Overheard

Below a patio covered in ivy
afternoon, warm wet July light
a conversation jumped, laughing, lively
a sudden silence, dry, right?
A four-year old girl said,
“I far-ted.” Three dead
notes. Matter of fact
right as should be.
Chatty. Princess. A cheer! Yeah, good work!
“Don’t want to have a beer.” Laughter, more glee.
Night comes. High five. Mommy!

Running with Elephants, Swimming with Sharks

People may say, “you cannot do that.” They may be right.

By approaching the work time and time again, through failure, persistence, improvement, communication, learning, and seized opportunity, later, you may find a way. It may lead you somewhere else instead.

It has perhaps been enough so far to prove that you can do whatever you turn your attention to. Now you aim to achieve mastery. Keep aiming.

Remain acutely aware of the limited opportunities available in life, and your many advantages. Help others. Remember that you have blind spots, hidden disadvantages and not-so-hidden ones too. People will gossip and say what they want. It does not matter. Sort sense from nonsense. Seek betterment.

Things change, and you have to learn and learn again. Good enough? Not any more. A risk that was OK before, may be no longer.

Maybe you have some new freedoms which allow you to stretch. Maybe these come with new responsibilities. Watch your co-workers. Look at your friends. Try to keep both those who fared well, and those who fared poorly. The line between them is like between colours on a rainbow. Are you OK? Take care of yourself.

Life is made up of unpredictable elements, the great spirit that you are both part of, and apart from.

By seeking predictable action you settle the unease within. By remaining flexible you maximize the chances of landing on your feet when surroundings inevitably shift. Keep a smile ready; laughter can replace dismay. Be generous by default. Do not laugh at, contribute to, or minimize the tragedy of another, instead seek understanding and change.

Go in peace.

Thinking Green

“What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that greening your show and being cost effective work hand-in-hand. It doesn’t cost very much to go green, but it does take a little effort and planning.”

– Ted Miller, Production Manager, Warehouse 13, Season 2

I am not sure if the tide is turning, but some day it must. After all, it’s been a while since gargantuan icebergs started busting loose faster than companies could bottle them. Scientists seem pretty much in agreement about where we are headed if we don’t change.

Somehow as a society, we have not achieved change. Oil still drives the master economies of the world, and it fuels disputes between neighbours in many places. In many parts of Canada, people are broadly employed directly or indirectly in crude or bitumen production.

Oil is undervalued. It is the gold alchemists really searched for all those centuries. Its chemistry is flexible and makes possible a myriad of powerful substances. Why do we pay so little for it?

Environmental issues are in the news every day. On set many days, it’s just business as usual. This is just an industrial process, like any other. Change can come slowly.

There is a reason we employ a lot of electricians in tv and film. We like lights, reliable lights that look the same every day. We tend to not like relying on the sun and weather to dictate our shooting schedule.

Most of the power on our sets comes from wherever we plug into. Or, from location generators run on fossil fuels. No matter how you scrub it, sparking up all those lights can add up to a dirty activity.

One night, shooting at Boonstock, I ran into Sustainival, which uses biodiesel from reclaimed fryer fat to generate their power.

My own approach and first inclination is to avoid lights and travel light. There is always available light to work with and I travel with, as my friend says, “what one man can carry.” This is not practical for every client, job, or location, but it forces you to stay sharp behind the camera, and be alert in reading light. It forces you to innovate in other ways and breaks you away from the need to brag about using the latest camera or post pictures of you with your big lens (guilty).

As a producer, I confess my favorite way to deal with electricity is to find offices and studios where I will not have to look at the utility bill at all. Today I am happy that cameras don’t need so much light, meaning we can do much more with less, and things are just getting better!

Studios have started to pay attention and are getting serious about carbon, from big complexes like Pinewood to neighbourhood shops like Sterling, who have installed a green roof.

Interested in making your practice more efficient and ecologically friendly? Check out Green Screen Toronto’s Handbook and some results guides from leading producers who have adopted green practices. The Producer’s Guild of America has commissioned a guide of their own.

Favorite Interviews: Deko-ze; Reflections on Chemistry

TORONTO SOUNDS – the trailer

Kismet is the idea that fate drives us to circumstance. As a freelancer you find that this is very much so: that knowledge of obscurities from the past, or intersections from your personal life, are so often what sets you apart from others competing for a job.

Enter Toronto Sounds, the OAC-funded music documentary on Toronto’s underground scene. Just as creative, talented DP Ben Lichty was scooped away by an enviable assignment, director Victor Fan and I gelled over discussions of clublife at the millennia in Toronto, a time and place when the city was a top global hotspot for dance parties. Just before the rise and fall of the entertainment district, people travelled from all over the world just to experience legendary gatherings. The talented people behind that wave today rise again. Victor and I bonded swapping stories, especially over his planned interview with Deko-ze, whose music I first ran into while wasting my most productive years of life in Alberta, finding fulfillment next to stacks of loudspeakers.

We didn’t chat before the interview, but I felt happy hearing Deko-ze talk about places, venues and parties I was connected to, creating a real shared connection that comes across on camera. This connection is something that provides real sizzle – more than great sound or picture – but you so rarely have time to build. In fact, sometimes as a cameraperson you may not even be introduced (although it is a best practice to treat us like real people, it’s simply not always possible). In such a case, a shared connection to the content or something totally unrelated can sometimes build real intimacy into an on-camera appearance, and the confidence everyone feels comes across on camera. This chemistry is what gels together a production team. When there is real trust established, the result goes from ho-hum to pop!

On the other hand, bad vibes on set have killed many a technically brilliant show. Audiences are WIRED to pick up all those micro-emotional messages people give off when something feels wrong. For those times when you feel doubt about yourself, channeling the nearly invisible churchmouse ninja can help to keep things stable on the outside. There are also a number protocols around eye contact which may or may not apply depending on the work environment in what region or producorial fiefdom you inhabit.

That’s why filmmakers look for a crew who can provide more than great portfolios. As well as the right skills, the right candidate can relate to the other crew, and effectively read and respond to the emotional cues of those in front of the lens.

Family Pride at World Pride 2014


If you are thinking of working in, or visiting Toronto, there is something to do here every single weekend.

Pride has an enormous impact on the city, and this year the city hosted “World Pride” for the first time. If you live downtown, Pride will somehow announce itself to you. Perhaps your view, like my office-mate’s, is that “everyone has their own views, don’t they?”

Since my first year here, where we used Pride as the guerilla backdrop for an indie film by slipping into the un-barricaded march with our star to shoot a scene with our DVX100 (in 24P!), it seems like this was the first year I haven’t been working the event, this time having the distinct honour of marching in the parade “officially” for the first time.

You might wonder, “UR a family guy with a kid, WTFRU doing at Pride?” Well, Pride is a family event. I marched with the union to represent acceptance, against discrimination, and to openly support close friends and relatives who have faced needless discrimination because of their gender and sexual identities. It is true, I once was afraid and/or vocally against anything that smacked of “gay,” a label my childhood friends used to taunt me with because I speak with my hands and like to match my clothes. Stereotypes! Participating in drag events for work first exposed me to this subculture in an accepting way. That, and a love of house music! But, those too are stereotypes, and subjects for another post. I promise.

We received strict instructions that ONLY THOSE ON THE LIST WOULD MARCH, worded so tersely that I worried out loud to my wife and daughter about the permanent revisions they snipped and tied into Syd’s official t-shirt. “We’ve modified the uniform,” I worried.

Unfounded fears. First, this is the THEATRICAL UNION, so artists and stylists were on hand and at the ready with scissors, ribbons and accessories. Our new friends helped us to accessorize and finish our wardrobes, and brought Bliss some much needed cold water.

Secondly, this parade is about turning oppression into pride – so it would not really be the Pride parade at all if rulebreakers were punished. Even at the first-ever World Pride, heavy with the slick veneer of sponsorship and fees to officially march, you may note the parade’s attendance thickening by end-of-route, as joiners-on of all kinds find their way through and over the barricades.

Near us, the infiltration began with a polite new labour-oriented, kilted friend who joined us from Boston (drawn to our Boston Terrier). Then as we rolled out to march, some rebellious flag-bearers unfurled a very naughty banner behind us. An angry-looking, yet well apportioned nude fellow joined by two friends, rudely (some said) inserted themselves and their hand-scrawled message between us and our brethren in the Ontario Federation of Labour. More of concern to me personally, this also separated us from the DJ, and the refreshing water guns on the float behind.

But, somehow even in the 30 above, humid heat, cooler heads prevailed. After some tense negotiations between the union rep and the nude man while we paused along Bloor Street, everyone marched together. Based on the very nice multicam setup witnessed by the writer of this post, we presume the directors of the televised feed were able to excise most of our rude friends’ appearance. I have left a few frames of the rebels intact for your enjoyment, and their validation, above.

After our march finished, we retired to the Family Pride compound where we kicked around a ball and tucked into some street food before our friend went off to work Blockorama.

9 Years of Battle on Film

One of the most exciting, but difficult things about documentary production is the push-pull between what the real world delivers and the film you have promised to make. Sometimes even when reality refuses to cooperate, you are committed to letting the story play itself out. This film was one of those experiences. It took real time for the character of these 4 incredible dancers to fully come apparent on the screen.

As for my part, I spent 7 years on the hustle trying to make up a $1,000,000 budget. Time and time again, we came close on paper, but the financing game requires that you have ALL of the money, AT THE SAME TIME. The target moved. We lowered the budget. With a licence from IFC Canada finally making up a key gap, we cheered! But we found the material not ready to release. In the meantime, IFC was sold and could not wait for us to finish. We were back to sweating it. It was our second time saying goodbye to a major deal, and it would not be the last.

Despite the loss of our licence, Lynne Carter at IFC graciously continued to support Rob’s filmmaking by commissioning him to direct episodes of Rawside and City Sonic, where he met Tristen Bakker, in whose hands the story began to take form. Ever the documentarian, Rob reinvested in the film to get it finished. Chuck Scott from Caber came forward and invested with me to shoot a leg in Europe; Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, The Studio Upstairs and One Method contributed, as did numerous crew.

After exhausting our contacts in sales and distribution, having chased broadcasters all the way to Amsterdam in search of the ‘right’ deal, I handed what I had back to Rob and left him in the mentoring hands of the talented Ann Shin. Rob closed the last $15,000 for mastering by crowdfunding it, just in time for a World Premiere at NXNE.

Eventually the film ended up with David Piperni at Cargo Releasing, who was, in fact, our very first offer, and whose, and airing on CBC Documentary, which was our first major courtship with a broadcaster. Now it is in your hands. At least, that is, if you buy the DVD.

This Song Went Marching Through My Head

Zeus “Marching Through Your Head” from Alan Poon on Vimeo.

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? That’s what happens when you work on a music video, especially a catchy tune like Zeus’ “Marching Through Your Head”

A fun but labor intensive collaboration between Zeus, the artists afterwards known as Makapoon (Adam Makarenko and Alan Poon), HLP+Partners post facility. Shot stop-motion on Canon 5D, with the keying done on an EX1 connected by SDI to a mobile data station which we brought to Sterling Studios. Zeus put in a brilliant performance and Talia Reingold’s positive influence on the production led us to hire her back later on Where are the Dolls.

This was a VideoFACT financed video on the Arts & Crafts label.

The most common question I get from people is “how did you get the band to look like they were animated?” and my answer is that we puppetted them. Stop motion style. They had to interrupt their tour for us*.

I produced, co-edited, and post-supervised with Stephen Bosco playing a key link in the post chain. A massive team effort with Adam and Alan in the key roles. You can watch their later work here and here.

* this is a fabrication. People do ask this question. If you’re curious about anything leave a comment!