Monday, April 21, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- R is for Ryerson University

Welcome to Day 18 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.
Today's a good day to look back at the school that granted me my film degree.
R is for my alma mater, Ryerson University

As with most storytellers, my on-the-job training began when I was a small girl playing with dolls and barbies. I always had long-running story arcs going with my dolls. My best friend Connie and I once had an orphanage storyline going that lasted for weeks and required every doll she and her sister owned.

Another epic story arc brought our barbies to the Australian outback, where I remember a lot of time spent sitting in a darkened room because the story had moved to nighttime campfires.

Today, Connie's daughter is now finishing her second year at my old university, something that thrills me to no end. I know she's in the midst of four of the best years of her life, for that is what my Ryerson time was for me.

Ryerson University is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, in Ontario, the eastern-most central Canadian province.

It took me two attempts to finally make it into Ryerson's film program. In 1991, when I began my first year, I was a mature student in my late 20s, engaged to Brad and living off campus with him. I'd already studied Early Childhood Education, had worked as a nanny for two families and was leaving a full time retail position with benefits.

Although it was a dream come true when I was accepted into the program, it also felt like I might be making a terrible mistake in walking away from some form of financial stability for the lottery of making a living in the arts.  

At that time, my program was called Photographic Arts -- Film Studies. It's now called the School of Image Arts -- Film Program.

This is a shot of my sister and me at an end-of-the-year screening, likely for third year. Behind me in the blue-striped shirt is Steve, who was my cinematographer during third and fourth year.

Both my sister and my husband acted in many of my film projects, as well as provided transportation, craft services, hair-and-makeup, production assistant work and basic support through freak-out moments -- like when I brought the camera inside from the cold and the condensation caused the 16 mm black-and-white film stock to gum up in the camera housing.

Just typing that makes me agitated.

Yet, stick me in an editing suite and I was happy as a clam.

Not surprisingly, I adored my screenwriting courses, and I applied for special permission to take the History of Costume course that was actually part of the Fashion curriculum. Because most of my films were historical or fantasy in nature, I designed costumes by turning used-clothing finds into film wardrobe, as well as rented pieces from a costume house in town.

My epic fourth year film shoot began with a full year of pre-production, with phase one of principal photography finding us occupying my sister's landlord's outdoor pool -- transforming it with exotic pillars, slaves and guards in order to pull off an outdoor bath location.

Next was the road trip with actors, equipment and costumes piled into a red minivan for an intensive location shoot in my original hometown of Halifax (where I live once again.) These are my co-workers from the Toronto theatre where I worked throughout my university years, doubling as cast and crew, as well as my husband Brad beside me (he was the villain.)

Ken, in the jean jacket, helped me keep my sanity when my cinematographer couldn't make the trip and I had to shoot this part of the film myself. Although Ken was the main hero, he also worked at that time in the sound department for CityTV and convinced me I could handle the tech stuff.

Meanwhile, Alan in the green-gray jacket at right doubled as multi-role actor and art director, helping me to keep my aesthetic eye open, while my techie eye and story eye were otherwise engaged.

Having survived all of that, the final phase of shooting took place in February in the home of my former roomie, Dave. We transformed his dining room/living room area into the regal bedchamber/drawing room of a noblewoman from a fantasy realm that I continue to write about today in my Dragonsfyre series.

Producer John, above, doubled as boom operator while I gave direction to Ken for the upcoming scene.

I'd have to write an entire series of blog posts on how grateful I am to so many people who helped me with my major film projects while I was at Ryerson. To Bill, another of my theatre co-workers, who drove me to a special costume sale at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake so I could acquire some major pieces for my graduating fourth year film. To my late father-in-law, who lent me his beloved truck to haul sets, equipment and costumes to and from locations, and didn't even blow a gasket when it got towed one morning. To my mom, who patiently collected used-clothing treasures in Nova Scotia and shipped them to me in Toronto after I described what sorts of textures and patterns would work for my black-and-white film. To professional editor Miumi Jan Eramo, who leant me her National Film Board editing suite for the overnight hours so I could get my film done in time for the graduation screening. She then went on to give it two cuts with her editor's experience, all the while treating a student filmmaker as the director of the project. 


Most of all, I would never have made it through those four years -- glorious as they were -- without the support and cheers of my sister Michelle and my husband Brad.

My sister turned her Volkswagen Fox into a trucking camera shot as we crawled carefully along the road in High Park for one of my short films. Brad put up with flapping-alligator-soled shoes so I could pay for film stock more times than I can count.

Both of them believed in me when my grandiose ideas bit back every now and then. Truthfully, we all went through my film program together. You know how I knew that?

In the mid-90s, when my sister and I were first watching the Sharpe series starring Sean Bean, there was an exterior shot of a battlefield being prepared, which widened and rose higher to reveal the full scope of the combatants.

My sister said, "Oh -- a crane shot."

I thought, Wow. Even though she wasn't in the classroom with me, she's been learning everything alongside me. 

My Ryerson years were completely transforming. The film program helped me to find reserves of determination, resourcefulness and risk-taking that I never knew existed. It set me on the path of being able to turn any Plan A into Plan B, C, D or E -- whatever it takes to get the job done.

Most importantly, Ryerson set me on a lifelong journey of creative discovery, both in my own inner landscape as an artist, and by giving me the skills to collaborate with my peers. I'm just as hungry now to tell stories as I ever was, when I was a first-year student. Who could ask for a better legacy from their university? 


D Biswas said...

So many fascinating memories, such nostalgia.

Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2014, My Latest post

Twitter: @AprilA2Z