IN THIS ISSUE
REMEMBERING MARK SIMKINS
LET’S TALK ABOUT HAND PROCESSING!
by SPENCER MACKAY
Hello, my name is Spencer MacKay and I’m hoping to share a recent short film that I had the opportunity to create as the writer, director and producer (under Iain MacLeod’s pivotal mentorship). The film is called Scouter Joe, and it follows a scout-troop leader who thrills his young troop members with ridiculous Indiana Jones-like tales of adventure and whimsy. Despite the stories very clearly being made up, most of the young troop members are enthralled with who Scouter Joe presents himself as until one of the troop members challenges him on his persona. In confronting this challenge, Scouter Joe is forced to re-evaluate his persona, as well as who he really is behind it. This is a film that I’ve been wanting to make for the last sixteen years, as the persona is based on a character that a friend of mine created in school when I was nine years old.
Growing up as a person living with a disability, I had an EPA with me in class up until I was in the seventh grade. An EPA is a teacher’s aid that is specifically placed in a classroom to help assist a student living with a disability with whatever they may need (in my case, it was tasks like note-taking, getting physical exercise, etc.), and for many years, my EPA was a man named Shawn Hopkins, who created the character of Scouter Joe in class. Sometimes in class, Shawn would get bored and would proceed to type a funny nonsensical story on my laptop to make me, but mainly himself, laugh in order to pass the time. He wrote many stories and created many characters during our time together, but the standout stories would always be his Scouter Joe stories, and I always told him that one day I’d bring the character to life on-screen. Getting the opportunity to merge his vision for the character with a personal story about my journey during the early days of the pandemic, as well as bringing this character to top executives of Scouts Canada (and having them sign off on supporting us with the making of this film), was an incredibly joyful experience, and it’s my hope that if you watch the film, you’ll enjoy the experience of seeing it just as much as I enjoyed the experience of making it.
Watch Scouter Joe HERE.
FOSTERING NEW FILMMAKERS ON NOVA SCOTIA’S SOUTH SHORE
by KELLIE ANDERSON
The crawlspace of our house was a magical place when I was a kid. It was packed full of a wide assortment of paper, the remains of a defunct printing business that my Dad had tried to save. It served as the linchpin of creative inspiration for my gang of friends. Whatever we could dream up we would try out, from impromptu plays to lowbrow carnivals hosted in our garage. Each endeavour would include posters, costumes, props, backdrops and tickets hand-bombed on paper from the crawlspace.
Years later, I found myself again inspired by a magical place after packing up my car and heading for Hollywood. I landed myself a job as an intern at Make Up Effects Lab, where I was part of a team that developed creatures, costumes, props and set pieces for film and the like. A day in the lab was always exciting. We would be given a brief from a client and set to the task of bringing to life whatever that brief outlined using imagination, experimentation and collaboration. I had essentially found a job where whatever I could dream up, I could try out. My time working in labs and on sets gave me an incredible skillset that covers the gamut. Most film production crew can comfortably make a lateral move to apocalypse management, should the opportunity arise, and I am no exception.
After 25-plus years working as a creative globally, my daughter and I chose to set down roots in Nova Scotia. In hindsight, Nova Scotia found me. The last place anyone who knew me figured I would end up, it was the perfect place. A place that you can still try out whatever you dream up. I started a film and art school in Mahone Bay with the directive of creating an environment where creativity could thrive. A lab that inspired imagination, experimentation and collaboration. A magical place to honour all of the magical places I have had the good fortune to experience.
Soon after the shop launched I was approached by the public school to teach art and film through the PAINTS program. Art education has become an afterthought in the NS curriculum and the solution is to sub out class-time instruction to artists who volunteer their time to instruct. The holes in this plan require no explanation. I put forward all of the time I could spare but always finished a session thinking students deserve better. Especially those who gravitated to the arts.
The pandemic gave me pause to think further. Conversations with fellow filmmakers/creatives revolved around the lack of creative-based education in schools, the problem of keeping production in Nova Scotia without enough technical crew and consistency of industry. The solution seemed clear to me: connect all of the dots. Why can’t Nova Scotia be a centre for film production? Why can’t film production be a base industry in Nova Scotia? Why can’t kids be offered an engaging STEAM-based program that continues on to film production offered as an occupational trade at the secondary level? Why can’t students finish high school with the skills to join the workforce? If all these things work together it propels the wheel forward.
So I started down a path with those questions in mind. Following the advice of Joe Strummer, who professed that it’s best to know the system in order to take on the system, I went back to university to pursue a Bachelor of Education.
It was a soul-crushing experience for a creative seeking innovation I would not recommend undertaking without full battle gear. I encountered a broken system, trying to save itself with buzzwords, while clinging on to the crumbing foundation of the last century. I was, in short, told to stay in my own lane. But decades of working in the trenches of film production does foster tenacity, resourcefulness and a protective shell, so I carried on.
Concurrently, I developed the groundwork for a film institute and film festival with friends Gareth Roberts (Halifax) and Lisa Kurtz (Brisbane). A basecamp for what is possible in education and collaboration, teamed up with an avenue for projection and promotion. Rogue Wave Institute started out of the gate with a film society for young filmmakers 12 years-plus and the Rogue Wave Film Festival hosted its first screening this past August, to break the seal. Based on the South Shore, open to an audience beyond geographical borders, celebrating makers and making.
A lofty goal to shift the status quo? Well sure, but I’ve never been one to back away from the dark horse. We witnessed first hand that the mechanics of our world can change in a day during the pandemic. That we can push forward amazing things if we work together for the greater good. This province has all of the potential to be a mecca for storytelling. It’s the sense of community that sets Nova Scotia apart and the pioneering spirit that encourages innovation. That is what brought many of us here and keeps us coming back.
It’s a pivotal time for change. The infrastructure can’t keep up with a growing population, after years of decline. It forces the door open for options to fill the gap. I’m standing by with my pitch package to fill the call for content.
I’m a behind-the-scenes gal, as many creatives are. Grandstanding is not my jam. But I think you can make change happen if you keep a good idea constantly in your narrative. I am a product of education by experience and I know that it can ignite a love of learning for a lifetime, from both perspectives of a student and a teacher. Once you build a great crew, anything is possible.
I am still that kid trying out whatever I dream up, which I have learned over time is the base ingredient for progress. Encouraging that directive forward amplifies growth.
The future deserves better.
So I pass along this good idea in my narrative.
A globally accomplished artist with a 25+ year background in film production and design, Kellie chose to make Nova Scotia her home in 2017 and open Stray Dog Art House, a maker lab and curio market in Mahone Bay. She has also taught film at the postgraduate level in British Columbia, elementary + secondary art/film in Nova Scotia and holds certificates from OCAD, UWO and a BEd at ST.FX underway.
REMEMBERING MARK SIMKINS
by CHUCK CLARK
We at AFCOOP were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of Lifetime Member Mark Simkins. Mark was a longtime and active member of the AFCOOP and Nova Scotia film communities, and was a fixture at AFCOOP for decades, serving on the board, leading many workshops, and serving as one of our past technical coordinators.
AFCOOP Lifetime Member Chuck Clark wrote in to share a few of his memories of Mark:
It’s been awhile, but I think I first met Mark at the old Argyle House AFCOOP location. He was a professional freelance photojournalist member of the Photo Co-op and lurked down the hall in their darkroom. It was around about the time that I hung out at AFCOOP a lot, so much so that Fran, the coordinator at the time, gave me the title of Equipment Coordinator.
Mark probably hung out at AFCOOP while his prints dried, mostly because we had better lounging furniture in our common room maybe, or for the scintillating Canadian film scene BS, and eventually thought he’d take the plunge and hang out with the filmmaker elite, as one of them. (Pretty much anyone who walked through the door in those days—after climbing the three flights of stairs—could, and usually did, get to call themselves a filmmaker.)
I got a burst of inspiration (or something) there one day and decided to talk myself into some film and travel money from the NFB down the street to try to shoot a road movie covering the final weekend of the election in New Brunswick, the mysterious province next door: a modern whistle-stop bus tour of the entire province on the bus for that national political curiosity, PC premier Richard Hatfield. The NFB went for it. And then I talked AFCOOP member Alex Salter into doing sound and Mark into driving my old man’s Chevy boat and covering as much as he could with stills. BIG adventure!
Mark and me, we kept in touch over the years, off and on. We ran into each other at movie events and on big, real (?) movies, as local technician hires.
Mark was fundamental in the founding of the Atlantic (now Maritime) branch of the International Movie Technicians Union IATSE 849. The last time I saw him he was reminiscing over on-set stories, such as times spent trying to hide from two of the biggest Hollywood ‘screamer’ directors of note: Helen Mirren’s husband [Taylor Hackford] on Dolores Claiborne and, somehow, on a Russian ship at sea, James “Who do I have to [expletive] around here to get a breakfast burrito!” Cameron, on Titanic.
After I gave up the car I could no longer afford, Mark was usually up for offering rides to one of a couple of beaches that we both liked. He always had the ability, or the fortitude, to just walk right in no matter the temperature, while I, the so-called experienced cold-water diver, had to temperature toe-test whenever I was not encased in Neoprene. And he often pitched in, more or less willingly, as my stand-by dive attendant.
Since I moved back home to the drive-thru province next door, Mark was my most familiar Halifax scene connection. I’m going to miss his folksy, frequent, photojournalist-inspired text updates from the centre of the Maritime Media Universe.
LET’S TALK ABOUT HAND PROCESSING!
When I started at AFCOOP, the only hands-on experience I had with analogue film was from high school photography class and a single exercise on 16mm in film school, wherein we took turns holding the camera and then watched back the processed film together the following week.
Suffice to say, here at AFCOOP we take our celluloid seriously, so I knew I would have to dive in head first if I was going to keep up with the demands of the job. My first month on the job I shot some Super 8, but I was short on cash and would have to wait to process it. It was colour-negative film, so I knew it would have to be processed by a proper lab.
But it was burning a creative hole in my pocket, so to speak, and being surrounded by all the chemistry necessary to make my dreams come true in black and white, I coaxed the film out of the Super 8 cartridge and threw it in a bucket.
The results were really cool!
Ever since that first sweet ‘Dev’ I have been pretty hooked on hand-processing my own film, and despite being new to it, I often end up teaching others how to because there is such a huge interest in it locally.
So for this month’s Tech Corner, I thought I might share everything I know about hand-processing Super 8 and 16mm colour and black-and-white film—in black and white, that is. Developing colour film in colour (I know that sounds confusing but I promise it makes sense) is a bit more complicated, but I will share the bit I know about those processes as well.
So without further ado, here is my quick and dirty guide to getting started with hand-processing.
First, let’s talk types of chemistry. Each kind of film stock has an assigned processing method, which is indicated on the film itself or on the box. When you process outside of that assigned method, it’s called ‘cross-processing.’
Processing Chemicals: These ones below are responsible for developing the actual images on the film. If you process the film for too long, it will be over-developed and too dark, or even completely black!
Caffenol: This one is coffee, Vitamin C, and washing soda (not baking soda) mixed together in different proportions. It’s the eco-friendly way to process your film with chemistry you can just toss down the drain afterward. You do still need to use an actual chemical to ‘fix’ the film though (unless you have a week and enough tenacity to leave it in super-salty water like our friend Herb Theriault did!).
• Caffenol smells pretty fishy, be warned! You can only really use it for a single processing session, as it will kind of sour after that.
• Instant coffee that is not ‘100% Arabica’ is what you are aiming for. Trust me, it’s a labelling thing. (What we are actually looking for is ‘Robusto’ instant coffee, but no one calls it that. Go figure.)
• You can use any kind of Vitamin C. People say not to, but I’ve used flavoured and all kinds and it has always turned out fine.
• Washing soda is not baking soda. However, you can make washing soda out of baking soda by baking it in a thin layer in the oven, mixing it around, baking again. You can tell it’s done when it starts to become soapy on your fingers after you add a little water. You can usually find actual washing soda at your local health-food store.
• Caffenol gives a great result, but it does often take experimentation to get a nicely contrasted image, I find. It tends to come out a little more faint and with less punch than you would get with actual chemicals. There are tons of recipes online!
Dektol: Is scary? No, not scary…but be wary of it. Now that I’ve properly frightened you, as you should be, let’s talk about one of the heavier-hitting chemicals for developing black-and-white film. I once spilled Dektol on myself and experienced an actual visceral reaction I frantically had to Google. Basically, if enough is exposed to your skin, you get crazy adrenaline. It’s also a known carcinogen, which can mess with your DNA, as many processing chemicals are. The reason Dektol is a bit more scary is due to the fibrous strands it is made up of, which have more adverse effects than other chemicals. This one is old school, but if used safely with no contact, it can create some beautiful and rich results.
• Wear a hazmat suit. (Not really, but be super-duper safe please.)
• Sometimes people find Dektol makes film devs look ‘grainier.’
• Very consistent and reliable results for hand-processing especially.
D19: This has become my go-to for processing pretty much all of my stuff. There is just something about the clarity of the image with D-19 that I don’t find I get with other methods. This means, of course, that I often cross-process with D-19. It is another heavy-hitting chemical that demands safety precautions, but is much safer overall than Dektol if exposed to your skin accidentally.
• This is a high-contrast processing chemical with a really short developing time, and a really long shelf life.
• D-19 can be used over and over again until it is thick with remjet! (Remjet is a thick black layer that sluffs off of colour films into our processing chemistry.)
• It was discontinued by Kodak, but you can buy it new in powdered form online from third-party suppliers. (Photographer’s Formulary is the one I’ve found.)
E-6 & Other Colour: This is where things get tricky! As soon as you introduce colour-processing chemistry into the mix, things get more precise. There are temperature control needs, as well as more steps overall (we’re talking like 7-12 steps or more), and so colour processing is generally left to more experienced folks. The chemicals involved are also much more toxic than the chemicals used for black-and-white processing.
Having said all that, there are ways to get around that, potentially. There are 3-bath and 5-bath kits available online, which are more flexible temperature-wise and are made for simplified processing on location. I am about to dive into this realm if anyone would like to accompany me!
Techniques and Equipment
There are tons of hand-processing methods available, but here are the ones we have at AFCOOP specifically, which I have found to be helpful (and challenging, I’ll admit!):
Buckets: This is a method wherein you literally just line up buckets and dunk your film into them down the line for different amounts of time. Your film will have scratches, and they will be gorgeous (if that’s what you’re into).
Lomo Tank: This one takes some mastering, but after some practice in the light, you will be able to load it in the dark in no time! You thread the film into the center, then spin around the disc inside to load it into the circular grooves within. Really cool, and you can process your film in the light since it is a light-proof tank!
Morse Tank: This one I have just tried one time, a week ago, and sadly it broke my heart! My dev did not turn out—it happens. We have two of these at AFCOOP, so if anyone is up for giving it another try, I’m game. These are especially useful for developing one-hundred-foot daylight spools, as they can be offloaded directly inside the tank and fit perfectly. Almost as if it was designed that way…
Basic Processing Steps
This seems like it should be the most complicated part, but believe it or not, it is actually the easiest! You can always find instructions for pretty much any processing combination online. But the basic recipe for black-and-white processing is this:
1) Use a Paterson tank to develop a “test strip.” This means breaking off a small amount of exposed film and doing the steps in this little tank before your actual dev, so you can assure yourself you will get the results you need.
2) After you have loaded your film into your processing tank of choice, or in buckets with the lights off, you can now start your developing steps. The steps are the same for your test strip and your actual dev. The difference will be your processing time, which you can adjust after looking at your tests.
These are the rough steps I start with, but you can be way more precise knowing your exact situation:
3 minutes – PRE-WASH – Water
Rinse the film by agitating it inside the tank, or with your hands in a bucket.
3 minutes (longer if caffenol, more like 9 mins) – DEVELOPING – Processing Chemistry
Agitate your film in the processing chemicals, and try your best to remove any remjet.
3-5 minutes – STOP BATH – Water
Rinse the film by agitating in water. No processing chemistry should remain in the tank, as it cannot mix with the next step.
5 mins – FIX – Fixer
Agitate the film in the fixer solution. You cannot over-fix (but you can over-develop). Fixer can be used over and over again until it runs out of steam. Each time you use it, you will have to use it for longer the next time. It is a single kind of product, just different brands available mainly.
3-5 minutes – WASH – Water
This is when you can turn the lights on (if you are developing in buckets). Agitate the film until the water runs clear.
1-3 hours – HANG TO DRY – (using racks or thumbtacks)
Another safety warning: Chemistry (developer and fix) cannot be poured down the sink. You must pour it back into the bottle. When you are done with it, you can drop it off for free at your local hazardous waste centre. Caffenol or other eco methods are the only exception.
AFCOOP’s new darkroom is not yet up and running, but there is a big sink, an exhaust fan, a locking door, and a lightswitch. We are more than happy for our members to book time to hand-process with our gear (and available chemistry) in the meantime.
Happy shooting (and processing), everyone!
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