Yesterday, I drove through L.A. traffic on the 101 and as a veteran I still got lost and had to back track. I finally arrived at my destinations which were described as brand new state of the art Hollywood Studios. Side by side big black buildings. Pull around in back somewhere and park. I found a quick space on the side, and violated the instructions but parked there. Now I had made two mistakes. Nam has always made me trust my instinct as it is time honored.
I walked down the alley way and stared at these two black buildings reflecting sauna-like heat onto my body and environment. One building was marked with a huge red X. I stared at the red X, wondering about the metaphor and the geometry and the choice of thoughts related to such.
Finally, I hear my name being beckoned but because of my hearing dysfunction as a result of Vietnam and 105 mm Howitzers, I cannot identify what direction the “Larry” is coming from. So I scan a 360-degree area to make sure I do not make the third mistake and identify my friend Darren. Darren, always the consummate gentleman who was obviously raised well with manners, introduces me to three parties. One is a frail man, with limited hair and limited testosterone. Another is a more considerable man with considerable amounts of shoulder length hair and lots of testosterone. And the third is a younger man, with a baseball cap, who is quiet and non nonchalant with no readable signs, no communication, no smile, just…….a baseball cap. In a way, this kid is an anachronism as he has his baseball cap on straight if you will and not on backwards for some odd reason. Perhaps that was a signal to me…….as I liked that, and reflected on the stability of such a choice.
So we follow the younger guy with the baseball cap to a big rod iron gate and he proceeds to open it and let us all in to this new studio complex. I look around and the only thing I see outside are two LAPD Motorcycles and one LAPD car. I think of my own background on CHIPS and then quickly ponder the consequences of that imagery of cops. Wagner music comes to mind. I hope everything is OK here.
I am not sure who or what I am here to see other than a studio. I have no background on any of the parties and I wish I knew more or had time to do more due diligence. We knock on a big heavy black studio door and it opens. A man greets us and invites us inside out of the warm “reflections” of the black walls with the Red X. He looks like a grip as he has a black t-shirt on and very long hair that reminds me of the 60s in San Francisco. I notice his hair looks oily and un-kept….and I wonder if we caught him in the middle of hard labor or perhaps that look is a choice or it is simply negligence. As we follow him inside I am waiting for him to take us to some major executive office and meet the owner and executive of this new studio.
As we walk down a long corridor he begins showing us make up rooms, conference rooms, art that seems to represent times past and peculiarly, lots of bathrooms. There is a bathroom it seems every few rooms. Also, there are lots of kitchens. I am still confused why or what I am looking at and wonder if this gentleman wants to even do this as he seems to be so understated and soft spoken. His hands are revealing and I am still confused if he is a grip or what. But, what makes it more confusing is he seems to talk in allegories that I am trying to decipher as I do not understand his culture yet or his inferences or style. I have no idea who he is. As we walk up the stairs he mumbles something about his girlfriend who was paid $50 for this photograph. Damn I wonder., is my hearing screwing up this visit what the hell did he say? I see no photography. I am now completely confused by the characters and the dialogue. As I progress up the stairs further, his girlfriend is revealed as I look and walk by this large piece of art. It is the iconic lady of Hollywood of course and now I am further confused. Is he saying this was his girlfriend at one time or is he joking. I do not talk to reveal my state of confusion and get to the top of the stairs and turn around to gawk at his girlfriend. She is lying there in this huge art piece…….naked. Of course I wonder how he and Marilyn got hooked up or what this is all about. Oh well, I let it slide because maybe I did not hear something right.
As we walk past various art hanging on the walls, he mentions that he did this piece back in the day….and did that piece some other time. Now I am confused as great art is everywhere and maybe this guy is not a grip after all. Then he takes us through the electrical panel area and it has all kinds of nuclear stickers on panels and seems dangerous in there. Later we see the black panther room and it has doubled paneled windows peering down onto the huge open stages for one to peer down on the actors of a movie. Even that perspective disrupts my reality.
As we see costumes and art pieces I begin to see this as a museum/studio or a house of horrors. The juxtaposition of the images is arcane. As I ponder what I am seeing I step out and see this huge Green Screen area of the studio and imagine the artistry of that vision and I begin to indulge my senses with quick montages of my decades of movies. Then my senses are jolted with a hard beat of none other than the Rolling Stones and their images are dancing all over the studio white screen like walls. It is haunting and seems to tease my dimension. Where am I as I am sure this is a transition of some kind. I begin another journey up some stairs and a fish on the wall starts talking and singing to me a pastel green fish that looks like the 50s. Hmmmm.
Finally, the “grip” has finished the tour and I realize that this is his studio, his art, and I am thoroughly confused. He is a quiet man with very humble utterings-a paradox for sure. I watch him and see no signals. My discernment radar is picking up on…. nothing. I watch longer and see no physical gestures that infer anything. His facial expressions are non-existent and yet he finally reveals a clue of ….well, not sure…. just a clue of something perhaps. He says he is from Oklahoma and then grew up in Hollywood. I look at his face and see strong features, strong cheeks and jawbone and a strong nose to match his strong hands. I guess that he has some Native American in him. We all settle down at the conference table and each one chooses their seat at the long table. The frail man takes the head of the table. I sit on the side across from the “grip” and continue to scan my senses for data to reveal the intrigue of this modern day haunted yellow brick road I am on.
As a boy, I found the Wizard of Oz haunting and it scared me. I was confused with the realities and felt like it took me to a new dimension. When I landed in Vietnam and stood on a hill top looking down at the Cam Lo River and listened to what sounded like the 4th of July on my first day again I was confused if I was in a movie or this was reality and those fireworks were killing people down by that river. It really haunted me as a spectator to death and yet here I was again, caught in this “dimension warp” and yet I continued with attentive confusion. The young man in the baseball cap had hardly spoken so I still was not sure who or what he was about. The gentleman with the long hair seemed confident but I was not sure who he was either. I figured these must be some friends of the “grip” and someone had an idea to build a studio. Man….I wondered if they knew anything about what they were getting into. We all decided to drive and see the “grip’s” other studio. I thought……..wow. Did he just say “other studio” and sure enough off we drove to visit it.
We entered that studio with the long haired guy (Leon) and the young baseball man (Zack) and they began showing me all of the equipment…..I mean this was a full fledged studio with tons of lights, and stands and trucks and equipment. This was expensive and I am wondering if the “grip” paid for all of this or who did or who owns all of this. As I proceed on another tour I go into a room filled with old 60s VWs from my youth and images that begin painting quick flashes in my brain like Fonda, Haight Ashbury, pot, and phrases by Peter Fonda saying…..I just want to be free to ride my machine…..as he rides precariously down a highway in the dangerous South. I mean there must be 10 or more really cool painted VWs with tons of ART on them staring at me teasing my past realities of body bags to love fests.. What the hell?
And because I am from the film business and know so much about life (LOL) I walk over to the camera and tripod and ask what they shoot on and the kid with the baseball cap and the long haired guy come alive. They begin talking tech, and they know their shit. These are not nerds these are engineers blessed with creativity……these are very smart guys. Finally, the onions begin to reveal themselves and it is fascinating. The long haired guy then asks me to come upstairs and as I walk up to this loft area it is filled with very expensive cameras, lenses, jibs etc…….this is one hell of a lot of expensive equipment. I meet a young guy who seems to be German to me, and is immersed in his giant Mac screen. He leaves it for a second to politely shake hands and then goes back to his screen. At first I construed him as cold, arrogant and rude but that was my child psyche creeping in as he was just busy and a nice guy as time honored him.
As the long haired guy takes me to his editing screen he clicked on some film clips and showed me some quick shots of the VWs, the mount shots, the drone shots and some steady cam shots. Obviously these guys walked the talk and this stuff was stunning. Now I was even more confused and asked Leon (long haired guy) who shot this stuff and he said he did. I then asked him with my confidence, “So what platform are they editing this on?” and he quickly said Avid of course. I shook my head with agreement, of course and asked him did he know how to edit and he said of course.
I am looking at all of this gear and thinking of when I produced an award winning TV series for HBO. In those days I think I could have done a lot of the crew jobs and as it were, I did direct and produce some of the stuff. But, the equipment has dramatically changed and this digital world seems to be more suited for engineers and scientists who chose film making instead of NASA. The breadth of knowledge to assemble the camera and lenses is beyond most people’s capability but add to that editing, post production, sound, lighting, directing, writing, scoring……etc. Amazing amount of knowledge is so necessary.
As I gather I think of the old thermometers which people use as a visual for fund raising. I think of these guys and their expertise as a thermometer and it seems to me they are on top and then of course I compare these young guys to my own knowledge thermometer with respect to this new digital equipment and my thermometer seems quite low. This is true and representative of how the film industry quickly has changed. When you take a moment to have a kid explain his Canon C5 with all of the parts he has made you realize the game is way beyond your capability and it is moving much faster than some film school. Talk about humbling.
Now I begin to drill down on conversations with Leon and I see that he and his partners are very savvy guys. I am trying to understand the micro and macro as quick as possible to see if I can be a positive catalyst as a small team member. If I can great and if I cannot I have learned to politely excuse myself from parasitic drag. I think I can help but humility is pouncing on my conscious everywhere as I listen and stare at this incestuous Mecca of talent and technology.
As I turn and look around at all of this MONEY and talent my senses are quickly scanning all of the overwhelming data so quickly put in my RAM. Friggin unbelievable…….why me? I begin to slowly turn 180 degrees to again take in the visual of all of this stuff and VOILA……magically the “grip” has appeared again. He has his arms folded and is leaning casually and humbly back against the editing table smiling. I have come to know and respect the “grip” now as MIKE the owner and artist and visionary. Mike asks to show us a clip or two of another film and Leon finds it and puts it up on screen for us to watch. This is a film when Mike was a photographer artist and he would photograph and video various subjects in interesting and shocking environments. He said they would begin at 10 pm and he would shoot all night. As I watched this film of this young cute but not beautiful girl I was mesmerized by the layers of ART. This was a girl who posed in clothes, naked and covered in paint, or blood or whatever, and her poses were part of what I construed as transitions of the life cycle. She then layered that visual with very personal admissions and deeply private conversations from her soul. Her conversations then began layering with emotion and this was beyond realty……a performance beyond performances……but it was not a performance. I felt like a peeping Tom looking at her cleansed and un-cleansed sub-conscious. This was a very haunting visual for me and it hung with me hours thereafter. I am not sure when the last time I felt so moved other than a Fanny and Alexander movie by Ingmar Bergman. My senses scrambled for balance for a leaning post.
As it turns out, Mike, is a very successful skyscraper wall painter and successful real estate guy. He has painted murals and buildings for years and has made millions. Americans have a tendency to validate a person in awe because he had made millions. In some cases, a CEO who has made millions will impress you with his knowledge but I have found that timing has a lot to do with it all so ego/intellect is not always the big factor. But with Mike I could tell this was an artist’s artist who did not care about anything like money. He strode through this dimension called life cycle and just did his art. He characterized himself as a paid “tagger” who tags buildings. False humility or fact one ponders?
Mike walked me out and we talked for a few minutes. As we were talking I could see this teenager kid down the street about 25 yards away on the corner yelling at us. He walked up and started yelling f……… this and f…….. long hair creep and calling Mike lots of other names. He was out there and we ignored him. My senses were ready to knock him on his ass if he came at us but waited for his first move. Cocked and ready but ignoring him he continued by us. Then he turned and yelled some more profanity again and we looked at him. I sensed not to react but the balance was beginning to move and I knew that volatility was close. He then walked off. Added to the above sequences this was another exclamation mark on my surreal business meeting. Really weird! Again my senses struggled with this dimension and timing. I talked to Mike a few more minutes with the latent fear that the profane chubby kid would return. As I began to say goodbye to Mike, this enigmatic character, I looked for something more and finally saw what I was searching for…….I saw truth in his eyes. Truth ……seems to quietly beam from a person’s eyes.
I drove home in shock……as my creative mind wandered in and out of dimensions that I feel some people in life have never experienced. These “wandering wonderings” can be disruptive and confusing but are deeply creative. Creative often sheds the inertia of good and bad……creative is rhythmic and can be a free fall and can be dangerous and revealing. I often wonder how creative one wants to indulge because my fear is there could be a demarcation line.
I went to my next meeting where we discussed a new environmental product I have and the distribution to VW and Audi. In most cases this was a more normal business meeting in Los Angeles.
After this dinner meeting I drove home with my wonderful wife and went to bed and the dreams began. I could not get this haunting girl who Mike had photographed out of my mind. These dreams were not sexual dreams, these were haunting dreams……ghostly…..alone perhaps on the yellow brick road. I felt mixed feelings and I wished I could help her. I wished that she could get rid of her emotionally abusive boyfriend/lover she discussed in one of her sobbing monologues and find a mentor and a real supporting boyfriend. I wondered about why people in general perpetuate victimhood on so many levels. I then wondered why these girls go through this psychological catharsis and were they aware of what and where they were going with these confessions and dialogue or was this reckless abandon which can be created in some environments. 10 hours of photography and you begin to see the creative breakdown.
I then wondered about Priests/monks who take the oath to stay in the CHURCH or monastery their whole lives. I thought about cults. I thought about my perception of the danger of that kind of deep focused indulgence and the different “dimension” that can over time suck you in. I compared that kind of deeply focused indulgence to these girls and this raw, bloody, and naked milieu. I began to see holograms of various layers of film and each one could be over laid on you and it would take you to a different definition of LIFE and a different dimension. This was very bizarre stuff….and I have often thought about dimensions and the subtle and overt transitions from and too such. My favorite theme in films is always illusion versus reality and here I was living it.
Now…..my conscious, and my RAM will have to distill and scan this information and it will take weeks to actually do a hard disk fragmentation. This was and is a gift….an experience of wisdom and depth. This flirted with my ego, with my so called intellect, with my child psyche, with my business architectural mind and with a deep nightmarish like fear. This excited me and scared me for some reason which I am not clear. This conscious and subconscious dimensional wandering was surely both disrobing and embracing. Status Quo or continue she said?
As sunrise appeared, coffee, emails, and normal buy and sell agreements for our new OPTEC mpg device began. Considered profit and loss and market penetration. Pretty black and white and a traditional business dimension. I thought maybe, only in Los Angeles do you get to transition dimensions all day from simple business meetings to relationships. It is clear, there is no space for myopic judgment or your ability to watch and listen will be cut short. Kaleidoscope for sure.
….another day in Hollywood.