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Working behind the camera - 1

"Toques Off ... Stetsons On"

A movie by John Henley, Lindsay Jameson and Ian Jameson

In 2005 ACTRA promoted a movie competition for its members. The idea, as much as anything else, was to encourage members to get together to produce their own mini projects under the "Co-op" banner. These were the conditions:

  • The subject was to be about the need to preserve the Canadian Culture
  • The movie had to be produced under the Co-op programme rules
  • The maximum length of the movie was not to exceed 90 seconds

John gets into character

John Henley, move actorThis seemed to be an ideal opportunity to play around with some ideas, knowing that the production costs would be minimal, or so we hoped. Two other Brit friends who were ACTRA members, Lindsay and Ian Jameson made up the threesome and we decided to have some fun with the script.

Having all been brought up on British humour, we decided to adopt a tongue-in-cheek approach and create a movie that had the appearance, texture and sound of an old newsreel.

What we were trying to achieve was to have a fairly sensible narration, but the underlying visuals would be amusing when linked to what was being said.

Step 1 was the script. (90 seconds is only a page and a half of script, and what we started with was quite different from the finished product. Having written the narration, we needed clips that would fit the story. Sometimes this wasn't possible. Other times we had a clip in mind and would then write the dialogue to go with it.

Step 2 was probably the most time consuming job of all. We had our script, we knew the type of clips we wanted. The effort came in trying to find copies of old movies on which we might find suitable sequences. I think our biggest expense was buying old DVD's or renting VHS tapes from the library just to find visuals that lasted for a matter of seconds.

Step 3 entailed sitting down at the computer used for editing, running the various movies and harvesting the clips we needed.

Step 4 was assembling the clips into the right order and then finding that the track ran way too long. Some excising of clips and some sharp editing dropped the length of the movie to 90 seconds and then we had to work on the narration.

Lindsay narrates the close

Lindsay Jameson, actress and singer One of the important elements was how the film would close as we wanted to leave the viewers with a laugh.

Lindsay came up with all sorts of closing lines but nothing really hit the nail on the head; close, but not quite there, and then out of the blue, when he had just about given up hope, she came up with a couple of well delivered lines which got the message across just as we wanted, and that is what we used.

At the end of the day, everything would depend on the final editing and how we could fit the dialogue we were recording to the clips we had selected. Ian has his own sound equipment, so we were able to set up the console and the microphone one evening and record at different levels, with and without echo - something that worked out very well for the final blackout in the movie.

Ian concentrates on the sound

Ian Jameson, actor and musician Once we had the recorded sounds it was a question of marrying them to the edited clips so that everything ran smoothly and didn't exceed the 90 second mark.

I think as much time was spent on the editing process as anything else, and timing was everything. In many cases it was a question of making adjustments by moving the sound forward or backward by only one or two frames to get the best results. Just to add a Canadian flavour, I included the Maple Leaf in a couple of shots.

Toques Off DVD Case insert We weren't content just to drop off a DVD at the ACTRA office, so I invested in a printer that would print directly onto a certain type of DVD in order that the finished product would look really professional, and the packaging extended to a full colour insert for a DVD box.

Click once on the picture to see a larger version. Double click on large version to go back to thumbnail.

Lindsay came up with an apt title for the movie - "Toques Off .... Stetsons On" which seemed to encompass the Canadian and U.S.A. flavour of the project.

The movie was aired at the February 2006 ACTRA Conference at the plenary meeting. It was one of two joint winners. It is a shame that other movies that were entered were never seen by the ACTRA members. Considering the movies were only 90 seconds each, the audience could have seen a dozen of them and then the winners could have been announced.

I don't know how many entries there were, but considering the time and effort that people took, the least that could be done was to exhibit them instead of relegating them to some dusty drawer somewhere.

Since posting the above comment ACTRA has now decided to post this and other co-op movies on YouTube - about 18 months after the conference at which "Toques Off .... Stetsons On" was shown.

To view " Toques Off ... Stetsons On " Click Here

To read about my second Co-op movie entry " The Intimmydator " Click Here


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