Update on the Documentary and My Life

After sitting on the footage for a month or more, I finally managed to pull a three minute promotional video out of what I shot in New Orleans.  Here it is:

I feel good about this promo, though I think I pulled it together by the skin of my teeth.  If the documentary goes any further, it will have to be with a crew, at least a camera/lighting person and a sound person.  I can’t continue to do this kind of thing totally on my own. The production values suffer too much.  So I shall see if my producer finds a budget.

On a personal note, I have now done eighteen of my twenty-three days of radiation therapy.  Five more to go, and then a wait until the general anesthetic and brachytherapy on November 24.  So far the treatments have been totally painless, though I may be experiencing a bit of GI track disturbance and I’m spending a lot of time sleeping.  All indications are that the grim reaper is being held at bay for the moment.

As the window washer said as he fell from the eighty-seventh floor, so far so good.

Taking Another Run at “Getting Screefed”

First let me give you the back story:

Around the turn of the century, I received a rather large royalty payment for my work on “Kung Fu the Legend Continues” in exchange for giving up world rights forever. It was enough to pay off my debts and leave me slightly solvent, but not enough to set me up for retirement. I could see that film was on it’s way out, so I decided to investigate digital production.

At the time, digital movies all seemed to be making excuses for the visual quality. They would pretend to be documentary footage left by college students in the woods (Remember “The Blaire Witch Project”?), or interviews by a psychiatrist. They generally were shot by amateurs with the camera on the head of a trained seal, and their sound quality was horrible. I looked at the technology and was amazed. If this were handled in a proper, professional style, it could actually look like a movie, I thought.

Also, I have never been happy working as an artist in the industrial management style used in television and low budget movies. The focus on schedules and efficiency is anti-art, and there’s never enough money to allow mistakes or experimentation. So I approached a casting director here and suggested we make a cooperative movie, with everybody involved doing whatever was required. We would start with an idea, a theme to explore, shoot a scene, edit that scene, then gather to discuss the scene and decide where to go next. I bought three Canon prosumer cameras and two Mac computers, a Cobra crane, some basic microphones and a carbon fiber boom pole. I absorbed the hard costs, and everybody contributed time.

That turned into one of the best artistic adventures of my life. We had a ball, and the result really does look like a movie. It looks great. Actors who otherwise couldn’t get their faces on the screen had many minutes of screen time. We fitted barn doors on work lights from Home Depot, and used furnace filters for diffusion. One of our cast, with welding skills, converted a fridge dolly into a very versatile camera dolly. We all had fun and I’m very proud of the finished picture, which we put out under the banner of the Volksmovie Group and called “Passion”.

Passion posterThe only problem was my business plan. I had attended every Toronto Film Festival for the past twenty years or so, and I was sure we would blow them away, find a distributor or get some television sales at least. But I hadn’t counted on the glut of digital films being submitted. A producer friend of mine lent his son a camera to make a five minute short of himself French kissing the family dog. He got invitations to three film festivals. The organizers could afford to give him the screen time, because they knew they would have a rowdy teenage audience and it was only for a few minutes. But a full length feature like ours was competing with the latest from Hollywood, with visiting stars to attract press coverage. We had none of that support. We didn’t get a single festival invitation.

In desperation, I set up a private screening at the Pacific Cinemateque in Vancouver. I hired a publicist. We had a great screening with a full audience. Laughs all the way through the picture. But not one opinion maker showed up, and we didn’t get one column inch of copy in the papers. I realized that I could have torn up a thousand dollar bill outside the theater for all the good I’d done my movie.

And then I went really crazy. Our ambition had been to get enough money back from making “Passion” to give everybody something for their time and have enough to do it again. I decided to do it again anyway, with even less money. I had a script that I loved, about tree planters, called “Getting Screefed”. I bought a school bus and a Volkswagen van, water hoses for making rain, a child’s swimming pool for a water reservoir, a generator, lots of tarps, and we assembled a great cast. We set up a tree planter camp in the bush and spent a glorious summer shooting scenes and cutting them together.

I quickly realized that trying to make this movie on miniDV was a mistake. It really needed spectacular images and great lighting. It had many rain scenes, and storm scenes at night, and it needed a dedicated special effects team. It really couldn’t be done on zero budget. The actors, who weren’t being paid even expenses, were hard to assemble and keep in the camp while we shot. We got maybe half the movie shot during that summer. What we shot looks great for performance, but there’s something not quite good enough about just about every scene. Either our special effects don’t cut it, or there’s some other problem.

We intended to edit during the winter of 2001/2002, and return to finish the movie in the Spring of 2002. But as I worked on the editing, the deficiencies of what we shot became more and more apparent. Then somebody vandalized the Volkswagen van we had left in the woods – threw a rock through the windshield and tore the wiring apart trying to hot wire it. Somebody else stole my generator from the school bus I had parked on a local farm. I realized it didn’t matter. I didn’t have money to put gas in the generator anyway.

I was living in Nanaimo, B.C., trying to be a movie maker. That’s a bit like living in the Sahara and trying to be a lumberjack. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the Enfant Terrible of the Canadian film industry with two critically acclaimed feature films to my credit. But after thirty years of television work, to pay the mortgage and raise the kids, I was no longer the hot young artist. I was the old television hack. My previous clients had all aged out of the business, lost their shows, or run afoul of the IRS. I wasn’t getting any work. Nobody saw any reason to hire me.

I knew I could move to Toronto, or Los Angeles, or even Vancouver, hang out and go to industry events and parties, schmooze myself silly, and eventually, with my background and filmography, somebody would give me a job again. But I’d been there and done that. I didn’t have the heart to do it again.

My children were adults and didn’t need me any more. My first marriage was over. I declared bankruptcy and ran away to China. For nine years.

Now I’m back. Tim Johnson, one of the main characters in “Passion”, and I have been reviewing our work on “Getting Screefed”. Looking at the assembled scenes just breaks my heart. We came so close.  The performances are so good and the cast is young and beautiful, especially the women. I feel like if I had just been able to push a bit harder, go a bit close to the edge, put it all on the line, I might have been able to get the movie finished.  But I know this isn’t realistic.  I made the right decision. But now Tim wants to take another run at it, and the project deserves it. So I’m in. But not with no money this time. We are now looking at the script, which we still love, and considering crowd funding and other new methods of raising money.

I think this is something I just have to do.

Here’s the trailer for “Getting Screefed”, slightly reworked to support a crowd funding application.

Like I said, we came so close…

The Little Red Hen Wants a Rooster, Plus the Fiddle Workshop with Rodney Miller

I’m not sure why I find this so amusing.  Maybe because, at my age, anything requesting that I become intimate with it is kind of… sweet.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit kinky.  Here’s a couple of videos of Rodney Miller demonstrating the two fiddle tunes he taught us at last week’s workshop, hosted by Joyce and John Beaton in Qualicum Beach.
First up is the Blue Jig.

Followed by Trip to Dingle.  I’m very fond of this simple tune.

 

 

It’s About Time I Updated

This is embarrassing.  My last past was December 26 of 2013.  My how time flies when you are having fun, and ignoring your blog.  I hereby resolve to do better.

So much to report.   First of all, here’s a little video that I’m very proud of making.  It’s charming, heart warming, surprising, and is being very well received.  If you love animals and people who treat them well, this is something you’ll enjoy:

My attempt to find an Internet distribution outlet for “Passion”, the Volksmovie we made before I went to China, has been disappointing.  I bought a subscription to Vimeo and the film is currently on line, but it’s only generated about thirty dollars in rentals over the course of a year, so I probably won’t pay for another year.  I’m sure another approach will be more fruitful, as soon as we find it.

I’m now also deeply involved in the creation of a web series called QUILTBAGS.  We’ve got nine episodes up now, and are putting up two every month.  The more it develops, the more interesting it gets and I highly recommend you check it out.

While on the subject of chickens, my friend Ingo gave me a pile of plywood trims from his renovation project.  They turned into two new chicken coops, some assembly required.

I didn't like the new coops until I added the brass.

 

The brass trim pieces came from the local Habitat for Humanity Restore, on sale for twenty five cents each.  I didn’t much like the looks of the new coops until the trim was added.  Now I’m proud of them.

It’s been a couple of creative years since my last post.  Much of that creativity has centred around the house and landscaping the yard.  The pond is now a fixture, with it’s magical electric river, foot bridge and tiny waterfall.

GouGou's favourite spot for watching the pedestrian overpass where a dog might think it could come into our yard.

 

This is what the back of the house looked like in 2013.

It's hard to remember how bad this all looked.

 

And this is what it looks like now.

Even this is not quite up to date. More facing has been added on the corner.

You can see the workshop, stage, and garden shed, all additions to the yard buildings once we got the ground raised a bit.

 

We tore down the old chimney, and Ruth used the bricks to make a nice little nook for the relocated small pond which sat beside the house.

This pool was beside the house, but it had to be moved.

 

But the big news is that we have just about completed the excavation of our full basement.  We have two of the four walls in place.

There's still more dirt to be removed, but we can walk to all four corners now.

 

Because we had to have someplace to put the dirt, we built a retaining wall and a driveway.

 

Eventually this will be where the motorhome lives.

This is all just a tiny sample of the activity around what I am now calling Frog Manor.  The koi which were only a three inches long when I bought them are now at least a foot long.  Grass has come back to our yard.

A more complete pictorial history of our renovation work and activities can be found on Ruth’s Flickr site.

That’s all I’ve got time for right now.  And there’s so much I’ve left out.  Like my piano.  I got one, and I’m slowly getting my Scott Joplin pieces back.  And the Oceanside Jammers fiddle group has become a big part of my week.

I’m going to try to post more regularly from now on.