Dying On Stage

I’ve been wanting to continue with my coverage of what’s what with the Paddywacking project, but lately I’ve had a hard time tearing myself away from CNN’s round-the-clock coverage of Terri Schiavo‘s demise and the punditry from both the pro-death and the pro-sticking-your-nose-up-other-people’s-asses sides of the debate. Everyone on the network from Larry King to that mighty pillar of journalistic intellectualism, Carol Costello, has had their own daily (sometimes hourly) crack at the story. Good thing there’s no other news happening in the world. Anywhere. At all. Unless Terri’s feeding tube is reinserted soon, I fear there will be no choice for Western civilization but to turn its attention back to those tiresome headline hogs: war, the economy, and the environment. That or Carol Costello can start reading the funnies out of the morning papers live on the air. That should keep her busy for awhile, because, you know, Garfield uses all those big words and stuff.

In other non-news, the post-Oscar buzz has finally subsided. And now that the whole world has collectively forgotten who was nominated, not to mention who won, the Academy can get back to planning how they’ll make next year’s ceremony even more boring. I only mention this because it has particular significance to me. The awards for the 2004 film year were particularly trying for me thanks to the multiple nominations for Alexander Payne’s movie, Sideways. Thankfully, with the passage of time, fewer and fewer people persist in telling me I look like Paul Giamatti. Though terribly flattering in a bearded, balding, pudgy sort of way, it gets old after awhile. Now that the dust has settled, I look forward to comparisons to Brad Pitt resuming as per usual.Commiserating Oscar losses with my good buddy Thomas Haden Church

But I don’t have that much to complain about when it comes to the Oscars. Sure the awards themselves sucked, but they also managed to pull in an extra fifty bucks for me. Called in as a ringer for an Oscar party I didn’t even attend, my brain was tapped for best guesses as to what would take home a gold statuette. My picks smoked the competition, not because I was good at choosing the most deserving nominees, but because I was good at selecting who would win the political race. One tip for all who might find themselves mixed up in an Oscar gambling pool: Best Editing always goes to the longest picture. Bet the farm on it. I think the logic goes that whoever has to suffer through the most footage earns the award.

Despite the fact that the winner shared her gambling-vice cash with me, there were still accusations of foul play. After all, I’m a film industry peon who spends all his spare time watching movies and actually gives a shit about petty rubbish like the Oscars. It hardly seems fair to go consulting someone who can make an educated guess about who might win in the short documentary film category. Even the winners didn’t go to see their film. Yet there I was, with an inkling of a notion that proved correct again and again in all the nothing categories that never made it to a full-blown stage presentation. After getting a dozen right in a row, I was starting to scare even myself, because, after all, who gives a fuck? Apparently, I do. I’ve never been a ringer before, and entering a competition with a grossly unfair advantage is a new experience for me. At last I know what it feels like to be the Olympic men’s basketball dream team. All of them, all at once. Minus the huge regular season paycheck and the homoerotic group showering.

Bright Lights, Big Soundstage

In a rare work-related outing that got my ass out of the house, I spent an hour this Saturday afternoon touring the new studio digs for Fries With That? Production for the second season begins today, with two episodes being shot each week from now until June. It’s the sort of grueling schedule that makes me glad I’m not an actor, but rather a writer with an entirely different grueling schedule all my own. The first season of the show was shot at Moliflex, down along the Lachine Canal, which used to be a convenient half-hour walk from my home whenever I had the urge to visit the set and see who they cast for which guest role, or how some elaborate prop I made them build for one of my episodes turned out. This time around we’ve moved to the less convenient but much larger Mel’s, which sounds more like a greasy spoon diner than the enormous production facility it is. The increased size of the soundstage the show is shooting on has allowed for several new sets, expanding the dimension of the featured fast food restaurant to include bathrooms, a hallway, and a dingy alleyway outside the rear service door. New locations mean new toys for the writers to play with in their scripts, thus my visit during the lighting check to scout out possibilities for current and future episodes.

I hadn’t been to Mel’s since I worked on Sci-Squad back in 1998, when I had gone to visit that set for the sole purpose of being in the crew photo. That was an interesting experience, because in Montreal you never know what might be shooting just a few feet away. It could be some tiny French Canadian sitcom no one west of Berri Street will ever hear of, or it may be some Hollywood blockbuster throwing around more money than every other production in the city combined. On that particular day, coming out of the control room, I nearly walked straight into Denzel Washington as he was returning from the set of The Bone Collector next door. Although I came within a foot of knocking heads with him, we both escaped injury. Which is a good thing, because I’m sure his phalanx of gigantic bodyguards would have pulled me apart limb by limb had I even touched him. I’d seen these guys when I first entered the building and had, quite naturally, assumed they were parolees from a maximum security prison who just happened to enjoy passing the time by loitering around Montreal film and television productions. I was probably right, but I had no idea they were being paid to do so.

I admit to being vaguely fascinated by what gets shot next door to each other, and especially by what gets shot on the same studio floor. One production wraps, and then something completely different moves in. It tickles me to know that Pulse, CFCF’s local news show that runs daily at noon, 6:00 and 11:30, broadcasts live from the exact same space we used to shoot Radio Active. Yes, none other than Bill Haugland and Mutsumi Takahashi read the top headlines of the day from precisely the spot where one of our actors mooned another during a take to see if he could get him to crack up. The victim of this prank kept a straight face and the take made the final cut, but it makes me wonder if Mutsumi ever flashes some skin at Bill to rattle him during some otherwise dry federal sponsorship scandal coverage. It would make great symmetry.

Now that the bodily functions of the characters on Fries With That? have been acknowledged with the arrival of the new bathroom set that can be quickly redressed to pass for a men’s or women’s room (something I argued for as being highly cost-effective), the writers are all scrambling to have plenty of scenes take place in and around our one cubicle. The challenge will be writing bathroom humour that doesn’t involve anything that traditionally goes on in a bathroom, lest we incur the wrath of our wholesome broadcaster. Personally, I’m more interested in the revamped drive-through window. The technical issues concerning the impractical camera angle have been solved and greatly improved. Now, if need be, we can even drive a real car past the window to encourage some authenticity and perhaps a carbon monoxide asphyxiation or two amongst the crew.

Advance word is that Fries With That? will debut on Sunday, April 4 at 6:30 pm. It will play in that time slot for two weeks before moving to a four-day-a-week schedule, Monday to Thursday, paired with reruns of Radio Active. The first piece of promotion has just appeared on YTV’s website.

This week’s Movies in Longshot features a murdered screenwriter trilogy that is near and dear to my heart because, like all screenwriters, I know we got it comin’.