Good Sick

Pic courtesy

I had a typical 1970s Pacific Islander upbringing: every Sunday began with getting up at what felt like first cock’s crow to attend a church service, followed by Sunday school, followed by an interminable wait for the adults to finish their networking and whatever, then get home for to’ona’i.

Damn those Sunday mornings felt like forever. Still, my parents — bless their jandalled feet — would, on the way home, sometimes stop by a Kentucky or Homestead outlet to pick up some fried chicken to add to the to’ona’i staples of rice, sapa sui, corned beef, taro, palusami and potato salad.

This tradition continued after the Mamea children fled the nest. One Sunday every month, we returned to the family home for to’ona’i, us wage- and salary-earners bringing KFC, fish ‘n’ chips and ice cream while my mother prepared the usual staples. In order to deflect parental interrogations of our lifestyles and lack of family-starting, we kids introduced a new tradition: a family viewing of an action film chosen for its satisfyingly high body count and Old Testament-style morals.

Post-meal, my siblings and I would spread out around the sitting room, half-watching the video*, and moaning to each other about how full we felt. We didn’t call it overeating. Whatever descriptions we attempted were rarely prefixed with ‘over-’ or had the words ‘too much‘; the word ‘nausea’ didn’t enter our minds, either.

We worked with simple, humble ‘sick’.

There was a spectrum to the Mamea post-to’ona’i sick: at one end was ‘bad sick’ which sometimes necessitated sudden yet discreet visits to the toilet; and at the other end was ‘good sick’ where it was acknowledged that that last piece of chicken may have been a bridge too far but so long as we didn’t move or twitch, the discomfort was manageable.

I’ve no idea how it informs my writing.

But now you know there is such a thing as good sick.


* And half-watching our mother exhorting the hero on the telly to Kill them! Kill them all!


“To’ona’i” – Grading

(Or Feedback – Another Thought.)

As an audience member, the film or television series or theatre piece that I derive the most pleasure from is the one where I have to work hard at keeping up with the story, busily making connections not spelt out, and putting the pieces together. It makes me feel smart.

Imagined ego-stroking aside, I like the experience where I’m not a passive observer of events, where I have to read more into the nuances and subtext of what I’m seeing and hearing.  I don’t have to be sitting on the shoulder of the protagonist throughout. It’s like I’m… physically in the middle of the action wherever it takes – still invisible, still passive – and I have only the information available to the characters around me, and… discovering the story as it unfolds.

I feel… involved.

It’s a mean trick to do that.

So I’ve got this wee film that’s had a bunch of test screenings from rough cut to a graded and mixed cut, and the feedback and the comments I’ve received have been pretty consistent while I, for my part, have been just a leetle myopic in taking it all on board.  After each screening, I’ve swung tended one way or the other in trying to appease imagined audiences minimise narrative confusion.

Have I done too much?

Or not enough?

I don’t know.  I’ve written the dialogue with subtext and whatever it is that’s described as it’s what’s not said.  Its structure is classic – the finished product may require some concentration but the execution is consistent.  Amit says that I’ve hit the emotional beats.   James is sneaking in all sorts of filters, having quickly established how technically and aesthetically blind I am.

And thanks to the generosity and honesty of the test audiences, I think I’ve done all I can to tell the story the way I want to. I have to get over myself. How the audience watches the finished product is out of my hands.


“To’ona’i” Audio Post

Yep, it’s been a year since the last update – running out of money will do that – and so it was only last month that I caught up with sound designer Nathan Rea who has been quietly and patiently cleaning up the audio.


Credits roll on a MONITOR as NATHAN and our WRITER sit back in their seats.


What’d you think?


... I have some questions.

Before I get to those questions, let me just say what a phenomenal job Mr Rea has done: it all sounded natural. That might be a bit of a queer thing to say – and you well-know what a phillistine I am about a lot of the film-making technical craft – but everything sounded perfect*.

My questions – I only had three – were to do with his use of composer Nestor Opetaia‘s score:

  • Why was there music at the beginning?
  • Why had the music been changed in this middle?
  • Why was there music at the end, before the credits?

Nathan’s answers were simple:

  • As a bookend to the music at the end.
  • No, the music had not been changed.
  • In search of a place for the end music to play over the credits, the only way to avoid crashing it in at the end was to introduce it under the final scene.

Quite a bit of discussion followed where we discussed and agreed to try:

  • Removing the opening music because, with a running time of twelve minutes, a bookend wasn’t all that essential.
  • Nathan played the pre-audio-post cut of the film and nope, he hadn’t changed the music.
  • The introduction of the music under the final scene was one of those happy, serendipitous accidents where the finished film moment became much more than the sum of its parts.

Nathan made the changes and we watched the film through again.


Credits roll on monitor as Nathan and our Writer listen intently to the soundtrack.


What’d you think?



... Yeah.


Yeah, but what did you think?


It’s your movie, man.

I signed off audio post.

There’s a sequence in the film where the location audio was so riven with kicked drink cans and circling streetracers that some ADR was considered. Mr Rea cleaned it up so thoroughly that it completely slipped my mind for another five viewings. Nathan – you the bomb.

POSTSCRIPT: I’m in the latter stages of colour grading at the moment, which I’ll post about hopefully maybe soon.


Pots on the Boil


I lie in the arms of THE GODDESS.


I haven’t done ANYTHING this year.


Oh rubbish.


I’m serious.


What were you busy doing at the beginning of the year then?


... The short film.


And what have you been doing with those playwrights, hm? And that stuff for the guild?

I open my mouth, then close it.


And then there’s your radio play. Well?


You can’t just let me feel sorry for myself, can you?

She kisses my forehead --


No, I cannot.

What have I achieved this year then?

I’m tempted to skew my stats a la the police leadership in The Wire but, for me, a project isn’t finished unless it’s finished, knowwha’Imean?


  • To’ona’i crawls towards completion;
  • I’m co-writing a play, to premiere in 2012;
  • I have my own play to push – and thanks to the joys of misery likes company peer pressure, the first act is due by mid-January 2009;
  • the diversionary feature spec has copious thematic and strucutural notes… but an actual story has yet to emerge;
  • enamoured with the short radio play’s ‘success’, I’m writing an hour-long radio play: I’ve got the opening and closing acts while the middle is currently all rough notes – forty pages to go!
  • and the long awaited spec feature of 2007 has been roughed out and is approaching a proper first draft.

[Takes a few steps back and squints]

Okay. I suppose it’s just about perspective.



Maybe this is my dash. Maybe this is IT. Maybe –


Maybe you needed a year to consolidate.


I thought last year was a consolidating year.


It’s a bit hard to consolidate when you’re juggling paying work, don’t you think?

I mumble something.




... I suppose.

She nods, knowing, as always, that She’s right.