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…