Monday, April 03, 2006

"Lighting? You Call This Lighting?!?"

I spent this entire past weekend shooting video interviews and events at the Big Apple Comic Convention for the esteemed folks at the MONSTERS HD network, the only uncut and commercially uninterrupted horror movie network in existence on the DISH satellite network. Yeah, there are a lot of other pretenders to the throne out there trying to start-up (The Horror Channel, anyone?), but none have yet gone to air and MONSTERS HD is the one to beat. Good luck to the rest of 'em -- they're going to need it.

And no, I'm not just saying this because they paid my meal ticket for three days. I spent six years of my life working for their parent company (Rainbow Media) and I spent almost every single moment of those six years biting the hand that fed me the whole time I was there working in that intellectual charnel house for shit networks like AMC (when they were still a great network back in 1999) and WE (Women's Entertainment, which despite the many wonderful people working for it will simply never be a great network).

But MONSTERS HD is a great network.

Anyway, one of my all-time-great cinematic heroes George A. Romero (king of all things zombie related) was there and I was very excited about shooting his Q & A and hopefully even spending some time with him (alas, this dreamily hoped-for latter aspect did not come to pass).

On Saturday, poor nice-guy George was dragged down from the convention floor to the grand ballroom of the Penn Plaza hotel and plopped down into a chair to watch the parade of folks who had made costumes for themselves for a competition in which the grand prize was brunch with Mr. Romero himself. Asked to judge the contestants, George politely declined and said he was just an observer. And I have to say, as the weekend went on and I saw the number of bizarre social indignities the poor man was put through, I became very impressed with the polite ease with which he handled himself in the most trying of social situations.

In fact, to digress for a moment, it reminds me now of the most uncomfortable thing I witnessed the entire weekend -- the grand introduction of George Romero and comic book legend (and now film director) Frank Miller over a hastily catered lunch in the Gold Ballroom at the back of the hotel.

Not that there was any animosity between these two genre giants -- but it was one of the most uncomfortable 'cold' introductions between two people who's only connection to one another was through genre fame. Watching the two of them shake hands as their respective handlers pushed them at one another as the cameras whirred (and I, guiltily, was forced to partake in shooting this moment as well -- though I backed off and cut my camera as soon as I saw how socially uncomfortable things were getting) was vaguely nauseating.

It was like watching two people being pushed at one another by mutual friends who knew they would just get along famously (some nightmarish high school or family gathering flashback could easily be inserted here about now), and to their credit they were both polite and struggling to keep the conversation flowing for the sake of all the witnesses of this tragic social crime. But alas, the body language of two great talents gave away the deception to anyone within 100 feet who had a brain commected to their eye sockets.

Which reminded me of the time I witnessed Talking Heads frontman David Byrne being similarly forced upon Dario Argento at a SUSPIRIA screening about 10 or 15 years ago at the Film Forum. But that, as Mako in CONAN THE BARBARIAN might say, is a story for another time....

So back to the costume ball so I can explain the quote that begins this fevered blog entry.

As the costume contest ended and a winner was chosen by the audience, the MC told all the contestants that they could have their picture taken with Mr. Romero for their efforts -- which seemed like a pretty nice consolation prize to me. Heck, if I didn't have to work the cameras I would have torn off all my clothes and tried to go as Ed Begley the Invisible Man segment of AMAZON WOMEN OF THE MOON. Brunch with George would have been worth the public humiliation for me, and probably would have been no worse than the humiliation I feel at any public screenings of my movie works (about which I feel similarly naked in public).

So they asked George and the contestants to step off to one side of the stage into the lighting I had set-up to shoot the stage events so they could get some good pictures.

And I want to make this clear by quoting the MC (almost verbatim): "Okay, George, please step into the lighting over here so everyone can take their picture with you."

And then George replied (you already know what's coming, right?) in a loud, playfully obnoxious voice that boomed through the auditorium: "Lighting? You call this lighting?"

Which made a number of people around me laugh. Including the guy standing right next to me who worked for the Big Apple Convention. He turned to me, saw the look of shocked disbelief on my face, and commented: "George Romero just made fun of your lighting set-up."


And quickly, without thinking, I turned to the guy (who's deadpan obvious delivery somehow made the whole situation that much more hilarious in an out-of-body experience kind of way) and responded: "Yeah, I learned everything I know about lighting from Michael Gornick."

The poor fellow looked at me blankly and walked away. He didn't get it.

Maybe you didn't either.

Michael Gornick is a cinematographer of debatable talents who shot almost all of George Romero's feature films up until (and including) DAY OF THE DEAD.

And even though I was insulting his work by comparing it to mine, I have to admit to having a soft-spot in my heart for this technician who seems incapable of deciding what the given aspect ratio is for any particular film he is shooting. Try for example watching Romero's MARTIN or DAWN OF THE DEAD and see if you can figure out if Gornick was composing for a square 1:33 frame or a widescreen 1:85 frame, because I promise you that his compositional choices are so inconsistent from one shot to another in (sometimes in the very same scene) that your head will spin.

And yet.....

And yet I LOVE those early collaborations between Gornick and Romero. So I guess there's something to be said for the art that can be created from seemingly artless chaos.

Nonetheless, George A. Romero insulted my lighting and hopefully I've learned something from it.


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