Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Practical Than a Barrel of Monkeys

This is the year that we've finally decided to "go green" in our efforts to water our lawn.  Prior to this, our efforts had always been characterized as "theoretical" or "impeded by a lack of a functional sprinkler and/or my suspicion that the coiled hose may be a home to spiders".  But "green" is the new "it's supposed to rain again in a few days I think", so there's really only one choice for watering our lawn: a rain barrel.

I learned about the existence of rain barrels a couple of months ago when Beth asked me to get one, and now--not to brag--I probably know more about rain barrels than about 70% of your friends.  Here's a few things I learned about rain barrels and their installation:

1)  rain barrels are designed to catch rain during the rainy season, which they then store for their owner to dispense through their spigots during the dry season

2)  Lowe's and Home Depot sell out of them pretty quickly, but...

3)  you can buy them online and, even though they are larger than anything I've ever bought that is not a car or a house, they can still be shipped for free

4)  how much you pay for a rain barrel is largely related to looks; pretty rain barrels are more expensive than ugly ones.

5)  this is what an installed rain barrel looks like:

"But where does the tube lead?"

To the gutter, of course!  (Tube not included.  Really.)

6)  sawing out a middle section of the downspout of your gutter with a hacksaw FEELS very weird and wrong.  Even after I was sure that the installation instructions were telling me to do this, I was incredibly self-conscious about it and found myself hoping that my neighbors weren't watching me through their window, getting ready to run out and ask me if I was crazy.  I think I would have answered, "I know this LOOKS crazy, and it FEELS crazy in my heart, but my head is pretty sure that this 8.5" x 11" printout is telling me to do this, so in answer to your question, I'm kind of torn--what do YOU think?"  Not wanting to have this exchange, I tried to saw as quickly and quietly as I could, which was difficult because...

7)  sawing out a middle section of the downspout of your gutter with a hacksaw is VERY loud and unpleasant sounding.  The weight of the downspout on the side of the sliding hacksaw makes for a nails-on-chalkboard type screech, and the hollow tubing acts like a megaphone to alert the world that some madman is sawing up his house.  Indeed, if I was a gutter and someone was trying to saw a chunk out of my middle, the sound that I would hope to make is identical in type and volume to the sound that WAS actually made by the gutter that I was sawing.  I found myself wanting to say to the gutter in a hushed but urgent voice, "Shut UP!  This isn't making it any easier for either of us!"

So now, we wait.  We wait for the barrel to fill up and for the rain to stop.  Then the timing will be perfect, and I will water the lawn--with rain water!  What will they think of next?  A root system that grows out of the bottom of your rain barrel underneath the ground all throughout the area of your lawn, so that the water from the barrel is automatically used as needed without any additional effort from its owner?  Hmm?  Maybe?


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Making of "It's All in Your Head"

Last Wednesday, the red carpet rolled out and the world had premiered for it "It's All in Your Head," my first film since I became the head of THP Studios.

Obviously, I was trying to have a little fun, showcase the acting chops of my daughter, and roll my eyes at how aggressive toy makers will be to prevent 7 year-old girls and their guardians from cashing in a five-fingered discount on their product.

Originally, the content of my short film was going to be only a written description in my Easter post.  But I realized that a written description of the security tabs inserted into the heads of the Disney Princess dolls would lack the vividness of an actual video record of my ripping one of those tabs from the head of a princesses.  So the idea of a separate, video post was born.

I planned just to film myself pulling the tab from the head, when the part of my brain that likes to play make-believe started to holler.  It suggested something more plot driven, and pointed out that it might be fun to give my younger daughter, THPK-2, a chance to finally break into blog-dom with a starring role in a video post.  It would take just a few minutes to cut and paste some clips of THPK-2 in between shots of a princess, creating a "dialogue" of sorts.  I wrote the script in my head, then sketched out the "X-ray" of the Princess with the security tab embedded in her hair.

Then I told my younger daughter that I wanted her to dress up like a doctor and let me video her.

At first, she was excited but cautious.  But after I got her costume and headed down to the main floor, she flipped.  She became VERY resistant to letting me film her.  I tried every persuasive tactic I could think of:
-this will be fun--we're just pretending, playing dress up--you don't even need to pretend I'm here
-I won't tell anyone about the video; people may watch it, but I will make no special effort to promote it
-after I film you, you can film me
-after I film you, you can see the tape and decide if you still don't want me to use it
-you can play Wii afterwards
-people who watch it will like it, and it will make them happy to see you

And on and on.  She was crying, and would not budge.

So, a couple of days later, I recast the part of the doctor with my older daughter, THPK-1.  She was very compliant.  I filmed her making a few facial expressions and reciting a couple of lines, and she impressed me with her ability to be coached.  Movies recast their leads all the time, but a good director can still pull things together--I was well on my way.

I had already pulled the tabs out of the heads of most of the princess dolls, so for the part of the princess, I had to choose between a couple whose tabs were still embedded.  Jasmine won the casting call (the stub of her tab was the longest and would provide the best grip).

I filmed her still shots and then prepped for the surgery scene.  It's surprisingly difficult to film down on something in a steady manner without the use of a tripod, which we don't own.  I ended up using this, attaching the camera to the top tier with twist ties and reaching around with my hands to perform the operation:

Imagine it without the bananas

The awkwardness of this position was accentuated when I couldn't get the darn tab out of Jasmine's head.  The others popped out so smoothly.  One by one, I would grab the stub, secure the head with my other hand, and pull as hard as I could, and POP!  Out of a hole no bigger than a millimeter would come the cross bar to the T-tab that I was pulling by the vertical stub.  Great theater, to be sure.

But now that I was filming, I couldn't get Jasmine's tab out.  I tried different pliers, and tried squeezing her head in different shapes.  When my left hand got tired, I tried using my right.  I'm wearing this powdered, plastic gloves and my hands are getting all sweaty and cramped while I'm reaching around this fruit basket.  The protruding nub kept breaking off in the pliers, little by little, until there was only a tiny bit left that I couldn't even grip with the pliers.

I had to switch to plan B.  I would find another brown-haired Princess who could wear Jasmine's clothes and double for her for this scene.  But the only one other Princess who still had a tab stuck in her head was Tiana from "The Princess and the Frog".

OK, plan C: I would work a little movie magic.  Instead of replacing Jasmine with Tiana and re-shooting the still scenes (no biggie, really) and the X-ray scene (slightly more annoying), I would just remove Tiana's tab off-camera, then film myself PRETENDING to yank Jasmine's tab out of her head, then--off camera, again--quickly insert Tiana's tab into the pliers and bring those pliers back into the shot, passing the tab off as Jasmine's.

It worked.  I would edit the shots to make the transition smoother, and everyone would be happy, and my movie would NOT end up like this, the subject of documentaries like this.

I did most of the quick cutting and arranging in less than an hour, making Jasmine's and THPK-1's dialogue look at least semi-legitimate.  Then I looked through the uploaded rough video footage for the tab-switcheroo scene.  Then I looked some more.  The video reached the point where I pretended to yank the tab out of Jasmine, but when I expected the pliers to come back into frame holding (what I knew to be) Tiana's tab, they didn't.  What I think happened was this: I was so excited about the switcheroo idea and the execution of it, I forgot to make sure that the pliers came back into the shot.  And they didn't.

Freakin' a.  This is when movie studios "pull the plug", writing off millions of dollars as sunk costs.  Me?  I had already replaced the female lead, created a tripod, filmed and preliminarily edited most of the footage.  And now I don't have a 2-second clip of a stupid little plastic security tab, which was the whole reason for filming this in the first place?

So tab-hunting I went.  I found every doll we own, and not a single one had a plastic tab in it.  The princess dolls had all already been operated on.  I looked around in the family room, where I had initially pulled out most of the tabs Easter morning.  I looked under the couch and between the cushions.  Nothing.  I had already vacuumed them all up about a week before.

"Wait a second..."  I realized I had vacuumed them up, but that I had not changed the vacuum bag for several weeks.  It was time to count the cost.  All I needed was one stupid little tab, and I could finish my film.

What question did I need to ask?  "Should an ostensibly responsible grown-up, father of 2, ever really find himself sifting through vacuumed up debris looking for a plastic security tab so he can finish his silent movie starring his 6-year-old daughter and his 5-year-old daughter's Disney princess doll?"  Or should I ask myself, "What would Scorsese do?  Or Coppola?  Or Ed Wood?"  It was decided.

The next question was would my search be as easy as popping the top off the shop vac, or would I have to go deeper than that?  Here's a visual answer:

Yup, that's the vacuum bag of our upright, cut open from top to bottom, like a slain deer waiting to be gutted.  I reacquainted myself with the powdered plastic gloves I had used for the on-camera operation and began to sift.  Within minutes, I had found not one, but two plastic tabs.  The movie was saved.

A bit more editing, and I was home free.  So the tab that you see in the film is not only NOT the actual tab from Jasmine's head, but was pulled out of a full vacuum bag a few days after the initial filming.

THPK-1 had made enough expressions for me to add a couple of extra dialogue boxes that I hadn't initially planned on (trivia: "Hawaii Five-0" narrowly beat out "House, M.D.," "Harry's Law," and "Cougartown" as the show that the doctor wanted to watch).  I added the music and the credits, and THPK-1 was well on her way to becoming an internet star.

By the way, when I showed the girls the movie, they both liked it.  THPK-2 said, "Daddy, I think I do like this.  I'll do it."  It's not exactly Tom Selleck missing out on Indiana Jones, but the message is the same: too late.  Unless, of course, there's a sequel.  Hmm...

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Keeping-You-Posted Post, 5/13

I was going to have a post like this in the next couple of weeks, a post just to explain a few logistic blog-related stuff, but forced my hand.  They had some technical difficulties on their end of cyberspace which I figured deserved an explanation ASAP.  So instead of explaining their problems today and my problems & plans in the next couple of weeks, here I am combining.

The idea is something like this: the time that I spend taking care of some less obvious blog stuff will roughly equal the time it would have taken me to write a shiny new post--unless that post is me sharing the scoop on some of those issues/plans.

1)  Blogger went into read-only mode for the past few days, and blogs across the country had their Wednesday and Thursday posts temporarily removed for some reason.  Blogger assures us that those posts are being put back up (I hope they have e-copies!), and I think that my Wednesday, 5/11 post has now been reinstated.  However, as of now, the lone comment re: that post has NOT been reinstated, and it may never be.  :(  If the poster would like to re-post, she is welcome to; if not, I have a record of it in my email inbox, and it's still special to me.

If anyone else either looked for Wednesday's post and couldn't find it, or found it but couldn't post, you should be good to go at this point.

2)'s metaphorical "safety mode" has nothing to do with my absence of posts last week.  I knew at some point I would take a week off, though I had hoped it would be more proactive and less reactive than it was last week.  Last Wednesday (9 days ago) ended up being a perfect storm of projects and responsibilities, the details of which I will not bore you with.  Meanwhile, the short film that ended up being THIS Wednesday's post was originally going be LAST Wednesday's post, but I ran into some glitches.

Then, beginning about Thursday, I got sick.  Over the weekend, I had a fever that fluctuated from below 98 to 101 and back again several times.  I'm still fighting some symptoms, but am better than I was Friday and Saturday, when my hope was not so much getting a blog post written as it was being able to swallow without experiencing a sharp pain in my throat.

Anyway, my bad for not anticipating last Wednesday's chaos better than I did.  Had I posted on Wednesday, I may have tried to tough out another post for Friday.  As it happened, I decided to take the week off.

3)  I imagine I'll do this periodically: revise, trim, or expand older posts.  I did that today with Something I Thought I'd Never Write: "If I Could", a post from a few weeks back.  I added my traditional pre-lyrics explanation/introduction.

4)  In the next couple of weeks, I'll be finishing both the "Alien Perspectives on Baseball" and the "Rating Springsteen Album Titles" series.  Then I'm going to clean them up and see about floating them out to sports and music blogs, respectively, that publish reader content.  If all goes well, I will hostilely take over all sports and music blogs by the end of the summer [evil laugh].  If only some things go well, I will slightly broaden readership of WPFF.

5)  I'll also likely add a widget or two to this blog.  Widgets are like apps, from what I understand.  Some widgets do things like link to sites like Amazon, and people who buy stuff from Amazon after linking through WPFF will provide me with a hefty kickback; unless I'm forgetting where the decimal point goes, it's 1000% of all sales.  I know what you're thinking:  "Selling out?  First Kriss Kross, now the Hungry Preacher?"  Well, if you know of some place where manicures, Revolutionary War-era tobacco pipes, and Johnnie Walker Blue grow on trees, I'd be happy to listen--in the meantime, those things don't pay for themselves.  So keep an eye out for widgets.

6)  Finally, it seems that certain fancy-schmancy bloggers have it so that the title headers for their blogs don't get cut off at the end.  It's an intriguing concept that I may look into.

That's the scoop.  See you next Wednesday.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Hungry Preacher Presents: "It's All in Your Head"

In an earlier post, I provided photographic evidence of my younger daughter opening up an Easter present.  This was that present:

Like most products, this toy was equipped with an anti-theft device, in the form an insane number of bands and tabs and cords holding each Princess in her place until mommy or daddy get home with something like my all-time favorite tool.

After freeing the princesses from their captivity, I noticed each had a tiny strand of plastic sticking out of the back of her head.  What was meaning behind this plastic nub?

Instead of explaining it to you, I did what most of us would have done in the same situation: I made a short, non-speaking film starring my 6-year-old daughter.  Enjoy.