Yesterday I finished a new movie. The still featured here is the first frame of Lifetimes Of Snow, an unabashedly loving portrait of my friend Jim. Here’s what I wrote in my initial proposal to the folks at Make Something Edmonton:
“Jim Cuming, who makes music under the moniker Jom Comyn, introduced me to Edmonton’s independent music scene back in 2008, when the thought of becoming a filmmaker was just starting to percolate inside my tragically naive and vulnerable 19-year-old brain. Through Jim, I was welcomed into this incredible family of thoughtful, compassionate musicians, all so different in how they perform and play music, but united in their common love of art. It was as though we were all drawn to this small bonfire in the seemingly eternal night of our winter city, and we huddled together for warmth with our guitars and drums and our distortion pedals. It was, and is, the greatest feeling of solidarity I have ever experienced. It couldn’t happen, for me at least, anywhere but The City Of Edmonton. And the more I talk with people about this (as one must -aggravatingly- continually justify why they would ever move back from the “paradise” that is Vancouver, as I did), the more I realize that this experience is not unique to me. Whether it’s the arts community, the theatre scene, or a group of small business owners, Edmonton is a place where people feel supported and inspired to create.”
The challenge was to create something that spoke about Edmonton while not falling into the trap of boosterism. I knew that if I had the opportunity to make a film about Jim, he could say everything I know to be true about this city much more eloquently than I ever could. But because an honest representation of Edmonton would make no effort to hide its many blemishes, I didn’t expect the jury to jump at my proposal. But lo and behold, they did, and so here we are.
Having a little bit of money to make the film allowed me to take the opportunity to do something I hadn’t done since film school: shoot actual motion picture film again. For Lifetimes Of Snow, my brilliant cinematographer aAron and I shot about five hundred feet of 16mm and five hundred feet of Super8. Mixing these formats with pristine D-Cinema images from Clearwater Documentary‘s F-55 (which travelled all over the world on their Great Human Odyssey shoot) worked even better than I’d hoped. It was really fun to play with the flares you get when you roll out on a roll of film and overlay them throughout the edit, particularly on a cut involving a format change. I edited the film ostensibly over three late nights (I stayed up until 5 AM on Tuesday and spent the rest of the week in sort of a daze…). I found I could only edit at night for two reasons: 1) There are things one can only do during the day while other people are awake and 2) It was the only time I could get into a headspace that suited the atmosphere of the film, which is naturally informed by Jim’s music.
The VO in the film comes from having recorded a conversation Jim and I had over dinner at my apartment. I asked him standard questions like “how did you get started playing music and writing songs, what was it like growing up in the country, what’s the deal w/ Edmonton etc.?” Then I listened back to the probably 60 mins or so worth of audio and out of that “scripted” my favourite lines that he had said, and then had him re-record them with a better microphone over at his apartment on a Sunday afternoon.
My favourite scene is the song at the end. Coming into that night, I had no idea what Jim was going to play. But he told me he had something that was under three minutes (a necessity for the film’s 10 minute runtime requirement) and I just knew that it would be good, whatever it was. I honestly don’t think I’d ever heard the song before he played it on the first take. I must’ve heard it…he told me it was his opener on his last little tour out east and he must’ve done some sort of kick-off before he left…but I don’t remember. In any case, I knew the song was going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be the absolute perfect song to end the movie, which it is. As we were lighting that scene and figuring out what the blocking would be, we had Jim initially under the light so you could see him more clearly – you know, like you’re supposed to with your talent. But as we got closer and closer to being ready to roll, I could tell aAron wasn’t happy with how the shot looked. Finally he said “what if we put him in front of the light.” Perfect. Amazing. I’m so glad everyone had something to focus on while we were rolling so that the couldn’t see my giddy child-like smile from behind the monitor as the camera pushed in on Jim and that reverb-laden guitar rung out and bounced around those old wooden walls at Space on that first take. It’s the happiest I’ve been making a movie in a long time.
For me this film was about not worrying so much about what the next thing should be and just making something that I knew I would like. Maybe that’s selfish – oh well. I’m so happy to have this little time capsule finished.
Lifetimes Of Snow will premiere at FAVA Fest on Thursday, April 16th at The Metro Cinema in Edmonton. If you would like to see it before then, or you don’t live in Edmonton, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to send you a link.
Until next time.
Dylan – Edmonton, AB