New BTTM Video: “End Of The Decade Blowout!” + Analysis
Thursday December 31st 2009, 1:05 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

It’s the end of the decade and everything from Y2K to Tiger Woods must go! Say your goodbyes to the “noughties” and welcome in the “teens!” It’s Better Than The Machine’s “End Of The Decade Blowout” extravaganza celebration!

This is not the third video from the recent NYC Reid trilogy of sketches that I’ve mentioned, which included the past two videos (the Hanukkah video and the grammar video). The plan was to post that third video this week, but I kept mulling over how this week’s video would be our last video of the year and of the decade. The third video we shot out in NYC didn’t feel like it had the sort of gravitas I wanted for a last video of any sort.

So I came up with this idea. It seemed like a good way to cram a lot of stuff into a short video, and it also got around the problem of everyone being out of NYC for the holidays, and my not being able to send a script to them and saying “film this!” I couldn’t film anything myself, either, because we’ve decided to try to be HD as much as possible, and I do not have an HD camera, or access to friends who might have one in Denver. The idea of using preexisting media got around that issue (though I’ll admit, there are clearly some low, low resolution pictures).

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I’m really quite happy with getting to say I directed something this year. I sort of fell out of love with the idea of directing anything, but after reediting the “How To Iron A Reid Levin” video, I was sort of reminded how much fun it is to make something out of truly disparate parts, or out of nothing. I especially like making what I call “Photoshop jokes,” so I really enjoyed making stuff for this, like the Saddam plate and the newspaper dispenser going up into flames. I really like the book that says “What The Hell Is With All These Vampires?,” because there’s just absolutely no other reference to it and you’d have to freeze it to read it and I do wonder where all this vampire love came from recently, and where it was a few years ago.

So all that stuff turned out well, but I got started working on this a day or two late. I will fully admit to being the one who broke our nearly 100% weekly video on Mondays streak this year–and on the last video, even! Between getting brain chemo, pitching this to the group and even just figuring out how to put this thing together, I think I started panicking on Saturday about it not being ready for release on Monday. My mom helped in just extraordinary ways by building a huge library of photographs and putting it at my fingertips. Without her help, the video would certainly have been released much more than a day late.

I had a version ready to show on Monday night, but I really wanted the group (and especially the two professional directors) to take a look at it and give me feedback before I posted it. I got a lot of really good advice from Paul and Ballard and did my best to put it to use. I basically rearranged everything to give it what I hope was better pacing, I messed with the audio channels, I shaved off about 10 seconds, and I added music (which Matt was the first to suggest and with which I again had help from my mom). By the time I got all that done, it was getting to be late Tuesday night and I didn’t want to break my “I will post this on Tuesday!” promise that I had posted all over the place (much to my own chagrin, I realized as the minutes and the hours ticked ever closer to Wednesday), so without showing a final version to the group, I posted it. I hope they like it (eep)! I actually have no idea what they thought of the final version.

There was also one thing I just could not incorporate that Ballard suggested I do. That was speaking faster–I cut out any pauses or breaths in my narration to make it sound faster than it had been recorded, but Ballard suggested I rerecord and actually say it faster. I’ve never been a fast talker and many people have actually told me that since I’ve been on chemo, I speak more slowly and deliberately than I used to. I tend to get my tongue tied up in knots the faster I try to talk, unless I have rehearsed what I’m saying so much that I can do it in my sleep (e.g. forensics in high school). I struggled with the “Take Aim” narration for weeks and weeks and just couldn’t get anywhere close to Ballard’s speed. His narration was great anyway, so it worked out for the best. Compared to me, he’s the Micro Machines Man.

Like I said, though, I’m really, really pleased with how this sketch turned out, I hope other people enjoy it, and hopefully I’ll be able to direct and edit more things next decade!

–Reid.



The Last BTTM Video Of The Decade + Analysis…
Wednesday December 30th 2009, 12:25 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Health (Not Cancer)

…will be posted tomorrow. Well, in all fairness, I already posted the video. But I’ll be posting it here tomorrow with all sorts of wacky behind-the-scenes stories, including one about a brawl between the Best Boy and the Key Grip that I just made up. Right now I need to get some sleep, though. Today I had to go to the hospital, and then later I fell on some ice. I have not had much sleep over the past few days.

I bed go now.

–Reid.



Last BTTM Video Of Decade A Day Late
Tuesday December 29th 2009, 12:07 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

I admit, it is primarily my fault.

But I made it all by myself (well, my mom helped) and it’s going to be good! Don’t worry, it’ll be up Tuesday afternoonish!

–Reid.



Poka Poka Poka!
Tuesday December 22nd 2009, 4:14 am
Filed under: Leukemia

I got my once-every-three-months intrathecal injection of methotrexate today (the one they inject into my brain and spinal fluid through a port in my head that goes into my brain). I used to feel severe pain during this procedure; often just having the port accessed would bring tears to my eyes, and it only got worse from there. Last time I had an intrathecal infusion, however, somebody suggested I lie down during the procedure. That made all the difference, and for whatever reason (perhaps it was just a matter of being able to stay more still), the procedure didn’t hurt at all when I was horizontal. I obviously opted to do it that way again today and, once again, it was not painful at all. Unfortunately, the methotrexate itself still knocks me on my ass for several days (or longer sometimes).

That turned out to be the easy part/port of the day. Because of course, I’m Reid Levin, bearer of hundreds of medical oddities for which no med school could ever possibly prepare anyone adequately. Every month, I get an infusion of vincristine through the mediport in my chest, which provides a direct line to my heart. The one I have in my chest now was installed over the summer at the same time I was having my gallbladder removed and my RAM upgraded. This new port needed to be extremely easy to use because only a few nurses could access my old one–it moved around in a lot of unpredictable ways (under my skin, mind you). The new one is very big compared to my old one, and therefore provides a bigger target to hit. It was installed sitting flat on my sternum. It was very, very easy to access. All the nurses who had trouble with my old port wanted a chance to access my new one. There was a long line that stretched down the street, made up of people from all over the world who just wanted a shot at accessing my new port. It was really great fun. We were thinking of taking it on tour actually, from city to city, just because of how much fun it was to access it. But that’s when things took a sour turn.

After those initial few weeks of jolly accessing and re-accessing my port by all sorts of neat people (many of whom were probably trained in some sort of medical capacity), my new port migrated away from my heart and turned so that it no longer faced straight outwards. Now the face of the mediport kind of faces 10 o’clock from my perspective. But Lauren, who is very adept at dealing with my weird problems, and who is a zen master when it comes to accessing my ports (both colloquially and literally), got it accessed, got good blood return, and was able to flush it with saline just fine. This normally means everything is working great, all systems checked out and that the flight crew should prepare for take off. However, almost immediately after the very slow push of vincristine started, the skin above my port started to hurt. Which meant the whole thing was shut down immediately because vincristine is toxic if it somehow gets in the body but isn’t in the veins. Neurotoxic, even. I don’t know exactly what that means, but since I obviously don’t want something toxic in my body (this was a lesson my mom told me my first day of kindergarten: 1) don’t talk to strangers, 2) don’t take candy from strangers, 3) don’t put anything toxic in your body), I can only imagine that I really don’t want something that’s neurotoxic having free reign around my body.

After several tests to confirm that my port wasn’t cracked or somehow or another leaking into my body, we finally got all the chemo done, but the problem of my port still remains. We decided it was probably giving me pain because of the awkward way the needle needed to be angled to get into the port, which then pulled the skin in a painful, misaligned way. It’s probably moving around because my body tends to create keloid scars. They’re basically just unnecessarily large and puffy scars. Apparently, my body doesn’t just do that on the outside; it does it on the inside, too.

It was annoying and painful, so we’re trying to brainstorm some solution to this that is at least slightly less annoying.

I guess that’s all for now, mostly because I can hardly read the screen right in front of me. I’m so, so tired but I feel like my on/off switch is stuck in the “on” position (this is common after being methotrexate’d). I can’t seem to fall asleep no matter what I try, and my mouth is so dry. I’m drinking water, but that only helps for a few seconds, and then it seems to get absorbed by the dryness. It feels like I’m trying to flood the Sahara with a garden hose.

Hopefully this haze means I am catching up to sleep and that sleep is catching up to me. I hope this entry is at least vaguely legible. Whaaatever, man.

–Reid.

—————-
Now playing: Annie Little – Fly Me Away
via FoxyTunes



New Video: “Who’s On First” For English Majors! + Analysis
Monday December 21st 2009, 2:35 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, NYC, Word Nerd

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for a grammar revolution! This revolution will not be won with guns and aero-planes, but with a spin on a classic comedy routine. English Majors, Word Nerds and Grammar Nazis: this one’s for you. Step right up and watch folks, no need to be afraid; you’ll either feel really smart or really confused–either way, you’ve got nothing to lose!

This sketch was written by me and was directed and edited by Ballard. We shot it one night while I was in NYC earlier this month.

I’m very happy with how it turned out. When I wrote this (with the somewhat confusing title “Vaudeville Grammarians”), I had Matt and myself in mind to play the two characters. I consider the two of us kindred Word Nerd spirits. I don’t know if the term “Word Nerd” already exists–but if it doesn’t, here’s one on me, English language. When I say “Word Nerd,” I mean that, for instance, I really like the “gay bar” line at the end of the sketch. It’s a homosexual homonym. So… yeah. Word Nerd.

Matt plays Lou in this sketch and I play Alex. These names are direct references to Louis “Lou” Costello and William Alexander “Bud” Abbott, respectively. The popular Abbott and Costello Vaudeville duo is probably best known for the routine that this sketch pays homage to: Who’s On First?

We shot this in Ballard’s apartment. It was originally to take place in a bar, but a) we’ve had a lot of bar scenes this year and b) we didn’t have access to a bar. It didn’t really matter anyway. Ballard shot from only two angles, which served the sketch very well. I’m trying to pickup on lessons from Ballard so I can start directing some things again soon. I would’ve covered this thing all over the place. Two shots, up shots, down shots, spinning shots, outside shots, shots galore! We would’ve been there all night. Needless to say, I’m glad I did not direct this sketch.

Like I said, we filmed this when I was out in New York earlier this month. It’s the second of three videos we shot. Unless there’s some unforeseen amazing new video that pops up out of the woodwork this week, the third of these Reid videos will be released next Monday. My biggest regret with these three videos is that I waited to get a haircut until after my trip. My extreme shagginess is most apparent in the next video. I felt like a lion! But I don’t know if lions should necessarily be doing sketch comedy.

Actually, I was showing this and the next video to my dad tonight, and while I was queuing up the next video, the first frame of it appeared in QuickTime. My dad responded to the image on the screen with equal parts revulsion and horror. “What is this all about?” he asked. As my shaggy visage was the only thing on screen at that moment, I could only assume he meant, “You look like the bum that sits outside my office who wears really nice Broncos gear and begs for change.” Except, I don’t have any nice Broncos gear.

Oh well. As my dad put it, I’ll have all week to worry about the next video. So I’ll do my best to prepare for the ruthless taunts of anonymous 14 year old Internet bullies. I just have to keep telling myself that they’ll get their comeuppance soon enough, soon enough. I can’t say how, but soon. The plans are already underway. There’s nothing you can do to stop us from turning the tables! Now you will finally die, Mr. Bond! Mwa ha ha ha! Mwa ha ha!

◦—-◦Later, that same night.◦—-◦

Excuse me, hoooo. I’m sorry, I’ve gotta catch my breath. Now where was I? I think I might have gone a little overly megalomaniacal there; the evil laughter just started and didn’t stop until I passed out. I’m just so damn excited for the upcoming comeuppance giving.

Make sure to check http://bttm.net next week for our last video of the decade! It’s another one I wrote, and more so with it than the video this week, Ballard “encouraged me” (with that adorable puppy dog look he knows I can’t resist and also with his brass knuckles) to make some revisions. It’s got a message and it’s very silly. I mean, the message isn’t silly, but the video is. At the very least, you’ll get to see, in beautiful high definition, why I needed a haircut and some beard corralling last week.

–Reid.



New BTTM Video: “Hanukkah Gifts” + Analysis
Monday December 14th 2009, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

First off, I’m going to start putting “+ Analysis” at the end of all the BTTM video posts in my blog. Whereas on other websites I usually copy and paste the same sort of thing (“Watch our video! Please!!!”), I normally give some behind the scenes info on my blog that I don’t post anywhere else. So if you want all the dirt, the d.l., the collector’s commentary for BTTM videos, you’ve got to come to Reid Levin Dot Net. Right, that’s that; on to this week’s video!

Happy Hanukkah! The Festival of Lights! The Jewish alternative to Christmas! Hanukkah: literally “The Festival of Eight Sub Par Gifts” in English. Oy gevalt! In Better Than The Machine’s latest video, “Hanukkah Gifts,” it’s all about the gifts!

During my most recent trip to New York City, we filmed a total of three videos with me in them (including this one), the other two of which will be released over the next two weeks (I hope people don’t feel like they’re overdosing on Reid Levin… oh well!). We filmed this particular video the last day of my trip. We were supposed to shoot a different video that I had written, but Ballard showed up to the shoot and, offended by our lack of holiday cheer, suggested that we shoot a holiday video instead.

This video officially marks the return of the 2007-Reid-Levin-style-last-minute-two-people-sitting-on-a-couch holiday sketch comedy video! Now in HD! And I love it!

I have to say that, despite being the only Jew in BTTM, it wasn’t my idea to do a Hanukkah video; it was totally Ballard’s idea. Not that I’m against Hanukkah or videos about Hanukkah or anything, it’s just that we’ve always made a Christmas video at this time of year. We even had a whole show (loosely themed) about Christmas in college called Better Than The Machine Strikes Again! (with their half-off Christmas Spectacular!). I guess I just took it for granted that someone would pull out a Christmas video for this year. Trust me when I say that I’m really glad Ballard came up with the idea of a Hanukkah video–not because it made me feel more included, but because I think it’s really funny.

Ballard, Christina and I quickly worked out all the details that afternoon and it eventually came down to this sketch about me knowing nothing about my religion or this (admittedly minor) holiday, and, in the words of the great Hindu philosopher Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, “It is a great dishonor to my ancestors and my God, but okay!”

“Hanukkah Gifts” was directed and edited by Ballard, I made the snow on the title card (super important task!) and Better Than The Machine owes a huge thanks to Cindy Reiman. We are all extremely thankful to Cindy, who opened her home so graciously to us!

Happy Holidays from Better Than The Machine! Make sure to check bttm.net next Monday for a brand new video!

–Reid.



From Sketch Comedy’s Heart, I Stab At Thee, The Kellogg Company! (New BTTM Video: Super K with Birth Control)
Monday December 07th 2009, 8:11 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

Better Than The Machine presents: Keloqq’s Special K with Birth Control!

Keloqq’s newest cereal has a hardy dose of birth control plus that same great taste you’ve come to expect! Keloqq’s: “The Brand Of Cereal That May Remind You Of Another Brand Of Another Brand Of Cereal, But Is, In Fact, Its Own Brand Of Cereal.”

A copyright infringement free version of our “Kellogg’s Special K with Birth Control” parody video that we had to take down last April due to a complaint from The Kellogg Company. Our parody was too good and too realistic, and the The Kellogg Company had to turn away too many people asking for the cereal with birth control.

I designed the new copyright infringement free boxes and logos! I also came up with the company name “Keloqq.” “Keloqq: We Spell Copyright Infringement Free With One “L” And Two “Q’s!” I also considered posting on the BTTM sites “BTTM’s latest video announces our support for a woman’s right to choose. Unlike certain cereal companies,” but decided I’d probably better not add libel to the list of charges against us.

Re-directed and re-edited in copyright infringement free style by Ballard C. Boyd. Make sure to check bttm.net next week for a brand new video!

If ever there was a case in which it would be appropriate to say this, this is it: don’t let the machine get you down.

–Reid.



Second Year of Survival
Sunday December 06th 2009, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Family, Friends, Leukemia

I met a new friend today who asked me when I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I replied that, wouldn’t you know it, but today just happened to be the second year anniversary of my diagnosis. This new friend replied that perhaps “anniversary” seemed like an inappropriate word to mark today since the word often has a positive connotation.

I kind of laughed and explained that there is a positive connotation: I’m still alive. If I’d been diagnosed a few weeks, or perhaps even a few days later, I would not be writing this message. I would be dead. I can’t imagine not marking today’s importance, and giving thanks for all the people who helped keep me alive; in big ways and in small, in physical ways and in spirit, in friendship and in love. I must thank them all for helping me take one more step towards the finish line.

I have two years behind me now, and a year and a half to go. I wish I could impart some special wisdom from my experiences upon everyone, some passionate speech about living your life to its fullest. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great bit of advice. I didn’t come up with it, though. I think, if I could impart any of the wisdom I’ve gained after two years battling Leukemia upon myself from two years ago, it would be that, “as time passes, everything becomes more tolerable, and yet, be careful because everything becomes more frustrating.” It’s almost like growing up: the older you get, the more you can do, but the more you also realize there are many things you cannot do.

Ultimately, though, there’s just two things I need to say: thank you all for giving me the ultimate gift: my life. I love you all.

–Reid.



New BTTM Video: Prowler, also BTTM readying for Sketchfest…
Monday November 30th 2009, 2:03 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, NYC

In Better Than The Machine’s latest sketch comedy video, Christina is running for her life. We have unleashed “Prowler.” Can you resist it?

The answer is, of course, “no, you cannot.” Discover the truth for yourself:

Directed by Ballard C. Boyd last week. Edited this evening. I wrote it and I was the bottle master (I found the bottle, I bought the bottle, I kept the bottle safe, I delivered the bottle to the hands of the director… phew, a hard day’s work)! The sketch turned out different than I imagined it, somehow. Which is fine; I think Ballard and Christina did a really good job of making the whole thing drip with suspense. Matt Gallo looks like the worst wrestler ever, but I’ll let it pass since he has a giant knife. Good work, all three of you!

Despite my wishy washiness (or, perhaps, due to my wishy washiness), I think I want to start directing some sketches again. Not a ton, but here and there, I think it might be gratifying.

We started rehearsing for Philly tonight. We’re gonna do a lot of singing. I think we picked out all the sketches we want to do, and everyone seems in general agreement about them. There were only one or two vetoes that I heard. One was for a sketch from the half of unLEVINed to which I did not contribute any writing or ideas. It features the cast as pigeons. I thought it was really funny and visually interesting when I saw the show. I’m glad I got to see a BTTM show–I just wish everyone else in the group could see one too! It certainly gave me a totally different take on sketches I had been in when we first started writing the show. Even though the pigeons may feel crazy, they looked great and were funny!

Make sure to check bttm.net next week for a brand new sketch comedy video!

–Reid.



I always liked this quote, but I don’t think I understood its implications until very recently.
Friday November 27th 2009, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Who Knows?

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

-Edward Albee, American playwright.