Mother's Day weekend 2009 - sorry Mom, I will see you soon! Duty calls.
Two weeks ago, or whenever my last blog post was, er, posted, I did a site survey and client meeting in advance of this past weekend's trip. After months of editing on a new crop of videos, we made a detailed list of pickup shots needed to complete these videos, and shots to cover some new scripts recently green-lit for production.
As usual, the locations for our projects are far from home. But thanks to modern air travel, it is mostly easy. i say mostly because modern air travel has a few problems:
Faster than driving, probably safer. But I like to know what I am flying before I book my ticket. Airbus A320 or 737 - good. MD80 or Turboprop commuter plane - not so good. Mini-Jet such as the Dash 8 or Embraer 90 are good choices for short flights. Preferentially I pick an aisle seat behind the trailing edge of the wing on the right side - supposed to be the safest spot on the plane.
I listen to the safety lecture and reach under my seat to see if there really is a life vest. You never know.
Lost luggage is ok if all you are missing is your electric razor and iPod charger. Lost luggage is a big problem when it includes tripods and DVCPRO tapes. Last time I checked, my neighborhood big box store was out of stock on DVCPRO tapes. Thus, it is a good idea to arrive early enough in the day to give your airline time to locate and deliver your luggage.
Luckily on this trip, we all got all of our bags.
Carry On Luggage.
A shoot like this has a lot of luggage. There have been debates on the Business and Marketing forum about Shipping vs Checking gear. We always check our gear, but sometimes I think otherwise. Checked bags cost a lot each way, meanwhile carry-on restrictions are getting...restrictive.
While I have stayed in many spectacular hotels over the years (Fontainebleau Miami, Ritz Carlton New Orleans, Sir Francis Drake San Francisco, and of course the grandiose Washington Hospital Center Guesthouse) the more you pay, the less you get. Let me explain. Luxury hotels give you plush bedding and nice toiletries, but you also get the privilege of buying a cup of coffee whenever you feel like it and the $19.95 breakfast buffet in the morning. Oddly, table service at fancy hotels is especially slow.
On the flip side, budget hotels designed around business travelers, such as Hampton Inns and Holiday Inn Express, the less you pay the more you get.
Free coffee and tea 'round the clock in the lobby and in many cases a free breakfast buffet for all guests.
Free in-room and in-lobby wi-fi is a rarity in a fancy hotel(wired/expensive), but at the previously mentioned variety of hotel, it is expected. A nice business center featuring comfy chairs, computers and free printing is another bonus of the budget hotel. Certainly there are super-budget hotels like La Quinta or Super 8, but I have seen free buffets and wi-fi and pretty low prices.
When booking a hotel, with or without a car, it is important to scope out restaurant choices ahead of time. In an effort to save costs, finding decent dining within walking distance of your hotel is a good idea. A nice meal plus round trip cab fare is less nice. On this particular trip, we picked a Hampton Inn on the edge of downtown Denver, just a few blocks from the 16th St Promenade, similar to the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica.
In other words, closed to traffic, decent selection of restaurants, and a smattering of street performers and homeless guys begging for coin. We actually saw a robbery in progress at a 7-Eleven with police in hot pursuit. Better than Southland, that's for sure. Only problem with walking to dinner, after a 12 hour shooting day on your feet, is walking BACK from dinner. Well, the beer helps you fall asleep in advance of the next day's 6:30am call time!
On the flip side, some downtown areas are pretty scant when it comes to restaurants. A recent trip to Phoenix for a convention produced limited options for dining without a cab ride. In all fairness to Phoenix, I have had some very good meals east and west of downtown - no offense. Sometimes after a day standing up at a convention center, the last thing you want to do is travel far to get some grub. Room service, hotel dining, or a local dive is sometimes a better choice.
People make fun of me, but if I get a good looking meal (hopefully good tasting) I snap a photo on my handy phone cam.
The Shoot Itself.
We have a unique location - a hospital.
Depending upon the shotlist, we may be in the OR, patient holding areas or central supply. A helpful crew of volunteers, use of supplies and the ability to start and stop with the exception of surgery (I have occasionally asked a surgeon to pause what he is doing for a tape change) are all important elements. Also important is of course knowledge of your capabilities. Look at a setup, know where to park the cameras, and know if when you stop tape you have what you need.
Another part of being prepared is being prepared for anything. It is a long walk back to the office for a missing piece of kit, so on these trips we take everything. Thus the trusty blue Porta Brace bag is packed to the gills with extra mics, XLR cables, AC cords, camera power supplies, blank tapes, a portable mixer and the trusty wireless kit. Just make sure you keep track of the wireless transmitter before someone goes to the bathroom or worse - home.
Safety is also important when you have smooth tile floors, lots of cables and lots of people wearing floppy shoe covers and face shields.
Monitoring what you get and occasionally checking playback is good peace of mind.
With the shoot complete, a celebratory meal, and a brief night of sleep, it is time to wake up early for the flight home. I am well past the age of taking a red-eye home. Although LAX at midnight is a nice trip back to 1960. Sometimes my eyes play tricks on me.
Return the rental car, check luggage and stock up on pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled water for the flight home.
Call the valet parking hotline, take the shuttle bus, pack my gear in the car and drive home.
Next day return to the office, fire up the Falcon and check voicemail.
After a shoot like this, we have a lot of tapes to digitize.
But before that, just like looking at your double prints after a pre-digital vacation, you check the tapes and see if you actually got anything on tape.
Good stuff. The AJ-D700 is still a great camera after all these years. And the V1U speaks for itself.
In summary, as discussed ad infinitum on this blog, travel is wrought with details and potential problems. But with careful planning, teamwork and a little bit of luck - and a good night's sleep, free coffee and good meals - you can look back and smile. Thanks for looking back with me on this one. It was fun.
Many of my blog posts include mentions of food. Alas, a good hearty meal before and after a shoot is a good idea, especially since you are on your feet for 8-14 hours a day. If you are one of the 5 people who have read my blog from the beginning, you may see some repetition, but in the great tradition of "the man who made lists", I shall make a list.
I have had a few conferences and numerous shoots in Bean Town. There are enough hospitals in Boston to care for millions of people. One of my favorite restaurants is in the North End and is called Limoncello. Rumor has it the owner won Powerball and opened this restaurant with his winnings. Good move. The butternut squash ravioli are worth the trip. Next time I'm in town my gluten-aversion will be placed in my hotel room safe and I'm there. The owner treats every guest like family. A trip to the North End would not be complete without a trip to Mike's bakery for the best Italian pastries this side of the Atlantic.
Although I have lived in CT since 1990, I rarely eat out. My wife and I prefer to cook at home. When we do go out, it is usually a special occasion. For fancy schmancy eating, we have a few great steakhouses. However steakhouses tend to be pricey, so these are not frequent destinations. Carmen Anthony's Steakhouse in my hometown of Waterbury, CT is supposed to be pretty good. Don't tell Carmen, but we like the Outback!
Speaking of steak, what better place to sink your teeth into some dead cow than Texas (sorry Bessie). I have been to Dallas the most number of times. There are some great restaurants there. Most recently I was there for a conference, so that meant 4 nights of fine dining. Ok, so I didn't have a big steak dinner on this trip, but bear with me. Il Sole, arestaurant and wine bar had a prix fixe chef's menu featuring 3 mini entree items, including braised short ribs and a dessert, each accompanied by a glass of wine. The food was astoundingly good. As for my ability to walk straight, luckily I had taken a cab from the hotel! Another great place is Uncle Julio, a Mexican restaurant serving a combination of classic dishes and dishes you would never expect to see at a Mexican joint. As for the classic steak place, there are a few good choices in the West End, just a stone's throw from the grassy knoll. Oddly, I usually find myself having Cajun at Pappadeaux at least every other visit. Overall, there is no shortage of good eats in Dallas.
Now if you want a great steak, travel downriver to San Antonio. The famous Riverwalk, as depicted in film classics like Cloak and Dagger with Dabney Coleman, is a mecca for tourists, and mediocre restaurants. Here's a tip - ask a local for a good restaurant. And by "local" I mean someone who does not work at your hotel. Kids working at the hotel desk making $8 an hour don't go out to eat. I asked my local colorectal surgeon for a recommendation, and he led me to Little Rhein Steakhouse. Housed in the first two-story structure in San Antonio, it was here that I had the reigning Mike Cohen Best Steak of All Time World Champion. I can't explain it, but this tenderloin remains the tastiest hunk of cattle I've ever eaten. I recently experienced #2 (see San Francisco below).
We can skip Houston since that was another wannabe steakhouse, and move on to greener pastures.
In LA, and any other city with a PF Chang's, I choose a meal there if I have the time and the choice. Other good meals have included Gladstone's right on the beach in Malibu, where you can see the odd movie star knocking back raw seafood if you keep your eyes peeled, but a nice sourdough bread filled with clam chowder makes a nice early dinner, if you happen to be catching a red-eye and have the afternoon to kill. On my most recent trip, pre-red-eye, I had a bowl of hearty Guiness Stew and a pint of the main ingredient at you guessed it, an Irish Pub. Could have been Finn McCool's. I have enjoyed this same hearty meal at pubs in San Diego (The Field in the Gaslamp area) and Toronto (Irish Embassy on Yongue St).
You can throw a dart at a map and likely find a good restaurant. There are too many to name them all. My dad always asks if I am going to Scoma's down around Fisherman's Wharf. I have been there once, but the wait was not worth it in my opinion, although I was by myself. More recently I have discovered the E and O Trading Company, a trendy fusion restaurant and Ideale, a simple wholesome intimate Italian eatery in North Beach. The list goes on...
Seattle deserves a quick mention for the odd 13 Coins - again, if you have time for dinner before hitting the airport, this place is in fact, across from the airport. The decor is unique and the menu is roughly the size of the Yellow Pages.
Other unique eating experiences have included:
Phoenix - Haus Murphy's in Glendale. Glendale is a little village with lots of "antique shops" if you take "antique" to mean "tag sale." Hey the place was packed.
St. Louis - The trendy Central West End has a few good restaurants, an historic old art deco hotel and a surprisingly gourmet supermarket called Straub's. From the outside it looks like Big Bob's Beer and Groceries. On the inside it is Zabar's. Look it up.
Omaha - Aside from the great zoo (Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom ring any bells?) the town has a "warehouse district" filled with shops and restaurants. If you are ever stuck there with no earlier flights home available, you won't go hungry.
Philadelphia - Another town with an abundance of great dining options. You have to try Geno's or Pat's for cheese steaks. If you are looking for a nice dinner, head over to Rittenhouse Square and you will find a number of cool places.
Ok this is getting old, let me finish up. Hey, can I please get another soda. Thanks
Cities one might not equate with fine dining
This is a misleading statement, because most cities large or small have a few local eateries that are both well-known and good, even to a non-local.
Bern's Steakhouse. Here I go with the steakhouses again. Oh well. I saw this one on the Food Network. You walk in and the 1960's velvet wallpaper hits you and you wonder when the scantily clad ladies will begin to parade into the room. But I was with a female co-worker, so I knew there would be no shenanigans. The main dining room is low-key, dimly lit but the real magic happens after the meal. The food was typical steak house - a bit pricey, but good. I had the filet mignon and the onion soup. When you order your dinner, you need to make reservations for dessert and the tour. Let me explain. Betwixt dinner and dessert, you get a guided tour of the kitchen, the salad station, the indoor live fish tanks and the wine cellar featuring a $10,000 bottle of something dusty and old. Apparently there are more fish tanks on the roof. Perhaps the proximity to Busch Gardens and Sea World got the better of the owners, but no worries. After dinner you are taken upstairs to the dessert dining room. The seating consists of cozy booths made out of disused wine barrels. In each booth is a Jetson's control panel that lets you pick your mood music, select the live piano music or even use an intercom to send requests to the pianist. I don't know if this is still the case as it has been a while since I was there. Definitely a memorable meal. On a more recent trip to Tampa I discovered the Fly Bar in the up and coming yet not quite there yet downtown area. They have a nice selection of small plates, including Boneless Kobe Beef Shortribs. Youch!
Ok, so Orlando is known for a lot of restaurants, however many of them involve costumed characters. That being said, if I happen to be in town for a few nights, I cannot help but visit my favorite Disney Resort, the Polynesian, and have dinner at O'Hana. The grilled meats on skewers may be similar to Brazilian restaurants, but the view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show makes it extra special. No admission required. Plus you can take a free monorail ride after dinner.
I could continue with a list of cities and restaurants, but these are the memorable ones. Then there are the cities I never see in the daylight - arrive, get a car rental, find the hotel, find a meal (Olive Garden (blech), Macaroni Grill (glauch), Bertucci's (hmm, sometimes ok) don't get me wrong, chain restaurants can be ok but we have those at home. What we don't have at home is a Duo of Elk Filets or Buffalo Prime Rib. Nice.), go to bed, wake up at 5am, go to work, get out get to airport fly home, get home at 1am, eat beans on toast.
In the end, we need to eat. A hearty, healthy alcohol free meal the night before a shoot is a great idea. A hearty meal with a celebratory drink after a successful shoot is a nice reward.
May I interest you in one of our locally made desserts or a cup of coffee? Perhaps you'd like to try the cheese plate? No, ok then let me get your check. Please tip generously, waiters often make minimum wage.
Thanks for reading.