Monday, February 25, 2008

140208

St. Valentine's Day in China. Also, today we had the first inclination that Spring is on the way here in Xining. It was warmer. So we ended up in Central Square looking for Wang Jing's photographs. He had called Xu Tan earlier and invited us to this outdoor exhibition. But, by the time we'd completed the survey of the restaurant for Michael, we were too late.

Michael, one of our colleagues, is getting married on Saturday, and we've volunteered to document it for posterity. So we had gone to meet him at the restaurant where his 'wedding feast' will be. In the professional world of media production this is called a 'survey.' Best to discover problems well in advance, than to wait until the last moment to solve.

Chinese weddings, by the way, are similar to Western weddings without the religion ceremony. Once the couple 'files' with the Government they're considered married. Some couples have some kind of ceremony, but only with a family elder presiding.

But, now... 'Back to the future!'

I was in my early thirties, happy to be out from under the 'control' of a corporation. Yet, there had been some advantages. When making a telephone call from a television network, you had instant cachet. Now, when I called it was just me, and oh well, 'Who are you?' Thus, the task of raising money on my own became daunting, and especially for a documentary (in the days before HBO). I don't know how many months I tried, then one day during a telephone call with Jack's attorney, the tide turned! Somehow, I said just the right thing, and I'll never forget (even 30+ years ago) how he responded. He first had said absolutely no! But, I kept talking, keeping him on the telephone until it came to me from, and who knows from where. But, when I said this film will be seen all over the world, it changed my destiny! He paused for a moment then said, 'All over the world... O.K., I'll go for it, I'll go one time!' A week later I received a check in the mail for $10,000 dollars.

Now, $10K in the early 1970s would be like 100,000 today. It was enough if I didn't have to pay people. So, the crew ended up being me and Michael McCallum, a 'Hollywood' gafer named Leroy Heckler, Andy Crawford (ex P.A. from ABC Sports), and three others that had never even seen a 16MM film camera, much less been on a film 'shoot.' Everyone agreed to devote time and effort on 'spec.' Even Leroy, who'd worked on many Hollywood features and commanded $200 per day volunteered. Sometimes I can wax persuasive!

We ended up calling ourselves, 'The Angola Seven': me, McCallum, Leroy, Andy, a guy named Jack Wolfe, Michael something (?), and Shelly Berde. What an incredibly diverse group of people in retrospect! A 'Ship of Fools!'

One of the 'less experienced, Shelly, was a young kid Mary and I'd met ('by accident') in a store on 57th St. Talk about a 'free spirit,' this guy was the piped piper, a musician who, among other talents, could play a wooden flute. So, of course, this qualified him to be our sound recordist! Later, in action, he almost drove me insane, as he was always late! He was also unprepared when he did show up. So, I took to asking him before departing the Guest House (at Angola), 'Shelly! Did you bring the recorder? Are the batteries charged? Did you bring tape with you?' If I didn't ask, sure enough I'd have to send him back to get what he'd forgotten. In his defense, however, he was a wonderful blight spirit, that had a way with the inmates. It was a trade off! Now, God knows where Gabriel (changed his name from Shelly) is now, probably a big-time producer in N.Y.C.

And so this 'Ship of Fools' went to Louisiana, to make a documentary film about Jack Favor and his prison rodeo!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

130208

I just watched a French-made movie ('Days of Glory') about Algerian soldiers who fought for France during WWII. The dialogue was in French, the subtitles in Chinese. Every done that before? I wonder sometime how many movies have been produced, the story taking place during WWII? I'll bet thousands! Von Clausewitz said it, 'War is the father of all movies!'

Speaking of love... I just posed as a 18-year old American girl writing about 'Modern Love.' This a 'N.Y.Times' sponsored contest, winner getting $1,000U.S. Here's some of what 'she' wrote:

'Nothing changes much, especially relationships between men and women! I assume, you're talking about the romantic kind of love? What's love got to do with it? Most people my age don't know what it is. I call it 'Nature's Joke!' Something called 'lust' in men, 'longing' in us women (girl in my case). The 'l' word!

But, when we're younger, we just don't know that we don't know what it is! We take all the wrong cues from parents, culture, media (movies and music), etc.

American is in a very sick state! All my friends, girlfriends are looking for the 'right guy!' The 'right guy,' if there is such a thing, is just looking to get laid! Nothing new here. Boys don't know what 'love' is. They call sex, love? 'Do you love me?' my friends ask their partners when having sex? Of course, the boys say, 'I do!'

My parents... An unhappy marriage! One wonders how they managed four children!

I don't think we should continue to support 'love marriages!' I think parents should arrange marriages, like they do in India! Older people know better than we. But, what if the guy was a nerd? All I know is I don't know! Brad Pitt, probably can't get it up!

What's 'modern' about love? Only the technology! Now, there's Viagra!"

Would I win the one grand first prize? Probably not!

But, what you really want to read here is how I developed confidence in myself? My experiences... By putting myself in situations that were 'sink or swim!' By taking greater and greater risks.

After the episode at KDKA/2 in Pittsburgh (previous blog entry), I had the confidence to try just about anything. And lo and behold, it wasn't long afterwards that I got another opportunity, so to speak, or so I thought. It turned out to be one of the great experiences of my young life, and a great lesson. I've been one to 'fail' my way to 'success!' But, what is 'success' anyway? 'Success' to me is contentment, peace of mind!

While I was still working for ABC Sports way back when, I produced segments of a prime time program, the forerunner of 'Monday Night Football,' entitled, 'Monday Night Sports. The two subjects I remember were as varied as night and day.

One segment for 'MNS,' was about Bobby Lee Hunter, a black boxer trying to make the Olympic Boxing team from a jaiL cell in South Carolina. Afterwards I become intrigued in prisons, jails, penology, etc. The other was about Cathy Rigby, the Olympic gymnast. One of the film editors we worked with was a man named Alan Heim.

One day when we were looking for stories Alan told me about a prison rodeo in Louisiana. Whoa, I was immediately interested having just had my first prison experience. But, as fate or good luck would have it, ABC Sports wasn't interested.

After getting fired from ABC, I pursued this project, this rodeo in a Louisiana prison. But, that was after NBC, and KDKA. Sometimes when you're my age, it's a challenge to get your young life in a proper chronology. But, now I remember... While still working for ABC I diverted (after some sporting event) to Baton Rouge to meet the Director of the Department of Corrections, a woman no less! What was her name? It will come to me!

Anyway, after discussing the possibility of 'Wide World of Sports,' coming to cover the rodeo I got the royal treatment. They took me up to 'Angola,' a 7K-acre prison farm, where I met a man, an inmate, that changed my life. His name, Jack Graves Favor.

After taking the basic tour of this huge facility, we ended up in a rodeo arena on the prison grounds. There I was introduced to Jack Favor, a 55-year old, ex professional cowboy serving life for murder. His horse almost knocked me down (interesting how you remember the little things, meeting Jack in that rodeo arena now 37 years ago...) And now the woman's name, the Director of the Department of Corrections, comes to me: Elaine Hunt.

Within minutes of meeting Jack he had spun his story of innocence so vividly I immediately thought 'movie!' So, I arranged with the Warden, last name Henderson (I'll think of his first name...), to spend some time with Jack the next day. The prison had a 'guest house,' for those visiting! 'Murray' 'Murray,' that was his first name, the Warden... C. Murray Henderson. Note: You can search Google for a book by Mr. Henderson wrote after he retired. I think there's a chapter in there about Jack.

The next day, in a lawyer's cubicle, Jack told me his life story, from beginning to end, without me hardly asking a question. Afterwards I told him, 'You have a documentary film (the prison rodeo), a autobiography (book), and a feature film based on your murder case.'

I met with Jack's attorney, who lived in Shreveport. I remember his first name, James... But, the last name escapes me at the moment. Then I returned to New York City wondering how I was going to finance all of these ideas. Jack and I started corresponding. 'Dear #2 son' the letters would start out. He had his own son, Tommy, and two daughters, Jane and Janice.

We were a strange pair, Jack and I, me the sophisticate from New York City, 'NEW YORK CITY!' Remember the famous TV spot for Pace Picante sauce (headquartered in San Antonio, Texas)? Jack, raised on a ranch outside of Abiline, Texas, me favoring Chateau Lafite Rothchild. But, he became my 'surrogate father,' teaching me much about life. In exchange, I helped get him out of prison. But, I'm getting way ahead of myself.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

110208

I feel like writing tonight. This, while 'bombs,' are bursting in air, and just outside our window. The noise ruins the silence. But, the brilliant lights like 'shooting stars.' It's the end of Spring Festival here in China, and the neighbor kids are blowing off all the firecrackers they have left. For the moment it's quiet, but at any moment I could be startled yet again.

You get used to it if you live in China, as Chinese love noise of any kind. They scream into they mobile telephones, the honk their horns (incessantly), they speak loudly to the person next to them, and of course, firecrackers frighten the monster 'Nian' away. So, goes the legend.

But tonight the 'legend' is about me... The old and young me, the willing-to-take-risks me, the doing-crazy-things me.

I worked in television in my youth, movies later, television again and a myriad of other jobs to survive. For example, I've taught acting. Better said, I'm an 'experience junkie!' How else can you be a writer?

In my youth Hemingway was my hero. That's who I aspired to be like, the two-fisted drinker, the 'love 'em and leave 'em' hero! I achieved both of those, but never such fame or fortune of Hemingway (who wrote plays too). I can claim infamy, however! How many people have 'hijacked' a 747 over the Atlantic, and lived to tell the tale? Not me! How many people, in their late sixties would have cycled to and across China? How many people know how to fly an airplane?

This will sound like hubris, but all my life I've wanted to make movies, but have never been able to. Then one day I realized I'm the 'movie,' I'm the story! The things I've done, the places I've seen, the people I've known, loved, hated... so varied and far flung, almost beyond my recall.

But, here are two, maybe three situations I do recall...

As a child growing up I was afraid most of the time. I don't know why? I guess I've spent my adulthood conquering fear. And this requires taking great risks to overcome.

After being fired from a network television job, I was hired by another. This in the days when there were only three television networks. Thus, my network television career included working for ABC, CBS, and NBC. I think I was 'let go,' by the second, not renewing my contract. I didn't like working for corporations actually, and even though theirs is 'show business' they're still corporations (too conservative)! Finally, in 1974, I was 'free!' 'Free at last! Free at last, thank God almightly I'm free at last!' I remember feeling like I'd been released from prison! That came later!

At the time I was living in a penthouse apartment with a woman named Lee Arthur (the first female sportscaster in television history). This 'pad,' was on E. 52nd Street between Second and First Avenues bordering 'Sutton Place.' Lee and I had met one night at Madison Square Garden when we (Jack Fitzgerald and I) discovered she and her friend sitting in our 'comp'd' seats. The rest is broadcasting history. Lee was an interesting woman, driven to succeed, but with many personal problems! Lee, at my urging, had taken a job at a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, KDKA/2 -- the first female sportscaster in broadcasting history (1974).

It wasn't long afterwards that she started calling me just about everyday. It turned out to be 'hell' for her! The men working at the station, jealous no doubt, made life miserable for her. Note, this in the days when women in any locker room was taboo! She pleaded with me to join her there in Pittsburgh! 'Pittsburgh,' a City I had seen for the first time televising the U.S. Open at Oakmont. It wasn't even in my 'Top One Thousand' places to live and work. I said 'No thank you!' So she took to flying to N.Y.C. on her days off to partake of the City (and me)!

By then we were 'a couple!' A couple of 'nuts' that is! She drove me nuts, and no doubt vice versa! I remember whenever Ted Ashley (CEO of Warner Bros. at the time) came to New York, she would disappear for several days (shacking up with him in the Sherry Netherland Hotel). One time she proposed a 'threesome!' I declined like an idiot! I, the jealous type, unable to recognize an 'opportunity.' We argued about that and other things. When I wouldn't do what she wanted she would get even by threatening suicide! One time I once pulled her back from jumping off our 14th story balcony, breaking my hand on the wall so angry (opted for the wall, rather than her face)! We were a 'pair!'

One day she called me from Pittsburgh with an 'opportunity.' The NABET news cameramen had gone on strike, and the News Director was looking for 'scabs' to 'shoot' news footage. Out of work I was torn. I didn't want to cross the picket line, but there was another matter, even greater to consider. I'd never shot 16MM film before in my life. How could I do this? She was incessant! There were all kinds of 'perks,' the money double the usual rate. We'd be put up in a hotel, and given a company car. Meals would be provided by the station. I thought and thought about it. I conferred with a close friend, Michael McCallum, also out of work. He wanted to do it! We ended up going together as 'a team!'

Now, let me explain that 'shooting' news film in those days, was challenging even for those with much experience (little room for error). McCallum and I discussed how we could pull this off! We devised a plan.

Arriving in Pittsburgh we met with the News Director (Bill Aber - I still remember his name.). The plan was to act like 'New York hot shots,' and degrade their facilities and equipment as 'old fashion!' It worked! When they informed us they were using CP-16 (picture and sound together) cameras, we scoffed and said in New York it was all handheld video now. That it had been a 'long time,' since we'd 'shot' film. We'd have to familiarize ourselves with these 'antiquated' cameras again! We lied like rugs!

God was with us for sure, however! They, Bill and his assistant, spent the rest of the afternoon teaching us how to load the film magazine (in a black bag), and how to operate the camera! Part of our plan was for each of us to divide the tasks, the equipment, me to learn how to load a magazine (by feel), and McCallum the operation of the camera. Trust me, we were good students that afternoon.

We returned to the hotel that night and spent most of the night practicing, me teaching him how to load a magazine (with an exposed roll of film), and he, me the camera. But, our tension ran high! We spent a fitful night worrying--could we pull this off without them ever suspecting we were a couple of 'con artists.'

The following day we got our assignments. Usually there were two per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (or evening for the next day's broadcast). Our first day, however, they only gave us one, mine I'll never forget! I was to film an interview with a female black reporter. This in a hotel room. I forget now who she interviewed, but I'll never forget that day, as long as I live!

We were a 'one-man band,' in those days, having to 'hump' much equipment including lighting.
I spent too long setting up, acting like I knew what I was doing, the 'hot shot' from New York--the 'perfectionist!' I said a silent prayer before turning the camera on. Then I announced 'rolling!' It didn't take too long, the interview, maybe two hours from 'set up' to 'strike.' Afterwards I rushed to the laboratory with the film!

Now, veteran 'shooters,' would never hang around while their film was being processed, as takes hours depending on the how busy the lab was. But, I did! They must have thought I was crazy sitting there waiting like an expectant father.

Finally, hey fed the exposed roll in one end of a huge machine (made a loud noise). At the other end it came out all 'baked.' The entire process taking only about an hour. Note, this was reversal film (I forget the Kodak #, 72__?), meaning no negative, it came out as a positive image when processed. At the end of this huge processing conglomeration of machinery was a glass box. This is where the was dried (with hot air) and rolled up onto a spool.

I'll never forget waiting at the glass box, this to see if there was an image at all and I had still had a job! There are many things that can go wrong with 'shooting' film that you are unaware of until you can see it (after it's processed). Young videomakers don't know about this! You could have been out of focus, or worse... no image at all! Finally, my hands wet with perspiration, the film emerged from it's long chemical process. It first at the top of the machine, then fed through a series of spindles, taking it up and down the length of the box, maybe two meters in height. This to expose it to hot air until completed dried.

There I was squatting up and down, following the film with my eyes to see if there was, in fact, a useable image. When I decided there was, the feeling was one of pure elation, that sudden pride of knowing you'd pulled it off! My sigh of relief, muffled so no one would suspect I was a rank amateur. I tried to act nonchalant when collecting the film to deliver to the station (for the 'Six O'Clock News').

McCallum had the same good fortune that first day, and we went on to be heroes at KDKA/2, Bill Aber and everyone else never suspecting, we were imposters that had risked our careers for the experience! I think we worked there at KDKA/2 for two months until the strike ended. But, I never felt good about crossing the picket line!

The confidence I got from this experience, however, of risking so much, was invaluable! It made it possible for me to take even greater risks!

Next blog entry.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

090208

I 'die'
When others distract
With the mundane,
I'd rather stand in the rain,
Unity, union,
The great orgasm
With the Other!

Human unconsciousness
Like fog, miasma,
Clouding It
For earthy pleasure
Unknowingly
Not knowing they don't know.

What to do?

Get away from them!

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

050208

They're still playing Christmas music in Xining. The Garbage trucks play such, as they go about their task. Their favorite, 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town!' I remember discovering this phenomenon in Urumqi a couple years ago. A truck was playing 'Happy Birthday!' They also seem to like 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star!' It's a lovely little 'piece of the West,' when you hear this in China, reminding you of things past, all those birthdays, all those Christmases long gone. Today, it was Christmas carols in February here in Xining.

Now, we're on the Eve of the Lunar New Year in China, their 'Christmas' in Asia. I noticed there was less traffic today than normal. Oh, glory be! Chinese people are all traveling home to be with family. What will I do? As little as possible enjoying my solitude. My greatest joy is being alone!

But, things are still 'hopping!' You feel the same mad scramble to buy presents, food, tickets, etc., that Christmas in the West brings. Decorations are up, and people are in a holliday spirit (except for those in southeastern China, where the weather has played havoc). Most businesses have closed at least for three days (most more). But, Leo informed me that my favorite food market, 'Homey's' will be open. It's been hell to be shopping there the last three times (past two weeks), as the aisles are jammed with holiday shoppers (think Macy's or Bloomingdales on Christmas Eve). Chinese, because of their culture ('Too many people!'), have no qualms about trying to push you out of the way--the 'too many rats in a cage' syndrome.

Today, I had my favorite lunch at Casa Mia (vegetarian sandwich and roasted potatoes)--amazing in Xining (not exactly Shanghai). Cathy Song, the owner/proprietor sat with me needing to talk.

Poor Cathy, I feel sorry for her, this 35-year old Chinese woman, a successful entrepreneur, yet unfilled in terms of her personal life. She wants to marry and have children, like 90% of the women in the world. But, she's too western to find a Chinese man, and too Chinese to find a western man. Thus, all of her procreate energy goes into building her business. She reads book after book on 'How to get Rich!' as this is her driving ambition. But, I don't doubt she will, as already has a successful restaurant.

It's cold here, supposedly the coldest winter in China in 100 years! Even with the sunshine in Xining today it felt cold. There's generally a wind in too, which makes it feel even colder. I'm sure the high was only around -3C. or below freezing. There's ice on the streets, and unlike in the West, they're slow to deal with it. They don't spray salt or sand on snow or ice. Thus, you walk, ride, etc., at your own risk. In fact, you do everything here at your own risk, as little chance of legal recourse. China is not the kind of society the U.S. is, in terms of being able to 'sue' for personal injury, etc.. I think you can sue, but good luck in getting recompensed for some wrong!

I'll never forget walking in Chengdu, Sichuan Province a couple years ago. I was walking a sidewalk, but my attention caught by some gigantic billboard Ads. Not watching where I was going I ran right into some rebar (small round lengths of steel bar) that had been constructed from storefront to gutter (no warning). Why? Who knows. I only know that it caused me much pain as striking my shin bone, nearly causing me to fall forward. When later I told someone who could actually understand they laughed. There's no such think in China as personal injury in China.

It's cold but it's also very dry (in terms of humidity). The other morning I noticed the part of the thermometer (device measuring humidity ?) indicated 8%. Now, that's as dry air that I've ever experienced. The Sahara and Taklimakan Deserts are generally at least 20% humidity. 8% is almost 'no' water in the air! Thus, my skin in particular is suffering. Poor Xu Gang visiting from Xi'an (much more humidity) suffers from nose bleeding regularly. The solution, drink much water! Or, in my case drink much tea!

But, I like the cold and the dry! I'm a mountain man!

One of the books that inspired me as a child, about western America was entitled, 'Men to Match my Mountains!'

I hope I'm a man to match my mountain!

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

030208

I got the life I wanted,
Filled with adventure, romance,
And exotic places!
I hear Chopin,
I smell jasmine,
I touch jade,
I see all the great peaks,
Nothing reeks,
But the smell of the other!

The mundane
I disdain,
The waning,
While I wax,
Blessed!

Oh, life
Where is thy sting,
The ring around my finger?
Such beauty
If glimpsed
The pain,
Not all down the drain,
Pleasure, the treasure!

Some good in bad,
Some bad in good,
Going back and forth,
'Til we are lost
In each other,
Not knowing
Which is which,
But, not really caring!

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

290108

Cold today in China! -18C. to -8C. in Xining. I walked home from a meeting, and decided I'm not wearing the proper clothing for such temperatures! I need down and wool, possibly long underwear. I've been wearing basically cotton and 'fleece,' although Chinese 'fleece' (polyester?). Only my head was warm under my Nepali cap Meera (in Kathmandu) made for me! Even my 'insulated' gloves didn't keep my hands warm. But, I generally like the cold versus heat, makes you want to move. Makes you want to run! The Shanghai heat makes you want to sit and fan yourself!

Instead I'm on a 'roller coaster ride' with Xu Tan and the company (www.haaqi.com). What a pain in the ass he has become, causing more trouble than he is worth. I wish he would just leave at this point! Just leave! Just go, Xu Tan, just go!

Today after my morning session 'they' the group had their own meeting in which they expressed what's wrong with what's going on: basically lack of 'chemistry' between each other, lack of communication, people not expressing themselves, people not helping each other. But, they seemed to solve whatever, 'Drake' informing me (the only one) it was a 'very deep' discussion.

I told the group long ago, that if the 'chemistry' isn't right, it doesn't matter how much money you spend, the company will fail. With the right group, the right 'chemistry,' a few people with little money can 'move mountains!' Right now mistakes are being made they shouldn't be, and for lack of simple communication!

It's sad really, human nature, unconsciousness, this internecine competing of interests and desires. Basically, not thinking of the other people and what's good for the group!

I'm trying to tender equity (shares) in the company to two good and loyal workers ('Leo' and 'Drake')! But, Xu Tan throws a 'monkey-wrench' into that with some 'gobble-de-gook' about Government rules and how the new 'owners' should pay cash (when they can't!). Of course, he didn't pay!

Also, I get a note from Xu Ni telling me that Xu Tan doesn't want her to return after 'Spring Festival!' He treats her like shit, his own sister! She's a good worker, thinking better than him sometimes! I told him she will return and she will be working with me (maybe not him).

He simply doesn't think of other people, only himself! And I'm tired of it!

The solution, if he doesn't change or leave. I will start a different organization!

What a difference a few days make! Now, the situation solved. He changed!

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