Review: 2020 Kia Soul EV

Our brand spanking new EV, Spiff

We drove Spiff, named after Spaceman Spiff in Calvin and Hobbs, off the lot last week. It’s our first all electric vehicle and full of surprises. But before I tell you about it, I want to have a moment of silence for our dear departed Toyota Sienna van, Blando, the best vehicle to date I have ever owned. Just last week I had five heavy 5/8″ 4 X 8 sheets of OSB, three sheets of 4X8 drywall, and three eight foot lengths of drywall corner bead INSIDE my van. It was an amazing workhorse while we did our house renovations. It functioned totally reliably while I pushed the odometer up to 226,000 kilometers. It had great acceleration for highway driving and was a pure pleasure to drive. And it’s gone. Crushed for financial gain. Sob. Spiff will not be able to replace Blando for practical use, and maybe never in my heart. But there you go. Time passes and things change.

Blando, so named because it was a soccer mom van with no personality at all, just pure utility, waiting on death row.
Roland did all the work, taking off the license plate so we could get our insurance refund. Is that an evil grin, or what.

I marvel that anybody as currently impecunious as I could be driving a brand new EV. So let’s start with the logic that allowed this to happen. Blando broke a front strut a couple of weeks back, valiantly fighting the rare snow drifts and ice packs of our streets. It was still driveable, but we were facing a $1,500 repair bill on a vehicle with a $1000 trade in value. It had all those aforementioned kilometers on it, and a few minor things were going wrong, like the flashing airbag light on the dash I covered with tape. So I could expect it to nickel and dime us to death from here on. We had been thinking that our next vehicle should be an EV. This seemed like a good time to look into them. We made an appointment to repair Blando, then started checking out EVs at the dealerships, starting with the Toyota Prius (we decided we didn’t want a hybrid. Why include all the complication of an ICE machine with the simplicity of an EV?). Then we tried the Hyundai Kona (we liked it but… no.), and finally the Kia at Harris Auto here in Nanaimo.

Marcello and Roland explaining the interior and controls.

We had been thinking we would probably lease our next vehicle. Matt, Harris Auto financial guy, suggested we look at financing. He worked out the numbers, subtracted the $5,000 federal subsidy and the $3,000 provincial subsidy, added in an amazing warranty package, and told us how to apply for the Scrap-it program, for which they still had a few tickets left. Scrap-it is an industry program that pays $6000 for any ICE vehicle that has been insured for six months and is taken off the road, meaning driven into a crusher. It turned out that we could finance our new EV over 96 months, making payments of $208 bi-weekly, which was stretching what we felt we could afford, but still within range. The FOMO of the situation is that the subsidy programs, especially the Scrap-it program, have very limited funds. When the money is gone, there’s no guarantee the funds will be topped up again. There is talk that EVs are over-incentivised. So that was it. Deal.

I should mention that our salesman, Roland Holland, is an incredibly personable and helpful guy. The fact that this would be his first sale, and Ruth would get to cut his tie in half once it was completed, added a lot to the fun.

Apparently, cutting the salesman’s tie on a first sale is a thing.
Ruth, Zale and Roland just before we drove Spiff off the lot

So here’s the timeline: Ruth heard a horrid kasproinging noise in the van on a Friday. We got a diagnosis on Saturday, and made an appointment for a repair for Tuesday. Checked out the Prius on Saturday and new EVs on Monday, and decided on the Kia Soul EV Monday evening. Called to cancel the repairs to Blando Tuesday morning and drove Spiff off the lot that afternoon. Delivered Blando to the crusher Wednesday morning, with Roland following behind to drive us back into town, then returned to the dealership to cut Roland’s tie in half, which apparently is a thing here. It all happened so fast.

But, okay. What you really want to know is what I think of the new 2020 Kia Soul. So here goes. Spiff seems to be incredibly well made and solid. It has the same feeling of thoughtful design and construction that I liked so much with our old Toyota. It doesn’t have the hauling capacity of Blando, but the trunk space is not bad. Here it is loaded with twenty one boxes of laminate flooring, four rolls of cork underlay, and a couple of lenghts of drywall bead. Not bad for a little car.

The learning curve to get used to driving an EV hasn’t been bad at all. The pleasures of the new experience have been many.

Let’s start with the most unexpected pleasant surprise. I absolutely love not having to put a key in the ignition. That seems like such a small thing, but it really isn’t. I unlock the door with the fob and put the fob in my pocket. Then I get in, put my foot on the brake and push a button to boot up the system, turn the big nob to drive. And I’m away. One of the greatest improvements in automobile technology has been the remote door lock. It’s hard to believe we used to walk around the car locking, or unlocking, each door. This takes the remote lock one step further, and it’s a big deal for me.

And there they are, the main controls. The smaller button to the left boots up the system if your foot is on the brake. The big nob rotates counter clockwise for reverse, which brings up the rear view camera, and rotates right for drive. There a button in the middle of the big one, burned out in this photo, that puts the car into park, and a handy flap to lift that sets the parking brake. Everything works with the fob in my pocket.
And here’s the screen for navigation, radio, and all kinds of information. The navigation can fill the entire screen with the swipe of a finger.

If I want to get nostalgic, I could lament the loss of the girlfriend test. Do you remember that one? The idea was you picked the girl up for your first date, unlocked her door, waited until she was seated, then closed her door. If your door wasn’t unlocked by the time you walked around the car, that would be the last date. But I digress.

There are a few things I love about modern cars. Remote door locks top the list. Electric controls for side mirrors comes next. Power windows would be third, then cruise control. And going way back I suppose I should list power steering and power brakes and automatic transmission. (I remember my father buying his first automatic transmission way back in the fifties, and complaining about having a foot he didn’t know what to do with.) Then there are the frills like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. All these things we take for granted, and the new Kia Soul takes them one step further.

Take cruise control as an example. The Kia Soul takes this to the edge of being an auto pilot. If the car ahead of you is doing seventy, and you have cruise set for 90, you slow down as you catch up. If the car ahead stops at a red light, you gently stop behind it and only need to touch the + sign on the steering wheel to start coming back up to speed as the car ahead moves again. On a clear day with the lines visible, the cruise control, or maybe it’s the driver assist, will give a tug on the wheel if you wander out of your lane. It will even take you around a curve. It doesn’t do that smoothly, but it does it.

Just a couple of things more to mention. The first is silence. Start up the system and it is silent, so silent that using the rear wiper seems loud. Then there’s acceleration. Step on the accelerator (not the gas, there is no gas) and you get instant smooth acceleration. Lots of it. Pin you to the seat acceleration. And then my favourite feature when it comes to driving – regenerative braking. You can set that to a level from zero, which means you just cruise down a hill like you normally would, to maximum which means the car noticeably starts to slow when you take your foot off the accelerator. I set it at maximum and drive without touching the brakes. Pretty much ever. The regenerative braking puts the energy of momentum back into the battery. It’s set with paddles conveniently placed on the steering wheel, and pulling and holding the one on the left will bring the car to a complete stop. Of course this means that my brakes should last forever.

For a couple of years now, the big name in EV has been Tesla, and it still has the status, plus a price tag twenty grand or more higher than the Kia. But I find the Tesla quite conventional looking, by comparison, and I think the big touch screen monitor protruding well out from the dash is downright ugly. Also, as Ruth has mentioned many times, a touch screen is a bad idea when you are driving. We want buttons, conveniently placed and activated by feel. I don’t know how much of the Tesla controls can be activated by feel, or voice control, but the emphasis seems to be on that big, ugly touch screen. So the way I’m feeling right now, I wouldn’t trade. Not even if you threw in the twenty grand.

Final word: We liked the folks at Harris Auto. We got a lot of attention from Roland Holland, our salesman. Matt made the number work for us. And the car itself is just a total blast to drive. We did find some aspects of the navigation system counter intuitive, but nothing that familiarity won’t fix. So…happy campers here. If you want to check out the Kia Soul EV at Harris Auto in Nanaimo, tell Roland that Zale sent you.

UPDATE: February 2 2020 finally found something to complain about. The rear view mirror has buttons under it. One summons roadside assistance. The other is for emergencies. Not sure what the third is for. Anyway, I have to adjust that mirror every time Ruth drives the car. Yesterday I accidentally hit the roadside assistance button. The call went out, and I couldn’t cancel it. I tried hanging up the phone, with the button on the steering wheel for that purpose. It ignored me. Maybe if i had pushed the button on the rear view mirror again instead it might have cancelled. But I tried a few things and then just waited for somebody to answer, explained the situations, and had THEM hang up. Not a big deal really, but very strange. And the first thing about the car I didn’t like. That is a very strange place to put buttons calling for assistance. Bad choice, really. It seems the designers assumed that only one person, of only one height, would be driving the car

Just a bad place to put buttons. Shakes my faith in the designers

UPDATE 2: And this one is NOT A COMPLAINT. I was delighted when we dropped in to Harris Auto with a few questions and Matt showed me this feature. Pushing the button on the door handle opens the locks as long as I have the fob in my pocket. This means I never have to take the fob out of my pocket unless I forget to lock the car and want to lock it from inside the house. Push the button. Get in. Foot on the brake. Push the power up button. Rotate the big nob to put it in gear and drive away. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it isn’t. It means no fumbling around in my over stuffed pocket trying to find the fob to get into the car.


I Had a Thought

With Black Lives Matter and the pushback to that campaign, plus the police murders of black men and the murders of police in retaliation, race relations are very much on my mind these days.

And I had a thought.  You know how the colour black is so often used as a negative – black hearted, black mood, blackmail, etc.  Well, I think it’s time we all stopped doing that and I’m going to try.

In China we called the unlicensed taxis that waited outside our gate “black taxis”.  This is not accurate.  Some of them were indeed black.  But really they were unlicensed.  That’s what we should have called them.

Black hearted?  Do you really mean evil?  Nasty?

Black mood? Are you talking about depression?

Blackmail?  Isn’t that extortion?

I think anybody with a descent vocabulary can find ways of describing the world without giving it a colour that is offensive to so many people.  I’m going to start.

The PET scan and the Oncologist Meeting

Now here’s something you never want to see on a PET scan.

This is a still from my PET scan looking at a cross section across my pelvis.

That bright yellow dot just to the right of the center is cancer. It’s in the bone of my pelvis, which is not a place I want to see it.

Ruth and I had a long conversation with Dr. Atwell, my new oncologist to whom I was referred by Dr. Pai, the radiologist. I wanted to know what comes next. What symptoms should I expect. When should I start to see them. And most of all, how long before this kills me.

Dr. Atwell was very comforting. He said he expects me to live for several years, with treatment. He said I will probably die of something else. He said he’s going to put me on a new drug that would normally cost $3000/month but because of some ongoing review process I will get it for free.

“I have no interest in spending the last years of my life being miserably sick,” I told him.

“I have no interest in making you miserably sick,” he replied.

He said I will probably have a better quality of life with treatment than without. So for now, I’m accepting treatment.

After Dr. Atwell finished talking to me, he left and a nurse came in to enroll me in a study that involves giving samples of blood so they can do a genetic analysis. She gave me a kit with three test tubes in it and told me to take it to the lab before my treatment starts.

Then a nurse came in to stick a needle in my buttocks to inject a drug that will shut down my testosterone. The needle didn’t hurt, but it left me with a bruised feeling right cheek.


Planning for a Short Future

There is an upside to dying. It certainly concentrates the mind.

Telling my friends Rod and Chao the news was hard. Rod immediately rushed out of the room, returning with a three hundred dollar bottle of scotch. He poured me a shot, and said I should take the bottle home with me. I declined, telling him I’d return and drink it with him.

When their daughter, Kipling, joined us in the kitchen, she took one look at our faces and wanted to know that was going on. Kipling and I have been playing the fiddle together on occasion since she was seven, though she’s been concentrating on classical studies. She’s now twelve, and a very accomplished violinist
I’ve always been very careful not to pressure Kipling to play with me. She gets enough pressure from her parents. She’s a very reserved young lady, and I’ve never even been sure that she even likes me. But when she got the news she completely broke down. She came over to me and hugged me, sobbing. After she calmed down, we played “Calum’s Road” and the “Oopik Walts” together. I have decided that Kipling is next in line to own my Italian violin. The next day she ran in the Terry Fox run with “I’m running for Zale” on her shirt.

Rod asked me if I want to go to Scotland with him. He goes there frequently to visit their older daughter, Akela, who is studying medicine in Edinburgh.

So now we’re planning a trip to Scotland. Kipling and I are going to play “Calum’s Road” on https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/calums-roadCalum’s Road. I’m some kind of excited.

Okay, Time to Calm Down

I just had a telephone conversation with Dr. Pai, my oncologist. I asked him just how seriously I should take this earth shaking diagnosis. His response: with the recent improvements in treatment you should have a year at the very least, and you could have, oh, five years or more.

At the moment I’m symptom free and feeling just fine. So it’s not time to ask for Medical Assistance in Dying. Not just yet.

I did a Google on the rules currently in place for getting MAID. The more I read, the more annoyed I got. There are procedures that must be followed, including deciding ten days in advance when you want to kick off.

I’ve always had a problem with authority. Having to ask a medical/government authority for permission to off myself just sticks in my craw.

I understand that we don’t want anybody planting gramma for the inheritance, but the rules shouldn’t apply to me. Damn it.

I expected my dominant emotion around this issue to be fear. I’m surprised that isn’t the case. My dominant emotion is gratitude at having had an opportunity to experience this amazing reality. We’ve seen such incredible changes in science and technology in my lifetime. Also social changes that have pretty much been for the better.

When I was a child, there was no women’s rights. A woman couldn’t get a credit card or open a bank account without her husband’s permission. There was no gay pride or gay rights. A black man couldn’t drink from the courthouse fountain, much less occupy the White House and give us eight scandal free years as a role model for all humanity.
Sure, some things were more fun – riding in the back of the pickup truck. Drinking from the garden hose. But we also had duck and cover constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Okay, we still have that. Plus climate change and looming extinction. I’m just trying to say I’ve seen some great improvements. I hope I live to see a few more, and it sounds like I might.

My own Me Too

Lately I’ve been posting obituaries and eulogies for people I’ve worked with, people I’ve known, friends in the film business who have died. All the time, thinking my turn is coming up

And now it’s here. I had a PET scan yesterday because my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level is high and has been climbing. It was supposed to drop after my prostate cancer treatment – hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and brachytherapy (the implanting of radioactive seeds in my prostate) – and it hasn’t. It’s been going up, which meant that the prostate cancer is active someplace. Hence the PET scan.

The PET scan involves the injection of a radioactive soup that will only stick to prostate cancer cells. That’s amazing. Unfortunately it revealed a whole bunch of cancer cells in my lymph nodes running from my groin up into my chest area. Worse, it revealed cancer in the bones of my hips.

I got the call from my oncologist this afternoon. He tried to put a positive spin on things, emphasizing the improvements to treatment that have been made recently. But I know what this really means.

The party is over. I am dying.

Damn, eh. Just when the world is getting really interesting.

That was written on Friday, September 27, 2019. I didn’t post it then because I wasn’t sure I was going to go public. But there’s been a lot of processing since then, a lot of hugging my wife and seeing friends break down in tears, and talking about what comes next. It’s now Wednesday, October 2. I have decided to let it all hang out. Why not. This is a process not everybody will get to go through. For many people, death will come as a big surprise – an accident, an embolism, a suddenly exploding heart. They will barely have time to think about it before they stop thinking about anything.

I have the privilege of contemplating my situation. This is not something I thought I would want to do. I liked what Woody Allen said about dying: “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But now that I’m into this, I’m finding it interesting, almost fun. It’s so intense. The emotions are so vivid, both in myself and in my friends. So I’m going to blog this. It doesn’t really matter to me whether anybody reads it. But if this is the last experience I’m going to have, blogging it will make me think about it. Hopefully honestly. Realistically. Maybe even bravely.

On Saturday I contacted my sisters to let them know what’s happening. They are so solid. They love me, and are very sad to hear the news. But they also understand and accept that this happens to everybody and will happen to them. As my older sister put it, “When the party is over, I don’t want to hang around.” So nobody is arguing with my decision to ask for Medical Aid in Dying.

I also started contacting old friends and former lovers. Here’s my letter to Bonni:
“Hi Bonni:
I wrote to you back in July but have had no response.  I’m starting to feel like a stalker.  I hope everything is okay with you.
I mentioned in my last message that my PSA level (Prostate Specific Antigen) remained high and rising after my prostate cancer treatment.  Not a good sign.  Well, it gets worse.
On Thursday last week I went to Vancouver for a PET scan.  That involves being injected with radioactive soup that will bind only to prostate cancer cells, and the being slid into a big metal donut with flashing lights.  Yesterday I got a call from my oncologist.  Bad news.  My cancer has metastasized into my lymph glands from my pelvis all the way up into my chest.  That might have been treatable, but it has also gone into the bones of my pelvis.  That means I’m a gonner.  Terminal.
Right now I feel fine.  I’d never know I was dying if it weren’t for the doctors telling me about it.  I may get a couple of good years before things get bad, and then they will get really bad.  I don’t think I will hang around to see how bad things can get.
So, Bonni.  Sorry to be laying this on you, but I thought you would want to know. If you have anything you want to say to me, now would be a good time.
Please write and tell me how things are in your life.
Love
Big David AKA Zale

I was relieved to get this immediate response:

” My Dearest Big David
I am so sad to hear this ‘report’.I can really only ‘imagine’ how you are ‘feeling’.
Actuarially speaking, I know I’m at that point in lifeWhere it really is Any Day NowNot just the kind of Carlos Casteneda thing with Death on your shoulder watching all the time.
I am sorry I haven’t responded since your July email.Did I at least get right back to you to say ‘later’?I usually do before I put it on my ‘later’ list.  lol
But Life has been  very full lately.Epiphanies, Lessons Learned, Red Flags, Principles and Priorities etc. etc.I am very grateful for the opportunities I’m having these days to at last be able to face some of these and make sense of them.
This is one of those ‘short’ contacts with the promise to get back to you.But this promise is ‘sooner rather than later’.I have much I want to say and share with you.
Right now, I’m just getting food ready for Lloyd’s visit this afternoon,And at the same time, dinner for my Japanese student later in the evening!Yes Busy.   But it’s a good busy.   Focussed and Calm I would say…:)
Till later,Take careMuch Love to you
Bonni

Since then I’ve had several exchanges with Bonni. My imminent departure has certainly stimulated our correspondence. I won’t post all of those message. Suffice it to say that it’s really good to get our feeling for each out out in the open. Bonni and I were lovers for some years when I was working in Toronto while living in Gibsons. I remember being serenely contented, being with Bonni and her daughter, who became like another daughter for me. That went away when we both realized there was no future in the relationship. I think Bonni started to resent the fact that I was committed to my wife and children back home. She and her daughter would never be my primary relationship. So things stopped being fun and we stopped sleeping together. But I will always love her, and have tried to keep in touch.

Dear Zale and Ruth,

   We just learned of your serious cancer diagnosis Zale and were shocked and saddened that this has been handed to you.  Words kind of fail us at this point.  I cannot believe that a man larger than Life and so generous with his Life and heart with everyone he connects with has to endure such a serious diagnosis.  I am so very sorry.

   Hugh and I both have been sending little bursts of Love and care to you both ever since we got the news.  We have you both in our hearts big time.

    I hope there is some treatment that can bring you some relief Zale and if there is anything we can do for you both, please let us know.

     We are thinking of you and hope that our caring and commitment to support you both through whatever this journey involves, helps a little to ease stepping into such vulnerable, uncharted territory.

    Our Love and warm hugs to you both,

            Anne and Hugh

Dear Anne and Hugh

Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts.

Ruth and I have been on what we call our “crying tour” since getting the diagnosis.  It’s been hard watching the sadness overwhelm our friends, and I’m beginning to feel like a drama queen because this all feels unreal.  I have no symptoms at the moment and feel quite fine.  Meanwhile, everybody has their own problems they are dealing with, and most don’t need anything additional from me.

For example, Moira Carlson, the wife of my old friend Barry Carlson, got right back to me when she got my email.  But she had returned the day before from the celebration of life for her older sister, a woman who was very health conscious, kept her weight down, ate carefully, and died of a massive heart attack.  She was only two years older than Moira.  So Moira gets home from that to get my news.  Not something she needed.

Here’s Moira’s website.  You should sign up for her sketch a day.  They are amazing.  :  http://www.moiracarlson.com/

On Sunday we went to see our friends Rod and Chao.  They are two of the greatest people I know, just amazing.  They have an amazing family too.  Their daughter, Akela, was recently in Miami for a Judo competition.  She then flew to Beijing for a classical voice competition.  She’s now in Edinburgh studying medicine. Their younger daughter, Kipling, has been my fiddle buddy since she was seven.  She’s now twelve or thirteen, and a very accomplished violinist, though she prefers playing classical and we don’t get to fiddle together very often.

I gave my news to Kipling’s mom and dad,  Chao and Rod. They both looked devastated.  Rod immediately rushed out of the room and came back with a three hundred dollar bottle of scotch, which he cracked the seal on and poured me a shot, saying I should take the bottle home with me.  I declined.  I will visit them and drink it with him, because it really is exceptional scotch.  Then Kipling, who had just awakened, came into the kitchen.  When she saw the looks on her parents faces she knew something was going on, and she wanted to know.  So I told her.

Up to this point, I’ve never been really sure that Kipling liked me.  She’s a very reserved young lady, and I always felt I was pressuring her to play the fiddle with me.  But when she got my news she just broke down.  She came to me and hugged me, sobbing.  When she calmed down, we got out our fiddles and played “Calum’s Road” and “The Ookpik Waltz” together.  She is just amazing.  She’s the only person I’ve ever met who can learn a tune faster than I  can.

Rod asked me if I wanted to go to Scotland with him.  Of course I’d love to do that, but I’m reluctant to have him spend the money to take me, and I certainly can’t afford the trip.  But then I realized that I want to give Kipling my violin.  It’s a very special instrument, and was quite expensive. I told this to Rod and Chao and they said they want to buy it from me.  I said it’s not for sale, but it makes me feel okay about accepting some scotch I could never afford, and a trip to Scotland. I want to play “Calum’s Road” on Calum’s Road.

Here’s the violin story if you haven’t heard it before.  http://www.zaledalen.com/zaledalen/?p=1640

Here’s the story of Calum’s road:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calum_MacLeod_(of_Raasay)

Chao told me that Kipling ran in the Terry Fox Run on Monday.  Here’s what she wore on her shirt:  I’m running for Zale”


Yesterday I picked up a prescription from the cancer pharmacy. My oncologist wants me back on testosterone blockers. I hate that, because the side effects are subtle but nasty. But right now I have no symptoms, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I’m expecting a call from my oncologist and I’m tired of trying to organize my thoughts. If you have anything you want to say to me, now would be a good time. Assuming the comments still work.

Oh No, not Fil Fraser Too

While checking the spelling of names and creating links for the Burt Reynolds post, I learned that Fil Fraser also died last year. He was 85, so I will say that he had a good run.  But damn it hurts that he’s not in my world any more.

I will never forget Fil coming to our home in Vancouver with the script for “The Hounds of Notre Dame”.  He sat in a chair in my editing room while I sat in the kitchen and read the script.  Then I went into my editing room and begged him to let me direct his movie.

I owe Eda Lishman for that introduction, and hence for the directing opportunity.  I wasn’t kind to Eda during the shoot, or after.  That is one of my regrets now. She was overloaded and dealing with impossible problems. I should have had more compassion for her.

A script that has some value to it is a very rare thing in the movie industry.  I’ve only read one or two scripts that I felt passionate about in my entire career, not counting the ones I wrote and couldn’t find money to make. I was and still am passionate about most of those. “The Hounds of Notre Dame” was special. I lived and breathed for that movie until I got kicked out of the editing room.

Fil made a very public apology for that, on television yet. By then it was water under the bridge and I had lost any confidence in my ability to improve the movie beyond what was finally released. No apology was necessary. Fil had to make a decision between me and Tony Lower, the editor. I don’t think he made a bad choice and I owe Fil big time.

So many “war stories” came out of shooting “Hounds” that I don’t know where to start. Here’s one of my favorites I have already written about: The Twenty Thousand Dollar Box. Fil forgave me for that one. In fact, Fil was incredibly supportive while I struggled to make his movie come to life.

It didn’t start well. The cinematographer, Ron Orieux, had to figure out how to shoot realistic snow scenes without a dedicated special FX team, and we didn’t realize the problems that would entail. On our budget, a special FX team dedicated to this was out of the question so we were trying to make a blizzard using a snow blower and fans.   The first attempt was a disaster.  No, I don’t want to use that word.  A disaster is when people die.  We were just losing our credibility and possibly our careers.

What we ended up with on the screen was basically mud.  Nothing. The snow between the camera and the actors soaked up all the light that was supposed to illuminate the actors. Fil was furious, both at our poor results and at what he saw as an inability to get organized and productive. “This is just plain amateur night.” he said.  But he didn’t pull the plug on us, and Ron found the solution to the problem. We needed a screen just in front of the camera that snow could be sifted through, with a lot of lights on it.  Then nothing between the camera and the actors who were hosed by the snow blower and snow tossed into the fans.  It was a struggle to get a shot between the lumps the size of baseballs, but we managed it.

As we got organized we gained speed and the rushes started to look good.  But one more incident really sticks in my mind, and makes me remember Fil Fraser with great affection.  Two of the more experienced actors in the film, David Ferry and Frances Hyland, got together for dinner one evening and possibly drank too much wine.  At two in the morning I got a phone call from Fances.  We were to shoot a scene between her and Thomas Peacocke, who played Father Athol Murray, the next day. Frances had just discovered what she saw as a problem with the script.  She told me that the scene, which was set in the church, could not be played there, that the church is a holy place and the scene was too worldly and mundane. I attempted to discuss this with her but she went into a rant about my lack of understanding.  I hung up on her.

I thought about calling her back, because I knew that her next call would be to Fil.  But no, I wasn’t going to call her. I desperately needed my sleep.

The next day we had a screening of our dailies, a rare occasion at that location with the film being processed in Vancouver and the cast and crew working in remote Wilcox.  I was very worried about what Fil would think of the call from Frances. I needn’t have worried.  Fil presented me with a leather shoulder bag of his that I had admired. Under those circumstances, that shoulder bag meant the world to me.  I carried it and used it until it fell by the wayside at some point in my life, but I am still grateful for it. That was Fil Fraser.

Oh, and the scene.  I changed it to a stairwell location between the church and the dining hall. Ruffled feathers were smoothed.

Goodbye Burt Reynolds

I can’t say I knew Burt Reynolds well. I can’t claim him as a friend. Norman Jewison kindly invited me to be an observer on his film, “Best Friends”, starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. So I did at least get to meet him.

Photo by Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock (73763c)
Burt Reynolds – 1979

At the time we were trying to find distribution for my movie, “The Hounds of Notre Dame”, and Fil Fraser, the producer, asked me to set up a screening specifically for Burt.  I guess the idea was that Burt had a lot of pull and could get us some distributor attention.  Or was he also venturing into distribution himself?  I can’t quite remember the details.  But I did manage, with some difficulty, to set up a special screening and I do know that Burt watched my movie.

I asked him what he thought.  The last words Burt Reynolds said to me were “We’ll talk”.

In Hollywood, “We’ll talk.” means “We won’t talk.”  So I’m guessing he didn’t like it, or didn’t see any audience potential.  Or both.  Whatever the case, we didn’t talk.

I’m totally okay with that.  I watched the way the fans can crowd a celebrity like Burt Reynolds. Norman shot one street location, and as soon as Burt appeared he was surrounded by thirty or more fans, all holding out pieces of paper or autograph books.  He spent several minutes signing autographs.  He looked like royalty, and I suppose he was in that context. I can certainly understand why he would want to limit his engagement with anybody he didn’t know.  It’s a necessary survival skill in his position.

Fans do not have any respect for celebrities.  They feel they own them.  They can get abusive if the star doesn’t give them the moments of attention they ask for. They will steal anything a celebrity touches. Norman Jewison lost his favorite cap during that shoot.  Somebody stole it. And no, it wasn’t me.  I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior.

My souvenir from that wonderful time in my life is a rock from Malibu Beach. I picked it up while walking with Norman Jewison, listening to him tell about making the deal to direct Jesus Christ Superstar after he brought musical to America from England.  He wanted a gross deal from the studio, meaning he would get a percentage of the box office gross reciepts.  At that time the studio was only giving net deals to directors, meaning they got a piece of the action after ever pencil and paperclip was charged against the box office returns. The studios were famous for creative accounting that left stars and directors with nothing at all. But the studio execs didn’t think music rights were worth much, so they were willing to give Norman a gross deal on the music.
I don’t know how much that turned out to be, but I do know that Norman was very happy with the deal.  Think about it.  A piece of the gross sales of the Jesus Christ Superstar album?  I’d be happy with that too.

Anyway, I remember Burt Reynolds as a kind gentleman.  I’m sorry he is gone.

 

So Long Bob Barclay. It was good to know you.

I seem to be saying goodbye to people I knew or worked with lately.  Just the other day it was Donnelly Rhodes, and today I got the sad news that Bob Barclay has died at the age of 87.  Not a bad run, but still too young for my taste.

Bob was the man who got me into the Director’s Guild, back before there even were district councils. I had made my first feature, “Skip Tracer”, and Bob invited me to a guild meeting.  It was an easy sell.

I loved Bob.  He always had a smile and a positive attitude.  I’ll never forget one phrase he gave me, when he had been experiencing hard times and nothing was working for him. About his financial situation he said, “I’m running on surface tension.”  That phrase alone should make him immortal.

In the old days, I served with Bob on the National Executive.  This included the time during which the guild was developing the district councils.  Bob, Grace Gilroy, Lew Lehman, John Board, and others whose names don’t come so readily to mind would sit around the table in the Toronto board room and hammer out constitutional questions.  Bob was a smoker.  We all were back then. I was a smoker who was trying to quit.  I had been smoking a large pack of DuMaurier  King Size every single day, but had managed to stay off them for a couple of months before our meeting.  Bob smoked the same brand, in the same package.  At one point in the meeting the discussion became animated.  I looked down and there was a lit cigarette between my fingers.  I had no awareness of taking it out of Bob’s pack and lighting it, but the next day I was smoking a pack a day again.  So Bob’s influence on me was not always positive.

Those days of turning the air blue at the executive meetings are, thankfully, long gone.

Things have changed a lot in the industry. So much has changed. It’s a different world.  Back then, the networks had money.  Television had not yet fragmented into hundreds of channels, the Internet was not competing for advertising dollars, and the networks could afford to spend money on episodic shows, MOW’s (Movies of the Week made for television), and flying directors across the country to direct them.  If there is such a thing as the good old days, those were them for me. But I wouldn’t go back.  The world is so much more connected and interesting now.

Sometime in the late seventies my first wife and producer, Laara Dalen, and I purchased a house in Gibsons Landing, a ten bedroom mansion on the beach that the owners had set up as a bed and breakfast, but were now abandoning.  Bob came to Vancouver and visited us.  He said he was on his way to visit his son, Ben Barclay, in Gibsons Landing, and he pulled a B&B brochure out of his pocket to show us where he was going to stay. It was our new house, though we hadn’t yet made the move.  Marina House.

“I’m sorry, Bob, but you can’t pay to stay there.” I told him.  “You’ll have to be our guest.”

If I were a believer in woo, such a coincidence would impress me.  As it is, it’s just a happy memory of funny moment with Bob Barclay.

We were friends.  I regret that I never saw anything he directed.  I know he was committed to his work, and proud of it.  But I only knew him as a DGC executive member, a friend, and an advisor. So my appreciation is limited. One thing I can say – I never heard a bad word said about Bob Barclay.

He was a good man. I’m sorry he’s gone.

 

Solving Problems

Back in the early nineties I was living in Gibsons Landing, with Marina House, my home, right on the water.  Gibsons Landing was the location of the long running CBC series, “Beachcombers”.

I was asked by a CBC producer in Toronto why I hadn’t been hired to shoot more Beachcomber episodes.  I shrugged and said I didn’t know.  At the time, CBC was occasionally flying me to Toronto to direct for them there, paying my hotel and per diem. They could have my services in Gibsons without that expense.  Yet they were flying directors in from Toronto and putting them up in a hotel and paying THEM a per diem while I was sitting on my front porch watching them direct in front of my house.  It made no sense.

“You know, Zale,” the producer said.  “If you want to plough a field, you don’t buy a racehorse.”

That was a flattering and disturbing observation.  The implication was that I am an artist, and what the producers were looking for was a standard television hack.  That has never been me.  But even an artist has to pay his mortgage and feed his family.

I’m sure the CBC producers wouldn’t have seen it this way, but I suspect that their survival depended on making acceptable, but unremarkable, shows.  A bureaucrat survivalist doesn’t want to be seen as a hot shot, innovative boy wonder.  They want to produce stuff that isn’t bad, but also doesn’t really attract attention.  After all, if you stick your head above the trenches, somebody could shoot you.  Or, as the Chinese put it, it’s the tall nail that gets pounded down.

I enjoy solving problems. Sometimes I think producers would rather I didn’t, because I see problems that they don’t see or if they do see them, don’t care about. I’m sorry, but if I see a problem with the script I can’t see any choice but to solve it.

Take the case of the murder in an episode of Scene of the Crime, a Cannell production.  We were shooting Vancouver for London England, which is puzzle enough given the cars on the wrong side of the road. We were creating London with a British phone booth, one rented car with a right hand drive, and very careful angles. But the method of murder the writer invented was to cut the brake line on the victim’s car so that he will crash and die.  In London!

Leaving aside the fact that the car in question had mechanical brakes, my memories of London is that it is fairly flat.  Maybe there are steep hills and frightening cliffs hidden someplace in the city, but I certainly don’t remember them.  Cutting the brake lines seems like a questionable murder method.  Wouldn’t the victim just pull over to the curb and grind along until his car stopped?

So I suggested that the car starts off on the top floor of one of those parking garages with many levels and a steep spiral exit ramp.  That way, once the driver is committed to the ramp he’s lost all control. I could do the standard shots of his foot stamping on the brake pedal.  We could add tire squeals as he takes the curves.  And then, to finally do him in, how about there’s a big truck stopped at the exit gate and he can’t avoid smashing into it.  I could see it all, shot by shot.  This could work.

That’s when they told me that the car was a rental, and would have to be returned without so much as a scratch on it.

Okay, no problem. We do the standard shots, then a POV of approaching the truck.  Then for a final shot of the sequence the car is actually stationary. We mount a sheet of glass between two century stands in front of the windshield.  The actor rocks forward to the windshield, and we note the spot where his head lines up with the camera.  Then he repeats the action at some speed and we hit the sheet of glass with a glue stick out of a trunion gun, right on that spot as his head arrives.  The glass will shatter, and it will look like it was the victim’s head that shattered it.

Did it work?  Brilliantly.  In fact, watching the shot, it was easy to hallucinate blood on the shattering glass. Of course the downside of such success is that I cause producers stress, adding complications to their lives.  I also suspect that I made few friends in the special effects department.  People don’t like to be told how to do their job.