Monday, December 27, 2010

Giving Buffy a Break

This is a picture I took of a totally weird sculpture I fell head over heels in love with (no pun intended). It was the most non-Buffy thing I could think of. I'd been stressing out about writing the next song, determined to write some kind of epic 90s power ballad for Ben and Glory, which I may still do. But it wasn't ready to be born yet, and worrying was doing me no good so I said "Buffy, I am letting you off the hook." Easier said than done.

Oftentimes, you'll hear writers or artists emphasize the importance of "letting the creation wash over you" or "walking away to get a new perspective" or "putting your mind elsewhere so the story will seep into your subconscious." And yes, that is absolutely true. But here's the thing -- you REALLY have to do it! No cheating, no multitasking, no appearing to the outside world as though you were fully ensconced in basket weaving or mini golf or high tea when your brain is actually working overtime. You have to let the thing go and shoot yourself completely the opposite way, and hope that you will have gone so far, you actually circle back around to it, now endowed with the wisdom of the journey. And even if you meander and never find the thing again, you were having such a good time adventuring, who gives a rat's behind? Once you extricate yourself from the ironclad kung fu grip, it's a first-class Caribbean cruise. It's that step that kills.

Luckily, the holidays and Berkeley are a good diversion. For almost a week now, I've been staying at the house my family moved into when I was nine; enjoying the crazy family antics, my mom's hot tub, and my dad's home cooking. I hiked up Mount Tam before dawn on the solstice, sang some karaoke, went to a couple of nice holiday parties, traipsed about San Francisco in all of its pre-Christmas glory, enjoyed a lazy rainy Christmas with my folks, and had an awesome post-Christmas shopping trip to the city, followed by a lovely sushi dinner with my dad. Wow, not stressing out about Buffy love songs-- I could totally get used to this!

I'm trying to keep this mindset even as I dive back into the world of writing. I do, after all, want to keep putting my work out there. And now that I actually have a fan base (albeit a little one), there is some element of expectation. On top of that, there is the expectation I put on myself. I really do want to finish this project in a way that feels like it tells a complete story. My goal is 12 songs on a CD by the end of July (to coincide with San Diego Comic Con). This may not happen, but hey, I'm throwing my hat over the wall. Of course, immediately when I start thinking about these deadlines, that little voice in my head goes "PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE!" And then I think to myself, "Wait a second. I am singing love songs to vampires and demons from a campy 90s TV show. What the hell is this if it's not fun?" Right??? Keep telling yourself that, keep telling yourself that. This is fun this is fun this is fun.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been somewhat productive on the project. After being locked inside my house all of Christmas Day -- and appropriately so due to the pelting rain, the fact that the stores were all closed, and it being my mom's last day before leaving for India -- I was feeling a little cabin fever. Luckily, one of my favorite haunts-- The Pub on Solano-- was open, my favorite bartender Chris Strong happened to be behind the bar. I mused a little by the fireplace, consulting my Buffy wiki printouts as my sense memory happily received the old sights, sounds, and smells. Later, I accompanied Chris into the dish room and he washed his beer glasses while we had an interesting conversation about celebrity dynamics and fandom. (Interestingly enough, he experiences it much more palpably than I do, since whatever fan base I have is mostly online, whereas he, as a bartender, gets people approaching him all the time and striking up conversations in the most random of places.) By the end of the night, I felt both a sense of relaxation and accomplishment, having made some progress while seemingly twiddling my thumbs. I'm excited to get my hands on some instruments because I think that just may do the trick...

Okay, back to my other life. Buffy, I release you from your holding cell, but you are officially on probation. And by probation I don't mean I am keeping constant watch over you. I mean I am keeping you in check. No misbehaving, no messing where you shouldn't be, no interrupting my metaphorical mini golf. Got it? Good.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's in store for Buffy?

Funny you should mention that, Karuna, because I've been thinking a lot about that myself. Well of course you would, you're me. Duh! Shit, we better stop talking to ourselves before the rest of the world finds out. Whoops, too late...

I totally didn't plan on starting this blog entry like that. But it actually kind of works. I've been percolating on my next song, and it looks like it's going to be Ben and Glory, which makes the multi-personality thing pretty appropriate. (Plus I'm a little insane, in case you haven't noticed, so I'll take any excuse I can get to justify my weird behavior.) I've had the idea for a while, but it's been way on the back burner. It's easy to leave stuff there when you're busy with other projects, which I have been. After releasing If I Were a Robot, I worked like a fiend editing my short film Lifeline. Now that I have a satisfactory cut of that, there is this roller coaster-stomach-drop feeling of, "Holy crap, what the hell is next?" But something always finds me in just the nick of time, so long as I open my door to invite the Muses in.

So I did an awesome photo shoot on Wednesday, shooting for 10 hours straight with the amazingly talented Carl Mahoney. It was a good day-- tiring but inspiring. And I guess some of that creative energy was still squirming around after the shoot, seeing as how I woke up at 4:30 in the morning on Thursday and couldn't go back to sleep. I wandered around for a little while in the dark, letting my thoughts do what they will, and suddenly the beginnings of lyrics started to emerge. Ben and Glory were saying, "Take me off the back burner, take me off the back burner." So I did. Today, I spent a few minutes fiddling around at my keyboard, plunking out a few ideas for melodies. Nothing is set in stone, but I feel it. And now that I've blogged about it, it will surely come.

Speaking of Wednesday's photo shoot, one of the items on the agenda was getting a new Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads promo pic. I've had it in mind for a little while to do something a little sleeker, now that the project has started to fly. I think we got something really good. I can't show you yet, since Carl is still messing around with the images (plus it's fun to build a little anticipation). But if you look at the top of the page, you can see Nicki, the hair and makeup artist, styling my hair before the shoot. It's still in the freaky phase at this point. Eventually, she made me look pretty damn awesome. And on top of Carl's photographic awesomeness, we got an image that I think will knock your socks off.

Enough blogging for now. I'm off to Café Muse to watch some amazing music by my new friends Rudy Love, Jr. and Will E. Simms. Hopefully this will inspire some Buffyness. And if that doesn't do the trick, I'm sure an evening of fire and flow in Venice will do the trick. Have a good weekend, everyone! Reluctant Fan Girl signing off.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lights, Camera, ROBOT!!!

This is one of the test pictures we took while setting up the shot. I like to call it "Pay no attention to the deer-in-headlights about to sing a robot love song -- at least not until she puts it up on YouTube for the world to see..."

The audio and video turned out pretty clean for something we shot so quick and (dare I say) dirty. Here are the gory details behind the most recent of the Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads.

Andre had mentioned he wanted to do something cinematically interesting for the backdrop than before. We had shot Wherefore Art Thou Juliet in his girlfriend's apartment in West LA. Ooh, Mr. Mayor, we did at his workplace in Long Beach. They were well shot and well lit -- certainly above and beyond anything I could've accomplished with my dinky Canon PowerShot in the confines of my bedroom -- but now it was time to upgrade. He said he had a connection with the owner of a club in Culver City and we should try shooting the next one there. So that's what we did.

Before I talk about the actual shoot, a word about the costume and character. I was really at a loss for what to do with this piece, right up until a few hours before we shot. After two rounds of homemade fan T-shirts with hand-picked quotes, I decided to go more in the direction of embodying the persona of the person who sang the song. Ooh, Mr. Mayor was in my mind very clearly Marilyn Monroe. But If I Were a Robot: who was the singer there? Somebody geeky and melancholy, sure, but how would they look? What would they wear? I played with a couple of ideas -- Robert Palmer girls, Rachael from Blade Runner. Both seemed too esoteric. I could the Borg since I reference Seven of Nine, but then we would get into Trekkie territory. I actually thought about asking Adam Busch when I saw him on set (see previous entry), but it seemed a little too fan girl. Also, I'd have to explain the whole concept to him, and I'd much rather he be surprised. But where did that leave me? Geek girl who wants to be a robot to impress a boy… Of course-- she'd dress like a robot! A Facebook survey confirmed that tinfoil would do the job. I met with my photographer friend Carl Mahoney earlier that afternoon, who helped me scheme up some ideas for sexy tinfoil garb. Unfortunately, Andre informed me that the tinfoil would create lens flares and thus be cinematically unkind.

I was due to meet Andre at 4 PM in Culver City. It was 2 PM, and still no costume. I was seriously worried. Despite the time crunch, I took a jaunt over to Fallas Paredes, this awesome Mexican outlet clothing store a couple of blocks from my house. It's pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes they have nothing but weirdly cut tops that make you look preggers, and sometimes it's a treasure trove. Most of my beloved bikinis have been purchased there for no more than $4. That day, I lucked out. I found a grey dress with silver studs at the shoulders that gave the perfect suggestion of "robot." Across the street at the discount store, I found some shimmery eyeshadow and the silver-colored jewelry you see around my neck. With my $13 worth of makeshift robot garb, I went home and dolled myself up. I really had no idea whether it was going to work, but 20 minutes, half a bottle of hairspray, and at trowel full of silver eyeshadow later, I looked in the mirror and said, "Jumpin' Jiminy: I look like a robot!" And off to Culver City I went.

I pulled up to the sparsely populated business-warehouse hybrid of a neighborhood where Andre instructed me to go. There was an animal hospital and a few small art galleries. No nightclub to be found. André met me outside and showed me into the hole-in-the-wall venue which was actually super cool and artsy on the inside. A few people were moving equipment and checking the sound. It was a very strange environment in which to bear my fan girl soul. Every other video had been recorded in a controlled environment with 0-2 other people around. Furthermore, we could do as many takes as we wanted because there were no space issues or time constraints. Here, it was a totally different story. "How am I ever going to get in my happy space?" I thought. It's hard enough to sing vampire love songs to an audience of one, let alone in the solitude of your own bedroom -- and now I have to do it in front of all these strangers who have no context for the content of the piece!

On the upside, the setting was gorgeous. Every angle of the club looked totally different so in terms of backdrops, the possibilities were limitless. We decided on the one you see in the video because we liked the Asian feel of the paper umbrellas. That, in combination with the metallic look of the DJ turntables -- which are mostly blurred -- gave it a kind of Blade Runnerfeel. The umbrellas and turntables were on a raised stage, which meant that in order to get the desired frame, we had to stand both me and the tripod on platform-type pedestals. Andre set up his 1K soft, and we shot.

The actual shoot time was extremely short. As I said, everybody at the club had to hold their work on our behalf. The first take was, as expected, a little awkward. Actually, it was more than a little awkward, given that it was the first time Andre was hearing the song, it was my first performance in front of an audience, AND that audience happened to include a 10-year-old boy (hence the dirty part). It's not like I was saying anything too blatantly vulgar, but at the same time the whole song was centered around the idea of me wanting to be someone's "sex machine." I spent most of the take trying my best not to giggle nervously. (I think Andre did too.) The second take felt a little better, but still not completely there. The third take actually felt pretty good. Normally, it would've taken me a little longer to warm up, but I knew I didn't have an infinite amount of time and takes so I really made it count. Number 3 was the last one I was going to get, at least without being a major imposition to the nice people working at the club. I gave it my all, and that was that. Andre sounded significantly pleased so I put my hopeless perfectionist in check and trusted his judgment.

We dumped all the files onto my laptop at the club. The video looked great, but we couldn't listen to the audio playback since by this time they were blasting house music so loud, we couldn't hear ourselves think. All we could do was hope that it worked. And it did. I actually spent very little time in postproduction with this one. I didn't color correct the video because it looked pretty awesome on its own. The mixing on the audio levels was minimal, and I didn't even splice any of the takes together to make sure I got the prettiest sound. Looking back, there are a few notes that are slightly off (if I were on American Idol, Randy might say my performance was "a little pitchy", but hey -- I'd much rather be singing original Buffy love songs anyway, so there!). Overall, though, I'm pretty darn happy with it -- especially for something we got in three takes.

Come to think of it, I've really got a knack for this robot thing. Maybe I should consider a new career path. Or would it be a way of life??? You tell me…

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coincidence and Confirmation

I've taken a bit of a break from this blog in order to get my "other" blog project-- the Page of Possibility -- up and running. Also, I've had to put the next YouTube video on hold until my cameraman gets back from Thanksgiving vacationing. So not too many Buffy stories in the past week or two, but boy do I have a story for you...

This week and last, I've been working on a multiple-day shoot for Grey's Anatomy in which I play a "Resident Doctor", which means I don't get any lines, but I do get to wear a white lab coat on top of the normal periwinkle scrubs. (Evolution in wardrobe; very exciting.) I bolted to set yesterday morning after having accidentally mistaken my call time for six minutes later than it actually was. In the hurry and flurry, I was overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation of bright lights, fancy equipment, hustling crew members and bustling TV stars. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a white guy with dark features who looked vaguely familiar. I know him from somewhere, but not from here... yes, in fact, I know him very well... is that... could it be... Holy crap, it's Adam Busch!

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Think of all the extremely awkward things I could say to him! I could gush about Buffy; quote some lyrics from his band; or best of all, walk right up to him and say, "Hey, you probably don't remember me, but I wrote you a love song!" I knew that would be wrong in so many ways, and honestly I didn't feel the need. I kept my cool until later in the morning when our paths conveniently crossed between shots. "I know you from The Thrilling Adventure Hour," I said. His face lit up. It was like I told him the secret code. Even though he was a recurring and I was background, we were suddenly on even turf. He told me he had checked out my songs, and I told him I had one for him in the works. We exchanged various bits of smalltalk throughout the day, along with the occasional silly face or random shoulder bump.

I found the story of seeing Adam so amusing that I told a handful of people on set, including a hair guy named Maynard Matthews. He said, "Coincidences are a confirmation that you are doing the right thing." I really liked that idea. It made me feel reassured and even proud. After all, I had put in the work -- writing the song, recording the track, showing up to The Thrilling Adventure Hour to begin with, allowing myself to be inspired. Had I watched Buffy and never bothered to follow through with the project, yesterday would have turned out very differently. The conversation would've gone something like, "I'm a huuuge Buffy fan, I thought you should know," and him going, "Thanks," and both of us probably walking away feeling a bit awkward.

This is the irony and beauty of Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads. It is a fan piece, all a fan piece, nothing but a fan piece. But at the same time, it has made me feel like less of a fan girl and more of a peer. In writing these songs, in singing to these characters, I have found my own voice, which in turn allows me to speak with confidence and conviction among the people with whom I'd otherwise be panting, drooling, or speechless. I could've never expected this project to have taken me to the places it has -- both out in the world and inside myself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Picking Apart the Machine

Friday afternoon, David and I laid down the track for the "If I Were a Robot." Recording -- especially with David -- is always fun, but it's also a lot of nuts and bolts. I thought I'd give you a sneak peek at the process with the above photo. This is what the song looked like as we bounced it out of ProTools.

The green squiggly bar on top represents the main track we used. The first green segment is verses one, two, and the first two repetitions of the chorus. The final segment is the last repetition of the verse and chorus. The red squiggly bar represents the bridge, which is in a different keyboard voice. The blue squiggly bar, along with the overlapping snippet of green squiggle at the very bottom of the screen, is where the chorus goes haywire in this delightfully fun way that totally fits the song. (I'll say no more for now...) It was David's idea to overlap two different takes, one of which has additional reverb, in order to make it sound extra wonky.

This probably sounds and looks completely weird out of context. But once you remove the outer layers, this is what it all comes down to. I thought you all might like to know. Maybe once the song is out, which will hopefully be in the next week, you can revisit this image with a totally different understanding of what all this mumbo-jumbo means. Until then, I hope you've enjoyed all of the funny-looking soundwaves, crazy colors, and odd little antics I've thrown at you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to the Buffy-board

I promise you I'll get to Buffy in just a moment, but indulge me in two quick sidenotes. First, give me a millisecond to massively geek out over my star sightings this weekend. Saturday, I saw Matthew Morrison eating lunch at the same café as me and my friends Robert and Jay. Glee-licious! Sunday, I went to my acting teacher's staged reading at Ensemble Studio Theater where every star and costar under the sun seems to be a member. I did a double-take when I spotted Gates McFadden,who turns out to be the artistic director. Also, I engaged myself in a conversation with Patricia Richardson, who, to my great amusement, introduced herself to me as my cousin's understudy on Broadway. Halfway through the conversation, I was like, "OMG, that's the mom from Home Improvement!" (My non-West Wing-savvy self still associates her as Tim Allen's sitcom better half. I'm working on changing that via Netflix...)

Also, I will make a quick shameless plug for my other project, which I will launch via Internet next Sunday. Its true name will be revealed at the time of its release. Until then, it's codename is Project Pinky and the Brain. I've been doing a lot of writing, musing, and imagining, and I am seriously stoked to share it with all of you. Please join me this week, fellow lab rat, in doing the same thing I do every night... try to take over the world.

Okay, really, back to Buffy. Song #4 has been a little slower in the making due to all sorts of crazy creative and personal stuff. But believe you me, the game is on. David and I have already met twice to work out the arrangements for "If I Were a Robot", love song for Warren. It's a hoot and a holler working with him -- one because he is an absolutely amazing musician and super fun guy, two because he gives me a totally different perspective and awesome insight on what it is I'm trying to do. I am not a trained musician so I really just go by instinct. I go with what I think sounds interesting and fits the feel of the song, as well as the voice of the character singing it. I have a guitar occasionally strum awkward cords on, as well as a piano I plunk from time to time, but for the most part I compose the music in my head. I can play out the melodies (albeit awkwardly) via single notes on piano, and I could even play the chords (though it may take me a while to find them), but I have no idea about key signatures and what the chords I'm using are called.

David, on the other hand, knows all. I love that I can meet up with him and put a name to all those little nuances that have until this point been nothing but crazy ideas in my head. For example, the first time we jammed with this song, I was sure it was in the key of because that was the note the song started and ended on. To my surprise, we discovered that it's actually in the key of C. minor! The C. minor chord also keeps popping up throughout the verse in various places, so David tells me. Another interesting thing is that the bridge is composed of alternating F. minor and C. minor chords that are played in different inversions as they descend. When David told me that, it was so cool because it made it really sound like music. I'm thinking to myself, "I don't know, I just wrote the thing."

We also played around with different keyboard voices to use during the recording. The last two songs were done with street piano, which I think fit the style of the song. This time I wanted something a little more synthesized-sounding, since the song is all about robots. We played around and found two voices for two different segments of the song. (In case you're interested in knowing what they are, they are 254: Square Head 1 and 255: Square Head 2.) We played the song several times through with the chosen keyboard settings. I told David where I wanted chords versus single notes. And he came up with an intro that sounds so incredibly kickass, I can't even BEGIN to explain. I was honestly kind of worried I might not be able to outdo myself after the last set of songs, but I am bursting at the seams with excitement about this one.

At the end of the session, as David and I parted, he said to me, "You really know what you're doing. You may not have the technical language to describe it, but you do." This was really wonderful to hear, since it all started out as a crazy little scheme with me making it up as I went along. Don't get me wrong, it's still a crazy little scheme, and I must keep thinking of it as such to keep it light; to keep it fun. But he's right. I know what I'm doing and I know what I want. And, much in part to this whole process, I feel confident in my voice as a singer and songwriter. Wow, I can't believe I just said that out loud to the world! That's kind of amazingly empowering, huh?

I'm going to step away from my computer and let that stew for a bit. More on the robot front soon!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Few Words About My Dad

I just finished the last of the family events-- "the dénouement of the weekend's activities", as my mom put it. That's really how it felt. This weekend was a climactic culmination of so much time and labor by so many people, especially my dad. 
My mother had the idea that each of his family members say a few words about my dad at the opening dinner celebration. I thought I'd share with you so you can all get an idea of who this amazing guy is...

As I write this, my dad just left to get interviewed on KPFA Radio. "So, you're doing a radio interview -- how exciting!" I said. "Yes," he said, "I'd better shine my shoes." This is a pretty typical thing for my dad to say. I think after 29 years of being his daughter, I've finally gotten used to it. I used to get confused, sometimes profoundly aggravated when he’d say things that seemed to make no logical sense. I’d try to argue with him or correct him or trick him into saying the thing I thought he must have meant. I didn't understand that this was simply his way.

My dad is an oddball, an innovator, a visionary. He is the quirky sensei who speaks in riddles and makes you do all sorts of weird things you think have nothing to do with the forward progress of your journey. I always thought of him as Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid." You come to him to learn karate, and he tells you to wax a parking lot full of cars. This method baffles you if you think that the only way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. You say, "I want to be an artist." He says, "Let's have a cup of tea." You say, "I want to learn fancy Zen calligraphy." He says, "Take your brush and make a dot." You say, "I want to change the world." He says, "Be lazy and stupid."

My dad will show you that the path from point A to point B is a brush stroke. And by the end of that brushstroke, you might find yourself at point Z. Chances are, you'll probably have arrived at a destination so unfathomably wacky and cool, you will have to invent your own alphabet to describe it. Kaz has taught me to invent words, phrases, philosophies and art forms, and to let them flow freely without judging. 

I have a tendency to get particularly anxious and stressed out first thing in the morning. I’ll make my breakfast, brew a cup of tea, and sit at the table worrying about how to do this idea or whether that other idea is good enough to follow through with. He walks through the front door, having been up since 4:30 AM, and tells me about how he’s painted 20 circles, figured out his next book, and decided to disarm all of Central America. Suddenly, my doubts and fears melt away. I think to myself, "If my dad can imagine world peace by breakfast (and knowing him, implement it by lunch), I can do pretty much anything."

I feel grateful to have received so much inspiration from such an creative, innovative human being; and what's more, to have done so at the dining room table still in my pajamas. Today, we celebrate the completion of two large, extremely heavy, fancy-looking books, which are published proof of how your imagination speaks volumes. But this is really just the tip of the paintbrush. (And we all know how big my dad's paintbrushes can get!) Your influence has written itself into so many people’s existences-- shaping the way we live, make art, and dance with the universe. Dad, I am extremely proud of you. Thanks for the book, the breakfast conversations, and the possibilities you continue to paint.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I am your BIGGEST fan!!!

I am thoroughly exhausted after a long day of celebration, conversation, delicious food, and amazing company. This weekend, I am up in Berkeley to celebrate the completion of what essentially amounts to my father's life's work. My dad, Kazuaki Tanahashi, is many things -- painter, calligraphy master, writer, teacher, peace activist. He is also a scholar and translator of Dogen Zenji, the renowned 13th century Zen master who brought Soto Zen Buddhism from China to Japan. Kaz has been translating Dogen's work since he was younger than I am now, and he has just published an enormous two-volume book set of the Shobogenzo-- Treasury of the True Dharma Eye -- a collection of all of Dogen's teachings. This project has been 50 years in the works. You hear that??? Five-zero, FIFTY!!! I haven't spent that long doing anything, including being alive, so needless to say this is a BIG DEAL.

Friday night, we had a lovely dinner at Greens Restaurant, which was the "intimate celebration", consisting of about 50 people. Norman Fischer made a lovely toast, and I -- along with my mom and brother -- all shared some words about what Kaz meant to us. Today, we scooted off bright and early to San Francisco Zen Center where Peter Levitt gave a really gorgeous talk on Dogen and intimacy. (He used the term "intimacy" not in the exclusively social/sexual context we're used to, but rather in how we get to know the world and ourselves.) This afternoon, we headed back over to Majestic Fort Mason where a Dogen panel took place. There were many speakers from the academic and Zen worlds, along with an enchanting shakuhachi performance by master musician Masayuki Koga. I'd have to say the highlight was hearing my new friend, author Brad Warner, describe Dogen as a nerd subculture, comparing it to comic con, punk rock, and Star Trek. I think I'll have to devote an entire entry just to geek out on that!

Long story short, I feel very grateful to be a part of this whole world. Being as how my parents met at San Francisco Zen Center, I'm what you would call a "Zen center brat." (It's sort of like being an Army brat, except totally different.) So all of the people I have met or re-met in the past couple of days are various permutations and incarnations of the American Zen archetype. The Hollywood movie world, on the other hand, is a more novel beast. Because I didn't grow up around it, I tend to go gaga-ballistic-drooling-misty-eyed-weak-in-the-knees-fan girl when I see an actor or filmmaker I admire. But sitting in the lecture hall today, listening to Peter's talk, I realized that these are the ROCK STARS of the American Zen community! What a privilege it is to know these people, to be enlightened by these people; to be so familiar with them, in fact, that their presence seems as normal as eggplants in the fruit basket. And to think, they are all there to celebrate the work of my daddy dearest!!!

I don't want to get excessively narcissistic about my dad. He had a lot of collaborators on the project, a whole community of people without whom the Shobogenzo would not exist. But he has been chipping away at this for years and years, and I've seen it from both sides of the lens. Countless meetings in our living room and around the world, editing with so many people to get that perfect word. Hours and hours of reviewing the glossary (which for such an epic work is not an easy task). A lifetime of love, exploration, and dedication. And I honestly believe the world will be a more beautiful place because of it. I have yet to seriously crack into Dogen's work (I feel like a schoolgirl who hasn't done her homework), but from the snippets I've heard through my upbringing, and, of course, all weekend long, he is a beautiful poet; a wise teacher; a revolutionary thinker. And I have complete faith that my father's translation has done him every drop of justice.

And of course, no artist or writer -- even when they describe somebody else or tell a story that is supposedly fiction -- can create something that doesn't speak volumes about who they are. I'm excited to get to know Dogen better because in doing so, I'm sure I will discover a few things about my dad. Whether Kaz connected to Dogen because they were similar or whether Dogen influenced the course of my father's life and character, they are surely inextricably linked. I know they say you can't judge a book by its cover. I won't even try to judge this book, since it doesn't actually have a physical cover. But I will say that even before I open it, it is a marvelous sight to behold. It is simple; large; weighty; beautiful. It lives up to its name; a true treasure.

I'll get all gushy and fan girl in my next entry, in which I will share a few words about the more intimate aspects of the awesomeness of that is my dad. But it's late, and I must get some sleep so I can be fully energized for another day of fantabulous fanfare for my biggest idol... my dad.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Robots and Completion

It's so nice when everything comes together in a neat little package. I haven't felt that way in a while so I'm savoring the moment. [Mmmmm...moment...]

As I mentioned in my previous entries, I'd been having a bit of a block with the Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads. Two major factors-- one artistic and one personal -- contributed to the block. The artistic: I've been busy putting the finishing touches on my long-term short film project Lifeline (long-term short that oxymoron?). The personal: dealing with the death of my dear friend, Burning Dan (If you only click on one link, PLEASE click that one; it leads to a gorgeous video tribute that really shows the essence of who he is).

Lifeline -- at least in its current phase -- mostly involves long hours of hair-splitting scrutiny alone in front of my laptop. Not so much fun to blog about. I will, however, say a few words about Dan, which -- like all good things in life -- will eventually lead me to Buffy.

Losing Dan has been a pretty powerful experience for me. I'd known him pretty much a year to the day (met him and parted with him on a Sunday in October). I've had acquaintances and even relatives die, but he was definitely the closest person I've ever known to pass away. He was also the first person I've lost who was my peer. It was quite a shock to everyone he knew because he was one of the most vibrant and life-affirming people in the whole wide universe. But the biggest shocker to me was that I had seen him THAT VERY DAY. Not just that day, that EVENING!!! It boggles the hell out of me that I could be seeing someone and talking to them and hugging them one moment, and a few hours later... poof! No more.

Dan's death also represented something bigger in my mind: the idea that things will never be as they were. Just a month prior, I had let another relationship go. It was a decision I felt certain about at the time. Sad, but certain. Dan's passing added a whole, huge, deeper dimension to the end of that other relationship. I remember staring at Jonathan Reilly's torn-down kitchen at a party Saturday night (more on that momentarily), feeling exactly the way the kitchen looked -- raw, nonfunctional, somewhere between what it was and what it would be. All week, I'd been kicking myself over my Buffy block. But in hindsight, trying to finish a Buffy song in my condition was like trying to fry an egg in a kitchen with the stove yanked out of its socket.

Saturday was a big breakthrough for me. After a few amazing conversations with wonderful friends (and a wee bit of mood-altering facilitation), I had a subtle yet very impactful shift in perspective. Until that point, I had felt a deep sense of loss. That night, I reframed the loss as completion. I had two amazing encounters with people who enriched my life in a multitude of marvelous ways. Those experiences were all I could have hoped for and more. They were, essentially, complete. Don't get me wrong; I'm not magically "over Dan." Like anybody who shared so much as a handshake or smile with him, part of me will always be devastated by his death. He made the world a wacky, wonderful place, and we all wish we had a little more of him. But my time with him was such a gift -- especially my very last encounter with him, which I wrote about in a poem called Carpe the Awesome. And I know that all of us fortunate to still be on this planet owe to Burning Dan to live -- I mean really LIVE -- in a way that lends itself to awe-inspiring adventures of the quirkiest kind. Today was exactly that.

I was working as an extra on The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a raunchy high school scripted MTV comedy, which is going on its second season. I spent most of the day with a group of 20-somethings-playing-teenagers, running around a high school gym in my bra and underwear, pretending to be high out of my mind. It was one of my weirdest, wonderfullest workdays, which involved a surprise cameo by Paris Hilton, along with the making of some cool new friends -- including one of the crew guys who did sound mixing on Dollhouse. (He told me a fun story about how they'd break for lunch, and everyone would run to take a nap in the room where the Dolls slept. Fan girl silent squeal!) And somehow, in the process of playing a stoned, reckless teenager (which is SLIGHTLY different from my usual self, I swear!), I came up with two more lines to my Warren song. Though the song was partially written, I was missing a few big pieces, and my inability to write the remainder made me feel like I may as well not have begun. But those two lines were just enough to get me over the hump, and by the end of the day I had my song.

"If I Were a Robot": love song to Warren. Soon, you will see it in all of its geeky glory. Let me just say that, as wonderfully profound and valuable as it is to experience the concept of completion in a chapter of one's life, completing a Buffy love song FEELS FUCKING AWESOME!!!

And that completes my entry for the day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Basking Before Buffy

I've gotten temporarily distracted from Buffy by various life things. The intent of this entry was originally to manifest more songwriting. But before I get back to Buffy, I need a moment to bask.

At the moment, I am on cloud nine after having "worked" a full day on the show "Community." I say worked in quotations because I basically spent 15 hours on the Paramount lot doing a metric boatload of absolutely nothing. I guess you could count it as 14 official work hours, minus the hour-long lunch break (which was actually an hour and a half), during which time I snuck in a coffee date on Melrose with my actor/singer/producer friend Andrew Appel, whom I've been meaning to catch up with for a while.

This whole day has left me feeling like a fan of many things. First of all, I am a HUGE fan of days like this -- easy, fun workdays that leave me more relaxed than even the laziest of days at home. I am a fan of the Paramount lot, which -- once I take a glimpse beyond the confines of our gross little smelly little prison of a holding cell -- is majestic and magical and the birthplace of all these epic things that made me want to make movies in the first place. I'm a fan of the camera guy I ran into at crafty who showed me, step-by-step, how to make the perfect peanut butter sandwich combo which was actually two sandwiches -- nutella on one side, raspberry jam on the other. I'm a total fan of Danny Pudi, whom I ran into on another trip to crafty. I struck up a conversation with him, which was easy to do since I had recently seen him perform at The Thrilling Adventure Hour. The fact that he is part of that crowd already earned him massive points in my book. His costume -- a green pair of pajamas with rocket ship print -- totally won my heart.

Needless to say, by the time I clocked out at 11:12 PM, my cake was thoroughly iced. But the night wasn't over yet for this Fan Girl -- I had one more pit stop to make. On my way home from Hollywood, I stopped by the house of my acting teacher, James Eckhouse, to drop off a DVD copy of my short film, "Lifeline." (He had told me in class on Monday that he could take a look at it and give me feedback this week.) This moment was actually a huge deal for me for several reasons. First of all, like many of my peers in their mid-to-late 20s, I grew up watching [the original] Beverly Hills 90210, so James was a fixture of my childhood. This was strongly reinforced by the fact that last year I had gone back and re-watched THE WHOLE SERIES on Netflix (at least through season five, after which point Jim Walsh was no longer a principal character).

Around the same time of my Beverly binge, I also saw James in an independent film called "Half-Life." I was still living in Berkeley, and I remember being in a mire of artistic angst over "Lifeline" at the time. Normally, when I go to those Film Festival screenings with the cast and crew Q&A at the end, I do my best to come up with some extremely witty, thought-provoking question that not only makes the filmmakers look into their "process" in a way they previously hadn't, but also (one can only hope) makes them go, "That girl who asked that question must be totally smart, and creative, and an actor/filmmaker too; just the kind of person I want on my team!" This time, the only burning question that came to mind was "How did you get James Eckhouse to act in your film?"

So there I was, at his doorstep, dropping a copy of MY SHORT FILM -- the very same short film I had been working on while watching him on multiple screens, big and small, dreaming about my life in LA! I took the time to really drink it in -- watching the wind blow through the trees, thinking about how far I'd come, and laughing at my inner 10-year-old for STILL not getting over the fact that his zip code wasn't actually 90210. It's totally silly, but it kills me; it really does.

So there is my flood of fandom for the night. Now, it's back to the books with Buffy. I have a half-formed Frankenstein monster of a song, which I need to flesh out and finally freaking finish. In order to do that, I must watch AT LEAST Warren's debut episode, I Was Made to Love You. Whoever happens to be reading this, I'm holding myself accountable to you. But enough manifesting for the night. It's time for some Dollhouse and dreams.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Fan of Dan

I put Buffy and blogging on the back burner for a bit when I found out about the tragic passing of a close friend of mine. Daniel Gordon-Levitt -- known to most as "Burning Dan" -- was one of those guys you could spot from 10 miles away. You'd first recognize him by his tell-tale color scheme; pink and green were his favorite colors to match his favorite food, watermelon. As you got closer, you would spot his unmistakable chestnut-brown dreadlocks, ornamented at the ends with sparkly little wax balls, also usually pink. I first met him at the birthday party of Joseph of Windows to Sky, where he did a fire-spinning routine to Madonna's "Ray of Light." Having spent many years as a camper and counselor at Camp Winnarainbow, I'd seen people spin fire on several occasions. But I'd never seen anyone spin FIRE, if you know what I mean.

The rest of the evening, he proceeded to describe every aspect of his life as "Awesome!" I later learned that was pretty much the way he felt about everything. In fact, his signature article of clothing was a pink T-shirt that said "Carpe Awesome." Sally Slade, who invented the T-shirt with him, printed out a bunch of them to give away at one of the memorial events. The thing has barely had a moment away from my body.

I won't go over every biographical factoid about Burning Dan, since you can find it all in a matter of moments online. A few basic things: he was a talented fire spinner, an avid attendee of Burning Man (enough to name himself after the event!), a skilled photographer, and a master of all things computer. He helped his brother, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, start an amazing collaborative art website called, which you should ALL go visit and contribute to. He started Flow Temple, a school for flow arts (juggling, poi, devil sticks, staff, etc.). He was the leader of a gigantic community of artists from all walks of life. He was an innovator and imagineer (the last day I saw him, he was teaching some newlyweds a beautiful way he'd invented of holding hands). And he was an amazing source of light in the lives of everyone who crossed his path.

After hearing the news of his death, I wrote him a poem, which I video recorded and linked to the top of this entry. If you did know him, hopefully it will bring back fond memories. And if you didn't, you can learn a little about a very special person who has inspired so many people to be their superhero selves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Buffilicious Evening

All of you Buffy fans will certainly recognize the two females in the photo. The guy in the middle, you probably don't know... yet. But I'm fans of all of them, especially my friend Robert B. LeMoyne, author of an amazing young adult trilogy called The Inanimate Gods, which will no doubt be in your common vocabulary in the very near future. Robert and I have shared many adventures, and this whole blog -- not to mention the entire Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads project would not exist without him.

I met Robert outside The Thrilling Adventure Hour on Saturday night, along with my other friend Tom Caton. The two of them made the perfect combo of company, since Robert is a Buffy geek to the bone and Tom has never watched an episode of Buffy in his life. Not that he needs to because he has lived it (as I mentioned in an earlier entry, he was the boom operator on Season 2). Robert, Tom, and I had a lovely time before the show hanging out at a café and sharing stories about life, art, and Buffy. Robert and I soaked up every word of Tom's crazy anecdotes of all things Joss and Buffy.

Needless to say, the night got off to a promising start before the show had even begun. From then on, it was surprise after geeky surprise. Before the actual Thrilling Adventure Hour show begins, there is usually an opening act. This time, it was a band consisting of three guys, all of whom switched instruments, playing a short set of two or three songs. I didn't recognize any of them -- or so I thought. Midway through the first song, Robert nudged me and whispered, "The guy in the middle... is that who I think it is?" I looked at him and got giddy. "Oh my goodness, holy mother of everything holy!" It was indeed Adam Busch-- master of the dark arts, leader of the evil geek trio, inventor of the Buffybot!!! The fact that he just sort of appeared, unlisted, unannounced, made it all the cooler. My wheels started spinning. Ode to Warren, ode to Warren...

The whole show was lots of fun, especially in the company of two people who had never seen it before. There was a rich roster of guest stars, including GILLIAN JACOBS (Community), DAVID FURY (writer, producer on 24, Buffy, Angel), MICHAEL HOGAN (Battlestar Galactica), JUSTIN KIRK (Weeds), and TOBY HUSS (Cowboys & Aliens). And, of course, Juliet Landau did a hilarious rendition of Lady Haiku -- a beatnik super villain who only spoke in the 5-7-5 syllable structure.

After the show, it was a flurry of meat-and-greet. I first sought out the guest director Rian Johnson, of whom I am a big fan. (I remember seeing Brick before I moved to LA and thinking, "I want to watch and make movies like THIS for the rest of my life.) I got a picture with Justin Kirk and spoke with Juliet. It was different this time with her because she really saw me; knew who I was; kept mentioning my Drusilla song to people in conversation. When I mentioned "Ooh, Mr. Mayor," she said, "I'll send the link along to Harry Groener [the actor who played the Mayor]-- he's a friend of mine."

Also, this insanely beautiful thing happened at the very tail end of my conversation with Rian. Out of the blue, Amber Benson approached me and said, "Hey. I think I know you from somewhere." I said, "I don't believe we've met, but I KNOW you. We totally had this awesome casual conversation, which Robert joined at the perfect time just as she was mentioning her novels. And at the very moment when I was describing Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads, who should pop into the conversation but Adam Busch?! There was no way I could have planned such a beautiful moment, let alone imagined it!!!

I left the venue flustered and amazed, but not before giving Juliet Landau a hug and goodbye, way out. Robert and I sat at a diner and broke the whole thing down. It's great to have someone to reflect with when it comes to things like this. My own head was filled with self-criticism and out. Did I say the right things to the right people? Too much? Not enough? (And man, the geek in me wished I'd gotten a photo sandwiched between Amber and Adam since one was the other's assassin! Another time...) Thankfully, Robert was there to point out the positive. "Juliet Landau STOPPED her conversation to say goodbye to you. JULIET LANDAU!!!" He kept repeating it over and over again while we drove on Sunset strip.

Looking at it that way, it is pretty wild. Not too long ago, I was the fan girl reluctant to ask for a photo. Three months, three songs, and 4058 youtube hits later, Juliet Landau is making sure she doesn't miss out on our hug goodbye! I suppose you could say I've come a long way.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Laying it Down with the Mayor

I am exhausted out of my mind from a long weekend of nonstop creativity, which ended with a glorious bang at David Bickford's lovely Laurel Canyon abode. And I'm proud to say that we have laid down a magnificent track for the next Buffy song, "Ooh, Mr. Mayor." Pardon the bragging, but I do believe this is the best one yet!!!

The song is a sort of slinky, jazzy lounge tune sung in the style of Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday Mr. President.” It plays on the idea of a seductive lady making a man with a seemingly wholesome façade admit to having a slimy, dirty, kinky alter ego. I think that it's pretty much in line with Joss Whedon’s intent when he created the character. Here is a guy who claims to be all about family and leadership and good behavior (to the point where he doesn't even use swear words!), and yet he engages in all sorts of extremely unwholesome behavior in which he breaks pretty much every law in the book. So I took that premise and then added a metric ton of sexual innuendos, which is basically what I do best.

David and I had figured out the arrangement last week, which took a bit more time than "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" since the song had a much more complicated melody. I arrived at his place at around 3 PM on Sunday, despite the fact that we weren't sure if we could get the recording done because the power was out in Laurel Canyon. We practiced it, worked out the transitions, and waited. Still no power. So we took a little trip down to the West Hollywood Guitar Center where I purchased a keyboard for $99. It was a very exciting thing, and it will be quite useful when I compose my next round of songs, since I've basically been writing all of the melodies in my head, then clumsily attempting to translate my wacky ideas to David.

The power returned shortly after our little excursion. Long story short, we laid down a drum track, which required some interesting mathematical calculations. We recorded several versions of the piano melody and spliced the strongest parts of all of them. At around 8 PM, we were only partially done, and David looked like he was fading fast. He said, "I don't know if we can get this done tonight. You may have to come back tomorrow." I was really hoping knock it out in one session so we wouldn't have to worry about it later. I also had the inkling that he was feeling incapable because his blood sugar had dropped so I offered to cook him a meal. I foraged around in his kitchen and whipped up a lovely combo of pasta Primavera, arugula salad with homemade blackberry vinaigrette, and pork stew in a tomato sauce. "Once he’s eaten," I thought, "he'll probably have his mojo back." Surprisingly, he successfully recorded most of the track while I was in the midst of cooking. After dinner, we finished the rest of the recording. It took a lot of strange little tweaks to make sure that everything timed right with the percussion and piano. At 1:30 AM, we were finally done!

We were both a little concerned about whether or not the recording was accurate enough. It was the best we could do, given our energy level and the hour. One could only hope that it sounded okay the next day. I've listened to the track probably 20 times today, and to my great delight it sounds AWESOME!!! I'm scheduled to record the next video on Thursday of this week. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whedon Whirlwind

It's been a whirlwind of a week in Whedonland (excuse the alliteration). On Sunday, I found out that my videos had gone viral after being posted on the Joss Whedon Facebook fan page as well as (So far, "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" is at 1622 hits and "You Renegade Vamp" is at 956.) I have been feeling the love from far and wide. I even got a message from two Buffy fans in Sweden! It's amazing how art (and Internet) can link people who are seemingly worlds apart.

It also astounds me how small the Whedon world actually is. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I was working on the set of Make It or Break It -- the ABC Family TV show about gymnasts. One of the crew guys randomly struck up a conversation with me after seeing me breaking out into random yoga, which I am wont to do. As it turns out, his name is Tom Caton, and he was one of the sound guys on Buffy! He told me some really fun stories about Joss and the Buffy set. I gave him a flyer for my videos, and he totally dug them. He even offered to possibly introduce me to Joss!

Meet Joss Whedon – that’s the ultimate, right? Isn’t that what I’ve been striving for? Isn’t that the purpose of this whole crazy fan video project? Theoretically, yes. But in actuality, I’m really not sure. I mean, if we happened to stumble into each other at a cocktail party, I wouldn’t avoid him like a plague of Reavers. But I’m also not jumping out of my skin to meet him this instant. First of all, I’m superstitious that meeting him might jinx my creative mojo, and I’ve got songs to write! Second, he’s like the geek Mecca and I’m not sure if I’ve studied long and hard enough to merit making the Hajj. I guess what it really comes down to is that—given my fan piece, as well as the fact that I have 1° of separation from him from about 50 billion different angles -- I’m pretty positive we will meet at some point, probably sooner rather than later. And when it happens, it will be glorious. But it doesn’t need to be now. For the moment, I am content knowing him vicariously through his dancing dialogue, quirkily crafted characters, and deliciously delightful demons, whose praises I will continue to sing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #5

The whole Buffy-in-love-with-Spike thing caught me totally by surprise the first time around. But looking back at the clip of when he first sees her in "School Hard", I'm like, care to join me in a game of double DUH???

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Flabbergasted Fan Girl

I was just publishing a summary of my blog posts on the Lockitdown website, which I do every week. In the midst of writing the post, I visited my youtube site to get a link for the Drusilla song and found 1200 hits that were not there yesterday!!! And my Spike song had 500 extra hits! As someone who is completely unfamiliar with the world of viral videos, I am positively tingling.

Also, a brief follow-up to the interactive Buffy Thought of the Day #2: The Shakespeare reference in "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" comes from Juliet's line in Romeo and Juliet, "Tybalt is dead and Romeo banished. That banished, that one word banished, hath slain a thousand Tybalts." So I switch it around saying, "That Juliet, that one word Juliet, had slain a thousand fantasies."

Buffy Thought of the Day #4

One of my favorite quotes ever, from the episode "Help" in Season 7. The Scooby gang decides to do a Google search on Cassie, the Sunnydale high student who prophesies her own death. Xander finds some of Cassie's poetry, pointing to it as a sign of suicidal tendencies. Willow promptly rationalizes it by saying:

"I mean, a lot of teens post some pretty angsty poetry on the web. I even posted a melodramatic love poem or two back in the day...You join chat rooms, you write poetry, you post Doogie Howser fanfic. It's all normal, right? (Buffy gives her a look indicating that no, that's not so normal.)"

First of all, did Joss just HAPPEN to be looking through a magical crystal ball predicting his Internet future with Neil Patrick Harris? And second, the fact that this particular episode is based on the theme of prophecies adds a meta- aspect that is simply uncanny.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #3

"Warren's the boss. He's Picard. You're Deanna Troi. Get used to the feeling, Betazoid," says Andrew in "Seeing Red." Excuse me Andrew, but last I checked, Betazoids are a) telepathic and therefore badass and b) totally dropdead sexier -- at least in the case of Deanna and Picard. Even if Picard was technically higher-ranked and-- more importantly-- your type, gives credit where it's due.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #2

First, massive kudos to Jason Miller who correctly named the Shakespeare reference in the first Spike-Drusilla encounter. He got both parts of the answer. First, the red herring: Drusilla says she plants daisies, but everything she puts in the ground withers and dies. Although Joss Whedon is definitely drawing a parallel to Ophelia, it is not a direct quote from Hamlet. The specific Shakespeare quote I was referring to was Spike's line "I'll chop her into messes," which Othello says about Desdemona in Act 4, Scene 1 when he thinks she's being unfaithful to him. The full line is actually, "I'll chop her into messes, cuckold me!" Very different context from the Spike-Drusilla scene. Although, on second thought, it actually kind of resonates given the later love triangle between Spike, Buffy, and Drusilla. (Spike, of course, is the one who does the cuckolding to Dru.)

Now, for the next Buffy Thought of the Day. This one's also interactive: Name the Shakespeare reference in my Drusilla song (including the original quote). This one should be a cinch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #1

True to my word, I am kicking off my
"BUFFY THOUGHT OF THE DAY", to be continued for the next... however long. The first one is interactive:

Name the Shakespeare reference (including play, character, and context) in the very first Spike-Drusilla appearance. Hint: it can be found between 6:00-8:15 of the above clip.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fan Girl Has a Fan!!!

If feelings could be transmitted over cyberspace, you would even now feel me brimming with delight. Three words managed to sneak their way into my youtube comments list: “This is great.” If someone used these three words to describe a chili dog or a roller coaster ride or the latest Justin Bieber single, I could probably care less. But Juliet Landau saying them in reference to my song to her – WOW!!! What a weird town I live in and life I lead where I can be watching someone in rapt admiration on my 14”x20” hand-me-down standard-def TV set (on DVD, mind you, because my broke ass can’t afford cable) and the next thing you know they are praising my work over the web for the world to see! Are you brimming yet? Are you? Are you?

In other news, I have been madly brainstorming my next set of songs. I have some ideas for Andrew, The Master, Principal Snyder, and/or The Gentlemen. Nothing is crystal clear at the moment. It feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle with a corner pieced together here, an edge there, and a big pile of parts that haven’t yet figured out how they’re supposed to fit. I’m thinking I need to “throw my hat over the wall” once again. The gears have been spinning, but some kind of real-world manifestation is in order. But what to do?

Here’s my thought: Buffy Deep Thoughts. One a day, posted to this blog as well as my Facebook feeds. I already have a couple in mind, and now that I’m rewatching all of Season 1, I’m sure a ton more will emerge. This will keep me on my toes and keep the project hot on the front burner.

Also, I’ll hopefully be meeting with David Bickford tomorrow to work out the music for the next song “Ooh, Mr. Mayor.” Stay tuned for more! And brim a little extra on my behalf.

;) k

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This is sooo going on my blog!

I’m pretty sure I said those exact words after stepping away from my photo op with Tom Lenk. It was a brief moment. I went up to him after The Thrilling Adventure Hour show, said hello and told him how much I loved him, had somebody snap a few, and went on my merry way. I did get in a word about my fan piece, for which he already had a flyer. That was pretty darn cool. I guess that means we’d both heard of each other before we actually met!

It was a very interesting evening for me. Fun-filled, delightful, intense. I flyered like crazy before the show, making my mightiest efforts to find the people who would actually be into the piece. It’s always a daunting thing to go out and push your propaganda, but here’s the way I look at it. I’m not asking people for money. I’m not even asking them for very much time – a few minutes of youtube thumb-twiddling. And if they’re excited about Buffy, they’ll be genuinely happy to know. I caught one guy named Joe who looked like he would probably be a Buffy fan. Boy was I on! After I accosted him and got to talking, I noticed a “Sunnydale High School” T-shirt peeking out of his button-down (the very same T-shirt I, in fact, own). It was a wonderful feeling to see people’s faces light up when I mentioned the word “Buffy.” Like a secret little language we all shared.

I noticed Juliet Landau shortly before the start of the show. She seemed to be occupied with other people, and I, in turn, was occupied with how petrified I was to talk to her. Under any other circumstance, I’d be less intimidated to meet someone the second time around. But having just put the fan video up, ironically I felt shy. What was I supposed to say to her? “Hi, I met you a couple of months ago and proceeded to write a love song about a character you played 10 years ago and slap it up on the web for all to see.” What if she hadn’t seen it? What if she’d seen it and not like it? Would that be better or worse than her not seeing it at all?

I found her after the show (which, by the way, was absolutely AMAZING and everybody should go see). As it turned out, she indeed hadn’t learned of my video, since her Facebook site gets rather inundated. I gave her a flyer and told her to check it out. Ice broken!!!

We exchanged a few more words later on in the night. She is an extremely kind and down to earth person. With her, as with the others I don’t know very well whose work I admire and respect, I feel a little bit torn in two. There is the plain-old-person in me who says, “This is a cool guy/gal who is an actor and person just like me.” And then there is the fan girl who is jumping out of her skin with puppy dog delight saying, “They were that… person who did that… thing that was so… freaking… cool!” Which brings me to the essence of my most recent fan song.

“Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?” is all about coming to terms with breaking the fourth wall; the moment when you realize that the gorgeously crafted illusion of a character is … well… an illusion. Of course, a lot of the lyrics were exaggerated. I knew Juliet was American, and not psycho, and – much as it pains me to say so – not actually a vampire. We all know this, on a cognitive level, about the characters we love in movies and TV. But they become so real to us, in a way more real than any actual person, because they only exist in a few intense, carefully crafted moments in which they are boiled down to their essence. Don’t get me wrong, Juliet – along with most every actor I’ve admired from afar – has impressed me thoroughly face-to-face. But in a way, it’s inherently a letdown to meet the person behind the mask once we've fallen so deeply in love with the mask.

So knowing both sides of the equation, how do we proceed? One can be jaded and say, “Why waste time on silly flights of fancy?” I prefer to remain fanciful; to respect and protect the precious illusion; to honor the love story, even if it mostly remains tucked away in a corner of my imagination ... or a box of Buffy DVDs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nitty Nuts and Gritty Bolts

Next entry, I promise I'll wax all political. But first, a bit of the nit and grit.

On Tuesday morning, I released video #2 "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" I'm not saying it wasn't exciting or fun because it absolutely was. But I'd be lying if I said it was easy. There were lots of little steps, all of which involved numerous nuts and bolts, many of which got screwy along the way (pardon the pun). The first video, "You Renegade Vamp", I decided to do quick and dirty. As much as I'm a sucker for perfect execution, it was more important for me to get it on its feet and out into the world. This time around, I decided to up the production value a little. Rather than shoot it on my Canon PowerShot, I waited until I found a cameraman. Being the type of person who wants it all done yesterday, this in itself was a challenge for me. But I had the feeling that recruiting a DP (director of photography) would really pay off. And it did.

I had contacted one cinematographer friend who had not responded. It's a funny thing, though -- as was the case with my pianist, the perfect person found me in the nick of time. Just as I was starting to get antsy about finding someone, I got an e-mail from my friend Kerri Kuchta, whom I know from Scary Cow Productions -- the Bay Area filmmaking collective that got me started on all of this movie madness. Kerri and her boyfriend, Andre Lomov -- also a talented filmmaker from Scary Cow -- moved down to the LA area to pursue careers in screenwriting and film. (Andre didn't have a website so here is the link to my favorite film of his, Smash Grab Therapy.) The e-mail from Kerri, written early Friday evening, said "Andre just bought a camera if anyone you know needs a camera guy." Gee, Kerri, funny you should say so...

We agreed to meet and shoot the thing on Sunday. I went over to Kerri’s Sunday afternoon, thinking it would probably be a 1-2 hour ordeal. (Famous last words, right?) Of course, there were tons little kinks to work out. The camera Andre bought was a Canon 7D which, for any of you who are unfamiliar, is a high-quality digital still camera that also shoots extremely nice-looking video. The downside of the 7D is that it doesn't record very good sound. We thus had to use an external mic and capture the audio via Garage Band. Luckily, Andre had a lavaliere that suited the purpose nicely. Or at least, it would have had it been working properly. For some reason, we couldn't seem to get any sound. We tried and we tried. Nothing. Finally, Andre realized that the issue was with the battery, which had not been changed in 12 years. It was one of small silver disc batteries; not the type of thing you'd have lying around your house. So he, Kerri, and I had to go out and find another one. First stop: CVS. Fail! Second stop: RadioShack. Ding ding ding!

We went back to Kerri's and tested out the mi. It did indeed work, but for some reason the levels were low. "You're going to have to boost the gain on this when you cut it together," Andre told me. Okay, I thought, not knowing exactly what that meant, much less how to do such a thing. But I figured I'd cross the bridge when I came to it. For now, we needed to get this thing in the can before it got too late.

By the time we solved the mic problem, it was already approaching 6:00. The daylight was fading fast. Andre relit the shot to accommodate the change in lighting. In hindsight, the new lighting actually worked a lot better. We added more artificial light to compensate for the lack of natural light, which created some shadows that were highly appropriate to the vampire theme. 13 takes later, the video was done. We copied all of the video files, along with the external audio track, into my computer. As the files were importing, Kerri sang snippets of my lyrics back to me, which amused and flattered me to no end. The video looked beautiful -- a vast improvement from the previous song. I went on my merry way, knowing that my work had only just begun.

After recording "You Renegade Vamp", I really didn't do much besides slap some titles on and upload the thing. Wherefore Art Thou Juliet? required a lot more work. First, I had to sync the external audio with the image. This wasn't too difficult since I had done a clap at the beginning of each take (make a note of that, young filmmakers!). Still, my mind played tricks on me, which prolonged the process. Once that was done, I had to sync the music track to the vocals. Because the lavaliere captures only direct sound, I had to do it completely by feel. This was a bit of a challenge since the rhythm of the music shifted slightly throughout the piece, due to us recording it in a short amount of time without using a metronome. Again, I kept doubting myself. Is the music ahead? Behind? Should I shift the audio a frame forward or back? (This process went on for what seemed like forever in the wee hours of the morning.) Somewhere toward the end of the piece, I realized that my vocals were significantly behind the music, probably because I ended up using the last take (Lucky 13). 13 was by far the strongest performance-wise, but I was also pretty tired by that point and consequently my timing was off. I split the music track, adjusting the timing on the final section. Lucky thing about post-production: everything can be changed.

Now, for a dirty little secret. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but if you guys are hard-core enough to be reading this blog, you deserve to know. As I was doing all the sound mixing -- which involved lots of boring tasks like tweaking the volume levels on each track, quieting the hotspots in the vocals, and fiddling endlessly with the gain (whatever that means) -- I realized that my voice cracked in the final phrase. I was set on using Take 13 because everything else about it was awesome, but I needed a strong finish. Take 9 had the ending I wanted so I cut and pasted the final phrase of Take 9 onto Take 13. It synced up surprisingly well. There is probably no need to feel guilty, since people splice and mix and tweak in the recording studio all the time. In fact, in this day and age, it would be considered peculiar not to. I wanted to have a single audio and video track without any cutaways so that people could see the "real me". Splicing the audio seemed somehow deceptive. But I did it anyway, and I think the song is stronger because of it. I do, after all, want to put my best foot forward. And I didn't actually do anything to alter my voice so for all intents and purposes it's the real, raw me.

Wow, this entry is getting pretty long. I suppose it's appropriate, given the process I went through. Video editing is rather addictive. Once you start tweaking, it's very hard to stop. Even though I was only dealing a single shot, I found endless audio glitches that needed fixing. Finally, when I was through, it took several rounds of rendering to get the perfect compression settings. Each render took the better part of an hour, which meant a lot of anxious waiting around. On Monday afternoon, after long, nearly sleepless night, I got my perfect video image -- or so I thought. Little did I know that uploading AVI’s to YouTube is a very bad idea. I kept looking at the counter on the upload screen, counting down the minutes from 418. At 6pm, I went out to meet a couple friends. According to YouTube, my video still had a few hundred minutes to go. Later that night, Eric Chauvin -- bless his soul -- told me that my video would be YouTube compatible if I made it into a flash file. By Tuesday morning, it was correctly formatted and up on the web. What an ordeal!

Hopefully when you see the thing, it all looks effortless. But for the record, here's how it really went down.