From ‘Return to Me’ to ‘A Beer With Baron,’ creating a scene is a marvelous, meticulous art

Twenty summers ago, on a warm mid-July night, my wife, Bridgett, and I ambled out of a Chicago bar.

Sauntering toward the corner, we passed an older gentleman sweeping the sidewalk. On the fire escape directly above us, a woman gazed at us with a deep melancholy. And all around were scores of people, each playing their part in this moment.

Then, we did it again…and again…and again–at least a dozen times in all.

You can see the last portion of how it looked, almost exactly one hour into “Return to Me,” a sweet, heart-string-tugging movie directed by Bonnie Hunt and made possible by a crew that shot at the Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in the Old Town neighborhood

 

The sweeping man (who appears a few moments before this clip begins) is Carroll O’Connor, the actor best known for his role as Archie Bunker in the 1970s hit series “All in the Family.” The woman on the fire escape: actress Minnie Driver, playing the film’s lovelorn female lead.

The scene lasted for all of 20 seconds, but it took at least a half-hour to secure all the angles and options that Hunt sought. It was a meticulous process that turned these mundane moments into something marvelous. The scene concluded as Bridgett and I kissed at the edge of the crosswalk, Driver peering down wistfully. For this point in the scene, I asked Hunt in jest: “What’s my motivation?”

“Not to sleep on the couch tonight,” came the reply from Hunt, who knew my wife through her role as the movie’s payroll accountant.. (Our extra moment was an impromptu happening, after we visited the set during a date and one thing led to another.)

More recently, on a cold November afternoon, I forged a recurring relationship with a bar door–and deepened a partnership with another director, Joe Kreml, who is every bit as dedicated to his craft as Bonnie Hunt is to hers. This time, I walked up to it (multiple times), reached for its handle (repeatedly), then proceeded through it (time and again). The occasion was filming a new introduction to “A Beer With Baron,” my talk show for the Village of Oak Park’s Channel 6.

One of many takes of the One Lake coasters.

After 10 episodes at The Beer Shop in Downtown Oak Park, Kreml, Oak Park’s video manager, and I agreed the time was right for a change–to the very eastern border of the community, where One Lake Brewing opened in May.

Kreml and I have collaborated on video projects for over 10 years, dating back to my super-heroic turn as “Super Shopper Spotter,” a role that I imagined to turn a “shop local” campaign from a tedious slog to a fun, instant-gratification exercise in customer rewards. While I concocted the campaign’s campy framework, complete with a garish costume that included a bright red cape, Kreml took it to another level with an outstanding, outlandish commercial that highlighted his creative mind.

Last week, once we moved our shoot indoors–mercifully so, given the mid-30s temperature–One Lake Brewing owners Jason and Kristen Alfonsi joined the action.

Capturing the beer tap’s pour.

Jason greeted me as I came inside, and then Kristen had the more multi-tasking role of turning to greet me as she was in the midst of bar upkeep, hearing my request for two beers, and then turning to begin the process of pouring the drinks.

If we did each of those portions once, we did it at least 10 times, and the Alfonsis were great sports with each successive run-through.

But the undeniable, genuine star of the show, thanks to his technical acumen and tenacious attention to detail, is Kreml. Check out the 21-second intro, as part of the entire One Lake debut of A Beer With Baron that features cartoonist Keith J. Taylor:

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Lessons abound in The Daily Northwestern’s coverage of Jeff Sessions, protesting students

Gallons of ink, mostly cyber-based, have already been spilled. More will surely flow.

This is in the wake of recent events on the campus of my alma mater, Northwestern University—events set in motion by an on-campus speech last week by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to a group of Republican students.

From what I have gathered, The Daily Northwestern did a solid job reporting on his talk, as well as the protest of his presence on campus and general role in the Trump administration.

Then, editorial back-pedaling ensued, in the face of some students who expressed upset over certain elements of The Daily coverage—including its posting of protest photos on at least one of its social-media platforms.

On Tuesday, Charles Whitaker, Dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, issued a statement that addresses myriad tentacles spawned by this saga. His observations are spot-on, and if you read nothing else about this entire chain of events, I urge you to read it here.

Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications Dean Charles Whitaker.

One especially important excerpt from Dean Whitaker:

“And to the swarm of alums and journalists who are outraged about The Daily editorial and have been equally rancorous in their condemnation of our students on social media, I say, give the young people a break. I know you feel that you were made of sterner stuff and would have the fortitude and courage of your conviction to fend off the campus critics. But you are not living with them through this firestorm, facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility that has been directed their way on weaponized social media. Don’t make judgments about them or their mettle until you’ve walked in their shoes. What they need at this moment is our support and the encouragement to stay the course.”

Those words–in particular, “stay the course”–helped spur on the latest financial contribution from my household to The Daily Northwestern. The 138-year-old publication is where, as a sports reporter, columnist and editor, I enjoyed some of my best and most formative collegiate experiences. (And truth be told, it was my wife, also a Wildcat alum, who was the driving force behind the donation; after reading Whitaker’s statement, she couldn’t find the “Donate” button on The Daily Northwestern site fast enough.)

Some other initial reactions and reflections:

  1. Through each mundane story, energizing scoop, sloppy mistake, heart-wrenching encounter, and so many impossible-to-categorize pieces that I have written, here is a lesson that seeped gradually, inexorably into my soul: being a good journalist is a courageous, vulnerable, noble, messy pursuit.

2. Perfection is impossible, and excellence is not only elusive, but in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, how someone responds to a story frequently reveals much more about them than any strengths or flaws in the story itself. To wit: this entire Sessions coverage fall-out.

3. Good, old-fashioned reporting on difficult subjects has always been met with fierce resistance and come under assault. Some of my best and most important work has also been among my most reviled reporting—by a few vocal, and heavily vested, individuals. It’s human nature, after all, to try to deflect, or eclipse entirely, light that is unflattering or worse.

4. When compared with my primary time as a journalist (1984-2006), what is so dramatically different now: the weaponizing of social media. As Dean Whitaker so aptly describes it in his statement—the “brutal onslaught of venom and hostility.”

At times, journalists are the targets of that vitriol. More than ever, it is essential to develop thick skin and recognize that taking heat comes with the territory. In fact, and in my experience, it is often an indication that we are on the right track.

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Keeping Up With the State-Bound Oak Park and River Forest Huskies Girls’ Cross Country Team

Two weeks ago, when I sang the praises of Melissa Isaacson’s “State,” I foreshadowed a return to my sports writing roots as I chronicle my daughter’s cross-country team’s postseason efforts.

Having transitioned some 13 years ago from a long career in journalism to public relations and other forms of communication, I call these “random acts of journalism.” Or, as someone else recently put it, “You can take the writer out of journalism, but you can’t take the journalism out of the writer.”

The state-bound OPRF Huskies, after their sectional success. My daughter, the tallest one, is far right. (Megumi Hoshi photo)

Fortunately, against a historic backdrop highlighted by the tumult of whether Chicago Public School runners could compete during, and after, the CPS teachers’ strike, my daughter and her teammates have performed as well as hoped.

This past Saturday, they advanced from the Sectional at Lake Park High School in Roselle to the Class 3A state finals on November 9th in Peoria.

Here is the feature that I posted on the Oak Park-River Forest Patch page.

I am acutely aware of, and extraordinarily impressed by, the dedication and discipline that cross country athletes must bring to this often-lonely pursuit. An amusing, but spot-on, phrase from long-distance runners is that their sport is other sports’ punishment.

So, I made sure to emphasize those sacrifices with excerpts such as this one:

How they booked a return trip, the school’s 10th since 1979, is a testimony to their hard work and determination. On a day where the temperature dipped into the 30s and the three-mile course made for a muddy slog, the seven OPRF runners brought all their training to fruition.”

Of course, their success means my self-appointed assignment isn’t over. Keep an eye out for their performance “at State.”

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