Ten Years, Man! Ten YEARS! (Part 1 of 2)

IMG_0669The other day I was pouring coffee into this mug and thinking about when and where I got it and realized it was ten years ago.

20th Century Fox had hired me to work on The Omen (6/6/6) and the offices were at The Lot on Santa Monica Blvd. The job itself was not too intense and the crew was great, mainly the woman who ran the whole office, Emily. Technically she was the Production Assistant and had only recently graduated from university, but she really ran the place. She and I had many fun conversations and now, ten years later, we are still friends. We haven't seen much of each other lately and that is something I promise to remedy very soon. (Oh and I got the mug at the Starbucks at the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea on a slow work day just before Valentine's Day.)


TEN YEARS! This is my favorite moment from Grosse Point Blank. I love Jeremy Piven.


But then I started thinking about what a nutty crazy year 2006 was. Come with me...

January through mid April - working on The Omen, met Emily. Learned how to really set boundaries at work. Didn't let the outrageous screaming guy get to me. I was quite proud of myself.

In April I got a phone call asking if I could come and work in Mexico City for the summer on a movie, but due to work and vacation schedules I had to turn it down as they needed me to start right away in April. (But pay attention to the name of my blog...)

SpidermanI got another phone call asking if I could work on a movie for two weeks in Cleveland at the end of April. This actually worked out as The Omen was just finishing and I arranged to leave and work on a 2nd Unit shoot for Spiderman 3. It was the wildest/wackiest two weeks. The shoot only happened in daylight (best kind of filmshoot because once it gets dark, you are done.) AND our hotel was literally on the street where we were shooting. No 45 minute bus rides to location.

And because my hours were not too nutty, I also moonlighted in the evenings redoing vfx shot breakdowns for an HBO mini-series as new scripts came in. Hey, why not make a few extra bucks on the side? We had a trip to Paris coming up...Cleveland was fascinating and OMG SO COLD. I loved being downtown where there is a football stadium, a baseball stadium and the basketball arena and all the historic buildings from prosperous days gone by with names like Carnegie and Rockefeller sprinkled about.

The crew on the job was fun, though we had a local PA who was none too bright, I'm sorry to say. Hopefully he had other strengths. The best part was that while none of the actual stars of the movie were there (only stunt versions) the crowds came out to see Spiderman and the production company let Spidey meet all the kids who came to see him and take tons of pictures. I snuck one in myself.


I got back from Cleveland and almost immediately we jetted off to Paris in May.

20120706-110844We were in Paris for two weeks and rented an apartment about two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. We spent almost every day with Pranab and Kate who were in their apartment in the 12th arrondissement. It was relaxing and lovely and I'd like to do it like that again. The highlight for me was the day we walked along La Promenade Plantee - the original Highline Park. It was magical to walk up above the streets of Paris, looking into apartments and offices, through lush gardens. At the end we found a place to sit and have a refreshing beverage and just enjoy the city.

We walked so much on that trip, eschewing the metro every time we made the 2.5k walk back and forth to their flat. We always went to them as they had a large indoor market plus boulangerie and lovely wine shop all within two blocks. Heaven.

We have not been back to Paris since then and we need to remedy that soon.

Grace graduated from high school in early June and we were all there to celebrate that fun day. While there I got another phone call from the Mexico City job asking if I were available now. I said, well, I'm in No. Cal for an event then going to Montreal for a wedding in two weeks. After that, I said, I'm free. So on the phone I got the gig as they still needed a producer on the ground. They asked if I could come down for four days between trips to get a lay of the land, have a few meetings, etc. Ummm. okay! Hooray for Hollywood.

So after the graduation trip, I hopped on a plane to Mexico City with a script and not a clue what it would be like or even who in the world I would be working with! I have amazing guardian angels because I got to meet and work with Paddy and Steve. Two kind, relaxed and funny guys who made my quick pre-trip to Mexico easy and fun. We stayed at the very colorful Camino Real hotel and it was a whirlwind trip. I said "see you soon!" and hopped back on a plane to LA.

Montreal! An old family friend Paul married Dee in her hometown. Paul's whole family had come to our wedding five years prior and when his older brother Matt got married, we were not able to make that wedding (with great regret). So I vowed to be in Montreal. Kurt and I spent a lovely long weekend there. The wedding was beautiful and the receptions and parties after were a blast.

100_0761Then back to LA for a minute, wash clothes, buy specific Mexico City gear (including the infamous BFH) 100_0949pack for three months, kiss the cats and husband good-bye and back to Mexico City.

Back to the Camino Real, back to the wild main set built next to the abandoned shopping mall down in an old quarry, back to the fun crew and VFX team. My spanish got better and I learned a lot of very specific spanish words that are not normally taught in high school: pentalla verde, for example.

It was all going well. Trips to see pyramids at Teotihuacan, adventurous dinners out around town, just driving through the city every morning and evening there was something new to see. Finishing the work day in the bar, having cocktails, doing paperwork and emails with Paddy and Steve. Seeing other film crews arrive for other movies (clearly the Camino Real is THE place to stay).



Then my dad died.


More to come....







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.

Catching Up (Again) - Isn't That Parenthood On Some Levels?

So yeah! Time flies. I haven't even done any pics from Christmas, not that there were many. I'll get to that later I guess. My intentions are good, but making the time, well that is a negotiation with myself (and sometimes Kurt). Blogging falls by the wayside to make room for our own creative project work, meetings, lunches, general life errands/shopping/maintenance, etc. Throw in some tax prep and preschool applications (oh yeah! and she would even start for ages!) and boy the days fly.

HippoonscaleYou might be wondering how the fasting and weight loss has been going. Or probably not because you have a life! Well, it's been on and off for me these last few weeks. I had a stomach bug in January and haven't quite gotten back on the fasting. But I'm back on tomorrow. I had lost 11 pounds overall since starting that. I've put two back on and so I'm hovering at 183 these days, nine pounds down. The good news is, I started carving into my time with exercise. Just some neighborhood walking but it's been really good to get out and move my body with a fast-paced 35-40 minute walk three to four times a week. My intention is to get back into the weight loss regime, get the pounds off and up the exercise wherever possible.

In day-job news, I got nominated for a Visual Effects Society Award for my work on White House Down. That ceremony is on Wednesday night. Going to dress up and go to the Beverly Hilton! Woohoo! Pictures to follow.

In my creative work, there are irons in a few fires, all of which are really fun and exciting. Hopefully they pay off in all kinds of ways in the not too distant future. I've started waking up before Harper to write for about 30-40 minutes every morning (except Sundays). She gets up around seven, so I've been up around six. It's been amazing and the thing I'm working on is a story that just bubbled up recently so I'm playing around with it. Writing makes me feel great.

And Harper is getting bigger and cuter (not possible!) and the language is opening up more and more. Sometimes she says stuff that makes me think, where did you even hear that word? (And no, not a swear word because I know that will come from me, no matter how hard I'm trying to clean up my potty mouth.)

Here we were at the park the other day (accidentally had the camera set to B&W). She had her sippy cup in one hand and had tried to step up on the climby thing on the left but tumbled down (not far). She ended up in this position, drinking her milk like "Oh yeah. I'm cool. Totally meant to do that."


Here she is in Ponytails. Adorbs. Hard to wrestle the curls into ponytails without much pulling, but man it's worth it sometimes for the "big girl" look.


Back in December, I came to get her from a nap and found this scene. Not sure if she was teacher, cop, or conductor, but it was amazing.


Harper is a style maven, FYI. She has two pairs (TWO! Gawd, I can't control myself) of Bee pajamas. Or as she says "BEE!" One morning we were in her room before breakfast and she went out to the living room and came back like this. "Shades, bitch!" (Sorry, still haven't shaken off Jesse from Breaking Bad.)


She and Willoughby love to play in the car. Momma is not too thrilled with this but what can you do? I thought the other day about this new family member and how if all goes well with Willoughby, Harper will know her until college! Amazing.


We go to a park near the Santa Monica Airport sometimes. Harper likes to play with the sand. Just not necessarily IN the sand.


It's been a lovely day today. Lazy Sunday watching Olympics (Ski Jumping!) and doing laundry and cleaning up and eating bagels. Harper loves bagels. Glad to catch up a little!


"The White House Is Big!"

It was a year of intense work, but I made it, we all made it. Here's the trailer for White House Down in case you haven't seen it yet. The movie comes out today:

I could not have survived without our amazing team. Most importantly? We laughed. A LOT. That got us through. Here are some highlights of what we laughed about. 99% of you reading this won't understand, but dammit, I had to put in all down so in future, we'll remember and laugh again.

--Martin! IT'S...YOUR...MOTHER!

--The Hobo Stays!



-- Ron Mexico

-- Hair needs to breath. Hair.

-- Ghostbusters, whaddya want??

-- I was in the MIDDLE of something, Ray!

-- Knell before Zod!

-- Chatum

-- You're a malfunction! (followed up closely by:)

-- Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

-- Do you feel it? The connection?

-- "Also, Additionally"

-- I'm gonna MISS him!

-- Boba Fett?


and so many more that I can't remember right now...

This is random, but I am pleased with my creativity toward the end. Wrap gifts wrapped in the most convenient paper we had around:



Here I am on our very last day. Saturday (that's right, Saturday) June 1.



Champagne in the parking lot. Or the "Prison Yard" as we called it.

I hope the movie does well and I hope you all stay for the credits because all of those names (and many more that didn't make the cut) are people who worked their asses off. Oh and I hope you enjoy the movie too. It's fun. And the Visual Effects Kick Ass! Email after you see it and I'll surprise with what was real and what wasn't.





366/2012: Day 335 Reset x2

I have screwed up my day count so I fixed it for today. And am including 2 pics.

First one is from tonight. Die Hard 3 was on and we caught it at my sequence, then watched something else, then came back and there was my credit! Hilarious.

The other is the very sweet gift a work friend left on my desk this morning. I had a HORRIBLE day yesterday and this was so sweet.

366/2012: Day 335 Reset x2

366/2012: Day 335 Reset x2