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Victoria Video Club

Moviemakers Learn by Doing

Daily Colonist, Sunday April 19, 1970

Back in the summer of 1969 Victorians at the Black Ball ferry dock blinked in surprise as Captain Vancouver, accompanied by a large black Alsatian dog, watched awestruck as passengers alighted from the Coho.

Effects of the midday sun or a pre-luncheon cocktail? Neither; both the Captain and his faithful dog were very much alive, and so were the cameramen who followed close behind, trying desperately to "shoot" the captain and exclude his dog from the scenes.


The captain was entertainer Jerry Gosley and the cameramen were some of the 50 to 60 members of the Victoria Amateur Movie Club. The occasion was the filming of the club film Welcome to Victoria, a view of the tourist side of the city through the eyes of Captain Vancouver brought to life from the golden figure atop the legislative buildings.


Throughout the summer, members, working in groups, filmed the sequences which began with shots of the statue and faded into the flesh and blood Captain Vancouver. One member searched the city for out-of-the-province license plates. Other concentrated on tourist attractions.


Filming done, the real fun began. At clinic meeetings, held once a month at members' homes, the photographers got together to view the film. Armed with editors, they cut each reel of film into separate scenes. Damaged or out-of-focus film was discarded. Each scene was recorded on paper with a description and a number, and a corresponding number was taped to the end of each strip of film.


The film strips were then suspended inside a large plastic garbage can by taping the ends to the rim. At the close of each editing session the lid was replaced, and the film was safe in a somewhat inelegant, but dust-free container.


As the editing progressed, the scenes were arranged in sequence according to the script. Each was timed and considered for importance. Thus, an important part of the story such as tourists disembarking from the ferries was given nine seconds, but the visiting license plates were restricted to four seconds.


Film finally in order, members went back to the beginning to make the title and credit lines and splice them on. Last were the trial runs, usually five or six of them, where the film was checked for duplication of scenes, flaws in editing, and conformity to the script.


After due consideration a scene may be deemed too long. It is cut. "If its too short, though," says long-time member Morris Aldersmith, "you've had it!"


The final step is a simple musical track made to run on a tape recorder while the film is projected. The use of sound in movie-making, usually by tape recorder, sometimes by sound-striped film is studied by quite a few members, and a second clinic is held once a month to tackle the problems of matching sound to film.


Another group activity is the annual picnic. Prior to the outing members write a simple script. At the picnic some members act out the play while other members film the story. The scene is set, advice from senior members is handy, and the inexperienced especially can profit.


Although the majority of members use eight-millimeter, a few use Super-8, and six or seven use 16-millimeter. The 16-mm members have banded together into the Totem Group, a club within a club, to produce their own group film, The Princess and the Frog, a nine-minute, black-and-white, sound-stripped fiction story written by member Walter George. The whole project, which was handled as professionally as possible, involved a high degree of technical knowledge and considerably more expense than the average film.


Members spent a few anxious but amusing hours when they discovered that, in spite of every effort to avoid him, Jerry Gosley's faithful Alsatian had sneaked into the film, or at least his

ears had. They appeared fleetingly in several shots of the historic navigator, and had to be carefully edited away.


Again editing was a time-consuming job, and adjusting sound to film, particularly when the chore was done in an apartment where the witch's screams resounded so alarmingly that a member's wife wondered how long before the police would call to investigate a murder or at least a beating, gave problems. Problems  though, as usual are conquered, and members emerge with just a little more knowledge acquired from the practical work.


Victoria Amateur Movie Club, in its efforts to help members produce worthwhile films, encourages members to show their own films at the Club's monthly meetings at the Inn on Cook Street. Criticism is offered, advice is heeded, and films are rearranged and improved.


The best films go on to competitions or are shown at the annual free exhibitions at Strawberry Vale Community Hall in March. This is a showcase of the Club's work and a great deal of effort goes into the organization.

Tape recorders governed by a "mixer" designed by member "Chick" Henn provide music or commentaries at Stawberry Vale. This setup, which involves tapes separated by white leader strips for each film on the recorder enables the operator to switch from one tape to another without cracklings or other unwanted sounds being fed through the microphone to the audience.


Not that everything always goes smoothly. There's still a few red faces around when the incident of the Queen is recalled. The Queen's portrait was filmed and a small waving flag inserted in one corner, a tricky bit of technique in itself. This short was to run at the close of the show with God Save the Queen on the recorder. Somehow the tape was misplaced only to crop up embarrassingly in the middle of the program while later the Queen filled the screen in omnicient silence.

For competitions there is the sealed roll contest in June where each entry is one roll of uncut film; unedited except for what the cameraman has managed as he filmed. In September there is an edited one roll contest, and in January the biggest competition takes place with films of any length entered in three classes, ranging from novice for those who have not won an award previously to open class for those who have received 70 per cent or more in another Club Competition.


Victoria Amateur Movie Club is one of 11 such clubs across Canada, all bound loosely together by the Society of Canadian Cine-Amateurs. These clubs and some in the United States cooperate in judging each others work. Some Victoria films have gone as far from home as Montreal. Others have gone to Seattle.


Each club establishes its own point system of judging. Thus Victoria films can earn 40 per cent for originality and entertainment value, the remaining 60 per cent spread over splicing, titles, and other technical points.


Length of films has little to do with value. "Short films are often good," says Morris Aldersmith as he recalls a 90-minute movie the Club once gave top marks to in a contest.


Members produce varied movies with subjects ranging from Joyce Menzies' amusing stories of family life to Morris Aldersmith's 49 Days on a Freighter, the record of his trip to Australia. Others, such as Ron Bennett have photographed British Columbia sealife for an informative documentary, Abalone. Still others such as Dean Holt have produced comedy, The Magic Pistol, a skit on how to cut the lawn.


There's no end to what these Victoria Amateur Movie Club members can accomplish when they set to work.