Ford and the Forest of Memory

I caught the car bug young. My parents took me to the antique car show as a kid and I loved all the old cars. My best friend’s big brother could draw cars like nobody else. People used to take his pencil sketches of their cars and frame them. His family was loyal to Chevrolet. And, while the ’57 Chevy was the first car I learned to recognize on sight, Ford is the brand that resonates in my heart. Ford means family to me.

Aside from the fact that Henry Ford changed the world by creating the market for automobiles, the reason is this: my dad’s family farm has been loyal to the Ford brand for three generations. Ever since my grandfather finally ran his 1964 Plymouth Valiant into the ground, the farm family drove only Ford trucks.

The brothers had a very low opinion of the Valiant, but I think that car’s eventual failure had more to do with the 50km of hard gravel roads between their farm and the nearest town, and perhaps the reality of transporting five boys in the family, three of whom who grew to six feet or taller. The Valiant never stood a chance.

After the Valiant died, was stripped for parts and left standing, it rotted in the bush for two decades before an extremely stubborn prospective aunt finally broke the farm’s Ford run. She moved out to the farm and refused to give up her four-wheel-steering Honda Prelude. But it didn’t last.  After the wedding, she traded in the Prelude for a forest green Ford Aerostar.

As a rule, the farm trucks had the lowest possible trim package and no options.

My mom and dad’s first family vehicle was a blue 1981 Ford F100. It had a bench seat for 3. That’s what made it a family vehicle. I could ride on a booster in the passenger seat.

At the age of 12, dad strapped me onto another bench seat by way of a yellow pages, and attempted to teach me to drive on the top of the icy hill where our rural mailbox stood. I skidded that silver 1978 Ford F-150 4×4 right off the road and into the snowy ditch. The neighbour pulled us out with his extended cab 4×4, also a Ford.

Concessions to fuel economy and child safety eventually led our family into a maroon 1988 Ford Taurus. When that car began overheating on long, snowy winter drives, we moved on to a green Ford Explorer. I loved that Explorer but the keys were awfully hard to come by. I mostly got to drive Grandpa’s red and white 1984 Ford Ranger 2WD, great for burning donuts in the dirt. I took that Ranger to my first volunteer job, and on my first few dates, before buying my own car (a Dodge).

By that time, Grandpa had upgraded to a black and silver extended cab 4×4 Ranger with a tape deck and air conditioning. It was probably the first farm vehicle aside from a tractor with air.

After Grandpa passed, first his son, then an adopted grandson, drove that air conditioned Ranger.

Today, the uncles still drive Ford trucks with front bench seats, although they’ve given in and pay for air conditioning on all their vehicles. Another generation is taking over the farm, and as far as I know, Ford still rules their domain, an unbroken reign of 40 years.

So, given all that Ford history, when I got the call to work on a series of adventures for Ford by way of Blue Hive and Blue Ant in 2015, I jumped at the chance. Led by Alan at Blue Hive, Roadside Attractions was produced by Renée and Nick at Blue Ant, directed by Jim Morrison IV, and lensed by DP Christoph Benfey. Nick Coffin was a superb 1st AC. I had a great time operating camera and getting to know our participants. It’s worth watching the videos just to get their stories.

On the technical side, we shot primarily available light, mostly with Canon glass and cameras, working with everything from car mounts to drones to gimbals, and as always, there was a healthy amount of handheld work.

I found that as we crossed Canada, memories of camping with mom and dad and our extended family came unbidden, especially as we drove up and down the mountain roads of Vancouver Island.

I’m deeply thankful for the opportunity to live the roadside adventure for one of my favourite brands, working with a super-talented team. The campaign was successful, quickly garnering over 300,000 views on Cottage Life and Youtube. Today the six videos have over a million views.

A link to the campaign here:

And the videos we worked on here:

When I Refused to do a Woman’s Work, and was Humbled

This is a story about institutionalized bigotry, something I know something about as a cameraperson.

I was exposed to institutional diversity in University and working for Scotiabank and have since found that it offers tangible benefits, especially in a creative workplace. Working in documentary has further opened my once-bigoted mind. What changed me most was attending Hot Docs year after year, filling my brain with stories from perspectives far outside of my own. Over time I’ve become outspoken in arguing for inclusion and real diversity. On occasion this has led to my being blacklisted or called out as a bandwagon jumper.

Mostly though, I’m no pariah. Rather, I’ve benefitted from sharing these views.  There’s research backing this phenomenon.

And it has made me a much better person and improved my life in three key ways.

Firstly, by having diverse people around me, my viewpoints are broadened, making me a better filmmaker and storyteller.  I’m acquainted with the benefits of many divergent points of view, making me more sensitive as a decision maker, and, perhaps, less likely to fall victim to hoaxes on facebook or pseudoscientific thinking.  For the intelligent or discerning client, it is a hint that even if we disagree on something, I will be committed to working it out.

This forces me to adopt alternate points of view, meaning that I attempt to validate the people around me in a real way, by listening, and attempting to see what the world looks and feels like from somewhere, or someone else.

Secondly, it means that people who also believe in these values feel comfortable hiring me.

Thirdly, it means I am sometimes the only white person, or the only Canadian, or the only male, on a crew.  This is such a privilege that I can’t believe my luck when it happens.

This is one of those stories.

Someone found me on the internets and asked me about my availability to shoot some testimonials at a conference.  As the father of a young girl who wants to be an inventor, I was very interested in the job.

Initially, I expressed sincere enthusiasm, but after some thought, I responded to the producer. I gave her the names of 7 local, talented female Directors of Photography who I knew could complete the work at their rate.  My reasoning was, that this was a conference on WOMEN in science. Shouldn’t a woman be behind the camera? After all, camerawork suffers the same institutional problem as academic science: a sad lack of women working in the field.

In the TV business, there are so few female cinematographers and camera crew working, that sometimes, all the women I know and trust are hired out and busy.  However, that is less true today. As time goes on there are more and more women behind the camera. And this year, a group of female cinematographers started the International Collective of Female Cinematographers:

The producer thanked me for the names and then I didn’t hear back from them for a while.  

A few days later, the producer’s boss called me and made an offer.  “I understand all that,” he said when I explained why I didn’t want the job, “but they want you.”

I was stymied. I knew for a fact that some of the women I’d referred were far beyond my own abilities. I assumed he was buttering me up and that the women I’d referred were booked.  Nothing sounds better to a filmmaker than that someone actually wants you to work for them.  And, I needed the work. My weary therapist had just told me that sticking too rigidly to my values caused me a lot of trouble, so I decided to put my faith in the producer and the team, and go ahead with it rather than be stupid by turning down work I needed.

To balance the team, I sought out a female Sound Person slash AC with a degree in Physics, and a female producer who was working on her Masters.  My field producer fell ill on the morning of the shoot, so the remaining two of us packed into our rental car and headed to Kitchener-Waterloo with a C100 and C300, a few lights and soundkit in the trunk.

As seems to always happen on the way to Kitchener, an accident occurred ahead of us on the freeway. Although we had left in time to be an hour early, we sat on the highway inching forward for 40 minutes before receiving a warning on the radio that the road was closed starting one exit ahead of us. So, I pulled off the freeway onto a single lane highway, and headed West. Our move worked and we zipped along the highway, pausing periodically at 4-way stops. When we passed the blockage, we got back onto the empty freeway.

We checked in with our client and let them know about the sick call and the traffic.  We still managed to arrive more or less on time, a little flustered and down one woman, but ready to go.  

Word passed around quickly and our interview list filled up.  The client was very concerned with getting everyone’s story for the record, and so we respected that approach and shot tirelessly through both days.

I worked to channel one of my mentors, Henry Less, who had always shot beautiful and respectful portraiture, and who could operate two cameras simultaneously.  We rolled on their stories unfolding, playing mostly with available light and working with multiple locations at the school.  Our soundie did a terrific job working in very difficult conditions, at a live conference in a busy public space. Both of us were moved to tears repeatedly over the course of the interviews.

I felt privileged to meet and interview close to 40 incredible women, who forged success in the face of impossible odds, and who were brave enough to share their stories. I am grateful to Skystorm and the American Association of Physic Teachers for the opportunity.

Another interesting reading on the topic: