Archive for July, 2012

Fuel Freedom – Oil Addiction is killing America

July 28, 2012

My selection of the best videos from the Fuel Freedom campaign competition. Fuel Freedom is an organization that advocates the use of flex fuels (alternatives to regular gas) to break the oil monopoly. More info at

The short one with the cute girl in it

This is mine. We made it in a weekend to get it done by the original deadline of 18 June. Pretty proud of what we managed to do in that time. It focuses on the per-person consumption of oil (directly or indirectly, though transport and excluding frying oil).

The one with the cute dogs in it

This is actually the solo work of the guy who shot mine (see above). He’s one of the best Cinematographers at the school.

The arty one with the drugs in it

One of the most talented directors at Chapman, Rochan Redelinghuys, made this one.

The others I thought worked, worked, but were mostly the standard info-graphic driven fare – informative, sure, but more powerpoint presentations than films. I have an aversion to those history channel doccies with the drawings and the old guys talking about stuff. One exception was a video shot in various locations worldwide, but I’m not sure the maker has the rights the footage he used… it’s grey area for me. Sure, being on film is great. Then again, Americans can sue but Africans and Indians and anyone with brown skin is fair game in cameraland it seems. Still, a good ad.

Anyhow, back to the point: While I acknowledge that continuing to heat up the planet in new and cheaper ways isn’t the solution to our problem globally, and wasting less and buying local will also have a positive effect, I still feel that breaking the dependency on oil will have good consequences politically, and open up the energy market to more competition, which will give the oil people less political control and allow America and other big consumers to make better political decisions. Also, other sources are just cleaner than oil is.

So if you liked my video, share it please, and help me win this. I need the money to fund my next short film and pay my crew for this one!

Shooting in a Foreign Language – Korean-American filmmaking

July 28, 2012

Film is a universal language, but English is not. And even the universal language of film is spoken differently in the USA and in Korea.

I’ve been taking a travel course, for which I directed a short film called “FORMALDEHYDE” in Korea, in Korean, shot by Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee (a US student from Thailand) and key crewed by students of various nationalities from my school, Chapman University with the Dongseo students taking oddly-named but essential roles and supporting us in every possible way. It was an amazing experience relying on someone else – Director’s Assistant Woong Yoon, the best English speaker on the Korean team – to help me direct actors. For a director, your performance is your most important (but not only) job. So he and I built huge trust over there, which is coming in very handy as I production design their film and we try to make our days with the ever even-headed Tom Derr keeping the clock while Woong doubles as translator and AD. It’s also taught me to trust my instincts over my intellect when it comes to what is truthful behavior from actors and what is “acting”.

Saving the planet, one plastic reusable cup at a time… we write our names on them and pour our soda into them from big bottles. Also prevents people leaving cans all over the show and losing their drinks!

PD isn’t really a key role in Korean student film culture, so I’m executing their vision creatively at the last minute more than I’m truly production designing in this case. I make suggestions, they make the choices. Now and then I dig in my heels about continuity. We have a five minute argument about the number of sausages that should be in one shot today. When it comes to sausages, I tend to get stubborn and autocratic.

In a way, there are two directors, two producers, two cines, two everythings, on each of our productions. It’s if we each have a Korean or “American” counterpart who doesn’t quite do the same job we do, or even the same job we think we do. (PS. My Cinematographer Nate/Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee is Thai and I’m South African but for these purposes, we’re all from the USA.)

We bought a chicken on a stick in Busan, for use for eyelines. Now it seems there’s a rival on set… The Chicken’s not gonna like that.

The chicken who’s not going to like that. Pics of Chicken and rival by Nate, which is why they’re so awesome.

We made our day today – more or less. Three more to go and “NEIGHBORHOOD” (Directed by Jaehwan Lee, working title) is looking good. There have been times both on Neighborhood and on Formaldehyde when I’ve struggled with doing things a totally different way. But in the end, working with people creatively is all about accepting that you can’t have it all your way all the time, and that to do what is best for the film, you should always, and always will, work as hard as you have to, and keep smiling.

Yeah, I’m inspired.

The not-so-universal language of toilets: South Korea

July 22, 2012

Toilets say a lot about any culture. In Africa, they’re a luxury in many places, taken for granted in others. In America, ridiculous and unscientific concerns about hygiene and rampant germaphobia combine with a weird tendency to discuss every single anal squirt publicly, and even during meals. In the UK people don’t talk about it til you wind up walking funny. In France and Spain men all pee on the seats and for space reasons, it’s all unisex, and the same chef who fusses over one coulis couldn’t care. In German holiday homes there’s no door… because zat’s romance or something?

And in South Korea?

Well, it’s a really healthy toilet culture, for the most part. Most cheap restaurants have one. It’s usually clean, even if not fancy. The fancy ones have gargle dispensers! There’s always soap and towels. And the culture also takes care of the environment. You’re expected to put your toilet paper not in the bowl, but in a bucket next to the toilet. Sounds gross, right? Wrong: You get used to it – as I did before in seaside areas of Mozambique and Madagascar that use septic tanks. This practice reduces the strain on the sewerage system. Environmentally, a great success. And not smelly because the bucket is regularly emptied.

Never figured out what this was. By the time I remembered to ask, I was on my way out of Seoul, so I resorted to youtube. It’s not really a bell. What it does is make a loooooong flushing sound so you can go without being overheard. Typical of Korean courtesy and consideration in culture in general. This sounds like a “people are so friendly there” cliche, but the shock of the rudeness of people at LAX on my return was amplified by how nice people were on a day to day basis in South Korea.

That means “women’s toilet” in Korean. Now you know! Taken in a Beer and Chicken place.

Most signs are in English (or universal picture language) as well as Korean, even though there are very few English-speaking visitors. As a white person in Busan, you’re an oddity, particularly in the spas where you scrub down extensively before entering the various open heated pools. I’ve never had so many people staring at my cha-cha as I did that day. They couldn’t help it. I get it. I didn’t even mind much, except for wishing I were thinner, and hairier. But it was still pretty strange.

Good thing to know about Busan Toilets: Toilet paper is not provided in the booths, but outside them. So you better plan your trip and take what you need before you lock yourself away. Exceptions: The airport, the pricey malls. This roll was conveniently located on our Dongseo University Bus, which is useful when you ever arrive somewhere without it. You’ll also find TP hung above restaurant tables for use instead of napkins.

Yeah… no idea. One the back of a door somewhere. It’s probably a sign asking people nicely not to put their paper in the bowl. Love the flowers!

The only places I encountered genuinely dirty toilets in Busan? At one far-flung beach, where they only really had a squatting porter potty type thing, and at a Karaoke place we went to. It was flooded, stank… I chickened out and went home rather than face it. But aside from that, public facilities were great at parks and tourist attractions alike.

For westerners, it may be comforting to know that “asian” toilets (the kind where you have to balance while squatting above it) are actually fairly rare. You’ll find them at airports, which makes me think they’re there mostly to serve visitors from elsewhere in Asia. I’m not a fan thanks to one scary experience on an island in Madagascar after a bit too much local beer (I will spare you the details). But they’re manageable sober provided you’re not overweight and your stomach and leg muscles are strong.

My next post will be about banking or something!

Smokers need to clean up their act – or die faster

July 20, 2012

Sometimes it takes going to a different place to clear your head of all the bad things to which you’ve simply become habituated. Like waste, and inconsiderate, dirty cigarette smokers. A recent trip to Busan, South Korea, opened my eyes to what proper enforcement and government action can achieve.

Busan is a surprisingly clean city. Surprisingly because it’s not like a US city where there are rules about EVERYTHING from the height and spacing of stairs, to where you may and may not smoke. The air is clean despite the huge condensed population thanks to great public transport. And although Koreans smoke about as much as South Africans, smoking is not permitted everywhere: Not in public parks, not on beaches, not in restaurants (but in bars and Karaoke places it’s okay).

A beautiful beach. Reminded me of beaches in KwaZulu-Natal except for something important: It was perfectly clean. No glass. Clear water. Very safe – even though there were few bathers for some reason there were life guards all along it. I wonder if they stop people tossing cigarette buts? If only our fearless leader would have let us swim…

Do the drains run to the sea as they do in California? I hope not, because people do toss their cigarettes there. Not the way USA smokers do – as if it’s a gesture that represents freedom and democracy or something – but pretty regularly. Still the reminders not to smoke are more than just signs. They’re huge and unmistakeable.

I got it! But give me a few drinks and I might forget once a month.

As gaudy as the signs were, they seemed to work.

… and there’s a lot of beauty to protect.

At the entrance to the park, collections of garbage remind you not leave it lying around. Some garbage cans – trash bins – would be nice though. At the same location where vending machines sell drinks there are none. Sadly, this rocky outcrop, one of the most beautiful, is also the most littered with chip packets, cigarette butts and other debris of what we call “civilisation”.

Made me think back to a walk in a park in California with one of my favorite people in the world. We were having a great day, so I didn’t say anything. I also didn’t say anything because I’m so used to the things smokers do, all of which I hate so much that it’s a physical effort not to shout at random strangers. But he kept tossing his cigarettes. And I didn’t know how to deal with it. I still think about it.

Dear Smokers: I hate it when smokers…

1. Sit right next to me on a bench and smoke, when they could walk away.
I’ma former smoker. Smoking right on top of me is like me putting just a dash of vodka in an alcoholic’s coke. Not very cool at all.

2. Leave a dirty tray of cigarette butt my house
I was nice enough to let you smoke on my balcony. So put it in the trash, ffs. It smells, and I don’t want to clean it up.

3. Toss your cigarettes all over the place
It’s shameful to pollute a beautiful place, or even a random street or apartment block with your but ends. How much more effort does it take to step on it, then pick it up? Yes we know they’re disgusting and you want it to get away from you as soon as you’ve satisfied your craving. But that doesn’t mean we should all have to clean up after you. It doesn’t mean we want your buts in the ocean next time we swim. It’s like pooping, okay. Put your toilet paper in the toilet after you wipe. Or, or if you’re in Korea, in the little basket next to the toilet. God, at least poop is bio-degradable.

That’s my rant for today.

Just because smokers are destined to die of cancer doesn’t mean the should get to annoy us all while they’re still alive. I used to smoke. I may not have been perfect, but I never tossed my but ends out on the street. That’s the bottom line.

… even chicken feet and stewed silk moths and stuff…

July 18, 2012

Remember how I said I would try to eat EVERYTHING in Busan, South Korea? Well, this led me down a rather scary path the other day. (This post is kinda  a continuation).

I was lucky to be being guided by Professor Lee of Dongseo University’s film school. He was obsessive about making sure we ate a lot of different things. But sometimes it’s the small things – like how different a shop you see all over LA is when you see it in Korean form.

This is what you can buy at the counter in a 711 in Busan. As everywhere, the name 711 has no relevance to when it’s open. Some are 24 hours. Most are 9am -5am. The things that look like Melrose Cheese snacks are revolting. They’re noodle paste flavored with fish, with lumps of cheese embedded in them. Like the little dried fish snacks, definitely an acquired taste.

Insane amounts of food, but the hotness kinda leaves you feeling energetic rather than sleepy. I didn’t see a fat person until the day we went to a place that’s like their McDonalds – Lotteria Burgers.

A Japanese style restaurant, with some Korean adaptations. First, you cook your veg in the soy-salt water as soon as it boils, then add the meat, which you parcel inthe lettuce and bean pods provided. Then you have soup. And then you make a rice porridge (savoury) in the pan with what’s left. A huuuge meal. Delicious.

Baby Abalone: Did not eat, I confess. I sort of wanted to even though it’s wrong, but Professor Lee said “In Korea we do not eat seafood on raining day.” And that meant we were not permitted. I’m guessing this is a superstition dating back from when food was less fresh on rainy days, as it’s hard to catch fish in rainy weather. I don’t eat fresh fish sushi for a couple of days after rain, myself. But this fish was LIVE, so it’s illogical.

World’s greatest – and probably least ecologically sound – fish market.

There’s water constantly running through. Everything in there is alive and you can have live octypus. Which freaks me out because a) they have these strange old man faces and b) you can die if a sucker attaches to your throat, which can happen even after it’s chopped up if you’re unlucky.

Korea’s seafood industry is an issue for me. It’s destructive to the livelihoods of countries like South Africa who don’t have the military might to defend their shorelines (the government bought some corvettes but can’t afford them or their maintenance, so they’re rotting in a harbour, mainly in use as navy party boats). The Korean ships rape our fisheries, and land fishers and small fishers suffer as a result due to government conservationist efforts to allow dwindling stocks to breed by protecting them with modern environmental laws. Yes, it’s a mess.

A trend I noticed – clearly a few years old – of showing the head but including a teeny weeny little body. Do you trust a chef with a big head and no body? I do, after eating there.

Chicken and beer! It’s a thing in Busan. You get various plates of fried chicken and draft beer that tastes a bit like Castle draft. For $10 I ate and drank more than I should have. The guy in the foreground looks grumpy because the Korean students were busy playing an elaborate prank on us by making us think they were having an argument among themselves. Or they were, and the whole “prank” think was a cover up… And it was awesome.

Chicken feet. Cool texture – like savoury chewing gum. I have had them before, in Transkei, stewed with tomato and onion. “Walkie Talkies” / “Chicken Dust” (Heads and feet) are a South African classic. These Korean were so chili hot that I had to spit though. So much chili that I was glad we were with two film producers, as they were able to get the restaurant to give us shot-glasses of milk.

“important for health. a healthy diet is important for children as well as adults.” Relevant to hamburger joints – how?

In*joy Lotteria. Not too sure I want to eat a hamburger named for random chance. Mind you, McDonalds is worse.

See the bowl of brown things? That’s bugs. Silk worm moths. After they hatch and lay, they’re harvested for food, which is cool with me. I just didn’t enjoy the crunching sensation as my teeth bit into the scales on their backs. They tasted like the smell of burning tyre rubber. So, not good. But hey – I proved I’d eat anything right?

Whale meat restaurant: When I said I’d eat everything in Busan, I didn’t bank on this. Whales amaze me. They’re so big, so peaceful, so strange. I want them to live. They are also endangered, and I love the underdog – always have. So no, I didn’t even think about it.

One of my fellow students loves this $1.30c soju, because “he gets a different girl every night”. But then he also added: “I think it’s just the same girl with different hair”. Soju – and this is a cheap mainstream brand – is Korea’s vodka, but ranges from 20% – 40% proof depending if it’s distilled or not. Priced from $1 a bottle to $79 a bottle too.

And that’s it. I ate. I drank (a little) and my student colleagues and I I made a movie about death and life and stuff. I sang “Englishman in New York” at a Karaoke place (in Korea, you and your friends get your own room.) I loved it.

Eating Everything in Busan, South Korea.

July 14, 2012

I feel a sense of wellbeing that I’d forgotten feeling. Sure, I’m exhausted from walking up and down hills, sunburned because everything you put on, you sweat right off in the humidity. And… no that’s about it! I’m really happy here. It’s a lot more like South Africa than America is. A big part of what I’m loving wasn’t familiar – the food.


Kimbap! This, believe it or not, is breakfast. The roll has sushi rice, veggies, flat slices of fried egg, and pickles. Sounds weird? I adore it. This was the breakfast our hosts from Dongseo University’s film department gave us every morning in the bus on the way to the film set.

I think part of the reason I am so happy eating here is that I love, love, love rice. I may also secretly adore MSG, which is in everything, and glutin, which is in everything too. Our team’s producer is gluten-intolerant and has been struggling. The Koreans have never heard of this problem and think she’s just a very fussy eater. Poor girl.

This pig wants you to eat her.

Although I eat pescatarian in the USA, mostly, I have abandoned that here as have all other veggies on our crew. It would deprive me of almost everything as pork is used a lot in cooking and flavoring the food. Koreans have a friendly and humorous relationship with the animals they eat. The pigs are excited to die. The fish are displayed in tanks outside restaurants. They’re alive, and you can pick out what you want. Talk about “fresh”…

The little picture of the pig and the cow means that those are their specialties. The animals have dialog: “We taste good!”

Wait… I think (I hope) that this isn’t a restaurant. Mostly because I’ve heard cats taste terrible. As far as I’m concerned, either all animals are food, or none are. In my opinion, cows and pigs are just as loveable as dogs and cats.

It’s wonderful to get away from the franchise culture that’s making American eating less and less interesting by the day. The fear of eating anything that might cause stomach issues means many people won’t eat somewhere that doesn’t have an “A” health rating. My feeling is they probably just eat too much for their body to process. I eat everywhere (I’m currently working my way through the mexican hole-in-the-walls on Tustin street, with the goal of trying them all). And I am fine, I swear. Here, small, cheap eateries become famous for their food and will be busy all day until they closing time.

KFC? This is actually a regular Korean restaurant; just the branding is definitely a reference. I don’t miss that kind of food, at all (not that I ate it in the USA). Or hosts graciously gave us deep fried breaded chicken for dinner one night, to give us a break from rice. It seemed tasteless and poisonous by comparison to the food we’ve been enjoying.

If the person in the picture above the door and the person in the doorway look similar, it’s because they’re the same person! This is fairly common in Korea. I find it really charming. We actually ate next door, where the owner / cook was about 80 and had bright purple hair.

This place specialises in late night octopus stir fries. We hit it after set one night. Yummy. The cinnamon tea was the nightlight for me though. It’s made with cinnamon, sugar, and honey. Boiled. Cooled with chunks of ice. Helps takes the heat off the spicy red bean sauce you stir into your meal.

Celebrities cash in on their fame by lending their picture to food joints. This is a rare thing: a franchise. The lady in the photo is a well known actress. Korea has a thriving national cinema. The government encourages it and protects it from American encroachment. It’s really inspiring – and the movies are great.

Unless you’re getting take-out, the food is served in china or metal bowls, and you’re provided metal chopsticks (in one fancy place, silver!) and a spoon to eat with, as well as jugs of water and small cups about the size of American shotglasses. I love it and it’s a great relief after the wastefulness of American eateries. I feel excited and blessed and renewed by Busan. It’s most similar (for me) to Antananarivo in Madagascar, just much bigger and very high-tech. I could live here – I really, really could.

PS: I’ll add more pictures of cool restaurant signs in the next few days. I have to leave now to go on a mystery trip to a mountain.