Wipe Filming

Today I filmed a comedy short, "Wipe," along with Cinematographer Chuck DeRosa and two wonderful actors: Kelly Perine and Steve Fite.  This shoot was a ton of fun.  The entire crew was on their game insuring that everything went smoothly.  It's great to spend the whole day laughing. haircut

(Above) Actor Kelly Perine and I trim his afro wig for the short.  The wig was necessary for a gag, and it took a lot of finesse to make the wig look believable.


(Above) Cinematographer Chuck DeRosa and Electrician Ian Carr set up the Red Cam.  This camera is unbelievably great.


(Above) Actor Kelly Perine marking his own slate.


(Above) Actor Steve Fite, inside a nest of lighting equipment.  It looks like a conceptual art piece.


(Above) Actor Steve Fite, getting set up for the next take.


(Above) Actor Steve Fite's extreme close up.  I like this pic because I shot it in color and it looks black and white.

SoCal Film Festival Screening

The Last Hurrah screened tonight at the SoCal Film Festival. It was a fun, enthusiastic crowd and we were very excited to have won Best Cinematography for the festival. sf-jw-zb-ss-gc-ii Actors: Steve Fite, Jon Weinberg, Zack Bennett, Sarah Scott, Gary Cairns

steve-alicia Actors: Steve Fite and Alicia Ziegler

richie-jon-peter Producers: Richie Molyneux, Jon Stokes, Peter Marr

david-jon-long Actor David Wachs and Director Jon Stokes

jon-steve-long Actor Steve Fite and Director Jon Stokes

Men Interrupted Sound Mix

Today I wrapped the final sound mix with the wonderful sound designer Corey Eccles.  The mix was relaxed and fun.  Sound recording was very good on set, so our time was spent on sweetening music and effects. ravi-janina-corey Corey sound editing actors Ravi Patel and Janina Gavankar

Actors get to come on set, deliver a performance, and then move on with the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, everyone in post-production has to relive the actors' performances dozens and dozens of times, analyzing and editing every inflection and nuance.

I think the mark of a funny actor is if they can still make me laugh in the sound edit. Even after I can recite all their lines in my sleep.

jelynn-head Actress Jelynn Rodriguez

The music for "Men, Interrupted" is composed by the incomparable Dominic Mazzoni. I was thrilled with his work in The Last Hurrah and he did amazing work again, here. Jazz and comedy go together like basil and tomato.

kate-david Actors David Wachs and Kate Albrecht

Once color and rotoscoping are complete, we can begin sending "Men, Interrupted" to festivals.

SoCal Film Festival

I'm happy to announce the next screening of...

The Last Hurrah Official Selection Tuesday, September 22 at 8:20pm The SoCal Film Festival in Huntington Beach

socal_ticket_09 Purchase $6 tickets!

We are honored to be one of six narrative feature films selected for the festival. And pleased to be included in a group of larger budget movies with box office stars such as Peter Gallagher, Michael Madsen, C. Thomas Howell, Ann-Margaret, Christina Ricci...and more.

The Last Hurrah's own Sarah Scott is starring in The Grind with Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo, also premiering at SoCal. We decided to apply to the SoCal festival at the behest of actor Gary Cairns, who stars as "The Trip" and is a long time resident of Huntington Beach.

Thank you Gary and thank you SoCal!

Ravi and Janina

The next actors to film for "Men, Interrupted" were Ravi Patel and Janina Gavankar. Ravi and Janina are both really funny and like to improvise. We had a relaxed shooting schedule, so we took our time and had fun - letting the actors do as many as seven takes on a setup. When Ravi and Janina improvised, they kept the whole crew laughing. The crew should maintain absolute silence during shooting, so the poor AC had to leave the room during one take because he was laughing so hard. I had to keep hiding my face behind my binder. And during one take, the boom kept swinging into the shot because the sound mixer was cracking up. Eventually, Ravi and Janina would crack each other up and I'd just have to call the cut.

All in all it was a longer shoot than I planned on, but a ton of fun. This is when a set is at its best. When the shooting schedule is relaxed and the crew is not under time-pressure, the actors have time to stretch out and get creative.

Below, our AC and Gaffer serve as stand-ins during lighting. These guys were hilarious and I should probably shoot a movie just about them... standins

Final touches on lighting... stand-ins-final-touches

Then the actors take the place of the standins while final adjustments are made to the set, the placement of the actors, the camera, the lighting, and makeup. ravi-janina-lights

And we're off and running. The most amazing thing about film actors is how they can act so naturally while placed on a petri dish... jon-script

Actors Ravi Patel and Janina Gavankar hard at work... ravi-janina-sleep

Jelynn and Zack

The next actors to film for "Men, Interrupted" were Jelynn Rodriguez and Zack Bennett. Their shoot was by far the most complicated and they did an amazing job! We shot fifteen setups in five hours - we were absolutely booking. Again, I was very happy to have rehearsed and blocked ahead of time, so nearly all my focus on set could go toward lighting and camera. Our production designer, Nikita (pictured below, with yours truly), did a great job of dressing each set to fit the characters' personalities and creating a clear mood and color palette for each scene of the movie.


Slating Jelynn and Zack... jelynn-zack-slate

And they're off and running... jelynn-zack

Men, Interrupted

Today we began shooting a comedy short I wrote, "Men, Interrupted." It follows the twisted relationships of three couples through the course of one challenging night. The first couple we filmed are two wonderful actors David Wachs and Kate Albrecht. We shot "day for night" which means blocking sunlight from the windows with huge flags.


David, Kate, and I practiced every beat in rehearsal last week. This makes for a relaxed and easy shoot. It was amazing how consistent the actors were in filming. Their continuity will make the editor's job (Jay Trautman) much smoother.


The filming location is in a "transitional neighborhood" covered in rival Crip and MS13 gang tags. After wrapping, we had grips escort the actors back to their cars!


All in all, a fun shoot, and nobody got knifed! I'd call that a success.


I arrive at the premiere, meet our publicist and producer rep, and begin greeting actors as they arrive. img_1339 Getting ready: our publicist Kim, Me (Jon Stokes), Valerie Azlynn, Alicia Ziegler

We sold out the theater the day before, and now everyone's clamoring for tickets. Even actors can't get a seat! I do the best job I can to handle everyone and deflect people onto Adam, Kim, Chuck, Jay and anyone who can help.

img_1309 Chaos begins

The crowd arrives and I'm thrilled to see so many friends. My best friend Jordan surprises me at the premiere - he flew out from New York! This makes my entire night.

img_1352 The audience lining up to buy tickets

Beautiful people arrive...

gary-hakeem David Wachs, Gary Cairns, Jennifer Ann Massey, Hakeem Kae-Kazim

I join the red carpet photos. This takes practice. Which way do we look?

four-guys-dark Jon Weinberg, Ravi Patel, Jon Stokes, Randy Wayne

The filmmakers get their picture taken...

chuck-jon-jay Chuck DeRosa (Cinematographer), Jon Stokes (Me the director), Jay Trautman (Editor, Post-Production Supervisor)

The screening starts a good 30 minutes late. The Dances With Films staff struggles to pack in every last remaining seat. We turn away a crowd at the door.

I stand in the back of the theater with my producing team and the festival directors. It feels good. There is excitement in the air.

jon-and-val Jon Stokes (Me the director) and Valerie Azlynn (the female lead)

I've never seen The Last Hurrah on a full size theater screen. What will the picture quality be like? As soon as the movie starts, I breath my first sigh of relief. The picture looks better than I've ever seen it. When my name appears on the screen I get butterflies.

With each of the first five scenes in the movie I breath a little more relief - the laughs and momentum are there. The movie is underway, the audience is with us. Once we finally hit the Act One break I turn around and give a big thumbs up to my team: We Did It.

sarah-jon-david Sarah Scott, Jon Stokes, David Wachs

The audience response is amazing. Better than I ever imagined. They gasp, they cheer, they laugh, they clap. They root for the characters. When Will has a serious moment they are silent, when Jason gives Will advice they are on the edge of their seats, when Steve breaks up with Tara they laugh and applaud, and when Will finally kisses Nicole they cheer. It works. Finally seeing the movie with a live audience is transcendent.

When the movie's over we get applause after applause. It feels great!

stars-adorable Zack Bennett, Alicia Ziegler, Valerie Azlynn

After the credit roll I'm called down for the Q&A. I invite all the actors and crew to come down as well. There is a lot of energy on stage and we all get some good laughs during the Q&A.

The first thing I always need to do when I walk out of a theater is find a bathroom. Code yellow! But it takes me 15 minutes to walk to the bathroom with the outpouring of congratulations. For a writer who spends most of his time toiling alone, hunched over a laptop, this night is a tremendously gratifying experience. The screening over, we all head to Libertine for the after party. It is packed and jumping and a great finish to a great night.

Dances With Films

We are thrilled to announce...

The Last Hurrah World Premiere Tuesday, June 9th 7:15pm at the Laemmle Sunset 5

dwflaurels Purchase tickets! For more information, visit Dances With Films.

We are thrilled to be premiering here in Los Angeles.  Out of 1200 - 1500 films submitted, The Last Hurrah is one of 19 films selected for the festival, and one of 11 chosen for the competition section. Thank you Dances With Films!


Jay and I knocked out a new trailer for The Last Hurrah. I wrote the outline during lunch break at a dance competition on Saturday, Jay mocked it up Sunday afternoon, and Sunday night we massaged it into place. We've both been so swamped, this is our process! The trailer music is composed and performed by Dominic Mazzoni. Take a look!


Raiders of The Lost Ark Story Conference Transcript

Earlier this month, rumors began circulating of a pdf transcription of story conferences held January 23 - 27, 1978 between Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg to discuss a project named "Indiana Smith." The pdf is now available in html. I can't find any way of authenticating this document, except to say that at 125 pages it would be pretty elaborate for a hoax, and also to say that folks who've worked with Spielberg think this document rings true. So film professors around the country can now drool all over their lecture notes citing Lucas and Spielberg's specific references to Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune while crafting the character of Indiana Smith. statue-grab

And what we the movie-loving audience are left with is a document full of moments like this:

Spielberg: "You know what it could be. I have a great idea. [omitted][*] There is a sixty-five foot boulder that's form-fitted to only roll down the corridor coming right at him. And it's a race. He gets to outrun the boulder. It then comes to rest and blocks the entance of the cave. Nobody will ever come in again. This boulder is the size of a house."

Indy Bolder Chase

It is wonderful to be a fly on the wall witnessing a brainstorming session between Spielberg and Lucas. There is so much enthusiasm and agreement when they build their ideas. While Lucas appears to have brought an outline of the story to the meeting, he is amazingly open to Spielberg and Kasdan's contributions. He constantly spurs the meeting's momentum, refusing to get hung up on minutia so as to keep the ideas flowing. Repeatedly, Lucas basically says "we can figure out a way to explain that later," and as they work through their five days of meetings, sure enough, the problems get solved. Meanwhile, Lucas and Spielberg generate so many ideas they basically draft Raiders of the Lost Ark and the first half of Temple of Doom in one week.

Lawrence Kasdan, who was a brand new writer with no screen credits in 1978, contributes mainly on details and clarifications.  You can practically feel his writer's cramp as Lucas and Spielberg fire away ideas. Based on his first draft of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lucas hired Kasdan to write The Empire Strikes Back. And the rest, as they say...

He's Got To Be Afraid Of Something...

How do you make your hero relatable?  Here's Lucas and Spielberg early on in the first meeting:

Lucas: That was what I thought. That's why I was sort of iffy about throwing it in. If we don't make him vulnerable…

Spielberg: What's he afraid of? He's got to be afraid of something.

Lucas: If we don't make him vulnerable, he's got no problems.

Then, three tapes later, while sorting out the scene where Indiana discovers the Ark, a solution presents itself.

Spielberg: What about snakes? All these snakes come out.

Lucas: People hate snakes. Possibly when he gets down there in the first place.

Kasdan: Asps? They're too small.

Spielberg: It's like hundreds of thousands of snakes.

Lucas: When he first jumps down in the hole, it's a giant snake pit. [Omitted] This is interesting. It is going to detract from the discovery of the Ark, but that's all right. We can't make a big deal out of the Ark. He opens the thing, and he starts to jump down, and it's full of snakes, thousands of them. He looks down there and sees them. What if they scurry out of the light. Then when he says they're afraid of light, they throw down torches. You have a whole bunch of torches that keep the snakes back. [Omitted] It's the idea of being in a room, in a black room with a lot of snakes. That will really be scary.

Spielberg: The snakes are waiting, looking at him. Thousands. And the torches are burning down. He's trying to keep it going. The torch goes out. The whole screen goes black. The sound of the snakes gets more intense. You hear him backing up.


Spielberg: It would be funny if, somewhere early in the movie he somehow implied that he was not afraid of snakes. Later you realize that that is one of his big fears.

Lucas: Maybe it's better if you see early, maybe in the beginning that he's afraid, "Oh God, I hate those snakes." It should be slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens this up, "I can't go down in there. Why did there have to be snakes. Anything but snakes." You can play it for comedy. The one thing that could happen is that he gets trapped with all these snakes.


"Bad Dates"

It's so much fun watching the Raiders of the Lost Ark ideas take shape, especially with the 20/20 hindsight of what worked so well in the movie. Reading the transcript, you almost want to shout at Spielberg and Lucas when they veer off track, and cheer when they hit on something great.

Here's another exchange I found particularly fun:

Spielberg: I think it would be funny if, as they're talking about this and the olives are between them, you see a hairy little paw is pulling olives off the plate, coming in and out of frame. Finally the paw comes up to grab an olive and begins slipping, like palsy. You use a little mechanical paw. And then you hear a thump.

Lucas: The monkey eats the olives during the exposition. It would be great if the monkey keeled over with the olive in his hand. "I wouldn't eat those olives."

Spielberg: As our hero looks over and sees this dead monkey with pits all around him, his friend is tossing one up, and he finally catches one in his mouth. "Hey, I got one." Our guy hits him on the back and makes him spit it out, saves him at the last minute.

Lucas: Either one can save the other. He flips it up, and as it's going into his mouth, the other guy grabs it. The guy asks him why in the hell he did that. He points to the monkey sprawled out with pits all over him. "Bad olives."

Kasdan: One thing that bothered me, the monkey eats just the olives? He can eat other stuff, too.

Lucas: Rather than olives, it could be dates. They would stick to his head instead of bounce off. It's better with olives, an olive would bounce around the room. The good thing about dates is that's something monkeys would be crazy about.

And of course, we end up with, in Lawrence Kasdan's revised third draft of August 1979:

Indy is in a happy world of his own. He throws his date high in the air. He positions himself under it and waits for it to drop in. Here it comes. Right on target. As it's about to disappear into Indy's mouth, Sallah's hand flashes in and grabs it. Indy looks mystified and disap- pointed. Sallah motions toward the dead Monkey.

SALLAH Bad dates.

One of the clear lessons these tapes provide is how exhaustively this trio drew the character of "Indiana Smith" before they ever discussed plot or set pieces. Too often, it feels as if action movies start with set pieces, and a character is only wedged in as an after thought.  In this case, Indiana Smith is a great example of a character who is larger than his set pieces.  Throughout the story meetings, Lucas takes great care to keep Indy believable, relatable, and human - rejecting ideas that seem over-the-top.

Lucas: ...James Bond tends to get a little outrageous at times. We're going to take the unrealistic side of it off, and make it more like the Clint Eastwood westerns. The thing with this is, we want to make a very believable character.

A writing teacher once pointed out to me that Indiana Jones is constantly experiencing "spectacular failures." He never gets the treasure in the end. He's usually abused by the love interest throughout the movie. He obliterates every archaeological site he comes in contact with. And when he actually survives an ordeal - even he can't believe it. Indiana Jones never really wins anything, he just gets pulled into adventures against his wishes and survives from one spectacular failure to another. This is how most of us live. And this is, I think, the key to the audience's enduring love of Indiana Jones.

*[Back to post] [Omitted] means omitted by yours truly to trim things up for this post. The original document contains everything except a few spots where the tape was unintelligible.

Academy Award Nominated Editors

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) hosted their 9th annual "Invisible Art, Visible Artists" series, where all five of the Academy Award Nominated Editors meet on stage at the Egyptian Theater to discuss their craft.  What an absolute treat.  Editing is alchemy.  And almost by definition, the best editing is invisible.  Or to put it differently, if you notice the editing in a movie, then the editor is probably doing a poor job. It follows that good editing is one of the above-the-line arts that rarely receives the credit it is due (casting director is, I think, the only above-the-line credit that still does not receive an Academy Award).

Jay and I arrived on Hollywood Boulevard at 8:30am...


We trekked past the security fences, past all the press tents (below) set up for the Academy Awards...


And we arrived at the historic Egyptian Theater, replete with Egyptian fonts, phallic pillars, and a Spanish tiled roof.


This year's editing nominees spoke for several hours, showing clips of their movies and discussing how they constructed the scenes.  The editors were:

*Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

*Chris Dickens for Slumdog Millionaire

*Lee Smith for The Dark Knight

*Mike Hill and Dan Hanley for Frost/Nixon

*Elliot Graham for Milk

Discussing their process, nearly all the editors seemed to start with a first cut of their movie that was three or four hours long, and then chisel away material from there.  The gift of editing an academy award nominated movie is the plethora of good material and great performances to choose from.  On an independent level, it often feels like the editor's job is to cut around poor performances, bad footage, or to make sense of an incoherent story.  All of the editors who spoke today had the opposite problem; when you have Josh Brolin and Sean Penn both giving great performances in a scene (Milk), how do you decide which actor to cut away from?  When you have reels of gorgeous material, how do you decide what to leave out?

These are good problems to have.


If you TiVo the Academy Awards tomorrow, please don't fast forward when the editors receive their awards.  They have one of the most painstaking and difficult tasks in the film making process.  Editing is often a thankless task: audiences don't notice when you do a good job, they only notice when you screw up.  Yet the editor is truly the last writer of the film, often constructing a narrative or finding solutions that can rescue a troubled film, or make a good film great.

Prepping for the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are tomorrow, and Hollywood Boulevard is shut down for blocks. Appropriately, the awards are run like a big budget movie set, controlled for light, sound, and weather.  Los Angelinos get miffed because Hollywood traffic is rerouted all week.   It's difficult to imagine the budget for this event - it must run in the tens of millions - but I'm sure they make a tidy profit on the television rights. Oscar1

Platoons of security guards protect every ten feet of space for acres around the Kodak Theater. And just above your head is a spiderweb of camera cranes and jibs, with nests of gelled barn door lights making every square inch of red carpet glow like a Christmas tree.

Tomorrow night, Academy Award guests will enter the Kodak theater and proceed up the red carpet (below).  If the carpet doesn't look red yet, it's because everything is still covered in protective plastic as grip and electrical equipment is dollied into place.


Oscar statues are carried in, wrapped in plastic (below).  There is a nervous energy among the armies of crew members loading and setting equipment.  The vibe feels like when you're preparing for a party and the dinner isn't cooked and you still haven't showered and the guests are arriving in one hour.


Guests will proceed down this long, red carpeted hallway.  The pillars are inscribed with the names of Oscar winning movies.


Finally, the guests climb these steps to enter the theater.  It looks to be a magnificent event.  There are already swarms of press everywhere getting a lay of the land and rehearsing for tomorrow.  I saw press badges from as far away as Japan.  This is good for our town.  Despite or because of the recession, the Hollywood box office is having a record-breaking 2009.  A good Academy Awards only helps these numbers!


Testing the Blog

Testing Testing and Tinkering

This week I'm migrating servers and hosting.  I'll also be testing out a new design for the blog, as well as playing with widgets and CSS.  Things may be weird for a few days...

The Puzzle is...

I'd like to navigate the transition from blogging The Last Hurrah, to just plain blogging.  I have the urge to write about writing, Los Angeles, books, movies, and tacos.  More importantly, I'm beginning to contemplate my next project after The Last Hurrah.  So there must be a way to incorporate all that without having to start a brand new blog.

I'm trying to figure out how to present all these things while maintaining a clear focus to this blog.

Please bear with me for the next few weeks while I experiment with new layouts and designs, and non-Last Hurrah-related posts!

Let's Get Back to Work

Today I marched in front of SAG headquarters to support the Let's Get Back to Work rally. Basically, it was a rally of crew people who would prefer that SAG not strike. Or at least, that the SAG leadership maybe pick up the pace a tad and resolve some of the inner squabbling. backtoworklogo1

I'm really not that political, but reading about SAG's internecine fighting is a little shocking. Sometimes, really shocking (update: sometimes really, really shocking). When your union leadership is perennially incapable of holding meetings without Blagojevichian obscenity-laced tirades, maybe it's time to reassess.

Everyone wants the actors to get a fair deal. But there must be a better way for SAG to achieve its goals.

6 Things I learned at the SAG Rally:

*When you hold a rally, crazy people will show up *A person's craziness is directly correlative to their loudness *If you're at a rally, it's okay for people to walk up and start screaming at you *It's best not to reason with those people *Twenty out of twenty loud crazy people favor a SAG strike *The pro-SAG strikers honestly don't look like they do very much acting, anyway

Los Angeles Taco Trucks

Once upon a time, Los Angeles Taco Trucks [*] were simply "Roach Coaches" that unironically played La Cucaracha ("The Cockroach") when pulling up to the sidewalk. Then at some point, maybe 2005, Taco Trucks entered the ambit of the hipster palette.  This was the year great taco blogs emerged like LATaco.com and The Great Taco Hunt. Avid foodies began meticulously ranking and debated the merits of neighborhood Taco Trucks. Perhaps it was because hipster turf had encroached on Latin-American turf (i.e., Silverlake, Echo Park, and Downtown).  Or perhaps it was because Taco Trucks are about the only way to get fresh eats for under $2.  Or perhaps it was simply because the best taco trucks are so mind-bendingly amazing.  Regardless, Prometheus-style, a vanguard of bloggers, hipsters, and assorted trendsvestites have spread the good news to the rest of us.

Carne Asada Taco from Wikimedia Commons

Victory of the Taco Truck

The East Los Angeles Taco Trucks fought years of legislative battles. Considered a nuisance by non-mobile businesses who don't want their sidewalks blocked, Taco Trucks were required to move every hour or risk up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in prison. Because of these laws, part of the fun of getting a great taco used to be finding the darn truck. Analogous to how the best clubs often have no sign out front. When you found a good truck, you really felt like you were in the know.

For years, various lobbies and city officials repeatedly tried to ban Taco Trucks altogether, as they are considered anti-competitive to sit-down restaurants that must pay rent, waitstaff, insurance, city taxes, etc. It wasn't until late 2008 that the bulk of these measures were voted down, allowing Taco Trucks to stay in one spot all night and generally exist with some semblance of brick-and-mortar detente.

Enter Kogi BBQ

A few weeks ago I tried Kogi BBQ, the new Korean Barbecue fusion Taco Truck. They serve a truly mind-blowing spicy barbecue chicken taco garnished with cilantro-green onion-lime relish and crushed sesame seeds. The Kimchi Quesadilla is an acquired taste; saltier than anchovies, it packs a mean punch. Their five dollar burritos are also a flavor explosion, spicy meats mixed with scrambled eggs, chopped onions and cilantro, romain and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette.

Kogi Tacos (image is from their website)

Slick Marketing

The brainchild of a Filipino restaurateur, Kogi follows the traditional model of a Taco Truck by traveling around town throughout the night. However, Kogi employs a top executive chef, is backed by a slick PR company, and regularly posts locations and updates to Twitter. There is something almost ouroborosian about a Taco Truck for hipsters, by hipsters. Kogi's already been covered by KCRW, K-CAL 9, and LA Weekly. They even have a fan page on Facebook. Kogi has only been around since November and the cat is already out of the bag.

If you want to try Kogi, be prepared to wait in line. I tried to go last Friday in the rain, in Silverlake. Jay and I planned it to the minute, arriving first in line at 5pm. The Kogi truck arrived an hour late, two blocks south of its announced location. When the hour-long line turned and sprinted south toward the arriving Taco Truck, I found my first place spot became the last place spot. People who arrived last got served first. Total time for Jay and I to get our Kogi tacos: two hours.

Los Angelinos have a near-Soviet level capacity for waiting in lines. But I have to admit, going to Kogi is like buying a taco at the DMV. And because the truck consistently shows up an hour late, there's really no way to outsmart the lines. Kogi reminds me of when I thought I discovered Cold Play, and eight months later they were all over Leno and Letterman. Try Kogi if you want to taste one of the most original tacos you'll ever eat in your life. But if you want fast service, no lines, and a truck that's always there when you need it, have a Suadero taco at Taco Zone on Alvarado.

*[Back to post] Yes, I am choosing to capitalize Taco Truck throughout this post.

Great Books I Read in 2008

In 2008 I made yet another attempt to read 52 books in one year.  Again, I have fallen short, this time with 44.  However, this beats last year's attempt. In my defense, I read some doozies this year.  "Das Capital" isn't exactly a page turner, and you have to turn 1,300 of them.  Regardless, here are some books I read in 2008 that I think are worth a mention.

For 2009, I am particularly looking forward to fewer books about holocausts.  And more books under 1,000 pages.

The Communist Manifesto - Marx & Engels

Last year I read Harpo Marx and Groucho Marx.  This year, I switched to Karl.

"Working men of the world unite!"  Terrifying, and rigorously rhetorically effective.  Tremendous logical fallacies throughout.  Probably helps that the working men of Russia and Asia didn't have high school educations.

Notes From Underground - Dostoyevsky

Very ahead of its time!  The first literary anti-hero I can think of...  A century before Holden Caufield!

Riveting arguments on Free Will.  Very, very first person.  Forerunner of existential thought.  Memorable quotations and really ground-breaking in every way.

For Dostoyevsky, this is a quick read.  And well worth it.

Five Essays on Philosophy - Mao Tse-tung

A historically fascinating albeit nearly philosophically useless collection of essays.  Probably Mao's attempt to equal Lenin and Stalin in adding to the communist cannon.

"Where do correct ideas come from" was written three years before the Great Famine that killed 60 million Chinese through Mao's insipid agricultural policies.  Mao expounds on his philosophy of "Let 100 flowers bloom, let 100 points of view collide," while outlining how dissidents must be eliminated by the state.  Very eerie.

Almost all the logic of this book is confident but absurd, much like Marx.  The only interest I found is the symmetry between Yin/Yang Chinese philosophy and dialectical materialism, not that Mao was very explicit in this analogy.  A disturbing man. I Wake Up Screening - John Anderson and Laura Kim

Really a terrific source of information on the independent film market as told by the community of buyers, filmmakers, producer's reps, publicists, and press.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

WONDERFUL.  Swashbuckling, romance, betrayal, vengeance, smuggling, pirating, dueling - just great.  And with serious themes of God and Free Will.  A fantastic adventure story with a great main character trapped in impossible situations.  Tore through this book in just over 24 hours.  Brilliant dramatic situations - every chapter is a self-contained adventure, forcing you to turn every page.

Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks

Interesting info and anecdotes about music and the brain; basically, music is really good for you.  This is the psychiatrist who wrote "Awakenings" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat."

Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious - Sigmund Freud

The first 200 pages are like Aristotle's Poetics - dryly defining categories of wit.  Then, at page 200, it gets interesting.  Freud asserts that jokes occur in the unconscious from conscious stimuli just like dreams.  And therefore wit - in its puns and absurdity - speaks the language of dreams.  And is therefore a direct window into the unconscious.  Pretty impressive book.

The Painted Bird - Jerzy Kosinski

Devastating portrayal of the decay of human decency in WWII.  Gut-wrenching display of Polish peasant life in all its cruelty, bigotry, and superstition.  Makes it easy to understand how the holocaust happened.  Really gripping writing.  All that said, the story is more than a little fantastical, and of course is not the true autobiography Kosinski claimed it to be.  Still, eminently readable; a good (albeit disturbing and nihilistic) book.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Virtuosic brilliance.  The narrative cleverness is absolutely breath-taking.  Safran Foer infuses every sentence with astonishing wit and sensitivity; this level of writing requires a high IQ indeed.  Safran Foer is easily one of my favorite novelists.

The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

Monte Cristo I much preferred, but this is still a great treat.  Making it all about the female villain was interesting and more cerebral, but prompted no big sword and gun battles at the finale.  Also, a surprising amount of lead characters kick the bucket.

I never actually saw the words "all for one and one for all" so that was confusing.  Fwiw, I was not reading a perfect translation.

Iron Jack - Johnny Rosenthal

This is a screenplay that sold this year for $1.25 against $2 million.  I mention it only because of all the million dollar scripts that have sold in recent years, this one really made me laugh.  The first act is truly inspired - as good as anything I've read.

Aspects of the Masculine - Carl Jung

Some neat, albeit heavy ideas.  For instance, the belief that women become more masculine as they age, while men become more feminine.  The trouble with this sort of dense reading is that six months later, I can only remember a few sentences about the book.

Walden - Thoreau

Some great moments of inspired prose.  Some fireworks close to the end.  A revolutionary and inspiring piece of work.  Like Moby Dick, many parts are pure naturalism.  But many passages are transcendent (Well, I guess, "transcendental"), even when he's simply describing the formation of bubbles in ice.

Das Capital - Karl Marx

Interesting from a historical perspective.  The vivid descriptions of the mistreatment of factory workers in the industrial revolution make it easier to understand why communism arose, and why it took the form that it did.

I was particularly intrigued by his idea of "fetishization of the commodity."  Only a commodity's function is relevant.  Helps explain why communists aren't much for aesthetics.

Nevertheless, all of Marx's economic assertions here are just wrong, wrong, wrong.  From his first premises (e.g., equating a commodity's value to the labor required to produce it), to the irrational math he derives from those first premises (I'm talking Wittgensteinian levels of post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacies).

His narrational voice is surprisingly whiny for an economic treatise, often resorting to ad hominem, and taking it at face value that anyone in power must be resented.  From page one, this book is a shell game of faulty reasoning.  It's too bad hundreds of millions of people went in for this stuff. The Last Tycoon - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is one of my all time favorite authors.  In his defense, he died before he could finish The Last Tycoon.  If I knew people were going to run around publishing my unfinished drafts, I would probably die, too.

Shopgirl - Steve Martin

Clever.  Possibly the only piece of Steve Martin's entire oeuvre that I did not rabidly love.

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

Read in one sitting.  Very fun and interesting.  It takes ten years to make an overnight success.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

This has been recommended to me for years.  Zillions of people on Facebook list Ender's Game among their favorites.

Money - Martin Amis

Pretty much a masterpiece.  If I ever get OCD enough to compile a 100 best list for books, I will put this on it.

The anti-hero and subject matter are in the gutter, as with most Amis!  But Martin Amis's command of language is nothing short of astonishing.

The Kid Stays in the Picture - Robert Evans

Truly amazing life.  A very fun read.

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

Lots of neat ideas in a constantly evolving story.  Ultimately, for me the message of the book was a one-sided argument that religion is a joke and war is stupid, without really discussing alternatives, or real-world ramifications.  I think we all understand that war is bad; the interesting question is what do we do about it?

Nevertheless, an entertaining read.

The World's Worst Book - Justin Heimberg

My roommate Justin has written a slew of coffee-table comedy books that you can find in the humor section of Borders or Barnes and Noble.  They're all worth a read, starting with the "Would You Rather..." series.  Very clever stuff.

Save the Cat Goes to the Movies - Blake Snyder

Snyder has a lot of slap-yourself-on-the-forehead good ideas.  He's the kind of writer I would give anything to sit down and have a cup of coffee with.  But I'm going to come right out and say I have a beef with some of his readers.

The sort of people I shake hands with in creative meetings who've never read a story structure book in their lives - until they read Save The Cat - and now they think they're structure mavens.  It's the exact same species of disdain I have for adults who haven't finished a book since high school, and then start gushing to me about Harry Potter.  I think it's great that you read a book, but it doesn't make you Ravelstein.

Like any good theorist worth his salt, Snyder is standing on the shoulders of giants.  Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler, Syd Field, and Georges Polti leap to mind.  Also Carl Jung, Aristotle, Robert McKee, Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot, Michael Hauge, Lajos Egri, and Linda Seger.  Snyder is not the first story structure theorist to discuss these ideas and he won't be the last.

This is why I get annoyed when entertainment industry friends try to talk about "Blake Snyder's +/- midpoint," when Syd Field used that exact terminology thirty years ago.  It's like loving Chris Tucker and having no idea who Eddie Murphy is.  Note, my ire here is not directed at Blake Snyder - who has great new ideas - it's directed at many of his fans - who often don't.

I suppose the good news is that someone has finally written a story structure book that everyone will read.  And for that feat, Blake Snyder probably deserves his zillions of dollars!

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

The first 100 pages I absolutely loved - the battle between the competent people and the incompetent.  The idea of telling all the incompetent people to go shove it deeply appealed to me.  Like, cathartically so.  My relationship with this book in week one was borderline anaclitic.

The next 1,000 pages required a bit of effort (e.g., the palaverous 100 page John Galt speech).  On the whole, my libertarian side is deeply sympathetic to Ayn Rand's message.  But my understanding is that Fountainhead is the better piece of fiction.  It's on the list for 2009.

The Princess Bride - William Goldman  (Also Buttercup's Baby)

Really a delightful book.  There should be more books like this.  This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

Foundation - Isaac Asimov

Clever solutions to unsolvable situations; the only weak point for me is the story takes place over 300 years.  So everyone dies off every fifty pages and you have to learn all new characters.

Also, Asimov writes, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" about seven times.  I have never understood this quote.  Wouldn't violence be the first refuge of the incompetent?

Final Edits

We trimmed 2:14 of runtime from Act One, bringing our total movie down below 90 minutes.  And we spent a good deal of time remixing and syncing ADR with the delightful Corey Eccles. Complete with fresh titles, I think we've finally got the movie we can send to festivals.  Now it's time to take a well-earned break from The Last Hurrah.


Richie recording some new crowd walla-walla with Corey (above).


Many fun hours in the dub stage, but I think we're finally wrapped.

Industry Screening

Monday we had our first private screening of The Last Hurrah.  It was a big success! We showed the film in a screening room at Raleigh Studios to a group of industry friends.  I'm thrilled to report that 29 out of our 30 comment cards were definitively positive.


Reviewing the cards, we are going to go back in to remix and sync ADR, polish up our front titles, and trim some run time from Act One.  Our whole goal now is to make the first ten minutes of the film as accessible as possible to a festival screener.  It's this single-take concept that will either make people love our movie, or completely not understand it!


It was very gratifying to watch the movie in a live theater, and hear audience response.  And such a relief to hear laughter - in the places where we want to hear laughter!

Now it's back to work on completing the final version of the movie and getting it out to festivals.

Sound Mix - Third Time's the Charm

Okay, I've said it before, but this time I think the sound is finally, basically, complete. After bouncing around through several mixers, we are finally lucky enough to be working with the wonderful Corey Eccles on a state of the art dub stage.  She is bringing our sound up to a level of quality I didn't think was possible for our movie.

Recording a one take movie, mostly outdoors, we were saddled with all sorts of honking horns, airplane engines, police sirens, lav mic pops and static, boom mic distortion, and more than a few flubbed actor lines.  After going through several sound mixers, I thought we were simply going to have to live with these issues.  But Corey has been able to rapidly erase many if not most of these problems.  I am, frankly, astonished at the speed and quality of her work.

Perhaps sound is like a tightly sealed pickle jar, where several people need to have a go at it before the lid finally pops open.

I'll keep my fingers crossed until I get to spot the final output this week.  But I think we may finally have a completed movie on our hands.

And now it's a question of finding a festival for our premiere.