Film Festival Success for Jordan’s Jackhammer!

As the writer of Jordan’s Jackhammer, I’m very proud to announce the film has been accepted into three film festivals!

  1. Flager Film Festival in Flager, FL  http://flaglerfilmfestival.com/
  2. Borrego Springs Film Festival in the CA desert http://www.borregospringsfilmfestival.org/
  3. Oregon Underground Film Festival https://filmfreeway.com/festival/OregonUndergroundFilmFestival

The competition to get into film festivals is steep, so it’s great that our short has gotten in the door at these three. The film has been entered into several other festivals, so I’m hopeful the producers will have more good news to share soon.

Both the Flager and the Borrego Springs Film Festivals are planned for January 2015, so if you are in the neighborhood, please check them out. 🙂

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Jersey City This Weekend – Art Studio Tour and Film Fest

If you are a Jersey City resident, or live nearby, and if you are interested in Art and Film, you’ll want to hang around town this weekend!

The 24th Annual Jersey City Artist Studio Tour is taking place. This is a highly anticipated event, where hundreds of artists show their work by opening their studios to the public, or through group exhibitions at selected locations. The art event runs from 12N to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Simultaneously, there will also be the first inaugural Jersey City Film Festival going on at several locations in downtown JC. For just $25 you can get an all access pass to see any of the film selections, and there is a full slate of offerings available.

So stick around downtown Jersey City and enjoy!

My Short Film Adventure – Post Production Editing

What could be better than squeezing into a tight editing room with a professional editor and the director of a short film for many hours? If you ask me, the writer of said film, nothing could be better. 🙂

Paul, our editor; Hiroshi Hara our director and me ... intently editing a scene from Jordan's Jackhammer

Paul, our editor; Hiroshi Hara our director and me … intently editing a scene from Jordan’s Jackhammer

This week, I was invited to participate in two multi-hour editing sessions and it was thrilling to watch all the footage being crafted into the final product.

What’s especially satisfying is seeing how we are able to use so much of the wonderful work our actors gave us in take after take while the film was being shot. There are some really incredible moments based on the performances.

Ramon at the editing session

Ramon at the editing session

And although I won’t give away any of the jokes in the film (because it is a comedy, after all) what I can tell you is that some of the jokes are full on belly laughs. The pacing seems to be coming together nicely too.

There were some important lessons learned for me during this process too.

For example, when the script is X number of pages, it doesn’t account for any organic creative ideas that can spontaneously arise on set and might add to the total length of the piece.

Also, it’s probably obvious but … the number of days of shooting have a huge impact on what you have to work with in the editing room. We were extremely fortunate to have had four full days of filming for this short. And you’d think four days is a lot of coverage, and it is, but when it comes to the number of takes, the angles of a shot … all of that contributes to the choices available when everything is being pieced together.

For anyone that’s never been in an editing room, the process is fascinating. You are literally going through the film second by second. I’m not exaggerating. All four of us (see photos above) had an extended discussion about a 35 second “mini-scene” in the film and debated over whether or not that segment should be shortened to 29 seconds. We were split 50/50 for a while, but eventually decided to keep the full 35 second version in the film.

Yes, it’s that specific.

And while we got very close to a final version, we’re still not 100% completed with our editing yet. We’re going to have additional viewing time to provide feedback.

Once we have a “film lock,” it means the final length of the film is locked and set. Once that happens, the footage can be handed over to our sound design guy for sound and sound effects (which are numerous throughout), and our composer for the music, and also for voice over talent too. (Yeah, we are pretty fancy shmancy!)

I was extremely encouraged by our editor’s comments that “the production values are very high” on our little film. If they are, it’s due to the wonderful backing of our executive producers Ramon and Mike, of course supported by the cast and crew. (The script may have had a little to do with it too. ;-D)

Now, if we’re very fortunate, once everything is done and ready to be shown… our executive producers will be able to get this short film into some film festivals too. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself; that would be another posting in the future!

 

Cold in July – A hot ticket

If you live in the NYC area and are interested in seeing indie films, there are a few great places to see them, including the IFC Film Center.

So last week when I wandered by the theater, and IFC was advertising a preview of Cold In July, the new Jim Mickle film starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson, I couldn’t resist and snapped up a ticket.

Cold in July

The preview included a Q&A session with director and co-writer Jim Mickle, fellow co-writer and actor Nick Damici and one of the main actors Don Johnson. That was the final bullet in the chamber for me, so to speak.

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Left to right - Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

Left to right – Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

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The film is set in Texas and follows Michael C. Hall’s character through a series of horrifying and life changing events, beginning with the shooting of a burglar / intruder into his home and ending … nearly two hours later … with a major scene of carnage.

I take it from Director Mickle’s comments at the preview that given the relatively low budget, the team was ready to make some compromises on certain aspects of the shooting but I must say that this does not look like a low budget film.

The DP did a great job on the look and feel of the place, and the costumes and sets felt authentic to time and place, even though the movie was actually shot in Kingston, upstate  NY rather than Texas. You would not know it to look at the film.

Hall, Shepard and Johnson did an excellent job in their roles. Shepard plays an ex-con just out of prison and he nails the performance by being understated and yet prone to threats and violence. Hall was perfect as the “joe civilian” who is lured into a world far beyond his normal suburban life, and Johnson was wonderful as the colorful bounty hunter. Johnson added a lot of levity and light-touch moments in an overall dark themed film.

The primary issues I had with the movie were the plot inconsistencies, and there were several.

Most glaring, for me, was in the first portion of the film. We’re told someone that is shot and killed is not who the cops are saying it is and Hall and Shepard actually go dig up the body to check. Sure enough, we are told ‘nope, it isn’t the guy we were told.’

Hall becomes a bit obsessed about who is this guy in the grave? It starts nagging at him, so much so that he starts snooping around on his own to find out. This leads him into other predicaments (which is the point, of course.) However, who is in the grave is completely dropped as the movie transitions into the middle segment and we never find out.

I’m not a fan of luring an audience into something using a dead body, and being told it’s “really important” only to have it drop away into nothing, without further explanation.

But, don’t get me wrong, this movie is so well acted and well made that it’s fun to watch. I am NOT a fan of shoot-em-up films with lots of carnage, and yet I felt myself willingly going along for the ride … much like Michael C. Hall’s character.

I’d recommend giving this movie a chance. It’s got a lot to like, especially the wonderful performances by Hall, Shepard and Johnson.

 

My Short Film Adventure – Writing Credit on IMDB!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update on my short film adventure, and that’s because filming finished in April and now the short is in post-production.

An editor has been brought on board, and they will produce a rough cut of the film to be reviewed by the Producers, the Director and with luck, me too. 😉

In the meantime, an entry for Jordan’s Jackhammer (working title) has been put on IMDB, and yours truly is listed as the Writer.

Woo Hoo! It’s my first IMDB film credit, and if I have anything to do with it, not my last.

If you want to check it out, there are two links of interest (from my perspective):

Jordan’s Jackhammer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3703880/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Carol Deminski, Writer: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6467027/?ref_=tt_ov_wr

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The excitement continues!

More Short Film Adventures – Filming the Short!

I am grateful that the Executive Producers Ramon Torres and Mike Karp have given me the go ahead to share top-secret backstage candid shots with you all on the making of our film project. 🙂

First, the cast is amazing! We have a talented set of actors playing the five roles in the movie. We had a table reading of the script on April 23rd. Here is the complete cast:

L - R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

L – R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

 

And then, this past weekend I was on the set to watch and participate in the filming. It was SO exciting!! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a film being made, nevermind a film that I wrote being made.

 

It was surreal to see actors speaking my lines, and then when the take was over, having the crew cracking up (the film is a comedy). I was humbled to have several of the actors tell me they loved the script and thought it was funny. I can tell you the actors brought so much to the interpretation, they made whatever I wrote funnier.
Also our director, Hiroshi Hara, is doing an fantastic job!
Here are some candid behind the scenes shots:
Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

 

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Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

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Close up of Lou's lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

Close up of Lou’s lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

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It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great including Andy Zou, our Assistant Director in the background

It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great

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Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn't sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn’t sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

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This coming weekend we will shoot the rest of the scenes and complete all of the filming. Everything has been shot on location in New York City, which is such a great backdrop for this story.

Then it’s off to editing for the final “making of the movie” along with the addition of the soundtrack and score and all the other bits needed for final polish.

More on this amazing, wonderful and exciting adventure soon!

Movie Review: Under the Skin is Underwhelming

Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Scarlett Johansson and written by Walter Campbell is the kind of movie you want to like, but can’t for many reasons.

The film opens with a highly abstract Kubrick-eque series of images that let the viewer know something is askew with reality from the start. It’s a kind of 2001 A Space Odyssey meets Aeon Flux meets I don’t know what.

Anyway, pretty soon we get to see Scarlett Johansson naked, while she undresses a corpse of a girl. Ms. J gets dressed in her clothes (hey, they fit!) What a way to go shopping…

Oh yeah, incidentally the whole film is shot in Scotland.

SPOILER ALERT… (don’t read beyond here if you don’t want spoilers)

Then her character (who has no name throughout the film) starts driving around in a van (not down by the river) looking to pick up guys. You think she is maybe trying to prostitute herself, but quickly realize she’s actually looking to seduce men into getting into her van so she can drag them off to a kill house.

All of the “killing” scenes are wierdly abstract. It shows her getting undressed, and them getting undressed. Yes, there are several scenes of full frontal male nudity and I will add the gentlemen in question are in various states of arousal which is, to say the least, not what you see in Hollywood.

In any case, the guys get nekked and then they walk toward her on this glassy black surface. Eventually they sink into the floor and disappear.

Kinda wierd, no?

Yeah.

Okay, well she does that a few times… and by the time it happens for the third time it’s really boring. The pacing of this movie is SLOOOOOOOOOW.

The couple sitting in front of me got up and left before the third guy “died,” and even I was sitting there thinking, when do we get to see the plot unfold?

Answer … the plot unfolds about 2 minutes before the end of this two hour debacle.

Rather than torture you the way the movie tortured me, I’ll cut to the chase. Mind you, this is literally the last 2-3 minutes of this film:

The character is an alien being from another planet. I guess the alien was seducing the guys to feed on them, maybe. (Who cares?)

In the very last scene the alien peels off Scarlett Johansson’s body and underneath is a shiny black skinned bald creature – that still somehow has Scarlett Johansson’s face. Then the alien gets doused in gasoline, is set on fire, runs into the woods, falls down, dies and burns up.

The last shot of the film is the black smoke from the body rising up into the sky. Ooooh, very moody.

And freaking annoying as hell.

Do not bother to see this film unless you are some guy who wants to see Scarlett Johansson naked, then in that case you can contribute to the paltry $1.1M box office this film is pulling in. Good luck with that…

My short film adventure, continued

About a month ago I posted My Short Film Adventure, So Far and this is a follow up post to that.

Lesson number one – just when you think the script is finished, it’s not.

It’s been really interesting to see the process unfold on this project, which I have to imagine is very similar to many film projects.

I was brought on board by the two producers of the film to write the script, but none of the rest of the crew had been hired yet. Including the director. Since I’m a newbie in this space, I figured once I delivered a script the producers liked, that’s what would be used. Not quite.

What I came to understand very quickly, is the relationship between the Director and the writer is extremely important. In fact, for future projects I’d want to know who the Director would be and meet that person before undertaking the writing of a script because the Director has to be comfortable with me as a writer and what I’m bringing to the table, and I have to be comfortable with that person as the Director and incorporating elements that person wants to ensure there is a meshing of the vision for the film.

Thankfully, the Director on this film project has been easy to work with and made some good suggestions about script changes and changing the order of scenes I wrote to enhance the overall flow of the film.

Then, the Director of Photography (DP) also made some modifications to the script based on the fact that the way I wrote certain descriptions would have been very expensive to shoot. (Oops, I didn’t realize that one description would have required a fancy crane shot!)

Then, the producers asked me would I mind terribly changing the ending because the location I’d written for the end scene was expensive and was proving difficult to secure. And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I change the nature of the pet of one of the characters because of other complications. Sure, I said. No problem. 🙂

And so it is that I’ve now delivered version 15 of the rewritten script, which might just be final. Maybe. Probably.

Except that…

I’m going to go out on a limb here (it’s not much of a limb) and guess that no final script, no matter how perfectly written, is exactly what’s delivered on screen. That’s probably a good thing in many cases.

The director and actors will do their job during the shooting of the film which will enhance and modify whatever is in the script, and then there will be an editing process which I’m sure will shape whatever comes out in the end as the final product for the entire crew’s efforts.

But while I’ve been pondering the script and laboring over whatever changes were needed, the producers have been really hard at work doing everything else. That included hiring a casting agent and casting the five roles in the film. I’m SO EXCITED by the amazing cast they’ve hired. These people are incredible actors with impressive credits to their names, I’m sure they will bring the characters I wrote fully to life!

The locations have mostly been nailed down, the director, DP and sound guy are onboard, and the producers keep going. I can’t even imagine how they are getting all this done so quickly.

But for me, the writer, my big event which is scheduled for next week, is a table reading of the script by the actors. It will be the first time the cast has been fully assembled and hearing the actors reading my dialogue will be thrilling.

Just a few days after that, filming will begin! If I’m given permission, I will bring a camera to the shoot and take photos of “the making of” this film.

So, up next, the actors reading my script together as a group for the first time. How exciting is that?!

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a charming marvel. It’s a masterful combination of great acting, great dialogue with an absurd and humorous plot, and unbelievable attention to detail.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen is a miracle worker. Every moment in the film is so carefully designed, it’s beautiful to watch for that reason alone. Even with the sound off, I think the movie would be so visually arresting the viewing would create its own pleasure. (My favorite “sound” moment in the film is when there are two cable cars that stop on a wire, and the squeaking of the cars on the wire is in time to the soundtrack music in the background. It’s pure genius.)

Every moment we spend in the Grand Budapest, both in the “past” and in the “present” are delights, right down to the cracked plaster, orange curtains, pink-boxed pastries, and purple and red uniforms for the Grand Budapest staff.

In typical Wes Anderson style, there are tons of cameos from his regular buddies, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and a few small parts played by well known actors that are new to the Anderson pantheon: Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton as an ideosyncratic 80-something dowager, and F. Murray Abraham as the narrator who steals every scene he’s in with Jude Law.

Jeff Goldblum is also amusing as the lawyer overseeing the dowager’s last will. Other star turns are put in by Edward Norton as a police chief, Willem Dafoe as a psychopathic killer, and Adrian Brody as the evil son of the deceased dowager.

The star of the movie, though, is Ralph Fiennes as the divine Monsieur Gustave. He plays this role with just the right touch.

Without giving the film away (this will be a spoiler-free review) I can highly recommend this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching the amazing performances of such a huge and distinguished cast, as they romp all over these incredible gorgeous sets.

I saw the movie in New York City, and much to my dismay, the film is only playing in two theaters in the city right now. I don’t know why this movie is in such limited release. That baffles me.

But if you are a Wes Anderson fan (and who doesn’t love movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox?) you should rush out to see this movie before it’s gone.

My short film adventure, so far

A few weeks ago I got a call from a guy I used to work with to catch up and say hi. He’d just returned from a year rotation overseas so it was good to hear from him.

To my surprise, instead of discussing “work and career stuff” he asked me if I’d like to work on a creative project. Since he knew about my short story publications, he asked if I’d be interested in writing a script for a New York City based short film project he’s putting together.

Yes! I said. Count me in.

I got together with him and the lead actor and discussed the idea for the film with them. I got excited and began brainstorming where the story could go. We decided I’d write a draft within three weeks, and reconnect once the first draft was ready.

Well, I was SO excited about the project, I wrote a 3000 word script (about 12 pages) within less than a week of our first meeting!

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve never written 3000 words of anything in a week. I have no idea what happened. Maybe it was pent up writing lurking inside me, but the script spilled out.

I iterated through several versions and then we set a follow up meeting to read through the draft. The follow up meeting went as I expected. I needed to shorten the script, eliminate one of the characters and drop the songs I’d selected (it’s expensive to have music in movies). I got good feedback on the dialogue too, and we agreed the main bones of the script were solid.

And so it is that – as of last night – the revised draft is in their hands, and will be used to “sell” the idea to the actors they want to be involved, the director and others needed to make the film.

In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never seen any of my characters come to life and speak their lines. The idea of seeing a script I wrote become an actual film with real actors is unbelievably exciting to me.

More to come on this short film project as it develops!

Review: The Lego Movie

I haven’t seen too many movies in the past few months, and it’s because a lot of the movies that are released lately are crap.

One of the ways I try and avoid seeing crappy movies is by reading the reviews on RottenTomatoes.com. When movies are poorly rated by the critics (or top critics) usually with corroborating explanations of why, I’ll probably skip the film unless it’s something I really want to see even if it isn’t perfect.

The Lego Movie was given one of the highest RottenTomatoes scores I’ve seen in a long time. It had a critic rating of 97% “fresh” which is near perfection. Critics universally praised the film, said it was very smart and funny … and would have great cross-over appeal between kids and adults. That was enough to convince me to see the movie, yes, in 3D.

I was utterly disappointed in the film. There were some funny moments, mostly in the first third of the film, but then the whole premise of the movie wore thin on me. The idea is that legos are inter-changeable, but then there is one lego man Emmet, who is not (very Monty Python’s Life of Brian, incidentally).

Emmet is on a hero’s quest that is fast paced, and yet still boring. I guess kids will like how quickly the transformer-like-lego-action on the screen unfolds, but it just could not hold my interest. About halfway through the film I considered getting up to leave, but I stuck it out … although I think I nodded off for a few minutes after the halfway mark.

If you like the idea of a fluffy pop-culture romp across many different 3D lego landscapes of a town, a wild west scenario, a space adventure, blah blah blah… then you may enjoy the movie. Don’t expect the laugh-a-minute reviews to be accurate, they’re not. The movie has some amusing moments, but on the whole there was a lot of silent watching in the packed theater today.

Spoiler Alert: The real “bottom” of the movie, for me, was zooming out to see Will Ferrell, (the voice of President Business when we’re inside lego-land) turning into the real life father with the giant lego set in the basement as his own adult playground that his son has “intruded upon.” Emmet, the hero of someone trying to be unique, is the son and dad soon realizes his “mistake” of trying to Krazy Glue the different lego creations together permanently because it doesn’t allow the son to go wild with his imagination.

Then they hug and all is well.

Puke.

The End

It’s Sick, How Healthy I Am

Yes, after over a year of being a vegetarian, I am disgustingly healthy. Even my doctor says so.

And while it took me several months, initially, to get over not being able to eat bacon and fried chicken, I’m now fully adjusted to not eating meat. However, as a vegetarian, I’ve continued eating eggs and dairy (cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, ice cream.)

That’s not all. I’ve also given up drinking caffeine.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I had a mean diet cola beverage habit and addiction. After giving that up, I realized all my morning fog and grogginess was due to caffeine. The very product that helps you “wake up” and gives you “energy” is the SAME product that makes you tired later in the afternoon when it wears off. If you don’t ingest caffeine, this cycle of up and down stops. When you feel tired, you’re actually tired.

What do I drink now, you may ask? Answer: Water. Lots of it. (If you do too, your digestive system will behave itself very nicely as it processes your meals.)

I also take vitamins. Everyday. A multi-vitamin, a B complex, and extra Vitamin C (500 – 1000 mg.) Sometimes, for an extra boost, I take an Omega 3 supplement. For people who aren’t taking vitamins but who want to start, I suggest beginning with a complete multi-vitamin of your choice.

I do not take the “best” vitamins on the market, and that’s because I’ve decided to take gummy vitamins. Why gummy? Because they’re extremely easy to take; I don’t have to swallow a pill… which means I will actually take them everyday. If you don’t like swallowing pills, you may also want to consider gummy vitamins or chewable vitamin C, for example.

And yes, now I exercise regularly too. Nothing crazy, I’m not out doing Ironman competitions…but I am walking 4-6 miles several times a week. Walking is good for you, easy to do (do you sense my theme?) and the only “equipment” needed is a pair of sneakers. Walking is easier on your joints than running, although it is also less aerobically intensive and therefore doesn’t burn as many calories.

Coincidentally, other “stuff I don’t do” includes drinking alcohol. I was never a drinker (maybe with the exception of one sip of champagne at a wedding) so I don’t miss it; nor do I miss the calories that get added to your diet when you drink.

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But now I am thinking about going some extra steps. And these steps will be more difficult and challenging.

I’m strongly considering giving up eggs and dairy. Just as it took me several months to give up meat, I’m not planning to go “cold turkey” (haha) on eggs and dairy.

My first step on this journey is giving up butter and liquid milk. Giving up milk is really easy for me because I don’t drink it. If I want a milk substitute, almond milk tastes great. Butter is also relatively easy because in cooking I use olive oil, but I do like the occasional piece of toast with butter that I’m now planning to “sacrifice.”

Eggs, on the other hand, are a HUGE DEAL. Giving up eggs is like… I don’t know. It’s big. Eggs are the last vestiges of “giving up meat” in my diet.

No more fried eggs!

No more omelettes!

Just like with chicken, I’d guess that when it comes to eggs I might slip up for a while. Maybe I’ll go to an egg white system before I wean myself off eggs, I’m not sure. I don’t mind admitting, it seems a bit scary, but I think I can do it.

ALL of these things are taking me down a path towards… ve… veg……… oh man, veganism. I’ll be one of those totally wierd, vegan hippies.

How did this happen?

Well, for starters, I FEEL BETTER.

I HAVE MORE ENERGY.

I am HEALTHIER now than I’ve been in years.

And yes, I’d like to lose even more weight than what I’ve lost to date.

Hell, I’d like to LIVE LONGER.

And while I’ve been investigating all this stuff, I recently came across a documentary that sums up some of the scientific literature behind why this works. It’s called “Forks Over Knives.” It’s interesting to watch, if this area is something you want to know more about, so I’d recommend it.

In the meantime, even I can’t believe that it’s possible to be even healthier than I am right now, which is pretty downright disgustingly healthy.

But I’m gonna try.