Tuesday, January 29, 2008


from Avenue Magazine June 2006

Joe Van Dyke’s birthday is Cinco de Mayo and every year he celebrates by having a pig roast. This year was the seventh and held once again in Charlottesville, Virginia,. Friends come from all over to celebrate and the party gets bigger every year. Around Charlottesville he hands out flyers and there’s a website, eatapig.com, that basically has the name and a Mapquest link.
Cody, Eric and I leave early Friday morning to attend with plenty of rain to follow for the five hour drive. We stop several times and drive hard through the heavy rain, rain that spirals off eighteen wheels like miniature storms. There are wrecks, blue flashing lights from state troopers and red tail lights, all blending together to appear purple from afar. There numerous wrecks, cars ripped open as if by a giant monster. Their destruction, while repugnant, is terribly beautiful.
Cody decides to play a letter game, in which you look for a word on a sign that starts with A and then you proceed to B and so on. It’s a great way to pass the time but a way to end up on the side of the road mangled. But he and I play competitively, finding letters in words written on vehicles, restaurant and hotel signs, bumper stickers and license plates. The hardest letters are Q (look for Dairy Queen or Quality Inn’s) and of course X. The game goes on quietly for a t least thirty minutes trying to find that elusive X. An eighteen wheeler carrying cars slides past and Cody searches the cars and their license plates. He lucks out because I’m watching the road. He eventually wins finding words for the letters, Y and Z. I am still trying to find my X.
Just inside of Charlottesville, moments before reaching Shamrock Road, the rain stopped. The streets glisten, the weather cool. The strangeness of it sets a tone for the rest of the weekend. Cody drives around, feeling his way to Joe’s house. Cody hasn’t been back to Charlottesville for some time now but remembers much and points out places where he knew people and girls dated. He drives through an area and says here’s the ghetto and two seconds later he says that was it. After a few wrong turns we get to Joe’s house.

Joe’s black hair juts from under the straw hat and he has a clever, cheerful smile. He sits comfortably in a Hawaiian button down shirt and a festive straw hat behind a homemade bar. The bar is located at the base of a hill that is his backyard and his laptop plays music through speakers in the window. Many homes in Charlottesville are built into the side of hills and the streets climb up and down adding a specific quality to an already attractive town where old world sensibilities meet the new.
After Cody catches up with Joe we walk to wait for the free trolley. We walk up a street only to be stuck by a train that is slowing down. It finally stops, taking as long as a ship in the wide ocean, and we climb across it like hobos. We catch the trolley that will take us to Fridays After Five downtown where a band plays every week and the downtown area is blocked off and people arrive after work to hear music, drink and meet people. It’s there we meet Jim, who’ll be cooking for the pig roast, and The Mayor, because he seems to know everyone, and Melanie, who’ll be singing for kids at a Catholic church very early in the morning, and Heather who we’ll find out is waiting on a phone call from her man in Richmond, and Big Jason who is the biggest kid you could ever meet, soft spoken and friendly, and several others that escape memory now. The atmosphere is that of a tiny festival, as if the town is aware that Joe’s throwing the pig roast but actually is the vibe of the town. People we see and meet are individuals, diverse and friendly. It grows dark quickly and the lights cast a purple shade over the locale. Everyone agrees to move on to somewhere else.
South Street Bar makes their own beer and it’s more than good. The bar is loud from conversation, music is played very low if at all. The wooden design accompanied by brick walls seems like a cross between a Tatami room and a fireplace. It’s elegant and comfortable. Cody sees a crooked painting on the brick wall behind the bar and wants to straighten it but the bar is crowded, hard to get a bartender. It’s killing me he says. He shares war stories of bartending with Joe at the Wild Wing Café in Charlottesville several years ago. Everyone knows Joe, likes and respects him. When he leaves in November it seems as though the area will be losing something. He seems the center of something in everyone’s lives. Heather and Melanie show up after visiting friends at another bar. They share a story about silly pick up lines and how to measure up a guy, if you know what I mean. We all exchange some dark humor and remind Heather about her late night rendezvous. Melanie promises to sing at the pig roast for us.

Joe suggests a pub crawl that will unknowingly get aborted. First stop is West Main where Zoe pours four shots of Jager who sits atop the cooler after and talks. The bar is located well below the street floor and people walking in can look straight down to the bar. Zoë talks openly, says she may come to the pig roast but has a wedding to attend. Cody attempts to talk her out of going and she is impressed with his ability to convince her. Finish your beers Joe says. We have eight more bars to go. We talk to Zoë longer and then some people in the bar and then we leave only to not find Joe. In what seems like a few seconds he’s disappeared.
We continue down Main past Starr Hill where Shooter Jennings is playing. His distinctive voice can be heard into the street. The next morning we’ll see the glass store front of Starr Hill has been smashed and held in place by artistically placed duct tape. We keep walking thinking we’ll catch up with Joe. Everyone has drunk enough that staying together was bound to go wrong.
So it starts to gently rain and we make it to Mellow Mushroom. The doorman is adamant about putting wristbands on us and marking hands with Sharpies. He gets Cody and myself but Eric slips through. Hey, where’s that other guy he says. He has to run to us anyway because he’s busy talking with friends on the street. Inside the bar we set about ordering drinks. Looking back I see the doorman grabbing Eric to ink him with a Sharpie.
I gotta mark you the door guy says. No Eric says plainly. But I got to and Eric dryly says no, I don’t think so, as if he’s being asked if he wants an enema or something. I’m allergic to that marker, I broke out before Eric lies. Eric tells him to write on the arm band. So Eric has this little black ring on his armband and the rest of us have black rings on the tops of our hands.
Inside, Cody is still looking for Joe but I look to my right after ordering whatever and see Joe’s straw hat and that he’s talking with a girl. I pull out the HOOK, a local mag, and sporadically turn the pages.

Is ‘V for Vendetta’ playing? a woman’s voice asks me looking down at the mag. I look over, noticing dark hair and tanned olive skin. It’s loud in the bar and I say I don’t know but I’ve seen it, my voice still raw from staying at a friend’s smoky house a few nights before. But I’m not from here I say. Is it good she asks. Not bad I say. I ask her name and she prefaces by saying this is really my name, it’s Alex. She says that people don’t get it. I tell her I’ve heard of girls named Alex. I see my friends are gonna leave and I say goodbye. What are you doing later she asks. Dunno. I walk outside and its raining and they’re waiting on a ride, to another bar. So I go back inside and ask what she’s doing later. Do you wanna go somewhere else she asks. Yeah, let’s go. So we do. Bail on my friends and disappear into a city where I don’t know my way around with what turns out to be a very cool girl.
We go to O’Neil’s where it’s loud and the old wooden floor is moist as though a leaky pipe is going strong. Its two levels and people play pool and others talk or dance closely. We pull two tables together and it seems awkward and both unanimously say let’s go, ending up at an after hours restaurant drinking margaritas and Dos Equis. It’s not loud and it’s a good place to get to know someone, after meeting so randomly. But time quickly passes over good conversation and the lights come up signaling time to leave.
Out on the street people are piling out of bars, it’s sprinkling now. Some guy keeps approaching people and asking do you like Pearl Jam?
We walk through streets heavy with fog and across campus where Jefferson is king and I am reminded of that maze in The Shining. There are endless, almost spiraling, walkways and ornate shrubbery and the image of campus is beautiful even under the dense night. On a vast stretch of grass between two main buildings is six inch wet grass that we walk through. In the distance there are a few people running from one end to the other, the pounding of flat feet on soft earth in the night. There is the faint sound of clapping. We talk but the people running seem odd. It dawns on me that in the distance someone is hitting the runner with a small spotlight and I see something. Are they naked? I ask. Alex says that they are naked, that its tradition, that everyone does it prior to graduating.
I get home later via cab and the pig roast flyer that has Joe’s address and invite the cabbie who’s lived in the city for most of his life. I enter Joe’s basement apartment and turn on the light to see Cody passed out on an ottoman, on his knees, facedown. It’s lurid and funny at the same time. I get my camera and snap one. He won’t believe me otherwise. Eric is asleep, snoring. I make a bed on the floor and try to get Cody to wake up. He mumbles like a little kid. I brush my teeth and then slide what I think is an old bean bag chair next to him (it’s really a dog bed, sorry, man) and sort of roll him onto it.
Sleep doesn’t come, only in short bursts. Ears ringing, the snoring, the dog growling and then a knock at the door. Cody has somehow made his way to a couch to sleep. I get up and turn on a light. Cody, there’s somebody at the door I say. Half awake he says let him in. I lay back down and soon after the knocking comes again. I open the door to find that it’s Jim. He goes to wake Joe, never stumbles over anything in the dark and says, Joe, we gotta get the pig. The sun is breaking in the sky and I try to sleep, burying my face in the dark of a pillow. But it won’t be long.
There’s Bloody Mary’s upstairs Steph says. It’s after eight and the day of the pig roast has begun. We pick up supplies from the ABC store and have breakfast in a packed restaurant where Cody keeps singing out loud to the girl sitting next to him, that she can’t have his potatoes. An older waitress comes up to me, she’s short, and is wearing a brown shirt with glittered lettering and a foxy cat on it. My eyes are mesmerized by the glitter but looks like I’m staring at her breasts. Yes, I’d like some water, thanks I say. Not your fault, Cody says. There’s a brief pause, the girl next to him watches Cody from the corner of her eye and smiles at her friend. You can’t have my Po-Ta-Toes! he sings out loud. The girl next to him breaks out laughing.
Cody and I drive to South Street to pick up a keg. There’s no place to park because the lots are used for selling art or something, a tiny gathering of something creative. We drive around and Cody points to a place to park close to South Street. There’s a fire hydrant I say. We won’t be long he replies. I say okay, thinking it’s a bad idea, but I park and out in a cd.
A few minutes later I hear this faint metallic voice, like someone talking really low with a bullhorn. Looking up and then to my left I see a police car. I turn down the At Budokan cd. You will be towed he says through the little speaker. I get out and walk over to him. As I do Cody is wheeling the keg to my truck and loading it. The officer has the handset in his right hand when I approach. Sorry, man, I couldn’t hear you I say. He is immediately rough, You are in front of a fire hydrant. I will tow you. I’ve been there only through the first verse of ‘Surrender’ and I figure he’ll see the keg being loaded and be reasonable. We’re loading the keg now I say. I don’t care, I will tow you if you don’t move he says firmly. I assume that there must be an overabundance of spontaneous flash fires in the lower downtown area and walk away to move my vehicle. As I cross the street I think to hand him a pig roast flyer and deem that he’d take it the wrong way.
The pig roast lasts all day and late into the night. Joe has frequent wardrobe changes. He changes his shirt after his parents leave to put on his signature shell bra. Cody changes his shirt too, sporting more edgy slogans, this one from Boondock Saints. It gets chilly and people make s’mores from the fire logs and Kate keeps everyone set up with drinks. Everyone who came to the party brought beer and bottles of liquor. Instant bar, plenty to go around.
You look like a man of adventure a guy says across the home bar three deep. He hands me a red Solo cup of something orange. Is this a Bar Mat I ask. No, I just made it he says. It looks like murky Tang and tastes like Cholulah and vodka. Insanely salty. I hand it back with a murky thank you. He smiles, walks away to find another victim. Leave the drinks to Kate.
There’s plenty of food to go around. There are brief tournaments of beer pong and flip cup. The guys beat the girls 6-2 but Tana insists that we were cheating or something.
Sam calls from NC asking how the roast is going. He says he can’t get Cody or Joe to answer their phones. He says he’s hung over a little, maybe a cold, asks if we like C-ville. I tell him I saw pictures of him on the wall of Joe’s apartment, from a wedding maybe. It’s high on the wall with many other pictures at the hallway to the bathroom where there’s been a line most of the night.
Late in the night it gets chilly and the smoke from the fire in the yard gets strong. Joe announces loudly to crowd from the bar that he isn’t drunk yet. Eric and I go upstairs to talk with Tana. She’s finishing up school this week with a degree in Environmental studies and philosophy. She’s not sure where she’s going afterwards and I look through her dissertation, thick as a phone book and loaded with stuff that I’ll never understand but she does. She goes to bed and Lindsay comes in. Eric heads out to the party again.
My phone rings and its Alex asking, where are you? I say I’m upstairs, come on up. She tells me that she’s back at the dorm, that she came by and that no one knew where I was. She must have come by just after we came upstairs. You just wanted to avoid me she says. No, I say, I wanted to see you, annoyed at the bad timing. I had fun last night she says. If you have time before you leave tomorrow maybe we could hang out. I say absolutely and that I’ll call after lunch.
I go downstairs and pour a few shots of Jager and call it a night passing some idiot hitting himself in the head, claiming that he’s Ultimate Fighting Championship material. The pig roast goes on for a few more hours.
Sunday morning means clean up and about fifteen bags of trash get hauled out to the street. All the beer is gone, the kegs are empty but there’s plenty of alcohol to play with. About ten of us go to St. Maarten to have brunch. Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas get made and conversation lends itself to the night before.
The mood is tired and light. Outside there’s the certainty that it will rain soon, the morning still damp into the afternoon. The orange glow inside St. Maarten’s echoes everyone’s early morning temperament.
It is a makeshift family that we were welcomed into for the weekend. The pig roast wasn’t just a birthday celebration but a celebration of life. It also may be the end of an era. Joe plans to sail away to the Caribbean in November, having saved up and bought a boat to leave on with his dog Leah. One gets the sense that there will be a hole left behind, hard to fill. In some ways, like Jefferson, Charlottesville has garnered and committed to history another fine individual. Something tells me that Joe will spread his spirit wherever he travels.


I can change the world with my own two hands is inked across the underside of Sai Collins’ arms, between the elbow and wrist. With Sai I firmly believe it. Seeing this on someone else’s arm I might not think much of it. But knowing Sai it is concrete. It just may happen if he’s got a hand in it. If there’s anyone I’ve ever known to be passionate about changing the world it’s him. In all this time as friends many conversations come to the subject of the world and how people tend to interact, both positively and negatively. And with Sai I’ve never known a harsh moment. He’s completely positive. Completely dedicated to making a difference where he can. Always volunteering his time, his talents and his energy. There are probably more like him but this story isn’t just about a musician but a person confounded by the world and their desire to make a difference.

“I got these tattoos two Tuesdays ago,” he says. As a kid, he used to draw a lot and would tattoo sleeves on his arms, usually before going to church in which his mom would yell to wash it off.
“She’d yell, ‘what are you doing, we’re about to go!” he says with a big laugh.
For his current tattoo he wanted something he’d still connect with at sixty. What would he want at 28 and still be happy with at 60? He remembered something from the bible as a kid and how god communicated with the Israelites. The statement was, “What I give you, what I tell you, wear it upon your forearms, your head, and write it in a visible location so you remember what you’re supposed to be doing.”
“And (pointing to the tattooed words) this is a line that comes from a Ben Harper song. It goes deeper than liking a song. That I can make this world a better place with my own two hands,” he says.
The mentality is that we’re a community and we get together and work towards the good of others. He brings up a statement made by Gandhi, be the change you want to see or expect.
“Change is a word I’m so fond of. We’re constantly changing even though we don’t want to. There’s so much change that is needed. Change will never come if no one takes initiative. It states so many things that I want to be as a person.”

Would you take the time to see what its like for me
As people pass me by would you wonder what they see
It looks like I’ve become a monster in some bad dream
Little children stare and parents won’t say nothing

Sai uses the word ‘door’ a lot. You hear it frequently during a conversation with him. Much of what he says pertains to making change or creating opportunity. The meeting of two people from different walks of life can create opportunity, open doors. Volunteer work that helps others can open doors.
Sai is hoping to do a music art show where music, art and even film covers lifestyles, surfing, vegans, vegetarianism, to get all types of people together to experience different things in one gathering.
He’s interested in a benefit show and mixing up different things. “I wanna keep changing things; change the scenery where we do benefit shows in diverse locations.”
Another idea is to start a beach walk where people meet and pick up trash. On a Sunday people meet and walk and pick up trash. It’s a simple situation where people meet new people then meet back somewhere and play music.
“I recently came up with the title of a show I want to start called, we all live here. All the songs on Through My Eyes are related to social or government issues. These issues touch all of us. The song ‘Through My Eyes’ is about a homeless man that he created based on an encounter with a real homeless man in New York and imagined what his life is like.
“When you walk by someone don’t just give them a weird glare” Sai says. “Stop and talk with them.”
Through My Eyes is an album that covers homelessness, vegetarianism, emotional displacement, things that most people can relate to. It is a direct extension of Sai, a collection of songs that emulate his philosophies and daily life. But it brings a certain duality that echoes his humbleness.
“Sometimes I feel weird just promoting music,” he says. “But music gives me a platform to talk about other things, to promote something else.”
Creating and playing music is also a healing process. Although talking with Sai one might think he’s gregarious but he claims to be something of the introvert. He’s very open and engaging once he starts talking. He’s energetic in his speech, talks with his hands, his head always moving and shuffling his frame.
“The music thing is helping me to overcome fears, to understand more about my life,” he says. Sai performs in front of people several shows a week all year long, and for the last two years.
“I get afraid to talk to people in groups. I go to parties and feel I’m not a party person,” he says. Sai confesses he’s reserved and deals with a small amount of social anxiety. At shows he doesn’t talk as much as he feels he should. He’d like to do more speaking at shows depending on the venue but time will tell.
So he gets a lot of practice. For the last year he’s played solo or with his band The Getaway Drivers, encompassing Eric Vithalani on bass and percussion, Bret Ekstrom on guitar and Dan Maggio on drums.

I’m looking for someone that I love
Can you tell me more about the one I speak of?
Cause they’ve been missing for sometime and
I’m never sleeping cause they’re on my mind

In 2004 a friend who worked at Tidal Creek, Emily, entered a singer songwriting contest at the Soapbox. She asked him to do it but he did it more out of supporting the friend. He played ‘Scarlet Butterfly.’ Monica Caison from the non-profit organization Missing Persons NC.org approached Sai about a contributing a song for the organization. She gave him a DVD that explained the mission of the organization. Sai went home and tried filling his head with what it would be like to lose someone, the emotional side. And he came up with the song ‘Missing Faces’ playing at River fest where the song was sold to raise money. Sai didn’t want to play alone so he asked Dan to play drums and then the idea of a band fell together. “Well, we could get a bass player. A three man band at least.” So they put up a flyer.
“I didn’t have a goal or a strong desire to pursue a career in music,” he says.
Dan was a vegetarian. Eric came to the band by way of the flyer at Tidal Creek. Coincidentally he was also a vegetarian. It wasn’t purposely done that way.
“We all laughed, it was ironic, off a flyer we got another vegetarian,” Sai says.
Within a year of playing with the band and as solo, Sai Collins and the Getaway Drivers performed a hundred and twenty plus shows in 2005. The band played House of Blues after Sai asked about performing after eating in the restaurant. He dropped off a cd with the manager and got a call back a few weeks later. Playing inside the restaurant is how HOB screens bands that will open for bands on their main stage.
“A year after our very first show we played at House of Blues for their Bluesapolooza,” he says. “It felt like a privilege. It was packed out which was a good feeling too.”
Sai plays more solo shows out of simplicity, even playing a My Space house party in New Jersey. He was contacted by a girl via the web site and bought a cd. Her parents liked the cd and invited him up to play at a party.
“I couldn’t promote music without My Space. I don’t know how bands did it without it. Putting music on there I’ve sold music as far away as Japan,” he says. “I got contacted from someone in the Philippines.”
He’s been able to share not only music but poetry. My Space lets him communicate with people much better.
“These are just cool people who like music,” he says.
You may have caught him play at the Black Horn Bar down at Carolina Beach or a performance at Sweet and Savory Café. But he’s been focusing more on the Myrtle Beach area recently. Being out of town so late doesn’t afford the opportunity to play early in the morning at Dixie Grill, a place he played many weekends last summer. It was a place where he met a lot of people from varied walks of life. He cites meeting a man who would bring his two daughters every Saturday.
“Playing there is a great sense of community,” he says. ‘The Dixie is very cool. The people there are cool. It has a more natural, grassroots feel to it.”
Playing at places like the Dixie Grill are important to him. He prefers the smaller venues, coffee house and the like. It is more personable and allows time to practice his music.
“I’m more partial to coffee house and smaller venues when playing solo versus bars.”

Sai grew up in public speaking training school in Los Angeles. His parents being very religious, Christian oriented, they taught him the importance of discipline and giving back to society.
“They were two hippies that found a new way of Christianity,” he says. Fueled with all this energy the family moved to an area in Bladen County, uprooting them and embarked on a five day road trip to North Carolina.
His father played trumpet and my mother played classical guitar. Sai’s interest in guitar came from a friend who was into heavy metal and played electric guitar. He was a year or two older than Sai, and into skateboarding which led to them becoming fast friends.
“I asked for a guitar, hoping for an electric and I got this classical guitar that my mom had been playing for years,” he says with a deep laugh. But Sai worked and saved enough money and purchased the whole rig. He started learning to play Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses.
“It’s funny when I tell people that, that I used to listen to Sepultura and Pantera,” he says.
But that was who he used to be and has no regrets or anything negative to say about that type of music. It’s just not who he is today.
“That was my interest then and there’s reasons why but I’m more into a peaceful existence now,” he says.
He played music but never was open with others. “It was something did in my room,” he says. “When I mention New York to people they assume I was playing there but that’s not the case.”
‘Worth the Drive’ is a song about growing up near Fayetteville and having to drive to get good waves. At sixteen, Sai and a friend would drive after work to the Outer Banks just to surf on the weekend. He doesn’t remember the germination of the song, but recalls possibly sitting in front of a surf video on the television, picking at the guitar and having images of being tired driving back .
“I don’t know if that’s exactly what happened but that’s how songs come about,” he says. “Just sitting around and playing.”
With Through My Eyes he wants to do more shows in conjunction with art and promoting causes.”
“I’m interested in getting with other artists like Mike Blair and creating more shows that open the door for us to invite people who are interested in our music and talk about other issues as well.”
Much of this stems from his upbringing. “I just grew up in an environment where my parents were doing work that helped people. That’s what my parents were always doing.”
He offers that he’s not a proponent of organized religion, that he severed himself from organized religion, but at the same time hasn’t lost respect for people who choose that for themselves.
“I try to find a balance within myself and produce something that’s good, positive. I get excited meeting new people and doing something positive together. It really comes from my parents.”
He mentions as an afterthought that his parents are currently learning sign language so they can missionary or preach to those that are deaf as a way to open up a door to communicate with others.
When not working or playing shows Sai does volunteer work. Every time we speak he seems to be involved in something, playing a benefit, such as Band Together in Maryland in June. But mostly it’s local. One such place is DREAMS. It came about after he overheard a conversation. Somebody said that there’s a non profit organization that gets involved with kids that are underprivileged, for art and music, dance and theatre.
“I went up and knocked and their door and asked how I could help out,” he says. But there have been rewarding moments and those of consternation. One afternoon the teacher who normally instructs the class was called away and Sai was left to conduct. The class was going crazy, bickering. Something had happened and he wasn’t sure what to do but felt that if he got the kids to talk about it, instead of fighting, then perhaps progress could be made.
“I guess this kid was in a gang. He seemed so mature for twelve,” he says. “I sat them down and talk about what was going on. The courts had this one kid at DREAMS to serve some of his time. The kid said he was glad to be there because he knew that being around those other kids was bad.”
Sai’s mindset is that, who else is going to show the kids that they are interested in them as individuals and how else will these kids reach their dreams if no one is encouraging them. He believes DREAMS provides that outlet to kids coming from troubled homes.
“I feel very privileged to help out and help raise money,” he says. It is the contacts made with other people that have also benefited the non-profit organization. It helped them get six acoustic guitars to start a class.
“Just talking to people,” he says about the volunteer work. “You never know what someone might want to donate.”

Sai has lived as a vegetarian for nearly eight years. The choice to become one originated from an alternate route from what one might expect. His cousin was a vegetarian for reasons that he can’t remember. Sai was about 18 and thought it was the stupidest thing.
“Why would you give up meat,” he says. So he made himself a bet to see if I could do it. To see if he could go without meat. And he did. But becoming a vegetarian grew out of a challenge, out of personal discipline. But when people ask him about it they learn that it was for more than just healthy eating or animal rights.
“I don’t consider myself an activist for animal rights,” he says. “Sometimes people choose modes of a lifestyle.”
He merely appreciates the value of eating in a better way, not contributing to factory farming which is problematic.
“The person I want to be, I can only achieve that if I discipline myself. If I went and did just anything I wanted I don’t know who I would be.”
Discipline is something he grew up with and mental discipline. His home life was regimented. He went to New York as a young person to do volunteer work and it too was regimented.
“I’m not as regimented anymore but I respect that value of discipline,” he says. “It’s important to me to have it in my life.”

In April Sai traveled to California to play a school benefit. It was the biggest he’s ever performed at. It was a solo performance, no band mates to rely on. And for close to a thousand people.
“Curtis Freeman found out about me from doing all these benefit things and put together this show to raise money for kids,” he says. Humbled by the request, about being invited to play with other musicians for a cause on the other coast, he still wondered about the invite.
“Why bring me from North Carolina for this when there are all these people in California?”
But it isn’t just the humility of being invited to perform, it’s who he is. Sai considers himself not a musician but a musical artist that likes to express emotions through music.
“I don’t consider myself a good performer,” he says. “I’m more of a writer and I’m learning to be a performer and how to be the business person in the middle of all this. It can be stressful.”
In this process he’s also found that no one will put the energy into projects as he will, wearing thin sometimes trying to keep things moving. Other projects include wanting to start an underground music label and helping other artists get exposure and fulfill their goals.
“I’m open about where I book my shows when people ask how I got all these shows. I’ll give them the phone number,” he says, citing the idea of utilizing a newsletter through the web site that coordinates local musicians to help promote them.
When people ask why he doesn’t play other types of music because they think he can., or is asked to sing for other bands, he graciously says no thank you, not wanting to participate in something that isn’t his. Sai’s interested in his own projects, wants to have control over what he’s doing. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate what others are doing or other types of music, he’s an avid Soundgarden fan actually, but doesn’t want to compromise. People also inquire as to why he doesn’t venture into other types of music.
“I want my energy to be complete in my project and not have to sing other people’s lyrics or sing songs about something I don’t agree with. So I decline.”
Sai’s talked with a label in South Carolina that is owned by Universal and the level of monetary input that’s invested in an artist was deterring. He felt he was green and wanted to learn more, so he entertained the business side briefly to grow. But the influence, the huge investment, told him that they wouldn’t relinquish control with an untested artist.
“People don’t invest that kind of money in an artist and relinquish control. So I can see why the labels dominate so much of what’s on the radio. As a mode to make money record labels will invite people in who can make them a lot of money. But I don’t agree with what that artist is saying because it’s contributing to something to bad in society.”
He’s also working with a company who submits music to established performers who don’t always create their own music.
“Which is how much of the industry is run anyway, you know, Avril Lavigne doesn’t write her own songs. But it’s how songwriters make extra money.”
His songs are inspired by people, the environment, or issues. And songs like that put an artist in a certain category in the minds of record labels. Someone like Jack Johnson has been able to break through that wall because of the musical nature of the songs yet still covers similar territory.
“My spirituality healing through music is what I want to share with people. Healing myself as a person. Two years ago I removed myself from organized religion and my life started over,” he says. “I had to start over, new friends, everything. I knew I had to find something outside the system of just paying bills”

"I promised myself I wouldn’t end it this way
But now my skies they fade to deep shades of gray
Nobles say I should want what I have
But my heart tells me that I should have what I want

The meaning for the song ‘Scarlet Butterfly’ has increased over time. And the meaning has increased from being on MySpace. People send him e-mails about how the song has affected them personally.
“It kind of gives me chills,” he says. “I mean, I’m a nobody in Wilmington, N.C. and my music is having an effect on somebody…To get feedback like that on a serious level…” Sai pauses and then utters a deep laugh in amazement.
People have traveled from far away to see his shows. “It blows my mind,” he says simply. “You’re writing things that are on your mind. But the value of their meaning increases with each time you sit down with it.”


Mark Chadwick is asleep in the back of an ambulance parked behind the Soapbox. The guitarist and singer for Portable Folk Band is suffering a late winter cold brought on by fatigue, touring and little sleep, all things pertinent to keeping a cold in good shape. The ambulance is not a vehicle in service with a hospital in New Hanover County. It was one purchased by the band two weeks ago off eBay for around six hundred dollars. Not a bad price given that its quite roomy, was well maintained by previous owners and if you’ve seen that old Burt Reynolds flick, The Cannonball Run, you know that it might save the driver a little grief when driving above the speed limit.
On the shelf just inside the passenger’s sliding door is drummer Ian Collin’s chemistry book where he studies while on the road. There’s vegetables and other groceries for band members to eat or snack on from town to town. The back is packed efficiently with musical equipment and other gear, a large bench seat has been installed for them to sleep while taking turns driving.
The old seat went the wrong way, designed for a stretcher to be slid in the back, something not ideal for long distance driving. It was a bear to get out and Shelley Salamon has become architect and mechanic very quickly. She tried sawing the seat out but ended up taking a big axe and chopping it out. Once removed a bench seat was installed in its place across the axle instead of lengthwise. It wasn’t very stable. So the day leaving for the tour Nat Lownes was under the ambulance with a drill.
“Four fucking holes in the bottom of the van to hold the seat in,” he says. “Won it on eBay.”
Named the van yet? No, Shelley says, not wanting to jinx anything. They changed the oil in Virginia and then the serpentine belt fell off. Shelley figured that one out.
“I’m a mechanic now,” she says. “It’s a diesel and has 76000 miles on it.”
“Its loud but its fun,” Nat says.
I won’t see Chadwick until he and the rest of Portable Folk Band perform onstage. It’s a relatively quick set, about fifty minutes worth, in which they work through a frenzied performance of songs from their current release Royal Postal Bazaar. Chadwick is red faced, from his cold and tension on his face from singing. He sings forcefully and passionately, moving about as if about to implode from the energy. Music has its way, even with the tired and sick, has its way to wake up the soul and body.

It’s mid March and students have only returned from spring break. The show is scheduled for a Tuesday night and downtown is sparse with visitors. It’s cold out still, enough to make you shiver and bristle when the wind blows downtown.
Its day five of the tour, they will travel to South Carolina in the morning and then on to Jacksonville, Florida the next. Shelley booked much of the tour and the stop in Wilmington came from hearing another band mentioning the area.
Yesterday was Raleigh. Before that DC in which Nat says he stuttered through a radio interview and passed the microphone to Ian.
“We did some radio interviews that were weird, ” Nat says.
Standing amongst washers and dryers in the laundry area of the Soapbox, Nat Lownes (guitar, vocals), Shelley Salamon (bass) and Ian discuss the formation of the band.
Shelley’s hair is short, unlike the length of black hair in the band’s promo photo. She quickly punctuates a sentence, unconsciously with a small doses of profanity. So quick in fact that you’re not sure if that’s what you really heard. She’s probably picked it up from living with Nat. Ian’s hair is shorter now as well. He is tall and relatively soft spoken, but can tell you a story at length and deadpan. Nat is stocky, small piercing eyes that talk to people directly without shuffling. They are tired from traveling but pleased to be out of ambulance and on solid ground.
Portable Folk Band had its origins as a recording project between Nat and Mark. In high school the pair would drive around in Mark’s car taking a 4 track recorder with batteries taped to it, using it so they could record out in public or whatever.
“We would improvise shit on acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Somehow that got named Portable Folk Band,” Nat says. “And we never came up with another name. It’s a little misleading. It might do more harm than good.”
Nat started playing saxophone in the 4th grade. He played drums in his first band then picked up guitar.
“I like the drums the best, drum are awesome,” he says.
Shelley started on guitar senior year. Her boyfriend played in a band and she attended shows.
“I said ‘I wanna do that,” she says of seeing him onstage.
The boyfriend played drums, and not wanting to copy him, she played guitar. She played a while and got frustrated. Five months later she could play power chords.
“My fingers didn’t feel stupid anymore,” she says.
Shelley played nine months and then went to college and started recording her own material. Then she borrowed her boyfriend’s uncle’s bass. Playing the bass became more common than guitar, discovering she could do different things. The boyfriend was in a band called Mini Band in which they played mini instruments.
“I went to all the shows, enjoyed it,” she says. “It was guitar and drums only. Someone offered Shelley a mini bass and she wound up playing in Mini Band. She was going to all the shows and knew the songs anyway having attended the shows over the course of a year.
“I fell in love with it and guitar looked boring after that.”
Shelley met Nat and Mark and the band started to come together.
“We had to make this happen live,” she says. “So I learned all the songs.”
Drummer Ian Collins is the only band member who is still in school. He brought his books on tour, to study on the road, something Nat refers to as a “recipe for motion sickness.”
Ian is a bio major, taking classes in chemistry, calculus and physics. He needed one class, any class, to fill his requirements so he took a golf course.
“Everyone thinks it’s a joke,” he says but seems to like it. “A lot of touring is entertaining yourself, it’s not too bad, doing some reading. That’s what I do, school, drums.”
Shelly was recording a friend of Mark and Nat’s and liked what the two were doing. She made some cd’s of all these songs the pair had recorded and together they put a live band together.
“It was pretty much unnamed. Coming up with a band name is hard. What are you going to call that?” she recalls asking them.
PFB has been together about a year and a half. The current ensemble lived in the same house outside Philadelphia. The location was great in that everyone was together but the lease was coming up.
“There were various reasons to leave that house,” Nat says.
“Yeah, the heating bill was too high. Five hundred dollars,” Shelly interjects.
Shelly’s parents recently bought a place in Boca Raton, Florida where the temperature was nearly a constant seventy degrees. No one was living there at the time, the parents not moving in until the following year, so it was an opportunity too good to pass up. So for a short time the band was split with Nat and Shelley in Florida and Ian and Mark residing in Florida.
“We go back to Philly in May,” Shelley says.
“Missing winter,” says Nat with a smile.

Recording the album Royal Postal Bazaar took place in a small room with no windows. The environment, in many ways, affected the results. The album is an acoustic fever dream mixed with psychedelic guitar and hip hop sensibilities. It is not an easy thing to categorize and probably shouldn’t be. It is not folk music, as Nat said, the band name can be misleading. But then again, what did the name Pink Floyd mean when they first arrived?
The album’s name came form a dream Mark had, that he was part of a group of people who transported very fancy silver plated handguns in suitcases on public transportation. It was very secretive but everyone knew who they were because they had black suits and suitcases. They were called the Royal Postal Bazaar. Although not direct, the title and back story lend a quality to the self released debut. The album is many things, especially mysterious, as the back story and the place recording area.
“Our friends had an extremely tiny room, maybe it was a cooling cellar for vegetables but it was very small,” Nat says. “We insulated the walls with carpet and recorded there.”
The band’s musical interests are there to some extent, The Beatles, RJD2, D-Plan, but listening one can hear early days Beck and The Flaming Lips as well. They are also fans of a now defunct Philadelphia band, Dispatch.
“Acoustic party music, what OAR used to be, but 5 times as good,” Ian says. “They sold out a 5000 seat capacity in Philadelphia but couldn’t get on the radio.”
On RPB there is the aural garage sounding guitar on ‘markruok’ and ‘100 Greatest Robberies n History’ that takes the ear back to the sixties. It’s frenetic and soothing all at once. It’s funky and at times heavy, layered and definitely unique.
“Reviewers have gotten it wrong, seemingly reviewing without listening, saying its folk and its portable and that’s that,” Shelley says.
Even open music web sites such as Garageband.com where random people can review music have made positive and vague comments such as the bouncing and childlike track ‘Baby Food’ as sounding like The White Stripes.
“That’s weird,” Shelley says appreciative but a little confused. “Baby Food is pretty catchy.”
The songs themselves came from disparate places, all written separately. Nat says they had no idea going in, that they recorded demos never to be recorded for the album.
“We had nothing in mind and just recorded stuff,” he says. “Going from instrument to instrument.”
Nat’s take on the genesis of the songs comes from the way he likes the way some words or phrases sound together. He says with a laugh that he was brought up in a household where cursing was part of the norm.
“An NC paper brought that up,” he says. “They said there seems to be an extraordinary amount of cursing on the album. I’m not trying to be badass by saying the F word.”
But it’s not cursing in the sense that it’s in the listener’s face either. It’s not overly noticeable and seems to fit the song without being a bump in the road.
“Any song without cursing is Mark’s song, he doesn’t curse,” Shelley says and they all laugh.
‘Hinge Door’ always gets a really good response from crowds. Mark was strumming on the B string and started out writing that because Nat was writing a song that had a similar pattern.
“Then he wrote this great song that I really like,” Nat says.
It’s an album of material that places effort on the soul. Lots of finger picking and non-finger picking, loud drums, a bunch of bass and vocal harmonies coalescing into something that only be described as an experience and not a direct category, mixing different styles of music. It’s hypnotic, in that good/bad dream kind of way, one that you’re fascinated by and moves along as one long song.
And there was a lot of music that was left off Royal Postal Bazaar. When you buy the CD another CD accompanies it because there were 15 songs that didn’t go on RPB.
“It split it up too much,” Nat says.
“There were ten other songs too that we didn’t use either,” Says Shelley.

Nat and Shelley want pizza. They just pulled into town from a gig the night before in Raleigh. Nat wears two t-shirts and shorts, walks with Shelley down front Street. They carry on as if a couple but are not. Ian is soft spoken and quiet. He recounts something he heard recently, a story that is surreal and strange but fits.
“In Sweden, or is Norway? Anyway, our music was put on a video blog. It’s this man ranting set to our songs, it was hysterical.
Shelley turns around and asks Ian what he’s talking about. “You don’t know? I’ll send you the link. It’s on archive.org”
Ian walks a few steps and then chuckles. “We’ve never been to Sweden. Internet. Amazing.”


from Avenue Magazine Aug 2005

“Hi, Tom,” the teenager says as Tom Fleming moves through Fanboy Comics, past boxes and boxes of comics and walls hanging older ones. He’s an accomplished artist whose range of work straddles the comic book universe, the sci-fi and fantasy genre that focuses on voluptuous heroines and bulky warriors and nature inspired imagery. Fleming could pass for one of the subjects in his fantasy pieces that echo Heavy Metal magazine and Frank Frazetta’s work. Fleming’s a big guy – muscular, angular features, piercing eyes and long black hair pulled back. And friendly.
Another kid walks by, also says hello to Tom. It’s clear many of the patrons there know him. Fleming has lived in the area for ten years after visiting Wilmington with his wife many years ago.
“There’s a laid back atmosphere in Wilmington,” he says. “There’s diversity, a little bit of everything.”
Fleming is also a fixture at comic related events alongside Fanboy Comics, its staff and owner Thomas Gilbert.
“Tom’s a great guy,” Gilbert says. “He’s always willing to help out.” For a recent promotion for Star Wars III, Fleming created a pencil drawing that was given away for the film’s opening night.
Fleming is a professional artist fortunate to earn a living from his talent. But not all creations are ideas generated solely from his imagination. That’s where the moniker, professional artist, applies. Some creations are generated from assignments from comic book companies or commissions from individuals and sometimes professional models. He’s worked as a full time artist for fifteen years but it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s been tough but in an uplifting way,” he says. “There’s a lot of promotion.”
For a long time he fought the idea of promotion, believing that the work was what sold an artist. But promotion is probably sixty per cent or more of the total work a successful artist puts forth. Talent is much less of an aspect than the marketing and promotion these days.
“It’s all about branding now,” he says with a wince. Name recognition and the style of an artist go together in a way that a fickle and short minded public easily pick up on.
Fleming primarily does comic book art for a living, producing covers and trading cards. He has produced numerous covers, from magazines such as Cracked and Pin Up Illustrated to comics Captain Marvel and Elektra, for which he is probably most known for. Currently, he is waiting to hear from Heavy Metal about doing a cover. Aside from his comic related work, Fleming’s fantasy pieces seem a natural choice for the cover of Heavy Metal. He even produced a piece of art, ‘Agency 32,’ as a book cover for local author David Beauchamp.
“I’m just happy doing art for a living,” he says, having no pretensions about subject matter. Fleming’s art ranges from the dark images of ‘Dead Mime’ to nature images serving as backdrops for outdoor thermometers. These images, such as a bass bursting from beneath the water were commissioned for Koch Measurement Devices.
Commission work has come from professional models looking to have an image of them painted by Fleming or locals who desire something exotic for their home. Fleming refers to it as the ‘Fantasy Portrait’ concept in which portraits are painted from a photo of a person, or couple, putting them in a different environment.
“They’ll ask me to put them on the moon or in a garden or with aliens,” he says.

Fleming has been creating art since the age of eight, encouraged wholeheartedly by his parents, especially his mother. He started out creating work strictly in black and white and then later dabbling in watercolor. Today, he uses watercolor, colored pencil and acrylic to create comic related artwork and fantasy creations.
“My mom was a very creative person in general and has dabbled in watercolor,” he says. “I think I get it from her.”
Fleming grew up in Putnam Valley, New York and attended Syracuse University where he majored in art and finished at the top of his class. While school can concentrate on craft and history, Fleming fostered his interest in fantasy art and tongue in cheek pieces such as ‘Dead Mime’ and ‘Feet’ (this issue’s cover).
“I jokingly refer to it as ‘Agony of the Defeat’,” he says.
What’s great about ‘Dead Mime’ is that it first grabs a viewer as a violent image and then slowly reveals its, albeit dark, humor – a mime having murdered himself with his own finger, as a mime can only do. Twisted humor, but done elegantly - at first grotesque then silly as realization sets in. The style and theme of the piece are captivating in both appearance and process.
“That particular piece is big with the Goth crowd,” he says. “I get my biggest reaction about it from people.”
Spectrum, a Sci-fi art competition, the Emmys or Grammy’s of the Sci-fi art world, named it one of the top 300 in the world and published it in a book called The Art of the Fantastic. As far as selling his original art it’s a particular piece that he doesn’t want to part with. Prints are available for most of his work but he doesn’t want to part with the original painting of ‘Dead Mime’ and ‘Feet’ for “sentimental reasons.”
During his college years Fleming attended a class in which the instructor assigned the students to create anything with clowns. In class, the instructor would play the song Bring in the Clowns. The ensuing torture inspired Fleming differently from other students. The original idea was to have the mime putting a finger to his head, mimicking a gun, and confetti blasting from the other side. The instructor was a little reluctant to Fleming’s finished work.
“It was me, doing a painting overnight for an assignment due the next day,” he says. “I got an A minus.” Fleming plans to do a series of dead mime pieces. He has begun a second piece depicting a mime in the desert hanging but without a noose.

Fleming graduated from college with no interest of going into comics.
“I was more into sci-fi and fantasy,” he says.
A friend introduced Fleming to an editor at DC Comics. They needed someone to do artwork for trading cards. Fleming didn’t put much thought into it thinking the editor would never call him back. Two weeks later the editor phoned him about doing Superman trading cards. Fleming would later go on to earn acclaim for a card depicting the funeral of Superman.
He also did black and white drawings for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine where he was garnering a hundred dollars per drawing. It was the first thing he worked on as a professional artist, and not bad for right out of college in 1988.
Still, the work was temporary. In between jobs Fleming took work making pizzas and selling waterbeds. Then another call came, from Minwax Stains to produce a label for a pastel line of stains. Unsatisfied with the work by another artist Minwax hired, Fleming got the call and was given twenty four hours to come up with something. Reminiscent of college, Fleming pulled an all-nighter and produced something that impressed the company. The job landed him a thousand dollars. The label he created consisted of pastel colors in one broad paint brush stroke.
“I believe they still use it,” Fleming says with a laugh. “The best paydays are from advertising jobs anyway but they’re not the most creatively satisfying work.”
In the early nineties, Fleming got his first big break working for the World Wrestling Federation by answering an ad in the New York Times where he went to work designing costumes, props and merchandising art. Between 1991 and 1994 he produced thirty seven portatrits of wrestlers.
“Some of those guys were real professionals,” he says, “and a few were animals.”

But today Fleming buys comics, “mostly for the art” (giving kudos to the New Avengers) but as a youngster, he was a Marvel Comics fan over rival DC Comics. It’s ironic, given that Fleming is in the middle of a big job of creating trading cards for DC. Trading cards are enjoying resurgence after over saturating the market in the 1990’s.
“It’s hit or miss, doing trading cards, the characters you’re given to draw,” Fleming says. “In the past I’ve been given some lame characters to draw. That didn’t happen this time.” For the assignment Fleming was given Characters Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Firestorm.
There’s also talk with Marvel about doing an all painted graphic novel, in which the panels in the comic are not hand drawn but each are painted. Such a project will take a long time to produce but the pay off would be merit the huge undertaking.
“They’re gung ho about working on a project but its still in talks,” he says. “Once they decide on a script we’ll go from there.”
It’s a lengthy process, but once he gets the go ahead Fleming will be looking for local models to work on the project.

Inspiration for his work comes from anywhere. For his fantasy pieces the seed of an idea can germinate from any given source. “Sometimes I get a model with a cool pose,” he says. “Or I simply have an idea I want to do.”
Sometimes his wife poses with her hands and arms or she takes pictures for him as a source of reference for a particular piece. There’s the need to get an image correct, a hand coming at you, thrusted, to show the effect desired in the finished drawing.
“I prefer to take the pictures myself, to be behind the camera to get the light,” he says. “So I know how it strikes the object.” Usually Fleming uses a digital camera but for reference he likes to use an old film camera.
Several years ago Fleming converted a garage into a studio that is now adorned with toys and models and original art. There’s an original Mort Walker Beetle Bailey comic strip and a Don DeCarlo Archie. Fleming once met DeCarlo as well as the real Josie that inspired DeCarlo’s Josie and the Pussycats.
Fleming confesses his own challenges and attempts at something new. Currently, he’s working on a new style based on the field of classic romanticism. It’s a style he thinks will be taken more seriously and accepted by the general public versus pieces that are classified as Fantasy, pieces that are as much sexual as they are artistic.
In recent months Fleming has discovered turn of the century artist Jay W. Waterhouse. It was the first time, in a long time, that Fleming was inspired to paint in a different style. His wife bought a large painting of Waterhouse’s and hung it in the bedroom.
“It’s tough for me to hang big art,” he says.
Fleming explains that Waterhouse’s work has a more painterly feel – in the style of realism. Realism was brought about by Classicism (adheres to Greek and Roman art and literature, restrained and restrictive) and Romanticism (characterized by heightened interest in nature emphasizing on the individual’s expression of emotion, imagination and rebelling against social rules, conventions) as a sort of middle ground, an inclination towards literal truth, the representation in art of objects, actions, social conditions as they actually are. Waterhouse focuses on the details of important areas but gets painterly in areas where a viewer’s eyes does not need to go thus creating more of a mood. And it saves a lot of time too. For Fleming, to not be detailed on every inch of the canvas, was a learning experience.
“It was hard for me to break those detail oriented habits,” he says. In the past he would obsess over putting in the most minute detail ion every inch of the canvas.
Other artists he admires are Alphonse Mudka (“one of the masters of art nouveau”), Frank Frazetta, (“of course”) most known for his fantasy artwork and Norman Rockwell. This may seem an odd choice given the company of Fleming’s peer choices but the variety makes sense for him.
“Rockwell was very underrated because of his subject matter,” he explains. “As an artist he viewed the world in a different way and doesn’t get the validity because of the subject of the paintings he did.”
Fleming responds to Rockwell, in part, due to Rockwell’s realism in the paintings. Fleming prefers realism in his art, understandable given his history of acute attention to detail in his own paintings. But with all creative people there’s a facet that those who don’t create in the same way never fully grasp – self criticism.
“There’s never a time I feel it’s perfect,” he confesses. “I’m very self critical.”
Even in the trading cards there is an extreme sense of reality to the art. One knows it is a piece of art but is at times is devastatingly real. Take ‘Dead Mime’ again as an example or even the bass for artwork to accompany a thermometer or ‘System Shock which Fleming refers to as a combination of gaming art and advertising. But all three examples are fraught with detail..
“Michelangelo makes things very detailed,” Fleming says. “Loosen up. You don’t have to have every detail to a painting.” Fleming still strongly makes the case for realism.
“I’ll take Da Vinci and Michelangelo over Monet and Van Gogh any day.”
Fleming answers questions with candor and direct uncalculated answers. He is attentive and open to every inquiry. In answering a question about what artist he has seen recently that knocked his socks off, Fleming mulls over the question for awhile. A long silence ensues. Unable to comment the conversation goes in another direction, discussing the business of art and the desire to create his own limited edition prints. Then, his eyes light up, stopping himself in mid sentence.
“To answer your question – about someone knocking my socks off – I went to the D.C. National Gallery and saw an exhibit of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work,” he says in a voice still rich in his native New York. It was an exhibit of cabaret art work; Lautrec’s work was comprised of realism and impressionism, oils and ink drawings.
“His work smokes Van Gogh in my opinion as far as craftsmanship and painting skills.” Fleming seems pleased that he has answered the question and returns to the previous subject.
His plans for now include books of his art work; continue building a fan base and his own limited edition prints that can be bought on his web site. Fleming’s artwork is on display at the Blue Moon gallery on Racine Drive where prints are also for sale. Cassandra Peruzzi, manager of Blue Moon, says of Fleming’s work “that there’s never been anything like it at Blue Moon before.”
Peruzzi has worked at Blue Moon since it opened four years ago and also commented that his subjects are varied. “There’s not enough space to really show all his styles of work,” she says.
Several years ago, Fleming put his talents to work on the Jodie Foster film Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys as an illustrator of still work used on screen. He was responsible for creating the art work the kids in the film created. The production gave him specific pieces to draw and other times allowed him to be creative.
“It was hard because they wanted me draw as a sixteen year old,” he recalls. “It was difficult in the sense that I had to deconstruct what I’d learned since that age as an artist.”
Challenges aside, Fleming has worked infrequently for other film productions such as Stateside doing storyboard work and storyboarding a scene for current production Surface. Some of his artwork is featured in a gory horror film shot in Louisiana, called Stay Alive. Like Altar Boys, his artwork serves as the creation of one of the film’s characters, a teenager. He was told that in one shot the camera pans across a wall where his work hangs and stops over his signature.
“The guy said it will be the size of a Toyota on screen,” he says proudly.
There are things Fleming confesses he’d like to have more time to do, reading for one. He just doesn’t get the chance to do it. There’s not a lot of free time. There’s always work and promotion, like the recent comic convention in Charlotte or the upcoming Dragon Con in Atlanta where the city will surely be filled with the wild, bizarre and exotic.
Fleming is fan of music, seventies punk, Black Flag, Ween – but has never created a cd cover for a band.
“I’d like to do it,” he says. “Definitely.”
There’s so much Fleming wants to do but there’s the notion of time. Art, and the business of art, take up much of that time. He gets cards and other mail from fans all over the world, especially Europe where fantasy art is very popular. He says he’s never gotten a letter or an e-mail and not responded to it. But the original spark always calls.
“I always feel like I should be painting,” he says with a reticent smile.

You can view fleming’s work at www.flemart.com


from Avenue Magazine Aug 2005

On July 9th, an open casting call was held at Westfield Shopping Mall. People of all ages showed up at ten that morning, some with prepared headshots, to have their picture taken with the hope of making some extra money by getting the chance to be on television. Similar casting calls were held in Jacksonville and Myrtle Beach. Nearly 5,000 people attended throughout the day in Wilmington.
The cast of the science fiction show, Surface, includes Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Batman Begins, Eyes Wide Shut), Lake Bell (ER, Boston Legal, The Practice) and Jay Ferguson (Judging Amy, Higher Learning, Evening Shade). NBC is investing a lot in the series, which is being filmed simultaneously in different locations to accommodate the show’s multiple storylines, and is scheduled to air this fall on Monday nights.
The first full day of production took place on July 20th, at the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department. The call time for extras was at seven a.m. Everyone gathered at a clear tent just beyond the firehouse. The recently risen sun began to make the morning uncomfortable. Inside the tent, the mugginess grew and the crew made a call to cool things down. A large, oversized fan was in the corner of the tent and one of the assistant directors, Rudy Persico asked about getting it powered up for the extras. Many stood outside to stay cool. Others remained inside filling out forms in order to get paid for the day’s work. Long tables lined the tent and breakfast food and drinks were available at the front. A large oversized pipe, like something you see behind a common household dryer, connected to a large generator outside was positioned through the tent’s flaps and within moments there was air conditioning.
It is explained to the extras how there is a watchful eye on the production, that its important to show that this type of show can be produced here. The show is set in several locations and heavy on visual effects. Everyone applauds when it’s mentioned how good it is to have an additional series shooting in Wilmington. Throughout the day there were numerous stickers on equipment that read, BRING BACK NC FILM.COM
Extras milled around, waiting and talking. The hair and make up crew began on some of the extras, a little girl’s hair pulled up and make up applied and men, all of a certain height and build were shuttled out to dress in National Guard uniforms - brand new camouflage, and their hair trimmed to look authentic. Other extras were taken away to get dressed as doctors, some in blue scrubs and some in white lab coats and others were in suits to emulate national security, or, ‘men in black’ as the extras joked during the day.
One of the extras, whom many knew and called Billy Ray, said that he’d been involved in over ninety films and remarked about a scene in Ya Ya Sisterhood that he was featured prominently. The man was proud of his time spent on movie sets and when called for throughout the day to move to different spots on the set he was quick footed and eager to please.
The remaining extras were asked by wardrobe crew members to step outside into a half circle. Each extra was looked over for their clothes. It was important to wear non-white apparel and clothing devoid of logos. Two extras had black tape placed over tiny logos on their shoes. A few were asked if they wanted to wear their bathing suits all day or go without shirts.
Around 8:30, the extras were moved to the set where camouflaged Humvee’s were placed behind the fire department along with black Chevy Suburbans, Jeff Gordon Chevrolet license plates on the front, to simulate government vehicles. A troop transport sat at center of the set. The first shot called for the transport to enter the area as though bringing in more evacuees. The shot would require several takes. It took rehearsing and a few takes to get the shot correct, which necissitated the movement of several vehicles and soldiers assisting evacuees from the rear of the transport vehicle once it stopped.
Extras posing as evacuees brought items from home to emulate what people might grab in a hurry during an evacuation. Some brought pillows, sleeping bags, small suitcases and pet carriers. They were instructed to line up at tents and others were placed about the set – in the troop transport or in the background to give the sense of mild hysteria. The Wrightsville Beach Fire Department doubled as the evacuation area, a sign placed on the building reading Mount Pleasant in shiny black raised letters. A short while later, a set painter climbed a ladder to repaint the letters rustic grey to make them appear worn and aged.
AD’s would yell “Background!” and extras would pretend to be frustrated with being evacuated, pantomiming frustration with the doctors under the tents. After a few takes, an AD would come over to coach some of the extras on their movements and to act more frustrated. After about an hour under the morning sun that was not hard to do. Crew members were coming over between takes and asking the extras if they needed sunscreen and offered small towels to wipe away the sweat. One couple, obviously having done this type of work before, had brought their own mini battery operated fan.
The crew set up for another shot, moving the cameras in closer to capture one of the show’s heroes entering the scene. They work fast, expediting the director’s request. AD Rudy Persico helps coordinate the action and refers to the actor as ‘Hero.’ The director refers to her real name, Lake. All these takes from different angles will give the editor multiple shots to edit a scene displaying a hurried evacuation with Bell’s character entering the shot with her son, played by Bobby Coleman.
Bell comes onto the outdoor set under an umbrella to shield her from the sunlight. Between every take a crew member approaches her to pat away any sweat and address make up concerns. She also has a battery operated fan as well. She leans over to apply it to Bobby as well, but he is energetic and decides to sit under the high bumper of the troop transport instead. He is only there for a moment before another take is called for. The scene is played over several times, Bell approaching the table as frustrated extras leave and move about the area. The director wants the actress to be seen between the crowd of people moving about the set. This shot will give the impression of many people as Bell moves through them.
Another take is called for and someone checks Bell’s make up again. This almost seems unnecessary, she’s tan as a local and there aren’t adjectives enough to describe how pretty she is. The actress sees an extra, a young boy of ten years, sitting down. His skin is pale and he wears black glasses that has garnered him Harry Potter questions and jibes all morning. Bell expresses concern for the young boy being out in the sun.
“Maybe that boy shouldn’t be in the sun so much,” she says.
A crew member sprays additional sunscreen on him and asks if he’d like some water. She tells the boy to stay in the shade under the tents when they aren’t filming. The boys smiles and goes back to talking with an extra he’s paired himself with.
Moments later the scene begins again.
Director Jeffery Reiner, satisfied with the shot, yells “Check the gate,” which means its time to move on to another shot. Throughout the day, as this sentence is yelled out, conditioning set in over everyone, smiles all around because they knew the shot was complete.
Cameras and track were set up in different places to achieve separate angles of the scene. The scene became apparent as evacuees were being shuffled through; the scene introduces one of the show’s heroes, Daughtery Carstarphen, played by Bell. She approaches a doctor’s tent with her son. She is questioned and becomes aggravated by the situation like everyone else.
“Are we being arrested?” she asks. The doctor is vague but drives home the point that she may be needed further in case of ‘infection.’ Her son stands close to Bell, his thick long hair falling around his face. Bell runs her fingers through the young boy’s hair playfully between takes. Bobby’s elbows just reach the table where he plays with the fake doctor’s items. He pretends to growl like a lion with an extra, Nancy Boldizar, whose son is the young actor’s stand in.
“Background action!” is yelled again.
Extras move into line and those at the tables look at forms on clipboards and hand them back to the doctors with frustration. A camera tracks along behind the tents capturing other extras being questioned until it stops on Bell and Bobby. She repeats the same lines again.
“Cut!” Reiner says.
Reiner approaches from the monitor station near the parked troop transport. He makes his way over to the tent where Bell still stands. Reiner moves quickly, wearing low top red Converse, black shorts and a loose fitting white shirt. His curly black hair stands thickly above his forehead.
“Bobby, your performance was great,” Reiner says.
The young boy smiles a toothy grin and says thank you.
“Hey, what about me?” Bell jokes.
Reiner and Bell talk about the dialogue a few moments. The actor portraying the doctor quizzing Bell asks if he can move his chair a little, to make himself more comfortable. The camera operator okays the movement.
“Thanks, guys,” he says, wiping his brow.
The heat is growing heavier as the noon hour approaches. Crew members return with towelettes to wipe away the sweat. Everyone is fanning themselves and with no clouds in the sky the sun is pouring on the pressure. You can hear it in the crew’s voices. There’s a certain amount of tension in the air but it’s not directed at anyone in particular. Everyone just wants to get a lot of work done. A battery malfunction causes a moment of frustration between a camera operator and another crew member but it doesn’t slow the pace of production. This is the third set up of the morning and each set up has garnered multiple takes. The director calls for the scene to begin again.
“Let’s shoot this before we all melt!” someone yells playfully yet with a hint of disdain for the strain from the sun. The take begins again but has to stop and everyone resets.
In the distance a car backfires, sounding eerily like a shotgun firing. Bell recoils.
“What was that?” she asks with concern.
“Just an old car backfiring,” an extra standing nearby answers. Bell’s eyes move to the person who answered, a little embarrassed at what the sound actually was. Her hazel eyes glisten a moment and she flashes a wide smile, laughing. The scene is played again until Reiner is satisfied. Everyone breaks while the crew set up the cameras to capture another actor, Rade Serbedzija, seeing Bell in the melee of evacuees.
The crew has been concerned with the heat all day for everyone on the set, constantly reminding them to drink plenty of fluids. A table was set up to provide water, Gatorade, fruits and crackers and other items to keep everyone nourished until lunch. The crew worked hard that day, it was seldom that you saw them taking a break or drinking something for themselves, always thanking the extras and addressing them as sir or ma’am.
The heat lingered on through the mid afternoon, only a few clouds crossed the sky and those that did were dark rain clouds. The timing was good for the clouds because by close to one o’clock the crew moved inside the fire department to rehearse an upcoming scene. Rehearsal and set up for the scene takes a while and everyone outside finds a place to rest up and drink more water. People talk on their cell phones and try to make the best of a hot day. It is said that the heat index is inching over a hundred degrees.
Inside an area normally designated for fire trucks is now set up to mimic a evacuee staging area. Cots line the concrete floor and the fire trucks were pulled forward until nothing but the rear of the vehicles are adjacent to the garage doors.
Extras moved in and happily took seats on the cots, laying belongings down and some taking it as a opportunity to rest. It was not much cooler inside, but at least there was shade. Stand-ins for the lead actors come in and their positions are taped off - marks to line up properly for the cameras. After a few camera rehearsals director Reiner calls for lunch. It is now three o’clock. People could wait for a shuttle to carry them to the tents where lunch is being served by Ken & Arts Movie Catering. Some wait and others just make the walk.
The food served is hearty, tasteful and plentiful. There’s not a lot of time to eat but everyone makes use of what’s available, waiting to talk afterwards. Extras and crew take in roasted chicken and pork in addition to salad, desserts and rice or mashed potatoes. But a storm is approaching, the dark clouds providing plentiful shade. From time to time thunder sounds off in the distance, it won’t be long before it is near the production.
Everyone returns to the set feeling a little better, their stomachs full but the weight of the heat still upon them. Every few moments someone, crew or extras, raises their hand or arm to wipe sweat from their faces. From a distance the wiping resembles an uncoordinated symphony of sweat removal.
The storm has grown closer and numerous thunderbolts light up the sky. It looks remarkable from inside the fire station truck bay. The sky is bruised, yet pale blue, split by thick powerful thunderbolts, the fire trucks serving as black silhouettes against a dangerously encroaching sky.
“Production is shut down,” says Ralph, who works alongside director of photography Bill Sage.
Reiner approaches and asks how long. Ralph says that they must shut down when a storm is within ten miles of a production. Reiner asks again how long before they can begin shooting. Discussion centers on how far away the storm is by counting between thunder and lightning bolts.
Thunder sounds off and Reiner starts counting thinking that if he counts to ten then the storm is far enough away. Ralph tells him that counting to ten accounts only for one mile, not ten.
“We’re shut down for now,” Sage says.
They utilize the time to go over the shot one more time, even altering it and looking at script pages. Stand-ins, refereed to as Second Team, take their marks to line up a camera shot. The light has changed because the fire trucks are gone for an emergency call. Sage asks for a garage door to be raised more.
A short time later the fire trucks return and park in previous positions. Lighting is changed again. A two by three foot piece of white board is placed on the floor between the front two cots. This will be used to illuminate the scene. Sage asks for an 18k light to be set up by the fire truck and then someone suggests using the Blackjack. This moveable light source can be hand held or placed somewhere just outside the actors to light the shot. Sage agrees and they check its movement with the camera across the room getting an additional angle.
In the time it takes to make these movements and verify, the storm has moved far enough away in which to begin the first take.
“Okay, First Team,” someone yells. The stand-ins leave and lead actors Jay Ferguson and Lake Bell come in. Ferguson sits at the front cot, an extra sitting in front of him. There are script pages at the end of the second cot, the dialogue to take place between Ferguson and Bell.
Ferguson, originally from Dallas, Texas, stands and paces between the two cots, mumbling lines to himself. He wears a light brown tee shirt, Levi’s and brown boots. He looks like the everyman, muscular, rugged, thin eyes and speaks in a thick deep voice.
He sits down and introduces himself to the extra sitting facing him. Bell approaches, kneels and they quietly go over lines. Reiner asks if they are ready to begin the scene.
“Yes, sir,” Ferguson says. This will be his first scene of the day. It is also the first scene in the show in which he meets Bell’s character. Reiner returns to behind the monitors where he can view what the cameras are filming.

Background action begins; coordinated extras get up and walk from one side to the next, carrying fruit or a bag, to give the sense of activity. The camera starts from behind the parked fire truck on its track slowly, capturing the scene - a room full of cots and evacuees seemingly held captive. A boom mic is lowered and Ferguson paces again, back and forth. He sits and the extra is wiping his brow with a blue bandana. Ferguson improvs with the extra to fill time until Bell approaches.
“How long you been here?” Ferguson asks.
“Feels like three weeks or more,” the extra says, pleased by the improvisation.
“They aren’t keeping me here three weeks,” Ferguson replies. “That’s for sure.”
There’s a pause, the background action still taking place. Ferguson looks over the crowd.
“What did they tell you?” the extra asks Ferguson.
“Not enough,” he replies. “What did they say to you?”
“Said I might be sick or something,” the extra says.
The camera continues to move past Ferguson and Reiner says out loud “And she notices him.” Reiner’s voice will be replaced later in post-production.
Ferguson nods at the extra, serious. He sees Bell approaching.
From the other end of the firehouse Bell was relaxing on a cot with her son when she eyed Ferguson’s character, Richard Owen. She stands and walks between the rows of cots to meet him. She drops to one knee and strikes up a conversation.
“I saw you from back there,” she says. “Are you okay?”
“I twisted my knee a little,” he says. “Nothing serious.”
“Did they charge you?” she asks.
“They said they would if I did it again,” he says.
There’s a short pause but Bell never takes her eyes off him.
“So, why’d you do it?” she asks further. Ferguson looks around, watchful of everyone, agitated.
“To see the big whale,” he says sarcastically. “To see the Red Tide.”
Bell pauses briefly, then intones serious about wildlife explanations for what he saw.
“There is no Red Tide,” she finishes and Ferguson turns to look at her, happily surprised. He introduces his character to hers, shake hands, then stand up. He retrieves something from his book bag. It’s a notebook filled with pages of information that intrigues her, answers questions she’s had.
Director Reiner serves again as the sound of the intercom.
“Paging Richard Owen,” he says in a monotone voice.
Ferguson looks up, pretending to hear the intercom. From behind, two National Guard officers approach and take him away forcefully. Bells marvels at what she’s found in the notebook. Ferguson yells back at her.
“You saw it! Didn’t you?” he says excitedly.
Bell turns the pages until Reiner calls cut.
The scene gets replayed many times until everyone is happy with the rhythm. A light drizzle comes down but doesn’t affect the shoot or the next series of close up shots of the actors. Extras are asked to wait outside and they take refuge in the craft services provided by Reva. People are happy to enjoy soft drinks, eat some cookies or chew a little gum. It has been a long muggy day and everyone looks tired and in need of a cold, cold shower. They need to do the scene with everyone again and the extras move inside for another take. All goes well and the day ends. People shake hands and some embrace.
The day ends for the extras but the crew will head over to a house in Forest Hills for interior shooting over the next four hours. Then, the second day of shooting will start.
Extras make their way to the tents in which their day began. The air conditioning truck and its large mouth feeding tube are now gone. Trucks are pulling away. Some are being loaded for the next day’s moveable feast. It’s just after seven p.m.
Everyone gets in line inside the tent to hand over their paperwork in order to get paid. Any time worked after eight hours is considered time and a half, so the long day won’t be too bad for the money. If an extra brought props for the day’s shoot they were also compensated monetarily.
People leave and are told to call if they want to work the following Thursday. It’s not bad work if you can get it. And you might get to be on television.


Determination is one thing but you have to admire a plan, or even vision. Nelson Oliver knows what he wants. He has since the early teens that is, to be a filmmaker. At 19, Oliver is a second year film student at UNCW directing a short not for a class project but for himself. He plans to complete the editing and use the film to apply to USC film school.
Not content to sit around with other students discussing what film should have won Best Picture in 1989, he set out to make his own film, diverting energy into something more productive.
“Many students don’t take advantage of the equipment to make films,” he says.
He’s not one to discuss, but rather, is the type of individual who has an idea and sees it through. He is essentially working outside the school’s film department and doing what any filmmaker would have to do, apply for permits, contact a casting agency. However, the process didn’t come without help from some of his professors, Glenn Pack loaned him a Frinell light and Frank Capra, Jr. put him in contact with a casting agency.
“Frank Capra, Jr. helped me out a lot on this short,” he says. “He’s the one that helped me get contacts like Johnny Griffin. Everyday I would stay after his class and get the information I needed.” Support from his professors came from Dave Monahan, Terry Linehan in addition to Glenn Pack.
He’s doing it on his own, away from everything, doing what independent filmmakers normally do. The young director is getting on-the-job training by doing it all himself, something that’s not easily taught in the classroom.
“With this film I wanted to see how efficacious I was in terms getting the shots I wanted,” he explains. “How well my vision was translated to the screen.”

On a bright morning last April at Greenfield Park he directs a scene from his film on a bridge deep in the park. Wearing jeans and a dark blue shirt he pulls his lengthening hair away from his eyes revealing a slightly terse brow. He’s not stressed or upset, just focused. There are shots to get, pulled from a notebook plotted out long before he and the crew arrived this morning.
The story, written by a roommate last year, behind this fifteen minute short concerns a submissive man who wants to drop everything to do stand up comedy but his subconscious won’t allow it.
Actors Devin McGee and Stacy Emery exchange lines walking across the faded and grey boards of a bridge that extends across part of the lake. It’s a beautiful view of the lake and elegantly quiet. In the water below turtles stick out their heads and ducks slowly move, barely making waves, their large feet paddling like a leaf flowing in the wind.
Oliver gets the shot and assistant director Luke Dalecki moves the dolly down the bridge, onto grass at the foot of the bridge. In high school Oliver saved up money to purchase a dolly, a guide rail that allows for a camera to move smoothly across its plane, and a digital camera. UNCW won’t allow students to use anything unless you’re in a production class.
Oliver sets up his shots and works the camera alone, making adjustments and directing the actors.
“I’m doing most of the camera work,” he explains. “In an ideal situation I’d want a camera operator. I learned that in high school, it takes too long to direct the actors, the camera operator, go back and look at it, when you’re recording it yourself you know if it works or not.”
There is no sign on his face of what should I do or where to put the camera. It’s as if he’s done this before, came down the night before and rehearsed. Taking away the fact that this is a very small crew the members carry on in a relaxed and business like manner, everyone in attendance to accomplish the same goal. They are enjoying the work but the goal is to get the work done, to create this film.
Once the dolly is in place (and waiting for park visitors to move past) the director gets his next shot with McGee delivering lines to Stacy. It’s a long take with McGee saying much of the lines. Oliver gets two more takes till he’s satisfied.
“That was perfect,” he says laughing a little. “That was really good guys.”
They decide to break for lunch. It’s just after twelve o’clock. Oliver asks who’s hungry and says he’s getting lunch.

Growing up in Allegheny County, on the North Carolina–Virginia border, Oliver worked through his high school years learning the equipment cutting his teeth shooting projects around the county. The high school he attended had a community college attached, a cyber campus. And Oliver’s boss was in charge of it.
“It paid really well but wasn’t creatively satisfying,” he says.
In high school Oliver had his own 12 – 15 person crew. “They really got into it, made it really fun.” Senior projects were presented to the school. The most videos done before was two and Oliver had completed five. It was his concentration in course studies but those projects were beginnings. One project specifically, was about lighting.
In high school the budding filmmaker saved up money and bought film equipment realizing the benefits of having his own. Oliver owns his own boom mike, a small crane that you can’t tilt, so he took a tripod head off and used to tilt with and a mini crane. The parents helped out a lot too, once seeing that their son had more than a passing interest in film. Anyone could suggest that it was risky. Oliver was shooting for the moon while other kids in town are looking for a vocation, let alone a career.
At an early age Oliver asked his parents how a film was made, specifically watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They explained it as best they could, how the character gets from one place to another so quickly, how things are created for the film, or how Harrison Ford remember his lines.
“They explained to the best of their ability,” he says. “Of how a director shoots in takes and then all of it is edited.”
It didn’t make complete sense until Oliver saw a documentary on the making of Jurassic Park at the age of seven and things came together. While a lot of kids his age were digesting popular music he listened to a lot of film scores. It would be several more years before he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Oliver didn’t want to post flyers for actors. Most of the characters in the film are around thirty and he needed actors of such an age. He sought out Wilmington casting director Tracy Kilpatrick who was suggested by Capra. She’d never worked with a student before but sent the word through. It was a no pay production, productions that are good for building a resume for actors. All the actors are through her agency.
The shoot took place over the month of April. There were five locations total, Keenan auditorium at UNCW, inside and out, Greenfield & Hugh McRae Parks and downtown Wilmington.
“Downtown was rough, people kept asking if we were shooting One Tree Hill,” he says. “Finally, we just told people that we were. Cause we had the dolly out and the boom.” Oliver shifts gears in his mind, going from a humorous anecdote to one about creative fruition. “Its fun seeing how well the shots have turned out compared to the storyboards.”
The production was supposed to shoot downtown on a specific day but the director got all but one of the actors so he reworked the schedule. These are problems that filmmakers come up against on any size production.
Another location included the offices of the Insider’s Guide of Wilmington where shooting was tight to say the least, but scene-wise, was profitable.
“The contacts were what took the longest, meeting the right people, talking to the Wilmington film office, getting the permits written,” he says listing item after item as if there was so much more. “Getting the lights for shooting was one of the biggest difficulties.”
Shooting at Keenan was fortunate but the crew only had one day, April 13th to film. “The only day I could get,” he says. The scene is not terribly complex but required a lot of lighting to simulate performing in front of a large crowd. The shot involves dollying the camera back to reveal an actor buried in lights sweating it out in front of people, but namely, having a meltdown in his own mind.
“I think there were fourteen takes on that one,” he says about getting it right.
The character is doing an internal diagetic scene, a comedy routine actually, all in his head. Oliver went on to create a parallel between that scene and the final scene, the climax in which everything goes haywire.
“I created a parallel because this starts in the auditorium and mirrors the climax that takes place at the amphitheatre at Greenfield Park, both scenes are in theatres.”
Preparation is key. Over the years there have been stories written about productions where directors come on a set and find their vision at that moment. It may work for some, and not for others, but either way it could be costly in the matter of time and patience. On a film set time is a director’s enemy.
“Prep really helps. I write down all of my shots first and what I want to do. Then I just have a script supervisor and tell them what lines are to be said in the shot,” Oliver explains. “We’re going to redo all the sound in post.”
Oliver used a lot of extras, mostly his friends, recalling what he learned from The Wizard of Oz, where the same people were used over and over. He was appreciative of the fact that everybody showed up and helped out.

In Oliver’s bedroom the walls are lined with posters of films he clearly responds to, from classics to modern hits. There’s a variety to them but also the whimsy of adventure. There’s no need to mention titles because that would categorize him. He doesn’t care who knows what his tastes are, he knows what he wants to do in terms of telling stories. He clearly wants to do just that.
There are sketches that line the top of one wall that are conceptual designs for a sprawling adventure that he says will take some time to flesh out and write. He prefers to write his own material but also prefers to take his time, not wanting to rush.
“Before I shoot I do conceptual sketches, shot set-ups, storyboarding, preliminary sketches for scenes,” he says explaining the pre-planning. On his bed lies a notebook filled with small sketches of shots and description of what he plans to get. There is another project lying on the bed, and drawings, his mind poured out onto paper.
“That notebook is my life support,” he says.
He holds his camera, playing back scenes from the short film, take after take. The view finder is taped off to allow for understanding where the frame line will be when the film is completed. It’s the camera he’s had for several years now and appears as an extension of his hand.
A scene appears onscreen in which actor Devin McGee is arriving late to work and an actor in the background spills coffee on himself. It was something that was added, a surprise that was good enough that it added levity to a scene. A following set of takes shows the actor playing his boss who berates McGee for being late.
The actor traveled into town from DC that weekend, on a Sunday morning. “C’mon Miles get to work!” the older actor yells at McGee. McGee flinches. With each take the actor, who’d not had much rest, seemingly got more into the scene and appears as if he’s about to explode.
“He had many Red Bulls. He had to go to DC to shadow an actor for a role he’s taking as a military officer,” Oliver laughs. “I wanted to get him out of there as soon as possible.”
There’s something to be said about not just creative people but also energetic people, those with big ideas, of doing something above the norm. Some students were interested in what Oliver has done, realizing that if he could do it so could they. He’s an example of a self starter, someone who does more than talk about creating. Someone who set about to depend on himself to produce and not an institution.
Francis Ford Coppola, in the documentary Heart of Darkness about the struggle to complete Apocalypse Now, said that with technology anyone will be able to create their own films, that limitations will be reduced. It won’t make school obsolete, but it does put some power back into creative hands.
“I think it’s good that film school is focused on the business side of it,” he says. ‘But I think you need spark. It takes your attitude in terms of what you can do. Some students talk poorly of their projects and that they’ll never finish. Pessimism is one of my biggest pet peeves and I won’t have that. I think you could come without that spark and that Film School might ignite that but I think you’re better off if you have that already. If you look at the history, the filmmakers, they went in there generally knowing what they wanted to do.”
Oliver carefully pauses and then casually smiles.
“I don’t see myself doing the same job everyday.”