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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


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On Set

Chris Campbell

There is a special feeling when you are on a film set. A balance of anticipation, excitement, and calm. It feels comfortable while also being in a state of mind where you are completely present. You're surrounded by talented and creative people helping to bring a story to life and it's some of the most fun that you can have. A few months ago I was on a film set in a supporting role, mixing sound. I'm on a set often as a teacher, but that's a much different role than the ones I filled while working on films. In recent years most of my film work has been on the editing side which is the (generally) calmer and quieter side of production. I love editing and working within the constraints of footage, but there is something magical about being on set.

It has been a long time since I'd been on set in a role other than an observer or supervisor, so when asked to record sound for one of the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative FILM 5 films, I was eager to do it. Sound is where I started to learn about film production at the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Co-operative when I just finished high school. Back then in the 80s we shot on 16mm film and recorded sound on magnetic tape using a Nagra sound recorder. It was beautiful.

Things have changed a lot since then and now not many people shoot on film, but the techniques and processes remain mostly the same even though everything is a lot more digital now. The key similarity is that many films still shoot "double-system", which is where the picture and sound are recorded separately and synchronized later. That's why you use a slate with clap sticks as the visual of the sticks coming together and the sound of them snapping is the reference point to have the picture and sound match up. In the old days we'd mark an X on the frame of film and the frame of magnetic stock and line them up, but now it's done within editing software.

The FILM 5 program combines experienced crew members with emerging filmmakers to provide a framework for learning and creativity. The films are short and the production schedule is tight with only a couple of days for shooting. It's a chance to mentor and practice while making a film out in the world. On this production, named "Black Guitar", I was working with many graduates of the NSCC Screen Arts program where I teach. The producer was Todd Fraser, and the writer/director was Devin Casario. Working with them outside of school was great and it was a nice to be in a role where I was only responsible for a small part of the whole film. I had the talented Dan Langlois who I was mentoring in the sound department as boom operator and he was invaluable in capturing the sound on this production that was shot all on location in Halifax.

A film crew is a finely-tuned machine with each person playing their role and the interaction of the parts on set all managed by the First Assistant Director. She keeps things focussed and running smoothly by controlling what happens when and always keeping safety and efficiency in mind. A good 1st AD sets the tone for the production and on this production Nicole Close did an amazing job keeping us safe and getting the shots that we needed in the most efficient way possible. The conditions were challenging at times as we were shooting over two evenings and there was rain (which gave the film a great look).

We were lucky to have one of the top cinematographers in the country, Christopher Ball, as director of photography. Being in the sound department meant that I was close to the camera most of the time as while it's important to be able to hear everything, the sound department and their equipment can't be visible in the shot at all, so you always have to be aware of where the camera is, what it is seeing, and any effect that you will have on the lighting or the movement of the actors or the camera. Christopher Ball and his team created some beautiful shots both inside and outside with understated lighting in challenging conditions in terms of time and weather. It's at times like that when the experience and professionalism of the crew makes it a wonderful experience in making a film.

One of the other crucial elements for a successful film production is food, and we had some great meals. For those outside of the industry, it may seem like a luxury to have snacks and food readily available on set, but when you have a group of people working twelve hour days with most of that time spent moving around, it's important to stay hydrated and fed to maintain your energy. It's physically and mentally demanding and not having to worry about what to eat is important. Having a warm meal is a wonderful thing especially when you've been outside in the rain working.

When you teach people you have a different relationship with them as you're a resource and you encourage people to do their best and to learn. As people get out into the world and working one of the best things to see is how they continue to learn as they work and help other people. On the set of the film during breaks I was able to catch up with many of the graduates who I had taught to find out how they were doing. Their range of experiences and future plans are inspiring and encouraging in the face of an industry that is going through some large challenges.

People don't go into the filmmaking world because it's a way to make a lot of money but because they love telling stories. Figuring out the balance between a career that pays the bills and one that sustains the soul is common for many people. Being able to work with talented people and to help them on that journey with great films being produced along the way is one of the best parts of my job. I'm so grateful that I was able to play a different role and immerse myself in this world again.

Black Guitar premieres at the 36th Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Friday, September 16 at 3:30 pm as part of the Reel East Coast Shorts Program 1.

CLMOOC 2016: An Introduction to Me

Chris Campbell

Trying to figure out what to do with CLMOOC is a challenge each time (here is how I started in 2015 and how I began in 2014. The easiest thing for me to is to write. It's a muscle that I exercise every day and I enjoy the practice and creating things by arranging words. The key is to get things done and to move on to the next thing without spending too much time getting caught up in what you are going to do. The key is to learn and connect, so that is what I will do.

I'm Chris Campbell and I teach at the Nova Scotia Community College in the Screen Arts program. My usual job is to help people make films with my focus mainly on the producing and postproduction aspects of making films. It's been a challenging year for the film industry in Nova Scotia with the important tax credit program dramatically reduced by the provincial government and a number of people leaving the province for work elsewhere as things shrunk. I was glad to be granted a year-long learning leave which gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the film industry, colleagues, graduates as well as to work on a number of films.

For the first time in long time (decades, actually) I wasn't teaching in a classroom in the fall. It was a strange feeling and every day I had the sense that I'd slept in or missed something. Setting my own schedule and filling my day with research and connecting with filmmakers has been a remarkable experience. It was also an opportunity to reflect on teaching without the daily pressure of being in the classroom and to exercise some other muscles without the structure of the semester or the daily commute (which is 100 km each way).

I was able to more deeply engage with the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September of 2015 with a guide to the festival and daily reviews (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, and Day 8) of pretty much everything I watched and a summary of the best of the festival. There were a lot of films to see and in the cycle that I established of watching and reviewing it was a more intense experience that left a more public record of my experience and allowed me to connect more with other people at the festival too.

I presented at the BlogJam conference in Halifax where I reflected on 13 years of blogging. It was a great one-day conference filled with creative people sharing their love of blogging. It was inspiring and energizing.

With the Silver Wave Film Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick I dove in completely as one of the programmers to help choose films for the festival. I was able to spend a few weeks working in the office preparing for the festival and during the festival to organize and help filmmakers get their work seen and to allow the public to share the love of film. Working with friends at the NB Filmmakers Co-op was a reconnection with where I started making films as well as teaching workshops which gave me valuable experience before I became a full-time teacher.

At the summit of Mount Carleton

I biked and walked a lot (with over 1400 kms of biking this season so far) as I was able to establish a nice routine with morning writing and work with getting outside part of every day. There was a lot less driving which I appreciate so much. There is a lot that you miss in a commute every day. With control of my own schedule I was also able to take a few trips and was able to take short excursions through New England (with stops in Vermont, Western Massachusetts, and Maine) and to hike up a couple of mountains in New Brunswick.

With the time saved from not commuting I was also able to cook a lot more and be healthier with the food that I cooked. My bread baking moved to the next level as I made some sourdough starter from scratch and started baking things with it. It's a lot more work to make bread in a more traditional way, but it tastes great and I enjoy the process. There is a sequence of steps that you follow all while paying attention to the details. An interaction between what you need to do every time and watching what happens as things progress. That's what teaching in and that's one of the best things to happen during my learning leave in having the opportunity to take a bit of time and be a bit more present to see what is around me and how things change and grow.

Games and Learning

Chris Campbell

Every year with the Connected Learning MOOC the pattern with me seems to be diving in, getting caught up in other summer stuff, and starting to lose the thread. It's a challenge for me to stay within a routine when I change my routine. In the summer I will usually travel and that is where the pattern changes. When there is a game that I play it will work in the same way where I will be heavily into it (and maybe even a bit obsessed) and then will either not have the time or get frustrated by something and then the interest will wane. That's the same sort of thing that happens with learning too!

In thinking about teaching and learning and games the things that work best for me balance surprise and improvisation with structure. So that means the key is having a set of rules and paths to follow to make sure that there is a way forward and milestones and guideposts along the way. While for many it may seem obvious, the key event for me which transformed the way that I do just about everything was realize the importance of outcomes. What is the goal?

Whether it is editing, writing, teaching, learning, or playing a game, having a simple and clear goal seems to be the key. If you know what it is you can expand or contract what you are doing to fit within the constraints that you have. You can do a 5 minute version, a 45 minute version, or even a 5 week version of something. Games can have complex mechanics where you need to learn how to work within the system or even figure out the controls. Once you have that down you build on that and move on to other things. While writing this the games in my mind are more computer-based ones as those are the games that I play the most now.

The games I keep coming back too are simple and beautiful. My favourite now is Alto's Adventure which is a small and simple game where you snowboard and capture escaped llamas. The controls are minimalistic and it's easy to start playing, but the complexity grows. This is the type of goal that I strive for with any workshop or thing that I teach. What is the most basic, important thing to learn and how can that form the basis of additional learning? It takes a lot of work and thought to get to that point and in a game something that is well-designed gives me joy and keeps me wanting to come back to it. Teaching something more than once can help a lot as you see what works and what doesn't, what's important and what isn't.

I played with Twine a bit to create a game that was a sort of essay about games and it was neat to be able to easily create a game that is text-based. The goal was just to share a bit of history, but it was good to write in a slightly non-linear way with some loose planning to get started. The tool is fairly easy to use with additional complexity that would allow you to make much more interesting things with it, but in keeping with my goal to think less and make more, I finished it and now will share my Game About Games (which is hosted on

My Favourite Teacher

Chris Campbell

I'm in the middle of the connected learning that is happening as part of #clmooc this year and Joe Dillon tagged me in the Google Plus community as part of his #celebrateteachers audio recording about his favourite teacher. The challenge is to make something about your favourite teacher. Teachers are wonderful people and the great experiences I've had learning and being inspired by teachers makes me feel honoured to call myself one. I can without hesitation say that my favourite teacher is Miss Croft in grade 3 at Smythe Street School, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I can vividly remember the moment that set me on the path to be creative and to be a teacher as well.

It was morning in the classroom and a guest was coming in so Miss Croft wanted the classroom to have some art around it. So she asked me if I would paint a picture of a rocket (she remembered that I loved all things related to space and astronauts and science stuff) to put up on the wall. She gave me a big sheet of paper and some paint and I eagerly painted the Apollo 11 rocket and the orange gantry beside it. I felt pure joy being able to make something in the unstructured time before class started. I don't remember the guest, but I do remember how I felt and later realized how important it was to know and remember what learners love and how encouraging them makes a big difference.

Miss Croft was a great teacher and brought all sorts of guests in to the classroom to help us learn. We did so many projects and made so many things. Lots of stuff that we did probably wouldn't happen today in the same way because of safety and insurance concerns. We hand-dipped bees wax candles that we put in antique holders on a Christmas tree (we didn't light the candles on the tree). We also used bees wax and paint brushes and cloth and dye to do batik. The school had a kiln and we did pottery and made mugs and bowls.

There was always a sense of adventure and discovery in the classroom with interesting people to meet and things to do. One of the guests was Peter Paul who told us about the Maliseet people and powerfully influenced my ideas about First Nations people and connections to the land. Later when I joined the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Co-operative and filmmaking became my passion, I saw the first film made at the coop was about Peter Paul and it was him telling stories and making a birch bark canoe. So many connections forward and back in time between people and places for me can go back to that school.

Another remarkable guest I remember was Alden Nowlan, a writer and poet who was writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick from 1968 until 1983. A big man with a large beard and a booming voice, he spoke a bit and passionately read poems. He cried a few times as well which made our class a bit uncomfortable, but he also laughed. He read his poem The Bull Moose (which was when he cried) and signed autographs afterwards and drew a picture of himself as a moose for me. Experiences like that helped me fall in love with meeting people and asking questions. I often think of how lucky we are to be able to provide the opportunity for someone to share things they care about with our learners. I'm so glad that I had Miss Croft as a teacher.

Remediating an Introduction

Chris Campbell

The second make cycle of CLMOOC is on and I struggled a little bit with what to do in remediating something. Using one of the suggestions from the prompt, I reworked my first introduction (or #untro) which is the catchy tag that emerged by reading it in my voice. This gave me a chance to get back into some audio recording and editing as well as trying out some stuff with Soundcloud and GarageBand.

For the remediation I read my blog post from last week (and found a typo in it) and recorded it using a microphone on my headphones with GarageBand on my MacBook Pro. I did some light editing and processing, but wanted to focus a lot more on making stuff and less on editing stuff. This is inspired partially by Amelia Greenhall who has been doing some fantastic blog posts / podcasts on her blog under the theme of "Amelia Explains it All" which are essential resources for feminists and allies for navigating the socially mediated world (her newest is "What to do if a woman is funny on Twitter.")

This remediation cycle has me thinking about how I share things and the locations where they go. Everything blends together after a while and spills into other aspects of what we do. So when we are teaching or talking with someone the things that are top of mind tend to inform everything. For me, teaching filmmaking, it tends to be films or tv shows. But it also extends to how we do things, so when I was intrigued by podcasts a decade ago I was telling everyone about it (and wrote a podcasting blog post).

During last week's Google Hangout it made me think about other aspects of the people who are part of CLMOOC as you could see and hear some of them too. It's a different way to get to know someone. In the Twitter chat it's another form. In each of these media we have strengths and challenges and not everyone participates in each of those in the same way. Our choice of media (and language) includes or excludes people based on what they are comfortable with and what they use and what they understand.

This make cycle also has me thinking about the places where you share changes what is shared. My own blog is the primary, more thoughtful place for writing. Everything there is written, rewritten, and edited. When I wanted to add another #untro last week I wrote it up in Google+ instead of as a blog post as I didn't want to spend a lot of time writing a blog post. But the limitations frustrated me and I wanted to add more images and links to it. The other challenge with that is that it only exists in G+, so if someone is participating in CLMOOC, but isn't there, they won't see it. So maybe I need another place for stuff like that and I think for things like that it could be Medium, which is between the speed and concision of Twitter and the longer blog posts that I host at my Squarespace blog.

I love to improvise and change things on the fly, but at the core of much of what I do I need to have some sort of structure or rules. So for posting things online I am careful to think about where I share what I share. I don't want to have too much overlap between the different services so someone won't see something from me 3 or 4 or 5 times in a row. I try to keep things where I've chosen to put them with a little bit of overlap between them. So longer and more thoughtful writing goes here (on, shorter writing on Medium, short movie reviews on Letterboxd, photos on Flickr, more social photos on Instagram, and daily stream of consciousness on Twitter.

Years ago I had a podcast where the audio files were on a few different services, but they were also mirrored to the audio section of the Internet Archive and that's the only location for those files now. For the second make cycle remediation I uploaded audio to Soundcloud and that worked well. That's where I'm planning on putting my new podcast that I'll be doing during my Learning Leave too.

It's good to rethink things and try out different ways of doing and as CLMOOC progresses I need to do more things and push outside of my comfort zone and the familiar ways of doing things that I've developed over the years.