Monday, March 29, 2010

Adventures in Filmmaking, Episode I.

This past weekend, the men and women of the mighty University Filmmakers' Organization at the UA got together after a lot of preparation (equipment rental, location scouting, casting, artistic planning, script revision, etc.) and finally laid the hammer down. After 30 hours or so of actual shooting, Restroom Refugees is in the can.

I decided to devote my entire Saturday to the project. Given my dearth of experience in any given area related to filmmaking, I figured I would stay all day and simply do whatever was necessary on-set. I woke up at 5:30 am, bleary-eyed after being very wound up and unable to sleep. I passed out on my futon with the Dangerous Days: The Making Of Blade Runner documentary playing on my telly in the living room. Showered, stretched, did some push-ups to get the blood flowing, and then hopped in the car.

People began to trickle in behind me right about 6:45am. I ventured back on to campus to pick up a fellow crewmate who needed a lift, and then we began to shoot. It's really an amazing process, having to actually forge an entirely different reality from nothing. The script is basically two ongoing scenes, a loud party going on outside, and a group of friends freaking out in the bathroom believing the cops have raided the party. Today would be dedicated to filming the party scene. Very tricky, since it required a ton of extras and a lot of planning to ensure continuity and to make it fun and believable. I showed up in my karate gear, figuring it would be one more funny costume in the mix (the entire crew showed up dressed and ready to pull double-duty as extras). Funnier yet, I ended up in a few scenes as a particularly verbal, aggressive party-goer, assisting in a keg-stand and reacting to the police as they arrive. I also handled the boom mic for a few hours and did some lighting work as well.

15 hours later, we were exhausted, in need of a drink and some chat to just unwind from the entire day. I can see now why Hollywood types work the way they do, you bust ass until dawn and then begin sometime in the afternoon. The thing is, I wasn't ever bored or found myself looking for the clock. When you're plugged in, you have to be on and paying a lot of attention to be in synch with your teammates and ready to do whatever is necessary to make it all work.

I really can see myself doing this for a living.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Filmmaker's Log-Scene One.

Six weeks have passed since I began my Media Arts studies at the UA.

Thus far, I have to say, I am beyond glad I made the decision to pursue this major. The classes are VERY competently taught. Both of my professors in this area are super-smart, funny, and clearly love the material. Compared to many of the experiences I had in the Political Science department, it's a night and day kind of contrast. I literally often stop in the middle of class and just kind of shake my head. I'm...studying this? Like, in school? How can this be? Aren't I enjoying myself too much?

That's not to say it hasn't been hard work. It has. There's a lot of people in there that are pretty damned sharp themselves, and you can feel this definite undercurrent of competitive fire running through the other students. They're burning to succeed, just as I am. Given that I'm studying something I am so passionate about now, I really feel pushed to succeed. Not pressure, mind you...but compelled. It's different. I'm adrift in an ocean of infinite possibilities now, held back only by my imagination, skills, raw talent, and how hard I'm willing to work. It's terrifying and electrifying all in one shot. Sometimes getting to sleep is really difficult, especially if I've been writing just before bed. Late at night is really my time to do this sort of thing though.

The UA student film club begins work in earnest this week, having decided on a pet project and assigning positions this week. I'm still not quite sure what position I'm going to try and nail down. At the moment, I'm just chomping at the bit to get some experience doing anything on a shoot so I can begin to wrap my head around what's possible at this level. That doesn't mean I can't write my own shit at night though. Things are going to change very quickly, as I really can say, for the first time, EVER...I am doing what I was put on Earth to do.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009, a small lifetime.

Can a year feel like a small lifetime?

In my case, it certainly did. Amazing highs and terrible lows. At the beginning of the year, chaos. Calamity. Heartbreak. Moving into a new place, feeling like a stranger in my own hometown. I went to New York City for the first time, and was entranced by the concrete canyons and the infinite cacophony of merchants, cabs, steaming sewers and neon noise. Of course, this all took place in a relatively small corner of Manhattan, aside from one fine day at Central Park. I saw a friend of mine skate perilously close to death on an icy sheet of free liquor, only to regale us with a torrent of brown vomit that rendered the hotel room uninhabitable. I took pithy revenge upon my ex-girlfriend with a fusillade of pathetic drunken ramblings delivered via text. I also took a lot of photos. The subway is bitchin', and I can see why my father loves the place. It attacks your senses and demands you pay attention, every moment.

I built a metric fuckton of joysticks. Arcade-In-A-Box was poppin'. Street Fighter IV came down like an atomic bomb on the post-arcade scene and brought with it a deluge of orders. Myself, owner Ed, Aaron, and Greg got busy, hacking lesser lemons of pads and making sweet custom lemonade with Sanwa sticks and Seimitsu buttons. It held up all summer long, but like most good things in my life, it ended before I was ready to call it quits.

Dating. Arrrrrr. Scary highs and brutal lows. My first kiss of the year was with an adorable drunken brunette at Club Congress. My last kiss this year was with a busty friend of a friend. Without going into sordid details or brutal statistics, I can only say this: I'm still healing. There's a lot of poison in my soul yet from my last serious relationship, and while I manage to squeeze some out from day to day with distance and pursuit of new things, it's agonizingly slow business. As much as I would like to find love again, I'm pretty convinced I'm not ready.

Karate. Perhaps the best thing in my world overall. I joined the local Enshin Karate dojo with a bunch of my pals back in August of 2008, but I had no idea then what a critical source of enrichment and personal growth it would prove to be during a very difficult time. So many lessons to be learned that have nothing to do with how to punch, kick, block, or throw. There's still plenty of rough stuff though, and I've got a few bumps and bruises to show for it. It's proven absolutely vital in my own quest to renew myself physically. Our sensei offers an enormous pool of wisdom from which to draw, and I have learned a number of things I will take to my grave.

The year ended with a spate of events. I saw two of my favorite people in the world, Angie and Nico, tie the knot. They are sweet, they are smart, and their own little bubble of happiness offers me hope. Of course, the circumstances were bittersweet, but they were worth my attendance so I put aside some of my own shit and made the best of it. I applied to the Media Arts program at the UA and got in, and 2010 is all about finding my place in the art form I hold most dear and immersing myself as completely as possible. My nascent political career is dead, and I'd be the one playing the trumpet in a New Orleans-style funeral for it. Funny how I ended up buying a suit now that I have far less occasions to wear one, huh?

All I can do is strive to be my best, and pursue it with patience, in both my training and my daily life. I owe my family, my friends, and myself nothing less.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

JJJIV, Level 35, Scene One.

The old adage rings true. The only constant is change, and yet, sometimes the more we change, the more we come to realize certain core things about ourselves are absolutely unchangeable. In the face of this knowledge, we must embrace what we have proven ourselves to be.

I began my career at the UA three years ago, energized by the understanding that if I ever wanted more out of life, more than this culturally rich yet economically bare city could offer me in the way of mediocre retail opportunities, that I would absolutely have to finish my education. That had begun in the spring of 1993, dabbling in screenwriting at Pima College. Life and the need for a bigger steady income took over though, and my dreams got pushed aside. Even in the wake of this need to finish, I still had questions about what it was I really wanted to do.

Two things were of paramount importance to me. I had an absolute gut-level disgust with everything going on politically in the country, feeling the absolute lurch towards fascism under President Bush and the GOP. I also had a girlfriend I loved very much. Given the array of gen-ed credits I had already gained at Pima, I chose the one major that merged what I had already done along with the thing I was preoccupied with the most: Political Science.

Now, early on, I was having a blast. I joined the Young Democrats, got involved, and there was a feeling that something genuinely cool was going on. College life was really exciting, I had never simply been a full-time student and I was really plugged in. We helped out with the mid-term elections in 2006 and that felt like a big victory. I served as Secretary of the club the following year and things were pretty good. While that was all happening though, something did begin to change...

I began to look at career options, and for Political Science peeps, there aren't a hell of a lot. You are basically looking at going to grad school for it, if you're one of those genuinely weird people who want to write papers until you die about constituents and coalitions and lots of other shit no one interesting cares about, you're going to teach, or you're going to law school.

Now, I really hadn't previously thought of law school as something for me...but given that I was feeling pretty good about my awesome grades, and I had a girl I was pretty serious about, I was feeling ambitious. Why the fuck shouldn't I seek out a piece of the American dream and try to nail down a six-figure salary?

So that became the plan around early 2007...continue to kick academic ass, apply to law school and rock the LSAT. Bring home the bacon for myself and the future missus. Why not, right?

2007 became 2008. The classes got drier. I got elected President of the Young Democrats and I watched all of my free time evaporate. When I wasn't studying, or tabling, or glued to the political blogs, I was texting somebody about something related. I was just sort of barely juggling it all...but I had never done anything like this, and I just figured that this was how really successful, normal people operated. I didn't notice the slow drift between myself and my girl, or my rapidly growing dissatisfaction with the entire thing. The 2008 election cycle was bearing down upon me and I felt absolutely possessed with doing everything I could for the cause. In the middle of all this though...I was bound for Japan that May and I was very excited about visiting one of my best friends and experiencing the land I had been enchanted with for so long.

Six weeks in Nippon was amazing. I got home, felt recharged, and ready to take on the grueling months of the election cycle. It didn't turn out at all the way I had planned, save for the the result.

Without rehashing a lot of history, by the time my birthday came around in 2008, I was alone, I hated what I was doing, I was reeling and looking for answers. Here it was, the most bittersweet of moments in perhaps my whole life. I saw the election of a President I genuinely believed in, the reelection of a Congresswoman I personally worked for, and despite all this, I was miserable. I didn't care that we'd won, that we were on the threshold of a new era of change for the country. The price for me was just too high.

January of 2009 would prove to be critical in this search for answers. As part of my duties with Arcade-In-A-Box (building magnificent custom joysticks for the XBox 360 and PS3), I worked an entire day with my peeps filming an episode of The Jace Hall Show. The show mixes behind-the-scenes intrigue at a variety of video-game related companies with celebrity guests, and between trying to come up with the narrative for the segment, operating the sweetly professional high-def camera, and lots of creative clowning was the most rewarding day I had experienced in a very long time. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

"Media Arts. You big dolt! Why the hell not? You always loved movies. You used to want to write them, REAL BAD. You spend more time talking about movies with people you know than anything else. Pull your head out of your arse."

So now I'm at a crossroads, but I feel like I have come full circle and am finally in a position to take on something I have really wanted for a long time in adding this major. On a personal level, I am still somewhat heartbroken and confused from the mess that occurred...but doing what I can to move along. It's very difficult to feel like you never got a chance to fight for the thing that really meant the absolute most to you, especially when you lost it while doing something that ultimately proved to be the absolute wrong thing. You can't ignore the thing you love though...whether its a pursuit your heart truly longs for...or a person, for that matter. Whatever I choose to do though, I am the kind of person that invests 110%, and since that's how I am, it has to be something that engrosses me on every level. Simply earning a check was never really an option.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


So, summertime was relatively good. I worked and had a mostly great time with the Arcade-In-A-Box crew, enjoyed not having the pressure of school or anything resembling responsibility other than feeding and cleaning myself (which I mostly succeeded at). I even took a whack at stand-up comedy, which was a long-held personal goal of mine that felt really good to try. I approached this semester with open eyes and an eager heart.

It has been an uphill motherfucker to this point.

First sign of trouble...the XBox 360 died two weeks before school began. Not terribly surprising, especially if you're a gamer freak in-the-know and you know just how many of these have bitten the dust. It just has fatal design issues. Of course, I don't even game so much anymore, but the whole instant-Netflix movie thing is kinda insdispensable to me now. So...not really a tragedy, but an annoyance. omen?

A couple of weeks later, right before school...I drove out to California in my car. I love the beaches of Santa Monica, and seeing them right before the academic shit hit the fan again seemed like the right thing to do. Of course, I got out to Cali in one piece, but while tooling around the freeways in LA, my radiator decided to blow. No bueno. It was fixed the following Monday, meaning I missed the first day of class and was $560 poorer to start off with.

A couple of weeks later, on a Sunday, I got the awesome double-play of learning that my Uncle Mike was extremely, critically ill, and the unvarnished pleasure of seeing my ex-gf with her new boyfriend. More awesome.

A week after this, my MacBook's harddrive died. Everything I had, my photos, my music, all my work from the previous 3 years at the UA, the comedy stuff I had compiled over the summer...poof! Gone.

The cherry on the sundae: H1N1, or the swine flu. Got it, had it kick my ass royally for about a week. Never been sick that way...utterly devoid of energy, in pain from head-to-toe, killer headache, fever, the whole nine. Missed a week of class.

So what did I learn from all of this? I learned who truly cares and who doesn't. I learned that despite all of these setbacks, I am in a very fortunate position to be in school at a time when the job market is an absolute wasteland. Not only that, but I learned what I am NOT meant for (a career in politics) and am about to embark on the journey I was always meant to take: learning how to make films and explore that whole creative side I haven't truly tapped into yet.

The last year has been an arduous, sometimes excruciatingly lonely journey, but it has yielded rewards that I wouldn't trade for anything. I know more about myself and what truly makes me tick than I ever did. Technical's all dandruff if you are strong enough and really know what the fuck you want.