Category Archives: Moments

Night Shift at the Photofinishing Lab

Right after college I had a job at a photofinishing lab on the night shift. My best friend there was a fellow about my age named Pat Louden – he was a history major which was why he worked the night shift at a photo lab. I was a cinema major, which was why I did.

We used to have philosophic conversations in the lunch room at about 2 AM. I once told him I felt like walking up one wall of the room, across the ceiling and down the other side. He looking up and very seriously proclaimed “Don’t trip over the pipe.”

Another time we were speaking of the visions that come in the night and he said, with gravity, “Dreams? I have dreams… (dramatic pause) Sometimes I wake up laughing.

Once, when he was laughing, he accidentally splattered me with saliva, and when I told him he responded, “I should have expectorated that…”When he would walk in I once said, “Ah – the pitter feet of little Pat.

Yes, those are just some of the memories of my nine to five job – nine at night until five in the morning

.Moving on. We’re walking, and we’re walking….From “A Tour of My Mind – The Oily Years”

Miss You, Dad

I had a dream about my dad just a few minutes ago. I was out with Teresa and my sisters and one of their husbands and their mom. We were in Redmond, where my dad lived, and we were all out in the late afternoon for dinner. In the dream, my dad was back home still fighting his cancer. Apparently, we had just left there after a visit.

I suddenly realized there was a voice saying, “hello?” from my pocket. I reached in and found an old cradle-phone hand set that had apparently been bumped and accidentally dialed my dad back at the house.

I picked it up and talked to him, but he was so very groggy and incoherent I had clearly waken him up. The more we talked, however, the more cogent he became until he was back to his normal, very intelligent and charming self.

And then we were both there in the mall where the family was going to have dinner. They were going into the restaurant, and I as with him at a round concrete table along the walk. He was sitting on the concrete bench and I was standing and kneeling down to hear him.

We had a conversation about his medication. He was saying, “You know, the medication is the reason I get so tired, not the disease.” I asked, “Which one?” He said, “No, the other one…”

And then I was waken up by Clarice, one of our cats, who vomited three times in three different place on the bedroom carpet. I leapt out of bed and cleaned each spot.

When I came back, Oak, another of our cats, had taken my place, and I started playing the Simon & Garfunkel song, Cecelia, in my head, “I got up to wash my face; when I came back to bed, someone’s taken my place.”

Since it was already daybreak, I got up. Few minutes later Teresa got up. I told her of the dream. I said, “I’m actually glad Clarice woke me up. I’m sad the dream was interrupted, but if it hadn’t been, I might not have remembered it.”

And as I spoke, I began to sob. I finally told her, “I felt close to him again… It was good to spend a little more time with him…. I miss my dad…. “

No Bikini Atoll

Here’s a personal memory for me about Bob Clampett, the creator of the animated “children’s” show, Beany and Cecil, in which they also included adult jokes such as an island called No Bikini Atoll.

Back in the late 70’s, in my first job in the film biz after film school, I had to deliver some materials from my boss to a company in an office building in downtown Hollywood.

As I went in looking for the location, I passed by an office that said “Bob Clampett” on the door. Being a fan, I decided to drop in unannounced.

I entered the outer office where you would expect to find a secretary/receptionist, but there was no one at the desk. But I could see the inner office door was slightly ajar.

So, I poked my head in, and there was Mr. Clampett, sitting behind his desk. He was pretty old looking – wrinkly face, pale skin, but what set it all off was his dark black pompadour hair that looked as if it was shiny black plastic that had been vacu-formed to his head!

To my knowledge, he hadn’t produced anything in years, and I got the impression that perhaps there was no secretary at all, though I don’t know that for a fact.

I introduced myself, told him I was a fan and that it was a pleasure to meet him. He was very gracious, so I asked if he had any advice for a young filmmaker just starting out.

He said there was just one thing – don’t give up, just keep trying. He said it was a tough business to get into, but once you break down the door your career can start.

I thanked him and departed, not wanting to over-stay my welcome, but as I returned to my car I was both elated at having me him and a bit disappointed by his hair, obviously not natural, which spoke to me of vanity, though I had no proof of that.

Inspired by this memory, I decided to look up Mr. Clampett on Wikipedia, and learned a bit about him, and about why he might have done that to his hair. A good read if you are interested in cinema trivia. Either way, Beany and Cecil is a good watch, so you may want to check out the old episodes.

The Burbank Block

In the 1980s I had my first office in the first brick building in Burbank, built at San Fernando Road and Olive in 1888, pictured here. In fact, I was there for the building’s centennial (which no one celebrated because no one know about it then).

By the time I was installed, it had changed quite a bit. The parapet was gone in an earthquake many decades ago, and the bottom part was now a series of independent businesses, food establishments and the sort.

The upper offices were really cool. Heavy oak doors with transoms and patterned plate glass in them. Much like the feel of a seedy private detective in the 1940s or a railroad office in the old west.

I had found the office because my college friends from film school, Chris Huntley and Stephen M Greenfield had set up their new company there, Screenplay Systems, where they developed and marketed the world’s first screenplay formatting software called Scriptor (for which they both later won a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy (you know, the Oscars).

I recall driving by the building several times on my way home from an editing job in Hollywood and seeing the light on in their office, with Steve visible in the window, cranking out the code for Scriptor on the Z-80 computer he had built himself from a Heathkit.

Steve had previously been the director of photography on the first feature length film I directed called The Strangeness, which you can see even today on Amazon Prime – though none of us get any residuals from it.

Chris was my co-producer and co-writer (along with Mark Sawicki, the first friend I made at USC). Chris, Steve, and Mark were roommates at the time we made The Strangeness, I believe, though I don’t remember if Chris had moved out yet.

I do know that we shot a few of the special effects shots for The Strangeness there at the house in Burbank they were renting together.

One shot was designed to look like a horizontal mine tunnel and a huge ball of fire was supposed to rush down it toward our heroes. Mark and Chris did this by creating a miniature of the tunnel about 2 x 2 feet and ten feet long, and placed it vertically.

At the bottom, they placed a film can filled with hot melted paraffin, then lit the fumes above it on fire, like a flambe. Mark had a camera secured at the top behind a sheet of plexiglass. He’d climb up a ladder, start the camera to shoot extra fast to create slow motion when played at normal speed.

As soon as the camera started, Chris would throw a glass of water on the flaming paraffin and it would explode in a fireball when the steam vaporized and would shoot twenty feet into the air, right past the camera.

We did several takes, at night of course (for best effect) and late so no one would be watching, since we were pretty sure it was illegal. Sure enough, after every explosion, we’d hear the beating of a police helicopter which would fly nearby looking for whoever was creating these fireballs.

But the flash only lasted a couple seconds so we’d just freeze in place with the lights off until it flew away and then set off the next one. Two minutes later they’d be back again, and we played cat and mouse like this for about an hour until we got all the shots we needed.  Fortunately, they never got a fix on us.

The shot turned out great in the movie, by the way, though if you look closely you can see the “rock” walls shudder a bit because they were actually made of industrial thickness aluminum fail, crinkled to look like rock, then spray painted appropriately with dirt thrown on the wet paint to complete the look.

Another effects shot we did there was of a second miniature tunnel where we did stop motion photography of our tentacled monster in the mine.

All the tentacles had to be slightly moved and then one frame shot then moved again, then another frame, and so on. At 24 frames per second, it not only took a lot of time, it was also very complex to keep each of the many tentacles twisting and curling in the right directions. And on top of this, Mark added an animated camera movement down the tunnel during the stop-motion by repositioning the camera slightly after each adjustment to the miniature monster!

I even animated one of the monster shots myself just for the fun of it.

Anyway, Mark and I were the only crew on this, though I think a shot or two was done by Mark’s semi-famous animator friend, Ernie Farino at another time.

This day, we needed to create some fog on the miniature set, but couldn’t use a fog machine because the animation would make the swirls of fog jumpy and ruin the effect.

After much discussion, Mark remembered he had an orange rescue flare from his uncle’s boat. So, just before we started animating, he set it off in the closed garage where we had our miniature.

In short order, the place was filled with an acrid, lung-burning, orange smoke, but it did create the effect we were looking for – a nice even fog.

So, for an hour or thereabouts we hung out in that space, shooting animation frame by frame, then darting out the side door for a quick breath of fresh air before diving in once again.

In the end, we got the shot and it was really good! But, when I got home, I discovered my white underwear had turned orange. Mark told me later that week he had sneezed up orange snot for three days.

I wondered what that might do to my health. Now, forty year later, so far so good. But, to quote John Milius (director of the original Conan The Barbarian film), “Pain in temporary; film is forever.”

That’s a pretty good place to end this memory thread. Later, I’ll start from that same office building and tell you tales of creating my first album of original music there, bringing my kids there after school so I could continue working while I watched them (and the adventures we had), the true to life Mystery of Geppetto The Mole, and many more stories from the building officially known (when it was built) as The Burbank Block.

“Until next time, this is Gary Owens and Morgul, the Friendly Drelb.”

(Google it)

The Beautiful Downtown Burbank Olympics

Back in the early 1970s, my high school buddy Bill Krasner and I decided to have our own Olympic games with things we could actually do.

We got the whole family involved, and made sure there were events that played into everyone’s skills, so each of us was sure to get a medal or two.

I think this medal is from our second Burbank Olympic games because the first time, the medals were just aluminum foil covering Super 8 movie film reels. Yeah, I know. This medal is mylar self stick paper on some pre-cut wooden shapes I found in a craft store.I

think Bill won the gold medal for Chess that year (which is why you see the silver medal here, recently unearthed from one of my memento boxes). My grandfather always won the gold medal for Pool, as he had a pool table back in his patio.

Strangely, T and me are now living in that patio, and the pool table (with 3/4″ genuine slate bed – from Sears!) is stored on its side back in T’s workshop – which is the 2 1/2 garage my grandfather built in the back yard when he turned the original one-car garage into a car port.

He also built two enclosed patios – the first one was smaller, flimsier, and not as elegant. So maybe it was that first patio we had some of the Olympics in, not the second patio (built on the same space) that we are in now.

Either way, we all played and had fun striving for the medals as Mickey Mouse as they were. So, just seeing this silly little item among the thousands of other items of recollection, made me smile, as it always does, with fond memories of great times with many who no longer remain, and those few of us who were there and still are now.

P.S. The words on the “medal” say “Beautiful Downtown Burbank Olympics.” Back in the day, a “cool” and “with it” variety show called Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, began to refer to the location here as Beautiful Downtown Burbank, which was an inside joke since downtown hadn’t gotten a face lift since the 1930s and wasn’t very impressive at all.

Of course, all us residents latched on to it when the phrase went national, and people from around the country came here to see the place. I’m sure they were underwhelmed. Nevertheless, it was our claim to fame, and so we named our Olympics after it and proudly put it right out there for everyone to see on our medals, where it remains to this day.

Eye of the Beholder

True story:

I was about 3 or 4 years old. Went to my mom with a picture I had drawn in crayon.

Me: Mommy, does this look like a cow?

Mom: Why yes, honey. It looks exactly like a cow.

Me – Screaming and crying as I ran from the room: “It’s an airplane!!!!”

Back story – I had been drawing the other room and my grandfather came by, looked at the picture and said, “Nice picture of a cow.”

Belaboring the Big Picture

From my archives:

It’s 10:30 in the morning on Sunday, February 5, 1995. And a phrase just occurred while I was attempting to reupholster two chairs that have gotten really ratty in the living room. “Necessity is the mother of frustration.”

I think I finally got a handle of why people get frustrated with me or upset with me when I’m trying to explain something in great detail.

To me, every little detail is important to understanding all the nuances of what’s going on, but other people get frustrated because they see the big picture before I finish filling in the details, and that’s all they care to know about it.

Of course I know this from our Dramatica theory of story structure. We talk about how, as an author, you should just put an outline around a story and eventually the audience gets it without having to fill in all the details. But I keep going trying to fill in the details that are so important to me personally, just like now.

I told all this to my daughter and I could see she was getting frustrated by it as she looked at me blankly. So I said, “I just went through all these details and explained how it all worked. Doesn’t that make sense?” And she said, “Sure it makes sense, just shut up.

A poem written by my daughter when she was 10

The Earthworm

by
Mindi Dawn

I had, I had an earthworm
To squirm, squirm, squirm
It was for my plant
It’s name was Ant
It dimmed the light
It died that night
It was doomed
There was a boom
It had nieces
We picked up the pieces
We put them in a box
We used a lot of locks
I had, I had an earthworm
To squirm, squirm, squirm