Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gravois location for zombie uranium mill

Paul Casey as scientist in the uranium mine.
So we recently shot the big zombie uranium mine scene for our movie Go South for Animal Index. We are making a fable of the Los Alamos story, based on a poem by Stefene Russell. Given that it's a fable based on a poem, we are at liberty to be as representational as we wish, or not.

Our plan, at this point, is to mine something that looks like raw uranium (which we have done, mining sand) and then mill it into something that looks like yellowcake uranium, and then mill that into something that looks like plutonium.

These latter two processes in reality were vast technical enterprises that involved, among other things, creating a fission facility the size of an entire city in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. We can always fall back on archival footage for that, and we may do so, but my first idea is to have our zombies play with food to create cornbread (yellowcake) and plum pulp (plutonium).

First, we need to have our zombies wheel the wheelbarrows of uranium (sand) they wheeled out of the mine to the location we will use for the mill. I have been looking for a location like this, which I just found on an alley behind Gravois.

The alley has a lot of other interesting textures to choose from.

I like this exterior.

There is a leafy green stretch, which is good, since we have our zombies walking past green at our Atomic Cowboy location.

Always good to have fences, since we need to suggest military encirclement.

Some kind of weird plutonium purple is poking out of this inage for no rational reason, other than to volunteer for the part.

This could suggest military workforce housing, if we want to imagine our mill that compressed upon domestic spaces.

This building has promise as an exterior for the scientists' housing.

I discovered this alley because it's behind the carpentry shop of Paul Casey, who is playing our lead scientist. We could have the zombies dump the mined uranium at the shop garage, if we can live with its hominess.

Shoot tight, and it gets less homy.

This barbed wire gate is probably a better dropoff point. We'd post a soldier, the general and Casey here.

Another look. If we use our prop shop to shoot the bomb shop, which looks likely, we have brick there. Making movies in St Louis, we need to get used to brick.

Another angle at the gate front. Casey has wheels we can use to move the Dumpster.

Wider shot. If we go for the gate front, we probably dont want the garage in the shot.

Casey is an old theater prop guy, and he has an actual mill we can use if we want to use a literal mill. That wasn't what I had in mind, but options are good.

Upstairs in his carpentry shop he has a small table with a great look for the zombie uranium mill table. There also is a larger table that doesn't look as cool.

Clean out this room and we can shoot the scene up here when the weather cools. This would be a lot easier than shooting at Mad Art, which was the previous plan. Casey said if we shoot at night there is a creepy light outside these windows.

A detail of the room. That red is so wrong it's right. Mostly, the scene would be shot in closeups of zombies and uranium (food), though.

Love these lights.

There is a desk for the pencil pusher zombie cataloguing product.

And a plutonium blue zombie lounger for the breakroom. Forgot to ask Casey if we can smoke up there! Our zombies must smoke!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"The Secret Jew" and the dreamer who installed the new windows in my house

                                                   Detail of "The Secret Jew" by Chris Dingwell.

One of the men loading windows into our house was paused in the front room. He was reading the panel posted next to a painting. The painting was The Secret Jew by Chris Dingwell of Portland, Maine. The panel was the text of Murat Nemet-Nejat's translation of "The Secret Jew," a prose poem from Ece Ayhan's prose poetic sequence Blind Cat Black.

It's not everybody that enters our house who stops at the painting. It's not everyone who stops at that painting who reads the poem printed on the panel. I'd say it's not every guy working a window replacement job you'd expect to stop at the Turkish prose poem posted next to the florid painting of the Secret Jew, but half my artist friends in St. Louis work one menial job or another. I figured this guy was one of us.

I stepped up to him.

I explained that I co-founded an arts organization named Poetry Scores that translates poetry into other media. I told him we printed the poem he was reading for the Poetry Scores Art Invitational to Blind Cat Black, held in 2006 at Mad Art Gallery. I said the painter, my old friend Chris Dingwell, made this magnificent painting for that invitational as a response to the poem he was reading.

The guy was following me, but really he was just floored by Dingwell's painting.
                                           Detail of "The Secret Jew" by Chris Dingwell.
I ran to the Poetry Scores inventory in my basement and got him a copy of the CD we produced of our poetry score to Blind Cat Black. I told him we had since gone on to make a silent movie to that score -- a silent zombie movie -- a silent conceptual zombie movie -- but there was no DVD of the movie so he'd have to catch a screening.

By now I had taken him to my garage to show him a pile of props for the zombie uranium miner scene we are shooting this weekend inside a sand mine in Crystal City, and suddenly I found myself in full-blown zombie recruitment mode.

The CD had to go out to his truck, I had to get my daughter to camp and myself to work, he had to help install the new windows in my house, but the zombie schmooze was on. Now he was telling the other guys on the crew and everyone was interested. I was talking up our zombie uranium miner shoot this Saturday and thinking I had new talent.

"You're working Saturday," the boss said to the dreamer who had gotten lost in the painting.

His boss then volunteered the information that they had installed the windows of the guy who invented the drive-in movie, Mr. Swank. He said the Swanks were from Ohio and ended up in Indianapolis, where they had the bright idea of stringing up a sheet in a town square, projecting home movies and seeing if people would pay to watch them.

They paid. Before Mr. Swank passed away (the boss was saying, as he handled my new windows), the old man owned five homes on Oahu. He needed five homes on Oahu because Mrs. Swank was ill, and as they traveled around the island to see friends, she needed to stop and rest often, so they bought their own resting homes along the way.

I explained that the one movie we had finished, Blind Cat Black, had been shown drive-in movie style at a tavern in downtown St. Louis. I said we had just lost an opportunity to show our movie projected on a sheet in town -- original Swank drive-in movie style -- due to the movie's disturbing adult content.

"For that movie, the big zombie scene was a zombie orgy," I said.

"Why didn't we replace your windows before you made that movie?" the boss asked, sadly.

The crew. The boss is inside the house, the dreamer is to the right.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nucleur physics, watermelons, tribal mysticism and uranium miner zombies

Eventful location shoot today for our movie, Go South for Animal Index, in the courtyard at Atomic Cowboy, which they throw open to us as a movie lot on Sunday mornings and afternoons. The crew was V "Elly" Smith on camera one and Murphy Mark Shaw on camera two.

Laurent Torno III, our director of photography, missed his first shoot (U2 tickets). Dawn Majors, who also is shooting the movie, has moved to Nashville to work as staff photographer for the Governor of Tennessee (though she has planned two weekends back in St. Louis, smitten as she is by the movie business).

Carla Doss worked hard today as production assistant. Carla helped out on our first movie, Blind Cat Black, too. Thanks to Carla, Mark was able to see the screen on Elly's camera to frame his shots in today's blinding light and heat.

Huge shooting day today. I have been getting very scared, because half-way through shooting a movie about the atomic bomb, we had no nucleur physics in the movie before today. Today, we introduced nucleur physics. I copied some pregnant passages and weird looking formulae and graphs from the Los Alamos Primer, the transcriptions of the introductory lectures that Los Alamos physicists received.

Eventually, we will shoot the physicists learning this material and arguing over it. Today we shot the Army chaplain (George Malich) coming across this disturbing material while attempting to deliver a watermelon to the physicists, who were not in their ouot-doors study. He gets angry at the thought of the destruction his congregants are preparing. He is interrupted by a soldier (Thomas Crone), who runs the chaplain out. Crone was a little late for the shoot, so we shot George's reaction to the sodlier before we had Crone there for him to react to. On this take, Carla tapped George on the shoulder with the soldier's rifle.

The watermelon was a valuable property today. We used it to motivate the chaplain coming upon the abandoned physics notes -- he was trying to deliver a melon to the brain trust -- and then we used it for comic effect, as the soldier tucks the melon under his arm and makes away with it after he rousts the holy man. Later, we will have the soldier use the watermelon in an attempt to make sweet time with one of our lonely scientist wives (Natalie Partenheimer).

That soldier/scientist wife scene will echo and comment upon another scene we shot today, when the other lonely scientist wife in the movie (Barbara Manzara) devours a plum she procured from the vendor of stuffen animals (a recurring character in our movies played by Thom Fletcher). I directed Barbara to find in that plum all the pleasure she was not getting in her marriage, and she took very good care of that plum. I, however, took no stills.

The funny thing is, the watermelon literally walked in my door only last night. In addition to shooting out movie, Mark Shaw is my neighbor. He dropped off the watermelon as a summer nicety. It was a short, fat melon, its shape and girth so like Fat Man, one of the bombs built at Los Alamos. I knew we had to use it.

After Crone showed up, we gave him sentinel duty. Los Alamos was a secret military base. In a silent movie, nothing says "secret military base" like a soldier with a gun in almost every scene, checking papers and directing traffic. And, in this case, simply watching some spent pieces of used zombie trash head back to the uranium mine.

The zombies today were played by Julie Malone and Aaron Garibaldi. The zombies in this movie are uranium miners and millers. This generic typing is right there in the poem we scored, and which we are now filming, where the poet writes, from the point of view of a Congolese uranium miner, "Why a corpse as me should be afraid?"

The plan is for all of our movies to have zombies. We came to the zombie genre honestly. Lead editor Aaron AuBuchon suggested zombies when I was casting around for a Surreal element to work into the movie Blind Cat Black to match the Surreal technique of Ece Ayhan's poem and Murat Nemet-Nejat's translation. It worked! It's a street hustler poem, and of course street hustlers are zombies.

It was then that I noticed you can get a LOT more different kinds of people to hear you out when you tell them you make silent zombie movies -- even silent conceptual zombie movies -- -- even silent conceptual zombie movies based on long poems you have set to music -- then if you tell people you make silent movies based on poetry. The zombies are here to stay.

Another huge advance today: we shot a healing ceremony. We have to shoot four. All four are attempts to heal a sick child. Although I live with the actors playing the sick child (Leyla Fern King) and her mother (Karley M. King), they have been hard to schedule. So I decided to play one ceremony where the child isn't there, but only emblems or simulacra of her: her likeness as a doll, a strand of her hair, one of her baby teeth. When we finally get Leyla and Karley to work, we will shoot them handing these items to the tribaly mystic, played by Martin Sophia. We owe Martin to the irrepressible Donny Blake, who is earning an Associate Producer credit on this picture.

Atomic Cowboy happens to have a spider totem in its courtyard. Los Alamos was in the desert, infested by spiders and snakes. We're making the most of that spider totem -- and the last embers of the courtyard campfire from the night before, which greets us every Sunday morning when we turn the tavern courtyard into a movie lot. There's always one good reason or another to have smoke in a shot.

In case you are wondering, we know it looks like there is a fence behind the bamboo. We are stuck with that fence, but we are using it: these are tribal people on a reservation.

The doll is from Ghana, where we have family. Martin is from Kenya. The tribal people in our movie are modeled after native peoples who mined uranium for the bomb effort, both in Africa (the Luba and Bantu) and in America (the Navajo and Utes). As we do with most things, we are coming up with our own collage of visual and narrative elements. We make our own fables or folktales. We are not trying to represent anyone's reality.

Ah, and here it is, the newest addition to the Poetry Scores family. Next Saturday we are shooting our big zombie uranium miner scenes, and I put out a call for wheelbarrows we could use (the poem talks of uranium miners who "bear wheelbarrows packed full of lightning"). My childhood friend Jocko Ferguson stepped up and gave us this rugged beauty, which I stencilled with "Debased Cogs," another phrase from the poem describing the miners.

The beauty is, this sucker fits right into my hatchback, and since you can pack it full, it doesn't really take up much space. Then, on location, it makes load on and out a one-trip process. How cool! Never leaving home without it again, at least not if I'm shooting a movie that day.

The hair and tooth for the healing ceremony were suggested by the poem, which has an obscure line about sewing up a stained pond "with a tooth and his longest hair". It occurred to me I still had one of Leyla's teeth from when she was a baby, and I could find her longest hair and trim it. These precious items were in a little juju bag that fell unobserved from my car while I was loading up after the shoot! Could not find them when I got home! Felt like I was bringing down a curse on my own kin by losing my daughter's baby tooth in a make-believe healing ceremony! A make-believe healilng ceremony with a character played by her at its center! So, after a long day of shooting, a long drive home, and a panicked search through all of our props, I got to turn right back around and drive right back to Atomic Cowboy. Where I found the juju bag! With the tooth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Oriental and Indian (as in India) flavors for "O sadness over rage O rage over sadness"

In 2012 we are scoring  O Sadness over rage O rage over sadness by K. Curtis Lyle. The text is a composite that Curtis and I arrived at together, working from a larger selection of his poems that deal with the American West. I asked to see his work in this vein when our movie unit decided we wanted to make a silent Western. In our way of doing things, that meant we needed to first find the right poem to score.

On our scores and our movies, Poetry Scores tries to use the ensemble approach of working with the same people we always work with. On our two previous scores, Jack Ruby's America by David Clewell (2010) and The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray (2009), we worked with the St. Louis multi-instrumentalist musician Frank Heyer. Given our ensemble approach, naturally we will try to work with him on O sadness over rage ...

Frank was brought to us by our friend and erstwhile board member Brett Lars Underwood, who booked him into the Tap Room. When I explained our approach to Frank, I emphasized how we are always looking for instrumental fragments or vignettes that we can sequence into our scores. He responded by mailing me two discs of music, one on a yellow CD and the other on a purple CD.

The yellow CD -- noir rock excursions on fretless guitar and keyboards -- is what I've been plumbing on our scores. The purple CD intrigued me, but since the tracks mostly have Indian and Oriental flavors, I found no use for it thus far. I can see how that could change, big time, with the score to O sadness over rage ...

Ultimately, we want to make an Indian and Cowboy picture, with an emphasis on the Indian. I appreciate that Indian as in Native American is distinct from Indian as in India; but we practice the arts of translation and collage, and I think Indian as in India could work well on this score. (I already intend to use Indian as in India dancers in the movie.) As for the more Oriental sounds, anthropologists figure American Indians as an Asiatic people, who migrated from Asia to the west coast of this continent on a now-submerged land bridge.

I think Frank's music on his purple disc is so promising for this score that I uploaded all 12 tracks to share with the poet (my co-producer) and anyone else who wants to listen along.

Music by Frank Heyer (mp3s)

Purple disc Track 1

This one sounds kind of Chinese to me.

Purple disc Track 2

More Indian, as in India.

Purple disc Track 3

Purple disc Track 4

This sounds very native Andean. I'd like to use this piece.

Purple disc Track 5

Less focussed to my ears; probably not a keeper for us.

Purple disc Track 6

Purple disc Track 7

Purple disc Track 8

Purple disc Track 9

Purple disc Track 10

Purple disc Track 11

Nice, plaintive electric guitar work here.

Purple disc Track 12

Back to that overtly Oriental opening flourish. A longer track at 5:06.



O Tonks over sadness O sadness over Tonks
The crow blows down the gap in the wind
Frontier fiddle concerto by Barbara Harbach for silent Western
Six Chirps Smith fiddle tunes for a silent Western score
"Alcohol and Used Father Peyote" with Mike Burgett
From car jam to lost rock bands to Black Indian Cowboy poem
Barbara Harbach string quintet for Black Indian Cowboy score"
Spaghetti Western music for O sadness over rage O rage over sadness


Bollywood Cowboy image from Catero's Flickr and belongs to him, not us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

O Tonks over sadness O sadness over Tonks

Tonight I was picking through the Poetry Scores archive when I chanced upon some music by William Tonks. Tonks is a songster and musician in Athens, Georgia I befriended many years ago.

I brought his music up from the basement, I mean the archive, and I gave it a good, long, loving listen with my neighbor over a bottle of 2009 Puydeval.

I really was just trying to get my Tonks on, but I was surprised to find in the unreleased recordings he sent me a number of instrumental tracks with a certain flavor.

As a guy who scores poems as a hobby, I mean as a vocation, I am always on the prowl for unreleased instrumental music I can park inside a piece of poetry we are scoring. Especially when the music was written and recorded by a friend. It's like writing and recording a song with a friend, except my friend already has done most of the work.

The next creative musical project on the horizon for Poetry Scores is to come up with a score for the silent Western we want to make. For the first time, we are starting with the (very generic) concept for a movie: a silent Western. Given the way we work, from poem to score to movie, we had to find a poem.

We worked with the great K. Curtis Lyle to chisel a poem from his many unpublished Western texts, O Sadness over rage O rage over sadness. My neighbor and I opened the poem and read through it while listening to the Tonks instrumentals. We picked some instrumentals that sound promising for the score, and we assigned some tentative titles to them from the poem.

Here is what we came up with!

"Back to a pumpkin seed"
(William Tonks)

"The man who met the red deer is here"
(William Tonks)

"They lost the bone fire stove"
(William Tonks)

"Relentless sameness"
(William Tonks)



The crow blows down the gap in the wind
Frontier fiddle concerto by Barbara Harbach for silent Western
Six Chirps Smith fiddle tunes for a silent Western score
"Alcohol and Used Father Peyote" with Mike Burgett
From car jam to lost rock bands to Black Indian Cowboy poem
Barbara Harbach string quintet for Black Indian Cowboy score
Spaghetti Western music for O sadness over rage O rage over sadness