Friday, June 30, 2017

And Again....

I'm still working on it, dad.

From March 21, 2016:
Some Fine Fatherly Advice, For Some

This morning a friend of mine seemed to be a little annoyed after reading a newspaper story on a guy, with less than minimal film & television production experience, who got a decent job on a television series.

My late father, who was "career air force", knew the score for those of us who haboured any pretensions of wanting to work and excel in the film and television business. He dispensed a certain line of sage advice on more than one occasion, even after I had a small record of the Barrie Examiner, Barrie Banner, and CKVR Television doing stories on me and my pals making film. Here it is, made even more relevant now that the wonderful explosion in media technologies allows anyone to make video:

"You have to know how to sell yourself. Stand out from the pack. Otherwise you just get lost in the crowd."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Remember the Other One

In two days Canada turns 150 years of age.

"I remember the one-hundredth birthday celebrations", I explained to the young person who asked me what I was doing for Canada Day: "They were big. I was living in (West) Germany at the time....Bobby Gimby made an appearance."

Seconds later I asked myself, and got no answer of real substance: "How do I remember that?"

I must be over fifty years old.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Writing Advice from The Twilight Zone

Yet another great old quote from Twilight Zone creator and writer Rod Serling; this one in regards to writing for television:

"A final note to aspiring writers . . . Do westerns and make your horses gray and if you have any burning desire to write anything that has two sides to it, do a magazine piece on window cleaning."

Note: Serling specified 'westerns' since he wrote the above when that form of entertainment was all the rage on early 1960s television.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Season of the Which

Here in the great city of Toronto walk "Jays" jerseys and caps. Yes, the Toronto Blue Jays are the heat of this city's sporting world.

That team logo is seemingly everywhere this time of the year, and into the latter part of the year. What occurred to me this morning was that when the Toronto Maple Leafs are skating cold in the winter season, one does not see much in the way of "Leafs" identifying marks.

We hear often that the Toronto Maple Leafs is Toronto's sports team.

I had long wondered where the term "The Dead of Winter" came from....

Certain Truths, from the Twilight Zone

I watched recently the outstanding documentary "Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval". Produced in 1995 for the PBS series American Masters, this 90 minute film is recommended to anyone who fights with and for the creative process, especially one attempting to fuel a commercial form.

Mr. Serling was known for his 'can opener' opinions, like this one:

"I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply. In almost everything I've written there is a thread of this: a man's seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself."

In this Age of Trump, a comment like the above contains fortified resonance.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Let's Choose Life

Here in Toronto we've received a lot of rain lately. Rain reminds me of earth and life. And reminds me of how we choose to treat our planet and all its inhabitants.

From February, 19, 2016:
A Cosmonaut's Special View

Space travellers, Astronauts and Cosmonauts, posses a special appreciation for Planet Earth and all its inhabitants. Having a global view, literally, helps one come up with something like the following profound observation:

 "When we look into the sky it seems to us to be endless. We breathe without thinking about it, as is natural... and then you sit aboard a spacecraft, you tear away from Earth, and within ten minutes you have been carried straight through the layer of air, and beyond there is nothing! The 'boundless' blue sky, the ocean which gives us breath and protects us from endless black and death, is but an infinitesimally thin film. How dangerous it is to threaten even the smallest part of this gossamer covering, this conserver of life."

- Cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov
(Soyuz 4, Soyuz 8, Soyuz 10)

Even More Better Now Donald

With Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America, my piece about "Imminent Peril" may be even more relevant.

From February 9, 2016:
It's Called "Imminent Peril"

Hot off the press:

"It is an incontrovertible truth that the civil institutions of the United States of America have been seriously affected, and that they now stand in imminent peril from the rapid and enormous increase of the body of residents of foreign birth, imbued with foreign feelings, and of an ignorant and immoral character, who receive, under the present lax and unreasonable laws of naturalization, the elective franchise and the right of eligibility to political office."

When was the above written? It was part of a speech given in Philadelphia at the first national convention of the Native American Party; the event was held in the year 1845.

While the quote may give one the impression it comes from the pen of Donald Trump, it reads as a little bit too articulate for The Donald.

A Friend is Taking His Cats With Him

An old friend of mine and his wife are leaving the city later in the year. I'll miss them, I'm sure, but his two cats have elected to do the move with their human captors.

This cat-sitter, a specialist in the field, will miss the kids.

From March 7, 2016:
A Swinging Cat Moment

An old friend of mine occasionally needs someone to take care of his two fine felines for a few days. At first he utilized the fine services of his friend Dave, and this arrangement worked on a few occasions. One day, a couple of years ago, Dave found he was unable to deal with two cats that had decided suddenly to settle an old score. Apparently he was "pretty upset" by the paw-fight and wasn't so sure he wanted to undertake his special role anymore.

Next time: My friend called me. "Do you mind doing it, Si?"

"Of course not! You're calling the cat expert."

These cats have not fought on my watch; they've wanted to, but this human knows how to defuse a house-cat-sized political squabble. Admittedly I'm well armed: A cup of water (which I've never had to use), and a great finger-snap. "No!... No!...."

Now: This cat lover naturally would take a few pictures while lounging around on a back patio with two bored cats. I was organizing some picture files on my computer recently and I had not realized that I had captured a special moment: A Certain Feline did not appreciate my camera's flashing red-eye reduction light.

That's one squirrely cat:

···  ··  −−  −−−  −·

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blast-Off! From the Past

This space cadet of the Soviet/Russian space program must one day witness a live launch of a Soyuz rocket. In person.

Two years ago TVOntario ran a two-part documentary on the very subject of the "Soviet/Russian space program". At about this time last year that educational network repeated the documentary, Cosmonauts: How Russian Won the Space Race. I wrote a little tie-in piece of sorts putting forth my opinion on the whole subject.

From June 7, 2016:
Yes, Russia Did Win the Space Race. And How!

Tonight on Ontario's superlative television network, "TVOntario", plays 'part one' of the fine BBC documentary film Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race.

That great race to the island in the sky was won clearly by the USA, leaving the USSR in Earth orbit.


The contest itself was not only of note but of one note.

The Soviets were never serious about the affair. I won't go into a political history lesson here, but suffice to say, where the Americans hit the moon several times their opposition stayed in town, so to speak, establishing an outpost around Earth in the form of the Salyut (and later, Mir) space stations. On these platforms they learned about human physiology in weightlessness and conducted numerous scientific experiments.

From the Soviet Union's "feigned" moon attempt sprouted the outstanding Soyuz spacecraft, modified versions of which ferry men/women and supplies to the International Space Station today. (This space cadet considers the Soyuz "system" to be one of the great man-made machines.)

Throughout the 1960s the game became the moon: the ice hockey net; the basketball hoop; the goal line and the uprights. Easy to say in hindsight, yes, but there was a whole field to be played.

There's so much more to the story.

Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race
Tonight at 10 p.m. on TVOntario

Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm No Woody Allen, But....

Years ago I read aloud some of Woody Allen's best "dark" quotes to a friend of mine. She responded regularly with a sour: "That's not funny!"

I thought they were funny; every time I managed to get one out I folded, almost collapsing.

Minutes ago I decided I would try to conjure up a dark quote that may look as though it came from the great comedian's pen:

"I'm not afraid of dying, but I am worried about the possibility that I won't be around to enjoy it."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's Father's Day

H.W. St. Laurent, Royal Canadian Air Force
and Royal Air Force

Saturday, June 17, 2017

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 6

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From January 13, 2013:
12 & 626 Squadron Memorial Service

Back on September 9th of last year, there was a memorial service for No 12 and 626 Squadrons at Wickenby Airfield, Lincolnshire.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

When Moral Fibre Was Woven Easily

Re-posting five blog pieces today on the Avro Lancaster bomber and Royal Air Force 626 Squadron got me thinking about why we volunteer to fight in a war.

On May 30th of last year I wrote about what makes one decides to join a military conflict:

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 rational 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.)

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 5

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From September 22nd, 2012:
An Operational Record Book (Partial)

The postings on this blog with some of the biggest hit counts are those regarding RAF Bomber Command No. 626 Squadron, with which my father flew during the war.  I thought it time to add a little more information regarding his operational record.

Here is a partial list -- culled from material provided to me by Dave Stapleton of The 626 Squadron Research Project -- of "ops" flown by Flying Officer A.R. Screen and crew:

Date - Target - Notes

12 March 1945 - Dortmund
13 March 1945 - Herne - The target was a Benzol Plant
23 March 1945 - Bremen Bridge
14 April 1945 - Potsdam
22 April 1945 - Bremen - Mission abandoned on Master Bomber’s orders.
25 April 1945 - Berchtesgaden - Hitler’s Eagles Nest in Bavaria (specifically, the SS Barracks)

With the Allied forces now advancing well into Germany, Bomber Command now turned its attention to humanitarian sorties and 626 Squadron was similarly tasked. (The Squadron’s Lancasters were converted to carry sacks of food in the bomb bays. Each aircraft carried 284 sacks; these were dropped from 500ft.) The crew flew two of these sorties:

30 April 1945 - Rotterdam - Operation Manna
2 May 1945 - Rotterdam - Operation Manna

Special thanks to:
Dave Stapleton
The 626 Squadron Research Project
Copyright 2010 ©

Post script:

A few weeks ago I was telling a friend how young these guys were who flew in RAF Bomber Command. My dad was nineteen; his crewmates would have been that age or a year or two older. I joked with my buddy that if this particular aircrew was known for doing something special during the war, and a movie were made about their experiences, the guy in the role of my dad would probably be an actor in his late twenties or early thirties. And Flying Officer Screen would no doubt be played by someone like Johnny Depp.

Film producers, who aren't known for being a bright lot to begin with, often miss on details like the above.

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 4

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From November 10th, 2011:
RAF '626 Squadron' Lancasters Over Berchtesgaden - April 25, 1945

In previous postings I talked about my father's experiences during WW2 with RAF Bomber Command No 626 Squadron. Below is a photo I discovered on the Internet (Tom Bint's webpage,, taken during 626's final major operation of the war: The bombing of the SS Barracks in Berchtesgaden, on April 25th, 1945.

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 3

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From September 27th, 2010
Aircrew - RAF No. 626 Squadron Lancaster 1945

Further to my posts below, here is some information provided to me courtesy of Dave Stapleton of "The 626 Squadron Research Project". Here is the roster of my dad's crew-mates on a 626 Squadron Lancaster bomber:

Pilot Officer A R Screen - RAF - Pilot
Flying Officer R J Lovell - RCAF - Navigator
Warrant Officer E A Ellum - RAF - Wireless Operator
Flying Officer D H Mitchell - RCAF - Bomb Aimer
Sergeant W R Bradley - RAF - Flight Engineer
Sergeant H W St. Laurent - RCAF - Mid-Upper Gunner
Sergeant C Rodger - RCAF - Rear Gunner

As indicated by the listing, RAF bomber aircrews were made up of men from different Commonwealth countries, not just from the U.K. Hence four Canadians. If memory serves, my father told me that Sergeant Rodger was from Toronto.

Those guys were a brave bunch. When I was in my late teens or early 20s, I would bellyache something like: "Ohh... where's the bus? My feet are cold." Okay, jerk, try the following: Cold or even frostbitten hands (if you were a gunner); flak exploding all around; getting 'coned' in searchlights over a city; coming under attack from a lurking night fighter, with your pilot sending your bomber into a violent corkscrew maneuver -- as the gunners open fire and fill the inside of the fuselage with fumes of cordite -- to increase your chances of seeing home that night; a bomb dropped by a friendly bomber above hitting your own aircraft, and right beside where you are sitting (that happened to my dad on a trip); wondering if you might end up bobbing about on the North Sea in the middle of the night, or having to bail out over enemy territory....

Those cold feet don't seem to be so bad, after all.

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 2

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From May 11th, 2010:
Royal Air Force 626 Squadron - May 1945

Dave Stapleton of supplied me with the above picture to help identify my father. It was taken on May 30th, 1945, and shows RAF 626 Squadron airmen wearing their "Best Blues".

Just a few weeks before, my dad and his crew flew twice to Rotterdam as part of "Operation Manna", a series of sorties which involved air-dropping sacks of food for the starving Dutch population.

Those were different times.

Nothing's changed, eh? How we never learn.

RAF 626 Squadron - Posting 1

In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.

From March 7th, 2010:
626 Squadron - Royal Air Force

I’m just old enough to have had a father who served in World War II. I say this as when the subject comes up I am asked how I can be the offspring of a Second World War veteran – I’m 48, and I am one of the second batch as my late father had been married before.

In reference to that great opening speech in one of my favourite movies, Patton (1970), where George C. Scott as George S. Patton addresses an unseen crowd of soldiers, my father did not ‘shovel shit in Louisiana’. He served in RAF Bomber Command; specifically as an Air Gunner on Lancasters with number 626 Squadron. I say this, I suppose, partly in the hope to snag those former aircrew who might be surfing the Net after keying “626 Squadron” into their search engines. My dad’s “Skipper” was Pilot Officer A. R. Screen; referred to by his crew as “three engine Screen” as their Lanc often lost an engine on sorties.

As I discovered a few years ago after keying the said search I found out that there is a British gentleman, by the name of Dave Stapleton, who dedicates time to researching the very same squadron – he too has a connection to 626. Last week Dave sent me a nice panorama shot which had been taken of the squadron's crewmembers a couple of weeks after VE-Day. These large-format photographs were taken of the squadron previously during the war (as they were for other squadrons) but what is interesting about this one is that these guys survived the war. My dad is in there somewhere but, as the picture does not come with a “key”, I have to corroborate this one with the siblings.

Not to go on too much about the subject, Dave also supplied me with my dad’s Operational Record, but I will end with this: “This raid on Berchtesgaden was the last operational sortie flown by 626 Squadron, and the last major raid of the war in Europe. Two targets were identified for the raid, the Eagles Nest itself and the SS Barracks nearby. 626 Squadron’s target was the SS Barracks.”

Thanks again to Dave Stapleton for his fine research work:

* The photo above is of the very Lancaster that my father flew in on the ‘Berchtesgaden’ operation; in addition to two earlier raids, including one on Bremen three days before. (The crew pictured here is not his crew.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Star Wars: Real Fans on the Top Floor

A couple of years ago my old friend Dom was in town. He's a big reader, so he and I visited Toronto's super BMV Books (the "Bloor Street" location).

Dom likes Star Wars but his interests are wide; he's not one to become too obsessed by a movie franchise.

We went up to the top floor, a level I had not bothered ascending to before that time. It's a haven of sorts for real Star Wars fans. My buddy stood a few feet before me as he looked, surveyed, the room's profusion of paper material. Dom rested both hands on his hips and said, within easy earshot of the customers: "Just think, Si, for a lot of Star Wars fans this is their whole world."

Weekday Night Fever 1993

For reasons unknown I did not see Saturday Night Fever upon its first release in December of 1977. However, I made up for that missed opportunity in early 1993 when the fabulous Bloor Cinema here in Toronto fulfilled its role as a top repertory movie house. In 1992 alone I saw about 150 movies there. What was playing was not an issue at all to this movie fan: I would pop out of the subway -- "Bathurst" station -- on my way home from work and pop into the royal movie place. (Once I double-dipped without realizing it. "I've seen this; when it came out.")

I was glad to finally get around to seeing the Fever. Much of the audience had seen it, that much was clear to me. They howled during the opening credits sequence, specifically the very low shot of John Travolta's boots Ping-Ponging to and from the camera lens. I too laughed. Awesome filmmaking. Later, when the star applied the essential 1970s hair blowdryer, the audience went nuts.

I loved the film, as a film. It deserves its "classic" status. The dance scenes are almost transcendental.

Last night I watched it again, this time on DVD. Absolutely a wonderful and joyous piece of movie entertainment; even with the non-PG moments.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sporting Admissions from the Past

From February 13, 2016:
An Admission 46 Years Later (Emotional Football)

Something has been bugging me lately: I've been prone to tossing and turning at two or three o'clock in the morning, unable to sleep, because I did a certain "bad" almost forty-six years ago.

In June of 1970 my family and I were visiting relatives in Bristol, UK; that month the 1970 FIFA World Cup was being played, or rather, resolved, in Mexico. On the 14th of June, England matched with West Germany as part of the quarter-finals round and I watched this contest on television, live and in colour, with my British cousins. (This was just the year after the Beeb switched to colour broadcasting). All is fine in my admissions thus far.

The problems start now: I was rooting for West Germany. Needless to say, appreciating the Brits' pride for their national football team, I kept my cheers a private matter. Even at such a young age I was hyper-aware that in the interest of self preservation it would be prudent of me to keep any elation to myself: I was contained in a room with British supporters; off-side behaviour of any colour could be bloody dangerous!

West Germany went on to win the match by a score of 3-2 and I was a happy young man.

Shortly after returning to West Germany, a German might have asked me: "Schadenfreude?"

"Me? No. For a reason of which I am not aware, known only to the recesses of my still-developing brain, I chose to support the Germans."

"Du bist ein guter Deutscher."


Knowing the English football fans' predilection for being unwilling or unable to let certain histories "go", and having more than a few British relatives of my own, I decided to withhold this sensitive bit from my past. Only now am I able to come to terms with my Yellow Card.

I doubt – hope – they'll ever stumble upon this posting.


From March 18, 2016
An Admission 45 Years Later (Maple Leafs Forever)

On Saturday, February the 13th , I came clean by making a long awaited admission of misplaced support from 1970.

Today I will admit something about "misplaced support" from 1971.

In April of that year, deep in the National Hockey League playoffs, I, for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, was hopeful for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team in eternal question was playing against the New York Rangers, a good, solid club, and one coached by the great Emile Francis.

The date was April 15th, it was game 6 of the quarter final round between these two members of the "original six". The Rangers led the best-of-seven series by three games to two.

Overtime: This match, tied at 1-1, was resolved with venomous brutality when a Rangers player (Jean Ratelle? Walt Tkaczuk?) scooted down the ice over the Leafs blue-line, through a hapless Leafs defenceman (Jim McKenny?), and snapped off a quick shot. Goaltender Jacques Plante shot out his right leg, he stretched out his toes, but failed to stop or deflect the smoking disc-shaped piece of vulcanized rubber from fulfilling its Nomad-like programming. The next event was more acoustic in nature; the sound of what happens after a speeding 6-ounce hockey puck motions past a Leafs goalie at such a critical time in the NHL season. "Clank!!!"

(Forever Futility.)

I did my job quite well: I was a pro. I (got a wee bit upset).

My dad laughed, no doubt amused by a hockey-loving kid who had yet to snap out of a silly phase. I can still picture him, to my right, getting a kick out of my "upset". Translation: "Kid, it's just a bleedin' game. It means absolutely nothing in and among the grand schemes of life." (My dad was right, of course; except when his beloved Habs lost.)

For decades I've asked myself the question: "Why?" Not the question of why a Leafs goalie would fail to stop or deflect an ice hockey puck, which even an answer of "42" could not explain away, but why I would waste allegiances on a total, complete, absolute, non-achiever. This memorable match had played out mere weeks after my 10th birthday, and after the Leafs team began to brush up on all the interesting local golf courses and beer halls, I would, in guided prescience and with great leaps of maturation, shoot my affections to the Montreal Canadiens. This would pay off -- sorry for the spoiler, young ones -- and my reaction this time around would be one of: Joy.

Toronto-based sports journalist Peter Gross reported on the wireless this morning that the Toronto Maple Leafs are just one loss away from being "mathematically eliminated" from making the playoffs this year.

This cynic must admit: That loosey-goosey sports organization has been improving since 1971. By way of avoiding playoff games on a regular yearly basis they spare many a 10-year-old from having certain hopes and, more importantly, breakdowns. And from having anything of relevant interest to write about 45 years later.

(Replay: "Claaaaank"!)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Star Wars: In Line For the Empire

The longest I've ever lined up for a film was in May of 1980 when I went with friends to see The Empire Strikes Back.

The grand but long-gone University Theatre here in Toronto was the place to see a 70mm presentation of a big release. The way fate worked was the three hour wait in line to get tickets and the subsequent two hour queuing for 'ticket holders' was well worth it.

The Empire Strikes Back, to me, is the greatest Star Wars movie.

I had forgotten about Star Wars. What a nice dilemma to have....

Star Wars: And Then Disappointment Set In

When George Lucas revamped and re-released his first three Star Wars pictures with new and much improved special visual effects and other stellar enhancements in 1997, I went to Return of the Jedi.

My friend, and former work mate, Susan and I wanted to see The Empire Strikes Back but when I checked the newspaper movie listings I had to call my movie mate to tell her that it was gone. We worked through our disappointment and constructed a B-plan: Go and see Return of the Jedi -- a consolation prize if there ever was one in the Star Wars universe (before the prequels came along).

After the flick's end credits started to roll, Susan turned to me and said, "I had remembered it being better than that".

She was fifteen years of age when Jedi first hit the screens back in May of 1983, so her reaction was telling, but understandable. I told her that I was not fifteen when the pit came out -- I knew it was not "better than that".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How Does One Decide to Get into the Biz?

June 1977 - OECA Videotape Editing Room - Day

In the interest of small talk I asked a producer how she got into the television business:

The lady had been visiting BBC Television Centre as part of a tour; a studio door was open and she saw a "Jon Pertwee" Doctor Who story being recorded. That was it.

At that time, the Ontario Educational Communication Authority television network was running Pertwee-era episodes, which made the producer's story even more dimensional for me.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Article on My Graveyard Shift

Today an old friend asked me how I met Canadian film and television director Jerry Ciccoritti. To answer his question I explained how I became involved with Graveyard Shift. Here below is a blog repeat; from November 27, 2009:

Back in the summer of 1985 a received a call from a friend of mine, who also filled the role of 'film school' classmate, to tell me that there was an ad running in that week's issue of Now Magazine looking for crew members for an unnamed feature film.

I called the number provided in the classified and spoke to the production's line producer, a guy by the name of Peter Boboras. He asked me if I could do anything in particular, and I answered by saying that I had recently done two years of design school. After little time had passed Peter asked me to come down to the production office -- on Sullivan Street in Toronto -- and we would talk.

During the interview I showed a selection of sketches and designs in addition to photographs of various 'miniatures' I had done. Peter said that in the current draft of the script there was a need to build a miniature of tents in a desert. "I can do that." I was more or less hired on the spot. It should be noted that the story was not called Graveyard Shift at this point and it was not even a horror film, but rather an adventure. Just to convince the film company that I could work fast and require little in the way of funds to make miniature scenery, I spec built a futuristic structure table top model, complete with two landing pads... for whatever might want to land. Next I took deep-focus 35mm photographs of this concoction so I did not have to drag it into the office and to show how something, with the proper shooting, could belie its small size.

As the new school year approached (1985-1986) the project in question was still moving along. Peter told me one day that Graveyard Shift was the production's new name.

To make a long story short, my main responsibility was to design a graveyard set -- a film within a film, or rather, a music video within a feature film. I swung into action immediately by going down to the Toronto Reference Library, remember, this was years before the Internet, to look at clipping files of graveyards -- the real kind and those in the movies. Also, I journeyed to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery with sketchbook in hand. I took my camera too but decided that I would make myself draw the various mausoleums; this way, you are forced to study the shapes and contours of the buildings which helps you understand more what you are trying to reproduce in the film studio.

In addition to the studio set I would illustrate 'floating' flats for the picture's music video scenes.

The producers had rented me a small space in the old Massey-Ferguson factory complex just south of King Street. (It is no longer there as it was razed years ago.) I remember it being toasty warm with a nice set of loading doors; actually it was part of a loading dock, as were all the units around us. An interesting area, it was, with little side-streets -- more like back alleys. This was where I built my set, as a bunch of pre-fabs. In the actual film studio we would fasten the sections together to make a whole. My wonderful hard-working crew consisted of Mark Lang, Chris Leger, and Dave Fiaconi. (My brother Jon also helped out when he was not with the main crew. He functioned as a Production Assistant before the shoot started, often helping the art department, and was a grip when 'principle' got rolling.)

The film studio was on George Street, here in Toronto. It was a small studio fit for a low-low budget production, and for teaching a novice production designer that you must always visit the space before you drag your pencil across the drawing velum. I thought I was doing the right thing by asking someone what I thought were the right questions: "What is the fly?" On this query by me I was given a bad dimension from the other party. I seem to remember it being "sixteen feet". Perfect. Well, it was until I eventually went down to the studio to check 'er out myself. As soon as I saw it I could tell that the ceiling was no where near the spec given to me earlier. The studio manager told me it was just over twelve feet (to the beams). That's great, I thought. The mausoleum I designed is over twelve feet tall. Not to overly trust anyone at this late juncture, I popped out the tape measure and checked myself. Time to redesign.

I got home, went to my drafting table and scratched out the mausoleum's entablature. "That'll do it! That easy." Sure the building looked odd and unbalanced but that is what happens. (I elected not to scale it down as I knew it would look foolish and not unlike the Stonehenge bit from the movie Spinal Tap. The door would have to be shrunken down... fit for 'Cousin It' from the old TV show, The Addams Family. The audience would laugh.)

What helped make the job enjoyable, and I was having a good time, not to mention learning a lot, was that the film's director, Jerry Ciccoritti, was well versed in 'art things'. When I showed him my earliest sketches he could ask for things in certain terminology, making my job easier as there was no "this thingy here" talk to confuse me. Thinking back we did not have to get into full blown conversations -- they were always to the point.

Peter Boboras arranged to send David Rayfield, the film's art director, and who would be responsible for painting the set, and I to the Canadian Opera Company's fabrication shop for some informative lessons with their master painter. We were shown how to simulate marble and concrete with brushes and sponges. My god, did I learn a lot in September and October of 1985. Of course, the learning never stops.

By the way, the columns for my mausoleum would be rented from the CBC, so I designed the set to contain them. I made sure that the length given me was correct... as I did not need anymore surprises, needless to say. Such an error would be crippling, especially if the columns were longer than the dimension supplied to me. After all, I could not cut down rented pieces to fit my set. An assortment of tombstones/headstones was also rented from the CBC. Of course, my crew and I could easily make them, and we did make several, but since the Corp had replicas in the prop department, it made perfect sense to grab those, too.

To build up the 'ground' so as to not have a nice-looking mausoleum sitting on a flat studio floor, even a dressed one, we rented a bunch of 'risers' (and their 'tops') from CFTO studios. These would be erected on the George Street studio floor and my building would sit up on top of that, adding to the effect of uneven ground. I should mention that I used (reinforced) 3/4 inch plywood on the floor of the structure as I knew that the actors would be running and walking around on top -- we did not need feet punching through during a take and then yelling for all to hear, "where's St. Laurent?!"

Everything was more or less going according to plan. Everything was ready at my end of things; the main unit would be shooting in the studio later 'that week'. In the meantime, I would attempt to show up to some of my classes at school. Well, folks, you do not know the meaning of "a scene right out of a movie" until I explain what happened next: One day I got home from school, opened the door to my apartment and met a ringing telephone. I ran over and picked it up. It was Peter Boboras:

"Simon, you gotta round up your boys and put your set up tonight. The crew is in there tomorrow."

"What? I thought it was happening on Thursday."

"It was, but they moved it up to tomorrow."

Time to make a quick series of phone calls. It was 5 p.m. I had about 15 hours to make a show.

In late October of 1985, my wonderful crew in all their dedicated glory worked with me in the studio that night to make a graveyard. Sure, finances and time were very tight, but the results were rewarding for us all.


Photos above:

Top, top (b&w) -- At about 4 a.m. I stood in the north-east corner of the studio and took this picture as the set was starting to come together. Left to right: Michael Toke, Ellen Atkin, Rae Crombie (painting at door of mausoleum), and Chris Leger.

Bottom, top (colour) -- The completed set. I took this picture (along with many more) the morning after the crew had wrapped up shooting in the studio. Mere minutes after the still photography session, the demolition crew of two and I pulled out the crowbars and went to work.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Good Humour Man at Canada Post Post

Earlier this evening I popped into my local Canada Post outlet. The young woman working behind the counter called me with a happy "how can I help you?". I approached and said "I'd like a stamp for Trump Land". She keeled over laughing, her reaction was that of someone who heard the day's funniest line.

Those poor bastards south of the border -- saddled with a miserable sausage.

U.S. readers, please do not take offence. I mean it in good-natured fun.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Cosmic Truth from a Master?

George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie franchises, has been known to roll back or push down his own art form.

Although not known for granting in-depth interviews, certainly decades ago, in 1981 the millionaire filmmaker gave an exclusive question and answer session to Starlog magazine's founder, Kerry O'Quinn. Some interesting bits came from the mouth of the man who earned his fortune making big pictures. It was not the first time Lucas expressed this loaded opinion, it's just that he gave it this time around to a publication targeted at the fans of science fiction films and television:

"I don't want to upset your readers too much, but Star Wars is just a movie . . . The people who are saying 'it's nothing, it's just junk food for the mind' are reacting to the people saying 'this is the greatest thing since popcorn!' Both of them are wrong. It's just a movie. You watch it and you enjoy a sunset. You don't have to worry about the significance. You just say 'hey, that was great'."

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Babs Johnson's Gift Box

As my dear late mother said to me more than once, it's easy to criticize.

Coming soon: Babs Johnson's Gift Box

What's With the Movies?

Watch a few minutes of a hockey game and get adverts for movies of incredible drawing power.

Transformers: The Last Knight
More frame-corner to frame-corner CG rubbish, looking like every other over-inflated CGI-leaden piece of clownage. By the way, what the cineplex is Anthony Hopkins doing in this Babs Johnson's Gift Box?

I never watched the original television series but I did get a sense of its business, mainly through reputation. The television trailer to this PhD-breeder seems to focus on what appears to be a low rent Vin Diesel. Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson would have done this right.

It's time I play a DVD.


Z Channel - a Magnificent Obsession.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A List of CV Things: A New

I originally posted this on May 3rd of last year and noticed a couple of things missing. Here's a new and improved version:

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)
* manager (video duplication, storage)
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 / customer service