The above photo is from my spec music video http://www.vimeo.com/10185620 password: BRMC

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why You Should Have Watched the America's Cup


Sailing.  Not exactly the most exciting spectator sport for most people... including me.  In fact, the other day I was flipping channels on the television and came across a mono-hull sailing competition playing at around 2AM.  I have to admit, it was so goddamn boring.

But as they've continually said throughout the recent racing taking place in San Francisco Bay, "This isn't your grandfather's America's Cup".  No, this is an example of pushing a sport to the limits so much that it pisses off the traditionalists and makes the Coast Guard step in to order to prevent more people from dying in accidents.

Even if you're not a fan of sailing (myself included), you have to be drawn into the drama and high stakes nature of this America's Cup.  (go Google "America's Cup" to see pictures)  Gone are the traditional single-hull sailing ships you're used to seeing boringly slide through the water.  Gone are the off-shore racing locations visible only to people who can afford yachts.  Gone are... well, traditions.

What do you see now?  



Elite sailing teams working on multi-million dollar, 72-foot catamarans that literally fly above the water - yes, they hydrofoil high above the water reaching speeds up to the mid 50's (mph, yes mph not knots).  These guys have to work and run across a ship that's usually going 30 to 40 mph and can flip up on one side when turning.  To put it into perspective, imagine working a team on a moving truck flatbed going 20-50 mph that can flip up on one side when turning - and then you have somewhat of an idea...  Only here, you have water flying into your face and also an opponent hell bent on passing around you.  In fact, the stakes got so dangerous that an Olympic sailer was killed earlier this year when a catamaran flipped over and the Coast Guard stepped in to push for a wind limit.  

Keep in mind, these are wind powered boats, people, not speedboats where you safely sit in a cockpit.

But regardless of the "extreme" physical nature of this race, you have to appreciate the drama.  

One week ago, last Wednesday, Team Oracle USA had only one point.  Team New Zealand had 8.  All New Zealand needed was to win one more race (1 point each) and they would take back the oldest trophy in active competition - shaming the Americans.

But then something happened.  Team Oracle USA played a delay card and had the rest of the day to tweak their boat and crew.

And then they came back the next day.  And the USA began to win.  And win.  And win.  

One race loss by USA, one big mistake and the regatta was over.  

Thursday.  Win.  Friday.  Win.  The weekend - Two Wins.  Monday.  Win.  And on Tuesday... the improbable happened.  

Two more wins.  The series was now tied 8-8 points...  And only one more race to settle it all.  

How many sports can boast a 7 streak comeback over 6 days in a championship series?  A flawless performance for almost a week by an eleven man crew while the world watched and nation of New Zealand was on its toes?  One week ago, they were preparing "goodbye" barbecues for New Zealander fans.  One week ago, people were leaving, thinking it was over and this race was a comical "bust".

How do you motivate a team buried in such a big self-inflicted hole - "only... 8 more wins guys!"?  How do you dig yourself out and keep yourself cool?  One mess up and all those years of work... gone.

As a person who works in storytelling for a living I can tell you:  this is drama at its best.  High Stakes.  Danger.  Plots with unprecedented twists.  

And also larger-than-life characters.

Traditionally seen as a sport and cup funded by rich white men, frankly, it still is.  The America's Cup has been populated by names that grace the history books and the shelves:  Vanderbilt, Lipton (tea), Louis Vutton, Prada, and now Larry Ellison (Oracle) - larger than life ego's fighting one another through "sport".  Forgive my crudeness, but let's be honest here, this competition is probably the most prestigious and expensive dick-measuring contest on the planet.

The first America's Cup in 1851 had an American schooner (cleverly named "America") sail to Great Britain.  There, in front of Queen Victoria, the American team beat the best the British Royal Navy had to offer - they beat the Empire that had ruled the seas for hundreds of years.  To Europe, this should have been a hint at the rising power that was growing across the Atlantic Ocean.  The "child" of Europe had come back to beat its parent at what it did best.

But, "What about the Olympics", you say?  Keep in mind there were 9 America's Cup competitions before the modern Olympics began in 1896.  Yes, this is an older active competition.

Fast forward to the present.  For almost 140 years, the American team for the Cup has been dominated the New York Yacht Club.  But now, it's the San Francisco Yacht Club.  You have to appreciate the big-picture historical importance here.  The power has once again shifted.  

The West Coast.  Silicon Valley.  Tech Companies.  I maybe biased in my opinion, but the future of this world is being determined in San Francisco right now.  And just like how the power of the United Kingdom faded in front of Queen Victoria's eyes, the power of the US East Coast is waning right before our eyes.  

In fact, the race is being held in San Francisco bay in a Bay Area kind of way:  High tech multi-million dollar boats pushing the limits of physical world.  Humans pushed to extremes.  A race accessible for viewing by anyone in the city.  Sounds pretty trademark San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

High-tech television coverage.  Cameras on, and even under, the boats.  Chase helicopters and speed boats film from every angle.  It's thrilling.  

And all you have to do is watch and enjoy as history is being made.  All you have to do is sit on a pier down by the Bay and watch sailboats rip each other apart between the iconic Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco skyline.

It's rare to see something that reflects the times so much and is intertwined with such good drama.  This is the story of a stuck-up traditionalist world disgusted at a hubristic billionaire challenging the status quo.  This is Moneyball.  This is 2013.  

This isn't your grandfather's America's Cup.  Nope, this isn't even sailing.  This is drama at its best.

And if you missed it, you can always watch it on Youtube.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Comedy Never Wins


Comedy doesn't win awards.  It doesn't.  Unless, of course, there is a category specific to it.  Duh.

Go look at the Academy Awards winners for Best Picture. Only a few comedies have won. And those that are listed are all Comedy/Dramas (or Satire).  They all have the universality of the drama genre (or solid intellectualism in the form of satire) to ground them in the court of public opinion.

A while ago, my USC thesis film (which is a comedy) didn't win a student film award.  It was "nominated" so to speak, but didn't win - a drama film in fact won that night. Moreover, my film had been up for several awards in the previous months but didn't win anything.  It did actually earn "2nd Place" in the comedy category at the College Television Awards (Emmy Foundation), however, I don't count this "win" for this blog post since it won in a comedy specific category.

Anyway, the night of my non-win, I was having an "alone" moment by the step-and-repeat (the red carpet thing) when an older gentleman walked up to me and asked if I was "okay". It was quite embarrassing - I must have looked really disappointed.  He then began to explain to me why comedies never win:

Too many people have too many different tastes on "what is funny".

Think about how many countries in the world there are?  And then count the fact that each of these countries/regions have different comedic tastes...  If you don't believe me, watch foreign comedy films... some of them can be quite weird (I'm thinking of you, Germany).  

Or instead, check box-office returns - American comedy films, in fact, typically do not do well abroad compared to other genres.

Then... think about how many different comedy tastes there are within a country.  Whose Line is it Anyway? versus Eastbound & Down... quite different audiences.  

Also, think back to that recent comedy film that your dumb friend liked that you hated. See? That movie was terrible AND offensive!

So... given how many people have different tastes when it comes to comedies, what is the litmus test for declaring it's a "great film"?  What is a universal way of codifying the subjective tastes regarding "funny"?  

Well, there is none.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, there is not a way to confidently say, "I know it when I see it..." (he was talking about porn by the way).

Standing on that red carpet, I suddenly felt better - I realized that comedy gets screwed over!  And thus the only thing we can do is laugh at ourselves.  Because we'll never win. Never...

And that realization was actually strangely comforting.

After our conversation by the step-and-repeat, the older gentleman grinned and offered to take a picture with me.  

He then formally introduced himself:  Neil Stiles, President of Variety Magazine.  

So I guess he probably knew a thing or two.

I don't know why we are standing so awkwardly

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

7 Flushes


Apparently, I was too precious to touch.  

Whoosh... gurgle gurgle.

I was the eldest grandson, a child that both Iyo and Min Tamaki took care of everyday after school while my parents worked.

Despite being half-White, my two Japanese grandparents took care of me without blinking an eye.  Keep in mind these were two Japanese Americans who lived through the U.S. internment camps of World War II.  Two people thrown into desolate racetracks and desert camps only several decades earlier to test their "loyalty" as Americans.  

And now these two people were charged with watching over John, a pale curly-haired child kindly referred to by my cousins as, "White Boy".  

Whoosh...  gurgle gurgle.

In fact, "White Boy" couldn't even call his own grandparents by the proper Japanese titles, "Oba-chan" (Grandmother) and "Oji-Chan" (Grandfather).  Instead, my toddler slang seamlessly recycled the Japanese words into "Baba" and "Jiji".  And yet, to my cousins’ dismay, I would just get away with this improper Japanese.  My grandparents even adopted the nicknames "Baba" and "Jiji" and referred to each other as such till the end of their lives.  Thus ironically, "Baba" and "Jiji" ultimately became the names embraced by all within the family.

Whoosh... gurgle gurgle.  "Still nothing" whispers Baba to Jiji.

Each afternoon I would take a nap in Baba and Jiji's bed, twisting like a clock until I was sleeping perpendicular on the mattress.  And when forced to wake me up from my slumber, my grandparents didn't have the heart to touch me.  

No no, that would be cruel and heartbreaking.  They couldn't bear to shake me... they couldn't bear to shout.

So instead... they flushed.

Whoosh... gurgle gurgle.  Rattle, rattle...

The bathroom door a mere seven feet away, the toilet a few feet past that.  It was... in range. 

Whoosh... gurgle gurgle.  Whoosh... gurgle gurgle.

Suddenly a stir... "Quick, flush again!"  Whoosh...  gurgle gurgle.

Eyes opening...  and... "He's awake!  John's awake!"

The flushes became the preferred unit of measurement for how tired I was.  "You must have been sleepy!  It took SEVEN flushes to wake you up!!!",  they exclaimed.  "SEVEN FLUSHES!!!"

And this was completely normal to me... 

Years later, at my grandfather's funeral, I tried to explain their care, their love...

"What is love?", I asked.  

Love is Baba and Jiji terrified of waking up their grandson.  Love is a White Boy too precious to touch.  Love is seven flushes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Subtle Hints


There is a certain gracefulness that can be attained with hints.

Sometimes, you can deliver hints like a master ninja - throwing out unspoken desires with the grace of a spring breeze, gently tickling the hairs on the back of your neck.  WHAM! Dead.  No one saw it coming!  Whoa..........

Then... there are other times... 

Times where hints materialize with the quaint subtly of a bazooka firing on a pinata.  At that moment, you become the six-year old with the flaming pinata party, scarred for life from the burning pieces of candy goo sliding down your face.  

My parents did this recently.  They "hinted" to me with the subtly of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea.  And I was the pinata... a donkey perhaps.

I like vintage robots.  Yes, I'll admit to that.  I don't collect them or anything but I do own a single vintage robot toy that stands on my desk:



He looked a little challenged, so I named him "Ronnie" because I felt, "Ronnie" would be the name of the guy I'd cast to play RonnieThe Slow Robot, in the subsequent motion picture of his adventures.  The poor guy is living there by himself on my desk -  alone, like a bachelor.  So my parents had an brillant idea.

During their last visit, they were kind enough to give me a gift.  Smiling, they unwrapped a new vintage robot toy and placed it next to Ronnie:


Her name was "Venus" robot.  Apparently she cleaned and did other shit, all while wearing nothing but a painted apron on her torso.  Hmm...

My parents grinned at me as we stared at Fraulein Venus in silence.  "Don't you get it? Venus robot!?" They laughed together.  I coldly stared back in silence.

My mother nudged the FEMALE robot closer to the MALE robot with her hand.  She then looked up at me and smiled.

I crossed my arms... THIS IS FUCKED UP.  Real subtle guys.  Smooth.  Thanks for the subliminal message.  Thanks for reminding me that I am single right now.  Really clever... AND, just FYI, by the process of elimination, you have made me into the challenged robot. I AM RONNIE. I AM SLOW AND ALONE.  

Yes... I, John Dion, was offended and I was going to call them out on their so-called "hint"...

I looked my parents directly in the eyes and spoke knowingly:

"SO YOU WANT ME TO FIND A MIDGET WOMAN, HUH?!"

Silence.

Sighs.  

At that moment, the gears in the Venus robot activated.  She threw herself off the desk and into the great carpet beyond.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Wandering



I’ll probably get mugged one of these days because I'm a stubborn idiot.

But...

Wandering the streets at night in an attempt to discover the “personality” of a city is something not to pass up.  Seriously.

And no, I don't mean "wandering the streets" in any kind of sketchy way.  "Walking the streets" is probably literally accurate, however there's a whole lot of connotations associated with that.

So no, we'll stick with "wandering". 

Frankly, I don’t necessarily recommend it for everyone.  And keep in mind I’ve only done this in tourist areas where the police presence is extensive… indeed I have no illusions that I’m a clueless half-white American.

But wandering the streets at night in famous cities is a whole other experience that many people might forget to do.

You can see the places that are normally ruined by crowds and tourists.  You can enjoy the "famous" spaces that so many a poet and intellectual have seen and fell in love with.  And you can appreciate the architecture that has stood for hundreds, if not thousands of years without the overcrowding that is so emblematic of the 21st century.

In the peace of the night, you see the cities themselves for what they are.  In fact, in some ways the true underlying personality of the physical space only comes out when people are absent... when the cloud of humanity is temporarily gone.  There is clarity in witnessing a space for its inanimate value alone.  Think of yourself as an archeologist, seeing the city long after the people are gone.

I think that’s a whole other experience in itself that many people might miss.

Take the Spanish Steps in Rome for example:

At dusk
Late at night
You can be at peace in a place that millions of people pass through:

At dusk
Late at night
(I know the Spanish Steps are famous for "people watching", but tourists don't always make the most interesting of subjects...)

Or take the Trevi Fountain.  In fact, I accidently ran into this on my first night in Rome.  In Los Angeles, you might go for a walk and accidently run into a 7-11.  In Rome, you turn a corner and history and art smack you in the face.

No crowds means you can get close

So, what does central Rome present in the middle of the night?  It's a city somewhere in between the past and the present.  A city bound down by history and tradition...  The reminders are everywhere.  You turn a corner, and they're there.

Or take Paris at night in the winter:


To see the snow fall in silence on a Parisian street is like being on a movie set… only that this movie set is real:

Silence... the fact that it is winter helps

So what is Paris at night?  …A glamorous palace on earth that doesn’t seem real, hence the movie-set-like feeling from the photos.  Paris is the empire from a higher realm and the architectural cues are everywhere to remind you of that.  Paris whispers seductively into your ear, "We're better than you, petit americain".

Or New York and Times Square well after midnight:

NY is never fully empty

New York… excitement and power looking down upon you in a city that never sleeps.  It's like standing under giants.

It must be noted that I only wandered in the tourist areas that have made these cities famous.  In fact I wasn't seeking some sort of "underground", "alternative", or "real" side of the city.  I'm sure that is a whole other adventure in itself.  In other words, I was only exploring what the city wants to present as its best face to the world... its best Sunday clothes, so to speak, for its guests.

Either way, next time you’re in a major tourist city go for a walk at night and see what city-personality you discover...  what underlying theme does the city project?

You won’t be disappointed.

Just don’t get mugged.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Austin


Austin Film Festival main venue

As I stand outside the venue where my short film is playing for the Austin Film Festival, I look to my left:


Stylishly dressed people and a bunch of nerds standing in line for the screenings.

I then look to my right and see giant crowds of drunk people watching the University of Texas football game:

A girl near me with a burnt-orange shirt, cowboy hat, and glazed eyes shouts, “Wooooooooooo!!!"

And yes, in that very moment, I am literally standing at the crossroads of the two sides of Austin.  

Art versus Football...

I smile to myself, and say, “Yup, that about sums it up.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Discrete Charm of the Vatican



You know, when you visit places so monumental, so huge in importance or scope, it’s often hard to notice the little things.

But as many a wise men have pointed out, “God is in the details”.  (The converse being, “The Devil is in the details” but we won’t go there since we’re talking about the Vatican).

I visited the Vatican in Rome for the first time.  And yes, I was blown away by its size and ornamentation.  And yes, I was amazed by its history and importance in the world.

But those reactions are a given.

It was in fact the little unique surprises that charmed me…  the little unknown details.

For example, the Holy Tennis Court:

As you can see the Holy Playskool Slide is nearby
I don’t actually know if that’s the official name, but it seems to be the only court (tennis in nature) within the Vatican walls.  Hence, given that everything within the Vatican seems to be “holy”, we can only assume that this is a godly tennis court.

Now a person might ask, “Why does the Vatican need a tennis court?”  And I would answer, “Who the fuck knows?”  Either way, I would very much like to play tennis there one day despite my bad habit of yelling out “Jesus Christ” when fouling a serve.

Another example is the Holy Electrified-Fencing:


An apostle is wired...
In fact they're all wired...

If you’re a pigeon and you think for one moment you’re going to take a shit on Jesus or one of the apostles… well you thought wrong.  The Vatican is going to send your ass into the beyond in an instant.  Instead of forgiving these birds for what they are, we can only assume there is also a Holy Dislike of the pigeon.

Last but not least, is the refreshment stand on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica:


After a long climb up the stairs of the dome (which feels more like a Stairmaster in a sweat lodge) you’re hot as Hell.  And what better way to combat Hell than with the Holy Refreshment Stand?  Unfortunately, the lemonade I have to say isn’t too godly… and neither is the service.  But we’re here to forgive, right?

So, if you ever go to the Vatican, look out for the small things…  The finer touches that make any trip, divine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect



I’m sitting outside a café in Forli, Italy, eating dinner when a small city bus drives by, barely fitting through the narrow medieval-sized street.  In fact, as the bus slips by, it is no more than a couple feet from the edge of my café table.

As I look up, I notice that the chubby bus driver is leaning out of the window and inspecting people’s dinner plates as the vehicle drives by.  He glances back and forth at each of the tables for a moment, checking out the scope of that night’s dinner menu.  Grinning, the driver then wipes the sweat off of his mustache and continues on.

A similar spatial situation in Rome



In the US, I feel like I never see this kind of absurd real-life humor that only occurs when humanity is forced into imperfect close-quarters.  In general, the US is too new, too organized and, other than a few major cities, too spread out to shove this kind of human ridiculousness in your face.

I believe the modern term is called, “suburbia”.  “Neutered space” can sometimes feel more appropriate.  Modern suburbia (and modern cities) employ perfect street grids, perfect lawns, and are in fact perfect at keeping people away.  As a result, we remove ourselves from the rest of humanity in the name of safety and convenience.

In fact, I would argue that this neutered space also makes us miss out on the humor and surprises that come from a lack of organization.

To steal a slogan from the Hallmark Corporation, what we miss is “Perfectly Imperfect” moments.  Granted, I’m sure each of us encounters something poetically perfect in our daily lives that arises from chance.  However, what I’m arguing is that the likelihood of encountering such unexpected moments diminishes when everything is planned and organized.  Serendipity is killed and charming surprises are made rare.

In places like New York or San Francisco, you are shoved in with the rest of humanity so, in a sense, you are forced into imperfect situations more often.  You encounter life, because you’re forced to be around it, whether on the city street, or in the subway.

Again, I’m generalizing a lot here obviously.  But I think you get the idea.

I guess the question for each individual is, what do you value more?  A perfect lawn with a life planned out in advance?  Or life unexpected, where you find charm in the rough edges and small inconveniences?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, just a question of whatever level of uncertainty (and sometimes unpleasantness) is indeed right for you.

I would argue though that the bolder you are, the greater the payoff.

Personally, I take delight in the unexpected and if I ever were to see that chubby bus driver again, I’d give him a high-five along with a classic American, “Fuck yeah”.

Despite his weirdness, he’s made my life more interesting… and perhaps yours if you’re reading this.

And yes Mr. Bus Driver, the pasta alla carbonara was to die for.