Prepping for the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are tomorrow, and Hollywood Boulevard is shut down for blocks. Appropriately, the awards are run like a big budget movie set, controlled for light, sound, and weather.  Los Angelinos get miffed because Hollywood traffic is rerouted all week.   It’s difficult to imagine the budget for this event – it must run in the tens of millions – but I’m sure they make a tidy profit on the television rights.

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Platoons of security guards protect every ten feet of space for acres around the Kodak Theater. And just above your head is a spiderweb of camera cranes and jibs, with nests of gelled barn door lights making every square inch of red carpet glow like a Christmas tree.

Tomorrow night, Academy Award guests will enter the Kodak theater and proceed up the red carpet (below).  If the carpet doesn’t look red yet, it’s because everything is still covered in protective plastic as grip and electrical equipment is dollied into place.

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Oscar statues are carried in, wrapped in plastic (below).  There is a nervous energy among the armies of crew members loading and setting equipment.  The vibe feels like when you’re preparing for a party and the dinner isn’t cooked and you still haven’t showered and the guests are arriving in one hour.

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Guests will proceed down this long, red carpeted hallway.  The pillars are inscribed with the names of Oscar winning movies.

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Finally, the guests climb these steps to enter the theater.  It looks to be a magnificent event.  There are already swarms of press everywhere getting a lay of the land and rehearsing for tomorrow.  I saw press badges from as far away as Japan.  This is good for our town.  Despite or because of the recession, the Hollywood box office is having a record-breaking 2009.  A good Academy Awards only helps these numbers!

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Academy Award Nominated Editors

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) hosted their 9th annual “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” series, where all five of the Academy Award Nominated Editors meet on stage at the Egyptian Theater to discuss their craft.  What an absolute treat.  Editing is alchemy.  And almost by definition, the best editing is invisible.  Or to put it differently, if you notice the editing in a movie, then the editor is probably doing a poor job.

It follows that good editing is one of the above-the-line arts that rarely receives the credit it is due (casting director is, I think, the only above-the-line credit that still does not receive an Academy Award).

Jay and I arrived on Hollywood Boulevard at 8:30am…

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We trekked past the security fences, past all the press tents (below) set up for the Academy Awards…

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And we arrived at the historic Egyptian Theater, replete with Egyptian fonts, phallic pillars, and a Spanish tiled roof.

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This year’s editing nominees spoke for several hours, showing clips of their movies and discussing how they constructed the scenes.  The editors were:

*Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

*Chris Dickens for Slumdog Millionaire

*Lee Smith for The Dark Knight

*Mike Hill and Dan Hanley for Frost/Nixon

*Elliot Graham for Milk

Discussing their process, nearly all the editors seemed to start with a first cut of their movie that was three or four hours long, and then chisel away material from there.  The gift of editing an academy award nominated movie is the plethora of good material and great performances to choose from.  On an independent level, it often feels like the editor’s job is to cut around poor performances, bad footage, or to make sense of an incoherent story.  All of the editors who spoke today had the opposite problem; when you have Josh Brolin and Sean Penn both giving great performances in a scene (Milk), how do you decide which actor to cut away from?  When you have reels of gorgeous material, how do you decide what to leave out?

These are good problems to have.

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If you TiVo the Academy Awards tomorrow, please don’t fast forward when the editors receive their awards.  They have one of the most painstaking and difficult tasks in the film making process.  Editing is often a thankless task: audiences don’t notice when you do a good job, they only notice when you screw up.  Yet the editor is truly the last writer of the film, often constructing a narrative or finding solutions that can rescue a troubled film, or make a good film great.

Let’s Get Back to Work

Today I marched in front of SAG headquarters to support the Let’s Get Back to Work rally. Basically, it was a rally of crew people who would prefer that SAG not strike. Or at least, that the SAG leadership maybe pick up the pace a tad and resolve some of the inner squabbling.

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I’m really not that political, but reading about SAG’s internecine fighting is a little shocking. Sometimes, really shocking (update: sometimes really, really shocking). When your union leadership is perennially incapable of holding meetings without Blagojevichian obscenity-laced tirades, maybe it’s time to reassess.

Everyone wants the actors to get a fair deal. But there must be a better way for SAG to achieve its goals.

6 Things I learned at the SAG Rally:

*When you hold a rally, crazy people will show up
*A person’s craziness is directly correlative to their loudness
*If you’re at a rally, it’s okay for people to walk up and start screaming at you
*It’s best not to reason with those people
*Twenty out of twenty loud crazy people favor a SAG strike
*The pro-SAG strikers honestly don’t look like they do very much acting, anyway

Los Angeles Taco Trucks

Once upon a time, Los Angeles Taco Trucks [*] were simply “Roach Coaches” that unironically played La Cucaracha (“The Cockroach”) when pulling up to the sidewalk.

Then at some point, maybe 2005, Taco Trucks entered the ambit of the hipster palette.  This was the year great taco blogs emerged like LATaco.com and The Great Taco Hunt. Avid foodies began meticulously ranking and debated the merits of neighborhood Taco Trucks. Perhaps it was because hipster turf had encroached on Latin-American turf (i.e., Silverlake, Echo Park, and Downtown).  Or perhaps it was because Taco Trucks are about the only way to get fresh eats for under $2.  Or perhaps it was simply because the best taco trucks are so mind-bendingly amazing.  Regardless, Prometheus-style, a vanguard of bloggers, hipsters, and assorted trendsvestites have spread the good news to the rest of us.

Carne Asada Taco from Wikimedia Commons

Carne Asada Taco from Wikimedia Commons

Victory of the Taco Truck

The East Los Angeles Taco Trucks fought years of legislative battles. Considered a nuisance by non-mobile businesses who don’t want their sidewalks blocked, Taco Trucks were required to move every hour or risk up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in prison. Because of these laws, part of the fun of getting a great taco used to be finding the darn truck. Analogous to how the best clubs often have no sign out front. When you found a good truck, you really felt like you were in the know.

For years, various lobbies and city officials repeatedly tried to ban Taco Trucks altogether, as they are considered anti-competitive to sit-down restaurants that must pay rent, waitstaff, insurance, city taxes, etc. It wasn’t until late 2008 that the bulk of these measures were voted down, allowing Taco Trucks to stay in one spot all night and generally exist with some semblance of brick-and-mortar detente.

Enter Kogi BBQ

A few weeks ago I tried Kogi BBQ, the new Korean Barbecue fusion Taco Truck. They serve a truly mind-blowing spicy barbecue chicken taco garnished with cilantro-green onion-lime relish and crushed sesame seeds. The Kimchi Quesadilla is an acquired taste; saltier than anchovies, it packs a mean punch. Their five dollar burritos are also a flavor explosion, spicy meats mixed with scrambled eggs, chopped onions and cilantro, romain and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette.

Kogi Tacos (image is from their website)

Kogi Tacos (image is from their website)

Slick Marketing

The brainchild of a Filipino restaurateur, Kogi follows the traditional model of a Taco Truck by traveling around town throughout the night. However, Kogi employs a top executive chef, is backed by a slick PR company, and regularly posts locations and updates to Twitter. There is something almost ouroborosian about a Taco Truck for hipsters, by hipsters. Kogi’s already been covered by KCRW, K-CAL 9, and LA Weekly. They even have a fan page on Facebook. Kogi has only been around since November and the cat is already out of the bag.

If you want to try Kogi, be prepared to wait in line. I tried to go last Friday in the rain, in Silverlake. Jay and I planned it to the minute, arriving first in line at 5pm. The Kogi truck arrived an hour late, two blocks south of its announced location. When the hour-long line turned and sprinted south toward the arriving Taco Truck, I found my first place spot became the last place spot. People who arrived last got served first. Total time for Jay and I to get our Kogi tacos: two hours.

Los Angelinos have a near-Soviet level capacity for waiting in lines. But I have to admit, going to Kogi is like buying a taco at the DMV. And because the truck consistently shows up an hour late, there’s really no way to outsmart the lines. Kogi reminds me of when I thought I discovered Cold Play, and eight months later they were all over Leno and Letterman. Try Kogi if you want to taste one of the most original tacos you’ll ever eat in your life. But if you want fast service, no lines, and a truck that’s always there when you need it, have a Suadero taco at Taco Zone on Alvarado.

*[Back to post] Yes, I am choosing to capitalize Taco Truck throughout this post.