Sunday, October 26, 2014

Step and repeat at the Austin Film Festival

The folks at the Austin Film Commission were find enough to hire me to shoot the "step and repeat" at their opening party for the Austin Film Festival. In case you're unaware of the term, it's the red carpet-ish procedure where folks step in front of a backdrop, a photo is snapped and you move on. I brought my able assistant Drew Thomas along and we shot a few hundred photos of the night.

Drew Thomas snaps a cell phone shot for attendees.

Austin Film Society head honcho Gary Bond (r) with attendees.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Andrew Shapter beats cancer while making art

Since August I've been tailing Andrew Shapter, a former fashion photographer turned documentary filmmaker, through his 
aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and radiation aimed at sucker punching cancer. In the midst of it, he's been working to get his magical feature film debut The Teller and the Truth out to the world.

My resulting article is the cover story of the current Austin Chronicle. It's a twofer as my photos run with the story, including this cover image.

Here's how the story begins:

The air outside Texas Oncology in South Austin smells of burnt electricity. The scent lingers as Andrew Shapter is summoned to radiation. White confetti covers the floor outside the room Shapter visits five days a week. It signals that someone – not Shapter – has completed treatment. Two emergency medical technicians steer a man reclined on a stretcher near a sign that reads CAUTION. VERY HIGH RADIATION AREA. Shapter greets the man, and they compare radiation treatments. The man has 35 scheduled, Shap­ter 33. "You can have my extras," the man says with a smile. Inside, Shapter strips his shirt off, dons a white mask molded precisely for his face, opens his laptop to a playlist he's put together for just this moment, and braces himself for the X-ray beam that will burn into his neck. Louis Armstrong sings, "What a Wonderful World."

Andrew Shapter, 47, has been many things in this life: a high school class clown who concocted homemade fart devices, an actor, a political junkie toiling in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., a successful fashion photographer, a documentary filmmaker, a husband, a father. Today he focuses on three challenges: Ford, a doe-eyed infant son crawling across the floor and urging his dad to play; a feature film, The Teller & the Truth, five years in the making; and squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that claims about 2,500 lives each year. "I had a choice of either going for the fierce fight or the long road," Shapter says. "With my son in mind, I decided I was going to take it hard and fast." The 20-minute radiation treatments are capped by once-a-week, six-hour chemotherapy sessions. On weekends, he crashes. Hard.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Linklater's bitchin' early '80s movie is a go

Yes, Richard Linklater's long-awaited early '80s college film, tentatively titled That's What I'm Talking About, appears ready to shoot in Austin in October and November. It will "center on the start of something new, with the story about college freshman who are trying to make the baseball team."

Early casting has offers out for the three lead baseball players:  Glee’s Blake Jenner, Teen Wolf’s Tyler Hoechlin, and 22 Jump Street’s Wyatt Russell.

And, more important to Austin folk, here's the scoop from the extras casting notice: 

SEEKING EXTRAS: male and female, all ethnicities, all ages!!

**THIS IS A PERIOD PIECE from the LATE 70's to early 80's - will require longer hair on all guys and the ability to style to an 80's look on ladies!!

--Some specific types include:
-Experienced Baseball Players ages 18-25 (Should not currently be or intending to play college baseball as will jeopardize your NCAA eligibility)
-Frat Guys ages 18-25
-Sorority Girls ages 18-25
-Bartenders and Waitresses (experience preferred) ages 21-35
-Punk Rockers ages 18-30
-Country Western types ages 18-30
-Experienced Two-Steppers ages 18-30
-Baseball Coaches ages 25-55
-College Girls and Guys ages 18-25
-Experienced Disco Dancers ages 18-25
-Nightclub Doormen ages 21-35
-Experienced Pool Players ages 18-25
-College Professors ages 30-65
-Jerry Garcia types
-African American men and women
-Asian men and women
-Hispanic men and women
-People with Pre-1981 vehicles
-People with cars from the 70s
--and many other general extra roles!

So the "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused (in which most of the high school kids were hippies) will include punkers, kickers, disco ducks and frat daddies. Plus, of course, lots of baseball players.

How do you apply to be an extra? Go to On Location Casting's Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Linklater: More school and rock, less fish

Photo by Joe O'Connell

Richard Linklater must feel the adrenaline surging through his veins lately. First there's major critical acclaim for his 12-year project Boyhood. Now comes word that both his long-delayed college project and a TV version of School of Rock are in the works, but he's the latest director punt on the fishy Incredible Mr. Limpet remake.

The Hollywood Reporter: "According to sources, Linklater wants to concentrate on That's What I'm Talking About, a 1980s, university-set project that is akin to his cult hit, Dazed & Confused, which was set in the 1970s and set in high school. The project, which is based on Linklater's life, follows freshmen as they navigate through the first year of college life, while trying to make the baseball team."

Linklater played baseball briefly at Sam Houston State. The project may shoot in the fall.

Meanwhile, Linklater is producing a 13-episode Nickelodeon order of School of Rock based on the film he directed starring Jack Black. No word on whether this would shoot in Austin, but it probably depends on Linklater's level of involvement. It's also set to lens in the fall. Look for a casting announcement soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's official: Corpus Christi will junk replica Columbus ships

Photo by Joe O'Connell
The Columbus ships were once a source of pride for Corpus Christi, Texas. But now two of the three will go to the junk heap.

Read my story in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine for the full history of the problem/lost tourism opportunity.

Here's the gist of it:

"Over at the museum, the Pinta’s paint is chipped, but the deck looks solid. The Santa Maria’s hull has taken on a greenish hue, with rot so severe that tourists are no longer allowed on board.

The vestiges of decay tell a story with only the bleakest hope for any kind of happy ending.
“There’s not a future for them,” says Wes Pierson, Corpus Christi assistant city manager. “We’re talking about significant dollars to do anything for those ships. It would cost more to restore the Santa Maria than to buy a new one.”

Pierson thinks the ships are irreparable, citing the original Spanish shipbuilder, who went to Corpus Christi to assess the ships.

“He said they’re in really bad shape,” Pierson recalls. “I think his word was ‘deplorable.’”
It’s an unlikely fate for once-international icons of American and Spanish history. The ships were built in Spain using materials and methods matching those of the 15th century. While there are unknown details about the appearance of the original ships, the replicas were designed with meticulous attention to research. For example, hand-forged nails replicated those found in shipwreck remains.

A few modern adaptations were made. Additional headroom was provided for today’s taller sailors. The sails were made of linen, though the originals were hemp. Modern engines were added for emergency use.

The ships, which are surprisingly small, toured Spain, France, Italy and Portugal before crossing the Atlan­tic for a tour of the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and finally a string of coastal U.S. cities. The first stop was Miami, where a thousand private boats guided the replicas while a crowd of 5,000 cheered from the shore.

The Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria weren’t originally scheduled to go to Corpus Christi, but a Quincentenary Commission was formed to lure the ships to Texas. Nelida Ortiz was a member of that group and recalls watching the ships sail in to town.

“It was a hot, gorgeous, sunny day,” she says. “People were standing in line to get on the ships for more than two hours at a time. I’ve been here for 30 years and I haven’t seen a turnout for anything like that.”

Corpus Christi crowds were estimated at more than 100,000 over 10 days. The celebration went on for a month, and the excitement led to the formation of the Columbus Fleet Association, which put together a proposal for a 50-year lease of the three ships from the Spanish government. Local beer distributor/developer Dusty Durrill gave the group $1.1 million for the effort, and local schoolchildren wrote pleading letters to Spain. Corpus Christi won.

Read the rest.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Texas as seen through recent fiction

I regularly interview Texas authors for the San Antonio Express-News. Tomorrow they'll run my interview with Bret Anthony Johnston, a Corpus Christi native who sets his debut novel Remember Me Like this there. Here's how my piece begins:

Bret Anthony Johnston's fiction shapes Corpus Christi into a literary character, but he has a confession: He hates the beach. The sand itches; the salt water clings.

“I never felt the pull that everyone else had,” Johnston said by phone from New York City, his latest stop on a whirlwind national tour for “Remember Me Like This,” a deeply human novel that follows a broken, battered family dealing with the return of a son four years after his kidnapping in a fictional Corpus Christi suburb.

The beach may get short shrift, but the Sparkling City by the Sea glistens in Johnston's taut prose.

“The longer I'm away from South Texas in general and Corpus Christi specifically, the more clearly I see potential for stories that can only happen there,” said Johnston, who was born and raised in the city but now directs the creative writing program at Harvard University.

Read the rest here.

I also recently interviewed Jim Sanderson, whose two new books are set in West and East Texas. Here's a taste:

East Texas and West Texas might as well be on separate planets, but Jim Sanderson straddles the divide and puts both under the microscope in his two recent books of fiction.

The San Antonio native's “Nothing to Lose” is a mystery novel set in Beaumont where Sanderson, chair of Lamar University's Department of English and Modern Languages, has long taught writing. The story collection “Trashy Behavior” is primarily set in Odessa, where he was a college instructor for seven years before that.

Sanderson evokes the names of other Texas writers — Tom Pilkington, J. Frank Dobie and Billy Lee Brammer — who saw the state as a borderland with a mindset focused on the “end of things.”

“Within 200 miles in much of any direction you're almost in a different state,” he said. “The geography changes, the culture even changes a little.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dry-docked dreams

I was in Corpus Christi last summer when my family visited the crumbling Columbus ships. I learned they were soon to be scrapped and sensed a story, which finally appeared this month in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine.

Here's how it begins:

As a child, Louie Cortinas researched Christopher Columbus’ journey from Spain to the New World and constructed a model of the Pinta, one of the adventurer’s three famous ships. He dreamed of sailing on those ships, as children often do.

In 1992, when Cortinas was 23, full-size replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria arrived in Texas as part of a U.S. tour honoring the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. He yearned to be a sailor on one of the ships, but his volunteer application was rejected. Disap­pointed but still fascinated, the young man could only watch as los tres barcos (the three boats) sailed up to Corpus Christi. “I went on a tour, and they were brand-spanking new,” Cortinas recalls.

One day last winter, Cortinas, now a professional diver, took another guided tour of the Pinta, resting beside the Santa Maria on a concrete slab behind the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.

“All of this was varnished and shiny,” he says. “It’s changed so much. It’s heartbreaking to see.”

Tourists probably won’t be able to view the two replicas for long. No exact date has been set, but the two ships are expected to be removed from the museum, their remains carted away as junk.

Read the rest here.