North Vancouver director wins student film award

THE topic of conversation is pumpkin soup, but they're really talking about the death of a parent.

The trauma faced by a suburban couple is the subject of North Vancouver filmmaker Scott Reynolds' surprisingly upbeat debut short, Apron Strings.

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The 10-minute picture, which recently picked up an award of excellence in the Canada International Film Festival's student competition, examines a woman who is forced to find maturity at middle age.

"There's all the coming-of-age movies from American Graffiti all the way through, The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire . . . but isn't there another coming of age phase in your life when you go to being that ultimate generation where there's no one after you?" Reynolds asks. "You are now the keeper of the family history and the stories."

Reynolds, 43, sounds giddy while exhorting about the joys of making movies. It's only when discussing his 20 years in engineering and computer science that the Melbourne-born director seems like anything other than a typical film student.

After moving to North Vancouver to run a research and development office for Hewlett Packard, Reynolds started a start-up.

"Trying to do the Silicon Valley thing here in Vancouver," he explains. "We had a good run at it, but the global financial crisis hit us at the wrong time . . . and all the purses had been slammed shut because the world was imploding."

An American company picked up the remains of the start-up, leaving Reynolds to wonder just what he was doing with his life.

"Pretty much all along the way I knew I was working harder and enjoying it less," he says. "Maybe it was just a midlife crisis of some description, but I thought, 'It's time to do something different.'"

An executive coach helped him get to the root of his career dissatisfaction in part by examining the relative nature of time.

"I've spent far too much time editing my family movies, editing my friend's family movies. I'd re-edit feature films," he says. "That was one of the things the executive coach highlighted, she said, 'When you're doing this, time just seems to melt away.' And it's true. I'd sit down at the computer and I'd work on some project and get up 12 hours later and say, 'Hey, where is everyone?'"

The passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs also played a part in Reynolds' career metamorphosis.

"I read a quote that's attributed to Steve from the commencement address at Stanford. He said you can only connect the dots looking behind," he says. "I don't know how it's all going to connect, I don't know how it's going to work out, but I've got to do something different."

With film stock fading into obsolescence, Reynolds joined the digital wave that is taking over cinema.

"The cost to do a film is the lowest it's ever been. With a $500 camera and a decent lens, you can go out, you can make a fantastic film. And (with) a $300 piece of software on your computer, you can cut it, you can score it. And now with digital distribution, you can put it on YouTube, you can put it on Vimeo."

"It's democratizing the visual storytelling process, but it comes at a huge cost," he says, discussing the numerous technicians who are adrift in the changing industry. "People are struggling to make a living."

Reynolds signed up for the Langara College digital film program, a one-year program compressed into four months.

"It was probably the hardest academic experience that I'd ever had," he says, his verbose nature quickly rising to the surface. "It was one of the funnest experiences of my life. . . . And I made some firm friends."

The pleasure of watching your vision crystallize through a camera lens was intoxicating for Reynolds.

"Being a director was way more fun than I ever thought possible. You create something right in front of you," he says. "You're a bit like a puppetmaster, a little bit, right? You pull on a string here and their arms go."

When it came time to write the script for his final film at Langara, Reynolds reflected on a salmon plate.

He'd been working on establishing a reality TV show tentatively titled Garage Sale Diaries when he encountered a woman selling her departed father's possessions.

"There was this salmon plate that you could see she didn't want to part with, and she's telling this pretty heartfelt story about this salmon plate, and I kind of tucked that away," he says.

Her reluctance to part with the plate demonstrated the seldom-discussed transition of losing your parents.

"You kind of feel childish to say, 'I'm 43 and I'm an orphan and I feel weird and alone.' At 43 you've got to have your stuff together by now, right? And this is something I think shakes your tree a little," Reynolds says.

The movie's relevance became apparent when casting Julia, the movie's main character.

"I had penciled someone in to play Julia that wasn't Sherry (Reimer) . . . and she just lost her mother two weeks before the shoot. It was kind of eerily similar in terms of, she felt very much all at sea."

While his engineering background proved valuable in terms of organizing the production, Reynolds had to jettison much of what he knew when it came to writing.

"I'd say the scriptwriting was probably the most challenging for me, particularly being such an engineering-focused person where I spent the last 20 years trying to optimize solutions, right. And life's not about that. Life is not an optimal solution, and so I had to un-learn a bit of my engineering training," he says. "It was liberating."

While the story's message is communicated clearly, the path it takes to get there is slightly abstract, revolving around laundry and food.

"Another bit of great advice was that life is kinky. It ducks around, it never follows a straight path. And the more kinky, the more circuitous you can make your script the more engaging it is, too," he says.

After his script was written and re-written until it contained only two sets, Reynolds readied for a two-day shoot.

Attempting to create bright spring weather in the cold damp required 1.2 kilowatt lights set up just outside the kitchen window.

As luck would have it, Reynolds encountered the windiest day in six months.

"We had guys holding the lights down, we had six sandbags on each light," he says.

Still, things were going smoothly as Reynolds headed into his second day of shooting.

"First day went flawlessly and I thought, 'We're in the bag. I've got my grad film.'"

As an engineer, he was supposed to be focused on risk, but Reynolds' exuberance outpaced his diligence as the shoot moved into a garage for the second day.

The garage had no insulation, offering free passage to any freezing winds that wanted to be in the movie.

After a morning of stellar performances by Reimer and James Wilson, Reynolds withdrew his memory card from the camera.

"I took the card to the computer and I plugged it in. The computer wouldn't read the card," he remembers. "My heart skipped a couple of beats."

Ordinarily, Reynolds would have backed up the memory card several times that morning, but the strength of the performances and the smoothness of the shoot left him rooted to the camera.

"I spent 20, 30 minutes. Tried three different computers, different card-readers, in the end I put it back into the camera and the camera wouldn't read it. That's when my heart really went down into my socks, and I go, 'Oh, no, we've lost the morning's footage.'"

With Reynolds and the rest of the crew scheduled to work on another student's film the next day there was no chance to extend the shoot.

"I went to the cast and the crew when they were just wrapping up lunch and I said, 'Guys, I've got some bad news. We've lost the morning's footage,' and of course everyone's face just went pale," Reynolds recalls. "It was the most tangible example of the show must go on I have ever seen in my entire life. Everyone just knuckled down because we basically had a whole day's shoot to now fit into three hours."

The crew worked hastily as time melted and the camera rolled.

"The lighting wasn't so good and the performances weren't so good and everyone was tired," Reynolds says. "But I was just happy that I had a grad film."

With the shoot finished Reynolds sat across from his director of photography, toasting with glasses of wine.

"She held the card up. She said, 'You know what? Sometimes I flick these things when they don't work.'"

Reynolds was somewhat skeptical.

"'I'm an electronics engineer,'" he recalls thinking. "'What are you telling me that you chant around it and have a chicken sacrifice and they magically work?' And she said, 'No, give it a try.' So I picked it up and I flicked it with my fingernail," he recalls. "It worked. I've never been more happy."

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