The Prodigal Altar Boy

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Prodigal Altar Boy Blog 26 October 2013 - At Ease!

At Ease!

I was walking home from the cleaners one Saturday last month (before summer left town for good) and as I headed down Charles Street, I saw a man on a bicycle.  From a distance, he waved and I waved back.  I had my cleaning slung over my right shoulder so I walked especially upright to compensate for the load.  Just as the gentleman passed me on his bike, he yelled, “At ease, soldier,” causing us both to laugh. 


I think people have a sixth sense for picking out people who have served in the military.  Whether it’s the way we dress, groom, talk or act, there is something people can discern and some people are quick to acknowledge.  When I see military people today, I am inspired by their commitment to service and humbled as a veteran, to be considered “part of the club.”  


While we shared a laugh with his street side command, the order, “at ease,” resonated on a personal level in that we all need to take time to relax, assess and enjoy where we are.  Making “The Trouble withTQ” is a full-time job I’ve squeezed into my “spare time” since 2008.  Every now and then, I needed to “come up for air” and do things completely unrelated to the documentary and that sustained me throughout the process. 


Looking back on where the project started and where it is now always brings that Grateful Dead lyric, “What a long, strange trip it’s been” to mind.  I never imagined the film would turn into what it is now and the only reason any of that happened is that I kept pushing it along.  For all the planning I did, what sustained the project was being open to new directions.  Whether it was commissioning the paintings, licensing the photos or experimental shots, being open to how they fit into the film (as opposed to how I planned to use them in the film) allowed the overall creative impact surpass the sum of those individual elements.




Finally, enjoy where you are.  This was a busy week for the film; juggling event planning, DVD production details and a tribute reel for TQ meant laser focus on those tasks.  At dinner out last night, my wife started talking about how successful I was and what she thought I deserved.  Her words caused me to pause (“at ease”) and take a moment to enjoy where I am with the film and where I am in life.  To quote that gospel song, “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over…” 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Prodigal Altar Boy Blog: Whither the Second Banana?


Whither the Second Banana?

sec′ond banan′a  
n. Slang
1. One, such as an assistant or deputy, who is subordinate to another.
2. One who serves as the straight man opposite the leading comedian in a burlesque.

Does being the “Second Banana” enhance or detract from your chances of snagging the top slot?  While “conventional wisdom” promotes the view that the second in command for an organization is the best candidate to replace the current leader, in practice, it’s often not the case.  Sometimes, being a “good” second banana is the reason the number two doesn’t get the top slot.

The Psychology of the Second Banana

Fact:  The skill set for a good second in command is different from the skill set of the leader.  The second definition of second banana has applications outside of show business.  A good second banana in the corporate world is often the “straight man” to the top dog.  The second in command is the yin to the leader’s yang, and will be called on to balance or ameliorate the top dog’s message, if it is too controversial.

Job one for the second banana is to support the boss.  The top bill only gets to innovate when he or she has a support person, usually the second banana, tending to all the administrivia, paperwork and staff work.  While the second banana may have to improvise in the course of getting the mundane out of the way, it still, well, mundane.

While those above may praise the deputy as the one who “makes things run,” or doing the “dirty work,” rarely is this acknowledgment a factor in considering the second banana as a viable candidate for the top position.  In the cases where the second banana is a contender for the top slot, three likely scenarios may influence that view.  Either:
  1. The person in the top slot is leaving unexpectedly and management has not had time to think about a replacement,
  2. Management has known the person in the top slot is leaving, but frittered around, hoping for a change of mind and ran out of time. Or,
  3. Management wants a successor to maintain the status quo, and/or be pliant to upper management demands.

The bottom line is the second banana brings zero innovation to any of the above scenarios above.  He or she is getting the job not because of what they can bring to the position, but because of their ability to keep the organization in “suspended animation,” maintaining the status quo. 

There is nothing wrong with transitional leadership, and in cases of scenario A, and sometimes B, the second banana is more often than not best suited to step in and provide continuity after an unexpected departure.  What the second banana must keep in mind is transitional leadership is, well, transitional.  Whatever crisis or lack of foresight that thrust you into the job will be over sooner than later and then it’s time to capitalize on the situation and cement your move to the top spot with a decisive move away from the status quo.  

When it comes to scenario C, read the handwriting on the wall, update your resume and do what they tell you until land another job.

The takeaway is a deputy should devote a percentage of effort toward innovation, independent of what the head banana may prescribe.  Spend some time examining policy, trends and the bottom line and project what you would do if you were #1 on a regular basis.  Many unprepared second bananas get overwhelmed during leadership transitions and take themselves out of contention for the top spot.  In the fast-paced business leadership game, having a personal plan for succession is the key to showing management you’re more than a support player.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Prodigal altar Boy Blog - 11 August 2013 - What a Long Strange Trip!

2013 – What a Long Strange Trip
Prodigal Altar Boy Blog
11 August 2013

It’s The Final Countdown (no, really!)

When I last posted, I was preparing for the Tidewater work-in-progress screening at the Basilica of St. Mary.  I purposely scheduled that screening for the anniversary of TQ’s death (24 April).

The screening was a success and I took the 60+ pages of feedback and used that to guide the next round of editing.  I had a consultation with Karen Everett at the end of June and looked forward to a leisurely stroll to the locked picture phase of editing.  In early May, I submitted the St. Mary’s work in progress cut to Docs In Progress for consideration.  I had not heard anything so figuring I had not made the cut, I put it out of my mind. 

In July, I got word that “The Trouble with TQ” had been selected for their August 9 Works In Progress screening.  The selection was fortuitous in that it pushed me to get that cut done sooner.  I used Karen’s written notes from the consultation and did an edit I also went to work finding a narrator and arranging to get the narration recorded.

I got a good referral from Robin Hamilton for voiceover talent Greg Williams.     Greg and I hit it off.  Hiring Greg was a stretch for me.  The biggest stretch was becoming a signatory to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) so I could hire Greg, who is a SAG talent.  Even with SAG’s Ultra Low Budget, going the SAG route was a big step.  More on that experience in a later blog, maybe.

After narration, I took a few days cutting the narration into the film.  I got that done in time to get a copy to the Takoma Park Community Center so the technical crew could test it on their system. 

Working with the graphic artist, Roberta Hoffman gave me an opportunity to review Karen Everett’s video notes.  Roberta was using the notes to fine tune graphics for the film.  I worked on the narration and the some fine cut editing.  I finished editing the morning of the screening. By the time that cut had rendered and DVD’s burned, I had about four hours until the screening. 

The screening was different from the Tidewater work-in-progress screening.  Docs In Progress took care of everything.  All I had to do was show up with the updated film.  Of course, I had dropped off the paintings from the film the week before. 

I was able to have a light dinner with some of the Advisory Board members before the screening, and that was an opportunity for members to meet each other and interact.  During the dinner, I got an email from Erica Ginsberg at Docs In Progress, laying out the ground rules of the evening.
The most interesting suggestion was, “The filmmakers who have gotten the most out of the experience tend to be the ones who spend most of the session LISTENING silently to feedback rather than sharing war stories or defending editorial decisions.  It sounded harsh, but in the end, that was good advice.

The screening was a success.  After the film finished, Erica invited the audience to share their feedback.  The feedback was very thoughtful and encouraging.  Board member Teresa Deltete took notes to share with the board.  The feedback showed the audience actually watched and paid attention to the film, so that was good. 

Two former parishioners from St. Kateri were in the audience.  I had not met them before, but having them there added credibility to the film.  Their feedback, as well as the feedback from the rest of the audience, gave me much to ponder.  I will spend a few days looking for was to address that feedback in the next round of editing.

A crowdfunding consultant, Kiley Kraskouskas, from Thinking Forward Media, attended the screening and we had a brief consultation the next day.  Kiley said she really liked the film and my key to success was to “exploit the niche status” of the film.  She gave me some great crowdfunding tips and encouraged me to “think big” in terms of my crowdfunding goals. 

Whew!  The screening was Thursday.  Friday we drove to the beach.  I will spend most of the time decompressing (running, biking, rocking that kettlebell and playing guitar), but I will dedicate some time to planning the way forward for “The Trouble with TQ.”

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


23 April is TQ’s birthday.  Thomas J. Quinlan would have been 84 years old today.  I was reading Richard Rohr’s “On The Threshold of Transformation” and day 357 (I’m reading it out of order) is titled “The Holy Fool.”  Given the title of one of TQ’s programs was called “Fool for Christ,” TQ came to mind immediately.  Rohr talks about becoming a fool in later life, but TQ was that holy fool, a true trickster, early on.  Something else Rohr writes resonates with TQ and his commitment to the Principle of Adaptation, “But as we get to be older men, and if we allow ourselves to grow wiser, we realize that anything can become a pathway to the Great Truth if it leads us to wonder.  Whether it was driving a VW Beetle down the church aisle, dressing up as the Blue Angel, simulating the yellow brick road to Oz (heaven) with thousands of painted bricks on the marble aisle of St. Mary’s, TQ continually led us to wonder.  TQ wanted us to know that anything could be a pathway to the Great Truth, and wanted everyone to find his or her own path. 

Often we mistake something that’s not our path as the “wrong” path.  Maybe that’s behind Justice Scalia’s reaction to TQ’s 1972 Palm Sunday liturgy.  That could be the reason for the complaint letters about The Wizard of Oz at Holy Family. Maybe that’s why funeral home directors grumbled at having to wheel coffins over the yellow bricks at St. Mary’s during the week of “The Wiz” liturgy.  TQ’s adaptation of the Gospel to modern times parallels Jesus’ parables, which illustrated scripture in terms people of the day could understand.    

Tomorrow I will be in Tidewater screening a work in progress cut of “The Trouble with TQ.”  There is more to be done with the movie, but I wanted to take time out of the process to show the many people who loved TQ the progress made on the film.  I hope to get some good feedback to fuel this final stage of editing.  TQ got to see certain segments I edited (an early trailer and a Nat Turner cut), but he didn’t live to see a rough cut.  Every time I talked to him, he would ask when the film was going to be finished.  The last phone conversation I had with TQ, the last thing he said before he hung up was, “Keep editing!”  I am on it.

Happy TQ Day!  Celebrate your Holy Fool!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

9 April 2013 The Prodigal Altar Boy Blog - I GET IT!

I get it!

I get it, I GET it, okay?  As the jazz cats would say, “I heard you twice the first time.”  

Yesterday, I was having a party.  It was a small party, because when you restrict the guest list, you can really get your groove on.  To be clear, it was a pity party (“…pity, party of one, pity, party of ONE.”)

It had been one of “those days,” where you don’t have a major disaster, just a string of little things.  My mother always tells me not to sweat the small stuff, but I was not listening that day.  I love my job, but it was a struggle going in yesterday.  The work in progress screening is breathing down my neck and I have a finite amount of time to be prepared.  Add to that, the scale was not my friend that day and I have a 5k race looming in the distance.

After settling in at home, the last thing on my mind was editing, even though working through the story consultant’s notes was on the schedule.  I went through the mail and there were three envelopes.  There were two donation checks and a letter from someone requesting tickets for the screening in Norfolk
One check was from a donor who has sent a check every month since February.    Not only did she send another check, SHE THANKED ME “...for being so appreciative of my donations.”  There was another check from a first-time donor in New York. 
However, the letter requesting tickets drove the message home.  After requesting tickets, she tacked on the following postscript:

“P.S.:  I am looking forward to your next film and many more after that.”


So here I am, feeling sorry for myself, whining about work I have to do on this movie, and here is someone out there waiting for my NEXT movie.  Add to that, two people, one a complete stranger, took the time to send their hard-earned cash to some guy in Baltimore complaining because of some numbers on a scale.
It was a transformative moment.  Once the implications of these acts set in, I had to humble down and knock out that editing.  I put in a solid three hours on the consultation edits and got a lot done.
Do I still feel pressure about the screening?  I still feel the pressure, but it is not a despairing pressure.  It is the pressure to do well because I have many people expecting good things from this project.  It is a pressure to bring “The TQ Project” home, literally and figuratively.  It is a pressure to look at where all this started and moving it to the next level.  

I get it.   It is not about me.  It is about honoring TQ, honoring all the people who loved him.  It is about all the people who support this project, and in doing so, say they believe in me.  It is about not letting them down.

I get it.

The Trouble with TQ
(thank you all)

Carrie J. Hughes

Toni Fesel
Minnie Thomas
Nancy Dixon
Mary Emmert
Bruce McKenna
Eugene Strelka
Fr. John Dorgan
William J. Griggs
John & Katie Zawacki
Eileen Kanzler
Hank & Claire Tessandori
Pete & Margie Langlands
Richard Mooney
Rev. Francis J. Gargani
Hal & Sally Neher
William T. Prince
Tom & Mary McFeely
Linda & Garry Cooke
Ed & Maureen Marroni
John Lane
Christopher Schafer
Walter and Alveta Green
Rich and Gina Wightman
Joan Williams (continuing donor)
Bridget Browne
Elnora P. Green
Sal Vitale
Kathleen Waugh
Joseph McDonough
Jone Langlands
Young Ja Jun
Mary Minkowski
Rev. David Ungerleider
Jean and Bob Young (continuing donors)
Sisters of Notre Dame
Bob & Adele DellaValle-Rauth
John Buford
Kathy Heatwole
Mrs. Jean Thompson
James Wilson Jr.
Valerie Wilson
Eileen Lyver
Charlotte Pacheco
Rev. Louis Benoit
Kim Howell
Kathy Dowdy
Bridget Browne
Amber Medalla
Howard and Sarah Malloy
C. Douglas and J. Claudette Starrett
Arthur T. McNeill
Virginia D. Williams
John & Mary Ryan
Mary Moran
Winnie Flora
Monica Serra (Serra James Studios Inc.)