Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Caught on video! The shootout between a blogger in his younger days, the Blurry-Faced Man and some other dude in a blazer... guns a-blazin' by all.

This bullet-blammo squib-squabble was detailed earlier, but now, thanks to new technology recently made available (namely an editor at the TV gig digitizing a VHS copy), it can be finally presented here. No one involved in this Mexican standoff was actually injured, but the same couldn't be said for their acting careers. The shooter shielded by the desk didn't care; he did it strictly for fun, and insisted dying was a blast. Click here to witness the action.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

With reality TV, everyone can get their fifteen minutes of fame. Your next-door neighbor might be notorious for butchering a ballad on “American Idol”. Or that woman who works at the mall could have competed on “Fear Factor” by eating elephant entrails. Maybe the guy who picks up your garbage got kicked out of the house on “The Real World: Piscataway, NJ”.

So it’s not surprising that as I go by the casting office at my job, I run into people I know. Either from working on the show, or from real life. I can’t tell the difference anymore.

The young people auditioning for the latest reality round-up are often milling around outside the building that houses the editing facilities. When I head over to view various cut stages of the episodes, I may spot a group of pretty starlets, hip-hop homeboys, surfer dude types, etc. -- basically a mishmash of punks who define themselves by Abercrombie, Urban Outfitters or Von Dutch.

Once one of these guys shouted “hey, Mike!” as I walked past. He looked familiar but I couldn’t place his name or where I knew him from. He reminded me that he works at my gym. He knew my name because I have to sign in every time… plus he’s always selling me on continued membership: “Did you know we got a great deal for Flag Day? ‘Banner’ savings on your fitness!”

He started grilling me with questions about the show he was auditioning for, but I couldn’t offer any advice. That wasn’t my program, and, besides, you think I watch this crapola? I just work here. But it was great to run into him, and I told him to break a leg with the casting call. As I started to head inside, he said, “so, will I see you again soon?”

“Well, I’m gonna be a while,” I said. I told him I wouldn’t be back outside again for at least an hour and I certainly hoped they didn’t keep him waiting that long.

“No,” he said. “At the gym.”

Dammit -- yeah, it had been too long. Thanks for the guilt trip, dude. Didn’t I tell you to break a leg?

Another time I saw a guy sitting there I recognized. He wouldn’t have known me, but without even thinking about it, I said, “Hey, it’s the Hebrew Hammer!”

He had been on our show and I felt like I knew him because I had watched footage of the guy over and over again. His entire schtick was that he was Jewish and he played it to the hilt. Of course, his self-proclaimed title was hardly original, and when he first introduced himself by that name and made jokes about a girl being cute but not kosher, I shook my head -- this Schlomo Dorkstein is what we get representing the Tribe?

Sorry to say it, but the non-goy wasn’t just geeky because he was on the scrawny side or that he had braces. I think it was that he was so marble-mouthed.

I can’t stand mumblers. If you don’t have a language problem or a speech impediment or are on some prescribed mind-altering meds, you have no excuse for slurring your words. Enunciate, dammit, or you’ll come across as uneducated or lazy. Or as in his case, insecure.

But in person, the Hebrew Hammer spoke clearly. Maybe he felt more comfortable without the cameras and lights in his face. Or perhaps he had gained some confidence after getting his braces off. Also, he told me he was auditioning for what would be his third reality show this year.

I’m guessing he got addicted to this. Wanted to extend his fifteen minutes to forty-five, or even a full hour.

He asked me how his clip on our show came across. And honestly, it looked good. The scene in which he got rejected by the “non-kosher” girl was pretty damn funny. Gotta give him credit -- he was proud of his schmendrickness. So I didn’t feel so bad telling him the voice-over line I wrote. I had tried out various VOs with the execs and the network until I got one approved.

Let’s see… there was:

The Hebrew Hammer's chances got circumcised.
The Hebrew Hammer won’t get to ram her.
The Hebrew Hammer won’t get to nail her.
The Hebrew Hammer got sent back to the toolbox.

And finally:

For the Hebrew Hammer, it wasn’t ‘Hava Negila’ but ‘Hasta la vista’.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

“Are you packing?”

Hunh? What the hell was this cashier’s problem? Giving me a weird expression and assuming I’ve got a concealed weapon… Where would I hide it, schmuck? I’ve got on shorts and a tee-shirt. Is that what most gun-toting criminals wear? Do I look stupid enough to rob a cheap-o pharmacy like this?

Yeah, sure, why not. And while I’m pilfering money from the register, I’ll also throw a few items into my petty theft -- a bottle of water, assorted vitamins, a new toothbrush… Hey, and since I’m helping a friend who’s switching apartments, I also grabbed a few things from the moving supplies aisle -- a couple of rolls of tape and a dispenser, bubble wrap and --

Oh. That’s what he meant.

Jeez, I gotta stop reading crime novels.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

As the end credits roll for The DaVinci Code

Mike’s Friend: Man, Tom Hanks’ character was so boring.

Mike: Yeah, well, Robert Langdon had no personality in the book, either.

F: I never read it.

M: So you’re the one.

F: Yeah, just me.

M: You should check it out. It reads faster than a screenplay.

F: Does it read faster than ten scripts? ‘Cause that’s how many I gotta get through this weekend alone.

M: And here you are wasting time at this free screening.

F: Well, it was worth the price of admission. Hanks’ hair was the only notable thing about the character. And he had no connection with the woman.

M: Just like the book.

F: This is kinda like the first Harry Potter movie -- they tried to so be faithful to the best-seller… but to a fault.

M: Well, they added a few things to Langdon’s back story to make the religious stuff resonate more. I don’t know if it worked. And they seemed to go out of their way not to piss off Opus Dei and the Catholic Church.

F: I don’t know if that worked either.

M: But -- even though Opie Cunningham went overboard with the dramatics -- you gotta admit he did a nice job of visually presenting the history and the symbols and the deciphering part.

F: And Ian McKellen was good.

M: So were they right to hate it so much at Cannes?

F: Frenchies. What do they know?

M: They’re probably mad that Audrey Tautou is in an American movie. Amelie got stuck decoding shit with Forrest Gump.

F: Then again, the Cannes Film Festival is prestigious. Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or.

M: Big deal. So did Barton Fink.

F: Hey, you liked that movie.

M: Parts of it. It has a great line about Hollywood. They’re in some big entertainment industry hangout, and the agent tells Fink, “Talk to another writer. Jesus, throw a rock in here and you’ll hit one. And do me a favor: Throw it hard.”

F: Maybe we should duck.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The episode finished, and the first end credit appeared on the screen, in big bold letters, with the appropriate title:
King o’ da Shit
This came in lieu of the Executive Producer’s credit. The EP was there in the screening and I wasn’t sure how this little surprise joke by the editor would go over. Especially late on a Friday night.

Fridays are long days at the network. We view a couple of new rough-cuts in the morning, then work all day with the editors to finalize what we’ve sculpted all week from last Friday or Monday’s raw footage, going over and over the episodes, before screening them again, for the Executive Producer, in their still-not-so-final format.

They’re not completely broadcast-ready yet because even after the EP approves 'em, the editors need to do another pass. They fine-tune the sound mix and trim a frame here and there, adjust for commercial breaks, etc. Then the episode is presented to the network’s Standards & Practices people, who insist half the jokes in the show have to be bleeped or cut entirely. Bleepin’ Puritans.

Sometimes we can prepare for this. Like in one scene of this recent episode, a couple of girls were talking about receiving oral sex. “Don’t you hate,” a sneering blonde said, “when a guy goes down on you and then wants to come up and kiss you? Eww.” The other girl asked what it tastes like. Blondie thought for a moment… “Tuna melt.” Haha, angle on the other one looking grossed-out, quick shot of awkward laughter, cut to the next scene.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so,” the Executive Producer said. “S & P will never go for that.”

No problem. We had a back-up scene just in case.

In this one the girls discussed whether a dude should shave his privates. Blondie decreed: “Well, if we have to, they it’s only fair the guy should do some ‘man-scaping’.” And then she added, “but, when you have sex with a guy whose balls are shaved… they sometimes stick to you.”

Yeah, that chick’s a class-act. But anyway, for whatever reason, the EP thought that scene would get past the censors.

See? It’s good we had an alternative trimmed out. Kept several shorn balls in the air or things get hairy with the network. And you don’t want them testes.

Sorry. Like I said, it was a long day.

In fact, earlier, as I was sitting there in an AVID bay, one of the editors asked me if I thought there was anything of his episode that needed to be cut. By the twelfth screening of the same friggin’ 12-minute sequence featuring the grooming and flavor of pubic regions, both the editor and I were getting kinda loopy.

I said no, things needed to be added, dammit. What about the end credits? The EP and other top bananas already had their title cards prepared. Where was mine? And I didn’t want it in some tiny lettering that you couldn’t read even if you freeze your TiVo and put a telescope to your 85-inch plasma screen. C’mon, don’t you know who I am?

“You’re da shit,” the editor said.

“Damn right, baby,” I said. “I’m the king.”

So I guess he took a break from his splicing duties to fashion this little on-screen gag about my end credit title.

Fortunately, the EP and everyone in the room chuckled, appreciating our audacity. So I took it a step further.

“Just take my name off. I’m sorry. I can’t be associated with a show that compromises our artistic vision.” I threw up my hands. “No ‘tuna melt’, no King o’ da Shit.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hey Mike, is this late night sports recap getting you upset? Yeah.

Oh, are you disappointed that you missed the Yankees/Red Sox game? Nah, I was out having fun, and there’ll be plenty of more to this rivalry.

Is it that the Yanks lost? No big deal, they’re only one game out of first.

How do you feel about Matsui getting injured? His bat will be missed, but it’s not like the Bombers don’t have plenty of power in the rest of their line-up.

So what’s the matter? I’m gonna get so much shit about this at work tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If you ever wanna kill someone and get away with it, I know the perfect place to be the scene of your crime: The alley next to my apartment building.

Doesn’t matter that there are dozens of people living within a few yards of this narrow walkway and would hear everything… nobody will do anything about it.

They didn’t do diddly about the cat in heat REOWWRing out there every night last week. Finally I did. After spending a groggy hour hoping it would stop, I got dressed and went out there, but by then she was gone. The little pussy either got some action or decided to use another alley as her singles bar, or gave up and figured she’d start her attempts at a spring fling over again tomorrow.

I couldn’t help but wonder why my none of my neighbors reacted. Was I the only one who heard it? I ran into the guy on the corner unit and asked if he heard that horny kitty cacaphony at 6AM. “Yeah,” he said, “it actually started at four in the morning.” So did he consider going out there to stop it or see what was up? He shrugged.

Typical. I shouldn’t be surprised.

Last fall, I was sleeping late one weekend morning… or trying to -- the neighbors were all stirring, chirping their car alarms on and off, talking loudly on the phone, playing music… But among the noise, I thought I heard a voice saying “Help!”

It was faint, and it came every minute or so… so I thought at first I was dreaming… but then I’d hear it again. Then I wondered, does anybody else hear that? Any of these other residents, or are they too busy making their own noise?

I went outside toward that alleyway and listened. Nothing. Then, after another minute: “Help!” Again, it was quiet, so I wasn’t 100%...

“Is someone yelling help?” I said.

“Yes! Me!” It sounded like an older woman, her voice ricocheting between the two buildings, making determining the source difficult. But I pinpointed the apartment it was coming from -- in the building across from mine -- as she said through the window: “I slipped in the bathtub and I think I broke my leg.” Yes, the classic I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

I told her to hang on, I’d call 911 and get her some help. (I wasn’t going to help her myself – a) I probably wouldn’t assist her properly and b) seeing an old lady nekkid would traumatize both of us.) I had brought my cellphone out there and as I was giving the emergency operator the details… only then did one of the other tenants in my building come over to see what was up.

He said he thought he heard someone calling for help. But it wasn’t until he heard me talking was it confirmed that there was a problem, so that’s when he came over. I just told him to get the landlord to the adjacent building to open up the woman’s front door while I waited out front for the fire department.

After they arrived and went into her place to help her, I took off. I had to get going, run out and do whatever I had planned that day. That evening when I got home I saw the light on in the woman’s apartment. I considered going over to check on her, but decided for many reasons to leave it as an anonymous good deed.

Well, it wasn’t such a big deal. It’s what anybody should’ve done. I don’t know why my neighbors are the way they are.

A friend who lives in my building -- and is deaf in one ear -- told me later that he heard the whole thing. “You’re a hero, Mike,” he said. He was probably half-joking, 'cause really, I just called 911. That’s it.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to stop by the woman’s place is that -- like my neighbors, I suppose -- I’m not anxious to befriend everybody here. This isn’t a small town where everyone knows each other's business. But that doesn’t mean we should completely fucking ignore everything that goes on outside our door. This isn’t Bedford Falls, but it ain’t downtown Beirut either.

I dunno. Or maybe no one else minds hearing clumsy biddies and libidinous alley cats.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What are all these scars on my hands, you ask?

Well, the curved cut on my right pointer was from when I punched through a burning windshield to rescue a two-year-old blind orphan--and his puppy--before the SUV exploded. Fighting off that Calabasas mafia henchman's attempt at strangulation by garote left me with the laceration on my left thumb. And the burn mark on the two knuckles? Small price to pay for defending the Earth from the Magma Men from the planet Mercury.

Okay, actually the first one was when my glass coffee pot shattered while cleaning it. The laceration came when my can opener broke halfway through opening a new can of Don Francisco Italian Roast, so I desperately tried to rip the lid off. And last week, I accidentally spilled boiling hot espresso on myself.

I know -- my caffeine addiction has ruined my career as a hand model, but it's energized my typing fingers and flights of fancy.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

3 things I don’t do:

1. Flake. When we make plans, you can count on me showing up. I won’t call you a few hours beforehand, or the night before -- or even days earlier -- to say I can’t make it. No matter how tired I’m feeling, and especially if other social engagements come up. I’ll ink you into my calendar… so don’t make me ink you on my shitlist.

2. Put up with passive-aggressive bullshit. Case in point: My landlord sent me an official “remit payment or forfeit the premises” document when I was four days late with the rent. I called to talk to him -- I’ve been there for years, why the cold bureaucracy? He knows me, knows I always pay, and on time. Maybe I was sick or something. Why not just call me? And he blew me off: “Well, that’s how I handle these things.” I’m sure he’s creating a paper trail to try to evict me so he can get someone new to pay three-times as much. So I stopped being easy-going about the repairs. And after several months of him failing to fix the hot water pressure in my apartment despite multiple requests, I sent him a letter about it. I even addressed his complaints about having to spend money on the plumbing system, reminding him of his responsibilities as landlord, and copied the city and county, the health dept., etc. He went ballistic, but after he was done blowing his top, he agreed to fix the plumbing this week. Still, he was “pissed off”, couldn’t believe I wrote that letter. “Well,” I told him, “that’s how you wanted to handle these things.”

3. Attack you personally. If we’re arguing about something -- politics, money, who took the last cookie -- I keep the conversation on that topic. Yeah, I probably know your personal vulnerabilities, exactly how to hurt your feelings, but I won’t go there… unless you go there first… and then watch out, you ugly stupid motherfucker.

But hey, that’s just me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Being a Yankees fan, especially living outside of New York, I’ve heard it all.

Everywhere I go, I get razzed about how the billion dollar Bombers haven’t won a championship in the last five years and how “Pay-Rod” chokes in the postseason and that Randy Johnson’s older than most of these clichéd criticisms.

It’s particularly bad at the new gig. Our head editor’s from Chicago and repeatedly taunts me that the White Sox will be back-to-back champions. But he doesn’t understand -- the Yankees were just giving a few other teams a chance at a World Series ring. Now Chi-town will have to go to the back of the line, wait another several decades, just like Arizona, the Angels, and of course, the Red Sox.

I have to make this amply clear to Gene, the post producer. Only because he spent this whole week relishing the fact that Johnny Damon went hitless in the Yankees’ first game against the Red Sox.

Typical Bostonian. Once they lose a player, they turn on him.

Gene accused New Yorkers of being just as nasty, and he may be right, but we don’t hate former players. If they don’t get re-signed… well, NYers just pity them. No one leaves the Yanks for greener pastures. So-and-so got traded ‘cause the poor guy couldn’t hack it. Big city pressure was too much for him.

Moving south from Boston, on the other hand, is a step up. Just ask the Babe, Clemens, Damon… And say, when does Big Papi become a free agent?

This trash-talk is often off-set by a mutual understanding of the frustrations we American League East fans suffer. With Gene, it segues into a where-were-you-when comparison. That’s my favorite part of talking baseball -- not so much recalling the games, but how it affected you as a fan. And unlike the hackneyed rivalry-rants, these anecdotes are always unique.

I acknowledged that after Game 5 of the ’04 American League Championship Series, it was over for the Yankees… I didn’t want to admit at the time that I knew Boston would win it all after that.

But I fondly recall the final game of the ’03 ALCS. I didn’t want to watch the game. My friend thought I was nuts. I explained that if the Yanks won, they’d go to the World Series and we’d have at least 4 more games to view. But if they lost -- to Boston! -- well, I just couldn’t handle it. Somehow he convinced me to watch the game at Barney’s Beanery… and over several drinks, as the game went into extra innings, I thanked him for dragging me out. “Win or lose,” I said, “this is a great game!” The icing on the cake is that the Red Sox manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long, the pitcher gave up runs to let the Yanks tie it up, and then Aaron Boone hit the winning home run.

Gene had a better story about that game. He was teaching English as a Second Language at the time, but had happily given notice because he had landed a TV writing gig (I understood his excitement).

Normally, he said, he would’ve called in sick at work during the finale of a Yanks-Sox pennant race, but that wouldn’t be cool on his last day ever at the job. So he made up some bullshit lesson plan that involved identifying and speaking baseball terms as an excuse to bring in a TV and watch the game. (“Who can say, ‘strikeout’?” “Who can say, ‘Strike Jeter the hell out!’?”)

Gene pointed out that while baseball is extremely popular in many Latin American countries -- Caribbean, Central- and South-America -- it’s not really that well-known among the soccer-crazed Mexicans. No wonder Fernando Venezuela was such a phenomenon; there haven’t been too many superstars from south of the border since. So maybe this would be a good lesson for the largely-Mexican members of his ESL class. And they seemed to learn quickly.

One student raised his hand. “Escuse me, Meester Es-Steinberg? You know the blue team?”

“The Yankees,” Gene said.

“Yes. Before, when they throw the ball… they change the man who throw the ball. Why not the red team do that too?”

“Excellent question,” Gene said, shaking his head. “If only Grady Little asked the same thing.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mayday. Man, it’s been a rough month. Life sure ain’t easy for Mikey.

When I’m done doing my own thing in the morning, I have a whole 5 minute commute to work, where I spend all day in an editing bay watching rough cuts of our TV show, making decisions with the post-production team on what’s the best footage and the funniest way to put it all together.

Last week we moved offices back to the network, so as I waited for my desk and computer to be set up, there wasn’t much to do but go around to all the cute associate producer women, to discuss work of course. Or go out in the field on their shoots and consider production values with the film crew while chowing down on catered lunches and craft services.

Plus now that we’re more accessible at the office, and I made some creative suggestions a couple of times, they’ve asked me to sit in on the show concept meetings. So on top of writing silly voice-over lines and collecting information about the weirdest places our cast members have had sex, I gotta spend an hour a week brainstorming ideas on whether it’s more visually appealing to do an episode about bungee jumping or crocodile hunting. I suggested bungee jumping into a pit of crocodiles.

Feeling bad for me yet?

Wait -- there’s more. (Warning, this is rated R for raunchy here.)

Word got around about a racy lesbian episode that had just wrapped. Sometimes the gay and lesbian shoots can be kinda risque, but this one reportedly topped them all. Or should I say bottomed? The rumors revolved around a cast member showing off one of her special abilities. The people who come on our show are encouraged to display their unique talents. Some can sing or rap or are double-jointed or can wiggle their ears. This young woman pulled down her pants and masturbated until she squirted.

So I was told. There’s often a week’s delay between production and post, so I only heard the story as it spread like a rash. By the time our staff meeting took place, the exec. producer gently reprimanded everyone. That while we don’t like to discourage cast members from, uh, doing their thang, whatever that may be, this particular act could’ve made other cast members uncomfortable (thought it didn’t -- the others loved it), and besides, of course we can’t air anything like that. And while people working on our show have the right not to view the footage, there is a peer-pressure factor and some got “tricked” into witnessing it (i.e., being told “you gotta see this!” without any warning about content). Although we’re really laid-back and yet cutting-edge at our job, it’s still a corporation, and we need to act professionally.

Of course, the EP was right. And of course, I told the editor assigned that episode that he had to let me view that famed footage.

Honestly, it didn’t live up to the hype. Turns out the girl was a porn star and the whole thing wasn’t erotic, just sleazy. I had heard that this same chick appeared on a famous talk radio show, did the same thing, only with more -- what’s the word? -- squirtasticness. And considering the shock jock host is a notorious germophobe, he was hardly pleased with her love juice tainting his studio.

I hope I’ve been specific enough to give you an idea of some of the things I’ve been up to lately, yet vague enough to keep from giving away any trade secrets. It’s a fine line we walk here in show biz.

Like I said: Life sure ain’t easy for Mikey.

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