In Directing, Film on December 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

I recently allowed my frustration at the outcome of a past project to direct my writing about that project. The result was a major dick move on my part: mocking another professional’s work without explanation or justification. The project was Hercules Saves Christmas (HSC), and the professional in question was Chad Caines, the editor of the film.

I’d like to rephrase and redirect my criticism, because it wasn’t really Chad’s work I was criticizing: Chad is an experienced editor. He certainly knows more about it than I do. We may disagree on some aesthetic points, but he — like the rest of us — did the best he could with the given material. The fact is that, ultimately, all flaws in this film are my responsibility: as director, I should have been a bastion of artistic integrity.

I was not.

The why of that is an interesting story, but too long and dangerous to relate here. Suffice to say that, while directing HSC, I was also directing a production of [a classic musical] with [a youth theatre company] at [a Northern California Community College]. It was an extremely stressful process for a variety of reasons, chief among which was that I was given little or no actual directorial input on the production as a whole. Originally, I was not the director of [the musical]. I was asked to step in after the original director had already been in talks with costume and set designer, details which were not shared with me in advance. Add to the mix a music director who was actively fighting me on my staging (wtf?) and a producer whose behavior made every moment of the process viscerally unpleasant. Even writing that sentence fills me with dread, as that producer’s behavior is unlikely to have improved in the intervening years.

As a result, no amount of stress or difficulty on the set of HSC could surpass what I was experiencing while directing [the musical]. By the time both projects were complete, however, I was in a strange place of uncertainty and exhaustion. So, at precisely the time when I should have been standing up for my deeply-held beliefs regarding directorial input on the finished product of a film, I said, “Meh.”

To be clear, there was nothing in my contract about my having any part of the editorial process. In fact, I didn’t see a contract until right before we were about to start on the first day of filming. To my eternal regret, I signed it without taking the time to scrutinize. The result was that I made less than the writer of the film, less than the Director of Photography, less than the 1st AD. I felt useless and undervalued. It was very difficult to fight for this project.

However, I wanted the final product to be good. Particularly the CGI. My brother-in-law worked at Pixar at the time; he also taught at ExPressions College in Emeryville. He was willing to do our CGI with his students for free. Alas, the producers already had a guy and the film had already been edited. My viewing of the film with Chad (the editor) was, to the best of my knowledge, an afterthought — only happening because I asked the producers if I could see it. And because Animal Planet needed the film asap, it was too late to make any changes.

I didn’t fight for it.

I’m not proud of my work on HSC. I feel it is a directorial failure from start to finish. As stated earlier, any aesthetic flaws in any project are the director’s responsibility. Sure, the producers may make things tricky, but a savvy director finds a way to make it work. So, from now until forever, all criticism I direct at Hercules Saves Christmas is truly directed at myself. Any problems I have with any aspect of the film are problems I have with my own work.

Everyone else who worked on the project did their level best. It was a delight to work with each an every cast and crew and production team member. It is my sincere wish that I had honored their work by being a better director.

Perhaps next time.

Until then, all I can say is: shame, perdition and narwhals.

Fong’s XIV

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

“This one? What the hell is that thing, Fong?”

“Unless I am very much mistaken, we want to get to Knucklebrow before he finds out. Onward, my little bull elephant!” And he was off, in long, graceful running strides, appearing to float one or two inches off the muck of the city. Penny charged after him; in seconds they were turning left down the same alley.

Buildings were closer together here. The alleys were like a maze. Deathtrap in a fire, she thought. There was little or no light, save weak lamplight from an occasional window.

Fong reached into his left sleeve and scattered a handful of objects ahead of them as they ran. “Flower of Enlightenment!” he cried. The object closest to them ignited, blossoming like a flower – of course and throwing greenish golden sparks into the air as it lit.

The others were rolling down the sloping, twisting alley. Where they came to rest, they blossomed in a cascading eruption of sparks that lit not only the area around them, but in one or two cases ignited piles of refuse.

“Fong, isn’t that dangerous?” Penny said.

“True Enlightenment destroys only trash, never infrastructure,” he said, giggling.

“Do you ever just answer a question?”


They were nearing Knucklebrow, who was lurching to his feet from a stumble about one hundred yards ahead. The furthest Flower of Enlightenment passed him and came to rest at the base of a wall where the alley forked. It ignited and Knucklebrow tried to stop, slipping and falling, his left foot dipping into the flames of the Flower.

“Knucklebrow, wait!” Penny cried.

From the rooftops above came a screeching call that sent chills up her spine.

Knucklebrow scrabbled to his feet, turning to look up behind him. Even at a distance, it was clear that he was both terrified and familiar with what he saw above. He bellowed, “No, not you! Not again!” and ran away down an alley to the right.

His left foot was on fire.

Fong’s XIII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 23, 2015 at 11:45 am

Running down slick cobbled streets in heels isn’t wise at the best of times, but at night in thick fog, in pursuit of a man who has lost all concern for his personal wellbeing?

Harrowing. Good word for what I’m doing right now. ‘The woman found that running in heels on cobblestones was … harrowing.’

Penny Onehole ran with her skirts bunched in both hands, her shoulders hunched, ready to plow aside any obstacles. Her heels had been designed by Fong for this purpose, being both lighter and sturdier than any shoes worn by other women in her profession.

Which is what, precisely?

Penny Onehole hadn’t yet found the word for it.

Each time her mind wandered in the direction of a definition, she checked it with a checklist. Her shoes, for example, also held a variety of useful items in one or two secret compartments. Of course, her footwear and their secrets weren’t the only items in her personal arsenal. She watched the man who had designed that arsenal and trained her in its uses: Fong ran just ahead of her, to her left, his blue silk robes tucked up into his left elbow. She never understood where he carried his weapons – or illusions of human frailty, as he called them – but she was armed to the teeth. As Fong had put it, “The most tortuous elements of feminine fashion are also those best suited to weaponization.”

Reviewing her checklist as she ran, Penny was distracted by movement above and stumbled, almost spilling ass over teakettle into a mire of filth near a clogged sewer grating. Catching herself and leaping across the shit swamp to launch off a brick wall, she saw Fong clocking her trajectory and noting the same movement above which had caught her attention to begin with.

“We are not alone in our pursuit, Penny Onehole!” he said. Fong was always delighted to be on the hunt, and added danger filled him with a ridiculous degree of cheer.

Two blocks ahead, Knucklebrow made a left down an alley. Fong stopped, his right arm out to halt Penny. She arrested her sprint with a slight sideways skid, resolving into a position Fong called, Floating Lotus (“The lotus that floats is both at peace and unattached, ready for anything.”) She felt his eyes on her heels, heard his satisfied hm at their flexibility and strength. He was very pleased with himself.

“Look up,” Fong said.

Penny Onehole looked up in time to see a gigantic bat-like creature leap from the rooftops, crossing the street above them. It disappeared into the darkness above the rooftops to the left, heading in the same direction as Knucklebrow. Its wings were at least eight feet across, and the smell that assaulted them was a combination of rotting flesh, shit and mammalian musk.

“Goat balls,” Penny said.

“Yes,” said Fong, “This one is male.”