POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don’t get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE’s purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.
The pieces from the five chess -boards are put away and people have their coats on when Mike, the DP, suggests we check playback. We do, and somehow we missed the dolly handle and track in the shot. I apologize to everyone; we reset to one and get the shot again.
Of course, it’s because we were all laughing about how well the shoot has been going so far.
Barely a week ago I’m tooling around with Kieron Dwyer, in town for a comic convention, telling him about the spots we’re going to shoot. We’re shooting fifteen or so spots for SHOnext, the independent film offshoot of the cable network Showtime. Concurrent with the pre-production I’ve been doing on those, there’s been another job we’ve been dancing with for a month, maybe more now. It’s taken me to Los Angeles twice, it’s the biggest job we’ve ever been looked at for, and certainly has the highest budget. This gig, this potential gig has been the 900-lb. bear in our collective living room for long enough. We’re waiting for a phonecall to find out if we lost it or if we got it and thus have a whole new set of problems to deal with.
So the phone rings.
What she’s telling me through Mick is that while the 900-lb. client likes the work that we’ve shown, they still want to see more. It’s a stall tactic, a ruse; it’s blood from a stone at this point anyway, we’re all running on fumes. The deadline they’re working under is near insurmountable, and every second they don’t green light the gig is another VP that’s gonna get fired come February. They want one last round, one last run at the work, one more drop from the stone.
Interior, tattoo shop, night. This spot wasn’t my idea, it was the Showtime’s– and it was so funny I agreed to do it before we got a location secured. The robot picks a tattoo, and it’s put on with a benzene torch. The shop is bright white fluorescent and smells clean. Hollywood lies to everyone. Whispering Danny, the guy who runs the shop, is laid back and funny. He watches us set up this seven-foot robot in his workspace with the bemused smirk of a man that’s tattooed smile-faces on nutsacks and ‘eat me’ in cursive across more than one woman’s pubis mons. Producer Teddy says that a hundred years ago, we’d be circus folk, carnies. He’s right.
Kieron is not at all what you would assume from his work in Lowest Common Denominator. What’s more, he’s not the kind of guy you’d assume him to be from his work on Avengers, either. I’m amped on work-rage and general adrenaline and talk a mile a minute. I’m a nattering jackass and it’s not until Kieron and I part ways two days later that I recognize that deafening silence as the absence of my own voice.
He’s wrapping up his final pages on Avengers and will then dive into our graphic novel, LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS. We talk about everything inside and out, and find we’re on the same page about a lot of things. We come up with a cool format idea. I like Kieron. He’s extraordinarily affable, the kind of guy you could call to come get you if you woke up naked in an Alaskan prison at four in the morning. The first night, after I drop him off, I lose time on the highway. I blink out for a second to find a whole new story in my head, fully formed and ready to be typed just for Kieron. I come back to find I’ve been driving for twenty minutes, maybe more, and I’m not entirely sure where I am. This has been happening a lot lately.
Being up and going at it from 8 to 4, 5 in the morning for two weeks will fray the edges of your brain-blanket alright. Zombie conference calls. Lumbering around for clients has meant no time for writing, or at least no energy, although I’ve realized that over the last week or so I’ve been writing subconsciously. BIG HAT and REVISITOR, which had both been stuck at various points in their development solve themselves and un-spool spontaneously. Strange. I feel like I just need the time to type them out. I need to sleep and eat, too, but you take what you can get. The lights along 35 smear and flare up. I probably shouldn’t be driving. The lights of the city fade out…
Two nights earlier I was dreading this. I go see PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and come home to nerves and whatiffing and worstcasescenarioing all night long. I’m supposed to be on-set by 8:30 but I’m not asleep before 6. I’ve worked and reworked all the spots in my head five or six times, looking for ways to circumnavigate the inevitable crises that will arise. The biggest advantage I find to having all these alternate plans is that I really have NO plan anymore, other than to remain flexible and have fun. Improvise on themes and trust your instincts, get to the locations and find the shots.
The Suit! Jesus. The robot is seven feet tall on Shaun’s frame. We built it over the last few days, when we weren’t mollycoddling the 900-lb. Client with that One Last Round of design. We should just move cots into the office. Designing and re-strategizing and conference calling, Shaun and I ducking into the back corner when we can to hack through sheet metal and build the ‘bot up. The idea is that he looks like something someone would be very proud of… in 1955. A sci-fi creature-feature sort of thing, big and bulky, a shining atomic age Frankenstein. I think it works, but Christ is it cumbersome.
I’m inside the suit, slumping forward to hike the weight off of my biceps and onto my back while waiting for the tape to get cued up for another take. Suddenly this writing comics thing doesn’t feel so bad.
MATCH CUT on ‘comics’ to me and Chris Allen, firing off email to one another that gradually shift from fuck-you angry to fuck-me contrite. Later he’ll apologize in his column when he doesn’t need to, and I’ll note I need to do the same. Chris– sorry. He lobs a lot of shit my way, some of it deserved and some of it not. Most of it stems from me not
Somehow, though, this couple weeks of madness has been a sort-of welcome wakeup call from my post-Mexican Honeymoon stupor. All those multitasking cylinders fire up again and there’s nothing I can’t do. My hands and fingers are shredded from poorly cut sheet metal. My arms and back ache from the weight of the suit. I can’t keep my eyes open much past one or two in the morning without passing out. I’ve had grand plans all week but only seem to be able to get four or five things done at one time. That’s okay. Sleep is for the sleepy. I have too much to do.
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