Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What the f*** is wrong with us?

Working in commercials really shows you how fucked up our society is about food.

For one thing, when you see food in a commercial, you've probably figured out by now that it ain't exactly what you're getting when you chip the thing out of your grocer's freezer. It's a beautiful facsimile made out of the same ingredients, only better, by somebody the same as you, only better, at cooking things that look appetizing -- aka a food stylist. These are people who deploy tweezers, glycerin spray, and the occasional last-minute blow-torch action in the interest of making the stuff look like it does on the package: hot, moist, containing particles of victuals that you might recognize; in short, edible. Not to mention that there may be some digital color enhancement or air-brushing later on to remove anything that shouldn't have been there, and I'm not going to go into what that might have been. But of course, when you see something on TV, you can't smell it or taste it, so you are judging the potential yumminess of the foodstuffs presented purely based on looks. That's what gets your salivary glands going and destroys your impulse control -- which is both exactly what they're counting on and sad, considering that the looks you're seeing have very little basis in reality, and the fact that you shouldn't really judge what you should eat based on prettiness. I'd like to say that James Franco is so cute I could just gobble him right up, but really, I couldn't.

Then there's the fact that a lot of ads for eatables hawk it specifically by attempting to show you that the "food" being advertised will not, if you eat it, actually affect your body the way that actual food would. Take for instance anything with "light" in the product name, or, worse, its dreaded step-cousin "lite." Light n' Lively, Crystal Lite, Tasti-D-Lite. Generally these products are spokes-modeled by a woman who appears as if all of the growth that was supposed to happen at puberty was channeled vertically -- such as Heidi Klum, currently seen in ads for Dannon Light n' Fit, which is the name of a yogurt, not a Chinese gymnast. While we all do love Heidi for her perkiness and slightly dictatorial accent, the main reason she's the one selling this yogurt is because she looks like she doesn't actually consume food at all. So in effect, advertisers are selling you something you should eat by telling you that if you eat it, it will be just like you didn't, or at least like you ate it and then threw it right back up.

Then there are the foods that are sold with the tag-word "healthy." Healthy Choice, Healthy Request (because we all know that healthy people are demanding with their choices and requests, just look at those vegans), Hearty and Healthy, Light and Healthy, Le Menu Healthy (I'd like to have been at the pitch meeting for that one: "It's Frenchy and healthy, get it?!?!!!??!!"), etc etc. With ads for these products, the food stylists snap into overdrive because "healthy" naturally connotes "sans taste" to an American audience that is used to all flavor coming from fat and salt; those food tweakers spend a lot of time on the set primping the noodles to make the dish look at least not un-delicious. But it's not entirely clear to me what "healthy" is supposed to mean to people in these ads. In one I recently worked on for microwavable _________Healthy ________, the selling points they had to mention in the copy were the reasonable cost, how quickly it cooked, and that it steamed the vittles in the package to make them "tender" or "crisp," depending on whether they were talking about chicken or vegetables (and NOT "crispY," as one actor who sent us into overtime kept saying, no doubt because "crispY" is part of the advertising vocabulary used to describe potato chips and chimichangas). But not once in the spot did anyone actually say the product was good for you. Was that because "good for you" evokes your mom force-feeding you lima beans or because they weren't allowed to say it, because it didn’t meet certain standards?

Because there are rules about these things, and I just have to share with you as an aside some snippets that I found in my research -- What, she does research? -- in a book called The Handbook of Food Science, Technology and Engineering. Basically, it's what you can and cannot do when you name a food product. Here are some excerpts, because you can't make this shit up:

This product must contain at least 14% cooked bacon in total formulation.

Sauce is an expected ingredient of lasagna products and its declaration in the product name is optional.
Cheese Lasagna with meat: 12% meat.
Lasagna with Meat and Sauce: 12% meat.
Lasagna with Meat Sauce: 6% meat in total product.
Lasagna with Poultry: 8% poultry meat.

'Pork Cutlet' may consist of pork temple meat, inside masseter muscles, and small pieces of lean from the tip of pork jaws. These are flattened and knitted together in 'cutlet' size products by means of 'cubing' or 'Frenching' machines, or by hand pounding with 'cubing hammers.'

A 'Loaf' (other than meat loaf) consists of meat in combination with any of a wide range of nonmeat ingredients. These products are not identified with the term 'Meat Loaf,' 'Beef Loaf,' or the like but with designations, e.g. 'Olive Loaf,' 'Pickle and Pimento Loaf,' 'Honey Loaf,' 'Luxury Loaf,' and others that are descriptive.

A nonspecific loaf that must be qualified as 'Made in the USA.'

CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PROCESSED CHEESE FOOD OR SPREAD) A cheese food product with a standard of identity, but is not considered a cheese. Therefore, it cannot be used in meat food products where cheese is an expected ingredient, e.g., 'Cheesefurters' or 'Veal Cordon Bleu.' It is acceptable in non-specific loaves, etc.

1. If sold in fully labeled bulk containers, i.e. canisters, caddies, or similar containers, stick items do not have to be fully labeled unless they are individually wrapped.
2. If sold in bulk containers, i.e. canisters, caddies, or similar containers that are not fully labeled, stick items must be fully labeled.
3. If sold in small, fully labeled cartons, boxes or similar containers, (e.g. 3 oz net weight) that are only intended for retail sale intact, stick items may be individually wrapped and unlabeled."

There are so many things wrong with all of that that all I can say is, Wow. I've never heard of Luxury Loaf, Cheesefurters or Frenching machines, but now that I know they exist, the world is a much freakier place. Basically, though, it just shows you the rules that have been created for how you can find a way to call things you want to pass off as food but that have very little actual food in them something that at least sounds like something that won't send you screaming into the night.

Oh, and then there's how they advertise eating establishments. I'm not talking about the local ads where Sal the pizza guy stares into the camera like a deer in the headlights of a teleprompter while pronouncing stilted copy accompanied by flabby gestures of excitement. No, the ads I work on are for national chains, like Olive Garden or Red Lobster, or for fast food like Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, Dominos, Subway -- there's a lot of it out there, believe me. The funny thing about these ads is that, while they do have images of food that is as pretty and plentiful as any you've ever laid eyes on, their advertising strategy generally rests more on the experience of being in close proximity to the food than eating it. For instance, McDonalds' current campaign, "I'm lovin' it!", shows images of busy soccer moms squeezing in a little fun time with the kiddos. Olive Garden commercials, which employ the tagline, "When you're here, you're family," show groups of people laughing and cavorting and saying dialogue you can't hear (One entertaining part of those ads for me: if they cast sassy and easily bored actors, the dialogue often quickly spirals downward in taste, creating improvised scenarios having more to do with things like bondage or incest than your standard restaurant chit-chat. Sometimes the clients freak out when they hear the actors talking about herpes while smiling and twirling their product on their forks...which just makes it funnier). The idea is that these families are having a super-awesome experience that really has very little to do with those stale breadsticks and that glop-covered cardboard they call pasta. Chili's is similar, only it's dudes hanging out with their buds and talking smack; Dominos' ads are about how many pizzas you can get for your small investment and how fast you can get them; and Taco Bell used to be all about that little talking Chihuahua, until people finally got sick of that, so those ads are now are asking you to "think outside the bun." In short, you're not deciding what or where you want to eat so much as deciding, Am I the kinda person who's lovin' it, the kind who likes to eat fresh, or the kind who knows when it's real?

And lest we forget, there are the food ads that are all about sex. These are ads with some deep-throated siren describing to you the taste of something really really good, most likely chocolaty, and at some point assaulting you with an extreme close-up of lips being licked. The strange thing is that most of these ads are directed at women, trying to tempt them with the naughty, naughty vice of eating things with calories, which all of us good girls who want to be bad must associate with other naughty naughtiness. In other words, forbidden food is hot. Oh, but the ads for alcohol? Those are directed at men. They nearly all feature scantily-clad babes making eyes at the drinking dudes, the implication being that 1) only men drink beer, which really pisses me off as a beer-drinking female, and 2) the only way a man will score with someone this hot is to get her drunk. And since Knocked Up, the idea that this is really and truly possible has taken root in the male consciousness to an even more absurd degree, and so ads seem to feature it even more. Thanks for that Judd Apatow. Every time some really wasted guy leers down my shirt and tries to buy me a drink, I'll think of you.

But aside from that, what really disturbs me in all this is, if aliens were to intercept these ads, what would they think that humans actually do for sustenance? Because they certainly wouldn't think that we use food for that. And then of course if they came across terms like "hide the salami" or "drink your milkshake," they'd be even more confused. But I think this just reflects the general confusion we have as a society about what food is for. Not that other societies don't have it too, based on foreign commercials. According to their ads, food in Spanish-speaking countries is really 85% about sex, and food in Japan is for…well, I'm really not sure what, but it definitely involves throwing, yelling, and American celebrities embarrassing themselves. Most ironically, if we didn't have all these issues around food and what entices us to eat, we probably wouldn't be so fat while simultaneously worshiping women who look like stick figures; we wouldn't have hyperactive children who are allergic to everything but high-fructose corn syrup and chicken nuggets; and we wouldn't think that our enjoyment of life hinged on where we went to dinner. And God forbid, if we didn't have all of these messages telling us what and how to eat and how it would make us feel, we would actually learn to figure that out for ourselves.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Improv Lines Said By The Woman in the Eyeglass Commercial Whose Breasts Grew Five Sizes When She Tried On New Eyeglasses




Giddyup cowboy.
This is pornographic. And I like it.
I look pretty.
These are nice glasses.

Friday, May 14, 2010


People always ask me, "So, does working on movies and TV spoil watching them for you now?"

I've always replied that it doesn't. At least, not if the movie or show is halfway decent. It's only if a film is kind of, well, bad that I start to watch the gears turning -- meaning that the formula the filmmakers used was so incredibly obvious that you can't not pay attention to it. The gears are pretty much sticking out of the screen like a 3-D ikran (that's one of those flying creatures from Avatar, get with it people). Otherwise, I find watching movies as absorbing as you civilians do. I am certainly more analytical about them, so when I do or don't like something about a movie, I can usually pinpoint what it is -- a weak performance, a great directing choice, a screenwriting hiccup in the second act (that hiccup often being that the second act is a directionless and never-ending pile of mush -- yes, I'm talking about you Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Matrix Reloaded, X-Men: The Last Stand, and pretty much any film where they bring on five writers and bring in some new hack director -- yes, I'm talking about you, Brett Ratner), etc. But for me, that doesn't diminish the enjoyment of watching it, if it's worth watching. The same with sound issues: I don't notice the bad sound or a boom shadow unless it's pretty darn bad, at which point it would've taken you out of the movie too. In fact, friends I go to the theater with are generally pointing out to me the egregious mike pack on a person's back, possibly because I am so used to looking at them that I think they look perfectly normal.

There is always, however, the "I can't forget I was there" problem.

I have been working with celebrities for years, and if you know somebody is a jerk, that certainly does make it harder to enjoy their performance. Ever since I worked on a film where William Hurt complained about how much he hated the crew and gave me his piercing and contemplative look of disdain every time I had to boom him (you know the one), I've had a much harder time enjoying The Big Chill. After Jennifer Coolidge (aka Stifler's Mom) almost got me fired when she had a hissy over my telling the director that she was overlapping someone else's dialogue (aka, doing my job), I found her distinctly less funny in Legally Blond, or Best in Show, or…well, let's just say it sucks a little because she's in a lot of funny movies.

By the same token, there are also positive if perhaps no less distracting effects to brushes with fame. Whenever I see a Johnny Depp movie, I often find myself distracted by the fond memory of our romantic moment together: him pretending he was going to tickle me while I was booming. Whenever I see David Strathairn in something, I remember killing time doing the crossword puzzle with him on long days shooting in a New York City courthouse; with Michael Imperioli, I flash on talking with him about the Emmys while standing on a countertop at Satriale's Pork Store. But because in these cases the I.C.F.I.W.T. effect is just a nice if not exactly motivated afterglow surrounding the characters they play, I can't really complain. Plus, when a performance is really good, it doesn't matter. It's very easy to forget that Stanley Tucci is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet when he plays a creepy psychopathic child murderer because he can act. And very often the truth is so close to reality that finding it out in the flesh it enhances an otherwise not-so-impressive performance. Blake Lively from Gossip Girl actually is kind of good-hearted but spoiled, and Matt Bomer from White Collar is charming and hot. Yeah, I know, major newsflash there, quick, somebody call OK Magazine!

Then there are the experiences with talent that forever alter your worldview. Working with supermodels the first few times was something of a revelation. For one thing, I realized what total freaks of nature they are. Most models are absurdly tall, dangerously thin (some of them look like their legs oughta just snap out from under them like twigs) and have huge eyes and lips that, in person, are actually a little frightening. If I were on their home planet, I'd be worried that they would eat my head in one bite -- luckily we have laws about that sort of thing here. But okay, the truth is that most of them are not aliens, or even sex kitten fantasy babes, but actually pretty normal human beings. They don't eat, true, but they do make conversation, which even, sometimes, extends to making jokes about how stupid the ways that they are made out to be sex kitten fantasy babes -- wearing giant wings, trying to act normal while staring into a wind machine -- can be. Believe it or not, Heidi Klum doesn't like to be stared at in her underwear by a crew of a hundred men who can eat their weight in red meat any more than you would, and Tyra Banks doesn't enjoy walking around all day in 6-inch heels -- even if they will both suck it up and do those things because that's their job. In general, knowing this has had the effect of making me hate them less, and less hate is always a good thing. It also reinforced my general feeling about what we worship as beauty in this country being really fucked up, because we worship freaks.

To be fair, though, I've had a lot of other experiences on sets that re-educated me about certain facts of life, many of them involving animals, inanimate objects and foodstuffs. The very existence of food stylists, for example, a whole profession of people who primp, plump and spray food to make it look desirable to eat -- and nothing like it actually looks when you purchase and/or cook it -- taught me quite a bit about the boundaries between truth and fiction in advertising. As in, what boundaries? I've also learned that cows are huge, cats are far more unlikely to be tricked into doing something ridiculous than dogs, and skunks are probably not going to do anything you want them to do, period. And that any object you see in the background of a shot was probably put there by a prop person, and is therefore somehow fake, and often held together with gaffer tape and safety pins. These are all good life lessons which have improved my day-to-day existence. Well, maybe not the information about the cows and the skunks, but you never know when that might come in handy.

No, I think that there is truly only one thing that is unshakable and affects my viewing pleasure: the pain of working in episodic television. It doesn't help that TV shows have a very short turnaround time, so I can watch them within a few weeks of working on them. At that point it's still fresh in my muscle memory that the scene I'm watching took a grueling eight hours to shoot -- the second half of a 16-hour day, which put us outside in the rain at 4 am on a Friday night, aka Fraturday. And I wonder why I've started shivering and trying to curl up in the fetal position on my couch. But even if I get past that, I move on to the sensation of being really pissed off, when I see that all of the unnecessary coverage we shot, which made the scene take the eight hours to shoot, didn't get used -- or it did get used, but it makes no sense whatsoever. That's the worst, because it's really distracting when you're trying to watch a scene and find yourself thinking, WHY are we cutting to the completely unmotivated shot through the glass table??? Or, Why the extreme close-up when we already had the close-up, the medium, the two-shot, the over-the-shoulder, the over-the-other-shoulder, the over-the-other-other-shoulder-of-the-other-actor, and the shot through the glass table? Are we just trying to see the actor from every possible angle and test how good his hair continuity is? And then you remember, Oh right, because we went into meal penalty on those shots and the director just had to use it to prove that every single one was necessary. The bastard. Back to more hate.

And yet, I also remember the fun we had talking about how much we hated the bastard. The nicknames we gave him, what we joked about doing to him, mimicking his pretentious and unidentifiable accent behind his back. And I remember the weird solidarity among cast and crew that working 16-hour days builds, even if a lot of it is built on misery. I remember the lead actress sticking up for us and forcing them to wrap at 14 hours one day when she couldn't take it any more, which, in my opinion, made her worth every dollar of her $5 million contract. Good times!

I guess the conclusion I'm coming to in my very roundabout pondering way is that my viewing experience hasn't been spoiled, it's just been altered. And as with most things in life, you have to take the good with the bad. Plus, is my take on a movie or TV show more altered than anyone else's who has a day job? Like have you ever watched Grey's Anatomy with a doctor? Man, is that annoying. So I just try to keep my pleasure and pain to myself, because nobody wants to hear about it…except for maybe you I hope.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Second Hand Fame -- on Revolving Floor

Do you want to know the secret to becoming cool at your school, a social sophisticate, and the center of attention at any party? No, it's not dye your hair blond, get a piercing in a really interesting spot, or work out on the Roboflex -- which you can buy for just $299! The real answer is in my latest blog "Second Hand Fame," which is now up on the group forum Revolving Floor.

This month's topic is "Blank Slate," and there's all sorts of other cool stuff to check out there too. So go there now, and we'll add this free cubic zirconium necklace as our special gift to you at no extra charge!

No, not really. But you may find out what's up with this picture of Flava Flav and Jon Lovitz...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Brush With Kink (And Then Some)

Several months ago, I was at brunch with my friend Raani.

"I went to this festival last week and I really want to go to the closing night party," she said. "Do you want to go?"
"Sure," I said.
"It costs $30."
"Forget it." I'm cheap, lest you forget.
"But I met this really cute filmmaker at the festival and I told him I'd see him at the party, before he leaves town," said Raani. "And I don't want to go alone."
"Why not?"

Raani reached into her bag and took out what looked like a fancy invitation. It read, "Sexalicious Film Festival Closing Night Party: The Chariot Couples Club."

It turns out that Raani had just attended a sex film festival. Or, as described on the Sexalicious NYC website, a festival "featuring a specially-selected program of films and videos that celebrate and explore a wide diversity of sexuality." Raani described a few of them for me. Some sounded like silly sex comedies, others pretty much like straight porn.

"Mostly the films were really bad," she said, dropping her voice the way she always does when criticizing a movie, even a big movie – like she's worried McG is going to be sitting at the table next to us. "I mean, bad. We could have made something way better."
"But why would we have wanted to?" I asked.
Raani shrugged. "Why not?"

As far as I knew, Raani had never written a scene that had gotten beyond a hot make-out with added innuendo. Raani is a screenwriter from a traditional Muslim family. She didn't drink until her 30s and still mostly confines herself to Bellinis -- although I have seen her catch a healthy buzz off of them. I knew her dating history contained very little casual sex, much less casual pornographic kinky sex.

"Okay look, what if I pay for your ticket?" she asked.
"Really? Okay." Free stuff! Free stuff!
"Great! What are you going to wear?"
"I don't know," I replied, contemplating for a moment. "I don't think I could possibly own the right thing to wear."
"Well, we don't want to give anyone the wrong impression by wearing something too sexy anyway."
"True. We wouldn't want anyone to think that we were at the sex party for sex. Honestly though, it's probably just going to be a bunch of filmmaker wannabes."

When it comes to uninhibited sexual behavior, I've seen a bit and heard about a lot more -- but most of my stories are about actors and easily-coerced PAs...and occasionally people in the art department. Filmmakers themselves? By and large, conservative and fond of rules. They like to think they can think outside the box, but in terms of actually stepping outside of it themselves, not so much. Truth is, they prefer the box. I mean, have you ever read a book on how to write a screenplay? I rest my case.

I arrived at 8 pm at the address Raani had emailed me, which corresponded to a shabby office building that couldn't have looked less like a den of iniquity. But then a group of three people arrived, including one guy who was checking me out in a really obvious way that seemed to say, "Hey baby, are you going to the same sex party I'm going to?" So I felt fairly sure I was in the right place.

Raani arrived and, on her heels, the two guys she'd met at the festival. Harry was the cute Australian she'd had her eye on, and the other was an American named George. Just as I'd expected, they were your kind of average filmmakers who had made some sexy comedies just to be edgy. George's was a pilot about a couple that opens an S&M club to make money. Harry's was a short about a guy who thinks he's foiling a kidnapping, only to find that he's beaten up the husband in a consensual bondage scenario. Apparently this second film had caused some controversy at the Q&A.

"Were people upset at the violence against women?" I asked.
"Sort of," Harry replied. "This woman stood up and asked, 'Why is this a comedy? This is our lifestyle, it's not funny.' Then someone else got up and started attacking me about the same thing." He looked a little demoralized. "I think the humor was just too Australian."

We arrived on the third floor, where we handed our coats to an extremely tall transvestite. "We don't serve alcohol but you can order beer from the deli next door," she related as she hung them up. "There are showers on the right and lockers in the back."

A healthy, uninhibited buzz definitely seemed called for, so Harry and George got on the phone. Raani and I each gave them a couple of bucks.

"I guess we can't order Prosecco," Raani sighed. "Come on, I want to get a locker. I don't feel like carrying my bag around with me."

We passed a "bar" where a fulsome woman in a tight leather bustier was selling soft drinks; the afore-mentioned, grey and institutional shower; a couch area where a bunch of rather unattractive men, most of them middle-aged, turned away from the porn playing on the tv next to them to stare at us as we walked by; and a bunch of tiny rooms which had chairs, pillows and some lumpy little foam beds. Nothing was separated from the main room by more than a flimsy curtain. My first impression: not very sexy. Not even the porn. But my personal feeling on most straight porn in general is that it's directed at men who like women who have been physically enhanced to the point where certain parts of their anatomy look like they might just explode at any moment. I mean, really, why not just get an inflatable?

We arrived at the lockers, where a very nervous, young, slightly overweight woman in a short black skirt and low-cut blouse was trying to unlock one.

"Do you know how these work?" Raani asked her. "Do we just pick any --"
"I--I–-I don't know!" stammered the woman. "I've never been to one of these before!"

She quickly turned and walked away.

After Raani stored her things, we rendez-voused back with Harry and George and the beer and continued our look around. In one of the dim rooms toward the back, we were lured in by the sight of an impressive set on handcuffs chained to the wall.

"Hey, put those on, I've got to get a picture," I said to Raani.

She obliged, smiling in an "If this picture gets out I'll kill you" kind of way. Then we all gathered around something that looked like a gymnast's vault. George, who, like any self-respecting filmmaker, had done a fair amount of research for his S&M film, knew the ropes already, so to speak.

"It's a spanking horse. You climb up on it and get spanked. And you know what this is for, right?" George said, pointing at a set of stocks that fully evoked The Scarlet Letter. "Here, put your head in here, and your arms here," he said to Raani.

She did, and he closed them up.

"Ow," she said.
"It's supposed to hurt," said George. "These were used for punishment --"
"Well right now they're punishing me," said Raani, "so can you let me out?"

As George released her, the busty bartendress entered.

"Let me know if you guys need anything, if you have any questions."
"What do you have for spanking?" asked George, trying to impress us with more of his expertise.
"Well, you're supposed to bring your own," replied the bartender. "But there are people here who may have something you can borrow. Are you looking for something stingy?"
George shrugged. "Yeah."
"Well, let me ask around. And we have tablecloths if you'd like them, Saran Wrap..."
"Anything you need, just let me know," she said, this time directing her smile, laser-like, at Harry.

Uh oh. If Raani had to compete in a one-night-stand situation with a woman who wore a leather bustier and knew her way around a spanking horse and Saran Wrap, the odds might not be in her favor.

We all headed back into the main room, which was definitely starting to fill up.

"Those middle-aged men are creepy," Raani commented.

There were a large number of them now, ogling us and pretty much every woman in the room like they actually thought they had a shot.

Little did we know that they actually did. I soon noticed that one of the middle-aged guys, who wore an unbuttoned orange shirt with a wide collar that more or less screamed "Swinger here!" was rubbing himself up against an attractive 20-something Asian woman in semi-see-through attire. And she seemed to be okay with it. When, a few minutes later, she started kissing his navel, I concluded that she was definitely okay with it. Then there was the chubby, rather pasty guy in the bowtie who started feeling up the tall, geeky-looking girl in a kilt who seemed to have come with her boyfriend. But her boyfriend, who also was tall and geeky-looking, was standing right next to her, watching, seemingly unperturbed. Oh, and holding a cat o' nine tails.

I think this was the point at which I started thinking to myself, Um, okay, what the fuck is going on here?
But don't get me wrong, I was fascinated. Two genuinely consenting adults can do whatever floats their boats to each other as far as I'm concerned. I just didn't quite get the appeal. Well, okay, the spanking thing I kind of got. You could look at it like a sport almost -- only a naughty and therefore, for some, titillating sport that you could only play with certain people in an environment like this. And I am not unfamiliar with the one-night stand, I know the appeal of a hot, no-strings-attached sexual experience when you're drunk and horny, and then you leave in the morning (or that night, which tends to be my personal preference) and never have to see that person again. But this was not that. For one thing, the men were extremely un-hot. So was the dingy and public setting. Where was the romantic music, the satin sheets, the candles, or at least the light switch? Although with the open plan and all of the open ogling going on, I was starting to realize that public was at least part of the point.

Now, when I get into situations that make me uncomfortable -- which generally means parties full of people I don't know, should impress, or who are distantly related to me and cover their furniture in plastic -- I snap into research anthropologist mode. This involves a certain level of alcohol consumption and a willingness to talk to anyone about just about anything, but it allows me to mingle in a way that a former social outcast like myself would normally not be able to. And it works because people love to answer questions, and I like to be nosy.

"Is that yours?" I asked the geeky lad, in my studiously non-flirtatious, curious-but-only-in-the-interest-of-science tone of voice, pointing to the cat 'o nine tails.
"Yeah," he said. "We brought it." On closer examination, it was kind of like a leather feather duster.
I turned to George. "You could borrow that."
He eyed the flapping tassels dubiously. "That would not be stingy," he said. "That would hurt."
"Oh," I said, realizing that "stingy" was a technical description regarding the whipping power available in the implement. I wondered what the term was for the category that the cat o' nine tails did fit into. Hurty? Painy? I was learning a lot tonight.

Just then, the guy with whom I'd had the stare down in the downstairs vestibule appeared. Only now he was wearing a red silk kimono. Which made him look pretty harmless, not to mention slightly embarrassed.

"Did you bring that?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did," he replied. "It's actually very comfortable."
"Oh, huh…Did you, um, have a film in the festival?"
"No, a friend of mine did. I work on Wall Street. Are you a filmmaker?"
"Yeah, but, my film wasn't in the festival."
"Oh. Well, is it a feature or a documentary?"

Aside from the kimono, this was starting to feel like normal party conversation. Just then, George & Harry reappeared. They checked out Kimono Guy. Harry smirked mischievously.

"Hey, what you got under there?"
"Oh yeah. I mean, literally nothing. It's like a Ken doll under there, just totally flat, wipe it down with Windex."

I appreciated that he had a sense of humor about the situation. But at the same time, he had brought his own kimono.

Then all of a sudden, people started heading to the dungeon room. Raani, George and Harry were quicker on the uptake than I, so they actually got a viewing position on the leather couch ("We had a front-row seat!" Raani later told me), but by the time I got there, it was too packed to get in. I heard slapping and yelping, and over people's heads I could make out the bartendress astride the spanking horse doling out punishment to a woman who I thought I recognized as the one we'd seen at the lockers. She didn't look quite as nervous now, but maybe that was because her skirt was pulled up over her head.

"Pretty crazy, huh? Ever been to one of these before?"

I turned to see a 30-something guy in a goatee and button-down. Because he wasn't wearing a kimono, leather or something transparent and wasn't ogling, I assumed he was another civilian.

"No," I said. "Have you?"
"I came last year for the first time. I'm a producer, this year I had a film in the festival, about fetishes."
"Wow. That must've been interesting. I have to say I don't really get most of that stuff."
"Yeah, I never really understood the whole fetish thing either until I got involved with this film. But once you talk to people it kind of makes sense. Like in the film," he continued, "we have this guy who likes to have his girlfriend stick him with needles, in his arms and chest. It looks really awful."
"Yeah, wow."
"But then he explains that when he was a kid, he went to the doctor and watched his sister get a shot. And he swooned, and this nurse caught him and held him to her breast. And that was his first erotic experience."
"Interesting…" This is my favorite word, naturally, when in social anthropologist mode. It fills a lot of gaps in conversation. "So he knows where his fetish came from. I'd think that talking about it would kind of demystify it."
"No, actually, for fetishists, talking about fetishes is a very big part of the process. It gets them turned on. Anyway, from a distribution standpoint, there's a huge market for this stuff, and learning about that, I started to get more into the scene...Hi Lisa!" he yelled to a woman walking by in a very short skirt and revealing a leather thong. "She's the director of the festival. So what's your film about?"

Now if you're the kind of person who likes to answer the question, "Oh, what's your film about?" and watch people's eyes glaze over immediately -- and come on, who doesn't! -- go to a sex film festival party and try to tell people about your film, which has nothing to do with sex. The producer/distributor dude tried to be polite but kept looking over my head in the way that people do at networking parties when they're looking for the person who actually can help their career. Although I think he was looking for a different sort of opportunity, because a short time later, Harry said, "Oh look, there's the producer you were talking to getting spanked." I had never heard that sentence uttered before, but sure enough, it was true.

There was a lot of spanking. With that cat o' nine tails, but also with belts, gloves, and so on. At one point I was watching a woman lay a man in lacy, bright purple lingerie (no, that's not a grammatical mistake, it was the man wearing the lingerie) across her knees and spank him with various implements.

"Is that a brush?" I asked of nobody in particular.
"Yes, it is," replied a distinguished-looking older gentleman who was also observing the process. "People often use a brush for spanking." He pointed at the brush-wielding lady, who looked rather normal and middle-aged, aside from the lascivious grin on her face. "She's very experienced, she's written several books on spanking. Her last book was a how-to to teach men how to explain to their women how to spank them properly."
"Huh. I could see how someone might need help with that."
"I have a whole collection of silver Victorian brushes myself." He somehow managed to say this like it was the most normal thing in the world, the way someone in my world might say, "I have a collection of Bolexes," or, "I have a collection of original 35mm Hitchcock prints."
"Really…" This is another one of my favorite social anthropologist words. "How did you get into that?"
"Well, I've been a lifelong fetishist. But I was involved in a very vanilla relationship, and when I told her about my fetishes she was completely disgusted, so that's when I started looking into things. I've been in the scene now for about 11 years. I'm into Victorian pornography, which is very bondage oriented. An uptight society is very into punishment. It has a huge following in Britain."
"Why don't I find that surprising."
"I'm a longtime supporter of the festival and a close friend of Lisa's --"
"The woman in the leather thong?"
"Yes. Now what's your film about? I'm not a filmmaker myself but I'm very interested these sorts of things."

I sighed, but my inner publicist (who also only shows up after a few drinks) said, "Pitch! Maybe he's a rich dirty old man who also has an interest in non-fetishy topics."

I launched into a description of my film yet again and of course the conversation went nowhere very quickly. Also, the spanking the man had been spectating had ended and he was looking around uncomfortably.

"I don't generally come to the play parties."

I turned to to look where he was looking and saw that the dumpy guy in the tuxedo was performing conalingus on a different woman than the one he'd been pawing earlier -- next to another couple who were having full-on, doggy-style sexual intercourse. A few of the creepy men were looking on, while others had started to make their moves on other women, who seemed receptive.

"Wow," I said. "Wow." It wasn't pleasing to the eye, but it was hard to look away. Like with a train wreck. "So this is a play party? Are there other kinds of parties?"
"Oh yes," replied the man. "Haven't you seen the list?" He handed me a flyer, which read:

Chariot Club Winter Calendar
Feb 1st NYC Swingers Party
Feb 7th Jack and Jill Party
Feb 8th NYC Swingers Women Who Love Men Glory Hole Party
Feb 20th NYC Swingers Women Who Love Women Party
Feb 28th Sinsations.com Party
Mar 5th All Asian Swingers Party
Mar 9th Adult Socials Club Party
Mar 20th School of Sec Club Party
April 3rd Brother D All Women Party

My thoughts upon seeing this list were, in order: sex with buckets?; are there really that many Asian swingers or are there just a lot of men who like Asian swingers?; wasn't this all supposed to be for social adults?; unless they're advertising "School of Seconds," which does not evoke positive sexual connotations in either use of the word, that seems like the kind of typo you wouldn't make at a sex club; and why does Brother D get to throw the All Woman Party?

Basically, I still couldn't wrap my head around the appeal of what was going down around me. So to speak. Aside from the unattractiveness issue with the guys, which also involved their overall sleazy demeanor, if you were a member of this club, you'd see these same people again. Wouldn't that be just a bit strange once they'd all seen you have an orgasm? And what about the person you'd had sex with? Would you just be able to say, "No thanks, once was enough" the next time you saw him or her, and not have it be uncomfortable? Or have him or her say it and not feel like dirt? In other words, even in a world where this is all normal, can you really keep your emotions out of the fray? I could see men managing, perhaps, because men are good at stuffing their feelings away and leaping right in. Like Kimono Guy, he just said "What the heck, I'm gonna go kimono and see what happens!" In contrast, Nervous Locker Woman clearly was feeling all sorts of conflicting shit.

And that's the thing about us women. I do know plenty who sleep around as much as men do, but honestly…most of them really are looking for intimacy. And whatever this party was, it was the opposite of intimate. I guess I have a hard time believing, at bottom, that that isn't what we all want. Don't we all, as human beings, want a good cuddle afterwards? I just couldn't see anyone getting a good cuddle here.

I caught sight of Raani, also looking like she was in overload.

"I think I've had enough," I said.
"Yeah," said Raani. "Should we say goodbye to George and Harry?"

George was sitting on the porn couch watching the porn. He seemed bored but wasn't ready to leave yet. We looked around for Harry as we headed toward the door. He was sitting on a couch in one of the side rooms, deep in conversation with the bartendress. He looked up long enough to wave. We headed out.

"Sorry that didn't work out," I said.
"It's okay," said Raani. "I wasn't in the mood any more."
"I know," I said, "Who could believe that a sex party could be such a turn-off?"
"Yeah, all I really wanted was to make out with him," sighed Raani. "You were talking to that old guy for a really long time."
"He knew a lot about spanking. You never know when that sort of information will come in handy."

I saw the odd look Raani was giving me. "For material!"

And I started writing this blog on the train on the way home.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Naked, with a Nagra -- Now playing on Revolving Floor

To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub.

Those of you who don't have stress dreams, aren't Hamlet, or have never seen that particular episode of M*A*S*H* (you children of the 80s know the one I'm talking about) may not quite understand this quote, or the connection that I have found between this month's Revolving Floor topic, "Lost and Found," and my blog about nightmares,
"Naked, with a Nagra." See, in most of my dreams, I tend to be either metaphorically or physically lost; I can't find the room where I have to take the SATs that I haven't studied for, or I'm wandering around some endless warren of soundstages with a broken boom, or I'm on a bus in a foreign country and my suitcase has been replaced by a chicken, etc etc. And sometimes I'm being chased around that warren of soundstages by a guy who looks like this.

You might also not understand what the naked part has to do with anything, and I'm not entirely sure that I do either. I knew I should have been a psych major. But you can find out at least a few answers at


And while you're there, poke around and look at some work by other contributors -- poetry, fiction, and artwork of various sorts can generally be found revolving around the topic as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

yes, from actual conversations

#1: Why you should never talk with prop people
about dental hygiene, or
Why we're glad that all set conversations must come to an end before too long

Prop guy: You ever use that shit?
Me: What, fluoride rinse?
Prop guy: Yeah.
Me: Sure, sometimes. My dentist says I have a lot of tartar build-up.
Prop guy: You know what's wrong with fluoride don't you? Causes cancer.
Me: No...
Prop guy: Swear to god. You know how they say 4 out 5 dentists recommend it? Well those fifth dentists they know -- that's why there's this huge split in the ADA. It's very controversial.
Me: But you don't swallow it.
Prop guy: Doesn't matter, goes right in under your tongue. And you see all this silver here? (shows me his fillings)
Me: Uh huh.
Prop guy: I'm getting it all taken out because you know what they make that out of? Mercury.
Me: That's not --
First AD: Can we see the hero bottle please!
Prop guy: Excuse me.

#2: Why you should never get into party conversations with certain actors about anything
Actress: I like it here. I was here the other night having a lovely conversation with Noah Wylie --
Writer guy: Oh, why were you here the other night?
Actress: There was this event I was invited to. Well, it wasn't an invitation thing but I was on this list of people who were allowed to come. Anyway, I should spend more time here, it's right around the block from where I live --
Me: I thought you live on the East River. We're on Park Avenue.
Actress: Yes, just a few blocks away. Anyway it's very friendly here, I just said, Oh, there's Noah Wylie, and we had such a nice chat. So, you write screenplays?
Writer guy: I've co-written one, this one I worked on for --
Actress: Oh, do you know that producer, the one who produced, oh what was that movie, the one with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, when they get divorced --
Me: Kramer vs. Kramer.
Actress: Yes. Do you know him?
Writer guy: No, I don't know him personally.
Actress: But you know, you know who I'm talking about?
Writer guy: Um, yes.
Actress: Well, his son's a very good friend of mine!
Writer guy: Oh.
Actress: Anyway, I just need a good supporting role, one that I can sink my teeth into. Today I'm so tired because I was shooting a film.
Me: Oh, really? Today?
Actress: No, yesterday, but you know, it's just so exhausting. It was a short film, with just a wonderful script. We were shooting out in Princeton, New Jersey and it was so lovely out there. Although the man who was directing was this history of film teacher who I don't think had ever directed anything, so I was giving him all these ideas. Oh, this is a good story: we were shooting this scene where we were on this date and he shakes my hand and says I had a wonderful time and then after I leave he puts his wedding ring back on. So he dropped his wedding ring and we could not find it.
Me: Who are we talking about the director? He was using his own ring?
Actress: I'm telling the story.
Me: Sorry.
Actress: He was just like, "Oh well, it's gone." So we couldn't shoot. So I called my husband and said what should I do, should I come home? And he said no, you go back and you find that ring. And so I went back and combed every inch of the grass until I found it!
Writer guy: Wow.
Actress: And then shooting the next day was so wonderful because he was so warm and happy and relaxed.
Me: The director.
Actress: The actor.
Me: Who was using his own ring --
Actress: Yes. But he didn't seem very upset that he lost it. I think maybe he's really tired with his marriage, you know he has two kids, I mean we just had this wonderful chemistry, and I was thinking...I don't really want to know of course --
Me: Maybe he was just, you know, acting. Ha ha.
Actress: Anyway, I should give you my card, just in case anything comes up. I just really need a good supporting role…

#3: Why indie film directors should not introduce their films after having had a few drinks
Director: I want to thank you all for coming. You know, yesterday I was trying to come up with some remarks, and I started doodling. And I started doodling my producer's face. And then I started stabbing it. So I said, This isn't going to work, ha ha, so I figured I'd just come up with something on the spot. Anyway, I'm going to apologize because occasionally you're going to see these words on the screen, "This film property of, etc etc, any unauthorized screening of this film will be blah blah blah." I guess they were worried that we would run off and try and steal the film -- which we almost did, ha ha. But we figured we'd have to let everyone know we canceled the screening, that would have been a pain, ha ha…Anyway, we're so glad you could come today to see the film. I'm pretty happy with this version of the film. Although it's not my version. There is a director's cut, which is better than this version. And there are some things that I wanted to get that we were never able to film, because we ran out of money for the re-shoots, or my producer wouldn't let us shoot them because she didn't think they were necessary. But you can't have everything I guess, ha ha…Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film. I'll be outside.