Thursday, March 12, 2009

In which we do a Turkey that we Know Should Fold

Oh my, do we dislike this here movie The Sentinel. It's a dreary boomer-angsty haunted house movie in which a lovely but troubled (or is it troubled but lovely) boomette modelle has to give up her entire life career n everything on account of the mean old Catholic Church is making her babysit the entrance to hell. Which is through a brownstone in Brooklyn. Because if she doesn't, it'll be armageddon n stuff, which would ruin our whole day. Mom n Dad are so mean, making us be responsible.

We don't know yet how to channel our responses into a Show, and the clock is running, so Week 2 becomes pretty much by-the-numbers as I recall. Probly a Good Thing; we threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall in Week 1. Keith is right -- we need to give him and his group time to get with this program. Bill's right, which we'd prefer not to admit -- for all the high concept blather, what people saw on the air bounced around like a thousand crazed superballs. And we're right -- the outlines of what the Show ought to be are clear and soon-to-be very doable.

But we can't break this particular movie into a cohesive Show, not just yet. So as I recall we don't have much choice but to do a lot of Millicent Talking. And neither of us have found her Voice yet. Barb has a sound, but it's not refined; I haven't found the rhythm or the vocabulary yet. So we push through the required positions, but nothing's really happening. Oh well, time's up and we hand in the script on Thursday as promised.

Bill calls Barb on Friday. He thinks we're on the right track. That makes one of us.

Same drill Saturday night, except the set's up and facing the News Team, who seem to find it somewhat distracting, tee hee and too bad. Audio Jeff hands Barb the beltpack and mic as he comes out of the control room. The clock officially starts for MT at 12:30, and Barb is quickly connected and checked, since all Audio Jeff has to do is plug the cable in. Keith runs the open he's put together -- titles drift in from top and bottom, that's kind of interesting, the weekly movie will float in as well, he's thinking of assembling a montage of movie shots and Millie shots under it, okey dokey whatever. We run through the Approved Opening, mostly talk setting up the movie -- we are not going to do any Crypt Keeper groaner puns, no no no. Everything's good, we've got a little less than twenty minutes to go, so Keith Doug n Audio Jeff decide to work on the Bluescreen Issue.

The problem is that it's kind of a jury-rigged setup to start with. There are two or three lights that light up the blue wall, and three or four lights that light up the Talent; and electronically the deal is to balance the light between the foreground/Talent and the background/blue wall so that the electronics can blank out the blue and insert the image of choice. There will always be a hard black outline, given the state of the art electronics available at WLEX (but there's good stuff on order, will be here soon). If the light and the color are balanced electronically, then the insert will work without either dropping out sections of the Talent, or fringing the hard black outline around the Talent. Thanks to the zany costume, which breaks all the rules of the blue wall, the Talent both has image bleedthrough randomly throughout the costume and fringes the hard black outline. And while the guys take the point that a cheesy bluescreen might be conceptually just th' ticket for the cheesy show we seem to be hellbent on producing, they have also been informed in No Uncertain Terms by Oz the Great n Terrible Head Engineer that there will be No Cheesy Bluescreen Shots on His Watch -- and just to be sure, he'll be watching to make sure that they don't let Those People talk them into a cheesy bluescreen shot.

Let me state for the record that I have yet to see Management by Bullying work as a valid motivational tool, and I have worked for some world-class bullies in Our Nation's Capital.

Keith Doug n Jeff have been mulling this problem over as a thought problem during the week, and have concluded that the ideal solution would be to either boost the lighting on the blue backing or boost the lighting on the Talent, one. In essence, this would give just enough of a fudge factor that the video switcher could be tweaked just a little off the Approved Settings and generate a barely-tolerable shot. The problem is that they can't move the lights, they don't have any spare lights on sticks that could be set up as a temporary solution, and the studio lights are not on dimmers they're on on/off wall switches so they can't do a light level tweak. But if they gel the lights with color media, this would be definition change the red-green-blue balance and intensity of one or more lights; which might get the same result as the light boost textbook solution.

I'm impressed. They've apparently been quite serious in thinking this through. I have my odd bits o scavenged gel from the Opry House, and remark that we sometimes have the same problem on stage with trying to get a visual separation between foreground actors and background scenery, particularly lit cycloramas; and our classic solution is to use either a top light or better still a backlight, more or less 15 degrees off vertical, to rim the foreground actors and put a little edge of light around the 3-D stuff. Hmm, sez Jeff or Doug, and rummages around in the back to come up with a little garage clip light with a dinky little PAR 38 in it. While one guy's up on the ladder swapping gels, the other waves the light around Barb. Keith and the show's video engineer (who never comes out of the control room), keep up cryptic chatter that seems to suggest that the experiment is promising, but not yet good enough. The countdown clock and the SNL network feed both warn us that we're running out of time, so we get in position for the open.

The show feels more under control this week, but it also feels lethargic. Barb has pitched her voice down, and is using lots of elongated vowels; she's an actress and she's been given a note to pull the character back, and so she does; and in the studio the show feels slow. Nothing you can put your finger on, but the energy level is a little below acceptable. Nothing is memorable about this week. There are a couple more letters that came in. Hope they're still watching next week.

We're coming up on a sequence where the Basement Door to Hell opens and horrible fiendish persons intent on Grievous Naughtiness start piling out. We've watched the movie at home three or four times trying to break the show, and this sequence induces groans and Oh Puh-leezes every time. Say there, Keith -- could we just cut in a shot of Barb sticking her tongue out? She's not going to say or do anything -- it'd just appear in the middle of the scene. Let the movie soundtrack roll, it would be just for a couple of seconds. Keith is Skeptical -- why would we want to do that? I could tell you that it's because we think it would be funny -- but it's really because anybody who's still up watching this thing is half-asleep, and it'll wake 'em up. Somebody on the floor thinks that's funny, so what the hell. We line up the shot; Keith says he supposes I know exactly when I want to break in, and I allow that as a matter of fact I do, and I'll point at him when it comes. Which I do, which he does, which Barb does, which the movie rolls merrily on. Snickers all around; it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this week is a letdown.

Thankfully the movie ends. We know we have to do the promo for next week's movie, so I scribble a promo script and channel some of the collective frustration into the promo. We thank everybody for the night -- Mr. Metz told me as a young pup that no matter how bad the rehearsal or the show was, one always thanks people for their work that night. Somebody remarks it wasn't bad; somebody else remarks it'll be better next week. Nobody's leaving feeling bad about the night besides Barb and me.

In restrospect, this week was the Buy-In Week. Now it's no longer The Talent's Show; it's Our Show.


  1. Strangely, as a kid I really liked The Sentinel. I was quite getting into bad horror movies and the only stations we could pick up in my pre-cable days were 18, 27, 36 and 46 on the antenna, none of which (before you guys) really showed any old sci-fi/horror.

    Now a wiser adult, I can't stand *most* bad horror movies. But there are those few special ones that have a special quality. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a good example.

    The cutaway shot broke up me and my brothers. I still remember that to this day.

  2. Hey... um, Keith? Steve?

    Do either of you remember the name of the font that was used for Monsterpiece Theatre's title crawl? Because I've kinda making a video for the blog... to put on my front page kinda.

    Just curious.

  3. We must kalhoun this one over to Keith.

    Keith? Keith?

    Bueller? Bueller?