Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rockets Red Glare

History mocks itself, and that's a good thing. It means that problems are in the rear view mirror.

This week we celebrated Independence Day. Fireworks exploded in the sky to oohs and ahhs across America. Meanwhile, my son Isaiah is in Israel. He and his friends took refuge in a bomb shelter the other night, bracing for incoming missiles. That's when I suddenly realized what our fireworks are about. The colorful explosions that we've come to adore? They are simulations of the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, as famously observed one night by a terrified poet named Francis Scott Key. Key's jubilance at surviving that battle, and upon the cessation of fire in 1812, became our national anthem. Sure, he'd be aghast if he knew that we celebrate that evening's carnage with ever-growing whimsy. But, you know what? If he was cool, he'd laugh a little too. We're free to make fun of the past because, two hundred years later, we live in safety still.

Plus, it's not really the bombs that we toast. It is the cessation of war. It is freedom and safety.

I pray that someday, Jews and Palestinians can enjoy such freedom and safety and that they too can mock conflict and hoist a glass to the absurd. If they do so with fireworks, it will be especially ironic because maybe in 1812, wars were won with bombs but in today's Middle East, bombs will never be the means to an end of conflict. Peace requires putting the weapons down and for all parties to deploy empathy, reason, compassion, respect, dialogue, justice, understanding and leadership. 

My eldest is in Jerusalem tonight. Meanwhile, one of my other child's best friends is in East Jerusalem. He is a Palestinian.

I look forward to both of our boys returning home to Brooklyn, and to a day when friends and brothers, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians can toast each other's freedom. They should celebrate as inappropriately as they'd like to, mocking history from a distance, the problems of today happily, safely, in the rear view mirror.

Isaiah's youth group at the Western Wall, in Jerusalam

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Low Point of My Career?

I got this email last night asking re: my availability for a job. The nature of the request amazed me. Here's what she wrote, and what I wrote in response. How would you have responded?

Good Day Eddie,
I am the Production Manager for Season 3 of "The Real Untold XXXXX” and I got your name from XXXXX. We are filming 3 interviews on Monday March 17 in the New York Area and are looking for a shooter that does the whole lighting, sound(wireless) recorded to camera, shooting, and supply & setup/operate laptop/Skype.
Based on that we are looking for an all-in price of $1000 for shooter, and all camera/lighting/sound equipment, including laptop with built-in webcam/Skype loaded, and black Duvatyne backdrop. The day is scheduled from 7:30am - 5:00pm from setup to tear down plus dropping the footage off to FedEx for overnight shipping. If you are available and interested would you please provide me with a link to some of your work that would be similar to the type of set up we are doing? I have checked out your website but we would really like to see a clip or shot that you have done with a backdrop and this style of lighting.
Below is a screen shot of the look we are asking for.
Since we do not have a field producer or director on site we rely on the DP to create the look and so I have also included the specification sheet for your review.
For your consideration, here are some additional details about what we are expecting you to provide for the the shoot: 
• Camera gear, tripod & tape stock/disc 
• Appropriate Lighting gear (as required to match example image & Interview Lighting Specs, as provided) -- for this interview it will be magenta gel, double sheets for the Background Spot Light for main subjects and diffusion for less important ones. 
• wrinkle free black Duvatyne backdrop & stand, large enough to have approx.. 10ft wide backdrop • Sound equipment, including lav (mic not to be seen on-camera) & ability to monitor sound 
• Laptop with webcam, and Skype loaded and tested, plus long ethernet cable to hardwire to internet for smooth video feed for interview. 
• Blackout material, if needed for windows, doors, etc.--- we will try to get a room without windows 
• HD Color monitor to allow for matching to sample image (color and shape of spot light, etc) • Apple boxes, stand, etc. to allow for laptop to be propped up to appropriate height beside camera to match camera lens height 
• Powder for face shine 
• Camera phone or other camera to allow for photo of set-up/look to be sent to Showrunner prior to taping interview 
• The shooter/PA would also need to FedEx us the original media/tapes right after the shoot (OVERNIGHT PRIORITY) ...we will provide the account to charge that to on the call sheet. 
• it is an interview talking head style shoot for HD broadcast--- see attached for lighting specs & sample images. 
• we run the interview remotely via Skype video on a laptop (ie. Producer here in Canada, interviewing the subject on Skype video in your remote location). The laptop gets setup right beside the camera lens(same side as Key light) to get good eye line— WE WOULD NEED YOU TO SUPPLY THE LAPTOP WITH WEBCAM & SKYPE & ETHERNET CABLE TO HARDWIRE TO THE INTERNET
I look forward to hearing from you about your availability and discussing the possibility of you participating in the production. If you do not shoot in this area I would be grateful if you would put me in touch with someone from the area.
Kind Regards, Laura XXXXX 
Production Manager
 XXXX Pictures 

My response...

Dear Laura,
Thanks so much for the inquiry. I wish I could help, but I'm sadly not available that day. One tiny confession - I'm not really a Director/DP/Gaffer/Soundman/Producer/Grip/MakeupArtist/ Rentalhouse/Technologist/PA/AC/Driver. I do know plenty of people who are though. We've been getting our 'slash/hybrids' from a laboratory in Texas (part of the UT Bio/Film School) that clones excellent reality TV technicians. I'll forward you a list of some recently released models for you to choose from asap.
However, before you spend the astronomical sum of $1000 to produce three key interviews for your excellent show, may I suggest something? I bet it would be more cost effective to locate interviewees who can operate camera, sound and produce their OWN shoots. That way, you wouldn't need to even spend money on gas to get the factotum to the shoot - eliminating the rest of those pesky, remaining line items.
You may also consider directing viewers to simply watch re-runs of previous shows. That way, your company wouldn't have to spend anything at all. In reality (no pun intended!) who would know? I'm sure the dissimilarities from one episode of "The Real Untold XXXXX" to the next are miniscule. Ok, yes, then the stories could not technically still be called "Untold"... But if you substitute the words "America's Most..." into the title of a reality show, anything goes.
Rebranding previous episodes rather than shooting new ones might not only save money, but may also make your show even more redeeming by preventing abusive programming from being added to the scrapheap of the cable dial. This would even save a few precious kilowatts of energy, slowing global warming.
Think of the headlines and excellent PR your show could get from that? You could open with a title card that says, "No baby penguins were harmed through the making of this bullshit."
Thanks again reaching out. If you need anything else for free, just let me know!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Notes from the Sky

Spent the weekend filming the most extraordinary bunch of folks ever. These are civilian pilots who fly dogfights in single seat airplanes over the western Americans skies. Some are ex-military. Some are homebuilders and filmmakers. Together, in their free time and on weekends, they've become the world's most impressive skyfighters. These guys tumble through the air at dizzying speeds, pulling massive Gs as they work the knife's edge trying to get a 'shot' off on each other. This is not just a sport - it's an obsession and an insanity. These are my new heros: folks who've committed to their passions and to eachother, and in doing so have become the best in the world.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Keying In, AKA, The Things We Carry

When I started blogging a few weeks ago, my first post was about keys - how carrying keys means responsibilities, obligations and work. I wrote, "my kids don't carry keys. They leave the house with nothing in their pockets. That's freedom."

Well, scratch that.

Isaiah got a cellphone this weekend. On the face of it, it's no big deal. Like every other kid, he's no stranger to electronics. He already has an Ipod, a camera, a Wii and a computer. Plus, this isn't a toy. Starting 6th grade in a few days means that we'll no longer walk him to school. He'll be traveling via subway and needs to be able reach us; we need to keep track of him, too.

But to him, it's more important than that. Isaiah has his own number now. He can be contacted by his friends privately, without us or even his brother in between. Almost instantly, he was like an addict. The flurry of text messages began. In an hour, he was shielding the screen like a kid passing notes in school, drifting off to tap out a missive or two. Suddenly, privacy is a part of our relationship; secrets finally exist.

I actually love it. If independence marks the border, then another bridge to adolescence has just been crossed. (The irony is that it happened in an AT&T store.) As parents, we know that our job is to get our kids ready to handle the world on their own. So things like these are great. I love watching the guy connect with his friends, and how he bites into the opportunity to boot.

But it's also bittersweet. As Isaiah's pockets fill with things like these (he's getting housekeys this week too), I'm happy to see him becoming independent but I'm sad to see his freedom, the freedom of childhood, slip away.

Because as adults, we also know that the things we carry in our pockets each come with responsibilities. No matter how small they are, they're still much heavier than the things we've left behind.

Isaiah proudly tests out his new phone in the store. His first call was to his mother, four feet away.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Three's a charm

I was wrong. I thought Randi was nuts for planning a three week vacation.

I'm a confessed workaholic. The idea of three weeks off was causing me heavy stress.

It's all over now and I'm proud to say that I not only survived the long vacation, I've become a convert. A week and a half in, I stopped checking email every other hour, my phone stopped ringing, my heart beat slowed and now, even back home in NY, I feel like I've really been somewhere. Which, of course, is true.

Three weeks in Europe.

There's something about being somewhere long enough that sets you into a rhythm. You start to see the cycles, sense the traditions. You start to know your way around.

The third (and final) birthday we celebrated was on our last day there. It was three year old Emilia Bercow's. As we sat in the front of the Maier's house and celebrated, I suddenly felt like we were no longer tourists. The neighbors knew who we were. A lady passed by, handing out a notice for a funeral. The Schwimbad attendants were sad to see us go.

We weren't just returning home. We felt like we were leaving somewhere, too.

Of course, compared to Larry, we'd barely set in a toe. It's pretty hilarious. Everyone who knows Larry Bercow thinks of him as a died-in-the-wool Manhattanite. Before he met Klaudia, I couldn't even get him to visit me in Brooklyn. Now he's setting up shop in smalltown Austria and them there hills have become his new Soho stroll.

It's awesome to see and, to be honest, I hope he stays. With Larry and Klaudia in Austria full time, I just have to figure out what I'm doing with the other 49 weeks, next year.

They organized a carriage ride for Emilia's 3rd birthday. I love this video. It shows small town Austrian traditional life, plus there's a ton of really weird stuff going on here. First, everyone's wearing clothes worn for Austrian traditional events. Klaudia is wearing a Dirndl. (She said she hadn't had one on in 20 years but I guess she's starting to feel Austrian again. Plus, she looks kinda cute!) And Larry is wearing Lederhosen! We all almost died laughing when we saw him. Also, the carriage driver turned out to be Klaudia's former "socialist youth group" leader. They pulled over for beers and schnapps along the route (Emilia had a soft drink, I think) and the driver told Klaudia that Obama's election was 'one of the happiest days in my life'.

75 years ago, Hitler made a whistle stop at the train depot here. Now, the lederhosen-wearing carriage driver is kvelling about America's first black president. I guess some traditions are actually nice to break!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


You just couldn't put signs on the street like these in New York. Really. You'd never get away with it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


"Mushrooming" in the steep slopes of the Alps isn't only more fun than I thought it would be, we really saw some wild looking shrooms:

These last ones were the object of the hunt and the main ingredient of our dinner: eirschwammels, or chantarelles.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Saalfelden Summit, Part 2

Back in Saalfelden, we woke again to the sight of the majestic Alps, towering over everything. The mountains are the narrative, or at least the subtext of most stories in these parts. The towns are picturesque and the people are more than gracious, but the omnipresent peaks are definitely the main event. I couldn't wait to get back into them.

Larry and Klaudia have been telling us - tantalizing us - with tales about a specific hike for years.They knew that Randi and I used to love hiking and camping but since having kids eleven years ago, we've been kinda grounded. Or un-grounded. But here we are, in the Alps, with kids grown older and stronger. It sounded too good to be true, and we were dying to put it all to the test.

We planned a two day trip up and over the entire range behind us. One problem: the famous Austrian mountain house in the middle - where you can cop a cot and score a meal - was all booked up. On top of which, Larry and Klaudia didn't actually have two days. They had to get back in one.

So, we pondered, should we go for it ALL in a single thrust? It became the subject of conversation around the neighborhood for two days. Neighbors, relatives, even the great Pichlmaier, the baker, each weighed in.

This is no mere walk in the woods. This is a grueling 15 mile hike up and down real mountains. We were warned of the perils: straight up for three hours. After five hours, you're at 'do or die'. You must decide if you will to make it across, or turn back. If you press forward, you have to get to the lake at the end of the trail by 6:30, lest you miss the last boat out and stay, subject to the elements.

Pichlmaier the baker said that it couldn't be done. Not by a bunch of NYers. Not by two kids. Not by a family without gear, with borrowed shoes, without mountaineering experience.

Game on.

We arose the next morning at 4am and hit the trail before dawn. Klaudia's plan was a masterpiece of precision. We were to summit the first stage before the sun arose.

Midway up, the casualties began. The angle was too steep, and too long. August was the first to say it: we had bitten off more than we could chew. His legs were already like jello on a trampoline and his gaskets were all blown. He was ready for a medivac.

Still, we made it, arriving at Reimannhaus a mere hour behind schedule. But the plan was in danger on several fronts:
• It was already past 9:30am.
• The sun was up.
• And maybe, just maybe, Pichlmaier was right. I'd underestimated the gig.

We huddled.

Despite 'gentle' encouragement, August fortunately had enough wits to raise the white flag, forcing Randi to abandon off her backcountry dream as well to accompany him off the mountain.

Isaiah, on the other hand, was looking fit.

Were we surprised? This is, afterall, the same kid who hates even to walk to school. But, Isaiah's been known to rise to the occasion. Cresting 'The Thumb', he looked strong as a mountain goat. High above Saalfelden, he devoured a scrambled egg breakfast as we tried to form a plan.

"Isaiah," Klaudia asked. "Can you make it across? Do you even want to even try"

"Let's go," he said.

I learned later that August had a hell of a time getting back down the mountain. Once legs are shot, a four hour descent is torture. But let it be said, he made it down on his own. He climbed a real mountain. Even the neighbors back in town applauded the kid for going up and down in single day. Most kids couldn't, and wouldn't even try.

Exhausted beyond what he had ever known possible, August then passed out and slept the rest of the day.

To the North, the rest of us entered the Steinernmeer as the sun climbed high. A lunar landscape if ever there was one, we relished the downhill pace, and a summer snowball fight to boot. Larry, Klaudia and I felt our knees creaking, but Isaiah kept hammering away, giving us hope that we would actually make it.

Of course, I was carrying spare clothes and emergency supplies just in case. But the kid kept ticking. We strutted through cascading meadows of wildflowers, crossing the German border at 1pm, before sloping down to Fontenssee lake on schedule. I think we'd actually picked up time.

Fontenssee lake is about the same size of Piazza San Marco in Venice, which we'd visited 48 hour earlier, but all comparisons stop there. Set in a hollow, this frigid lake creates a mountaintop weather inversion, rendering this the coldest few acres in Germany. Little can grow around the lake. Even the tree line recedes up the hills, creating a stunning view of the valley.

Arriving at Karlingerhaus, it's clear why, beyond exhaustion, hikers stop here for the night. The weissbier flows freely and the kitchen is fully stocked. (They helicoptered in amenities bi-weekly.)

We rested and ate then set off again, for the final leg of the day.

Isaiah only asked one thing: to have his shoes tied tighter. Because the rest was downhill.

Something glorious happens on a long walk through the wild. I don't know if its the pace, the tranquility, the isolation, the beauty or the scale. Conversations occur that aren't possible elsewhere. The silence is just as precious.

It's a good thing, being out in the wilderness with friends. It's a great thing being there with your son.

We crossed the next mesmerizing ecosystem in an hour flat, before entered the intimidatingly steep Saugasse. Sandwiched between thunderous peaks, the Saugasse is mostly switchback turns, aimed at making the descent manageable.

Isaiah faltered a bit towards the end but I'm proud to say he never really complained. Thirteen hours after we started, after more than 15 miles and the most beautiful hike I've been privileged to in my life, we all made it to the other side.

Larry summarized the day. "Isaiah," he said, without irony, "As far as I'm concerned, today was your Bar Mitzvah."

Back in Saalfelden, cell phones blazed and word spread. Even Pichlmaier, the baker, was impressed.

'The Thumb'; our first destination. You can see Riemannhaus, a full mountain lodge, at the bottom left.
Isaiah summitting The Thumb at dawn.
August, making it the top of his first mountain. And what a doozy it was!
Entering the Steinernmeer, 'The Sea of Rocks', for which the region is named.
After 8 hours, Larry, Isaiah and Klaudia pause at Karlingerhaus to give their feet a break.
Isaiah's Bar Mitzvah photo at the end of the road. "Today, you have become a man."
A sketch of the 15 mile journey to the Konigsee. The white line in the middle is the border between Austria and Germany.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why Men Dream

Venice is not a convenient place.

For us, that meant parking 6Ks away and taking a boat in, then fighting massive crowds and summer swelter through narrow passages for twelve hours straight. Then a vaporetto to a bus and a long walk back. Ours was only a day trip, and we left tuckered.

But "easy" is not why Venice has thrived for 800 years.

This place is an extraordinary example of the inverse relationship between convenience and beauty. If Venice had ever been easy, it just wouldn't be this great. It would never have had such fierce followers fighting over it, and on behalf of it. It would not have become a haven for artists, visionaries and hellions alike.

It is the sheer audacity of this town that sets it apart. Rising waters, sinking buildings; even blistering swarms of cruise ship passengers can't bring down this city or it's spirit. Like the Grand Canyon and the moon, Venice is one of those places which will never fail to impress. It's like falling in love. You are instantly lost and suddenly whole. There's not a single image that can capture it's beauty, nor can you remember how it really felt once you are no longer there. A visit to Venice rummages your emotional stores, locating feelings you forgot you even had. This is not just a place. It's a sensation, a vibrancy, a dare.

As I walked the streets, I couldn't help but think of Nero, the man who fiddled while Rome once burned. We sneer at him now. But do we know what his music might have sounded like? Ahhhh. Welcome to Venice. The town that Titian painted red.

The Rialto Bridge, from the Grand Canal. A gazillion tourists a day try and fail to put this place in perspective. (Count me as number gazillion and one.)

A typical street conversation: cut off a guy's hands here he wouldn't be able to speak.

August tries to put this place in perspective too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Slovenia, Slovenia

I realize that only days have passed since my last post but, somehow, I feel about a year older.

We were in the Slovenian seaside village of Piran, a medieval kind of place with narrow alleys and fading houses. I loved it there. It's the kind of place where ancient bruises, seen and unseen, pockmark both the faces and facades. August is high tourist season so the locals are overrun and have mostly run away. But way back up stone stairs and through the village mazes, you can still eavesdrop on grandmas scolding children and smell home cooking though windows. Women chat while hanging laundry and people congregate in doorways, chain smoking in the thin breeze of the night.

I love it in its sexy, broken kind of way, and find myself more at peace in this kind of chaos than in Austria's picturesque beauty.

The cleanest part of town was the edge - the sparkling Adriatic, which made for cool, salty swimming. The boys played in it like seals, but the 'beach' was just a nasty strip of asphalt, better suited for car repair than lounging and the shore was rocks and shells.

So, despite my newfound Slovenian love, me and my cut-up feet voted 'ay' to a company move to the sandy beaches of Northern Italy and, after a brilliant evening storm, we headed for the tourist trap town of Grado, from where I sit and type.

Grado is an "any-beach-town-in-the world" kind of place, replete with sweet shops and fudge. But the beach is great, the water is warm and the drive here - by way of Slovenia by way of Croatia - was a blast.

And, what the hell... I'm in Italy. On my birthday. What could be bad?
The view out of our hotel window. Ok, the room did have a plumbing problem and smelled like sulphur, but somehow the shit smell became part of the Slovenian charm.

From the Piran shore you can stand in Slovenia and see the Italian coast to your left. To the right, you see Croatia.

Storm over the Adriatic. The 360 degree lightning made a dazzling skyshow that lasted for over an hour.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zum Geburtstag!


Randi might have been depressed this morning (August kept telling her not to be sad) but instead, I think she's having a mighty fine day here in Austria. We got up early and went for breakfast at a mountain house, which happened to be about an hour and a half stroll up the hills behind our house.

To be honest, it's all beyond hilarious. I mean, are they kidding here? Is this all for real?
Isaiah and August give Mommy a birthday hug as we leave our apartment in Saalfelden.

The restaurant is the building at the end of this valley. Randi and Larry are the dots on the trail, marching towards coffee and fruhstuck.

If Larry can conduct business 4000 feet above the nearest town, why again doesn't my phone get reception in NYC?

Breakfast, brought to us by a waitress who lives six days a week in the mountain house and was actually wearing lederhosen.

We ran into this guy on the trail playing an Alpine Horn and asked him to play "Happy Birthday" for Randi. I caught the end on video. I'd have shot more but I was totally, utterly in shock. I mean... are these people really really really for real?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Saalfelden Summit, Part 1

Martin Hagemann is one of the world's good guys. We don't see each other often, but when we do, it's like seeing a long lost brother: honest, easy and never long enough.

This time, we were able to meet in Saalfelden. He was nearby in Baad Aussie, where his stepdaughter's father was from, and offered to drive here on his way back to Berlin.

It was so great to see him. Without trying to embarrass him, let me just say this: when I grow up, I hope to be half as strong and as sensitive as he is. (Wise is clearly out of the question.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thoughts on Blogging

The Magaret Island Swimbad. I thought I saw Andrea here.

Were this a journal and not a blog, I'd write pages about my thoughts in Budapest.

I'd think about how, in addition to family time, we are all having our parallel experiences. My boys are trying to play with other kids in the park. Suddenly they are the outsiders who can't speak the local tongue. They are seeing beggars in the streets, not disabled people, just really poor. They are realizing for first time what it means be an American, let alone New Yorkers. The bedtime conversations are fascinating.

I'd think about what it means to be a Jew. We toured (with an amazing guide) the old Jewish quarter. Hungary once had a thriving Jewish community. The world's second largest synagogue is here. But 600,000 people were killed during WWII. Now, there are only 50 people in the entire country who go to services on an average Saturday. The great synagogue now serves mainly as tourist attraction, a burial grounds and as a museum.

And I'd parse my thoughts about returning to a city where I once fell in love. I think about how rarely one gets to do that in life, and about how it feels to return to a place so full memories, decades years later, with my wife and my kids. I assume Andrea still lives here with her family. I thought I saw her at the pool, but sometimes it's hard to be sure what you've really seen.

But this is a blog, not a journal. Like a snapshot from the car window, it's just an attempt to freeze the blur as we speed along.

The Doheny Synagogue, interior. Built in 1849, it was meant to be church-like, to show how "Hungarian" the Jews were back then. The courtyard is now a cemetary where unidentified Jews who were killed in WWII are buried.

The boys on the bus. There are really great buses, trams, trains in this town.
No summer day is complete without a trip to one of the city's great swimming complexes!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gone West

The view from Castle Hill in Buda, overlooking Pest.

The last time I was in Budapest, it was in the late '80s and this was still a communist country. I remember it like it was yesterday. I met a Hungarian girl and we traveled around the city, then hitchhiked and traveled around the country. She was afraid to talk to me here in town because I was a Westerner and Russian spies were everywhere.

Everyone worked for the government then. The average wage as $100/month. (My hotel was $4/night and meals were about 75 cents.) Freedom, and prosperity, were both a fantasy.

I can't believe what a difference 20 years and "a change of system" has brought. No more traveling across the city to get bread or toiletries. You can get anything now, 24/7. Thousands of shops are open, even on Sunday night.

It's still a poor place, and a beautiful place too. But long gone are the sour faces and dour people. It's utterly amazing.

The view today from the ancient Margaret Island Baths: change is ubiquitous.