Day: February 14, 2013

“Air America” – My 15 Minutes of Fame

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In 1968, artist Andy Warhol said, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I don’t know exactly what he meant by that; nor do many others who have paraphrased him, but I think he was probably right. I do know that, after 50 years of roaming the globe, and, often like the character in ‘Forest Gump,’ being on the fringes of momentous events, I’ve probably accumulated my 15 minutes – and, maybe even a few seconds more.

English: Robert Downey, Jr., taken at the AIR ...

If being seen in a movie counts as fame, though, I think I had my quarter-hour in the limelight in 1990, or maybe it was 1991, when I had the opportunity to be an extra in the movie, ‘Air America,’ starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. Unlike those who actively seek notoriety, my moment under the lights was a combination of pure accident, and being in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time.

I was the U.S. Consul in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai when the movie company came to town to do the location shooting for this black comedy about the Vietnam War, and the exploits of the CIA’s airline’s operations in Laos. They recruited some 50 people in Bangkok as extras, many of them Vietnam veterans who’d settled in Southeast Asia rather than returning to the U.S. As a matter of information, I too am a Vietnam vet, but I’d chosen to enter diplomatic service after leaving the military over running a bar in Patpong.

One of my duties as consul was to provide services to American citizens in the area, and unfortunately, one of the movie company’s assistant directors, an Israeli-American, became ill and died shortly after they arrived. His was a complicated case, because his American relatives wanted the remains shipped to Israel. I was around the set so often taking care of his affairs, someone (and, I no longer recall who) suggested I be an extra in the film’s bar scenes which were being filmed at a local pub. My boss, the consul general, and the embassy approved, and since the filming was being done at night, I didn’t even have to miss work.

After several days of ‘drinking,’ ‘dancing,’ and ‘carousing,’ for the camera; all make believe, but very much like activities I’d participated in in the 60s as a young military man; the company began packing up to travel to Mae Hong Son, on the Burmese border, to film the flight and pilot briefing scenes. I was asked to go along to be an ‘extra’ pilot. Again, the embassy approved, provided I used my personal leave to do it. No problem, I thought, after all, it might be fun.

It was; in Mae Hong Son, most of the shooting was during the daytime, so evenings were free for my wife and I to explore the border area. We even had a couple of free days that allowed a visit to a nearby village occupied by the famous long-neck women. I had a chance to spend an evening with Mel Gibson; barely recalling riding back to my hotel on the back of his rented motorbike; and shoot the breeze with some of the other actors like Tim Thomerson.

But, we’re still getting to the ‘fame’ part. During the shooting, the director finally noticed that even though the film was about the Vietnam War, a war in which a large percentage of the American GIs were people of color, there were only two ‘extras’ that were non-white. Kudos to Roger Spottiswoode; he had a small role written in – or maybe it was there all along and they just hadn’t cast it – of a few lines. It was near the end of the movie, when the Mel Gibson character ‘rents’ a military plane to move his ‘collection’ of weapons, and features Gibson, Downey, and the ‘dispatcher.’ Someone suggested I read for the part, along with three or four other guys, including the only other person of color, and to my utter surprise, I was chosen.

I mean, I had to sign a contract and everything, and the rate paid for filming that scene was more than I got as an extra for two or three days shooting. It was done in two takes – and didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, although, in final editing, they dubbed in someone else’s voice. I didn’t get to go back to L.A. with them – no sense trying to push my luck, I figure.

The movie only did so-so in the theaters, but it’s been on cable movie channels around the world regularly. I saw it on South African cable around this time last year, and several people have mentioned seeing someone who ‘looked like me’ on hotel cable when they’ve been traveling. It’s also available on DVD for anyone who is a fan of not quite B, but not A movies either.

It was fun doing it, although, I wouldn’t think of acting as a profession. Hours are too erratic, and with all the food on movie sets, unless you have a real action part, you’re in danger of putting on weight.

Now, you might well ask, what does this have to do with anything? Well, nothing really; I just happened to be getting a jump on spring cleaning and ran across a faded copy of the contract I signed way back then, and thought it’d be a fun thing to write about.

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Review: “Management Matters” by John Hunter

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Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, by John Hunter. Curious Cat Media.

This work has no ISBN.Russell Ackoff at Washington University in St....

In the opening chapter of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, author John Hunter writes, “I believe most of what managers should know was written down decades ago.” I take the meaning of this sentence to be, ‘there are no new management ideas or techniques.’ The author does not, in fact, offer anything new. But, he does provide an analysis of the ‘old’ ideas that he believes to be effective in making an enterprise, any enterprise, more productive.

Hunter calls on the philosophies of such management and leadership gurus as W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Taiichi Ohno, to show how anyone can, with some degree of effort, turn an organization around and make it more capable.

This is a relatively useful book for someone who wants an introduction to management, but there are a few flaws that I feel compelled to point out. First, the author focuses on management, and seems to ignore the importance of effective leadership in building enterprise capability. There are several typos in the book, and some formatting issues in the e-Book version that are a bit distracting, but only of limited negative impact. The area that really needs attention, though, is editing to correct grammatical errors through the text.  This sentence, for instance:  “People who are not willing to learn from the most useful management experts may still be able to accomplish some decent things, but they are very large barriers to reaching the full potential possible from wise management efforts.” I have bolded the areas of the sentence that give me pause.   Another example: “I don’t have much patience for managers not willing to learn from the experts.” The decline in proper use of the language, brought on some believe by the proliferation of electronic media, has inured many of us to hasty grammar, but in a book about enterprise capability, this detracts greatly from what is otherwise a good little book.

The author says that he will be updating the book from time to time. Even with its faults, I enjoyed reading it, and sincerely hope some judicious editing will be his top priority for a subsequent edition.

I give it two of five stars for effort.

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