Monday, November 17, 2014

An Artist by Any Other Name

The other day, a friend told me she was looking for a new job. She said, "I'm an artist. I should be treated with respect and professionalism." Setting aside the obvious questions about why artists in particular should be treated more respectfully than the average person, her statement got me thinking. What exactly is an artist? My friend is a costume designer, which means she envisions the costumes for a production, draws sketches, makes the costumes – sometimes from scratch, and evaluates the effect once they're on the actors. Yes, definitely an artist, even though it's beyond the typical definition of artist that I'd always had in my mind.

That realization demanded a closer look. Visual artists, recording artists, writers, dancers, and actors are commonly considered artists because they use their creativity to express themselves through their media. But the list shouldn't stop there. If a painter or sculptor is an artist, then isn't an architect who designs entire buildings? Or an interior designer who plans a room to look and feel a certain way? If a singer is an artist, then so is the drummer and the band leader since they contribute to the overall sound of music in their own unique way. And if a writer is an artist, then how about the person who designs and lays out the book? He or she has a vision for how the book should look and wants to make it visually appealing to the reader. If actors are artists, then aren't directors and sound engineers and the guy who runs the light board for a play? They all have a vision and are working toward the same goal.

That train of thought then leapt the track and arrived at people who are not involved in traditionally "artistic" businesses at all. How about teachers? Are they artists? They all have their own individual visions for how their classes should be taught in order to best help their students learn. Each one adds his or her own flair to the process. Isn't that what being an artist is all about? Self-expression and creativity and individualism. How about a doctor or nurse? Each one does the job a little differently and adds something new to how each patient is treated. Most people would agree that on top of the science, there's also a great deal of art that goes into doing those jobs. That's true whether it's a doctor deciding on the best cancer treatment for a particular patient's circumstances or a nurse determining how to comfort a frightened child.
That got me thinking about pursuits that aren't necessarily jobs, but which are often performed with artistic zeal. Creativity can be expressed through gardening or cooking Thanksgiving dinner or designing an exercise routine that's not boring. Putting together playlists that evoke a certain mood. Organizing a charity run that brings together 100 people and raises $25,000 for a good cause. Getting six children up, washed, dressed, fed, and on the school bus every morning. All of these examples as well as millions of others are artistic in their own way. How one person plans and executes them can be entirely different from how someone else will. Each person expresses himself or herself differently through how they complete the tasks. One mother might organize her children with Von Trapp Family-like precision, while another might figure that the only way children will learn responsibility is by oversleeping, missing the bus, and having to walk four miles to school.

This idea that everyone is an artist is satisfying to me. If a particular fast food chain wants to call its employees "sandwich artists," that's just fine because they are artists. No two sandwiches will be identical. Some employees will work with more flair and self-expression than others, but they still do things their own way to some degree. And that difference, that uniqueness, is where the art comes in. So take a bow, fellow artists! We all deserve to be treated with respect and professionalism for what we do and how we express ourselves while we're doing it. And we all deserve our own televised awards shows hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, too! Okay, maybe one step at a time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walker Stalker Fail

I'm too clueless to stalk celebrities. It's a shame, too, because I live in an area where they do a lot of filming for The Walking Dead. If I were any good at being a "Walker Stalker," as they're commonly known, I'd have lots of opportunities to practice. But sadly I don't have a firm enough handle on what's happening around me to be much use as a celebrity stalker. Take this afternoon's adventure as proof of my point.

Today I was having lunch at the Senoia Coffee Shop, which is across the street from where they're currently filming Walking Dead. I know that multiple cast members are onsite because friends have met them this week, pictures of them have been taken at this very coffee shop within the past couple days, and I can actually see the cast members' trailers from the table where I'm sitting outside the restaurant. It's not as if I don't have a heads-up that there might be a celebrity sighting. Despite that, I've got my glasses off and my nose buried in the notebook I'm writing in.

The server had just dropped off my chai latte when two girls walked up to the restaurant with a dog. As usual, I ignored the people and focused on the animal. I said, "What a cute dog!" One of the girls said, "Excuse me?" I replied, "I like your dog." The girls gave me a strange look, tied up the dog, and went into the coffee shop. Then a herd of excited fans ran over. They told me the girls with the dog are Maggie and Tara from WD. The fans seemed shocked that anyone could be as oblivious as I was and not recognize the stars. Join the club. I was pretty disappointed in myself. Although, to be fair, he's a really cute dog.

So, to sum up, in my one brush with greatness, I managed to make two stars of one of my favorite shows think that I didn't know who they were. Technically that was because (at the time) I didn't know who they were. Well played. I can hardly wait to see how I inadvertently insult the stars of my other favorite shows. Maybe someday I'll meet James Spader from The Blacklist and ask if he used to be thinner when he was on Boston Legal. Or maybe I can ask any guy from Game of Thrones if he stuffs his codpiece. And I shudder to think what kind of ridiculousness will pop out of my mouth if I ever meet anyone from Grimm. Maybe from now on I should just stay home and leave celebrity stalking to the professionals at TMZ.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ant Mission Accomplished

            My fear had been that the scene at the Ant Man extras casting call this morning would look like those American Idol auditions where entire stadiums are bursting with thousands of people while Randy Jackson lurks around calling people "Dog." Fortunately, that didn't come to pass. No one called me dog – not to my face, anyway – and the number of people who showed up seemed entirely manageable. Yes, there was a long line that wound through a parking lot, and we had to stand in the sun in that parking lot for over an hour, and I was wearing hot dress slacks so I'd look like a "business woman," but it was way better than it could have been, and we met some nice people.
            The hopeful extras were dressed in all sorts of different outfits. I had originally been told by an actor friend that I shouldn't dress up because it would make me look nuts. But yesterday Pinewood Studios posted a request that attendees show up dressed in a costume that reflects the character they would like to play, the "dress normal" dictate flew out the window. Hence the business suit sans suit coat that you see here. I'm the one on the left.
            The lovely lady to my right is my neighbor Wendy. She's a great neighbor because she's up for doing all sorts of goofy things with me. She was totally enthused about going to this casting call. She was also enthused about stopping at IHOP for brunch at 11 a.m. when we got done at the studio. A perfect morning, really.
            At the studio, we were ushered into the blessedly cold air conditioning once we worked our way to the front of the line, then we stopped by a table to check in. Then it was off to a photographer for three quick snapshots, then back to the parking lot. And on to IHOP. That last bit wasn't a required part of the casting call, but it really made for a nice capper on the morning. Did you know IHOP has cheese-stuffed French toast? I love this country.
            It's unclear when we'll hear anything from the studio about becoming extras. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for those lucrative movie contracts to start rolling in, but I'm not holding my breath
            Even though I'm not counting on the cash from being an extra, some folks seem to have an inflated idea of how easy it is to get one of these extras gigs and how much cash you can earn this way. One of the women I met at the casting call today said she wants to be an extra because she needs the money. She's got bills to pay, and she thinks this is a great way to pay them off. Sure, most people with financial concerns would go get a job, rather than waiting for an unlikely shot at earning $100 as an extra for a couple days. But who am I to judge? Maybe when I hunker down in my movie seat to watch Ant Man next year, that woman will be on screen, her face 10 feet wide. And maybe she'll look relieved because she's paid all her bills with easy movie money.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Great Wall of Ant Man Casting Calls

The Great Wall of Senoia, Georgia is proceeding apace, surrounding an entire neighborhood with 15-foot-tall corrugated steel. As of two days ago, the gates hadn't been put in place yet, but that's clearly on the way because filming behind the wall is supposed to begin next month. I for one am eager to have The Walking Dead's cast back in town, giving Senoia residents and visitors a chance at snagging an autograph or a photo. Is it weird if I start carrying a 112-ounce can of chocolate pudding and a Sharpie everywhere I go?

Meanwhile, Ant Man is being filmed at Pinewood Studios in nearby Fayetteville, Georgia. They're doing an open casting call on Saturday for extras. They need scientists, business people, "ravers," and military types. I've never gone to one of these before, but this just sounds too cool to pass up, so I'm going to try and convince someone that I look believable as a scientist or business person.

I got some advice from an actor friend of mine who has attended open casting calls in her career. She says I shouldn't dress for the part (i.e. no lab coats or briefcases) for fear of looking like a nut job. Wearing my glasses to make me look smart is acceptable. (Wasn't that Sarah Palin's strategy?) My friend also advises wearing a solid color top because they'll be taking pictures and I don't want my outfit to look busy. I also asked what time to show up. The casting call is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., so do I arrive right at 10 a.m.? Or should I be there earlier to get in line? Or wait until 3 p.m. and hopefully avoid the rush? She said show up early and wait.

To sum up: Show up at the movie studio at dawn wearing a solid color shirt and glasses. Don't look like a nut job. Oh, and she said "don't complain." Now I'm not sure if that's general advice she gives to everyone doing one of these, or if these are so unpleasant that everyone's reaction is constant complaints, or if she knows that I'm never one to suffer in silence. Whatever, no complaints.

I'll let you know how the casting call goes. And when the gates are added to the Great Wall. And when I get my first picture with a TWD cast member. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Walkers, Walls, and Wayward Cats

I've never lived anywhere before that people go out of their way to visit. Sure, I grew up in Chicago where millions of tourists flock yearly to look out over the city from atop the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and eat what is unquestionably the world's finest pizza. But they never visited my neighborhood way out on the Southwest Side, so there weren't people wandering down my street with expensive cameras dangling off their necks.

But now, suddenly, I find myself in a tourist destination. Senoia, Georgia looks like that idyllic old-fashioned small town that only exists in your grandmother's imperfect memory. And apparently the film industry agrees.

Senoia was used as the backdrop for the formerly zombie-free town of Woodbury in The Walking Dead Season 3. It's been used as a setting for lots of other TWD episodes, too, including Season 4's infamous Pudding House and the never ending railroad tracks that everyone finds themselves walking along. And now they're prepping for at least two more years of TWD filming in my backyard.

On July 7, the Senoia City Council agreed to let Raleigh Studios build a 15-foot corrugated steel wall around an entire neighborhood near the downtown area. The buildings in that neighborhood were originally constructed as a "living backlot" with unique homes that are not only private residences, but also offer filming locations with a particular look.

Speculation is rampant about exactly what's going to happen within the wall. The word is that what's inside will not only be a filming location, but also the wall itself will be a prominent feature in upcoming episodes. An advantage of this wall is that it will have guarded gates that keep out "Walker Stalkers" (fans who want to watch filming and hopefully snag an autograph from one of the show's stars) and those who want to post online spoilers about upcoming plots.

Filming for Season 5's episodes inside the wall is scheduled for September through November, 2014. Then last week, the studio went back to the Senoia City Council and requested permission to extend the length of time the wall can be up. They asked for 2019, but had to settle for 2016 because this city council can't approve a project that will extend beyond its time in office.

What did TWD's huge fan base do upon hearing this exciting news? They descended upon Senoia in even greater numbers than before. It's a blast to walk down the street here and see smiling tourists taking pictures of each other with the town of "Woodbury" over their shoulders. They're carrying bags of souvenirs from The Walking Dead Store. They're visiting restaurants in hopes of a celebrity sighting. They're taking Georgia Mercantile's tours of TWD filming locations. Whenever a motorcycle drives past, everyone cranes their necks to see if Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon's alterego) is on it.

And if zombies and tourists aren't enough to keep the folks of Senoia entertained, there have been articles in the local newspapers that a number of people have spotted a large black or brown panther-like cat prowling the countryside. It allegedly ate some woman's little dog. It leered at another woman and her pet cat from a tree. It jumped in front of someone's car. Witnesses claim the feline is about 5-6 feet long, including the tail. No one knows whether black panthers are making a reappearance in the State of Georgia or if maybe this was someone's pet that either escaped or was released because the owner sobered up and realized he was keeping a freaking panther in his house. There are still some people who say it's not a big cat, but a coyote.

I want to be the first to put forward another explanation entirely: The panther is a Walking Dead fan that's just here trying to get Daryl's autograph like everyone else. And he'd also like to know what's going on behind that big wall.

Stay tuned for updates about filming, felines, and fans.

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's Not My Fault I'm Wrong

Some of you have been asking how my cat Elliott's bid for the American presidency in 2016 is going. Things are moving along swimmingly, thanks for asking. Elliott has lost a pound – mostly in hair, I suspect, since his winter coat was pretty heavy – and he's looking sleek. His appetite is good. The other day his sister Rue (the soon-to-be First Lady) killed a rabbit and shared it with her brother under the decorative bridge in our backyard. It was a heartwarming family scene that the press would have loved if only they had responded to my call for a press conference.

Speaking of politics, the New York Times had an interesting article yesterday that has practical implications for Elliott's campaign in 2016. You know how you've got that bleeding heart liberal friend who's always moaning about the plight of the underprivileged or immigrants or whatever? She wants to give everyone's money to people who don't work or won't go through the legal immigration system. You can't even go out for lunch with this girl without her bringing everyone down by talking about disease in Africa or kidnappings in Central America. For some reason, she's got a mental block and can't understand when you explain how impractical her proposals for curing the world's ills are.

Or maybe you've got an uncle who insists on listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day and spends family parties trying to convince everyone that George W. Bush was the greatest American president who ever lived. This uncle of yours insists that Bush's proactive invasion of two countries on the other side of the world protected the lives and property of all Americans. No matter how many times you point out the myriad reasons that these arguments don't make sense and how Bush should be behind bars, he won't listen.

Well, stop beating your head against the wall with your ultra-liberal or fanatically conservative friends and relatives. No matter what you say, it won't matter. That's the message of new studies that suggest political beliefs are genetically determined. In other words, it's in a person's DNA, and no matter how rational your arguments are, you're not going to convince people that their beliefs are wrong.
That takes a load off, doesn't it? Thank you, New York Times for discussing this research and helping us understand that we can stop wasting our breath trying to change the minds of everyone who holds different political viewpoints from our own. Elliott the Cat's campaign will use this information to avoid all discussion of political topics during his speeches and debates. Instead of talking politics which will just annoy people who have a genetic inability to agree with him, Elliott will simply rely on his cuteness factor by rubbing on the legs of voters and purring. He'll also catch mice in the garages of Electoral College members. Performing personal services like that for constituents is what Congress members call "casework."
In light of this new research, the only question that remains is what we will talk about at parties when we're not debating politics with friends and family? Maybe we can go back to making fun of that weird Greek guy your friend Maddy dated when she was studying abroad that year? Or maybe we can argue about who gets Grandma's jewelry when she dies someday? That's always good for a few laughs.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Cat Elliott for President

 Political pundits keep tossing around the name Jeb Bush as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. Yes, another guy from that Bush Family. Every time it happens, I scratch my head and wonder: What's wrong with these people? Isn't this country sick of Bush presidents yet? Are we so completely out of ideas that all we can do is repeat past mistakes?

Now, please don't think that I'm just some liberal who hates Republicans. I'm plenty sick of people named Clinton running for office, too.
So in the interest of patriotism, I'm prepared to lend a hand to a country that's obviously out of ideas for acceptable presidential candidates. My cat Elliott would make a great president. Our campaign slogan is Elliott 2016: He likes tuna.

Elliott works hard to keep American yards free of moles.
Elliott is fully qualified for this job. The U.S. Constitution says presidents must be natural-born citizens, which Elliott must be since I found him in Illinois. There's no reason a stray cat would walk to Illinois from Mexico or Canada – and definitely not Kenya – so he must be American. Elliott is six years old, which is 42 in human years, meaning he's over the minimum age of 35 that the Constitution mandates. The Constitution doesn't say that presidents must be human. He's also non-partisan, which means he can bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats.
Here are just a few more reasons why Elliott would be an excellent president:

Like 26th President Teddy Roosevelt, he's a skilled hunter. But instead of slaughtering majestic, rare creatures for sport, he eliminates disease-carrying, garden-destroying pests like mice and moles.
Future First Lady Rue
Like former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, he devours his kills raw and in one piece, leaving only the head.

Like 24th President Grover Cleveland, he's unmarried, so his sister will act as First Lady. And like President Cleveland's sister Rose, Elliott's sister Rue is feral and lives primarily outside. That means she'll host all official events in the White House Rose Garden.

 Unlike all recent presidents, Elliott won't take semi-weekly vacations to Hawaii or Martha's Vineyard or a Texas ranch that the American public foots the bill for. Think of the savings on jet fuel for Air Force One alone.

Unlike 42nd President Bill Clinton, Elliott's been neutered, which means no embarrassing incidents with interns in the Oval Office.
As an added bonus, Elliott is not a lap cat, which means he won't get hair all over German Chancellor Angela Merkel's austere lady-suits when she visits the White House.

And perhaps most important, unlike Jeb Bush, Elliott the Cat is unaffiliated with the likes of Dick Cheney or Karl Rove.
So for 2016, don't bother with all the same old tired politicians who've disappointed us year after year. Think Elliott. He likes tuna.