RETROSPECTIVE: A BRIEF PORTRAIT OF A NORTHERN SUMMER IN PROGRESS

The summer of 2015 played in slow-motion.

Partly because I was obsessed with the ability of the iPhone 5s to shoot video at 60-frames-per-second and partly because it was an especially beautiful summer, one exploding with memories, with beauty. Certainly it was that way with me.

It was the last summer I lived on my own. Lizzie was living in the apartment across the hall and our relationship was maturing in fits and starts. Our lives overflowed into each other’s rooms. I had my dad’s old Kuwahara road bike and I took it everywhere. I had emerged from the fog of the strongest and scariest depressive episode of my life and it was like seeing the world for the first time. Everything seemed beautiful, easy. Everyone seemed to be making art. Everyone seemed a model. Obama was still in office; the world still felt “progressive.” And as always in the summer, the Northern sun hung around — low, so low in the sky — until late, late in the evening, casting a golden sheen over everything, irradiating the night with golden warmth that lingers in the thick summer air.

Everything felt like it should be filmed, so since we now all had HD cameras in our pockets I filmed everything. I made little 15 second assemblies of daily life and shared them on Instagram. When a new film festival was announced for one-minute silent films only, I cut this piece together from what I’d gathered — sort of a “greatest hits” album — and submitted. It received 1st place at the festival. There was a cash prize. I don’t remember what I spent the money on, but I suspect it simply went towards a perpetuation of the innocence and beauty that was that summer: towards boxed wine and cheap beer; towards gas for the old pickup; towards clove cigarettes; towards the door at Wunderbar (RIP); towards the tip jar at Empress; towards used books at Al Hambra; towards cappuccinos at Iconoclast; towards the future of a life lived.

Hope you’re well, wherever you are.

Until next time.

-Nn

RETROSPECTIVE: THIS WIND

What I remember about This Wind:

Mom texting me to let me know that the letter from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts had come to their house and I was selected to receive $14 000 to make the film. My first ever significant grant application and subsequent selection.

Scouting my friend Hans’s parents’ property outside Camrose. Feeling very alive and free on the drive there and standing out in the wind. Feeling like a filmmaker with filmmaker friends. Connected to something. Blogging about this feeling later.

Casting Cayley and Andrew who became two of my favourite actors ever to grace our city. Rehearsing with them on my living room floor a week before the shoot. “Andrew, you need to relax your whole body man,” I said. “You cast a ninja in your movie, what did you expect?” said Cayley, after learning Andrew was a jiu-jitsu instructor.

Going with Aerlan to a weird hole-in-the-wall photo supply store to buy $200 worth of bleached muslin. Rigging this whole dolly-on-a-jib thing so we could get close to the actors and also move with them. Fighting the wind. Shooting long, long takes and running out of card space so that poor Andrew only got three takes of his whole coverage before we lost the light.

This picture by Kate of me trying (successfully!) to move some cows out of the shot:

Spending half the day shooting two scenes that aren’t in the movie.

Ruining Trina’s shoes that were a gift from her grandma not because I used them as a prop in the opening but because I crudely shoved them into a bag before driving home. How upset she was about this and how well she hid it.

Driving to Vancouver in October to edit the film with Aerlan. Having to buy new winter tires before driving back in November. Trina and I trying to learn all the words to “Backseat Freestyle” on that drive home and getting the first two verses down but giving up on the third.

Receiving the Outstanding Short Film or Video award at FAVA Fest for the second year in a row. Feeling very firmly established. Feeling like the logical next step was that we were going to naturally progress into making the feature film I had written around this scene. Not knowing that I was on the verge of the most difficult year of my life. Secretly knowing I wasn’t ready to make a feature film anyway.

Knowing that feature script is still sitting on a hard drive. Hoping to clean it up and still make it someday.

Hope you enjoy this quiet little movie. I think the acting is great and the photography is beautiful. I’m very proud and grateful for everyone who helped to make it. Thank you thank you thank you, wherever you are.

Take care take care take care.

-Nn

RETROSPECTIVE: CITIES AND PLAINS

This was the first narrative short I made out of film school. Basically what happened was I saw Joe Swanberg’s Nights And Weekends on Netflix (back when Netflix was low-key like that) and I thought: I can do that, but maybe about more down-to-earth (i.e. prairie) characters that aren’t completely insufferable in every way! So I called up Trina Lister, a young improviser I had met at the inaugural FAVA Fest gala a few months earlier and the only person I knew who I thought would be wild and spontaneous enough to spend all of August trying to make a movie with me. It was conceived as something that would be feature-length; Treen and I sketched out the story arc, outlined all the scenes, and then we improvised the dialogue when we shot. We shot about half of it ourselves with the camera on a tripod and wireless microphones, and the other half was shot by my dear friend Aerlan Barrett who jury-rigged a Frankensteinian shoulder rig out of an old photo tripod and followed us around with my 7D and the only two lenses I owned. I flew my friend Dayleigh Nelson out from Vancouver on points so he could come play with us for a few days…where he came up with that bit about Mary Elizabeth Winstead I will never know. I still vividly remember Dayleigh crashing on my couch and spending an entire day watching three movies back to back (one of them was definitely Visconti’s The Leopard, but I can’t remember the other two…).

Even though we shot more than enough to cut something feature-length, I ended up chopping it down to 22 minutes, basically the “greatest-hits” of everything we had. It just wouldn’t have worked as a feature…there wasn’t enough story happening and the dynamism of Aerlan’s handheld camerawork was so much more engaging than all the static stuff we had shot ourselves that essentially it rendered it obsolete. For these reasons, this learning process, and so much more, making this movie was formative. It won the Outstanding Short Film award at FAVA Fest the following year, the first time I had ever received any recognition from my peers. It remains an incredible time capsule, and the spirit in which it was made, the “just grab a camera and go” attitude of freedom and exuberance, is something I feel I’m perpetually longing for and trying to get back to.

Hope you’re having a great one wherever you are. And wherever you are: I encourage you to grab a camera, grab a few friends, and go make something. Go see what happens. I dare you.

-Nn

RETROSPECTIVE: small talk

This little movie was made because my friend Doug Hoyer (of Oh, The Wind Will Blow fame) told me that the Sled Island music festival in Calgary had a film component and the deadline was in 10 days and I should make something and submit. I thought about musicians in Edmonton I wanted to make a movie a movie about and top of the list was Liam Trimble. So I followed him around with my 7D for a few days and stayed up all night cutting this thing together and sent it to Sled Island, my first ever “festival submission” and it got in. It was a big deal for me, probably one of the first times I really felt like a filmmaker…it got me a free pass to Sled Island and I spent a hazy two or three days stumbling back and forth between 7th and 17th in Calgary, between my friends’ weird sets at Tubby Dog and bands like Timber Timbre and Feist at bigger venues.

The song Liam plays at the end is still one of the most magical and serendipitous things I’ve ever filmed. We only did the one take and I had no idea what he was going to do, no idea he was going to walk down the alley like that, no idea it was dark enough that people’s motion-sensor garage lights would start going off as we made our way. I still can’t believe the way it turned out, and how good it looks and sounds considering I was just hand-bombing my 7D on a 24mm lens and recording sound with a camera-mounted Rode video mic with the gain set to auto! Just one of those things. One of those things that keep you coming back to filmmaking. One of those reasons why you should just pick up a camera and start rolling. Every day if you can. Think less. Shoot more. I should take my own advice.

Hope you enjoy! I think it’s a nice little time capsule. RIP Wunderbar. RIP Old Ugly. Hello, old friends.

– Nn

RETROSPECTIVE : “Oh, The Wind Will Blow”

Hey all,

It’s an unprecedented era of uncertainty for a lot of people right now. For me, it’s a pretty precedented era of uncertainty; not knowing what I’m going to be doing next month or even next week is pretty much SOP at this point.

I empathize deeply for those who have been directly affected by the pandemic either through loss of life, illness, or fear. For myself — and I think for a lot of creative people — this pause in the global hustle has brought an opportunity to re-prioritize and re-focus. Correspondingly, I’ve been able to carry out a re-invention that I’d been planning for a few months. The new moniker Nnett Rhys brings with it an opportunity to keep my art life a bit more separate from my personal life, a separation that was very much needed, an escape from the Instagram-fuelled rat race of personal brands that can insidiously distort reality.

But, at the risk of sounding distressingly cliché: you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. So I’ve decided to re-emerge from a few months of internet silence by going back through my near decade’s worth (!) of previous work and selectively highlighting some of my favourite projects.

So we start at the very beginning, with Oh, The Wind Will Blow. The first music video I ever made. The first music video I was ever asked to make! Still one of my favourite projects after all these years, Doug’s lovingly sincere ballet with a car lamp (and homage to David Byrne’s performance of “This Must Be The Place” in Stop Making Sense) continues to warm my heart. I love the simplicity of the concept and the effectiveness of our execution. Shot on my trusty old Canon 7D — the camera that defined my entry into making little movies — at FAVA’s exhibition suite in the old Ortona Armoury where so, so, so, much bizarre and beautiful work has happened. Nothing but great memories associated with this one. Thank you, Doug, for giving me my start!

Hope you enjoy this and above all: hope that you are well!

Until next time,

– Nn

Carrying A Camera

I’ve started taking a camera everywhere again as a way to feel more engaged with and inspired by life on a daily basis. I found I’d lost much of the inherent joy the creation of images used to bring me, bogged down instead by a sense of entitlement, a sense that if I’m not getting paid to record something it’s not worth documenting. But this is a terribly cynical way to move through life and an especially negative outlook towards something I profess to love deeply. A happy person will tell you that the key to their happiness is remembering that life is full of spontaneous beauty. The act of carrying a camera symbolizes a devotion to this beauty and a desire to share it with others. For me I think it also represents a willingness to accept the fact that I deserve to be here, to exist, as much as anyone or anything else. I don’t know why this is so hard for me to accept, but if carrying a camera assuages this guilt and replaces it with a feeling of excitement about the ominous beauty of an industrial park in the late afternoon light or a feeling of pride surrounding the glamorous look my wife has put together for her latest poetry reading then I will continue to carry one. I will continue.

Here are some favourites from the last few months. I hope this finds you well, wherever and whoever you are.

Until next time,

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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Talking DIGGING IN THE DIRT on the MODERN MANHOOD Podcast

I recently had the privilege of speaking with German Villegas on the Modern Manhood podcast. The show aims to change the kinds of conversations we have around what it means to “be a man.” This was certainly part of the focus of Digging In The Dirt, so it was a natural fit. Our conversation spans about half an hour, during which we speak about the documentary, Omar’s earlier writing on this subject, my short film Peak Oil , and just generally what it’s like growing up and continuing to live in Alberta.

I hope you enjoy the show, and that you’re having an excellent day wherever you are. You can listen to the episode here:

Ep 92: “Oil and Men Pt 2: Digging in The Dirt” w/ Dylan Rhys Howard

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

 

NORELL – “SAVE”

New video for Norell is live. You can watch it here. Very fun for me to try my hand at drawing directly on film stock, something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t out of the usual fear of trying something new. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how that kind of fear informs so much of our behaviour and has so much to do with why the world is the way it is.

Hope you enjoy it 1/2 as much as we enjoyed making it 🙂 Here’s a look behind the scenes, excerpts from texts between the lead singer and me.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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SEPTEMBER 18th 11:48 AM

“Hey man! It’s Ty Elgie Hope all has been well with you since we last talked.

I’m also stoked that it looks like Digging In The Dirt is getting well received!

Just wondering if you had a chance to listen to the tune yet or if you had any ideas for the video. I found a few screenshots of the silhouette effect that interests us, so I’ll send those over your way in this message as well.

No worries if you need a little more time!”

 

SEPTEMBER 19th 3:44 PM

“Hey Ty! So sorry for being out of touch — shit really hit the fan with my documentary and I’ve been putting out fires for two weeks UGH. Anyway, it’s all good now (mostly).

I listened to the track and it’s great of course. Man can you ever write a fucking rock song. Mid to late October is still looking good for me if it’s still looking good for you. Should we peg a date and work towards it?”

OCTOBER 17th 4:56 PM

Hey Ty, what do you think of shooting in a plain white studio like this.

But shooting in colour

And projecting scratch animation comparable to this on the back wall and onto the band members as well.”

“That sound absolutely awesome. I love it”

“Okay cool! We can also play a lot with lens flares. Shooting anamorphic makes lens flares do that JJ Abrams thing where they’re super rectangular and crazy :)”

“I’m cool with that as well! Sounds great man. I’ll make sure we’re dressed in black and white so the colours pop.”

DIGGING IN THE DIRT Now Live on CBC GEM

Almost exactly a year ago, I walked out of the bar at the Hotel MacDonald in downtown Edmonton with a handshake deal to produce an hour of television for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have since been sarcastically referring to this moment as “the most-showbizzy thing that’s ever happened to me,” but it meant I was set to produce a 45 minute documentary with some of my best friends about a subject I cared passionately about: the effect of gruelling work and high expectations on people’s well-being, explored and examined through the stark example provided by the oil and gas industry in Alberta.

Today, the film is live on CBC’s streaming service, CBC GEM, and will broadcast on the main CBC network in Alberta at 7 PM. I want to write more about what this doc has meant to me, not just as a filmmaker, but as a person. For now, for posterity, here is the thank-you I posted on FB for the crew:

You may now watch DIGGING IN THE DIRT whenever you want on CBC GEM. I’m going to watch it on TV tonight with my parents in a moment that I’m sure will feel equal parts surreal, vulnerable, and cathartic. 7 PM on CBC. Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to keep doing this over the years. I’m really glad it all brought me here.

In addition to the people who gave us their time and opened up their hearts as featured subjects in the documentary, I’d like to thank some of the talented and beautiful people who lent their skill and effort to this film:

Omar Mouallem, co-producer and co-director, whose compassionate eye towards oil and gas workers in his journalism work inspired this project. Our skillsets dovetailed better than I could have hoped as we put this documentary together.

Blake McWilliam, executive producer, who has taught me so much about business and life, and who has, in more ways than I seem to be able to remind him, given me chance after chance to prove that I can, in fact, make movies for a living.

aAron munson, cinematographer, who interprets an oil refinery like an abstract painting.

Tom Gunia, additional cinematography, continually gracious in the face of the absurdly un-cinematic situations I put him in, his work opens the film and sets the tone.

Krystal Moss, editor, who uncovered moments, glances, and gestures that I’d overlooked and imbued them with meaning. She took a series of interviews and a very slim catalogue of b-roll and turned it all into a film.

Matthew Cardinal, musician, whose ambient work intrinsically informs the way this movie feels. I told him to be inspired by construction sites and rail yards; he delivered this incredible score.

Johnny Blerot, sound designer, who truly, truly gets it. Every project. He knows what it needs and what it doesn’t. Reviewing a mix with Johnny is one of my favourite parts of making a film. It’s where the thing comes to life, where it ceases to be a series of images and becomes a movie.

Jim Cuming for ALWAYS letting me put at least one Jom Jam in everything I make.

And of course my incredible partner, Lizzie Derksen, who wrote the voiceover for this film. We push ourselves to collaborate, though truthfully it can be difficult to do so. We have our own ideas about how something should sound and feel, what it should say. I’m constantly challenged by her, and hopefully I challenge back. You need that challenge to sustain a dynamic relationship with someone you love. And often, like with this film, you end up with something you know you couldn’t have done on your own. I’m grateful that her words flow throughout the piece and hold the whole thing together, like the guardian angel of the story. I’m grateful for her every day.

Special shout-out to Bryce Zimmerman, who put me in touch with Sheila and created the opportunity for DIGGING IN THE DIRT to have this platform! I am continually amazed and impressed by the capacity for Edmontonian filmmakers to look out for one another. In an industry marked by needlessly bloodthirsty competition and ego, we seem to have created a pocket of like-minded artists who truly just want good work to get out into the world. Thank you, buddy, and let me know what I can do for YOU on YOUR next one.

I hope this movie speaks to you, guys. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever made. I love you. Let’s keep making movies.

Dylan

 

 

SIMON GLASSMAN AND I TALK MAGNOLIA AND JURASSIC PARK

https://soundcloud.com/simon-glassman/050-jurassic-par-dylan-rys-howard-loves-magnolia?fbclid=IwAR2X4iCA4lKFAbAwxJrukLx4y1pD12S9CKdmw_lL4BlG48qKp3WrBKY7aFg

AUGUST 8TH 12:39 PM

“Hey man wanna come do my podcast? You pick you fav movie and we talk about it it’s called Jurassic Par.”

AUGUST 8TH 5:39 PM

“Oh hell yeah man I know JURASSIC PARK backwards and forwards. what if I want to argue that it’s the best Hollywood blockbuster of all time? What if I choose JURASSIC PARK, SImon?”

“And I argue something else? We caaaan do jurasssic park”

“No no that’s cool. Hmm MAGNOLIA is one of my favourite movies and it might be fun to discuss because it is so messy an imperfect and a lot of people hate it Also thank you for the invitation haha sorry that should’ve been the first thing I said.”

“Magnolia it is! When can you record?”

“Pretty open next week! Any day besides Monday. What is good for you?”

“Tuesday ok,?”

AUGUST 13TH 10:22 AM

“Hey pal, my wife asked me to join her at therapy at 4 PM, I feel like I can’t say no…is there any chance we could pull back to 2 or even 1:30 today?”

“yeah sure! could you do noon?”

“1 would be better, I’m in a mix session right now. Is that cool?”

“no problem”

“SENSATIONAL. See you soon!”

AUGUST 13th 9:54 PM

“lol it didn’t say award winning on the fb event Oops”

AUGUST 14th 9:58 AM

“you are a hero among podcasters and among men”

AUGUST 14th 1:00 PM

“in all seriousness: nice job on the edit! And thanks again for having me!”

“Your a great guest! Let me know if you wanna do another movie sometime”

_________________________________________

 

Until next time. Dylan – Edmonton, AB