Archive for July, 2012


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It took me a while to crack this one open, since I had not enjoyed Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at all. But the pacing and prose were much improved here, and the sheer amount of history between the pages was engrossing. I wondered sometimes why it wasn’t a straight biography, as it could have been an engaging and humanizing one, but then I remembered …

Horror is the game!

And it’s well played. The vampire lore is woven fairly seamlessly into Lincoln’s tragic family life, even though at times it appears (as it often does creature-centered literature, film, and television) that every other person in his world was a vampire. But the action was engaging, the characters well built, and the historic backdrop richly drawn.

Especially enjoyable was the tenuous and strange relationship between Abe and Henry. H’s favorite epithets of “Some people are just too interesting to kill” and “Judge us not equally” resonated without being overused.

Something niggled at me, though, about the concept. I am very, very good at suspending disbelief, but at times the story felt conspicuously untrue, almost blasphemous, since it was about one of history’s most revered leaders. It’s a bit like reading a tale about Gandhi becoming a zombie … it’s just wrong. After all, the mantle this fantasy places on Abe is not necessarily all flattering. Sure, he still fought so that good could triumph over evil, but he was violent and angry and vengeful. He wanted to spill blood. And he had to get in bed with the evil just a bit to fulfill his mission — but maybe that’s just a commentary on politics.

Yes, it was a fun read. But I feel a little, hmm, guilty that it was a fun read.

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This past Saturday, I had the honor and extraordinary experience of serving as Second Assistant Director on the location shoot of an independent short film that a friend is making. It was an amazing experience that I truly appreciate being part of. And I realized that there are great lessons in it for business and life in general.

“Quiet on the set!”

The Movie

The film is called Somebody’s Darling, which was a euphemism for a dead body during the American Civil War. The action takes place on and off battlefields, and this past weekend’s shoot was on location at a Georgia hunting club that provided the backdrop for battle footage.

(If you’re interested in donating and reading a bit more about the production, go here – http://www.blacklagoon.net/. This promises to be a fascinating addition to stories about the civil war!)

The Lessons

Despite the heat, repetition, and a few technical difficulties, most participants (ironically, especially those who worked the hardest) reported after the fact that they had a blast and would do it again. Sure, we had some snags and delays, but thanks to laying important groundwork, we were able to handle the snafus so smoothly that we actually ended up finishing ahead of schedule all the shots that Writer/Director Jeff Ballentine wanted.  That’s incredible.

Teamwork

Skirmishers in the woods

The main lesson I gained from this adventure was the immense payoff of teamwork and division of labor. There was a hierarchy of positions, similar to jobs on any professional movie set but ones that might be overlooked on a small independent production. We were all volunteers, so I’m sure it was a bit like herding cats to make sure everyone came through. In the end, though, almost everyone pulled his or her weight and then some. The spirit of cooperation, jumping in where needed, and keeping eyes on the main objective of capturing excellent footage for the film were tangible.

The take-away from this for life, be it business dealings and group activities, is to give people a clear role, ask them to commit to that role, and then let them fulfill that role. When someone has too much on his or her plate (as did our Second Unit Director / Costume and Makeup Manager / Set Dressing and Continuity Manager), get people to help! The star in the overloaded position may be the absolute best person for the job, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be assistants for each task. This strategy worked like a charm.

Horses are often more patient than people … no surprise there 🙂

Preparation and Commitment

The key to keeping a bunch of people on task during a project of this magnitude is preparation. They need to know what is expected of them, have at least the outline of a schedule, and be asked to commit to doing what they promised. Thanks to the organization persistence of Assistant Director Leigh A. Jones and the loving commitment of a really amazing group of people, we had that. The foundation was laid in several production meetings and constant communication on a site set up for the group. Everything was shared so everyone felt included, and those with specific jobs to do were asked to actively participate and take charge of their areas.

A major lesson in preparing for and executing a big task is to take advantage of delegation. Find out who is reliable, what their strengths are, and let those people run with the tasks that they find exciting.

We did fall short on some prep. For instance, the fluid shot list was simply not ready for anyone to see, so we just had to rely on the Director and AD to tell everyone what they were doing next. But there’s a lesson in that too, and it’s called “Plan ahead, but be flexible.”

Some people, equipment, and supplies didn’t show up as planned. This called for more flexibility, of course. But it also brings yet another lesson: “Those who do not come through should not be asked to do important tasks the next time.” Of course, there might a very good reason that someone was AWOL or something left undone, and it’s a judgment call about what to do with that. However, be aware of patterns emerging and set a limit as to how many times someone is allowed to let you down and slow the progress of the undertaking.

Taking Care of Yourself

Battle scars

Unlike some professional Hollywood types, we don’t have handlers. It was made clear that each of us needed to take care of one’s self—come prepared, stay hydrated, and let designated individuals know if you needed anything. This was a beautiful plan that mostly worked throughout the day. There were only two instances in which I saw the potential downsides to self-care fall through, and it reinforced the lessons of teamwork and preparation: the first is the potential for someone to feel as though he or she can blend in, fall back, and not have to carry the same weight as others, but dead weight always drags down a plan, especially a small-scale one in which it’s all hands on deck; the second is the opposite type of personality that is gung ho and means to keep going despite personal endangerment, and what results is others needing to take care of that person. Could these breakdowns have been foreseen? Maybe, maybe not, but the lesson is that, in any endeavor in life, these are two pitfalls to attempt working out in planning—when you examine the capabilities and personalities of people involved—rather than during execution.

Preparing for a shot in the breastworks

My own paranoia about getting eaten alive by bugs or falling into a patch of poison ivy helped me prepare—maybe even overprepare—but it was successful preparation. Despite being in outside all day (at least twelve hours) and in the woods for part of that, I don’t think I came home with a single bug bite! Thanks, Cutter! It also helped that I wore appropriate clothing, including work books and a big hat.

More of an issue was the heat. Though it was cooler than we’d expected (Georgia has been having quite the heat wave, but recent rains cooled it down a bit for us), it was still oppressive for the soldiers in their wool uniforms as well as for the effects crew who were lugging around generators, fog machines, and assorted pyrotechnics equipment. We went through hundreds of bottles of water (yes, we recycled!) and a huge vat of Gatorade, but we still had a couple of bouts of heat exhaustion. It pointed up the wisdom of following the suggested preparation guidelines that our crew had sent out for pre-hydrating (like athletes do a day or two before competition), staying hydrated on the set, and limiting alcohol and caffeine. Fortunately, everyone reports a full recovery!

The Experience

Those who know me will understand how fabulous an experience this was for the MovieFreak! At the end of the day, I had dirt in my underwear from the explosions, my feet throbbed, and I really needed a beer. But, HELL YES, I would do it again and hope that I get to do so very soon.

It’s … Friday the 13th!

[Cue scary background music.]

Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia?

Frigg spinning

(Frigg—sometimes anglicized to Frigga—is the powerful Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named, and triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)

How did we come to be superstitious about Friday the 13th?

It’s All Norse to Me

Friday was actually considered lucky in pre-Christian times. But since then, it has taken on sinister connections: it’s supposedly the day Eve gave Adam the apple, the day the great flood started, the day the Temple of Solomon was destroyed … and of course the day Christ died on the cross.

It makes sense that the superstitious associations started when Christianity moved in, mainly to discredit and lessen Frigg worship.

The number 13 has inspired trepidation for centuries.

The death of Baldr

In numerology, 12 is the number of completeness: 12 apostles, 12 months in the year, 12 hours in the day, and so on.

The number 13 has been held as “unlucky” for various reasons for centuries: the code of Hammurabi omits number 13, tall buildings have no 13th floor, cities have no 13th street.

In Norse myth, the 12 gods were dining in Valhalla and were joined by a 13th uninvited guest—Loki—who perpetrated a ruse that resulted in the death of Baldr, killed by his own blind brother Hodr, and threw the earth into darkness.

The Marriage of Unlucky Friday and Unlucky 13

Knights Templar

The amalgamation of superstitions about the day and the number has much-contested origins. Some say it started with the publication in 1907 of Thomas Lawson’s book Friday, the Thirteenth. That’s pretty recent.

My favorite explanation for the dread cast on this day is the legendary mass arrest of the remaining Knights Templar in France by King Philip of France on Friday, October 13, 1307. Amid turmoil over power, money, and fealty, they were tortured, discredited, and eventually executed.  I’d call that pretty unlucky.

These days, for some of us, Friday the 13th is a great excuse to watch horror movies!

What’s your take on this superstition-inspiring day?

Here comes Jason

Review: Bite Me

Bite Me
Bite Me by Christopher Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The continuing adventures of Abby Normal, the Countess Jody, the Dark Lord Flood, and their assorted minions — not to mention the Emperor of San Francisco, the Animals, and one giant shaved cat named Chet and his horde of vampire kitties that can turn to fog — all pursued by detectives Rivera and Cavuto, plus the ancient vampires trying to “clean up” and remain hidden. If that is not fun summer reading, I don’t know what is!

Moore has a wicked sense of humor that’s present and accounted for in this third “love story” book [its predecessors being Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story, #1) and You Suck (A Love Story, #2)]. He also knows how turn a phrase into a hysterical observation that will make you spit milk out of your nose. The familiar characters are back in all their glory, confusion, and goofiness. And while some found it annoying, I really enjoyed Abby’s Valley-Girlish narration (used sporadically throughout the book); I did not think it was overdone at all, and it was so much fun to read.

Some of Your Blood
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I truly enjoyed reading Some of Your Blood … darkly different and completely fascinating. Not the typical horror story, just discomfiting and riveting. At the end of this paperback version is also short story called “Bright Segment” — just as disturbing and enthralling. Excellent, quick reads for anyone who enjoys disturbing tales!

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