“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

  1. Storyteller and Folksinger Adam Miller – Free Concert

    Tuesday, January 25, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
  2. Storyteller and Folksinger Adam Miller – Free Concert

    Thursday, January 27, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
  3. Storyteller and Folksinger Adam Miller – Free Concert for All Ages

    Saturday, January 29, 2022 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

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Goodnight, Mr. Sun! – Chapter Seventeen

When I worked for James Productions in San Francisco, many of the advertisers for whom we made TV commercials were based in the Midwest. It was an ongoing chore, job after job, driving around in Boyd’s white Jeep Cherokee, searching the San Francisco Bay Area for filming locations that could pass for being in the Midwest. But Boyd hated long drives and sitting in traffic – so much so that he developed a remarkable knack for only selecting locations north of the Golden Gate Bridge, close to his home in San Rafael. A day of scouting locations with Boyd was so routine that several of location scouts who worked with us, told me stories that corroborated my own personal experiences. The day would invariably go something like this: They’d spend the morning driving around, checking out prospective locations, with Boyd finding insurmountable problems with every site they visited. Around one o’clock, they’d take a lunch break at an overpriced seafood restaurant. The meal was billed to the job. I have never forgotten Boyd’s heartfelt advice: “When the client is paying for dinner, always order the wild salmon.” The afternoon location scouting elapsed much like the morning – each location they visited just didn’t work. Exasperated and feeling a little desperate, around four o’clock in the afternoon, they’d pull the Jeep Cherokee over to the side of the road and Boyd would roll a joint. In that era before legalization, first checking to be certain that there were no cops around, he’d open the windows. Removing a small box of stick matches that he’d pocketed at the seafood restaurant, he’d light the joint and spend several minutes enjoying a smoke. The resulting cannabinol-instigated change of attitude invariably had a significant effect. Boyd would gaze out the open window, seemingly in contemplative silence. A few minutes later he would suddenly become quite animated, fumbling for his 35 mm camera. Leaping out of the vehicle, he would exclaim, “There it is! That’s it! It’s perfect!” Holding up two hands to suggest frame lines, he would declare, “This is the master set-up, here. And we get the close-up over here…” This predictable location-scouting routine occurred with surprising regularity. We always found our location by 5:00 pm. Boyd would place the unsmoked half a joint inside the box of stick matches from the restaurant and put it back in his pocket. *                                          *                                              * Boyd grew up in rural Washington State. He was raised by his great aunt, Karn and called her his mother. In infancy, he contracted Perthes disease, a disorder of the hip that left his right leg bone shorter than his left. Walking barefoot was painful. Even with a lift in the heel of his shoe, running or playing sports aggravated the pain in his hip. However, riding a bicycle was painless and this became his favorite pastime. He settled in San Rafael, where he had easy access to the many bike trails on Mount Tam. In his dreams, Boyd was a bird. His business card included a caricature of  himself as a bird. When he left a message on your answering machine, he usually included a little bird call (his friends referred to it as a “Boyd Call”). In those days, Boyd, twice divorced, lived in a ranch house in Marin County with his girlfriend, Allison, his beloved “Mother Karn,” and Karie, his teenage daughter from his first marriage. I have fond memories of arriving at his home early in the morning to pick him up for a day of location scouting, only to find Boyd – clad nothing but white Jockey underwear – playfully chasing eighty-seven-year-old Karn around the living room. Every night at sunset, he’d go out into the backyard and wave his hand, hollering at the western sky, “Goodnight Mr. Sun!” Allison and Boyd were engaged to be married. Boyd wanted some time off from work so he and Allison could take a long-needed vacation on the island of Bali. Boyd’s best friend was a surgeon. He convinced Boyd to let him perform a surgery that would correct the problem. This would make both of his legs the same length and it would no longer hurt to shoot baskets with his buddies. Boyd imagined himself walking barefoot on the beach in Bali with Allison – without feeling pain. Boyd phoned me and told me of his decision to have this routine hip-replacement surgery. Ever the professional pessimist, I tried to talk him out of it. “What if the surgery isn’t successful?” I argued. “Who’s going to hire a director in a wheelchair?” *                                          *                                              * On Monday afternoon, February 4, 1991, I was working as a freelance production coordinator on television commercial advertising Miracle Whip salad dressing. The director, David Wild, wanted to shoot on a particular tree-lined suburban street in Palo Alto, California. To this end, we had collected signatures from every neighbor, obtaining their permission to do so, as mandated by the police department. I was sitting in the Palo Alto police station, negotiating the terms of a filing permit for the production company, when my Motorola flip-phone began ringing. Excusing myself and stepping into the hallway, I answered the phone. Before I could speak, a grieving voice on the other end blurted out, “Boyd’s dead! Boyd’s dead!” Somehow, when filling out the paperwork for his admission at the surgery center, Boyd had inexplicably forgotten to disclose that he was taking a prescription medication that thinned the blood. Consequently, he bled to death on the operating table, with his daughter and his girlfriend holding his hands and singing softly into his ears, and his best friend, the surgeon, holding the scalpel. Boyd was forty-seven years old. He never got to say goodbye. *                                          *                                              * It was discovered that Boyd had not updated his will. It looked like his estate might go to his second ex-wife, Diane, a local actress, whom he professed to dislike, and had divorced in December of 1988. I imagine there ensued an ugly

The Professional is the Guy Who Can Do It Twice – Chapter Sixteen

Table-top cinematography is a specialized genre of TV commercials – a kind of food pornography – featuring up-close and intimate, ultra-glamour shots that make you want to eat what you see. “I make my living basically taking food and painting a reality with it,” Michael Somoroff, a tabletop director with MacGuffins Films in New York, told the New York Times. “And if I succeed in a given moment, you’re going to go buy that dish because you’re going to identify with the experience we’ve created. To do that with something as banal as food is the challenge. I mean, it’s easy to go out and shoot a beautiful sunset or a beautiful girl. They’re beautiful, O.K.?” For many of these advertisers, the tv commercials are so essential to their corporate survival, that they can’t stay in business without them. “If you come off television, when your sales dip, it takes a long time to get them back to where they were before you stopped advertising,” said a vice president for marketing at Sizzler, Michael Branigan. “There are a ton of studies that show this. You lose brain share of your customers, and it is expensive to get revenues up again. If I stopped advertising, Sizzler’s revenue would be down, minimally, 10 to 15 percent for the year.” Fast-food, pizza, and casual-dining chains – what they used to call “doughnut and coffee restaurants” spend about three percent of revenue on advertising. Consequently, there’s a lot of money to be made in this industry. Many of the TV commercial directors were conspicuously wealthy and at times, aspired to royalty – even though no one ever recognized them in public and nobody outside of the advertising world had ever heard of them. They drove Rolls-Royces, DeLoreans, and BMWs, got two-hundred and fifty-dollar haircuts, wore five hundred dollar “Bill Cosby” sweaters, and lived in expansive McMansions, and drank cases of Perrier water in green glass bottles. In the 1980s, commercials featuring things to eat dominated network television. Advertisements for fast food restaurants, soft drinks, pizzas, frozen dinners, steak houses, beer, breakfast cereals, candy bars, ice cream, and snacks were ubiquitous. In 1970, the Federal Trade Commission settled a lawsuit against the Campbell Soup Company. The commercial production company making their broadcast spots, had put glass marbles in the bottom of a bowl of vegetable soup, to make it look like there were more vegetables than were actually found in a can of soup. The truth-in-advertising statutes require food stylists on tv commercials, in most instances, to use the same ingredients in the same proportions, as are used in the packaged product. However, this doesn’t work for ice or ice cream – the product melts too quickly under the heat on motion pictures lights. If you’re shooting a soft drink or a cocktail in a glass over ice, the ice cubes are made of silicone or plastic (and cost $300 – $500, each) so they won’t melt or tinkle. Some food stylists use a mixture of high-fructose syrup and lard to make something that looks like ice cream but doesn’t melt as fast. Others use conventional mashed potatoes. When you make a television commercial about something that is edible, the food or drink that’s actually photographed, is painstakingly prepared by a professional food stylist who makes it look as appetizing and attractive as possible. This is an exacting and specialized job that only a few truly master. And just like every other job on a motion picture set, one or two individuals in the industry distinguish themselves as being noticeably better at their job than all their constituents. Oona Austin was one of the first choices for the job of food stylist on tabletop TV commercials. Early in my career, as a production assistant in Los Angeles, when I found myself working on a crew with Oona, I would surreptitiously find a way to get myself assigned to her team where, in the safety of her enclave, I would be sheltered from the slings and arrows of production. Oona was a great teacher, so I learned a lot of really important things about the food stylist’s job, which served me well later, when I was producing tabletop commercials. For instance, Oona showed me how to mix Elmer’s glue with milk, so the milk wouldn’t look thin and pale under the bright motion picture lights. One day, I was instructed to use an air compressor to remove all the dust from the contents of several dozen boxes of Kellogg’s Apple Jacks breakfast cereal. Then I sprayed each individual piece of cereal with shellac, so that when it was photographed falling through the frame in super-slow motion, there wouldn’t be any dust or crumbs visible in the shot. Another specialized job in food photography is that of the “hand model.” The hands that you see in television commercials holding forks, knives, bottles, or pouring a glass of beer, or holding a credit card – belong to a few of the busiest people in the industry, whose faces are never seen. In my time, the best hand model on the west coast was Bill Karp. I remember that Bill Karp was on that Apple Jacks commercial I did with Oona Austin in Los Angeles, thirty-five years ago. Oona sent me to the Irvine Ranch Market in West Los Angeles to pick up a case of the most perfect large red delicious apples I’d ever seen. The film sped through the camera at the highest speed, to achieve a super-slow-motion effect. As the bright red apples fell through the frame, Bill Karp swung at them with a razor-sharp eight-inch chef’s knife, cutting each apple perfectly in half. On several takes, I actually saw Bill slice through the stems of several of the apples, he was that precise. As Dizzy Gillespie told Pete Hamill, “The professional is the guy who can do it twice.” *                      *                      * One of my favorite crew members was a prop woman named Kathleen Hughes.

The Closer – Chapter Fifteen

In the 1960s, one of the guys who worked for Bill Maley’s Film Producers Services in San Rafael, California, was a young Midwesterner named James Theodore Mansen. Bill Maley was ten years older than Jim. Jim was Bill’s protege, then his producer, and later his soundman. If truth be told, Bill Maley had acquired a reputation for being a somewhat unscrupulous businessman. I’d heard reports that Bill’s insurance was often substandard, or that he was uninsured – or that he sometimes didn’t report his jobs to local 16, so he could pocket the pension and welfare contribution. One crew member described Bill Maley’s business habits as “screwy” and “suspect.” Others confided that he “didn’t pay his bills.” When people were hired to work on a job and they learned that Bill Maley was handling the payroll, they sometimes asked to be paid in advance. His reputation preceded him. “You never knew if Bill was going to pay you or not,” one crew member admitted. Bill was abrasive at a time in the industry when it was still acceptable to be abrasive. And Jim Mansen forgave Bill for everything, probably on a daily basis – for Jim Mansen believed that Bill Maley could do no wrong. Bill Maley was Jim’s mentor and sort of a second father to him. In some ways, Jim and Bill were cut from the same cloth. There dwelt within each of them, the penchant for mischief and pranksmanship. Jim was pathologically impatient and had a tendency toward the excessive, as if he believed – like an Animal House frat boy – that anything worth doing was worth overdoing. But the difference between the two men could be found in their attitude. Simply put: Jim Mansen had a great attitude and Bill Maley didn’t. Attitude makes a big difference – it’s really important in the film industry. As freelancers, we are often hired again, simply because of our good attitude. “Jim Mansen was an entity to himself,” Dick Dova told me. Jim was confident but he wasn’t fierce, though often he was fearless to the point of being reckless. He was a real master of details. He always seemed in control, even when he was not, and he was seemingly always in a good mood. His ego was of a manageable size: he took the work seriously, but not himself. That’s why Bill Maley let Jim Mansen deal with the clients and the advertising agency. Jim was a better producer than Bill – and Bill had the wisdom to recognize this. The truth was that Bill was simply too transparent. He was prone to look somebody in the eye and tell them emphatically, “You’re dumber than dirt.” Bill had a short fuse and didn’t tolerate, what he called, “assholes.” “A lot of times Bill Maley worked alone with Jim Mansen, just the two of them,” Dick Dova explained. “This allowed Bill to bid the job very low. Because Bill didn’t need a whole crew – he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was on top of it. He came from the Opera House. A lot of cameramen would light a product shot for two hours. Bill would achieve the same effect in thirty minutes. This is something that Bill taught me how to do.” As a teenager, I was apprenticed to William Armstrong Lewis (1933-1991), the technical director of the Childrens’ Experimental Theater in Carmel, California. Bill Lewis encouraged me to learn every job backstage: front office, make-up, scenic painting, wardrobe, lighting design, stage management, and set construction. “Someday, when you’re the producer, how will you know if the people on your crew really know their stuff?” “Below-the-line” is an expression referring to the line in the film’s budget that separates the creative expenses (stars, directors, screenwriters) from the rank-and-file film crew and production costs. The best producers usually come from below-the-line and work their way up through the crew to a position of leadership­. As a producer, Jim Mansen is remembered for his fairness, his empathy, and for the fact that his deeds and his words were in alignment. He understood, better than most producers, just how much time each department would need to get ready for the next shot. Jim had a moral structure that he never violated, perhaps due in part to the fact that he was the son of the son of a minister. He wasn’t afraid of the clients, or the advertising agency people, and he had a natural ability to handle them a lot better than Bill Maley ever did. Jim Mansen told me that one of the hardest commercials he and Maley ever produced involved a full-sized jeep sitting one top of a giant egg. When the egg hatches, out drives a baby jeep. They had to build the giant egg at Bill’s shop at 34 DeLuca Place in San Rafael. The egg was twenty-four feet long and had to be cut into four sections, so it be transported with a police escort, up Highway 101. Lou Yates was the boom man on George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971) and Jim Mansen – still wet behind the ears and just learning the job – was the sound mixer . Bill Maley was the gaffer and Ken Phelps was the key grip. In 1971, Jim worked as the soundman on a car commercial for the 1972 Ford LTD. To demonstrate the soundproofing inside the cab, they used it as a recording studio. San Francisco Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster, Stuart Canin, sat in the back seat of the car, playing his violin, and soundman Jim Mansen sat in the passenger seat with his Narga tape recorder and headphones, recording the violin solo. At one point in the sixty second spot, you can clearly see young Jim Mansen sitting there, recording live sound in a moving vehicle, as it drives past San Francisco’s most iconic locations. The commercial is now on YouTube. Jim Mansen worked as the sound mixer on Apocalypse Now (1979) for about

The Elusive Lotus Flower – Chapter Fourteen

In November of 1987, I worked as an assistant to the tv commercial art director, Barry Gelber, on a spot for the Caesar’s Palace casino in Las Vegas. The concept for the commercial involved an ancient Egyptian costume drama in which Cleopatra floats a freshly cut lotus flower onto the surface of a pond. Then – without an edit – the same flower is lifted out of the water by a 20th-century Las Vegas showgirl, as the camera pulls back to reveal the interior of the Caesar’s Palace casino. For the film crew, this was a location, not a vacation. There was little time for drinking, gambling, or floor shows. We stayed in the fancy hotel rooms on the top floors of the casino. When we finished our workday, we dined in the hotel restaurant in the casino downstairs. On my way to bed, passing through the casino to the elevators, I observed several grim tourists stationed in front of slot machines, dutifully feeding coins into the one-armed bandit. I studied their unhappy faces. Even when they won and the machine rang all its bells and whistles, they never smiled. As the coins were cascading out of the slot machine, making that familiar jangling sound, they’d grimace and mutter cheerlessly, “Well, it’s about time!” When I arose at 6:00 am the next morning to get an early breakfast in the casino lobby, I saw the very same unhappy faces still parked in front of their respective slot machines – they’d never gone to bed! I was twenty-seven years old and had never been to Vegas before. It was a revelation. Barry Gelber was a fastidious, well-organized, and abundantly creative art director. He took the work very seriously. Frequently, we’d spend a week building a fully realized $30,000 kitchen set, fussing over every detail: linoleum, curtains, wallpaper, countertops, drawer handles, new appliances, lighting fixtures, and the elaborate kitchen set dressing. However, none of this would ever be seen in the edited thirty-second commercial. All you’d see is a close-up of Florence Henderson holding the Proctor and Gamble product next to her face. All of Barry’s detailed work was so completely out of focus and in the background, it might as well have been a painted backdrop. That’s TV commercials. You never know where the director is going to decide to place the camera or what the lens will see. So, you build it all, right down to the smallest detail, as realistically as possible, just in case. It was both a pleasure and an education to work for someone as thorough and buttoned-up as Barry. Ultimately, I didn’t have the inherent gifts necessary to be a great prop man or art director – I had neither the eye, the style, nor the interest. But I was conscientious, organized, and reliable, and I learned a great deal working as Barry’s assistant. For instance, once we shot on location at Randy’s Donuts at 805 W. Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, which has a gigantic and iconic twenty-five-foot-wide rooftop donut sculpture, which is visible from a great distance. Barry wanted colored pendants attached to the perimeter of the metal roof flashing, which I adhered with double face tape. I soon discovered that the only way to remove the double face tape was with a straight edged razor blade. It took six hours, on my hands and knees, in the bright Los Angeles sunshine. Barry later advised me to put down a layer of masking tape first, next time, so I could peel it right off. Like I said, I learned a great deal working as Barry’s assistant. Barry wore black straight-leg jeans and expensive, trendy dress shoes. He never wore a tie, but often buttoned the top button of his shirt at the collar. Although he was a non-smoker, he smoked a lot of cigarettes when he was nervous. While I was working with him, Barry bought a white 1986 Jaguar XJ6 sedan. He’d always wanted one and he felt it helped legitimize him professionally ­– made him look more like an art director. He’d never owned such a fancy car before. Once we did a shoot at the El Mirage Dry Lakebed, where the dust is as finer than talcum powder. To protect his new Jaguar, Barry bought an expensive cloth car cover to protect his investment. In the steady breeze, it soon became impregnated with the fine dust and, like a gigantic wind-powered emery cloth, proceeded to polish the paint right of the corners of the vehicle. In early November, we’d filmed the ancient Egypt portion on a soundstage in Los Angeles. Then we all flew to Vegas to shoot the present-day Caesar’s Palace portion of the spot at the casino. We spent a couple of days dressing the set inside Caesar’s Palace. When this was done, we retired to the hotel restaurant to eat a good dinner. We had to get to bed early for the shoot the next morning. I was already in bed, under the covers in my hotel room, trying to quiet my mind and fall asleep. I had never slept on a round bed before. It always takes some time to clear my brain of the many details of the workday. As I lay there in the darkness, the telephone rang. It was Barry and he didn’t sound sleepy. He was panicked but he kept his voice unnaturally calm. I thought perhaps someone had died or he was suddenly ill. My mind quickly catastrophized a scenario in which I had to assume his role on the shoot the next day. It was hard for him to get it out. Finally, he said, quietly, “I forgot the lotus flowers.” Barry very rarely made mistakes. But this was a big one. In an industry where you’re only as good as your last job, it was the kind of mistake that prevents freelance crew members from getting hired again. Lotus flowers grow in ponds on the surface of ­– but not under