Prop Build: The Casket

An upcoming installment of The Dark Verses will be called Purest Black, where I plan to explore the notion of reality and how we interact with it. It’s also where I plan to show off this beauty of a prop.

On father’s day, I got together with the ol’ man and we put together this casket. It’s a pretty simple design. I picked up some fence boards from Home Depot before heading out, and he had some spare particleboard lying around, along with a few other odds and ends.

For the final touch I took a propane torch to the lid, giving it a rustic look.

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The next step? Bury it, and fill it with a “corpse.”

 

Stay tuned…

Northern Tails Short Doc

In the final semester of Creative Communications, the media production students break off into groups and produce short documentaries for MTS Stories From Home. For many of us, myself included, this was our first brush with filmmaking. For me, this was the project that set me on the path I’m on now. After co-producing this short film with my group, I knew that I would never be fully satisfied in any other aspect of the communications industry. I needed to work behind the camera and in the edit suite, and I needed help people tell their stories through a visual medium.

Since this short film, I’ve continued to stay in touch with the people from K9 Advocates Manitoba because I really believe in the work they’re doing. I independently produced another short doc for them last summer, which you can see here.

This is the story of one old dog that got a second chance.

Check out K9 Advocates Manitoba on Facebook here.

Location Scouting

I’ve been laying the groundwork to start production on some more cinematic poetry short films.

Pre-production is just as, if not more important, than any other phase of production because the work done will set the tone for the rest of the project. Solid locations, props, and personnel are the corner stone of any great film, whether short or feature length—big, or small budget.

That being said, I’m currently in the pre-production phase of two short films from two different series: The Dark Versus (if you’re not familiar, check out episode one here), and a yet-to-be-named series. This yet-to-be-named series is a collaboration between myself and two very talented individuals that I graduated with. I’ve already filmed the first episode of this series, and am now just a few short steps away from beginning principal production on the second. The plan is for three total short films.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 4.52.06 PMFrom the set of an unreleased cinematic poetry short film.

Locations are always tough when there isn’t a bunch of money being thrown at a project. Lucky for me, I’m shooting this second episode of the yet-to-be-named series in the great outdoors. I knew, from camping and another project back in school (read a great story about how I almost died during that project here), that Sandilands Provincial Forest has a really great look to it. There are certain places where the trees are tall and spread apart, and the needles choke the ground, and only the hardiest of shrubs grow. This is ideal for hiking in, and, as it turns out, for shooting in. The only issue was finding the right place.

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This first place I found wouldn’t work, as the brush was up to my chest, and far to thick to pass through with any semblance of ease.

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But the next place was very close to perfect. The ground was kind of sandy, and the brush was short. The only issue I had was that there weren’t enough trees.

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Then I found this place.

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It came complete with an eerie vibe as well. Perfect for setting the mood of the project.

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Next week I’ll share some shots from a prop build for the next episode of The Dark Verses.

The Influences

I’ve been attracted to lyrically charged music ever since I was a young kid. Don’t get me wrong; as much as guitar centric, and weird rhythmic patterns have a high place in my life (two bands that top the list currently are Uneven Structure and Gojira), I always go back to the artists who tend to write a bit more poetically. Artists like Chris Cornell.

I tend to be pretty much emotionally unfazed by reports of celebrity death. But I’d be lying if I said that Cornell’s suicide hasn’t been heavy on my mind since the news broke. I’ve basically been listening only to his music ever since, selfishly thinking how lucky I am to have seen his acoustic show last summer when he came with Fantastic Negrito (amazing musician and vocalist, by the way, check him out).

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If his music was a window into how he lived his life, then Cornell likely carried the sadness of the entire world on his back, and used it to fuel his art. From which, he was able to create some of the most beautifully dark pieces in rock history.

One line from the song Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart, stands out for me among the many great lines from Cornell’s career: Every little word upon your lips, makes a little cut where blood pours out. Every little drop of blood a kiss that I won’t miss, not for anything.

This line is on my mind as I consider where to take episode two of my series The Dark Verses. Check out episode one here.

Influence is something that maybe not many of us like to admit we succumb to, but I believe we all do. Whether it’s a poetic songwriter like Chris Cornell who influences us to listen a little more actively and let our minds wander with his voice, or it’s the millions of voices constantly fighting to have their opinions heard on social media, we’re all affected by other people.

This, I believe, will be the theme in my second episode.

Stay tuned for that.

The Dark Verses

I’m happy to announce that I’m launching a new project. It’s a series of cinematic poetry short films called The Dark Verses.

These short films, along with the poetry that drives them, will feature the dark aspects of life, and highlight issues that many of us live with, or have lived with, everyday, like depression, anxiety, and addiction.

This is an ongoing project with no foreseeable end date. The object of the project is to create beautiful and artistic short films, and to ensure that I’m always creating, even during the periodic downtime that occurs throughout the year. Another goal of mine is to stretch the boundaries of what’s possible on low-budget projects.

Some poems tell stories, while others express an emotion. Chalky Highway Road Lines expresses an emotion from a snapshot of time. It’s a feeling of being trapped within the monotony of addiction. When everyday becomes about one thing, and one thing only, the days, weeks, and months tend to bleed together and blur from existence.

So, without further drivel, episode one is now up.

Viewer Discretion Advisory: This short film contains images and words of a dark nature, which might offend some people. If you are someone who is easily offended, do not watch.

Disclaimer: No illegal narcotics were present or consumed during the production of this short film. Furthermore, this short film in no way represents the habits of the creator or the actor that’s featured. It is an artistic expression.

 

Chalky Highway Road Lines

I can’t tell if I’m the wheel
or the squirrel squished beneath

If there’s anything beyond the vanishing point
I wouldn’t know.
I can’t see past the black.
Nothing beyond the whiskey glass
or the rolling hills planted firmly
before the chalked, parallel lines
of the night highway.

A long drive.
An early morning sunrise,
and I watch
one more time
through blurry eyes
and I can’t deny the corona’s call
that peels my flesh like
melted skin slipping from a hot bone.

But these blood cells aren’t scorched.
And here in the relative cool of atmosphere,
nothing melts away but time
and meaning.

A white knuckled wheel
wonders just how often
a liver spot can spit death upon the skin
before it all just drips away
like diluted blood
down the shower sink

…or on the highway shoulder.

The pretentious road rolls on.
The sky above
clings to false metaphors
of life and god
more accurately represented
as the scabbed skin inside me
constantly run ragged by the need
to feel the contrasted crank
of those chalky highway road lines.

 

No Soul To Sell – A Few Shots From Dark Messiah’s Video Shoot

I had been following the Winnipeg metal band Dark Messiah for a while on social media, when their front man posted about getting ready to go on tour. They were looking for another band to join them, and to do some cross promotion with. That’s when I knew they were serious about playing music.

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After I saw that post, I reached out to the band and offered to make them a music video. Pairing a music video with a tour is like pairing pierogies with bacon. It just works. I met with the band’s vocalist and lead guitarist for a late-winter beer, hoping to get started right away. But, alas, they wanted to wait until the springtime to shoot, as their tour isn’t until August. Made sense, I thought.

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As usually is the case in life, the time passed, and last Wednesday we shot the performance sequence of the video at the Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Because of how busy that church is, though, scheduling was a bit tough. We started our shoot at 8:30pm, and finished just before 3am. It was a bit of a strange situation, and not at all standard as per my experience, but we all left early Thursday morning feeling great about the shoot, and extremely thankful to the church for allowing us to shoot there.

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This past Sunday, we wrapped shooting by filming the narrative arc.

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Now I’ve got my work cut out for me in editing the video. I’ll be working on it for the next few days at least.

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Big thanks to Rachel Carlson, who not only was my production assistant, but also took hundreds of amazing photos like these.

Photo credit: Rachel Carlson     @rcarlson137

Scenic Reel In 4K

With the exception of a slow January, I’ve had a really busy year so far. That’s why I’ve been a bit neglectful of the blog on this site for a while. During March and April, I was shooting for 4/4 Films on a documentary called Staging The Band. That wrapped up on the first day of May, and for the couple weeks since, I’ve been working on a few projects that will be released really soon. One of those projects is Dark Messiah’s music video. I’ll make a post with the story on that and some production pictures in the next few days. I’m also starting two separate cinematic poetry short film series. I’ll be posting more about that later as well, so make sure you stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ve compiled a short scenic reel. This is my first time shooting in 4K on the Sony a7s II.

Enjoy!

 

Death Tree: The Story Of How I Could Have Died Before Even Graduating From College

It’s February of 2016. It’s cold, but not unseasonably so. Cold enough, however, that you feel it in your bones, especially if you’re spending the entirety of the weekend outside, like we are. I’m with the boys from Bushcraft School, John and Ronald, (I’ve changed the name of the school and of the people) and they’re going to guide me through a crash course on how to survive the great outdoors in the winter. We’re prepared. We’ve got pots to cook in, wool layers, canvas tarps, military grade sleeping bags, knives, rope, food, and alcohol. We’re prepared for anything…except what happens on the second night.

Sandilands Provincial Forest is a massive expanse of undeveloped land south-east of Winnipeg, stretching from the Number 1 Highway down to the US border. The roads are not maintained, so travel is hazardous, even for a jacked up 4×4. Luckily for us, we only have to dig out once, despite almost sliding off the treacherous road a couple times on the way in.

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It’s quiet here. Eerily so. There’s few signs of humans, and you can’t hear the highway. But for a prairie boy, the high pines and rugged terrain means peace and serenity. We make camp on the high bank of the Whitemouth River. Narrow and long, this river winds its way through the area for kilometers, carving a deep trench in the soft, sandy ground, until draining into Whitemouth Lake.

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By the time John and I arrive, Ron’s already got camp set up, which means fire. The way to make fire when winter camping is to burn torso size logs about four-feet long. If you burn three before bed, you should only have to wake up once, at about three in the morning, to stoke the fire (depending, of course, on the wind). I walk in and set down my gear. Camp is two lean-tos forming an open ended triangle, at the centre of which is the fire pit. Over the fire is a make shift tipi to hang pots. Pots are used to melt snow for drinking water, and to cook food in. The only way to wash them is with a fistful of snow.

I’m here to document the process of camping/surviving in winter. With me, is my t5i, six or seven batteries, three lenses, my tripod/monopod combo, some food, and layers. It’s my first major solo project. My goal is to create a 5-10 minute mini-documentary for my documentary production course. I knew heading out that I’m light on storyline. But the extreme length that I’m willing to go to capture footage, I’m hoping, will play into my favour (this is not how one goes about creating doc films, by the way, lesson learned).

Fire is absolutely the most essential part to lasting any amount of time in the outdoors. Without, it’s impossible to survive. I quickly learn that it’s not as easy as heading out and cutting down a few trees. The trees need to be already dead so they burn, and they need to be thick enough to burn for long.

Each day we head out on a wood gathering expedition. The second day was no exception. We take turns pulling the toboggan with 200+lbs of dead tree on it back to camp. I return to the cut site with the empty toboggan to learn that the chainsaw got stuck inside a back-leaning tree. The plan? Get rope, tie it as high above the cut as possible, pull the tree in the opposite direction just slightly enough to pull the saw out, continue cutting. This plan sounds good enough for everyone, so I run back to the truck and grab a long bundle of rope.

With the rope slung over my shoulder, I walk back to the cut site. I can’t believe how quiet it is out here. Aside from a few gun shots last night from hunters at least two kilometers away, I’ve heard nothing but my own camp, my own footsteps in the snow, animals in the night. On one hand, it’s kind of terrifying knowing that if anything goes wrong, the chances of anyone knowing about it are slim. There’s no help. Where we are, cell signal is sporadic at best. Go a few kilometers deeper still…nothing. But on the other hand—the hand I prefer to use most—it’s a peaceful reconnection with nature. Moreover, it’s a lesson of need versus want. Out here, you have the time to learn the difference, and I’m learning that most of the stuff I have in life is based out of want, not need. This kind of camping is a throwback to a simpler time, with simpler technology.

John and I stand at the end of about fifty feet of green rope. Ron stands at the chainsaw stuck in the tree. He gives the order to tug the rope; we tug…

I hear a sound like thunder, only with much less bass. It’s a sound I’m not prepared for…a sound none of us are prepared for. The dead tree gives way with a sharp, soul-shattering crack, and begins to fall right at us. Time stands still for a moment and everything plays out like a dramatic, slow motion scene in a movie. All of a sudden I realize the gravity of the situation. All of a sudden I realize that as a group, we balanced the weight of a chainsaw against human lives. Everything is so quiet…

I snap back to real time. John is yelling “Right! Right!” My brain can’t make sense of this command. I run left. I run directly into the path of the falling tree. One last scream from John. I realize I made a terrible choice, but I’m all in now. I have to pump my legs harder than they’ve ever pumped before. I hear the falling tree break branches of other trees. I know it’s close. I dive…

Things go slow again. I’m very aware of the fact that I’m about to be crushed by a massive tree. I’m also aware that my panic in the moment led me to put myself in more danger, like a deer running into the headlights. I can only hope that my effort was enough, that I ran fast enough, and dove far enough for the tree to miss my head and torso, and land on my hips or legs. I’m okay with the prospect of living in a chair, but I’m not okay with not living. I think of my family, my girlfriend, and imagine the pain they’ll feel upon getting the news of my death. I wonder if I made a selfish decision by organizing this trip, which is currently putting another in danger as well.

Everything stops. All is still. For a split second, I have no idea if I’m alive or dead. Everything is black.

I hear John’s voice. He’s asking me if I’m okay. I unbury myself from the snow, and tell him I’m okay. The tree is laying about a meter away from my feet. The tree missed John by a similar margin.

I get up laughing, even though it’s so not funny. John and I plan a shot of whiskey for when we’re back at camp before he goes off for a long, contemplative walk alone. Ron and I clear the tree and haul it back to camp for firewood. Survival doesn’t stop for near-accidents like this.

 

After the above trip, I came back with a really cool story to tell my friends, but the reality of it never fully sunk in. I spent this past summer not even thinking about the tree. But with the return of the snow came the return of the memory. The realization of what almost happened out there hit me harder while writing this story than the day it happened or any other day in between. That’s the power of writing, sharing, and storytelling.

For the record, I don’t blame the boys from Bushcraft School (not the real name, as I stated in the story, I’ve changed the name of the school and the people involved) for the tree incident. We all decided the plan was sound. And if I really remember hard enough, I can remember being the one who posed the idea initially. Lucky for all of us involved, no one was even so much as scratched.

In hindsight, though, the question becomes: Is the task at hand worth paralysis or death?

I guess at the time it was.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Spankin’ New Beaut

I’m happy to say that I’m the proud new owner of a Canon C100, Manfotto tripod, and Canon 24-105 F/4 lense. Here’s to a bright future together making kick ass films, oh beautiful camera, you!

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I’ve never been a gear head, and I’m still not one now, but it’s hard for me to not be like a kid on Christmas morning when it comes to this piece of machinery. I’ve worked with the C100 a couple times before, so I know just how capable and reliable this camera is. My excitement is well warranted.

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A lot of people that I’ve met on this journey so far have told me that it’s really not about the gear you have, it’s about what you produce with the gear you have. I agree. And I’m proud of the work I was able to do with my t5i despite it’s obvious shortcomings. It’s a fine camera for beginners who are producing content for the web, and I’ll definitely hang onto it for photography and in case I need a B cam.

For the foreseeable future, though, I’ll be riding my C100 for everything.

That Feeling

I was on a music video shoot last week, and the artist had these twin Pearl Jam pictures on the wall in her basement. It was a picture for Rearviewmirror from the Versus album. In both shots, Eddie Vedder was placed in front of the band and he was extending his foot, as if showing off his shoe, toward a parabolic mirror. The photographer took the shot through the reflection, and I’ll never forget that image.

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Today I revisited that album. People talk about ‘that feeling’ they get from music quite a bit, as if that feeling is universal. For me, no album gives me ‘that feeling’ like Versus.

It’s important to note, Pearl Jam isn’t my favourite band. Sometimes they might crack my top ten, but those days are few and far between. That’s not to say that I don’t love Pearl Jam, because I do. But my taste tends to move toward heavier, faster brands of music. That being said, I’ve paid to see the band twice, and wasn’t disappointed either time. In fact, they put on one of the better shows I’ve seen.

What is ‘that feeling’? It’s a question only the individual feeling it can answer, and there just might be as many answers as there are music lovers. For me, I get a lot of feelings from music. I remember the first time I heard Ride The Lightning, I was probably less than 10 years old (honestly; my uncle got me into Metallica from the time I was old enough to know what music was). The feeling I got from For Whom The Bell Tolls was one of horror—especially while listening to it in the dark so that my imagination could run wild. I pictured the scene of a hellscape battlefield, and one lone soldier trying to hold his own against certain death. The image of branchless trees and flashes of light on the horizon from exploding shells are burnt into my memory, and recur every time I hear that haunting introduction from Cliff Burton.

‘That feeling’ I get from Versus, especially Rearviewmirror, is completely different and way more personal. In my early twenties, life wasn’t following the script I wrote, and rock bottom became more of a home for me than a short stay over. If I were to personify the feeling, desperation would be a tethered shadow. It was always there.

Lucky for me, I met the girl that I’m still with six years later. In the beginning of our relationship, she represented a step in the right direction for me. She was a crack in the stone that sunlight could seep through. It’s the feeling of being tied to a dark place, but knowing that the dark place isn’t all that exists.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about Versus that brings me back there. Maybe it’s chanting calls of Vedder’s vocals, or the tribal beats and weird guitar harmonics that can be found throughout the album. Maybe they wrote the album from a space similar to where I was. Maybe it’s just me creating similarities.

Does it matter? No. The beauty of art is that people can see themselves in it, like a mirror.

Now, beginning my thirties, I’ve left behind the things in my life that led me to that place, and I see them in my rear-view mirror. Sometimes I like to visit ‘that feeling’ just to remind myself of how far I’ve come since then, so I turn on the Versus album by Pearl Jam, and I get a vision and a reminder of a time in my life that’s shaped me, and is as much a part of my memory as that baseline from For Whom The Bell Tolls.