Returning, with a new film


Well, the new film isn’t finished yet. I’m here to revive this old blog with updates on the process of my NEXT film. Here I am, at my desk, sitting with the early stages of the follow-up to Little Theatres: Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage. It’s called Invisible Harvests.

I’m really excited to finally be making this announcement. I’ve very gratefully received funding from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, and Canada Arts Council for this project. I’ve been working on the film on and off for the past year. This time it’s a more experimental film, so it needed quite a bit of research, both technically, structurally, and thematically. I’m writing this one myself, so I’ve been spending a lot of time writing, researching, re-writing, editing, and researching some more. I’ve stuck many sticky notes onto a large cork board in my office, with jotted-down thoughts like:

organize invisible by:

    â€¢ body organs (in groups)
    â€¢ elements (of world)
    â€¢ times of day / day of year
    â€¢ [planets]

in 3- or 4-dimensional chart.

This was taken off the top of the (now) stack of sticky notes. These were written a year ago and I admit I’m not exactly sure what this one means anymore. But it was all absorbed somehow and processed and has come back out in the form of a script, which I can now hold in my hands.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be building new sets, and designing and creating new puppets, and showing here how it all unfolds. I’d like to start with the sets this time; I think for the last film I started with puppets. But the sets in this film are central to the story.

The “story,” by the way, is not as much a story as it is a visual poem. It loops around without narrative, although it is structured by Chapters. The theme of the film is fermentation, though the word “fermentation” doesn’t appear anywhere in the script. It’s also about time, death, renewal, cycles, nature, optics, farming, cooking, alchemy, and healing.

I’ll be updating this blog, and instagram page, with my progress as I go. I’m hoping to finish the film in the next 12 months, which may be ambitious for a six minute (or so) film that I’m working on pretty much by myself. We’ll see!

Invisible Harvests will eventually have its own associated website about fermentation, here.

camera obscura test

One year later, TIFF

My facebook page today is reminding me of something I posted one year ago, to this day:

let the record show, at 2:04 pm on Friday, August 13th, 2010, I SHOT THE LAST FRAME!!!

So I am dropping in here today, one year after shooting the last frame, to make the exciting announcement that was hinted at in the last post… Little Theatres:  Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage has been accepted into TIFF!  In my very own hometown, the film will be screening at an international festival.  So this past week has been a whirlwind of excitement, including a press conference, the TIFF BootCamp (an entire day of seminars and chats with organizers of TIFF, as well as filmworld professionals:  seasoned TIFF director Ingrid Veninger, a publicist, a journalist from The Toronto Star, distributors, etc.), and meeting other directors who are also screening at the festival.

The screenings will be on Wednesday September 14th at 5:30pm, and Thursday September 15th at 1:00pm.  There are 43 short films in the festival, that are part of the Short Cuts Canada Programme, curated (is this the word?) by TIFF Programmers Alex Rogalski and Magali Simard.  The films will be divided into 6 screenings, with Little Theatres appearing as part of Programme 6.

I’m so proud and honoured to be part of this festival!  It’s like waiting for school to start, only my whole school year will be condensed into the first two weeks of September.  Can’t wait.

Montreal Stop Motion Film Fest, News that Can’t be Spoken Of Yet, and KROK

I’ve had a draft of my Annecy Report here half-written for ages… I’m very sorry for being so slow!  It’s just been a beautiful summer here, and have been spending time away from the computer.

But I wanted to write quickly, for anyone who would like to apply, that there is a fairly new stop motion festival in Montreal that sounds great.  I am applying for it, and hope to see / meet some of you there as well!

Montreal is a fantastic city… I can’t wait to go back.  Assuming the film gets in… you never know.  Well, either way, I will visit soon.

I have other exciting news, but can’t announce it yet, so that’s all I can say for now!  Which is not much.

Oh, and the film has been accepted into KROK, the Ukrainian Animation festival that takes place on a boat, while travelling the Black Sea.  I’m looking forward to that!  Edit:  The list of films is quite different from those screened at Annecy… which is EXCITING!!!  I wonder what the film “Modern Spleen” will be like?…  What an intriguing title!

That’s all for now… maybe we will have a rainy day here soon so that I can finish my Annecy post.

Hope you are enjoying your summer!


Little Theatres: Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage /
Teatriños: Homenaxe ao mineral do repolo — TRAILER

Poem: Erín Moure
Music: Ensemble QAT
Cinematography: Marcus Elliott, Stephanie Dudley
Sound Design: VO2Mix

Premieres: Annecy Animation Festival, June 2011.

The trailer is ready for Little Theatres — enjoy!

Also, in 5 days I will be in Annecy, at the Animation Festival… I’ll keep this blog updates with everything that goes on, as best as I can.

AND! At 10pm ET, 7pm PT next week, June 8th, there will be clips of the film shown on Bravo!, on a new show called In Short. Check it out!

Lots of good news…

So, the festival applications have been coming along well.  I’ve sent off the final film on HDCams, in both English and French, to Annecy.  And have just sent off an application to a festival in Ukraine!  To apply, I sent a version of the film with Ukrainian text, translated by a friend of Erín Moure’s, Albina, who lives in Ukraine.  She had already translated Erín’s poems (the entire Homages to Water series from Little Theatres), and was kind enough to translate the credits of the film into Ukrainian, too.  It’s so exciting to see the film in cyrillic letters!  I guess cabbages seem well suited to this language.  And the festival sounds so exciting… it takes place on a boat, travelling the Black Sea from Kyiv to Odessa.

I’ve also just heard that the film has been accepted to SICAF in Seoul, South Korea!

The language dilemma appears again… I guess I have to get used to sending the film out just in Galician with English subtitles, and letting go of the whole translation idea…  As tough as that is.  Not sure what else to do.  Unless, anyone knows of any Korean- and English-speaking poets?…  🙂

Some Stop Mo Resources… in Toronto

Hi there!

First a quick update.  I’ve been sending out screening DVDs and filling out forms for the film festivals, focusing for now on either Animation festivals or Short Film Fests.  So far I’ve applied to Annecy, SICAF, and Anima Mundi.  More applications to come… I have a spreadsheet of about 50 of them, sorted by application due-dates, and I’m just sending out packages one at a time.  My absolute hope is to have the film premiere at Annecy…  For now it is just a dream.  In a few weeks I’ll find out whether or not the film has been accepted.

The other day I met up with someone I used to work with at the very beginning of my freelance motion design career… the very talented Yoho Hang Yue, who now works at Crush here in the city.  He would like to start working on a stop motion experiment, and has some really beautiful characters designed, which he would like to turn into animatable puppets.  I was going to email him this info, but maybe it will be useful to other people too?  So here it is.

Materials and resources I used for my puppets:

Rare earth magnets.  Handy for animating, these magnets are the strongest I could find, and they come in many puppet-scale sizes.  I got them in a set of various sizes at Lee Valley Tools.  You can also find them at Active Surplus.  They can be used instead of tie-downs in the puppets’ feet, or they can be stacked in order to animate an object fall, removing one magnet at a time under the supported object.  The stack would then be painted out in post.  (I used this technique in the cabbage film, when the cabbage fell from the ceiling…  But did not have much success using magnets in the puppets’ feet and under the floor to keep them standing.  I think my puppets had feet that were too small, and heads that were too big.)

Plumbers’ Epoxy Putty.  This stuff is available at pretty much any hardware store, and some art supply stores, including Aboveground (my favourite place for general sculpture supplies, but I will get to that later.)  It’s a horribly stinky and toxic stuff that I try to use sparingly, but it is also handy for quick fixes, for making solid joints or ‘bones’ in a puppet’s armature, or holding together anything that glue won’t hold.  It’s a putty, so it will hold things in place while the epoxy sets (unlike glue or liquid epoxy), and cures fairly quickly… like in about 15 minutes.  Like all epoxies it comes in 2 parts — it is a compound of two materials that need to be kneaded together before the hardening chemicals are activated.

Plumbers’ epoxy is the sort of inelegant version of sculptor’s epoxy putty, in that there is no time for refining, and it is quite globby to work with.  So it won’t be able to be placed in any sort of specific shape.  It’s a quick way to fasten objects, but not meant to be sculpted or refined too much.  However, there’s a slower-setting, less stinky, and more sculptable epoxy putty that is also quite handy for different modeling needs.  (And is also meant to be used to hold hard-to-glue objects together…)   One make is Apoxie Sculpt, available at Sculpture Supply Canada.   The other is a Welsh product called Milliput, which I found at Wheels and Wings hobby shop in the East end.  I have more experience using Milliput than Apoxie… it was really easy to work with, though it does take a while (12 hrs?) to cure.  The advantage is, along with the slow curing time, you can use water to refine and smooth the shape, like with clay.  It hardens to a sandable, paintable, hard finish.

For my puppets’ armatures, I used an aluminum armature wire, available at Aboveground or (in larger quantities) at Sculpture Supply Canada.  There is lots of info out there on wire armatures, but general rule of thumb is that it’s better to have thinner (1/8 inch or less) wires wound together in layers of 2 or 3, rather than one heavy (1/4 inch) wire.

Yoho is designing a puppet with lots of flat angles, so I suggested he check out the thin basswood plywood in the model making section at Aboveground.  The image above links to that area of their website.  Foamcore might be good, too, or even some of the plastics, though I have no experience working with those.  The advantage to the basswood ply is that it’s thin, light, easy to work with (you can cut it with an Xacto knife), and can be put together with woodglue (as opposed to the plastics, which require some sort of weird chemical to melt them together…)

While the glue dries (I only use Weldbond, by the way) he can keep the pieces held in place with masking tape.

Alternatively, there are liquid epoxies that he can use to create a base for the puppet… Though again these are very stinky and toxic…  But I have used the quicker-drying LePage epoxies, available at any hardware store, or, again, at Aboveground.  I usually used the 15-minute one.  They come in a tube containing the two substances, that are sort of a gel-consistency… with a plunger, that when you press it, it dispenses the two gels in (supposedly) equal quantity.  Then you mix them to activate the epoxy hardeners.

Here is some more info on epoxies.  That site, This to That, is also a fun way to figure out how to stick things together.

Fun-tak — used to stick things together temporarily, like when a puppet is holding something in its hand that needs to move or be removed.  It only comes in blue, from what I’ve found, so sometimes there can be gobs of blue stuff that you need to paint out, if you’re not careful.  But when used in small, discreet pieces, it can be extremely useful.  It’s available at hardware and art supply stores.

I used many other materials for my puppets, which won’t really be helpful to Yoho, but perhaps if anyone else needs to make a more traditional-looking puppet, the materials and techniques are talked about over their various stages here.  I used things like liquid latex, liquid 2-part foams, plaster for moldmaking, and sculpting clay for modeling the puppets, mostly from Sculpture Supply Canada.

For LED lights and other specialty miniature-type things I went to The Little Dollhouse Store and George’s Trains.  Both stores are in the same neighbourhood.  All my LED light strips came from the Dollhouse place.  Other tiny incandescent bulbs that were used for the practical lights came from George’s.

Oh, one last note…  no matter what the project, anyone who’s in Toronto that hasn’t yet been, must go check out Active Surplus, just for the sheer thrill of it… Or at least, I find it to be a fun place 🙂

I’ll also make a links bar at the side with these stores, for reference.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Krampusnacht, the Quietest: a new quick experimental film

Important Note: The film above is uploaded in HD, so you MUST see it scaled up to fullscreen mode!  Click the arrows on the bottom right to scale up… or watch on Vimeo here.

So, here’s a bit of news.  I just finished a second short film!  This one is much, much shorter than Little Theatres, of course, and was done for a local art show, at Resistor Gallery.  The film was conceived of and boarded, with its elements built, lit, and shot, its titles designed, sound recorded, and other fiddly post work fiddled with… ALL over the course of a week and a half.

The film is shown above, and it’s called Krampusnacht, the Quietest.  The theme of the art show was Krampus, who is an interesting character — a demon who comes out at Christmastime to punish bad children.  You can read more about him here…

But I wanted to show finished animation here on this blog!  Isn’t it exciting!  Finally, there is an animated, non work-in-progress piece that I can show.

I also wanted to write a post of my process — how did I actually complete an entire (though short!) stop motion film in 9 days?  HOW?  That’s crazy!

There were a couple of tricks… first, I re-used a puppet from Little Theatres.  And a chair.  So that cut down on quite a bit of time.  But the rest of the sets and props were built from scratch.  Second, I edited the film using a bounce loop.  How tricky!  This means that the film plays forward, then the footage plays back in reverse.  I shot the film so that it COULD be played normally, and end with a fade out at the end… but it just seemed more interesting with the loop.  Also it allowed me to make the film longer, with little effort, and allowed for more of the music to play.  (And I really love this music.)

Here’s how it came together, day by day:

Day 1:  Concept

Here’s where I usually get bogged down, overthinking things and planning and replanning and spinning my wheels.  Because there was so little time, I had to come up with an idea fairly quickly, and not think about it too much.  So I drew inspiration almost instantly by doing the things I normally do… poking around various design / art blogs, and looking at stuff around the house.

So the first very clear influences that triggered the images shown in the film were:  a picture hanging in my office, and a photo I came across while reading the blogs in my RSS feed that day.  Both are shown below (click to enlarge):

On the left is a painting called Grammar Two, by James Jean.  One of my favourite artists… and I have always loved this painting.  It gave me the idea to have the little girl (Abigail) pull the Krampus bits out of a gridded box.

The image on the right is from a great little blog created by local shop owners, who feature works by (mostly Scandinavian) artists and craftspeople — Kitka Design Toronto. The pic is from this post, and I knew right away when I saw it that I needed to string together Krampus bones (or is it the bones of little children…?  Mwahahahaha) and drag the Krampus fur along the floor with them.

Day 2:  Storyboarding, Gathering the Materials

I am not really a storyboard artist AT ALL.  Luckily I do not have to sell the story to a client in this case — I’m just trying to clarify ideas for myself, and nobody else.  So I try to break the film down shot by shot, and clarify the framing, as well as the action in each shot.

Here’s what I came up with on this day, after mulling things over for a while in my head (click click):

So this gets the story going, and the basic framing decided, and the general actions of each scene.  I figured here that there would be 4 shots, which I basically stuck to, more or less.  I crossed out the third frame due to time restrictions — how am I going to make the puppet walk across the room, when she isn’t rigged for walking?  Nixed. Also in what became the third shot, I decided against the disembodied hands reaching through the wall, and instead had Krampus jump through the wall on his own, dragging his bones rather than having the bones pull him.

I based the final scene on a painting I once started, a few years ago, and never finished, of a fur coat hanging on a tree in the middle of an empty landscape…  It was nice to be able to recreate this image for something else!  And to finish it!  But in the “boards” above I had described this tree as spinning on a platform — again, this idea was cut out, due to time restraints.

Also, I did not end up making Krampus mucky and gross… probably due to keeping it simple, and being constrained by time, again.

Here’s a sketch where I refined the composition a little, for the final scene.  I carry this little notebook with me, and sketched this up on a crowded subway one morning.  The wheels were churning constantly…  I have to be ready to draw things out, so I like carrying around a little book like this.  Especially when I’m stressed — keeping lists and notes and drawings really helps me organize my thoughts and calm down a little.

Once I had the scenes clarified, I picked up some materials for building the sets, props, and Krampus puppet:  some clear and ivory fimo for the bones, some fake fur for the creature, and some fabrics for the carpet and wallpaper.

Days 3 & 4:  Building and Lighting the First Set

I spent long hours these two days building all the elements I’d need to shoot the first three scenes.  I figured I’d build the landscape set for the final shot after I shoot the scenes, just in case I was to run out of time, or in case the story changed somehow at the last minute.  Basically just wanted to get the first three scenes completely out of the way before tackling a landscape build.

So on these days I made:  tiny bones, the gridded box, the fireplace, the “fire” (I used sheets of copper to make this), the two walls, the fireplace, the furry monster, the mounted horns, and the carpet.  The wooden floor is also from Little Theatres, along with the white chair in the corner…

Once built, I started playing around with lighting.  The scene is entirely lit using my little LED strips on dimmers and the homemade softboxes.  Two of the LEDs were on the floor, in the shot… so I had to edit them out in post.  Which was easy as there were no camera moves.  (The ‘camera move’ in scene 3 was done in post… Normally I would not have gone that route, but again, just trying to save time.  And I doubt anyone but me really notices…?)

Days 5 & 6:  Shooting Scenes 1-3

I did up a quick animatic in the morning of my first shoot day — taking stills of the set, roughing out the camera angles, and then assembling them in AE.  This way I knew exactly how long each scene would be… and I pretty much stuck to this scene length, to the frame.  (No time to shoot any handles!)

Since these first 3 scenes had pretty much the same lighting setup, I just went through and shot them all in a row… actually in the order that they appear.  So on the first shoot day I shot scenes one and two, since the second one was pretty short…  Then the next day shot scene 3.  It all went smoothly!  It’s pretty amazing what severe time pressures can do…  I guess I work well in those circumstances 🙂

Day 7:  Building and Lighting the Landscape Set for Scene 4

This was by far the most stressful day of the whole process.  I had never built a landscape set before.  I decided early on that the key would be to construct it under camera… Meaning, I set the camera up FIRST, then added pieces, one at a time.  I’m really fussy about composition, and for some reason landscapes seem really particular, in terms of balancing out the sky vs. the ground, and having the tree branches fall at the right angle, etc.  So the only way to really preview this was to set up the camera, and build while viewing the scene through that framing.  I think it turned out OK, but would have LOVED to have had more time to finesse it.  I think the mountains are lame (they are flat cardboard cutouts), I could have done a MUCH better job on the sky painting, and the trees are not that great, but hey… I built it in ONE DAY!

Though I have never built a landscape, I really admire landscape miniature artwork.  There are two such artists that I know of and admire — actually one who I just found out about today (thanks Rob P!) — Adam Makarenko, a fellow Torontonian, and Kim Keever.  My landscape above is embarrassing by comparison, but I will get there one day… in my own time.)   ONE DAY!

Day 8:  Shooting Scene 4

I knew this scene would be easiest shot backwards, so that’s what I did.  It went totally smoothly… I propped the Krampus figure up onto the tree, then just touched his fur, frame by frame, to randomize it as if it was blowing in the wind… then gradually slinked him down the tree.  In reverse, it looks OK.  I always find it tricky shooting in reverse, as I can’t preview what it will actually look like when played the right way around.  But it turned out OK, and in this case it doesn’t matter because it is played both ways anyway.

Day 9:  Post Production

This was my day for sound recording, sound design, title design, and comping.  Gulp.  Actually it sounds like a lot but it was totally easy… I knew exactly what I wanted to do music-wise, and for me, title design and this kind of easy comp work is the point where “it’s all downhill from here.”  (In a good way.  What does that phrase really mean, anyway?  I am using in the riding-a-bike sense — the work is suddenly a lot easier.  But I guess that was obvious…)

I recorded the sound using my new obsession gadget, the iPad.  I didn’t even know it had a mic in it, but oh yes!  It does.  So of course it’s a mono recording, and if you listen closely in a fancy surround-sound setup it’s probably pretty bad, but hey, I had a few hours to select and edit the music!  It was the best I could do.

So the sound was recorded with the iPad being held up to a Regina music box — an old music box from the late 1800s, which plays metal records.  (More about that here.)   It was passed down through my family from my great-grandparents, and it’s now sitting in our dining room.  I’ve always wanted to use it for something like this!  My mom has collected records for it over the years.  So I sifted through a stack of 50 or so records, looking for just the right tune.  I didn’t listen to all of them, because it’s pretty tedious to crank the box and wait for the song to finish before removing it… so I only listened to the ones with interesting titles, or by German composers… (trying to stay somewhat true to the origins of Krampus…)

In the end, Hungarian Melody was the right tune for this project.

For sound design, which I kept extremely simple, I decided on the fire and wind sounds, finding free downloads online.

Then, titles… used my current favourite fonts and their embellishments…  Added a vignetting and some flicker in AE.

So that’s pretty much it…  the other post work was boring, just editing out lights, adding fog, adding a BIT more colour to the sky (cheat!  cheat!) and that sorta thing.  Darkening some areas, lightening others.  Time remapping a bit here and there.

Hope you enjoyed this runthrough of how to make a film in 9 days!  Which I do not recommend doing, by the way.  But, it can be done.

Krampusnacht is this Sunday… have a very merry Krampusweekend!


Well, I’ve delivered the tapes to Bravo.  As of yesterday at 4:30 pm, Little Theatres:  Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage, the film, is officially complete!

I am feeling:  tired, relieved, ecstatic, anxious, breathless, proud, sad, empty,  excited, listless.  When I dropped the package in to the Shipping and Receiving department of CTV, I was almost in tears.  OK there may have actually been a tear or two shed.  But I felt instantly lighter after the package was out of my hands.  Plus the cycling of emotions listed above.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours or so either conked out in a deep sleep or reflecting on the past 3 years.  Yes, it’s been almost 3 years since I first had the crazy idea to start this project.

I remember in the early days.  At first, while writing the proposal, I was enthusiastic, energized, high on the process of coming up with fun ideas.  Then, when I was awarded the grant, it finally hit me that there was a lot of work ahead of me.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could handle it.  Well, in the early days I was pretty sure I could get through just about anything, that I could figure out whatever I didn’t know how to do.  I had an optimism, a sense of adventure, and a carefree idealistic belief that anything I put my mind to, I could do.

But as I started working on it, the reality of how enormous this project was started to sink in.  I started to scale down my initial ideas and techniques.

I used Google and animation forums like to find out how to make puppets.   I read tonnes of blogs, like Sven’s, and Shelley’s, and Mike’s.  I researched which sort of cameras and lenses to use.  I met up with strangers, friends of friends, and people whose work I’d admired, to find out how they did what they did.  I asked a lot of people for help.  When I didn’t know what to do, I would do everything I could to find out how to do it.  Sometimes I didn’t find the answers and was stuck in a frustrating place of not knowing how to proceed.  This happened quite a few times, but most memorably during the puppet-making stage… I really didn’t know what I was doing, and was finding the process really difficult.  Each solution led to a dozen new problems.  I didn’t know how to keep it simple.  It took two months before I found materials and methods that would work.  And they still had faults — my very first shoot had a puppet crisis… The puppets needed to be redesigned at this point.  But then, once rebuilt, they were fine, and they lasted throughout.

Then came the shooting.  Again, I was fairly ignorant.  The most important and complicated feature of photography is lighting.  Where to begin?  Here I was lucky to have a very kind friend (whom I hadn’t seen in years) come to help out… but still, couldn’t entirely rely on such generous favours.  So I would, at first, work on paid gigs between times when he was available, and just wait to set up the next shot whenever he had time… Trying to learn as much as I could as the process unfolded.  This blog came in handy for this — I enjoyed putting together lighting tutorials, to try and preserve and practice what I was learning.  But I still felt incapable.

Eventually I realized that if I was ever going to finish the project, I needed to just go ahead and light scenes myself.  Marcus had lit the most complex ones… so really, how hard could it be to take the bits and pieces of Lighting 101 that I had gleaned from him, and start lighting scenes myself?  How hard could it be to light a single object, a cabbage, on a stage?

Well it turned out to be difficult, but not impossible.  I was imagining a film of 2 or 3 awesomely lit scenes, amidst a bunch of really badly lit ones.  But to my eyes, anyway, it ALL looks really good!  I’m so, so happy with how the little film has turned out.  I could not be more proud of it, or more satisfied.  It feels really, really good to have put this little 3 minutes of imagery (and sound, and music!) out into the world.

I now know how hard it is to make a short film.  I know the feeling of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the project.  In the early stages, when building the sets, I was halfway excited by the ideas still, and halfway terrified of all the unknowns that were ahead of me.  The first two months of set-building and prop-making were easy peasy — I know what I’m doing when it comes to making stuff by hand, and painting little things, and planning and designing.  No problem!  The days flew by, and I got lots of stuff done.  But as I ventured into any sort of new territory, like puppetmaking, and eventually lighting, the doubting started.  What if I can’t do it?  How will I know how to do such-and-such?  And this is just the beginning… look at all there is left to do after that, so many more things I’ve never done before.  Panic!  Abort mission!  Let it drift away!  Go back to designing endtags for Product X!  Forget this artistic stuff, it’s too hard!  And where’s the reward?  Every day I panic and worry and sweat and I’m not even getting paid!  It’ll never get finished anyway.  Every day, there were more and more doubts.

I really don’t know how I stuck to it.  I’m not even really the sort of person who always finishes every project I start.  I have many unfinished paintings.  I have unfinished books, outlines for novels, screenplays, series of poems that have just died away.

A few things blossomed for me while working on this film.  The concept of just doing a little bit every day, and not thinking about the big picture all that often, really helped.  I learned that from my partner O, who realized halfway through his years and years of education that he didn’t want to stay in the world of academia.  How many people start PhDs and actually finish them?  All that work, meanwhile knowing that it isn’t going to be the right path?  Well, somehow he did.  Plus, he finishes books that he starts, pretty much every single one, even if he realizes on page 5 that the writing is horrendous or that he can’t stand the main character.  I mean, conceptually I can say that I get it, I know to take it a single, small step at a time and just do the best I can, but it really took making this film to learn how to actually do that.  How to not get overwhelmed and panic and give up.

I also learned how to ask for help.  I usually dive right in to any foreign element of a project, with the idea that I can figure it out myself… But a project of this size simply can’t be done alone.  So I am indebted to a lot of people, and grateful for a lot of talented offerings that came along.  Sometimes such offerings were in response the desperate cries for help that came out of my mouth, against my usual stubborn working-solo nature.  But sometimes people just offered to help, in any way they could, out of nowhere.  So I learned, as well, a sense of grace and generous creative spirit, that I intend to keep alive for others.

So, I’ve written a little essay here…  Obviously I have more time on my hands for blogging, now that the film is finished… Ironic?  Appropriate?  You decide.

A big, giant, ginormous thank you to you, and you and you.  I’m so happy to have completed this project, and so happy to be feeling so good about it.  I owe this happiness to a lot of people… So, thank you!

(BTW…  I know I have to get back to the working world, back to design, which I obviously enjoy as well… but I’m also starting to plan the next short film, to be worked on during my down time.  So it’s addictive, this filmmaking thing.

Also… going to try and show Little Theatres in some festivals — this is why I haven’t shown too much final footage here.  It’s only a 3 minute film, so every second counts!  I will, however, show off a few stills, as you can see in this post… though they may be somewhat familiar already…)

I will keep you posted here on festivals, the process of applying for them,  whether or not it will be showing at any of them; as well as on any sort of website or trailer that will emerge in the near future.  And of course when it’s airing on Bravo! I’ll be spreading the word about that, too.


Music in Montreal

image via H2T site.

Last week I was in Montreal, recording the music for the film at a groovy little recording studio called Hotel 2 Tango. Somehow I forgot to take pictures, so I will just have to describe it!

The studio itself is mainly an indie-rock recording studio, so this project was a little different for them. We rented a grand piano, set up a projector so that the musicians could see the film up on the wall, and Graham Lessard, the recording engineer, scattered mics and chairs throughout the room.

When the musicians (Ensemble Qat) arrived, they spent an hour or so warming up, while Graham tweaked his set-up. This was one of my favourite parts of the day — the musicians just have such a great rapport, and clearly know how to have fun. The warm-up sounded like eddies forming and disappearing in water… the musicians would play separately, then join their sounds into a formation, then separate again. Sometimes it would get silly, with plucks on piano strings, or jabbing the violin and cello with the back of the bows, or a clarinet being taken apart and its smallest part played like a kazoo… Sometimes the music would be extremely loud, sometimes soft… But the playfulness and friendly energy carried throughout.

Then, once Graham was satisfied with the way the sounds were coming through his deck, we did a quick run-through, and Qat improvised as the video played onscreen, and on the wall. We may have done two run- throughs like this, and then the musicians came into the recording booth to hear what they had done, and so that we could chat about it.

This is where the choices made in improv get interesting. I had discussed with the band a week prior to the recording whether or not they wanted to see the film before our recording session. Since the music is improv, I wasn’t sure if they wanted to see it and think about it, or, as the pianist (my cousin Sonia) had suggested, just wing it on the day of the recording. Improv works best when there is a freshness to the sound, she said, and if the music is planned too much, or repeated too often, then it loses this freshness.

But then they later decided to see the film a couple days in advance, and they asked me for some notes, describing the mood of the film, and moments that needed any kind of musical emphasis. So I sent them a link to the rough cut along with a couple pages of notes, where I tried my best to describe the film’s various moods and emphatic moments. With our first ‘take’ of the recording, this quick run- through, it seemed like my notes were interfering — the band was looking for these moments to hit, and it was sounding a little choppy. Compared to their warmup, which seemed to flow and ebb so beautifully, the first couple run-throughs sounded forced and tense, and didn’t quite strike the right mood.

So now, we decided the best approach would be for them to focus on creating a mood for each section, rather than hitting the individual moments of action. This method definitely worked best — the following few takes turned out brilliantly.  We then chatted a bit more about the moods of the film. There are 3 distinct sections to it, and each one has a very different feel. The first two sections were easy for me to describe, and perhaps easy to interpret visually, in terms of mood, but the last section was tricky. What is the poem about here, what mood do we want to create with the music? My direction was a little unclear. I knew how it should resolve in the last few seconds, but there were a few empty parts where we just left things open.

Xavier, the clarinetist, decided to use the bass clarinet for the first and second parts. (I was so grateful that he brought his bass clarinet — it has such a beautiful sound, and hit the theme perfectly.)

In 4 takes, they were done. In the very first take after our ‘run- throughs,’ the band hit the first section perfectly. I knew instantly that this take was going to work best for the visuals. They continued on, without breaking to listen, and in take 2 they nailed the middle section of the film. Then in the third take, I wasn’t sure… they did one more take, which I still wasn’t initially sure about, but in the end, we used this take for section three. I think because I wasn’t 100% clear on what that section should sound like, it was more difficult to say “YES! I love it” when I first heard it. But it grew on me, and by then the band had exhausted that direction, anyway. So that was that, it worked! I think by the end we were all totally happy with how the sounds worked with the visuals.

The band then took a break for an hour, while Erín Moure came in to record her voice for the VO. Graham set up a mic for her in the main room, where the band had played.  She was standing in the middle of the room, looking out onto the wall that had the film projection. But as Graham started to record, he wasn’t happy with the sound… because Erín was standing in a large room, her voice was echoing and sounding distant, as if she was performing in a concert hall. For a VO the voice should have more intimacy, Graham said, and feel more immediate. So he set up the mic in the a booth beside the ‘control room,’ and all was well. Erín read the poem twice, while watching the film, so that she could get the right intonation for the lines of her reading. Her voice happens to suit the visuals so well — she has a fairly dark- sounding voice, and added even more drama to the image… So everything just seemed to fall into place!

After about an hour, just as we were wrapping up with Erín’s recording, Sheila, the band’s cellist, called to see how things were going, and if we were ready for them to come back. Yes, it’s perfect timing! So they came on back to the studio, and set themselves up to record the closing credit music.

The music up to this point had been atonal, but I was looking for a distinct change in ‘tune’ once we reached the credits. So the closing music is also improvised, but it has a melody to it. Sonia and Sheila played the accompanying baseline tune, while Xavier and Roland (the violinist) alternated their solos. This part was fun, and quite amazing for someone who’s not very musical, like me, to witness, because it came together so easily for them, and sounded so beautiful! In fact after about 3 takes, both Graham and I were nodding our heads, thinking this was a wrap… Then once the band came in to hear their music played back to them, they weren’t satisfied. Tonal music is to music what uncanny valley is to animation… The closer the music is to following the rules of music, the more likely people are to hear the ‘mistakes.’ (Though I didn’t hear them! But I trust that they were there… :))

So we went through about 6 or 7 takes of the 1.5 minutes or so of music for the close, until the band was happy with it. The end result is so beautiful, I have actually cried a little while listening to it… I have since listened and watched the film over and over again… it’s tough to stop! I love the music so much. The violin is especially beautiful, I find, though of course I was so impressed with *all* of the musicians of the band… They did such a fantastic job — they are utter *naturals* at putting music to visuals.

Thanks, Ensemble Qat, for your music-making-magic!  And thanks to Erín for her unique voice, and of course, for the beautiful poem!