The Grumpy Christian…Redux!

As longtime followers of Shaneisms (your monthly loyalty payments are in the mail) already know, I keep a second blog where I look at Christianity from a more philosophical perspective, trying to remove a lot of the… malarkey… that so often interferes with Christians actually being, well, Christ-like.

For the first time in far too long I’ve updated it, so if you like Shaneisms, please check out The Grumpy Christian. Cheers!

Democracy without Secularism

As avid followers of Shaneisms will note, one of my closest friends is Daniel Mullin, he of The Unemployed Philosopher fame. In wanting to keep myself in his good graces (mostly so I keep getting birthday and Christmas presents from him) I’m shamelessly promoting several projects he’s been working feverishly on and that are now available for public consumption.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! I present to you, straight from Dr. Mullin’s mind to your eager eyeballs, these wonderful events that will engage your mind, excite your heart and enchant your very soul!

First up, the good Doctor’s doctoral dissertation, Democracy Without Secularism. Follow the link to read a critique of Jürgen Habermas as you’ve never read before! Don’t know who Jürgen Habermas is? All the more reason to read this attractively bound volume!

Next on the list is Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia. Dan wrote one of the chapters about his often tumultuous time in the world of post-university Academia and will give you some sense of what the very-quickly-changing world of higher education is really like.

And finally, if you live in the Toronto, Ontario area and are interested in philosophy, Dan is starting up a philosophical cafe, where people can gather together and discuss philosophical concepts from Plato to whether or not the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.Who knows… I might show up to one myself! Follow his blog to get the latest updates.

And please… support his writing efforts by buying his book. You’ll be doing me a favor as well since it means more money for my future birthday and Christmas presents!

And stay tuned here… there’s plenty of edutainment coming up for 2014!

“There’s no business like show business!” – Ethel Merman

I recently had the privilege of having a short film I directed shown at the Hamilton Film Festival. The film, Mrs. Neverlate & Mr. Betterlate, follows the story of a first date gone wrong. Although it was shot in 2011, this was the premiere showing. The night after the premiere it was shown again as part of a charity screening. Stephen Hayes, the director of Lucky 7 (a past winner of the festival’s “Audience Choice” award), was recently badly injured and Lucky 7 was shown as a fundraiser for him. Hayes personally chose two shorts to be shown in front of his film and it was a big honor to have my film chosen by him as one of those two, especially with me being a first-timer when it comes to film festivals.

While this was my first short film, I’ve worked on and off in film and TV production since 1998. I can’t think of a moment in those 15 years that I was more nervous than when the first title card for Neverlate came up on the screen. I’ve seen my work (and myself) on TV before but that’s always been as part of someone else’s production. To see Neverlate shown in public was nerve-wracking for me because as the film’s director I have a lot riding on the audience reaction to the film.

When Neverlate was playing I was paying attention to the audience. I was hoping they would respond to the beats of the film in the different ways I had hoped they would, that they would get drawn into the film, laugh at the right places and have a smile on their face when the credits began. I had a myriad of thoughts running through my head when the film first started up: will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they find it enjoyable? If they like it, do they actually like it or they just being polite? Is their honest opinion something more along the lines of “that was so bad I think it gave me cancer”? When the applause began I finally started to relax. I said to my wife, Michelle, “I think they liked it”. She smiled and replied “Told you”.

When Neverlate was shown in front of Lucky 7 the anxiety started up again. Showing it as one of several shorts is one thing but to be shown in front of an audience choice winner was something different. Stephen Hayes saying “I personally selected the shorts” gives the audience an expectation of certain level of quality. When the lights dimmed and Neverlate started I quietly grabbed the sides of my chair and held on tight. When the film was done, and everyone applauded, I looked around. I said quietly to myself “No one seems to have randomly died…” and started smiling. “Maybe I do have some idea of what I’m doing after all…”

Even though I’ve worked on film and TV projects before, this was fundamentally different. With previous projects I wasn’t part of the audience when whatever I worked on was aired. When I worked on a show or film, I finished my part and was on my way. This is very apparent to me when I think about my time working on weekly TV programs. I never bothered “admiring” what I had done because I was all too aware that next week’s show, with all its tight production deadlines, was staring me in the face. With the short film, those deadlines aren’t there and I’m actually in the audience getting instaneous feedback on whether or not I hit the marks I set out to.

I’m not someone who likes to see something I’ve done. I never have been. I don’t mind other people viewing or enjoying something that I’ve had a hand in making but my own personal preference is to leave the room when something I’ve done is presented. For example, I’ve done TV interviews and podcasts and never listened to the final version. During a networking event for the film festival I was surprised to find out how common this attitude is among filmmakers, including actors. One actor I spoke to said he loved to perform but always closes his eyes when his character was onscreen.

In the week I’ve to decompress from the rush of the film festival, from having my first short film shown, to all the people I met, to the the fact that being at the theatre night after night was far more tiring than I had anticipated, many thoughts have crossed my mind. I know the reason I was so anxious about the film being shown is a fear of rejection. A film, even a short one, is something deeply person. I’ve heard premiering a film being compared to raising a child and having to send them into the world on their own for the first time: you’ve tried to do things the best you can, done what you can to achieve a certain level of quality, but once those lights dim and the projector starts it hits you that all bets are suddenly and irrevocably off.

During the festival’s social networking times I got into several discussions about filmmaking and they always ended up along the same lines: even if you’ve been doing it a long time, films are very hard to make. Even if you’re focusing on one single aspect of production, be it producing, directing, screenwriting, acting, cinematography, editing, you name it, it is very challenging to get everything just so. When Neverlate was filming, my cameraman said to me “there’s only so much energy in every project. I’ve been on sets that have great ideas but no direction and they just fall apart. But I’ve also been on sets with crappy ideas but they made it through because even though it was crap there was a singular idea of what the end product should be”.

I can attest first hand to how true that statement is. Directing a short film for the first time showed me first hand how difficult being a film director can be. It was very challenging because the main part of directing is, to me, keeping everyone involved, both in front of the camera and behind it, and keeping the project within an often very specific emotional area. If you stray too far in either direction the tone of the film risks suddenly becoming either too dramatic or too comedic, and that quick shift in tone can easy throw the audience off. If you lose the audience, even for a moment, it can be disastrous. With the rise of short videos on Youtube and the success of Vine, audience attention spans are shorter than ever. It’s now an uphill battle to keep the audience involved in the story from beginning to end.

It can be exhausting bringing an idea to fruition, navigating all the steps from initial concept, to scriptwriting and casting the roles, to getting locations and equipment, to actually filming, to editing and putting all the final touches on it. And that doesn’t even touch on everything that can go wrong during any one of those points in filmmaking. I’ve found that the hardest part of filmmaking is actually getting everyone together at the same time, especially when the budget is low or non-existant. I’ve worked on projects that have been delayed at the last minute, sometimes for months, because someone suddenly was unavailable. It’s frustrating but that’s part of the nature of filmmaking.

I was asked by a gentleman at the festival “you know how hard it can be to make a movie… why do it?” I replied that the hours can be long (Neverlate was shot in two 16 hour long days), unexpected things happen all through production (we had one of our actors bow out three days before shooting and replacing him wasn’t easy because we were a unionized shoot), but that moment when you see something that started out as just an idea in your head but is now projected in full color on a big screen… well, that is a feeling that is very hard to beat.

Neverlate was described as “an homage to silent films” by Stephen Hayes during an audience discussion after the Lucky 7 screening. I guess that’s as good of a way as any to describe it. While there is dialogue, it’s only in the form of narration done by Mrs. Neverlate and Mr. Betterlate, relying more on music and imagery to inform of you what’s going on. While Neverlate isn’t the type of project I’m usually drawn to, I’m very happy with the outcome. I usually am more drawn to a story with a more “philosophical” bent (perhaps that’s a side effect of studying Philosopy in university) but sometimes a story just strikes you in a certain way. Any filmmaker reading this should know what I’m talking about.

Now that the film festival is over and Neverlate had a good reaction, what now? Do I put something else out there? If so, what should it be? Neverlate was based on a poem by a local writer and actor. If I do something new, chances are it will be based on my own original idea, which means it will be that much more personal, and therefore that much more nerve-wracking when (if?) it has its first public showing.

Maybe I should see if the makers of Pepto-Bismol are interested in a product placement in my next film…

 

*Authors’ note: A very big shout-out and thank you to the organizer of the Hamilton Film Festival, Nathan Fleet! Cheers, Nathan!

An Interview with Cheese Wearing Theology

A while ago I did an interview for Amanda MacInnis for her blog Cheese Wearing Theology as part of a series she did on Canadian Christianity. She gave me permission a while ago to repost the interview in its original form but thanks to being busy trying to figure out the secrets of the universe I hadn’t gotten around to finding my original notes for the interview until now.

I was asked to talk about where filmmaking and Christianity meet, having worked in both Christian and mainstream media. What followed was a discussion of why I think Christian films fall short, of how they can improve and why censorship is self-defeating, with Indiana Jones and Superman thrown in for good measure.

If you’re so inclined, part one is here and part two is here.

Cheers!

“As you wish.” – Westley “The Princess Bride”

Nine years ago today, on Sunday, August 29, 2003 I married my wife, Michelle. I was extremely nervous that day, but not because I was getting married, but rather because I was giving the sermon during the service and hadn’t given a sermon with her family present before. It also wasn’t a normal wedding, as it was planned and carried out in two weeks.

Michelle was living with me and my parents at the time and we hadn’t set an official date. My parents were having trouble selling their house, despite having a closing date on a new apartment for themselves, and then within a short time they sold their house and Michelle and I suddenly had two weeks to figure out what to do with ourselves. I already knew I was giving the sermon on August 29th, which was also the day before we had to move out of my parents’ house, so we asked if we could get married after the service. The timing was a surprise to everyone and it ruffled some feathers, but we pulled off a small, simple wedding in two weeks, had a reception lunch at a Chinese food restaurant we liked with a small gathering at home afterwards. Early the next morning we finished moving all our stuff into a newly rented apartment in Hamilton and, voila, married life began.

Like any honest marriage, it hasn’t been all happily ever after. I’ve had two severe, drawn out battles with kidney stones, one of which literally almost killed me. Michelle has been working hard to finish up her undergraduate degree in Art and Psychology, and now is close to having a post-graduate degree in art therapy. I couldn’t be prouder of her accomplishments, even if my illness and her schooling has made our finances far tighter than we’d like. The stress of being sick (and having to care for a sick spouse), the financial pressure, it’s led to some rough times, but we’ve always been honest with each other and worked things out in the end.

Even in the face of these struggles, it’s been one hell of a fun ride, even if Michelle has had to put up with more than her share of bizarre situations. For instance, I’ve managed to lock myself out on our apartment’s balcony several times while only wearing my underwear, which lead to strange looks from our neighbors and passers-by on the street below. I’ve several times put my wallet in the fridge while putting away groceries, only to retrieve it later and find it frozen solid. I’ve managed to somehow catch on fire several times through random instances, none of which should result in any sort of flammable situation. And this doesn’t begin to mention what I’ve gotten into outside of the apartment.

From ending up in Toronto’s Dyke March thanks to me getting lost (just me and 10,000 lesbians… nothing to see here), ending up in a private box at a Toronto Maple Leafs game  (and meeting the then-Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces), to being held upside down off my in-laws’ roof during a roof re-shingling, to ending up in a Communist Party of Canada rally (all I wanted to do was get from one city bus to another) to bizarre encounters with all sorts of animals from cats and dogs to llamas and camels, she’s stood steadfastly by, all the while saying “I don’t want to know why this is happening…”

She’s likened being married to me like being married to Homer Simpson, or Victor Meldrew of “One Foot In The Grave“. She said “the normal laws of this world don’t seem to apply to you. You’re a sad, strange little man”. I just nod in agreement knowing the burden of evidence isn’t in my favor for my day to day life being considered anything “normal”. Those random occurrences are what gave this blog it’s title, “Shaneisms”. That term arose amongst our friends to describe those far too often events that are so strange that they “can only happen to Shane”, hence “Shaneisms”.

There are days when I think Michelle deserves a medal of some sort for being married to me and putting up with all the absurdity. Maybe a Victoria Cross or a Purple Heart, or “Participant” medal like I’d always for track and field day in grade school… something along those lines. Several of our friends have expressed a desire to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts over the past decade.

As frustrated and tiring as it can be, she says she’s never been happier or had more fun. That’s a good thing, right? If so, Mich, then here’s not just to another nine years of wedded bliss, but many many more after that. Even if does end up being filled with everything from communists, to lesbians, to overly amorous camels. After all, our lives together can’t possibly get more bizarre than they already have, right?

Of course not…

Happy anniversary, Mich.

Sermonizing!

It’s been quiet around here at Shaneisms. Too quiet…

Between having family and friends visit from both out of province and out of country and trying to convince Daniel Mullin I’m the first person to win the Indy 500 on foot, I’ve also been filling in for my church’s pastor as he takes a several week long sabbatical. I took over the pulpit this past weekend and gave the sermon and somehow wasn’t struck down by holy lightning in the process.

If you’re so inclined, you can read the results of my pastor’s momentary lapse in judgement over at my other blog, The Grumpy Christian.

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Now that my schedule is a bit more freed up, we can soon return here at Shaneisms to our regularly scheduled deprogramming.

My Head Inside Out

My wife Michelle has started up her own blog. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are at this turn of events. I’m not sure what she’s going to write about (which is fair since she usually stares in bewilderment at my daily life) but I look forward to seeing what comes out of her head.

Now if only her blog’s title would stop conjuring up images of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus opening sequence, it would be, indeed, a fantastical moment in human history…

So please, feel free to check out my wife:

http://myheadinsideout.wordpress.com/