WorkPrint — July 2022

IN THIS ISSUE

Remembering Michael Wohlfahrt

Feature: City Surviving (Part 2)
by Lulu Keating

Tech Corner: 3387 — The Best Open Secret in Analogue
by Abner Collette

The Shot List
Calls, Grants, Opportunities


REMEMBERING MICHAEL WOHLFAHRT

We at AFCOOP were shocked and deeply saddened this past week to learn of the passing of current FILM 5 participant Michael Wohlfahrt. Wohlfy was the director of Anomalist and made that film with fellow team members and friends Brandon Lorimer and Annah-Lauren Bloom. We worked closely with Wohlfy throughout the FILM 5 program beginning last October and got to know and love him through that process. He was also active in AFCOOP’s Sequestered Screenwriters program and the wider Nova Scotia film community both as a director and in the production office. Wohlfy was talented, intelligent, insightful, and generous with his time and knowledge. It was a pleasure to work with him, to listen to his thoughts, and especially to hear his laugh fill the room.

We’re going to miss you a lot Wohfly. Rest in Peace.

FEATURE

CITY SURVIVING
PART TWO

by Lulu Keating

This is the second part of Lulu’s two-part essay. Read part one here.

I had no idea how big a job it would be making City Survival. I certainly did not realize that in addition to being co-writer and director, I had to be the producer. I didn’t know what a producer did until I found myself doing all the logistics, organizing the shoot schedule, hiring the cast and crew and paying them, getting people from point A to point B. I never really appreciated that this work was required in order to get a film made. I rented a station wagon to drive actors and crew to Toronto, and then went to the bank where I withdrew $500 cash for the trip. I thought, this is crazy. I barely know how to drive and I’m going to be responsible for all these people’s lives.

It’s a lonely job helming a film shoot because nobody else has as much responsibility. You can express your doubts or concerns to someone, but ultimately you hold the reins – you have to drive the cart. I felt a great deal of apprehension. Someone confided that they’d overheard me described as “intimidating.”  I suppose I was intimidating to some, but how else could I get the job done? I felt a lot of eyes on me. Then I realized that all I could do was my best. It was as straightforward as that. Maybe someone else could do it better, but I simply had to do the best I could. This revelation helped me move forward, step by step.

I was the co-writer with Mary-Colin Chisholm, who was the lead actor. It seemed pretty straightforward on some levels—we’d write a story about a young woman leaving her small town, and we’d show her adjustment to life in the city. Neither of us had written a screenplay before. The Canadian film agency that preceded Telefilm (CFDC) suggested that we hire a story editor to read our script and give us feedback. They suggested a man they used. I let him choose his fee—if it was an easy job for him, I’d pay $200, but if it took a lot of work I’d give him $250. We met with him and were given suggestions like, “Heat up the action by getting the girl to fall for the male character,” predictable stuff like that. We ignored everything he suggested. He decided it was a lot of work and put in an invoice for $250.

I cobbled together a living doing various small jobs. AFCOOP offered employment opportunities that many members gratefully took advantage of. I joined in teaching workshops in schools. We had a major animation workshop (Get Animated) that kept many of us busy. I cleaned films for the Lung Association. My main job was delivering the Globe and Mail newspaper. It was supposed to be motorized delivery but since I didn’t have a car I used my bicycle, delivering over a hundred papers to downtown and south end Halifax. I was never in better condition, before or since.  It paid $125 a week and took about 4 hours a day, leaving me time to work on prepping for the film shoot. When it came time to hand over the paper route when we’d be filming, Jim MacSwain took it on. 

We shot over the course of a month in Nova Scotia—Halifax and Antigonish. We drove to Toronto, five or six of us in the Rent-A-Wreck station wagon, and billeted with various friends there. The total grant from the Canada Council was over $8,000. I also received a small grant from AFCOOP and a services grant from the National Film Board to do the processing, workprint, the sound mix and answer print. Most of the crew were members of the co-op—the camera, sound, clapper/loader, continuity, etc.  Everyone, crew and cast, got paid exactly the same amount. I think it was $200 a week. Nobody complained. For many it was an opportunity to learn, to move forward and improve their craft. Later, when the film industry in Nova Scotia matured, low-budget independent films had to compete with union wages, then finding cast and crew who were willing to work on an indie film for less money became more difficult—a double-edged sword.

We weren’t able to see rushes while we were shooting. There was a small film processing lab in Halifax (above a Tim Horton’s) equipped only to process news film for the CBC. I had the deal with the NFB to have our colour stock processed in their lab in Montreal. We saved it up and shipped it all together after the shooting was done. The camera operator made the decision to underexpose the film because it could be lightened up, instead of overexposing it which would make the negative thin. Unfortunately most of the film was underexposed. In the end there were several scenes that couldn’t be used because they were too dark. This meant that some of the story elements were lost. To make up for what was missing I wrote scenes that were animated, using hand tinted black-and-white photos, a technique I’d used on an earlier film (The Jabberwock) and have since used on several films.

I had directed a few plays but never really worked with actors in films before, and I was intimidated. I couldn’t have had a nicer first experience than working with Mary-Colin Chisholm. She was patient with me. She was able to communicate when she was unsure of what I wanted. And sometimes when she had no idea what I was going for, she had faith in me and gave me more than I’d asked for. Only a few of the actors were professional—most were amateur and had never been in front of a camera before. The biggest challenge to my confidence was when I had to block the scene with the actors. The whole crew stood there watching, waiting. Several films later I learned that you could give the crew a break and do the blocking privately, with just the actors.

Until we began shooting, I didn’t realize the director’s responsibilities include controlling the look of the film. I’d not grasped that I should be drafting up storyboards and floor plans with camera positions, or at least making shot lists to indicate how the scenes were to be covered. I concentrated only on what happened in front of the camera, the blocking and acting, and left the look of the film pretty well entirely to the camera operator. Likewise, I had no notes for the sound recordist, no list of additional effects that would have been useful in the sound edit. Someone mentioned that continuity was an important element and if not for that recommendation, we wouldn’t have had a script supervisor. The two years at art school and the year at Ryerson had not taught me anything practical about how films are made. My education came from doing, actually making films. Whenever a filmmaker wannabe asks me what school they should go to, I tell them to join a film co-op and learn by doing in a collaborative environment. Inevitably they ignore my advice, spending $50,000 on an education, and pay down their huge debt with employment that has nothing to do with making films.  

The shoot for City Survival was a huge expenditure of energy. We had a crew and cast of over 20 people. There was the long road trip to Toronto. Daily I was forced to make hundreds of decisions from the colour of a scarf to the tone of a line delivery. After we came back from the shoot, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.  It was an enormous relief to have finished without anything tragic happening. Everyone was intact and feelings were positive. The exposed stock was shipped off to the lab in Montreal and I had a reprieve before the rushes would be sent back. A day after we returned to Halifax, a group of us were having drinks at the unofficial AFCOOP meeting room, the Seahorse Tavern. One of the crew members, a bit older and more experienced than me, took me aside and said, “You’re not a director.” I was shocked and saddened but not convinced. The next night at the Seahorse he told me the same thing again. This time I believed him completely. My confidence was shattered. I was destroyed. 

I have no idea why I took his word for it. I guess it’s an indication of how much we define ourselves by what we produce, and all I had to show as a director were a few very short films and this unedited drama. 

It was the fall of 1981. After his declaration and my despair, I managed to sync the rushes and sent them off to the National Film Board. When the workprint and sound reels came back, I left them sitting there untouched for the rest of the fall, then the winter, and then the spring. Why should I do any editing? I was not a director. Fortunately, I was hired by the National Film Board to be an apprentice with the wonderful sound editor, Les Holman. I learned how to listen to sounds and use them to convey the emotion of the film. When that job finished I went on a vacation to Thailand with my boyfriend. That spring of 1982 when I returned to Halifax, I happened to run into a filmmaker friend from Charlottetown. We didn’t know each other very well but we agreed to meet for brunch. She had just finished directing her first dramatic film in Charlottetown, but she had found out that she was “not a director.” I was immediately curious that she used the same term as I’d heard. When I asked why she felt that she explained that one of the crew members had told her this. You guessed it—it was the same man who told me I wasn’t a director. He felt obliged to tell directors that they couldn’t do the job. Did he tell only women, or men too?

That changed everything and I could return to work on City Survival.  The editing was done at the co-op, first on the stand-up Moviola and later on the new Steenbeck editing table. I worked my way through a rough cut and fine cut, I audience tested it and finally, by fall, locked the picture. Claire Henry came in and helped on the sound edit. She was invaluable. Just before Halloween we went to Montreal for the sound mix at the NFB. It went well and I was impatient to get the first answer print from the lab. However, the NFB’s own films had priority, and they had other independent films from across the country all waiting to go through the lab. I was phoning weekly and all they could tell me was that it was in the queue. The fall passed, then the winter too. 

By that time I had a small job as distributor for AFCOOP. The pay was only $50 a week, but I was happy to do the work because I was learning about promoting and marketing films. I approached filmmakers at other co-ops in the Atlantic region and asked to have their films too. That was the beginning of what would become the first Atlantic distributor, later aligned with other regional indie distributors and called Canadian Filmmakers Distribution – Atlantic. At AFCOOP, the distribution committee decided to do a cross-Canada tour of films from the Atlantic region. They chose which films to include in the tour, and City Survival was on the program. But where was the print?

In the spring of 1983 I went to Quebec for a family christening. My mother and I decided to go into Montreal for a few days. I told her about my frustration with the NFB: a film print can be run through the lab in a day, but for six months the NFB had done nothing. She insisted I call the NFB. When I got the right person on the phone, she took over. “I’ve come all the way across the country to see my daughter’s film and you have to show it to us. If not today, then tomorrow.” That’s how I got the print of City Survival in time for the cross-Canada tour.

City Survival can stand alone as a drama, but it also deals with the issue of urban migration. I made a study guide to make the film attractive for educational institutions. Several school boards purchased it, including the Nova Scotia Department of Education. I placed it with the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, who made a few sales. I also hired someone, but because she knew nothing about distribution, no sales resulted. The biggest break was in 1985 when CBC bought it for their anthology program Canadian Reflections, which showcased short films. Mary-Colin and I did promotional photos and we had lots of publicity about the broadcast. But then CBC changed the date and time and we had to do it all over again. At least they paid $5,000, and that was compensation for some of the huge effort, over three years, of making and distributing the film.

City Survival is available to view on the AFCOOP Archives NOW as part of Sylvia’s Choice, a shorts program curated by Sylvia D. Hamilton. Watch it here.


3378: The Best Open Secret in Analogue

You may have heard about 3378 or “Hi-Con” film stock in reference to 16mm. If not, you’re about to hear all about it from your friendly neighbourhood analogue enthusiast! 

3378(E) is a type of 16mm sound-recording film stock, which is used to make prints (copies) of original soundtrack recordings. This film was created for the purpose of recording sound or copying recordings of sound. Because of that, it has some very interesting properties, like an ISO of 12! Its function of providing clear and crisp lines for optical sound duplication means it has exceptionally high contrast and a super-fine grain that provides a unique aesthetic style.

As you can see from the above images, 3378 comes out with a pretty interesting overall look. While you can see we are losing some detail in the shadows and brighter areas of the frames (look at the clouds against the sky, and the lack of detail in the black shoes) the punchy darks and lights steal the show. 3378 fairly consistently reflects mid-tone greys in a slightly flat-looking way, like in the top two photos, where the sky and person’s skin show a kind of flat grey with minimal variation in shading. While losing detail is generally considered a drawback, this film is so high contrast that it somehow ‘compensates’ for the lack of detail with stylish images that pop. 

This film is also orthochromatic, which means it can be worked with under a red safety light. An added bonus if you are not so great at working in complete darkness and have access to a decent setup. Since it comes loaded on a daylight spool, it can be loaded into your camera indoors or in indirect sunlight without exposing the inner layers of the film.  

The biggest selling feature of 3378 is that it’s the most inexpensive black-and-white 16mm film stock you can buy. When folks approach me about buying film at AFCOOP, they are often shocked to find out how costly it can be just for the film itself—nevermind processing and scanning costs!

When compared to other film stock, the current costs of a 100-ft daylight reel of 16mm are:

Ektachrome — $81

Tri-X, 50D, 200T, 500T — $69

3378E — $18.50!

Given the huge difference in price, it’s probably obvious why people are so into this film, right? It is less than one-quarter of the cost! That’s why 3378 is sold as a picture stock at many film cooperatives across North America (AFCOOP included!). It is perfect for shooting on a Bolex or a Scoopic, and is sure to be a fan favourite for years to come—especially for scrappy independent artists who are looking to save a few (thousand) bucks. 

The only hitch is that it only comes in big cans of 1200ft that need to be “rolled down” into individual daylight spools. So… who wants to help?!    

Happy shooting, everyone!

Do you have a tech question that needs answering? Ask Abner! 

 

Send your questions to: abner@afcoop.ca