Sunday, July 10, 2011

Musings from the Air

Thank god for First Class. I surely would've killed someone otherwise.
Spending 24 hours scuttling around the world at 33,000 feet up is trying. 
In my last 36 hours, I’ve had two meals, three cups of coffee, and all four hours of sleep in the air. I’ve been in three countries and four airports. 

I have euros, British pounds, and US dollars in my wallet. My purse holds a hand written emergency itinerary, in smudged blue ink and my sloppy mannish handwriting, a passport filled with boarding pass stubs and a few fresh stamps, and handfuls of stolen chocolates from my former hotel, which was my home for these past three weeks.

This final voyage began with a decision that it would be better not to sleep at all, rather than only get four hours of sleep before departing to the Malta Airport at 5:30 in the morning, a decision that is still in the process of being deemed positive or negative.
One hop to London Heathrow, another to Atlanta, Georgia, and finally the long awaited, inevitable, mispronunciation of my state’s name upon boarding the final jump to Portland.

It is a well-established feeling for me, first stepping off the plane and being welcomed by the horrendously patterned carpet of PDX. My sigh of relief is answered by clean, fresh air, filtered by all types of trees. It’s the homestretch.

It’s been expressed, in more ways than I can count, that you never really appreciate home until you’ve been somewhere really different for a while.

Malta is a beautiful country: beautiful land, sea, food, and people. At least 90% of the buildings I saw during my stay were made from hand carved limestone bricks. I’ve never eaten so much seafood in my life. I’ve never been so experimental with my food either, eating during my stay there:  horse, rabbit liver, octopus, squid, whole fried fish, and eel. Also, since the legal drinking age is 16, I also had a couple of drinks, none especially to my liking, making me realize that I will take still water over most choices at the end of the day. Yes, still water. If you don’t say that, then you get the bubbly kind, and that stuff is just a little too funky for me.

Letting your mind allow people to drive on the right side of the car, on the left side of the road takes a while to get used to. Remembering that all that useless pocket change you amass is actually worth a lot here, with two and one euro pieces, compared to our biggest common amount coin, the quarter. They do have a lot of coins here though: two euro, one euro, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, five cents, two cents, and one cent. Perhaps a little excessive, I don’t know.

The climate is arid. Every day the temperature is within a couple degrees of most of the days preceding it. I saw maybe three clouds during my whole stay. Only three millimeters of rain annually. The island’s inhabitants almost shit themselves when you tell them about the per annum precipitation Oregon regularly exceeds.

Plopped down right in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta has amazing costal waters. Cerulean waters yield a new diver’s paradise with an innumerable amount of sea life, commercial wrecks, and clean environments. With much fondness for the dive shop that hosted me, I became open water scuba certified in three days. The last day of my visit in Malta I went on a wreck dive to a WW2 gunship the Maori, sunk just out of Valletta, the capital. And ironically, unbeknownst to me until we got to the wreck, in the water right where we were filming for over a week.

I’ve always loved swimming. I never remember not being able to swim, and my parents have more stories than I can recount of having to drag me out of the ocean, a pond, or even the chilled water of my bathtub. The first thing I thought when I reached the surface from my first dive was, “Why the hell haven’t I done this sooner?”

I’m absolutely entranced by the feeling of neutral buoyancy, finding organisms I have only read about, seen on TV, or behind the glass in an aquarium, and being one with the environment- undergoing a transformation from a clumsy, bipedal, terrestrial mammal, to that of a graceful, peaceful, aquatic observer. Nothing I have ever done has suited me better. Just the highlights of what I saw were octopi, cuttlefish, seahorse, flying fish, and an angry looking moray eel. Not to mention the ever-changing surrounding fish populations, my favorites are the curious small brown fish that hang in suspension mid-water, that will swim right up to you to stare into your mask. Even watching your bubbled exhalations expand as they float up to the surface is fascinating.

All of this, however, was crammed into a few days off. Most of my time was spent working. Simply, World War Z is a recount of post-WWZ, a story of zombie epidemic war and how humans work it all out. It looks like it is going to be an amazing film; although I have a feeling it will be nothing like the book it is based off of.

My dad asked me what stuck me most about being involved on a film set. (It might surprise you, but even though my father has been in this industry for over ten years, I have only been to one other set before this [Stealth in Australia]). My response to his question was the number of people it took.

All the filming done at this location won’t equal more than five minutes in the final film. Before working on this movie, I never really thought about how many people it took to make a film. Sub-consciously my guess was probably three: director, cameraman, and that guy who holds that big stick with the fuzzy gray thing on the end. This being said, a low estimate of the number of crew (not extras or other actors) on location here was easily 600 individuals. 

I can’t begin to describe to you all of their various jobs. The company I worked with, Spydercam, is the leading aerial camera system in the industry. But what we fly is a huge collaboration between many various departments. There’s obviously the camera, which is attended by at least five people directly to change filters, lenses, check connections, etc. The camera is attached to the Libra head, a mechanism that allows the camera to spin and swivel, adding extra movement to the shot. Two technicians install Libra heads and there is an operator. Then there is sound, the Director of Photography analyzes each shot, visual effects people, a person downloading the visual information to the monitor, and in one case two people had to catch the camera package each time it dropped off of a building for a particular shot. All of the previous descriptions are just what and who I saw, there are countless others behind the scenes that make what each department does possible and most shots of this type last less than five seconds.

It is truly amazing. It would make for an eye-opening documentary, because, really, who stays to read all the credits at the end of a movie? They’re so long, but each name and company listed at the end of the film played a vital part in making what you watched possible. Then there are always hundreds of people who go uncredited as well. Next time you go see a movie, take time to peruse the names as the scroll by, it’s the least you can do. Because (and yes, I dare to use the infinitive here) no one on the set goes through the filming process without some major concerns of developing ulcers from worry and anxiety.

Hell, I mean, even what I did, which was low-man work on the totem pole of a film crew, scared the shit out of me. Things like directing a crane to lowering our ridiculously expensive equipment onto the roof of a 12 story condemned grain tower, or learning to drive a gradall on a narrow pier with equipment trucks on one side and the ocean on the other. A slight miscalculation at either one of those activities would end in expensive disaster.

As I watch sporadic flashes of light in the clouds from my airplane window, I have to agree with Norah Jones and her song, in that lighting from top of the clouds is beautiful.

 Finishing up this post from my living room, watching my mother outside wreaking havoc on any weed unfortunate enough to have tried to homestead in one of her flower beds, and listening to my father and sister screaming upstairs at each goal, save, and play in the Women’s World Cup, I know this where I’m supposed to be.

I love traveling and plan to visit many other countries in my future, but after three busy weeks in a country where “thank you” is pronounced “grazie”, and restrooms are simply  referred to as the "toilets", I couldn’t be happier anywhere other than Mt. Hood, Oregon right now. 

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