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February 2015

January 2015

Harper And The Women

As previously mentioned on this blog, Harper has a peculiar way of pronouncing "woman" - she says "yeoman." No biggie. She also say "lellow" instead of "yellow." Pretty cute, actually. But my new favorite thing that Harper says in regard to Wonder Woman. She had undies and a little tank top with the WW logo and LOVES to wear them suddenly, this week. But the ways she says it SLAYS me every time.

"Mama, I want to wear my Under Yeoman shirt!"

Under Yeoman! Awesome.

Another phrase she uses that is totes adorbs to me is "little minute." As in, "Mama, can I watch tv just for a little minute?"

Just recording this information here before three weeks go by and I've forgotten all about these two things.

Seven Days Down - A Great Kickstart To The New Year To Come

Today is the final day of the Your Turn Challenge. Here is my post to answer the question: What are you taking with you from this Challenge?

I'm taking momentum with me.

I had already started back on my pre-dawn/before the daughter wakes up writing schedule, but finding the Your Turn Challenge helped to solidify the routine.

My lesson coming out of the challenge is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Slow and steady wins the race. “Small moves, Ellie, small moves."

I know I will keep this writing time going, though it won’t be a daily blog post, necessarily. I already have a plan to write a short scene starting tomorrow. This will be a rewrite of a scene I wrote as part of a larger…uh…thing I wrote last year. (I call it a thing because I don’t know what it was other than an important thing for me to write last year — could turn into a novel, could be a script, could be a long fictional journal entry, who knows.) But this scene is very specific and I have a notion of actually shooting it as a short film. And it is totally doable. Of course it is.

I’m grateful for this week of cementing in a pattern that I started last year and will continue into this new year and beyond.

Ship it! Walk Your Talk! Surprise yourself!

Surprise! I Climbed A Mountain

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 6. Here is my post to answer the question: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself. (I have written about this climb previously on this blog.)

I am not and never have been a climber. But I climbed a mountain once. Not just “hey let’s do that three hour hike to the top of this hill” kind of climb. An actual all day, clip into a safety cable, use your hands and feet to climb, scare the crap out of yourself, climb.

It was 1992 in Cortina D’ampezo. I was backpacking around Europe and went to visit work colleagues one weekend who were working on the movie Cliffhanger. The friend I was staying with said, “Hey we are going to climb a mountain tomorrow, you have to come with us.” I knew she and the other friend were not climbers and were not necessarily any more fit than I was. She also said, “It’s a climb for beginners, anyone can do it. I’ll loan you come cold weather clothes.” Since I had come to visit her, I figured okay, we’ll go hiking. The scenery is awesome (in the true sense of the word) so if nothing else, I would enjoy the views.

This is the mountain we climbed: The Col Rosa. (This is a view from the climb - image from the link.)


About three hours in/up of regular hiking through forests, we arrived at the via ferrata - the safety cable that you clip onto to actually climb. About ten minutes into this climbing part, t I was terrified. Terrified for two reasons. 1) it was scary to actually be climbing a high mountain almost straight up! 2) I didn’t think I could do it, I thought it was too hard.

Clipped on and not too far up, I considered backing out and saying, “Hey, I’ll meet you back at the parking lot” and hiking back the way we had come. I think I might have even said out loud that I didn’t think I could do this. My friends told me I could do it and that I couldn’t just quit now. I didn’t take it as a “don’t pussy out” kind of challenge. My personal insecurities ran to the  “don’t be inconvenient, don’t make it harder for them” place. So I stayed and I climbed.

I am so glad I did. I was terrified all the way up that cable (that part took about 2 hours), but one small step, one small handhold at a time, I did it, we did it. We bagged that peak.

When we finally got back to the car, I was exhausted and exhilarated and so glad I didn’t quit. I really surprised myself that day.


And now whenever I think something is too hard or scary because I’ve never done it before, I look at this picture of me that my friend took on our climb. I can see the fear and uncertainty, but I also remember the utter joy of having gotten to the top.

Get In Gear

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 5. Here is my post to answer the question: What advice would you give for getting unstuck?

If you’ve had fantastic forward momentum on a project that felt breezy and effortless and you suddenly find yourself tumped over in a ditch, don’t panic.

Don’t assume you can’t get back to it. When you are self motivating to get a project done, getting stuck or derailed can feel like failure. There can be thoughts of “how am I ever going to get back on track?” You can get back on track, but you have to reset your mind to a different pace for a while. You can’t expect to just get right back to top speed.

Do you drive a stick shift car? (You should, it’s awesome.) Then you know that when you come to a stop, you have to put the car in first gear and climb back up to the higher gears, gradually. You can’t just start in fifth from a dead stop, you will stall. Find something small to do each day that builds back the momentum of the project. (I have been knocked off my early morning creative writing routine over the holidays and returned to it by blogging every morning while I figure out what my next steps are on my scripts. This project was a big help to that as well.)

Is it that simple? Kind of, yeah. If you are fully committed to whatever you are working on, then finding that lower gear restart shouldn’t be hard. And with that full commitment, getting back into sixth gear will be a breeze.

You Learn Something New Every Day

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 4. Here is my post to answer the question: Teach us something that you do well.

Wow, this is a tough one. It took me all day to come up with something. I had a day full of “What in the world do I know well enough to teach?” Then I got over that silly thought and came up with this.

How to Create a Visual Effects Shot Breakdown For Feature Films. (This does not include budgeting or other production related items, simply a list of potential shots for a movie.)

Prologue: What is a visual effect “shot”? Each cut in a movie is an individual shot. When you add VFX to that shot or create shots whole cloth in computer graphics, it costs money. In VFX we budget down the the frame. There are 24 frames per second. Also, your job is to guess what the VFX might be and how they might work in the movie. My technique is to edit the movie/scenes in my head as I do the breakdown, and count how many cuts that might be.

Let’s get started!

1. Create an excel spreadsheet with two tabs. Label the first tab “VFX Shot Breakdown.” Label the second tab “CG Assets” (CG = computer graphics). Save the document as “[MOVIE TITLE] VFX Shot Breakdown”

2. on the VFX Shot Breakdown sheet, create these column headings:
    Ref. #
    Page #
    Scene #
    Production Provided Practical Plates/Elements
    Digital Elements/Processes
    FX Notes
    # of seconds per shot
    # of shots
3. On the CG Assets sheet, create these column headings:
    Ref #
    Page #

4. Read the script. Note any possible visual effects shot on each page and either highlight or mark with a pencil. Also note what CG Assets need to be built. (CG Assets are things you build once and use over and over again in the VFX. For example, for White House Down, we needed a CG White House for the majority of VFX Shots. This CG model is then used continuously over the course of the movie. CG Assets can be everything from Godzilla to skyscrapers to spaceships to aircraft to people, cars, objects in the street.)

5. Go back to page one of the script and begin to fill in each box of each row in the “VFX Shot Breakdown.” If there is no scene # leave it blank, just include the page number for each shot (there will often be multiple shots per page.)

6. Copy the script description exactly from the script “Luke looks across the dessert at the two setting suns of Tatooine."

7. The "production provided plate" will be the live action part. This would be Luke standing in the dessert. That is called a Foreground Plate because the VFX will be added to the Background. This “plate” may or may not be shot on green screen.

8. The "Digital Element/Process" will be to add the second sun, and to match move and composite the final image.

9. If there are any notes or assumptions, include them in the FX Notes. For example “Assume will shoot live action sun and simply composite in the 2nd sun."

10. Most shot durations for bidding purposes are 3-5 seconds each. Action shots in big actions sequences can be three seconds, more dialogue heavy shots can be five. If there is an establishing shot, make it 7-10 seconds.

11. Good rule of thumb: a script page = 1 minute. There are 12, 5 second shots per page or 20, 3 second shots.

12. For each shot you anticipate, make it a new line item. However, if there is a series of shots that are all going to be relatively similar, you can lump them into one line item. For example, if you have people driving in a car that is shot on a green screen stage with the background image shot on location, and the scene is 1 page long, then you can say that the number of shots is 12.  (But later you’ll have to break these down into different categories of “easy/medium/hard” depending on what is in the BG.)

13. As you come to what you estimate to be a new CG Asset, go to the CG Asset tab and add it to that document with a brief description.

Do this for the entire script, for every single shot you estimate to be in the script. A “small” VFX movie might have 100-400 shots in it. A major action movie (The Avengers, Transformers, etc) could have 1500-2000 shots. Each one needs to be accounted for. And yes, you have to guess a lot.

If you have a digital copy of the script and can copy/paste the scene descriptions, a major action movie script should take you about two to three weeks to break down (if you’ve never done it before.) That includes time to consult with your VFX Supervisor to make sure you have included all possible shots. You will not have done so, and so it will take you another week to fix it up.

If you are me, it will take about three days with a digital script. I am that good and that damn proud of myself.

Let me know if you think it sounds easy.

Needs Improvement: The Los Angeles Zoo

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 3. Here is my post to answer the question: Tell us about something that you think should be improved.

Last Sunday, Harper (my three year old) and I went to the LA Zoo. It was not a great experience, mainly because Harper just doesn’t seem to be into looking at animals. We took her about eight months ago and it was the same then, but I thought/hoped that she might be more interested now at her advanced age. I was incorrect. She was just as interested in pushing buttons on “interactive exhibits”, looking at the trash cans and turning the crank on the “make a souvenir penny” machine. The animals were the least interesting thing there. Of course, none of that is the Zoo’s fault and she might be the same at any zoo.

I, however, like going to the zoo. Kurt and I had been a few times just for fun before Harper came along. But I realized on Sunday that the LA Zoo is designed really poorly. My biggest issues:
—The LA Zoo needs modernization. They have updated the Chimpaneze, Orangutan, Gorilla and Elephant exhibits in the last 10-15 years, but the rest of the zoo is very much an artifact of the 60’s (it opened in 1966).
—It takes a long time before you see any animals. (see the map here) Oh there are sea animals (sea lions, I think) in a small tank just as you come in the gate and after a short walk you can veer off to the goats/sheep petting area to the right, but the first 10-15 minutes is a hike through security, food places and gift shops before you get to the meerkats and flamingos and then more hike to get to anything else.
—It’s uphill all the way to get to “significant” animals. When you have a three year old who loves the movie Madagascar, seeing lions, zebras, giraffes and hippos is important and getting there quickly is helpful. Look, I admit I need to be in better shape so a good walk is not a bad thing for me. But hiking through a zoo with an impatient child is not a “good walk.” The LA Zoo went through a massive remake of it’s elephant area after much outcry in the city over the handling of the elephants. I’m glad they did. But I’ve been to the zoo twice in the last year and have never seen an elephant. Apparently there is an 11am Elephant Training Demonstration but we’ve not ever been there on time for that. So yes, that is my problem, not the zoo’s, I know that. But how do you see elephants during the rest of the day? I guess I missed that part chasing after Harper. (Again, my problem, not the zoo’s.)

Good things about the LA Zoo are: Free Parking and it’s mostly shady.

Overhauling a zoo is not small feat. Knowing nothing about zoos, even I can see that it would take a massive civic undertaking, a LOT of money and possibly even finding a whole new location to really modernize. I just wish that when you walked in the first things you saw were animals, not gift shops and restaurants.

Walk Your Talk

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 2. Here is my post to answer the question: Tell us something that is important to you.


In 1992 I was working on a major motion picture at a visual effects company. I had been on the job since the previous January. My goal, about 1/3 of the way into the job, was to save money and go backpacking in Europe again. (I’d been with three friends right after college graduation three years before.) I had told my new work bestie that I was going to do this trip. Actually, I think I told everyone, non stop.

Then came the day I bought my plane ticket. These were the days when you actually had to go and buy a paper ticket. Over lunch hour one fine day, months before the project was over, months before departure day, I went to the nearest United Airlines office and got my ticket to London. As soon as I got back I raced to my work bestie’s office and showed her. She looked me up and down and said, “Oh. You are actually going to go.” I looked at her like “Uh, duh?” She then explained her slight surprise:

“You are someone who actually does what they say they are going to do.”

It was the second biggest compliment I’d gotten in my young life. (The first is another story for another time).

And it really made an impression on me. From then on I worked hard to walk my talk. I (mostly) didn’t make grand pronouncements about things I was going to do unless I was actually going to follow through.

The downside was (is?) that I might dream of something I want to do but not say it because I’m afraid of it or I don’t think I can actually do it.

When I meet new people, learning if they walk their talk is incredibly important to me. If I find they don’t, then I don’t tend to keep them in my life. I’m here to manifest and want to surround myself with like-minded people.

Now it’s time to focus on letting go of the fear. There. I said it.

Rose Parade Floats

Did you watch the Rose Parade on New Year's Day? We did for about ten minutes. It did spark my imagination about how they are made, so Harper and I went on an adventure to Pasadena on January 3 to see the floats on display. Luckily the weather had been cold for days so all the flowers were still fresh and vibrant. It's mind boggling how they make those things! Is there a float design school somewhere? Must be, but my cursory google search didn't turn up much. Oh well, I have lots of other things to do with my time.

We met up with Shana and Peter for our float adventure! I recommend going to see the floats. It's $10 each and there are multiple parking/shuttle options. Along the route are tons of bathrooms and food/drink vendors so you can really spend time checking them all out.

(You can click all pics for larger versions - the detail on the floats is incredible.)




Harper loves bears.



And she loves robots!



It was a gorgeous day to be out looking at floats.


And we had some snacks.





It Does Get Cold Here

I complain about the weather a lot. Too much sun, not enough rain. That is exacerbated by the drought we are currently in. However, it does occasionally get COLD. For a minute.


This was January 2. And yes it melted moments after the sun hit it. But it was cold, I wore a sweater AND a jacket and scarf.