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? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- Q is for Queen Seondeok

Welcome to Day 17 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.
I've always been drawn to square-peg stories, which is why I write them myself.

There's no desire to be contrary on my part. Sometimes people are turned off of certain things simply because everyone else loves it, and they have no intention of being like everyone else.

For me, I find that I'm never on quite the same wavelength as the general population. In high school, when everyone else was laughing their way through Caddyshack, I was going to a limited screening of Australian film Breaker Morant. When everyone else couldn't wait to find out what happened between Ross and Rachel on Friends, my husband and I were glued to the animated show The Tick.    

Luckily my husband and I share the same tastes in cult flicks, quirky series and foreign films. 

For Day 17 --
Q is for Korean historical drama series Queen Seondeok

A sweeping epic of royal power struggles in 7th century Korea, the series follows the Luke-and-Leia-style tale of royal twins separated at birth to ensure the safety of the second twin, and includes a Darth Vader-esque figure who wields power even though she is not the rightful person to hold the throne.

Instead of taking place in a galaxy far, far away, however, this story is rooted in the real history of the Hermit Kingdom, when Queen Seondeok ruled as the only person of sacred bone lineage who was in a position to assume the throne. The bone rank system is similar to the royal bloodline system in place throughout most other kingdoms of the world.

Princess Deokman, later Queen Seondeok, is played by Lee Yo-Won.

As with all of my favorite love stories, there's a heart-tugging love triangle between Deokman / Lord Yushin, initially her commander when she masquerades as a male who trains in a martial group known as a Hwarang (similar to medieval knights in service to their king) / and Bidam, the disciple of an unrivaled martial arts master who rises to become a powerful military leader. In the photo above, Queen Seondeok stands beside Lord Yushin (with a red sash) and Bidam (with a black sash.)

The series boasts a large cast and really uses every character. All of the subplots are just as important to the story as a whole, and supporting characters have strong and touching story arcs. I especially love the development of the two characters shown above, at left and at center. Jukbang, a former con man and thief, is played by Lee Moon-Sik. Godo, Jukbang's sidekick, is played by Ryu Dam.

I also particularly love the master-servant relationship between Hwarang leader and mystic Munno, played by Jung Ho-Bin, and his roguish disciple Bidam, played by Korean heartthrob Kim Nam-Gil.

Lord Yushin, left, played by Uhm Tae Woong, is initially a rather prickly, by-the-book adolescent who grows into a man with unyielding loyalty and integrity. It's impossible not to love Yushin as the series unfolds, even when Bidam arrives and his charismatic impact makes itself felt. It's equally impossible not to be attracted to Bidam.

The audience is in the very same boat as Queen Seondeok. You can't ask for more when you're dealing with a love triangle.

However, I've been saving the very best part of this series for the last.

Queen Seondeok boasts one of the best villainesses on screen, ever.

With one slightly-raised eyebrow, Ko Hyun-Jung as Lady Mishil strikes terror into the hearts of her own two families, into the royal family and in all of the kingdom. She has a legitimate husband, as well as an exalted lover who is the military commander, two grown sons and a brother who all work together in her service. She wields the true power directly under the nose of the king -- until the return of Deokman and her campaign to take the reins of the kingdom away from Lady Mishil once and for all.

There's a great use of musical themes throughout the series, including this strangely-addictive theme performed on crystal glasses known as yurijan. It first appears as the royal twins are born. Whenever it surfaces throughout the series, we know with glee that Lady Mishil is hatching another diabolical plan.

Here's another sequence showcasing Lady Mishil's political maneuvering against Princess Deokman. Appearing with her are her son, her brother, her lover and one of the temple maidens. We also see Princess Deokman and Lord Yushin.

This series also boasts completely kick-ass fight scenes, both one-on-one sword fights and all-out battle sequences highlighting taekwondo along with the sword fighting. Not to mention sumptuous costumes and a rich color tapestry that contrasts to the neutrals of many Japanese films.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- 5 on Friday -- Set 219 -- P is for P!nk

Welcome to Day 16 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.

Fridays at A Piece of My Mind are all about music.

Spinning Friday tunes since 2010...

For anyone who wants to join in, simply choose five pieces of music and post them for other bloggers to enjoy. Then check out the set posted by the other 5 on Friday blogger -- you can sign in over at Golch Central's Rambling Stuff.

For today's challenge -- 

P is for P!nk

This is a shot of me opening a pink birthday present, fourteen years ago. There were beautiful ballerina Christmas ornaments in there, which makes me smile just thinking about them.

I'm not an overly girly girl. In fact, I generally nudge people to refer to grown women as women and not girls. I don't get excitable about hair and make-up, and the domestic goddess thing escapes me entirely.

However, I do have a strange love of pink-and-gold combinations, especially when they come in the form of Victorian-era decorative arts (like china, wallpaper, fabric.)

This is me from Christmas 2013 with a vintage dinner plate -- pink roses and gold edging. Bliss!

This shot from Phantom of the Opera makes my heart sigh with happiness every time I see it, even though I write about Dark Ages vampires and cruel, Borgia-style nobles.

So my love of P!nk is me in a nutshell. I love her persona, I love the fact that someone so non-girly-girl has named herself P!nk and I love her no-holds-barred songs about relationships, as well as the gutsy exuberance of her dance sound.

1 - Trouble

2 - So What

3 - Please Don't Leave Me

4 - Funhouse

5 - Are We All We Are

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- I'm blogging at The Popculturedivas

Join me at The Popculturedivas for O is for Oscar Night Party.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- N is for my dad, Norman

Welcome to Day 14 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.
When I was a kid in the 60s, it was still common for fathers to be remote figures to their children. They worked long hours, were still expected to be somewhat scary authority figures and good for providing financial stability to the family.

Yet, were dads thought of as friends back when I was growing up?

For Day 14 --
N is for my dad, Norman

In the 60s, my dad was already settling into the role that modern dads wear easily.

He shared housework with my mom, our family made democratic decisions, and he forged a true friendship with both of his daughters as well as being a father we could count upon.

He was not a dad who missed our school concerts and plays, even though he had his own scuba diving shop and later sold cars. I always remember him prowling quietly along the edges of auditoriums with his camera, taking lots of pictures -- rather like I do, now.

He stood in the damp cold during my final year film shoot for Ryerson, pitching in as both a boom operator and an extra.

But the thing that stays with me as a part of me, deep and solid, is the way he held my hand as he walked me down the aisle.

Here's a poem I wrote for my dad which he kept with him since he first read it. He passed away the same year I started this blog -- in fact his passing was the launch pad for both my blog and my eventual publication.

Even as a girl I knew my friendship with my dad wasn't that common. Not when I heard my childhood friends describing their home life, and later when I encountered examples of typical father-daughter relationships in books, TV shows and films.

It makes me happy that societal shifts have moved more father-daughter relationships into the kind of friendship my dad and I treasured. For those who insist that parents shouldn't be friends to their children, as a former day care worker and nanny, I too understand the need for clear boundaries for kids, for parents to provide authority along with basic safety, shelter and security.

However, my dad was my first male friend, which led to a lifetime of having many male friendships that had nothing to do with romance -- only enjoying the commaraderie of men.

He could not have given me a more important gift.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- M is for Mary

Welcome to Day 13 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.
It's not often that a person can say they've been lucky enough to have a lifelong friend who isn't also a sibling or a cousin. Yet it happens sometimes, and today I'd like to introduce you to mine.

For Day 13 --
M is for Mary

I remember the moment we met. I was three years old. It was summer, so Mary was already four.

She and our little neighbor Johnny Michael were on the sidewalk at the bottom of our driveway. I ran down the double cement paver tracks with grass in between, and we stood gazing at one another for a few moments.

Then I said, "I'm Julia. Want to play?"

 Ha Ha Ha! And the rest is history.

That's Mary in her purple dress at the center of the photo, with me in green as the little birthday girl later that year. That's Johnny Michael sitting to my right.

When I stood in line outside of my kindergarten class for my first day of school, Mary was there beside me. Both of us styling in plaid skirts, might I add.

Mary came with us when my family visited the Detroit Zoo in the late 60s (we lived in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit.)

I went places with Mary's family. We ate meals at one another's houses, swam in each other's backyard pools, even had sleepovers sometimes.

In the early 70s, when my family moved from Michigan to Nova Scotia (where my ancestors had lived for three centuries -- a homecoming for my mom, a new adventure for my dad, my sister and me) Mary and I began writing to one another in the days before social media.

Our little girlish letters crossed the border with all of our news and dreams and longing for one another. Luckily for us, my family travelled back to Michigan often to visit family and friends. Every time we were in Michigan, the little friends had their delighted reunion. Hugs, laughter and the feeling that no time had passed since the last time we sat and talked together.

Eventually, Mary made a few trips to the east coast to visit us in Nova Scotia. The photo above is from her first trip here in the late 70s. That's Peggy's Cove in the background, one of my favorite spots on earth.

This photo was taken on a trip my sister and I made to Michigan on our own in 1985. Michelle and I went with Mary to Bob-Lo Island for a great day of going on rides, strolling, talking and just being together.

The very next year I moved to Toronto, which meant I was only a few hours away by train from my Mary! She came to see me in my new city, but most of the time I went to Michigan because I could also see my aunts, uncles, cousins and one set of grandparents.

This is one of those visits, when Mary was making preparations for her wedding to Chris, with the adorable Sampson on her lap. I have a whole album of Mary's wedding photos but they must be in one of those 'safe' spots that are so safe you can't find them.

My dad, my sister and my fiance Brad all joined me to celebrate the beginning of Mary's life with Chris.

Before too long, Mary switched roles and stood with me at my wedding to Brad. We actually got married in Michigan, since it was wasn't too far for the Toronto people to travel, while my Nova Scotia family and friends all bunked in together at a motel and had a great time. 

By then I was doing my film degree at Ryerson in Toronto, while Mary had started her family. Our visits became less frequent, but the letter writing and phone calls continued.

After I finished university and moved back to Nova Scotia, Mary began the great adventure of homeschooling her three boys.

But when Mom and I took the train from Halifax to Toronto for Mom's art show at the Hummingbird Centre Gallery in support of the National Ballet of Canada in 2000, Mary and Chris were there (at center below) along with our Toronto friends and family, and of course my Michigan aunt and uncle.

That's the thing about a lifelong friend. She is always there. Whether or not I can reach out and touch her, she touches me from that space she always inhabits inside my heart.

This was taken at the party my sister and her roommate-and-friend threw for Mom after the art show opening night. Back row, L to R: my husband's 'attendant of honor' and acting school friend Andrea, me, Mary and my sister Michelle / Front row, L to R: Mom; yesterday's Day 12 Blog Challenge post subject Lisa; and my usher staff friend from my decade at the Hummingbird Centre, Jacquie.

Mary called me on the phone a few weeks ago.

As soon as I heard her voice, any time that had passed since I last heard it instantly melted away and we were laughing and talking and once again delighting in each other's company.

That's the way it is with lifelong friends. She inhabits all the moments we've shared together, all the moments we've thought about one another, all the moments -- whether we're in the same space or whether we simply carry one another in our smiles. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- L is for Lisa

Welcome to Day 12 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge.
For both my husband and me --
L is for Lisa

Brad and I are both blessed with longtime friends named Lisa.

The wonderful thing about married life is that we both gained a second friend named Lisa.

Here is Brad's friend Lisa.

They met in the early 80s when they both worked at the Imperial Six cinemas in Toronto. We meet up whenever Brad and I are back in his hometown, like this Christmas trip in 2010.

Or on this trip in August of 2012 when I had an author table at Fan Expo. We're joined here by Ted, who also worked at the theatre with them, and Lisa's sister Cherry.

Just posting this is bringing on a serious dose of Toronto homesickness! Although Toronto is Brad's home, after I moved there in my twenties it became the home of my heart. Brad's Lisa -- hopefully it won't be too long until we're meeting up again somewhere along the Danforth or downtown. Until then -- thank heavens for Facebook!

Here is my Lisa.

We met in the late 80s, after I'd moved to Toronto and had worked as a nanny for a family I consider as part of my own. My next job was in the children's shoe department at the Queen Street flagship Simpson's store (now The Bay.)

We were kindred spirits from the very first moment we were introduced as co-workers.

We both started going out with our future husbands while working together, so the thrills-chills-and-spills of meeting Mr. Right were part of our in-between-customers conversation through the metal shelves of the shoe stockroom.

Very quickly our friendship grew past work hours, and before too long Brad and I were attending Lisa's wedding to Bill.

That's Brad and me with Bill and his sister.

Lisa relocated to Belleville and later to Cobourg, where she and Bill are from, originally. We travelled to see each other often, like this visit she made to our place in Toronto with their son Brandon.

Soon Lisa and Bill were attending our wedding.

If we're in Toronto for Christmas, Lisa makes the trip into the city so we can meet up.

Or I jump on the train and head for Cobourg. If anyone remembers this profile pic from Facebook, this is from one of my trips to see Lisa. This is us shopping. #thatshowwedo

Somehow, the universe has aligned several times to make sure we were with one another at birthday time. This was taken on one of my birthdays during a Cobourg trip. Look at that Brandon.

Here's Lisa celebrating her birthday here in Nova Scotia during one of her trips here.

And here's Lisa and Brandon meeting up with Brad and me in Toronto during her 50th birthday week. (Brandon -- what the heck...?!?)

The best way to let you know about my Lisa is to leave you with a poem I wrote for her birthday six years ago.

The Meaning

Cheers to the two Lisa's in my life.

Can't wait till we can *clink* glasses again in person.