Archive for April, 2008

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the circus

April 27, 2008

My friend Paula is doing her second radio piece about a circus that came through Portland.  She sent me a text message on her first day hanging out with the circus people.  It said, simply:

DOCUMENTARY SCHOOL ROCKS!

She had to get more tape, so yesterday she drove up to Augusta, where the circus had moved on to, and I tagged along to meet the people she’s been working with.  My favorite was Svenson, who has a goat act.  Keep an eagle eye on those goats.  One of them might be eating your jeans.

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a picture post

April 24, 2008

In the last 48 hours I’ve had several emails from people wanting to know about the lack of an update, and I know – it’s been a little quiet on this site in the last week, not because I didn’t have things to write about, but mostly because doing something creative would really have gotten in the way of all of my massive anxiety. I mean, I could put my energy into blogging, but the panic is really going well for me right now, and I’d hate to fuck that up.

THERE ARE ONLY THREE WEEKS LEFT ON THIS COURSE.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH WORK THERE IS LEFT TO DO? DO YOU? DO YOU? Because if you do, and if you are completely freaking out and losing your shit, well that’s fabulous – come sit by me and have a beer. Maybe four.

I still need to restructure my first radio piece, and I’ve only just started making headway on my second piece. It was supposed to be about Maine accents, but now it’s about the Patriot’s Day Storm of 2007 – the worst storm to hit Maine in 12 years. Today I spent the morning with a couple who lost their beloved summer cottage that they’ve had in the family for 42 years – the one they brought their kids and grandkids to – and I know I’m supposed to be an outside observer, a non-emotional documentarian, but when this couple started describing the home they’d lost, all of the memories washed out to sea, well, um, you’d have gotten a little choked up too.

Anyway, so by the by, I took pictures today of the little town where I’ve been working. Words cannot express how tiny and pretty it is and how “old Maine” it feels, so the pictures are gonna have to do.

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a little story

April 16, 2008

So I have to admit that my little trip home to Chicago a week and a half ago, super quick though it was, made me a little home sick. Chicago was warm and sunny and full of familiar things and good friends and I was very much all, “Hey Chicago! I miss you! I’m here! Maine ain’t all that, it’s you I love!” Even the crazy wacked out scary man at the bus stop who looked like he might want to kill me dead didn’t deter me from my little moment of urban adoration.

But then I got back here, and I was all, “ok Portland, you’re cute too, even though you are totally kicking my ass right now and I’m totally exhausted, but you have sea gulls and a big bay and brick paved streets and drivers who stop for pedestrians and people who smile, so maybe you’re not so bad.”

Anyway, this is all just sort of a lumpy little intro into telling y’all about the trash here. Portland is very SERIOUS about their trash and recycling. It all had to be explained to me when I got here. All recyclables go in one big blue plastic bin – all of it – paper, cardboard, cans, bottles, and no separating. You don’t even have to clean out your cans and bottles. The city comes around once a week and empties out your bin and takes it away.

On the same day they come and get your trash, and all trash has to be in official blue “City of Portland” trash bags. No Hefty Bags for the Portlanders. These bags have to be bought specially. They’re not cheap either, a parcel of 30 bags costs about $8.00. I think the cost of the bags underwrites the cost of trash removal…

Anyway, I bought more bags this week and the new lot were gray bags – all the old bags were blue bags. No big deal, I’m thinking, they’ve changed the color. Well, last night I put out my trash, along with all my neighbors, and this morning all their trash was gone, and my little gray trash bag was still there. Rejected by the trash men.

Evidence, below. One lone trash bag sitting atop my empty recycling bin.

I call the city (the number is nicely printed on the outside of the bag) and a nice woman says, “you have the wrong color, you need to call Rite Aid and tell them they sold you the wrong bags.” So I call Rite Aid. Rite Aid calls the Person in Charge of City Trash, and it turns out they changed the color and their trash men were supposed to know this and take the gray bags, but their trash men weren’t paying attention, and now I have a bag of trash on my curb.

So – and here is why I’m telling you this story – I go into Rite Aid and the manager says, “here is the cell phone number for the man in charge of Portland trash, he told me to tell you to call him and he’s going to help you.” So I call this man, very nice man, name of Ernie – (love that) – and I say Ernie, what can I do?

And Ernie says, “don’t you worry, we messed up, I’M GOING TO COME GET YOUR TRASH PERSONALLY.”

And then…wait for it…ERNIE CAME AND GOT MY TRASH PERSONALLY. And he shook my hand and told me how sorry he was that his trash guys didn’t pick up my trash and that it wouldn’t happen again.

Ohhhh Maine, I’m sorry that I cheated on you with Chicago last week. Chicago wouldn’t have come to get my trash, Chicago would have told me to suck it.  MAINE: You have been redeemed by your trash man.

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rough edit done and played

April 15, 2008

We played the rough edits of our finished pieces for the class today and overall, hey, good job us. We all have some fixes to make. Mostly the general problems were with ambient sound – increasing it, extending it, decreasing it, when to bring it up, when to bring it down. I don’t have any problems with ambi but some of my editing is too tight – my voice comes up right as the voice of my subject ends. It was intentional when I mixed it because I wanted to keep the piece moving, and in a couple of instances it was because the cut was really sharp and I wanted the quickness of my narration coming in to cover that. The whole thing is just really speedy now, though, and I need to adjust some moments to let the piece breathe a bit more.

There is also one bit of narration that is just hokey. Hey, new radio student: when you don’t know what to say, throw in a cliche and tell people what they already know, and while you’re at it, why don’t you go ahead and say what the subject is about to say. Here’s an example:

ME: Huge Generalization, and now you’re going to hear my subject say she’s really lucky.

SUBJECT: I’m really lucky.

Yeah. I knew I needed to rewrite and re-record it last night but I just didn’t have it in me. So tired. I figured I’d play it in the bright light of day and see if it still made me squirm and YES, it did.

The entire school has a come-to-Jesus session scheduled for the end of the week. There are 28 students total, spread over Radio, Writing and Photography and we all have to present our work and then there is Group Discussion. This is our opportunity to show everyone what we’ve been doing and it’s going to take two full days, Thursday and Friday, 8am to 5pm.

I also have a script due for my second project next week and I’ve barely begun the interviews. It’s going to be a 6 minute radio piece about the Maine accent and I want it to be fun and informative, but I’d also like me not to be exhausted and spent, which is currently where my head is…so I am taking tonight off and watching several episodes from the second season of The Wire. Have you seen this show? Holy crap it’s good.

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done (sort of)

April 14, 2008

First radio project (sort of) done!

I came in at 6 minutes and 10 seconds, and overall, it’s basically ok. My radio doth not sucketh. It is not suck free, but it is as suck free as I can make it right now, and I’ll tweak it more after people listen to it. There is one track – from a writing standpoint – that is totally weak, and in a couple of weeks I’ll cave in and re-record and re-mix. But not right now.

There is another moment that – from a production standpoint – is also weak. It’s one small section, maybe 15 seconds, where I’m using a quote (act) to illustrate a point, and it would be smooth sailing except that I’m using one sentence from one interview and another sentence from another interview and the quality of the tape doesn’t match. Maybe my recording levels were higher on one day than another, I don’t know, but you can audibly hear the difference AND I CAN’T FIX IT. I know this, because I spent over an hour today trying to fix it and I CAN’T FIX IT.

There is a new gray hair on my head this evening and it’s so cute I gave it a name: BAD TAPE THAT I CAN’T FIX.

For five minutes I shot the puppy and took out the second part of the act, and then I spent the next ten minutes giving the puppy the breath of life and begging it to forgive me, and stuck it back in.

My sister called me today and I told her all about my bad tape and she said that she didn’t want to hear the phrase “shoot the puppy” anymore. She is a very sensitive soul and it upsets her, way down deep in her dog-owning heart. I am sorry, sister, but it’s too late. The phrase is out there. I also know what I’m getting you for Christmas.

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coming together

April 11, 2008

Tough week. Hell, tough month. I’ve been struggling with my first real radio script – it’s been a long process. The scope of this first main project (huge, huge project) is to put together a narrated radio documentary. Go out and find a person, place, thing in Maine and tell a story about it. The specified length is 6 minutes, though we can run a bit under or a bit over. Doesn’t that seem like that shouldn’t be so hard?

6 minutes feels like a long time, but it’s not….it would be easier to tell a 10 minute story, or a 12 minute story. 6 minutes means you’d better tighten things up and keep things moving and come to a point. To put this in perspective, we have all now spent weeks with our subjects. I can’t speak for others, but I have about 12 hours of interview tape, total. So 6 minutes is hard.

In class we’ve all been struggling with the same essential questions – why are we telling this story? Why should people listen to our piece and why should they care? The pressure has been huge. Finding the story wasn’t hard – but crafting the narrative was super tough. I shot a lot of puppies in the last two weeks.

BUT I had a breakthrough in the last few days. I finally feel like it has all come together, and I just feel really….relieved. And happy. And kind of excited about it. It’s like a little baby being born.

This morning in class we did a final line edit – this week we’ve isolated all of our Acts (short for actualities – this is the actual sound clip that is going to be used in a given moment) and put them into Pro Tools. Today we read our scripts (our narration, technically called Tracks) to the class and played the various acts as they came up, and also played the various bits of ambient sound that we are going use. Ambient sound is like background noise, and it sets a stage, tells the listener where they are.

My story right now clocks out at 7:06, so I still have some editing to do…that will be done this weekend.

I also have an hour or so to spend in the voiceover booth, laying down the tracks. Then I will mix the tracks with the acts. Slide in the ambient sound….and keep my fingers crossed. All of this will mean about 12 or so more hours of work I’m guessing.

The finished product is due on Tuesday. Deep breaths.

Then I move on to story number 2. The semester is speeding along…..

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moxie

April 8, 2008

I didn’t want to post this recording until after it had debuted on the Katie Mac Show, but in case you missed the announcement from an earlier entry, I’d like you all to know that the MOXIE HAS BEEN CONSUMED. I think it’s the Maine equivalent of drinking the kool-aid. Without, you know, the mass suicide and stuff.

The voices you’ll hear are the new friends who originally told me about moxie – the same ones who wanted to witness the consumption when I said I was actually intending to go buy some.

We talk a lot in school about the importance of “active tape” – i.e. tape where someone is actually doing something rather than just talking about it. This is active tape. My teachers would be appalled by the editing, AS AM I, but it was a quick and dirty job, done in Audacity, and…well…here you have it:

The Drinking of the Moxie.mp3