What does it mean to be local?

In refining the idea behind our business, we had to decide how to define local. These days, when someone says ‘local business,’ it brings up thoughts of dry cleaners, corner stores, plumbers and the like.

However, most of my ‘local’ collaborators and clients are global and national companies who happen to have head offices or branch offices close to our “local” business here in downtown Toronto. For my purposes, those are still local.

As a member of a craft guild, I have another definition for ‘local,’ which is the home office for my union’s administration. Go 667!

At other times, we work with an international network of ‘local’ organizations headquartered in New York or Chicago, but the organizations they serve have ‘local’ impact in their communities.

These are ‘local’ too, because they have local impact, but they are not exactly local to my place(s) of business.

Mark Ramsey, whose blog at the time of writing dominates search results for this question, claims that “the internet makes the world local.”

That definition perhaps defeats the whole point of locality. In terms of focusing local spending, the common “Think Local” principles are local ownership, control, and physical proximity.

What does local mean to you?

Promoting Literacy for All Children

Children’s Book Bank from Damali Kai Little-White on Vimeo.

Believe it or not, literacy is a problem even here in Toronto. Founder Kim Beatty has devised a bookstore in Cabbagetown where the books are free. That means any child can build a library in their own home!

The pennywhistle and guitar performance used in this video was donated by my Mom and her partner Tom Bridges, part of the duo Sox N Sax. Producer Damali Kai Little-White.

Where are the Dolls?

In late 2012, we had the chance to service produce a short with director/producer Cassandra Nicolaou: Where are the Dolls.

Collaborations are great opportunities to work with – and learn from – people whose grasp of the craft of filmmaking is simply sublime.

Genius everywhere. Elizabeth Bishop wrote the poem, and the film shot by absurdly talented, CSC cinematographer Daniel Grant, and an amazing cast led by the legendary Megan Follows, with Shannon Barnet, Nicole Correia-Damude, and Anastasia Phillips.

How did you get such talent on a Bravofact budget, you ask? That was thanks to Actra’s TIP program, and CMPA mentorship from Laura Milliken of Big Soul Productions.

We shot in Fly nightclub, which also, by chance, is where Queer as Folk used to shoot.

Kudos to all involved.

A Long Road to the Healing Cycle

As we’ve ramped up to ‘ready for business’ with bike-based production, I spent some time seeking sponsor and volunteer opportunities to prove not only that we could transport equipment to set with a bike, but that a cargo bike can serve as a viable production platform in situations where another vehicle, or a handheld operator, are not practical.

Hospice care is near and dear to my heart. In my young and highly ignorant days, my friend Alix had volunteered at a hospice. Her stories both moved me and disturbed me. I was moved, because at that point in my life I was certainly not strong enough to do what she did, but also because it was the first time I had really considered what happens to people when they are too ill for hospital care, but need care that can’t (or can’t affordably) be administered at home.

In Canada palliative care is not the priority one might hope. In spite of unending demand (we all die, after all) the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association has compiled a chilling fact sheet which opens with the following fact:
“Only 16% to 30% of Canadians who die currently have access to or receive hospice palliative
and end-of-life care services – depending on where they live in Canada. Even fewer receive
grief and bereavement services.”

What that means is, unless your family can afford to top up, you are not likely to receive the care you’d like at the end of your life.

With all that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to support the Healing Cycle with a video. But, there was a hitch.

The annual ride takes place at Hurontario and Mississauga road at GlaxoSmithKline’s campus. Shooting a ride, starting over 40km from home base? Frightened, I nevertheless agreed to ride the 40Km out, then shoot for the morning. It was well outside of my normal 10km service zone.

Only a terrible mishap on a prior day prepared me for it. I knew it could be done, because on another day, in mid-December 2012, due to a problem with my rental car, I rode to a Steadicam gig 42km from home in freezing rain. My much wiser assistant took a $60 cab. One must remember that in addition to riding OUT to such an assignment, and DOING the assignment, one must ride HOME after. I must confess, that day in December was not my best. At the end, I rode the 42km back home. Why? To see if it could be done. To test my limits. To avoid a $60 fare.

So, I thought I could do it. The effort paid off with an amazing day in the sun and a great vibe. It was an inspiration to ride alongside so many talented, dedicated, and in some cases, terminally ill supporters. If you are interested in riding in the Healing Cycle or getting involved in palliative care, find out about the event here and learn more about hospice care here

Make a Difference

Meet the 2014 Global Changemakers as selected by the Ontario Council for International Cooperation

The very BEST part of my job is meeting and working with outstanding people who have achieved “impossible” things. It constantly inspires me to get involved in new projects work, and to make a difference not just in my spare time, but to try to make a difference all the time.

What do you do to make a difference in the world?

Stepping forward with Steadicam

Maybe you have a problem. You get to set. You have a billion bags, a slider, a motion control rig, maybe a full size dolly and crane, plus the lenses, lights and rigging. You need 3 assistants and someone else to worry about electrical, just to keep track of it all. That gets expensive fast.

That’s what inspired me to change how people work, starting with my own practice. In 2012 I made the decision to take the next step in my cinematography training and take the long version of the Steadicam course from the best instructor I could find.

Much of the inventory of shots available with handheld, sliders, cranes, and a dolly, are found in one system with the Steadicam. But, it is a completely hopeless tool in the arsenal unless you know what you are doing and are in good practice.

One fall day I was on a commercial shoot with four other cinematographers, each operating independently to cover an event. An embarrassment of equipment was spread out for our delights. After we wrapped out the easy shots with the slider, jib and motion control crane, things became comical as 4 DPs converged on the equipment room and stood around, scratching their heads, trying to remember who had taken a Steadicam course most recently.

We lamely tried to balance the 5D atop the elegant little rig, and like real pros, we just said “$*^> it” and smiled when it was time to go, and headed out to shoot. But the shots bowed and flexed and the two of us who operated felt both frustrated and encouraged by the results. Score one for the crane, that day.

Then you say “whoa there, of course! A steadicam isn’t a crane or a slider or handheld,” and about that, you’re right. But when it comes to packing light, it can’t be beat. It is the lightest, most versatile, mobile alternative for achieving cinematic shots composed on the fly. It doesn’t care what camera you put on it, whether it is a 5 lb DSLR (hopefully not) or a rigged out pair of Alexas (now that’s hopeful thinking!).

It neatly mounts to the front bucket of our cargo bike (well, maybe not a pair of Alexas). We can quickly zip in for shots otherwise impossible. We can use it to get way high or right down to the ground, on foot, or on wheels. Wheels that don’t need any track.

Planning to deliver this kit and service to sets and locations in the GTA, after that tentative day in 2012, I decided to test the hypothesis. Before making the investment in retraining and equipment, I self-trained, then to kick things off I spent a day in Calgary working with a rented Steadicam.

I should be giving a hats off to Vistek here, except that when I called them in Toronto they suggested renting from the Calgary office. When I arrived there, what I received as a rental was not a Steadicam at all, but a Glidecam 4000 in all its armoured glory.

It was a fun test and it confirmed my hypothesis that we could execute all the shots we wanted. I did not like the rig. Thank goodness it was just a test and not a paying client, because I had to let a lot of things which I took for granted go. I eventually balanced the C300 on that Glidecam sled, but I never did grow to like the springs in the arm, which vibrated when I operated too close to the bass bins. Worst of all, the rented vest was an exercise in suffering. That one rental led me to the conclusion:

I must retrain from the best,
and invest in a vest.

To be continued. Next time around, I rented from Kingsway.

Yours in verse,


Milty Ran Away Today

Today, I left home The Golden Gate

Thinking Old Milty’d be on my plate.

Instead, arriving at my self-powered ride

Milton Acorn was gone. Pinched! Bookmark inside

thoughtfully removed. Kind thief must have seen

the father’s day present tucked between

two poems. So, today started without verse,

Aside from the couplets Syd & I rehearsed:

“When you are tired of reading your book,

Mark your place with my little foot.”

The book’s gone. The foot remains.

Thank god for blessings, like laminated paint-stains.

A flat tire to boot, on the left side

Tube poking thru tire, still i ride

to the shop, and then off to the office

where Night Work awaits, prophesies

darkly for an hour or less, Randall Maggs

filling in for Milton’s best, but time drags,

then in that foot goes, into the pocket

in Hole in the Hat. That put a stop to it.