Posts Tagged ‘study in USA’

Nude ladies, “Friends”, pool, karaoke and hamburgers at Barney’s Beanery, West Hollywood

March 24, 2011

Do I have to blog about it every time I go to Los Angeles? Well, probably, until it stops seeming like a place of magic and dreams; everything I expected of it and more.

Traffic. Rain. 35 Miles in three hours. Thank God for CD changers and conversation.

Been going to LA a lot at the moment because the Writer’s Guild is holding a weekly interview / screening / discussion series with famous TV writers – last week was an amazing session with Steve Levitan of Modern Family. Today I got roped in to checking out Friends‘ Marta Kauffman and David Crane. And I didn’t expect it to be half as amazing as it was. I loved it so much that I now… briefly wanted to watch the whole 10 episodes of the series for (believe this or not) the first time. I doubt I’ll actually go through with it though, don’t worry.

The original pitch and treatment. Check it out - it seems Friends was originally titled "Bleeker Street" (like in the sad Simon & Garfunkel song) and later the slightly cheerier "Insomnia Cafe".

Anyhow, we wound up at Barney’s Beanery afterwards. It is awesome – and proof that America will turn anything – ANYTHING, NO MATTER HOW ALTERNATIVE – into a commercial undertaking. The place is basically a collection of all the USA’s rock ‘n roll glorification, thrown together in a faux dive bar atmosphere, with a technology coulis.

Great burgers, better mash, and a beer list that made me very happy. A 10pm happy hour too. And all the healthy options and mild food choices that keep All-Americans and Hollywood types content.

Of course, you want it to seem “real”, right?

This picture of a sexy lady pasted on the booth wall, the slightly worn leather seats, and the Wednesday night karaoke all contribute to the pleasant illusion that you might be somewhere in the real world.


LA: How is this is not as good as it gets?

March 3, 2011

I drove to LA for a meeting yesterday morning. I felt like a real screenwriter. You know, driving to LA with a pitch to meet a director in a coffeeshop. On too little sleep. Let’s just say it – it felt real and unreal.

I feel a rising excitement as I get closer to LA, as the grafitti and wall art gets more sophisticated, as the drivers get ruder and the smog gets thicker.

The thrill is still not quite gone.

And sure, it might not work out (thought the meeting went well) but I’m just enjoying this. This is the time when, even if I’m consumed by panic, there’s still time to dream. Everything could still be perfect. And LA is a wonderful place to dream because in LA, a dreamer is never alone, although not every dreamer can afford the coffee.

"I promise you are not just a waitress" - a poster stuck to an electricity box opposite a french bistro staffed by suspiciously attractive waitrons who are probably, actually, actors.

I sat next to two old guys. They were discussing something one of them had written. On the left, two women gave each other notes on a screenplay. A few tables down, two Americans had an intelligent political discussion about Libya. Then went back to discussing a movie they’d like to make. Dreams, dreams, dreams, everywhere here.

If I’ve learned anything in the last four years is that nothing – no matter how wonderful or how terrible – is impossible. I could… find love? Maybe when I’m not looking for it, cause like, I need it like I need a hole in the head. Another hole in the head. It’s possible.

My fellow-blogger Dorothy Black ( collects pictures of "random hearts". Here's one I photographed. Spotted on the floor of a coffeeshop in Vermont Ave., Hollywood.

Or I could wind up a struggling screenwriter, working somewhere, writing something, living in a small but beautiful apartment in an area with really good fish tacos within walking distance.

I could live here. I'm a single.

Or they might send me home to South Africa, where I could… write that movie nobody here ever sees. Or that movie that wins a foreign movie Oscar. Same thing really – except then South Africans won’t watch it either.

Or... they say the sky's the limit. What was once in that building that's now leased as storage? Who's the latest porno superstar at Adultcon? And where are all these cars going to? What new building is that orange cement mixing truck mixing cement for?

I guess I hung around for a while. I bought three different colors of nail laquer so that I could paint all my nails different colours. Then I left. And on the way, I passed this writing on the wall: THIS IS NOT AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Right now, just being near this alleyway leading to a dumpster excites me.

Some final films of the fall semester at Dodge College, Chapman

December 18, 2010

The pros and cons of movie making… what I learned from the last month of filming all our final projects.

How many filmmakers does it take to change a light bulb? Depends on the gaffer, I guess.

Well let’s start with the cons: You can never control the results as much as you’d like to. The hours are long, and always longer than you expect. You don’t get to sleep. Creative egos are bound to lead to clashes. And technical stuff will always trip you up at the very last minute. So, nothing I’m not used to from working as a journalist!

The pros make all the cons worth it: The end result of what you made with other people is better than anything you could do alone. It doesn’t matter how long filming or editing or writing takes, because you love every minute of it. Sleep is overrated, unless you have nothing better to do. Creative egos challenge you to do your best. Technology allows amazing new things to be done every day, reviving that sense of wonder you had as a kid.

I took a whole bunch of photos of signs, but I’m sure you’d rather watch movies than look at photos. So I’ll post links to those I was involved with. And a few I just happen to think are really good, too.

Mine – Steal My Heart
I wrote, directed, edited and produced this – on a $30 budget. But I could not have done that without the help of my amazing cinematographers, actors, and everyone else who helped me out – all credited. Not bad for a 4.5 hour total shoot time. The editing took a little longer!

John Nodorft – Rifle Ave.
We talked about it a lot, and I co-wrote the screenplay with him. He did what every writer dreams of having done – he made it happen even better than I could have imagined. He is now my hero forever.

Ezra Lunel – Lucky Guys
Very much a work in progress. But I love what he’s doing with this so far. He and I workshopped his initial idea in a over coffee. Then he let me go mad writing, gave me frequent and fast feedback, and made me star in the movie at the end. It was great working with him – the actors will back me up here. And the movie was shot by John Nodorft – so it looks fantastic. Designed to be watched full screen.

John McKay – Punchline
Suspect you’ll only be able to watch this if you are his friend on Facebook. I helped write the screenplay, and learned a lot about how collaboration works in the process. Sometimes you got to just let go, and let the director make the final decisions. The results may surprise you.

That’s what I can find. I guess I’ll add others as they show up.

I had nothing to do with these, but I like them

Kennedy Phillips – Autopilot

Daniel McDonald – Sorry I Forgot Our Anniversary

Mike Fitzgerald – Niko and Claudia

Nikolas Passaris

Also liked but can’t embed vimeo on stupid wordpress.

Sarah Wilson Thacker – Freeze Dance

Windsor Yuan – The Day After

Charles J. Gibson – First day

Bruce Meyers – Cousins

Cemeteries of the soul – behind garage doors

December 5, 2010

Garages are the attic of a man’s world. While the photos of you when you were a kid, the first drawing of a dysfunctional / smiling family in front of a house, the blonde doll you alternately loved and tortured and your dead puppy’s collar might end up in Mom’s attic, Dad has his own cemetery of the soul.

Garages have always fascinated me. I shot my first production exercise in one. It’s full of mistakes (I’ll never zoom again as long as I live, I swear). But I still love it.

Here, dreams and pride gather dust. Stuff that might belong to many people, dumped there for safekeeping and never collected. If you ask to borrow something from garage, the answer will almost always be “yes”, and quite often becomes: “As long as you never bring it back.” In South Africa, an organisation I wrote about called Men at the Side of the Road raised funds partly by clearing out people’s garages and re-purposing their junk.

And I’ve never been in a garage you couldn’t write a movie about. Happily for me, we were shooting Sarah’s 789 (that’s Dodge-speak for “five minute short”) in an actor’s garage last night, after mine turned out to have no electrical plug for the lights.

A shovel. A ladder. Some unidentifiable stuff. Mattresses? And wait... what is that?

Ronald Reagan signed photo

It's a signed photograph of Ronald Reagan. The president who called a 1988 strike on Iranian ships "Operation Praying Mantis". He was one creepy guy. And look who all's in the background!

And this cat. Loved enough to have its portrait taken and framed. But now the picture's on the floor behind a mattrass, gathering grime. Who was Kitty Cat?

Take 5, Shovel. Starring Dan McDonald, Daphne Karpel and Will Kasson.

Being American seems to involve owning copious amounts of American flags, which go all over the place. On matches. Above the creepy crawly spare pipe. On cupboards, cars, post boxes, doors... Above a box of golf clubs that don't seem to have made it out onto the green for a while.

Why I’m here

September 21, 2010

People often seem surprised that I came all the way to Chapman in California to study film. Now there are of course some obvious reasons, like…

1. There really isn’t a dedicated, world-renowned screenwriting program in SA. This isn’t because there aren’t great teachers or screenwriters there… but there just isn’t the money to pay for it. My fees are about 20 times more than they would be in SA.

See this awesome fountain thing? Ja, I'm helping to pay for that. Well at least there's an SA flag there (top right).

2. It’s good to be 25km from LA, and be taught by people who work in the industry there. My teachers are all really, really good. And they work hard. One of them even split the class into two and teaches it twice now, as he feels we deserve more one-on-one attention for that three hours.

mi casa mexican food

I got lunch here today... a burrito. Really good. The inside of the restaurant is amazing too - definitely going to sit down there for some food and drink one day.

3. The Mexican food is really good. No seriously. Even though I know the pigs are treated badly and stuff, cause I read Eating Animals, I can’t help myself around Carnitas. Carnitas. Carnitas. Oh, jesus, oh… jesus. Carnitas. Save me, for I cannot say no.
4. California is beautiful in its own way. It’s not Cape Town, but it’s nice to look at. It’s… you know… it’s got a good personality.

Pretty, safe, flat, friendly, windless, warm. Socal, they call it.

5. Also, this sounds cool, right? “I’m studying screenwriting in California”. Even if it does scream “What the fuck are you going to do if THIS doesn’t work out? Move to Kommetjie and invent some kind of curative massage nobody’s thought of yet?”

As a journalist who worked for South Africa’s biggest website, with some of its best journalists and editors too, I’m used to being surrounded by talented, opinionated, young people. So the fact that the talented, opinionated people I hang around with now are a little younger than the average intern at doesn’t bug me. In fact, I mostly quite like it.

So here are some of the cool things that I’ve done in the first two weeks at “school” as they call university here.

Assignment one – portrait of a character or location.

I didn't really do much. Mostly watched Ryan Broomberg - he's in my class - do stuff. You can watch the results here.

The In Memory of 911 sign is visible from the Stadium drive. This Fire Training centre is near the Angles Stadium. The day we were there they were training oil rig workers - not firemen. You could tell they weren't firemen cause they weren't *hot. *management would like to apologise for this bad joke.

My own assignment wasn’t as awesome but I learned a lot by doing it. The task: A portrait of a location in under a minute. I made a few mistakes, the most obvious of which was the use of zoom. I mean, I know better. Anyhow, here you go, Ma.

Assignment two: Moment of decision

Next up was: Show a character making a decision. Same time – 1 minute limit. No dialogue allowed, again. My major mistake here was to show him changing his mind back and forth rather than just progressively changing his mind, says my production teacher Gil Bettman. He’s right, of course. I tend to overcomplicate everything I do.

There were many other good ones. Many were posted on facebook video, and can’t be embedded. Here’s mine…

After we shot mine, we all helped shoot this one – we work in small teams to do these assignments in order to pool some skills and resources, each taking turns to play director / camera and producing, writing and editing our own assignments of course.

So that, my friends, is why I am so far from home. Of course, it’s not all a simple case of happy learning. I’m half way through writing tomorrow’s assignment. A personal reaction paper to the movie The Blue Lagoon. I’m comparing Brooke Shields’ performance unfavourably to that of the movie’s dolphin trainer and Brooke’s body double, Kathy Troutt (seriously), who according to the boys in my grade 7 class was the true stars, narrowly missing the top spot in that decade’s Tosscar Awards. Kathy lost first place to Bambi Woods. But only just. Now this would all be fine if I were writing it for South Africa’s online audience of drooling morans (their spelling not mine) because I am used to them hating me. But unfortunately, the director of the movie might be grading my paper.

I wonder if it’s possible to get a DD?

Secret agents in my bed – the making of the video

September 5, 2010

Not as sexy as it looks.

When you’re spending a small fortune going to film school in the USA, nothing anybody says reassures you that you’re worth it. Trust me… nothing. Until, at least, you manage to finish your first project, someone sees it, and they don’t throw you out right away. The first project we had to turn in wasn’t even for grades, but I took it seriously. Seriously enough to spend the entire weekend making giant bed bug puppets from the contents of my recycling bin.

recycling to extremes

I even gave the bugs a manicure. How nice am I?

The brief for the video project was something like: “Introduce yourself in a two minute video, in which you may not appear. Have fun!” I didn’t have a clue what to do, so I was extremely relieved when my attack by vicious bed bugs on arrival in California resulted in an idea for a video… an idea that probably required not just a budget for effects, but also the help of a few other people. You don’t think the electrical, the gaffer, the grip or the AD are important until you see the shadows, screw up the sound, or trip over the wire from the desk lamp you’re using as lighting and hit your head on the desk you’re using as a puppet theatre.

Me and Mary, in happier times. As you can see, I also failed to hire an on-set photographer.

I managed to make a pretty cool bug, which I then defaced a bit so it looked like it had been in the wars.

Mary is now ready for her closeup.

Then I set the camera up on the tripod, succeeded in putting both bugs on my hands without breaking them, and shot a few different angles, using re-usable ingredients. V8 Juice was for blood (it saved me a week of making salads), toilet spray could be crudely disguised as poison, and the light switches in some of the shots are real light switches! I wore a pillow over my head and a sheet wrapped around me to help me blend in with the wall behind me. There’s a lot of footage of me being an idiot, hitting my head, tripping over stuff, appearing in the shot by accident, as well as blank footage of the wall, plus a few usable shots of the puppets, some of which also showed their eyes. Yeeeha!

On set with Mary and Bill.

A 2nd year student saved me (via facebook) by offering to do the voice for the Agent from Atlanta. Thanks Ed Moore. I will name you in my Oscars speech.

After I was done, the table was covered in a milky liquid and my living room smelled like a giant gladiola flower had repeatedly masturbated (to its own immense satisfaction) all over my dining room table/desk/props table/studio.

Hi-tech stuff man...

And the result? Well, this is it.