Saturday, July 29, 2006

Let's Blow Stuff Up!!!

Day Eleven: July 28, 2006

Let the record show that Robert Skollar was NOT attracted to the principal. When he said he was strangely attracted to the discipline and severity, he was referring to the black-clad art gallery owner; the one who was like a severe German fraulein. A Deiterette, if you will. So the staff of the Bucharest Blog would like to apologize for this misinterpretation. Can I please come back to the set now? It’s awfully hot up here on the roof.

We are all so punchy right now. It’s that fun kind of punchy where everything is funny, especially the stuff that isn’t funny. We’re outside, finishing up the prep on this medieval castle wall. James is putting some honey into a bowl of yogurt. But he’s not trying very hard. He’s opened the little honey packet and is holding it high above the yogurt, just waiting for the honey to drip in. It’s amusing because I’m wondering just how long he’s willing to stand there.

Remember when we couldn’t find the medicine ball we really wanted? I think I know where it’s been hiding. There’s a guy standing around with his shirt pulled up to his chest and his round stomach exposed. He looks pregnant. I’m grossed out at first but then I think, wait! Girls walk around with belly shirts all the time. Why can’t this guy? Well, besides the fact that it’s gross.

We’re at the wall and Benita is standing on top of it. The rest of the crew stands on the ground, looking up at her. It looks like she’s trying to organize a junta. She’s delivering a safety speech, but it would be funny if, in the middle of all that, she says, “Steve* is in charge of the fire extinguishers. Harry needs to be ready to call the fire department. Underwear will be worn on your head from 2:30 to 7 pm.” (*Names have been changed because I can’t think of any Romanian names right now.)

Topher is wearing a Red Sox cap, or, as Sarah calls it, a Red Sox hat. She’s never heard of anyone calling it a cap. Of course, she was raised by wolves. Wearing a Red Sox cap in front of Robert? That’s the kind of thinking that’ll get him kicked off of Hasbro. Hey wait a sec…

Christy offered me some bug spray. It was in a bottle with no label. I’m supposed to spray on some unknown liquid in an unmarked bottle? That’s the kind of stuff Robert would drink out of a bottle cap at the foot of Dracula’s Castle! But it’s Christy, after all. She tells me she has a friend who makes it from scratch (mental note: call Homeland Security regarding Christy’s friend). So I spray it on and it’s a combination of alcohol and lavender and something else. I forget. Then Christy says that it doesn’t actually repel bugs but it keeps them from biting. And as far as I know, I didn’t get bitten once.

Topher and James just walked off with Kim. It’s never a good thing when producers caucus.

The guy with the fake smoke has just been told by Benita to “point the smoke towards Cleveland.” I have no idea what that means but a lot of what Benita says is a bit confusing. And that leads me to today’s list:

1. One grenade is all it would take (referring to the group of crew members who are making too much noise).
2. Point it towards Cleveland (see above).
3. Check the gate. If the gate is clean, we’re on the wrong set (we have this shot. Let’s go to the next location).
4. Excellent job (said with extreme sarcasm).
5. Quick quick like a bunny.
6. Will you buy it for a dollar?
7. Do it right or I take the pad away (said to the guy flying backwards off a castle),
8. We’re on the move.
9. Confidence is high
10. Let meknow when there's blood on the floor.

Get this: Sarah isn’t feeling well today so she stayed behind. We’re on the set for only a couple of hours and Stephanie puts the moves on Chariots of Fire. I guess it’s hard to be hot for someone who isn’t here. So he’s moved on to Stephanie. What a shoot slut.

Explosions! Fire! A fat guy on a rowboat!!! That sums up the shot we’re trying to get. It’s a fun little shot where two guys in a rowboat try to record the sounds of a real sea battle. It’s the magic of Hollywood here in some small town outside Bucharest. Action! 3! 2! 1! And then the BOOM! with the blast of heat from the explosion and some action in the water. We would probably shoot the hell out of it but we only have 3 or 4 charges. It’s Beavis and Butthead all over again.

After lunch, I got to teach “families” how to play games: Big Trouble and Yahtzee Turbo. They really got the hang of it pretty quickly so I’m thinking I’m a pretty good teacher. Then again, one of the groups only speak Romanian so they might just be humoring me,

The Canadian talent has showed up. They look refreshed and excited to be here. We spoke for a while. About what I cannot remember. But it occurs to me that, with the exception of my colleagues, it’s the first real conversation I’ve had in a long time. Viva Canada! They’re very well behaved, even when I ran into them later on at the Italian restaurant with the impossibly heavy menu. If they were obnoxious, would they be the ugly Canadians? I mean, I’ve seen the ugly American thing. I’ve been the ugly American thing. Ugly Canadian? I don’t think it exists. Ugly Romanian? Hell, yeah.

Chariots of Fire has changed his shirt. He’s wearing a white shirt that does not match his lime green shorts. Is he in mourning over not seeing Sarah? Sad that Stephanie isn’t responding to him? Upset that his advances on James are going unheeded (the previous statement is not confirmed, just mentioned)?

Liz went off to handle the wardrobe and set call with Hillary. What insight could I possibly add to something like that? I thought it would be a slam dunk but Liz disappeared for a long time. Next thing I know, we’re redoing the entire Big Trouble set. That game’s name is starting to get more and more ironic.

High comedy time. I download the Chariots of Fire theme song from iTunes. Never has such an awesome gag cost so little. The idea is to play it every time the guy walks by. But I’m not that patient so I’m just playing it all the time. Eleven days in Bucharest has seriously lowered the bar on what is and isn’t funny.

Ah, I must take the time to give mad props to Kelly. She took on the legal brick wall that is Leah and got her to sign off on the Cosmic Catch island shot that we all want. Thanks, Kelly! Feel free to bask in the glow of creative acceptance…at least until the next time you screw up.

Dinner has gone from a big outing of all of us going to some Romanian restaurant with some form of live dancing show to me and Christy and Kelly and Stephanie (with Special Guest James!). I don’t mind. I mean, how often do I get to dine with three beautiful women? And I’m not just saying that because they’re reading this and probably expect me to say that. And I’m not just making up for the comment I made when someone said it would be great to be dining with 3 hot woman and I said, “yeah, it would. Where are they?”

Friday, July 28, 2006

Day Ten: Bucharest Is Burning

Okay, Bucharest isn’t burning. But it is sweltering.

Quick note: I originally referred to Bucharest as the Paris of Eastern Europe. Than a few of you mentioned that it is Budapest, not Bucharest, which is the Paris of Eastern Europe. But according to my free copy of “Bucharest Guide”, Bucharest has been named “the small Paris of the Eastern Europe” since the ‘20s. Basically, who cares? In the end, I can’t make heads or tails out of either currency.

A couple of days ago, I saw some guy working on the set. He was wearing a tight tank top and a tight pair of shorts. They matched perfectly. I mean he looked like the picture of Eastern European physical dominance. Then I saw him yesterday doing some other stuff. He’s a regular Jack LaLanne of all trades. Tight shirt, tight shorts. Perfectly color coordinated. Something about him made us thing about Chariots of Fire so every time he walks by, we start humming the hit Vangelis tune from 1981. He was spotted again today, again wearing a red “outfit” (for lack of a better term). But this time, he was overheard referring to Sarah as “very very beautiful.” And who could blame him? I mean, look at Sarah: her hair is up, she’s wearing a faded red sweatshirt, cropped army pants. She’s a looker in these parts. He was in the middle of moving this huge tent when he had to stop because we were shooting sound. But he couldn’t just stop. No, he stopped and basically started making workout sounds.

I’ve been told that the tall, Mick Fleetwood caveman teaches acting. I find this really hard to believe. I mean I’ve been watching this guy all morning. He really believes he’s a caveman. And I’m pretty sure he’s totally typecast. Remember I mentioned seeing him on a billboard? What does he teach? Shakespeare? I’m picturing an infomercial where he’s on set grunting like a caveman. Then we hear “cut” and he faces camera to deliver his info. “Hi, I’m Stash Ionescu. Do you want to be a famous actor like me?” Then you would see supers like “grunting, scratching, eating bugs…” Ahh, I’m always thinking.

We got to take pictures with the cavemen. And Mick Fleetwood lifts his skins to reveal his striped jockey underwear. What is with this guy? I’d post pictures but no one has sent them to me yet.

11:35. Robert saw Bob Hoskins. I never see anyone,

Okay, we’re shooting the Twister Moves scene where a school principal is sort of dancing. And Robert has a crush on her. Paging Doctor Freud…

Christy brought a game called Tie One On. It’s not out yet. So we played and it’s a really great game. Getting your partner to guess words on a card. But they’re in different categories. It’s like Taboo meets Scattergories or something. Very easy to get and a lot of fun to play. So we keep changing the rules a bit just to make things interesting. At one point, we designed a relay game where one person gives to the next and then passes it along. It’s great. Team play, some competition. But every team has a weak link. We happen to have a few. James is only a few moments out of Australia so there are a bunch of cultural things he doesn’t get. Plus he’s not the most excitable person. And Kelly? Please. So we’re all playing, including Liz. Liz has hit the wall. She is exhausted. But still playing! The card is coming around to Liz. But Stephanie is holding it up. Liz, who has lost her patience at this point, grabs the card and yells, “daddy long legs!! Let’s go!!!!”

Lunch. Awful. The chicken was okay but these people have a lot to learn about Craft Services. After this is over, Topher may be lined up to do a Pantene shoot in either Argentina or back here in Romania. We agreed that shooting here is okay, but they need about 3 years or so to get their acts together. It’s little things that sound ridiculous but you don’t realize how much you miss things until you don’t have them. Internet access. Ice. English speaking people. Air conditioning.

Hey! I just saw Bob Hoskins!

3:52: We’re shooting Electronic Battleship game play. Benita the Super AD has a rule: no cell phones ringing while we’re shooting. $50 fine for the first offense. Sure enough, a cell phone rings. The guy actually paid $50 to Benita. Does she actually keep the money? Return it after kicking the ass of the offender? We may never know.

Kelly thinks she yelled at me. She’s so dead.

Any lawyers out there? You suck. Well, you don’t suck. Unless you’re one of the lawyers who make up the rules for toy and game advertising. The rules aren’t really written down anywhere official. There’s no government organization spelling out the restrictions. No, it’s basically a bunch of yentas who think kids are stupid. And there’s no arguing with them. There’s no pushing back. It’s totally random and subjective. And stupid. What’s really frustrating is there’s no consistency. What’s fine today is bad tomorrow and, strangely enough, vice versa. And the really aggravating thing is that the rules only apply to toy and game advertising. I see things in food advertising I could never do in a game spot. Also, no one seems to be in charge. In pharmaceutical ads, the FDA is the boss. In kid ads, it’s random. Grey legal can say yes, the networks can say yes but Hasbro legal can say no. Or Hasbro legal can say yes, Grey can say yes and the networks can say no. Any one can override the others. Grey will never override anyone so that scenario will never happen.

The latest piece of meshugas deals with the Cosmic Catch island shot (full disclosure shot at the end of the commercial). We want to show one full package and one out of the package. Fine. And we want to show two different colors. There are 6 different colors and in showing 2, we want to imply that there are different colors. Kelly informed me that Grey’s legal counsel Leah said we couldn’t do that. Both Cosmic Catch balls have to be the same color. Why? According to Leah, showing only two different colors misrepresents the line. There are 6 and we’re only showing 2. But isn’t showing two of the same color also misrepresenting the line? We’re showing one color when there are six! Kelly either agrees or just doesn’t want to talk about it. But she says that Leah won’t go to the networks to ask. She wants her ruling to be law. Our old legal counsel, Joan, was great. She’d say no a lot but she’d help us get it fixed or she would be more than willing to check with the networks. I never thought I’d say that I miss Joan.

8:50. We’re having dinner at a Lebanese restaurant in the hotel. Kelly tells us they saw some pretty creepy stuff on the way back. Well, Christy did. Kelly was asleep. According to Christy, two drug-crazed teens approached the van and looked like they were going to try to get in. Then a 5 year old with a toy gun ran up and started “shooting” at the van. And the gun looked real. After that, the dead stray dogs were a breeze.

Okay, we’ve been compiling some lists here for the last few days. One of them deals with Producer Topher and the ways we’ve played with his name.
1. Christopher (his real name)
2. Tofu
3. Tophster Oven
4. Officer T. Lorette
5. Lorette’s Syndrome (a malady where you’re inappropriately mellow)
6. Gopher
7. Every team needs a Topher (paid for by T. Lorette for Mayor)

More lists in the days to come.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day Nine: July 26, 2006
Let’s Shoot This Thing!

Today’s locations include the park and the Enescu Museum. As I start this, I realize that it is way too early. I can barely keep my eyes open.. Sitting on the floor of the lobby probably isn’t a good idea. I’m tired, but I’m able to jump high enough when I see the black bug crawling towards me. Then I start seeing them all over the lobby. It’s really odd when this stuff happens because it’s usually a sign that something big is going to happen, like a plague or an apocalypse. But all that happened was I got to crunch a lot of bugs. Fun stuff. They were all gone when we got back to the hotel. Maybe they weren’t there at all………

It’s also supposed to be near 100 degrees today. Europe is in a heat wave. However right now, it’s very cool and comfy. But it’s also 6:30 in the morning. Ridiculous.

You’d think that it would be to early for any problems but one has arisen already. There is a great little kid playing the role of a great little kid on a park lawn. Really cute. So we show up for the first shot of a 6-day shoot after months and months of prep and the kid is in a bad mood. And not one of those whiny bad moods. This was a full blown loud, stubborn bad mood. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the day. But it turned out great. The kid was amazing and all was well. The guy playing the dad was a little nutty. He had a French accent and spent half the morning talking to Robert. This was a nice change of pace. People who have shot with me know that I have this habit of talking to the cast. And then we become best friends. We end up exchanging e-mails. I send them copies of the commercial. But this time, Robert went over and ended up stuck in a conversation about nihilism or something. I went over to rescue him and intentional threw myself into his web. But he wouldn’t bite and I was out of there in a matter of moments.

I should mention that the art department came through in flying colors with the medicine ball dilemma. We looked at a couple yesterday and they were too small. So they spoke of painting a basketball or something. But this morning, we saw a genuine, dirtied-up, leather medicine ball. Kudos to Carmen and her team.

On to Cosmic Catch. The black boy (I know that’s not very PC but he’s not African American. We’re in Romania.) is named Cosby. I guess they had Must See Thursdays here as well. I guess it could have been worse. His mom could have been a fan of TGIF on ABC and named the kid Urkel.

And sadness. I have a hard enough time functioning on my own while at the same time projecting my crazy little back stories onto other people. Seven kids showed up this morning and our intention was to use only 6. Actually, 8 kids were supposed to show up so we’d be rejecting 2. Instead, we had to reject only one. But we asked him to hang around just in case there was an injury or something. It was rough. All the other boys were on set, playing Cosmic Catch and having a rip roaring time (yes, rip roaring). The rejected kid has to sit out of the way. Just now, I saw him from behind. He’s sitting all alone on a bench. And not just all alone. He’s way over to the end. Nicely framed shot of sad boy all alone. It’s my childhood all over again. Of course in my childhood, I didn’t get a nice check for sitting around doing nothing.

I must remember to call my therapist.

9 am: Unbelievably hot. This could be the end of the world.

Craft Services didn’t really have anything specific for breakfast. Someone brought out a tray of éclairs, though. Éclairs on one tray and some meats and cheeses on the other. Sitting out in the sun. Now if you’ve been keeping up with my trip on a daily basis, you know that I’m having some difficulty adjusting to the locals’ inability to get sarcasm. So at one point, I bring the plate of meats and cheeses to the camera area just to make a joke about it. Larissa comes up behind me, takes the tray away and brings it back where it was. I follow her and tell her I would have brought it back but I was busy making a joke. She stopped, turned around and said, “you like to make jokes all the time. I notice that.” I think Larissa hates me. She is, however, starting to get a grasp of the nuances of sarcasm. It’s funny. She’s trying. Soon everyone will be trying it. It’s a bit like Prometheus introducing fire to the mortals.

10:45 am: It’s 100 degrees out. Celsius, I think. And these jeans I’m wearing aren’t the coolest in the world. I knew I shouldn’t have left my shorts in my room. Damn me!

Uh oh, Craft Services just took away the tray of meats and cheeses. But they replaced it with a box filled with cakes and pastries.

Uh oh. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Christy watching me write. Have I written something bad about her? Something mean? Apparently she has seen her name amidst all of my chicken scratch and now I have to explain the entire thing and what I’m doing and stuff. By the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Christy and Sarah to the blog list.

On to the Enescu Museum for some Twister Dance, some Yahtzee Turbo and some Cosmic Catch schtick. It’s actually hotter inside than it is outside.

5:00. Okay, almost time to wrap. We’re taking bets on when we’ll get this final shot. The votes are as follows:
Robert: 5:35
Liz: 5:22
Stephanie: 5:41
Sarah: 5:27
Me: 5:45
Christy: 5:46
Actual finishing time: 5:51. Christy wins.

First of all, I would have won if Tom hadn’t wanted to go for one more shot. It’s a conspiracy. And Christy picks a time one minute after mine? What is this, Price is Right? Not fair! Shrewd, but not fair.

By the way, we’ve coined a new catch phrase: “not so fast, Ionescu.”

We’re all going to dinner at a highly recommended place called Dada. James comes downstairs with his computer. There’s something kind of cool about that to me. I don’t know why. I mean, it wouldn’t be cool to be so busy that I would always need to be with my laptop. It’s just such a creative look. I’d carry it around and write scripts constantly. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Topher has informed me that now that he’s back on the dinner circuit with us, I no longer have to pay. Good news. I was running out of cash for the tip. And Christy didn’t join us. Something happened to her ankle and it swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it on the set but it was kind of hard to ignore. Next thing you now, she’s got creams and bags of ice. We haven’t seen ice since we got here; she gets bags of it for her ankle. Uh, I think my elbow hurts…

Dinner. How to explain dinner if you weren’t there? It was one of those situations where things were just so bad that it got ridiculous. Our waiter is a real pip. No personality at all. And talk about foreshadowing. It’s been 90 minutes and no food. Wait, the appetizers game a while ago but there seems to be a problem with getting drinks. Robert ordered a mojito and was told no problem. It took a long time but he enjoyed it. He enjoyed it so much that he ordered another. But he asked a different waiter. And that waiter said that they didn’t have the ingredients to make mojitos. “So what was this?” asked a confused Robert. “Brown sugar, rum, lime and mint” replied the waiter, not realizing that he just gave out the recipe for a mojito. Anyway, the drink finally arrives and the glass is only half full. Actually, I’d have to say half empty based on the way things have been going. Apparently the restaurant has run out of rum. So I wonder just what was in that bottle of Bacardi I saw the waiter carrying around. Maybe it was from his private stash. Stephanie suggested Caipaihirina. There’s no way I’m spelling that correctly. It’s Cachaça, lime and simple syrup. For whatever reason, Dada adds vodka to theirs. Whatever. It still took forever.

Did I mention they sell furniture there? I can’t tell if the restaurant is in the middle of a small boutique or if it’s the other way around. Desperately needing to get some circulation back in my legs, I decided to walk around and look at the boutique stuff. It wasn’t long until some woman approached me and started explaining everything around me. I lapsed into my patented method of feigning interest, a method so convincing that when I finally went back to my table, the woman approaced me with some of her brochures. I csn’t escape.

Still waiting for the food so I’ll tell you about the bathroom icons. There has been some confusion during the past week regarding which rest room belongs to which gender. The graphics they use aren’t the most obvious. Not so in this restaurant. The woman icon is a red stick figure, spread eagled, with big hair, big boobs and a gap between her legs. The man? No head. The boobs are now the eyes. A tie. A man thingy between his legs.

Dinner had its moments but James’s fish takes the cake. Ha! Fish cake!! Anyway, his tuna steak was frozen. Frozen!!!! Poor James.

Dessert time. I was looking forward to this because I desperately want to go back to the hotel. I couldn’t imagine ordering dessert after all the problems we had. One thing on the menu was called “Snake, No Snake Cake.” I don’t have a clue what that’s supposed to mean and was okay never knowing. But Robert asked the guy who was now our third waiter. And this guy’s a comedian. Snake, No Snake Cake, according to Mihai, is like Baklava. It’s coiled like a snake but it’s not a snake. Very clever, Dada. We all understood coiled like a snake but Mihai told us that it basically looks like shit. Nice. So after all this waiting and stuff, we’re beyond punchy. And Mihai is trying to sell us some sh*t. The jokes are pretty easy after that. Robert ordered some for the table so we could all have our sh*t together. I aksed if it was served room temperature or if it was hot sh*t. Shecky Ionescu says it was spicy sh*t. They must bring Mihai out for the tables that are having trouble.

We asked for the check and for the restaurant to call 2 cabs for us. The check came relatively quickly but then the processing took so long, the cabs came and left without us. It was the longest week of my life.

Another 6 am call tomorrow. Advertising is so glamorous.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Day Eight: July 25, 2006
Wardrobe, Part 2

There still seems to be this need to see the kids play Cosmic Catch before we shoot it. There are a couple of new kids and the kids from yesterday are coming back. It seems a bit much and more than a little overly cautious. If the kids can throw (they can) and catch (they can) that’s all we need. I’m thinking we should schedule overhand throwing at 11:30, followed by the subtle side arm toss. Then break for lunch. I thought this was driven by the client but it turns out that Super AD Benita Allen ( wanted to make sure the kids got the gist of the game and of the English they’ll need to know while playing. Well that’s okay then. Benita is a real pro. She’s great at what she does. And I’m afraid of her. The cool, unprompted cool thing was when the kids wanted to keep playing on their own after we were done with them. Morons.

I think I mentioned before that credit cards are relatively new here. Places that accept them are seriously outnumbered by places that don’t. Many of the restaurants that do request that all gratuities are left in cash. I paid for dinner the last two nights. But then I had to figure out the tip. Someone told me that 10-15% is customary. That doesn’t really sound right, unless the person who told me was my Grandpa Dave. I’ve been leaving 20% but in doing so, I may be causing a spike in the Romanian economy. If you like to invest, buy the Romanian Lei until I leave.

We’re driving to the studio for more wardrobe. Topher is on the phone, speaking with Super AD Benita Allen. The funny thing is that she’s in the van right next to us. This 2-foot call probably costs $7 a minute and had to be routed via satellite through London. Christian/Orlando just pulled towards the median of this road, rolled down the window and handed something to a guy in a black van. He said it was insurance. I’m telling ya, I think he’s still fighting the revolution, like those nutty Civil War reenactors.

Okay, I just saw the wardrobe for one of the cavemen in the Cosmic Catch commercial. Amazing. He looks like Mick Fleetwood, only crazier. Apparently, he’s some kind of minor celebrity. He’s been typecast as a caveman. The other day when we stopped at the gas station and Robert got his hot dog flavored chips, we saw this guy on a few billboards. He was dressed as a caveman. So he comes in all done up in traditional caveman garb. Except this particular garb was a bit too short for him. Someone mentioned this (it might have been me) and he proceeded to stomp around like a caveman. The skins flopped around and he helped the flopped by lifting it a little like a little girl would lift a skirt slightly. It was then that Robert and I got up close evidence that some cavemen wear striped jockey shorts. Robert switched seats, leaving me to deal with Conan the Exhibitionist.

After a week here, I haven’t noticed anything drastically different between Romanian men and myself. But why are the urinals so much higher than normal? It’s really a strange way to have to stand. And what to the shorter guys do? Maybe they just use the stalls. And while I haven’t seen any Romanian men with their pants off, I have to wonder if there isn’t some kind of Darwinian evolution going on. Have Romanian men evolved to have higher inseams?

Poor James. He hasn’t been up here all day. And when he finally does show up, it’s just in time to see the “Russian wrestlers” showing off their singlets for the commercial. Boy, those things are tight. And James is in the seat of honor. Poor, poor James.

I should go to imdb and look up “The Wind in the Willows.” A lot of the offices in this studio are taken up by people working on that film, including Bob Hoskins ( . I haven’t seen him but his office is right down the hall. What’s really weird is I referenced him a few days ago when I was talking about the guy at casting whom Skollar really wanted to call back. Tom keeps dropping his name: “yeah, I saw Bob Hoskins and I was telling him about what we were doing here.” I’m sure Bob Hoskins was fascinated by the tales of preproducing 5 Hasbro commercials.

Time for the Prop Show. This is when all of us go down to the stage and browse through all of the props. It’s kind of like touring a hurricane site if all of the random property got blown onto a long series of 8-foot tables. It’s kind of interesting except that the barely-competent art department has organized it.

And now for the preproduction meeting. Few things are more tedious in this life than repetition. This meeting is the final opportunity to explain everything to the client and all parties concerned. This after weeks and weeks of describing the storyboards to anyone willing to listen. But I will say this: if I have to repeat myself over and over, I’m glad it’s in a room like this one. It’s a really opulent conference room that resembles something the UN might have. And food! This is the first noshing I’ve done in days.

I think I mentioned the lack of ice in this part of the world. There also seems to be a lack of air conditioning. Oh, it’s available but it’s never on. I actually got up, moved a table across the floor, got up on it and turned on the AC. It’s just not human. But I guess I have a future in AC maintenance or something. It’s not the first time I’ve had to figure out how the AC works around here.

We presented that grandpa I want to use for Big Trouble. Remember the t-shirt? The suspenders? The posted odds for client acceptance? Well hold onto your tickets; the odds have just gone up. Christy didn’t flat out reject the guy but she was too busy having the heebie jeebies to approve him. So asked for wardrobe options. Stay tuned.

Okay, I have to be in the lobby at 6 am. It just ain’t fittin’.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Day Seven: July 24, 2006
Wardrobe, Part 1

There’s a huge of sorts in front of the hotel. You can see it to the left of the photo above. Nice hotel, right? I can’t remember if I mentioned that it’s formerly a headquarters for communist hacks. I don’t know what makes a communist hack vs. a communist professional. So anyway, this memorial has a plaque which says something about September 13, 1847. No one I ask seems to know what happened on that date. Or maybe they know but I’m not allowed to know. I checked on line but couldn’t find anything. Maybe I got the year wrong.

Back out to that huge studio today for a full day of watching dozens of Romanians parade around in various costumes and wardrobes just for our amusement. It must be a humiliating procedure to have to put on some outfit and then stand in front of a bunch of Americans as they critique things like tie color and sleeve length, and debate the merits of double vs. single breasted jackets. Fortunately, few of them speak enough English to know what’s going on. I wonder if right now, some Romanian is typing a blog about his experience in wardrobe and saying, “I was saying how stupid they were but fortunately, none of them speak enough Romanian to know what’s going on.” The first guy who came in was really really enthusiastic. He sat down and listened to our comments to Georgianna (wardrobe goddess), and then offered up some comments of his own. What a guy!

The highlight of the day for me is when my grandpa for Big Trouble shows up. Remember him? The guy who I said was the spawn of Fyvush Finkel and Abe Vigoda? We have him dressing for a number of things, including a pill-rolling, wheelchair bound patient in a hospital gown. Odds of client approval? 230,000,000:1

Wait, something is amiss. Liz, Robert and I have just been informed that we will only be doing some of the wardrobe today. We’ll have a pre-prepro meeting this afternoon and the rest of the wardrobe will be done tomorrow. So that kills our day off. Some reason was given but it didn’t make much sense. In some universe of production, it makes perfect sense. But in my universe which exists of trying really hard to stay awake, it just sucks. But you know what they say in Romania…actually, I don’t either.

Christy and Sarah showed up with Stephanie and Kelly in tow just as Robert, Liz and I were involved in a heated, well overthought discussion with Tom about chairs. It was really fascinating stuff, especially when everyone comes to some sort of concensus that makes sense. Tom may have been faking agreement though. And Robert…wait, where’s Robert? He went outside to watch some kids play Cosmic Catch. Yes, Cosmic Catch! The game which will be a huge it or a huge failure. There is no in between for this baby. Sarah and Christy want to watch the kids play to make sure they’re right for the commercial. This process should have taken 10 minutes but was actually much longer than that. And it was really hot outside. You know what? The clients are sure they have the right cast and the kids had fun. So while I sweat through my shirt, the kids had a blast. Anything for my clients.

Cosmic Catch. Batteries not included. Each sold seperately.

Upon reentering the building, the lovely Larissa offered me a cappuccino. So I said yeah because what else am I supposed to drink on a hot day whee I’ve just come from running around outside? Stupid. There’s water around here somewhere but Romania’s not really big on ice. From what I’m told, none of Europe is big on ice. I think to join the European Union, you much renounce the use of ice. Romania is well on their way. So Sarah notices my cappucinno and asks where I got it. I go off in search for Larissa. I check all of these rooms, including the wardrobe room where a woman was getting changed. I didn’t know, I swear. I mumble a number of apologies while Sarah laughs and I tell her to get her own damned cappuccino. Just my luck: I barge in on the only woman in Bucharest who wears a bra.

We’re planning on going back to Balthazar tonight for dinner. Liz, Robert, Topher and I were there the other day and wanted to share it with the new people. I am told this just as I’m checking my e-mail and I see I got the new Café Grey menu. I wonder what’s for lunch today? Hmmm, something only called “Carribean.” Sounds ominous. And our lunch has just arrived. It’s……… ( Remember the pizza from casting night? Yeah, it’s pretty much the same. And yet Sarah and I casn’t stop eating it. I wonder if the Carribean thing is good.

Poor Kelly. Every shoot needs a wet blanket to keep us in line and unfortunately, that wet blanket is Kelly. It could be Stephanie but she’s only here for a couple of things, like Yahtzee Turbo. It’s an adult-directed spot so the rules of kid advertising do not apply. Kelly knows that creatives hate the legal comments we get butnow she really knows how much. During our pre-prepro meeting, it was dog pile on the Kelly ( as she was forced to listen to us try to work around the rules.

There’s an odd odor floating around the room. But no one seems to notice it. It’s not a constant odor. It comes and goes but no one is reacting. I check myself several times. Not me. I’m thinking it might be Tom because when I lean forward slightly, I can smell it off of him. He does a nice job covering up when I open a game box and he says the game smells. Yeah, right.

Then we’re leaving and Liz smells it. But Tom is nowhere around. Robert thinks it might be his feet. But it isn’t. Then I smell it in the van. Is it Christian/Orlando? He wasn’t in the meeting so that’s impossible. We do smell something much worse all of a sudden. Christian/Orlando says it’s the chickens. Note to self: order the fish tonight. Upon returning to my room, I determine that the smell may indeed have been me. Weird because I never smell when I sweat. But I guess I do in Romania. And it’s only the back of my shirt that smells. I’ve really gotta start watching what I eat.
Day Six: July 23, 2006
Getting Technical

I forgot to mention the bear we saw yesterday. At one point in the mountains, traffic stopped as people wanted to get a look at the bear on the side of the road. We basically agreed that it was a medium-sized bear. So it’s just hanging out there on the side of the road. The thing is that people around here don’t seem to know that it’s generally not a good idea to throw food out the window to the bear. But the bear could care less. He (or she. I couldn’t tell from the van.) was more than happy to eat whatever snacks people were offering. So we got some pictures and went on our way. Several hours later, we were headed back the other way and there he (or she) was! Well why not? Free food! Now the bear was on our side of the road (or vice versa) so we stopped, rolled down the window and took some pictures. Then as we pulled away, the bear started chasing us. I can honestly say that’s another thing I’ve done on this trip that I’ve never done before. Get chased by a bear? Check. If this were a scavenger hunt, I’d be kicking some serious ass.

Say what you will about communism, but they got some serious buildings built pretty efficiently. The United States is a democracy (I’ll leave out the obvious political crack about the Bush theocracy) and the BQE is still under construction.

So today is the tech scout. We need to shelp around Bucharest and other places of interest to see what’s up with our locations. Any lighting things we need to know? Efficiencies we can muster up? Naps we can take?

The first location is a park. Communism touched many things around here and it looks like quality landscaping is one of them. The park is nice enough but the grass could use some grooming. And watering. And reseeding. I’ll have to remember to bring some bug spray and sunscreen. I’ll also have to remember to buy some bug spray and sunscreen. Some nice guy hands out bottles of water. I wonder if he’s with our group?

Next up is some kind of museum which is also a musical institute and the home of the Bucharest office of a rival agency (note to self: print out résumé). It’s another example of amazing architecture. According to Terry (some guy on the crew with a really bizarre hairstyle), it was built by a Count (who’s name I forget, but couldn’t pronounce anyway). He was a huge patron of the arts. Now we get to shoot a commercial for Twister Dance in his house. But everything about the place is amazing, except for the musty smell on the inside. And the heat. The guy spends all his dough on this beautiful house, he couldn’t bother with some air? He was also a big fan of Romanian composer George Enescu and built a house for him on the grounds. Amazing paintings on the ceilings, ornate woodworking. Nice place. No gift shop from what I can see.

9:20 and I’m already dragging. I’d have more coffee but I can sense that this would not be great for my system. Maybe a crepe! Clarita cu banane si Nutela, va rog! What? No bananas? We’re in the middle of a supermarket! Which brings me to location #3. Cora is one of the newest hypermarkets here in Bucharest. Part supermarket, part Costco, and part department store. This place has everything under one tremendous roof. Many of the employees wear rollerblades to get from one place to another. We’ll be shooting here after hours.

I’ve been here for less than an hour and I’ve already caused two incidents. I saw an aisle that was marked “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce”. How could I not check that out? So I find a closed checkout counter and enter the store from there, the same way you’d enter a supermarket from the checkout area. Then Terry approaches me and tells me that I’m not allowed to enter the store the way I did. I have to enter and exit only through designated areas. I apologize and all is okay. Except that Terry won’t leave my side. So I go back to the rest of the group. Later on, I decide to buy something for Aaron. So I return to the store proper (the correct way this time), select my item and go to the express line. The lady in front of me has 11 items on a 10 or less line but she’s in no mood to deal with others. Plus, I can barely say hello in Romanian. So I wait patiently and ignore the lady behind me who is standing way too close.

So it’s my turn. The lady asks me something, which I think was something about having a Cora card. I say no and she rings up my purchase. I present my Amex card. No dice. I present my Master Card. Then everything goes wrong. The machine won’t accept my PIN. Then it does but there’s some sort of delay. The lady behind me is getting impatient. The line is growing. In my mind’s eye, the whole store is staring at the incompetent American, holding up progress in a country already struggling to escape the tyranny of outsiders. I hand over some cash and move on.

I must remember to speak to my therapist.

Speaking of money, I already have to get some more. I notice that the RON is wider than my wallet. But my wallet is a standard size. Are wallets in Romania bigger than most? And if so, will they have to conform to EU standards if they decide to join? Stay tuned!

A lot of the women around here don’t seem to mind wearing black or patterned bras under their tight, sheer blouses. That’s if they decide to wear bras at all! Liz pointed out the lack of undergarments on some of the women. Liz is so cool. I guess if there was a guy walking around with see-through pants and no underwear, I point him out to her.

Time to go to lunch. We’re at some Italian place. Attempting pizza again, I guess. It’s odd to be in a place where they’ve never heard of zoning laws. We’re basically in a residential area but this restaurant is right on the corner. I can imagine the real estate listings here: 3 BR, 2 ½ BT colonial. Near schools, shopping, decent pizza joint. Topher told us that the food was already ordered for us. We’ll be getting some pizza, pasta, antipasti (is that the opposite of pasta?) and chicken. The food is good. And the pizza? We’ll never know. The crew got the pizza, we got the other stuff. I guess pizza is considered to be too “low” for us. Peasant food or something. I would have preferred the pizza.

Off to the studio, location #4. This is not what I expected. When I shoot at a studio, it’s usually a giant stage on the property of a complex of stages. Cold, smelly, the works. But this is like driving onto a real Hollywood movie studio. Sort of. We drive through a large archway, pass by bungalows and giant outdoor sets. Very impressive.

We’ve made our way to the cafeteria where we’ll shoot a scene for Yahtzee Turbo. The place smells awful, like a…a…cafeteria, I guess. There are six large, framed photos of people who remotely resemble slightly famous actors, if you really use your imagination. Stars from Romania’s storied cinematic past, I suppose. Then we wander upstairs to scout a location for a principal’s office. There’s lots more movie stills and posters. I haven’t heard of any of them but Robert and I had fun naming them anyway. I notice a recurring theme of popes and Nazis.

Remember the tater tot incident? It continues. James (another Grey producer) is flying in today with 10 bags of frozen tater tots. Bonita (the AD) asks Topher if he arranged for some kind of freezer unit at the hotel. He says he doesn’t and in an amazingly snippy way, she says, “oh way to go, Topher.” Then she yells for someone to call the hotel to arrange for a freezer. Wow, this is so unfair. Topher is juggling a million things, including trying to get 9 days of work into 5 or 6. When did his job include handling other jobs, like that of the props department or the art department? I would have stood up for him but I’m afraid of Bonita.

Robert is exhausted. He told me he’s so tired that he thinks he might swallow his tongue. I told him that was impossible unless he was unconscious or having a seizure. But maybe I’m wrong. He promised to let me know if I am. Hey, I’m a writer, not a doctor.

I can’t find my headphones. The skin on my scalp is peeling. I already finished the book I was reading and there’s still over a week to go here. But Kelly and Stephanie (account execs) showed up today. So did James. And Christy and Sarah (clients) finally made it into town after almost 30 hours of traveling. Hey, who told them to fly from San Diego and get delayed in Chicago and miss their connection in Frankfurt? Certainly not me.
Day Five: July 22, 2006
On The Road

I realized the other day thay my 20 year high school reunion is today. An old friend called me at home to see if I was going to be there. I didn’t even know about it. I contacted another guy who said he was going and that I wasn’t on the “Where Are They” list. Blues. I went to the one 10 years ago (holy crap, it’s been 10 years) and reconnected with some old friends. That lasted for a couple of years. It would have been nice to re-reconnect and then lose contact after another 2 years.


I wrote yesterday about Bucharest being a city in transition, trying to escape from a long history of communist rule. One thing they could do is stop calling areas of the city, “sectors.” It’s very “1984”, you know? I read something about some guy who’s the mayor of Sector One. That crappy pizza I had a few days ago? It came from a chain which has locations in Sectors 1, 2, 3 and 5. A new one coming to Sector 6. No, I don’t know why Sector 4 got shafted.

Oh, I was also informed by one of you loyal readers that the reason it makes no sense that Bucharest is the Paris of Eastern Europe is because it’s not. Budapest is the Paris of Eastern Europe. It’s hard keeping my pests straight. Thanks for the correction. Keep those cards and letters coming.

I also mentioned all of those huge buildings left over from before the revolution of 1989. As nice as those buildings are, they’re starting to get covered with billboards and corporate logos. They look like minor league baseball stadiums. I guess the country really needed the money, especially right after the fall of the Ceausescus. I wonder how long it took western-style capitalism to swoop in, offering briefcases full of money in return for a little bit of corporate branding.

Today was an off day. Wait, today was a good day. We were off today. That’s what I meant. We met in the lobby at 10 for our trip into the Transylvania section of Romania. It’s a couple of hours north of here. But first I dipped into what I thought was the free Continental breakfast. It’s entirely possible that I crashed a breakfast that was set up for some seminar. Either way, the banana bread was fantastic. I saw Robert down in the lobby. He went to the casino last night and made some friends. I’m so happy for him. We’ll have to set up some play dates. Shane is from Texas and Chris is from Atlanta. He also met some women who work in “PR.” Yeah, public relations. I’m sure. So fast forward a few hours to later on tonight. I went to the casino with Robert just to look around and Shane and Chris were there. We’re introduced. Chris is a dead ringer for an old Dairy Queen client of mine (Hillary, Melissa: he looks exactly like Canada Chris). Let me set the stage: Chris is African American. So we’re introduced and I’m staring at him with a shocked look on my face because I can’t believe that I’m here in Romania and I run into an old client of mine! He obviously doesn’t remember me so I say, “didn’t you used to work at Dairy Queen?” The answer is no. Awkward enough but Chris says something like, “I’ve never been asked that before.” I think he thinks I was saying that he must look familiar because he once served me at a Dairy Queen. I could have let it go but I lapsed into my stumbling apology and goofy laugh thing. Then Chris walks away. Smart move, Chris. It was only going to get worse from there.

Topher may have cracked the code of Bucharest radio. Besides the fact that you never hear a complete song because the DJs always break in somewhere around the middle, Topher decided that the playlist goes something like this:
1) European dance hit
2) Current US hit
3) Classic US hit (last 20 years or so)
This may not be true but for most of the trip up north, we decide that the pattern does fit 90% of the time.

Robert and Liz are thirsty so Christian the driver pulls over at a gas station/convenience store. Robert walks out with what we think is a bag of hot dog-flavored potato chips. I try some and you know what? They are hot dog-flavored. Really gross but strangely addicting. And pungent. We have to close the bag because it’s stinking up the van.

Highways don’t seem to be a big thing around here. If they are, we don’t seem to be taking them. Much of the trip north is on a one lane road. On the way up the mountains, traffic stops cold. It turns out there’s some construction up ahead and the lane is closed intermittently. So no one is moving for a bit. The only movement comes when someone darts out of line to drive up and squeeze in front of the car they were just behind. In fact, the happens evry often. It’s happens more frequently at higher speeds but the low speed cut off is strange to watch. Christian seems to enjoy it. We crawl by a place which Larissa (another chaperone) tells us is a Deer Museum. So many jokes fly about that. I mean, a deer museum? A museum dedicated just to deer? Is there a Bambi wing or something. We don’t stop because come on, why bother? Plus, they probably have a crappy gift shop.

Have you ever gotten stuck in traffic somewhere and some kid appears amongst the cars selling bottles of water or something. We just passed a guy selling stemware.

People who know me know I’m all about the sarcasm. I’m also constantly delivering some of my “funny” thoughts in a completely deadpan manner. You know what they don’t get around here? Sarcasm and deadpan humor. I really need to remember that if I hope to stop getting strange looks from Larissa.

A few days ago, I wrote about the stray dogs of Bucharest. One of the things Liz’s book tells you to do if approached by one is to mimic throwing a rock. Well we get out of the van and a dog approaches me. Sure enough, I do the mime thingg and the dog runs away. He ran in the opposite direction but I was never a very good thrower anyway.

We stopped at Castle Peles in the town of Sinaia. Or maybe we’re in Brasov. Anyway, it looks like every Bavarian jigsaw puzzle I’ve ever seen (yes, I know I used this line on a previous day’s entry). Topher took a picture of this castle which is very beautiful and very closed. Larissa was told by the guards that it’s closed because some famous people are coming. Who they are is never made clear to us. So here’s this castle which is never closed except for the day we get there. Well, it looks nice on the outside. I’ll post the picture as soon as Topher sends it to me.

Lunchtime! We stop at a Serbian restaurant. Actually, it’s a mix of Serbian and Croatian food. You know how the food at a Turkish restaurant is the same as the food at a Lebanese restaurant or any Middle Eastern restaurant? Well from what I’ve seen so far, SerboCroat food is no different from Romanian food. Meats in various combinations and textures and flavors. I really want to try something different while I’m here, including the beers. I order myself a Schlossgold. I don’t know what it is but I’m getting one. It comes in a nice, big bottle. Good, I’m thirsty. One thing it doesn’t say on the menu but says quite clearly on the label is, “Fara Alcool.” You guessed it: alcohol free. Does beer really taste that good that it’s worth drinking it without alcohol? Deifnitely not when it comes to Schlossgold. Feet taste better than this crap. So I order a Tuborg Gold. Copenhagen’s finest! I’m only days away from giving up and ordering a Coors Light or something.

Oh, I ordered the mutton sausage. When in Romania…

In what was almost another awkward moment for me, Topher took me aside and asked if I was calling our driver “Christian.” I said yeah, of course. It turns out his name is Orlando. Orlando? That’s a Romanian name? In any case, why hasn’t he said anything to me? Is he being polite? Does he think I’m an idiot? The answer is probably “yes” to both questions. I ask him about it and he says he has two names. I assume that’s a first and last name thing as opposed to a pre revolution and post revolution name. I’m telling you, he’s a nice guy but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for secret service.

The language thing hasn’t been too much of a problem. I use some Romanian words when I can (not the ones you’ve been suggesting, Doug). Most everyone here speaks English pretty well. Larissa tells us that she leanred English in 4th grade and every since the revolution, kids start learning it in kindergarten. A lot of the older people don’t speak it at all but they were never taught it. They learned Romanian and Russian.

The men’s room in this restaurant has ads on the walls for a compnay which specializes in ads for bathroom walls. The headline says, “give piss a chance.” Hmm, they don’t know sarcasm but the pun seems to be flourishing here.

So here in Sinaia, there’s a cable car which takes us 2000 meters (approx. 1.3 miles) up to the top of a mountain. Larissa comes here to ski in the winter (no, she comes here to ski in the summer). I know we’re 2000 meters up because the name of the cafeteria/bar up here is called Bar 2000. Guess what the one at 1400 meters is called.

So we change cars at 1400 meters and then make the trip to the top. Except it is so foggy that we can’t see anything. Imagine schlepping up to the top of the Empire State Building and being fogged in. I could have gotten the same effect if I stood in from of an open window and closed my eyes.

Oh, credit cards are a relatively new thing here. Everything around here is cash only. I may have to rethink my “mooch off of Topher” strategy. I wonder if Liz has any dough…

So it’s time to head into Bram to see Dracula’s castle. We’ll have to hurry to get there before it closes at 6. According to Liz’s trusty guide book, the place everyone identifies as Dracula’s castle actually has very little to do with him. Vlad the Impaler may have battled here once but that’s about it. I’m starting to believe that this could be one of the more disappointing things I’ll be doing. But how can you come to Transylvania and not see Dracula’s castle?

It’s 12 ron (about $4) per person to get in. We have to walk up a steep, slippery path (it rained a bit). Some of our group are complaining but what do you expect from a guy who was a master of torture?

Back down to the ground now. Vlad the Impaler? How about Vlad the Scam Artist? This was so lame. When we walked in, we were greeted by a basket filled with these dirty slippers were were supposed to slip on over our shoes. Liz is wearing flip flops and is very upset by the idea of dipping into this basket of fungus. And now the jokes begin. Vlad the Pastry Chef. Vlad the Ikea Represntative. We saw a vacuum cleaner and Robert quipped, “Vlad the Inhaler.” I vant to suck your dust! Vlad the Neatnik.

So this was extremely disappointing. It may not be the actual Dracula castle but everyone thinks it is. Play some eerie music. Have some fun with it. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Robert’s been hearing a lot about Palinka. It’s supposedly Romania’s national drink. A very strong plum brandy. He’s been looking for it but no luck yet. But wait, here’s a guy selling some. It’s a yellowish liquid. I know this because the guy selling it was doing so out of some emptied water bottles. He offers Robert a taste from the screw cap on one of the bottles. There’s no way he was the first to sip out of that cap. This tiny little amount really knocked him back. He said it burned going down but got better. I think we would have bought some if it didn’t seem that the guy had made it and bottled it himself.

On the way back now. Let me tell you about the stupidity of the Tater Tot Incident. We need some tater tots for one of the commercials being shot. We were going to have someone bring a bag with them from the US. But the production company insists that can either find some here or make some themselves. Okay, go for it. The Topher’s phone rings. Here’s Topher’s side of the conversation:

"We want cylinder shapes. Wait, what? Uh, who approved that? We never had a meeting about it. But Robert said we wanted cylinders."

Apparently, the production made flatter, longer ones. Those are called hash browns!!!! And you thought advertising wasn’t glamorous. By now, Robert must have a huge headache from all the eye rolling he’s had to do.

Dinner in the hotel tonight. Due to some poor communication, I sat in the restaurant for 30 minutes before Robert showed up. It turns out that he and Liz were waiting those 30 minutes for me in the other restaurant. Sigh, it never ends. I was sitting at the table, all by myself, trying to look a little less lonely or pathetic. The waitress keeps offering me something to drink.

We thought tomorrow was another down day and Liz and I were going to wander through Bucharest. Then Topher called and told me to meet in the lobby at 6:45 for the tech scout. For those of you not blessed with a job in advertising, a “tech scout” is when we go to all of the locations and determine exactly where we’ll be shooting. We look though lenses, discuss action, etc. So I’m out of here.
Day Four: July 21, 2006

Communism ended around here at the end of 1989. Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife ran the country into the ground until the people got pissed off and killed them both. Good for Romania! But from what little I’ve seen of Bucharest, it seems there’s a lot to do to get rid of the old communist stink. No offense to you communists out there but you really know how to ruin a city. There are some huge buildings left over from the Ceausescu regime. Palatial structures that are now office buildings. I passed one today which is actually vacant and gutted. But really stately on the outside. Christian the chaperone said that the building was under construction until Ceausescu was killed. And no one wants to finish it. What a waste of money looted from the people. Starbucks could open the world’s largest coffee house (speaking of looting money from the people). So it’s really a city in transition.

The lack of sleep is starting to catch up to me. My mouth is kind of stretched out from all the yawning. I had 3 lattes at breakfast but people who know me well know that caffeine is no guarantee that I’ll stay awake. And speaking of breakfast? Every time I went up to the buffet table, there were no pancakes. That’s worth repeating: no pancakes! I saw them being made. My pancake-grabbing timing is way off. Must be the 7-hour time difference. So we had some morning meetings and I went up to take a nap. I can’t wait to fall on the bed and…wait, what’s this? Guess whose room is being cleaned. Now? 500 rooms in this place and they have to clean mine? How do you say, “excuse me but can you get the hell out” in Romanian?

We’re all a little confused by the currency here. I thought Romania was on the Euro but I don’t think they’ll be allowed to join the EU until all the commies are rooted out. All the commies? What is this, 1955? Anyway, the folks here use the lei, or the rol (Romanian lei). Then last summer, they started transitioning to the ron (new lei) and basically just lopped 4 zeroes off the end of the rol. Except the transition won’t be complete until December. So both currencies are circulating. It’s about 3 ron to the dollar. But the rol is completely different. There are 100,000 rol bills in circulation. It’s only $10 but still, it’s hard to know how much we’re spending on stuff. Skollar was going to the casinos later tonight. We joked that he could walk about with a huge stack of chips but cash out and get about 38 cents. I tried using a bank machine the other day but I was supposed to pick how much I wanted in ron. I think that was when I assumed everything would be translated for my convenience. So I selected 3000 ron because Topher converted $200 and got around 5000 ron. But there was some confusion or I wasn’t paying attention or Topher got scammed. 3000 ron is around $1000. No wonder my card was spit back out at me. 3000 rol is, like 3 cents. But ron? Ah, that’s a whole different thing. So I think I’ll mooch off of Topher for a while.

I need to remember to stand to the left in the elevators. I like to stare up at the numbers when I’m in the elevator with a stranger. See, that avoids any eye contact or the need to mumble, “hey” in case of accidental contact. But in these elevators, the numbers are on a panel on the left wall. So I was stuck for a whole 5 floors with some other guy in there. Torture.

I must remember to contact my therapist.

There’s really no TV in the room to speak of. There’s a TV set but there are only 2 or 3 English channels and it’s mostly anti-Israel news. Europe’s big on the anti-Israel thing. I was watching Sky News for the best anti-Israel news around and the sound started dipping out. Then it would come back on very loud. I took that as a sign from above (G-d, not the 6th floor) and stopped watching. But not my neighbor. For the past few hours, there’ll be silence from next door followed by a few moments of really really loud news. I called the front desk but when security came up, they couldn’t hear anything. Figures. I called a second time and spoke to the security guard who told me he could hear anything. I explained the whole loud/soft dynamic to him. He didn’t seem impressed so I closed my door. But then sound came back so I ran to the door and there was the security guard, asking me if that was the sound I was talking about. That loud TV? Yeah Sparky, that was it. After a long time, the sound finally went away. I don’t know what the deal was. I thought the room was empty but a bit later, I heard some coughing, hacking noises that couldn’t have been made by anything still breathing. Must have been one of those undead corpses Robert was reading about in Liz’s book.

Christian is our driver for the duration of the trip. I found out that when he drops us off, he sits in his van until we’re ready to leave. Yesterday’s marathon casting session? He hung out until we were ready. I felt bad for him. We tried explaining that he could leave and we’d call when we were ready. I feel really bad when he drives us to dinner and then sits outside waiting for us. I invited him to dinner tonight but he said it wasn’t necessary. I tried insisting but he wasn’t interested. Maybe he doesn’t want to impose. Or maybe he hates Americans. Hmm, if you don’t get a Day 5 update, call the American Embassy.

Oh, the restaurant tonight (supposedly one of the best in the country…and it was really great. Topher paid. See, I’m mooching!) had some sushi. There was one roll called fukusa. But it was spelled in capital letters: FUKUSA. Talk about a subliminal message. Where’s the BUSHSUX roll or the EYEH8AMERICA sashimi?

Holy crap, the TV is loud again. The coughing, commie bastard…
Day Three: July 20, 2006

Off to pick a cast for 5 commercials. I can’t believe how hot it is in this place. Not Bucharest. That’s actually quite pleasant. It’s the studio. Stifling. And there are so many people. Every Tom, Dick and Ionescu in Bucharest showed up.

I need a grandfather for “Big Trouble.” We found a guy who looks like the spawn of Fyvush Finkel and Abe Vigoda. Perfect! The client will hate him. I need him to say, “Go ahead, wedgie me.” Someone spelled it out phonetically for them: Gou ehed, uedgi mi!! Hey, whatever works. He was so good I yelled, “That’s our Hitler!” Chances are this guy knew Hitler.

“Twister Moves” needs a lady to be a school principal. Some very good characters came in. One woman did a good job but she kept talking over and over. It’s a non-speaking part! Then she left. It turns out that she wanted to do the part her way, not the way Tom (director) wanted it done. Also, she had a lot of cats. That’s what we were told, anyway. That may be one of those lost in translation things.

A boy comes in wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. Liz points out that it’s actually a Minnie Mouse t-shirt. She’s right: the kid is wearing a shirt that says “Minnie.” Poor kid.

12:00. Apparently, we’re 2 hours behind schedule. It may be partially our fault but it’s hard to stay on when we spend half the time getting the casting people to understand what we’re trying to say. It’s like they speak a different language here! As the day progresses, it’s getting more and more frustrating.

4:00 and we haven’t had lunch yet. We ordered it a long time ago. Actually, I think it’s here. Liz is fading fast. She has a headache from lack of food. And we’re all getting snippy. If I were really snippy, I’d question the reason for coming all the way out here. It doesn’t seem like the difficulty is worth it. Everything is so much slower because we have to translate stuff; there are no headshots……….what? Lunchtime!!!!!!! 4:55 pm!!!!

5:10: Done eating. I sucked down a lunch of beef and lamb kebab with garlic. Some hummus as well. It was definitely the food. I reread what I just wrote and it was a bit harsh. So now I’ve eaten and I feel better. So does Liz. But it’s so friggin hot in here. A few hours ago we asked for a fan. The lady said there was AC and used a remote to cool it down. But it only cooled down the other room…the one we’re not in.

Funny casting moment: Robert saw a guy with a great look. Short. Round, bald head. Could have been good for anything. But he didn’t show up for his callback. Who was this mystery guy? Robert couldn’t remember anything about him except his look. He had Topher looking all over the place. And he finally came through. So the guy is tracked down and told to come in. Robert was right: he looks great. A little like Bob Hoskins. Except Bob Hoskins can act. This guy? Not so much. Total buzz kill. Poor Robert.

7:10: It’s starting to get mean. Not at each other, but at the kids. Just like Toronto casting! Now I know why I’ll never let Aaron be an actor. I know too much of what goes on behind the camera. 10 kids just came in. It looks like we’re casting for the live version of the “It’s A Small World” show at Disney.

Fernandez the casting lady keeps telling us to hurry up. This is the same woman who ran out of here during lunch because she had to go breast-feed her kid. I have a hard time looking at her ever since that. Plus, if these Romanians could learn to speak English, we’d be done by now. We keep asking the people to do stuff and when they don’t, we’re told they’re not actors. I didn’t think asking someone to smile or act embarrassed or be energetic required years of acting experience.

Know what would be fastest? Instead of trying to get these people to understand exactly what we want them to do, why don’t we just show them? Have one of us go out there and say, “Do this.” Then they copy us. When I was in 11th grade, I was in a French class where I was really over my head. We read “The Little Prince” in French. Fine. But we also read Sartre’s “No Exit” in French. So first I had to translate the French into English. Then I had to figure out what the English meant. That’s kind of what casting here is like. We tell the casting lady what we want. She translates what she thinks we mean into Romanian. The “actors” translate that into action. What comes out is rarely what we wanted in the beginning. Like a bad game of Telephone.

8:00. We’re supposed to be done. Not even close. The people outside are getting pissed. And I don’t care. You want to be in a commercial? Then shaddap!!!!! Linste (leen shtay) as they say in Romania.

Liz just sneezed and everyone said, “Bless you.” She sneezed before and everyone said, “Bless you.” In fact, many people have sneezed throughout the day and others have said, “bless you.” I sneeze? Nothing. What the hell? Bunch of commies, all of ‘em.

8:45: Shoot me.

11:00. Well after 13 hours, we’re finally done. I’d like to introduce the concept of headshots to this place. We could have been finished hours ago but it took so long to scan through all the casting video to find the right faces. They don’t load them in by number or anything. No one was keeping a running tally of who came in when. So there was that. We spend another hour discussing and, yes, scanning through more video. Then the pizza we ordered came at around 1 or so. We were pretty hungry and hoped that the pizza wouldn’t come from some place like Pizza Hut or something. In retrospect, I would have preferred Pizza Hut. This stuff was just awful. Now I’ll pretty much eat anything without an eyeball. Strike that. I’ll pretty much eat anything. This was the worst. You know it has to be bad when it’s served with a side of sauce. It was so bad I only had 3 slices. That’s actually not a lot for me. They were small slices. Basically like personal pizza size.

Made it back to the hotel and Robert and I had a drink. He’s in heaven because there’s a menu filled with Skollar-style drinks. You know, lots of liquors, some fruit, and an umbrella if available. I had a bottle of Ursus. It’s a Romanian beer. Actually it’s a bad beer but as they say: “when in Romania…”
Day Two: July 19, 2006
Still flying…

Landed late in Munich. From overhead, the approach looked like every jigsaw puzzle of Bavaria I’ve ever seen. We already had a huge layover so we only have 2 hours to sit around and wait. Oddly enough, I have this strange urge to speak English with an accent. We got off the plane an in the tradition of strangers choosing me to speak to, some guy pointed to his watch and ask for the time. Actually, he demanded to know the time. So I say 11:35. But it came out as “elefen tearty feyef.” That’s authentic!

So we head right for the Executive Lounge. And in true German style, it’s immaculately clean and deadly quiet. Kind of like the 20th floor at Grey. The quiet part, anyway. The food choices include pickles, Bavarian pretzels and Lowenbrau on tap. Okay I get it. I’m in Germany. I don’t need all the stereotypes. Where’s the oompah band?

I’ve traveled abroad before but this is the first time I really feel lost. I can figure out stuff in Spanish or French but I can’t even fake my way through German. The icons on the sign are easy enough to get, like the running stick figure with the lines behind it and a door. That’s the sign for emergency exit. It looks like the place to go if you’re on fire. Same thing, I guess. It’s good to travel with Liz and Robert. I haven’t known Topher very long but he hasn’t known us either so it balances out. We joked about barging into the lounge and acting like ugly Americans. Grey in das haus!!!

And the airport is very clean. Everything is white and silver. Chrome, actually. Very sterile. And here I am: a Jew in Munich (that’s the title of a musical I’ll be working on). There are showers in the lounge. I think I’ll pass. Even going through security in New York was odd. A guy in a uniform checking my papers and selecting which line I should go to. I’m already predisposed to be uncomfortable, I guess.

I wander the airport, looking for a place to buy a disposable camera. I can’t believe I traveled this far and didn’t bring a camera. And I can’t find one, unless I want to buy a real one. I did find a jewelry store called Schmuck. Ha! German is funny after all! Bracelets by Schmuck. A lovely Schmuck necklace. Help! Someone’s stolen the Schmuck Diamond! Ah, I kill me.

Back in the lounge, Robert is reading from a travel guide Liz bought. It’s kind of an alarmist guide. Lots of sections telling people what NOT to do. Some of them are pretty amusing. Apparently, Bucharest is a city of stray dogs, meat, and fake police. Poor Liz. She has to watch out for poking and prodding from the men. It’s a very tactile country. Basically, we have to stay indoors after sundown. So much for the “Paris of Eastern Europe.” Maybe it’s Paris, Texas. Well if nothing else, we’ll have stories to tell. If we come back alive. I think the book is a bit overprotective but I think Robert is wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. And Liz won’t be eating until August.

Time to board. Augustus Gloop takes Liz’s boarding pass and reminds her that “froehlich” means “happiness.” But he doesn’t just say it. He sings it in the same way a woman (or some men) would sing, “shopping!!!!!” Then he takes my pass and I barely get a “have a nice flight.” To him, I must look like Woody Allen in that scene from “Annie Hall” where Grammy Hall sees Alvy Singer as an Orthodox Jew.

Robert is still looking at Liz’s travel guide, trying to find some interesting restaurants. He shows me a passage about a religion where the men castrate themselves after 2 years of marriage. Why? Because they want to! (Thank you, Henny Youngman.) I wonder if their church has a gift shop. Wait, why was this in the restaurant section?

I always feel compelled to pay attention to the in flight announcements. I mean someone’s talking to me so I should pay attention. Sometimes they’re not just talking. They’re doing pantomime as well! It seems rude to read a magazine or write a Bucharest Blog or something.

The guy across the aisle from me has spread his legs wide enough to let 3 or 4 people sit in there. He’s on the aisle. His right leg in under the middle seat and his left leg is way out in the aisle. Liz is sitting next to him but she’s asleep. It’s better that way.

Okay, the flight attendant is offering magazines but they’re all in German. The attractive woman to my left asked for something in English and got Time. I gotta say, she’s doesn’t look smart enough for Time. I offered her my Entertainment Weekly. Weird, she doesn’t sound like she speaks English. Must be the white, skintight outfit she’s wearing. I’ll bet her name is Candy. Or Candi. Or Hortense. I saw her later on at baggage claim and she was wearing a large cross. She wasn’t wearing the cross on the plane. Hmmm…..

Speaking of stretching out, the guy in row 4 has stretched his left leg to the point where is halfway into row 3. And row 4 is coach class! Coach class? How about no class? Hmm, Coach Class. I’ll use that name for my screenplay about a guy who teaches inner city kids basketball and good manners.

What is it about business class that makes me feel like I have to behave differently? I mean I’m still wearing pants and everything. But lunch came with a brownie. And it was in a fancy dish. So I use a fork to eat it. But then I say hey! It’s a brownie! Hands! So I dig into the dish to fish it out. And there’s some orange glaze underneath. So much for class. Hey, who ruins chocolate with a fruit glaze? Sometimes fancy goes too far.

The old guy in row 2 looks like the nice old man from Dirty Dancing who was caught stealing wallets at the Sheldrake Hotel. I’d better check to see if my wallet is still here.

I keep feeling the need to apologize for not speaking German. My knowledge is limited to “99 Luftballons” and I don’t remember any of that. So when a flight attendant asks if I want another drink or something, I just smile and mouth something like “no thanks.” But I mouth it because it’s not German and I know she can’t really hear me over the engines. I’ve put a lot of thought into this. Oh yeah, she speaks perfect English so the act is for nothing. I must remember to explore this compulsion.

The longest part of the trip was waiting for Topher to pick up the phones. It wasn’t his fault. He and Robert rented phones and the process took forever. But it all paid off when we were picked up by Larissa. Drop dead gorgeous. Not literally. I mean, no one dropped dead that I know of. We were packed into a van and our luggage followed in a different car. Odd. Even odder was the guy who followed us to the parking lot and then asked for a tip. He did push Robert’s luggage cart. So Robert tipped him. He asked me as well so I gave him a buck. It turns out he wasn’t with us. Just some opportunistic guy looking for some money.

Bucharest is a dump. Well, that’s a bit harsh but the area from the airport to the Arc de Triomphe replica is pretty bad. The rest isn’t so great either but it’s not as bad. It’s hard to make out what it is. The old architecture is here but it’s surrounded by the remnants of Communism. There’s no real charm here. I thought I read somewhere that Bucharest is the Paris of Eastern Europe. Maybe it was Budapest. But the hotel is beautiful so it’s nice to have the refuge. There are casinos all over the place as well. I may never see Skollar again.

Dinnertime. It doesn’t help that the menu is in Romanian. There are some things we can figure out. For everything else, we need the waiter to translate. Do we trust him? Enough to let him bring out an assortment of dishes of some unknown name. As long as Liz gets vegetarian, she’s fine. I asked for some kind of local beer. They either don’t have one or the waiter was ashamed to mention it. So he recommended something…Adel…something. He said it was a “different beer” and it was “made from Whiskey Malt.” And on the neck of the bottle it actually says, “a different beer.” The label reads, “made with Whiskey Malt.” And I thought the guy was just a great salesman. Whatever. It was pretty awesome. French beer. Who knew?
Day One: July 18, 2006

You know those days where you think it’s going to be kind of quiet so you can get all your stuff done and be ready to leave when you’re supposed to leave? Me neither, although today was one of them. My empty calendar was soon filled with copy revisions and meetings and phone calls and more meetings. And lunch. I had some kind of stir fry thing from Café Grey. Too hot to go outside. But I digress. Next thing you know, it’s 5:00 and I’m being rushed out the door (but in a good way). I printed some stuff out to read on the plane. If you go to my office, you’ll find it still sitting there. So we get outside and producer Topher whisks Robert and I the whole 20 feet from the front of Grey to the waiting car, which is already stuffed with luggage.

So this driver stares at the trunk for a bit and then proceeds to unload the entire thing except for his own stuff. By the way, don’t try to joke with a guy who is unloading a trunk except for his own stuff. After all of this prep, he goes for my bag and I tell him that is has to remain upright. Nothing except an awkward glare and the advice from Skollar to leave it alone. Besides, we really have to get moving before the asphalt melts from around the car. Did I mention it was hot?

Second Avenue. Ahh, a protest. Oh that’s original: the problems in the Middle East are Israel’s fault. That’s a new one. And this protest is augmented by some Orthodox types. So to the unitiated, there are Jews protesting Israel. That’s great. Maybe they should stick to not bathing and wearing black in the sweltering heat. Jerks.

Politics aside, we zip through the Midtown Tunnel (as much as one can zip through the Midtown Tunnel) and find confusion at the toll plaza. Our genius driver left his EZ Pass in the trunk. Amazing because that’s probably the only thing that could still fit in the trunk. Instead of taking us up on our offers of cash, he stops between two lanes and opens the trunk in order to retrieve his plastic toll pass. You know what cops love? Foreign-looking people pulling up to a toll plaza and opening the trunk.

Robert and I have already started with the “Jews on a German airline” jokes. The driver is laughing, I think. But that could mean a lot of things.

JFK. A great president, a third-world airport. The Airport Formerly Known As Idlewild is in a state of permanent construction. Like a friendly ugly person, the International Terminal looks nice but only on the inside. We are blessed with Business Class seats (thanks, Sir Martin!) and access to the Executive Club (or whatever it’s called). Topher, who looks lost without an open laptop, bypasses the free grub and starts checking e-mail or downloading porn or whatever he does. Liz has never been inside one of these airport club places and is amazed at all the food. But while she’s amazed and gets a cup of coffee, I load up on cookies and beer. Mmmm, Milanos and beer on tap. And a soft pretzel. And some more cookies. And is that a chicken sandwich? I’ve decided to go back into the terminal proper and buy something just for the bag so I can fill it with all the food here. I start to have flashbacks to my childhood in a synagogue on a Shabbat afternoon, being knocked to the ground by hungry old woman stuffing their husband’s tallis bags with sponge cake and ruggelah. I stay in the lounge.

German is just not a friendly-sounding language. Most of the words have more than 11 letters (German crossword puzzles must be a bitch) and they’re very guttural-sounding. Listening to all of the pre-flight announcements, I realize that this is the first time I’ve been on a plane where the info was delivered in another language before they get to English. And I can’t even play the game where I hear a word and guess what it means. It’s just not pleasing to the ears.

I can’t make heads or tails out of this tray table. I’m trying to stow it away before takeoff without annoying the guy next to me but I finally give up and ask if he knows how to do it. He doesn’t, but stops reading his book about collapsing democracies (uh, security?) to watch me struggle.

8:15 pm: push away from the gate.
8:45 pm: engines off.

I’m having bad luck lately with delayed flights. I should say that I’m having good luck with delayed flights. After last week’s debacle in Toronto, I’m really annoyed at yet another weather delay because there’s no one to be angry with. Who can I yell at? G-d? He’s busy making asphalt melt in Manhattan.

So let me set the stage for you. To my right is an old lady who has this black brace on her left arm. She’s either strained a tendon or waiting for a bowling match to start. She keeps poking every kid in the aisle (more on that later) and spouting genius cliches in her German accent like “better safe than sorry.” Her giant-sized husband isn’t amused.

And then there’s the family. Grandmother behind. Dad and at least 2 kids in front. Mom and another kid in front of them. And what appears to be an aunt up in first class. Loud kids. The youngest doesn’t speak, unless you call shrieking a form of speaking. Now that the plane has stopped, the whole fmaily has gathered around to “help” each other. There appears to be a search for a specific snack. They look like refugees from a post Bar Mitzvah brunch. Why is this all happening around me? Because I’m cursed, that’s why.

Okay, kids in business class? I know this sounds snobby and elitist but what the f*ck? Now before I get letters from all you kid lovers, just relax. I have kids. I like kids. Just not your kids. There’s an implied agreement that if you’ve paid for business class, you get a big seat, better food, nice service and no kids. The shrieking? It’s not cute, it’s not adorable and it belongs in coach. And the creepy bowling lady isn’t helping much.

Ah hah!!!! You know when you’re stopped on a runway for any amount of time and someone stands up for whatever reason? Someone announces that you can’t be in the aisle because the plane can’t move. FAA regulations! But here in business class, we can not only walk around but drinks are being served!

Meanwhile, Dr. Ruth Bowlerheimer keeps trying to put her legs up but she’s too short. Her legs don’t reach the seat in front of her. And her husband still is not amused.