• Top of the World

    Written by Ken Pontac
    Iceland, July 14, 2004

    Holy Christ! Iím in Iceland!

    The sun shines all the time here, and the hot water from the tap smells like a fart from a sourstomached old man whoís eaten too many pickled eggs. The signage is incomprehensible, peopleís names are unpronounceable, and the money looks like panels from a comic book regaling tales of stern, bearded men wearing odd hats and holding ponderous tomes.

    That being said, the weather is fabulous (thatíll change), the food is delicious (Iím gonna get fat), and the women are giant blond goddesses (I canít touch Ďem).

    How did I get to this strange place? What happened? Oh, yeahÖ the storyís starting to emerge from my sleep deprived brain.

    A week ago I got a call from my pal, Mark Zaslove, whoís the Story Consultant for a series called LAZYTOWN. The show is being produced for Nick Jr., and can be seen on Nickelodeon weekdays at 10:30 and 11:00 AM. LAZYTOWN is described as ďa fresh new television series designed to engage and motivate kids to make healthier choices in their everyday lives. The show is action-adventure on a small scale, encompassing movement, music, and comedy in an entertaining story.Ē A writing spot had just opened and Mark had thrown my name into the hat as a potential scribbler. He described the show to me and it sounded like a hoot. I told him I was interested.

    After discussing the offer with my lovely wife Susan, we decided that it was worth biting the bullet and dealing with an extended separation. After all, how often do you get a chance to travel to Iceland? Resumes got sent, agents got called, and a week later my plane was setting down on a volcanic island on the top of the world!

    I know itís going to be a crazy adventure. And a TON of work. My first day here I was up for 30.5 hours (a new personal record!). After my grueling plane ride I got two hours of sleep before I was driven to the studio, given a quick tour by Creative Consultant Mark Valenti, and plopped in front of a video monitor where I watched every episode of LAZYTOWN that had been produced to date. If youíve seen the show you can imagine what kind of a sensory overload that was.

    The studio is the type of creative madhouse those of you familiar with that sort of environment might imagine, but for various reasons itís even more so. The place embodies the spirit of country, where the capricious climate has given birth to the phrase, ďIf you donít like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes and it will change.Ē The production is driven by a mercurial genius named Magnus Scheving, and he is, as far as I can tell, the personification of this unpredictable island. Magnus is such an incredible character that Iíll have to devote a separate entry just to describe his dynamic persona, and even then, words wonít do the man justice. Heís one of the most energetic and amusing fellows Iíve ever met, and sharp as a damn whip.

    I canít talk about Magnus without mentioning his co-star: Stefan Karl, who plays Robbie Rotten in the show. For those of you who know what Iím talking about, Stefan is the Icelandic version of Rob Paulsen. For those of you who donít know what Iím talking about, that means that heís a very funny, very shmoozy, very ambitious actor. We get along famously. More on him later.

    The final member of the live action cast is Julianna Rose Mauriello, a remarkable thirteen year-old who is absolutely incandescent on the screen. Sheís a triple threat (singing, dancing and acting), and sheís also smarter than the average kid her age. Her mother, Kahlua OíCallahan, promises to be a breath of straightforward American air during future late night bull sessions. I look forward to them in smoky dark clubs with endless coffees.

    Iíve met a lot of people in a (very long) day, and Iíve barely scratched the surface of my experience. A good writer leaves his audience wanting more, though, so Iím going to sign off for now. Tomorrow morning Iím going to take a walk and see what kind of place Iíve landed in. One more image follows, just to amuse and clarify the ďLand of the Midnight SunĒ concept. The picture below was taken at midnight, outside of the flat where Iím crashing.

    One final, disconcerting thing: as Iím falling asleep tonight I keep hearing the voices of women, speaking fragments of trivial sentences in English, clear as a bell and right in my ear. When I wake with a start they stop. Is the place Iím staying haunted, or are the walls just thin?

    Good night to all
    Ken Pontac, Iceland
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