While on our ‘babymoon’ in Quebec City I’ve been really amused by how often a visibly pregnant woman (me) gets offered alcohol in restaurants. When Colin ordered a half-litre (for himself) at dinner the other night, they automatically brought and poured two glasses. Two nights ago, we got complimentary cranberry-infused vodka shots with the meal (again, I got one without being asked). So, I’ve been eating for two, and Colin’s been drinking for two, all trip!
This vacay is all about reflecting on the past and looking forward to a whole new life and getting ready for baby and all that, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how difficult I expected not drinking to be, and how easy it has actually been. I mean, I had a sip of the wine, but that was all I needed and not having more was super easy. And it has been super easy for the past six months – which is definitely the longest I’ve gone without drinking since I came of age.
I thought not drinking would be hard because I love drinking. I didn’t do it every day, but I certainly drank several times a week and really enjoyed it. So now the real question is: will my drinking habits be permanently changed by this, or will I go back to them after I’m done carrying or nursing a babe?
Here’s a list of ten things I have found much harder and/or more frustrating than not drinking:
- Not being able to tie my shoes or really do anything that involves bending all the way over without extreme discomfort. I take my flexibility for granted!
- Not being able to sleep through the night without getting up to pee (several times).
- Not being able to sleep, period. Especially not unless I’m being propped up by a million pillows.
- Not being able to enjoy extreme heat (in hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms & the like).
- Having to keep to a rigid and frequent eating schedule (this one has been especially difficult).
- Not being able to climb two flights of stairs without getting winded.
- Not being able to stop myself from crying at the dumbest things (like TV commercials).
- Being constantly way too hot.
- Being ridiculously clumsy.
- Back pain. And hip pain.
Not drinking is a breeze compared to all that other nonsense. But all the complaining aside, I’m actually having a wonderful time. Being pregnant is fun and weird and I love it!
In 2015, I joined Goodreads and set myself a very ambitious goal of reading 50 books over the course of the year. I managed approximately 30, and I feel very good about that. It’s definitely a higher number of books than I had read the year before, or for a few years previous. For 2016, I’m setting a goal of 30, but given the fact that I’m due to have a baby in three months, I’ll consider myself lucky if I make it to 15. We’ll see how it goes.
Here’s a list of ten, in alphabetical order, all of which I really enjoyed. I don’t know how many of these books deserve to be on a lifetime-tops list, or whether all ten really knocked me on my ass, but each stayed with me for one reason or another and I enjoyed them all enough to recommend them.
One thing that made a difference to my reading pace was the fact that Colin and I got a subscription to Audible this year, which means that technically I didn’t “read” all of the books below – I listened to some. I thought that my listening attention span wouldn’t hold for a full-length novel (I do ok when it comes to podcasts, but the idea of listening to something that’s 10 or even 20 hours long … I was skeptical). I discovered a few things about my listening ability. I’m perfectly capable of listening to a 20-hour story and not letting my attention wander, as long as it’s a particular kind of book. Relatively straightforward, plot-driven fiction works. Headier lit or complex non-fiction doesn’t.
One of my favourite books of the year was the very dense José Saramago novel, The Double (which I read because the film Enemy is based on it). Great movie, by the way, and phenomenal book. I highly recommend both. I know that if I’d tried to listen to The Double, I would have given up. The language is too dense and lush and my mind would wander in ways that it never does when I’m looking at the words on a page. I gave up on Colson Whitehead’s Zone One on audio for the same reason, but might pick it up on paper at some point.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed listening to The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, books one and two in a straightforward-but-fun detective series that didn’t end up making it to my top ten. It turns out the books were actually written by J.K. “Harry Potter” Rowling under a pseudonym – an interesting piece of trivia that’s only relevant because I was shocked (after a number of enjoyable but disappointingly sexist hardboiled detective tales) to read one with interesting female characters that weren’t victimized in cliché ways (though it was still about a tough guy gumshoe). Turns out it was written by a woman. There are no coincidences in this world.
My top ten are listed below, in alphabetical order. I didn’t realize until I compiled the list that I ended up with a fairly even split between male and female authors (though men outnumber women on my total 2015 list), but I’m glad about that. The ones I listened to are marked with an (A).
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
I’ve been reading (or at least skimming) a lot of baby books. Many are helpful, many are just as unhelpful. Most thankfully show their biases early so that I can give up on them if they don’t seem to fit into my personal child rearing philosophies. This one was fun because a lot of the advice sounded sensible and useful (though some definitely did not!) but also because it was one mother’s personal memoir of the confounding early years of parenting. She was a sympathetic character to follow, and unlike a lot of books that focus on alarming what-ifs or the technical ins & outs of birthing and handling babies, this one was a bit more fun to read and left me feeling less stressed, rather than more.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (A)
Colin put this book on his Audible wish list because it sounded intriguing and we both really enjoyed it. Lauren Beukes very skillfully blends good mystery plots with a hint of fantasy. The book follows a number of intersecting stories that circle tightly around the grisly and bizarre murder of a boy, ultimately converging on a pretty satisfying climax. After I finished it I sought out one of her earlier books, The Shining Girls, about a serial killer who seems to defy the laws of time. Both books really feel like crime stories, and the fantasy elements blend seamlessly in to her prose without ever feeling tacked on or outlandish. I’m not a fantasy fan (in the Lord of the Rings sense) but I am a huge fan of good magic realism, and that’s what this feels like. It’s really well done.
The Double by José Saramago
Beautifully written, confounding, funny and fantastical story about a mild mannered history teacher who discovers that, living in the very same city as him is his absolutely-identical double. Naturally, he becomes obsessed with confronting the double, a decision that is destined to lead to a lot of strange results. Hard to discuss this book in terms of “plot” because so much of it happens inside the heads of the two men. I sought out this book because I’m a big fan of the film that was adapted from it (Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy) and because I truly couldn’t imagine what the novel-version of that story could possibly look like. Very, very different from the film, as it turns out, and it gave me a few interesting perspectives on the choices made in the film, which play with the “explanation” in a way that’s quite different from the book.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
In addition to signing up for Audible this year, I also bought an e-reader. The Goldfinch was recommended by Kobo and I bought it on a whim before I’d even heard of it or realized that it was a critically acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller. I found the lengthy memoir-esque story of Theodore Decker (who as a boy does one impulsive thing that changes the course of his entire life) incredibly engrossing. Beautifully written, with lots of true-feeling observations from childhood, and a character of a troubled Slavic best friend that I really thought nailed a lot of “Slavic characteristics” without resorting to stereotype. The Goldfinch is definitely not the sort of book I ever pick up for myself, but I enjoyed it a great deal.
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Another victory for the Kobo Marketing Machine™, The Group was recommended to me after I finished The Goldfinch, in that “if you liked that, you might like this” way that algorithms work. I have no idea what Kobo thinks the books have in common (they were both written by women? They are both about … people?) but I’m glad I took a chance on it. The book is about the post-graduation lives of eight female Vassar College grads (class of 1933). I had somehow (inexplicably) never heard of Mary McCarthy before, so at first I didn’t realize the book wasn’t contemporary, but was actually written by a woman who herself graduated from Vassar in 1933. I was really impressed with the way she captured the struggles of being a woman in the ’30s (in a way that feels incredibly relevant in the present day). Now that I know she lived through it, I’m marginally less surprised that she was able to capture it so well, but far more impressed with how much her observations about the inner struggles of these women (with marriage, career, children, everyday sexism, and so on) still ring true today.
Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Full disclosure: Grady is a friend of mine, but I promise that is not why his book made it onto my list. Grady’s one of the funniest people I know. He’s charming and fun and tells a great story and I always knew he was a talented writer (his Kaiju Shakedown column archive is totally worth your time), so of course I was hoping I’d like the book. I did. It’s really funny, and scary, and has some amazingly gross parts, and the ending is satisfying (it’s about an employee in an IKEA-knockoff shop who must contend with some unexpectedly supernatural problems on the job). Do I even need to say anything more than the phrase “haunted IKEA” to pique your interest? No. I’m thrilled that the book has been a big success and that I can honestly recommend it to people looking for a fun horror read. I’m looking forward to Grady’s next book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is coming out very soon!
Lock In by John Scalzi (A)
I don’t read much sci-fi, but I listened to this book after Colin selected it on our Audible account, and I loved it. It’s a murder mystery that takes place in a very plausible near-future in which a large percentage of the population has been struck down by “Haden’s Syndrome”, a virus that causes total physical paralysis but leaves its victims completely ok mentally, “locking people in” to their own minds. In this near future, scientists have figured out how to allow “Hadens” (as they’re colloquially called) to re-join the physical world by letting them control robot bodies in which their minds can dwell while their physical selves lay in beds at home or in hospitals. The story is actually about an FBI agent (who happens to be a Haden) trying to solve a murder that may have involved another Haden. The mystery is good, but what’s truly fantastic about the book is how fully fleshed out this world actually is. It’s incredibly well thought out and detailed. Lock In was accompanied by a bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, which compiles the “testimony” of scientists, politicians, historians, survivors and sufferers into a complete account of how the disease spread, how treatments were researched and discovered, and how the world changed as a result. It feels disturbingly, eerily plausible.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl (A)
I don’t recall who recommended this book but I’m grateful to them, because it was definitely one of my top faves this year. Another “mystery story”, this time about the seeming suicide of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a mysterious and enigmatic underground horror filmmaker, Stanislas Cordova (formerly prolific, now a total recluse). Bootlegs of Cordova’s works are traded and watched on a cinematic black market for people who seek out the most extreme and disturbing of experiences. Never appearing but totally omnipresent, the spectre of Cordova hangs over the book like an ominous cloud – a great counterpoint to the not-always-all-that-brilliant-or-competent Scott McGrath, the disgraced writer (disgraced after an article on Cordova nearly destroyed his career) and would-be detective who takes it upon himself to “solve” the case of Ashley’s death. I was so totally won over by Marisha Pessl’s complex story structure and engaging prose that I immediately sought out her previous novel, Special Topics In Calamity Physics, a winner on title alone. It’s high on my 2016 reading list.
Transferral by Kate Blair
Full disclosure: Kate is another friend on the list. I’ve known for years that she was a talented writer with a lot of determination and a hell of an impressive work ethic, so I was incredibly happy and proud of her this year when she published her debut novel. Transferral is a YA novel about an alternate-reality London in which the government has figured out how to transfer diseases from one person to another, and uses this as a way to punish criminals and keep the rest of the population healthy. When a prominent politician’s sixteen year old daughter gets tangled up in the case of a man who may have been the unfair victim of these policies, she decides to dig deeper and begins to question her father’s tough-on-crime policies as well as her own belief that the transferral program is good and just. Transferral was a fun, quick read that I will absolutely be buying for the young readers on my future Christmas and birthday lists.
The Troop by Nick Cutter (A)
I’m a fan of Craig Davidson, the Canadian author whose novel Rust and Bone was adapted to the 2012 Cannes hit & award winning film by the same name (I really disliked the film but that’s no fault of Mr Davidson’s). I’m currently reading Cataract City and really loving it too. I discovered this past year that Davidson has a horror alter-ego, Nick Cutter, and hoooooooly shit is he ever good at writing horror. I don’t read much horror but reading (or rather, listening to) The Troop was a very intense, visceral experience. I often only-semi-jokingly refer to it as an exercise in trying not to dry heave every five minutes. This book is about a scout troop camping on an isolated island off Canada’s east coast, who encounter a sick stranger whose “infection” the boys must now contend with. The prose – the descriptions of what exactly the disease is, and what it does to the human body – is so incredibly disgusting (in the best possible way, as I’m sure you understand), I was genuinely taken aback, and had to take frequent breaks while listening. I like to put on an audio book while I’m cooking sometimes. Not this one!! Cutter/Davidson did a phenomenal job of capturing the characters of the young scouts, too. It can be hard to get kids right, but he nails it, which makes it all the more upsetting when they start getting infected by the mysterious bug. Highly recommended, but only if you’ve got a very strong stomach.
Last week was a special week in Birdland. I got to stop worrying about paperwork, accounting, cost reports, marketing plans and fundraising for a few hours and enjoy the experience of watching the very first assembly of our actual movie.
The assembly is the very first thing the editor cobbles together, before there’s even a rough cut. It’s just the scenes, stitched together, in the approximate order of the screenplay. Watching assemblies is a great way to develop a deep appreciation of the editor’s craft.
An assembly isn’t a movie. It’s like the lump of marble that will one day become a beautiful sculpture, but it’s definitely not the sculpture. If you’ve done your job during production, your assembly will at least feel somewhat like a movie, in the sense that you’ll be able to see the narrative threads in it. Even with a narrative that’s as chronologically jumbled as ours, the asseumbly shouldn’t feel like a bunch of randomly connected moments. And in this case, it didn’t. It felt like a movie. Phew!
There’s a lot of work to be done, and possibly even some reshoots to organize later this summer for which we will have to raise additional money, but … it feels like a movie – and one that will be good when it’s finished. I feel immense relief and joy at this fact.
I’ve been taking a break from Birdland for the past few weeks, but now my to do list is growing again.
I have to make sure we get some footage to our sales agent so that they can start approaching buyers about it. I have to deliver paperwork to our funders confirming that we’ve completed principal photography in order to trigger our next round of payments. I have to make sure we’ve got a hot sizzle reel ready to show at TIFF in a couple of months to even more potential buyers who will be in town for the festival. I have to make sure we’ve got a decent festival cut done in time to submit to the fests that come up early in 2016. I have to start pulling together a marketing strategy and raising funds for a possible cross-platform project that will go along with our traditional marketing plan.
Oh yeah, and I have to get ready to go to Fantasia in less than three weeks to pitch a different project, which means I have to help the writer whip our script into shape, come up with a presentation, assemble the AV materials we’ll be showing, and write the copy for a handout that we will want to give to everyone we meet with.
There goes my dream of a relaxing summer!
Just yesterday, I posted about our final day of shooting and the fact that it’s “over”.
Over is, of course, a big overstatement. Now we have three to six months of post production work ahead of us. Our (brilliant!) editor has already started assembling the dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of footage that we shot over sixteen long days into something resembling a movie. The first version we’ll see is probably going to be twice as long as the final film, and the process of whittling it down will take time.
There’s also sound mixing to be done, and sound design. Our (very talented) composer has to layer on a soundtrack. The film has to be colour graded*, too. All of this will take time.
So, as I’m sure you understand, it’s far from “over”.
I will still have lots to do in the days and weeks to come. The funding paperwork will descend upon me like an avalanche, because cost reports and contracts and all sorts of other documents are now required by the folks who gave us money.
What is “over” is the nerve-wracking, panic-attack-inducing, exhilarating actually-shooting-the-movie phase of the process. And, fun as it was, I am greatly relieved that it is behind us. Even more relieved that we have all the footage we need to make a great film.
If we’d failed to get it all in the can during our ambitious 16 day schedule, we would have been in huge trouble. The costs of trying to make up for it outside of this month of production would have been astronomical. Two of our lead actors live on the west coast. We dyed two actors’ hair and they probably aren’t going to keep it that way forever. Half our cast was jumping straight from this project into others, because they’re in demand and their time is tightly booked. The locations we used were only available to us for a certain period of time. Many of the props and costumes were rentals and have to be returned.
Orchestrating an extra day of pickups during our three week window (which we did – originally the shoot was going to be 15 days, but we ended up doing 16) was only a matter of extending everything by a few days – slightly challenging and somewhat costly but very doable.
Trying to pull it all back together for a day of pickups in, say, July, would have been … I mean, I’m no pessimist, but “impossible” is a word that comes to mind. Impossible unless we raised another hundred grand between now and then, I mean. Nothing’s impossible in the movies if you have enough money.
The pressure to get all the footage that we’ll ever need during that 16 day window was extremely intense, and now that it’s done I feel wildly relieved. The work that is to come is going to be stressful, but the pace will feel less pressure-cooker-esque. Even more importantly, for the next few weeks the bulk of the work will be on someone else’s shoulders, so I’m going to get a tiny bit of time off from Birdland. I’ll be right there if anyone needs me, but I will also have time now to shift to other projects, which is a blessing as I feel like I’ve been neglecting a whole lot of stuff.
I have shiny new draft of a script to read for the project that I’m taking to Frontières this July, for example. I have been ignoring The Royal and REEL CANADA for so long I’m starting to feel guilty. I have a backlog of about a dozen scripts to read and several screeners to watch because people are waiting for me to get back to them about stuff. I feel like I’ve been away in some parallel universe for a few weeks. I had a great time there, but it’s good to be back.
*Aside: colour grading is the part of the post-production process that I’ve been most fascinated over the past few years because it feels the most like pure magic. I could wrap my head around what editors and sound designers do, but what a colourist does was harder to understand until we got a friend (not totally coincidentally the same colourist who will be working on Birdland) to help us do some colour work on The Demon’s Rook before the film’s premiere. In some scenes, the change was so dramatic it was as if he went back in time and changed the lighting on set. As I said: magic.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already over. On Friday – just two short days ago, as I write this – we completed our last full day of shooting. That’s a picture wrap on Birdland, people! Four months ago, I wasn’t even sure it would ever happen. Three months ago, I wondered whether it would ever start feeling real. Two months ago, we were nearly starting. And now it’s over!
Our shoot was originally going to be 15 days, but as we went along we realized there were little bits and pieces that we wouldn’t have time for, and scenes that required a bit of extra time to get right. We added the 16th day to give ourselves a bit of breathing room, and it was a very smart decision. We did need the extra time – we never would have squeezed those scenes into our original 15 days. But we also needed the space to add a few scenes that we dropped along the way.
What started out as an extra half-day with a skeleton crew ended up being a full day with the whole crew, and while I wanted to be mindful of the cost of adding that time, I also think it was a very smart decision.
The cost of adding a day at the end of a shoot when you’ve already got all your actors and crew assembled (and all your equipment and props assembled too) is smaller than the cost of realizing a month later that you’re missing something crucial.
After a long and successful shoot, everyone was in high spirits and the final day went really well. Nothing major to report because it was so damn smooth.
Even the weather cooperated with us. It was raining during the indoor portion of our shoot and cleared up by the time we moved to exteriors. For me, the final shot of the whole film couldn’t have worked out better – the location was half a block from home, at Midfield, and we arrived just before last call so I was even able to order myself a celebratory glass of wine before strolling home to bed.
On Saturday, after a bit of sleep, we got together for a wrap party to hug and swap stories and celebrate the fact that we got it done and drink and eat snacks and stay up late for fun instead of for work. I can hardly believe it’s over. But, like, woooooooooooo!
The universe sometimes smiles on poor wretches like us. Clearly, after a tough Day 14, someone decided that we’d suffered enough, and handed us a wildly productive and positive Day 15.
One of our actors was a bit frustrated because we’d cut a number of his scenes on Day 14, but on our second day at the crazy (beautiful) mansion we managed to make up for lost time and re-add all of his best moments back into the schedule.
In the end, I think everyone was pleased with how the day went, including him.
I have a great amount of respect for the work all our actors have been doing – but that particular actor has been absolutely nailing every moment on screen and his role is challenging and intense, so big changes to the game plan at the last second are understandably frustrating, and I thought his feelings about it were 100% legitimate. He wasn’t being a diva. He was being totally reasonable and trying to do his job well. He’s not a magic puppet who turns on and off when we tell him to. He actually prepares for each day’s scenes and it’s difficult for him to jump into an entirely different emotional zone when we switch the plan on the fly.
It sucks to have your scenes cut (because it means you’ll get less screen time in the end) but it also sucks to have them re-added on short notice, because it means you have to throw part of your preparation out the window and redo it without enough time to do that properly. Good actors make it look easy, but I know it isn’t, especially when you’re playing an intense character whose scenes are all emotionally draining (and in some cases, physically exhausting as well).
Watching actors do their work in short bursts (because that’s how films are shot) sometimes makes me feel like “pfft, anyone could do that” but the vast majority of the time it fills me with an enormous amount of respect for what good actors do. Because clearly, anyone couldn’t do it, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many cringe-worthy performances out there. Our whole cast is very, very good at what they do, and watching them work is impressive.
Anyway, the point is, we stopped freaking out about being fast, and we ended up being much faster than we’d been the day before. Day 15 was a wild success and left everyone feeling pretty optimistic about our final day. I can’t believe there’s only one left. Holy.
This was a pretty challenging day. First of all, it was crazy ambitious. We had about ten pages scheduled and we all knew going into it that it was going to be tough to get through them. The first few scenes were time consuming through no fault of anyone’s, simply because they were tough scenes. One involved some tricky nudity that took a while to “stage” and the other involved a stunt that had to be rehearsed and shot multiple times, from several angles, in order to make it look right. There was sex, there was action, there was all kinds of stuff that can’t just be shot in a single take.
The first half of the day went smoothly enough, but after lunch we got caught in a trap of our own making. We tried to “hurry”. This meant that through a sequence of events that I won’t bore you with, we ended up painting ourselves into the corner of having to use a shot that the director really hated. We were stuck, people were slightly on edge, and we ended up taking a breather and deciding to redo the entire scene from a different angle. Yes, that ate up a lot of time, but the end result was a much better and more beautiful shot.
The day was about as difficult as any we’ve had so far, especially because we’ve run out of “later” to reschedule the scenes we had to drop to, but I still feel pretty good about the footage we got. Yes, we got less of it, but we didn’t compromise quality, which is way more important. Our actors, bless their sweet little hearts, are all brilliant, and we would be nowhere without their continued dedication and the amazing performances they’re delivering even when things slow down or get a bit chaotic on set.
I got home from this day more tired and also more amped up on post-show adrenaline than I’ve been in a while. It took a long time to wind down and be able to go to bed. Which is kind of awful, given the fact that it’s the fifth day of a six day week and the final day of the week will be a MONSTER.
It’s ok, though. I’m the Monster Killah.