Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Look at those cavemen go!

Day two of the "Life on Mars" shoot on my front step.

On the way out the door I heard a grip say "In the old days I was a vinegar guy, but you know you catch more flies with sugar than vinegar."

Leaving aside the question of why you're trying to catch flies -you know what draws them best? A big pile of dung.

If I want to catch flies, that's what I use.

I guess that's why he's one of 45 people on a TV shoot, and I've got the "blog" going for me.

It does bug me a little that some tiny cable show can run location sets staffed to the gills for several days and animation crews get jack.

The most successful TV show in human history isn't even made in the United States. It's not like Fox is scraping by to produce the show -without The Simpsons the Fox Network may not exist today, but its still treated like a pair of Nikes when it comes to production. Would NBC allow Seinfeld to make his entire show in China?

Well, probably. But that's a human rights issue. It's better for some pre-teen to work as a gaffer than to pick through coal dust 200 feet underground.

The tight purse strings for animation in comparison to live action isn't just for "big shows". It runs throughout television. Actors get residuals- animators do not. Writers get residuals -unless its for animation.

An animated show always has the potential to reap larger corporate profits than any live action show. Spongebob, Rugrats, Dora, the dog from Blues Clues -any of these have pulled in way more cash for Nickelodeon than Pete and Pete combined with Amanda (unless they did a webcam- then maybe there'd be competition).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hollywood at Home

Last Monday morning I plodded down the six flight of stairs at 8 am to find a filming crew milling about my building's lobby.

It's not unusual to find people milling about the lobby, but this was the first time an AD was shouting at them to listen up so they can get started.

They were shooting a TV show I've never seen (but have heard of) called "Rescue Me." I imagine the show has a killer horn section.

This weekend, NO PARKING signs went up for a three block radius with my building as the epicenter.

This morning they were shooting a TV show I've never seen (but have heard of) called "Life on Mars."

I wonder if a location scout lives in my building and saw me getting stopped by the police for walking across the street and thought, "take a look at the law man beating up the wrong guy..."

Fontella Bass, David Bowie -gives me hope that my TV show "Accidents Will Happen" will get a network green light.

This was the first animation that I found interesting as a kid. I didn't like cartoons, but I loved Elvis Costello. When I saw this on a VHS tape at the age of 11 or 12 it was like kissing a girl for the first time (which I wouldn't experience for a couple years -so I guess necking with Dr. Brady was like watching a music video).

This video was directed by Annabelle Jankel and Rocky Morton. Apologies for the video quality -I didn't upload it!

Seeing it again now, after working in animation for 15 years -it's even better than I remember it.

Interesting how the style borrows heavily from artists who's work I would later discover and love.

I guess this is why some people grow up watching "Tiny Toons" and draw peanut-headed cartoons and others are drawn to the work of George Griffin and Jeff Scher and Robert Breer.

Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow, indeed.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Here's a story I was just reminded of, I offer it up for a light Friday afternoon read.

About ten years ago we had some clients in from Texas. We like to take out-of-town clients to steakhouses (even though I'm vegetarian), but these folks were from Houston -so they know steak.

We figured we'd take them to Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station for the atmosphere then hop over to the Oyster Bar (even though I don't drink alcohol).

We pass the bar on the way to our table and there's Slowhand sitting by himself with guitar in case beside him.

I point that out to the client (pretty much the most exciting thing for an out-of-towner is to see a "celebrity" -what great hosts we are!) and the guy becomes noticeably disturbed.

After a minute, he tells us he has to say something to Clapton. A few years earlier he lost a young daughter and that "Tears in Heaven" song helped him and his wife tremendously. He just needed to say something.

So the client kicks back a whiskey, screws up all his courage and starts to walk over.

He gets about 5 feet away and the guy at the bar says with a lilting English accent -"I'm not him. Just stop there."

The moral of this story is there's some guy with an accent that looks just like Clapton and walks around with a guitar case out there. So watch out. It may actually be god, explaining the confusion in the late 60s.

Next Time: How 6 guys tried to get money off me when their van "broke down" by claiming to be Spyro Gyra!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Termite Notification for Future Generations

Last year U. K. curator Mel Brimfield asked our friend Carla Rhodes to make a video for an election themed installation.

A few dozen artist contributed pieces which were voted on by gallery-goers. Carla asked us to help her make her piece. Not surprisingly, it won- the only victory I've felt since those halcyon "Best Actor" days of the early 80s Fire Prevention Play competitions.

This year, Mel was putting a show together for The Collective Gallery's show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and once again asked for a contribution.

Carla roughed out a script, came in one Wednesday night and we had a finished piece the next day. Most of the takes we used were off-the-cuff improvisations.

We wanted/had to keep it simple. One camera angle, two focal lengths. That makes cutting a lot harder, but it was a fun challenge.

Cecil is real-to-wood vaudeville dummy. Carla is an actual 21st Century ventriloquist.

The Golden Record show is still running. All you Scots should go Robert the Bruce on it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

birds, ipods, death and more!

If a bird chirps in one entry of a "blog", and you shill ipods and National Geographic specials in others shouldn't they all wind up in the same room with a loaded gun by the third act?

On the ride in, with my ipod on shuffle, a bird song came on which I proceeded to repeat until walking through the door of the studio moments ago.

Back when I worked at The Ink Tank I would get a little jealous when I'd see something like this. Why didn't they call us? I could've done that better. Back then I got paid the same whether the budget was $200,000 or $20,000 so it didn't matter to me.

Now, with age and financial responsibility I'm happy to see other people making good work. Neko Case's "Maybe Sparrow" video was made by Paul Morstad and his sister Julie and we couldn't have done it as well as them.

Because I'm not all that smart, I've never been shy to call up or to write brilliant people. Once at The Ink Tank we were giving a first English edition Brecht's Die Hauspostille as a wedding gift to a German and American couple. "We should get it signed, let's call up Eric Bentley." Sure enough, R. O. Blechman pulls out his mammoth rolodex and there he was under "B" in individuals and under "translators" in categories. I called him, he was more than happy to inscribe the book. We sent an intern up with the book (for some reason I couldn't go) who returned with the impression that Mr. Bentley was a little too fond of him. I suggested he give up animation entirely and see where this new life path took him.

After seeing this video, I dropped a note to the director, Paul Morstad. He's a nice guy, and I hope to work with him some day (note to lurking ad executives- you can make this happen!).

At Christmas 2006 I gave my father a copy of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood for which this song was recorded (and The Handsome Family's Last Days of Wonder). He had begun treatment for Lymphoma earlier that month and would succumb to it nine months later. Hearing this song on the subway, on my walk down 28th Street I can only think of him lying there in the hospital slowly fighting for every breath while this song spun on the CD player. What images projected through his mind? Did he exit life in a dream with little birds flying over his shoulders as beautiful voices beckoned him into darkness?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chalk Talkin'

This is a picture-minded age. Science tells us that the eye registers impressions 22 times faster than the ear. When the eye and the ear are simultaneously and harmoniously engaged, the mind gives undivided attention to what is presented.

This accounts for the instantaneous success of the "talkies". The same principle applies to cartoons and the comic strips- forerunners of the talking motion pictures of today.

Sometimes I start off a class with this quote.

It comes from a postcard that was lodged in my 1920 First Edition of E. G. Lutz' Animated Cartoons.

The postcard is a response mailer for Duane Roberts from Buffalo. There's no date, but given the 2 cent postcard postage, that would date it from between 1952 and 1958. Pretty late in the game to be touring the vaudeville circuit.

From his photo, you'd think Mr. Roberts was running the Boston-Syracuse route in the 1920s with his double round collar and tie pin (the double round went out of fashion in the Depression). Its no surprise that a man with sartorial leanings towards the antique would choose to spend his life in a calling that time forgot.

Even without a trace of knowledge on Mr. Roberts or skill as a talker and draughtsman, I'd confidently guess that his shows -even if they weren't popular, packing the house -were loved by everyone who attended.

There's a magic to watching someone draw. You see images form out of void and grow into fully realized objects. It's the grandeur of creation produced before your eyes.

This is the great appeal of our Naked Campaign series -to see that the magic of illustration has a hand behind it makes it, somehow, even more mystifying.

R. Sikoryak did a "splatter paint" talk at a show a couple years back, telling a complex story that ultimate resolved on a pop art Bushmiller Nancy. I can't recall the story, but the rapture of the moment, the feeling of excitement that something was being born has stayed with me.

How many people were similarly transfixed by Mr. Roberts Sunday afternoon sessions? How many other lone men traveled town to town with a board and an easel drumming up meager paychecks with a quaint and forgotten art?

(above and upside down) "ONE PICTURE is worth ten thousand words". Is that what the Chinese writing says? Did Mr. Roberts create this logo? Did the artist resort clip art? Why a Chinaman? Did he pre-sage the Beijing Olympics? Or were his lonely nights dining under neon "Chow Mein" signs in strange towns imprint themselves so deeply on his soul that his most free and private work couldn't shake the image of Fu Manchu and his long finger jabbing into his heart?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I enjoy following most sports. You can't reach me on a Sunday in November -and it's not because I'm praying (unless it's for the Cowboys to lose). Why is it that I don't care about the Olympics?

Is it the rampant cheating?

Is is the soulless fakery?

Is it showboating of millionaires over guys who may likely be tortured if they lose?

In any event, as a patriotic American, the Olympics mean one thing to me -the chance to make a buck.

Our friend Steve Kerper sold six "Olympic Minute" scripts to Comedy Central for their Atom Films website.

We knocked out all six in less than four weeks (including voice record). Accordingly (and according to budget) they're all motion graphics. But the artwork, done by my former student ZEES, is nice. I hope to someday actually animate his work.

The voiceover by Dave Kolin is good too. He did everything in one take, with second for "back up" and only one or two third takes. Dave was partners with Kerper on their HBO show "Hardcore TV".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

... is the word!

A couple years back Brian came up with a series concept that involved tattoos.

As he fleshed it out it became a pretty interesting idea.

It hasn't really gained any traction because, well, putting it lightly -I'm not a fan of tattoos.

I'll restrain myself from presenting a full blown rant on the matter since this is a "professional" "blog" and I don't want to alienate any ink aficionados (rest assured, I love you even if you're out of the Jewish cemetery).

This morning, though, enough became too much and I must rail to the cybergods about one particular fading blue menace -the bird tattoo.

Was there a new catalog of patterns released to piercing pagodas throughout America recently? Is this just a descendant of the recent "pink stuff and birds" school of Chelsea art?

This morning I tallied six (seven if you count two on one lady) bird tattoos.

Ten years ago if out of six bird tattoos, five would be Tweety Bird (animation reference) -today they're "arty" birds. Like the kind you might get on wrapping paper from the MoMA Design store.

I'd like to see Malcolm Gladwell tackle the bird tattoo in the revised edition of The Tipping Point.

I'd also like to share some great bird illustrations from one of America's greatest artists.

John James Audubon -were he alive today would he have opened shop on St. Mark's?

Some people think bird drawings belong on walls.

Passenger pigeons -I won't rhapsodize on the great Handsome Family song, but I will point out the gentile touch in this painting. The lower bird (the male, I guess) buckling down as his neck thrusts up, pushing his wings skyward and causing a tension in the chest area. The top bird is all curves and lightness. She's exerting no pressure, just letting gravity and the lower bird do all the work.

You can feel the motion in the drawing. See the life.

You almost want to get it stamped on your forearm so it rots with you in the grave.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

iPhone 3G Ad

Speaking of The Naked Campaign, if you look closely at the new iPhone ad you'll see it featured in the lower corner for about 3 seconds towards the beginning of the commercial.

Ironically, my only experience with an iPhone was using Mara Haseltine's to look at The New Yorker site.
We couldn't get it to load.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Goddess of War

The lovely and talented Lauren R. Weinstein had a signing and opening party for the big installation and display she made for Desert Island.

(above) Window installation as seen from Metropolitan Avenue by a crappy photographer.

The book is one of those big comic books that artsy people buy. Those types usually don't read them, but go off the Times Book Review for their information. If they were to crack this open, they'd be shocked by the sex and violence and indians and cowboys.

It's a crazy amalgam of world mythology and 1970s Marvel storylines written with such a detachment you can buy into the mad logic of the narrative. The duotone colored pen and ink artwork is punctuated by several etchings.

I wish she did the whole thing with etchings. Each one tells more story than a twenty page comic book (pictures being worth so many words). They're like Bosch paintings, layer upon layer of chaos shown in an orderly fashion.

The opening was a great time. Desert Island is a terrific store. Lauren is super person.

(above) Lauren invited friends and strangers to make little people running from the Goddess of War's hand. The window has a few dozen great guys. The store is decorated with more. Hopefully, they'll continue to be added as the display stays up.

(above) Lauren signing books. Murray the Cat over her shoulder, nonplussed.

(above) Patrick and Kate Hambrecht in the foreground. It was a pretty big turnout. Maybe 60 people or so.

(above) Tim Hodler in a nice new T-Shirt and Tom Hart in the only one of his father's baseball shirts that didn't have the number "69" on the back. Tom seemed really embarrassed about that.

(above) Jared Whitham made the giant hand for the display.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Imperial Umbrellas

Soon to be gone on 28th Street due to rampant construction.

This is between 6th & Broadway, the very block once known as "Tin Pan Alley".

Two doors over is where George Gershwin had his first teenage job as a "plugger" playing piano for sheet music publishers. Its where he wrote his first hit "Swanee".

Next to that was where William Morris had his first offices booking vaudeville acts nationally.

A few doors down from that is where Emma Goldman published her anarchist magazine Mother Earth.

A couple decades earlier the Imperial Umbrellas address was a dance hall.

If you come visit us by taking the N/R train to Broadway and 28th, you'll be walking the same path that was routinely tread by some of the most important figures in American history.

As for Imperial Umbrellas, they haven't done umbrella repair in a long time. The only person left for that his the great craftsman Gilbert Center who did a repair job on one of our umbrellas few months back.