Working With Murphy 2:Beyond College

More Moviesplaining out of me.  On the day of graduation, one of my instructors asked if I had anyone there to see me get me go up. I told him my mom would be there so he deemed it worthwhile to point out that my shirt buttons were out of alignment.  Good save. I have finally learned something worthwhile from him. Our previous conversation days before in his office found him asking me what I plan to do after school with my life and I said I’ll write my screenplays and direct them.  He said, “So you plan to pass yourself off as a writer-director, eh?” There might not have been an eh but it’s there for the tone.  I honestly do not remember what I said in response.  I found irritation boiling up.  Had I not believed he still could lower my mark or something, I might have said, “Better than passing myself off as a writing and directing teacher!”  Or, “Yes, I’ll fool people by writing the script and then directing it.” To this day, that mind fu*k still bothers me.  It makes me potentially a control freak.  I don’t want to put an asterisk beside my credits.  A screenwriter gets feedback on a script so it might not be word for word dictated to me by the Archangel Gabriel.  But even if someone points out an “issue” with  script, I like to solve it myself. In directing, I do like to storyboard everything and follow that as closely as possible.  There are so many ways Murphy’s Law can trip you up but the only way I feel vindicated for my vision is if I follow it.

After graduation, I had a health problem that made walking difficult and ran me down so I returned home from the big city and recuperated at my dad’s house. I found myself writing out monologues that had only been glimmers of ideas a year before.  Something had opened up in my mind after downshifting and beginning to convalesce.  Organized and performed in a couple of monologue shows, and for the community channel 12 Halloween show that year I knuckled down and made a short called The Basement about a young woman who has car trouble and asks a nice old gentleman to use his phone and he traps her in his basement.  We shot it at my dad’s place. Used equipment from Cable 12, shot on 3/4 inch.  The old man was played by a nice man who had operated camera for a one-woman show I had recorded in the studio.  A couple of local theater actors had turned me down.  The heroine was played by a girl I met in a production of Dark of the Moon.  The lead of that production had said no. A lot of this movie turned out quite nicely. The actors were enthusiastic.  It had some dark humor and suspense.  As written, it had a great turning of the tables and escape.  Unfortunately, this was a two day shoot and the second day would have been a coffee scene for character development and then the escape from the basement but my actress was a no show.  Cell phones being less common then, I heard nothing until a week later.  So I only shot the bad-guy’s side and implied the death of the girl he had locked in the basement washroom.  One joke is, “Did you die in there?” I was told finally that the reason she was AWOL on day two was that she stayed with a girlfriend who had been suicidal.  My unspoken reaction to that was “so… did her place have a phone?” But maybe she didn’t have my number and I just let it go. Years later, since we know some of the same people, I met that actress in Toronto and then later on Facebook we touched base.  Bottom line was that she asked me not to post The Basement on-line.  Annoying.  But I have been re-adapting it off and on for a possible remake that I can share in the future.

The next year I wrote a short called Forty Winks, about a charm a child wears to bed that will freeze time while he is asleep and because his babysitter is in contact at the moment he conks out, she is able to roam around find the neighborhood in stasis. There are some tableaux moments she re-positions.  I started shooting with a friend of the family, and still used a couple of shots where she could not be identified.  But I ended up with an actress who was very good despite her reputation for maybe starting a fire at school.  The boy arguably was a little too old to be told bedtime stories.  While some of the movie might have been clunky, it mostly turned out.  There had been a written enactment of a legend of Forty Winks that involved a harem and a pharaoh winking at each wife before he slept and them clinging to his garment as time froze.  I cast the pharaoh with one of my home town’s strongest young actors and he was in a robe on a throne in the studio and ready but the sisters who had played the friends of the lead in another scene were supposed to be featured harem girls and they did not show up.  So a chunk of the movie is more telling than showing. And it may not have made me look good for the actor who did show up.  His father had turned down the role of the psycho in the previous year’s short.  When I made the leap back to Toronto permanently, I showed that actor a terrible draft of another script (where I tried to combine two of my ideas and it was too busy). He showed up drunk outside the place where I was staying and just yelled in passing, “It’s garbage!  It’s garbage!”  So he’s gone on to better things but as far as I’m concerned he is in the a-hole file.

I did another community TV Halloween short, this time called Maniac Wannabe about various horror situations going wrong because the prospective victim is smarter or the would-be killer is accident prone.  In hindsight it was pretty ambitious.  One exterior scene was compromised because I had the wrong filter on.  It was yet another camera borrowed from the station and I had overlooked why the image seemed so easy to see in the viewfinder.  It was over-exposed, but I was able to take out some of the light in post. The killer is a successful stand-up comic and MC in Toronto now.  No thanks to me.  We also did a strange short about wandering around the public library fearing he is being watched or followed.  It allowed for some good editing gimmicks and represents the one time I got some production value by getting the library to allow us to film during the closed morning of “Rae Days” when the Provincial government cut back on library hours.

I visited Toronto to help a couple of other filmmakers in a minor capacity.  I was continuity and second assistant camera on an “erotic” anthology.  I was continuity and a production assistant on a Humber classmate’s black and white feature.  That was another case where one of the actresses did not want to sign a release after shooting had started.  That made for some nerves but must have been resolved.  That movie was not finally edited until more than a decade when a couple of us really badgered the director, but he finally had a screening and we got closure and a copy and he is still the one of us that has directed a feature at the time of this writing.  One danger is that right after shooting something you might hear the dialogue differently.  There might be a temptation to lose passion for a project once some of the steam pressure has vented.  However imperfect a movie might be, better to complete it near the time of shooting.

In the year 2000, a school friend from the same project who had encouraged me to make a more permanent leap back to Toronto sold me a roll of 16mm film stock that required an exterior shoot.  I had sat down to type up a batch of short scripts with the intention of gradually shooting them all.  One was “Klepto the Clown” and one was called “Support Group” and one was “Nic Fit” of the few that actually got shot.  I had met a random character named Sterling in a Second Cup who noticed I was storyboarding Nic Fit and let me know he had a Bollex camera he had not yet used to shoot anything.  He had spend enough money on the camera that it put a strain on his marriage, and yet it sat there.  Many of us buy cameras and then don’t dive into projects.  They can be monuments to inertia.  Another friend (brother of the guy who sold the stock) agreed to help load the film.  A magazine was rented from LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) as well as a tripod but I neglected to test the mount and it didn’t fit.  Found out on the location, a lot behind my cousin Linda’s apartment building.  The behind the scenes account is a little more elaborate in the following commentary video.

 

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Jawsphobia

Filmmaker, from North Bay, Ontario, currently in Toronto. Graduated from Humber Film and TV Production in the Nineties. Made countless short films.

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