You’re a life saver!

I saw The Sandlot earlier this weekend and it was okay. I mean, it’s a cute film that’s fun for the whole family… unless your family is made up entirely of middle-aged guys, in which case it’s probably just okay. But there was one scene that was really cringe-worthy for me. Why? Because the movie was made in 1993, which is after I passed my lifeguard certification for the first time.

In that cringe-worthy scene, a young kid jumps into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. The lifeguard dives from her chair into the pool (she hit the water at a bit of a sideways angle, so I’d give it a 6.5), swims down to the bottom, drags the kid up, gets the help of another lifeguard to pull him out of the water, then lies him down next to the pool and immediately starts doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

My brain immediately began to hurt. Like, way worse than when I see someone on TV giving CPR and bending their elbows. It’s a necessity for TV, given that if you’re doing CPR properly with straight arms and your shoulders above their chest, there’s a distinct possibility that you’re going to break some ribs. Costars don’t like it when you break their ribs. Go figure.

But mouth-to-mouth immediately… the first thing you should do is put your ear over the person’s mouth and “look, listen and feel”: look at chest rising for breathing, listen for breathing, feel air against your ear for breathing. If it turns out the kid is already breathing, sit back and appreciate the fact that you didn’t completely botch your landing in the water. If you don’t sit back—if he’s holding his breath and you blow into his mouth—you just gave him a set of ruptured lungs. But at least you saved his life for a couple moments before you went and killed him yourself, right?

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Yes, everything that happens in movies is real.

The first part of this story comes from Anne, a friend of mine who lives out in L.A. She was attending a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] early screening of The Martian and Matt Damon was there to be part of an audience Q & A after the movie was over. Anne enjoyed the movie, but the part afterward… not so much.

The first person to ask a question was decked out in a dress like she was on a first date and piled enough compliments and adulation on Damon before she asked him anything that the upcoming question might as well have been, “Are you single?” Anne said it was actually a decent question, but the 2 1/2 minute Matt Damon lovefest before and afterward kinda tarnished the result.

The second question gave Anne a pretty good idea of how calm and relaxed some actors can be for the sake of their fans. Not only can they handle people who sound like they want to run up onto the stage during the Q & A session and do all sorts of unmentionable things to them in front of the audience, they handle questions after The Martian like, “Did that really happen?”

Yes.

I mean, no, the events in the movie didn’t happen, but the question did. Anne’s heart sank in her chest and she immediately became saddened for the Screen Actors Guild: there are people who present that kind of public image and have the SAG title attached to their names.

Again, he delivered a calm and relaxed response, which in this case was that it wasn’t a true story, but scientists are doing a lot of research about how to produce food, water, oxygen and whatnot so they could potentially send people out to Mars for a few months, etc. Uhhh… in case you didn’t know The Martian is about someone being on Mars, I guess I should have added a spoiler alert before this paragraph.

Suffice it to say that actors have to deal with a lot of dumb questions, but it inspired a group of us to come up with one for the next Q & A session that would include Matt Damon. For those of you who don’t know, he’s currently working on a fifth Jason Bourne movie that’s supposed to be released in 2016.

The question we came up with wasn’t, “Did the stuff in that movie really happen?” That question should be saved for a silly person who wants to indulge in another lovefest. Nope, we decided she should get the microphone and ask Matt Damon, “How many people have you killed with your bare hands?” Mic drop, walk away. Q & A session complete.

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Heckler: The Documentary

A couple days ago, I was surfing through YouTube looking for clips of Maria Bamford doing standup. Go ahead, judge me if you want, but it eventually led me to a documentary posted in six parts called “Heckler”. It was co-produced by and stars Jamie Kennedy and I think it creates a really interesting narrative. Some people (including a bunch who wrote comments on YouTube) think he made it because he’s a big whiner, but the whole thing is pieced together with parts of interviews from a couple dozen comedians, actors, directors, critics, etc., so it’s way beyond one person saying, “Boo hoo, people are mean.”

In retrospect, it seems I’ve played both roles: the person being criticized (e.g., being on the first season of Beauty and the Geek) and the critic (e.g., writing about later seasons of Beauty and the Geek). I hadn’t thought much about it before, so it’s led me to a level of introspection that some people in the documentary probably wouldn’t waste their time on. (Incidentally, those people can suck it.)

I thought I could write down some of those insights down on paper… computer screen… which combined with watching the videos might lead to some revelations of your own. (Two people posted it in six parts; I decided to link to the account that put clean breaks between the parts as opposed to switching in the middle of sentences. However, this one cut out the final credits that the other left in, which includes a few more interview clips and Danny Trejo telling any critics watching, “I know where you live.”)

I’ll write more later, but if this has piqued your interest at all, watching the video below is the place to start.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9W6b1zsrr4

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Find him before it’s too late!

My mom was watching NCIS: New Orleans earlier tonight, a show that my brain fights against every time it’s on TV. It might be good, but Scott Bakula is the main character and I just can’t make the mental shift away from him on Quantum Leap. Plus his southern accent is pretty terrible.

In this episode, an old friend came to visit him at the NCIS office, who revealed that he’d been poisoned, he’s going to die and there’s no cure.

“I need you to find out who did this to me…”
“Before it’s too late.”

Sure, it builds an appropriate amount of suspense right before the first commercial break, but it also brought up something else that my brain started fighting against:

Too late for what?

“Too late” suggests there’s a deadline, a point in time when you have to have solved a problem. If someone wants $1,000,000 by midnight or he’ll kill the person he kidnapped, get him the money by 11:59 or it’s too late. If a bomb is set to explode in ten seconds, disarm it before the timer reaches zero or it’s too late. You can prevent something from happening if you accomplish a task before that point in time.

Conversely, Scott Bakula’s friend has been poisoned and there’s no cure. His death is inevitable. So what’s the problem to be solved before the deadline? What danger can be averted? There’s no “Find a cure to the poison or I’ll die”, no “We won’t catch the culprit if I die”… it’s just a request for help to find the bad guy. There is no “too late” in this scenario.

If the threat had been “I’ve been poisoned, there’s no cure and if you can’t fake a decent southern accent by the end of this episode, you’ll never work in television again”, well, that’s another story. That’s definitely something he could do before it’s “too late”, but whether he could realistically solve the problem… I suppose he could always hope for a Quantum Leap reunion.

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“He’s still rolling! He’s always rolling!”

Many, many moons ago (back in 2007), I helped a friend of mine named Jeremy Gustafson make a movie called “Harry Putter and the Sorcerer’s Phone”. It was kinda like the first Harry Potter movie, but way better. Unless you look at the ratings on the Putter IMDb page. Then you’ll see that out of 60 people, a lot of them have really bad taste in movies. 3.5 out of 10? Hah! (The entire movie is posted there if you want to judge for yourselves. I guess that’s an option when it’s less than 14 minutes long.)

My first day on set was at the “broom store” and I was expecting to be part of the crew: use the slate, hold the boom mic, stuff like that. I ended up doing a lot more because the guy who was cast as the broom store clerk never showed. Well, Jeremy had a robe for me to wear, gave me a couple minutes to look at the script and find my motivation for delivering my only line, then the camera started rolling. And it kept rolling. And rolling. And rolling. And rolling.

One of the fun things about Jeremy directing movies is that he waits a very long time before saying “Cut.” That leads to a lot of bloopers, random behind-the-scenes footage, a bunch of improvised lines… enough material that he ended up making an outtakes reel that was over an hour long. That’s right, over four times longer than the film itself. As you would imagine, that isn’t posted on the movie’s IMDb page.

However, he recently started putting together a recut version of the outtakes reel (which includes several minutes of footage from the broom store) and posted Part 1 on his Vimeo page a couple days ago. My understanding is that Vimeo has limits on the amount of data you can upload within a given time, so only the first part is currently available. I’m looking forward to Part 2 as well, but if you want to check out my wide array of salesmanship skillz (or lack thereof), what’s posted is what you want to watch. Jeremy and I both hope you enjoy!
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ADDENDUM: Part 2 is live! Jeremy posted both parts on his blog and included commentary about putting them together, so for some additional insight on the movie and its creation, you can click on the link and read it there.

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Dear Wayward Student…

Devon Hensel is an old friend of mine from school (since 2nd grade, I think, though I’m not sure if she’d want to admit knowing me that long). She’s currently a professor at Indiana University and occasionally gets frustrated with her students. As a way to vent those frustrations, she would write “Dear Wayward Student” status messages on Facebook such as the following:
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Dear Wayward Student: thank you for the email.
1) “Hhhhhheeeeyyyy there prof, I’m not it class cuz imma kickin’ it on beak on Paaaadrrreee.” I was not aware that the University had started “beak” four days early, but this clearly explains your five week sabbatical from the course.
2) “Like, here’s my paper. I wanna be sure to turn it in on time.” Class is from 6-8:40 pm on Wednesdays. It is now 3am….on Friday.
3) “It was aweeeeesome writing on my first relationship….I hope I get full credit for this paper.” Unfortunately, this paper was actually due three weeks ago….You know, the same day you missed the exam.
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I admit, I sometimes feel the same urge to stab myself in the brain when I read stuff like that. What goes through some of her students’ heads is just… wow. But there are always likes and comments whenever she writes a new one (it’s probably related to the “rubbernecking” phenomena when people really need to see the results of a car crash).

I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to do it, but I consulted with Devon briefly, then created a very basic “Dear Wayward Student” page on Facebook. It sat there, cold and alone, begging for some attention, but alas, nothing. Until Devon wrote a new Dear Wayward Student status message recently, at which point I reminded her about the page and BOOM! People get to start reading stories without having to surf through her timeline.

As a bonus, other teachers have been adding comments to the page that go through their heads, but they’re polite enough to not say anything out loud. Comments like “If you have to introduce yourself to me at the end of the semester, chances are your bid for higher participation points won’t work.”

So if you want to indulge in a little bit of Interwebs-based rubbernecking, Dear Wayward Student has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. One caveat: if you stab yourself in the brain, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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