Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The casting session part two: Can't anyone throw a basketball?

Blake Browning Burns is holding a casting session for a television commercial at the studio of Rodney Jay Films. On arriving, Paul, the agency copywriter, has driven his sports car through the cyclorama wall at one end of the studio. He and Rodney Jay, the producer/director, are trading insults while they wait for the extras to arrive. The person to be cast will have to pretend to be a basketball player and throw a goal.

PAUL: By the way, is there going to be any casting done today or are we going to just trash talk each other until it's time to go home? Because if we are, I'd rather be doing it over lunch. Being insulted makes me hungry for some reason.

RODNEY (LOOKS AT HIS WATCH): Katja's got some tall extras coming in for the basketball scene. If we get one who can do it and looks half OK we might even be able to slip away for lunch ....

PAUL: Tall? Was that all? I said he had to be able to shoot a goal.

RODNEY: Well, we'll see ...

Half an hour later. Some models, extras and bit-part actors from a casting agency are milling about in the reception area waiting to audition. Paul and Rodney are waiting in a corner of the studio where a makeshift basketball ring has been rigged up.

KATJA (PRODUCTION ASSISTANT): Ready? I'll send them in one by one.

The first extra enters. He is a tall gangly hipster type with a red beard.

RODNEY (THROWS A BASKETBALL TO HIM): OK, you know what you have to do. Show us your stuff, dude. Like, work that ball, man!

PAUL: He probably speaks English, Rodney. Just because he has to play basketball in the ad doesn't mean you have to talk to him like a deranged homeboy.

The hipster tries to throw the basketball. He looks like an arthritic grandmother lobbing a dirty tea towel into a linen basket.

RODNEY: Great! Next. (ASIDE - TO PAUL) What is the advertising industry's current obsession with dopey-looking red-bearded blokes? I briefed the casting agency specifically to send no stereotypes, and the first one to walk on set is the hipster from central casting.

PAUL: Literally.

Another half hour passes. No-one has been able to do anything with the ball that looks remotely convincing despite Rodney's coaching.

PAUL: Is it that fucking hard? These bit-part actors are all the same. They're OK in a crowd of sixty thousand but they can't act to save themselves, let alone do something like throw a ball with any degree of conviction.

RODNEY: There's one more.

PAUL: I'll brief this one, Rodney. You're too soft. Call yourself a director? You pussyfoot around too much. They need proper direction.

The last extra enters.

PAUL (HOLDS THE BALL UP, SPEAKS TO THE ACTOR): See this? Know what it is? It's a basketball. Big tall men play a game with it. What I want you to do today is take this basketball and throw it ... just like this ...

He demonstrates, throwing the ball against the wall so that it will rebound. Except it doesn't; it deflects on a corner and flies off a a crazy angle.

PAUL: Well, not exactly like that. But you know what I mean.

He fetches the ball and hands it to the actor.

Do you think you can manage that? Because if you can't ...

He lets the question hang in the air like a threat. The actor reaches out for the ball and Paul pulls it away from him, teasing.

... you don't get the gig!

Now he hands it over. The actor just glares, then he takes the ball; quietly, slowly. Then he stands off to the left a little way, maybe five paces, and raises the ball slowly, still glaring at Paul.

He holds the ball in the air with two hands. Then his supporting hand disappears and the ball stays in the air. It is resting on one finger. It is not even spinning. Then nothing seems to happen and the ball is spinning. Nobody saw him spin it. Then he stops spinning it and suddenly he leaps sideways and the ball disappears somewhere near his legs, bounces unseen, staccato on the floor, and reappears somewhere around his head. The ball darts around like it's on a string, around the actor's body and against the wall. He dribbles it to the far end of the studio and with one flick of the wrist curls the ball thirty metres towards the basketball ring, into which it drops. The extra catches the ball directly on the rebound and finishes by slamming the ball at Paul. It hits him square on the chest. His script clipboard flies out of his hands, and he flies backwards and lands on the floor. Somehow, the ball magically ends up back in the actor's hands without seeming to have left them. He tosses the ball lightly to Rodney Jay, turns on his heels, and walks off set.

Katja enters.

KATJA: Hi guys, how did the audition go? By the way, that last guy wasn't just a bit-part actor. He's an American basketballer travelling in Australia in the off-season and trying out for local acting roles. And what's up with you, Paul?



The casting session, part one: Copywriter crashes the set.

A casting session for a bit-part actor in a television commercial is being held at Rodney Jay Films, a converted warehouse which encompasses an open-ended film studio. The studio is used to park the crew's vehicles when shooting is not taking place. It has white walls which curve around to the floor to avoid shadows and create a seamless background during film shoots. This is known as a cyc (cyclorama) background.

Lighting cables snake around odd bits of furniture and chairs. In one corner of the cyc, a table is scattered with scripts, unwashed cups and a plate of cold, tired toasted sandwiches.

Rodney Jay is sitting at the table with a cigarette stuck in his mouth when a red sports car drives blithely into the studio through the barn door, parks too close to the cyc wall, and its rapier-like nose impales the set with a splintering crash of plywood.

PAUL (COPYWRITER WITH AGENCY BLAKE BROWNING BURNS; GETS OUT OF THE CAR AND SLAMS THE DOOR): Where did that fucking wall come from? I didn't even see it.

RODNEY JAY (SHAKES HIS HEAD SADLY AS IF IN SILENT AGREEMENT WITH MOST OF THE INDUSTRY ABOUT THE STUPIDITY OF ADVERTISING COPYWRITERS): Don't worry, Paul. It's like an optical illusion. You have to park further away from the wall than you think. We'll fix it. I'll call the carpenter. Don't worry about it.

PAUL: Just put it on the bill, Rodney.

RODNEY (SLIGHTLY SARCASTIC): Along with dinner at the Flower Drum, the five lunches we had last week and our 'location search' trip to Alice Springs. Is there actually any money left to make an ad?

PAUL: (LAUGHS): There's always money left, Rodney.

RODNEY: You wouldn't be saying that if it was your own money, Paul.

PAUL: But it's not, Rodney. And if it was, I wouldn't be using you.


PAUL: I'm not sure myself, Rodney. Because I still haven't decided whether I like you or not. Even after five lunches.

RODNEY: Sounds like something my wife said once.

PAUL: See, that proves it.

RODNEY: Proves what?

PAUL: That you're a Jekyll and Hyde character? That your wife and I are indecisive? I don't know. And why are we having this conversation?

RODNEY: Because you drove through my fucking studio wall, that's why.

PAUL: Well if you're going to have an optical illusion for a car park it serves you right. I told you to put it on the bill.

RODNEY: And by the way, if you didn't drive such a low pointy car you could probably see out of it better.

PAUL: Are you calling me short now?

RODNEY: No, I'm calling you a wanker for driving a sports car. Nothing to do with your height.

PAUL: I like sports cars. What is it about people thinking people who drive sportscars are wankers? Or worse?

RODNEY: It's just a vague unfair generalisation that happens to be completely true in your case.

PAUL: Well, guess what, Rodney. My other car is a Volvo. Would I suddenly stop being a wanker if I drove in here in my Volvo instead? Or would you call me some other stupid name?

RODNEY: Not sure. Try it and see. Just don't drive it through the scenery. And why have you got both a sportscar and a Volvo? Why don't you split the difference and drive a Lexus?

PAUL: I had a Toyota Avalon once. That was similar. But I always wondered why they named it after an airport. Or a singer.

RODNEY: Or a Bryan Ferry song.



Romantic dinner.

1. The meal

Chop three medium onions finely and fry on low heat in half butter and half olive oil - about a tablespoonful of each - until transparent.

Add a cup of white wine and the juice of a lemon. Grate some nutmeg into the onions (or nutmeg powder if you haven't a nutmeg) and add salt and pepper. Keep the heat low and cook the onions until the fluid is reduced and the onions are shimmering.

Remove onions. Using the same pan, quickly fry thin slices of floured calves' liver, adding a little more butter and olive oil if necessary. A few minutes either side is adequate depending on thickness.

Place fried liver on the onions and serve with spinach and polenta or baked scalloped potatoes.

As the onions in the recipe melt down with the lemon juice, wine and nutmeg, the resulting aroma will have your neighbours at the door if you're not careful. You don't want your neighbours over tonight. Lock the door from the inside before you start. Call the dish Fegato Alla Veneziana if you wish but it is just calves' liver with onions to me.

2. The song.

What a Difference a Day Makes, by Dinah Washington. No-one on earth has ever tired of this song.


Three intellectual giants discuss the subject of the week.

George Orwell, 1947:
... the answer can only lie in a sort of mass hypnosis, or 'epidemic suggestion'. ... one is not dealing with a reasoned opinion but with something akin to religious faith. Throughout history, says Tolstoy, there has been an endless series of these 'epidemic suggestions' ... over which the whole world grew violently excited for no sufficient reason. There are also sudden short-lived crazes for new political and philosophical theories, ... especially in literary circles ...
Paul Monk, 2018:
The problem with social media is that prairie fires of moral outrage and tribalistic sentiment keep sweeping through it. ... as in the present case, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the cultural revolution in Mao Zedong’s China, with mobs denouncing ...
Maureen of Craigieburn, Herald Sun letters, Friday:
To all the critics: get over yourselves.


How to improve your next roast.

Beetroot and horseradish cream.

Peel and grate a beetroot. Chop a small onion finely. Mix the two in a bowl with a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fold a tablespoon or two of horseradish cream and the same amount of sour cream through the beetroot and onion mixture.

Spoon generously onto thick slices of well-done rib roast, or porterhouse steak ... or roasted potatoes ... or in corned beef sandwiches on sourdough ...


Reasons to leave advertising: #1 and #2 of about 65 million.

Reason 1

No-one briefs jobs any more.

They send emails. You cannot stack emails in an in-tray. So you forget what you're supposed to do by the time six million other emails have arrived. And, no, don't tell me to print the fucking email. I don't have an in-tray six million emails deep.

Reason 2

No-one debriefs jobs any more. They send emails. The other day, I received an email with the following message:

Good morning writer

The client has now read through the copy and has supplied feedback as follows:

Headlines to be more visually eye catching. Re-visit the copy contents as some of it is not factually correct. The client has supplied a couple of PPT presentations containing lots of info re the product.


Idiot account director.

The idiot account director just signed his death warrant.

How do you write a visually eye-catching headline? I wouldn't know. I'm just a writer. Get the art director to use a different typeface. Or something.

As for the factually incorrect copy contents, the factuality or non-factuality all came out of the idiot account director's brief. How would I know if the spline of an end-bolt in the circulating ball of a universal-jointed rocket axle's cross-member is one-eighth of an inch thick or two-eights?

To add insult to injury, the idiot account director attached NOT ONE but TWO powerpoint presentations for me to waste three days delving into, in order for me to do his dirty work and extrapolate (is that a word?) some information of guaranteed factually-correct status as proven in laboratory tests.

Did I do it? Of course I didn't.

I emailed him right back and said if your head was as loose as this debrief it would be rolling around on the ground and I would kick it from here to Venus.

He laughed. They always laugh. I could hear him in his cupboard-like office just down the corridor.

He said he would get back to me with the facts, but that was three days ago.

Maybe there are no facts at all associated with this particular product. What happens when there are no facts?

Now I'm getting frightened as well as angry, in a weird metaphysical or philosophic kind of way, like Kant or Descartes or Hegel thinking about something impossible and frowning wisely at the same time and getting paid to do it.

That's it. I'll become a philosopher.

Philosophers never get sent emails from account service people. Or do they?