A Conversation I May Or May Not Have Had With A Complete Stranger In Blue River

“Howdy!”
“Howdy.”
“…”
“You making good time? I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the mountains this smoothly.”
“Yeah, we’re doing well! Not so many people today.”
“Where you headed?”
“Prince George. You?”
“Vancouver.”
“Where you coming from?”
“Edmonton.”
“Long day.”
“Yep.”
“What’re doing in Vancouver?”
“Little business, little pleasure.”
“What’s business?”
“I’m an independent filmmaker? Believe it or not.”
“Well they got more film business in Vancouver than in Edmonton, I bet!”
“Yeah, I don’t really care about that.”
“You making a movie?”
“I guess so. I’m finishing my new short film.”
“A short film. Where can I see it when it’s done?”
“Well that’s sorta tricky. Short films don’t really get seen that much – the market’s kinda weird for them. Mostly they’re to prove to other movie people that you know what you’re doing so that they give you money to make a not-short film.”
“Oh.”
“For example, Steven Spielberg made a bunch of short films that played at film festivals before he ever made JAWS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.”
“I like JAWS! That’s a good one.”
“Yessir.”
“So do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Oh. Well, I’m still learning. But I think I have half a clue at least.”
“Better than NO clue.”
“Yep.”
“Well. You take care. Best of luck. Hope I get to see your name in the credits someday.”
“Thanks. Best of luck to you too. Safe travels.”
“…”
“…”
“Make a western sometime!”
“…”

A Brief Conversation About Advertising And The Future Of Everything

As anyone who lives in Edmonton knows, there is almost nowhere to eat downtown. And if you happen to discover, always too late, that one of your favourite places to eat happens to be closed until five when it reopens for dinner, and it’s, say, three-thirty, well, those are some dire circumstances indeed. I found myself in just such a predicament the other day. Hungry and alone, I stumbled through the streets of downtown, confronted with establishment after establishment offering food I wanted no part of. Finally I managed to find a loaf of artisan baked bread and thought I’d catch a bus home (no small feat there either, as any Edmonton resident will be happy to corroborate), and it was then that I was rescued by a phone call from my good friend Tyler, who is brave enough to rent an apartment right in the middle of this calamity of a downtown.

“Tyler. I’m hungry.”

“I know a place.”

Fifteen minutes later, we’re seated at a simple metal table in a nondescript Filipino restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown. The owner has overheard us talking with sad amazement about the high price of Oilers tickets, and has, in a rather unprecedented act of genuine kindness, gifted us two tickets to see Edmonton FC in response. There are maybe five people total in the restaurant, and two of them are in the back corner singing karaoke. I’m feeling grateful and invited and ready for hot food, which arrives promptly on a paper plate and tastes like everything I’ve been hoping for for the last hour.

Tyler works in marketing at MacEwan University.

“I’ve just come from the Arts campus, where I was shooting video for our website all day,” he begins. “It’s frustrating, though, because I never feel as though I’m getting the most out of the content.”

“What are you shooting with?”

“My iPad.”

“Tough.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think there’s any way to convince your bosses the value of hiring videographers or filmmakers to produce video content, even if it’s just for the website? I mean, everyone knows that if it’s not on YouTube, it’s not actually happening, right? And, potentially, the more slick the video, the more people are interested in that thing that’s happening.”

“I don’t think that’s an argument I can win at this point. Though the changes in media and marketing seem obvious to you and me, there’s still an established way of doing things that’s going to take time to deconstruct. I see everything I do right now as laying train tracks. Maybe I won’t see the full benefit of the changes that are happening, but the people who have my job after me will benefit from the strides I’m making. And I’ve made huge strides for our Faculty in my work with Facebook and social media. I have stats that show what you can do for the price of one antiquated radio ad through careful and inventive use of social media that are very impressive. But video is still sort of on the fence. Haven’t laid that track yet.”

“Well when that track is laid, let me know. Because I have a couple notions.”

“I’d love to have the chance to work on something like that together.”

The owner of the restaurant had hinted repeatedly that we should partake in his admittedly above-average karaoke facilities. I sang U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” just to sort of placate him and headed home after thanking Tyler for the meal, which he had purchased, and the conversation, which he had instigated.

The conversation with Tyler was emblematic of what I’ve been thinking about lately: the potential to do good, creative work within the realm of advertising, promotional material, and web content. There are tremendous opportunities here. I used to feel sort of chagrined at the notion of doing anything that might be considered “corporate.” But I think the “corporate” is becoming increasingly personal. I no longer think advertising works in a top-down way, where a centralized agency gets behind a loudspeaker (television and radio) and yells in people’s faces, competing to be the loudest voice in a cacophony of similar products. Social media has made everything a conversation. Advertising is now about engagement, about seeming like a real person trying to talk to other real people in real time. In that vein, I think that the video content companies and organizations create can appeal to people artistically. I think people like art. They like looking at a nice picture. They like watching something that is interesting or makes them laugh. As conventional (expensive) avenues of distribution like television and radio ads become less tenable and less important, we can take a fraction of the money used to purchase those ads and pay artists to create a piece that communicates the same information more uniquely and distribute the piece online. I’d like to think this could be a way for me and many others to make a living. People like Tyler are laying track all over the place; I’ll be ready and waiting to get in the driver’s seat of a few trains.

I should take a moment to say that my role model in the kind of tasteful, artful new method of marketing and communications I’m talking about here is my talented acquaintance Carmyn Joy Effa. I’ve always admired her photography, but recently I’ve come to really respect the way she seems to be navigating the waters of how to spin artistic talent into tasteful communications pieces that (hopefully) pay the bills. Here’s an example.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

Craftsmanship and New Trailer For THIS WIND

I’ve learned to enjoy editing. What used to frustrate me about it is that my lack of technical knowledge always got in the way of what I was trying to do. I knew where I wanted to go, but not how to get there. And you can read all the manuals and watch all the YouTube instructional videos you want; the only way you’re really going to learn how to do something is by doing it. And doing it. And doing it. And as you hunch closer and closer towards the computer screen, the pain creeps farther and farther into your shoulders.

I must have logged over a thousand hours now at Final Cut and I still know probably less than half of what it can do. I’m fine with that – I like having the chance to keep learning. Most directors work with editors who do the actual moving around of the pieces and the assemblies of the scenes. And my intention going into this film was to do exactly that. I’ve never been able to work with an editor before because I could never afford to hire one; I’ve always cut my projects myself (with the exception of Cities And Plains which was finessed beautifully by the DoP Aerlan Barrett after I showed him a rough cut) out of necessity. But recently I’ve been thinking about filmmaking as a function of craftsmanship. The Apple dictionary definition of craftsmanship is: the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry. Now, even most films that are still shot on film are edited digitally, which is not the same kind of working-with-your-hands as editing once was. But though the tools have changed, you absolutely still manipulate the medium with your hands. Shifting images around, manipulating sound levels, tweaking the colour scheme – editing is where the film is really made, assembled, crafted. “Quality of design and work shown by something made by hand” are values that I think absolutely still apply to filmmaking, though we use our hands in different ways.

I want to be a craftsman. I want to build and shape things. As much as I enjoy the more cerebral tasks of working with people in the planning and execution of a shoot, I want to be there to move the pieces around myself and see how they go together. I’ll always collaborate with someone more technically gifted than me, because people with a superior understanding of the technology involved will always have different ideas and some of them will always be better than mine. But I want to get my hands dirty, too. As dirty as they can get punching away at a keyboard and moving a mouse around, at least.

I hope you enjoy this latest little piece I’ve crafted. The whole movie will be finished soon, with the help of some other talented craftspeople who specialize in picture and sound.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

 

Infill Edmonton

I love the city of Edmonton, Alberta. And I’m perplexed by it. It’s this sprawling, squat homunculus of a city, full of one-story block-buildings and Soviet-era bunkers. I’m told Edmonton experienced its major construction boom in the ’70s, during the height of the Cold War; I can’t help but feel the majority of the structures in the city were built by people who expected everything they constructed to be blown to bits by an atomic bomb within ten years, and correspondingly they didn’t spend a great deal of time designing beautiful, interesting offices and homes that people could look forward to inhabiting for generations. So much of the city seems built like a bomb shelter. And now of course, there’s the ever-increasing sprawl of cookie-cutter houses expanding in all directions, away from the core, away from any hope of creating diverse communities with pedestrian traffic and independent shops, towards the further expansion of huge block-building department stores and their corresponding two-hundred-stall parking lots.

My very amateurish interest in architecture and urban planning is a function of my sort of inexhaustible interest in people. How people choose to structure their lives; the spaces they choose to inhabit; they way they choose to get around; where they decide to send their kids to school – in modernity, these choices all say a lot about the core values of a society. And these values are constantly changing, generation to generation.

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Tegan Martin-Drysdale, an engineer by training who now co-runs a start-up real estate development company here in Edmonton called Red Brick. She introduced me to the concept of infill: “the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment. (Wikipedia)” Tegan and her business partner Paul Gibson have a number of infill development initiatives on the go, and the challenges to these sorts of developments in Edmonton are apparently legion, for a number of reasons (largely laziness, it seems to me, an attitude of “well, this is the way things have always been done, and so this is how they’ll continue to be done”). Tegan asked if I’d be interested in documenting some of the process as Red Brick continues to push infill projects in the Edmonton core in the hopes of raising awareness about infill and to potentially aid in destigmatizing the issue to a degree. I told her I’d be thrilled.

I’m not sure of the exact shape this project will take over the coming months, but I know that this an issue that gets people talking, especially in this city. Resultantly I feel confident that there’s an audience out there for a documentary project about the challenges of infill development in a city like Edmonton, and what those challenges say about the predominant cultural attitudes of Central Alberta in general. Why are we as a people willing to accept lowest-common-denominator bullshit when it comes to the homes we live in, the shops we frequent, the communities we raise our kids in? Why don’t we demand, or at the very least expect better? These are questions I’m interested in, and I think that working with Red Brick and their friends in the development community here will provide me with an opportunity to explore them at length. Today we conducted an interview with the architect who lives in the house in the picture above, Ron Wickman. I’ll just say this: I’m not sure I know the answers to any of the questions I’ve mentioned here, but if people like Ron are out there continuing to design and build homes and businesses, there’s the potential for a bright and interesting future in this city. I look forward to seeing it grow and change. And taking a few pictures along the way.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

The Post-Irony Manifesto

Today I re-read one of my favourite essays: David Foster Wallace’s “E Unibus Pluram: Television And U.S. Fiction.” Aside from Wallace’s always-delightful blending of the hyperintellectual and the hypercolloquial, what I really enjoy about the paper is Wallace’s exploration of the usage of irony in fiction writing, and to what degree irony is still useful. The question Wallace calls much-needed attention to (perhaps even more so now than in 1990 when he was writing) is: to what degree is irony still “cutting edge” when Burger King sells you onion rings with ‘You Gotta Break The Rules.’ In other words: if mass-culture is already awash in irony, is irony still an effective tool in attempting to undercut or cleverly subvert and comment on mass-culture?

David Foster Wallace’s opinion, supported by his own incredibly unique work in fiction, seems to be: “yes, irony is still an effective tool – if you are a highly self-aware literary genius capable of inventing all kinds of ways to poke fun at the fun you’re having in your ironic criticism and also ‘delivering the goods’ in terms of character and story and world etc.” (although one could certainly argue the “story” point I suppose w/r/t for example Infinite Jest…but who cares about story anyway? It’s everything and nothing…especially in prose, I think. I don’t know. What do I know? I don’t care that much about story when I’m reading a book, that’s what I know.).

My opinion is simply: no, irony it is not an effective tool anymore. Or at least: it’s not a tool I’m interested in using. To me, it’s a coward’s tool. It’s a lazy tool. It’s easy. I’m feeling uncomfortable? Make a joke. I’m afraid? Make a joke. The state of the world disgusts me? Make a joke and move on.

I’ve said this often and I’ll keep saying it: sincerity is the new counter-culture. The most punk-rock thing you can do in the age of laugh-at-everything is cry at a movie. DFW describes a New Rebellion:

“The next real literary “rebels” in [the United States] might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness.”

Being sincere is terrifying. My new movie is very sincere and I’m terrified by it. I’m absolutely, one-hundred percent afraid of criticism and marginalization from my peers resulting directly from how sincere my movie is. But I know it’s exactly the movie I want to make. In response to all the noise and all the bad jokes, I want to take an audience to a quiet meadow for ten minutes and spend some time with these people I’ve created, listen to them. If nothing else, making the film has been therapeutic for me in that way, as an excuse to go and live somewhere quiet for ten minutes. I have to believe it’s of value.

In any case, today was an affirmation of my desire to be a New Rebel. Oh how banal.

You can read “E Unibus Pluram” here.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

As Autumn Moves In

Autumn is an incredible season. There’s nothing I can say about it that people far more talented than me haven’t already said better, but the power of the change implicit in Fall’s leaves and cold winds demands some comment. This autumn I have the distinct pleasure of helping a good friend make a film that takes place during this remarkable season in the city we both call home. It’s giving me an opportunity to step outside and see winter approach a little more each day. It’ll be here soon. Just not until after we finish shooting, please.

I’ve also been commissioned to document the final year in the life of an old and failing bridge. The 102nd Ave Bridge near High Street and the old museum is being torn down next summer. Minimalist sculptor Faye Heavyshield was selected to commemorate the bridge with a work of public art – she’s going to build her piece out of scrap metal from the bridge and it will sit at the base of where the old bridge used to be when the new bridge is built. Faye contacted me about using audio and video to preserve the memory of the old bridge on her project’s website. Very early-on in our conversations we realized that our understandings of the world and creative work are very much in-sync. I’m repeatedly amazed with how much the arts community in this city can feel like a second family. I don’t take it for granted. I’m going to try my best to capture the spirit and presence of this old metal giant. The beauty in the functionality and simplicity. The sadness in how it shakes noticeably now as cars go across. The sound of its voice.

Other projects abound as well. More to share later. I’m hoping to start taking a lot more pictures of people and places I’m interested in, like the one above, and putting them here; keep an eye on it if you have some spare seconds in your crowded day.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

102nd Ave Bridge
102nd Ave Bridge

 

 

From Grandma’s Kitchen

Two summers ago I painted my grandma’s fence. I would generally show up around eight or nine in the morning, work for two or three hours, and then come in and sit at the kitchen table where grandma would pour me bottomless cups of coffee while I tried to keep paint off of her freshly-laundered placemats. I’d sit there and sip coffee and sometimes grandma would tell me stories about when she was my age and how she met my grandfather and all that. I wondered how they ever fell in love without cell phones. I figured I’d try and find out by making a movie about it.

Two against the world.
No roads. No shoes.

A year later, I found out that Telefilm was launching a new MicroBudget film program aimed at giving emerging Canadian filmmakers an opportunity to produce their first features through the various independent film co-ops across the country. I sat down and wrote the movie I’d always wanted to write, set in the world of my grandma’s youth. I pitched it to my co-op, but they elected to go another way. Confident I’d written a movie worth making, I started thinking about other options. I took the script to Bonnie Thompson, an Oscar-nominated documentary producer at the National Film Board who gave me my first ever job in the film industry in Alberta. She said she liked the movie, but that there aren’t a lot of producers who do this sort of thing here. She told me to make a short film, to introduce people to the world of the movie and stimulate their curiosity. I took her advice to heart and put pen to grant application. Five months later a letter arrived saying that the Alberta Foundation For The Arts had decided to give me twelve thousand dollars to go and make a movie. I tried to remember ever feeling anything like the feeling of getting that letter and drew a blank.

Andrew Gummer as John.
Andrew Gummer as John.

Approximately forty-eight hours ago, we wrapped principal photography on This Wind. The film is one scene from the feature I wrote almost a year ago now, tweaked and refined and honed to become its own little self-contained entity. Our wonderful actors Andrew and Cayley took the characters I’d written and made them entirely their own, while we, the filmmakers, put the camera in the ground and tried our absolute best to be in the right place at the right time. We completely took over a family’s house and land for a day and were treated like long-lost family instead of as the strange invaders we were. We raced against the sun as it got lower and lower in the sky and pleaded for enough daylight to finish the movie even as we slowly began to understand the absurdity of a handful of tiny life forms playing with clumsy little toys asking for forces as old as time to bend to their will. In the end, I think we took some incredible pictures and recorded some truly wonderful moments between two people who would never have existed at all if it wasn’t for everyone who gave a day of their life to be there in that field and stoke the fires of their creation. I’m endlessly grateful to those people.

I can’t wait to show you this film. Stay tuned.

Until next time.

Dylan

This Wind. Coming November 2013.
This Wind. Coming November 2013.

 

 

T-Minus One Week

One year ago, TrinaAerlan, and I were running all over Edmonton shooting Cities And PlainsWe had no money and no permission to shoot anywhere, so we just went wherever we wanted, using wireless mics to conceal the fact that we were even making a movie. Aerlan constructed a make-shift shoulder mount out of an old tripod. We almost got kicked out of Ikea. It was the most fun I’d ever had making a movie. And as it turns out: some people even like the movie we made.

Cut to a year later and we’re making another movie, only this time we have a provincial government arts grant. We have a crew. We have a real movie camera. We even have a script this time.

I week from right now we will hopefully be wrapping a very full shoot day with another short film in the can. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but what I do know is that I have a great crew of people trying to help me tell this story to the absolute best of our ability. I’m very thankful for those people.

Very excited to share this film with the world. I think it can really be nice if we manage to do our jobs.

Until next time.

Dylan

Edmonton, AB

Layne L’Heureux – “Funeral Of A Former Self” Premieres on The Low Level Hum

It’s sometime in April, 2013. The Elevation Room, an all-ages venue in downtown Edmonton, is closing. I’m there because Tyler Butler is playing as part of a farewell show to the venue and I play and sing in Tyler’s band. I’m in search of another beer when I see the enigmatic Layne L’Heureux over by the entrance. He’s dressed in denim and Chuck Taylors, looking Rock n’ Roll as fuck as usual. Layne waves me over. He says he wants to make a music video with me. He says he wants to wear makeup and he has this glowing orb. “Great, let’s do it.”

Over the next few months, we shot whenever we could. Layne charmed the shit out of the owners of a Chinese restaurant and we invaded their space to shoot the opening shot. Layne fell in love with this gold mask and we decided to put it in the video. We walked around Edmonton just north of downtown and shot wherever it looked kinda weird. We drove out to Layne’s studio above an airplane hanger and shot his band playing the song for basically the first time. We did whatever we wanted. Mostly we just had fun and Layne smoked cigarettes out the car window.

Now it’s August, 2013 and I see Layne at The Empress Ale House on a Monday night. He’s just seen the final cut of the video. He likes it so much, he says, he wants to buy me a bouquet of flowers. I realize I sort of love this guy and I’m sad that we won’t have this excuse to keep hanging out, so I start trying to invent a new one. I tell him I’ll look forward to the flowers. I try and remember the last time I received flowers…

My good friend Becky interviewed Layne about his new record. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to share our new video. If you have 1/4 as much fun watching it as we had making it, you’ll be having a pretty good time.

Layne L’Heureux on The Low Level Hum

Thanks as always. Until next time.

Dylan

Edmonton, AB

Truthful Goings-On

It’s been a few weeks since my last post. My intention has been and will continue to be to post (at least) weekly, and I will continue to endeavour to do exactly that. Let’s call these few silent weeks the exception and not the rule.

The lack of posts in the last few weeks is certainly not indicative of a lack of activity! I recently co-produced a music video for my friend CJ’s ongoing sonic exploration known as Born Gold which we shot at my dad’s office in downtown Edmonton. As a condition for allowing us to film there, my dad had to be present for the duration of the shoot, which ended up being from 6 PM to 6 AM on a Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Not only did he not complain at all about the length of the shoot and how much his sleep cycle would be thrown off for the remainder of the week, my dad ended up being a background performer in the video, dancing to electronic music with his shirt off. It was probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Every shoot is memorable in its own way, but it’s going to be hard to top getting to see my dad have as much fun as he seemed to be having a few weeks ago as we blared music and blasted confetti all over his cubicle at 2 AM.

I’m also just putting the finishing touches on this Layne L’Heureux music video which should be out early next week! Look for the premiere on my friend Becky’s terrific site dedicated to the perpetual exploration and cataloguing of Edmonton’s diverse music scene: The Low Level Hum.

In This Wind related news: We’re about a month away from when we hope to be shooting and things are certainly starting to come together. We’ve cast local actor and musician Cayley Thomas in one of the lead roles. Cayley and I were at Victoria School Of The Arts together years ago, but she was a year or two behind me so we only knew each other sort of tangentially – until now! Cayley’s a graduate of the BFA Acting Program at the University of Alberta, and to the best of my knowledge this will be her first film since graduating. I think we’re both very excited to have her take on this character and run with it. I’m looking forward to seeing the results. I keep going back over the script time and time again, trying to get it just right (my producer and good friend Kate won’t let me off the hook until it’s perfect). I have to say I’m very pleased with the direction that the film is going. I think it is going to be a very nice little movie.

Finally: in what little spare time I have left over, I am quietly trying to make a whole other movie. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but I will say that it is the realization of the writing that my friend Georgia and I have been doing over the past few months and stars her, pictured below, in the lead role. I am hoping involve a few other actors around town with whom I’ve always wanted to work but haven’t found the right opportunity, or perhaps the appropriate amount of courage to approach them. In any case: I am excited about this film as well, and hope to have more news about it soon, while at the same time giving almost nothing away. There has to be at least some air of mystery to our operations here at Truthful Work…

Exciting times ahead. Always.

Until next time.

Dylan