Friday, October 5, 2007

Let's Play Two!

With apologies to Ernie Banks, Jim and I played a doubleheader today.

At 7:00 this morning we shot one of our Teen Parents as she spoke to a group of high school students about the choices she made and how it has impacted her life. It is, I think, (Have I said this before?) the last scene we will shoot for this Teen Parent film and it was a nice finishing piece of the puzzle. This young woman comes full circle so to speak.

We wrapped that job at 8:30 and drove into the city to start the second gig. We have signed confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements so all I can say is that over the next month we and a team of cameramen are shooting locations all over Chicago. When it becomes public I can reveal more. I can add this: tomorrow we shoot across the city, ending at Wrigley Field as the Cubs/Arizona playoff game begins.

Between the two jobs we also made an equipment change. The Teen Parent film is shot in standard definition, the new job is on HD. The two experiences could not be more different- both in subject matter and technology and brain function for the dumb filmmaker.

Strange as it seems it is not the first time we have played two. A few years ago we were in Seattle shooting at Safeco Field (maybe it's a baseball stadium thing that ties two jobs together) when we got a phone call asking if we could shoot something at the offices of that really big coffee merchant based out of Seattle- again non-disclosure prevents me saying more, but there is a half-caf, dry, grande, latte in it for you if you can figure it out. Anyway, we wrapped at Safeco at lunch, ate and started job number two. It was a nice way to pocket travel and per diem and do our client a big favor and give them something they ordinarily would not have paid for.

Being double booked has its advantages, but it sure makes me tired. The dumb filmmaker can only keep so many plates spinning at once.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Reading Mary Beth

Today is my sister's birthday. And in lieu of giving her anything tangible for her birthday, (cheapskate, busy) I am going to post a piece I originally wrote for Book Magazine in 2002. In the magazine they gave us the last page and it was illustrated by a drawing of Mary Beth's and one of her journal entries which, as always, begins, "Toady, I..."

Happy Birthday Mary Beth. You are catching up to me.


During the summer of 1972, while my mother was pregnant, my parents and I read The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine together. My father had read the book with his family thirty years earlier. Written in 1896 by Franck Stockton, it details the humorous adventures of two plainspoken, determined women who, along with their companion and narrator Mr. Craig, begin a trip from San Francisco to Japan with great expectations, only to become shipwrecked on a desert island. Ultimately their adventure turns into a better trip than the one they had intended to take.

That summer, we too had great hopes and expectations. I was nearly nine years old and convinced the kid would play second base next to my shortstop, turning the pivot on the Hawley to Hawley to Yastrzemski double play. My parents, teachers and great readers of mysteries, no doubt imagined a future doctor or lawyer or Ellery Queen. On October 4 my sister was born, and it soon became clear that she would not be any of those things. A doctor diagnosed her as retarded and suggested institutionalization.

As it turned out, Mary Beth was not institutionalized, but she would never become a doctor or lawyer or a second baseman, either. Still, like the rest of our family, she has always loved to read. She is about to turn thirty, and while not a strong reader, she is an avid one. She cozies up to the Sweet Valley Jr. High series and loves listening to the Harry Potter books on tape. And she relates to the Madeleine books because she, like Madeleine, was always dodging trouble.

Each summer when we were young, we would take our Pinto station wagon on road trips to and from Massachusetts. My sister and I would share the backseat. The trips were filled with lots of yelling and screaming, and one of my jobs was to keep my sister occupied. The best way to do it was by reading picture books to her. Curious George, Dr. Seuss -- anything with a rhyme and colorful pictures did the trick. When I was thirteen, my sister wandered off during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame. My dad, frantic, paid ten bucks for some kid’s bike and tore across Cooperstown, New York, looking for her. She reappeared an hour later, calmly holding hands with the person who found her. Years later in Paris with my parents, Mary Beth refused to leave until she saw the hospital where Madeleine had her appendix removed.

Last Thanksgiving we visited our parents in Florida. Mary Beth, as is her habit, brought three library books with her. She pitched a fit when she realized the books would be due before she returned home, and she didn’t want to pay the forty-five--cent fine. We gave her two quarters, but she wouldn’t budge. So the day after Thanksgiving, we all marched to the post office and mailed the books back to the library. It cost us $3.95, but she was happy that the books were returned on time.

Like the characters in The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, my parents and I have adapted to our adventure, and while our journey has not been the one we expected to take, it has been, perhaps, better. We do not take for granted moments such as seeing Mary Beth race across the finish line at the Special Olympics, winning yet another gold medal, or the day she moved into her own apartment in Davenport, Iowa where she works for the Handicapped Development Center assisting physically disabled clients. And though I am an egghead college teacher, I think she might have a greater appreciation for the written word. She is the only one in the family who keeps a daily journal.

I have given up on the hope of playing for the Red Sox, and I know Mary Beth and I will never have deep conversations about Fagin or the Cheshire Cat, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to read her. The other day as she worked her way through another Sweet Valley Jr. High book, I sat wonderingwhere those words were taking her. So, I asked Mary Beth why she liked to read, and she looked at me and gave the same answer anybody would, "It’s fun," she said. "And I like the stories."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Experience

If you can just get your mind together
then come across to me.
We'll hold hands and then we'll watch the sun rise from the bottom of
the sea.
But first
Are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well I have.
-- Jimi Hendrix

Towards the end of the first class I ever taught a student commented on what we had been doing for the last 15 weeks and said that it was pretty cool. And I flippantly responded, "Yes, that's The Peter Hawley Experience." Of course I was just playing off of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and how was I to know he had know idea what I was referencing.

Anyway, a few days later other students were saying they were glad they had the Peter Hawley Experience. I thought they were joking, maybe even making fun of me, but no. Soon it caught on and I was even calling my own classes "the Peter Hawley experience (lower case of course.) But it stuck and even as recently as a week ago I heard from a former student who said they were glad to have the "experience."

That word- experience- is funny. It says a lot. It is active not passive. A while ago we were sitting around a faculty meeting and my colleague John Murray commented on how much he hated using the word "exercise" when giving assignments. He added that it always made him want to pull on sweat pants an do push ups- not the image you want to give to students. (Push ups, not John in sweats, a striking figure.)

I couldn't agree more and since then we have made a conscious choice to call all of our in class work- experiences rather than exercises. So my screenwriting students now have the experience of writing and presenting a logline and a pitch rather than the "exercise" of writing one.

This in short is part of what makes up The Peter Hawley Experience. I am so glad I didn't reference another song on Are You Experienced, or all my students would be suffering from "Manic Depression touching their soul."