Into my room walks an excited Spaniard.
I started to pick up some Spanish when I worked at the Barking Dog Restaurant back in New York. All the guys in the kitchen were from Mexico, as well as the bussers and food runners. My education began when Arturo the busboy taught me how to say a phrase, and suggested I practice it on Marcos, the intimidating head chef.
“What? Don’t fuck with me man, I kick your ass.” threatened Marcos as the rest of the kitchen laughed. Arturo was nowhere to be found, and I had to explain to Marcos that I had no absolutely no idea what I just said to him.
From that point on the kitchen loved me. I learned all sorts of slang. When someone would say “Que Pasa”, I would reply “dos que tres” instead of the usual “nada”.
I asked Arturo to explain what “two what three” meant and why it was so funny. He struggled to come up with an explanation and finally settled on, “it’s just funny when a Gringo says it.”
Over the years I started to learn stuff that would help me while I was working. I had quite a few busboys over the years that didn’t speak a word of English, so I had to learn the basics of communicating for my job.
Bring two waters to table thirty-two. Two spoons with the soup. Where is the mustard?
I never made a huge effort to learn, but picked up some useful words along the way. For example, I know how to say “here” versus “there”. Pretty much the first two months of seventh grade Spanish Class.
Back to the resident Spaniard at the house in North Hollywood. Kristham was on vacation in Los Angeles, staying at the house for four weeks before he headed back to Madrid. It is safe to say that my Spanish was better than his English.
This wasn’t the first time I had met him. We first conversed before I left for New York. He was sitting outside on the patio with a Boombox, blaring the new Usher CD. Now, I use the word “Boombox” to not only describe the physical nature of the stereo, which had no doubt been purchased on Craigslist for under ten dollars, but also the manner in which it was being used. A Boombox is to be played at maximum volume, in an inappropriate location. The volume level of “10” is more than the shoddy manufacturing was really cut out for, so the speakers have that “blown out” characteristic. Any other stereo user would turn the dial down to improve the sound quality. But those that have Boomboxes keep it cranked up, and play them on Wednesday afternoons in a suburban setting, when the neighborhood is nice and quiet.
Remember my car alarm going off? What made that whole situation even more stressful was how peaceful the area was at the time. I could just imagine a neighbor of mine enjoying a nice cup of herbal tea while reading the current selection on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. “Jeez, that car alarm has been going off for a while, and is ruining my lovely afternoon.” I felt so bad about spoiling this fictional person’s reading session.
This same fictional book-reader was now thinking, “boy, someone really wants me to hear the new Usher album, so much to the point that they don’t have any regard for the long term use of their stereo speakers”. This thought is in line with that had by anyone who has ever come into a 200 foot range of a Boombox.
As I was walking into the house I smiled and nodded at Kristham.
“Hey, what eez up man?” he greets me.
“Not much, how are you?”
“What I can say. This is thee life, huh?” Kristham gestures to the general surroundings, but in a way that somehow emphasizes the music. “Usher. He’s good, huh?”
I ended up sitting with him on the patio while I read my newspaper. From years of living with people, I’m pretty good at focusing on what it is I’m reading when there’s lots of noise and activity going on. Although the blaring Usher did not distract me at all, Kristham’s occasional singing along at random and seemingly arbitrary times forced me to re-read a few sentences. As Kristham was not manufactured in a cheap factory in China, he was able to sing at an even higher volume than the Boombox without his voice acquiring a crackling quality.
We hadn’t really talked much as it was clear that communication would be difficult given the language barrier. So when he came into my room my first night back from New York and asked me if I was a musician, I did my best to explain. “I write funny songs” I said slowly.
“Funny?” he asked, not sure exactly what I meant. I realized that if I played a song for him, pretty much all of the humor would be lost. So I decided to show him the Mary Louise Parker video, with a brief explanation of what the joke was, hoping the video would give an idea of what the words were.
After I showed it to him he asked who made it, and I told him that I did. Within two minutes, I had agreed to shoot a music video for him.
How to explain? After listening to Kristham’s music, I decided that Justin Timberlake should be my inspiration for how to shoot it. I tried to tell him that I thought we should shoot in widescreen, but that was a bit too much vocabulary. In order to tell him what I meant, I showed him my reel. When it was a widescreen clip, I would say very loudly and excitedly, “widescreen!”. Then on the other parts I would yell at a lower octave, “regular!”.
I’m not sure why I talked so loud.
I showed him a Justin Timberlake video that was widescreen, and he said – “yes, this is my idol. Idol?”
I nodded to confirm that he was using the word correctly and I knew what he meant.
He had six songs on his MySpace page, but knew exactly which one he wanted to make a video for. It was the one with the Hook in English – “My Turn”. Without further ado:
You love it, don’t you?
That night we talked about the video. The song was a story of him realizing he had to leave his friends behind in order to pursue his dream, as they were holding him back. Him coming to LA was a big step in this, as he was actually studying dance at a very prestigious studio.
I told him the next day we should shoot the sequence where he is walking to class, as it would be easy to shoot. This way if the shoot was a failure and we needed to rethink it, we would only have to re-shoot the easiest part (other locations included LAX, his dance studio, and possibly a club). Explaining this to him took roughly forty-five minutes.
This was going to be tougher than I thought.
What gave me hope was that he knew exactly what he wanted. He is an insanely passionate guy and a pretty amazing dancer. I explained to him that I really don’t know what I’m doing and that my camera costs less than three hundred dollars, but he still wanted me to do it. Perhaps it was that he didn’t understand what I was saying.
The first day of shooting was a success. By the evening I had a fifteen second clip edited together. The dancing was pretty simple, as it was really more him just walking to class. It was a great start.
Anyone who has ever worked with me as a director knows that I can sometimes ramble and get too complicated with my notes. I get into my head, and try to find the precise way to explain something to an actor. This wasn’t a problem for this particular shoot as I had the following notes available for me to give:
2) Otra Ves
I occasionally added in “Dios mio, man!” after he did a really cool dance move. The other option available was non-verbal direction. Quite a few times this required me to copy his dance moves with a slight variation that would look better on camera. I’m hoping the neighbors weren’t watching.
Later on while I was editing the first day’s footage, I got a call from Carlos telling me that my car was ready to be picked up. I was so excited about working on this video that I forgot all about my lovely Jetta! He had told me over the phone that it would be 750 dollars. When I got there I said, “so it’s 750 dollars right?” as I reached into my pocket.
“Eh, 700 is OK.”
I think I mentioned last time that I really like Carlos. Things were starting to go smoothly. As a matter of fact, I was finally feeling like everything was pretty much settled. I had hit that sweet spot where I could just start living. Working on the music video had put me back into my element in a way I hadn’t felt since I was in Jersey City. And once you start being creative and doing some work (any kind of work), other things tend to start happening too.
As I drove away with my smooth-running car, I could finally hear myself think. As my mind achieved clarity over the caramel-purr of my engine, it hit me.
Not a car. But a realization: I still don’t have a job. I suddenly thought of lyrics from Kristham’s hit single My Turn:
“I no wasting time
I gotta make pay
This is my life
I’m out of time”