Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Paging Mr. Fur Face

Ever wanted your own commemorative gold pan? Enjoy fishing for salmon? Have your own beard stylist?

If so, then you should be extremely disappointed that the 2009 World Beard and Moustache Championships already happened without you.

And that's real too bad, because there was surely enough categories for you to win at least one major award.

Ever found yourself supine on the damp, underwear-strewn floor of your parents' basement, stoned halfway to Jupiter, temporarily blind from Video Game Overdose (VGO), idly sliding a Slim Jim back and forth through the gap in your front teeth, wondering with what the road to a championship is paved?

Well, then you're welcome:
[This year's champion David] Traver, who is 43 and works as a driver for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, got into facial hair competition locally about 10 years ago with the Mr. Fur Face competition during Fur Rendezvous. After that, he got involved with the South Central Alaska Beard and Moustache Club, which bid to bring the international championships to Anchorage this year -- beating out Liechtenstein.

With his beard stylist, Ledjha Carson, Traver months ago started brainstorming a beard shape that was "out of the box," he said. They considered eagle wings, moose antlers and a sled dog team before settling on the snowshoe. It took Carson 90 minutes to weave it the day of the competition.

"She wanted it right. She was very meticulous," he said. "But my neck is still stiff."

(courtesy Alaska Daily News)

So...I guess it takes not only the ability to grow facial hair, but also the common sense to hire a beard stylist to do all the work.

Huh. Maybe I should begin preparations for my victory in Trondheim 2011...any cutting-edge beard stylists out there wanna join Team Goodtime pro-bono?

Because I don't want to just think outside the box--I wanna turn that box inside-out and upside down, hammer it into a ninja star, launch it into the future to hone its edge on the stubborn skulls of space robots, send it back in time to let a dinosaur kiss it for luck, and then drop it on Norway like a goddamn neutron-bomb hangover-turd straight from the furious bowels of Thor himself!



Thursday, May 21, 2009


"1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds"

I mean, even if they weren't terrorists, something tells me three years of illegal detainment and torture in a U.S. military prison would create a terrorist...


Another Insufferable Term


I really hope that doesn't catch on, but to steal a line from Han Solo, "I have a bad feeling about this..."

Also, separately, why is it that corporate America always overpays people to deal with new technology they don't understand?


Thou Shalt Rape, Torture, and Exploit

It's an old story, I know--as old as the Bible--but I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to take this chance to slam home another banderilla into the proverbial Catholic Bull because, once again, folks--and I know this won't come as a surprise--Catholic Church, Inc. has a scandal on its hands.

Fear not, churchlovers because, once again, nothing will happen as a result (well, except perhaps for a 'no admission of guilt' bribe to prevent prosecution...).

Organized religion is just such a beautiful thing. The Catholic Church, Inc. gave all those poor Irish schoolchildren the best real-world education private-school tuition could buy:
“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions,” the report says. In the boys’ schools, it says, sexual abuse was “endemic.”
(courtesy NYTimes.com)
The story only gets worse:

"Some 30,000 children were sent to such places over six decades, the report says, often against their families’ wishes and because of pressure from powerful local priests. They were sent because their families could not afford to care for them, because their mothers had committed adultery or given birth out of wedlock, or because one or both of their parents was ill, drunken or abusive. They were also sent because of petty crime, like stealing food, or because they had missed school.

Many of the former students said that they had not learned their own identities until decades later. They also said that their parents had unsuccessfully tried to reclaim them from the state."
(courtesy NYTimes.com)
I'm almost afraid to keep reading this article--I don't want to get to the part where the children were fed to lions and forced to participate in unnecessary experimental brain/organ/limb transplants.

I kept reading. It got more detailed, worse:
“Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight, being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.”
"Girls were routinely sexually abused, often by more than one person at a time, the report said, in “dormitories, schools, motor vehicles, bathrooms, staff bedrooms, churches, sacristies, fields, parlors, the residences of clergy, holiday locations and while with godparents and employers.”
(courtesy NYTimes.com)

But don't worry, folks--the Pope is totally on top of it and the church elders owned up to everything, begged for forgiveness, etc:
"The Vatican had no response. But leaders of various religious orders — who often argued during the investigations that the abuse was a relic of another time, reflecting past societal standards — issued abject apologies on Wednesday, taking care to frame the problem as something that is now behind them."
(courtesy NYTimes.com)
Oh, brother. I can hear the raised voice in the Vatican boardroom right now, post-gavel-bang:
"Parry! Parry, I say! You know damn well everyone will forget about this very soon and we will continue to have numberless followers, be the richest landowners in the world, never have to pay taxes, and continue to do whatever we want. Just don't say anything, don't admit to anything, and...maybe stop raping for a few weeks or so, til this all blows over."
Not only that, but a group called the Christian Brothers, who ran many of the rape clubs, I mean Catholic schools, was successful in their lawsuit to keep the names of the rapists and torturers a secret. How could they succeed in this? What possible justifiable reason is there? Are they worried people might beat/rape them to death in the streets? I mean...they kinda deserve it...

Question of the day:

What will it take for people to realize they can be as religious as they want to be without affiliating themselves with an organization that foments abject abuse of power?

The one positive thing to come out of this story is the fact that I found out this website exists:


Well done, Terence McKiernan--keep on fighting the real good fight.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Movie Reviews in Briefs

This past weekend was an interesting one for movies.

Friday night I popped in a classic (albeit one I had never seen)--Mommie Dearest. Although both Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin both panned it upon release (1.5 and 2 stars, respectively), I enjoyed this movie immensely. It is a stylish, right-on-the-money, well-acted depiction of what life would be like living with an eccentric and borderline-insane iconic Hollywood actress--Joan Crawford. Faye Dunaway is frightening and perfect as the star herself.

Literary pairing: David Niven's second autobiography, Bring on the Empty Horses.

Saturday night, I braved The Bridge cinemas at the Howard Hughes Center, which would probably cause Mr. Hughes to roll over in his grave--if it wasn't built right on top of his rotting corpse (kidding--as we all know, he was buried in Texas, next to his parents). A friend of mine warned me this would be an 'urban' experience, which I found hilariously inappropriate and ultimately inaccurate--it was more of a 'wallet-rape' experience, as tickets set me and all other non-Urbansback $15.50 each, which would've gone down easier had the movie been better.

Although Star Trek started strong, it eventually fell victim to the 'wish I was Star Wars' sci-fi curse and wound up chock full of so many bad jokes (ie, a Russian guy pronouncing V like W about 25 times, which elicited rollicking laughter from the fat, dumb man next to me), groanworthy Eric 'Having Tattooes On My Face Constitutes Acting' Bana moments, and even more groanworthy Leonard Nimoy soliloquies about wormhole time travel, the value of moral support, and the impressive benefits prunes bestow upon his regularity on the space toilet.

For nerds only:
My favorite astrophysical innaccuracy: every time a black hole forms (and, yes, this happens more than once in the movie) the crew of the Enterprise comments on the fact that everything will immediately be swallowed up--without mentioning themselves. Then they chill out for a while, watch the black hole swell, make a few phone calls, and blast away. Once they had to drop a bomb to achieve escape velocity off the blast wave, but come on! Never being at risk of getting sucked into a black hole renders the entire concept harmless and its presence in the movie nearly pointless!

Sunday I popped Victor/Victoria into the ole DVD player (10 years-old and still kicking! --dedicated blog entry to follow...). I became a fan of Blake Edwards' S.O.B. back in December and decided to give this one a try.
The opening...twenty minutes?...of this movie are just a race to get to the meat of the matter--Julie Andrews is going to pretend to be a transvestite. I understand they are in a hurry to get there, but that doesn't excuse the writers/director from also making that screen time entertaining, funny, and sensible.
As much as I love Robert Preston in S.O.B, I don't find him as funny or charming in this one. That is partly due to worse writing in this one and partly due to a lack of chemistry between him and Julie Andrews. As a gay man, what exactly does he see in her? Their friendly/business relationship is simply too convenient.
Similarly, I found the chemistry missing between Julie Andres and her love interest, James Garner. He is struck by her beauty, she thinks he is handsome...is that really it? They hardly even get to know each other before they are irretrievably in love. Why?
Also, although I commend Blake Edwards for not inserting yet another jaw-dropping Asian stereotype for comic relief, I must in the same breath condemn him for his frequent and appallingly unfunny attempts at slapstick in this movie (and others).
I wanted to like Victor/Victoria a lot--and it still has some redeeming parts, like the fabulous song and dance numbers--but ultimately found it disappointing. It came off like a bad play aimed at theater-types, even though it was a movie based on a book (and only later turned into a Broadway musical).

Well, there ya have it, folks. Another weekend at the movies in my underwear. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, in your underwear.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The End of an Era

Credit card companies--whose usurious interest/fine policies are now suddenly under fire from politicians seeking broader support from the long-ignored working poor--now want to begin charging their loyal, bill-paying customers annual fees and collecting interest immediately after each purchase, eliminating the several-week grace period such people currently enjoy.

Why would they do this when it will stop most of those people from using credit cards for anything but online purchases? To make up for lost income on which they have ill-advisedly come to rely.

Is that not like a pimp who also owns a strip club charging a higher cover and more money per lap-dance to loyal bill-paying customers after the Feds shut down his pimping side-business? Hmm...maybe that's a stretch.

I really hope the government prevents them from enacting those policies, although for some reason I feel it will be difficult to prevent, despite the fact that we actually own most of those companies now...

Oddly, the most irritating thing about this New York Times Business Section article about the current credit card situation is not all that, but this:
People who routinely pay off their credit card balances have been enjoying the equivalent of a free ride, [David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, which tracks the credit card business] said, because many have not had to pay an annual fee even as they collect points for air travel and other perks.

"Despite all the terrible things that have been said, you're making out like a bandit," he said. "That's a third of credit card customers, 50 million people who have gotten a great deal."

A 'free ride?' How, exactly, have we gotten a free ride? It seems that credit card companies--and their highly-paid advocates in politics and the media--would like you to think they only make money when their customers don't pay their bills on time.

Not true.

If this NY Times article were better researched and more evenly reported, it would mention that credit card companies reap billions of dollars a year from doing exactly what credit card companies are supposed to do--taking a small cut from every purchase charged to one of their cards.

Why do you think a lot of small businesses don't allow their customers to use credit cards? It is partly to keep some transactions off the books, for sure, but mostly it is because allowing credit card use will either cut into their meager profits or result in them needing to raise prices slightly, thereby losing any competitive advantage they may have had against larger, corporate stores.

Fees and penalties were supposed to be gravy for credit card companies, a bonus to help fill the coffers, to smooth them through low spots in consumer spending, not the main source of revenue. But greedy people are greedy and once the bankers smelled blood they got a taste for it; they saw an opening, an immoral and quasi-legal income stream to exploit, and they did so with gusto.

The fact that credit card companies and their bloated executives now rely too heavily on penalties in a somehow-still-insufficient attempt to quench their insatiable thirst for moneymoneymoneymoney is not my fault. It's not your fault.

It's nobody's fault but their own.

This whole scenario calls to mind a similar problem we have with parking tickets.

Example: I got a parking ticket in Los Angeles the other day. It seems I forgot to move my car in time for street cleaning, which resulted in a $58 fine.


If I were making $7-8.00/hr--which is what most people with jobs actually make these days--that parking fine would be an entire day's wages. Does that sound fair? No way.

Oops--I forgot to put a quarter in the meter. $45.00 fine. What?!

Clearly these fines have gotten out of hand and need to be corrected, but the problem is that--much like credit card companies--cities have come to rely heavily on the millions of dollars of annual income from parking fines. Each year, their budgets are based on an expected amount of parking violations, the number and salary of their employees reflect this future wealth, and holes in city budgets are able to be plugged with whatever might be left over.

Therefore, if ticket amounts were reduced to a sensible level, or if car owners suddenly became more vigilant and stopped making mistakes, cities would either go bankrupt or be forced to enact an immediate and many-fold increase in the annual automobile registration fee.

And so here we are, living in a world where both our city governments and banks have come to depend on bad behavior and excessive fines to keep themselves solvent.

And it's somehow our fault, and so we must pay. Or cut up our credit cards!


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Thin Skin of Ms. White

Vanna got her big break when Merv Griffin saw her on the Price is Right

It's a long, top-secret story, so I won't explain how I stumbled upon this article, but I think you should read the text of it a few times through and then look at the grainy image above it.

What a strangely written...article? About a...phone application? That mentioned an intriguing lawsuit.

I needed more information.

So I stumbled further and found this dissenting opinion from the White v. Samsung case (specifically, the third appeal, which appears to have been successful), which is definitely too much information, but a pretty interesting read all the same.

I can't recall ever reading through an actual legal opinion before, having wisely given law school a miss, and I wonder how many of them open with "Saddam Hussein wants..." and go on to cite Adam West, George Lucas, Uri Gellar, Groucho Marx, and Charles Lindbergh.


On a more personal note, just so you don't get the wrong idea about her, I have met Vanna White and she is a sweetheart--everyone on the crew of Wheel of Fortune is a big fan.

With that in mind, I wonder if it was her representation that slapped the lawsuit, hoping for their cut, or if Vanna had a momentary lapse of sense and is wholly to blame for such a worthless lawsuit.

Luckily, she is one of our avid readers--care to weigh in, Ms. White?


"Trust me--we'll make millions!"

Q: Has anyone in China ever actually seen a thong,
or is the landing-strip simply mandatory for girls ten and up?
A. No?

Or lose it all. Oops!

A sex theme park? Called 'Love Land?' Who thought they could actually get away with this in China, of all places?

Better still, what black-magic brainwashing wizard was able to convince people to invest in a sex theme park, no matter the proposed locale? I find it hard to believe that could ever really be a profitable venture, unless it was actually just a thinly-disguised brothel (so thin it might work?) or you sold drugs at the lemonade stand or something.

Tell ya what, since it's Monday and we're all tired as shit and aimless, contemplative and depressed, I'll tack on a free tip for my fellow tacky perverts out there:
Keep them peepers peeled on Chinese eBay for good deals on random oversized 'sexy' statuary and brick-a-brack and scratch-and-sniff exhibits and such--Christmas is right around the corner! LOLOLOL!!!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Turd Deemed 'Not Too Smelly,' Eaten By Millions with Nothing Better to Do with Their Time, Money

People of all stripes often wonder why better movies aren't made these days, without stopping to realize they might be--if the shitty ones weren't making so much goddamn money.

Seriously, as much as I would like it not to be true, what motivation is there these days for the men in charge to alter their modus operandi?

Case in point:
Excluding marketing costs in the neighborhood of $40 million (which are never factored into a budget, for some reason) the $150 million Tom Hanks/Ron Howard stinkbomb DaVinci Code II has already broken even, after a $152 million global box office take in its opening weekend.

Assuming an average ticket price of USD$10, that means 15 million people spent ten dollars and 2hrs+20min of their time to see this movie over a mere three day period--appalling, but, sadly, not unexpected.

The fact that none of the audience members adored it, that most of them left the theater saying "eh, it was...good..." to each other will not prevent them from seeing the third one, which is no doubt already being cooked up by Dan Brown, Ron Howard, and Satan as we speak, at the chef's table of an Argentinian steakhouse somewhere...


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Ten Stages of Romance

So, lately, I've been having all kinds of ladyfolk asking me for all kinds of stuff and I'm like:

"Yo! I gotta tell it to you straight, babygirl--there's certain things you gotta do to climb another rung on the ladder, know what I mean?"

I'm sure I ain't alone in this predicament, so this missive goes out to all those players out there (lemme hear ya, Naperville!!!) trying to keep it real--a pocket-sized, smart-brained guide to gift-giving between men and the ladyfolk that poison their hopes, dreams, and lives.


1. Drink
So, you're out at a bar and you see a girl with an ass you just want to take a bite out of like a crisp Granny Smith on a hot summer day. You blow her kisses, you maintain eye contact as you rub your dick in a sexy way and push people over to get up in her face, you grind on that ass, impress her with the pointiness of the erection drowning in your wide-gauge corduroy jeans, she keeps pushing your hands away from her breasts...now what, right?
This what--buy the lady a drink.

Hint: Ladies usually like drinks with peach in them, or vodka drinks with granites, or drinks that end in 'wine.' If she asks for something else, she might have a penis, or at least a remnant of one. Walk away--it ain't worth the risk. Trust me.

2. French Fries
So it's five minutes later and her drink is empty and the thirsty little kitten is standing there wanting more, right? Perfect--it's always a good idea to leave 'em wanting more. This fox is in the cage, na'mean? Before she can say anything, drop this gem on that little AppleBrownBetty: "Fries?" Nothing says foreplay like deep-fried potatoes eaten in tandem under fluorescent lighting.

Hint: If the tiger's got teeth, make sure to order the large--it never hurts to impress with largesse.

3. Breakfast
After you bang her every way from Sunday, and if she still looks fine(-ish), make sure to offer the lady breakfast in bed--there isn't a girl alive that doesn't want to be treated like a princess.
As soon as she says yes, offer her your morning wood in such a way that it's difficult to say no. If she takes the bait, you've got a real gamer. If she blushes, laugh it off and take her to Denny's--cheapest grand slam around.

Hint: Get up early to secretly wash your penis in the sink, which will greatly increase the odds she will tolerate its presence near/in her face. You're welcome.

4. Lunch
After breakfast, you should definitely bang her in the back of your Honda Prelude, under the unfolded metallic sunshade, all private and sexy-like, because you never know when you might get another chance--a smart camel always drinks at a watering hole.
If mademoiselle says she has to go to work, run your sticky fingers through her knotted hair and suavely insist on picking her up for lunch in a few hours. If she hesitates, cry--anything more aggressive might scare her away, but a man's gotta fight for what he wants, right? Besides--nothing cuts worse than your own sword...
Once she relents, stay smart and keep in mind that ladies love places where you can get salads and ice tea for lunch.

Hint: Your local train station! The lunch counters in those places get lots of traffic (read: fresh!), also have perfect options for men (reubens!), and won't suck away that entire Andrew Jackson in your skyrocket...

5. Flowers
After a lunchtime quickie in the handicapped bathroom behind the Amtrak counter, as she endures that long, humiliating walk back to the office, kept alive only by that special 'glow,' all upset she had to leave you looking all cute and cuddly, crumpled up on the broken toilet seat, all sweaty and falling asleep, there's nothing a lady wants more than flowers.
So, if after all this courting you still care for her, don't drop the ball--spend.

Hint: The female of the species has a certifiable genetic weakness for red shit--get the cheapest red flowers you see at the CVS and you'll not only be a fiscal Einstein, but you'll prob be in like Flint for a second-round afternooner.

6. Dinner
Dinner is a tough one. It's like, 'okay, so I took her to breakfast and lunch, but now what? I'm out of ideas!'
Hero alert--dinner.
I know it's more expensive than a movie, I know it's a lot more pressure, I know there's a lot less chance of a hand-job, but if you're gonna marry this girl you gotta be able to sit across the table from her for an hour in an Olive Garden off the highway. It's just that simple--you'd rather find out now than later, right? Right.

Hint: Girls love a flashy car--so hang a tree from the mirror and put a bucket of soapy water, a sponge, and the dustbuster in your trunk, pull up outside the Home Depot, and give some starving dude $5 to do you up right for the night (or give him less--maybe start with $1 and bargain your way up!)

Bonus Hint: Hide a pack of Magnums in your glovebox and ask her to find something in there at some point. Can't hurt!!!

7. Engagement Ring
Once you've taken a woman to dinner--and if everything went well in the bedroom/backseat afterward (I'm talking anal here, folks, let's not beat around the bush! LOL!)--it is now appropriate to ask for the lady's hand in marriage.
Once you've casually dropped her off at her parents' house at 5am and coasted down the hill in neutral as you enter her name into your phone, you have a lot to consider before downing a half-bottle of Beam in the park and heading to the library to troll servicemerchandise.com for a good deal on a medium-grade cubic zirconium.
First off, do you still feel a non-herpes burning in your loins? That means you really love her and you should make an honest woman out of her--especially because there's a 50% chance she's already pregnant and you'll have to pay to raise the kid anyway, as well as for her to live in a trailer and smoke Virginia Slim 100s and drink a gallon of Carlo Rossi a day.
Trust me--it's cheaper to just marry her and make her sleep in the garage.

Hint: As far as the proposal goes, you should perform this act with the greatest of care.
8. Honeymoon
Once her wedding's over with--and she signed the pre-nup under the supervision of accredited legal representation--you need to make sure the honeymoon rocks. Bring plenty of bad American beer (you never know), a few changes of underwear, some wines, and a Playboy or three to keep you in the mood for the weekend.
As far as the location goes, that is really dependant on season--NASCAR, NFL, NBA, NHL--because you should always be sure to be where the action is. If for some reason you are are getting married in a rare window (does it exist? haven't our scientists worked this out yet?) when one of these seasons is not in full swing, I recommend Italy because they have good food and cool cars and it's where romance began and chicks love that shit.

Hint: Make sure to bring every sex toy your grossest friend has ever heard of, cuz ya never know--girls are freakier than we are, you know...

9. Forever 21 shopping spree
Now that you got a bride, you need to make ensure she cuts a certain profile on the town. She has to be classy, she has to be sexy, she has to look moneyed--or you will look quite the fool.
Recommendation: Take her to Forever21 and let her spend at least $100--this should net her a full week's worth of sexy dresses.
Once purchased and safely stored in your closet at home, hand over one dress for each blow-job delivered. Once they all fall apart two weeks later, you can simply put your better half back in nude storage til your next paycheck comes. Repeat.

Hint: Not only should everybody know she's the finest broad in town, but they need to know she's YOUR broad--do you have a spirit animal? Is it a tiger? If you don't know, it's probably a tiger, so make sure she picks up a faux-silk cape with an enormous roaring tiger face on it and wears it every time she leaves the apartment. Trust me--nobody will fuck with your little peach once they know she's 'yours.'

10. Toe Ring
Alright, so you made it to your second anniversary. Congratulations--you're now ready for a toe ring.
Remember when you bought one for that stripper you got pregnant in Michigan? Well, let's hope you were smart enough to get two for the price of one at Claire's, because once that bastard sucks air and the pangs of guilt wash over you like so many imperceptible, oddly-soothing breezes, you'll really wish you had one at no extra expense, to give your wife as a token of your secret guilt (or because you forgot your anniversary or maybe that you were even married).
If somebody around town has already told the missus about your adorable 'predicament,' best get a couple more toe rocks, to not only blind her with bling, but remind her on what side her bread is buttered.

Hint: With a toe ring, always err on the side of too big. If it doesn't fit on her piggy of choice, chances are it will either fit on a fatter one or she'll grow into it--the one thing you can count on when it comes to women is they always get bigger.

Well, I think the bars are about to clear out here, which means it's high time this ole minx hit 'cruise' control on the ole steering column, if you know what I mean.

Hope this information helps you in your romancing or, if not you, me.


- goodtime


Monday, May 11, 2009

Oh, well--why would I doubt you, Jeanette?

I don't why I feel like ghosts don't exist, why I feel so similarly toward them as I do toward gods.

I mean, there is such compelling evidence out there, courtesy of the brilliant and devoted researcher, Jeanette X (last name withheld to protect her from paranormal retribution)...

Matthew McConaughey sees ghosts while smoking weed and playing bongo drums naked? Shit...it must be true...


And a Good Day to You, Sir!

(photo courtesy KNS News, UK)

Some guy in Great Britain painted an exact replica of his penis on the roof of his parents' house.

Lucky bloke!


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Armchair Expose: The Advertising Industry

I have worked in the advertising industry--on the production end--for about nine years now, off and on, in Chicago and Los Angeles. Oh, what mine eyes have seen...

Most people have no idea what goes into the making of a commercial, so I shall forthwith explain, to the best of my knowledge:

A client--let's say Kraft Foods--has an advertising agency under contract for a set time period, say two years. When Kraft wants to unveil a new cheese-flavored product, they tell the agency to draw up a campaign for them.

Months of work go into the nitty gritty of the new campaign.

The Creatives (as they are known) at the agency toss around ideas and ultimately devise a universal phrase, tagline, or theme that will be used for the print campaign, television commercials, product packaging, etc (ie, "Come see the softer side of Sears!").

Then ideas for the content of the commercial campaign are tossed around. They will usually shoot between 2 and 12 commercials in one stretch, all somehow unified by the theme. After months of planning, the best ideas are scripted out, drawn up (literally--as detailed storyboards), and presented to the client in a series of meetings.

The client either approves the ideas or, more likely, tells them to make small changes based on whether or not their legal department will let them get away with certain things, or whether or not they think the idea will alienate any of their customer base or conflict with their brand image--or sometimes just because they want to exert a little power, show who's boss, etc.

At this point, the advertising agency puts it out there that they will accept bids from production companies for the opportunity to make said commercials. The competition is limited but fierce.

The production companies who decide to make a play for the job choose a director from their stable whom they feel is a good match for the campaign, based on his or her strengths, reputation, and previous work.

The director then submits an almost-always-laughably-written treatment of how he would direct the commercial, what little bits of sexiness, humor, or camera moves/editing techniques he might inject into the already-written commercial.

It always amazes me that one of the creatives from the agency doesn't just direct it, since that's all they want to do anyway (most of them ultimately become directors and exploit hteir industry connections to get jobs, knowing talent is irrelevant; the ones who don't become directors usually split off and form their own lucrative boutique agencies, emphasizing their 'edginess,' 'hipness,' etc). The campaign is already drawn up; the commecial is already written; the storyboards are already drawn; why suddenly bring in another cook?

As a result of this, the production company/director search is fairly irrelevant--the advertising agency is really just looking for the company that will submit the lowest bid BUT also give them a director they can brag about to their client (and friends back home).

"He's David Duchovny's brother...and he did that campaign for __X__ that was so edgy--it's exactly the feel we're looking for..."

"I'm in LA, on set. Yeah, shooting a commercial for the new Volkswagen campaign. Roman Coppola is directing--yeah, his son. It's pretty awesome..."

"Rocky Morton will direct--he's one of the biggest directors in the business, wins all kind of awards, a total pro...it'll be great." (No mention that he also directed superturd Super Mario Bros)
As a result of the competition for the lowest bid with an accomplished or recognizably-named director, budgets have gotten smaller and smaller--in all the wrong places--and preparation time has become shockingly minuscule.
I recently worked on a series of two commercials for a major fast-food chain that was awarded to the company only six days before the two days of shooting were to commence--not much time for casting, location scouting, crew assembling, set-building, wardrobe shopping/fitting, etc.

Considering how long the campaign/commercial has been in development at the agency by the time shooting begins, it is amazing what stupid bullshit will still happen on set.
I worked on a Volkswagen commercial years ago, in Chicago, in the summertime, for their "4-motion" cars--a kind of proprietary part-time four-wheel drive system intended for their all-season customers.

The concept for the commercial was that a shitty old car made by somebody else (in this case a rented brown Ford Taurus from the '90s) would be spinning out of control down a snowy/icy road and a guy sitting in a nearby VW 4-motion vehicle would watch and say "glad I have my VW with 4-motion" and drive away safe and sound.

As a result, $20,000 was spent to build a remote controlled, driveable, spinning turntable that could hold the weight of the Ford Taurus and drive it safely down the street, spinning in place.

We paid the guy who did the snow in Fargo to drive down from Minnesota with his five-person crew to snow-up an entire office park we rented out. Gigantic blocks of ice were fed from a freezer truck into another truck--a modified 5-ton giant snow-cone machine--and sprayed everywhere for hours and hours, overnight and in the morning. When I showed up at 5am, my coworkers and I had to help the art department rake around ice chips to make the scene look a bit more realistic. Everything was set, the camera was ready to roll, the heavyweights had arrived from their 5-star hotel, and then...nothing happened.

I went over to video village, where gophers like myself set-up director's chairs for the client and agency representatives to sit and watch everything unfold and make comments like "hmmmm...I like it...but can we try him in a blue shirt instead, even though I said he needed to be wearing a red shirt?"

In this instance, on the VW commercial, the discussion was about the snow: "I'm worried that people who live in areas where it doesn't snow are not going to want to buy our car..."

I was blown away. What?!

As a result of this brief discussion, the entire 90-person crew had to stand around waiting for the snow to melt. Tens of thousands of dollars an hour to wait for snow to melt. Easily $10-20,000 to make the snow in the first place. A million-dollar-budget commercial, directed by the guy who made American Movie (and then parlayed that cult hit into a lucrative career directing commercials for VW, Nokia, et al).

The final result? A commercial where a brown Ford Taurus spins down the road for no reason and a guy in a VW car is glad he is in a brand-new, spit-polished VW, for some reason (it's newer?). There is no snow or ice around. It might as well be summer in Hawaii.

Huh? How long was this idea in discussion at the advertising agency? How many meetings did they have? How many snow and ice-coated pictures did they draw while mapping out the commercial? How many representatives of the client and agency approved the concept at multiple stages of the game? And nobody brought this up until the snow was already paid for and covering every square inch of an entire office park in Hinsdale, Illinois?

You can see why products cost so much these days...

At the end of each day of shooting, the exposed film (yes, they still shoot on film) is driven to the lab by one of the gophers. This is one of the most blatantly nonsensical customs in the industry. The film is loaded and unloaded by the least-experienced and lowest-paid member of the camera crew and then driven to the lab by the least-experienced and lowest-paid person on the entire crew. If either of these people mess-up, hundreds of thousands of dollars were completely wasted and the entire commercial needs to be reshot.

The gophers--known as PAs, for Production Assistants--make $200/day whether the day is two hours or 28-hours long. Yes--I know many people who have worked up to 28 hours straight. My own personal best is three 20-hour days in a row, when the agency wisely realized they needed to rewrite the entire 3-commercial Bud Light campaign because it wasn't funny (usually they just shoot and air them anyway).

PAs have been paid $200/day for the last 15 years. It is one of the only non-union positions on the crew. A bit of perspective: high-school-drop-out Blutos carrying around lights and extension cords make $500/day and have houses in Malibu and jet skis and jacked-up pick-up trucks and motorcycles and flatscreen TVs in their shitters, etc. Teamster dudes who do nothing more than drive around a van make $500/day. Wardrobe stylists and Production Designers make $1200/day. Directors of Photography make $8000 for a 10-hour day.
Directors make $15-20,000 a day. Yes--a nine-day shoot, plus two days of prep, would net a director $220,000 for 11 days of work. Wow. You are correct to be outraged.

And yet, it gets worse.

Years ago, I worked on an Herbal Essence shampoo commercial in Chicago, directed by legendary music-video director Hype Williams (who long-ago sold out) and starring Ashanti as 'the girl who has hair to wash.'

At one point, I was sent from downtown Chicago to suburban Skokie--in rush-hour traffic, easily a 2 hour round-trip--to purchase the last remaining brand-new (at the time) photo/video-capable iPod in the metropolitan area.

The producer, who was flown in from Phoenix, almost never worked and wanted to give it to Hype as a present, because he saw somebody else's on set and mentioned that he wanted one. Nevermind that Hype was being paid $20,000/day and that the commercial was already tens of thousands of dollars overbudget and still going strong...

Earlier that day, I had to drive to the South Side to pick up a special lunch for Hype and Ashanti and their respective posses, from a famous soul-food joint, despite the fact we had already paid $15/head for them to have a gourmet catered lunch. When somebody from one of their posses ate Ashanti's mom's lunch, I had to go back for more. These two trips easily ate up several hours of my work day. For no reason.

The next day, I had to pick up Hype at his hotel--The Peninsula, the most expensive hotel in Chicago--and drive him to the airport. [How much money do they spend on this guy and they can't get him a car service?] His luggage barely fit in my Jeep Cherokee because he not only had his overstuffed suitcases, but also an entire top-of-the-line desktop Mac--complete with oversized, widescreen monitor. He told the producer he wanted to do a little rough 'editing' in his hotel room while shooting, so rather than renting one, the production company bought him the whole set-up. It was never opened.

The only plus side to all this excess was that after Hype stopped off to make a few purchases "at that cashmere joint on Michigan Avenue" and wolfed down some Garret's popcorn literally like a wolf might, I got to hear the less-interesting--but still fascinating--end of a phone call wherein Snoop Dog gave Hype some much-needed relationship advice.

But has anything ever gone wrong with PAs handling the film, you ask?

Answer: Yes.
In Chicago, years ago, it was a cold-ass winter day. The PA driving the camera truck home--loaded with over $1 million worth of equipment and all the exposed film from the job--stopped off at a 7-11 for a pack of smokes. He wanted to leave the heater on while he popped inside, so he left the truck running. Before he got back to it, somebody else had already driven it away.

The next day, the producer and production manager took thousands of dollars of petty cash and went around to every pawn shop in the city to look for camera parts, lenses, accessories, etc. Believe it or not, they were able to find everything and knew it was theirs, since they had all the serial numbers listed on the rental order.

Later on, the truck was found down by the river, right next to Chris Farley's van. All the exposed film was sitting safe and sound in the onboard darkroom.

For every 999 times the film and equipment is delivered safely, something like this happens. So why risk it? (Another, more common, example is leaving the film on top of the car and driving away. Ooops!)
Okay, so let's say nothing went wrong and the film was safely delivered to the lab. What happens next?

Well, the film is processed at a set time, along with film from random other jobs in town (the 6pm bath, the 10pm bath), and a pre-arranged messenger arrives to pick up the processed film.

The messenger takes the film from Burbank to Santa Monica (a 22-mile drive), to a post-production house, where the film is transferred to digital video by a colorist who bills $450/hour (although he probably only gets $200 of it, dividing the rest between the facility and his one or two assistants) and uses a millon-dollar magical computer to tweak the colors and lighting of the raw footage.
Once appropriately touched-up, where shit can be turned into gold at the push of a button, the DVDs of the day's footage, known as dailies, are messengered over to the production company or to set, so the director can look at it and admire his handiwork.

Once the shoot is completed--all the film exposed, processed, colored, dailied, etc--everything is shipped to an editor by a company called BellAir.

BellAir is like FedEx for the über-rich. They offer a service known as counter-to-counter, which means that one of their delivery dudes picks up your package, takes it to the airport, and personally loads it into the cargo-hold of a plane. Once the plane lands in New York (not always, but usually--it depends where the agency is based), another BellAir delivery dude picks it up at the airport and hand-delivers it to the editing facility. It is only one step short of paying someone to actually hold the film and fly to New York--which also happens on occasion.

At this point, the editor creates a rough cut of the spot(s) based on the storyboards, scripts, and conversations he has had with the director. The next day, the advertising agency producer and a client representative and a few other people come into the editing room, watch the cut, and tell the editor how he should have trimmed down the several hours of footage to a 30-second commercial.

The editor also continues to receive very different (usually covert) instructions from the director of the commercial. The agency cut, as it is known, is always the one that airs, while the director's cut is for his own personal use and is usually never seen again, although it may appear on his sample reel.

Once edited, all the film is then re-colored, tweaked, retransferred, and ready to go. It is shipped out to the networks for broadcast during whatever time slots the advertising agency has purchased for their client.

A commercial, or 'spot,' in the parlance of the industry, can be a regional spot, a national spot, a foreign spot, a global spot, a Super Bowl spot, etc. Maybe they will only broadcast it during Mad Men, maybe only during sporting events, maybe only once--during the Super Bowl. I worked on a Britney Spears Pepsi commercial years ago which was only aired in Japan during the World Cup--I never got to see it.

Actors who appear in commercials--who are chosen after a rigorous casting process (that has more to do with their 'look' than their acting ability, since they are usually onscreen in 2-second clips) where the agency folks and director might see 500 people for 10 roles--are compensated based on where the commercial plays (nationals are the most lucrative) and and how many times it plays.

An actor in a McDonald's commercial who says "Try our new choco-mocha shakes!!" might make $40,000 if it stays in rotation for a bit. Guys like Subway's Jared and Verizon's 'dude with glasses' who are spokesmen get paid based on an annual contract, as are lesser people like "the woman in the Lincoln commecials." They get a ton of money up front (example: Lincoln woman who says "check out these new sexy Lincolns" and does a little car-show-girl arm wave got $300,000 for a one-year contract for 4 spots), are required to be avaliable whenever, for a set number of commercial shoots, and are not allowed to appear in a commercial for another company.

So when all is said and done, a $500,000 commercial shoot that resulted in two 30-second commercials (and a couple trimmed down 15-second versions) actually costs quite a bit more, when you add up the fees paid to the actors and the airtime purchased. The total cost is easily in the millions of dollars. All to say something as unneccessary as: "Drink Coke, cuz we bought up all but two of our competitors and we've arranged to be the exclusive carbonated beverage sold in 60% of all stores and restaurants! And we're totally cool, too!"

The biggest mystery for me, still, is that I have probably worked on 200 commercials in my day and seen, at best, five of them. Where do they go? I don't watch much TV, which explains it away a little bit, but still--wtf? I'm sure some of them never make it to air, some of them are maybe only played in Europe, Asia, during Oprah, game shows, soaps, whatever.

It's not like it matters--of all the spots I've worked on, I probably only wanted to see a handful. Most are cringingly unfunny or just plain stupid. I still want to see that Britney one, though--especially because they only were able to get off about 4 of the intended 14 shots (or something paltry like that) before her mom forced her to leave because a private plane was waiting on the runway, at a cost of thousands of dollars an hour, to take them to a family funeral. (Britney was a sweetheart by the way; we kicked a soccer ball around together for a bit, I briefly fell deeper into lust, etc.)

Well, that's about all I have to say about it right now. Hope that was informative and maybe even enjoyable.



This Just In: Baseball Has Officially Sold-Out

My mother informed me today that the Chicago Cubs are playing with pink armbands on today. Not to be outdone, their opponents--the Milwaukee Brewers--are playing with pink baseball bats.

Why? Because it's Mother's Day, silly!

Oh, Hallmark, what manner of hell hath thou wrought? Your profit-driven machinations have spun out of control like so many dastardly sentient robots.

Is nothing sacred?

For every woman out there watching the game, cooing about all the manly men adorned in pink in their vague honor, I hope to vomit at least once.

I am aware that will require me to spend the entire day vomiting--nay, perhaps the entire year--but I am okay with that.

I needed new teeth anyway...


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Let's Be Realistic

If universities are going to be relieved of their tax-exempt status, so should churches. Or should they just be allowed to continue to amass wealth unchecked?

Regardless of the fact that universities do much more for the community, in terms of education, research, and truth-seeking--not to mention the countless jobs and customers for local shops/restaurants--than churches, treating them the same seems a fair compromise.

Will it happen? Will it even be suggested by anybody else?

Mr. Magic Eight Ball says "doubtful."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Reader Poll: Rood Rie Roove Roo Roo-Rahndah?

Rwanda--land of dreams. Land of genocide. Land of gorillas. Land of gorilla-eating rebels who slaughter tourists who pay lots of money to see the gorillas.

It is lush. It was settled by pygmies in 30,000BC. It is the most densely-populated country in Africa. It hasn't been too long since the last coup. HIV abounds.

Should I live there for a year as a pampered ex-pat?

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

A friend of mine recently informed me that a friend of her boyfriend's hairdresser (kidding; not kidding; kidding) was recently appointed Head of the Office of Economic Development or something and moved his whole family there from the United States.

This man has a number of positions to fill, including a few in the Event Production sector--which happens to be one of my numerous specialties.

It is hardly a sure thing that I will even be offered a post, but since it is a possibility, I must consider my options in order to pull the trigger when the time comes.

When I close my eyes and think about what life would be like for me in Rwanda, it is impossible not to imagine myself as James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland--although I am slightly better looking.

I know that movie took place in Uganda, in the 1970s, but that is irrelevant--my instinctive imagination does not care about such details.

As such, my first demand would be the Mercedes convertible he drives in the movie, because there's just something so ex-pat about driving a Mercedes down unpaved roads. [Option #2 would be a British-racing-green Land Rover Defender 90).

Either way, I would tear around the country blasting loud music until I was executed for no reason.

OR I would have a splendid time, help put on the best gorilla-naming ceremony the country's ever seen, make some good money (for a change), and see some sights and animals and meet some people and why not?

It could be another fantastic adventure to throw on the pile.