Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Travels with Tony, my week on an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations shoot in Naples, Italy

If your dream is to be sipping a cappuccino with Anthony Bourdain at a sun drenched cafe on the Almifi Coast of Italy, then I lived your dream and much, much more.

My son Tom Vitale was the producer for the Naples/Amifi show and, for my birthday present, he arranged to bring me along on the shoot. (He is, of course, the greatest son in the world and now you know why.)

The trip began with an overnight flight from New York with Tom, the cameramen Zack and Mo, the segment producer Josh and Joe, the father of Zack who came along as the guest of his equally terrific son. We were met in Naples by our fixers Lucio and Emanuella (‘fixers’ are the local Neapolitans who arrange locations and translate Italian to English, etc, and our driver Massimo. Later we met Rossario who was to be Tony's driver.

Let me begin by stating an annoying Neapolitan principle: nothing ever goes according to plan. This is followed by the second Neapolitan principal, one that is magical and was amazingly consistent: when a plan falls through, the new, hastily arranged substitute plan is always better.

The first day in Naples was billed as a travel rest day, but Tom went off with the fixers to survey locations and Zack and Mo spent 4 hours getting their 5 cameras ready (one of which would fall prey to the third Neapolitan principle, which I won't go into now).

I spent the afternoon walking through the Centro Storico (historical center) and falling in love with the narrow stone paved streets crowded with shops, people, speeding scooters and small cars fighting their way through. Flying proudly from every balcony was the national flag of Naples: laundry. On many street corners was the national tragedy of Naples: a mountain of uncollected garbage.

I took some narrow stepped passages, down dark alleys where I passed by open doors. Just a few feet away families were seated at kitchen tables, drinking coffee and chatting. It was strange to be so close, almost in their private lives. The clanging of pots and the smell of their dinner was too intimate. I felt I didn’t belong. One path got smaller and smaller, as I headed deeper into a strange world.  Two men were walking behind me. Was I going to experience first hand the tough sinister Naples I had heard about? It was becoming clear that this path was not like the others that had eventually emptied onto a street. Soon, I found myself at a dead end. I held my breath. I turned around to face them just as they turned into a doorway. I was relieved and quickly made my way to a more populated area.

Later, I met Tom back at Hotel Romeo. We had a drink in the lobby and then headed to Buongustaio on Via Basillio Puoti off Piazza Carità, a small trattoria with delicious food. It would be the location of the last shoot with Tony seven days hence, the evening that Tony introduced me to Negroni.

The next morning Emanuella guided us to a religious procession. It was billed as procession with a hundred people to be witnessed by crowds lining the streets. We found a sorry band of 15 or so barefoot young people carrying ancient banners and playing trumpets and drums. The procession was very charming and moved quickly through the streets. Zack and Mo followed it like commandos darting around cars and through alleys stealing shots of the procession and of Tony who followed for a while. Tony had a microphone on him, which recorded his musings. That’s the wonderful thing about having a great writer as the host of the show. Everything he says is golden. The challenge is to keep him interested and stimulated. He is not a puppet you can turn on and off. If he ain’t having fun, nobody is.

The morning shoot was successful but the afternoon shoot was still evolving. The idea had been to take Tony to a wedding with the hope of seeing some Neapolitan gaudy extravagance. Lucio thought he had a wedding for us, but it fell through. He went on the radio to try to recruit a wedding. Ultimately, the owner of the driving service, Frederico, found a couple who would let us film their wedding for a hefty wedding present.

At around noon we were waiting outside the church, cameras ready, getting to know the family, when a long white limo pulled up. Out stepped a petite bride in a satin gown. I saw her from the back at first and saw nothing unusual. It was when she turned in profile that I saw she was probably eight and a half months pregnant. I would love to have had access to Tony’s microphone then. I am sure he had some interesting things to say

An hour later the couple emerged from the church, cannons fired confetti, doves were released and we had another good scene in the can.

At one o'clock, Lucio, ever on his cell phone, announced that he had arranged a typical Neapolitan meal in someone's house for the next day. Sounded good. Later in the afternoon the meal had fallen through due to the lady's headache. While the team was trying to figure out how to replace the scene, Rossario, the driver, said, "Why don't you come to my house. My mother is a great cook." Before going to the wedding reception to meet Tony, Tom went to see Rosario's mother. At the top of four floor walk up, in a modest apartment Tom met Josepina, a fiesty 80 year old, chain smoking grandmother with died black hair. "Perfect," Tom said, "Tony will love her." And he was right.

Tom raced from the apartment to meet Tony at the wedding reception in a distant suburb. (Joe and I weren't invited and took the opportunity to go to the National Museum of Naples and saw great frescos and mosaics from Pompei.)

Late that evening Tom came home very drunk. Apparently Tony was bored being at a wedding reception with people he didn't know who spoke a language he didn't understand. For sport he drug Tom into the scene and made him drink copious amounts of wine. When Tony complained that invading stranger's lives made him uncomfortable, Tom quipped, "but that's exactly what you do all the time."

The next morning we met at Scaturchio on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. Scaturchio is a pasticceria/stand-up coffee bar with the most highly touted sfogliatelle in the city. Sfoligliatelle is a pastry made with crispy layers of dough stuffed with ricotta and other good stuff. It was a classy place with golden brown freshly baked pastries. The owner treated us like kings, offering us cappuccinos and anything off the pastry shelf. I only had a few minutes to feel king-like before I left with Mo and Emanuella for the bakery factory that was a five minute walk.

Joe and I had become part of the crew, which was exactly what I wanted. However, we had to walk a fine line between being useful goffers and staying out of the way. It was tricky as scenes began without warning. One minute we were sitting around and the next minute the cameras were rolling and the scene was on. This crew was finally tuned and knew the routine so well it only took a nod to start a scene.

At the factory we were in search of sfogliatelle dough, layers rolled so thin you could see a hand through it. That was according to Michael White, famed New York Italian food chef and friend to Tony. Many of the scenes and restaurants on the schedule had been suggestions of Michael White. As it turned out that the factory no longer rolled their sfogliatelle dough, but got it pre rolled and layered from another factory. That explanation didn’t cut it for Moe. He had been sent to shoot thin dough and that’s what he expected. So, the owner found an old timer who knew how to roll thin dough and Moe got his shot.

Next the crew put a microphone on Tony, gave him a sfoliatella and with two cameras buzzed around him like bees. It was interesting to watch. Tony strolled the streets as if he was a tourist on holiday and the cameramen along with Tom ran, one ahead, one behind, dodging in and out of corners, picking foreground action and then quickly panning to Tony, running up steps to get an overhead shot, the other camera sensing and staying out of the shot.  Tony was actually being a traveler. Helping the crew get their shots was the last thing on his mind. Zack complained that they asked Tony to walk a little slower. Tony said OK and then resumed his breakneck stride.

So Tony munches on his sfogliatelle, tours the shops and comments on it all. I couldn't hear what Tony was saying, but he was doing what he does so brilliantly: talk about the food, about the shops, about the people, about the culture and about life in general.

After the sfogliatella scene, Tony was driven back to the hotel and the crew moved to Josepina's apartment near Piazza San Lorenzo Maggiore. Joe and I helped carry equipment up the four flights. Eighty-year-old Josepina climbs stairs but saves trips by standing on her balcony and throwing down a bucket tied with string to collect things like cigarettes or a bottle of wine from a delivery boy.

When the all the equipment was up, Joe and I were dismissed for a while and we went on a tour of Napoli Sottoterra, Naples Underground. 170 feet under the old city are 12 miles of aqueducts that supplied the ancient city with water.  Long abandoned as an aqueduct during World War II, it served as an air raid shelter during the bombing of Naples.

We returned to Josepina’s when the scene was finished. We sat around her dining room table and were told how she had invited Tony into her small kitchen to cook the pasta and how the crew had trouble keeping 6’3” Tony and 4’8” Josepina in the shot. The crew was served pasta covered with delicious tomato sauce that she had cooked for 6 hours. Tony was in a good mood and stayed while we ate. He told us these were the tastes he enjoyed the most, simple basic food well prepared

The next morning we packed up some clothes and headed for the Alalfi Coast. On route the plan was to stop at Pappacarbone in Cava De Terrini. It was a small stylish, chic restaurant. The owner, chef, Rocco Innaone was small in stature and one of the most energetic people I have ever met. He served us hor d’oeuveres and Bruno De Conciliis served us some Donnaluna red and Donnaluna white from his vineyard in Campania. Bruno and Tony talked about the attributes of Donnaluna which was produced with little or no preservative. The theory they were discussing was that no preservatives equals no hang over, even if a lot of wine is drunk. All the while Rocco darted in and out of the kitchen talking a mile a minute. Eventually Tony, Rocco, Bruno, Tom, Zack and Mo headed into the kitchen for cooking, eating and shooting video. Joe and I and the restaurant staff sipped wine, snacked and waited expectantly for a couple of hours like fathers waiting for a baby to be born. “Is it going OK?” we are thinking. “Does Tony like the food?” “Is he enjoying himself?” “Are the cameras working?” Eventually, they emerged from the kitchen smiling and laughing. I interpreted their mood as an indication of another good scene successfully delivered and in the can.

We were treated to a meal of pasta and clams and more good wine.

Afterwards, we headed to the tiny fishing village on the sea, Cetara. Rocco was going to put on his wet suit and fins and dive for sea urchins. When we arrived it was pouring rain. Joe and I held up umbrellas at the back of the van while the crew prepared the cameras. Tom asked Rocco if he wanted to go ahead. Rocco was full of enthusiasm. The rain lightened for a few minutes and it looked like the shoot would be going forward. The cameras were ready. Then it started pouring again. Tony was ready to call it a day. Rocco was still up for it. Tom made the difficult decision to head to the jetties and give it a shot. When they got there, the rain stopped and didn’t start again.

Rocco dove in to the churning water and came up again and again with prickly sea urchins. Waves splashed on the jetties creating good TV atmosphere. Rocco climbed up on the rocks and sat with Tony. The split open some sea urchins and ate them on the rocks, waves crashing and gray scudding clouds behind. Nice TV.

Later, when Rocco was changed and about to leave he admitted that diving in rough seas as he did was dangerous. Such is the lure of being on American TV is a scene with the famous Anthony Bourdain.

After the cameras were packed up, we drove to Salerno and checked into Lloyds Baia, a hotel on a cliff over looking the industrial port of Salerno. It was the first hotel I have ever been in where the ground floor is the top floor and you take the elevator down to get to the rooms.

We headed out for dinner, Massimo driving the van with Tom, Zack, Mo, Josh, Emanuella, Lucio and me. We were throwing around ideas of where to go when someone suggested Il Convento, the restaurant in Cetara owned by Pasquale where we'd be filming with Tony the next day. Lucio called and they were open. Ten minutes later Pasquale greeted us at the door with a big welcome. We had no idea what we were in for.

He sat at the head of the table and began the dinner with a le sabrage, that is, by nipping of the head of a bottle of prosecco with a scatola, a special knife that cleanly cracks the glass so that the cork with the glass around it goes flying across the room. As he poured my wine, I studied the top of the bottle. The glass had indeed been cleanly severed.

Pasquale presided at the head of the table while we ate and ate. We began with an appetizer plate of oil soaked anchovies, smoked tuna and octopus. Then, when he spotted someone not fond of seafood, he brought out three kinds of prosciutto and two kinds of cheese. He sliced off big chunks and passed them around the table. Then came the sea urchin. It was cut in half and inside a star shaped pattern of orange roe. Then came a plate of three fried balls, all different but all with anchovies. The one drenched in tomato sauce was spectacular. Oh, and did I mention that after he lopped off the head of the second bottle of prosecco, he carefully considered the dinner wine. When he came to a decision he dispatched his headwaiter to the cellar for a case of something special.

The waiter opened the first bottle of red the old fashioned way: with a corkscrew. The wine was great, hearty and smooth. I had a few sips before the next dish came, chunks of tuna sprinkled over a bed of cherry tomatoes halves drenched in oil.

Then came the calamari dish and finally Speghetti con colatura di alici, spaghetti and anchovies. It was a spectacular three-hour meal that left us reeling. Pasquale complained that his wife was overbearing but admitted that he needed a stern hand. None of us doubted it. He knew little English but broke out often in Janis Joplin, "O Lord, wont you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friend all have Porsches, ...." the next line is " I must make amends" but he only hummed it. I am guess that 'amends' was too much a stretch for his English vocabulary. Or, maybe he found the repentance concept repugnant?

We drove to our hotel in Salerno in a splendid stuffed stupor.

The next day we drove back to Cetara to follow Pasquale. He began with the fishermen. It was late morning, their catch was in and they were tending their nets. Pasquale jumped on their boats, told jokes and slapped them on their backs.

Then he moved to the narrow shop lined street that led up from the beach. The shops, with their colorful fruits, vegetables and meats, were out of some art director’s idea of what a picturesque Mediterranean should look like. It was a romantically beautiful scene that Pasquale bounded through, buying the provisions for his restaurant. He greeted people loudly with big hugs and expressive arms painting pictures in the air. He hugged his friends and joked with the shop owners and, as usual, it was the old Italian woman who was the most uninhibited and most fun.

The crew finished the street scene and prepared their equipment for the lunch scene with Tony. Tony arrived and Pasquale greeted him warmly. He sat Tony down in the out door poach and poured him wine and put some very interesting looking shrimp in front of him. Tony invited me to have one. It was a taste and texture of shrimp that I had never experienced before. I can't say that I liked it. It was only later that I discovered that it was very good shrimp, but raw.

After the lunch scene with Pasquale, we went down to the seaside to do some b-roll of Tony sipping a drink and talking about his impressions of Naples and the coast. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but I did hear Tom pushing him to say more. Tony turned and addressed Tom. He used an orange as a metaphor, saying that when you first squeeze an orange you get sweet juice, but if you squeeze it too much you get bitterness. Tom was undeterred and gently pushed Tony some more. (As a producer you can never have too much material.) Tony responded by pulling Tom into the scene and interviewing him about what it takes to be a producer of a top television show, asking if Tom had any advice to give young NYU students. It was funny but Tom is not comfortable on camera and wisely knows that the show is about Tony, so he tried to get out of the shot. However, Tony pulled him back in, at one point putting his arm around Tom to keep him from escaping. The joke ran its course quickly. Tony let go of Tom and went back to sipping his drink and watching the Adriatic in fading light. It looked pretty from where I sat and will likely be great video.

That evening everyone was exhausted, so we decided to go to a local pizza place and get to bed early in advance of an early call the next day. We had beer and pizza by the meter. (we were a two meter crew.)
Josh went out to get cigarettes from a machine on the street outside. He put money in and the machine was about to give up some Marlboros but there was one more step. The machine wanted to see some ID. Josh came back to the table bewildered. Emanulla came to the rescue with her ID. She also smoked but like many Italians, she rolled her own cigarettes.

The next day the crew was to film Tony driving along the Almafi coast. In line with the show's sense of humor they got a tiny Smart Car for Tony and he crammed his 6 foot 2 body into it. Joe and I and some others got into the van, Tony in his Smart Car and the camera crew in a truck with special rigging to capture Tony navigating the tiny, winding cliffs of the Almfi coast.

We, in the van, arrived at the town of Amalfi two hours ahead of the crew. It was a beautiful town, though swamped with tourists. We got a few tables at an outdoor café in the center of town overlooking the beach. It was very sunny but a little too chilly for swimming.

When Tony arrived with the crew it was time for lunch and a little wine. I was at a table with Tony and Joe. Tony ate his lunch glued to his iPhone. Throughout the shoot during down times he constantly text, twittered and emailed. He took a break from his iPhone and we chatted. He talked freely about his life, its ups and downs, his parents, his wife and child. I found him to be exactly who he is on TV, gracious, considerate but with an edge upon which you do not want to be impaled.

After lunch we drove back to Cava to attend a circolo, a kind of men’s club where they play cards, eat salami and drink red wine. Tony was escorted into the circolo by his new friends, Rocco and Pasquale. I waited outside with my new friend Rosario. Rosario was nice to me. I loved it when we walked across the courtyard arm in arm in the way of Italian male friends.
We were seated on a bench, I working on my Italian conversation, when we saw Tony, Rocco & Pasquale burst out of the door of the circolo and rush toward the center of town. Three cameras followed, buzzing around them, racing to keep ahead. Apparently, Tony quickly bored of the circolo and Rocco and Pasquale had in mind something that would entertain him. I, the concerned father wanting his son’s show to be a success, judged that this unexpected and spontaneous happening to be good TV. How can you go wrong with enthusiasm the likes of Rocco and Pasquale?

After the scene we drove back to Naples anticipating a good night’s rest and a late call the next day. The call stayed the same but, as it turned out, the night was still young.

We ate at a restaurant close to the hotel. At the table next to us was an Italian film crew who were shooting a documentary on architecture. After dinner it was either go to bed or go to meet Emanulla at one of the many bars on Piazza Bellini. We chose the bars and had a few beers waiting for Emanulla who, as it turned out, stayed home to get some rest. Zack came with us and fell asleep at the table.

After a liter of beer, Josh told us a story about when he was driving across country with a friend. They were 4 hours from Salt Lake City when Josh decided to call someone he knew there. The Salt Lake City friend was glad to hear from Josh and invited him to a keg party he was having that evening. Josh and his companion drove as fast as they could, stopping only to buy a case of beer for the party.

When he got to the friend’s house he found a bunch of guys standing around eating from small plates. It turned out that it was a “cake” party. The story had an urban legend sound to it and Josh offered to call his friend up on the spot to corroborate. That sounded like fun and we got our iPhones ready to video Josh’s side of the conversation. The friend’s answering machine picked up so all we got was Josh leaving a criptic We decided it would be fun to drunkenly challenge Josh’s veracity and demanded he call his friend to corroborate the story. The friend didn’t answer but we all documented Josh’s side of the conversation with our phone video recording.

Back at the hotel some Zack and Joe went to their room but a few of us gluttons headed for the bar. The kitchen was about to close, but they got club sandwiches for us. The bar staff seemed overwhelmed with us, except for Angelo who told us he spend a year at Disney World and an intimate relationship with Minnie Mouse. We liked that.
Moe got inspires and ordered a round of $100 a shot cognacs. Then someone else ordered another round of the same. Then Josh’s friend returned his call. We got all the iPhone cameras running and documented that keg/cake story was actually true. It wsa suggested that the video might be something for the No Reservations blog, but that idea was quickly nixed. I was exhausted and headed for our room. Tom came up a half hour later.

The next day, Tony’s last day on the shoot, was more eventful that anyone wanted. We had an eleven o’clock call and drove to Pizzaria Pellone on Via Nazionale, one of the best pizzaria’s in Naples. The crew took the usual two hours to set up cameras and to put up lighting in the restaurant. Outside on the street I watch people line up at this pizza hot spot to get margarita pizza, folded pizza and fried pizza. A big crowd stood around talking and eating their lunch. It would have been impossible for us to know that there was someone in that crowd watching us, waiting for their chance.

After the shooting of Tony inside eating the house specialty pizza, Rosario drove him to the hotel and the rest of us sat down to eat.

At Pellone they cooked the pizza in a wood fired oven. The outer crust was scorched and  a little bitter. But the inner part was fantastic. It was Margarita Pizza with pools of tomato sauce and little plateaus of mozzarella. It was juicy and sweet, the best pizza I’ve ever had.
After lunch, I sat in the van while the crew packed in the equipment. I noticed that people on the crew starting looking a alarmed. “Where’s camera four?” I heard someone ask. I heard it over and over again, “Camera four, camera four, camera four.” I got out of the van and kicked a tire out of anger and frustration. A camera had been stolen and probably with it half the footage from the scene. Bad news. With only half the footage the scene would not be as good. It turned out that much of my fear and depression was unwarranted. It was not one of the cameras used that day and no footage was lost.

So, Naples, the pickpocket capitol of the world had scored a $7000 camera.

It was in the van ride to the next location that I saw Tom, my son, at his best. I had been admiring his producing skills all along. He was patient even when it took hours to prepare to shoot a scene or eat lunch. He was very patient and good humored and joked with the crew and other production staff even when the delays were cutting into the time he had to shoot scenes. But after the theft he was at his best. Everyone felt very bad about loosing the camera. Everyone wondered if they could have done something, if there was something they should have done. Everyone, especially the camera crew, wondered if it was there fault, if they deserved some blame. But Tom laid no blame; rather he tried to buoy the crew up, telling them that the pain of the moment would soon be forgotten. Tom is a kind person, but also smart. He still had a day and a half to shoot and knew that people would do better work if they felt better.

Tom dispatched Josh and Mario to the police station to file a report for insurance and we headed for a location on a hill where Zack could get good angles of Tony riding a scooter through Naples. (Later Josh reported that it took forever before an police officer saw him. Then the officer was indignant, asking Josh want in the world did he expect him to do about the theft? When the officer became aware that Josh only wanted documentation from him, he calmed down. “A paper, I can do,” he said. Josh also reported that the police station had the best espresso in town.

At the top of narrow street overlooking Centro Storico two scooters purred, waiting for an action cue. Around them the regular traffic of Neapolitan scooters sped by at clearly dangerous speeds. But that wasn’t enough. If they weren’t talking to the other person on the scooter, they were talking on their cell phone. I held my breath. On a signal from Tom, Tony put his fire engine red scooter into gear and took off down the hill. I would have thought they would have at least let Tony practice driving the thing on a quiet street. Tony is, after all, a valuable commodity and certainly an inexperienced driver on the mean streets of Naples. But, no cocoon for Tony. He shot off like a bullet. What can you expect from a man who flipped an ATV in Australia and walked away?

After following Tony around the streets of Naples for an hour we moved to our last location with Tony, Buongustaio, the trattoria off Piazza Carità. Tom sent Tony, Josh and I to an outdoor café to have a drink and wait for the location to be lit for the scene.

At a café on the piazza I ordered white wine, Josh a beer and Tony a Negroni. Tony spent the first half hour mostly on his iPhone. When he ordered his second Negroni, we began to talk. He told us how proud he was of the Rome show. He felt it was the best work of everyone involved, that Zack had done his best shooting and lighting, that Tom had done his best producing, that the editor was at the top of his game, and he felt that he, Tony, had done his best work ever and if he never did anything as good, he would be satisfied that he had done it once. I had heard talk of putting the Rome show up for an Emmy. I am looking forward to seeing how it does.

I was curious about his drink and asked him what a Negroni was. He said it was a drink invented by an Italian Count Camillo Negroni, that was one third sweet vermouth, one third Campari and one third gin. Tony said it could be your best friend or your worst enemy. He said he never has more than two and proved it by switching to wine. I tried ordered one. I like the taste and told Tony. Tony said “Ut oh! Watch out.”

Negroni, according to Tony, embodies the Italian point of view on life, sweet and bitter combined. Americans, he said,  “want sweet, sweet, sweet!” But, he said admiringly, Italians know that you need the bitter to enjoy the sweet. I liked the drink a lot and exceeded Tony’s limit the next night. On that occasion, I found it to be a very good friend.

We had been sitting and waiting for over two hours. I was having a great time, but Tony wanted to get the scene over. Josh was on the phone getting a report from Tom. Tony interrupted. “Tell him you have a very impatient host.” That wasn’t enough. “Tell him the host is getting very drunk.” “Tell him the host is slurring his words and fighting with the waiter.” Josh smiled nervously and hung up his phone. Tony turned sullenly back to his iPhone. It was another thirty minutes before we were called.

Tony strode into Buongustaio and saw a small frosted basket with some lights inside hanging over the table. “It took you three hours to hang a light bulb?” he said sarcastically.

The scene went well. Our fixer Emanuella and driver Rosario sat at the table with Tony. I hung outside feeling good that the main part of the shoot was over, feeling the warm night air, and feeling the Negroni. The tiny restaurant was popular with hip, young, creative Neapolitans. I chatted with a PhD musicologist candidate and with an attractive young journalist who lived in Berlin where she reported for Italian papers and magazines. On her face was the same soft smile that graced Emanuella. It seemed to say they were secure in the knowledge that they are the keepers of the generations and deserving of the attentions of men.

After the meal, Tony came out feeling good. All the crew grouped together around Tony and the Berlin journalist snapped a photo. And that was it. Rosario was waiting with the BMW and Tony was gone.

Of course, Tony is what you are really interested in, but I want to tell you about two additional interesting things. In terms of time and space they are connected to a Bourdain shoot.

The next day was a B-roll day. Moe got into the BMW and headed for the coast and the rest of us got into the van to get some sights around Naples. We needed, of course, to get an overview of the city, some piles of garbage that decorated most street corners and the Neapolitan national flags hanging from most balconies.

Eventually we found ourselves back in Centro Storico getting shots of people, of faces of Neapolitans as they leaned out the windows of their ground floor apartments, taking in the world around them. I had never before seen people so comfortable and unperturbed when people came up and put a camera in their faces.

We were on Via San Biagio Dei Librai when we noticed some street players. First Tom was curious and then he became very interested. They were a colorful lot, heavily made up with puffy costumes. The women were played by men, who were constantly picking up their skirts and flashing their legs. They were doing an original comic operetta that was slapstick, bawdy and sometimes ribald. The accordion player squeezed his box and they sang and chased each other through the crowd of on lookers. It was great stuff and a perfect metaphor for Naples. Tom had Zack shot it twice. He turned to me and said of his good fortune to happen upon such a good scene, “This town is good me.”

After the second performance we had our typical two-hour lunch and did more B-roll for the rest of the day.

As the sun was setting we went back to the hotel. Club sandwiches, beer and water were brought to a conference room and we spent a couple of hours sorting through the equipment and packing it for the flight home the next day.

When the equipment was all packed it was time to celebrate and finally meet Emanuella and some of her friends at Piazza Bellini. Zack, Joe and Moe declined out of exhaustion, but Tom, Josh and I got into a cab around 11PM.

We found Emanulla and her friends seated around a table outside. I started in on the Negronis and Tom and Josh worked on liters of beer. I was having a great time chatting with Margerita, a documentary producer with a house in Rome but who wanted to move back to Naples. She had that same womanly Neapolitan smile and I felt I was in good hands.

The evening was already magical when three more of her friends showed to up the ante. Davide, who had helped with the motor scooter scene earlier in the day reached into various pockets of his jacket and pull out pieces of his flute. Another friend, an Italian from Argentina, put his guitar on his knee and the third one, a man with a beautiful long sad face who had the stage name of Karamazoff did the vocals. They had been performing for money at other bars but sang for us as friends. That is the magic of traveling as a TV crew. It opens doors and has its privileges.

The trio serenaded us with lively and syncopated songs about Neapolitan women. The basic gist was you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. They sang and we bought drinks til the bar began shutting down and girlfriends pulled at jacket sleeves at about 3AM.

Emanuella wanted to go home but we shamed her into finding an after party. We walked to Piazza Dante and found a cave bar carved out of the side of a church. There were leather jackets, drag queens, tattoos and piercings. It was subterranean and a little scary but I was courageous to have my fourth Negroni. I took a sip and prayed to my patron saint Anthony B.

That bar closed up too quickly. We said good-bye to Manuella and began to walk back to the hotel. I had a feeling the night wasn’t over but had no real hope of extending it. But then we passed a narrow street and heard the sound of voices. I was about to ask Josh if he felt adventurous, but it wasn’t necessary. Josh was already half way up the street to something, we knew not what.

One side of the small piazza was a bar and on the other side a food stand. Apparently it was a college area for everyone inside the bar, including the bar maids, looked like teenagers. I had another Negroni.

Josh was really hungry. In the food stand they grilled something that looked like salami, cheese and white packaged bread. It wasn’t good but that didn’t stop six foot four Josh from downing a half dozen. A man came up to Josh asking for money. Josh insisted that he do something for the money, something like jiggling his belly. I think it was lost in translation and the man left.

We started walking again and Josh got on his cell phone to someone back in NY from the productions office. It was 4:30 in Rome so it must have been around 11PM in NY. Josh started off the conversation by telling her that he was paralyzed. But it was OK because he was getting feeling in his legs. Then he yells excitedly into the phone, “I’m walking, yes I am walking! I am running! I’m running through the streets of Naples!” It was a wild, drunkin’ hysterically funny rant, but you probably had to be there.

The last thing I remember before arriving at the hotel was Josh taking a pose next to a statue in the center of Piazza G. Bovio and peeing with exceptional power. I have pictures to prove it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Managing Creativity - Stage 3

Managing Creativity - Stage 3
THE ADVOCATOR (promoter, sales agent, huckster)
Does promoting yourself and your work sound like as much fun as root canal? Maybe you didn't know it is a stage of creativity. Ann Cefola thinks it is and is here to help us through that daunting but necessary task.

Frank: Ann, help us. How do we promote ourselves?
Ann: Let’s start by reframing the idea of promotion.  My friends, artist Lora Friedman and poet Linda Simone, in their creative arts workshop for kids called Magical Boxes, explain that art is incomplete until it is shared. 
Ancient wisdom acknowledges this—Lao-Tzu says, “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.”  That’s the dearest wish of most artists—that our works endure.  Sitting on finished projects prevents this last step—getting it out into the universe.
Yet promotion and marketing feel like the antithesis—like selling insurance or used cars—of the highly inspired artistic quest.  How do artists, who are naturally sensitive, introspective and outside society, jump into that glaring spotlight? You appropriately compare that pain to “root canal.” 
Again, it’s a question of reframing:  I am not promoting myself, I am promoting my work.  To complete the creative process, I must be in service to the work.  The work is bigger than I am.  Sometimes I am unsure where it comes from.  I do my best to honor it. 
What has helped me has been translating the poems of Hélène Sanguinetti.  I go to great lengths to get her work published.  A voice inside me says, “Hey Ann, if you can be so devoted to Hélène’s work, what about doing the same for your own?”  That’s a pretty good argument.  I have to believe in my own work the same way I believe in hers.

Frank: What you’re saying feels like the crux of the matter. Can you elaborate on the work being separate?  If I could own that, it would be easier to support my work and be an effective advocate. Is there a “cutting of the cord”?  Do you consciously work at that separation?
Ann:  Yes, consciously making that separation is critical.  Let’s review the two other personas that also do that: The first, the wunderkind, is the magical child that creates with freedom and abandon; the second, the editor, is a discerning adolescent who crafts the work; and the third, the advocate, is the energized adult who will take the work into the world.
These three aspects of creativity must always remain separate.  In earlier conversations, I talked about never letting the wunderkind and editor be in the same room at once.  Why?  They would end up fighting, taking the focus from the art.
Similarly, when it’s time to promote a project, the wunderkind and editor must go.  The wunderkind wants to play, and the editor to correct—two distracting impulses when linear attention is needed.  To help make this conscious separation, I call upon the advocate as a third person to advance my work.
What does that mean?  When you have to do something you don’t want to do, you set aside time and do it: filling out tax forms, cleaning the house, sitting in a dentist chair, standing on line at the post office. In those moments I may absent a part of myself.  I move, in essence, from right to left brain.  I call upon the advocate. 
The advocate has no problem performing clerical tasks such as phone calls, web research, writing cover letters, etc.  In addition, the advocate is like radar constantly scanning for opportunities to promote my work.  If you’re hearing a mechanical quality to the advocate, you’re right: It gets the job done.  What’s the upside? These simple tasks afford a tranquility that may be lacking in earlier, more tumultuous phases of creation.
Frank: I like doing the clerical tasks. The problem is looking someone in the eye and telling him or her about my work as if it is good and important. The temptation to apologize is so strong that I often succumb to it.
Ann:  This is a problem for most of us.  Hélène, the poet I mentioned, will close her eyes and quote a line from her work as if reciting Shakespeare.  I am in awe of that faith in her oeuvre—it is not ego at all.  It’s belief in what she calls “the poem,” the animating and mysterious language that she listens for and dutifully records.
For most of us, finding a way to talk about our work can be daunting.  John Dos Passos says, “If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works.”  Once asked at a family gathering what I wrote about, I turned red and said, “Things,” only it came out like “They-eeennngggs,” the 20-second party version of the word. 
Another time, I called a poet-friend and asked, “How would you characterize my work?”  I had to write a paragraph for a poetry contest.  I was amazed when she spoke about it in depth for 15 minutes.
That is one solution: To ask people we know and trust what our work means to them, what the important themes are, what the original contribution to the art is, what they love about what we produce.
I am sure if I asked you about your favorite filmmaker, you could be quite articulate about what you appreciate in that person’s work and how it has helped your own artistic path, right?
Frank: Many films blow me away. That being said, I’ll pick Barry Levinson (“Diner”, “Rain Man”). He has a way of creating characters, constructing scenes and managing emotions that goes right to my heart. This subtle magic is difficult to attain; yet, in his capable hands, it is compelling and deeply involving.
Ann:  What is your favorite scene in “Diner”?
Frank:  In this film, Daniel Stern hangs out at the diner with the guys and feels resentful that he has to go home to his new bride, Ellen Barkin. There is a scene where he is angry with her for putting his albums back wrong. “You can’t just put my records back any way you want!” he yells, “Pink Floyd is P! It goes between O and Q!” She doesn’t get it and he is practically crying.
This scene, both absurd and real, twists my mind and breaks my heart.
Ann:  Wouldn't it be[FV1]  a joy for any of Daniel Stern's friends to go home to a beautiful woman like Ellen Barkin?  And yet cutting short the ritual buddy time requires Daniel to literally leave his pals behind.

At home, Ellen Barkin carelessly rearranges one of Daniel’s albums—much like his life.  Pink Floyd typically champions resistance against institutions in songs such as "The Wall”; even Pink Floyd encourages him to resist the constraints of marriage.  In this perfect metaphor, Daniel’s new wife has stuffed his rebellion and disordered his life all at once.

Daniel, caught between two worlds—the old that sustained him, and the
new that attracted him, has a meltdown.  His confusion and pain feel real to the audience.
Having explored those two scenes, I see that you enjoy films where simple gestures communicate complex emotion; where vulnerable people are challenged by their own choices.  Does that sound right?
Frank: That’s a terrific scene analysis and my appreciation of it.
Ann:  How would you talk about your own work now to someone who has never seen it?
Frank: “’A Man Thinking About Having An Affair’ is a documentary where simple gestures communicate complex emotions and where vulnerable people are challenged by their choices.” I like that phrasing because it makes the work seem interesting without sounding overly promotional.
Ann:  Can you take what you’ve said and apply it to explain the plot? 
Frank: The main character, in his late 50s, is not getting along with his wife. He runs into a woman he’s always been attracted to and goes on a date with her. The story then examines attraction, love, desire, loyalty, honor — it digs deeper into the man’s thoughts and emotions in scenes with a therapist, where the man tries to understand his feelings.
Ann:  It sounds like you’re fascinated with people in the process of becoming more authentic.  This transformation may be ongoing for all of us; but a constellation of events or a critical decision by a character may trigger life-changing momentum. .
Frank: “A Man Thinking About Having an Affair” is about self-exploration — about me finding out about myself. My other film, “A Perfect Stranger”, is partially that. I like your phrase “becoming more authentic.”  Therapy is a standard way to explore one’s self; a more unorthodox way is to make art. My film Montreal Main did both and was creatively the most successful thing I’ve done.
Ann:  I’m not surprised.  When artists take personal, emotional risks—the self exploration you describe—their work becomes more authentic.  James Joyce said that the in the specific we find the universal.  People identify with the character’s struggle.  That’s what art does: transform both the character and viewer.  The ancient Greeks who knew the ending of Oedipus Rex, wanted to see it again and again.  That’s the pull of great art.
So, now, what are you going to do to promote your films?  What does your inner advocate say?  Anything new or different you might consider?
Frank: Two things that stand out from our conversation are “small emotional gestures conveying complex emotions” and the necessity to take personal risks. What’s new and different is talking about my work in the same scary way that I make the stuff in the first place.
Ann:  That’s true:  that vulnerable place also the place from where we must promote our art.  We can make it feel safer by talking first to peers, people we trust—and also ask them for ideas how to promote our work.  Every artist needs a brain trust—two or more friends who believe passionately in the person’s creativity ability and who will speak truthfully about it. 
Frank: Serendipitously, I am days away from completing my enhanced eBook, The Metropolis Organism, an electronic book with audio and video. Over the course of this interview, I have sent 800 invitations to my January 29th book launch party. That month I will exhibit book stills on the wall at the Nyack (NY) Starbucks. A friend is doing publicity for the launch and marketing thereafter. Another, a professional media specialist, has agreed to get me onto local radio and TV,and to see where it goes from there.
I had been nervous thinking about getting to the marketing phase. But I don’t feel nervous now that friends and others are taking me seriously and are willing, even enthusiastic, to help.
Thank you, Ann.
Ann:  You’re welcome, Frank.  You add an important final note—there is an appropriate, even welcomed, place in our lives for the advocate.  Yours is doing well.  Keep up the great work, and congratulations on your outrageously inventive book!  It deserves all the energy your advocate can muster.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Managing Creativity - Stage 2 THE EDITOR

I am pleased to discuss with Ann Cefola the second stage in her strategy to manage the creative process:

Frank: Ann, you’ve given us permission to play unencumbered. I imagine a child finger painting. But I want to create something professional to communicate with other people. How do I get from here to there?

Ann: Your challenge as an artist is to access that child-space where you can have fun, create new worlds and—as you say—get your hands messy. Once you have exhausted yourself that way, you need to back off from the work. Even the subconscious—the inner child—needs a break, nap time, milk and cookies, whatever!

Once you’ve guided that child, whom I call the Wunderkind, out of the room, it’s time to invite in the Editor. The Editor loves to create order out of chaos. The Editor will sort, select, try out, rearrange. More adult than the Wunderkind, the Editor is also playful and daring: like a teenager with some knowledge and the adrenaline to try something new.

Frank: I’m glad that I can still play. I thought the Editor was going to be a taskmaster and I’d have to be clear-headed and detached. I’m not sure I am capable of that.

What does the Editor look like at work?

Ann: When you get tired after sustained creative activity or don’t know what to do next, that’s time to call in the Editor. You may have a longing for order—to rearrange dishes, sort through clothes, or clear the basement. Those transition activities can help summon your Editor. They create time and space for a shift to occur in both your brain and environment.

There’s a definite shift. To create a manuscript, I may spread poems on the floor. My Editor will quickly select and group them, put them together and pull them apart. It feels fun and intuitional—I have no idea where my Editor is leading. Days later, I may move several poems. My Editor is fine-tuning. I trust her completely.

Another way to invoke the Editor is before sleep. I can think, “I need help editing this poem.” It’s like placing an order: I go to sleep while my Editor turns on the lamplight and gets to work. The next day there may be some new ideas.

What would you ask your Editor for help with?

Frank: I want to know if my work makes sense, communicates, engages – in short, is it any good?

Ann: You would ask, “Is there anything I need to do to improve the film?” You might live with that question for a week. Step away from the creative churning for a while.

Frank: I am curious how your Editor interrelates with other Editors—in workshops, writers groups and with writer-friends?

Ann: My Wunderkind loves workshops and sharing work with others. She enjoys seeing what other people are doing. She finds inspiration and challenge among other artists.

Editing, however, is a solo practice. If a document is circulated, edits input by each person require quiet and focus. In graduate workshops, when 15 Editors suggested edits, I never knew which had the most merit; many were contradictory. My Editor felt overloaded and overwhelmed.

Teachers encouraged us to find two or three people we could turn to over a literary lifetime. Integrity is crucial here: Editors who constantly applaud work are useless. Similarly, Editors who do not understand the poet’s intent offer no value. I am blessed to know two award-winning poets whose Editors love to work with my Editor. We know we are there to support, challenge and promote one another’s work.

Frank: I learned something about giving feedback from my film class. For the first five years I taught it, I critiqued students’ one-page scripts. One semester, I got two scripts, one well written and the other—an incoherent script.

While the good writer made a so-so film, the incoherent writer created a spectacular one. I realized their scripts could not wholly convey their ideas; furthermore, my criticism could have been destructive. For 25 years now, I haven’t critiqued student scripts. I find what is good in them and bring that to students’ attention. This unconditional love works wonders—their film quality is much better.

Ann: Your story illustrates the interplay between the Wunderkind and the Editor beautifully. That student with the tidy script allowed her Editor to participate in her project too soon. Sure, she could hand in a great script—but the Editor’s continued presence created a less than adventuresome project.

The second student, with the crazy script, allowed her Wunderkind to be in control—its incoherence shows that a preverbal Wunderkind was guiding her project! That audaciousness and playfulness continued into the film.

Here’s the lesson: The Wunderkind and Editor cannot be in the room at the same time. The Wunderkind thrives on creative chaos and the Editor on patterns and order. If the Wunderkind is playing, the Editor will say, “What on earth are you doing? Here, let’s clean this up now!” And the Wunderkind looks around meekly and shrugs, “Okay.” Editors by nature are authoritative and that’s intimidating to the Wunderkind.

I once coached a man who could not get started writing his manuscript. I explained that his Editor was in the room. “What will you say to your Editor to make him leave?” I asked. He thought and said, “’I value you and will need you later. Right now, I am asking you to leave.’” After that, his manuscript poured out in a matter of months.

It takes 10 years for the Editor to learn his or her chosen craft. And, once we learn those rules, we can break them. That’s the Editor’s choice too. That’s why the Editor can end up being just as playful as the Wunderkind—but in a more adult, conscious, deliberate way.

What does the Wunderkind feel like to you? Your Editor? When do you know they are battling?

Frank: My Wunderkind is fear. When I explore a project, I feel it’s good it if it scares me. For my last documentary, “A Perfect Stranger,” I would go to Starbucks or Washington Square Park, find someone that interested me based on their appearance, then ask if I could do an in-depth profile on them.

Approaching strangers is scary. So is pushing them to reveal who they are. I paralleled the idea with an attempt to find out who I am. Now that’s really scary! (see the doc at: )

I like walking on the edge. To me, art is on the edge.

Ann: Georgia O’Keeffe spoke about walking a knife’s edge, knowing she will probably fall off, but being compelled to do so anyway. If you think about it, a kid would never have any problem walking up to a stranger and saying, “I want to make a movie about you.”

When the Editor is in charge, make sure the Wunderkind doesn’t sneak back in. The Editor needs solitude. If a novelist is putting final touches on a book, the Wunderkind might say, “Let’s have aliens land in Chapter 3,” or “Why can’t the main character live happily ever after instead of dying?” Sometimes there can be valuable insights but mostly it’s an attempt to derail completion.

In the final moments of completing a project, stay tuned with that energy that brought you to this point. Say, “I still don’t know where this is going, but I trust the outcome.” If you are picturing reviews, visualizing the audience, take a break. Do what you need to do to get back in your zone—whether saying a prayer, doing a little writing, or going somewhere for a walk. Art is a spiritual practice and any background noise needs to be addressed.

Frank: That is really useful and I know it will be to others as well.

Thank you, Ann. This has been great. I look forward to the final character in your triumvirate, the Advocator.

Ann: My pleasure, Frank! Next time we’ll talk about getting our work out in the world.