Monday, May 30, 2016

Why One Goes to War

Last night I watched a fine feature length documentary on WWII. Produced by the National Geographic Channel, "Inside WWII" overviews, in the hyper-speed mode so typical of info-dump docs made these days, the 20th century's largest conflict.

Some of the interview subjects explain why they joined the war. I remember the day in 1984 when I finally got around to asking my own father why he enlisted and why he chose RAF Bomber Command:

"I was pissed off. I was doing poorly in school and my mind was on the war overseas."

His rationale for joining the bomber force as a gunner was expedient:

"You got overseas quickly that way . . . It was an eight-week air gunners' course in Montreal."

(He knew that flying as "aircrew" in Bomber Command was dangerous work. Many young men, men too young, got "The Chop".)

As was the norm at the time in this neck of the woods my dad was sent to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds for dispersal. From that famous Canadian site began the process of getting "shipped overseas", but as this was wartime it wasn't quite that easy. German U-boats roamed the North Atlantic in search of prey, and a steamer loaded with fresh faces was a prime and highly-prized target.

I will stop here: The above bits and pieces are stressful enough, never mind the few combat stories my dad did let out over the years. (While on one of my trips to England, as part of my ongoing research on RAF Bomber Command I spoke with historian Martin Middlebrook and he gave me some sage advice which I understood too well: "Don't ask your father. He won't tell you anything.")

A few years after the war ended he joined the RCAF and enjoyed a long career with Canada's finest service.

I left the best for last; the big "and" part of my dad's explanation for wanting to see action overseas:

"... And I wanted to get the Germans."

(A childhood friend did not come home; he died when his bomber was shot down over France. Kinda sobering, ain't it?)

Passions of the time, those were.

My father loved Germany and the Germans. We moved to West Germany in October of 1966, just twenty-one years after he flew in a Lancaster bomber doing a job he felt he must do.

Royal Air Force No. 626 Squadron - May 1945

(I had not realized until reading my Washington Post this morning that today is "Memorial Day" in the States.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Bomber Story

As I've noted a few times on this blog my late father was a gunner on Lancaster bombers during WWII. What experiences he related while I was growing up got me interested in the subject of aerial bombing (and warfare in general).

For a few years I toyed with the idea of writing a screenplay about a Lancaster bomber crew.

Through my twenties I researched the subject in a serious way. This entailed not only plowing through more than a few books, but speaking with Bomber Command veterans, many of whom were still around.

One vet in particular was a member of the Royal Canadian Military Institute (located on University Avenue here in Toronto) and he gave me "guest" status which allowed me access to the organization's substantial library. The only demand was that I snap into sartorial mode.

Yes, out came the shoe polish and the nice suit and the briefcase. Not only did I feel like a million bucks, and no doubt looked even better, I felt as though I was doing important work. For a while I would make a quick trip down to the RCMI, which was just a few subway stops from my residence, where a pleasant chap by the name of Patrick would sign me in for the day.

Eventually I produced what I thought was a solid script, at least from a historical and technical perspective: "Bomber."

Even then my consulting Bomber Command veteran used a good portion of his pencil in order to set me in the right direction. Some pages were covered with his notes.

I made some adjustments and submitted a copy to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Movies and Miniseries" department for consideration.

They rejected it, through a nice letter. Fine. That's part of the game: Rejection.

The wonderful explosion (pardon the pun) in film technologies would allow a project like "Bomber" to be done at a much lower cost than if it had been made in the 1990s.

The big questions are often asked:

What is Canadian Culture?

What are Canadian stories?

Well, going to battle in a cramped Lancaster bomber loaded with high-explosives and being shot at by German night fighters and 88mm flak guns, when you're in your late teens or early twenties, could certainly qualify as one. And if my father were still around, I'm sure he would agree.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Toronto Building Recladding Job

I could have been an architect or engineer!

Well, if I had have done better in school, and had a much greater penchant for math, or a basic grasp of arithmetic, I may very well have been an architect or engineer.

As it is I dig engineering projects like the one in the photos I took today: This building is at the north west corner of Dundas and University Avenue in Toronto. No need to explain that it's an older structure getting a new face.

Maybe it's not too late to go back to school....

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Toronto Writers' Centre Walk About

Earlier today, on this lovely sunny day here in Toronto, I took a mid-sized stroll eastbound along Bloor Street near Bathurst. As I approached the KFC that I last ate at in the summer of 1993 -- and somehow survived -- I happened to look over at the south side of Bloor:

"What's the Toronto Writers' Centre?", I thought. (To suggest I have a habit of talking to myself on a busy sidewalk is absurd.) "I could cross the street at the next light and have a look-see", I cogitated.

There was an intercom outside the door; two ladies came down to greet me. After filling me in on what the centre is all about, my hosts gave me a tour of the facility. And what a facility it is. I was impressed.

While I maintain a comfortable writing space, which could include a space picked at random in just about any coffee shop, Toronto Writers' Centre is a place for a slice of my writing future, I think.

Toronto Writers' Centre website

Monday, May 16, 2016

Costume Design: Alien Battledress Design Concepts

There are a few "Alien" characters in the (as of yet) uncompleted 35mm short film, Hyper-Reality.

Above are two pages of colour concept drawings I did when I was beginning to think about the look of the Aliens' "battledress". The flowing robe idea had already been established with the metallic gowns the characters wear in the first part of the film, but these sketches illustrate my roughing out the colour patterns for the battle version.

I based the idea on that of "Heraldry". Early on I had decided on blue and red, but it took many thumbnails -- which I will post later on -- to nail down exactly what "cut" I wanted. The final result was one of the simplest ideas; which is often the case with this sort of thing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Hyper-Reality Cheque?

Back in February I posted a few times on my "Unfinished Symphony in 35mm", Hyper-Reality. Actually it's more a "commercial break stinger" since the planned running time is about 22 minutes.

In the first post in my volley of notes I ruminated about looking for crowdfunding to complete the project. The response I received was supportive, to say the least, and I got to work researching crowdfunding.

The reality was I had a couple too many balls in the air to take any further action at the time, but, during this coming summer I plan to pursue the idea.

Check back here in the coming weeks for some "making of" material; I don't exactly want to give away the joke, as it were, but I would like to offer the reader some glimpses into Hyper-Reality.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Visual Effects Design: Storyboards

Yesterday I wrote about designing film and television projects that do not go into production. Above are three "thumbnail" storyboard panels I did years ago for a film that did not get much past the script page.

As you can tell from looking at the panels, this sequence has to do with "creation".

The project was fun, the director passionate.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Set Design: A Bank Vault of Some Tech

Most proposed film and television projects do not get past the writing and development stage, which is okay. It's a big leap to go from that to a "green-light".

In 1987 I sketched the above set design concept for an episode of a proposed television anthology series. The idea was this would not be any ordinary and contemporary bank vault but something more 'hi-tech". One sliding panel is opened to reveal safety deposit boxes.

Even though this particular project was unable to get interest from a broadcaster, my involvement was hardly a waste of time. They rarely are; it's all in the name of improving and flexing one's craft.

Prop Design: A Hand Device of Some Kind

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Film Design: The Atmosphere of Johnny Shortwave

Johnny Shortwave is a black-and-white feature length film that was shot in late 1988 and early 1989.

Early in the design phase I grabbed a stick of charcoal and quickly whipped up what I called an "Atmosphere Sketch". As depicted in the screenplay, the future is not rosy in more ways than one, which is what I tried to convey in the drawing.

I'll have more material from Johnny Shortwave very soon....

Set Design: Television Tunnel

In the autumn of 1986 I was in my last year of Humber College's "Film and Television" program but I managed to find time to work as an art director on a feature film called The Dark Side.

During production the producers asked me to design a "video tunnel" set as they were in negotiations to get a loaner of many televisions. These would be incorporated into the structure. No problem; I designed away.

Not too long after I submitted my initial concept drawings I was told the deal had fallen through.

Note the tube televisions. The loading would have been something I would have had to take into consideration when designing the set framing. It goes without saying that a set like this would be much easier to do today -- and a lot cheaper. Now I would use LED flat-screens. ("Really? You would?")

(Pardon the decaying colour photocopies. As soon as I find the originals I'll destroy the evidence.)

Set Design: Bedroom

(Pardon the decaying colour photocopy. As soon as I find the original I'll destroy the evidence.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Visual Effects Design: Planet Painting

Back in November of 1988 I decided to pull out my gouache paints and start painting. One such illustration was of a planet, or a planet's moon. This was before computers -- at least at the consumer level -- made this sort of thing a snap, and at virtually no cost.

I painted the full planet knowing I could mask out part of the image during photography. Hence, the painted "dark side".

Though a compass was one of many tools in my art supplies I used something more low tech: A dessert plate. Diameter: 17 centimeters; about five and three-quarter inches. The planet was painted at a small size since my intention was to show it far off in the distance -- for whatever project I would use it in.

Now there's a project....

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Shoot the Puck Over the Glass!

This year I'm actually watching some NHL playoff games. And I'm cheering for no one in particular. (I guess I've been waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to make an appearance. Where are they?)

I'm watching Game 6 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals:

The Pens lead the series 3 games to 2. In the last half of the third period of regulation time they took three "delay of game" penalties. This variety is where a defending player inadvertently lifts/shoots the puck over the glass, done in valid desperation to clear the offensive threat. There is no way a team should be penalized for a legitimate move, unless it's obvious the offending player shoots the puck to get a whistle.

They, the Penguins, got three of these special-of-the-day penalties in rapid succession. So rapid in succession that there was some overlap: Two man advantage, is the term.

I've never seen that happen before; and it's a rule I cannot stand. I've hated it for years.

The Penguins were up 3 goals to 2 before they were blessed with that crazy NHL rule. It was only a matter of time before the Capitals tied the game.

Here's to overtime....

Star Trek (The Motion Picture) Into Orbit

I kept the archival browning intact.

The above is a little newspaper clipping from the (I'm guessing) Toronto Sun regarding the week following the December 7th, 1979, opening of the very first Star Trek movie; titled, simply enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

I remember reading at the time -- in another newspaper piece -- that the film took the classic dip after its opening week but regained some of its traction with the movie-going public immediately afterward. It ended its run having made a lot of money, but not as much as Paramount had hoped for considering the investment.

The last time I saw the featured film was about fifteen years ago: I like it more "now".

Did I see Star Trek Into Darkness? No. No interest whatsoever.

I have to finish watching 24 Hour Party People....

CKVR Classic Television Classic Schedule Card

I admit I cannot remember what summer this was: When I get a chance I'll check archived television listings.

Barrie, Ontario, television station CKVR used to be terrific. Not any more.

I made an adjustment based on a comment I received. Here is a piece that I extracted from the original post which inspired the comment:

"For now take it as any summer between 1980 and 1982. (I'm pretty sure it's not 1983 or 1984 as I remember Irwin Allen shows being run; awful ones like Land of the Giants and Lost in Space.)"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Shepard, the Good

"It was really exciting!"

When I was a little one of five or six years of age my mother told me the story of an important event from just a few years earlier. It was the United States of America's first manned spaceflight, and the astronaut's name was Alan Shepard. Everyone had gathered around the television to witness an important part of human history.

This was the first time they were able to see a manned rocket launch. The Soviets had not broadcast to the world, or even its own citizens, the lift-off of Vostok 1 three weeks earlier, and only after Yuri Gagarin returned safely to Earth from his orbital flight did they announce this stellar and humanity-changing feat. The name of the hero cosmonaut then travelled around the globe.

Citizens of the Earth could not be made to feel as participants in a great adventure until the National Aeronautics and Space Administration got to show its stuff.

Mercury-Redstone 3 ("Freedom 7") was to be a suborbital mission: Shepard's spacecraft would follow a planned ballistic trajectory. A big arc. The Mercury capsule would be shot into space, then float at high speed for some time before Earth's gravity initiated its re-entry.

One interesting element of the mission was that, unlike Gagarin's trip, which was fully automated, Shepard would take some control of his spacecraft. While up there, free from our planet's atmosphere, he manually operated the attitude control system in order to test Freedom 7's pitch, roll, and yaw capabilities.

The fifteen minute voyage was a great technical success: The capsule went 101 miles up and flew 263 miles "downrange". The splashdown took place in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard and Freedom 7 were recovered by waiting U.S. Navy vessels. (John Glenn's orbital flight would not happen for ten more months.)

Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr was chosen to pilot MR-3 some months earlier by Project Mercury head Robert Gilruth. Competition was fierce amongst the program's seven astronauts. Not only were these men skilled test pilots -- as were all U.S. astronauts in the earliest days of space flight -- but they were equipped with the latest in personality types: Gus Grissom, for instance, who would become the second American in space, did not say much minute-to-minute during training, but when he made it known he was about to whisper something to his fellow astronauts they would shut up, lean forward, and wait for the expected words of profundity.

Shepard, on the other hand, was more gregarious by nature. He not only spoke a more regular beat, when he had something important to relate you'd better be listening, and if you didn't take your work seriously or were at any time sloppy in your training, at least from his perspective, you got it: He delivered what his peers referred to as "The Shepard Glare".

They were of a special breed: Shepard, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton (who was grounded for medical reasons).

I know way too much about this whole subject. Before I go on any further I'm going to execute a deorbit burn. (See?)

But first:

On May 5th, 1961, fifty-five years ago today, NASA's star astronaut, Alan B. Shepard, became a trailblazer. The world watched as his Redstone rocket sat on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral:

"... light this candle!"

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cue the Alexander Courage Siren

Don't be surprised if Toronto City Hall makes an appearance as Starfleet Headquarters. Imagine the jokes.

Star Trek is coming to Toronto.

It's exciting news if you're a city film tech and a Trekkie, certainly.

Production of that television franchise has gone on for way too long. Not only won't Star Trek: Whatever go away, but the latest one sets course for the great city of Toronto.

In all seriousness, "Star Trek With No Name As of Yet" is scheduled to premiere on January 22nd of next year on CBS's All-Access streaming service. It no doubt will be an even more tightly budgeted affair given that it's not on the main network, one of the "big three", but perhaps we'll witness good Trek storytelling on a reasonably regular basis for the first time in over four decades. Maybe the characters will be something more than the standard one-dimensional bores that have staffed the various programmes -- with the exception of the original, of course.

Which reminds me:

The news stories I've seen on the soon-to-be Trek utilize clips and stills from the original series; it's almost as though the other TV Treks don't exist. Psst: They don't. There's been subspace chatter about it for months. Rumour has it they all got crushed by a Class G Solar Star.

(CBS owns Star Trek, the original.)

When it first ran, I assimilated the first two years of Star Trek: The Next Generation off and on but few episodes after that. About five years ago I decided to give it another try; that was enough. No more.

As for the others, I scanned the first two episodes of each and an episode or two later. I felt no great need to deactivate any more hours of my time.

How do I know the stories are on average unimpressive given that I'm not terribly familiar with the many incarnations? Sensor readings and ship's records told me.

Will I give the new TV Trek a try? Darn right I will. It's being shot in Toronto!

"Commodore Tory!....I viewed tapes of your lectures while I was a cadet at Starfleet Academy, but I never imagined I'd ever meet you in person."

Everybody's a Writer - But Some Actually Are

As I fancy myself a bit of a scribe, of a sort, I admire those who pick up their pens and write, certainly when they claim to be writers; and claim they do when there's a cute guy or girl they're trying to impress on that first meeting.

I'm a writer.

Suure you are....

(In my experience, or observations, it's generally a case of HIM to HER. And HER usually doesn't believe HIM. For good reason.)

At any rate.

A friend of mine -- someone I get together with every couple of months or so to talk movies and books -- studied English Literature at the University of Toronto. Not only is he a graduate, but he keeps his pencils sharp for the next time, which seems to be a lot of the time.

Here is James Guthrie's writing website. As the waitress or waiter says to me when they finish delivering that SuperSize plate of poutine: Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Very Basic List of CV Things

So you, the reader, know what it is you're getting into when you come here, I thought it was time I post my CV. And here it is, in "dust jacket bio" point form:

* hospital photographer (public relations, general, haematology, surgery)
* hospital A/V tech (live streaming, teleconferencing)
* brewery worker (Molson Brewery: line and maintenance)
* factory/warehouse worker
* lighting cameraman (short film, music video, video production)
* television studio camera operator
* designer (feature film, television commercial, short film, web-series, exhibit)
* optical camera operator (feature film, television film, television series)
* set construction & prop building (feature film, TV commercial, independent production)
* writer (print, short film, video production)
* consultant (television commercial, 'process' screen, historical aviation screenplay)
* researcher (film/television history, aviation, Soviet space program, general history, etc.)
* producer/director (independent film & video production)
* film programmer (Toronto Public Library)
* projectionist (film, digital; T.I.F.F.)
* film festival technical director (R.P.F.F.)
* instructor (film & video production; L.I.F.T.)
* video tech (duplication, film-to-tape transfer)
* web design
* archivist (film/television)
* baseball umpire (Ontario Baseball Association)
* ice hockey player - forward & goaltender (B.B.M.H.A.)
* ice hockey coach - Bantam (Knights of Columbus)
* football (soccer) player (B.B.M.S.A.)
* siding installer & general construction
* sales agent

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Nightmare on Elm Street (From a Dependent Brat)

The Astral Theatre in CFB Borden, Ontario, was a veritable movie funhouse of eclectic and varied flicks, old and new. In essence it was a rep cinema. Most new and big releases, and anything of prestige, were on the other side of the base at the mighty Terra Theatre.

One of many films I saw in or about my thirteen year had a very special trailer. A preview which ended up haunting me: Triple Avalanche of Terror

The hook was a certain sustained shot that was more important to me, ultimately, than the variety of quickly cut clips that followed. This affecting scene -- shot in a mental institution, apparently -- was the real keeper. While substantial image grain danced before our eyes, an ominous voice-over explained that 'this man watched Triple Avalanche of Terror and went insane'. (Really? Seriously.)

A straight-jacketed wretch squirmed as two attendants hovered over, comforting him as he did the bit of business taught in acting school when one wants to evoke "crazy". "No!...No!!..."

As advertised, in order to watch the film one had to accept an insurance policy before entering the theatre. Cool. It's not something I'd want to have to cash in, but cool.

I bought it, the preview, that is, so much so that I knew I had to see the film, even though it was to be a midnight presentation. Oh, no.

As we left the theatre after watching the now forgotten feature presentation, my friends and I discussed the trailer, that spooky trailer. One friend, Glen Scott, seemed to know that we'd been had:

"It's a publicity stunt!

"It's a publicity stunt!", he reiterated as the rest of us, in his eyes, were overly concerned that we too would go insane.

But, we all agreed: Must see movie.

This is where trouble followed.

The next day I raved enthusiastically to my mother about the nerve-splitting trailer I had seen, and in the process I let it out that the anticipated movie itself was to be shown as a late-late show. She wasted no time in saying "no". When the day got closer, I asked again:


Mum, I wanna see Triple Avalanche of Terror!

I told you, you're not seeing it.

Why not?!

Because...I don't want you prancing about at all hours of the night.
Now that's final.

("I guess I'm not going to be seeing Triple Avalanche of Terror.")

I wish I had possessed the verbal wit of Family Guy's "Stewie": "How dare you deprive me of some devilishly gruesome entertainment. I shall be forever stunted by your absolute malicious disregard for my personal development!"

I didn't get my mother's reasoning. Geographically speaking, the Astral was not far from Elm Street, our street. The route consisted of a quick walk to School Street, then along Maple Drive; up a little further was the palace of dreams.

How was the Terrible Avalanche, you ask? The next day I asked Glen what he thought. After all, he and the gang were allowed to walk about at all hours of the previous night.

"It wasn't very good."

Of course, to a pre-teen, that was code for: "It was awesome!" Either that, or I was becoming concerned for Glen's sanity.

"Carry On Camping is on this Saturday?" I was allowed to see that one, however. Not a lot makes sense when you're a kid. (Those of you who have seen that British comedy classic, or just about any Carry On movie, for that matter, will know what I'm getting at.) Now I know why Camping was acceptable fare: It was shown during regular business hours. The prevailing issue wasn't so much one of content.

The Astral, along with all the PMQs (houses) on Elm, School, Hemlock, and Maple Drive, is now gone as that part of CFB Borden was razed a few years ago, but my memories of that special dream-maker always remain strong -- even if a certain title is missing.