Friday, December 31, 2021

Am I a Picky Eater?

 If you know me, then you probably think I’m a picky eater. The biggest thing you have to overcome is that I don’t eat meat. I haven’t eaten meat in over 20 years. I can’t give you an exact date or time when I decided to stop eating meat. It was a natural progression.

Growing up, Saturday night in my family was steak night. My dad would usually cook the steaks outside on the barbeque grill. It was Texas, so unless it was raining there were only a few weekends in the year when the weather was too cold for grilling outside. I don’t remember ever having a steak. I just remember hating steak.

Since it was steak night and the meat was being barbequed, it didn’t take long for my parents to stop buying steaks for me and instead buying chicken breast. Slathered in enough barbeque sauce and cooked to being charred, I could usually force down a small chicken breast, although sometimes it became an episode of Let’s Make a Deal with me convincing my parents I had actually eaten enough of the meat to not drop dead from a protein deficiency.

I remember eating hot dogs and bologna when we lived at our first house, so before I was 12 or so, but at some point I jettisoned those items from my diet. I was sent to elementary school with a bologna sandwich in my lunchbox and would convert it into either a mayonnaise sandwich or a potato chip sandwich once I was at school and it was time to eat. I pulled a lot of slices of bologna out of sandwiches in my youth, throwing them in the trash at school. If you gave me a hamburger from a fast-food place, I usually pulled the patty out after a little over half-way and refused to eat another bite of it.

When I finally moved into my own apartment, in my early 20s, meat was not allowed in the house. If my mom came to visit, she could buy meat for herself but it had to all be gone by the time she left, or I was throwing it away. I think for a few visits she thought just by leaving a bunch of meat in my refrigerator I’d feel guilty and eat it after she left. Well, she gave up on that fantasy pretty quickly.

I don’t understand the vegetarian who adds meatless meaty things in their diet. I don’t like meat. I don’t understand meat. (I think the world of animals and have trouble convincing myself that any animal would taste good enough to justify killing it.) I don’t eat meat. I’d rather have a hamburger bun, tomato, lettuce, onion, ketchup and cheese without a Beyond Burger than with one. I will order a hamburger without the meat at fast-food restaurants and sit-down restaurants alike. If I’m eating a veggie burger, I want the patty to be made of recognizable vegetable parts with the consistency of vegetables.

Other than meat, I can’t stand peppers. This goes for anything called a “pepper” ranging from a bell pepper to a jalapeño to a peppadew to the black pepper you might crack over a salad from a comically large grinder. Again, this was hard for my mom to understand. She’d buy pepper when she would come to visit and if she was cooking, I had to remind her not to put any pepper in the food until it was on her plate. If there is black pepper in my food and I bite into a piece of it my meal is pretty much over. My mouth is on fire and I can’t taste anything else.

I am one of those cilantro people. If I order something in a restaurant and don’t realize it has cilantro in it, I’ll spend the meal wondering why the kitchen doesn’t rinse their plates and utensils better to clean off the soap residue. Disgusting! I’ve never been eating something and thought to myself, “This would be improved by a little drop of dish-washing liquid.”

Beets taste like dirt. Brussels sprouts make me want to throw up. Green beans? Yuck.

I don’t know what got me to researching the topic, but somehow I found myself looking at some articles about “super-tasters” and reading comments from these super-tasters. Aside from super-tasters supposedly not liking sweet foods, like cake and cookies, I fall into the category. I’ve never been tested, but it would explain a lot.

As the articles all go on to explain, super-tasters don’t have an edge over normal-tasters or non-tasters. It has nothing to do with having a good palate. They/We are tortured by food to some extent. Things taste supercharged. So yes, beets taste like dirt. Cilantro tastes like soap. Coffee, although it smells good, tastes terrible and I’m not going to try to get past that.

We like our meals to be “bland.” We avoid hot sauce and spicy foods. A trip I took to an Indian restaurant with friends a few years ago turned out to be a terrible decision on my part. There was nothing there that tasted even remotely edible. I felt terrible for making my friends feel terrible that there was nothing but rice for me to eat. And at a Japanese restaurant, I’ll probably eat rice. At any restaurant known for their flavorful, exotic cuisine, I’ll probably just eat rice. (I love rice.)

Bland food isn’t bland to us. It has a lot of flavor. I like acidic foods and sweet foods. I love balsamic vinegar. A caprese salad is one of my favorite things to eat. I go through lemons like they are going out of style. I’ve developed a taste for kalamata olives, but don’t try to feed me a green olive. I can taste the differences in bottled water and, by the way, Dasani water should be illegal to sell it tastes so bad.

I’ve recently been trying to incorporate “an apple a day” into my life, to, as the saying goes, keep the doctor away. As part of this, I’ve tried changing up the apple types I buy. Some of them, even when they are advertised as sweet, are so bitter to me that I can only manage a few bites before the apple goes in the trash.

If you love hot sauce on your foods, you probably are a non-taster or on that end of the spectrum of taste. It doesn’t mean you don’t taste anything, it just means you need a lot of help with your food. You need hot sauce. You need spices. You need pepper. I don’t.

I’m not a picky eater, food just tastes different to me than it does to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

December Book Report and Some Thoughts on the Year: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris


The collection of essays, Me Talk Pretty One Day by humorist David Sedaris, starts with a story of how in elementary school he was taken out of classes to attend speech therapy sessions. Rather than having his speech corrected, he worked around things by expanding his vocabulary to avoid the words with the “s” sounds he was deemed to be not good enough at. What follows are essays woven around the loose theme of talking/speech, presented in (from what I remember) chronological order, following his upbringing in North Carolina, his young adulthood in New York and his adulthood in New York and France. The tendency to choose different words as a workaround for speech problems continued into his adulthood. Rather than learn the genders of words in French, he would order things in multiples, since a “la” or “le” word transforms into a gender-neutral “les” when pluralized.

I found the book to be enjoyable, but largely forgettable. I was most interested in the stories about France, where he would give literal translations of things he tried to say in French and how the sentence structure was different and sounded juvenile in English. But the way he only presented the English end of the translations left me wanting to hear him say the thing again in French. When he talked about his first trip to France where one of the only words he knew was “bottleneck,” I longed for him to tell me the French word for “bottleneck.” Looking it up, Google Translate offers three different choices. Was he saying goulot? I’ll never know. And this is the kind of thing that really bothers me.

There were sections where I laughed, which is a pretty good endorsement, but sitting here today, I can’t tell you where those sections were or what they were about. I’ve forgotten them.

I didn’t actually read this book, I listened to it. It was read by the author. His voice, if you haven’t heard it, is similar to Droopy Dog from the old cartoons. A little southern, a little lispy, a little depressed. It was fine, really, but it drew attention to itself. For a book called Me Talk Pretty One Day, having the voice of the reader be another character in the stories works. A friend who adores David Sedaris was a little miffed that I told her my book report wasn’t going to be an overwhelming lovefest. She adores him and would listen to him saying just about anything. Sure, I feel this way about David Mitchell (the other one) and Richard Ayoade, but I do not share the passion for David Sedaris. I guess I need an English accent along with the whine to really enjoy it.

As far as the production goes, some of the chapters in the audiobook were recorded live in front of audiences and music was added in places, as chapter bumpers and during the live readings. I found this a little jarring.

Did I love it? No. Did I hate it? No. I’m sort of indifferent. If my friend said, “This other book is so much better. Listen to that one!” I would consider it. But I’m unlikely to seek out another of his books/essay collections on my own. It was whatever.


Anyway, I’ve finished my New Years Resolution of a book a month. Yay, me! What have I learned from this experience? I think I already knew it, but just reinforced that I actually hate reading, but I love books. Holding something with ideas inside, looking at the covers, smelling the pages…all great. Filling bookcases? Love it. Going to a bookstore? Love it. Finding a book with a cover drawn by Edward Gorey and adding it to my collection? Love it. But actually sitting and reading a book one of the worst things you can ask me to do. I guess that’s why it took me 10 years to edit my own novel. The idea of sitting down and having to read the thing was torture. Listening to books is better than reading them. But did I “enjoy” it? No. If I had, then the extra books I still have in my Audible library wouldn’t be sitting there, unlistened to. I actually finished this book in November and since then I’ve spent maybe another 30 minutes listening to a book. Knowing I was done and that I just had to write up the book report lifted a weight from my shoulders and no book has enticed me since then.

I’d like to blame my job for my disliking of reading. For work, I have to read a lot of screenplays. Sometimes I have to read a screenplay because of the continuity I’m writing and sometimes I’ll take work proofreading them. Reading = Work. For relaxation, I’m much more likely to put on a record. Listen to music. Practice piano or guitar. Write my own stuff. Do some crocheting or make some jewelry. Dig up weeds in the yard. Pull out my pastels and make some art. Sometimes I can put on an audiobook while I’m doing those other things, but just as often I’ll put on music. Or talk radio. Or a podcast. Or I’ll start the series of QI running at A and let it go. Background noise. A book isn’t background noise. It demands attention and mostly I don’t want to give it that attention.

Next year, my resolution will not involve books or reading.

Monday, November 1, 2021

November Book Report - Agatha Christie “Cards on the Table", a Hercule Poirot Mystery © 1936

 This month not only did I listen to a book by Agatha Christie, but it is available as an episode of the TV series Poirot starring David Suchet, so I watched it, too.

The title of this book, Cards on the Table, refers not only to the idiom of putting ones cards on the table (meaning to be open and honest about something) but to a game of bridge. A mysterious man who likes to dress like Mephistopheles, Mr. Shaitana, decides to hold a dinner party where he invites four sleuths, including Hercule Poirot and his occasional companion Ariadne Oliver (portrayed on the series by Zoe Wanamaker), and four criminals. Mr. Shaitana has learned through gossip that the four criminals he has invited are, in fact, murderers who have never been suspected of the murders they have committed.

After the meal, during which Mr. Shaitana baits the murderers with hints about the murders he knows about, the dinner guests break into two groups for bridge, with Mr. Shaitana sitting the game out by the fire. The murderers play their game in the room with Mr. Shaitana while the sleuths are in the next room for their game. Sometime during the course of the night, Mr. Shaitana is murdered. The sleuths have been out of the room the whole time, so it falls on them to learn the dark secrets held by the murderers and determine which one of them was able to murder Mr. Shaitana, without the others noticing.

I made the mistake of watching the episode before I finished listening to the book. This lessened my enthusiasm to finish listening to the book, but I did. There are some notable differences between the book and the show, the main one being that on the TV series Mr. Shaitana is a hobby photographer who has taken pictures of most of the murderers (maybe all, I forget) and the police detective who is in the sleuth group. There are no photographs of importance in the novel. This was added entirely for the TV show.

Two of the characters, Anne Meredith (murderer) and Superintendent Battle (sleuth), are changed from the novel as well, with Anne Meredith being more sympathetic and Battle being thrown into the suspect category.

There are other changes to characters, but not as notable to the story revolving around them. I will say that I adore Zoe Wanamaker’s performance as Ariadne Oliver on this and other episodes of the TV series, and would love to see a spinoff series of Ariadne Oliver solving crimes. Ariadne is much more likeable on the show than in the book.

Up until the very end, I wondered if the TV show had also changed the identity of the murderer, but it didn’t. The novel just makes a very convincing case for a different character which the TV show didn’t follow through with in the same way. The murderer also has his motive heightened for his original murder in the TV series. I’m still not sure from the novel why he did his original murder. If I heard the reason, I have forgotten it.

The audiobook was, like with the other Christie novel I listened to, read by Hugh Fraser. He is excellent at this and makes the characters come to life, doing all sort of accents and pitches with his voice. I enjoyed this story more than the last Christie one and infinitely more than the mystery from last month.

Somewhere (which means on Facebook or Twitter) I recently read about how mystery novels differ from other stories in that the detectives are not expected to have any character growth over their series of stories. They are only expected to be interesting and competent in solving mysteries. It got me thinking about Poirot, Miss Marple, Agatha Raison, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo and others. True. They don’t grow and change as people. They solve crimes and they do it the same way, which is what the audience finds so satisfying. They start off as interesting characters and the reader/viewer wants to learn more about them, not to see them grow and change. Anyway, I thought that was interesting and worth pondering.

Anyway, this month’s book is one of the better ones from the year. Oh, and I should mention that I basically know how to play bridge (my dad never let anyone else keep score, so I can’t do it), so that part of the plot wasn’t confusing for me. It might be for you if you are not familiar with bridge at all.


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ruth Allen Sings English Music Hall Songs (Mostly)


Ruth Allen was born on January 20, 1929.

On October 26, 2021, I asked her to sing some songs for me. She’s 92.

Here’s what she sang:


Fred Earle, Frank Carter & Gilbert Wells


R.P. Weston and Fred J. Barnes

 FIVE EYES (1922)

Poem by Walter de la Mare published in 1913


Fred W. Leigh and Charles Collins


Harry Lauder


Fred W. Leigh and Henry E. Pether


Irving Berlin


Maurice Abrahams, Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie


Ruth Allen

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #8 Post-Production Coordinator


Above is the video with what I ended up saying. Here's the script I wrote with what I thought I was going to say:

Post Coordinator

Job Description: A Post Coordinator is basically an assistant to the Post Supervisor on a feature film or TV show. As such, the duties of a post coordinator might change depending on which post supervisor they work for. I’m going to go over the various things I did as a post coordinator, but this might not be representative of all post coordinator jobs.

First, let me explain that there are three broad phases of production - pre-production, production and post production. Post production can actually start during pre-production, before production, lining up schedules and booking people so that as soon as the first second of film is shot, it has somewhere to go to keep the workflow moving.

When a feature came in, the first thing a post supervisor does is set up a schedule for the post production process. As a post coordinator, my job was to actually create the calendar as the post supervisor threw dates and times into the air. We used Movie Magic Scheduler, but something like Outlook is just as good for this. For example: shooting starts on Oct. 1. We need the editing room ready to start that night, with an assistant editor coming in at 10 pm to start digitizing the dailies. The film has a 2-week shoot. Then we’ll give the editor another 4 weeks to get the “editor’s cut” finished. Then we’ll have a few weeks of notes and the director’s cut will be due another 3 weeks after that. Then we’ll have producer’s notes and the final cut will be due two weeks later. Sometimes these dates are also backdated from a release or festival, or include preliminary versions be completed and ready to go to festivals.

So while the post supervisor is saying these things, I’m looking at a calendar, noting which days are weekends, when we don’t want things delivered, if there are holidays in the middle of the schedule where we’ll need extra time. I’m making suggestions and adjustments to the calendar to accommodate these dates.

Then the post team will need to help set up vendors for various parts of the post production process. Some of these things the post supervisor handles directly, like negotiating rates on mixing studios, including time for ADR. The post supervisor probably has people they like to use and often will get deals on low-budget films with the understanding that when a bigger project comes up, they’ll take the work to the same place in exchange for the favorable rates. But some things, like getting bids from different companies for things like dailies processing, main and end title creation, or reaching out to composers for sample reels or talking to sound effects companies for rates and catalogues, the post coordinator will handle. Ultimately, the PC doesn’t make or agree to any deals, but they will ask for lots of bids.

Once the bids come in and the PS has negotiated them, the post coordinator might be asked to send out deal memos and purchase orders for these services.

Once editing is in progress, the PC will interact with the assistant editors and editors, getting copies of cuts as they progress, like the first rough assembly and then updates once they are substantial. The PC will get copies from the editing room and then make sure that all of the important people (director, producers, PS and others) get copies of those edits of the film.

The PC might also be asked to go to different sessions near the completion of the film, like color correction sessions or screenings of silent versions of the film, looking for any errors in the edit - like black frames that shouldn’t be there or flash frames, where an editor accidentally leaves one frame of a shot when they thought they deleted the whole shot. In the days of negatives, you would go to screenings after the negative was cut to make sure that the assembly of the picture looks right. Sometimes the film gets flipped during the negative cutting or something from a wrong scene gets put in. Hopefully there is nothing to catch in these screenings, but the boring job of watching a movie several times will fall to a PC.

Like the name says, there is a lot of coordinating involved with post coordinating. You spend your day making phone calls and sending emails, checking on the progress of various people who are working on a film and updating the PS to let them know if everything is on schedule or if there are problems bubbling up somewhere.

I was also a post coordinator on trailers, so a lot of the same things were done on a much smaller scale. I would book narrators, dealing with agents, and prepare narration scripts for them, attend the narration sessions and make sure that everyone had the materials they needed when they walked into the room so there was no delay in them getting right to work.

Story time: There was one movie where we were doing the Post and that included making a trailer for some event, like a film convention or festival. The director of the film wanted a narrator who sounded like Gary Owens from Laugh-In. As I’m telling this now, that might not be exactly right. Anyway, he wanted someone who could imitate a well-known voice. I called an agent who represented several voice over artists and told them that our only requirement was someone who sounded like Gary Owens. I was assured that the VO artist they were sending over could do it.

Cut to the audio booth with the VO artist in there and come to find out they could not do a Gary Owens voice. Terrible! My fault, even though the agent had clearly lied to me and had set their VO guy up for a failure. The VO artist offered up some of the other celebrities he could impersonate and the director reluctantly chose one, but it was a bad situation for all of us. So, I guess the moral of that story is that agents lie.

How do you get this work and what does it lead to:

I got the job by getting hired on at a small post production company where I was just thrown into it. I actually worked for a month or so for no pay, to get experience, and was then hired full-time.

Funny story about how I even got the unpaid job. A friend of mine was dating a guy who randomly talked to someone. That someone had a friend with a post-production company. The friend’s boyfriend got me a lunch meeting with the guy with the friend and the guy with the friend got me an interview with the guy with the company. Convoluted! But it worked out and I got the job.

I wanted to be an editor, but in exchange for getting to learn how to use an AVID and editing and assistant editing a few things, I had to work a full week and the work available was as a PC. I got low pay, but training and experience.

The best thing to do if you want to be a PC is to find a PS who is looking for one and hope they like you. If they work, you’ll work. So even though working on movies is a short-term job, the right PS will have several movies booked at once, essentially making for steady, full-time (+) work with them and for them.

If you are interested in being a PS or a producer, this is a good foot-in-the-door kind of job. Or if you like to work on films and want to stay in a lower pressure position, this is a good job for that. You don’t have the same pressure to keep the schedule moving as the PS, and as long as you don’t make any big mistakes you will have the opportunity to continue working for the PS as long as they have work. Eventually you can work your way up the ladder to be a PS on your own and the skills a PS has are an excellent transition to being a producer. Obviously, I didn’t not pursue this avenue, but I saw it there.

What kind of person is this good for:

This is good for someone who isn’t shy about talking to strangers and negotiating deals. So, someone pretty much the opposite of me. Outgoing and energetic people.

If you can get really passionate about movies that you don’t have a big creative say in, you’ll do well here. I just couldn’t get on board

The downsides:

Shortly after I got the job at the PP company, I was informed I had to come in over the weekend to do something. Everyone had to work that weekend (all 5 of us), but pizza would be provided. I thought it was a joke.

The biggest downside for me was the long hours - on salary. Although my record for working a 33 hour shift with only short breaks to eat was technically while editing a trailer for Cannes, it was at this PP company. The hours were terrible and the work made me miserable. My boss had the habit of having nothing for me to do for an hour or two before it was time to leave for the day and then just as I was about to turn off my computer, he’d come in and throw something on my desk that needed to be done that night. It was extremely frustrating, because it was usually because of him being disorganized that he didn’t get the work to me sooner and that I’d be stuck at the office until 8 or 9 at night.

It just wasn’t a good fit for me, but if you like to work hard, are organized and like dealing with people all day, this could be a good fit for you.

The pay:

Unfortunately, I was paid on salary, so I didn’t get paid for overtime, and there was a lot of overtime. At the time I started, I got $300/week. This was in 1997, so adjusted for inflation that’s still only about $500/week. Minimum wage was $5/hour, so at $300/week I was over that, at $7.50. But I was taken advantage of. If I had been paid minimum wage, I would have earned more than $300/week with the amount of overtime I was expected to do. When a man started in the same position just a year or so later, he started at $350/week - because he was a man. Someone else came in with more experience as a PC and insisted on getting paid $750/week, which is decent pay and would now be around $1250/week. She was given that rate, so clearly the company could afford it.

But that’s just what happened to me. I worked almost entirely in independent films, which had much lower budgets than studio movies where hopefully the pay is better.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I always discourage people from taking salary jobs, because it has never worked out for me. It is a way for the company to screw you over. But if they pay enough and you don’t mind working long hours, go for it.

If you get a job at a post-production company, it will be a regular full-time job. Otherwise, you’ll be more like a freelancer but going from one long-term assignment to another.

If you have any questions about what else I did as a post coordinator or what movies I’ve worked on, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos, about all the different things.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Perfume Ranking - Fragonard's Garden


Here I rank the fragrances in Fragonard’s Garden line. And for those who don’t want to watch the video (although it helps me if you play through the whole video), here’s the list, in order:

1.     1.  Bigarade Jasmin

2.      2. Tilleul Cédrat

3.      3. Jasmin Perle de The

4.     4.  Grenade Pivoine

5.      5. Rose Lavande

5. (joint) Encens Fève Tonka

6. Héliotrope Gingembre

7. Rose Ambre

7. (joint) Santal Cardamome

I’m not sure if that’s how they should be numbered, with two ties in the ranking. It doesn’t match up with what I say in the video, either. Sorry.

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Friday, October 15, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #7 Assistant Editor

 Here's the video:

Here's the script I wrote with what I thought I'd say:

Assistant Editor

Today I’m talking about editing video and film and not editing words, specifically being an Assistant Editor.

Job Description:

An assistant editor’s job might vary from project to project, but basically anything the editor doesn’t want to spend time doing, the assistant editor will have to do. Since I did this in the “olden days,” most of my knowledge has to do with working on film and not necessarily remaining all digital. The workflow on an all-digital show will likely be different.

On a movie, after the shoot day the “dailies,” the video or film transfer (version of the film on tape or digital format) of everything that was shot that day will be sent to the editing room. Depending on the schedule, this material could arrive late at night and it is usually expected that an assistant editor will be available to load everything into the computer and make sure that everything looks correct before the editor arrives at 9 am the next morning to start the first assembly of the film. Part of making sure that everything looks correct is making sure that the time code/footage numbers on the dailies are being correctly read by the editing computer.

The film editor will start working on the first assembly of the film the second day of the shoot, once the material from the first day is available in the editing room. During this first few weeks of production, while the movie is still being shot, the editor will work days and the assistant will work when the editor doesn’t - which means nights. There might be more than one assistant editor, depending on the needs of the production.

Once the shoot is over, the assistant editor should be able to transition to a better schedule of not just working nights. The duties of the assistant while the editor is working on the assembly could be significantly reduced. They might be asked to not come back until the editor has his first cut done or close to done, or they might be asked to hang around to just do whatever the editor tells them to do.

Some editors might ask the assistant to sort the digital film clips a certain way or to do some of the rough assembling of scenes so the editor can focus on making more nuanced choices.

Once the first cut is done, the assistant will be responsible for making sure that whoever needs to view the cut of the film is able to. This could mean setting up screenings in the editing room, making DVDs to send around to producers, or maybe nowadays setting up a secure on-line viewing experience.

The assistant might also be asked to provide materials to different actors who would like something for their reel. So an assistant might sit with the film and just pull out scenes that a specific actor appears in and then create a file or tape for that actor.

On projects which finish on film, there might be some special effects which will be created per the editor’s instructions and which the assistant will then need to replace in the cut of the movie on the editing system so that the effect film is referenced on the edit decision lists instead of the dailies numbers.

Once the final cut of a film is determined to be locked, the assistant editor really takes over and makes sure that all of the instructions for the negative cutter are correct. This could mean watching back a cut of the movie and verifying the in and out time of every shot on the edit decision list. It is tedious work and one mistake could end up costing a lot of time and money. Luckily, it is rare that the EDL will have a mistake, and if one does show up, it means something at the start was done incorrectly.

You might also be asked to sit in and make some changes to a cut if like the editor and director get into a fight. You’ll be a button pusher for the director while the director explores their ideas the editor refuses to entertain.

How do you get this work and what does it lead to:

I got this work by interning (working for no money) at a post-production company where I told them specifically I wanted to get into editing. I did a lot of different things at the company and they started paying me after about a month of working for free, but I was a little surprised to find out I was an assistant editor on a project. I was doing something for a particularly grumpy editor and asked to not work with him. That’s when I was told I didn’t have a choice but to work with him because I was actually his assistant editor on the project in question. I just had to deal with him.

If you know someone who is an editor, you can ask them if they’d be willing to let you assist them on a project. You should also get some editing software and work on building your skills on your own so if you see an ad which requires some basic understanding of editing software, you are able to apply knowing it isn’t a total bluff.

Some editors will also be encouraging of their assistants and let them edit segments on their projects, helping get them on their way to being an editor and not an assistant.

You should also consider working on some low or no-pay student films to get some experience.

What kind of person is this good for:

Night owls! If you don’t mind working long hours, alone, in the dark, then you’ll be prepared for the first part of the job of making sure the work is all loaded into the editing computer. You’ll need to organize the files also, so you’ll need to be organized. And when I was the assistant I also had to do a fair amount of tech support. If something malfunctions with the editing computer or software, the assistant gets to troubleshoot it and maybe spend hours on the phone with tech support instead of the editor doing it. Eventually I knew a lot about how to troubleshoot AVID problems and for the most part no longer needed to call tech support to solve the problems which would pop up.

You should also have an easygoing personality and not take it too personally when an editor is rude to you, because they will be rude to you. It’s easier to blame an assistant editor for a mistake than to accept responsibility.

The downsides:

You’re sort of down on the list of important people, so are likely to be treated poorly or overlooked, even if you have good ideas on what is or isn’t working in a particular scene.

The pay:

This can vary from literally nothing to really good. If you can get into the union and work on union jobs, you’ll be doing great. A quick internet search shows that the union salary for an assistant editor on a big studio movie is over $2000/week. And because it will be in the union, there will be protections that non-union projects won’t have as far as abusing your time.

If you can get yourself booked most of the year, you’ll earn a good living as an assistant editor. You’ll most likely be working project to project, so you might go for long stretches without work. But you could also get booked onto a project that lasts several years.

If you can get a job at a post-production company, like I did, it will be a regular full-time job. Otherwise, you’ll be a freelancer going from one long-term assignment to another.

If you have any questions about what else I did as an assistant editor or what movies I’ve worked on, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos, about all the different things.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

October Book Report - The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal by Lilian Jackson Braun


Since I enjoy a good mystery, I decided to try out one of the “cat who” series books by Lilian Jackson Braun. I had no idea how to select a “good” book from the series, so I just picked one that had a good rating on Audible.

The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal was published in 1991, something I didn’t realize until just now. The first “cat who” book was published in 1966 and the one I read was the 12th in the series. There was a big gap between the first three novels and the next, from 1968 to 1986. For some reason, probably because I’ve spent so much time with Agatha Christie in the past two months, as I listened to this book I imagined it was set in a much more distant past than the 1990s. The setting of a small town helped with that illusion. I don’t recall there being any talk of computers or mobile phones. The internet wasn’t really a thing yet and mobile phones didn’t really become a regular thing until the late 1990s. As a result, it didn’t matter that I pictured the story being in “the past,” like anywhere between 1950 and 1970.

I don’t know what I expected of the titular cat, but I was a little disappointed in the cats and their involvement in the crime solving. I know cats can’t solve crime, but the little hype I had heard about these novels led me to believe the cats would be more integral.

Once again, I listened to this story and didn’t read it. It was read to me by George Guidall. I did not enjoy his narration. The lead character in the story, Qwill, is a man. The reading for the men in the story was fine. It was each time the narrator had to voice a woman that I would drop out of the story. He voiced all the women as snippy and short, and I can’t believe they would all have been written that way.

By this time in the continuing story of Qwill, he has two cats, not just one. The original cat Koko is still with him, but now has a companion Yum Yum. The story reminded me in many ways of Murder, She Wrote. It is set in a small town and the focus is just as much on the quirky cast of characters as it is on the murder which has taken place. Perhaps after reading several books I might be more invested in the characters, but with just one I didn’t find them all that likeable.

It isn’t even worth talking too much about the plot, which was fine but not compelling. I’m not saying to avoid the series, but this one wasn’t that great and certainly not the best introduction to the series. I don’t think all of the titles were available on Audible, which limited my options when picking which one to listen to. And some of the comments indicated that on the 2 for 1 offers on Audible the books were abridged versions, which I didn’t want.

Anyway, another one done and two more to go for my year of books!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #6 Writing Audio Description


If you wondered what I thought I'd say, here it is.

Audio Description:


Today I’m going to talk about writing audio description. This is something required since 2010 for a set number of hours of broadcast material on the major networks. Meaning that lots of TV shows and movies have to include AD whether they want to or not. Details of the law can be found by searching for the 21 Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Since this is required by law and not something TV shows and movies elect to do, it often has very low budgets and the quality standards can vary. Some larger companies will include AD in their budgets as an incentive to get more higher paying work from clients. So like if you hire us to do all of the dubbing and subtitling, we’ll throw in AD on your project for practically nothing.

What is it?

AD is a spoken track on a TV show or movie which provides audible information to explain action for visually impaired consumers. Just like with closed captions for hearing impaired, there is another track you can access on your TV which will play the AD alongside the original program. Since this hasn’t been a requirement for very long, there are still some variations in how companies approach the writing of the AD.

Basically, you go through a TV show or movie and create placeholders between the dialogue where a narrator will have time to talk. Then you go back through and put in descriptions of the action in these gaps between dialogue and sound effects. After you write the AD, you need to go back through and actually speak the words, since it doesn’t really matter how great your writing is if no one could reasonably say it in the time allowed. Because you have to speak out loud, or at least mumble the words quietly, this can be annoying to your coworkers if you are in an office and not working from home, but there’s no way around it.


Here’s a brief audio description of some video shot around my house.

Orange feral cat Trapper and grey tuxedo feral cat O’Keefe sit on a table chomping on cat treats. House cat Hot Lips plays with a rock on the ground and then scratches herself. A pink hibiscus flower sways in a gentle breeze.


The companies I know that do this work are looking for writers - meaning they are looking for people who identify as “writers” and they are probably actively hiring right now. Since I haven’t been on the hiring end of this, I’m not sure how they determine someone’s writing skills. Also, since the written document is eventually going to be read, I would imagine they wouldn’t be sticklers for things like exactly correct grammar which are needed in some of the other English jobs, like DL and SL creation. And since this is targeted to native English speakers and not going to be translated, there is more leeway on writing informally and using slang terms than there would be in documents given to translators.

Tests and Training:

I trained to do this for one company. They required 4 days of tests, including reading of guidelines documents and watching examples. Since the four days didn’t have to be sequential and you had to wait for feedback after each day of testing, for me this spanned about a month of going back and forth to get ready to be hired for my first project.

I was recommended to the head of that department by a former coworker, but I imagine you can find job listings for AD writers and just apply.

The pay:

So. I did one episode of one TV show - still as sort of a test, but this time I was getting paid and then getting feedback on my work. For me, the pay was atrocious. It didn’t even matter how good or bad my work was, there is no way for that pay rate that I could justify accepting a second episode. This was pre-pandemic, but I think even with the loss of steady work during the pandemic, I couldn’t afford to do this.

Part of me feels like I let the company down or left them thinking I couldn’t handle the notes or adapt my writing style, when really I just couldn’t do this and afford to feed myself and my cats. If that was my only choice of work, I’d go back to answering phones at a temp job, pretty much anything else I could figure out.

Now, I’m not saying this will be the same experience for everyone. If you can afford to get through the training - for no money - and can hold out with the extremely low-paying work long enough to get really fast at writing the AD, this might be a good job for you. As with all freelance jobs, you are paid for the project and not based on how long it takes you to do. If you can devote a whole week to making $200 for several months at a time, you might be able to eventually get your speed up to the point where you can do that amount of work in a day instead of a week, even though there might not be enough work to then keep you busy for the whole week. At least it won’t be a tremendous waste of your time. Or, if you can get a staff job writing AD it might work out better where you would then be paid hourly.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: I’m going to go on a little tangent now, though. In California, there was a law called AB5 which went into effect in 2019 which has really messed up a lot of freelance work vs. full-time work. The law was meant to target companies like Uber and Lyft, to force them to give better pay and benefits to drivers, but it has ruined the lives of many other freelancers. It left a lot of companies with two choices about freelancers - either everyone who does a certain job, like writing AD, needs to be freelance, or they all have to be staff with no freelancers doing that job. Or, maybe, if there are a few staff people they can hire freelancers as long as the freelancers don’t reside in California. So I’m not sure if there are many staff writing jobs for AD left and if there are, they might be limited to part-time only. I really don’t know, I just know that AB5 has not helped anyone.

So, my advice, if you can find a full-time staff job doing this, it might be worth it. Otherwise, it is a lot of work and training for, at least in the beginning, a non-living wage.


The downside for me was the pay. Just not worth it for me to do more than the one job. I should have asked the pay during my training time, but didn’t and got stuck having to do a job that made me feel cheap and unappreciated.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: And, I just have to add this rant, one of the notes repeated during training was to not use the verb “to be.” If you’ve taken a screenwriting class, you know this usually means “don’t write in passive voice, avoid verbs ending in -ing.” This turned out to not be what they meant. The person who proofread (and changed every line I wrote) on my one and only assignment, added lots of words which ended in “-ing,” but literally didn’t put the “to be” conjugation with them. So instead of saying something like “The rabbit is jumping and grooming its ears,” it would say “Jumping, the rabbit grooms its ears.” I found this note to be contradictory and it really bothered me. I will always have a problem with this and hold a grudge.

Wrap up:

So, AD writing is out there, and because it’s the law, it will continue to be out there. And it might be something you would excel at, it just wasn’t a fast enough fit for me for the money.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - episode #5 Writing Creative Letters

 Here's the latest video on writing Creative Letters. Below the video, I'll post the script I wrote if you want the highlights without watching the video or if you want to see how different the actual video turned out from what I thought I was going to say.

Creative Letter Writing

Hi. I just wanted to start by saying that if you notice I’ve been a while between posts, I will often put something on my community page to let you know what’s been going on with me and why I haven’t been posting much.

 Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about writing something called a “creative letter.” This is another job in the International Versioning Department, and is used for dubbing.

The name is a little bit misleading. When you write a creative letter, you aren’t being very creative. You’re writing a technical document which assists in the casting of voice actors in foreign countries for the dubbed versions of the film.

A creative letter is an aggregate of a lot of information taken from the dialogue lists which have already been created with the addition of other items. If you are hired to write a creative letter, you should request a previous one to use as a template of how that client wants the information presented, so you aren’t starting from scratch.

The creative letter will include some basic information about the film - like how long it is, the main cast from the end credits, and links to the IMDb page and any official sites for the movie. There might also be some technical information, but that will be supplied by the client - like how they want the dubbed files returned to them and what casting approval might need to happen before voice actors are hired.

The most creative part the creative letter writer needs to write is a synopsis of the film. On some projects, this can be surprisingly difficult. The synopsis doesn’t need to go into all of the details of a movie, but it should cover important plot and character points. A synopsis can range between one paragraph and two pages.

 After that, the creative letter is divided into sections which include things like a list of the characters in a movie, the actor playing them, the actor’s credits, the actor’s age and the character’s age and then a description of the character and a description of the character’s voice.

The most difficult part of creative letter writing is describing the vocal qualities of the character. The description needs to include those vocal qualities which have to do with the character and differentiate them from the vocal qualities inherent in the actor.

For instance, is it important that a female character has a deep voice? Is she mistaken for a man over the phone? Or is it just that Emma Stone is the actress and she happens to have a deep voice?

So in a role like Emma Stone in Cruella, the creative letter would include a note that when Estella is acting like Cruella she intentionally lowers the tone of her voice, as if they are two different people. You wouldn’t necessarily need to note that Estella has a deep voice, but rather that there is a tonal change when she is in one persona or the other.

These character and voice descriptions are written for each character thought of as a “main” character. Sometimes that means even if a character only appears for five minutes, they need to have a section dedicated to them. Other times, a character who appears more frequently might be a side character and not require this information. The client can help guide the writer about which characters they expect to get this detailed treatment.

The CL then goes on to include word counts of how many words each character speaks - so the dubbing supervisor can estimate how long to book each actor into the dubbing studio. Every character who speaks in a movie will be included in the word count list, whether they speak 2000 words or just grunt one time.

The creative letter will also then include a section detailing any words or phrases which require special attention when the move it translated and dubbed. This might be something like a catch phrase that needs to be said the same way each time a character says it, or it could be alliterations which should be preserved during the translation. This is up to the discretion of the CL writer, although the client will often weigh in if they feel something has been overlooked.

The CL will also include a list of all of the on-screen text in a movie, because some territories might decide to have a character say the text rather than putting up a written translation of it. Like if someone is reading a letter and in the OV it is just shown as the letter, it might be read in a dubbed version instead of having text added to the picture.

There will be a list of songs and something called “ditties” which will have specific instructions from the client. Often if a song is by someone famous, that person has agreed to sing the song with the understanding it will not be replaced in the foreign dubs. So if someone like Selena Gomez stars in a movie and sings, you might have permission to dub all of her speaking but be contractually obligated to subtitle when she sings, leaving her voice and vocal performance in. This is information the client will give you but it needs to be in the creative letter.

A ditty is a song which doesn’t require full lead sheets. Maybe someone improvised something sing-songy and it doesn’t matter if the person dubbing it sings the same notes or key or anything, just that they sing those words or lines.

 That’s the basics of what goes into it.


Let me put up a little example of what some pages of a creative letter might look like.


The best creative letter writings I’ve worked with are professional singers. They are more in tune with hearing different vocal qualities and describing them. You don’t have to be a professional singer, but you need to have a good ear.


We didn’t test anyone in this job.


As far as training goes, it seems like there are two paths to learning this. If you find someone who writes creative letters, you can try to offer to help them out in exchange for them teaching you how to write one, or if you are in an English Department and have the opportunity to proofread CLs, if you are self-directed in your learning ability, you can figure out how to write them and then offer your services to the department.

The pay:

This is definitely a freelance thing and not enough money to pay your bills like a full-time job. Think of it as an enhancement. The CL writers I’ve known were also something else, like a dubbing supervisor, voice teacher or a loop group lead. Or they might be a member of the English department who gets to do this in addition to other things, like DL and SL creation. On the plus side, you will sometimes luck out with a very easy assignment.

There are sort of three categories of jobs.

The first is short things, like a trailer, TV spot or Interstitial will all pay the same. An interstitial would be something short which appears like on commercial bumpers or DVD bonus feature, so if you get an interstitial which has one line, you will get a good payday.

Then there are short films. They require almost as much work as a feature or TV show, because they will have a full run of characters. For instance, there are a few short films based on the characters from Frozen and Tangled. Luckily, the features were already done so a lot of information could be reused from those CLs, but had they not been done already, the labor involved in creating the CL would have been similar to a feature, for less pay.

And then there are features and TV series. Features and TV series pay better, but they require more work and have tight deadlines.

Features will also usually require a first version, for higher pay, and then revisions when new versions of the edit are done. The revisions are usually pretty easy and mostly just require updating word counts and text lists, since it is rare that new characters would be added between edits of a film, but they will have a very fast turnaround, of like one or two days.

TV series are usually very involved for the first episode, but after that the dialogue list editors will probably handle making any updates themselves, so the CL writer will not be hired for more than the first episode and maybe a few updates as characters are added or removed from the series.

I asked my friend who wrote CLs for a long time what she liked best about the work and here’s what she said.

1. Got to see new movies early

2. I found the input pleasant.

3. It allows you to use your ears, and training to describe voices, i.e. pitch, timbre, intent.

4. the Synopses were hard, but taught me to be a better writer.

5. I liked working with my boss!!!!


I didn't like to intense deadlines. I didn't like picky (client).  It got hard having to do all the subtitles as well.  I didn't like the grind, but LOVED the money!

Wrap up:

So, writing CLs is something you might be interested in adding to your arsenal of skills, but don’t expect this to be your exclusive full-time job. I don’t know of any companies that have someone on staff who just writes creative letters.

 If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

MAC 2021 Lunar New Year Lipstick Collection and Beauty Blog Rant

 Ross currently has MAC lipsticks which were part of the special-edition release for Lunar New Year 2021. I don’t know how your Ross handles cosmetics, but here’s what mine does… They used to keep them in the jewelry counter, but I guess that got to be a little annoying for employees, so they started putting them in locked clear boxes. You can see what they have and what it costs, but for things like lipstick, which is in an opaque box, you might not have any clue what the color actually is. At least this gives you confidence as a buyer that no one has tried on the makeup or accidentally left the lipstick extended while putting the cap back on. I guess maybe you can ask someone who works at the store to open the box so you can check the colors, but if you’re like me, you don’t want any interaction with people while you are out, even if it saves you some trouble and money by having a better idea of what you might buy.

 But this is the modern age! I saw these lipsticks and knew I was interested in them and took out my phone. Surely I should be able to quickly determine what colors they were by searching through beauty blogs. Surely…

 A few videos popped up at the top of the search, but I didn’t want to start watching potentially long-winded vlogs in the middle of Ross. The information I needed was just a list of color names, a picture of the color and maybe a description of the color to help me assess how good the pictures/my phone screen were representing things. A few blogs popped up, but they were so overrun with ads and pop-ups I struggled to even find if they really were about the lipstick I was looking at. Seriously, I understand wanting to make money from a blog, but at the point where you have an ad for every sentence or picture, you’ve lost readers and are NOT HELPFUL!

 One blog, which had the most useful information (which I only found after leaving the store and searching again when I wasn’t pressed for time) looks like it was Google translated from another language. The names of the lipsticks are all slightly off, but since I did do a blind buy on two of the lipsticks on my first outing, I could confirm that they were sort of accurate in their descriptions with a fairly simple puzzle of what the names of the colors were.


Turn Up Your Luck was listed as “Turn Up Your Rack,” a vibrant bright red.

Luck Be a Lady was listed as “Luck Bee Lady,” a smoky brown red.

Brickthrough was correct, but spelled as two words, a dusty rose.

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving was listed at “Healthy, Wealthy and Sliving,” a true red.

And Playing Koi was mistranslated as “Playing Carp,” losing the pun in the name, a vibrant orange coral.


Despite all the words I’ve used to express my dismay at how bad beauty blogs are, my thought here was to present a better version of the beauty blog about these lipsticks. Starting now.

MAC Cosmetics has released a limited edition set of colors for 2021 Lunar New Year. Packaged in vibrant boxes with graphics of goldfish on the colorful tubes, the lipsticks are available in five colors in the “powder kiss lipstick” formulation. The packages on all of the colors are identical.


Brickthrough is a dusty pink:

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a traditional blue-red:

Luck Be a Lady is a brownish red:

Playing Koi is a bright orange coral:

Turn Up Your Luck is a bright pink-red. (I’m listing them in alphabetical order and they appear in this order in the pictures.)


The powder kiss lipstick formulation has a sweetener in it, so when you lick your lips you get a rush of sugar. They are also infused with a sugary vanilla fragrance. They glide on smooth and are weightless to wear. The color intensity deepens as you swipe back over your lips each time. Here I’ve swiped the colors on my arm. Each one has been applied twice - once lightly and once going back over it several times - so you can see how they darken with repeat application.


For my personal preference, I’ll be wearing Brickthrough the most, as a solid everyday color. I’ll wear Luck Be a Lady the second most, when I want something a little more intense, although the brown in it does lean a little bit to the orange side. For some reason, when I allow the girls at cosmetics counters to put makeup on me, putting me in an orange coral color is their favorite thing to do, but I’m unlikely to wear the orange/coral Playing Koi. I’m also unlikely to wear Turn Up Your Luck, since it is just a little too bright pink for me. Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a solid blue-red. For those out there who like a red lip, I think it is a winner. Maybe if the pandemic ever gets under control enough that I go out again, I’ll wear Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving for that extra drama of a red lip.


MAC no longer carries these limited-edition lipsticks, but you can currently (September 2021) find them at some Ross stores, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find them on websites like eBay for a while.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - September Book Report

 If there’s one thing I love, it’s a cozy mystery -- British preferred. I have seen every episode of Murder, She Wrote several times. I can watch Columbo episodes again and again. Agatha Raisin? Loved it. I’ve seen all of Poirot, Father Brown, Miss Fisher, Shakespeare & Hathaway, Rosemary & Thyme, Queens of Mystery and others. Not all of them work for me, but many do. So for my next book, I decided to not go for another memoir but to try a mystery novel instead.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a Poirot story by Agatha Christie, published in 1926. I got the audiobook version, read by Hugh Fraser, who happens to play Captain Hastings on Poirot. He did a terrific job of reading/performing this story, including doing a good Poirot voice.

A couple of things stuck out to me in this novel. First, I must have read it before. Actually read it. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. I’ve only read maybe three Agatha Christie novels, millions of years ago, so I thought it would be unlikely that I would select an audiobook of one of those that I’ve read, but that’s what happened.

If you’ve ever read any Agatha Christie, then you will know that guessing the murderer is nearly impossible. She withholds vital information until the very end, or introduces a new character at the very end. One of my favorite movies, Murder by Death, has a speech near the end about the frustration of reading stories by a writer like Christie. I found a copy of the speech online, which might not be accurate, but you get the point:

“You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.” -- Lionel Twain

That sums up my experience. So when I watch an episode of Poirot or Marple, I don’t try to figure out who did it. That is an impossible task. I just enjoy seeing the detective at work. Christie is a good writer and reading or listening to her work is enjoyable.

The second thing that stuck out to me was how easy her stories are to adapt to TVs and movies, which is probably why they remain so popular. The novel sounded almost like someone reading a screenplay. The dialogue was complete. The characters were complete. The locations were visual and the story was engaging.

I tried to find the TV version of this story, but for some reason it isn’t available on the subscription services I have, and I don’t want to pay extra just to watch it. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now that’s where I’m at.

Overall, this was a great title to listen to while pulling up crabgrass in my yard, and I’m leaving the door open to listening to more stories written by Agatha Christie.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Gina Yashere: Cack-Handed: A Memoir - August (Audio) Book Report

The past few months I’ve been listening to a lot of the podcase RHLSP (Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theater Podcast), where comedian Richard Herring interviews other (mainly British) comedians. Part of the appeal of that podcast is how terrible Richard Herring is at interviewing people. Another part of the appeal is that a lot of the episodes have video with them, not just audio, and can be watched on YouTube. A few of the interviews I’ve watched have been Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, David Baddiel, John Oliver, Alex Horne, Robert Webb. All men. All very successful in comedy. All graduates of Cambridge.

Looking at the list of Cambridge graduates you will also find Richard Ayoade, Jimmy Carr, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Peter Cook, Hugh Dennis, Simon Bird, Hugh Laurie, Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Sandi Toksvig, Olivia Colman and Sacha Baron Cohen. It seems like if you want to get into TV comedy in England, the fastest way to do it is by attending Cambridge and joining Footlights. Privilege and money seem like a shortcut to success.

After hearing so many of these identical stories, I was looking for something different. Didn’t anyone struggle? Didn’t anyone have to really claw their way up based only on their talent and not their luck? Sure, these people don’t have perfect lives, but not everyone starts at the same place. The Cambridge people started ahead and it isn’t too surprising they stayed ahead and will finish ahead.

Gina Yashere started behind. Her parents were from Nigeria and there was no free ride. As soon as she started working, in her mid-teens, she had to start giving part of her income to her mother (her father was gone by then) to help with the household expenses. Her mother hustled to keep the family together and to provide the best she could for her kids. And part of that meant her kids were going to be professionals.

Gina Yashere was slated to be the doctor in the family, but dissecting a frog ended that dream. She had to pass the doctor job onto a younger brother and became an engineer instead. But her heart wasn’t in it. A fortunate turn of events with work, leading to a few months of no work but with pay, allowed Gina to explore her creative side and that’s all it took for her to not go back to being an engineer.

Her memoir, Cack-Handed: A Memoir, tells the story of her life and how difficult it was to break into comedy in the UK. The racism and exclusion she experienced there led her to move to the USA where she has become a success with the TV series she writes and stars in, Bob Abishola.

But that’s the happy ending, where she is now. The book is about how she got there. An abusive step-father, a half-hearted suicide attempt, fights at school, moving around a lot, and being the outsider.

The chapter headings are all based on Nigerian sayings, and they are a delight. Here are a few:

A snake can only give birth to long things.
Going to church doesn’t make you a holy person any more than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.
If you sleep with an itching anus, you will definitely wake up with your hand smelling.
However hard a lizard does a push-up, it will never have an alligator’s chest.

It was a refreshing change to hear the story of someone normal, without the access and connections of a white man from a good family, who was able to make their dreams come true. Gina shows the outcomes that are possible through hard work, talent, determination and never questioning your own worth.

If you don’t know who Gina Yashere is, there are lots of clips of her on YouTube and as of this writing, two of her stand-up specials are available to stream on Netflix.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - episode #4 Writing Continuity

Here's the video:

And here's what I thought I was going to say:

Job Description: Today I’m going to talk about writing continuity. This is the job I currently have!

If you work in an English department, this might be part of your job, but most companies like to hire freelancers to do this. Even if you don’t have to write the continuity itself, you will still need to know what it is. You will probably have to assemble a CCSL (combined continuity and spotting list) at some point. Most English departments hire outside freelancers for the continuity writing because it is time consuming and the members of the team will have other tasks which are more pressing with tighter deadlines.

I use the job title “continuity writer.”

 What is continuity?

Continuity is a shot-by-shot description of the complete action of a movie. Occasionally a trailer will also require continuity. And yes, every shot. Most movies average around fifteen hundred shots, but I’ve worked on a few movies which have had over 4000 shots and some with under 500 shots. It just depends on the editing style and genre. Action movies, superhero movies and some comedies will have higher shot counts while dramas and actual horror films, not slasher, but like suspenseful horror films, will be on the lower end of shot counts. Although you never know for sure.

Though the continuity focuses on the main action, it will include any text which appears on screen, including details about signs even if they are in the background and more atmospheric than something the viewer needs to read, as well as including descriptions of action in the background or information about new locations to help set the scene. Once background action is described, it can be left out of subsequent entries in the same scene so that the entries can just focus on main action.

Since the continuity will be placed with the dialogue and spotting lists, no mention of dialogue gets included in it. You might occasionally include notes about sounds, like if a doorbell rings or something, but in general you could write the continuity with the picture muted and still include the majority of what needs to go into the it, because it’s just based on what you can see.

Why continuity: The CCSL document gets sent to the library of congress as part of the official paper record of a film. It can also get sent to some territories where the translator technologically can’t access the film as easily as some other places. So the translator can read the CCSL and have a more complete understanding of the film than they would otherwise have just from the dialogue list or spotting list with annotations if they can’t easily access picture.

On independent films, they might not even know why they are writing a CCSL with continuity, they will just have been told it is a “delivery requirement,” meaning that a larger company will not consider buying the small film unless this document has already been created and paid for by the original production company. Usually, these are not as thorough as one created by an English department.

Example: Here’s an example of some continuity I’ve written for a short documentary a friend and I have been working on. Usually the client will provide a list of shot in-times, which can then just be spot checked while working, so you are only responsible for the writing part.

Or, here’s a sample of some continuity I’ve written for some shots around my house.

For the actual writing part, the entries contain a screenplay-like slug line each time the location changes. The slug line includes whether the scene takes place inside or outside (INT. or EXT.), where the location is, usually from large to small. Like a scene of me sitting here might start with INT. Tujunga / Camille’s House / Main Room. Then the slug line includes a general term for time of day, usually either day or night, although dusk and dawn are sometimes used if it is important to the plot. Then normally the shot framing is given- which is a description of how close to the subject of the shot the camera is, I’ll explain a little bit more about this later -  and finally a description is written about what action happens in the scene. It could be as short as MCS - Camille, or more involved, like MCS - Camille. She sits in front of a scarf-draped piano which has vases of flowers and various knickknacks on it.

Then repeat with the next shot until you reach the end of the movie.

If you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, imagine the big fight scene near the end when all of the Ultron drones fight with the Avengers. That’s what continuity writing can feel like. You are an Avenger fighting a seemingly never-ending parade of killer robots. And working on that movie gave me one of my mottos for continuity writing which is “fight the robot in front of you.” You can’t spend your time thinking about how many shots there are still to write in a movie. It becomes overwhelming. You just write one entry at a time, chugging along, until eventually you will reach the end.

Qualifications and Tests: Just like with other jobs in or for an English department, you will probably have to take some kind of English test, although if you worked with one company as a freelancer and someone from that company moves to a new company, you might not have to take the tests and will get the work just based on your work history and past relationship.

I’ve never had to take a test specific to continuity writing. If there is a test, it will be the same general English proficiency test used for the rest of the English department.

Training: As with most things, you are unlikely to get a lot of training. You’ll will be given an example document, mostly for formatting, and probably there will be some kind of guidelines document detailing how to write continuity. I have written some of these guidelines documents and always include a page with stick figures to show what different shot framings look like for my preference.

At the first company I worked for in Hollywood, which was literally in Hollywood, I spent one Christmas span writing continuity on an independent film called Palmer’s Pick-Up. This was in the before times when digital storage was outrageously expensive and 2-gig drives were the size of shoeboxes, so I had to use a ¾ inch u-matic machine to play the video, with a TV monitor attached and then write the continuity, inputting time codes by hand, on a computer in Word. I don’t think I ended up doing the whole movie, just as much as I could get done as the only person in the office during that slow time of year.

What kind of person is this good for: The hardest part of the job is that it is repetitive and tedious. If you are the kind of person who likes to do intricate hobbies, like beading or painting, or assembling jigsaw puzzles, you are starting off with a good temperament for it. When I worked in an English department and hired the freelancers to write the continuity, it wasn’t uncommon to have people get hired for one or two projects and decide it wasn’t for them.

The reason I learned how to write continuity for real was that our freelancer (Hi, John!) decided he had had enough of continuity writing. We didn’t have another person lined up who could take over, so I jumped in. The first project I did in this more professional capacity was Shark Boy and Lava Girl, and I put in way too much detail, which John then had to proofread and critique. It can take a while to figure out just how much detail to include and when it is too much and really distracting from the important information of the scene. So there is a little bit of a learning curve to figure out how much is the right amount of detail to include.

The downsides: The biggest downside is how tedious this is. If you can get past that, then the next obstacle you might encounter is the turnaround time. If you are very slow at this, or just can’t handle doing maybe 500 or more shots in a day, then you could run into trouble with the deadlines. Usually there is at least one day per reel on a project. A trailer, which is short, but probably 200 shots, will also have about a day turnaround time. On some projects, that might not be enough time. Animation is particularly difficult and time-consuming, so extra time on animated features is always welcome. I recently finished an animated project which ended up with over 80,000 words of continuity. That’s the size of a short novel, in case you didn’t know. And on action films, one reel might have more than 1000 cuts, so getting through that quantity of entries in a day can be difficult to manage, so extra time on action films is also helpful and should be considered when accepting a job.

The other downside is that each year it seems like more companies decide they don’t need continuity anymore. So the pool of available work is dwindling and I do worry about what will happen when all the companies decide they no longer require full CCSLs on their movies.

The pay: I’ve managed to work as a freelancer who primarily writes continuity since late 2013, so for me it is enough money to live on. Again, the pay can vary greatly from client to client and often isn’t enough for me to accept a job, especially from smaller companies without big studio projects. I’ll occasionally take one of those jobs if I have free time on my schedule, but if that was the only level of work available, I couldn’t make a living doing this. Also, there are only enough projects for maybe 2 or 3 full-time continuity writers, so there’s a small pool of people who do this work and who can do enough to make it their primary source of income. In other words, the work is not abundant enough for a bunch of new people to get into this line of work.

Wrap Up:

So, to wrap up continuity writing isn’t hard, but it is tedious. Perfect for me! And I don’t need any more competition from you.

For the people who just nod when I tell them what I do for a living, I hope this has helped explain it a little better than when I try to give a quick explanation in casual conversation.

 Just one more thing you probably didn’t know was happening behind the scenes in the movies.

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