Why I Can't Take Things Sitting Down

My first standing desk was built of books. Many of the rooms at the Florentine Films edit house are bordered by books: books used by past films, books supplying fodder for future films, and books about the films themselves.  I gathered a combination that would build a laptop-topped tower of just the right height, and so the books served the research process in a different way. My improvised standing desk was in response to a bevy of blogs populating my RSS feed warning about the perils of sitting (even as I write). Sitting shuts your body down, sitting makes you fat, sitting will kill you. Not wanting to die, I stood up, and after a week or two of adjustment standing became my default working pose.

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As you might expect if you follow health news, the spate of pro-standing article were followed by a few pointing out that standing all day also carried its own risks, though these tended towards the pedestrian (Standing evidently puts you at more risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to excessive leaning, so don't excessively lean when you stand, you drifter.). The middle-of-the-road solution is to sit while making sure you're getting up and walking around every twenty minutes.

Thing is, once you start standing, sitting starts to suck. After twenty minutes in a chair my rear is ready for other things. I can slightly mitigate my discomfort by flexing the muscles in my butt and legs, particularly if there's a crossbar I can brace my feet against, but this brings only fleeting relief.  The solution is standing, and my butt needs about ten minutes to recuperate before it can countenance being smashed and smothered again.

The dot-connectors among you have realized this makes many routine situations a pain in the butt for me. When dining out, I'm itching to stand up and move around shortly after the drinks are served. On road trips, I used to be the kind of guy who would only stop to refuel; now I'm fidgeting before I cross Atlanta's perimeter. I avoided the lavatory on flights, now I use them every time as pretext for limb stretching.  These days when I see a movie I try to sit near the aisle so I can escape to the wings halfway through (only once per movie lest others think me incontinent).

I’ll admit to being irked by the soft bigotry of no standing stations. As a good German I tend not to flout social convention, especially if it would put everyone else’s head at gut height.  Standing draws focus and can also be perceived as a sign of restlessness--i.e. “Why don’t you sit down and stay awhile?”--so I sit when I must and fake the need to pee when I can sit no longer.

One day, when the world is more sensitive to standers, everyone will rise to a higher plane. Desks and tables will be 40 inches tall, with high chairs for those who want them. The dichotomy between sitting and standing will be broken, for we will all be equal from the waist up.


Behind the Scenes with Ken Burns

PBS is currently running a "Like Drive," offering exclusive videos for every so many 'likes' their Facebook page receives. One of the latest to be unlocked offers a behind-the-scenes look at "The National Parks." The video is a bit of a cheat on PBS' part, since what it shows probably happened three or four years ago--could they find nothing from "Prohibition" or even "The Tenth Inning"?

I like this video though because it offers a brief but accurate feel of a screening with Ken*. Most videos like this, whether they're focusing on a PBS documentary or a Hollywood blockbuster, tend to be overproduced in an attempt to make it more entertaining.  The 'fly-on-the-wall' approach favors authenticity (of some form) over entertainment, and appeals to a different curiosity.

*Yes I call him Ken and no he would not remember my name, though he reportedly said I was a 'good guy' after I left the room once. 

During my half-year with Florentine, three films were in various stages of production at the edit house. "Prohibition" was I believe technically wrapped but some work on it was still going on; meanwhile editors were piecing together the first visual versions of "Dust Bowl"(2012) and "The Roosevelts" (2014). During that time three screenings were held at the edit house: two for the two-episode "Dust Bowl" and one for the first four episodes of "The Roosevelts."

Florentine doesn't have a proper screening room at its edit house on account of it being an honest to God house. Instead, everyone crams into the office with the biggest TV, which is a 10' x 20' room on the first floor where a producer and two of the editors usually work. Since these are the first visual cuts of the episode, each episode will run maybe thirty minutes longer than the final version--often over two hours. Finding a comfortable chair is therefore crucial, and those with lumbar support are hotly contested. More than a dozen people--including Ken and co-director Lynn Novick, the writer, editors, etc--will find a space in here, and often another half-dozen will have to trudge upstairs to another impromptu overflow screening room directly overhead. When this is the case, an additional logistical difficulty is presented: the screenings must be started simultaneously, otherwise one screening will always be subjected to the echoes of the other*. As Florentine is always on the cutting edge of media technology, this obstacle is surmounted by connecting the two rooms via the office phone telecom. On the count of three or some such prompt, the person manning the station in each room will press the space bar and set the episode into motion.

* Echoes were expected and tolerated if you were in the overflow, but Screening Room Alpha was always to be slightly ahead if a perfect synch was not achieved.

At the end of these uninterrupted two-hour sessions, many rush to the two bathrooms the edit house generously affords its occupants. After a short break, everyone (even those banished to the overflow) then gathers back in the main screening room to share their impressions. This is Florentine at its most egalitarian: while the key players always give their impressions first, eventually everyone down to the lowliest intern is invited to opine, even if by that point there may be nothing left to add. The resulting discussion sounds something like what you hear in the PBS video, and it's fun to witness.

That all of this goes on in some unmarked house* on the corner of a village street has tickled me since I first started there. Early on I asked some of the younger staff why no one seemed interested in highlighting that part of the Ken Burns production. They shrugged and said that the edit house ethos was to stay well and truly behind the scenes. I suggested that there were ways to accommodate that--my tweets didn't betray anyone's privacy--but I didn't push it any further. I still think plenty of Ken Burns fans would like to see more of what goes on in Walpole, but for now this blogpost will have to do.

*I'm pretty sure there's not even a house number--oh, and you enter through the back. New England can be cold.

Electioneering is Nobody’s Job

Matt Yglesias points my attention to voter intimidation within a McDonald's franchise:

The letter doesn't elucidate what laws are being broken, so I'm curious to know what the legal argument is and where else it might apply. If you drive by my office, for instance, you'll see half a dozen campaign signs for every applicable Democratic election in the front lawn. If you step inside, you might hear, as I have, off-handed remarks about how Republican candidates are crazy and evil. Today in the office, I was encouraged to vote and facetiously reminded that Republicans vote Wednesday. That stuff I can take in stride and good humor because I don't really give a damn, but mightn't it intimidate some? Keep in mind I'm interning for a corporation (albeit mononational), a fact which Mr. Schulman's letter indicates is terribly relevant.

As it happens, I don't think the paycheck handbill is appropriate, just as I don't think the lopsided signs in front of my office are appropriate (though if I indulged my subversiveness, I suppose I could always hammer in a Republican picket sign without fuss). Yet I think it's inappropriate because it's incongruous with the larger workplace culture, not because there's something immoral or illicit about it. Given that the threat (giving the handbill its least charitable reading) is ultimately empty because voting is anonymous, what's the issue? Repression or intimidation alone, in explicit print? If an atheist were working as a secretary at a church office, does he have a legitimate grievance if he's always asked to join in office prayer?

These workplace wickets are stickier than that mayhaps, but in the end the lesson everyone seems to agree on is to keep tacit things tacit.

House to House

The editing house of Florentine Films is located in a small town without a lot of housing options, so I live instead 18 miles southeastish in a more respectably-sized place called Keene, where I let a room in a house owned by a middle-aged couple. Instead of a house tour, I put together a video of my autumnal commute from home to work. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h77EzAFx8KI]

As you watch, you may find yourself asking these questions:

  • For reasons of video quality and safety, shouldn't Jeff have mounted the camera instead of holding it? (Maybe!)
  • Why does Jeff's camcorder overexpose everything? (It's cheap!)
  • Are Ken Burns' films, which have audiences in the tens of millions, really edited in an unmarked house on the corner of a residential street in a sleepy village? (Yes!)
  • If Jeff is working in an editing house, how come he fails so miserably when cutting a home video? (Irony!)

Porch Portents

A year ago I met two important people on my porch. The first was a gal named Thelma. We first spoke in the kitchen--which was apropos--but we met on the porch, chatting and staring at the stars and the city across the way. My life with her has had the indolent pleasure of a ceaseless brunch whose end I wish never to come. Knowing Thelma's appetite, I'm sure she would agree.

Here we are last Christmas on said porch, one from a series some people somehow took seriously (such is the mystery of our love):

The second important person I met on the porch was a fellow by the name of Taylor. His arrival on the porch was at first inauspicious, as it interrupted one of the aforementioned conversations between Thelma and me.  He soon won us over, however, with a bottle of duty-free scotch initially intended for our landlord.

Here is Taylor on CNN talking about his organization in Rwanda, and here he is snuggling with me on the porch (photo credit: Thelma):

Through a logical chain of conversation since unlinked by poor memory, Taylor and I got to talking of my teenage fascination with World War II and his work as associate producer on The War, a documentary by Ken Burns which I had watched just before coming to Rwanda*. Seeing my interest in the process, Taylor offered to link me up with someone at Florentine Films for an internship while Thelma rubbed my shoulders encouragingly--our first meaningful physical contact.

That was a year ago on a porch in Rwanda. Much happened in the meantime, but as of last week I've begun an internship at the editing house for Florentine Films in Walpole, NH until December. I've washed dishes and taken out the trash, but I've also gotten to do some (very very) basic editing work on a DVD extra for the upcoming Prohibition and may have made my first visual contribution by finding some period newspaper articles on FDR's 1910 state senate campaign for The Roosevelts (coming in 2013!). Here's a boring and unlikely to be used sample:

Beyond a rendezvous with Thelma in Germany I don't know what the new year will bring, but so far things have been nicely unpredictable.  The only ill harbinger at the moment is the prospect of my first New England winter, which will surely keep me inside and off any porches.


* In another strange linkage, I had first seen The War during my year in Germany but quickly changed the channel because I didn't want to watch it in my limited German and have its impact lessened as a result.