You dirty rat, you killed my dryer!

So today was interesting. One of those average, hum-drum vacation weekends at a beautiful mountain cabin (yes we know, stolidly dull) turned wholly exciting come laundry time this afternoon. Let’s just say the heat setting we chose on the dryer had an extra dose we were not expecting.

The cabin belongs to my employer and she graciously allows us to use it from time to time to get away. After the last few frazzled weeks spent in pre-production and production, we looked forward to a very even-tempered, non-life-threatening escape from “normal” life. But hey, we can’t all live our lives without the onset of fiery tragedies, can we?

What should have tipped us off were those first showers the other morning, when we buried our faces into clean towels and smelled… smoke? We brushed it off as the last guests not having properly washed the linens, but had I used a bit more of my “Sherlock Holmes” intuition, perhaps I could have inferred this one before the danger struck. In any event, here’s how it went down…

Liz had just started the first items drying in the dryer about noon today. I dropped off a few clothing items to add to the wash and went back upstairs. But when I looked out the windows and saw plumes of smoke billowing from the side of the house, I thought: “that’s a little heavy for dryer steam.” I bolted onto the deck, peered over the railing, and sure enough – it was not the pleasant aroma of dryer sheets that met my nostrils. At first I thought maybe it was the air conditioner, because I had just notched the thermostat down a degree. So I raced inside and turned it off. I raced back out. Smoke continued to billow. I rushed around to the side and clambered under the deck. Smoke was definitely flowing from the dryer vent. Panic set in and I flew downstairs, where Liz was still setting up the wash, oblivious to the danger. I opened the dryer, yanked out the clothing and saw flames–yes flames–licking up behind the small grate in the back of the dryer. Terror! “We have a fire!, we have a fire!” I yelled. And all I saw in my head was this beautiful cabin igniting in flames.

But I remembered also seeing three fire extinguishers in the garage yesterday, so heart racing, I flew to the garage, fingers fumbling for the right key. I rushed in, grabbed the first extinguisher I saw and ran back to the basement. Liz had tossed some water into the dryer by now, so it was smoldering, thick white smoke filling the space. I pulled the pin on the extinguisher, aimed and–

Nothing. It was empty. Gaahh!

I couldn’t see past the smoke clouds, so I blew them away, which only made the flames shoot up again! I blasted out the back door and raced to the garage again, hyperventilating, legs rubbery with fear. I grabbed the next fire extinguisher, pulled the pin!–Nada. I grabbed the third with a prayer, pulled the pin… and Yes! I flew back to the basement, smoke choking the air, alarms blaring everywhere. I stuck the nozzle into the drum and blasted the flames. It was out. We then rushed outside and blasted the vent under the porch.

The house phone rang, with the fire department on the other end. I had to bustle outside again to hear over the shrill beeping of the alarms, cordless phone signal crackling out of range. I told them we had the fire out, but it was best to send a truck just to be sure. Things had mostly calmed by now and the next several moments were comprised of missed calls, dropped calls, the owner calling the neighbor after getting the alerts on her phone (while in Texas!), the neighbor and I hauling the dryer to the porch, and finally the arrival of the Fire Department – three trucks and the captain, no less! They checked for heat in the walls and began airing out the basement. Aside from the horrible smell, reports all looked good. We had averted a major crisis. That only left the dryer. We were still unsure if it was something we had caused.

The fire department unscrewed the back, pulled off the venting and what you see in Exhibit A spilled out onto the cement. A massive clump of charred dog food. The Captain said it was likely a rat, from somewhere in the house: “an inside job,” if you will. The little scoundrel had been stowing away for a big winter. For the record, Natural Choice brand dog food burns fast and burns smelly!

There’s no telling how long this situation existed. I’m almost certain the last folks to use the dryer did have a small fire in there (the smelly towels) and it simply subsided when the load was done, thankfully contained in metal housing. Still, those flames could have easily ignited something else. If I’m not mistaken, the dog food was practically sitting on the heat coils.

After some further investigation, we found the supply in question across the hall in the basement pantry. A rather ambitious little varmint for sure, making his way up over (or under) the house from one side to the other, crawling into the dryer and hiding his secret stash. But that’s what you get living out in the woods, as we can attest to back home. Nature has a way of foiling your best attempts at peaceful living.

Ask us about the possum carcass underneath our porch two weeks ago, cooking up in the 95 degree summer weather. mmm.


Generations back, the women in my family prepared massive quantities of food for their hungry husbands and sons returning from the fields or for the influx of families after church on a Sunday afternoon.

My variation was feeding a cast and crew of nearly 30 on a film set — three meals a day for five days. For the most part, I enjoyed the process. It was the least we could do for people volunteering 16-hour days in an over-heated house under blazing lights. It saved us considerable cost (I did the entire thing for under $900, thank you very much) and David could rest assured knowing that everyone would be well fed. We decided early on that this was a preferable option to me stressing him out as a second-crunching production manager.

We’re coming off nearly three weeks of 5-6 hours of sleep a night. But there’s been no time to crash as we both jumped immediately back into catch up with work and freelance. I found myself more tired after the night I got 7 hours than after waking up on 6 once again. Perhaps my body has gone into a lower-performance mode for efficiency’s sake. My brain may be too muddled to acknowledge this.

But overall, we couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew. The cast was the easy part, and our leads came through the talent development company for which David works. We broke the cardinal rule–never work with kids or animals–by casting an 11-year-old lead (plus his 9-year-old brother as a body double) and a 6-year-old supporting actress … not to mention the guinea pig. Those kids had a work ethic more solid than most adults I know. Long days in debilitating heat, and still going strong. (The sugar our AD doled out may have helped.) The parents were fantastic, too. Patient and supportive in lending their kids and their time to allow us to get what we needed, finishing up late Sunday evening when the boys were set to begin school Monday morning!

Our crew was a challenge. We started two months out with only one or two roles filled, and no idea where the rest would come from. By God’s grace–worked out through SCAD job boards, and craigslist, we landed an entire crew of professionals and experienced students willing to give us five days and more of their lives on the basis of David’s script and his portfolio on our web site.

From the start, we knew this project was far greater than we could handle alone, and that drove us to prayer. The results showed. Our production wasn’t perfect, but so many people commented that the atmosphere and spirit of the set. No grousing or grumbling, despite the hours. People treating each other decently and professionally. Apologies when tempers ran thin. I am especially proud of my husband, who kept a level head and stayed 100% focused to steer the entire project — even during day 2 of 5 when it appeared there was no way we would make it through the entire schedule.

Saturday evening, I concocted spaghetti and garlic bread and such. The entire cast and crew sprawled out around the downstairs lounge area, chatting, dreaming, considering. People who never would have connected without this project.

This film took all the energy and focus and grit and manpower of a good old-fashioned barn raising, and more. It’s not done yet. So much work for David in the editing suite. Some final close ups to shoot. A film composer to find. Festivals to research.

But nonetheless, it’s in the can.

And it was good.

Profoundly Lost

Yes, I’m a LOST geek. It’s the only television show I’ve ever watched from start to finish (picking up in Season 2). Though it’s been far from perfect, I believe the show found its salvation in setting a finish date and working the last three seasons with an end game in mind.

Lost has espoused and explored some fascinating threads of philosophy and theology—but it’s never purported to be a Christian show, no matter how many sermon illustrations are drawn from it or how much time our Wednesday night small group spent hashing out the implications of the previous night’s episode.

Still, the finale moved me in a way that only a few other story endings have:

• The Last Battle (the final book of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles; and this despite the fact it’s one of my least favorite stories in the sequence)
• The film endings of The Two Towers and The Return of the King
• The final chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (holding my breath to see if the film will pull it off)

A pat “Christian” ending to Lost would not have been effective or believable—the show wasn’t set up that way, and to twist it that direction at the end would have been cheating and ultimately unsatisfying. But the choices made in the final episode created, in my view, the most profound sense of and longing for heaven that I’ve seen on television.

In the Lost-world, the characters are able to get to their heaven through any path of choices or faiths. Clearly, that’s not the Gospel. But the essence of the heaven created on the show got some things right:

• Time lines as we understand them on this earth mean nothing in the big picture
• The people and relationships in which we choose to invest mean more than anything else we will ever do; career, possessions, position, you name it; these are the gold that will last rather than the dross that will burn away
• We are each created and placed here for a purpose, and fulfilling that calling is vital to who we are in an eternal perspective
• Death for the believer is a beautiful thing

Of course, I’m placing my Christ-centered worldview on the episode. Most won’t. But I can’t help believing that, as is the case with well-crafted stories, people will be mulling over this, asking questions.

The last 30 minutes of the episode haunted my dreams last night, have stayed with me since waking. I suspect they will be haunting many.

“He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 5

Say Cheesey

We’ll close out our series of movie poster ripoff artistry with a look known as the “Sears Portrait Studio.” I can’t claim coinership on the phrase (although I can claim the word “coinership”), but it is fitting. There may be no better sublime hilarity than Steve Carell capturing the beautiful tragedy that is the portrait studio photo; the world of yearbooks, Christmas cards and church directories, where normal people live quiescently frozen in a state of grotesquery. The problem is that once wasn’t enough. Judd Apatow apparently thinks it’s a golden goose of a design, since most of these films are his handiwork. Or maybe it’s NBC comedians. There’s some connection there. Still, it looks like we’ve had enough of these to fit us for a while.

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 4

Love, Squared

Nothing says sweet love like a good romantic comedy, and apparently nothing says “romantic comedy” like people in boxes. This seems to be a trend of late and it’s a curiosity. Maybe it means in spite of our best efforts at love, we’re still hopelessly boxed in by our own self-interests. Or maybe it means there are just too many protagonists and the only other option was to line people up in a Scream actor stack. It’s also apparently a fun trend to give your movie a completely non-descriptive name like Love Happens or perhaps… This One Time, Whadd’ya Know?, or Can’t Beat That!

Jim Carrey, Call Your Agent

Something strange has happened to Jim Carrey. As least, something strange has happened to his movie posters. There must be a clause somewhere in his contract that states: “When Mr. Carrey, or his likeness, appears in films which are labeled FANTASY (appealing to, but not limited by a fantastical tone of time, location or character), and as such his character is that of a ghoulish nature, (i.e. being villainous or scoundrelly), the likeness of such a character will henceforth be rendered on all movie posters and associated key art in a three-quarter side pose with outstretched arms, raked fingers and a devilish grin or scowl.”

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 3

This One Goes to 11

This next installment happens to be my favorite progression from original to derivative, given this one has been extrapolating for decades. And the best part is that it didn’t even start with a movie.

Back in college, while designing, I discovered the stark, bold effect of red on black and white (or what have you). Every designer knows it’s a key color juxtaposition when you want to make a statement. Pop culture distiller, director and rock-and-roll media designer Mick Haggerty knew this full well, and is credited with the original artwork for the Smithereens album 11. One might not think twice about the album artwork, but it’s truly a wonderful piece. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, with Haggerty’s album cover serving as a kind of splinter, consciously or not, in the minds of a few movie poster artists. Of course, I may be giving too much credit. Likely there was only one true inspiration and the rest just did their best at photocopying a style. Still, one can’t help look at the poster for Ocean’s 11 (yet another Soderbergh film) and ask: “seriously?”

Interestingly, these all seem to be crime-related/cops & robbers flicks. Must be something about black silhouettes walking against red and white that just says “stylish dudes with guns and attitude.” I threw in the Pacino/Deniro film at the end as an afterthought. It’s not entirely the same, but it does borrow heavily from the style. Looking forward to the next iteration!

smitherkill (click for a larger view)

Ripoff Artistry , pt. 2

Anatomy of a Ripoff

Our next installment of the art of movie poster design “inspiration” comes courtesy of Mr. Spike Lee and his 1995 film Clockers, which for what it’s worth, is a pretty good movie. But the resemblance of the original artwork to the brilliant Saul Bass design for Anatomy of a Murder set off more than one whiff of impostery and sent a few movie historians howling. To his credit, Spike (or the studio) had the artwork changed to something less… impressionistic. The bullet holes were left as they were.


The Wrong Identity

It’s nice to see movie poster mooching open to A-listers as well as the smaller, independent fare. Here’s an example of the designer basically phoning it in. The Bourne Identity, is a fantastic film, so if you’re going to copy the artwork this blatantly, the least you could do is try harder on the script. Unless this is the symptom of abysmal filmmaking: tricking the viewer into renting it. “For some reason, this image reminds me of other great action films I’ve seen. Let’s rent it!” But who’s to say, I’m just picking at the poster. Maybe 88 Minutes is a work of original genius… though I highly doubt it.


Nicht So Gut

I’d like to think the poster for Soderbergh’s film is more of a tribute to the great Casablanca, than a cheeky ripoff intended to skate under the noses of people who have never seen the Bogey film, much less its movie poster. Since there is a very fine line between homage and theft (the poster for American Teen was brilliant for example) I’ll go ahead and give it points for fun creativity. The film on the other hand… ehhh… It looked good.


Ripoff Artistry, pt. 1

An Education in Copying

In honor of this year’s Oscars (which have already passed, sorry) I thought we’d take a closer look at one of this year’s Best Picture noms: An Education. But I’m more interested in the key art than I am in the actual film. The film may or may not be good – I don’t know. It may make it into our Netflix queue… or not.

What’s of particular note is the striking resemblance the poster has to a film from 1999 called A Walk on the Moon, starring Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen, also which I have not seen. But movie posters often stick in my head, so I knew I had seen this look before, remembering Diane Lane being part of it. I was surprised to notice just how similar the two posters are. Better yet, both films are set during the same decade and deal with illicit relations, so apparently we’re establishing that head spooning on the ground with a woman in a flowery dress ought to be associated with domestic disenfranchisement during the 1960s. Noted.


This led me to consider all the other movie posters I’ve noticed over the years that bear a striking resemblance to one another and I thought it’d make a good blog series. I realize there are probably far more examples than I’m posting (not to mention the oft regurgitated concepts like floating heads, the actor stack, etc. ), but over the next few posts I’ll share some of the best, or worst, examples of ripoff artistry. As someone currently designing a movie poster for a friend’s feature film debut, I understand the hard work it takes to create an image at once iconic, intriguing and descriptive. But of course when that fails, you can always steal someone else’s idea.

Swinging for the Fences

I remember spotting this little little bit of impostery on the video shelves back in the day, marveling at how the key art designer for Late Last Night must have said, “if I add some girlies in the corner and flip Emilio so he’s holding the martini with his right hand, no one will be the wiser .” Of course, the coup de grace is the review tagline just inside Estevez’s armpit that reads: “Much better than Swingers.” Obviously.


Costner Did Better than This

PostmanIt occurs to us that a new business model has emerged from the USPS. No longer the vanguards of “come sleet, come snow etc., etc.”, it now appears the Post Office is more interested in letting mail sort-of-kind-of get there whenever it’s convenient. We’ve had no less than three separate instances in the span of two weeks where relatively important pieces of mail did not arrive when even common sense had favored them with a “late” allowance. How a letter going twenty miles south of here takes more than a week to get to its destination, or why another item sits and waits across town in a sorting facility until a “2-9 day delivery window” expires, is beyond my understanding. How about a envelope sent “Priority” across the country, missing for a week and a half?

We can only imagine this is the new streamlined method of delivering the mail under budget cuts and rollbacks of service. Sounds like a model for success. Can’t wait ’til they start running healthcare.

Innocent, Your Honor

Six weeks ago, I parked on the street directly in front of my favorite coffee shop, just off the Marietta Square. I park there regularly. So does everyone else who can nab the spot. There are no signs to indicate it’s verboten. No yellow paint along the curb.

Nevertheless, I walked outside a few hours later to discover a mute and unhelpful parking ticket tucked under my windshield wipers (just over the long crack that’s been holding out below my line of vision for years. I keep anticipating a windshield replacement, but so far the crack has remained surprisingly docile and out of sight).

I came to the court building to dispute the matter. I garnered my court date. I went back to the scene of the crime and took photos to support my innocent plea. (There was an unticketed car sitting in the spot. Please Note Exhibit A, Your Honor.)


An hour and a half ago, I arrived in court.

The lights are dim, the mood mildly annoyed but submissive. We sit, lulled by the monotone of legalese poured into our ears.

If I cared to admit guilt and plead for forgiveness, I could simply go up to the judge right now and negotiate my fine.

But innocence is more difficult. I am required to sit it out and wait until the city solicitor can meet with me—and the several dozen other self-proclaimed innocents—so I can present my few photos and make my case.

All of this for a $25 fine. Only unemployment makes the value of this time debatable.

The walls above the wood paneling are a depressing mustard yellow, a perfect color match to the dress of the lady currently speaking with the judge. Her garb features a riot of fleur-de-lis and swirls in black, white and something akin to the by-product one might find in an infant’s diaper. (Sorry: there are few other similes for this particular color.)

But there are no fashion cops here. Only one bored policeman ferrying in orange-suited inmates trying to post bail for their petty crimes, their wrists coupled in silver cuffs so delicate they might be finely wrought jewelry.

Disorderly conduct. Marijuana use. Solicitation.

Why am I here? Oh, right. $25. About a dozen cups of Caribou coffee.

I haven’t had my coffee yet this morning, and it’s wearing on me. David informed me yesterday he’d read (posted over a movie theater urinal, no less) that eating an apple does a better job of stimulating wakefulness than does a cup of coffee.

I heated up a mug of apple juice this morning to drink before I left the house. Tomorrow, I’m reverting to coffee beans.

Coming up on two hours. Still sitting here. Haven’t spoken a word but “pre-trial conference, please.”



2.5 hours total wait time.

They knocked my $25 ticket down to $10.

Figure in my wait, the photos, the phone calls, the trips downtown…comes to about $3 hour. I’m gonna choose to be okay with that.