh year, when we moved away.  Since we didn't move during that initial period in my life, I didn't experience the extraordinary events that form those detailed early memories (for example, the 1964-65 World's Fair, for which I hold my earliest memories). 

Instead, like any small child in a stable world, my universe slowly revealed itself to me, from my home, to my backyard, to my neighbors and beyond.  I rode my bike further and further from my home, until my friends and I took increasingly "daring" expeditions beyond our immediate world and across major boulevards. Those adventures were at once both scary and exciting, but because I was taking those expeditions with a squadron of friends, I don't think we ever questioned our missions: to the toy store, the homes of friends near our school (to which I usually took a school bus), or just up into the neighborhood to unfamiliar territory.  We were still young enough, and our world innocent enough, that we didn't yet know to question ourselves or our friends on moral grounds.  We just did what we thought was alright to do, and usually, it worked out okay.

Of course, as the world unfolded, my knowledge of how to physically survive in that world sometimes lagged.  I remember taking my gravity-powered go-kart to the top of a local street and speeding downward at full speed, dashing through intersections without a care - until a car just missed me as I zipped by.  That's a pretty heady experience - seeing your nine-year-old life flash before your eyes as a car screeches on its brakes and I kept going, moving too fast to stop with my makeshift brake, which was just a piece of wood rubbing against one of my baby-carriage tires.

I didn't quite tell the manufacturer (my dad) what happened, but we did make some modifications to the braking system before my next go-karting experiment.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Disturbing Movies #1

Here are four lesser-known, darker-themed movies about youth that I recommend - in no particular order. 

1) "Kes" (1969) is about a boy growing up in a working class mining community in Yorkshire, England.  If you've seen the movie "Billy Elliot,"this is a rougher, bleaker and more authentic portrait of a society in transition ("Billy Elliot" was heavily influenced by this film).  The British Film Institute considers "Kes" one of the ten greatest British films of all time.  Due, perhaps, to heavy regional accents, this film is virtually unknown in the USA - you will need to order this one overseas, and have the ability to play DVD's from other regions.  Or, I can lend you my copy.  If you know me. Directed by Ken Loach.

2) "Over the Edge" (1979) is, once again, about a society in transition.  This time, it's smack in the middle of modern USA suburbia, where a planned community didn't plan for the teens in its midst, resulting, ultimately, in chaos.  It's about teens as a social footnote, and it's also a interesting portrait of 1970's teenage angst.  There's also a great contemporary soundtrack of the time, and a pretty effective cast of alienated kids, including Matt Dillon in his first role. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan.

3) "Pixote" (1981) is about the life of a street kid in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  It's probably the most intense film of its kind - and even today, is a difficult film to take, if you're squeamish about such things.   There are millions of desperate kids living hopeless lives on streets around the world.  Unlike some other films on the same subject, this doesn't soft pedal the huge odds these kids face.  Directed by Hector Babanco.

4)  "Lord of the Flies" (1963) is a faithful adaption of the classic book by William Golding (as opposed to the bizarre 1990 American version) about a group of English schoolboys who descent in savagery while stranded on an island without adult supervision.  Though this film sometimes seems stiffly acted (the kids were cast mostly from British expatriates in America), it's  a fascinating bit of independent filmmaking by Peter Brook.  I had to watch this film numerous times in junior high and high school. so it's become ingrained...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Work at Home

One of the nice things about what I do for a living is that I sometimes work from home.  During a week when I found myself having to travel in the midst of rush hour, this is a welcome relief.  Of course, if all I did was work at home, I'd never get through my audio books.   I might have to revert more to the old-school books.  The paper kind - not the imitation "Kindle" kind.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


On the way from downtown Los Angeles to Valencia today, I sat in traffic for and hour and a half.  In the early morning, my traffic-free commute in the opposite direction was about 35 minutes.  Even with all sorts of portable entertainment (thanks to my Iphone and it's Ipod feature) and my car's XM satellite system, which offers a wide range of stations ranging from music to audio feeds from CNN and CNN Headline News, the experience is still insanely frustrating.  

I could have taken the train, but I had a mid-day meeting that required the use of my car.  I'm very fortunate in Valencia that I live only a mile or two from our inter-city Metrolink system.  It brings me right into Union Station downtown, from which I take a shuttle to Little Tokyo, where I work occasionally.   Having decent, convenient mass transit is rare in LA.  The City of Los Angeles' Metrorail system, which extends to various corners of the city, is nevertheless missing from the most heavily traveled corridors of the city.   Even the limitations of travel within downtown Los Angles made the train option unworkable for me in this case.

I'm going to look on Itunes and see if I can find a good thriller.  Hard to find a good, but very effective in these situations.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Over 150 million users are on Facebook - that's equal to half the population of the United States (though users are all over the world).  Once again, the world has become much smaller - and much more intimate.  I'm rapidly resuming contact with individuals from most phases of my life, from childhood onward.

The concept of community has been evolving rapidly since dawn of the internet - just a few short years ago, "experts" were mourning the end of traditional communities.  Our personal communities can now extend worldwide, and may have some of the same qualities of the traditional neighborhood.  Of course, this world can never, by nature, replace human contact.  You can't go out and socialize with friends thousands of miles away.  You can talk - even face to face - with good friends. 

It's worth keeping this all in perspective.  If we're to look at all forms of communications over the past 150 years, this is something that is still very much in its infancy.  We've likely seen just a hint of the fundamental changes in store for our society in the decades ahead.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

East Coast / West Coast Cultures

Anyone who has spend time on both the east and west coasts of the United States acknowledges that there is a tangible "cultural" difference between the two worlds. On both coasts, I grew up in similar areas, but they couldn't be more distinct.  When I came out to California, I recognized that the school system didn't value education in quite the same way as the system - or rather, the school - I'd experienced in New York.  My public school in New York, with all of its enrichment programs, could only be duplicated in a private school in Los Angeles.  And I knew it - even at eleven years old.  We're also somewhat of a transitory society in Los Angeles.   I see little of the ongoing (though infrequent) connections individuals back east seem to have had.  We don't seem to follow prescribed paths (though that is probably more related to family history), unlike virtually all of my early friends in the east.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad - or whether that would have changed my own career path, but I think choices tended to be more practical - lawyers, doctors, accountants, and teachers.  Those sorts of choices were probably encouraged in my crowd in California, but not as strongly as elsewhere.  Of those that I'm aware of, many of my Los Angeles school friends became entrepreneurs of one type or another, or artists of various kinds.  I don't see a similar pattern, or sense of practicality as easterners tend to have (at least where I came from).  After all, the choices that I and my latter friends made about our futures really made career development a much longer process. 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The World In Reverse

It occurred to me, in correspondence today with one of my childhood friends, that to speculate on how how my life and other lives would have been different if I had remained in my old New York neighborhood is akin to imagining a sort of reverse variation on "It's a Wonderful Life," in which the world is altered in unexpected ways by the presence of a specific individual.  That wouldn't necessarily mean a positive influence, either.  As I observed in a recent response to a comment on an earlier blog, it's akin to mixing two benign chemicals resulting in a toxic substance.  If we each influence other lives, which in turn influence other lives in an ever-expanding field, then both the friends I never made in California, combined with the friendships I would have maintained in the east would have, in turn, generated or denied other friendships, with a variety of positive and negative results.  

Like the JFK assassination  "what if's," it's a hopeless exercise - there can be only speculation.  It's a reminder, however, of how complicated and connected our lives are, even as children - how and who we interact with, why we make decisions, and the direction we decide to take in our lives.  

Friday, February 06, 2009

Early Memories

My youngest nephew turned four in September.  That's the age, at least in my experience, that he's start storing memories that he'll remember for the rest of his life. Generally, memories at that age relate to extraordinary experiences - in my case, attending the World's Fair in New York. I was exposed to strange, unique environments, in the form of exotic architecture and rides (Disneyland's "Small World" attraction began life at the New York World's Fair - the experience was hypnotic, and stayed with me as I experienced the same ride in California eight years later.  There was a ferris wheel in the shape of a huge tire - I remembered that, too.  I had a recording of the narration for a ride about early man put on by Traveler's Insurance, so I remembered that, as well.  

It will be interesting to see what memories stick with my nephew years down the line - what's extraordinary to a four year old might not even earn a second glance with a grown-up!

Selective Memory

Having left New York after 5th grade, when I was eleven years old, I eventually began to forget about many of my school friends.  I remembered my best friends - but without any photos or other reminders, I've forgotten most of the others I knew in school.  Without any extraordinary experiences to share, other faces have faded.  Apparently, some still remember me - but I had an extraordinary story among the other eleven year olds - I was not only moving away, but moving to the impossibly distant world of "Hollywood."  

On Facebook, I saw the Wickshire School 6th grade portrait - the picture in which I would have appeared if we hadn't moved.   Other than the core group of friends I mentioned a couple of blog entries back, I don't recall anyone else.  It was fascinating - my friends were just beginning to grow up - I was long gone, establishing my own life some 3,000 miles away.  One friend visited the summer we moved away, another when we were 18.  Letters became scarce, and eventually life went on and I lost all contact.  I had my new friends and adventures, they had their new friends and adventures.  In more recent years, and recent weeks, I've heard where some of those lives have led.  

All of my earliest friends in New York became professionals - doctors, lawyers, teachers, and accountants - I've gone into a creative field.  I've fairly sure I would have taken the same route regardless of whether or not I moved away- my family influence was fairly strong - but I have to wonder if my life decisions - or for that matter, my friend's decisions, would have been impacted by an altered history in which I had remained.   I'm not suggesting that I would have had any special influence, but I wonder about the positive and negative influences I would have had on them, and they would have had on me....

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Current Mind Fillers

I just realized how much information I'm processing at the moment:

1 - I'm working on my "Bollywood Steps" documentary, which involves thirty hours of footage that I have to sculpt into an entertaining hour-long story. 
2 - I'm putting together an episode of "Live in LA," a City of Los Angeles-sponsored program promoting live entertainment in the City of Los Angeles - more sculpting, but less footage.
3 - I'm juggling at least half a dozen projects at Freshi Films, where I work at Director of Production.
4 - I'm listening to an audiobook called "The Snowball," about the life of billionaire Warren Buffet. 
5 - On occasion, I'm inching through a book called, "The Real Oliver Twist," a scholarly history of a man whose life may have been the inspiration for Dickens' "Oliver Twist"
6 - When I'm tired of Warren Buffeet's story, I switch to recordings of Jean Shepherd's old radio show. Those are only 45 minutes long, so I generally don't have to carry the storyline through to my next listening opportunity.
7 - I also listen to CNN and Headline News in my car, so I'm also generally considering the state of our country's economy.
8 - I'm preparing to shoot projects for the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Somehow, I still find time to write this blog, update my Facebook, write my Freshi Blog, and generally relax when I need to...

Which, I think, is a demonstration of my belief that, like the theory about how we use our brain, we also use only ten percent of our available time.

And yes, I generally get eight hours of sleep.

Returning Again

I'm decided to resume my blogging again - it's been a hectic few months, but I've lately been inspired by experiences on Facebook to resume my writing here.  

As many (well 2) of you know, I like to write about my childhood adventures on my Blog, particularly those related to my New York years.  Recently, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to Wickshire Elementary School, which I attended until finishing 5th grade, when we moved to California.  I spent sixth grade at another elementary school in Los Angeles, but I never developed the connection I had back east.

The Facebook book, "I Went to Wickshire," captures a bit of the camaraderie that school generated, and it's been fun hearing about people and adventures I'd forgotten about.  On Facebook and in other ways, I've now re-connected with just about all of my earliest friends - Larry, Chris, Jamie, Robert, and even Charlie, the only "Charlie" I ever knew other than my sister's bird.  There's a number of other people in that group that I also knew, but they're a bit harder to recall.

There's one kid of which I have one memory - and of whom many seem to share the same memory.  He liked to freak everyone out by flipping his eyelid inside out.  I've remembered that vividly all these years, and it seems many others did too.  I don't rememeber his face, but I remember his eyelid!