The Dishwashers: Grunts of the LA Movie Scene

The streets around my hotel were covered with piles of movie-making gear.

If it’s not too cliché for me to say it: they are filming a movie on the streets and in the air around my hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Two helicopters chase one another in circles around the glass towers of the Westin Bonaventure. There are lighting trucks parked up and down the street. It’s after ten at night and there is a lot of activity. The film in production is Batman Rises. Christian Bale is rumored to be somewhere nearby. I saw the bat motorcycle, but didn’t get a picture. Why not? See below.

honkin' lighting gear for Batman filming.


I met some Production Assistants, (PA’s) on the corner, and struck up a conversation with them. They were funny and easy to talk to and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, which was:
A. smoking
B. Keeping people like me from taking pictures of the production.
C. Keeping people like me out of areas that would disrupt the production
D. Smoking
“You know what we are? We’re the dishwashers.” One of them told me. An apt parallel – people totally critical to the success of the enterprise, but also totally replaceable. Not a union job, I learned – you needed something like 60 days of this kind of work to apply for a union job. If these guys were the dishwashers, then the busboys were also out in force. Busboys: riggers, had everything hanging from their belts. Gloves, wrenches, rolls of gaffer’s tape.  They moved with a little more nervous energy than the PA’s.

All of these guys had a look. Central casting or wardrobe couldn’t create or deliver it. For all of the glitzy perfection that is a final product that we pay ten dollars to see, the equipment and the people who make it are rough-looking, distressed. These guys had patina. Jeans, baseball caps, crew T-shirts from previous projects.  At least two walkie-talkies each on their belts. I hereby nominate PA’s and riggers for LA’s Best Dressed award. They have tons of style without trying. And they don’t sacrifice function for fashion.

And, yes, they were all working on their own screenplays.

I told them I worked for Adobe and that I was here as part of the MAX conference. As usual, there was a lot of discussion about Flash and the iPhone. I went over the approved talking points, played it mostly for comic effect. Apple hates us, etc. (not entirely true) And we talked about a conference session I had hoped to attend (but couldn’t, damnit.) on shooting and editing with HDSLR cameras. Yeah, digital still cameras that shoot HD video are being used to shoot indie, and I suppose even studio productions. The first time I saw a Canon 5D with a matte box attached to it, I thought it looked insane – but hey, that would work, I guess. And cost a lot less than a Sony video camera, especially the lenses.
So we talked a bit about the look of HDSLR video. “It looks too digital.” We decided.
“But then you can use filters in Premiere Pro to make it look like film.” I told them. Does that make any sense? I guess it does. Nods all around. (Actually, they said Final Cut Pro, and I had to smack them around a bit. I have mouths to feed, after all.) While I was trying to increase my street cred with the real movie guys here on Figeroa I let slip that,
“Oh yeah, I know, the “look” of film, hey, man, I’ve shot and I’ve edited 16mm.”
“This is being filmed on 16mm,” one of them told me quickly and with zero irony in his voice, “you know, for that look.” OK, now I realized that they were playing with me. I deserved it.

A car which was part of the production was towed nearby. It was a rig in which the actors sat and pretended to drive while the whole thing was actually towed by a camera truck. A crew of men began efficiently unhitching lighting gear from one side and then reconfiguring it on the other side of the car. The PA’s described what was happening. Basically, they had to reconfigure all of the lighting and camera equipment to the other side of the car for a reverse angle shot. I saw IMAX cameras, cool. I hid behind a bus shelter and took a picture. Plausible deniability for us both.

I saw the batcycle – or whatever it’s called. I was assured that it was a fully functioning motorcycle, and that Christian Bale had driven it earlier in the evening. “It’s badass, it hauls.” But I didn’t take any pictures, they told me not to. See? These guys command respect. Plus, I’m a rule follower.
Earlier in the day, I saw 40 cops walking into my hotel, most carrying plates of food. But when I saw the GCPD stenciled across the back of one of their jackets I realized that they weren’t real cops. I’m such a sucker. (Really? Do I have to do this? Gotham City Police Department.)



It was midnight. We said goodbye. They would probably be working on the set for at least another two hours. Good luck with the screenplays, guys, I hope you sell them and direct them.

My souvenir from LA.

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A Night of Rejection, New Yorker Style

“Humor at its highest level is a very very, rare rare thing.”
– David Remnick


Here’s an example of cartoon that The New Yorker rejected:
A zoo sign reads, “Please don’t feed the animals chili” and it’s hanging on the elephant’s cage.
1. Too low brow

Here’s another one: A childlike drawing of a wooden cart. Caption: Horse drawn cart. (Think about it.)
2. Too dumb.

I went to A Night of Rejection last night in SF at the Cartoon Art Museum. Kind of a roadshow for The Rejection Collection – a book of cartoons that — while funny — the magazine took a pass on.

On hand were three established contributers, Matthew Diffee, Drew Dernavich, and Chad Darbyshire, and a bonus up-and-comer in the audience (he’s sold twelve cartoons – this reads as success to me. One would read success to me. Hell, sneaking into the building would rate pretty high for me, but I can’t draw, and I live in California, so we’ll move on. Good luck Tom Toro, I’ll be looking for you in the pages.)

And there are eight other reasons why The New Yorker rejects a cartoon. But I’m not going to list them because I can’t remeber them from last night. At first I was laughing too hard, and later I had two beers and so, you know, the memory grays. I’m not even sure about the first two reasons. But there was too political, too naughty, too Dark, you get the idea.

Quick-witted doesn’t get you close enough to describing these artists. Maybe quick-witted, with strong doses of determination and humility is nearer the mark. A regular contributer to The New Yorker comes up with a portfolio of ten cartoons to submit to Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff, on Tuesdays. Ten cartoons a week. Every week. Week after week. And maybe they use one of them. That’s a lot of rejection. They had a picture of Mankoff which they put on the big screen. And then they spent a good ten minutes talking about how afraid they were of him while his larger-than-life photo scowled at us all. And though all of the cartoonists speak as if they have a reasonable relationship with him, the term BFF doesn’t come to mind.


One big question: How does the caption contest work? They told us that Mankoff uses an algorithm to sort the 11,000 weekly entries, (maybe a terminal command like diff -rq  — I’m liking him a little bit more, that’s the systems engineer in me talking) and pretty much, if fifty people came up some some version of, “take my wife, please,” then those are thrown out completely. Ah-ha! Now I know why I’m losing week after week. I come up with the same caption that everybody else does. I’m just too damn mainstream, ask anybody. But I have to wonder, is this because if one person wins with, “Take my wife, please,” then the other forty-nine who had the same entry will complain? Or is it that The New Yorker really wants that one unique zinger … even if it’s not as funny as the one I submitted? I suppose that my world is a more interesting place if a few secrets remain so.

( Update: I’ve had five comments, so at least five people have actually read this. Gratifying! But I might have to up my game. Alert reader, Ben Bass suggests a link to another discussion of this sort on emdashes – and I’m a fan of emdashes so I’ll gladly point you here: The New Yorker Festival West Cartoon Panel Discussion. And Bass himself has some quality discounted opinions on the New Yorker cartoon caption contest in a missive called, You Cannot Be Serious. Also noteworthy is that Zachary Kanin was originally on the bill for this event, and we later learned that he excused himself to instead join the writing staff of SNL. So he didn’t get any Adobe swag — hello? Fisher Space pen with Adobe logo on it — and he didn’t get his picture in my blog which has been read by, verifiably, five people, including my brother. Priorities, huh? If you’re obsessing about New Yorker cartoons, and you haven’t had enough discussion, read about James Sturm’s attempt to sell drawing to the magazine here:How Hard Is It To Get a Cartoon Into The New Yorker? )

These guys were approachable. I asked a question:
Me: Do you get calls from your family and friends telling you that they have the best idea for a New Yorker cartoon, say like, Death is at baggage claim in the airport and you see a scythe-shaped suitcase coming down the carousel and there’s a sign that reads “Departures” above his head?
Diffee: We get those calls more often than you’d think.
Me: You just did.
But the answer was obvious as soon as I said it. They can’t draw it, it’s not their cartoon. And these guys aren’t hurting for ideas, anyway. They find absurd humor everywhere. And when they don’t, they create it out of something normal.

One vanity that they let on to — and this was shared — was the sense of anticipation they felt when, by chance, they were able to watch people in the real world — like on the subway — who were reading the magazine – to see if they could distinguish a smirk or a giggle when the reader viewed their work. Diffee admitted to staying on the train past his stop while waiting for a reaction.




After the presentation they signed books, and magnanimously added bespoke cartoons on the front pages.

Dernavich, Diffee, Darbyshire, Simpson.


Chad Darbyshire

Across the street at the Grove Cafe about eight of us had snacks afterwards and talked.

Drew Dernavich with, I think, two friends he hasn't seen since high school.

Matthew Diffee wore cowboy boots.

My pen has also been used by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. Woot.

Each cartoonist there made a scribble in my notebook, (thanks) I promised not to eBay the drawings. And I bribed them with Adobe swag to be my friend and to follow me on twitter. (@dmcsween)I think it’s working, these guys are cheap.

The Cartoon Art Museum is on my list for another visit. I’ll need a few hours to read through all the original comics on exhibit. The facilitator for the night was cartoonist Michael Capozzola, a funny man who kept things moving and elicited the responses we wanted to hear. Larger versions of these pictures and few more are being uploaded to the Cartoon Art Museum Flickr group here:

The process that gets the humor out of these guys’ minds and into The New Yorker, by means of these quarter page masterpieces of instant gratification, is equal parts method and whim. Memo to Bob Mankoff and David Remnick, if you’re listening, this subscriber humbly asks that you don’t change a thing.

The artists:

Matthew Diffee
Drew Dernavich
Chad Darbyshire


Comments and corrections to this post, hazy recollections, cautionary tales, variorum, requests for links, and secrets revealed, are welcome. You will make my day, I swear to God, you really will.


  1. Dan. Thanks for a great write-up and for sharing your photos from the event.

  2. Thanks Dan for the great pictures and capturing so many details of a wonderful event! Cheers!

  3. Matt (not Mac) Sweeney says:

    pics, story, humor…you got it all there man.
    cool beans bro. i am still waiting for that next short story of yours in the NewYorker.

  4. […] from the New Yorker at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco from this past Tuesday night, but Dan McSweeney has already done the job. Follow the link to Dan’s blog. Thanks to all who came out that […]

  5. RAY WINN says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share, with those of us were not sufficiently wise/lucky to be in California this week.

  6. Ben Bass says:

    Dan, you might relate to this similar panel in Chicago:

    As for the caption contest…


    [Thanks, Ben, links added into the original piece.]

Cartoons are a Gateway Drug

Cartoons were my gateway drug to the New Yorker Magazine. Then fiction, and then the hard stuff. I read Philip Roth and Seymore Hersh now. And I started young, man, young. My dad used to keep stacks of New Yorkers around the house.

Friends, tonight is my Tiger Beat dreamdate. Three New Yorker cartoonists are appearing at the San Francisco Cartoon Museum and I’m going. It’s going to be Zachary Kanin, Drew Dernavich, and Matthew Diffee. I’ve been trading tweets with Drew for a few months. And I’m, I can, um, nobody reads this blog, so I can say, yes, I’m going to call him my friend. I am friends with a New Yorker cartoonist. And tonight, I’m going to bag two more, baby.

I have super cool swag from Adobe where I work to bribe them into being my friends. I’m bringing my friend, Ed, who is hella’ funny, and is a high school English teacher – something he says tonight will probably end up in a New Yorker cartoon. I’m facilitating this, I won’t be envious.

This is going to be so cool. I’ll post pictures tomorrow.

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An Untitled Story Fragment

A story by Brett Crockett of Karmadoda fame. An audio engineer with Dolby – perhaps you’ve heard of them, a great friend, my brother-in-law. It’s a quick read, and it’s funny, and pensive.


It is mid-winter, evening, Northern California. A light rain falls on the small mountainside town where I live, creating a halo of mist.  This rainy mist is what the summer humidity of the Midwest, the humidity of my childhood, would look like if it had the decency to be honest and represent itself, visually, in full.  But no, summer Midwestern humidity is an oppressive stone of wet heat that hangs around your neck and invisibly weighs you down.

This Northern California mist is cool but not cold. It is wet but does not make you wet.

I am halfway up the main street of my town which cups a hill south of San Francisco. I am pulling my car into Julie’s Liquor Mart.  The main street shoots up the side of the mountain at an ambitious perpendicular angle, rocket linear, heading straight for the top, the ridge.  However, like most things here it quickly begins to swerve and angle when things get difficult and. It begins to deviate, winding in a desultory way across the mountain side.

I am at Julie’s to buy a diet Mountain Dew.  I like diet Mountain Dew.

Pull in, D4 to P, hand brake up, lights off, step out, “beep”, all in one fluid motion.

“This rainy mist is what the summer humidity of the Midwest would look like if it had the decency to be honest and represent itself, visually, in full “, I think to myself.

I step inside under florescent lights, the smell of candy, the soft hits wafting from unseen speakers.  Coolers on right.  Check.  Drink in sight. Check.

“They never grow old and they don’t feel any pain.”

There it is, Diet Mountain Dew, white cap, label slightly different than normal Mountain Dew which…

“So he pawned all his hopes, and he even sold his old car
Bought a one way ticket, to the life he once knew, oh yes he did…”

“They never grow old and they don’t feel any pain.  I know this because…”

Drink in hand, rounding the rack of corn snacks, familiar voice ahead.

“He said he would be leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia…”

“…I’ve studied this.”

Ah, yes, Randy.

“I’ve studied this you see because I was addicted to pain killers, you know, because of my knees.

I haven’t used any in over two years. Two YEARS.”

“And he’s goin’ back
To a simpler place and time.”

Randy.  He is tanned, sun-burned even.  Even in the winter. Strong, built low, dragged low to the ground by years of carrying heavy things. Construction things, car things, heavy things.  Rocks?  Broken concrete, for sure, broken concrete.  The kinds of things that will wreck a man’s knees.

“And I’ll be with him
On that midnight train to Georgia”

The last time I saw Randy was up the Bayshore, a few miles north, closer to San Francisco.  I had been filling up the gas tank of my 1995 Honda Civic that had a battery that was a bit dodgy.  I was done with the refilling when I realized that I had left my headlights on.  Fuck.

(Author’s question:  Why in the hell do we now feel compelled to turn on our headlights in the middle of the day?  I’m beginning to think some ingenious Swede who manufacturers automobile headlight bulbs, and yes, maybe even for fuck’s sake, even goddamn car batteries, has a brother-in-law at Volvo or somewhere that makes safety conscious cars and he said, “Sven, listen, you’re in charge of the Volvo headlight microcontroller programming team and you are a man of great power.  Tell your coders to program the cars to automatically turn on the headlight when the car is started and, I don’t know, say it’s for SAFETY reasons.  OK?  Don’t ask any questions.  Your sister is a very needy woman and is used to a lifestyle of comfort and, well things are challenging for me now, financially, and I need to sell more bulbs and batteries.  Don’t get me to start drinking and accidentally start reminiscing about your fondue bachelor party with all the knulla and hora when I’m talking with your wife next Christmas you mongo.  Done?”  “Det vet du, done!”  “Good.”)

So now we all turn on the car headlights even when it’s warm and clear and beautiful in places like, say, Northern California where I am right now with a tank full of gas and a goddamn dead battery and no one to help me out except for… Randy.

“I’d rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine…”

There he is.  At the other row of gas pumps, filling up.  Tank top.  Sun tanned.  Low to the ground and crouched.  Bad knees?  He walks over to the small bullet proof cashier’s hut and pre-pays, about 20 feet from where I am.

“Hey Randy, my battery’s, dead, can you jump me?”

“No problem buddy just let me fill up.”

Randy returns to his truck and begins filling and notices the truck in front of his.

“Hey bro, what year is that?”


“That is my FAVORITE truck of all time, bro.  I had one of them when I was in high school in 1972 and I’ve never forgotten…”

5 minutes.

“…it’s damn near a perfect….”

10 minutes

“… you really can get down into… hey buddy I’ll be right there with that jump for you!”

15 minutes.

“Go, gonna board, gonna board,
Gonna board the midnight train.”

I am not a praying man, but I am a man who believes in the power, the possibility, of positive thought.  I looked at my 1995 Honda Civic and made an unspoken, not a prayer really, but an unspoken invocation.  It wasn’t even mentally verbalized.  It was sort of a feeling.  Maybe what a cat does when it wants something from its owner.  A cat doesn’t look at you and have an internal dialog in, say, English, like, “Hey, Master, I would like some Fancy Feast Tuna.  Now, if you please.”

No, inside the cat’s brain it’s much more primal, it’s a mental cave drawing of feelings where the cat looks at you, the giant graceless monkey who by the draw of evolution has those big wonderful thumbs that do things like open cans, and the cat paints on its mental cave wall, a thought projection: “hungry, salty, liquid, chunky, can” in your general direction.  Somehow this works and you feed the cat.

This is the interaction that I had with my car.  Not a “please you wonderful green car save me from another 5 minutes of being at the mercy of Randy, because, I know, I KNOW he’s going to go on for so long, I know it, just the thought it… of … oh God, please… start.”

It was me, standing there in the mist, on the concrete, next to the shiny white gas pump painting my own internal cave painting thought projection: “Stranded, rain, battery, last attempt, start.”

I got in the car.  I slowly gripped the key.  I turned it.  One last chance, all I need is one last chance.  I knew that’s all that I needed and all that there may be.

RRRrrr  RRRrrr  RRRRZZZZZZaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I am painting, on a cave wall, in my mind: “I love you car.”

Hood down. Slam. Gesture over to Randy who is in mid-conversation:

“… and that was my favorite color, hey is that your dog…”

“Randy, thanks man, it had one last turnover in her, thank you.”

“Gotta go, gonna board
Gonna board..”

“Hey dude, sorry took so long, you know, hey, check your terminals.  They get corroded… and the water, check the water… might be low man.”

“Gonna board the midnight train…”

“Thanks Randy, thank you, man!”

“(repeat, fade)”




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If you were an animal … and made out of cheese

One may view the results of the survey here:

While most people selected a cheese from the list provided, a lot wanted to choose their own animal – my favorite: Leafy Seadragon. My overall favorite: Pepper Jack Yak. Nice work. The survey will remain open in case anybody wants to add another choice.

The survey was created via forms central, an Adobe hosted service- it took about five minutes. It’s cool. Try it yourself. I’ll take your survey, promise.

Thanks to Daniel Presedo for swiftly sketching the Swiss Cheese Wolf, above. He (Daniel, not the wolf) is responsible for many of the 3D features in Adobe Photoshop. Dig his website here: and follow him on twitter: dramenon. Also nod to other lunchtime companion and 3D Photoshop engineer, Yuyan Song, who helped dream this up yesterday, twitter: JADErock

Thanks muchly for the retweet to New Yorker cartoonist, Drew Dernavich, who knows inane humor sophisticated social research when he sees it.


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Gorgonzola Dolphin

If you were an animal, and you were made out of cheese…what animal? And what cheese? Take the Gorgonzola Dolphin survey here:

The thing has been live for exactly one minute, and there are already five responses. We’re going viral with this, baby. It’s the cheese animal zeitgeist.

So far, I love “Pepper Jack Yak.”

The form is powered by Adobe Forms, and so I’ll have a really amazing-looking bar graph to post with the results tomorrow.

The Swiss cheese Wolf drawing is courtesy of Daniel Presedo, a Photoshop engineer who can also draw.

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If John Mellencamp Sang About Virtual Machines

The script failed.
You know, the one that joins the virtual machine to the domain, and adds it to the engineering OU? You were expecting an essay on something literary, weren’t you? Well, Remeber that TV series, “Police Surgeon,” a Canadian export about a guy who was a cop and a doctor. A floor wax and a dessert topping. I’m an IT professional and a writer. (scriptor juvenilia  – according to Geoffrey Cubbage’s Audubon Field Guide to Unpublished Writers.

My colleague, Craig from the SF office, wrote a four line IM about the matter. And I know that it could be set to music.

One day I had half my VM’s run the script
One day I had 3 out of 4
One day they all ran correctly
Don’t know why it runs or does not run.

Don’t know why it runs or does not run.
<repeat 3x, fade>

And if you didn’t know, the term OU, above, stands for “Organizational Universe.” There are many clever comments that can be made about that (you should make some.) The nerds who came up with this stuff, did they have any idea?

One comment

  1. dr_demento says:

    You are the man who will be able to change OU in geek lexicon from “Organizational Unit.” to “Organizational Universe.”(A much more entertaining definition in my opinion, I will start using it.)

Bespoke, “Hello World,” post.

A reverent nod to anyone who ever tried to code something in a new programming language.


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