Saturday, November 10, 2007

Who Let Him in Here? - Saturday 11/10/2007

It's not so much that he stole one of the cookies that was waiting to be frosted, but that he took bites out of and discarded two before nibbling the behind off this sugar-cookie cow.

Is it just me? Or does he seem not to exhibit even the tiniest shred of remorse?

The recently reset clock says it's not supper time yet, but the belly-timer has apparently chimed.

Until Dodger's little thievery act, this was going to be the photo of the day. Two ravens on the pine tree up the street, watching the sun go down.

Books! - Friday 11/9/2007

Gotta say. I love books.

This one was recommended to me by some very enthusiastic park rangers at Death Valley when I was up there researching for the novel I'm working on. I am so glad I picked up a copy.

Upon finishing it this morning and reading through all the extra materials at the end of the book, I went straight to my notebook to write about the ideas that it provoked.
Wrote about it on Good Reads (the same review that appears here.) Wrote an email to the author himself about some of the issues the book raises about the National Parks Service.

On the surface, it's a story about the life and disappearance of Randy Morgenson, who spent 28 summers as a ranger in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. But it's also about what it takes to be a back country ranger, a job that requires long absences from home and society, and whose main perk is living in the wilderness. And it's about our National Parks Service's attitude toward these individuals.

If you've ever hiked or backpacked or even looked lovingly up at the Sierras from below, you should give this book a try. It makes me want to see the country that Blehm writes about.

The only thing that keeps me from giving it 5 stars is that it's a bit long on details and lagged a bit in the middle for me, but given the complexity of the story and Blehm's obvious commitment to getting it right, this can easily be forgiven.

Be sure and read the extra stuff at the back of the paperback version. There are some very fine nuggets there, not the least of which is Blehm's opinion about what happened and his accounting of his unique qualifications for writing this particular story.

The number of people who loved and admired Randy Morgenson, who is never-the-less portrayed as a real and flawed man, speaks volumes about who he was and what he gave to those he met.

The binder clip? That's because I take my books to bed. Sometimes it gets a little rough in there.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Writer's Strike Hits Big Boy - Thursday 11/8/2007

As you can see, it was a bit of a gloomy day in Toluca Lake yesterday. This is a side view of the Big Boy sign from across the street.

I walked in after a 2 1/2 week absence (the morning regulars hadn't seen me on Monday with Mom) and opened my laptop and got started.

Waiter D came by just before his shift started at 6:00 a.m. and said, with a smile in his eye, "You're writing? You're writing again?"

"Yep! Back at it." All proud of myself for finally showing up after so many days of not really concentrating on anything.

"What about the writer's strike? You'd better be careful!" he said, sliding a tray of glasses into its slot beneath the wait-station sink.

"Oh-- It's not that kind of writing. I don't write scripts. I'm not in the Guild."

"Still, watch it. There was a guy came in here yesterday asking how far our security cameras reach. He was from Universal. He had some kind of argument about the strike out there, and the other guy tried to strangle him!" D demonstrated two hands around an imaginary neck. "It's getting crazy already."

Wow. No kidding.

Later, on my way out, I stopped to talk with the 3 Musketeers who were curious whether I'd been laid off or what. They are two older guys who own a printing business and one younger guy who I found out today owns a gas station. They are more regular regulars than I, hardly ever missing a weekday.

The younger guy asked if I know a location scout.

"No, but I might be able to find one. Why?"

Turns out that a location scout asked about using his gas station as a location and asked what he'd want for compensation. I told him what I've heard from people whose houses have been used. That they usually get the amount per day of their monthly mortgage payment.

He seemed happy about that. I said that he should probably also take into consideration what it might cost him in lost business.

"So?" one of the older guys asked, "Is $5,000 enough for the inconvenience to your customers?"

"Are you kidding?" The other one said, talking to me now, "For $5,000 he'd stay there all night serving coffee and donuts!"

We also talked about the strike. The previously funny one said, "The way to end it? Dissolve the union."

"Oh no," I said, "I'm not with you on that. And what they're asking for..." All stuff you've heard me say here.

The two older guys have heavy Russian accents. Now I wish I'd told them that I'm practically a socialist. I'd have liked to have seen their reactions. I sure wouldn't want to work for them. They always seem to think their employees take advantage of them simply by asking for a paycheck, let alone vacations. I try to tell myself it's just blowhardiness.

While we were talking about the strike the 5 or 6 big burly men at the next table kept glancing over at us. Probably teamsters. Truck drivers who have a real moral dilemma at hand.

They don't want to cross picket lines, but have reportedly been told by the studios that they are free to strike, of course. But if they do, they will be replaced and if the new hires don't volunteer to leave after the strike, they won't be let go. Aha. Very nice.

Cool Thing: an unofficial, but very interesting WGA strike blog called United Hollywood, which has great tales of real-life experiences on the picket lines, etc.

Cool Thing #2!: you really should take a minute and thirty-one seconds to watch this funny strike video submitted to YouTube by Daily Show writer Rob Kutner.

[Thanks to The American for keeping me abreast of all the latest news, and passing along great links like the ones above.]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Media in Waiting - Wednesday 11/7/2007

This cameraman was already on the street across from Warner Brothers when I drove by Wednesday morning at about 6:15 a.m. The picket line's not due to start up till 9:00.

He's watching a television that's sitting on the sidewalk.

Okay, more of my fascinating opinions about the strike.

I think the writers have a right and a good reason to strike. We are starting to see more "new media" scripts (for various types of Internet content) where I work. If companies are going to make money, the writers should have a cut.

MamaLisa at work says her little brother, who's in his early twenties, never watches television shows on TV. He downloads them to his computer or his iPod. More and more, shows are available online. The writers who were paid to write them get residuals on broadcast shows, but not when they are downloaded.

Fact: Every time I have watched an episode of a television series online, I have been shown an advertisement--or two or three--that I cannot fast forward through. So they know they are delivering their commercial message every time it's downloaded. Although I might open another browser for a few seconds, I usually still listen to the ad because I want to see the beginning of the clip or show. It's as much or more than they get from me when I'm playing TiVo-jockey. And I TiVo everything.

Some executives (the term "producer" is a little confusing: listen to this NPR story if you have a chance) have complained that there isn't much money being made on online content right now.



But it seems obvious that it's going to take off like wildfire in the next 5 years or so, and the writers are--reasonably--asking for a percentage of revenues.

I'm sort of along for the ride on this strike, like I said yesterday. But I'm okay with that because I honestly believe that I wouldn't have a decent salary, or vacation pay, or health benefits or a 401K program if it weren't for labor unions setting the standards. Check your history. People were killed on strike lines in the early 20th century, and we're still feeling the positive ripple effect of what they were able to achieve.

No, I'm not naive. I know that there have been excesses and corruption in some unions. But we have an amazing standard of living in the U.S. partly due to labor struggles that help ensure that we all have enough money to buy the products and services our neighbors are being paid to provide.

Cool Thing: another NPR story from All Things Considered, about the show runners' involvement in the strike.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WGA Strike - Tuesday 11/5/2007

On my way to Braveheart’s Tuesday afternoon, I passed the writers’ strike line outside of Warner Brothers. Yeah, I honked my horn and gave them a big thumbs up, even though what they’re doing is impacting my livelihood.

I conduct legal script research for a living. What that means is, I receive a script from CSI:Miami (I work on that and on 3-4 other series at a time, sometimes movies. If you want more titles, e-mail me) and I read it, making notes about all the character names, business names, products, and places where products might show up.

For instance. When they (not necessarily the above-mentioned show) write, “Girl picks up a tube of poisoned toothpaste,” I write, “Possible commercial identification” in my report. When they write, “Girl picks up a tube of poisoned Aqua Fresh,” I write “Indicated featured prop use of brand name toothpaste in unorthodox manner may be considered derogatory.” Or something to that effect. Different networks want different wording and have slightly different criteria for what works and doesn’t work. I might even give them some fake toothpaste names to replace the real one.

I check the names they create for characters to make sure they are not accidentally using the name of, say, a real veterinarian living in the locale of the show and claiming that she is a killer or even a very nice person. If the name, or business or product isn’t okay to use, I think up and research until I have three alternates and offer them to the writers. I try to stay in the same vein, so there’s a little bit of creativity involved.

If they are looking for a clothing store called “Vintage Rags” I won’t give them “Buffenbarger’s Fine Clothing.” I’ll give them something like “Primo Retro.”

So that’s kind of fun. So is, oddly enough, calling and asking people in various organizations and agencies for information. When I first started, this was the hardest part of the job. But then I worked on a TV movie set in Alaska and the people I talked to in the Yellow Knife library and police station, etc., were actually excited to answer my questions, and that helped.

I worked on The Agency and it was always a trip to talk to the CIA public relations contact. The first time I called, he had me about half convinced that he had a camera in my office. Then he complimented me on my lovely ensemble, and I had him. Yeah, I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. We had a good laugh over that. I also threatened to use his name in a show because the CIA won’t confirm or deny the names of its agents or employees. Because of that, if we accidentally use one, they can’t take any legal action. He laughed and said he’d been doing that job for years and no one had ever come up with that before.

The company I work for is small, but it’s the oldest currently operating script research company out there. And the best. We’re thorough, we invest in the best resources, and we are committed to giving our shows great service. We often work long hours to make sure our shows have what they need to film on time. Sometimes they’re incredibly difficult and ask for long lists of names they’ve created, which sometimes they later decide they don’t like after all. That’s when it’s frustrating.

All this is to say, you see… No scripts, no work.

Well, there are still some scripts around that were written before the strike deadline. And there are requests from the Art Departments for business names that will go on signs. And maybe some lists of names from outlines of scripts that are in the pipeline. (Shows are usually working on a script that will air about 4-5 weeks after the one that’s being aired in any given week during the regular season.)

And there is the possibility of work on related products. Did you realize that all three of the CSI shows have related novels, board games, video games, and web content? We also do clearance on those. I recently did some items for CSI: New York’s upcoming content on Second Life.

My boss has figured out a plan to keep us all at least partially employed through the end of the year. There’s something called workshare set up by the EDD in California to allow for working short weeks for regular daily pay and getting unemployment for a day or two. So we’ll be doing that through the end of the year, if the strike lasts.

It seems a very humane solution to me. We were expecting to be laid off entirely some time this week or next.

And like I said, I support what the WGA is doing, even though it’s putting my life on an unclear path for the duration. But I’ve gone on long enough. More later.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mom! Bob! Mom! Bob! - Monday 11/5/2007


My favorite mother and my favorite diner! Together at last!

Yeah. I copped out and didn't take Mom to LAX. Usually we drive down there and have breakfast at Dinah's before I drop her off. But the timing was bad today, and it was my first day back at work, and... We opted for a SuperShuttle from Bob's Big Boy in Burbank.

We had a nice, unhurried breakfast. Her: pancakes and scrambled eggs. Me: two poached eggs, fruit, dry rye toast. After two weeks, we still had plenty to talk about.

We always have a wonderful time together and it's hard to let her go. I'm a very lucky person to have such a terrific family.

Angeles Forest Highway - Sunday 11/4/2007

I feel a little sad that we didn't have time for more adventures during this visit, but I was completely out of commission most of the first week of Mom's visit. It was her last full day here. We took a drive up Aliso Canyon Road to Angeles Forest Highway. I think it's about 5 miles from our house to the edge of the Angeles National Forest.

This was taken from near a ranger station.

Brilliant colors, even in low light.

Hidden Springs Cafe was our unintended destination, about 20 miles from the house. We stopped in for a can of root beer to share. There were two women and a man at the horseshoe-shaped counter inside, talking about what movies were shot in the area, I think. Outside, a couple of bats flew by!

The cafe's covered patio is right against the rock face of the mountain. We also drove down into Monte Cristo Campground, but it and all access into the Angeles National Forest are closed due to extreme fire danger. You can drive through, but you can't hike or picnic.

On the way home, we were treated to some lovely views of the Acton area.

Below here a few miles, on the outskirts of Acton, we encountered two deer right in the middle of the road! So slender and delicate... We stopped and I flashed my lights till they left Aliso Canyon Road and took off over a ridge. Not sure if the ranger who came up behind us saw them or not. Those were the first deer I've seen in the area.

Heading for Acton Market for a few supplies, we were treated to a really spectacular light show. Nice ending to the day.

Afternoon in the Back Yard - Saturday 11/3/2007

In the past few days I've been venturing out more. Mom and I spent several afternoons in the back yard having lunch and then sitting and watching the birds and trees and sky.

Late blooming rose on the edge of the herb garden.

You thought it was bad having a writer in the family? How about someone who will photograph anything?

I just liked the intersection of these fabrics. Cotton shirt, fleece hoodie and worn denim with a bit of old house paint on them. Now that's comfort.

Me? Probably in pajama bottoms, a tee shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. My main post-op attire.

This reminds me, for some reason, that earlier in the week we saw three coyotes on the hillside. They converged from different parts of the hill and met with wagging tails and some playful jumping around. Pretty cool to watch from afar.