Our dirt bikes bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they're better than yours.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Under Big Horizons

Some Cats may be continuing its slow descent into oblivion as our writers drop off and disappear, but it’s not quite down to just Neal yet. It’s just that I’ve been busy as hell getting a short film – a prairie gothic horror thing called Fallow – shot out in Alberta with my filmmaking partner Colin. In April, we realized there was a window of opportunity to get this done and not have an already three-year old FAVA (Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta) grant hanging over our heads another year. The stars aligned, in terms of both our schedules being open, our producer, former Edmonton boy Brenton Bentz, having two projects fall through that freed him up, and our DP (director of Photography) Jason Pichonsky, also a former Edmontonian, being available too. In fact, we quickly determined that it was the only weekend the entire year that we could get this done, so we jumped on it. That meant weeks of prep at lunch and evenings after work before burning all my summer vacation time – and then some – to hit Edmonton for ten days to make a ten-minute movie.

I’m used to putting in serious hours in the publishing biz (36 hours straight one time), I’ve done sixteen days of labour work and I’ve been on grueling film shoots before, but that stretch represented the hardest and longest hours I’ve ever worked. I found new limits I was capable of pushing myself too, as did Colin, and our team worked really well under some intense pressure. I’ll never forget sitting up at three in the morning after a long day of shooting, doing rewrites and trying not to think about the 6am alarm.

We were overly ambitious (shooting on actual film, using multiple indoor and outdoor locations, working with prosthetics, etc.) and we hit a lot of hurdles, scrambling for new locations at the last minute, and, excruciatingly, choosing a weekend when there were a bunch of projects shooting that ate up all the gear and crew in town. In addition, the jib we rented was junk, we couldn’t get a crane as there were no qualified operators available and we were still casting the day before shooting.

There were other problems too. The scariest being a “flashed” roll of unprocessed film. A reel that had been shot popped in the loading bag. One of our guys was in the middle of fixing it when someone opened the door of the room he was in, partially exposing our film. That’s the point of the day you want to scream at the Gods and punch out the very sun itself. But you gotta keep it together, which is pretty easy when you’ve got a lot of enthusiastic folks on your side.

The only way we pulled this thing off was with the amazing, dedicated family, friends and artists in Edmonton. Sounds cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Family members (and friend’s family members) provided funding, locations, food; tables and props; old friends worked as grips, transport, took stills and helped get wardrobe together; and our cast took command of their roles, nailed their lines, brought some of their own wardrobe stuff and helped with continuity. People we didn’t even know (new friends) came out and worked hard for free – and there’s no better feeling than that. (Not to mention Alana, for putting up with my stress and being super supportive despite my not really being there for a few weeks.) We even got incredibly lucky with the weather, as the dark clouds stayed away just long enough while we shooting outside. Rolled the dice on that one for sure…

In the end, we didn’t get all the shots we wanted, but we think we got all the shots we needed, and that’s what counts. Our makeup and other effects stuff was amazing (we had a prop and prosthetic built by Gaslight Studios in Toronto – the guys who worked on Land of the Dead, Silent Hill and 300!), the actors were fantastic, my man Joel Higham was all over the sound, experienced filmmaker David Bates was managing the whole affair expertly, and JP is a real pro with the camera, so it should all look and sound great. We’re doing the transfer next week, and after processing we were told we only lost two seconds of film (again, the Gods smirk at us). From there, the majority of the work has yet to be done in post-production. Can’t wait, though.

After our outdoor shoot on day two, when we were out in Thorsby in a dirt field, sunburned, rushing to catch as much sun as we could and literally getting down and dirty in the mud, I was driving back that evening under a gorgeous, long prairie sunset and was overwhelmed with homesickness to a degree I’d never felt since moving away. I love Toronto – the friends, my job, all the media-related stuff going on, the culture in general. But there’s an essential part of me that will always be anchored in Alberta, where I love the friends there, my family, the wide open spaces, the way it smells sweet and grassy in the summer – hell pretty much everything about summer – and the relaxed pace at which life can move. Then again, I also like the fast pace in Toronto in many ways.

I feel more and more like two people in one body every time I go back, and I become much more aware of those distinct personas, of the passage of time, of getting older and leaving my youth behind in Edmonton. I’m not sure if that means anything other than that one generally thinks about this stuff more after leaving one’s 20s behind and moving to a new city, but it’s a strange, often conflicting sensation to have a foot in two very different places at the same time.

On a final note, the trip was book-ended by two incidents that reinforced my feelings that I’m doing the right thing in general. The night I arrived in Edmonton, Colin picked me up from the airport and we stopped at Denny’s for a late, late dinner. Across from us sat a dude with his bloated wife, choking down some deep-fried crap. He was wearing a T-shirt that read “The only job I want is a blow-job” and I was reminded of that self-serving, redneck consumer element of Alberta I was glad to escape. Many – but by no means all – Albertans take for granted what they’ve got and it fosters a poisonous mind-set I’ve become more aware of. A lot of former Albertans I know out here feel the same way – that you love Alberta more after you leave it, and you worry about, that lingering self-destructive Ralph Klein mindset.

The second incident was while sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight to Toronto. My uncle had found out a couple days earlier that his dad has an inoperable and very aggressive brain tumour, one that takes over and shuts down the various functions of the brain until death occurs – perhaps within weeks. I was on my cell phone trying (inevitably awkwardly) to offer some words of comfort. I was very hungover from our wrap party the night before, sunburned, beyond tired and sad to be leaving, while realizing the hell that the next few weeks or months would mean to my uncle, aunt and cousins.

Despite this, I was happy. I was actually getting something done – something major – that I wanted (needed?) to do. Instead of talking about shooting our movie for another year, Colin and I did it. I never feel more like my existence is substantial as I do when I’m pushing myself. It’s easy to coast and I refuse to be laying on my deathbed some day regretting things I didn’t do. My uncle pointed out that his dad has had a long, full life, so I figure you can’t do all that much to control the “long” but as far as the “full” goes – just get ‘er done. Wherever that takes you.

Anyhow, how you all doin’? How’s your summer? Who’s still reading?

*Photos courtesy the extremely talented Mark J. Chalifoux.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Vancouver and beyond! Well, so far, only Vancouver. Read parts one and two at Ozanada!