Sunday, February 27, 2011

It felt like 127 Hours

Imagine a friend of yours has invited you to a show of theirs. It's closing weekend and you have to go. He hasn't been on stage for about 20 years, and has made his return debut in a community theatre production, which is about 45 minutes away. The lead actor is the director who also wrote the piece. It's semi-autobiographical. It's three hours long. There's audience involvement in the show, only five people in the audience. The second act is one extended monologue, part spoken and part sung a capella, about the lead's father, who never loved him and only spoke Polish. The lead is tone-deaf. The father is a shadow puppet. In the third act, the lighting board short circuits, and the rest of the play is performed under house lights. There's a question and answer session after the show. And no air conditioning.

This year's Oscar ceremony was WORSE.

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the ShoreI had an interesting experience while reading the trippy Kafka on the Shore,  by Haruki Murakami.  I was about three-quarters of the way through it, and the main character is taking a literal and metaphorical plunge into a deep, unexplored woods. I'm reading along, and suddenly it hits me: this is my book! Now, in most ways they are completely different— I don't have Colonel Sanders or Johnny Walker Black as characters, nor does my book feature a man who talks to cats, and mine is set in Las Vegas, not Tokyo— but in the fundamental message of Murakami's book, the underlying tone of sadness and loss, in what it's trying to convey, it shares a subterranean current with This is How It Begins. At least to me, it does. It's like what my book would be had it been written in an alternative world by a 60-year-old Japanese surrealist writer.

And yes, would that it would sell so well...

As for the book itself? I'm not sure where I stand. It's certainly trippy, wildly inventive and compelling, but as it went on I found myself getting a little impatient with it. I kept vacillating between fascination and incredulity, especially when it started veering from psychological metaphysics to straight fantasy. It's the trouble I had with the heaven bits of The Lovely Bones. The final revelation was at once too concrete and unsatisfying. At first read, anyway. I wonder if some of it has to do with my lack of knowledge on Japanese culture—perhaps there were references that seemed far out there that are common knowledge in Japan. Or maybe it was the translation.

I remember thinking while reading the book, "If this were a graphic novel, I'd have no trouble buying what's happening." I think maybe  I give a lot more suspension of disbelief to graphic novels, where they are already one step removed from reality.

Still, the book is intriguing enough for me to keep twisting it in my mind weeks after I've read it, trying to arrive at a conclusion that makes sense. And many of the images— the stealer of cat souls, the downpour of leeches, the entire class that falls asleep in the woods at the same time—they'll stay with me for a good long time.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's read the book— what the hell's going on at the end?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Double Dip for Denis

Kudos to my friend Denis O'Hare, who I've written about previously here and here. It was Good Friday for Denis last week, who not only had a movie opening, but (and this is the exciting part)—was in the New York Times Crossword Puzzle!

Ah, swoon.

The movie was "The Eagle," starring Channing Tatum (or is it Tatum Channing?) and Jamie "Billy Elliot" Bell. Denis got to ride a horse, wear a breast-plate, the whole nine yards. Haven't seen it yet (hey, my kid had to make a totem pole devoted to early-African-American surveyor and almanac-maker Benjamin Banneker —it's as exciting as it sounds—why a totem pole for Black History Month? Don't ask me, it's progressive) but I plan to. Poor Channing endured some extra-testicular torture on set which sounded pretty painful.
"The boiling water poured where?"

But enough of Hollywood. What warms the cockles (and not in the Channing Tatum way) of my heart is Mr. O'Hare's inclusion in Friday's crossword. I'm a pretty religious devotee of the NYT crossword; I sit down with my iPad and do it pretty much every day but Saturday (best time: 7:46 on Monday). So I let out a scream of surprise when I saw 32-Down: "Actor O'Hare from 'Milk.'" It's odd, to say the least, when one part of your life pops up in another.

Here's the puzzle, completed, courtesy of the most excellent crossword blogger Rex Parker (

My time? A deplorable 1:57. But it was worth it. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Magic of ADR

Remember that television show I shot in Chicago last summer? The one where I got last minute lines in Cantonese, and ended up emoting REALLY HARD trying to remember the lines, and ultimately sounding like William Shatner speaking Tagalog?

It's baaaaack!

I got a call to do an ADR session for my show. ADR, for those not in the biz that is show, stands for either Additional Dialogue Recording, or Automatic Dialogue Recording, depending on whom you ask. It's a way for the sound supervisor to salvage a scene that has something funky going on audio-wise. An actor may be required to go into a studio and re-record their lines, if it was a really windy day, or if the mike placement was off, or if the intonation wasn't quite right but the acting in the scene was good.

Or, perhaps, if you were speaking in tongues instead of a recognizable form of Chinese?

I happen to love doing ADR. I've had to do it quite a bit in cartoons. Though the pictures are almost always drawn after you record the lines (the #1 asked question about voiceover) you often have to add another line or give a different emphasis or volume, depending on how it was animated. And I've done some on-camera ADR as well; if you rent "Hero" and turn on the American dubbing (it's actually pretty good) you'll hear my voice coming out of Tony Leung's mouth.

It's actually ironic that I'm in the voiceover business, given what happened to me when I first started doing on-camera work. I had landed a big (for me) role in the sequel to "The Fugitive," called "U.S. Marshals." In the audition, the script described a "baby-faced prisoner" who's aboard a prison plane. Said prisoner goes into the bathroom, gets a pen-gun out of the toilet paper dispenser, tries to shoot Wesley Snipes, blows a hole in the window instead, and meets an ignominious end getting sucked out of the plane. The plane, of course, goes down, and Wesley becomes the New Fugitive. My one big line was "Hey, I gotta go to the can." My first big role—on the toilet!

Look, Ma, I'm the inciting action!
I, of course, availed myself of all that precious NU training, developed a backstory of a poor Chinese gang member undergoing his initiation, full of trepidation and fear, but determined to prove himself. Oh, the delicate layers in that character! Unfortunately, the director was not looking for layers. He was looking for someone to shoot down a plane. And, judging by his exasperation, I didn't seem to measure up. "Can't he look tougher?" he queried to the air, whereupon Hair and Makeup flew at me in a futile attempt to give me that worn, hardened look. He would have none of my hesitant eye flutters, my tragic stoicism as I walked, shackled, down the aisle. "Look, you're a killer. A killer!" he said over and over again, hoping against hope that by repeating the word I would magically transform into Charles Bronson. I tried my best: I scowled; I hunched; I made beady my eyes. "Can we do something with his hair?" the director asked.

Still, it was a lot of screen time, plus a death! Very exciting. I was in Los Angeles when it came out and I went to see it with Doug and my sister at Grauman's Chinese Theater; the perfect venue to see your Big Moment. I remember watching, excited, as the camera panned down the interior of the plane, and... there I was! The mean one in the orange jumpsuit! (We all had orange jumpsuits.) I was scowling! I was badass! I was about to say my line! On screen, I opened my mouth... and a voice came out that sounded lower than Bea Arthur. "Hey," it rasped, "I gotta go to the can!"

They'd replaced my voice. By a Teamster, apparently. I was ADR'd. Oh, the pain, the pain...

And now I do voices for a living. Go figure.

All right, enough of a trip down bitter memory lane. Back to now. Here I was, getting a chance to revisit the summer's Chinese language debacle. It could either be a final shot at redemption before the Lunar New Year, where I make amends for my Asian linguistic butchery, or it could be an agonizing experience, watching myself flounder and flounder again.

It was neither. I wasn't called in to do ADR for that scene. Instead, I had to re-record all my lines in the Chinese restaurant kitchen, because it was shot with the kitchen fan running, which made us sound like we were shooting at Cape Canaveral during takeoff. The re-recording was easy. Listen once to the original track, wait for the three beeps, say the line. Rinse, repeat. It was over in less than half an hour. It's lovely how you can have your second chance at a line, to give it a little more shading, a touch more nuance, all while fitting your syllables to your mouth on screen.

So, it was a pretty painless affair, but I still don't know how I'll be in the other scene. The Sound Supervisor said it looked fine, but I'm judging by different standards. So, no, I'm not telling you when it's on. Or what it is.

Hey, maybe they got Tony Leung to redo my Chinese. That replacement I wouldn't mind.

Happy Year of the Rabbit, y'all! Eat dumplings!