I stood on a blue tarp in my parents’ backyard surrounded by 20 years of sentimentality. I had helped empty out our entire basement in cloudless, 90-degree weather. The heat was making me delirious–for some reason I had agreed to sell all of my stuff at our family’s yard sale.
My first car was a Mercury Cougar. Not one of the cool late-90s Cougars, either. One of those Gulf War models with crushed velvet seats and emblems that looked like the Thundercats logo. It was a great piece of crap. My first laptop was a 20 pound clunker with only a floppy drive. My first bike was a one-speed Batman Huffy that I covered in duct tape. My first beer was a Keystone.
It’s a tried and true practice: learn with the worst, the broken, and the old. It’s the antiques and junkers that really teach you about what can go wrong, whether it’s on the road or in the kitchen. That way, when you move on to a nicer, newer model you’re desensitized enough not to freak out the moment everything breaks. I’ve just signed the lease for my next apartment, and I know plenty about stuff breaking.
It’s been well over a year since I moved to Pittsburgh, got my first place, and started this occasionally-updated blog. I was in love with my quirky, new, basement apartment. Over the course of the next few months, I would fill it with a hodgepodge of cool furniture and obtuse hand-me-downs. I’d make countless trips to Ikea with Abby. I’d build a book shelf out of some cinder blocks. I’d add more antique cameras to the shelf above my living-room-stove. My apartment may have had similarities to Saddam Hussein’s subterranean fox hole when I first moved in, but now it resembled a home.
I really enjoy the revision process when writing. I don’t think that I’m that great of a writer, so I like to take my time and tame the hasty jumble of words I’ve strung together. I get a kick out of printing a manuscript and marking it up with a red pen, writing in the margins. After having my screenplay, “Last Will and Laundromat,” critiqued in the first round of the Steeltown Film Factory, I found myself with more than a recommended serving size of revisions.
I had a week to turn in a new draft. It’d then be re-judged by a new panel, along with the other 11 scripts, and six would be selected for the semi-finals. I felt like I was behind the eight-ball. The critiques of my script were so major, and varied, that I was faced with a number of ways to proceed. I spent almost the entire week mapping out every story path I could think of–like a choose-your-own-adventure novel.
“Last Will and Laundromat” was, originally, about a grandfather getting a second chance to get to know his granddaughter, Andi. He is able to come back and haunt her for a limited time. His time runs out just as the two become close and Andi is left wanting more. She goes to the Elks Lodge, where her grandfather was an active member, and meets folks that knew him better than anyone. The problems the judges had were fairly straight forward: the tone wavered too much between slapstick ghost-comedy and sentimental drama about loss; the grandfather, as a ghost, felt too much like a schtick; and the conversations, generally, lacked the minimum level of heart to make them worthwhile. There was a slight debate, amongst the judges, as to whether or not the ghost should even be in the movie.
I didn’t get rid of the ghost. Not out of some kind of stubborn, artistic integrity thing, but because losing him would, in effect, turn this into a story I wasn’t trying to tell. I was hell-bent on figuring out how to make him a meaningful specter, with purpose and heart. I also needed to figure out how to make him more real. Continue reading
When I was in grade school, my idea of film making manifest itself in strange ways. I loved taking my parents’ VHS-C camcorder and running around my neighborhood, wearing a female trench coat and dragging along my school chum Richard, filming fan-fiction episodes of Columbo. My favorite episode involved me decoding a secret message, typed in WingDings, by feeding a piece of paper through a printer and “changing the font.” I worked quickly, filming cinema verite style with single takes. All handheld. Never editing. I had to get done before dinner time. I’m pretty sure I was St. John the Baptist School’s answer to the auteur theory.
I’m not a filmmaker. Or a film student, for that matter. But I love movies, and photography, and writing; I’d love to make a movie some day. Now, after months of planning, re-writing, and pitching, I’m simultaneously on my way and right back where I started. I was a semi-finalist in this year’s Steeltown Film Factory, a Project Greenlight-esque competition that gives one screenwriter $30,000 to make a movie. I was one of six screenwriters, selected from 180 submissions, to get to the next-to-last round. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut to the finals, leaving me with just about everything I need to make my movie… except for money.
That’s a good place to be. It’s a lucky place to be, and one I’m very grateful for. My experience with Steeltown may have been cut short for now, but it’s been both rewarding and unforgettable.
I first heard about this contest through my sketch comedy friends in Hustlebot, a comedy troupe consisting of at least two members of the Dwellers. These guys fought their way through the untested waters of Steeltown’s debut competition, and they recruited me to help them with storyboards and pre-production design. They won (not really because of my boards, but I’d like to think it helped), and they made their movie. It was a cool experience–one I wanted to try on my own. Continue reading
Strawn’s Eat Shop is a big sandwich kind of diner in the city of Shreveport, Louisiana. Situated in an archaic strip of stores across the street from the state’s oldest college, it’s the kind of restaurant that I adore. From the black and white checkered floor to the red swivel bar stools and wooden booths, it’s an old school diner in the finest order. The kind of joint that earns its quirks and builds its credibility by never changing–an atmosphere that you can’t ever imbue in a startup business, it just kind of happens.
I was at this place for a photo shoot. I wasn’t taking the pictures, but rather working as an art director. This was my first time on a business trip, and also my first experience in the Deep South, so I was trying to practice the commencement speech advice bestowed upon me by Rick Sebak: always order the special. If you’re in the south, get food that the south is known for. If you’re in a diner that has a sign proclaiming its “ice box pies” to be the best around, you’d better order some pie. Continue reading
There are certain types of movies that fall within the “Mike Rubino Wheelhouse.” They aren’t necessarily all works of art, or even considered by a broad audience to be good–sometimes, but not always. A movie involving, say, a group of men assembled to go on a mission: wheelhouse. Or maybe a film about a father who has the willpower, strength, and secret fighting skills necessary to save his family: wheelhouse. What about a film involving survival, make-shift weaponry, and enough machismo to turn chipped ham into beef jerky? Wheel. House.
The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, most certainly matches much of the aforementioned criteria. I saw it last Saturday, and I enjoyed it greatly. It’s rough, dark, depressing, and like the saltiest Jack London story you can imagine. Neeson, who plays a wolf-sniper for an Alaskan oil conglomerate (I assume that’s a real job), and a group of six men survive a freak plane crash in the great north. Now, with just their wits, some random debris, and the wallets of the dead, these men must march across the barren, snowy landscape to safety. The thing is, there’s a pack of blood-thirsty wolves standing in their way… it’s almost like they knew Liam Neeson shoots them for a living!
Sounds like a solid movie, right? Well, if you can stomach the gore and cope with the grief, it is. I’ve been comparing it to Alive or The Edge. Stuff like that.
It’s the film’s trailer, however, that could lead audiences astray. I, for one, was expecting a wholly different movie from the one I saw–lucky for me I still enjoyed it so much. Others probably didn’t, and who can blame them?
A week or so ago, in the midst of a stressful evening, I received a disheartening text message from my brother, Dan: Tim Horton’s was leaving CONSOL Energy Center. The red and gold donut stands that I visited every time I had gone to a Penguins game would be gone. No more cheap coffee, hot chocolate, or, most importantly, TimBits. The foot they had planted in the Pittsburgh donut market was now gone.
I love breakfast and I love pastries. The perfect combination, then, is the donut. Whether it’s from a bakery on the way to work, or by the dozen from Dunkin, I’ll take one every chance I can get. A couple years ago, when I went on a family vacation to Niagara Falls, we stopped over in shopping mall with a Tim Horton’s. I wasn’t familiar with the place, but as soon as my brother walked over with a small box of TimBits, I was sold.
The TimBit, at first glance, is essentially a donut hole (or a Munchkin at Dunkin Donuts). Except they’re far better than anything Hostess or Little Debbie is going to shove into grocery aisles. Part of my love for the little guys is, of course, the fact that they aren’t readily available. Tim Horton’s, a chain of donut shops owned by the hockey veteran of the same name, exists mainly in Canada. The closest one to Pittsburgh is the self-proclaimed suburb of Steubenville, Ohio. Beyond that, Columbus. Continue reading
When James and I launched our old-timey, time-traveling, library-promoting radio serial back in 2005, we didn’t really know what we were doing. I mean, we knew how to write and make funny voices and cue up sound effects, sure, but when it came to the technical side of things we were in the dark. I launched our podcast, shortly after Apple introduced the term to me, with a hand-coded test-XML document that I uploaded to my college’s blog server. When the test worked, I was too afraid too mess something up to stop and rethink how we would actually approach this thing.
One thing led to another. Years passed, and as our list of episodes grew to hearty numbers (filled with arbitrary seasons and inconsistent studio & live releases), our podcast feed became a mysterious machine, like an Antikythera mechanism or a Roomba. It worked right up until it didn’t anymore. Suddenly, the server that hosted our audio files started breaking. Then my college upgraded their blogging software, leaving me without a way to edit the podcast feed itself. It was adrift at sea (like Open Water).
In the movie, when the band gets back together, there is always that scene of them returning to the old stomping grounds. They flip on the breakers to the dusty theater or rehearsal space and memories of previous success come flooding back. That’s not exactly what I expect will happen tonight when The Cellar Dwellers, the comedy troupe I’ve belonged to since ’97, return to CCBC’s auditorium for the first time in five years.
We’re reviving our four-man Christmas show Deconstructing Santa, which first debuted at that very auditorium in 2003. The show itself has brought back plenty of good memories–driving from Greensburg to Grove City to write, walking the streets of Beaver Falls passing out flyers, selling one of our first shows–and returning to this re-purposed, awkward, nursing auditorium to do a sketch show will surely bring back even more. Continue reading
My dear friends James and Marissa run a classy beer blog called He Drank, She Drank. Knowing that I can be pretty snobby about design, and beer labels, they had me write a guest post critiquing two labels of my choosing. Here’s an excerpt:
Teachers go to great lengths to instill in us the virtue of not judging a book by its cover. This is probably because most book covers are hideous. As a graphic designer, I do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. And if it’s an old book and there are different editions, I’m happy to pay a little more to get a better cover. Aesthetics are important and they quickly communicate a lot about a product.
I was a graphic designer before I ever started drinking beer. So I was a snob about it. Not a snob about the origin of the hops or the richness of the malt, mind you, but about the labels. I would scan the cooler at my local bottle shop, guffawing at the beveled-and-embossed, drop-shadowed, warped-into-an-arc text across some hokey craft company label and move on to something with a little bit more class. Something with a matte label and 2-color design. Was I missing out on some great beer? Should I have picked up yet another bottle of beer with a naturalistic painting of a mountain on it? Am I tricking myself into thinking Brooklyn Beer is better than it is because Milton Glaser designed the label?
Read the rest of the article at He Drank, She Drank.