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Saturday, June 30, 2007

none too soon

Today was my last day as department head and the last day before beginning my sabbatical. That wasn't really on my mind as it is Saturday and I've left town. With my cat under Paul's watchful eye, I've packed a Bolex with a battery powered intervolometer, my old super-8 camera, a brand new microscopic sized HDV camera, and a still camera (oh yes, and the family) into the car and have landed myself in amazing Cypress Hills Saskatchewan. The pine trees of the area are tall and straight and I've wanted to shoot them for years. Of course, I had to overcome my own hurdles such as having not charged my batteries and thus could not shoot what I needed. Instead, we hopped back in the car and drove to Eastend, Saskatchewan where Scotty the T-Rex was unearthed a few years ago. It has a museum that is small but beautiful, tunneled into the side of the hill. However, I was not the only one with power problems. The storm last night not only broke hundreds of branches off trees in the Eastend area, it also had 12 lightening strikes on power poles and so when we arrived at 3:00 in the afternoon, there'd been no electricity since 11pm the night before. The town was basically closed. The dinosaur museum was open with tours being conducted by flashlight. For lunch we went into the town of Shaunavan to a cool little diner that is one of those dreamt of places, the well maintained old diner that is retro without trying and still has low prices! While there, we also popped into the town's museum/art gallery where we saw a stuffed albino baby chick with four legs, preserved under a glass dome since 1903.

Friday, June 29, 2007

One day, all this will be yours.

Last night I dashed into the edit room to try to pull the Inspector Gadget work in progress off the computer to show to some family I'll be seeing later today. We changed the machines earlier in the day, which led to some initial panic as I'd not realized that the Avid bins (the basic information that sorts a users project but does not contain any large amounts of actual data) are stored on the C drive of the computer, leaving me with many gigs of video and no road map to use it. Well, it was not a difficult opperation to plug the old workstation back up and copy the bins, which Kalyn and I did in her office with an alternate monitor etc, when suddenly the power in the building went out and there we were, on the only machine NOT connected to a power back up thing, crashing. My day in the office was not as minimal as suggested in yesterday's post as I had a potential student to meet with so could not solve the issues of bins right away but instead left them to the end of the day, too late to discuss with lab adminstrator Kalyn that the new version of Avid, which was supposed to have an mpeg encoder, does not seem to. Bottom line, I need to either find that encoder or face the learning curve of doing it the new way. Perhaps in a couple of days when I'm on sabbatical that would be fine, but a time stressed administrator, I require that all projects we achievable in less than one hour. These past three years I've taken to making films that are between one and three minutes each, and that is often too onerous.
Today I am back to some 16mm. I've got 14 rolls, each 100 feet, and I'm not afraid to use them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

2 Day

Today I placed the master key to the department on my empty desk, closed the door to the department head office, and walked away.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Three to get ready

My office is finally empty. One object I wasn't able to move into my smaller office was a Auricon camera I found under the stairs over a year ago. It has a 1000' magazine and is equipped with the optical sound writer. It also cumbersome, awkward, and weights about 45 pounds. I've seen images of it twice recently, once in a reconstruction of a press conference in "Prairie Giant, the Tommy Douglas Story", and once in a promotional still for the newest Andy Warhol documentary. It is in the first instance that the camera was most often used, but it is in this latter case that the Auricon will be historically remembered and that I was most interested. The 1000' magazine meant that Warhol could shoot 30 minutes of 16mm film uninterrupted. This he did with films such as Empire and Sleep. In his later films he began using the soundtrack and would allow Factory hangers on to perform in front of the camera, often with little or no direction, then he would market it as his film. The sound was written directly onto the film so that no complicated intermediate steps were needed, it came from the camera to the lab to the theatre. Optical sound is the traditional soundtrack for 16mm film and, due to the expense are relatively low quality of it, has been rapidly disappearing. It used to be that you needed to got the step of having one made if you wanted to show your film on the big screen, and only then were you really a filmmaker. In ten years, this gate keeping barrier has disappeared as digital projection eliminates the need for this process. However, for better or worse, now there is very little to differentiate a seasoned veteran from my five year old son.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

a four gone conclusion

I baked two cheesecakes this evening with the intention of freezing them for a party this weekend. One is amaretto with a blueberry glaze, the other is Belgian chocolate/Kahlua with a chocolate glaze. It never fails that my baking, which takes an hour or so, will elicit more comments, and certainly more enthusiastically favourable comments, than my films which may take upwards of seven years to complete. It makes one question things. My film "Anger (Toxic 5)" has for its soundtrack a cacophony of noises from the kitchen; chopping, rattling pans, and a squeaky oven door. I used this for the irony that it seems like the best cooking requires angry noise, but that cooking is one of the things that calms me when I've had a very frustrating day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

a fin is a fin


Three years ago I went to a fundraising auction of artist chairs in the community of Lumsden, which is a great little town about 30 minutes from here that is filled with well kept old houses, hippies, and artists, and so I put some bids of 50 or 75 dollars on items I liked but did not feel bad about not getting them, until it came to a big creepy unit that my son fell in love with and climbed up on, even though no one else seemed to dare, and so I put a bid or two in but the numbers climbed until Margaret nudged me and suggested that I could put it in the brand new department head office that was being renovated and that I would be the first occupant of, and so with that idea I bid and bid until the chair was mine. Today I had to move it for the first time in a couple of years and have slid it between the filing cabinet and the bulletin board of photos of filmmakers I know, as just one more item in a rapidly filling office, boxes and pictures climbing towards the 12 foot ceiling. My son remains the only person to happily climb into it multiple times without trepidation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I'd rather have the half dozen



It's Sunday and I spent the afternoon with my son in the edit room working on our latest Inspector Gadget video. This is our fourth and by far the most complex. He plays the inspector as well as his evil twin from the first Disney movie and I play the villains. William loves the two live action Gadget movies and has not seen the cartoon series except in passing (if it's on TV, I've not made the effort to find it). I tend to agree. The insipid Don Adams version just makes you want to kick the TV, there is no sympathetic side to his character. You find yourself cheering for the Claw. The first live action version is all about identity conflict and strength versus strength of character. While certainly a juvenile version of Robocop (could be called Robocopy), it did have some clever moments in its writing. In the Gadget video I was working on today, we had gotten away from the two or three person cast and had recruited additional cast including artist Chad Jacklin whose playful machines based upon the future we hoped for in 1955 became the secret gadget lab. He was very kind to let us come up and shoot one day a month or two ago in the upstairs gallery at Mysteria on 13th Avenue. Anyway, instead of this being the usual 1 hour to shoot plus 1 hour to edit video, it has turned into a 14 minute epic with dozens of effects using green screen, After Effects animation, and miniatures. I guess other dads play catch with their five-year-olds, I make movies.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Feeling Week

With lightening flashing around the city, we trusted vague indications that the storms did not extend westward and we piled our gear and ourselves into the car and headed 250 km to Swift Current, Saskatchewan and their annual kite festival. The gamble paid off and the weather was perfect. The sun was more intense than usual with the Seconic reading 640 with the high slide in. I overexposed a roll of 7240 shooting some antique tractors for my new film project "Grain" at a lot outside of Moose Jaw. I suspect that overexposing (and forgetting to pack a filter) is the least of my problems. I pulled the can from my cold room this morning, I'm not sure where it came from as the writing isn't in my hand. It just said "7240 short end" on tape on the spine of the round metal can. When I loaded it I discovered it has a magnetic stripe on the side, making it closer to 25 years old, not just 20. In Swift Current, the kites did not make for good cinema, as I expected they wouldn't. However, I shot a second roll of 7240 on impressions of wind. This work is all destined for colour hand processing (in buckets) sometime in the next few weeks, which reminds me that I'll be facing new restrictions from Health and Safety at the University as they will not be requiring me to use the safest alternative with all photographic chemicals. I'll certainly be returning to this topic in the near future.
I also shot a half roll of super-8 around the town of Morse where there are vast open fields of salt that look just like snow, and I say that as a Canadian who is not fooled by simulated snow in most movies. There are plows that move it around and a huge plant that does something with it. I've probably driven past it a hundred times in my life but never stopped. As it was, the tourist thing was closed so we didn't actually get information, just a shot of Margaret and William pretending to shiver while standing on top of it. There is also a mile long land bridge across a marsh that is build to hold the water and preserve the wildlife; we drove across it for the first time today as well. All captured in an collection of inexplicable birds+family waving shots that make super-8 home movies the joy that they are.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I can't believe I ate the whole thing.

Another hot day. Spent half the morning sorting papers in anticipation of vacating the department head office next week when my sabbatical starts. Threw out a least a foot of papers. This evening we had one of my grad students, Chrystene Ells, over for supper. Always a surprise to find a grad student in fine arts who's not a vegetarian. BBQed some chicken using a recipe I just made up earlier this season in which I throw lots of herbs onto chicken without any oil or crackers then just bar-b-que it slowly. Fast and easy and deceptively elegant. I think the key is the lemon pepper. Chrystene is working on a really interesting and sophisticated thesis project that will be shot on the NMSL's newest 24p hdv camera in August. Check out her blog. The heat and the allure of old movies on tv are driving me from my office. It's not summer without sticking to the couch while watching an otherwise forgettable b-movies while pumped up on a half-litre of ice-coffee. Tonight will be "Too Many Husbands".

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bottom of the Ninth

A classic solstice today in Regina. Blazingly hot so that we could stay up roasting marshmallows until well after dark, which is pretty late for my 5 year old who's still tossing around in bed. I telecined Chuck's film "Steel Motion" today using a simple set up of a 5 blade shutter projector, a mirror box, and a Canon XL-1 camera with manual focus lens. I used to have a lot of trouble doing this with an autofocus lens as the manual override was never absolute and it would still look for focus during dark moments. I didn't watch it all the way through as Chuck came in and watched it with me. He'd been having a pretty bad day with some information been given to him incorrectly so that some of the work needed to be redone in the rewiring of lights he was doing (as I mentioned yesterday, he is no longer a professional filmmaker but rather is an electrician). I pointed out to him that I can't tell the difference between when he's happy or angry and he equally gruff and foul mouthed both ways. He denies enjoying yelling at people but he doesn't fool me. On the topic of "Steel Motion", I was surprised about the range of images that I'd forgotten about. I knew that there were a lot of strobing, silhouetted, superimposed, and abstracted images of parts of trains, creating a formalistic study of the "steel" and "motion". However, I'd not remembered the amount of beautiful prairie landscapes contained in the film. A puzzling and thought provoking mixture.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ten days and counting

I saw Chuck Gilhooly today. Chuck and I were in film school together back in the mid-80s. He came from one of those neighbourhoods where people didn't usually go to university. When the rest of us started to think that we were being radical, painting a campus room black or staying up all night or stashing some Kahlua in a locker, we could just look at Chuck and know we were all just lame. I never saw him do anything illegal or even immoral, but I never had a doubt that he'd done things I'd ever dreamed of. Perhaps it was all imagination, but I doubt it. Anyway, Chuck got out of the film biz, it was never kind to him. He's an electrician now, which is probably more satisfying in some ways. He's getting some software and a computer to work on some videos on his own. Go ahead and Google him, nothing seems to come up even though he did a brilliant film called "Steel Motion" back in '93. I wrote an article on it that you can try to find under articles on my web site, even though Google doesn't see it. It is a powerful, visceral 16mm film about the rhythm of the train and about his connection to his father who worked his life on the rails. He taught Chuck to love but to respect the trains. He's going to bring me a copy tomorrow, I've not seen it in over a decade but it still makes an impression on me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

minus eleven days

Greetings. My name is Gerald Saul, I am a professor of film production at the University of Regina and I'm setting up this blog to chronicle my activities for the forthcoming year as I embark upon my first sabbatical which it to begin in 11 days.
The image here is of me portraying a robot defending the earth from alien urban renewal in a hand processed 16mm workshop film called "Conquest of the Vanquished Urban Renewal Experts From Another World" which I made with a keen little team consisting of Anna Hansen, Jade Duckett, and Gabe Boyko. In this film, we dared to tell the naked truth about international plots aimed at forcing us to live in better houses. However, the powers that be are intent on silencing our voices to the point that our film lost out in the competition against a film about a guy looking for the bathroom. You decide who's being paranoid. If you are brave enough, contact the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative and demand that they put the vote of best film to a new ballot.

During this next year I will be creating a number of 16mm films as well as some videos, some super-8 projects, and at least one screenplay. As well, I am going begin work on a book about experimental filmmaking. There are a lot of other things on my to-do list such as updating my rather stagnant website: www.geraldsaul.com
Thanks for joining me on my inaugural posting.
Gerald Saul, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada