Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Some Day, Some Way

As part of my quest to improve my time management skills, I've started keeping a journal of the stuff I do all day. Its not an exhaustive list, but I try to write down, across various blocks of time, what happened. It's both a tool for study and a spur to action. Seeing my activities written down sure seems to encourage me to get some more stuff on the list. Your mileage may vary. So far this week, I've not lacked things for doing, some of which require multiple hours.

One thing I've observed that applies to me is that after a certain point in the day, a bunch of small tasks is far more tiring (mentally, anyway) than a few larger ones. I've no idea why. Does it feel like more work to have done 6 things in an hour than one thing? Weird.

Another thing is that errands away from the house really eat up time ways you do not expect. The one checker has a long line of people paying with third-party checks from Botswana. You realize that in addition to milk you are in dire need of plastic bags--which are halfway across the store. Or, worse yet, you're picking up pictures at the mall camera store and realize you need dog food, or to return movies, or something else that require another stop. Next thing you know, you've been away an hour for something you thought would take 15 minutes. Yowza.

Monday, April 25, 2005

If I Could Catch Time In a Bottle

I find it ironic that ditching my desk job has actually made my day more complex. For the longest time (almost a year now?) I didn't realize that. When I worked away from home, I was generally in one of two modes: long-term and short-term. And my day was very basic. Get in, get settled, and work on my main, long-term project. Sometimes the phone would ring and I would need to drop everything and fight some fire. Then, when all we had was some wisps of smoke, I would return to the long-term project. And that was how I worked best, doing one thing until it was done, then moving on. You don't need a Daytimer when your life works like that.

For the most part, being a SAHD isn't like that. Sure, there are times when you spend the whole day sodding the yard or what have you, but most of the time your tasks (well, my tasks, anyway) are done in these little chunks. Get the laundry going. Pay the bills. Make a phone call. Run some errand.

Big deal, you say. These are just small long-term projects. Do them in order. Well. Here's the rub. Have you ever noticed how dogs will often make several little circles before lying down? I do that before getting to work. It can take minutes or hours or days (depending on how complex and/or unpleasant the task might be). Not much of an issue if you can then sit down and plug away for hours or days at a time. But when doing myriads of small tasks? Oy. Prepping (or, more correctly, psyching yourself up for) a day to do something that might require twenty minutes is generally not efficient.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Time Will Come Today

Springboarding from what I wrote the other day, I think some posts on the issue of time management are in order. Not all in a row, but over the coming weeks.

I have written before (many times before) on the issue of time and how, as a stay at home parent, you suddenly have a lot more of it to accomplish things that you had before (even if it isn't as much as you think). There's a trap there, though, and you have to be aware of it. It’s a classic one, the most basic form of procrastination. The idea you have is that with so much time, there's no hurry to get anything done beyond the most pressing and routine. And then one day you wake up and realize that everything is due tomorrow.

Anyone who has been a student, especially a college student, has fallen into this sort of trap at least once. And its an easy one to fall into at home as well.

The first trick, as I see it, is not in choosing the perfect day planner or organizational method. Almost any system will work well enough if you can commit to getting things done. There are tricks to help you along, and I'll discuss things I have done and am trying out in days and weeks to come. But the most important is: To keep on doing stuff and not put it off.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Things Your Mom Could Have Told You, Part MMIXVII

Okay, I hope everyone enjoyed my posts on the movie biz. Now, lets take a peek back at Domesticus life…

This is one of those things a stay at home mom probably could have told me twenty years ago if I had thought to ask her.

For reasons we needn't go into detail over (I screwed up. More than once.) I had a realization. When you work outside the home, home is generally a haven. If you screw up at work, unless it's bad enough that you might get fired, you don't have to take that with you. You can spin the chewing out from your boss all the way from not even mentioning it to fully acknowledging it was all your fault and you deserved what you got. And unless you were truly awful to someone, your spouse is likely to commiserate on the unpleasant circumstances, and try to buck you up.

On the other hand, if you work at home, and blow it on something that matters to the family, you don't have anywhere to run. And your spouse is stuck in the uncomfortable position of having to give you the business. Its not fun for anyone, and knowing you deserve it doesn't make things any easier (Been there, done that).

How one deals with it and tries to prevent it (short of never, ever screwing up, a tall order) depends on your circumstances. In my case it means better organization and less procrastinating. Even if this has not happened to you yet, I suggest a look around and a taking of stock. Figure out what is tripping you up and deal with it appropriately. We can't avoid all mistakes. But we can avoid making a habit of it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

So You Wanna Be In The Movies -- Part 6 and last (I think)

The film-makers had a problem looming over them. We had done a bunch of shots in gloomy, cloud-covered light on Monday, but since then things had been sunny. Wednesday was also predicted to be sunny and clear, so the next step was obvious.

We had to come in earlier. As it happened, only a half-hour earlier, but in addition, I expected that things would move very fast as the crew scrambled to get in as many shots as possible before the sun came up fully and the morning clouds cleared away. I was right. Call time was 6:00AM, and by 6:40AM we were on the set, watching people hurriedly get set up.

By 7:30AM, I had gotten something to do. They needed more shots of "Sara's" pickup coming into the plant, so I and two other guys were sent up 3-4 floors to provide background as it entered and drove by. It made for good exercise, as I had to climb up and down steps in heavy work boots.

This sort of thing went on for the next 90 minutes. We would be moved from one part of the plant to another, given our marching orders, and they would get in a few shots. Most of the time I couldn't see what the main action was, but I did see the end.

We all watched as the last wisps of cloud began to clear the sun. Sara was down on the pavement with the fellow from Monday (whose name I never caught), apparently finishing whatever discussion had been interrupted by the clearing sky. The crew had fashioned massive shades of stretchy black cloth and light tubes that might have been aluminum in an effort to minimize the growing glare. I think they got the shot, but when the clouds finally vanished that was it for that scene. We got the "take five" and headed for the snack truck. It was 8:51AM.

From here on in, the action took place up high on the generator towers. Remember, when I say tower, I don't mean some slender, relatively clean thing like a lighthouse. These were somewhat squat, with stuff hanging all over them, with grilled flooring, and cat walks at various levels between the towers. Equipment, pipes, and tanks stuck out at odd angles, and sometimes got in the way. It was there the camera, sound and lighting people moved and began to set up.

I'm sure that a life in pictures eventually innoculates you to working all manner of strange environments, but watching those folks hanging lights and other heavy gear all over those tight spaces up high impressed me. And from 11:00AM onward, all the action was up there on the platforms, roughly six stories up. I watched Gellar dash across the catwalk between towers several times. Let me tell you, if you anything like a normal fear of heights (you know, the sort of fear that might keep you from jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for "fun" or keeps you away from steep drops because, you know, falling would be bad) dashing across one of those things was no picnic. The wind was blowing pretty hard up there too, which I doubt was fun for a small person like her. Once she almost lost her hardhat in a gust and they had to restart the take.

At noon we broke for lunch, and as I munched on a delicious piece of pork roast with grilled summer squash and a brownie for dessert, I reflected that I damn glad it wasn't me up there playing one of the Flying Wallendas, perhaps complete with the tragic fall.


So it was that at 1:55PM, I found myself at almost the very top of the power plant, and my action was to climb up a flight of steps in order to reach the actual tip top of the plant. I tell you, I was Not Enjoying this aspect of acting. I could see across to the other tower where the action was taking place, and what I could see was not much. In all honesty, I'm not sure the reason I didn't see much is because much of the action was taking place behind masses of piping or because I was mostly looking down to make sure my feet did not somehow inadvertently head off into empty space

This was the first time I had spent much time in close proximity to this particular PA, whom I mentally referred to as "the boy PA" because of his baby-faced features. Up until now, I'd had pretty negative opinion of the fellow, since he was the one who seemed to spend most of his time chivvying us extras into out-of-the-way corners where we couldn't see anything.

But now, up close, I had to say the fellow was nothing if not solicitous. He asked if we were okay, not too tired, if we needed water, etc, until they finally had enough shots and we could come down. It was a major relief. Of course, I left my windbreaker up there and had to go all the way back up to retrieve it. After that, a nice long drink of Big Red from the snack truck was what I needed to settle my height-jangled nerves. Fortunately, at 3PM, I was done with the high-wire act.

Shooting continued, but much of the crew activity at this point consisted of packing away gear. It's possible I could have seen this on the other two days, but all but one of us had never returned to the set after lunch for any extended period of time. I only had one more interesting set of shots.

About 2-3 floors up, a group of us gathered. The camera was to watch someone working down below, who was to stare at Sarah "significantly" as she climbed up some steps. I was to mime talking to another extra, and then we were to walk over a catwalk to the other tower. First, her stand in did some climbing while they got the lighting right, and they she came over and we did some takes. I think she'd ditched the hard hat for these. When we were done the director called out "Okay we are goodbye to Sarah for the day and we are goodbye to the power plant." Many cheers all around.

And that was that. We got in the van to return to the base camp, got our pay vouchers signed, turned in our costumes and props, and we all went home.

Thanks everyone for reading this, I hope you found it entertaining and perhaps even educational. I'll try and do a bit more of the actual Stay-At-Home Dad thing for a while. Not to mention try to get back to my regular posting schedule.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

So You Wanna Be In The Movies -- Part 5

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been having a complicated week. Nothing bad, really, but complicated and its kept me doing other things.


One thing people who've done the extra thing a few times like to do is talk about the stars they've seen. In short, gossip. Many, many stars came in for criticism of their high-handed ways. They drank a lot, threw tantrums, insisted on certain fussy details, and treated underlings badly. It was a veritable cornucopia of poor behavior. I'm not going to name any names of the folks caught behaving badly. I wasn't there, and even though (in some cases) multiple witnesses vouched for the story, its just doesn't seem right for me to be telling tales.

There were a few who got good reviews, and I don't feel like I have to avoid mentioning their names. Billy Bob Thornton would hang around on the set and mingle. Al Pacino once got up to get a drink and asked if anyone else wanted some. One brave extra said he would. Pacino got him the coke. Brian Van Holt, despite being covered in some gruesome makeup that had to be uncomfortable, joked with extras and happily posed for pictures.

The stories about the folks who were not so nice varied from the ridiculous to the disgusting. While I can understand wanting some privacy and not desiring to be mobbed while trying to work, I really wonder how some of these folks develop these odd tics. Too much…what? I dunno.


Tuesday (with one slight exception) proved to be my most frustrating day on the set. Fortunately, I was prepared with a paperback copy of Harry Harrison's "The Stainless Steel Rat For President".

Things started well enough. We were on the set by 7:30AM, inside part of the power plant. The inside was much like the outside, pipes and heavy equipment everywhere, metal gratings as walkways in some areas. But with no access to the sky whatsoever, it managed to be considerably more claustrophobic.

The PA's scattered us about, and in some cases gave us instructions on how to move. I and another woman are stuck 30 yards away from the main action, but we do get to walk towards it. In fact we are supposed to walk and walk until we turn off to the side just before Gellar and several people dressed in suits pass by. Word is she is trying to sell this plant to the guys in the suits. She's dressed the same as the day before (apparently, all the events in our three days of shooting occur on the same movie day) with the addition of a hardhat.

We tried the scene a few times and frankly, it was a pain. My partner and I had to start our movies based on the motion of the camera, which was hard to see from where we were. So we didn't always make our move at the same time, which is a problem. Apparently, the director agreed with me on this one, because we were eventually just moved off to the side where we could only watch. At this point, the head PA told us to go over to the canteen truck and grab a snack.

I'd never been to the canteen truck, and had no idea what it was. I admit that when I saw it, I was impressed in spite of myself. It was a large van, something like a UPS truck, only a bit smaller. The inside was full of shelves, and the shelves were full of goodies.

Bags of chips, Ruffles, Lays, Fritos. Cheese crackers, Oreos, bagels, doughnuts, sandwich fixings, chocolate bars, Snickers, multiple kinds of gum…a snack food smorgasbord. Outside were ice chests full of soft drinks, bottled water, and PowerAde. "Wow," said my partern, and I could only nod in mute agreement.

I grabbed several items, some for immediate consumption, but others for later, since there was no way of knowing when we'd get another shot at food.

We returned to our spot of waiting. Then we were moved again, and again, for no reason I can readily discern, other than we to place us farther and farther away from things. We finally end up in an out-of the-way corner, a bit damp and a bit chilly. I was glad I had brought along my windbreaker. I made it into a pillow, lay down and proceeded to read.

As the morning wore on, more and more extras began to collect in our dank little corner, and I continued to read my book. I think a transcription of my notes for the remainder of the day will tell the tale:

9:45AM apply band-aid blister protection to right heel.
12:00PM finish book, still waiting
12:45PM lunch. Excellent chicken-fried steak, mashed potato, corn, roasted acorn squash.
Ice cream for dessert.
4:00PM one guy is called to the set
5:50PM we are released

And that was it. We had one more day of shooting, and it would prove to be the best and worst day of all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

So You Wanna Be In The Movies -- Part 4

A quick shout-out to the folks at the SMG forums, who I've seen in my hit lists (though for some odd reason I can't seem to find the post directing you to my little corner of the web). I can confirm fully the Ms. Gellar had her hair a dark brown, relativley long, and straight. She wore jeans, a jean jacket, and what seemed to me to be some sort of light sweatery thing. Okay, on with the story:

I left out the catering crew in my initial list of production people. Technically, you don't need them, since a PA could simply call for pizza, and come back from HEB with a sackful of chips and cookies to snack on, but a good catering crew can make a major difference in a crew's outlook on life.

The people we have are very good. I've eaten their stuff before, when doing extra work on "Man of the House". The setup here is much the same as before. For breakfast, they lay out an amazing pile of goodies: eggs, bacon, two kinds of sausage, toast, biscuits, gravy, spicy potatoes, and tortillas. This is just the stuff they cooked. Also out are all manner of doughnuts, pastries, yogurt, fruit, cereal boxes, juices, whole, low-fat and non-fat milk. And coffee. I've probably left something out. In addition, they cheerfully accepted a number of special orders like omelets, breakfast tacos, and the like. I managed to restrain myself until the final day, when I asked for some sausage egg, and cheese tacos.

Lunch on each day consisted of a choice of three entrees, plus vegetables in various styles (potatoes mashed or grilled, grilled sliced summer squash, sweet potatoes, and more). And there were three kinds of salad, bread, assorted desserts, ice cream, tea, lemonade, milk…You might say we ate well. I had grilled amberjack, a truly amazing chicken-fried steak, and pork pot roast as my entrees on my three days of working, with assorted veggies to go with.

The smaller the production, the more random the eating arrangements are likely to be. I've only worked "major" productions -- no independents -- and the food on all of them was generally good. But I did hear stories of fourteen-hour shoots with nothing but a light breakfast. So it ain't all gravy.


After lunch, the crew returned to the power plant, but we didn't. What we did was sit there and talk. I was impressed at the number of people who had done this before, several times. One fellow even did some video production work. In retrospect, it wasn't so odd that the people there were old hands. The movie folks only had the plant for three days, and we extras would be in close proximity to the star; they needed people who would hit their marks and not bug the talent.

A couple more extras showed up, including a fellow I'll call G. I missed where G was from originally, but if he wasn't from Texas he should have been, as the man was something out of central casting. I'd brought a book to read, but wound up instead listening to his stories. G had a lot of stories, and never seemed to cease talking for more than a minute or two at a time. In the vast majority of people this would have gotten old very fast, but G had a storyteller's gift. Some of my comrades thought he was making stuff up and perhaps he was, but I knew several of the stories were true and a couple of others had been on the same shoots as he had and were able to confirm some of the others as well.

I mention G in detail because from my point of view he was pretty much the highlight of the afternoon, aside from one curious incident.

At approximately 2:15 a PA showed up and said they needed one extra. Somehow I managed to get myself chosen. This was a risky move, since I didn't know what they wanted an extra for, but it seemed worth it to me. Anything for more camera time!

What I got was farce. I got off the van at the set and was taken in tow by a baby-faced PA (the same one who would later direct me at the top of the plant), who planted me in a spot and told me to wait a second. Then he moved me to another spot, then a third. None of these spots were remotely connected to a shot. Finally, after more consultations via his headset walkie-talkie setup, he said "They changed their minds, we won't be needing you after all." The van returned and I was back at the base camp area. Elapsed time: About 15 minutes.

That was the end of our day. We sat there at the base area and watched the catering crew clean up and get ready for their next day, talked, read books, and generally killed time until the boss PA appreared around 6pm and told us we could go home.