Musings on the making of Cut: A 10 year old dream comes true.
The making of the film “Cut” was a dream 10 plus years in the making. One of my first real jobs was as a production artist at a post-production company. In that job we shot animated titles, and created intro animations for independent and commercial films on beautiful Oxberry Animation Cameras. I remember printing out the tweens from Adobe Illustrator (version 3?), to shoot onto film and then shot the film on the Oxberry to create animation for film intros. It’s all so archaic considering how things are done now, but the time, care, and love, we put into every step cannot be matched these days.
In this job I spent long hours bent underneath the camera, under hot lights arranging and moving pieces. We worked in a loft studio just off of Soho street in Toronto, as the cameras and equipment mount was upwards of 16 feet tall and required high ceilings and lots of space.
I remember a new shy and quiet fellow named Chris whose brilliance was unmatched as he hooked the camera up to a computer which would allow us to program in every move, pan, zoom etc. that we needed to create our animated effects. This made our setup cutting edge for its time. We would no longer have to calculate all the camera moves frame by frame manually or walk over to a control board to operate the camera. With the computer attached to the camera we could wheel a caddy containing the little old Apple Computer, through which we could expose film, or pre-program camera artboard positions, without having to get off our chairs if we wanted to.
Even with the upgrades the work was tedious, and I spent long hours shooting titles, and loads of film crawls. I dreamt about making my own film on that camera. That camera was witness to every itch that I scratched, every whispered sarcastic comment, every hasty dinner I wolfed down under it’s 35mm lenses in the wee hours, and most importantly it was my sole confidant as I secretly vowed to get it to tell my own story someday.
As a naive young ‘straight’ women, I got to see people like Patricia Rozema as they came by to watch their ‘Dailies” (the previous days shots after they were processed). I was none-the-wiser as I taped two pieces of film together that had the typesetting for “When Night is Falling” on it. Years later, that film would be an important piece of my becoming me. I was and am still grateful for that very exciting job that laid the foundation for my later work.
10 years later: The Process
Thanks to the success of my first independent animated film, I secured the opportunity and resources to make my second movie on film. As a result, I would be able to shoot it on 35mm! I got in touch with a local arts organization that happened to have a 35mm camera. Well of course as soon as I met ‘her’ I knew that she was the very same camera I shed tears under 10 years earlier! She had been given to this organization by my old employer. A dream would come true!
My day job of animating, illustrating ,and programming, web interfaces was done exclusively in front of a computer. In my spare hours I loaded my hand-painted artwork awkwardly on a bike and rode off to a partially constructed loft, where I manipulated my paper art manually, while sweating under hot lights. When operating the camera, you had to listen carefully to the aperture of the camera opening and closing. If the ‘click’ didn’t sound just right, this meant that the film did not get advanced properly, and everything you shoot afterwards would go no where as each advance of the film cartridge would cease to move the film over the shot. Instead of moving the film ahead, each turn of the reel would slowly jam the new (and expensive) unexposed film within it’s container. It was not uncommon even for seasoned professionals to shed tears when this happened, when they realize that the hours spent taking 24 pictures per second of your carefully placed artwork were not being captured on film.
The physicality of climbing a ladder to load and mount large, heavy, film cassettes into a behemoth of a camera, listening to each single sound from the camera, carefully removing the film in a creepy zero-light darkroom, sealing hours of work into tin cans, dropping them off through a 24hr window across town, to be sent off for processing, hitting a button thousands of times to take what would be a few minutes of film, was a welcome change from my day job (as crazy as that sounds). And every minute I spent was mindful and precious. Today the cans sit in my storage space, and have been held onto for years much like the way one hangs onto their first-born’s baby shoes.
“I’d press a button to position the camera, and as I listened to the powerful and precise hydraulic motor, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Bugs Bunny was made on these things, and that we were part of that same pure magic!”
People have asked me about the story and whether or not it is autobiographical. I’ll say this: I really did airbrush bras for a living, and I did lose my job after a negatively received haircut there. The rest was creative license as I wrote my own dreams into the story, some of which came true.
Joy at work.
Words cannot express how satisfying it was to shoot my own animated film on a camera that I was once shackled to as a young, angst-ridden, production artist. Storytelling and the craft behind every part of it, is a spiritual practice, but more importantly a joyful one. Having joy in one’s work is an incredible privilege especially in todays economy. As a working, BIPOC, queer, web-worker-by-day / artist-by-night, I am grateful for the time, access to work-experience, funding and resources to make this film, to tell my story, and to keep a precious promise to myself. Nowadays I am profoundly grateful for the physical ability I possessed at the time, with which to do it all.
13 Years after it was done:
Dec 10 2021: I had the pleasure of speaking with a lovely group of film archivists at University X about the joys and challenges of making this film, and like any typical introvert after the meeting I had some thoughts and more memories…
The paradox of having a greater sense of permanence from the physical artifacts of one’s work residing… say in a film can in your closet, is at war with the pragmatism of digitization, as I archive pages from overwhelming numbers of sketchbooks onto my phone to create more space in my home. I realize that I developed an appreciation for the physical aspects of filmmaking in a way that I never would have, had I not shot this film on 35mm.
I believe that this may have elevated the art-making process for me to one that could be compared to a spiritual experience… I agree that this sounds super “woo-woo” but then I think about this: If you had to spend twice the amount of time writing all of your emails with a fat dense crayon, with eyes closed, and hand delivering it, how would that change the message? Ok so we get to do that with fat thumbs while texting, but imagine writing a whole story? Would the message matter any more by the time you got to the end of it? If you had to make something and then wait for days before you could see what you made, if you had to physically labour over your work, stilling your body and breath like a yogi in unnatural positions for hours; if every spare minute of your time was spent days on end by yourself to engage in repetitive tasks with no return of success, money, or anything from your work; is this not similar to some spiritual practices?
I questioned my sanity at the time.
I am staunchly NOT religious, but when I think about the days I spent under this camera, I wonder if there wasn’t some higher power involved (cue the sound of the cameras hydraulic motors here). At the end of the day we all find peace in being connected to something greater than ourselves, and that’s the feeling I had when I closed the door in the camera room. And when life is all said and done, will we be focused on the end result – our broken and used up bodies, or the process of living that changed its meaning as it unfolded? Anyway….
I would like to give thanks for the encouragement of the late Roberto Ariganello who was then the Executive Director of LIFT, who inspired me to take the risk and try this new approach. He had a loud laugh, a kind heart, and was the life-blood of the organization. He was also a big fan of moving things around under the animation stand and his film work is gorgeous. Perhaps he was there with me… but given that the work was often done at night in an abandoned warehouse, I preferred not to think of that at the time, which I’m sure has him smiling down at me right now. Thanks Roberto. Thank you to the folks in the X University’s film archiving program for initiating this trip down memory lane and this contemplation of the things that are truly precious.