Arts in the Family: A Family of Artists Just Trying to Make a Living in the Wilds of Texas


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Voice Over Bum

One of the neatest things we've had the chance to do in the last few years is voiceover work, primarily for different websites. This afternoon I spent an hour at the offices of Raining Popcorn Media recording some Spanish voiceovers for the Doc Ed website. On of my favorite things about this kind of work is you don't have to be in costume or even look like the character you're voicing. As you can see from the photo above, I didn't exactly dress up for the session or even shave. I'm pretty sure I remembered to wear briefs , though.

It is a challenge, especially when the dialogue is full of tongue twisters but it's always fun thanks to Mr. Arturo Avila, the co-owner of Raining Popcorn Media, keeping things light by joking around between and sometimes during takes. Today was pretty tricky because of the epic Spanish sentences I read. My Spanish is acceptable but when your reading, everything has to be crisp and clear. Thankfully all went well in the end.

Afterwards I went home then ran to the store to get some last minutes things before dinner. That was my workday. Sometimes this crazy business can be stressful because of its unpredictability but it seems to be that way no matter what you do these days, so I think I stick with it for a little longer. Right now, I think I'll go eat some ice cream and count my blessings. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coda been a Contender

I wanted to mention one or two last things before moving on to another subject. Working those long hours on the set were made bearable by some of the company I kept on the set but that wasn't often because of my status as "truck rat". What helped me through those long days was the presence of the craft services wagon. Usually you can tell how good the food is by the number of people that hang out around it at any given time.

They'd always have a table with a pretty good variety of fruits, "health" type fruit or nut/grain bars and an assortment of pastries. At first I would only go and get what I needed, eat it and be done. As the days turned quickly into weeks I went began to feel a little more entitled to some extra goodies for myself. This feeling was in no small part due to the questionable accounting practices of the production company. The checks were often late, sometimes a day or two, and once a whole week. The teamsters on the set weren't too happy about it so they went on a strike and most of the non-union workers, including myself, joined them.

All the trucks that moved the lights and other equipment around suddenly were inaccessible. Wow. What a surprise..but apparently it was to the producers who were always very visible on the set.

Now, when I picture a strike I envision a mass of people with signs saying things like "Down with Management" or " Unfair wages"... things like that and there was always some guy with an acoustic guitar singing Woody Guthrie songs. Much to my disappointment that was not the case. The union guys were all the the nearest diner expressing their discontent by scarfing down pancakes, eggs and ungodly amounts of coffee. I'm with you brothers. Freeeeedooooooom!!!!

Basically I was the picket line. I stood by the gate to the lot where we shot most of the footage, holding a sign( I can't remember what it said) to the passersby who would honk in support of my, that is, our defiant stance. For the next few hours I was the face of the strike. My kisser! My MUG! I was actually quite pathetic to look at. It was a dreary, cold morning in October and it was drizzling a bit too. The nearest person to me was about a hundred yards away sipping coffee from the comfort of their car.

Well, the Great Strike of '07 ended around noon when the producers decided they had snorted enough coke in their trailer and were feeling good enough to pay up... I'm speculating, of course,...wink,wink. Nudge, nudge. After lunch we all hugged and went back to living the dream. "We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who blah, blah...blah....blah,BLAH!" And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

D-Day in Mico

Flounder (Stephen Furst), Bluto (John Belushi) and D-Day (Bruce McGill) after accidentally committing "equus-cide" in Dean Wormer's office in a scene from "Animal House".

Toward the end of the shoot for "For Mexico with Love" we had to go out to Mico again for a few more scenes out in that arid, hilly landscape. They were mostly training scenes with the lead, Kuno Becker, showing the various ways he prepared for the fight with the "bad guy" boxer.

As usual, I was in the truck, waiting. That particular day had our truck next to the craft services truck which meant I would get something to eat every few minutes to pass the time between setups. They had some pretty good chicken so the traffic around the craft services truck was heavier than usual. Late in the afternoon, during an extra long lull in shooting, I saw Bruce McGill, who played the hero's trainer, heading our way for a meal. He gets the chicken, of course, as word about it had gotten around by then. Up until then I had hesitated approaching him but the stars must have been aligned just right that day.

You see, Bruce McGill wasn't your average actor. He was the actor who played the part of D-Day in Animal House, one of my favorite movie comedies. In his first scene in Animal House, D-Day rides up a long staircase inside his fraternity's house stopping at the top landing next to Tom Hulce and plays the William Tell overture on his throat by tapping it out with his fingers. It was brilliant! Well I worked up the courage to ask him if he had really done that. He looked up and didn't answer right away. He simply raised his hand asking me to give him a second while he finished his last mouthful of chicken. He wiped his fingers and mouth clean on his napkin, straightened himself, tilted his head back and proceeded to play.

It was like magic. He played it perfectly, just like in the movie and when he finished he took a bow to our applause. I asked him how that moment in Animal House came about and he said they wanted his character to do something once he got to the top of the stairs but didn't know what. He told him of his special talent and they liked it. Apparently he had been able to do that since he was a kid and so could his brother, who happened to be the camera man on the shoot.

Bruce McGill could have simply answered "yes" and that would have been it but he was nice enough to perform it because he knew that was the only proper way to reply. Plus he was just a very friendly person who hadn't let Hollywood go to his head.
If there was any reason for me enduring two months worth of that looney bin it was for that one moment that I will never forget. Thank you D-Day!

Check out this link for more Bruce McGill biography, t.v. and film info.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Prop Truck with Love

Poster for the movie shot in and around San Antonio then in California because we went on strike. I think we hurt their feelings.

In 2007, we got a call from our friend Chris Champlain letting us know of a job on a low budget movie set for a set dresser. The movie was "From Mexico with Love", that's a cross between "Rocky" and "Escape from New York"...sort of ...I think. Pam and I have both had some experience in props and sets from our theatre and circus work so Pammy thought one of us should apply for the job. It was a good chance to make union scale wages but working on a set means 12 to 15 plus hours a day, seven days a week. Since our children were rather young it was decided I would be the one to apply.

I have to confess that I had no desire to take the job because I felt I didn't have the necessary experience. Pammy finally convinced me to go for it. I called and the next day I found myself out in the country on a dusty, rocky ranch near a town called Mico, where they were filming a border crossing scene. After asking a couple of production assistants, I was directed to the prop master who told me the man I needed to talk to would be around later. He wasn't too chatty as he was preoccupied with some task at hand. He did mention that this particular "shoot" was the worst he'd ever worked. I should have taken that as cue to exit stage left but we needed the money.

I waited around watching the crew set up a shot in a dry creek bed that represented the "border" and rehearse the scene with the actors and extras. The extras were playing illegal immigrants and would be climbing out of a van by the creek bed. The prop master was busy checking the fire arms as he prepared to hand them out to the actors playing border patrol officers. He continued to look preoccupied.

It was a little while later that I met the art director whose crew I was supposed to be on. His name isn't important. All you need to know about him is that he was a walking, talking rear-end. A self centered moron, an arrogant meathead. An igno-anus, if you will. You get the picture. Wherever he went disaster soon followed because it became quickly apparent that he didn't have a clue how to do his job. And what's worse he wasn't smart enough to the let the people working under him to do their jobs the right way. He was a major- league, control freak. He just had to show everyone that he was the boss and in complete control. Plus he never thought you were doing things fast enough. Let me give you a "for instance".

Since it was a boxing movie there was a scene with a makeshift boxing ring in a auto mechanics garage that our dear art director was in charge of setting up. Let me also mention that the film's director, Jimmy Nickerson, was a former stunt coordinator (possibly some of the Rocky films) so he was a stickler for details like setting up a boxing ring perfectly for his stunt men.

Well as luck would have it, Igno( That's what I'll call our beloved art director) ignored the specific directions given to him by the stunt coordinator, a young man whose name escapes me. If you've never seen a boxing ring put together it has to be done in a certain order, especially the ring ropes and they have to have tension applied to them evenly otherwise they look crooked and wont hold up a person's body as he leans his weight on them.

As we worked to tighten the ropes Igno grew very impatient with our progress and took over tightening the ropes, out of sequence and at varying tensions but it was o.k. because, I guess, he did it fast. The ring looked like a "cat's cradle" that had come undone. The scene would be shot in the next thirty minutes so the director came by to check it out. Igno proudly showed off his handywork to Mr. Nickerson and in about five seconds you could see the director's expression go from calm, to confused, then angry and furious. Then the he let out the biggest tirade I've ever seen and it was all directed at Igno, who stood there, head bowed, withering away in the merciless onslaught of obscenities firing from out of the maw of the crimson- faced director. You'd think that after that, Igno would have learned his lesson but such was not the case.

By that time, though, I was no longer on the set dressing crew. I had been working as one of the assistants to the prop master before the end of the my first day. He was short a crew member so he made Igno transfer me to props. I got the feeling they didn't get along.

On that day I was taken to the prop truck, given a quick run down of the contents, handed a walkie- talkie with an earpiece ( you hear some interesting things on that ) and told to stay by the truck so I could be ready to get whatever they needed. The better part of my day was spent finding and organizing the props needed for a particular scene. Sometimes I would alter(Greek) a prop in some way. The title for my job was "truck rat". It wasn't a very glamorous name but it was fitting. Picture a Penske truck filled front to back, top to bottom with all kinds of props large and small that were rented,made or purchased for the film. Sometimes I had to dig for small hand props buried under the larger ones. This was in early September, when the heat made the inside of the truck a sauna.

My first night on the set was unforgettable. We were out on a ranch shooting a burial scene. It was pitch black out there so you could see all the stars and there was a nice cool breeze. Candles had been lit on the two dozen or so graves with one open grave in the center. Igno had lit the candles too soon so he had his crew try to keep all the candles lit while we waited for the director to show up. If you lit a candle the breeze would blow it out soon after. This went on for about thirty minutes.

At one point they decided they needed more help lighting the candles so I was volunteered. I went all around that set, feeling like a fool, lighting and relighting the candles. The graves were not very far apart so you had to be careful not to step on the candles on the next grave over. We did this with Igno on our heels barking orders and trying to get us to hurry and unfortunately I got a dose of Igno's bad karma. I was lighting candles next to the open grave and I took a tiny fateful step back.

I've done many pratfalls as a clown, all under complete control but falling unexpectedly is the weirdest feeling and feels even odder in the dark. It's disorienting. You don't necessarily feel like you falling down but more like the space around you is in motion and not you. I landed on my back in the grave and lay there trying to figure out what had just happened. I lay there for a minute looking up at the night sky and thought about Edgar Allen Poe. I waited, thinking someone would peer in and help me out. It was quiet.Then, I slowly sat up looking at the earthen walls for a way to climb up.

I clawed my way to the top of the gave, looking around, hoping I'd see someone coming to my aid but I was alone. No one saw me take my plunge into infinity. If they did maybe they were too embarrassed for me and walked away to the fringes of the graveyard set so they wouldn't have to look at me. I don't know because I didn't want to ask. I climbed out, looked around and slowly hobbled my way to the craft services truck to eat away my memory of my early grave. Free food heals all wounds.

Tomorrow: Part 2. D-Day in Mico!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hertzberg Circus Collection

In 2004, the Hertzberg Circus Museum collection was acquired by the Witte Museum after the city of San Antonio gave up on it and decided it didn't want it anymore. Harry Hertzberg was a lawyer and avid circus fan and collector of circus artifacts and memorabilia. His collection included such treasures as General Tom Thumbs wedding coach and a slice of the wedding cake, a ticket wagon and a miniature circus among other things. The Witte was planning a big, high profile exhibit to show off their latest acquisition.

Enter Chad Miller, former circus clown, and best friend. Chad approached the suits at the Witte with a proposal to write and perform a twenty minute show/play in conjunction with the exhibit. The play, "Big Top Secrets", would be a backstage look at circus life from a clown's point of view sprinkled with a little circus history too. They liked the idea so Chad asked me if I wanted to be in it. They needed an extra show on Tuesday nights so Pammy jumped in and did her own original show too.

All in all, it was fun to do. The trick with writing for a museum is to be able to walk the fine line between education and entertainment. If you're not careful your play could become one of those boring lectures many suffering students have endured in dreary college lecture halls across the country.

We had to do some haggling over our pay. The Witte bean counters felt we were asking for too much and wanted to pay us rates that hadn't changed in almost fifteen years. Part of the reasoning was and is a commonly heard lament, nay, a mantra, of , "We don't have a big budget so could you work for next to nothing and we'll charge admission and make a chunk of change from the gift shop sales too. O.k. so they didn't word it like that but it was there between the lines. Interestingly enough they were in the process of raising funds an expansion of their museum at the time. In the end we got what we wanted and they got a good show to add to their exhibit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Buffalo Bob Smith passed away just a few days before Shari Lewis.

The obituary for Shari Lewis from the Dallas Morning News.

Postcard for Shields and Yarnell show at the Irving Arts Center.

The program of the show showing the biographies for both performers.

The performers that we become is a result of a combination of a variety of influences especially of other performers. Their work has provided inspiration and education in the shaping our own work. With that in mind I wanted to conclude "Anything Can Happen Week" by posting some info about popular cultural figures who have passed away but continue to touch our lives. I've provided links to wikipedia with more information on each performer.

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