Blurb or Blather?

    Posted on: Friday, October 11th, 2013

Writing project descriptions and film synopses can be excruciating. Unfortunately, they can also be excruciating to read.

And, hey, fair enough — that brief (please be brief) paragraph has to intrigue the reader, and give them a sense of the film’s atmosphere and plot. And you can’t say “awesome.” Or “evokes.” Or “mélange.”

Fortunately, Dave Sullivan’s on hand to help you out. Dave is a ninja-grade copywriter and a founding member of The Dance Party Of Newfoundland, so the man has blurbed with the best. He’s leading our Get Your Synopsis Firing blurb-writing workshop on Wednesday, October 23rd, from 12:30 – 2:00pm (lunch provided!), at NIFCO. Pre-registration is required! Please email Jenn at to sign up.

In the meantime, have fun guessing whether these are real blurbs from IMDB or blather that I just made up.

1. A reporter interviews a homeless man, who tells her that she’s going to die and life is meaningless.

2. While trying to avoid the cliches of romantic Hollywood comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.

3. An unimpressive, every-day man is forced into a situation where he is told to kill a politician to save his kidnapped daughter.

(Answers: THEY’RE ALL REAL. From IMDB. “Adding the act of sex?” What? Read more blurb fails here.)

All-nighters are definitely good for you.

    Posted on: Thursday, October 10th, 2013

It’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival time, and we here at SJIWFF HQ have been rocking all-nighters. We’re HILARIOUS right now. I mean, it’s just non-stop intelligence and wit here at the was that noise out loud what was I doing again sometimes little bats are fuzzy and cute… wait… what?


When taken in moderation, a night without sleep provides an opportunity to peek into the dark, otherwise inaccessible corners of your mind. Once you’ve shored up with nourishing food (salty snacks and San Pellegrino) and inspirational music (I recommend “Rid Of Me” by PJ Harvey, “METZ” by METZ, and “Inches” by Les Savy Fav), your mind lowers its guard. Soon, you’ll be peacefully batting away baseless, completely unhinged thoughts about, oh, socks and the mimic octopus. Sure, as the night thickens, it might all nosedive into paranoia and self-doubt, and you might find yourself clutching your desk and whispering “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” Carrie-style, but you’ve got to face that side of yourself at some point, right?

That’s better.

Those 4am non-sequiturs tomahawking through your mind are valuable to the creative process. According to this Jonah Lehrer article (it’s okay, there aren’t any Bob Dylan quotes in the piece) for Wired, sleepy people, “like a brain-damaged patient, benefit from the inability to focus. Their minds are drowsy and disorganized, humming with associations that they’d normally ignore. When we need an insight, of course, those stray associations are the source of the answer.”

In other words, if you’re at an impasse with your latest creative project, it might help to put on a pot of coffee and stay away from your bed. Here’s some advice from some of SJIWFF24’s local filmmakers/all-nighter all-stars to help you through it.

“Eat lots of sugar!” – Martine Blue, director of Me2

“I try to trick myself into thinking a brand new day is starting by getting ready for it, i.e. having a shower, drying my hair, changing my clothes etc around 10pm. I drink a few cups of coffee throughout the night but avoid sugar like the plague, it gives me a quick fix, but only makes me more tired eventually. I usually listen to classical tunes, so no one else’s words distract me from my own thoughts. I pretty much recycled these techniques from my early grad school all-nighters, of which there were many!”
– Latonia Hartery, director of Wind Money

“I find the best way to stay up all night is too take on too much. It does wonders for the brain to realize that you can’t possibly get it all done if you take the time to sleep. (When I went to the Atlantic Film Festival this year, the Canada Council AND the NLAC grant deadlines were both on the day I was flying back from Halifax. Not only did I watch films all day and evening that weekend, then write proposals late night and mornings, but I landed and headed straight to a photocopier with 90 minutes to submit them on time.)
In terms of stay awake aids: Coffee is fine but you do crash, so keep it moderated. Water and fruit are essentials to late nights. A laptop is a remarkable sleep-depriver. You don’t even notice where the time goes.”
– Ruth Lawrence, director of Talus & Scree

“A nice cup of warm milk and the musical remedies of Adele. Make sure you have a comforter on-hand and what was the question again?”
– G. Patrick Condon, Producer of The Passenger

Isn’t that nice?

Here’s one of my all-time favourite shred-you-awake-at-4am all-nighter anthems.

Stephen Dunn’s done it again

    Posted on: Sunday, September 1st, 2013


For the second year in a row, there’s a Newfoundland filmmaker in the final round of the CBC Short Film Face Off.


Stephen Dunn’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” a warm, charming film about a young girl coming of age while under the custody of her eccentric grandfather, played by Gordon Pinsent, and his pet pug, King Henry, is up for the $40,000 top prize. The film has won numerous awards, including the Best Live Action Film Student Showcase Award at TIFF, the Student Visionary Award at Tribeca, and the Arte Film Prize at the Munich International Film Festival.

Last year, Jordan Canning’s brilliant stop-motion animation film “Not Over Easy” was in the finals.

The winner of the Short Film Face Off is determined by a public vote, which is presently underway. So head on over to the CBC Short Film Face Off website and click in your vote for “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” and tell all your friends to do the same. Each IP address gets five votes, and voting closes in just a few hours.

If he wins, Dunn plans to use the prize money to make his very first feature film, “Closet Monster.” In the meantime, his latest short film, “We Wanted More,” makes its world premiere at TIFF this September.

Y’know, NBD.

Arthroscopes and macro lenses: landscapes OutSideIn the body

    Posted on: Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Anne Troake, whom you probably know as the wonderful mind behind Pretty Big Dig, is presently working on a stereoscopic dance film. Yes, you read that correctly. And, yes, she is amazing. The project is called OutSideIn and it’s an up-close and intimate look at the human body dancing in natural environments, using high-powered macro-lenses and 3D imaging. I caught up with her to ask her all about it.

Troake5So, tell me about this project.
In a nutshell, it’s a 3D dance film, it’s a stereoscopic dance film. It’s the first time that I’m aware of that we’ve shot with this kind of technology here in the province. The film is…. I’m trying to come up with the perfect sound bite.

You’re making a 3D stereoscopic dance film. Don’t worry about the sound bite, you’re good.
[Laughs] I’ve been working with two utterly incredible dancers — Carole Prieur, with the Marie Chouinard Company in Montreal, which I think is the best dance company in the country, and Bill Coleman from ColemanLemieux Compagnie — who do incredible work for the stage, but they also do really interesting environmental installation pieces. They did a big project in Gros Morne in 2008 or 2009 where they brought a whole bunch of top-notch visual artists, composers and installation artists and brought them to intriguing locations where they made a performance. I got involved with Bill on those off-the-beaten-track projects. He and Carole have been exploring a movement technique that is based on moving from the fluid systems in the body: they’re getting right inside the bones, getting right into the interstitial fluid and figuring out how to move from there. Working with those guys in the studio, my impulse was to get out a microscope and look at the little changes that were happening, to get as close as you possibly could. So, that’s what I’ve been pushing all my technical people to achieve visually, to get onto and into the body as a landscape unto itself, and to look at those structures and movements that are a continuum with the surrounding environment. The entire film is shot outside in various locations around here in Logy Bay, and it’s really about the body and landscape as a kind of continuum. As opposed to having beautiful dancers doing really groovy dances in gorgeous places. It’s not that. It’s trying to break down the barriers of putting a frame around a human body. [Laughs] This is the point at which is make less and less sense.


So, are you using microscopes on the body while people are moving?
We’re using macro lenses. It’s been a long and difficult film to produce because there is stereoscopic technology that is in prototype for medical uses. There are 3D arthroscopes in prototype right now — those arthroscopic cameras used during knee surgery are now able to produce a 3D image, which is obviously very useful to a surgeon. But it’s in prototype now, and I was not able to access them.

So you used macro lenses.
There are better and better macro lenses being produced all the time. I worked with a wonderful D.O.P. and stereographer named Alain Baril who has a light micro rig for shooting stereoscopy. I think there are only four others in the world. So, he’s part of this exclusive group that is using this specialized stereoscopic technology, and he also happens to be a fabulous guy who loves doing this kind of work. So, we just had such a wonderful week pushing to see, ‘Can we get this image if we put this person over here, can we get the camera in here?’ He’s an experimenter and an explorer, and it was a real delight to work with him.

What kind of visuals are you getting, what are we going to see?
I’m waiting to see for myself! [Laughs] Actually, I’ll be looking at the footage for the first time next week. But, based on looking through the monitor on set, it’s a bit like a bug’s eye view of natural places. If you have a dancer in a rocky crevasse, and you happen to be a mouse travelling around the corner of the rock, and the rock becomes a forearm which becomes a wrinkle in an elbow, and then a breeze comes and goose bumps come up. It’s very sensual.

And I don’t mean sexual.


What inspired this project?
As a kind of intellectual theme, the relationship between place and landscapes, and how they make us into certain types of people who think and do and move in certain ways has been an itch that I’ve been scratching for a long, long time. Just going into the studio with Bill and Carole and moving from a traditional dance technique, where you think about shape and momentum and weight in space, and really dropping right down into things that we can sense, but are less concrete and tangible. Like walking into a room and feeling different but there’s no sort of empirical reason why. It’s those territories that are full of really delightful surprises if you can coax them out.

What have you learned from this?
That shooting stereoscopically is incredibly technically complicated. [Laughs] In terms of my own practice, it was very interesting to discover how much I look that the world with a frame, putting a frame around things, and that includes working in theatre. I mean… we talk about breaking the fourth wall, just discarding that kind of plane, and then navigating that space and making aesthetic choices without that being as fixed as it is.

You mean, without there being a separation between the person and the space that the person is in?
Yes, there is definitely that. I spoke to another filmmaker friend of mine who has been working with shooting stereoscopically, and I said, did you find that after a shoot, you’re looking at depth all the time, you’re looking at the z-axis? I walk into Atlantic Place to get a coffee and I find that I’m really looking at the depth of that corridor and really looking at the difference between the people in the foreground and the background, and looking at the shapes of them in that z-axis space. I’ve re-calibrated back to normal now, but there was about a week after the shoot where my vision was changed and my way of looking was changed.


This is maybe a dumb question, but do you see microscopic changes in the skin or in the way the hair stands up when people are dancing? Dancing is kind of a special thing, I always feel mentally different after I dance, but did you see any unexpected microscopic physical changes?
Well, I mean, you can certainly see physical changes in people’s skin, we’re responding to the environment all the time and I think we have this nice mental idea of skin being this nice, cosmetically finished, even surface when in fact, as soon as you start looking closer, there are all these stories there, there are birthmarks, scratches and scars and mosquito bites. Sometimes there are scratches on your dancers because you made them crawl on things that are scratchy. But yes, you can see that. I don’t think I’ve answered your question, though.

There is a beta software being developed at MIT than can be applied to video in post production, and one of its applications is that it detects the presence of fluid movement in the skin and it will enhance those movements. One of the demos that I saw was of a baby sleeping in a crib, and you could see the blood pumping through the blood vessels in the baby’s skin.


Will you use that?
Well, I want to play with it. The whole film is an experiment and I can confidently say that it’s very beautiful, the stuff that’s been shot is very very gorgeous, so I think as long as there’s some kind of quality, you can mess around and take some risks. So that is one of the things that we’re going to be playing with, just to see how far we can push the idea.

How will OutSideIn be presented? Will it be a film, or a film with dance performed alongside it… ?
It will be presented as a film, and it’s also going to be presented as a gallery installation. I’ve been working with Charlotte Jones, a curator at Grenfell, and she’s booked it in and she’s working with some other galleries to look at a tour for 2015, I think.


How will the installation work?
When you have something like this as an installation in a gallery, you don’t really need to worry about beginning, middle, and end. You can create an environment that people will enter into and stay as long as they want. So, it would be more of a looped, ongoing series of visual events, whereas the stuff that will go around to festivals will have that arc; that’ll have a definitive start and finish, and an internal logic.

What do you think that narrative arc is going to be?
I intend to approach it as a choreography. There are reasons why it feels right that the dance finishes when it does.

OutSideIn should be ready some time in early 2014. You can follow the project on twitter @OutSideIn_NL.There is a camera test video here, too.

Zen through Clown

    Posted on: Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

SarahTilleyI know quite a few people whose lives have been changed — like, CHANGED FOREVER, in a genuine enlightenment kind of way — by clowning. Specifically, by clowning with Sara Tilley, via her Clown Through Mask workshops. Tilley, who is also an accomplished author and playwright, is trained in the Pochinko Clown method, which she explains in the following interview way better than I ever could. Her one-woman clown show, Fruithead, opens at the LSPU Hall tomorrow night, and it will probably change a few lives, too.

(The images below, and the picture above, are stills from the stop-motion animation films, made by Jason Sellars, which accompany her show.)

How did you get into clowning?
I saw two solo clown shows at the Halifax Fringe Festival when I was 19 years old or so. I loved both of them, and they were both directed by the same woman. And when I left university and decided that I wanted to start a theatre company, I wrote to her blindly, and asked her to come here and train some of us, and she did! That’s actually why I named my company “She Said Yes!” But it just came out of seeing other people’s work that excited me in a way that a lot of theatre didn’t. It was so immediate and so alive and just full of life energy and weirdness. It was really, really exciting.

Can you tell me about the type of clowning you do?
My kind of clown, you basically make masks with your eyes closed, so it’s all about going inward into a feeling of something and not caring what it looks like. Then you wear these masks that turn you into creatures — not human, usually, but some weird thing. You wear them for a while until they become real to you. And then you replace those masks with noses. So the clown doesn’t come out of some idea of what might be funny, but actually out of trying to embody another creature. And that could be a plant life, it could be anything at all, it could be something that doesn’t even exist. Basically, you take your body, you let your body do work, and it takes your imagination into some place where you draw out a character. And usually, it’s very surprising.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this memory of someone saying that clowning is the height of acting, and that many actors really revere people who do clowning.
Well, I guess it depends who you talk to. [laughs] I would say that was true for some people and, for other people, they look at clown as almost a lower form. But that’s also due to the fact that there’s so many different clowns. The type of clown I do is character-based, and I definitely do it because I find it to be the hardest thing that I can challenge myself to do. And it’s also the most fun and the most surprising.

In what sense is it hard? From what I’ve gathered from people who have done your workshop, it seems like you really learn how to step into yourself and just erase everything else.
It’s really an internal journey into your own psychological landscape where you encounter these versions of yourself that are very different from your everyday self. When you’re making a clown show, the real purpose of this work is to break down boundaries between ourselves and our world and to create more bonds of empathy between ourselves and other people. That is the core philosophy of this work. The clown shows the audience humanity. It shows us a lot of its pain, its heartache, its fears, as much as it delights and makes then laugh. In this work, it’s all coming out of very dark stuff that we all have to deal with, and it’s meant to be cathartic, it’s meant to make you think about your own life, but in a way that’s not preachy, that’s not boring, but absolutely delightful.

How is it different from acting?
Well, for me they kind of blur together, honestly. But this work is not about what it looks like. You’re going with a feeling first, it’s from the inside out. It’s all made physically, there’s no script beforehand. I actually physically improvised the character for a year before I made the story, but it comes from the body first, not the brain. Usually, acting is very psychologically based, at least in the beginning stages of the rehearsal. And also, for my show, while there is a very set narrative that I follow moment to moment, every night there is going to be a lot of surprise. For example, my costume is full of balloons, and they pop at random times. So, sometimes I pop them on purpose and react, but other times they will just pop and that forces me as a clown to just be completely in the moment, no matter what, because you can’t have a balloon pop and not react to it. So, there’s a spontaneity to it, and that’s a little different.

So, when you say that you were improvising this character for a year, you were being this character for a year before you figured out what this character’s story is?
I created the character in 2008, and it came out of my Clown Through Mask core character that I made with my teacher Ian Wallace in Vancouver. And then I would take this character out sometimes on little improvised walks around Signal Hill or go somewhere and play outside, but I never did anything serious with him/her — it’s a character with both sexes — until I got an RCA Seed Money grant to do a workshop and then some NLAC money last year to work the way I need to work, which is over a long period of time. What we do is, I go into the physical character and we talk about the themes we want to touch on maybe or maybe a prop that I think I want to use and then Mark White, my collaborator, would videotape me. Then we watch the video, we take notes on what things we really like, and we make a giant map on the mall cutting out pieces of paper and writing on them with Crayola markers — it looks very silly — and just moving everything around for days and days as we keep videotaping and adding to what we know until a story comes together. So the end result is a little more surreal, and perhaps a little more surprising, than if I sat down and wrote it. So it’s coming out of my body and my body’s experience of the character, rather than my brain.

FruitheadFrom what I’ve heard, that seems to be a big part of clowning: your body, rediscovering your body, and then rediscovering objects around you through your newly rediscovered body.
Yes, definitely. My teacher would say that the first thing you have to do is cut off your head, by which he meant you have to stop thinking. Which is an impossible task, so there’s also the knowledge that you will never ever fully achieve what you’re trying to get to, which is this state where your body and your emotional self is doing everything and your mind is like a little helium balloon trailing along and watching the show. When you’re in a really good state of present moment in clown, it will often feel like an out of body experience. Then later, it’s almost like I can’t remember exactly what happened. It’s like I go into some weird trance because I’m just letting my physical self do its work without thinking too much.

So, what’s your relationship with this Fruithead character?
[laughs] Well, it’s called my ultimate clown, which means it’s got all of my different clown energies in one. So it’s kind of more complicated than some of the other characters that I’ve done, but at the same time, it’s incredibly simple in a weird way. When I watch the video of myself, sometimes I forget it’s me because I have transformed. I don’t recognize certain sounds that I make, or certain movements, as being me, but then there are other moments where the character is really an amplification of my own personality, and certainly of my own preoccupations in life, my own fears. The clown is really a medium to be vulnerable. You’re not putting on a character, in a way, the character really is you in some funhouse mirror permutation. So, it’s very naked. We go to some dark places and those dark places have to be fully alive, so it’s been pretty awesome to get to embody my own fears and my own boogie men.

What’s the narrative arc in Fruithead?
Basically, we wanted to have a microcosm where Fruithead is the only creature. There’s one tree, there’s one island, there’s one of her, and there’s one little plant that grows. It’s from birth to death, essentially: the birth of the world and the character and the whole life story of those two things. So there’s a lot going on in the disguise of a very simple show wherein somebody in a clown nose plays with balloons. But we deal with a lot of major themes that would be in a lot of serious plays.

What are you hoping that the audience gets out of all this?
Well, first of all, a really, really entertaining night at the theatre. Hopefully a new experience, something that they have not seen or thought about before. I want people to laugh, but I also hope that they are taken in by this character and moved by her journey, because it’s not just a silly sort of light thing, we are making a work of it. And that goes throughout the entire design of the show, it’s going to be just beautiful. There’s stop motion animation dream sequences, there are sounds made out of my character’s voice and it’s going to be, hopefully, very dreamy, so that when you’re done, you’re not sure if you hallucinated some of it.

Fruithead opens at the LSPU Hall on Wednesday, July 17th, at 8:oo pm. Here’s the Facebook event, and here’s where you can buy tickets. It runs until July 21.