Friday, October 29, 2010

Obligatory Halloween Post

Greetings, Boils and Ghouls!

Well, 'tis the season when you can't help but ruminate on all things scary and I thought I'd look back on the things that have given me a serious case of the wiggins over the years.

The first time I remember being terrified of something was when I was about six or seven years old.  It happened after a trip to the Bill Lynch traveling fair.  Now, I know that carnivals can be scary just due to the genetic casualties who run and repair the Spanish Inquisition-style torture equipment that passes for amusement rides, but the source of my terror was incidental.

My Dad had won game of ring toss game and the "prize" was a green and black felt head shot of Frankenstein's monster.  I tried to put on a brave face and told my Dad how "cool" I thought it was.  When we got home, he put up on the wall opposite my bed.

Well, that was all well and good until the lights went out.  Turns out that f#$@%^ glowed in the dark.  All night I stared at that baleful visage and thought it was the face of my inevitable doom.  I must have been a pretty sheltered kid since this was the first time I recall seeing something so pregnant with the insinuation of death and horror. 

All night long my mantra was: 

"Can't sleep, Frankenstein'll kill me.  Can't sleep, Frankenstein'll kill me.  Can't sleep, Frankenstein'll kill me."

Next day I was so tired I nearly fell forward into my Rice Krispies.  My folks confronted me and I tabled my theory very calmly that the poster on my wall intended to murder me in my sleep.  They took it down and put it away, much to my relief.

But this moment was watershed.  My parents had done such a good job taking care of me, it was the first time I'd really felt a primal fear.  It was as if I had been suddenly made aware that there were things in the world both real and imagined I'd been protected from, things that were spawned from dark, sinister and unconventional places.  The thrill of terror, agonizing at the time, now seemed like a rush in afterthought.  I'd survived the process and could look back on it now and feel just a tad stronger.

But fear could come out of left field, when you least expected it.  Not long after I got cold-cocked on, of all things, a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The first of my assailants was, believe it or not, the classic Star Trek episode "The Corbomite Maneuver".  I don't know how many of you Kind Readers out there remember this one so here's a quick summary:

The U.S.S. Enterprise comes across a scout ship in deep space, which looks like a glowing version of those hydrogen molecule models that you used to see in school.  Of course, Kirk goes all aggro on the thing and phasers it into oblivion.  Well, things go from bad to worse when the mother ship shows up, which resembles a ginormous soccer ball with a bunch of Christmas lights stuck on it.  I, like many other impressionable viewers, watched in rapt fascination as the pilot of this mammoth vessel opened up a ship-to-ship conference call with the Enterprise and this is what we saw on the view screen:

Some fuse in my brain burned out when they revealed this thing for the first time.  All I could think was "RED ALERT!  RED ALERT!  FIRE ALL PHASERS!  DAMN THE PHOTON TORPEDOES!  KILL IT!!!  KILL IT!!!"

Well, as it turns out, the alien pilot (named Balok, which was creepy enough in it's own right) is merely a more-intimidating stand in for Ron Howard's freaky older brother Clint:

Y'know how kids usually grow out of their awkward phases?  Well, poor Clint didn't.  He's known, along with folks like Michael Berryman, as one of the more unconventional-looking character actors out there right now.

It's pretty sad when Ron Howard is considered the cute one of the family:

Anyway, when I first saw Balok's true appearance it kinda freaked me out even more.  "Bring back the scary dummy!" I yelled at the screen.  "At least I knew he wasn't real!"

As if my jangled nerved hadn't been through enough that day, the T.V. station I'd been watching decided to segue from the world's scariest Star Trek episode into the world scariest movie.  And what was the title of this magnum opus of fear?


That's right, baby, The Green Motherf#@$%^ Slime, yo.  Don't think that sounds scary?  Oh yeah?  Well, watch this trailer and keep a change of Haynes nearby:


Okay, so, in the immortal words of a certain habitually howling SCTV character: "Even Count Floyd wasn't scared of that and I get scared real easy!"

By the way, do ya like the groovy theme song there at the end?  Well, here's the extended dance mix version.  See how far you can get through it before you lose control of your bodily functions...

♫♪"Is it just something in your head?  You'll believe it when you're DEAD! Green Sl-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-me!!!"♪♫ 

All I can say is...Wow.   Y'know, I always thought that the Saw movies might benefit from a country and western theme song...

John Kramer was a civil engineer
Who built a place where addicts had no fear.
One bumped his wife with a door one day
So their baby went away
That's why John Kramer became Jigsaw so they say!  Yee-HAW!!!

Okay, so in retrospect, The Green Slime certainly looks more goofy then scary, but in the mind of a six or seven year old kid it was pretty intense.  In fact, there's a scene where an astronaut goes into a confined space by himself to look for the Green Slime and gets all f#$@%^ up just like Tom Skerritt did in Alien.  To this day I'm convinced that Ridley Scott saw this piece of poo and said: "Yknow if I replace the goofy, tentacled one-eyed blobs with something designed by a borderline insane Swiss surreal artist I'm pretty sure I can scare the piss out of people."

After this one-two punch of unmitigated terror,  I was shaken up at first, but ultimately left exhilarated, like someone proud to have survived the roller coaster at Crystal Palace in Moncton.  In light of the scarcity of home video availability at the time and my complete and utter chicken-shittery over being caught sneaking into "R"-rated movies, I trained myself the only way I could: though monster movie books.

One by one I digested such illuminating titles as Horrors: A History of Horror Movies, The Encyclopedia of Horror, and Everything You Wanted To Know About Monsters (But You Were Afraid To Ask!).  A series of library staples particularly near and dear to my heart were the Crestwood House Monster Series, collected here in this awesome photo:

So, by the time I was eleven or twelve, I knew the real names of horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (Bela Blasko and William Henry Pratt respectively), the best method to destroy the vegetable-alien in the original The Thing From Another World (you cook it!) and the pains that Lon Chaney went through to realize his startling makeup as The Phantom of the Opera.

At around the same time an affiliate television channel WLBZ out of Bangor, Maine started a "Midnight Monster Madness"-type show on Saturday night called Weird.  It was through this show that I finally managed to see all the classic Universal monster movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Mummy.   

More television fare continued to toughen me up.  The 1982 T.V. movie The Fall of the House of Usher staring Ray Walston and Martin Landau  scared the fertilizer our of me.  This effect was further compounded when I manged to negotiate the ability to stay up late one night to watch a heavily-edited version of Alien on ABC.  Even with half the scenes chopped out and the film barely making any linear sense, it still gave me friggin' nightmares.

Feeling as if I'd been suitably toughened up, I now felt ready to venture back into the terror dome.  Still "bustable" if I went into a video store to rent horror movies I had to wait until one of the pay cable movie networks like "First Choice" decided to have a free trial weekend on Halloween.  In the Fall of 1982 I got my grim wish.  My folks went out for the night and I settled in for a long marathon of good-old fashioned, unedited, no-hold's barred frights.

And soon discovered that I was in w-a-a-a-a-a-y over my head. 

First up was George A. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.  As the eerie music cued up and the stark black and white scenes established a grim and austere mood I thought: "Cool!  It's just like the old 'Universal' monster movies!  This is gonna be neat!"

For the record, of all the colorful adjectives you can apply to Night of the Living Dead, 'neat' is not one of them.

The film began with Barbra and Johnny, two bickering siblings, who have come to a spooky graveyard to pay respects to their dear, departed mother.  All of a sudden, the two are attacked by a lanky, ghoulish fiend who kills Johnny and then chases after Barbra.  She barely manages to make it to old abandoned farmhouse and barricades the door.  She then ventures upstairs and, to her horror and mine, finds a half-eaten corpse, which the film-makers helpfully show us in wince-inducing close up.

More survivors appear.  They barricade the house for a brief moment of respite, find a television set and this is what they see:

'Whoa!' I thought to myself.  'Dead bodies are coming back to life with a taste for human flesh?  Even a resurrected loved one will want to nibble on your elbows?  And you have to shoot them in the friggin' head to kill them?  Man, this is gonna get a lot worse before it gets better..."

And boy, did it ever.  Much worse.  When a plan to get gas into an abandoned truck goes horribly amiss and a pair of the characters die in the resulting explosion, the zombies rip into the vehicle and partake in a little, shall we say, human fricassee.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  A terrible thought dawned on me: 'Oh my god, the guy who made this movie is obviously insane.  He's actually showing these zombies...*URK!*...eating people!'

I was horrified.  If Romero was willing to flat-out break the taboo of cannibalism on screen, what the hell else was he willing to subject us to over the next forty minutes? 

And Romero, the mad genius that he is, actually trumped himself not once, but twice more in Night of the Living Dead.  I'd already been slapped in the face by the movie.  But when the sick  little girl dies, then gets back up and kills her own mother with a garden trowel, I felt like I'd been thrown down a flight of stairs.  Then, as if my wits hadn't been abused enough, Romero throws on a brutal shock ending that is, in essence,  the equivalent of someone in jackboots coming down to the foot of those steps and kicking me in the gourd.

I had no idea cinema could be that nihilistic, that devoid of scruples and so cruelly terrifying.  Unlike the reasonably innocent frights provided by the monster movies from the 30's and 40's, Night of the Living Dead  was refusing to play nice.

I fought the temptation to whimper and shut off the T.V., but up next was Poltergeist. I decided to stick it out since I'd heard good things. 

'Okay," I thought to myself, 'I can handle this.  It's just a PG-rated Steven Spielberg movie.  Probably like a horror film with training wheels.'

Well, for the first third of the film, I was right.  I was lulled into a false sense of security with the ample humor and familiar scenes of Spielbergian-flavored suburban bliss. In fact, for quite some time, it played out like the evil twin of E.T. which had come out earlier that same year. 

But then when you least expect it, Poltergeist takes off the kid gloves and starts hammering you with loads of eerie lore, ghostly manifestations, and EEK!-worthy scenes with the inherently creepy Zelda Rubinstein.  

And then this happened:  

"No fair!" I yelled at the screen.  "You can't show maggots and some dude ripping off his friggin' face in a movie rated PG!  You just can't!"        

Next up was the remake of Cat People, but I was too far gone.  In retrospect, that's kind of a shame since Nastassia Kinski spends huge tracts of time strolling around in the film sans clothing.  Idiot.

So, I shut off the T.V. and then proceeded to turn on every light in the house.

It was obvious at that point in time that I still had a long way to go before I could call myself a horror movie maven.  I also knew there would be sterner tests to come, but also more rewarding chills. 

But that is a tale for another Halloween!

Have a good BOO!-Day and stay safe, peoples!  

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 [Blu-ray]Horror Movie FreakNight of the Living Dead [Blu-ray]Poltergeist (Blu-ray Book)

FAIL:  Maybe I shoulda started here:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Everybody Has A Price...Mine Just So Happens To Be Really Cheap.

Hello, Mes Amis.

Okay, my previous entry I established how not to court me for future advertising opportunities.  Now I'd like list ten things that I'd happily shill for.

So, without further ado, here's DAVE'S TOP TEN THINGS HE'D PIMP OUT FOR IN A SECOND:
  1. Good Movies  If you come to me with a decent film project I will flog it without mercy.  As a corollary, any motion picture involving the presence of Jennifer Aniston, a talking pet or a Saturday Night Live character spun out to feature length need not apply.  Also, as much as it pains me to say so, I will no longer be mentioning Star Wars anymore.  It's not that George Lucas raped my childhood, but he did invite it inside Skywalker Ranch with promises of candy and touched it in it's Danger Zone. 
  2. Good Music  If your band or album doesn't suck, I will gladly shout your praises from the rooftops.  In fact, I'm so desperate for good music lately, I'm willing to promote you even if your music is merely  semi-distinguishable from everything else.  Also, to save us both some time, please note that your music will likely have no resonance with me if you're under the age of twenty.  What life lessons can I possibly glean from the lyrics of some snot-nosed kid who's cubes haven't even dropped yet?  Mark my words, in a few years some enterprising obstetrician/budding manager is gonna get rich by filming a still-in-utero video featuring a fetus with a comb-forward CGI hairdo lip-syncing inane lyrics to a dance track.  I'm tellin' ya, it's money. 
  3. Good Television  Next month I was planning on doing a blog series on television, so for all you folks playing along at home: here's a sneak preview!  About four years ago I was blissfully snobby about the state of television and seemed perfectly content to write off the entire medium as a colossal waste of time.  Then this jackass I was working with at the time had the audacity to give me the first season of The Shield.  In light of this revelatory viewing, a whole new world chock-a-block with entertainment value opened up to me.  Entourage, Dexter, Freaks and Geeks, Battlestar Galactica, The Tudors, Supernatural, Mad Men, and Veronica Mars blew me away in quick successionEach episode is produced with the sensibilities of a mini feature film and not one of them involve tattooed orange people excusing the most reprehensible human behavior you can imaging with the mantra "Hey, you wouldn't understand, it's a 'Jersey' thing!"
  4. Good Video Games  Video games have come a long way since their inception.  I have to credit early designers with coming up with inventive attempts at something passing for a game just to try and offset the crude graphical tools they had to work with.  But now, the visuals are so amazingly sophisticated that the best (like the Halo, Gears of War, Brother in Arms, Left 4 Dead, or Half-Life series) play out like interactive films.  Which is why, in my humble estimation, even at their worst, video games will always be superior to homogenized, crappy network television.  After all., with television, unless it's something really engaging or enriching, you're typically just sitting there inert, slowly being spoon-fed pablum-flavored entertainment, your brain getting fatter than Homer Simpson during the ironic punishment doughnut eating nightmare in Hell.  At least with video games, you're not quite so damned...passive.
  5. Good Books  Have you ever heard the quote: "Yeah, the movie was okay, but the book was w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y better?"  Well, there's a reason for that: a wealth of additional details, the benefit of descriptive language, the power of imagination, and the author's freedom to do whatever he or she damn well pleases.  In the immortal words of Stephen King: "A day without a book is like a day without sunshine!"  Hmmmm, you'd think he'd be more of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" kinda guy...                         
  6. Good Board Games   Hey, I've already done an entire treatise on why I prefer board games over video games but this bears repeating: sometimes you just want to teabag an opponent in person.
  7. Good Radio Stations  Only within the last month or so did the city of Halifax get a modern rock radio station worth crowing about.  "Live 105" is a virtual godsend in this city, which has suffered under the yoke of "classic" rock  for the past fifteen years.   Up until "Live 105" arrived on the scene the situation was pretty grim.  "C-100" propagated nothing but non-threatening manufactured pop product, "89.9 HAL FM" and "Q-104" were designed for people who are laboring under the erroneous belief that rock attained perfection in 1975 and "Kool 96.5" (wow, there's never been a more ironic name for a radio station, by the way) is a viable promotional tool for artists that are either all completely irrelevant, defunct or deceased.  And although "Live 105" is already starting to cheese me off a bit with their definition of "heavy rotation" at least I'm getting sick of songs produced in the last fifteen to twenty years.  Here's the link if you wanna give 'em a spin:
  8. Good Comics It's kinda sad that this amazing medium has been ghettoized for so long.  It really doesn't  deserve to be written off as something just for kids.  In some ways, comics are a superior art form to both film and standard novels.  It gives a cool visual component, but unlike film it isn't so fleeting.  The Egyptians certainly thought it was a pretty solid way to tell a story; after all what are hieroglyphics other than panels of an ancient funny book?  I really do believe that titles such as Sin City, Bone, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Sandman, Watchmen, Preacher, The Walking Dead, From Hell, V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns are all just as valid as works of literature as Ulysses and Atlas Shrugged.  
  9. Good Beer  I had a bit of a struggle not to mention this one first, for fear of looking like a raging alcoholic, but I can't hold off any longer.  When I was in university, I always thought I hated beer abd eventually I learned to tolerate it.  Then, in a tremendous moment of epiphany, I tried a micro-brewed beer offered here in Halifax at the Henry House pub called "Old Peculiar".  I've never looked back since.  Guinness, Harp, Murphy's, Kilkenny, Smithwicks, Sapporo, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Innes and Gunn have all joined the ranks of my favorite beers.  Please take note of the conspicuous absence of Coors Lite, a beer for people who don't like the taste of beer, or Bud Lite Lime, the makers of which seem to be admit "Yeah, our crappy beer comes pre-skunky, so we're just gonna use some unnatural lime flavor to cover it up."  *Bleah*        
  10. Grey Poupon  "Oh my God, if your makin' a toiky sammich, put a little bit of mayo on one side, slap on your toiky, get some fresh lettuce and a coupla slices of foim, ripe tomaita.  Then for a bit a zip, spread a bit a dis stuff on ''s like buttah!  It makes your sammich right poiky!"  Seriously, I'd put this stuff on toast for breakfast if I didn't so many weird looks from people.
So, if you think your represent one of the aforementioned products, contact me as soon as possible.  After all, by advertising on "You Can't Get There From Here" you'll may very possibly be able to reach literally dozens of readers.

EPIC:  Awww, who am I kiddin'?  Here, this should keep you busy for a bit.  Don't don't too freaky-deaky  with the mustard, tho...
Fight Club (10th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]Infinite Arms [+digital booklet]Brothers in Arms: Hell's HighwayThe Shield: Season OneNineteen Eighty-Four
DungeonQuestJohnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's CutGuinness Pub Glasses, Set of 4Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard with White Wine - 8 oz Glass Jar

FAIL: Sweet Jesus, can someone make Will and Jada Smith stop breeding already?

Monday, October 25, 2010

This BLOG'S For You! Well, at least for now...

Hey, all!

Well, with close to three-thousand visits to my blog since April I must admit that it's gotten a bit more attention than I expected.

What really freaks me out is when companies contact me from out of the blue for inappropriate advertising opportunities.  Way back in May I did one (and only one) entry about sports (hockey to be precise, found here:, and just a few days later this was sent to me:

Dear Webmaster ("Who is this Webmaster?  I am no Webmaster, I am the Keyholder!!!"...sorry)

My name is Dierdre (name changed to protect the stupid), and my company Pushy-Interwebs (name changed to protect it's clearly fly-by-night nature) represents online sport sites in various domains. We are looking at reputable sites to offer them profitable opportunities to help promote some of my clients sites.

We would like to know if you are interested in working with us on this.

For further details please don't hesitate to contact me.

Dierdre Brainsample
Advertising Consultant
Business Development Department

Well, never one to discount something outright I replied back with the following:

Hello, Dierdre.

I appreciate your interest in my blog but had you given even a scant cursory glance at some of the other entries, you would clearly see that sports is a topic that I will scarcely, if ever, revisit.  In fact it's very likely that the content of the entry that prompted your email will never be mentioned again.

Having said that, I would certainly review any information you can provide about this opportunity.

Thanks in advance,

David Pretty


Then in August this inexplicable exchange occurred:

Hi David Pretty,

I am Trina Echoears, I work for Cyberdyne, Inc.

Could you please mention about our Cyberdyne Operating System Optimizer on your blog.

I will give you a full version in exchange.


Trina Echoears

Well, I mulled this over for half a second and shot this back:

Hi, Trina.

Thank you for your interest in "You can't Get There From Here". 

I might suggest, however, that if you'd taken a few fleeting moments out of your clearly busy day to scan over a few of my entries you might have picked up on the complete and total absence of references to computer software or reviews of the aforementioned products.

I'd go so far as to say that the time you would have saved composing and sending the email below would have been better served reading just a few paragraphs of my work versus trying to hone your penchant for Jedi Mind Tricks.

Having said that, I have been using the trial version of your product for the past few days and although my computer isn't operating any faster it also hasn't become self-aware, tried to murder me in my sleep or attempted to tap into any nuclear missile defense grids.

As such, despite the fact that I've never mentioned software in my blog entries (and never intended to)  I'd be more than happy to embed an ad for the Cyberdyne System Optimizer on my landing page.

Let me know if this would be suitable.

Thanks for your interest and have a great day!


Finally, just recently I got a package of information from Google AdWorks.  I'd already set myself up with AdSense, which is supposed to take the content of your blog and post appropriate ads which readers might have some ungodly reason to click on.  If a certain amount of readers do this (I estimate it would need to be about forty-eight to sixty-thousand), then I might earn a check back from Google which would provide enough scratch to buy that pack of gum I always wanted.

Well, that's all well and good, but the irony isn't lost on me when I go off on an 11-part tirade ripping Sears a new corn hole only to spy a ginormous ad for hanging over my comments box like some sort of blood-engorged stirge.  Oh, irony thou art truly ironic!  

Nevertheless, I got a package of information from Google recently asking if I wanted to use a free $100.00 credit for AdWorks which would put my l'il ole Emblogification Capture Device at the top of the virtual pile of results if anyone searched keywords like "blog", "employment" or "crackpot". 

So, with due diligence, I followed the link, created my one hundred and seventy-fifth new website profile since leaving work in April and then redeemed my $100 coupon.  Basically it was my intention to drive it into the ground for about ten days (or until my credit ran out), hopefully pick up a few new readers and then drop the program like it was hot.

Well, great idea in theory but not so good in practice.  Turns out, for the aesthetic purposes of the ad, the entire URL address could only be thirty-five characters.  Mine was a whopping forty-nine! 

I tried every possible work around with no luck, so I just abandoned it.

Then, a few weeks later I get a phone call from some dude with Google AdWorks located in Arizona.  Curiosity piqued, I called him back and we had a lovely little chat about my little syntax hiccup.

"Well, I'll see what I can do to pare down the name of the blog," I said.  After all, fourteen of those forty-nine characters were not of my choosing like the http prefix, the and other irrelevant mush.  What the eff did I need that crap for?

Well, I went back in, mucked around for a bit and came to the conclusion that he wanted me to pare down my blog title!  What?!?  Ditch Emblogification Capture Device?  And change it to what?  My original title of You Can't Get There From Here had already been taken when I started.  There couldn't be any other title.  It was what it was!  What else could I possibly call it?  This Is Dave's Blog Entry? 

Hey, wait, that's actually not bad.  Crap!   And it's just the right amount of characters.  And I just thought of this now!!?  F#$%, I'm such an idiot!

Errrrrr, I mean, NO!  Was he nuts?  Right now if someone "Googles" the name of the blog, it's the first result to come up!  Not that anyone would ever do that on their own in a million years, but since April I've been doing a sort of grass-roots advertising campaign by leaving otherwise blank business cards lying around the HRM with Emblogification Capture Device cryptically printed in various fonts.   

The AdWorks dude soon called back and left a message for me, asking how I was doing in neutering my blog's name.  I couldn't bring myself to call him back and explain in some lame, pretentious, artsy temper tantrum that I can't change the name of the blog because it would be like changing the name of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Benji the Hunted.     

After he left literally a dozen voice mails I finally picked up on the last one, just as he was promising with a straight voice that this was "sure to be the last message".  I snatched up the phone and blathered in quick succession that I would, in no uncertain terms, rather die than give up the name of the blog and that Google, yes, Google needed to find some internal solve to get over this creatively inane forty-nine character limit.

He waited me out patiently and then assured me that the advertising URL and the actual URL were two totally different things.  He told me he was going to email over a link which would allow him to view the format of the site address so help me pare it down while retaining the original name of the blog.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  That was, until his next question...

"So, when we get this all squared away, have you given any thought as to what your daily advertising budget will be?"

I let a beat pass.  I'd already shown earlier that my hand of cards was composed entirely of Jokers, so I decided to lob that conversational grenade back into his foxhole.

"Daily advertising budget?  Um, well, what would you recommend?"

"Well, on the very minimum end of the spectrum, how does $11.00 a day Canadian sound?"

It was now my turn to let the crickets have a solo.

"Uh, yeah, listen, um..Ryu (name changed to protect the oblivious), I don't know if you actually read my blog, but it's basically about an unemployed clown bitching about his past jobs, banging on the drum all day and playing dress-up."

"Oh," he said.

"Yeah, and to be perfectly honest, I was just gonna use up the $100 credit and then drop it, unless all those schizophrenic Sears ads started to may off like loose slot machines in a moment of karmic payback..."

Ryu from AdWorks cleared his throat and then proceeded to gingerly navigate out of our suddenly pointless conversation.

"Oh, well, if that's the case, then let me just pass you along to another department that works with...smaller scale (translation: non-existent) budgets..."

I politely took the number down.  Before I hung up, I just had to ask:

"Ryu, why would someone send this to me?  I mean it's not as if my site is based around gold for cash or online sales of LE 3-D televisions.  Really, why did I get this mailer in first place?"

"Oh, likely it's're did you say you were located again?  Up in P.E.I.?"

"Um, close, Nova Scotia."

"Well, it's likely our marketing department thought that your region was untapped, so to speak, so you likely were a part of a mass mailing."

Mass mailing?  Really?  I suddenly felt so unloved


EPIC:  I'd whore for Cheap Trick anytime...

FAIL: Did these things get sent to me because people didn't read or because they couldn't because they "lost their glasses"? Here's the indescribably bizarre Pete Burns, lead singer for the 80's pop band Dead or Alive humiliating himself on British TV as part of Celebrity Big Brother in 2006...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Born to Be Alive" - Part IV

'Was Happenin', Peoples?

I wasn't sure if I was going to be contacted by Hennessey Casting for Sunday's Roller Town gig, but just like clockwork, by the time I got home Saturday evening Erin had left a voicemail and sent an email reminding me of my pledge:  Here's a fragment:

"We have you on a list of people who have expressed an interest in volunteering on Rollertown this Sunday.  If we have not already spoken on the phone, please give me a call at ***-**** anytime after 1PM today.  I don't know exact calltime right NOW (will have to wait until they let me know later this afternoon), but you can expect you would be needed in the 9am - 10 am range.  Once I know the exact calltimes, I will confirm everyone on the list."

I called Erin back straight away and confirmed that I was in.  As a side note, Erin Hennessey seems to be one of the most enthusiastic and good-humored people I've ever had the pleasure of talking to on the phone.  Even at 10 in the evening her energy and positive attitude seemed boundless.  How could anyone say "no" to that?

But then she had to go and spoil it all by asking: 

"Aaaaaand what size roller skates do you wear again?"

I sighed heavily before responding.

"Hypothetically...size eight," I replied, enable to deny it any longer.  I was going to have to skate tomorrow. 

"Excellent!  I'll send over your call time via email shortly!"

She wasn't kidding.    Here's the email that followed mere moments later:

"Attached you will find the callsheet for background tomorrow - please have a look to confirm your information & calltime is correct.  Thanks very much for helping us out with this production -we know this is going to be a fantastic movie, and we're so glad to have you on board.

As discussed, you will report to the parking lot of the Olympic Centre and look for the signs directing you to WARDROBE or EXTRAS HOLDING.  Please arrive ready for action! As discussed - dress is late 70's - early 80's DISCO club wear.  Try to do your best. If you wear your first choice,and bring along another option you also think is good, then wardrobe can quickly give you the once over and send you off to set.

We will be feeding you guys (we have a BBQ!) - but this is a pretty low budget production, so you may want to bring along some juice or pop or chocolate or whatever you're into that doesn't come off a BBQ.

Make sure you also bring along some thing warm to keep handy in case you have to be outside at some point.

If you are having trouble finding the set,or you are late, or if you can't attend -  please call _____ tomorrow at  ***-****.

We really do appreciate your participation - and here at Hennessey Casting, we do a lot of casting for different kinds of production - from radio to print to film & Tv.
Now that we have you on file in our database, you may be contacted about other opportunities.

Have a blast tomorrow!!  And if any of you have SO Much fun that you would like to return on Sunday - you are more than welcome (some of you are already booked for Sunday).  Just give me a shout at ***-****, or give your name to _____ when you are on set."

I almost had a coronary when I opened the attached document to discover that my call time would be at an ungodly 8 AM.  It was already closing in on midnight so I hopped in my sensory deprivation chamber post haste and conked out for the night.

Before I knew it, the presumptuous alarm clock was bleating at me to get up.  I rolled out of bed, put myself on an IV drip of caffeine and had my eternally understanding wife drop me off at the set.  I appreciate her slowing down to twenty klicks to facilitate that, by the way.   

For obvious reasons on Sunday, the background holding area had been moved to the dodgy bowels of the Olympic Community Center.  In start contrast to the church basement, this place looked like a low-rent CBGB's.  Er, I mean an even lower rent CBBG's.  

But unlike last Wednesday, we didn't have long to wait before we received orders to strap on skates.  I won't lie to you, folks, I was friggin' terrified.  I'd been on ice skates plenty of times before, which is why I agreed to this madness  in the first place.  But somehow I knew that precious few of those limited skills would translate into the realm of roller skatery.

We were immediately set into motion doing a tight circular loop around the stage-half of the hall, away from the arcade games.  Mercifully we had ample opportunity to practice before the camera started to crank.  Almost instantly my legs became weak from tension.  To make things worse, it was another hot day, the doors were barred up again and the endless exertion and nervousness caused an breakout of sweat.  But it wasn't just me.  Some people had the foresight to take paper towels or handkerchiefs with them, so that they might swab down between takes.  The lesson to stay hydrated wasn't lost on us since a girl had nearly collapsed the night before while filming the zombie arcade sequence. 

Just before we did our first take, it was decided to have us skating in two concentric circles.  The more experienced skaters formed the core of a tightly-turning formation while the neophytes skated in a reverse orbit on the outside.  Likely this was done to create an illusion of density in the shot, so it looked as if the roller rink was packed.

Despite my stark terror I managed to stay upright for the practice round.  One of the veteran skaters gave me some sage advice about keeping my knees bent.  Then, using a combination of "step and push" and adjusting my weight incrementally, I managed to navigate the turns well enough to stay afloat.  I also used my cross country ski experience to snowplow into a rolling halt, not feeling comfortable enough to use the rubber stop on the front of the skate.  After all, in order to do this, I would need to be on one foot for more than two seconds and, subsequently, that would have placed me far too close to my own mortality for comfort.

Considering that I'd never been on roller skates before, I was acquitting myself quite well, even outperforming a few of my unsteady peers.  It was going to be alright!  I wasn't going to humiliate myself after all.

And then the cameras started rolling for real. 

The last time you went ice skating were you like me and vowed never to return because some hotshot assholes decided graze past you at Mach One just to show off?

Well, that's exactly what happened when "ACTION!" was called.  A few of the more adept skaters got a bit overzealous, and I went down with a "THUD" when one of them cruised past me unexpectedly.

I swore under my breath, scrambled to my feet and was instantly in motion again.  To my surprise no one yelled "CUT" until we'd completed several more laps.

Notwithstanding my regrettable tumble, we all got chewed out by the A.D. because we failed to convey any real genuine "party vibe".  I can't speak for anyone else but it's tough to "celebrate good times" when you're constantly afraid of shattering your skull like an iPhone.    

Nevertheless we nailed the shot within a few takes.  What I thought rather funny is how people in their forties and fifties were skating rings around the younger people.  To a lot of these people, being on roller skates was a lot like being back on a bike.  After all, many of the older extras had loads of formative practice while the young snots were still in Pampers before roller skating even slipped into extinction.  The prowess of some of the veteran skaters was really something to marvel at.  I watched in awe as they cross-stepped, skated backwards, and twirled around effortlessly.

After several of these skating scenes were filmed, we were all dispatched outside to cool down.  I took the opportunity to take a few quick snaps to give you some insight into the fashions and characters on display:

As you can see, some people looked pretty genuine.

As if skating around inside wasn't challenging enough, rolling around in the parking lot was particularly hazardous.  Your momentum could instantly turn deadly if you brought up on a rock, twig of some other piece of detritus scattered about.  Getting in and out of the building was also equivalent to an extreme sport.  There was a plastic riser on the border of the door frame that might as well have been size feet high and made of ice.  It was too wide for me to just step over, since, once again, I'd be risking certain death by standing on one foot long long enough to cross the threshold.  Mercifully, there were a couple of carpet runners across the entrance and I became somewhat addicted to the welcome fabric mire below my wheeled feet.

Despite the carpet, I know of at least one kid that when down on his ass trying to navigate the hall entrance.  The fact that we'd all signed waivers every day was certainly not lost on me.  There are dangers inherent on every film shoot, but to strap hordes of scarcely-qualified extras into roller skates really seems like giving Dame Fortune a thumb to the eye. 

We were eventually ushered back in and corralled into the set's fake snack bar area.  This photo isn't lit very well, but it gives you a good idea about the level of detail they put into the set:

I apologize in advance for this blurry shot, but it does give some context to this next bit: 

See the red tables with the wooden chairs attached?  Well, no-one on the crew bothered to put a sign up telling us that they were for display purposes onlyLike a drowning man swimming to shore I collapsed in   one of them and instantly felt the horrible sensation of tipping forward.  At first I hoped that I was just fainting, but all too late, I realized that the tables and chairs weren't bolted to the floor!

Given the fact that my feet had f#@$%^& wheels strapped to the bottom of them, there was no way I could prevent the inevitable.  For the second time in as many  hours I spilled onto my ass, the table tipped over with a bang and empty cups and set dressing snacks rained down on top of me.

"Yeah, those tables aren't safe,"  a retroactively helpful A.D. said as he drifted over to investigate the ruckus.  "Don't sit on them."

"Wow, thanks for the head's up," I muttered sarcastically as I got to my feet.  Despite my spill, it took someone else nearly going down a few hours later before a sign was finally put up.

I watched the activity surrounding the next set up with growing interest as Evony Rosen arrived on set.  Here she is looking every bit the prom queen in a promotional shot on the Picnicface website:

She was immediately sent off to wardrobe and returned soon after as "Beth" in white roller skates and clad in a jaw-dropping one-piece jumpsuit.  Jaw-dropping mainly because you had to wonder if the garment owed it's existence to the movie's costume designers or if someone had actually found the item in a Salvation Army clothing bin.  Regardless, it was an absolutely perfect Roller Town outfit. 

Also preparing for the heavy next scene was Kayla Lorette as Julia.  Even at her young age, Kayla is a veteran improviser and has appeared in several television productions such as The Ron James Show, The Kids in the Hall miniseries Death Comes to Town and more recently the 'tweener sketch comedy show That's So Weird.  Here's a link to her improv group's website: 

I love how they call themselves the Wu-Tang Clan of Toronto Improv.

Anyhoo, at face value there seems to be a close, possibly familial link between Evany's character and Kayla's.  Little sister, mayhaps?

Also in attendance was Brian Heighton, who some may remember as Ken Pompadour from CBC's late, lamented comedic consumer affairs show Street Cents.  Since then, he's appeared in a slew of television and movie appearances far too numerous to mention.  Just look at this prodigious resume on IMDB:

In the original Roller Town trailer, Brian exhibits, well, let's say... unconventional parenting skills, warning his "classically trained" roller skating daughter Evony that she's in danger of becoming a "roller disco double dicker" (which he then proceeds to illustrate in disturbing detail).  Well, Brian's back in waht I assume is some sort of fatherly capacity and this time I suspect that he may have a 100% bonus in the daughter department.

Evany, Kayla and Brian are joined by Mark and Scott in a climactic scene whereby the villains use more conventional projectiles to wound some of our heroes.  Fortunately there seems to be a higher power looking out for them and all of us extras are witness to the mysteries of the life-giving God of Disco.

We break again and I snap this candid pic of some of the principals catching a  break before we're summoned back for the next series of shots:

From left to right riding the "Budget Bumper" is Brian Heighton as Murray, the "suit and tie guy" with his back turned may be Pat Thornton who plays the enforcer "Beef" in the film, Evany Rosen can be barely glimpsed in red behind Pat, Cheryl Hann , who plays one of three Boogie Wonderland Girls with an unfortunate  predilection is seen sitting next to an unidentified crew member.

When we're all back inside, Picnicface acquaintance Jordon Talbot (who plays the McLovin-esque and appropriately named Jordan) skates around chatting with people, keeping spirits up and networking like a pro.  The almost endless parade of attractive girls seems to be particular focus of his attentions, and frankly, no man alive could possibly slight him for that.

He's the guy in the white t-shirt in the foreground of this shot.  Take note of the arcade consoles and the sign going up for the Disco Dawgfather in the distance:


The fun on the set continued unabated.  In another shot, the A.D. had us cluster up by the stage at the hall's entrance.  He then parted us like a polyester Red Sea so we could witness Leo/Mark Little's final confrontation with the forces of darkness.  We're directed to watch in rapt fascination as he disarms one of the baddies and then seemingly becomes possessed by the God of Disco himself.  Or St. Vitus.  All at once it's as if his entire body is overtaken by the dance equivalent of speaking in tounges.

Frankly, we don't have to act as we watch Mark improvise perhaps the most comically inspired and unabashedly insane dance routine ever committed to celluloid.  We do struggle, however, with keeping a straight face.  I sincerely hope they keep the extended  version so, you too, will some day be privileged enough to witness the glory of the "reverse crab".  Trust me, you'll know what I'm taking about if you ever get to see it.

The shots continued to pile up as a dizzying pace:
  •  Mark fills in the blanks for us, hurling the disco ball that destroyed the arcade console four days ago.  We collectively rejoice as he screams, William Wallace style: "Disco will never die, DISCO WILL LIVE FOREVER!" before hurling the sparkly weapon on it's course true and sure.    
  • Jordan and Cheryl share a tender and stomach-churning moment. 
  •  A few of my fellow Roller Town residents struggle to keep Pat Thornton's "Beef" at bay.  A wayward brick succeeds where the mob fails.
  • The Disco Dawgfather (aka Cecil Wright), resplendent in a silver lame jumpsuit, DJ's the grooviest roller boogie party in history.  We're all still enraptured by his rainbows of funk ("BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?!")  
  • I know why one of the extras on set gets the billing of "Awesome Cop", as he bops incrementally to the disco beat as one of the villains gets a "Whatever Happened To...?" moment for the credits.
  • Evony goes for broke(n), nearly sacrificing her own skull in an amazing pratfall.     
  • George Basil kills us on every take as he whinges "Oww...owww, owww, owww...ow" every time he's dragged off screen.  
  • Since every movie should end this way: there are wedding bells in order for two of the characters.  Here's a hint: it's not Scott Vrooman and Kyle Dooley (although that would have been a progressive and bold choice)
The shoot ended on an amazing note: with a high-mast roller disco party involving righteous moves, free-wheeling skaters, and flashing strobes, all set to the strains of "Born To Be Alive" by Patrick Hernandez.  A camera first captures all the booty shakin' from on high and on another take, a tech with a hand-held unit dives into our midst to document the unprecedented display of carnal funk.  At some point in time I must also have been blessed by the God of Disco since I was now pointing, hustling and electric sliding on skates with the best of them.

Hallelujah!  It's a miracle!   

Without a doubt, this was certainly the most fun I've ever had on a film set.  It wasn't so much a film shoot as a constant party.  Thanks to Hennessey Casting and the makers of Roller Town for being able to crash the event.    

I'm also now convinced that I want to do this for a living.  But how? 

I'm reminded of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke is inside Yoda's hut.  R2-D2, left outside in the rain and muck, rolls up to one of the tiny windows and pneumatically hoists himself up on his metal toe to get a peek at the relative comfort inside.

Frankly, I'm tired of peeking into the window.

What do I need to do to earn my right to sit at that tiny table and enjoy a bowl of root leaf stew?   

EPIC: If invited inside I promise not be as pissy and ungrateful as Luke is here...

FAIL:  Well, at least a lot of these morons will never be able to breed...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Born to Be Alive" - Part III

And a Fine Day to You, Kind Reader.

After that first scene with Grampa was in the can for Roller Town we were released back out into the parking lot to run around like a pack of overheated, rayon-clad chimps.

The head rush provided by the intake of fresh air was ample reward for our dancing diligence.  Understandably, the doors of the hall had been hermetically sealed to prevent outside noise from infiltrating the audio while the cameras were a-crankin'.  When you factor in that it was shaping up to be one of the hottest days of the late summer, the repeated takes of aerobic "get-downery" and the Human Torch/Nova Burst level of heat coming from the set lighting, we were all gettin' kinda...dewy.

During or brief down time I noticed that top-billed Mark Little was a constant presence on the set.  Here's a lovely leisure suit shot of him from the Picnicface website:

Man, don't any of these people shop at H&M?  Cripes, I thought my wardrobe was outdated...

Clad in a skin-tight era-appropriate red and white shirt, knee-high spartan-white gym socks and an abbreviated pair of shorts that left precious little to imagination, Mark was working the set like it was an industry party.  I thought it rather nice that he, like Andrew, frequently took the time to mingle around, thank us for showing up and chat amicably for a bit.

At around 3:30 we made our way back into the hall for our next scene, which was certainly in line with Roller Town's loopy sense of humor.   The previously-lensed and hitherto unseen lead up apparently had Bill Wood's Brick Assassin using his trademark projectiles to assault our heroes.  Undaunted, the plucky defenders use their collective powers (?) to change the mortar missiles into something considerably less threatening.

Integral to the scene was Scott Vrooman, seen here getting up in the grill of an innocent cameraman:

In the original Roller Town trailer, Scott played the main cocaine czar/video game corporate kingpin, but in the feature he's a character named Davis, who may or may not be the son of one of the film's big bads.

In this scene, Davis is the collateral damage zone of the Brick Assassin's transmogrified projectiles.  A few shots were filmed of us dancing up a storm with Scott in our midst, reacting to the incoming payload of fuzzy cuteness.  When this was captures, a call for quiet was requested and a hush fell amongst us as the real star of the film was escorted onto the set.

In a pet carrier.

'Cripes,' I thought to myself.  'I know they aren't exactly working with Avatar money here, but c'mon!  Can't a few of them at least share a trailer?'

The carrier was popped open and we all collectively leaned forward to get a glimpse of the stellar presence now on deck.  The assistant who'd first borne the star into our midst reached inside, fumbled for a bit and then  retrieved...

The cutest gray kitten ever assembled by feline genetics. 

It passively 'meowed', blinked and looked around, taking in all the lights, attention and disco glitz like a seasoned pro.

As soon as the cat was revealed a horrible thought occurred to me:

'Are they actually gonna throw this thing?  If so, how should I react?  Maybe it's some kinda stunt kitty and likes getting tossed around for a living.  Jesus, I hope they at least chuck him underhand.'

But my concerns were all for naught.  The cat probably had a real bear for an agent (literally!) and certainly wouldn't be subjected to unexpected hazards like my underrepresented ass was when Brian beat the shit out of me earlier.

Scott hyper-extended his arms, the handler passed him the kitty and he just brought it down to his chest as if he'd caught it mid-air.  We were asked to react to this precious scene in three different ways:
  • Completely oblivious.  Basically, "Big deal, a flying brick turned into a cat.  Who gives a f#@$%?  If I had a dime for every time I've seen that, I'd be able to buy one of Angelina Jolie's kids."
  • Awwwwwww!  In short: "OMG, that is the most precious thing I've ever seen in my life!  What villain's cold heart wouldn't be melted by such as a cute kitty like dat!  Ooooo, I could just eat your widdle face!"  
  • ME!  ME!  ME!  Essentially: "Hey, somebody's using one of the those t-shirt launching air guns you see at sporting events to give away free kittens!  Ooo!   OOOOOO!!!  I want one too!  Mr, Kotter, over hee'!!!" 
It was a really fun scene to shoot since it involved some really over-the top reactions on our part.  I don't know which of the three variations will make the final cut but it'll be interesting to see which one Andrew will go with to optimize the funny.

Also amusing was watching Scott cope with his increasingly acrobatic co-star.  Between takes it was almost as if someone spiked the fuzzy l'il celebrity's decaf latte with catnip.  All of a sudden the little bugger wasn't content to just rest in Scott's cradled arms.  Twice he decided to use his teeny claws like pitons to scale the sheer face of Scott's chest up to his shoulders, where he set base camp and then made a final push for the summit: I.E. his now-arched spine.  At one point the handler had to swap the hyperactive furball for a more tranquil understudy.

F#@$%^& diva.  

We continued to be involved in some really fun scenes.  Andrew and his production team had converted six classic stand-up arcade consoles into parody titles, which included such memorable names as Wheel Mouth, Swamp Ninja, and my own personal favorite, Stop the Wedding (a driving game!).  When the film is eventually released I'm confident these will join the ranks of other fraudulent video games of note such as Mattress Command and Robert Goulet Destroyer.   

To communicate the ravages of these evil arcade games on our innocent disco-beat addled brains, scenes were captures depicting the cabinets appearing one by one out of the ether.  Presumably this could then be spooled out using a reverse-dissolve to make the arcade space appear more and more populous as the shot wore on.

This was achieved by painstakingly placing the first console at the end of the hall, putting one of us in the driver's seat, shooting a couple of frames, wheeling in another console armed by an extra, shooting a couple of frames,  putting a third game and player in place and then repeating the process until the entire frame was filled up with arcade games and players.

I was the second person to be put in place.  From the camera's point of view, I was at the far end of the hall on the right, fiddling away at my ersatz basketball game Sweet Layup.  As this shot was slowly constructed, we were asked to interact with the console as if enthralled by its addictive, 8-bit glory.

That's right, I said 8-bit.  In an inspired move, Andrew had actually retained a programmer friend to design some ancient-looking demos for us to react to and to serve as throwaway details for background shots.  As primitive as the games were, they were completely evocative of a mercifully long-dead era when video games were still in their infancy.

To try and make it look like I was actually engrossed in this, I used the joystick to mime actions of the barely-distinguishable "players" on the barely recognizable "basketball court".  I must have been doing something right since Andrew came over at one point and said: 

"Dude, you're selling it," he enthused.  "It really looks like you're playing that thing."

"Yeah, well, sad to say, but the video games I was weaned on weren't much different than this," I lamented.

Then I got a chance to re-enact the closest I may come to playing a zombie in a movie!   To really drive home the danger of these electronic Svengalis, we were asked to shuffle around the "arcade," approach a game at random, mime pumping the machines with quarters, play it for a few seconds and then shuffle across the floor to the next available console.  With one simple scene the script manages to convey the unthinking "rats on cocaine" mentality that gripped an endorphin-drunk generation when video games appeared on the scene in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

We also got some sweet closeups to boot.  Later the camera was moved away from the end of the hall and positioned back behind each cabinet.  We were asked to act slack-jawed and wall-eyed as we went through the motions, bathed in a seizure-inducing orgy of colored lights.        

My own humble version of method acting got me into a bit of hot water for the next set up.  When all of us were stationed at a console, the cinematographer turned the camera around so that it was facing top down behind us to get a shot of us feverishly transfixed by the game.

I was still trying to turn the wheel of Stop the Wedding in tune with the "action" on the screen.  So, if the car on the road was barely turning, I only moved the wheel incrementally to make it look right.  It just made sense.  

"Go ahead, play the game!" he shouted at one point.

'But it says 'Game Over'!' I thought to myself.  'Oh well, maybe in our zombified state we don't even notice.'

So as I started turning the wheel in exaggerated motions, the shot was done and he moved on to the next machine.      
When we wrapped around 6:30 , Andrew and the A.D.'s thanked us profusely for coming out.  They also lobbied hard for our return three days hence.  Although Saturday was right out for me (my better half wanted me to time with her on her birthday; she's weird like that) I did commit to coming back on Sunday.

Although we were free to leave, rumors stated to swirl that there would be a special effects demolition shot for one of the arcade games.  I watched for awhile as technicians rigged the thing to explode and took all the screws out of the frame.  Knowing how long it normally takes to jury rig a practical effect I made to leave but Andrew walked by and verbally tacked me.

"No, dude, you can't leave yet!"  he said.  "We're gonna blow the f#$%^ out of this thing!  It's gonna be awesome!

To his credit I'm kinda glad I stuck around.  With the death blow delivered (appropriately) by a disco ball, the console began to shake, shudder and belch smoke.  Then, as if possessed by another 70's era bugaboo from The Exorcist, it started to ooze green slime onto the screen.   Buckets of the stuff seemed to pour out from under the marquee, running down the front of the cabinet and onto the floor.  Finally there was a loud *BANG!*, a flash of sparks and the console exploded in a neatly contained but modest blast.  To complete the illusion, a stagehand crawled out from behind the curtains and physically pulled the sides of the case off.  They fell to the floor as if they'd been blown off by the detonation.

Regardless of how long you've been in the film business, even the most jaded crew members seem to enjoy when shit gets blown up real good on set.  A huge ovation went up and the doors of the hall were finally thrown open to clear the smoke out and invite some cool air inside.

I went home that night 'round 8 pm and was barely able to sleep.  I'd had a tremendous amount of fun and the following Sunday was promising to be even better.

It was supposed to be the film's climax, the final big party scene.  The day would not disappoint.  In fact, it would prove to be the best time I've ever had on a film set for far.

This despite the constant threat of death by roller skate...

EPIC:  This in one of my favorite vids featuring Andy and Mark; a ripe parody of the persistently silly-looking movie The Box:

FAIL: Despite the prominent "FAIL" on display here, it still looks better than Sweet Layup

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Born to Be Alive" - Part II

Good day to you, Persistent Purveyor of the Perplexing.

As with any other background gig I'd done before, I was feeling insecure about my pool of available clothing.  I had two awesome 70's style vintage Star Wars and KISS shirts to bring along.  I knew brand names and labels were verboten but I thought I could get away with some era-appropriate t-shirts.  I brought these along with a brown 80's suede vest I borrowed from my better half, my Chuck Taylor kicks, a shark tooth pendant and a pair of outdated glasses I'd held onto for occasions just such as these. 

Oooooooh, yeeeeeaaaaaaaaaah.

I got to the Roller Town set around 10:40 am.  It was a beautiful and cloudless late summers day and I couldn't help but wonder if I'd be done early enough to facilitate a trail hike and possible swim later in the afternoon.  Experience told me that the odds of this happening were highly unlikely.

As with November Christmas, the signage directing background was virtually non-existent.  Which was great since it gave me the perfect excuse to nose around a bit.  I wandered down a driveway between a church and a private residence.  Only when I got to the end of the lane did was I convinced that I'd found the right place. 

I quickly inventoried the tell-tale signs: a costume trailer, a barbecue tent, a seating area, a massive rental equipment-laden truck and tons of harried-looking people running around with headsets and walkie talkies looking like bohemian members of the secret service.

What I didn't spy were any stark yellow signs directing me to background holding.  People were standing around mute outside the entrance of a massive structure that looked part bingo hall part crop-duster hanger.  This was a sure indication that cameras were rolling just inside so I paused for a moment and froze until a member of the crew got the call for "CUT!"

All of a sudden, everyone set into motion again, further emphasizing the child-like nature of shooting movies which sometimes seems like a mass adult game of "Red Light, Green Light".

While we were all loitering about I spied Picnicfacer Bill Wood waiting for his clearance to enter.  Here he is looking appropriately dapper in a file photo from the troupe's website:

In Roller Town, Bill plays the enigmatic "Brick Assassin", who's unorthodox handiwork I would glean some insight into very soon.  In an interesting fashion choice, it turns out that killers for hire that specialize in mortar products as their preferred weapon also have a penchant for wearing fireman pants, suspenders, rubber boots and very little else.

Also hanging around to help us collectively lower the neighborhood property values was George Basil.  An actor and improviser, he's come up from Brooklyn to play the part of Gregs, one of the unscrupulous suits looking to kill disco in lieu of those evil 80's-style arcade games.  George was a friendly and amicable chap and we talked at length about local restaurants and other attractions he might be interested in as an out-of- towner.  Here's a link to his group's website:

But when the all-clear was sounded, I couldn't resist going inside.  It's always been a dream of mine to walk around a movie set without the threat of being tazered by security (as a refreshing change), so appropriately mandated, I barged through the doors without a peep of opposition from anyone.   Ha!   Up yours, RCMP!    
The sight laid out before me was nothing short of surreal.  It appeared to be a massive dance hall set-designed to look like an olde-skool roller rink!  There was a snack bar/skate rental desk, wood floors ideal for roller boogerie, shiny red paneling all over the wall,  70's-era golden Christmas streamers, and a half-dozen vintage arcade consoles. Oh, and, inexplicably, a giant pile of hot dog buns. 

Clad in a denim shirt and pimp-tastic directors beard, Andrew Bush was navigating the logistical minefield like a pro.  Here he is looking characteristically pensive in a promotional photo on the group's website:

I paused to watch his crew's collective efforts for a bit before venturing upstairs in my quest for guidance.
At the top of the steps I chanced to glance over my shoulder and saw massive bins overflowing with ancient-looking roller skates.  Would a pair of these twice damnable things prove to be my downfall?  Literally?  Like falling down and dying? 

I had someone direct me to a corner of the upper promenade where I could see what looked like an administrative desk and a makeup mirror.  I managed to corner someone who sent me back down to the church I'd just walked by mere moments before.

When I went out there a sandwich board sized sign which read "BACKGROUND "  was now standing next to the propped open basement door of the church.

'Man, I gotta stop showing up early,' I mused silently as I picked my way down into the basement.

The silence, the sights and the smells instantly formed a nexus of recall in my head.  As soon as I stepped into that basement I was a seven-year-old Senior Sixer Scout again. 

As I continued my descent I thought silently to myself: 'How many times as a child have I been imprisoned by adults in some dank Church dungeon with a slew of my peers, wearing a Cub uniform replete with woggle?"

Wow, if you say that today it sounds kinda pervy, but I swear, those really were a more innocent time!

Ahhh, the smell of a church basement: 33% mold and mildew, 33% incense and 33% freshly ironed righteousness with a well-represented 1% of creepy thrown in for good measure.

Down in the pulpit pit a small gathering of Roller Town residents was beginning to coalesce.  Not long after our call time there were 12 of us assembled in the holding area: Peter, Vickie, Holly, Christine, Theresa, Jillian, Doug, Natasha, Marie-Claude and Aaron.

Amongst them was a real social butterfly named Gary.  Recently retired from the military, Gary started to get into background performing and voice acting when his wife passed away not too long ago.  He was super-friendly and very helpful.  I have to thank him for shedding a spotlight on a voice-over audition website which I'm hoping to explore.

Gary perfectly summed my attitude to retirement.  It really gets on my nerves when some people (especially Baby Boomers) refuse to retire because they believe that all of their self-worth is tied up in their jobs.

"Oh, I can't retire," some of these blowhards like to say.  "What would I do with my time?"

Well, you can volunteer for starters.  I've been effectively retired for over six months and not once, not once, have I ever said to myself: "Wow, I have absolutely nothing to do.  Boy, I sure wish I was still slaving away in that dead-end, spirit-crushing job I was doing before!"

No, Gary summed up my own personal ethos perfectly.  There are w-a-a-a-a-a-y too many good causes to support, books to read, poems to write, and movies to roller skate in to ever give someone the right to winge "I'm bored!"   Also, if I ever see another lottery-winning dickhead on the news saying "Oh, yeah, the money's nice and all but I'll be back to work at the ole' hardware store first thing Monday morning"...I swear I'll target them for a home invasion.

Having sociable company all around made the wait go quicker.  And a good thing too; several hours clocked by without a call to set.

During this time we were appraised by wardrobe.  As I feared, my awesome Hildebrandt Star Wars tee was tragically nixed.  Mercifully the wardrobe gals gave me a brown checked long sleeve shirt replete with butterfly collar.  It meshed perfectly with the leather vest and really completed the look. 

I have to say, the fashions arrayed out before me were considerably more flattering for women versus men.  I'm sorry, but if a dude is wearing shorts so short that I know what religion he is, that's just not cool.

After wardrobe gave us all the once-over, they started to strap us into the makeup chair.  The girls were subjected to teased and feathered hair, gaudy swatches of eyeshadow, gobs of mascara and pale shades of lipstick.  By the end of it, all of them had that fraudulent, plastic-looking Stepford Wives meets Charlie's Angels quality.

Us dudes got off lucky: Gary got a brief powder down and Aaron got his hair slicked back a bit.  They didn't even touch meTo this day I'm not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Around 1 pm we got our first call to get into roller skates.  En route back to the set I couldn't shrug the mental picture of me being splayed out on that wooden floor with the once-intact content of my skull strewn out behind me like pumpkin innards.

But I was to earn a reprieve.  Andrew came over, took a quick head count and decided that there just wasn't  enough of us for the crowd scene he intended to shoot.  Once again we were sent packing back to the basement to cool our bolt-stop heels.

Around 2:30 we were rallied again and this time it looked like a go.  As if some kindly spirit was looking out for me, this time Andrew expressly told us to come out onto the dance floor sans skates.

Praise Jebus!

So what was involved in this "skateless" scene?  Why some stone-cold groovin', tha's all!  The tandem A.D.'s arranged us strategically and we were asked to bust out our best disco-style dance moves for the camera.

Amongst our numbers was Brian Macquarrie, seen here in what I can only assume to be his graduation photo:

Although some members of the troupe were slated to play multiple characters, it was up to Brian to bring just one pivotal role to life: that of Grandpa, A.K.A. the God of Disco.   As such, the film's makeup department had expertly transformed Brian into a lovable and ancient-looking curmudgeon.  He had a shock of fading blond hair, a huge voluminous beard, museum-era specs and a healthy coat of latex for that raisin-y finish.  His wardrobe was equal to the task: comfy velcro shoes, a cozy checked beige and brown cardigan and pants that could only be characterized as "slacks".

Which makes me wonder: why do seniors like slacks?  I guess when we all get to a certain age we need things to be slack in certain regions of the body.   

So convincing was this illusion, Brian had permanently slipped into character.  Like Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, Brian had apparently studied under Strasburg and wasn't just playing Grandpa...he was Grandpa. 

As background gathered within earshot, we were the ones to reap the immediate benefits.  Brian was a one-man improvisational lightning rod of funny as he kept cracking us up mercilessly between and during takes.

We shot several scenes of us just dancing, and then Brian was inserted into a few of the set ups.  Then, things took a turn into the Twilight Zone.  I intend to proceed very cautiously here because I think people that traffic in spoilers should have their genitals dipped in liquid nitrogen and then be forced to ride a rodeo horse. 

Brian began to hallucinate the appearance of some sort of spectral image.  An unconventional spectral image doing things I really can't talk about during the Family Hour.  Suffice to say that the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my short experience doing background was trying not to laugh while Brian was immersed in his on-screen moments of terror/rapture.

Several variation of this were lensed.  We got a couple of "as is" scripted takes and a couple of deliriously funny ad-libs.  All the while, we disco-dancers are just a-boogieing away, doing our best Travoltian moves and trying despirately not to react to the spectacle.  In a couple of takes Andrew wanted us to become briefly aware of "Grampa's" over the top conniption fit and then resume dancing as if nothing had happened.

Then the crazy was ramped up another 40%.  In the last few takes, Brian inexplicably started screaming "MY BELT!!!  WHO TOOK MY BELT?!??"    On one of the takes he bellowed this out, looked around wildly at the usual suspects cavorting around him and decided in no uncertain terms that I was the one who took his precious belt.

All of a sudden this octogenarian shuffler became a whirling dervish of flailing polyester limbs and pure unadulterated rage.  Instantly I found myself weathering a storm of blows on my shoulder and back.

There was no acting on my part.  The fear you may see in my eyes should this scene be retained for the final cut is very real.  It was the sort of fear that comes naturally when you realize, all too late, that your demise will not be fulfilled in a roller skating mishap but courtesy of a comedian who's ventured so deeply into a role that his mind has snapped Dennis Hopper-style.

My reaction wasn't conscious, but instinctive, born out of self-preservation.  I tried to ward away the first few chucked knuckles, then went down on my knees as "Raging Grampy" went off on me like James Caan in The GodfatherThank f#@% there were no garbage can lids lying around. 

At this time half the crew are in stitches.  Brian finally managed to retrieve his belt from out of nowhere, and now victorious, turns back to the camera for another cringe-inducing encounter with the spirit world.  Without direction I slowly stood up, glared holes in my attacker for a few beats, shrugged and then started dancing again like nothing had happened.

"CUT!" Andrew yelled.

And then the barely restrained laughter was released like dogs straining against a lead. 

"Oh my God, that was hilarious!"

Just to f#$% around with them, I decided to feign injury as I shuffled back.

"Arrghhh!  My shoulder!"  I shouted as I hobbled around.

"Dude?  Did he hurt you!" Andrew shouted, casting a reproving glance at his cast mate.  "You went down..."

"That's 'cuz it friggin' hurt!" I wailed. 

"Oh, c'mon, I didn't hit him that hard!" Brian protested, breaking character for the first time.

I couldn't keep a straight face any longer and bust out laughing.

"I'm calling my agent about this!" I ranted between guffaws.  "Oh wait, I don't have one..."

"Seriously, are you okay?" Andrew asked, looking dire.

I dismissed his concerns with a wave.

"Oh yeah," I replied, now struggling for breath.  "I just wasn't expecting it.  He scared the shit out of me."

After everything was squared away (and I kicked Brian in the nuts when he wasn't looking) we wrapped Grandpa to a huge ovation.

In the next episode: More Roller Town recollections including:
  • Witnessing gratuitous abuse of an arcade console with the worlds most unconventional weapon.
  • A cast member is "Born to Be Alive".
  • One of the Boogie Wonderland Girls displays a unique (and decidedly stomach-turning) talent.
  • Mark Little gives a bravura performance (including the most startlingly original dance moves I've ever been privileged to witness). 
  • Hangin' wif tha' Disco Dawgfather (don't ask).
  • Why working with animals can be fun and blood-poison inducing!
  •  I SKATE
EPIC:  My assailant's VLOG.  See, Brian's really a nice guy...(RUN, CHERYL, RUN!!!)

FAIL: Why Linda Blair's career didn't recover from this is anybody's guess: