March 11, 2009

Year of Living Generously - Hollywood Edition

Have you ever wanted to work on a movie? Whether it's in front of the camera or behind it, I think a lot of people have wondered what it's like. I had the chance to do that shortly after I moved here to California from New York. For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and while it was hard work, I wouldn't trade having done it for anything.

A friend I've known for as long I can remember is a talented writer and had made an award-winning short film in college. A few years after graduating, he'd developed a screenplay and decided to raise the money to make it here in San Jose, completely on a shoestring budget. At that time, I was doing temp work so I had a lot of free time and flexibility, and I was delighted to help work on his dream project.

Raising the money took a lot longer than shooting the movie. At that point in time, I was struggling to get by as it was -- even with a nest egg, California was an expensive shock to my wallet -- so while I wasn't able to give much cash, I gave many, many hours. I had enough of garage sales to last a lifetime and a half, let me tell you. But it worked. Combined with all sorts of fund raising efforts, from hitting up our parents to asking local merchants for in-kind donations, and a few of my friend's own credit lines, we were ready to shoot in the summer of 1995.

I became the mistress of wardrobe, for reasons that were never clear to me. I'm no fashion plate, but it was a job I could handle. It involved a lot of Poloroid photos for continuity -- this was before the advent of the digital point and shoot camera, remember -- and a lot of waiting around. Oh, and I was also a driver because, well, because I had a car.

In two weeks -- the hottest two weeks of the entire year, I recall -- I learned how to sleep almost anywhere, ate more bagels than I had ever eaten before, fell a little bit in love, witnessed someone getting fired, had a near emotional meltdown, and watched the magic of movies come to life. I even had my name in Variety when they did a tiny notice about the film; apparently wardrobe is a position that got listed routinely.

It was an almost surreal time, and it was also one of the most stressful but rewarding experiences in my life. While the movie never got picked up for distribution, it did have a big premiere locally; I got to see my name and hard work up on screen, popcorn in hand. That was a night I'll never forget.

It was the type of experience that anyone who plans to work in movies should get a chance to have, because it's literally a "from the ground up" kind of environment. Journalism students at Middle Tennessee State University are getting that chance in a film called "The New True Charlie Wu," which is shooting right now in Nashville. When I saw the introductory video from the film's writer and director, Bob Pondillo, on the Charlie Wu site, it really resonated with me and took me back to those days when the film was gearing up and the sky was the limit. Like the film I worked on, this one is being funded entirely by fans in exchange for your name in lights...or at least on the big screen. The details on how it works can be found here. But, in short, you will get a screen credit based on how much you -- and the people you refer -- contribute to make the film a reality.

Why give to help a movie get made? It's simply another kind of giving to education, really. The next generation of filmmakers has to learn their craft, and this is how they do it. And, let's face it, we need movies. It's been well established that, in difficult economic times, people turn to entertainment to help them escape from sometimes difficult realities. Equally true is that they need our support when they're getting started even more than they do when they've "made it" in Hollywood.

For this month's project in my Year of Living Generously, here is what I propose: Go, check out the site using my referral URL -- -- and see what it's all about. Sign up and make even the minimum donation (which appears to be ten dollars), then come back and put your individual referral URL in the comments. For each of you who does this by the last day of this month, I will give an additional five dollars to the film. Plus, one person who makes a donation and makes a comment here will win two tickets vouchers to AMC Theaters in North America. There may be another, special prize that will be announced later.*

Fifteen years later, I'm in a different place in life than I was in the days of the endless garage sales. This is my way of honoring that incredible time and paying forward the chance I was given to participate in it. It may not sound like much, but seeing your name on screen for the first time is a memorable moment, and it's one I'd like to share with you.

+++Update: Initially I did not realize the minimum donation was $10. Because of that, I am upping the prize to four ticket vouchers to AMC or Cinemark or Regal Cinemas, winner's choice+++

*The pesky fine print: All comments must: 1) have a name; 2) have a valid referral URL; 3) have a verifiable email address; 4) be made here by March 31, 2009 at 11:59 PDT to be counted. The AMC ticket vouchers can only be awarded to a commenter who lives in North America. Comments world-wide, however, will count toward the donation total. Anonymous or inappropriate comments will not be counted, either for the donation total or the giveaways, and will not deleted. All potential winners will be contacted by email, so a valid email address is required and you will have five days to reply with a regular mail address that must be in the area described above. The maximum amount that will be donated by me for this post is $500. All decisions about the donation and the giveaway(s) are mine and are final.

March 08, 2009

Since You Weren't There

These are some of my favorite pictures from my little roadtrip last weekend. The page may take a while to load, but hey, it's the weekend; relax and enjoy it.

March 05, 2009

Just Because

March 02, 2009

Mining for Edible Gold

I think I might very well have had the best meal of my life tonight. If not, it was damned close to it. I certainly can’t remember one that I enjoyed, end to end, any better. And it was in one of the last places you’d expect to have a life-altering meal.

OK, life-altering might be a slight exaggeration, but it inspired me to do two things I don’t normally do: write about it on a weekend (note: I can’t post it tonight, but I’m writing this on Saturday) and go back the next day for another meal.

I’m spending this weekend in California’s Gold Country, which, if you’ve never been here, I highly recommend you visit the next time you have a chance, especially in the spring. I’m a little early for the riot of flowers that pop up here every year, but their promise is in the air already and the daffodils are poking their heads up.

I’m staying in Angels Camp, which is famous for being the setting of the Mark Twain story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Nearby is the town of Murphys, which I’ve been to a number of times and I always enjoy coming back for both the familiar and the new. It’s a small town, so the landscape of shops and restaurants does change each time I visit, which can be both a blessing and a curse. This time, it was a blessing.

I strolled up one side of the main street and down the other, popping into various shops, window shopping and helping the economy a bit. It was too early for dinner, but I wanted to scope out where I would be eating because, hey, you just can’t leave these things to chance. As I came out of a neat tea shop, I noticed that there was a new (to me) restaurant called Mineral right next door. It was set back off the street a little, with patio seating in front, but they had a sign out front with a review from the paper of a nearby city that gave it five stars; not something you see every day. It said that it was a vegetarian restaurant, but not entirely vegan, and that it didn’t limit the deliciousness. I was intrigued, but a little disappointed that there wasn’t a menu out there to peruse. But five stars? Yeah, I’d consider it.

When I was ready for dinner, nothing else I’d seen had interested me as much as the promise of Mineral, so back I went. It was still pretty early and I was the only person there, which was fine because it’s a really small place and who doesn’t love a little personal attention when indulging in a good meal? I checked out the wine list first, and was happy to see that they had Prosecco by the glass, as it’s my preferred wine with bubbles.

When I opened the menu I was surprised to see it was really pretty short: a half dozen small plates, two salads and three large plates. As there are a lot of things I can’t or won't eat (and, okay, some people might call me “picky”), I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t find something I’d want. When I really looked, though, I saw that while I wouldn’t be in to everything on the menu, what I was into looked promising.

I started with a small plate of white bean hummus that had just the right amount of olive oil and paprika around the edges, with olive "dust" sprinkled on top, and was served with a trio of things to scoop it up, each one better than the next; sourdough baguette slices, thin toasted croutons and even thinner, super-crispy, almost translucent potato chips. The hummus was smooth and just garlicky enough, with a little kick from the paprika. The chips were nothing short of amazing and combined with the hummus they were divine. I’m not ashamed to admit that I ate almost every smidge of that hummus (that I could get to without picking up the dish and licking it clean) and then wished there were more.

It was probably a good thing there wasn’t, though, because next up was an entrée from the heavens. Now, I will be the first to tell you that I am not a mac n’ cheese girl. It wasn’t something I ate growing up and I’ve never had a taste for that fake cheesy taste of the stuff out of the box. But in the last few weeks, I’d heard a bunch of people talking about wanting to have that when the weather has been so cold and it made me wish I liked it. So when I saw it on the menu, I figured this was as good a place as I was ever going to find to try it…and I was right. This is what macaroni and cheese should be. It was made fresh with aged white cheddar and garlic butter, then topped with just enough toasted bread crumbs. I swear, it melted in my mouth and I believe I whimpered just a little bit when the cheese hit my tongue. I got a half order (a really nice thing for them to have available) and while I really wanted more of that, too, it was actually just the right amount for a single serving. It was incredibly satisfying and not the least bit heavy, and it felt really decadent to enjoy it with the Prosecco.

I was glad to see during my entrée that some other people were filtering in to the restaurant. This is a place that should be filled every night. Since there was no rush, however, and I wasn’t stuffed because the portions were just right, I decided to go ahead and get dessert. Perhaps not surprisingly, on such a spare menu, there was only one dessert selection but it sounded fascinating: Indian Spiced Fried Chocolate. I know! Fried. Chocolate. I had no idea what to expect but there was no way I could resist it. What came to the table was a small plate of four small, golden spheres, resting on an espresso port reduction and sprinkled with a touch of gray sea salt. The server, who is also one of the owners, said that the best way to eat them was to roll them in the sauce and pop them in your mouth. That was a little daunting because the “Indian Spiced” part gave me a little pause -- with something like that I usually want to taste a little first before going all in. But sometimes only the brave are rewarded, so I did exactly what she suggested and went for it.

Oh. My. God. The fried exterior was just thick enough to contain the chocolate, a little crisp and not at all greasy, and when my teeth broke it open there was this luscious ooze of almost bitter chocolate, with just a hint of spice and sea salt, that mixed with the espresso sauce and made love to my mouth. Four times. I then had a food-induced “little death” and passed out. The End.