Monday, January 20, 2014

Sunshine Coast Trail

I was in Powell River on the Sunshine Coast for Christmas and on Boxing Day we went for a short hike along an awesome trail just off of Highway 101 towards Lund. I'm not entirely sure if this trail is part of the official, famed, "Sunshine Coast Trail" and I couldn't track down the information. Maybe it's a secret spot known only to locals. Regardless, if you can find it, I highly recommend it!

The trail weaves through what is mostly second growth forest but it's still spectacular.

If you're not a hardcore hiker, this is a perfect trail as it's mostly on flat ground. There are numerous wooden walkways and bridges over small streams throughout.

This was one of the more curious discoveries. I have no idea who put this bucket here, if it's a leftover from loggers of years past or a recent addition but I love that nobody has removed it.

There was moss over almost everything in this forest. In some cases it hung down off of branches over the trail in giant dew-drop sprinkled drapes.

In other places, it covered fallen trees and logs like 1970's shag pile carpet.

There's a beauty that comes from trees that have been left behind where they fell.

Most of the trees are second growth Douglas Fir but there are remnants of the original growth.

This giant managed to survive countless storms and loggers to remind us of the massive scale of the forest that once stood here.

I've taken numerous photos in forests before and could never really capture what was in front of me. Every time I've been disappointed by the results. I wasn't able to capture the scale or beauty but on this occasion I think I finally found success.

I'm not sure if it was the light, the location, better equipment or that I'm simply a better photographer... Maybe it's a combination of all of the above. Regardless, with so much forest in British Columbia it's extremely gratifying to finally get some decent pictures of something that makes up such a large portion of the part of the world I call home.

These last two images are my favorites. The image above does a great job of conveying the scale of the forest while the one below is simply steeped in mystery and magic.

As with the last post, all of these images were captured with the fantastic Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and were shot mostly wide open and with minimal post-processing.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed this taste of West Coast life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Snowy End To 2013

Back in December of 2013 we had a brief snowfall in Vancouver and it suddenly occurred to me that in all the time I've had my camera (3yrs now!) I've never taken snow pictures with it. So with small flakes still drifting down I bundled up and braved the elements before it turned to rain.

Davie Street. No buses getting up the hill today.

Vancouver is a city ruled by umbrellas. I still don't really understand why people bother with them in the snow though. Umbrellas are for rain or for creating shade on a hot sunny day!

I love the quietness, sense of isolation and starkness a snowfall brings.

Those who have followed my photographic adventures over the past 3yrs will know I have a recurring fascination with benches... So here's another one for the collection! Corner vignetting added by me and is intentional ;)

A cold day to be a Blue Heron.

I like the perspective on this one but it would have worked better if I'd turned and looked back sooner so the silhouetted pedestrian was better featured.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink except for this lone drinking fountain.

Thinking of making this next one a Christmas card for next holiday season.

Or maybe this one too...

This is one of my favorites - The water in the lagoon was just starting to freeze over but was still watery enough to reflect. The tree branch layered in snow feels like a gnarly hand reaching down to touch the surface.

Another Christmas card possibility?

Or how about this one?

I'm not really sure what these were (crabapples?) but I love their little snow hats. The entire tree was festooned in them.

Another "snow hat", this time on the bud of a magnolia.

Towards the end of my walk, on the edge of Stanley Park, I came across this fir tree which someone had chosen to decorate.

Just for fun, here's the closest thing I'll ever get to doing a "selfie"...

For those of you interested in the technical side of things, all of these pictures were taken with my trusty old Canon 60D paired with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 - I have to say I am really, really impressed with this lens. Many of these shots were captured wide open and of the many I took almost all of them were sharp and those that weren't were more down to user error than any fault with the lens. Great to see a company like Sigma step it up and give the big guys a run for their money all while doing it at a great wallet-friendly price point.

Over Christmas I was on the Sunshine Coast and got some great pictures while on a post-turkey feast hike. I'll try and share those soon.

Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year and the very best of wishes for a healthy, prosperous and inspiring 2014.

Comment below with which image you like best and I'll send you a Christmas card next year :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

How Doctor Who Saved My Life

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of a sensationalist title but hey, it's been a few months since I last posted and I wanted to grab your attention!

This week many millions of fans around the world are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the longest running sci-fi TV series, Doctor Who. As a huge fan of the show, I too have been reading the various news reports, watching the trailers etc. and I've been loving every minute of it! It is days like November 23rd, the official anniversary day, that geeks live for.

But now that the big day is here I've found myself surprised at some of the feelings its stirred in me. It's a mix of melancholy, protectiveness, home sickness and an overwhelming sense of gratitude all jumbled up with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

A little bit of history...

Like many British kids, I grew up following the classic 1970s ritual of watching Doctor Who every Saturday evening. It was very much a family event. Back then, though I never missed an episode, I wouldn't necessarily have called myself a hardcore fan. My memory of watching the show is hazy in terms of specifics but I remember feeling incredibly impatient with what aired before Doctor Who started which was usually the sports show Grandstand. This particular show ended with a rundown of the days football results and every single statistic made me sigh with increasing annoyance as I fidgeted waiting to see Daleks, Rutans and Fendahl.It wasn't until around 1984 (when I was 12yrs old) that I really became a fan thanks to my friends Sean and Stefan in particular, who got me hooked on reading the novelizations.

Cybermen in "Earthshock" (1982)
High School (or Secondary School as the Brits call it) was a progressively tougher and tougher experience for me. Academia didn't come naturally to me and I had to work my butt off to get even slightly above average grades. In the general school populace I was quiet and lacking in confidence. I had a very small core group of friends and though I wasn't outright despised by most kids I did get my fair share of bullying. I was always the tallest kid in school so I kind of stuck out and in those days much of my existence in surviving school was keeping as low a profile as possible. I wanted to blend in, I wanted to be passed by and I wanted to be left mostly alone and not dragged into fights, or any of the other negative social elements that plague most schools. For as long as I can remember I felt like I didn't quite fit in, like I was an outsider, so the cliques and popularity races of the school world just weren't suited to me.

As I progressed through my teens, the bullying got worse. It was mostly verbal but still extremely hurtful especially when it even followed me outside of school onto streets as I was walking home. I still had a very small group of friends, all of whom were much like me, i.e. reserved, somewhat socially awkward and not spending 99% of their time chasing girls like the majority of kids were. As a result of my seeming disinterest in the opposite sex, I was often the target of homophobia. I've been tolerant of others sexual choices even though I am straight because I know what it's like to feel ostracized and hated.

Throughout this time, there was one thing that was a constant. Doctor Who. My love of the show was one of the highlights in my life at the time. Our group of friends grew as we started a local fan club where we'd watch classic Who stories. Most of these episodes were pirated from Australia and the U.S. (because the BBC rarely aired re-runs in the UK), and so were mushy NTSC converted to PAL. Sometimes they'd been copied many, many times so the picture and sound quality was awful. But those old creaky Doctor Who's brought us all together for a few hours and we loved every minute of wobbly scenery, bad special effects and crappy VHS scan lines.

Dapol action figures sucked!
In my late teens I couldn't get enough of The Doctor. I bought all the books, the magazines and even the shitty Dapol action figures that came out in the early 1990s. I ate up every article on how the show came to be and how each episode was made. I started up my own fanzine and travelled to conventions to interview members of the cast and crew and even launched a global fan group called the International Doctor Who Network. In a world that was pre-internet, this was no easy task! When we launched our first newsletter, The Custodian, I even got a bunch of letters and postcards from a few well-known names. Having grown up with Tom Baker's 4th incarnation of The Doctor, it was a massive highlight getting a message from him.

For those who can't quite make out Mr. Baker's writing: "Dear Sir, another Who publication! For whom? The whole world is sated surely? Not many people know how fond I am of fruitcake. And that is probably the only fact that has not been published. Anyway good luck to you and your readers. It was the loveliest job I ever had. I don't get about much any more but I remain grateful to the fans - Tom Baker"

Though I didn't realize it at the time, this period of my life wasn't just Doctor Who giving me a place to retreat to from the bullying but also the planting of inspiration and the laying of foundations that would guide the rest of my adult life.

In discovering how the show was made I developed a keen interest in storytelling and filmmaking and realized it was what I wanted to do for a living. A key transitional moment at this time was writing my first screenplay - which of course was a Doctor Who story. Then, when interviewing Sophie Aldred, (who played the Doctor's companion, Ace, from 1987-1989), I received an offer to get feedback on my screenplay. Several months later Sophie sent me a 6 page letter with detailed notes on the script. To be honest, I didn't recognize the value of that feedback at the time because I was so delighted that she'd even responded but her notes were honest, constructive and incredibly encouraging. Who knows how many fans she had writing to her but the fact she took the time to do that was amazing and I am still incredibly grateful to her for being the first professional in the industry to actually take me seriously.

20+ years later and I'm a working screenwriter, director and story consultant currently working for Warner Bros. on a massive video game set in Middle Earth. I'm also about to launch Season 2 of my comedy webseries Fools For Hire. I'm so, so grateful for what I get to do and so much of it is due to Doctor Who.

My love of the show instilled in me a passion for storytelling, for wild flights of imagination and for always fighting for the underdog. The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who began for me with nostalgia which has quickly led me to self-reflection. When I was a child The Doctor helped teach me the difference between right and wrong. As a teen he gave my friends and I a positive place we could retreat to when things got tough. As an adult, he taught me more lessons in structure, character development and dialogue writing than any screenwriting book ever could.

It's incredibly strange for me seeing how popular and beloved the show is now. I never thought I'd see the day when (in Canada no less!) I'd see commercials for it during primetime and giant banners on public transit. It' suddenly as cool to be a Doctor Who fan as it is to wear a bow tie. When did that happen?! It certainly wasn't cool when I was a kid! In some ways I can't help but feel slighted... Like the whole world has appropriated the thing that was my special thing, my special hero. As a character, The Doctor has always been an outsider and he has attracted other outsiders throughout the history of the show, both onscreen and behind-the-scenes. I think that's what drew me and my friends to Doctor Who - we were all outsiders too. Though it's taken the 50th Anniversary celebrations for me to realize it, The Doctor has always been with me and I suspect he always will be.

The fact that Doctor Who is so popular now makes me wonder if we all have a little of the outsider in us. If all it takes to bring us together once in awhile is an eccentric 900 year-old Timelord with a penchant for bow ties, fezzes and long scarfs then maybe there's still hope for the world.

Thank you Doctor Who. Happy 50th Anniversary and here's to the next 50yrs of exploring Time and Space.

Friday, August 2, 2013

5 Things I've Learned Shooting A Webseries

For several weeks now I've been slap bang in the middle of production of Season 2 of Fools For Hire the comedy webseries that I co-created with actors Nick Harrison and Mike Cavers. We shot 4 episodes last year as sort of a dry-run of the concept and were delighted to see people wanting more and were thrilled when the show was selected by LAWebfest and was nominated for 2 Leo Awards.

As I'm writing this we have close to 6 episodes completed with many more to come in the next month or so. Season 2 is a huge step forward for the show. Before even completing Season 1 we knew we wanted to raise the bar on the kinds of story we were telling, the style of comedy and the overall scale of the show. As Co-Creator, Co-writer, Director, Camera guy and Editor (I'm a glutton for punishment!) on Fools For Hire I've learned a lot in the last year. With more and more folks taking their own stab at making a webseries, here are 5 Things I've Learned Shooting A Webseries.

1. Aim High (and adjust accordingly when it all goes wrong...)

As a director, I thrive on pulling off what seems almost impossible, whether there is a budget in place or not. Committing time and energy, getting numerous people together in one place to shoot something takes a lot of work - so for me, there's nothing to be gained from "good enough". Why go to all that trouble for something that is just average? On a personal level, I'm not interested in doing what is easy or what I've done before, every episode, every scene, every moment needs to have something that challenges me on some level.

So for Season 2 my fellow creators and I, threw caution to the wind!

At every level, despite having no official budget to speak of, we've attempted what others would call crazy and what others with more common sense would strongly advise against. Take our opening sequence for Season 2 which we shot a couple of weeks ago - A large location, 12 characters all in utterly ridiculous costumes. The scene required a certain over-the-top gravitas which then descends into crazy chaos and action. Already on paper this was looking like a whole lot of trouble. Just getting the costumes together was a nightmare... Two weeks before shooting we were the victims of an eBay scam and lost 4 costumes, actor availability meant shifting schedules around which caused three others to no longer be available and on the day of shooting technical problems with a piece of gear meant me having to throw out my shot list and pretty much figure out a solution on the spot...

But you know what? It all worked out. We found alternate costumes which actually worked better, we found new people at the eleventh hour who were willing to brave the heat and wear these costumes and we were even refunded the money lost in the eBay scam. As for the technical issues, I may have had to cut my glorious crane shots but because I'd been visualizing the sequence in my head for months I knew what I needed to do to still get the right feel for the sequence.

The sequence is now mostly edited and I am very proud of what we all pulled off. We made it happen because we refused to do what was easy, what was in our comfort zone and what many would say would be foolish to even attempt.

So shoot for the skies. Don't let restrictions (or fear and uncertainty for that matter!) hold your creativity and imagination hostage. Don't be average be ambitious - just because it's a webseries doesn't mean "lowest common denominator" and/or two actors sitting across from one another chat-chatting with the camera observing passively on a tripod nearby.

This would be so much easier with a crane...
2. Ask And You Shall Receive (sometimes...)!

We live in a hectic world and we're all busy with something so it's understandable that we might not ask someone for help because they're likely too busy. Alternately, we may not ask because we feel guilty about not having money to pay them or because we're just a tiny, insignificant webseries and not "a real movie".

Screw that I say! Ask for help. Say what you want and need for your show and never, ever be an apologist. Webseries are a legitimate form of entertainment and they are growing bigger and gaining more attention day by day as is evidenced by new webseries festivals springing up on a weekly basis. Besides, if you feel like making a webseries is a lesser form of creative pursuit then why are you wasting your time making one? Webseries are awesome and they have an awesome and amazingly supportive community of passionate individuals worldwide - a better question would be why aren't you making a webseries?

In the last year of being a part of Fools For Hire I've been pleasantly surprised by what we've asked for and gotten. Firstly, some incredibly talented people have not only agreed to join us but have been delighted to be a part of our show and have in some cases demanded to be more involved. Secondly, never count something out until you've asked and gotten a definitive no. We had a scene that introduces a new character and when writing it we had a specific location in mind but we didn't write that because we thought "No, we'll never get that location". So we wrote the scene with a non-descript door in a wall... and guess what? In all of Vancouver we couldn't find a door in a wall! So on a whim I called our original dream location, told them about Fools For Hire and what we were needing and they said, "Sure, no problem. I'll even waive the usual fees."

Lesson learned. It never hurts to ask. People can always say "No" but more often than you might expect they'll say "Yes!".

3. Small is good but bigger is better

Unlike those bloated movie sets with hundreds of crew people etc. webseries are often tiny in terms of the people involved. On our first 4 episodes we were extremely self-contained. The result of this was sometimes feeling like we were creating our show in a void. The more people involved in the making of your show the more you have to wrestle with schedules and logistics etc. but the more people you involve the more you build a sense of community around your show. As with "Aim High", don't fear extra work in scheduling etc., open the doors wide and be inclusive. The more people involved in the making of your show, the more people you have available to you as resources for that next time you're struggling to find a "non-descript door".

Since beginning shooting of Season 2, we've involved a lot more people and we've noticed an exponential increase in Likes, Follows etc. across our social media. Strangely, getting bigger has made things easier in a lot of ways. As for wrestling with schedules and the like, well this is all part of production no matter what you are creating. Suck it up and stop being lazy or just go back to shooting 2 actors yabbering on at one another whilst the camera observes from a safe distance on it's locked down tripod.

Our team grows once more
4. Give back and do it with genuine love and support

We've discovered a wonderful and supportive community of fellow webseries creators in Vancouver and beyond. There are legions of people just like you who are going through the same creative struggles on their shows as you are on yours - invite their feedback, learn from them and recognize that they are a very valuable resource in every step of the process. It's important to not forget that it is a 2-way street and that you must try and return favors - when someone invites their Followers to Follow your show, do the same for theirs. When someone responds to a post you've made asking for help, thank them and try to help them when they are next in need.

Having worked in film and TV for close to 18yrs, I can't say I've ever seen such a supportive community as the webseries community. There is a sense that we're all in it together and I hope that this isn't just because we're all in it together with little to no money. Some shows may not look as good as yours, some shows may not have as many fans as yours but their show is just as important to them as yours is to you so show them the love and respect - you never know when you might need them.

Just a typical day on Fools For Hire!
5. Be patient and never stop having fun

What is your show about? Who is it aimed at? What's your brand?

These are vital questions. Since we leapt into the webseries game we've learned a lot and are still learning each and every day - if we weren't we probably wouldn't still be going to all this trouble and effort. When we launched Fools For Hire we thought we had a pretty good game plan and a pretty good understanding of our show. We've tried to carry that over all the various social media platforms etc. with varying degrees of success.

In my personal opinion, the Fools For Hire that currently exists online in the form of our first 4 episodes isn't quite the show we imagined even though it came from our collective imaginations. As much as we've been learning the do's and don'ts of social media etc. we've also been figuring out what we want Fools For Hire to be. Season 2, we hope, will be much closer to that vision - gone are the interviews and mockumentary feel, instead we're going 100% narrative storytelling. We're upping the ante and the stakes for our characters and bringing an edgier form of comedy - at least that's the plan.

We all hope to have a show that explodes and is massively popular but 99% of the time this doesn't happen. Be prepared to spend as much time promoting your show and interacting with people around the world on social media etc. as you do actually making the show. It's a marathon not a sprint, a slow but consistent build of your brand.

It's been very hit and miss for us despite thinking we had a solid plan but since we began shooting Season 2 it's encouraging to see that the posts that get the most Likes and Shares are the ones that are 100% about Fools For Hire and our upcoming Season. This tells me that people are buying into what we're doing and are developing a loyalty and appreciation for the show.

Making Fools For Hire has been a huge challenge for me. It's not been without it's stress. That said, it's also been immense fun! I've gotten to meet some simply amazing people and I've gotten to go places and experience things I never would have been able to had I not sat down with Nick Harrison and Mike Cavers and listened to their original pitch 12 months ago.

Make no mistake, creating anything in any medium takes time and a certain resilience. Be sure that you're going to enjoy the process and grow from the experience. There's no guarantee you'll ever make any money doing it but as long as you're being fulfilled on other levels then it's well worth the effort.

Season 2 of Fools For Hire will be premiering in the Fall on Youtube - I recommend Subscribing to the Fools For Hire Channel for all the latest episodes. Check out the official site, find it the show on Facebook or join the conversation on Twitter.

Until next time, thanks for visiting!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Canim Lake, B.C.

It's been awhile since my last post so I thought I'd herald my return to blogging with a big redesign. I've also redesigned my Official Site so that there's a little more aesthetic continuity with my online presence. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section below this post.

This past week I was fortunate enough to go on a little adventure and  amongst other things, got to snap a few pictures I thought I'd share.

Canim Lake is located about an hour drive East of 100 Mile House which is around a 6hr. drive north-east of Vancouver up the Fraser Canyon along the Cariboo Trail. The south shore of Canim Lake runs along the edge of Wells Grey Provincial Park where I camped a few summers back and got eaten alive by mosquitos....

This time I was here for work and there's nothing cooler than getting to travel to remote, stunningly beautiful locales and getting paid to go there! My job was to document a plane salvage operation. The pilot, Ken, crashed his plane in 4 feet of snow back in early March of this year and the plan was to fix the damaged prop and rudder then fly the plane back to Langley for a full overhaul and service.

The salvage operation was a complete success and we all made it back from our adventure in one piece. Even better, being early in the season, the mosquitos didn't eat me alive this time around! I shot a ton of video during our stay at Canim Lake and hopefully I'll be able to share the results of that at a later date once the client has completed editing etc.

Here's the cabin where we stayed for the duration of our visit.

The temperature was around 28 C. and after a long day of shooting there was nothing better than relaxing at lakeside and taking in the stunning scenery.

 Not to mention getting the fire pit going for a good steak dinner...

...And finding a little corner of shade to relax in.

In Winter, the weather is on the opposite end of the scale. Deep snow, fierce winds and bitter cold that peels some of the trees like bananas.

With the soft sound of buzzing insects and the echoing call of a Loon across the lake, watching the sun setting over Canim Lake was one of the most beautiful things I've experienced in quite some time.

Every sun set is different.

I call this next one On Golden Pond.

The lake was like the surface of a mirror for the duration of my visit.

This one to me looks like a land mass floating across the sky.

And this final image is probably my favorite picture from the trip if not one of my all-time favorite pictures I've been able to capture.

I have a few projects on the horizon in the next few months so I'm hoping to get back to blogging with a little more regular frequency. It sure was good to be out taking pictures again - fingers-crossed we have a terrific summer that is filled with adventure and awesome photographic opportunities!

Until next time, thanks for visiting.