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American Cinema Editors Internship: Day 3: Stars In Mine Eyes

Dear Diary,

So, yet another exciting day in the life of an international ACE intern – a day filled with anticipation but ultimately excitement for the future…. this lecture series alone has certainly had a tendency to impress an excitement for the future!

Last night’s lecture was the last of the three nights of the series.  All three nights of the series were the perfect, well-rounded encapsulation of the required knowledge for someone starting off on a Hollywood adventure in editorial, but last night in particular was awesome due to the fact these were the actual people who are in the positions that we are all dreaming to be in.  Hunter Via (The Walking Dead & Sons of Anarchy), Dan Lebental (Iron Man & Cowboys & Aliens), Virginia Katz (The Twilight Saga & Dreamgirls), Lori Jane Coleman (Covert Affairs & Dawson’s Creek), Sabrina Pliscoe (Free Willy & Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), Stephen Mirrione (Ocean’s 11/12/13 & Traffic) and John Axelrad (Crazy Heart & The Switch) all had stories and tips to share from their personal own personal journeys, but the general message was to never, ever, EVER give up.

An interesting topic of discussion raised by John Axelrad was regarding the situation of someone who has worked their way up to being an assistant editor on features.  That there are essentially two ladders – the first being the “assistant ladder” whereby one would work their way up as an assistant to get the “hard work” reputation and the contacts, then once they’re ready in terms of skill and financial stability, starting from the bottom of the “editor ladder” and building up through the low budgets to the higher budgets [to the Oscar].  In contrast, of course, is the other method of progression which was spoken about last night – and that is the method of bouncing between editing and assisting and growing in both disciplines until you get to the stage where you are able to just cut.

Stephen Mirrione also shared a story with us about a film he was working on where him and his director reached picture lock in less than 2 weeks and highlighted the importance of not psyching yourself out to think that it NEEDS to take a long time and that there WILL be problems.  Sometimes it will be an easy cut and we just need to be able to let it be easy.

Sabrina Pliscoe used a metaphor last night which made me chuckle a little bit too.  She was talking about the day when the director sees the assembly edit for the first time and how this is their “Coming to Jesus day” – the day they have to face up to and confront the actual things that they have done and material they have incidentally captured.  She also elaborated on this point though and said that on the Director’s “coming to Jesus day” you need to uplift the Director and help him/her not feel defeated – that this is your opportunity as their Editor to encourage them that the story is in the rushes somewhere and although it might not be there yet, that you will work together as a team to nut it out.

Another thing that I found amusing was a technique Dan Lebental implements in his cutting room regarding errors.  He posts a chart in the cutting room with all the names of his editorial team and whenever someone makes a mistake, they get a star put next to their name.  Once a month he takes his team down to the local pub and each team member has to sing one song per star they have next to their name and sing their errors away.

The only editor I got a chance to chat with during the break was Dreamgirls editor, Virginia Katz.  One of my professional aspirations is to cut a musical so I was very intrigued to hear her stories about working on a film in that genre.  The most riveting part of her story though was that she actually got a chance to meet Beyonce on set a few times where they shook hands and chatted a little.  Being a massive Beyonce fan myself (to Shannon’s dismay), and because Ginny‘s hand had touched Beyonce‘s hand, I mentioned that never again would I wash my hand and also to tell Beyonce next time she sees her that JJ from Australia said to say, “Hello”.

The last thing I wanted to mention is relating to my own development over the last few days.  Being required to be a part of the execution of these lecture series (ie setting up the chairs, writing name tags, ensuring the attendees and panelists were made to feel welcome as they entered the theatre, etc) has given me a real sense of humility and servanthood.  And, interestingly enough, given me a pride in having been so.  By absorbing over the last 3 days how someone aspiring to greatness in my field (or in any field) is required to go through a certain process of growth and is required at ALL stages of their career to be a humble servant to the next in the chain of command (even when they become Editor), I feel that I have already come such a long way since the beginning of the week in terms of my own personal and professional tracker, spytomobile, snapchat trace

American Cinema Editors Internship: Day 2: The Life Of An Assistant

Dear Diary,

So last night’s lecture panel was very informative and encouraging – informative because all the different panelists have traversed different paths and have experienced different situations, personalities and workflows; and encouraging because those assistants who were sharing their success stories with us were, once upon a time in their lives, at the point I am at right now (and not so long ago either, which is really exciting to know).
One of the really exciting things for me personally was hearing about the technical workflow Carsten Kurpaneck had implemented while he was assisting on Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Because they were shooting in random European countries and the editors were cutting right here in Los Angeles, the assistants had to implement a workflow that didn’t hold production by physically having to wait for the high resolution rushes to come on the hard drive from Europe.  The workflow was:
  1. hi-res gargantuan filesized R3D files from the Red Alexa
  2. converted to ProRes444 for the Online and put on a hard drive for physical transport to LA
  3. converted to low-res H264 files for upload to the Internet from Europe
  4. above H264 files downloaded from LA and upconverted to ProRes444 for import into Final Cut
  5. when the hi-res ProRes444 files finally arrive on hard drive in the post, the low-res Quicktimes are replaced with the hi-res ones
It was exciting to be able to hear how they do it on the big budget Hollywood features, and, again, quite encouraging for me to be able to understand it.
Another interesting thing was hearing all the different ways different editors prefer their projects to be arranged. There was talk of “Mickey Mouse” arrangement of grouped clips and their respective “Cam A” and “Cam B” clips, to knowing the preferred settings of your Editor, and the notion that the amount of footage the editor prefers changes also is very interesting too – in that some editors prefer to only have the good takes of the rushes available in their project whereas others prefer to have all the footage that was shot (and just for the good takes to be annotated somehow).
Finally, there was also talk about “the ACE family” and that it is a community where everyone has each others’ backs and where everyone helps each other out in terms of finding and securing work.  I am very honored and humbled to be a “brother” in this family and look forward to being an active family member for a very long time to come! My first duty in the family is to establish the official 2012 Facebook group of ACE Intern Applicants, and it is already alive and thriving with activity.
Altogether it was really great to hear from people at this stage of their careers and I’m really looking forward to hearing from the panel tonight as that is the level we are all aspiring to – like REALLY excited!

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American Cinema Editors Internship: Day 1: It Begins

Dear Diary,

On to the lecture series, last night’s panel of Sabrina Plisco, Tina Hirsch, Lori Jane Coleman, Diana Friedberg and Chris Cooke speaking about the unwritten rules of working as an assistant was extremely elightening.  For starters, let me say how honoured I felt to be in the midst of such reputable editors, and even more particularly, to be in such an exclusive position to be getting mentored by the amazing Tina Hirsch.  I felt enriched, educated and empowered absorbing the wealth of experience you and your peers had to offer.  Although it was enlightening, I can see how some facets of my character will have to be worked on and subdued to make me an ideal assistant in Hollywood – and my character development, as well as my professional development, is what I’m looking forward to working on with her over the coming months/years.

I must admit, I came to LA with stars in my eyes.  From the moment I made that pivotal decision in my life a few years ago to seriously pursue a career in editing I have been filled with an insatiable passion to cut, and everything seemed to be falling into place for me – from my acceptance into my film and TV degree at Bond University, Australia, to being 1 of 8 Australians to be accepted into the Australian Film Television and Radio School to specialise in the specific craft of Editing, to getting accepted as the international American Cinema Editors intern for 2012.  It has all been a very exciting adventure thus far – I mean 5 years ago I would have never thought I would be in HOLLYWOOD! – but my background has been in corporate video, TVCs, and low to no budget shorts which I have been the designated editorial head of department for so I have never been required to submit myself so much to someone else’s authority – my opinion was always valued and respected and I have always been the “decider of the cut”.  But the further I get out of school and into the real world, the more I come to acknowledge that there is no star-studded express lane to being an editor in Hollywood – no matter how special/or experienced you are, or think you are – and you have to really swallow your pride and spend the years working your way up from the bottom just like everyone else.  It is initially a little deflating coming to that revelation, but as was discussed last night – narrative, documentary and TV are worlds apart from each other and being successful and revered in one by no means means you will be successful and revered in another.  I’m glad I had the revelation sooner rather than later though, because now I can get rid of all my diluded perceptions of how my career would be and focus on what Chris Cooke said about determining where I want to be, putting in place a “5-step plan” on how to get there and spending every waking moment persevering to get there.

I completely understand the notion of not climbing on the back of your editor to make a name with the director as that is foundational respect you give to superiors, and on that same token, I understand why you would go see your editor in private to give an opinion about a cut [if asked for it, of course].  But one thing I would struggle with is biting my tongue when false accusations are being made against me and just saying, “Yes, sir/ma’am.  Right away, sir/ma’am.”

Another reality that is prominent in this industry and I don’t really know how to deal with is “staying on the radar of your peers”.  I’m really glad we spoke about that last night too because techniques like emailing them, especially when you may have never met them before, may seem a little awkward or “stalkerish” when done in the wrong way – but when the execution of the technique is refined and done in the right way, it comes across as really friendly and completely normal.  For example, cold-emailing asking for work when all of a sudden you need a job seems a little awkward – but emailing them on a monthly or quarterly basis just with an update on what’s happening in your life (even if you’re employed) and asking them what’s happening in their’s is much more appealing.

So essentially the main thing I got out of last night is that I really need to let go of preconceptions and humble myself in order to succeed on the road ahead.  I’m really glad I have a mentor like Tina Hirsch to help me on that path, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to write this journal to her on a daily basis – it feels very therapeutic to be able to give an honest account of what I’m learning and how I feel about what I’m learning without fear of prejudice.wechat spy, cell phone spy software, phone parental monitoring

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

An Honour & A Privelege….

Read the AFTRS press release HERE

I applied for the American Cinema Editors Internship Program which accepts 2 American and 1 international editor each year and I am very humbled to have been selected as this year’s international applicant.  I totally get honoured with a plaque from the ACE at next year’s Eddie Awards in Hollywood and get to meet and be mentored by the masters of the craft that I, myself, aspire to be a master of.  I am, of course, treating this experience as a rehearsal for my Oscar 😉

One of the requirements of the application was to get 2 professional written references – the first of which was Luke Doolan (2010 Academy Award nominee for his short film “Miracle Fish“)  and the second of which was Fabrice Galli ( Film Post-Sound Maestro ) – I am very appreciative to both of them for their assistance with my application.  It was also very humbling to read the things they had to say about me.

Needless to say, I am absolutely THRILLED and excited to be participating in this internship!

Thanks for following me on my journey!  All my love – JJ x

"Sieze the day, because you might not get tomorrow."

Goodbye Australia! ‘Ello LA! :)

So it is decided – I am going to the United States.  I have my visa, I have my ticket, I have a dream and I have a cardigan ( reference ) – well actually, its a jacket – but its still pretty sweet!  I leave on September 1, spending 5 days in Singapore on my way through and arrive in Los Angeles on the 5th September.

I am terrified, excited, happy and sad all at the same time – but the most of these is excitement!

Thanks for following me on my journey!  All my love – JJ x

"Editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same commitment and passion that any art form does."

Goodbye Bond! ‘Ello AFTRS!!!!

Hi guys!  So I’ve just set up this website for myself as an online place for people to find me and just check out what’s goin’ down in the world of JJ!  I particularly love the little module on the side of the site that updates automatically with inspirational quotes – we all need to hear at least one of those every now and then.

So here I am – I decided a few months ago that if I’m going to get my hands around an Academy Award for my work in Editing then I need to sacrifice what I need to and chase the dream with everything I have inside of me.  It was scary…. nay TERRIFYING to make the decision – I quit my full-time job and all my classes (ie my “on the side” source of sustenance) and enrolled in Bond University’s Bachelor of Film and Television.  The plan was to do that undergrad degree then go on to AFTRS’ Graduate Diploma of Editing – the reason for doing one before the other was because of the implication of the AFTRS course’s title that I actually needed an undergrad qualification before I could even be considered.  But then one day I just thought, “Maybe I can just shoot them an email asking if my previous experience would be enough to get me through the doors for the 2011 intake.” and sure enough they said it would be enough!  Goodness – I was over the moon!  But the only thing was that they notified me on the day of the deadline for applications though they graciously gave me a 1 week extension.  Needless to say that I poured every waking second of every day in that timeframe into developing an application for the school.  Got it in in time and thus began the excruciating wait for the decision from the panel.

Well its now December and I can very excitedly say that I HAVE actually been accepted into this very exclusive, prestigious course and that I am starting to prepare for the next exciting leg of the journey of my life and career.  The AFTRS Graduate Diploma of Editing takes in <b>4</b> people every year and to be one of those 4 people is such a humbling acknowledgment.

So 2011 is the year I say, “Goodbye Bond!  Hello AFTRS!”  I have had a fantastic time here on the Gold Coast – meeting a heap of new friends and being exposed to some great professional challenges, but Sydney will offer a whole plethora of exciting new prospects.  I am enthusiastic, but petrified, at the uncertainty of my future.  Wish me luck 😉

DARWIN Docco Journal #25

A much better day today but much busier too. First location was at another beach in Pehuen-Co but this one had “horizontal fossils” which you can see in the strata of the cliff walls – apparently the “giant sloth” monster made these ones too.

When we got to the beach, the terrain was a tad more rocky than yesterday so we pulled out the 4 wheel drive action and ripped it up. Nick “accidentally” did a donut in the sand which was quite entertaining but again, I thought I’d need an extra pair of undies. I thought today would be completely harrasment free after yesterd’ay episode but that bubble was burst very quickly.

As soon as we got to location, I jumped of of the car, prepared the tripod, put the tapes case over my shoulder and the lenses backpack around my back while Nick went with Steve to check out the first shot. While they were gone, Basil jumps out of the car and says to me, “Jason, what you’re doing now is just silly. You’re all packed up – now what if they come back and say it’s not good to shoot here? You’ll have to pack it all back in the car again and waste all our time.” I tell ya’ – these two stick together like a tongue on a frosted pole! They went to university together so they go way back – I feel like a victim of bullying. I just turned to him and said, “Basil, what do you want from me? If I get myself ready so when the green light is given I can just go for it, you yell at me coz there’s the off-chance that I’ll need to repack the car. If I wait for the green light before getting ready, you yell at me for not being prepared when everyone else is. I’m just trying to be as efficient as possible here to make your lives easier. It’s not like I’m deliberately trying to irritate you.” Well mine eyes must have had flames of rage and frustration spurting out of them coz he literally took a step back and said, “We’re not trying to make it hard for you.” Its like they assume you’re an absolute idiot until you stand up for yourself and tell them you do actually think about the things you’re doing. Why is it that always the case? Why isn’t it the opposite: that you be treated with decency and respect until you do something that makes them think otherwise?

Well that was a weight off my shoulders and afterwards some of the student excavators, oblivious to what had just happened, came over to me, shook my hand and said, “Buenos dias!” which brought me back to the high I was on pre-Basil. My investment with them yesterday totally paid off when I needed it to.

We wrapped this location then took off to the naval base at Punta Alta where apparently there was some kind of Darwin shrine. Dr Manera told us that we’d find nothing there but nevertheless, Steve’s gut convinced him otherwise. There was a little hot spring there which had some kind of minute significance to Darwin [and really excited Emil – naturally, considering he’s a geologist] but was not important enough to shoot.

We then took off to the Punta Alta museum where we spent the rest of the day shooting exhibits and interviews with Emil, and when I say “we”, I mean everyone BUT me. I helped set up but was then commissioned as security to watch the utes for the next 3 and a half hours. Was cool though – I cleaned up my digital camera memory and Roberto even came out at one stage so we had a good ol’ chin wag. I also saw heaps of cute as dogs walk past so that was hot too!

We didn’t arrive back at Pehuen-Co until about 9:30pm at which point we went straight back to that restaurant we’ve been having dinner at ever since we arrived – it really is a very nice place. No live entertainment agina but the food was awesome (I had a chilli chicken dish) and Emil had us in stitches with stories of animals that eat so much fruit that it ferments in their stomachs before it can be digested causing them to become intoxicated. Hilarious!

Day off tomorrow so looking forward to a lot of nothing – coz there’s plenty of that to do in this little secluded country town!

DARWIN Docco Journal #24

Whoa! Today contained a massive high and a massive low – but ultimately today was a day that made me think about abandoning my post here on this documentary film trip, come home and reconsider a completely different profession. But let’s start from the beginning.

The day’s work didn’t start until 11:30am today considering our late night last night so we all enjoyed a sleep-in (but the thing is in South America the sun doesn’t go down til nearly 9pm so if you start late, you finish VERY late). We met up with Dr Manera again and she took us to one of her most recent excavation sites which contained fossilized footprints of one very large animal and another a little smaller but still much larger than a human. It was pretty sweet to see but all I could think of was, “What on Earth made these tracks?” Dr Manera told us they were made by this giant sloth-like creature, but she could be telling people it was some kind of carnivorous ostrich transformer from the Cretaceous era and uninquisitive minds would be all like, “Whoa!”

The guys who were working on the site were her paleontology students from Bahia Blanca university. The wind was again extremely atrocious – and when I say extremely, I mean EXTREMELY!! By the time the students would excavate a footprint it would all be filled in again because the strength of the wind would just blow the sand back all over it. They said they’d be the laughing stock of the profession when people see this footage coz in reality, excavators wouldn’t work on such a windy day.

When we were done filming, we had lunch and I sat down with the students and spoke with them about their study and various other things. Thank goodness one of them spoke fluent English coz she was translating for us – if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have made all those new friends. They were sharing around some mate tea and there’s a specific way to drink it – you take it with the same hand that they pass it to you in (ie if they pass it to you with their right hand, you take the cup off of them with your right hand) and you DO NOT stir the tea with the straw. I made the mistake and then they told me its rude to do it. I started apologizing and they started laughing at me. I didn’t mean to be rude.

This is all we had to shoot today so afterwards we cruised back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon – or at least that’s what I thought I would be doing. The fears I voiced before I left of being too inexperienced for Nick’s liking were not in vain. I’m learning more and more and striving so hard to excel every day we shoot but despite my efforts it seems there was resentment from the beginning that there wasn’t a more experienced assistant. Today it climaxed and we had a small dispute – at the fossilized footprints shoot we just came back from, I set the tripod in front of Basil while Nick and I went to change lenses in the car [so no sand would get into the camera and/or lenses] but while we were gone the gale force winds blew it over into the sand despite its three legs being out (I know…. hard to believe but that wind was strong!). After unloading the truck and went back to our respective rooms but before long Nick called me over to his room and we had the following argument and boy was it heated:
N: “Jason, there’s sand in the tripod head. Don’t ever lean the tripod against a car on the beach.”
J: “I didn’t lean it against the car. I set it up in front of Basil and the wind was so strong it blew over.”
N: “The wind wouldn’t have blown it over with the three legs out.”
J: “Are you calling me a liar? It happened right in front of Basil – just ask him.”
N: “Well whatever. We might as well send you home.”
J: “Would that be preferential? I don’t want to be a burden.”
N: “Everytime I turn around you’re doing something wrong. Pick up your game.”
J: “I’m doing my best, Nick. I’m sorry for the head but there’s not much I can do about the wind.”
Talk about the tongue holding the power of life and death! If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this trip though, its that I knew there was a reason I want to stick with the post-production side of things and that is that I thoroughly know what I’m doing.

Anyway after that I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling like a piece of utter trash and actually considering pulling the plug on my involvement here. I didn’t talk to anyone about it though coz it was “relax” day and I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. I ended up lying on the couch surrounded by an aura of self-pity and worthlessness just wishing I could go see a friend, but the nearest one is on the other side of the world. I fell asleep and woke up about an hour later feeling ever so slightly better but nervous knowing I had to face my assailant in an hour’s time for dinner.

At dinner, I put on my “nothing’s wrong” face and walked into the restaurant. The funny thing was, though, that as soon as I sat down, both Nick and Basil started talking really unusually friendly-like to me – much moreso than they ever have before. It seemed as though they realized how harsh Nick was on me and they were desperately trying to convince me I haven’t been as bad or incompetent as they led me to believe. Regardless of what it was, I seized it as an opportunity to reinstate that bridge I’d tried so hard to build with them from the beginning. No live entertainment tonight which was a pity coz I really enjoyed that guy from last night. After dinner, we came back to the hotel and went to bed.

Although today has been the most miserable for me thus far, this trip is surely strengthening my independence. Only brighter days lie ahead.

DARWIN Docco Journal #23

A Steve-centric episode.

We’re done at the Andes ☹ Our time there was short-lived but made an imprint on my life that I’ll never forget – especially considering I took some of it home with me. Basil reckons I’m going to be cursed by some voodoo spell if I don’t leave the rocks in South America and I’m just like, “Ummm…. Well they’re gonna have to deal wit ma mamma first!”

Today was the biggest day of travel we’ve had yet. We displaced over 1200 kilometres and it took us more than 15 hours to do. We were split into our 2 cars – Emil, Florry and Steve in one and Nick, Basil, Roberto and I in the other.

Everything was cool for the first 7 hours of the trip but after that you could really see tempers start to flare due to the fact Steve, who was leading the conboy and also who spent 2 weeks traversing South America to clear things like direction up, kept having to stop and ask for directions. Not to mention the fact that we didn’t stop for lunch until around 7pm – after having breakfast before 8am and being denied service somewhere else because he didn’t have any Chilean pesos on him – at a service station that only sold festering ham and cheese sandwiches and water crackers.

Everyone else in my vehicle held a lot of resentment towards Steve after that because we hadn’t stopped for a decent meal beforehand whereas I, on the other hand, was more than happy with water crackers until we arrived at our destination. It seems there are situations where Steve would appreciate a colleague who doesn’t have a preference for fine dining after all coz I really couldn’t have cared less – food is food.

We kept driving then about 100 kilometres short of our final destination, and when we’re all at our wit’s end and just want a bed, Steve stops at another servo and buys himself a coke without thinking to ask anyone else if they’d like a refreshment. This was the cherry on the cake for their anger coz, “if we were (a) paid full per diem rates (b) ahead of time, we wouldn’t have to rely on him to buy us things” – something that has often been said behind closed doors up to this day, but not said to the person who needs to hear it in order for a change to happen.

Anyway, we finally arrive at Pehuen-Co – a little country town in the middle of Argentina’s nowhere – and meet up with our next interviewee, paleontologist Dr Theresa Manera who guided us to a restaurant for a decent feed. Not long after our arrival there though, Steve realized that he didn’t have his little black pouch that he usually carries over his should – a little black pouch that contained travel documents, credit cards, cash. This was quite a startling revelation but we called the service station we stopped at in Bahia Blanca to ask if they had it (because a few of us remembered him having it over his shoulder when he walked into the store) and thank goodness they did – apparently it was left on the counter and are storing it in a safe until he is able to come pick it up. This situation also provided a little ease for my own mind coz it proved that this kind of thing happens to the best of us.

Sitting down for our meal was the relaxing light at the end of the tunnel we had been longing for all day! It was a really nice little place (unusually nice for such a secluded little town) with a live opera singer. He was only young too – around my age – but he sung like Pavarotti. He sang some songs and devoted them to “his Australian amigos at that table over there” so we stayed and enjoyed his magnificent voice for a little while longer then scooted to the Oasis Pehuen-Co Aparts where we will be staying for the next 3 nights.

I’m shacked up in an apartment with Emil and Florry – they’ve got the master and I’ve got the bedroom with 4 bunks so I’m totally gonna have a massive sleepover party tonight YEEHAA!

DARWIN Docco Journal #22

Was amazed to look out my window this morning and see snow covering the tops of the mountains that were brown and red less than 12 hours ago. It just added a whole new dimension to the site.

At breakfast Steve did his usual attempt of trying to communicate with non-English speaking waiters by using English. “What would you recommend? Ahhh…. If it were you? Ahhh…. What is the best?” All the while they’re just glaring at him blankly thinking, “Ummm…. What drugs are you taking?” Its like he thinks putting the “Ahhh”s in between English questions will make it easier for them to understand – too funny.

Another distinct aspect of this morning was that Basil didn’t get up in time for our scheduled 8:30am departure. When someone went to knock on his door at 8:35am he said, “Noone told me what time we were starting so I didn’t know what time to start getting ready. I’m going to be at least 45 minutes.” So tardy. Isn’t it common sense, not to mention professional, that if you don’t know what time work starts that you take some initiative and find out? But what really infuriated me was that later he approached the director in person and said, “Sorry for the delay but noone told me when to be ready by.” and the director responded with, “That’s OK.” I know that if it was me who did that, I’d have my throat ripped out, lightly salted and fed to a pack of starving piranhas, and then reminded about it every day for the rest of my life on top of that – that would be my “penance”. Blatant double standards at play here, but I’m only the assistant so I just need to smile and take it up the proverbial tail pipe.

Anyway after this drama, we started to the mountains to get the stuff we missed yesterday. While in transit, I collected a heap of sweet looking rocks which I’m going to polish up and distribute as gifts when I get home. “Pretty tight!” you might say, but these gifts will be priceless pieces of the Andes – well at least that’s my justification for my cheapskatedness).

At the peak of our hike, we saw the highest point in South America, Aconcagua mountain. That was 2 kilometres higher than we were and there was no way we were going that high – we were all struggling to breathe as it was. Was awesome to see though and we got some decent “distance” footage too. Apparently the most ambitious mountain climbers in the world try to scale this mountain ever year and some even die trying. Eek!

After the morning shoot, we headed on back to the caterer’s hut for lunch. This time when I went in though, I was greeted by 2 cute as dogs who were more than happy to see me. They reminded me of Jaffa and although I was heaps happy to play with them, I remembered how much I miss my puppy dog. Then I started thinking how I could immortalize her and thought a good name for a production company would be “Rolly Productions” or “Rolly Post” or “Jaffa Films” or something along those lines – I’ve got some pretty sweet logo ideas too so I’ll have to get started on that when I get home to Australia.

The feed they prepared for us this time was crazy. We each had a piece of steak twice the size of our plate but I couldn’t eat it – was way too much for my little guts to handle. Besides, we’ve been eating really well on this trip. Sometimes I think it’s a little unnecessary how much is ordered by the crew, especially considering we’re not doing enough physical activity to justify it, but I suppose this industry is so lucrative that its workers become a little spoilt by its fruits. I mean sometimes people walk away from the table with half a plate of food still on the table. I probably feel particularly bad about it because this project is not funded by some corporate giant who would usually finance their projects [and gargantuan appetites], but by voluntary donations and it is a waste of their money – for example someone eagerly contributes $20 to the project under the assumption that their money is going towards a documentary production, when really it ends up being half a plate of the leftover food of a crew member’s order that will end up in a dumpster coz they ordered too much.

After lunch, we prepared to go back out to the field but alas, the rain began to fall AGAIN! I noticed this because a massive ball of sleet dropped down the front of my shirt – it felt like it slashed my chest open it was so cold and sharp. “I’m singing in the sleet!” “Sleet drops keep falling down my shirt!” (Sorry…. Had to) So anyway, again we were restricted by weather conditions.

We began to head home and there were lightning bolts hitting the ground all around us. The director made the call to hop out and shoot the lightning in the freezing rain – was dangerous, but again we got sick footage so was worthwhile. Was awesome! And before leaving for good, we saw a family of foxes run past the car. Immediately Steve grabbed his still camera and jumped out of the car in an attempt to shoot a photo of them, and this prompted me to prime my video camera in case these cutesy little foxes ravaged him. Does that make me bad?

Back at the hotel, we went for dinner and I ordered the “chicken meal”. As I was waiting for it to be served, this Enrique Iglesias song which I use for Bodyjam came over the radio. It’s the latin one that goes, “Boom. Boom.” (the one where you snap your hips then travel to the side). I can’t believe they’re playing my songs here in Argentina. Is there some kind of conspiracy happening to remind me of home? Anyway, eventually my chicken came out and it was a drumstick – only it was the drumstick of an elephant-sized chicken!

I chatted with Basil and Nick tonight. I really think our barriers have come down now and we’re starting to become friends – well at least the earliest form of friendship one could fathom, but a friendship nonetheless. Its taken 3 weeks for it to happen, but it happened thank goodness!

Oh hello! Lord of the Rings – Return of the King just came on so I’m gonna go watch it and prolly fall asleep. But if there’s one thing I want to make you acknowledge before I go, its that you DO NOT want to get chased by an Argentinian chicken!

DARWIN Docco Journal #21

Learning things all over the shop on this trip – today I learnt that even though you’re more than 4 kilometres above sea level and your booty is just about to freeze off and fall to the ground, the sun still rapes you!

We woke today and it was considerably cold so taking a jumper we cruised up the street and within 5 minutes, the vast expanse of the Argentinian stretch of the Andes mountain ranges began to unfold before us. Its grandeur is awesome – mountains of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye can see.

One of the first shots we stopped for was from atop this pinnacle looking rock and it was quite an effort to climb to the top – especially considering there was no set path, and even more especially considering the tripod and lens backpack I am to bear everywhere I go. That is one positive though. Because I am a fitness instructor my stamina is better than the average person’s so when everyone else is buggered and in need of a break, I’m only just getting started so I get more breaks than I need and am therefore always adequately rested.

Anyway getting to the top and then back down again with all this cumbersome equipment was quite a humorous feat. I almost slipped to my death a thousand times but we got sweet footage so it was all worthwhile.

Next shot on the list was from the top of another crazy high mountain. Only difference was that this one is about 2 kilometres higher than the one before and the higher you get, the thinner and colder the air gets – I was puffing and panting like a rabid dog before long. And to make matters worse the air was so cold it burned – my lungs felt like they were going to explode with every inhalation, and to make matters even more worse, these fine tiny white balls of sleet started raining down on us. My brown jacket was covered in it – I’d never seen a phenomenon like it.

Anyway, on we tread to the top of the mountain where, to my surprise, there is a tent pitched. I was just like, “What is a tent doing pitched up here in the middle of the Andes?: It turns out they were our catering people and they had a crankin feed waiting for us.

While we were eating though, this massive storm came strutting along and sent its wrath down from the heavens. The wind and rain was insane – I thought we had it bad in Australia. Of course the weather put a halt on production so we went down to the caterer’s hut in the hope the storm would pass. It didn’t but Steve did mention he wanted “to curl up in a nice warm bed somewhere with his wife” and boy oh boy did that trigger the most classless conversation I’ve ever heard. Anyway, eventually the storm overpowered us and we were forced to leave location for the day.

Back at the hotel (ie 6pm) we all cruised back to our rooms and tried to rest up for an early start tomorrow because after today, we realized the mornings in the Andes seemed to be the best for sunlight and hence best for filming. I didn’t see anyone else all night except Steve. We went and had a light dinner at the restaurant not long ago. We got to talking about our work experience in the production industry and he gave me some tips from his wealth of eperience which I gratefully took on board. He asked me how I’m coping on the trip an I said, “It’s been really challenging both personally and professionally but I’m so grateful to be here in the presence of industry professionals.” Crawl, crawl.

As I close this entry, Mean Girls just came on the TV – funniest movie ever!
“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”
“OMG Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white.”
Oh no you didn’t! An ad for Super Smash Brothers Brawl just came on the TV. That game looks so hot! I wonder if they use PAL in South America? I might buy it before I head home. Anyway, g’nite y’all!

DARWIN Docco Journal #20

Travel, travel, travel again today.

Although our first flight wasn’t until 11am, we had that dreaded carnet fdocument to get checked so we rocked up at the airport at 8am only to be advised they don’t begin checkin until 10am. These airport staff dudes came out and beckoned to us while uttering something in Spanish and I’m just like, “No these people were first.” And ushered for them to go ahead. They couldn’t speak English (or rather, I couldn’t speak Spanish) and they just kept beckoning. This continued for about 5 minutes before one lovely bilingual old lady approached me and says, “They want you to move back so they can set up the front area.” Shame job!

So we finally get on the flight to and cruise back to Santiago airport. On landing the “English speaking” air hostess was welcoming us over the speakerphone but I could barely understand a word she was saying – probably because she slurred about 5 words into one. And I thought my slur was bad.

We had a 4 hour wait at Santiago so we took our time getting through security. Was quite a boring and uncomfortable wait too coz there was just nothing to do and the air conditioning was broken for the entire international airport terminal. One distinct thing that happened in that dreary 4 hours was when me and another guy from the crew went for a drink at the café. As we were sitting there, this tall, elderly woman walks past with tight pink lycra pants and a fluro green boob tube on comes waltzing down the corridor. Someone obviously doesn’t want to grow old gracefully. It reminded me of the Plastics back home – everything is reminding me of home.

Next stretch was to Mendoza, ARGENTINA. I fell asleep on the flight but was awoken by this 2 year old chick who was seated across the aisle from me. As we were descending she started wailing SOOOO loud! Apparently young kids’ ears pop because of the pressure in flights so although I was cringing from blood-curdling screams, I felt for her.

We landed and went outside to wait for our rental cars to arrive. These 2 tiny little hatchbacks pull up and I’m like, “Ummm…. I hope you don’t expect 7 people and 21 bags of equipment and luggage to fit in there.” Thankfully they were someone else’s and before long, 2 four-wheel-drive dual-cabin utes rock up for us. We loaded our stuff onto the trucks (carefully coz there was a heap of shady looking folks gathering round by now) and jumped in.

There was a mean storm brewing also and just as we were about to leave, this massive thunder bolt just exploded right next to us – so close and loud it shook the car. BOOOOOM!!!! I think we all needed a new pair of undies after that!

So off we drove on our 2 hour drive to Uspallata. Before we left the CBD, the car was mobbed by people trying to sell roses and clean our windscreen at the traffic lights. This world trip is really opening my eyes to how much need there is in the world.

It wasn’t long after leaving the CBD that we were driving through the Andes – like literally you could touch the mountains from the edge of the road they were so close. As we were were driving, we drove past a section where a massive chunk of rock fell off the mountain and onto the road. Would not have been cool to be driving under when that happened.

Anyway, at midnight we arrived at our destination – the Hotel Valle Andina and walked into my room to find the bathroom flooded. Speak of fantastic first impression.

DARWIN Docco Journal #19

Wow! Hardcore day of filming today!

We all got up and met for breakfast at 9am at the hotel – awesome buffet with heaps of sweet and savoury food (my sweet tooth lured me to the strawberry cheese cake first of course) then we decided to meet back up at 11am and cruise to location because of the weather. The weather in Chile is the biggest spinout – you wake in the morning and the sky is just grey from all the cloud cover and so everything is dark. By the time to sun gets to its peak in the sky (ie 12 midday), it burns through all the cloud – so you don’t see any sunlight until at least 12 o’clock.

Anyway, we met up and cruised to Las Tacas – a place on a Cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a place where nothing grows but cacti. It was an amazing place coz there’s just natural beauty all around you – Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes mountain range on the other.

We set Emil up for an interview and as I was getting into position with the light reflector, a massive rogue gust of gale force wind swept through the area, collected the reflector and pushed me right into a cactus bush with needles at least 6 inches long. About 4 went into my leg but the one I noticed most was the one that went straight through the sole of my shoe and into the top of my foot. Although in excruciating pain, I stepped out of the bush and got back into position with the reflector coz if I mentioned it to anybody, a shower of “You need to be more careful.” and “Standing in a cactus bush is just stupid.” and “Get over it and get into position now.” and other scathing, condescending, ‘you’re just the inexperienced assistant’ enforcing comments would be undoubtedly bestowed upon me. I could feel the thorn in my foot but I couldn’t move to take it out until the shot was completed lest I cop the aforementioned humiliation. I also glanced down during the shoot and noticed 4 patches of blood on the leg of my pants where the thorns pierced my calf.

Finally the shot was over and I promptly removed the foreign objects from my body but the funny thing is that not 1 hour later, the cameramand accidentally walked into a cactus bush, got a need through hit foot and made a big song and dance about it – but people in power can do that. Gosh listen to me…. I sound like a whiney little dograg! What I really mean to say is that this is my first big production project and I really want to make an incredible first impression – even if it means enduring paint o keep the flow of the day’s schedule moving.

After Los Tacas, we cruised off to a place I never did get the name of but boy was it our of the way – it was a mountain on the outskirts of La Serena and dang was it arid! I’d never seen such nothingness in all my life. Not that the nothingness wasn’t interesting – the rocks and mountain folds protruding from the nothingness was awesome and having geologist, Dr Emil Silvestru, with us to explain what was happening really helped bring it to life.

During one shot I glanced over to a rock in the distance and saw someone dressed all in white. I assumed it was merely a worker from the nearby mine sussing out this camera crew doing their their thing in the arid plains of Chile so I just went back to work and thought nothing of it. Then I glanced back a second later and they were gonski. Freakjob! But then I saw them come a little closer to sus us out. He had a cute little dog too which I like totally patted and stuff. One of the shots at this location was under these power lines and they were clicking like no tomorrow – they sounded so unstable that I feared if I walked under them they would zap me even though they were 10m overhead.

Driving back to the hotel, we witnessed one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen. We had dinner at a joint down the street and I was sat next to the director. We had a cool non-work related chat, I listened to a heap of Emil’s totally “so dry you have to laugh” jokes, then we headed back to our beds to get ready for another massive day of trael tomorrow. So long La Serena!

Nicola…. The travel diary you bought me has just run out ☹ It’s a good thing I got three before I left though. I’ll go on to the one Linda and Winston bought me now – thanks to all who bought me one – YOU ROCK MY WORLD!!

DARWIN Docco Journal #18

The biggest lesson I learnt today is that you cannot lie on a deckchair for 3 hours under the blazing sun and expect to feel fine at the end of the day.

Today was a day off so I went for a walk up the beach but found nothing except more hotels – nothing for tourists to do around here within walking distance except lie around. So that’s exactly what I did – I went back to the hotel and sat down in a deckchair by the pool with a notepad in an attempt to write the next website update. Next thing I know its 3 hours later and I’m redder than Mario’s sweet little golfer’s cap. I didn’t quite notice how bad it was at that point in time though.

Didn’t eat all day coz I couldn’t be bothered getting off my booty to feed myself (how’s that for fitness professional nourishment) so by the time dinner came I was hungry as! Had a mad feed and over dinner Nick mentioned that he knew I left his international power adapter at LAX Marriott. This is something I told to Basil (when he asked me where my charger was after I asked him to use his) but distinctly said, “Don’t tell Nick coz I’m gonna get him a new one before he notices.” So much for trust – oh well…. I know who not to share things with next time I want a secret kept.

After dinner, I cruised back to my room in sunburn agony and watched Friends (so funny) and another episode of Cold Case. The TV commercials are really weird in South America coz they use 24 hour time instead of our 12 hour time – ie instead of saying Home and Away begins at 7pm, they’d say it starts at 1900h.

Not the most eventful day today so not much to record. Very relaxing though and if there’s one observation I have made today, its that there are many many dogs walking the streets of South America.

DARWIN Docco Journal #17

Woke up today with the Andes mountains out my window. Switched on the TV and sure enough, every channel was Spanish except one. It had Cold Case on so I watched the 1 hour episode (such a good series) before I had to jet back to the airport for a short domestic flight to La Serena, CHILE. Before the flight though, we ren dez voused with Dr Emil Silvestru and his wife, Florry who will be spending the next 2.5 weeks with us sharing their knowledge of the incredible geology of South America.

We flew to La Serena and drove to our hotel, the La Serena Club Resort, through some of the most poverty stricken communities you’ve ever seen. But even so, the sceneries were so spectacular – for example, we drove over this hilltop where the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean to the right and the Andes mountains to the left.

We lugged all the gear up to our rooms then went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Our director was discussing a shot he wanted to get that he saw on the reconnaissance trip. It is in a national park so we therefore require permission from park authorities to film there, but he was saying it was only a quick shot so if we zip in and zip out, noone will ever know and we would have avoided paying the fees for the permit. My guts turned as he said this coz here’s the guy at the forefront of our team willing to use dishonest tactics to capture footage for a documentary that stands for what ours does. I piped up and said what I thought, which for me is a rarity in its own right, “Getting the footage knowing you require a permit is trespassing and therefore illegal. You simply can’t do that for our documentary.” I think I shut him down for the rest of the night after that public statement coz he barely said another word to anyone. After all, I didn’t mean to embarrass anyone by it, only to keep the team in line. He did say, “Sometimes its easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” but I think even he realized that was a sad justification for what he was contemplating. I replied to him with, “Try using that one on judgement day.” Must’ve had an impact though coz now we’re applying for permits. Snaps for me!

DARWIN Docco Journal #15

Our last day in the Galapagos and although I think I’ve had quite enough isolation for one lifetime, I am missing it already – being here is an opportunity of a lifetime, one I would not have had if it weren’t for this documentary film trip, and I am just so grateful for my time here.

Cruised to the post office first thing today and sent off some postcards coz today was the last day I could send them if the recipients were to receive Galapagos stamps. That was interesting coz I had to ask for envelopes and stamps without actually speaking (coz I don’t know how to say it in a language they’d understand) and they’d rattle off something and I’d be like, “No ciento. No habla Espanol.” (I don’t understand. I don’t speak Spanish.) but no matter how many times I’d say it, they’d keep speaking it. Its funny coz I’ve seen people do it to people who can’t speak English in Australia (actually I might’ve been culprit a few times myself to exchange students at high school) and here it is happening to me.

Anyway, eventually successful, I cruised back to the hotel to start packing my suitcase for the trip to the mainland tomorrow. I rested my head on the pillow at 3pm listening to some MP3s and the next thing I know Basil is knocking on my door saying, “Jason, don’t forget we’ve got a dinner reservation at 6:30pm.” and still in a state of half-awakedness and still thinking I was eating marshmallows on Jupiter, I replied with, “Cool. Thanks for the reminder but we’ve got plenty of time left.” Then I looked at my watch and realized I had actually accidentally fallen asleep and it was currently 6:20pm. I jumped out of the clothes I was wearing and threw on a different pair then sprinted down the street to the restaurant we had the reservation at. I got there just on time and walked in all calm pretending nothing went wrong and I had planned to rock up punctually all day (which I had).

Anyway, maddest food ever at the Japanese restaurant – sushi, sashimi, teriyaki, teppanyaki, etc…. was awesome! Would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that the “Isabella” shaped platter it was served on was mirrored – it had me questioning the shape of the island for at least 20 minutes. Regardless of that though, it was good to have dinner and celebrate this milestone of the project together.

After dinner, I jetted off to the shops one last time to get random souvenirs for the family. I went to the net café to type up some more of this handwritten update and stayed til close. Only problem was that while I was being ushered out the door, I completely forgot I placed my bag of souvenirs next to the computer screen and didn’t realize til I started packing my suitcase but by then it was almost midnight and the café staff would’ve been long gong – I even ran up one last time to check and sure enough, they were. I’ll ask the hotel manager in the morning if he can pick it up and send it to my home address in Australia. God willing, I’ll get it all back.
Saturday, 1st March 2008
Another travel day today – but before we left, I asked the manager of the hotel to grab that stuff and post it back to me, a request he graciously agreed to saying, “Only if you bring your family here.” I said, “Buddy, as soon as I get a family, we’ll be here!”

So anyway, after a 1 hour taxi ride to the airport, 2 speeding tickets that the driver accrued and a 3 hour wait, we were off to Guayaquil, ECUADOR.

Upon arrival, we had to go through security clearance and sure enough, even though I took everything metallic off my person, the detector beeped. The chick on the other side ran the manual detector over me then rambled something in Spanish and as always, I replied with an ever so helpless, “No habla Espanol.” She said, “Turn around.” Then started laughing while telling me that I just spoke Spanish to say that I can’t speak Spanish so I shouldn’t be using “No habla Espanol.” Realising her logic, I laughed back at her and said, “OK well if you speak English then we’re all sweet then, aren’t we?” We got to talking and before long, she had her colleague involved in the conversation and they were asking for my name, age and email address. Wow – talk about getting hit on by airport security staff.

After that little flirt session, we had a 4 hour wait before we boarded our flight to Lima, PERU. Watched a few random TV shows on the flight then before I know it, we’re flying just above mountaintops – so picturesque, so beautiful (and wouldn’t you know it, my damn camera lost battery power).

At the airport, we were advised that our flight had been delayed and was now leaving at 11pm now instead of its original departure time of 8pm, but we did get a complimentary dinner at the airport restaurant and entry to the VIP lounge so that was pretty awesome – free drinks and free food for 3 hours.

So we eventually get on our flight to Santiago, CHILE and was surprised to know that we were flying business class for this leg of the trip. One of the cabin crew reached out their arm to me as I was putting my stuff in the overhead compartments and I’m like, “Ummm what do you want?” It turns out she just wanted to take my jacket – so not used to this business class service.

Watched “Analyse That” and had another mad feed on the plane (I know I’ve eaten so much already but I had to make the most of this experience, c’mon). We arrived at Santiago at 4am so as you can imagine, we were all ready to faceplant a pillow and so we cruised up to our respective rooms of the Holiday Inn hotel, I wrote this journal entry and now I’m off to go to sl…………

DARWIN Docco Journal #14

First day off today so that was pretty sweet. I panned to just sleep in and chill today but I came down from that cloud very quickly when the cleaner chick started bangin on my door at 8am. Even so, I didn’t do much today.

I spent the morning and afternoon gaps between meals catching up on emails and writing up postcards. In one of the net cafes I was sitting next to a group of American students and got to talking. One was saying how in Quito he got held up at gunpoint for his wallet. Lovely, considering that’s where we’re flying out to on Saturday morning – although we did spend a gunless night there on 17th February so fingers and toes we’ll have another. They interviewed me for their project – something about what I think the tourism industry is doing for the conservation of the Galapagos – and I gave them a little contact card from the back of this sick as travel journal (thanks Nic).

The crew all convened for lunch and walked down to a recommended restaurant 5 minutes down the street. We sat down and placed an order but the waitress chick kept saying, “I’m sorry. That’s not available today.” which in my Brisbane world I would just smile and say “Sweet. Thanks. I’ll try again some other time then.” and walk away without an issue in the world about it. But in this other-dimensional world of fine dining that is evidently not the case. Each of my four colleagues would widen their eyes and/or groan deliberately audibly and/or sigh and/or “tsk” making this poor waitress girl feel as uncomfortable as possible then when they came to the conclusion there was nothing available that they wanted, they were like, “Forget it. We’ll find somewhere else. Tell your chef we are not happy.” Its like this whole paradigm they eat under considers the feelings of those you’re with but not those of the people who serve you. All I could do was sit there and shake my head – nothing like the wrath of a pompous man scorned.

So anyway, after this little drama, we went down to a smaller restaurant a little closer to “home” and ordered a bowl of onion rings. We got down to the last one and I asked if anyone else would like it – a polite gesture in itself – but usually when someone asks that question, its the person asking that wants it, which was the case here. The director goes, “I’ll go you halves.” before heading off to the toilet and me, in all my new age eating habit wisdom, proceeded to tear the onion ring in half with my fingers which would be no problem where I come from. Sure as sugar, though, someone piped up and said, “Jason that’s disgusting! Use a knife!” I kinda had enough of them trying to control the way I do things at this stage so I laughed and said, “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to tolerate my eating habits from here on in coz yours are way overrated.” That kinda shut him down a bit but then the DOP piped up in defense of his friend and said, “Your parents didn’t raise you proper.” An utterly hurtful comment which totally made me recede into my shell and not say anything for the rest of the meal. What a nerve saying that! My folks did a fantastic job raising me, not that I need to justify it to this jerk who can’t tolerate different eating habits – especially when at the end of each mean he belches quite loudly and justifies it by saying, “Where my wife is from that’s considered respectful.” Lord give me strength to find common ground and befriend and develop a mutual respect with these people!

Dinner was much better, thank goodness. We were talking about our trip and I mentioned how in NYC I wanted to go to Broadway to see Wicked and Avenue Q. None knew what those things were so, heaven forbid, they asked me a question which prompted an answer. We are back on a level playing field now so hopefully our relationships will just keep getting stronger from here – I can see decent, fun-loving people in them, I just need to keep diligently chipping away at their shell of arrogance to find it.

After dinner, I had the best time of the trip thus far (well first I tried to call home again and still noone answered). I headed into town by my self to check out what was happening and went into 2 bars for a beer and one last opportunity in the Galapagos to search for potential English speaking friends. No luck in the first, but I ordered my beer in the second and scanned the room. Behind me was a small group of Caucasian young people so I approached them and in a pot shot of luck, said, “Do you guys speak English?” and they’re like, “Yes!” and I’m like, “Thank God!” Their names are Carson, Trevor and Devon and they’re Canadian backpackers who are, funnily enough, backpacking down the West coast of South America which is where we’re going for our shoot – we are even staying in the same hotel on the Galapagos so we walked back there together. We exchanged email addresses and will be in touch. We might even run into each other again on our travels…. Who knows.