Archive for November, 2010

Thanksgiving Prayer – William S. Burroughs

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I post this every year to mark the American Thanksgiving celebrations – it never gets tired:

Cheers.

P.S. Yeah – it’s a day late – I was busy. Sue me.

Ruffus RoundUp – Thus Far

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

As you may have noticed I’ve been posting a lot about our efforts to get Ruffus The Dog’s “A Christmas Carol” financed through contributions from the crowd-funding web site IndieGoGo.

Once upon a time . . .

The time has run out for that effort and while we didn’t raise the full $8,500 we were hoping to, we did clear over $2,000 and managed to garner a bit of attention for the show itself. It’s all good.

The process of using IndieGoGo was an interesting learning experience. I have no doubts we’ll bring other productions forward through that site. The level of participation from contributors is a difficult one to anticipate; I’m sure everybody thinks their own project is the absolute most bestest in the whole universe. There are a lot of great recommendations from the operators of the site on how to best leverage awareness of your project and ensure you are getting the maximum return for your efforts – but it is up to you to make it happen.

Did I do everything humanely possible to guarantee full or even excess funding of “A Christmas Carol”? No, of course not – I’m a lazy procrastinating slob with too much work in front of him and preternaturally shy about blowing my own horn. We did have a lot of help from many people out there – friends, family, colleagues and total strangers – to which we are indebted. It’s gratifying and humbling to see others get out and make noise in an effort to help us in this quest.

Thanks to you all from the bottom of my sordid little heart.

Today is Tuesday – next week, on Monday, we will begin shooting “A Christmas Carol”. I’ll be documenting the entire process here on this blog and probably on another site set up just for that show. There will be photos and tweets and possibly a live video feed on UStream. We can’t get too ambitious with all that because we do have a show to shoot and that is, perforce, ambitious enough in its own right.

When it is all finished and ready for release it will, of course, show up on the official Ruffus The Dog web site as well as its own online location, and right here and on YouTube and anywhere else we can place it.

There’s a lot for me to do between now and when we wrap the shoot – as well as thereafter with our tight post-production schedule – and while there is plenty for me to be raving, raging and ragging on about (TSA, Copyright, Internet Censorship, stupid cat videos, Net Neutrality, the Singularity, government corruption, cool art, corporate malfeasance, fascist hijinks and general monkey assholery to name but a few) I shan’t be able to indulge my usual blog musings in earnest for a while. That doesn’t mean you won’t see things posted here – I am, after all a lazy procrastinating slob – just that my posts may be somewhat minimal for a few more weeks.

After all is said and done will it have been worth it?

Of course! I get the chance to play with my friends in a creative endeavour and tell a great story in our own way and show it to the world. What’s wrong with that? Paying the bills would be nice too but that’s gonna have to wait until we’re finished this – then I’ll go out and get a job and complain about it at length here.

In the meantime, I’m taking great comfort and inspiration from a slender little volume I picked up at our local bookshop – The River Trading Company, on Queen West (the real Queen West: Parkdale) – where I found it perched in their front window display of nifty holiday stuff.

A lovely thing.

It’s an Atlantic Monthly Press 1920 reproduction of the original edition.

I don’t believe in omens and signs but I’ll take what I can get – and this will be the book Ruffus reads from in the show.

Once again – my deepest thanks to everyone who contributed and supported our fund raising efforts – our creative team will now strive to make the best Ruffus show possible. Keep tuning in for updates.

Cheers.

Ruffus The Dog UStream Marathon

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The Flying Spaghetti Monster in “A Christmas Carol”? Hell yes! Read on!

As we continue our pre-production efforts on Ruffus The Dog’s A Christmas Carol you can watch streaming episodes of Ruffus The Dog – along with numerous shameless plugs asking for funding contributions – on the Ruffus UStream.TV Channel.

Or you can watch it right here:

Why am I doing this?

It’s coming down to the wire for raising funds to make our version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and the shoot is just a little over a week away.

Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!

Relax. Breathe in – breathe out – repeat if necessary.

It’s all good.

I’ve already posted about our funding efforts – you can find some of them here and here and here.

We don’t have nearly as much money as we intended to have in order to pull this off – but that’s not going to stop us. The production is going ahead as planned. If you – or anyone you know – can help by contributing even a few dollars via IndieGoGo it will go a long way to helping make this exercise in creative insanity just a little less impossible than it already is.

I may make it sound like our efforts to release this production of “A Christmas Carol” online by December 21st are nothing more than a folly doomed to failure – but actually I’m delighted with what we’ve been able to achieve in such a short time with so few resources. This is going to be an amazing show. It would not have been possible without the dedication and determination of the talented team who have come together to help make this happen.

You can help too. Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/ruffus-the-dog and tell others to do the same. We’re counting on you to help get us across the finish line with enough in hand to make this journey work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish my storyboards, render more CG virtual sets and make a Flying Spaghetti Monster – you know – for kids.

Here it is as a work in progress:

FSM

Enjoy the shows. Thanks for your support.

Cheers.

A Message From The Producer

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Today I posted this short video as part of our last efforts to raise productions funds through IndieGoGo for “Ruffus The Dog’s A Christmas Carol”.

The process of using IndieGoGo has been interesting and I’m pretty sure it will prove to be useful for other projects we come up with in the future. Our initial goal was for $8,500 which was a painfully low amount considering how ambitious this production has become. With only 5 days left to our IndieGoGo deadline we have only managed to secure about 20% of our goal – but we’re forging ahead with production regardless.

I’m sure I could have done a better or more aggressive job of promoting our efforts to raise funds but all excuses and caveats aside – I’m a puppeteer, dammit! We did manage to get a very nice mention in BoingBoing which helped draw a lot of attention to all this nonsense we’re up to.

Luckily, I’ve been blessed with a team of friends and colleagues who are both dedicated and talented. Their generous contribution of time and skill will be what makes our version of “A Christmas Carol” really shine.

Our shoot days are coming up fast and I’m looking forward to the four days of hilarity and hard work that lie in store for all of us.

The miraculous Jane Edmondson, assisted by Tatiana Hernandez-Deutsch, has been creating wonderful miniature ealry Victorian wardrobe for our cast of puppet characters. And our designer, Karen Valleau is crafting new puppet characters and just finished an exquisite snowglobe with St. Paul’s Cathedral inside.

Earlier this evening I had a Skype call with our composer, JP Houston – he’s currently in L.A. recording and rehearsing for a European band tour – and he’s been sending me demo tracks of the songs for this production and they are frickin’ awesome. Unfortunately he won’t be able to come to Toronto for the song recording sessions so we’ve been organizing a back-and-forth effort with him sending tracks here – we record the vocals and send them back – and so on and so forth until my brain melts out my ass.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s brain melts out their ass.

And for those who know me well – today I found myself alone in the kitchen making production sketches – and involuntarily let loose with one of those maniacal laughs.

Felt good.

Please, do what you can to help us out – or at least encourage others to help – every little bit is greatly needed and appreciated. The finished show WILL released online on December 21st. So there.

Here’s the original IndieGoGo pitch video:

And here, of course, is the widget that leads you to our IndieGoGo pages:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go edit some footage of Sinbad the Sailor and these two pigs, Ray & Harry, the Hausen brothers.

Cheers.

The Story Of Stop Motion Animation

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

When I was a kid – the age of my son, actually – I and my best friend Bryan would make elaborate stop-motion animated films on Super 8 film in his mother’s garage and later in the back room office of our art teacher, Paul Jones. Massively elaborate productions – none of which, alas, have survived.

We were addicted to everything and anything related to stop motion, most notably the works of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen but also Georges Melies, George Pal, Norman MacLaren and others. Each new issue of Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland would be devoured for any clues as to technique and process which would then studiously attempt to emulate with our feeble collection of tools.

All of this was long before I became a performer in theatre, television and film and a great many decades prior to being able to once again hold the reigns of my own productions (albeit in larger studios than Mrs. McCormick’s garage) and manipulate small figures to do my bidding and tell nifty stories.

What goes around comes around, I guess.

My wife, who is a puppeteer but also an artist, designer and animator, is currently doing a lot of work for a prominent stop-motion animation company here in Toronto. She sculpted a caricature animation figure of Harryhausen that was given to him as a gift when he visited town promoting his book. I was there but too shy to thank him for my life.

All of my studies and work have in one way or another always been linked or related to this form; from mime, commedia del art̩, clowning, acrobatics, dance, puppetry, special visual effects design, CG animation, script writing, directing, you name it Рall except being a plongeur at the Gavroche Gourmand or cooking burgers at the Brunswick House Рall these varied gigs were all connected with the means to tell stories through the visual and physical actions of characters.

Today, over at Flavorwire, I stumbled across Chloe Fleury‘s marvellous animated short which conveys the history and attendant magic of the art of stop-motion animation. It is very sweet.

Enjoy.

My own last effort at true stop-motion was this brief intro I submitted for Ze Frank’s The Show:

I love stop-motion.

Cheers.

The Troll Under The Bridge – Ruffus The Dog

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

This is our version of the classic fairy tale “The Troll Under The Bridge.

I wrote this in response to a lot of social justice issues that were bouncing around our city that year – none of which, alas, have been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction or needs – and was also inspired by my readings of (and brief correspondence with) Prof. Jack Zipes.

This story seemed to be a good mix between a classic folktale that advised for and supported a local xenophobia to ensure the safety of townsfolk when confronted by unknown individuals who seemed all too ready to prey on the unsuspecting – and some of the uncomfortable realities we seem to have trouble addressing in our current day to day lives.

It’s too easy to continue to prey and profit upon the blind fears of the unknown – and far more difficult to explain the community and individual need for compassion and necessity of learning what (or whom) something (or someone) actually is before passing judgement.

Heady stuff, perhaps, for a kids puppet show.

But I figured if you’re going to tell a well worn tale you might as well wear those tattered shoes upon a path less trodden and, in doing so, perchance take your audience to a place they might not have otherwise found.

This is especially true with young audiences. Present them with classic literature, iconic stories, archetypal characters, and then put those stories and characters in the context of the world(s) our young audiences inhabit today – the impact will (hopefully) be more meaningful, long-lasting and most certainly resonate more deeply throughout the rest of their lives as they grow up and away from kids puppet shows and begin their own walk upon the paths offered to them by the so-called real world we all must eventually, inevitably and inexorably inhabit.

It’s all about context.

Don’t worry kids. It’s just a puppet show.

And yes – there are monsters in the real world. They do prey upon you. You must beware them – and know them for who they really are. But know them truly – and don’t be afraid to look closer – and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes those who cry wolf or demand the destruction of a monster – are monsters themselves.

So there.

Cheers.

P. S. Apologies for the opening ad in the video. If it’s irritating and you hate it – say so in the comments and I’ll drop it like my trousers at a – uh – nevermind. Just leave a comment.

P. P. S. If you – or anyone you know – want to see more tales like this please visit our IndieGoGo site where we’re trying to raise enough funds to make our own version of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. Many thanks. Tell your friends.

Here’s the widget:

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow very kindly gave us a mention over at BoingBoing with a nice snippet from this post, an embed of the Troll video and the info on our efforts to raise funding for our Ruffus version of “The Christmas Carol”. Thanks, Cory!

Ruffus The Dog “Christmas Carol” Update

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Hey there!

I haven’t posted a lot here lately because I’ve been allegedly busy writing the script for the Ruffus The Dog version of “A Christmas Carol”. It was a bitch to finish partly because I’m lazy slob and also because I ignored the advice contained in my own notes and found myself in the trap of trying to remain true to Dicken’s original text.

What was I thinking?

In the original Ruffus episodes we tackled a lot of different kinds of stories, including Dr. Jeykll & Mr. Hyde, Around The World In 80 Days and The Three Musketeers as well as more common fairy tales like The Emperor’s New Clothes, Tom Thumb and The Three Bears. Rarely, if ever, did we ever use any of the original text from those stories. Sometimes we would crib a line or two from a famous movie version – more often we’d stick in some cheesy vaudville gags – but we always managed to find a way to adhere to the spirit of the stories without letting ourselves get distanced from the unique world we had created for Ruffus The Dog.

I watched every film version of “A Christmas Carol” I could find and while I wanted to emulate the Alistair Sim version, entitled “Scrooge”, because it’s my absolute favourite – I knew I couldn’t just go ahead and copy it for both artistic and legal reasons. The words of Charles Dickens in that slender volume of a holiday ghost story are SO tight and nuanced – as opposed to his usually penny-a-word serialized novel ramblings – that it became even more difficult for me to cut the tale down to the bone and still leave enough room for our deliberately stupid puppet gags. At one point I had a draft that was 113 pages – that’s a fucking feature film!

Knowing we can’t do a feature for $8,500 + a pantload of goodwill meant I had to stop wasting valuable time, drag my head out of my sorry arse and get down to business. Hack. Slash. Cut. Revise. Rearrange. Be more inclusive of other faiths. Leave room for the Pig and the Monkey and the Sheep – and find the best places to use JP Houston’s wonderful songs.

Last night – after a day of intense last-minute effort (combined with an interlude for putting zombie makeup on my son) – I finally had a working draft that we can use as the basis for our production.

Look!  Words on paper! Wheeee!

I credit Richard Williams for his half-hour animated version (which also starred Sims as the voice of Scrooge) for leading the way. While I didn’t copy his structure entirely – partly because it was a tad too abbreviated – it certainly showed me what could be safely excised and still leave the heart of the story intact — with room to spare for pigs, sheep and monkeys.

So it is written – so let it be done.

It ain’t Shakespeare. It ain’t Dickens. It’s Ruffus The Dog – and that’s what we wanted.

Now – on with the task of raising the rest of the cash and getting the team organized to meet our proposed shoot dates for the last week of November. Wait a minute – today is November 1st?

fuck

P. S. You can help contribute (if you haven’t already) by visiting our IndieGoGo web pages where we are crowd-sourcing our funding for this episode of Ruffus. Word-of-mouth is as valuable as cash – please tell everyone you know. Thanks!