Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back from L.A...

On the way to the airport, Brett and I found our favorite Fast Food Place, In-n-Out Burger. Man that place is good.
In the book Fast Food Nation, In-n-Out Burger is the fast food place that the author likes. The rest of them are corporate greed machines, but he pays a lot of respect for our favorite burger joint. Somehow that legitimizes the place to me and I never feel bad about eating there.

Today, King of Kong is released on DVD!!

Walk, don't run to our local DVD store and buy it. It was one of my favorite movies from last year and it should have been nominated for an Oscar.

I see a lot of documentaries and it was as good as any I saw last year.

Go buy it today!!

You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

LA...

The presentation in front of the 500 people went great! It was a huge hit.

Afterward, we drove into LA and up to Hollywood. Brett's been to LA once, but he didn't really get a chance to see any of the sights so we drove over so he could see a few things.

We met up with my friend Mike and his wife Melissa and daughter Gracie.
It was raining pretty hard so we didn't get to see as much as we would have liked.
Melissa wasn't very happy that I took her picture after the rain. However, Mike and Brett posed often for photos.
We went to the Kodak theater and walked around there for awhile. We got to see some of the stars along the walk of fame...
As well as the footprints and handprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
I love that Theater. It's where Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and hundreds of movies have premiered. It's so amazing. It's the perfect place to see a movie.

I thought Brett would really appreciate seeing a movie there so we bought tickets to watch "Cloverfield".
The great part about watching "Cloverfield" at Grauman's is that it stars one of our friends T.J. Miller.

T.J. was great in the movie and I really, really liked "Cloverfield".

I taught T.J. in Levels 3 and 4 at IO and was his coach for his Harold team, Sturgis. I also coached he and his friends every once in while in a group they put together named "Chuckle Sandwich".

Chuckle Sandwich was one of the funniest groups I've ever seen. I don't know that I ever really did anything when I coached them. T.J.'s girlfriend at the time would bring me pancakes in ziploc baggies and I would sit by the stage eating her pancakes and laughing my head off. At the end of an hour I would recite all the funny things they had done and then they'd each give me $5 and we'd meet again from more pancakes and hilarious scene.

In fact, that that was pretty much the same process we went through when I coached Cook County Social Club. Unfortunately, Brendan Jennings never brought me pancakes. Gregg Hess gave me a stick of gum once, but that was about it.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ontario, California...

Early flight, bad weather, rush hour traffic.

It was an absolute mess driving to O'hare this morning. It took us an 90 minutes to get from Addison and Southport to O'Hare. Within 2 minutes of getting into the cab Brett, of course, fell asleep.

We have an event in Ontario, California so we flew into the Orange County Airport...also known as the John Wayne Airport.
Here's the room we're doing our presentation in. I don't know if you can tell from this angle, but that's 500 seats. It's a pretty big event so we're pretty much quarantined in the hotel room rehearsing all day and night.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans...

I originally wrote this and kept it as a private entry in my blog. I wrote it for myself so that I could remember what I had seen. But after talking to some friends I realized that maybe I should make it a public file.

We all think of Hurricane Katrina and think, "That was two years ago. They've all gone back to their normal lives by now". Well they haven't.


There are people out there who think that the victims are lazy should be able to put their lives back together by themselves. That's an ignorant, naive and selfish thought. If they could have done that, they would have.

They're not looking for hand outs - they're looking for help.


So, here's the rest of my New Orleans entry...




It was quite a reality check to go from the Garden District Mansions to the Lower 9th Ward.


I wasn't going to go down there because it felt crass and obscene to drive through the streets with my rented SUV taking pictures like a tourist.


I forced myself to do it because I needed it for my research. If I ever get this book done, I need to know what it really looked like and see for my own 2 eyes what the neighborhoods had become. I can't realistically write anything about an area based on images I've seen on the internet and TV.


And, to be honest, I felt like I needed to see it. As a human being, as an American, as a God loving person, I needed to see what those unfortunate people went through.


On Thursday(when I had driven through Broadmoor Parish) I had been shaken but felt that the rebuilding efforts were making some significant progress. In a 4 block area, for every 2 houses that were damaged and empty, there were 20 homes that were reconstructed, rebuilt or at least renovated for inhabitation.

There seemed to be hope and promise that things were getting better.

I wasn't ready for the Lower 9th Ward.

It looks like a war zone. I see these homes and feel so sad. People died in these homes. Normal middle class families were financially destroyed in these homes.
My immediate reaction is to be angry that all of this happened.

Then I realize, there are more important issues to be angry about. The main issue being:

Why is it still like this?!? It's been 2 years and FEMA still hasn't done anything with this area. It's astounding. Why hasn't our government done anything to rectify this situation? I know FEMA gave Katrina victims credit cards with an allotment of money on them, but that's been the extent of the help for most people.
For heaven's sake, Brad Pitt has done more for the rebuilding effort than FEMA has.

As I talked to people they all said, New Orleans is getting better. The recovery is advancing, but there are still some huge rebuilding projects that need to be done. They are not still under water, but there are tens of thousands of people trying to stay financially afloat.

Brad Pitt's foundation is Make It Right. I donated. I wish I could have given more.

New Orleans Day 3...

I have found the perfect sandwich.

It's name is Muffuletta.

Based on Lindsay's suggestion I walked down to the French Market to eat a Muffuletta at the Central Grocery. I love this place. It's an actual Italian grocery store filled with old Italian guys who make sandwiches all day. It's so cool.
I ordered my Muffuletta and was lucky enough to find a seat at the counter at the back of the store. The sandwich is wrapped in white packing paper so I unwrapped it and took a bite.
Now, let me say, I've had Muffuletta's a couple times before. In New York and North Carolina, I think. They tasted nothing like this. This was the best tasting sandwich I've ever had in my life. It combined all the foods and flavors that I love, cheese, Italian meats and green olives. It was amazing.

I laughed at Brett on Thursday morning because he said if he lived in New Orleans he would have an order of Beignet's everyday. Now I know what he means. If I lived in New Orleans I would have a Muffuletta every single day for the rest of my life. As I said, it's the perfect sandwich.

After eating the sandwich I walked over to the pier and took a gander at the Mississippi River. It was very windy so the waters were really choppy.While I was there I talked to one of the street performers for quite awhile.

Apparently the residents of New Orleans are really excited about Mardi Gras this year because it's beginning the first week of February. For the first time in years it's not happening during the college spring break period. The locals are really excited that the frat boys have to stay home and Mardi Gras gets to be an adult celebration like the old days.

I mentioned that he must be relieved that there wouldn't be any frat boys or sorority girls getting wasted in the streets and he stopped me before I finished my sentence.

"Oh no, the sorority girls can still come down. Yessir, they're still welcome and we'll find a way to get them down here this year. We just don't need the dumb ass college boys down here," he told me.

After that, I headed over to Canal Street and jumped on the St. Charles Streetcar. I've never been on an electric streetcar and one of the magazines in my hotel mentioned that the St. Charles was a great way to see the old New Orleans mansions along St. Charles Avenue.
Aside from the mansions I also saw Tulane and Loyola Universities, the Audubon Park and Zoo, the Garden District and the venerable Robert E. Lee statue.
The statue is forever facing North so that his back will never be to his enemies.

My flight to back to Chicago was supposed to leave at 5:30, but of course because of the mysterious "traffic flow into O'hare" excuse I didn't arrive back into Chicago until 10:00.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I learned a lot, saw a lot and (unfortunately) ate a lot.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Orleans Day 2...

We woke up early and did our presentation at 8:00am. To my relief and enjoyment, it went very, very well. Lot of laughs. Huge overall response. Thank god.

Afterward, I took Brett back to Cafe Du Monde so he could partake again in the French Donuts. While we were there we were entertained by a talented group of street musicians.
After that I took Brett to the airport and returned back to the city to do some exploring of my own.

A year ago I was approached by a producer to pitch a screenplay for him of a remake of Cincinnati Kid. They couldn't get the rights to the Cincinnati Kid so I pitched another idea of a modern, post-Katrina/New Orleans themed/Poker/Thriller. I wrote a 50 page treatment that I was very excited about. However, the producer really had his heart set on a Cincinnati Kid remake so the project stalled.

Thankfully they didn't hold the rights to the treatment I wrote for them and they released it back to me to do whatever I want. So, while I'm here in New Orleans I decided to take a couple extra days down here to immerse myself in the city so I can take that treatment and do something with it. I can still do it as a screenplay, but I think I'd rather turn it into a novel instead. We'll see.

The treatment is set in the Southwest/Central part of the city so I drove all around exploring as much as I could. There's definitely some severely damaged areas from the hurricane in that region. It's not as bad as the east side, but it was still hit pretty hard. I saw FEMA trailers and P.O.D.S in several places. I also saw several houses that had those dreaded spray painted X's on them. There were several buildings that had spray painted messages on them from loved ones to the people who had died inside.

Mostly though, I saw areas that were rebuilding and thriving. There seemed to be new construction on every block.

A few blocks away from the troubled areas I stumbled across an awesome area of New Orleans. Magazine Street. It's a six-mile street full of shops, restaurants and boutiques. It was amazing. Every two steps there were quaint little shops and restaurants everywhere. It was very, very cool.

After hanging around there for awhile I drove back to the French Quarter and checked in to my new hotel, the Hotel St. Marie. I have a room with a balcony so it's pretty nice. Very New Orleans.

Based on Adal's suggestion, I walked over and had dinner at K-Paul's Restaurant and had the twin beef tenders. He was right. It was one of the best steaks I've ever had.

Unfortunately, while eating, I realized that I had missed the ghost tour. When we had looked at the brochure earlier in the day Brett and I had misread it. We thought the only did the tour during the day. As I looked over the brochure while I ate I realized we were wrong and they had evening tours and I had in fact missed both of them. I did however have time to catch the Vampire tour.
I made my way over the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral and signed up for the tour.I am so glad I did. For 2 hours we weaved our way through the French Quarter discovering the dark seedy history of New Orleans and it's Vampire residents. It was sooo cool.

I saw parts of the city I would never have seen if I hadn't done the tour. By that, I mean, I got to go into neighborhoods of the French Quarter that tourist normally don't go. And....I also got to see and hear about a lot of vampires and mass murderers. So that was cool.
We also got to see some of the locations from Interview With A Vampire. Remember this place?Remember when the vampires are invited to someones home and Kirsten Dunst plays the piano before killing everyone. This is where that was filmed.
This wasn't part of the tour, but we walked by it as we wandered through the narrow streets.
The interesting part of the tour was that I truly think that our tour guide may have been a vampire. I took several pictures during the tour and in each photo his image is totally blurry. See...
Notice how the people behind him are crystal clear, but his image is distorted.
Pretty scary.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Big Easy...

Brett and I are in New Orleans doing a corporate gig.

New Orleans is one of those cities that I've always wanted to visit so I'm excited to be here.

The first thing we noticed when we got here is that the doors are a lot smaller.
We're staying at the Ritz Carlton which is right around the corner from Bourbon Street. After we checked in we wandered around and looked at all the sights. We're a couple weeks away from Mardi Gras, so the area is pretty dead right now. In the evening it picked up, but during the day we were the only people walking around.

We ate lunch and walked down to the French Market to have Beignets at Cafe Du Monde. My mom and Jeannie both told me that the Beignets were incredible and I should make sure I tried them. Brett wasn't very excited to walk around looking for this cafe where they served French Donuts. He was tired because we'd flown down on an early morning flight so he just wanted to go back to the hotel to take a nap.
He changed his tune once we got there.
He liked them so much that he made me promise that we'd go back again on Thursday.

In the evening we rehearsed our presentation and then walked down to the French Quarter again to have dinner with one of our bosses. Our boss Scott loves Oysters so walked over to an oyster bar where he ordered 3 dozen raw oysters. Within 10 minutes he had slurped up almost all of them. One of the other guys from our company had a couple of them, but Scott was the man who ate most of them. I'm always curious about trying new things so Scott prepared a special sauce of horseradish, lemon, hot sauce and ketchup and encouraged me to try it. I slapped the oyster into the sauce, set it on a cracker and crammed the thing in my mouth.
To be honest, I have no idea what the oyster tasted like. The hot sauce and horseradish exploded in my mouth and I temporarily lost all sense of taste. It was so hot I could feel steam coming out of my nose.

"It's so good it makes you cry, doesn't it," Scott said.

Brett pointed at my face and said, "It did make him cry."

Without realizing it, I had gigantic tears rolling down my face.

I wiped my face and contemplated trying another. I decided against it. I like hot and spicy food, but I don't like it when it causes me to temporarily lose consciousness.

After our boss was finished eating his oysters we ventured down the road to eat at one of the nice seafood places in town.

After dinner Brett and I went over to look at the casino. It's a very nice casino but they only had one Pai Gow table and one Caribbean Stud table. Both tables were full for two straight hours so I played a few hands of blackjack and watched Brett play roulette.

Thursday morning we're doing a brand new presentation so we headed back to the hotel pretty early to get some rest.

Hopefully, in the afternoon I'll be able to go on a ghost tour.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Project Writing 2008

Things have worked out that I have space and time to do my writing class again so I'm starting it in February. It's a fun class and it's a great chance for people who have never written a screenplay to get one completed.

2 classes ago, there were 12 people in the class and none of them had ever finished a script before. By the end, all 12 had written screenplays. And, they were all good scripts!

So, if you have an movie idea...or if you don't have an idea, but want to do some writing...or if you want to pay to hang out with me...sign up for the Project Writing Class.

Here's the announcement:
Project Writing

This is an introductory class that will focus on large scale writing projects. The first four weeks will introduce, dissect and explore screenplays and how they are constructed. The second four weeks will concentrate on students beginning a "project" and laying the groundwork that will enable them to complete their desired venture.


The class will be taught by Jeff Griggs author of Guru: My Days with Del Close, published by Ivan R. Dee. Griggs also has written several stage plays that have been produced in theaters around Chicago and has recently sold the screenplay option of the adaptation of his book.

Class will begin Feb. 2nd and run through March 29th.
Time: Noon to 3pm
Location: CIC Theater
Cost of the class is $225.


If interested, please e-mail jeffgriggs@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shuffling...

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Jeannie and I are training for the Shamrock Shuffle.

It's been tough because neither of us are runners. Last night however, we ran 2 miles straight.

It almost killed us. I have no idea how we're going to make it to 5 miles.

It's also been tough because the gym we go to is completely packed every night with people who have made New Years resolutions. The gym is always busy at night, but lately it's been absolutely insane.

I'm not complaining though. I'll put up with waiting some extra time to get a treadmill if it leads to the betterment of mankind.

I have no pictures today, but I do have a link to another blog. Arnie's had a couple of very popular blogs and one of his recent posts made me laugh very hard.

The incident that he describes is very familiar to me. I've been in that situation sooooo many times.

In fact, I've been in that exact situation.....with Dunbar before.

About 4 years ago, we were at the DSIF in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Dubar sang an entire song from his sketch show to me at a crowded after-party. 2 hours later, an intoxicated Dunbar who had apparently forgotten that he's already told me about his sketch show, proceeded to sing the entire song all over again to me in the much more crowded after-party.

People ask me why I don't ever go to party's. That's your reason right there folks.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's warm in Chicago...

Very warm.

On Monday the bank across from my gym announced it was 70 degrees. It's nice to have a break from the harsh weather we've had lately.

Last night Jeannie and I met downtown at the Apple Store to hear Michel Gondry speak. He directed "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and is one of Jeannie's favorite directors and she really wanted to see him. So, I went over to the Apple Store at 5:00 and got in line 2 hours early to make sure she was able to see him.

It's a good thing I did. By 7:00 there were about 300 people in line and only the folks with special wristbands got in. Jeannie got there at 6:00 and was excited to see that we were close to the front of the line.

It was a little chilly standing out there for 2 hours and it didn't help that I was drinking a Jamba Juice, but the warmish weather made it bearable.

At 7:00 they let us in and we got some great seats right at the front.

The lighting wasn't great for taking pictures, but I wanted everyone to see how great our seats were. That's the back of Jeannie's head.

Michel Gondry was great. He was very charming, inspirational and smart. At one point someone asked what had made him deviate from music videos to feature films and he said in his thick French accent, "Oooh, I like that word, deviate...deviate..., sounds so perverted doesn't it...deviate....deviate...yes, I like that word."


It was very illuminating and inspiring. Some other highlights were:

On how he became a film director...
I made a music video for the band I was playing in and people liked it so I did another one. Bjork saw my video and called me and I made a video for her. And then, I made a few more. And then I made a film. So...it seemed pretty easy to be a film director.

On his creative process...
The implausible ideas, I set them to the side and say, "No, it's impossible. I cannot do that." But then I realize creatively, those are the ideas I should do. So, I force myself to go back and do the improbable.

On conversations he has with Americans...
Because I am not from here, I don't understand 80% of what is being said to me when I am having a conversation with someone. People will tell me their ideas and I'll think, "This is brilliant. This is a fantastic idea." But later, I will find out I was completely wrong and it wasn't at all what they had said to me. I had only understood 20% of what they said. The rest, I made up in my head. So I take what I had thought had been there idea and take credit for it as my own. I mean, it really wasn't their idea anymore. In my head, I made up 80% of it, so it is really mine.

He was great.

My only complaint was that the woman organizing the event seemed to be pretty clueless as to how to run an event. The moderator was pretty ineffective as well. 55 minutes into the event, it had become obvious that it was time to end the presentation, but no one would close out the show.

At 2 different times Michel Gondry leaned over and said, "Do I just say Au Revoir now, or do you say something,....or how to conclude?" But the moderator misunderstood him and the event dragged on.

The woman in charge kept prodding people to ask more questions, but it was obvious everyone had gotten what they had come for. It was an odd way to run an event.

This morning I looked up a couple of the music videos that Michel Gondry has directed. Here are a few of his spectacular ones:


The White Stripes


Bjork

He's in the Guinness Book of World Records for this Levi's commercial.

And finally, here's a video of him solving Rubik's cube with his nose.



Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sports and Movies...

Now that I have some time off I've been catching up on all the movies that I've missed.

However, the best movie I've seen all year just opened last weekend. Let There Be Blood starring Daniel Day Lewis may actually be the best movie I've seen in several years. It's really amazing.

The other great movies that I've seen lately are Juno, No Country for Old Men, Atonement and SuperBad. I actually saw Superbad a few months ago but I really loved it.

My sports viewing, however, has been downright awful. It's been tough being a sports fan in Illinois lately.

Cubs- Swept in first round of playoffs. Embarrassing.
Bears- Pathetic. They should be ashamed at how they played this year.
Bulls- Terrible. They should be so much better.
Illini football- I didn't think they'd be USC, but I didn't think they would be humiliated like that.
Illini Basketball- I've been watching Illini basketball for 20 years and this is the worst team I've ever seen. They might not win a conference game this year. Pathetic.

The White Sox and Notre Dame were pretty bad this year too, but that didn't effect me too much. I kind of hate those teams.

So, I guess I'm going to have to alter my viewing habits for movies. Since so many of my teams suck this year I'm going to start watching movies like they're sporting events.

****

Now that football is over on NBC Sports Action Team moves to 11:15 on Sunday nights. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Me, 2 girls and food...

The day before New Years I met up with Carla and Gail for brunch. Gail recently moved back to Chicago from LA and it was the first chance that I've had to catch up with her. By "recently moved back" I mean, she moved back in June and I've been a little too busy to hang up with anyone in the past few months.

We ate at Orange on Roscoe. It's a very busy place, but they have some great food.

On New Years Eve Jeannie and I had dinner at Tango Sur on Southport with her friend Anne. Both girls dressed up and looked very pretty.

After that, Jeannie and I spent a nice, relaxed evening at my apartment watching movies and eating Ice Cream.

2007 was great.

2008 will be even better!