It was really fun to record these three shows — at Berkeley’s legendary Fantasy Studios, no less — and I hope it’s a really entertaining experience to listen to them.
It isn’t easy — at least for someone like me. You move forward into the unknown, guided by those who have gone before. They can tell you what it was like for them, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same for you. You need support, you need the right tools — and you need to find the local Post Office.
Usually, orders at my online store are fulfilled by my fabulous business associate, Dana Dizon. But a recent eblast offering a $10 discount (still available, by the way, using the code BLAST1) resulted, happily, in more orders than we had expected — especially of the DVD of Haiku Tunnel, the movie I made with my brother Jacob several years ago. And as it happens, Dana had sent most of our stash to Portland Center Stage, where I am doing a run of my show Ben Franklin: Unplugged. (After each performance, I plop myself in the theater lobby and kindly offer to sell my stuff to departing audience members.)
So Dana called me and — in as calm a voice as she could muster — told me I’d have to send out some of the orders myself. Now, you have to understand that I have, well, issues about mailing things out; in fact, that is exactly what instigates the comic-neurotic plot of Haiku Tunnel: my character’s boss gives him a bunch of very important letters to mail out, and he doesn’t. Now I’m the boss — and yet, strangely, still with many of the personality flaws I used to exhibit in my secretarial days. (Meet the new boss — same as the old assistant. Yikes!)
But people had paid for their books and DVDs, and needed to get them right away. So, over the phone, Dana walked me through the online process by which I could print out customers’ packing slips (two copies, one for our records) and shipping labels (cut at the dotted line; staple the bottom half to our copy of the packing slip), and log all these actions as having been completed.
“Pick up a bunch of envelopes and boxes from the Post Office,” Dana instructed.
“Don’t tape over the barcode!” she added. “They don’t like that.”
A worried silence from my end.
“You can do this!” she exhorted.
I could tell Dana was concerned. She does everything incredibly well, and likes to do things herself. If I messed up, she would feel responsible (I know, she shouldn’t — but that’s just how she is). I took a deep breath, then headed over to Portland Center Stage to grab some copies of my merch and use their printer — and, as it turned out, their computer, their packing tape, and of course their stapler (as we all know by now that the bottom half of the mailing label must be stapled to our copy of the packing slip!). Many of the theater’s astonishingly nice and helpful staff members showed me how to find everything — not to mention get over my usual skittishness around Windows computers (yeah, I’m a Mac guy, even though I look much more like the PC fellow in those commercials).
As I was applying the tape to the packages (though not over the barcode!), I heard a loud thrumming from somewhere nearby. Eventually I realized what this was: the sound of a typical Portland rainstorm hitting the skylight. So now I would have to carry all this stuff to the Post Office through the rain! Postal workers do this all the time, I know — they’ve even been known to deal with sleet and snow; then again, they also go postal.
Fortunately, there was a respite from the downpour just as I left the theater. Holding the packages label-side down — in case of any unexpected drippage — I made my way to the (fortunately nearby) Post Office. I needed to hurry, as Dana had been very clear on the phone that I needed to actually mail the packages on the same day as I had printed out the mailing lables; otherwise, the entire global financial system would collapse (or something). On line at the Post Office, I briefly became entranced by a display of bubble wrap (you have to admit, there’s nothing quite as marvelous as bubble wrap) — only to be told, somewhat gruffly, by the woman behind me that the next window was now open. I handed my pile of merch to the postal worker (a grandmotherly looking woman with a tattoo on her forearm — god, Portland is cool!) and stared at her in fear and anticipation as she ran her scanner thingie over all my (untaped-over) barcodes. She nodded at me.
“Everything okay?” I asked, tremulously.
I felt a burst of endorphin-powered euphoria. I had completed the task, even though it involved more than one step! Haiku Tunnel DVDs, as well as Red Diaper Baby books and DVDs, were now on their way to all the incredible people who had ordered them.
I texted Dana that it was all over. A moment later I got a text back from her, thanking me (even though, of course, I should have been thanking her for setting everything up so well — typical Dana). If there were an emoticon for relief, I’m pretty sure she would have added it.
Then I headed back to my hotel, bathed in a warm glow of satisfaction and relief. Fulfillment achieved — by me, for once.
Haiku Tunnel, the “office comedy” I had so much fun making with my brother Jacob, is now available — exclusively! — at my online store. (Sony ran out of them, apparently, and the slow economy has delayed their plans to put out a new batch as part of a cool “Signature Series” of DVD’s.) Enter the code BLAST1 to receive $10 off your total order. (This discount also applies to the Red Diaper Baby DVD and book.)
Adding Haiku Tunnel to my store has called up many happy (and frantic) memories of when we made the film in the summer and fall of 2000 (the movie was released in 2001), among them:
- Discovering, on the first day of shooting (in my brother’s old apartment), that I would be required mostly to lie in bed and “act” asleep. (I turned out to be a natural at this!)
- Seeing the look of delight and amazement on the face of our executive producer, David Fuchs, when he showed up that morning and saw all kinds of trucks and equipment up and down the street. How, he wondered, had we gotten so much out of so little money? (No one had the heart to tell him that most were for a commercial shooting nearby.)
- Preparing to shoot a crucial scene in an office building in downtown Oakland, only to learn that (a) the actual guard on duty refused to relinquish his post to our fictional guard, (b) by the time we were finally ready to shoot, it was lunch hour — and thousands of people were about to flood our “set,” and (c) a Mexican Independence Day parade was approaching the building. (We solved the first problem by appealing to the “real” guard’s love of film, the second by — I’m afraid — having our P.A.’s stall all the building’s elevators for a few minutes, and the third by working really, really fast.)
- Me running into George Lucas at the Skywalker Ranch while we were doing our postproduction sound there, and blurting out, “Thank you, Mr. Lucas!!” He looked aghast, as if he had been ambushed by a slightly slimmer Jabba the Hutt. (I learned later that you’re not supposed to talk to him at all, or even look at him; he’s very shy.)
- Getting the phone call from Isaac Hayes’s manager that Mr. Hayes had watched a video of our movie and had liked it — and was thus granting us the right to use his great cover of Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay.
- Doing an all-nighter in the edit room to complete a rough cut of Haiku to submit to Sundance — and then falling asleep on the BART train and going way past my stop.
- Getting the message from our sweet and brilliant producer, Brian Benson, that we had gotten into Sundance — and Jake and I busting out our “We-Got-In Strut” as we walked with David Fuchs to a celebratory lunch in North Beach.
- Carrying the just-barely-completed reels of our film on the plane to the Sundance Festival. (They were heavy!)
- Going to meet the legendary Tom Bernard and Michael Barker of Sony Classics at midnight at their chalet in Park City (where the festival takes place), just as Hollywood-perfect snow began falling.
- Seeing a trailer for Haiku at a local movie theater in Berkeley and thinking, “Wow, my head is scarily big!”
- Attending a sold-out preview screening of the film in San Francisco with a lot of our cast and crew — and David Fuchs beaming, saying, “Wow, people really seem to like it!”
… and so many other memories, as well. Now Jake and I are making the kind-of sequel, Love & Taxes, and having just as much fun (and angst). One day, the film gods willing, you will be able to see that movie in theaters and on your home screens. In the meantime, there are the Haiku Tunnel DVD’s — preserving the happy efforts of a bunch of quixotic, film-making optimists for as long as these types of media remain watchable. It’s a nice feeling.