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Archive for the ‘my job’ Category

PBS is currently running a “Like Drive,” offering exclusive videos for every so many ‘likes’ their Facebook page receives. One of the latest to be unlocked offers a behind-the-scenes look at “The National Parks.” The video is a bit of a cheat on PBS’ part, since what it shows probably happened three or four years ago–could they find nothing from “Prohibition” or even “The Tenth Inning”?

I like this video though because it offers a brief but accurate feel of a screening with Ken*. Most videos like this, whether they’re focusing on a PBS documentary or a Hollywood blockbuster, tend to be overproduced in an attempt to make it more entertaining.  The ‘fly-on-the-wall’ approach favors authenticity (of some form) over entertainment, and appeals to a different curiosity.

*Yes I call him Ken and no he would not remember my name, though he reportedly said I was a ‘good guy’ after I left the room once. 

During my half-year with Florentine, three films were in various stages of production at the edit house. “Prohibition” was I believe technically wrapped but some work on it was still going on; meanwhile editors were piecing together the first visual versions of “Dust Bowl”(2012) and “The Roosevelts” (2014). During that time three screenings were held at the edit house: two for the two-episode “Dust Bowl” and one for the first four episodes of “The Roosevelts.”

Screening Room Alpha

Florentine doesn’t have a proper screening room at its edit house on account of it being an honest to God house. Instead, everyone crams into the office with the biggest TV, which is a 10′ x 20′ room on the first floor where a producer and two of the editors usually work. Since these are the first visual cuts of the episode, each episode will run maybe thirty minutes longer than the final version–often over two hours. Finding a comfortable chair is therefore crucial, and those with lumbar support are hotly contested. More than a dozen people–including Ken and co-director Lynn Novick, the writer, editors, etc–will find a space in here, and often another half-dozen will have to trudge upstairs to another impromptu overflow screening room directly overhead. When this is the case, an additional logistical difficulty is presented: the screenings must be started simultaneously, otherwise one screening will always be subjected to the echoes of the other*. As Florentine is always on the cutting edge of media technology, this obstacle is surmounted by connecting the two rooms via the office phone telecom. On the count of three or some such prompt, the person manning the station in each room will press the space bar and set the episode into motion.

* Echoes were expected and tolerated if you were in the overflow, but Screening Room Alpha was always to be slightly ahead if a perfect synch was not achieved.

Screening Room Bravo

At the end of these uninterrupted two-hour sessions, many rush to the two bathrooms the edit house generously affords its occupants. After a short break, everyone (even those banished to the overflow) then gathers back in the main screening room to share their impressions. This is Florentine at its most egalitarian: while the key players always give their impressions first, eventually everyone down to the lowliest intern is invited to opine, even if by that point there may be nothing left to add. The resulting discussion sounds something like what you hear in the PBS video, and it’s fun to witness.

That all of this goes on in some unmarked house* on the corner of a village street has tickled me since I first started there. Early on I asked some of the younger staff why no one seemed interested in highlighting that part of the Ken Burns production. They shrugged and said that the edit house ethos was to stay well and truly behind the scenes. I suggested that there were ways to accommodate that–my tweets didn’t betray anyone’s privacy–but I didn’t push it any further. I still think plenty of Ken Burns fans would like to see more of what goes on in Walpole, but for now this blogpost will have to do.

*I’m pretty sure there’s not even a house number–oh, and you enter through the back. New England can be cold.

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Matt Yglesias points my attention to voter intimidation within a McDonald’s franchise:

The letter doesn’t elucidate what laws are being broken, so I’m curious to know what the legal argument is and where else it might apply. If you drive by my office, for instance, you’ll see half a dozen campaign signs for every applicable Democratic election in the front lawn. If you step inside, you might hear, as I have, off-handed remarks about how Republican candidates are crazy and evil. Today in the office, I was encouraged to vote and facetiously reminded that Republicans vote Wednesday. That stuff I can take in stride and good humor because I don’t really give a damn, but mightn’t it intimidate some? Keep in mind I’m interning for a corporation (albeit mononational), a fact which Mr. Schulman’s letter indicates is terribly relevant.

As it happens, I don’t think the paycheck handbill is appropriate, just as I don’t think the lopsided signs in front of my office are appropriate (though if I indulged my subversiveness, I suppose I could always hammer in a Republican picket sign without fuss). Yet I think it’s inappropriate because it’s incongruous with the larger workplace culture, not because there’s something immoral or illicit about it. Given that the threat (giving the handbill its least charitable reading) is ultimately empty because voting is anonymous, what’s the issue? Repression or intimidation alone, in explicit print? If an atheist were working as a secretary at a church office, does he have a legitimate grievance if he’s always asked to join in office prayer?

These workplace wickets are stickier than that mayhaps, but in the end the lesson everyone seems to agree on is to keep tacit things tacit.

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House to House

The editing house of Florentine Films is located in a small town without a lot of housing options, so I live instead 18 miles southeastish in a more respectably-sized place called Keene, where I let a room in a house owned by a middle-aged couple. Instead of a house tour, I put together a video of my autumnal commute from home to work.

As you watch, you may find yourself asking these questions:

  • For reasons of video quality and safety, shouldn’t Jeff have mounted the camera instead of holding it? (Maybe!)
  • Why does Jeff’s camcorder overexpose everything? (It’s cheap!)
  • Are Ken Burns’ films, which have audiences in the tens of millions, really edited in an unmarked house on the corner of a residential street in a sleepy village? (Yes!)
  • If Jeff is working in an editing house, how come he fails so miserably when cutting a home video? (Irony!)

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A year ago I met two important people on my porch.

The first was a gal named Thelma. We first spoke in the kitchen–which was apropos–but we met on the porch, chatting and staring at the stars and the city across the way. My life with her has had the indolent pleasure of a ceaseless brunch whose end I wish never to come. Knowing Thelma’s appetite, I’m sure she would agree.

Here we are last Christmas on said porch, one from a series some people somehow took seriously (such is the mystery of our love):

The second important person I met on the porch was a fellow by the name of Taylor. His arrival on the porch was at first inauspicious, as it interrupted one of the aforementioned conversations between Thelma and me.  He soon won us over, however, with a bottle of duty-free scotch initially intended for our landlord.

Here is Taylor on CNN talking about his organization in Rwanda, and here he is snuggling with me on the porch (photo credit: Thelma):

Through a logical chain of conversation since unlinked by poor memory, Taylor and I got to talking of my teenage fascination with World War II and his work as associate producer on The War, a documentary by Ken Burns which I had watched just before coming to Rwanda*. Seeing my interest in the process, Taylor offered to link me up with someone at Florentine Films for an internship while Thelma rubbed my shoulders encouragingly–our first meaningful physical contact.

That was a year ago on a porch in Rwanda. Much happened in the meantime, but as of last week I’ve begun an internship at the editing house for Florentine Films in Walpole, NH until December. I’ve washed dishes and taken out the trash, but I’ve also gotten to do some (very very) basic editing work on a DVD extra for the upcoming Prohibition and may have made my first visual contribution by finding some period newspaper articles on FDR’s 1910 state senate campaign for The Roosevelts (coming in 2013!). Here’s a boring and unlikely to be used sample:

Beyond a rendezvous with Thelma in Germany I don’t know what the new year will bring, but so far things have been nicely unpredictable.  The only ill harbinger at the moment is the prospect of my first New England winter, which will surely keep me inside and off any porches.

__

* In another strange linkage, I had first seen The War during my year in Germany but quickly changed the channel because I didn’t want to watch it in my limited German and have its impact lessened as a result.

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Paperweight

Imagine you handle the money for a small business in a cash-based economy whose largest denomination bill is worth about nine bucks; what might your desk look like come deposit day?

For a sense of proportion, that pen has a thickness of 16 inches.

As an aside, the odor of Rwandan francs–which often spend part of their lives crumpled in the sweaty pockets of moto drivers–will scent my memories long after I leave.

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Penmanship has never been my strong suit, the doodlings of my pen having been described both blandly as chicken scratch and more memorably as looking like those of a serial killer. Little did all my critics realize this little “flaw” of mine would give me insight and empathy into one of history’s most influential minds!

From The Worldly Philosophers, a thus far great book:

Marx had no work–except his never-ending stint in the British Museum from ten o’clock every morning until seven o’clock at night. He tried to make a little money by writing articles on the political situation for the New York Tribune, whose editor, Charles A. Dana, was a Fourierist and not averse to a few slaps at European politics. It helped for a while, although it was Engels who bailed Marx out by composing many of his pieces for him–Marx meanwhile advising by letter as follows: “You must your war-articles colour a little more*. When these articles stopped, he tried to get a clerical job with a railway, but was rejected for his atrocious handwriting.

p. 150

‘Tis true, however, that my horrid handwriting is sometimes a burden. The wine business for example requires me to make several bank transactions every week, and all the forms must be handwritten. How the tellers interpret my name, which I both print and sign on most of the forms, can be amusing:

Jeff Molmes indeed!

The interpretation can also confound:

That rogue Mr. Ildnes--my Moriarty

That last one had me puzzled for longer than I care to admit as to who exactly this Jeff Ildnes was and how he had gained access to the account.

*German syntax much?

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Everything reminds Milton of the money supply. Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper.

So said Robert Solow of Milton Friedman. I’ll beg Solow’s and your indulgence, Reader, for these days I have wine on my mind, and I can’t keep it out of the blog.

A few days ago I read the following passage in The Alchemist, which I’ve now finished:

Page 60

The old man continued, ‘You have been a real blessing to me. Today I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so. ‘

A fun coincidence, reading this when I did, as it came just after a disappointing meeting with a restaurant owner. Despite a drawn-out conversation, the owner to the end held the position that while our wines were better than her limited selection and reasonably priced, she thought her customers were content with what she had and couldn’t be bothered to care about something better. Perhaps she was right, but to me her position smacked of a certain cognitive dissonance, as if she felt she would be better off by denying a choice existed rather than having to make one.  Even still, I doubt this business owner, unlike the one in the book, felt worse afterward.

***

As for my thoughts on the book itself, in short, I didn’t like it. Too easy, simple, trite, thoughtless, contradictory. It reminded me of this bit of data showing Americans, particularly better off ones, like to use the metaphor of a journey to describe their lives. Like Tyler Cowen, I wonder if just reveals “our tendency to impose a false or misleading narrative on events.”

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