Fresh Works from a Greying Mind 

Sixty-six years ago I was a boy of six and I loved pretending I was an explorer. One summer day my explorations took me into the dark interior of the basement. At the time my parents and two brothers and I lived in a house known as Trimmer Hill in Pacific Grove.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimmer_Hill
In my boyish imagination, the basement resembled an unexplored cave — a place where pirates buried their treasures in chests.

Brownie Camera

The very first camera I took pictures with.

Sure enough I discovered an old fashioned trunk stored among old furniture and stacks of magazines dating back to the 1930s.
I opened the trunk expecting to find pieces of eight, jewels, and gold necklaces. To my disappointment I unearthed musty smelling clothes and old photo albums. Nestled under the albums in one corner at the bottom of the trunk I discovered an old Eastman Kodak Brownie camera.

With my discovery firmly gripped in my hands, I dashed upstairs to show my mother. She took the camera in her hands as though it were a long lost childhood memento. She took it apart and inspected the inside. After putting it together, she aimed the camera at our pet cat and clicked the shutter. “Still works,” she said and smiled.

Camera FilmLater she took me to the drugstore and bought film for the camera. ISO 120 8 exposures Black and White. In those days color film required an upscale camera model. Developing costs also made amateurs think twice before snapping a casually thought out color photo.

That little boxed shape camera introduced me to the world of photography. I took photos of pets, flowers and the ocean. Through trial and error I gained an inkling about lighting and framing. I couldn’t wait for the photos to be developed so I could show my parents and friends.

But alas, as I grew older, the vagaries of life dampened my enthusiasm for picture taking. Other hobbies and inevitably girls took up most of my free time. The old brownie camera was packed away once again down in the basement.

Sixty-six years later, I am a man of 72 who has allowed the boy inside him free rein on his enthusiasm. I bought three Panasonic digital cameras — the GF5, the FZ1000 and the GH4. An extravagance, I know. But as a man twice divorced and living a carefree bachelor life, I have no one to splash cold water on my imagination. Framing a shot and manipulating the function buttons on the GH4 makes me feel as if I were a professional photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

I took pictures with abandonment and out of the thousands I selected the ones I feel happy about.

Recent Photographic and Video Endeavors

Steve Gardner is an American Roots and Blues musician and former photojournalist. He has also become my ad hoc teacher of photographic techniques. When I asked him which camera I should buy, he said, “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”

“So in other words . . . .”

“In other words it’s not what you have . . . ”

SG reading

My mentor and good friend — Steve Gardner

A trip to Sankeien in Yokohama — a memory

S1001 Boat Pond

Saturday, April 20. 6:30 a.m.: The temperature felt cool as I threw aside the futon cover. I climbed out of bed and opened the curtains. Outside gray skies covered Yokohama. Hardly a promising day for a walk in the city. But I was determined to get outdoors and do something totally at variance to my self-imposed work schedule.

During the week, my mornings after washing the breakfast dishes start off with a review of the InDesign layout I finished the day before. I am working on creating an Apple app of A Christmas Carol — the video production I had labored over for nearly two years editing.  Creating the app was the only alternative opened to me if I hoped to monetize the product. A painstaking job, I assure you. But one that gives me a sense of achievement. With each facet of the InDesign software I master, I feel as if I had reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

I take a two hour lunch break. Then I pack my briefcase with the prison diaries of Terrell Henry Greene. I generally pore through them in the reading room of the Yokohama Archives of History near Osanbashi Pier. The room is quiet and often I have the place to myself.

Terrell spent nearly two years in the Japanese penal system. The crime — overstaying his tourist visa 90 day permission by eight years. His diary entries are filled with self-analysis, description of prison guards and inmates, and stories from his early life as a boy growing up in a Catholic orphanage. I am taking notes which I will have to collate before I undertake the serious task of writing his story.

On Friday I substituted for a teacher at the Asahi Culture Center and taught two of her morning classes. On a note attached to her folder, she wrote: “The students’ ability level is pre-elementary. Some are even false starters.” She neglected to add that the students were in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Contemporaries of mine. I started off the class by introducing myself and then asking them questions about themselves.

“I’m 80 years old and when I woke up this morning I had to cook my own breakfast. Two boiled eggs.” The octogenarian student sat up front to my left in the narrow classroom.

“Why did you have to cook?”

“My wife left early to play golf.” He smiled. The lenses of his glasses magnified his mischievous brown eyes.

I turned to the woman sitting opposite him to my right. She was also in her 80s and a little deaf. Her friend, a younger woman in her early 70s repeated my questions in an amplified voice.

“My husband died two months ago,” she said, her eyes moistening. “I live with my daughter and her family. She cooks the meals.”

As she spoke, a memory flashed through my mind. Years ago I was sitting with friends in a restaurant when I heard a woman’s voice call out. “Borromeo-sensei!” I turned and saw a former university student of mine making her way to my table. “Aiko-san!”

A young man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie followed her.

In a breezy style, Aiko introduced the young man. “This is Takeshi. We’re getting married next month. He works for a bank and we’ll be posted in Hong Kong. Isn’t that exciting?”

I had to smile. Already she was using the pronoun ‘we’ to describe their lives as a married couple. She had a future to look forward to. The 80 year old widow sitting in the classroom at the culture center had only memories to look back on.

I realized my function in the class was to provide a diversion in the lives of the students. They came to enjoy the companionship of classmates and to have something to talk about with family members and friends. None of them, I’m sure, came to improve their English to the extent of conversing fluently with native English speakers. For those two 90-minute sessions, I gave them simple English conversational exercises that allowed them to respond with confidence.

10:31 a.m.: At Yokohama Station, I boarded the express bus bound for Sankeien Garden. In all the years of living in Yokohama, I had never visited this famous landmark. http://www.sankeien.or.jp/history/. A quick look at the guide pages on the Internet gave me a token understanding of the garden’s history. Designed and built by a successful silk merchant who went by the name of Sankei Hara, the garden was opened to the public in 1906. It became a popular gathering place for both the elite and the common citizen to meet for conversations over cups of tea, or for walks along the garden paths.

Though interesting, the garden’s history was not what motivated me to visit there. Rather I wanted to go somewhere to clear away the debris left over in my mind after five days devoted to job-related tasks. Already on the thirty minute bus ride to the garden I began feeling relaxed.

11:15: Walking through the entrance of the garden was like stepping through a thin membrane separating the present from the past. The scene of the boat in the main pond in the outer garden reminded me of the picture postcards from the Meiji Period in the Yokohama Archives of History. I blinked in disbelief. Even the people in the park seemed to have stepped out of the pages of history.

The image shattered when I heard the sound of someone kicking a soccer ball. The ball flew in front of me and rolled along the road between the main pond and the lotus pond. Two young French boys, ages I guessed to be 9 and 7, ran after the ball. Their mother cried out admonishments in the French language. Not knowing French I surmised she was telling the boys to watch out where they kicked the soccer ball. The two brothers smiled sheepishly at me. Then within an instant they darted to the main pond where they knelt for a closer examination of the carp.

The fish surfaced perhaps in the expectation of receiving a serving of bread crumbs. The boys obviously had other intentions. The older brother leaned over as if to grasp one of the larger carp. This time older sister, seeing what he was up to,  delivered the admonishments. The boys paid marginal attention to older sister. Instead, they scampered off along the same path Rabindranath Tagore must have walked during his two month stay in Japan in 1916. The recipient of the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature had been the guest of Sankei Hara.

I followed the path past the water lily pond and entered the Sankei Memorial. The displays and photos reflected an earlier, less manic lifestyle. People took time to enjoy the tea ceremony in the garden’s calming atmosphere. One photo from the Shofukaku Observatory showed the scenic unobstructed view of Tokyo Bay.  A contrast to what I actually viewed nearly a century later from the same observatory.

S1010 House Between11:45 a.m.: I climbed up the walking trail to the Kinmokutsu Tea House in the inner garden. On the way up, I encountered the French family again. The father was explaining to his wife the architectural design of the tea house. I deduced this explanation by observing his gesturing over the lines of the roof and his constant referral to the open guidebook in his hand.

As I headed back down the trail, I saw the older son. He had climbed over the fence and started scaling the rocks leading up to where his father was giving his tour guide lecture. He was straddled almost at a 90 degree angle between a rock and a bamboo tree trunk.

“Oh, Lord!” I thought. “The kid is defying gravity.”

I sighed with relief when he returned to a perpendicular state on top of the rock. My nerves wouldn’t allow me to observe his progress upward. I hastened down the trail.

12:05 p.m.: I walked in the direction of the Three Story Pagoda of Old Tomyoji and approached one of the tea serving stations. Here in the old days visitors sat and enjoyed tea under the canopy.  A photograph inside the canopy showed Sankei Hara surrounded by the literati of the Taisho Period among whom was Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892 – 1927).  Akutagawa, impressed by the garden’s natural beauty, composed a haiku in which he focused attention on the garden’s tranquility.

Suddenly, my attention was distracted by the sounds of scuffling. A short distance from the tea station, I saw the two brothers fighting for control of a cloth sack. Inside was the soccer ball. The older brother was getting the best of his younger, shorter sibling. The mother came running down the path shouting out warnings. Older sister pulled the fighting brothers apart.

As the youngest of three brothers, I could imagine what the mother was saying in French. “Stop picking on your little brother! Let him hold the sack.”

The moment the older brother let go of the sack, his little brother, snug in the protective arms of his sister, flashed a smile of victory.

“Wait till I get you alone,” the older brother no doubt threatened.  Or was I putting the words of my older brothers into his mouth?

I continued on my way, leaving the stormy scene behind me.

12:36 p.m.: I reached the Three Story Pagoda of Old Tomyoji. I am amazed whenever I see old structures build centuries ago. How they can survive the heat of the sun, the dampness after a downpour, or the gnawing of termites still puzzles me. Of course, as a cultural monument, the pagoda undergoes periodic repair. I made a note to buy a guidebook before my next visit to the garden.S1015 Three Story Pagoda

1:05 p.m.: At the former Yanoharake House, I took several shots of the firewood outside. The firewood brought back memories of me as a six-year old boy. My parents owned and managed the Trimmer Hill Boarding House in Pacific Grove http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM7HEP_Trimmer_Hill_Pacific_Grove_CA. In the living room, there was a large fireplace. One day while my family and the boarders were in the dining room, I  was fascinated by the flames from the burning log. The rich red colors of the flames under the log looked good enough to eat. Curious, I wondered what fire felt like. I decided to experiment and stuck a dinner napkin into the flames. The flames shot up the napkin and enveloped my hand. I let go of the napkin and screamed.

S1022 Wood StackWhy the firewood piled in neat stacks outside the Yanoharake House should cause me to recall that particular memory is a mystery. One thing for certain, I never again held a napkin over burning logs.

1:44 p.m.: I headed back toward the main entrance. Rain started falling as I walked over the Yatsuhashi Bridge. I sought shelter under the roof of a wisteria trellis near the main pond. The sound of rain drops splashing against the pond produced a soothing effect inside me. Reluctantly, I walked to the main entrance. Before I stepped through the gate, I turned for one last look at the boat in the pond.

In a soft voice, I said, “I’ll be back.”

Yokohama Sketches

Fireworks have always fascinated me. As a little boy living in Pacific Grove, California, my mother took me to informal fireworks displays along the beaches near our home. Of course, setting off fireworks on beaches have long since been banned. Who know? They might have even been banned sixty years ago.

I always wanted to set off firecrackers and light the fuses of rockets, just like my older brothers. “You’re only 5 years old, my dear,” my mother informed me in a crisp English accent, (an accent she maintained even until the final moment of her life) “I will not have you blow your hands away.”

Now I live in Yokohama safe and sound from maternal admonitions. Yet I have no more interest in setting off fireworks. However, I do enjoy watching firework displays. You can always count on the city of Yokohama to sponsor firework events for the citizens who are sweltering in the August heat. One such event took place last week on August 5, 2014. The event took place at Rinko Park (http://www.yokohamajapan.com/things-to-do/rinko-park/)

I recently purchased a new camera — the Panasonic FZ100. I wanted to give it a trial run and take photos and videos of the fireworks in the evening. However, I did not go to Rinko Park and become entrapped among the thousands of spectators sitting in chairs or standing. No, I preferred to climb the steep road past Hongakuji Temple to reach a suitable spot high above nearby buildings to test out my new camera. Unfortunately, I encountered two major obstacles. One, two high-rise apartments near Rinko Park blocked an unobstructed view of the fireworks. Instead, they served as a frame within which the fireworks exploded. And two, my incompetence as a photographer coming to grips with a newly purchased camera. I took over 200 hundred photos. Regrettably only a handful turned out well. And even among them, two or three were blurred.

But I did capture with the video function the fireworks finale. A little blurry, but I’ll get it right with practice.

When the sparks of dying fireworks finally disappeared into the darkness within the frame of the high rise apartments, I could almost hear my mother tell me, “Put your sparkler into the bucket of water. We don’t want to burn our house down, do we?”

Yokohama Sketches

M2007 Temple Bell CU

A Path Well Traveled

Living a solitary life, I have ample opportunities to walk and meditate. I am fortunate that I live in an historical area of Yokohama. The street that runs in front of my apartment is part of the old Tokaido Road. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tōkaidō_(road)

Temple BellsAt five o’clock in the afternoon, a monk at the Hongakuji Temple nearby tolls the bell. Ah, time for me to take a meditative walk after a sweltering afternoon in front of the computer. I wipe my sweaty face and body with a towel. I use towels instead of the air conditioner which contributes to global warming and builds up an exorbitant electricity bill. Since the March 11, 2011 earthquake, I’ve been concerned about how many kilowatts people consume just to remain cool during the hot summer days. A towel to wipe perspiration from the body costs far less and it allows your body to ooze out the poisons that accumulate in bodies such as mine that must deal with my profligate dietary habits.

But I digress.M2003 Original Consulate General

Hongakuji was  the temporary residence for the U.S. Consulate General when the port of Yokohama  was opened on July 1, 1859. When I walk up the stairs and see the main temple, I feel the frustrations of the day melt away. I know the path I am taking that day will lead me to to find peace and solace.

M2009 Temple ProperThe temple grounds serve as a backdrop for the gravestones in the cemetery. I look at the cemetery and M2011 Reminders of the afterlifeponder on the impermanence of life. How many more days have I left to watch the sun climb above the high rise apartments? How many more hours left to me to while away precious minutes perusing  through Facebook comments? When will the strength in my thumb finally give in to the ravages of old age leaving me incapable of tweeting. Of course, I could go on and on with my meditation, but I must press forward along the Path Well Traveled. No time for regrets. No time for self-recriminations. I must move forward, like the samurai of olden day. Forward!  Always forward toward death.

Phew! That was heavy. Thank goodness, M2014 SignPostI’m close to the end of the Path Well Traveled.  Tammachi Station! The end of the path is in sight.

Ah, I’ve arrived. The refrigerator at the 7/11 Convenience Store.

The Path Well Traveled is an arduous one, but the rewards are plentiful.

M2015 Beer Cooler

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Carol Chronicles Part 3

The Christmas Carol Chronicles

On Becoming Captain Ahab

The editing of Two-Man Performance of  A Christmas Carol was a long journey. . . . and a lonely one.

My earlier plan to send off the hours of video tapes to a production company fell apart when I received the cost estimates. It was nearly equal to a year and a half of rent.

What was I going to do with all the video tapes stored in plastic box containers? For a while I stored them in a closet out of sight. Perhaps in my unconscious mind, I hoped they’d become repressed memories. I realized, however,  I could not escape the responsibility.

Working with the computer was not a task I relished. Formerly, I used the computer as a high tech typewriter banging out copy for company brochures, writing lesson plans, or pecking out shopping lists. But the thought of undertaking post production non-lineal video editing weighed heavily on my shoulders.

Fortunately, I had experienced editing videos when I worked on my first music video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh4kv5BBsnU    I had the rudiments. But when I reviewed the hours of tapes I realized I would need to  delve deeper into techniques if I hoped to capture the complexity of Dickens’ tale.

The learning curves for each of the software I employed were steep and time-consuming. My life in front of the computer became a series of trials and errors during which failures seemed to follow one another like logs cascading down a river. But I refused to leave an editing session until I got at least one small segment completed. I became a man possessed — a Captain Ahab in pursuit of the white whale. Worse, I was turning into a recluse. Turning down invitations to dinner or declining to go out for drinks. Friends who showed up unexpectedly at my front door I treated with the ill-concealed surliness I reserved for door-to-door sales staff. Even my children sent me emails with messages replete with concern. “Haven’t heard from you recently, Dad. You OK?”

No, I was not OK. I kept pounding my head against the brick wall inside my brain in the form of doubts, repressed anger and a stubbornness to find solutions. Why couldn’t I get a particular edit to work? Why should I have to do the editing? Wasn’t there anyone who could help me? Did any of the actors or crew member give a damn whether I succeeded in completing the edit? Why did we refuse to put up more money for the budget?

In life, we pay for our debts in time or in money. In this case, I was paying the price with the only precious commodity in my possession. Time.

There were nights I sat in front of the computer and stared at an incomplete edit. Wondering how to approach it. And if I failed, I refilled my wine glass to the brim. More than once  I drank myself to oblivion and passed out in my desk chair in front of the computer. When I returned to consciousness, I stumbled to my bed and collapsed on the bedcovers.

Overcoming Two Major Obstacles

Attitude: Young people today are more adept at manipulating computers and wireless devices. But me? I remember when computers first made their appearance in the market. I pronounced to my prepubescent children that the computer would soon go the way of the hula hoop. Well, time proved me wrong. I had to coexist with the computer in my work and in my daily life. An uneasy coexistence. My uneasiness intensified whenever I listened to the  ranting of my oldest brother.  He viewed the computer in the same way a customer at a restaurant views a cockroach in his mashed potatoes.

With each new software I bought, I had to remind myself that it would take me one step closer to completion.  Each software meant I had to take baby steps before I could grow into the techniques I needed. I practiced with methodical step-by-step procedures to edit the easier scenes. I managed simple transitions using keyframes and the opacity function. In time and with painstaking effort I soon succeeded in making use of mattes, in correcting colors, and in ‘sweetening’ the audio.

Each editing session became a problem solving episode. On the days I easily solved a problem, I threw my hands up and shouted “Hallelujah!” On the other days, I shouted at the computer monitor and  fired off a volley of inflammable language. But inevitably I calmed down and started again.

My attitude was: Can’t go back. Can only move forward.

Techniques: Learning to edit is similar to learning to cook. Both require a set of recipes to create a particular result. I bought how to books to help me decipher what at first appeared to me as the arcane language of editing. With practice I was able to follow the recipes for J and L cuts and three point edits. Soon I moved on to more complicated editing tasks: masking, secondary color correction,  key framing, and ultimately getting a handle on rotoscoping a scene to eliminate the background.

None of these tasks came easily to me. But like the fledgling chef who mixes the ingredients for a soufflé that falls flat, I kept working on a particular edit skill.  After nearly a year,  I could create special effects that movie pioneers at the turn of the 20th century would have been proud of.  Primitive and sketchy, the resultant effects helped me create the spectral atmosphere  Dickens described in the novella. (I admit I cannot boast of possessing the special effects skills of 21st century editors working for major production companies. But give me another four years.)

The thorniest problem I faced was the scene from Stave Five in which Scrooge leans out the window to talk to the boy on the

Scrooge rotosroped

Scrooge Talking to Boy on Street

street below. To give you an idea of the problem I faced take a look at the video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/87851890

Examine the background behind  James House who is getting comfortable sitting on the veranda. Notice the postwar Japanese architecture? All of that had to be eliminated. I spent weeks on using the rotor  brush function in After Effects to erase the window and eaves. Talk about inflammable language. I resorted to those words more frequently than in any of time of my life. But finally I got the result I struggled for.

 

Harsh Criticism:

I completed the final editing three months before the scheduled premiere of a Two-Man Performance of  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The next problem I faced was to add Japanese subtitles to the video. I found a company who could produce the subtitles within the tight time frame. The chore of adding the subtitles fell on my shoulders. Another series of inflammable language ensued. But I got the job done.

The premiere went off with a minimum of difficulty. But the criticism the following day was blistering. Most of it was aimed at the subtitles. “Inept. Amateurish. Unprofessional.”

The criticism hurt. For a long while I felt as if no one appreciated the effort I had taken to get the video ready for public viewing. All that work for what? To face a torrent of critical comments? No one mentioned the acting, the flow of the story, the ghostly atmosphere, the seamless editing points.

For nearly a year, I walked around in the doldrums. I stored the completed video and the assets on hard disk drives and stored them in a trunk. Once again with the attitude: out of sight, out of mind.

Shortly before I reached my 70th birthday, a woman friend of mine over drinks in a pizza restaurant asked me about the video.

“I’m so sick of it,” I replied.

“But you put so much time into it.”

I merely shrugged my shoulders. “Add it to the list of other failures in my life.”

Our conversations drifted to changes in the music and film market. “People listen to music on their iPods and iPhones,” she said. “The market on the web is unlimited.”

Her comment planted a seed. I had just bought an iPad and downloaded Apple apps. And I thought why not create an Apple app of a Two-Man Performance (TMPCarol)?

Again I had to learn new skills and devoted another year in learning in how to create a digital publishing product.  Today it is ready for uploading to the Apple gatekeepers.

For those interested, take a look at www.tmpcarol.com for more detailed information.

Upon Reflection

Today, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. An albatross is being released from around my neck. Soon I will upload the app to the Apple gatekeepers for distribution. This project had formed a large slice of my life for four years.

People have asked me, “What made you spend so much time on the project?”

The answer is complicated. On a superficial level, I felt an obligation to the actors, to the one-man tech crew and to the still photographer. Almost every week they showed up for the shooting. They put their hearts and soul into the work at hand. None of them had the slightest hope of receiving compensation for their time and talents.  In a way, they were as caught up with the adventure as I was. I could not disappoint them.

On a deeper level, like Scrooge I had to cope with the ghosts from my past life. Two failed marriages, one major film disaster in the late 1990s and the countless other minor and major failures as a single parent lay embedded within the layers of my subconscious mind. I was determined to wrestle with the problems until I got the better of them.

Necessity forced me to take on the burden of editing. In the process I learned how to use software I would never have touched otherwise. I learned to cope with disappointments and failures. I learned the value of persistence. The old saying, if you first you don’t succeed, try, try again, became my mantra. Sometimes in the morning after I woke up, I’d say to myself, “Get out of bed, you lazy bastard. Give it another try.”

Would I do it again?  At my age? No. I am running out of years left to me. Instead, I will capitalize on the skills I learned from my experience.

Will the TMPCarol app make a sensation in the global marketplace? Ah, why  of course. Failure is no longer an option in my life.

 

The Christmas Carol Chronicles Part 2

Srooge and Portly Gentleman on Bridge

 

Into the Vortex

Looking back on the months we spent on the production phase of the Two-Man Performance (TMP), I can say without reservation those months  presented me with the most delightful, but at the same time, the most vexatious of experiences in my life. The two actors, the one-man tech crew and I embarked on the project with the enthusiasm of children ripping open Christmas presents. As we approached the shooting of each Stave, our boyish enthusiasm collided with the icy realities of adapting a complex storyline to a video TMP presentation shot on a shoe string budget.
Once we started we realized the production phase would become a series of problem solving exercises. Catalogued, the exercises would read like passages from My Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14661a.htm). Kempis, of course, five centuries ago devoted his writings to overcoming obstacles blocking a person’s journey toward a spiritual life. Had he written about the obstacles facing us during the production phase, he would have composed homilies about making do with what you have, about seeking the help of others, and about never losing sight of a stated goal. Encountering an obstacle? Meditate, i.e. concentrate on the solution. Necessity will illuminate the way. Necessity did indeed dictate how we had to solve production difficulties. (https://vimeo.com/87847085)

The Challenges

Stave One: Each of the fives Staves in Dickens’ novella possessed different challenges, some more taxing to solve than others. In Stave One, the adaptation for the earlier segments was relatively straightforward. They involved monologues by Charles Dickens as he introduced the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Stuart Varnam-Atkin and I shot the narration sequences for the entire story in one session during a  summer when James House and Steve Gardner were in different parts of the world.

During the shooting of the Scrooge-Cratchit, Scrooge-Nephew Fred and Scrooge-Portly Gentleman sequences, we were able to complete them with relative ease. However, there were times when one of the actors could not show up for the shooting, so I had to feed lines to the actor who responded in character in front of the camera. (This made for added complications in post production.)

The first major problem to beset us came during the Marley Ghost sequence: How to create a 19th century house and a door with an exceptionally large  knocker that transforms into Marley’s face. The solution: We made do with what we could find. James House had an old front door to his house stored in his son-in-law’s art studio. We decided the door bore some resemblance to the one to Scrooge’s 19th century house in London. At least it would give that impression. “Besides, how many people know what a door to a 19th century house in London looks like?” I remarked, thankful for small favors.

The second major problem arose during the shooting of the Scrooge-Marley dialogue. How did we solve that problem? Take a look at the video clip and watch  https://vimeo.com/87847085.

Stave Two: The action in this stave basically takes place in Scrooge’s mind. Long before Sigmund Freud formulated his psychoanalytical theories that guided practitioners to probe into the unconscious mind, Dickens had the Spirit of Christmas Past penetrate into Scrooge’s suppressed memories. Some memories included the forgotten happiness and the joys he experienced as an apprentice at Fezziwig’s place of business; other memories evoked the sorrow of a broken heart when he was a young man standing at the crossroads of his life. He had to make a choice: Should he marry Belle, the love of his life, and face a life of uncertainty and even poverty, or pursue a course leading toward security at the expense of other people’s happiness and lives.
In my mind, the Ghost of Christmas Past could have been Freud psychoanalyzing Scrooge by guiding him back into his past. To assure Scrooge that he had nothing to fear from his past, the Ghost tells Scrooge, “These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”

I decided to make use of the talents of Carla Hernandez, a photographer based in Tokyo, to shoot in rapid fire a series of stills. I used the hundreds of stills instead of video clips in the Fezziwig sequence and wove them together to give them a jerky effect reminiscent of a silent movie slapstick comedy.  For the Belle-Scrooge sequence, I altered the technique in order to achieve the mournful mood pervading the scene when Belle breaks off her engagement to Scrooge.  (https://vimeo.com/87850615)

Stave Three: This particular stave proved to become especially nettlesome. We had the problem of how to present Tiny Tim, of where to get a goose, of how to shoot the Twenty Question sequence. We came up with the solutions for the first two problems (https://vimeo.com/87851272), which left us with the problem of how to shoot the Twenty Question sequence. Of course the obvious solution was to shoot the actors in different costumes. Time consuming, indeed. The actors needed time to change into different costumes before sitting in front of the camera to deliver one line. Though taking up most of the afternoon, the shooting came to a successful conclusion, leaving me with three hours of video tape to sort through later in post.

Stave Four: We began production with the shooting of  the scene of the three men discussing Scrooge’s death. Magnificent! Brilliant! Masterful! Yes, yes. I admit. We were as critically unbiased as a mother singing the praises of her two-year-old child’s progress in nursery school. Still, we were happy with the edited version.

Wow! Our exuberance pushed us out into deeper waters. We were ready to take on the task of reproducing a graveyard on the steps leading into a large auditorium size classroom at Meiji University. I had traveled to Yokohama for second unit footage of the grave sites at the Foreign Cemetery. (http://www.yfgc-japan.com/history_e.html). My first thought was to superimpose the photos and videos over shots of Scrooge. But Steve Gardner came up with a more practical idea: Building gravestones and crosses from styrofoam and blanketing the steps and classroom entrance with black sheets.

“Why not,” I thought, not entirely convinced.

Steve went to work and painstakingly carved out the tombstones and crosses. I smirked when I saw the finished products. “They look like, well, like styrofoam tombstones and crosses.”

Steve brushed aside my ungainly remark with the wave of a styrofoam cross over my head. “I guarantee you. When we shoot this graveyard scene, these props’ll stand out as ghostly as anything found in horror films!”

On the day of the shooting, Steve spread the black sheets over the steps and placed the crosses and gravestones over them. Next he lit the set, using cardboard boxes as ‘barns’ for the lights. Finally, he positioned James House behind one of the gravestones. James squatted down on one of the steps and complained. “A bit narrow here.”

As we were shooting take after take, one of the cardboard flaps began smoking. “Shouldn’t we turn off the light?” I suggested to Steve. He shook his head emphatically. “The smoke will look like mist rising out of the grave.” Nervously, I continued directing James, while he vigorously waved the smoke away from the nostrils of his nose.

The result was startling. The styrofoam crosses and gravestones, as Steve predicted,  cast an eerie light. Exactly the effect I had in mind. Amazing what you can do with simple props, lighting, postproduction editing and the accidental slow burning of a cardboard flap.

The shooting for Stave IV went like clockwork. Every scene worked out – sometimes with methodic planning and sometimes with the chaotic convergence of ideas moments before I cried: “Action!” (https://vimeo.com/87851687)

Stave Five:  In this stave, for the first time, we shot outside. The first sequence took place on a bridge near my apartment in Tokyo. We were a little nervous because we did not have permits from the city to shoot on a public bridge over the Kanda River. So in the early morning on May 24, 2009,  we stole away as inconspicuously as we could only our way. Just how conspicuously with two men dressed in 19th century costumes and two other men carrying tripods, cameras and sound equipment is a matter of conjecture.

We reached the bridge and set up for shooting. And we shot the sequence with surprisingly few interruptions — people walking over the bridge, vans speeding across, and curious schoolchildren wondering what was going on.  But we managed to complete the shooting and later the two actors did the after-recording of the dialogue.

The second sequence in which Scrooge leans out the window of his house to ask the boy on the street below what day it was by far proved the most challenging. (https://vimeo.com/87851890)

In post, I spent two months alone editing that particular segment. (But that is another story.)

The Final Shots

The final day of shooting of A Christmas Carol took place in the kitchen of my apartment on June 28, a rainy Sunday morning and afternoon. Steve Gardner set up the lights and positioned the chair in front of the blue screen rectangle. Meanwhile James House got into Scrooge’s costume. Imagine my relief! The final shots! Then!

James House walked onto the set. “I cannot find Scrooge’s glasses!” His face, ashen and his mood, dispirited. “Without them, we can’t shoot. There is no way around them. They’re an integral part of Scrooge’s character.”

Stuart was not present for the final day. We finished his scenes after the shooting on the bridge. Afterwards he packed his costume and props to take back with him. He told James that he had packed Scrooge’s glasses with  James’ costumes.  However, James was unable to find the glasses.

“What are we going to do?” he said, his face lined with worried wrinkles.

No matter how dynamic the acting; no matter how creative the editing, we could not work around the glasses. In desperation James and I walked to the ¥99 Shop in the neighbourhood to look for a reasonable facsimile. A quick sweep of the store resulted in disappointment. The store did not even carry reading glasses. We walked back to the apartment where Steve sat with growing impatience in the kitchen.

I called Stuart and asked him if he had taken the glasses home by mistake.

“No, I wrapped them in a cloth and put them inside the vest pocket. Did you look there?”

At the precise moment I hung up, James came bursting into the kitchen holding up the glasses. “I found them. They were . . . “

“I know,” I said.

After that heart stopping episode, we began shooting the final incomplete Scrooge scenes from different staves. Steve handled the camera and lighting tasks, James sat in front of the blue screen and emoted, and I assumed the role of director. The shooting went smoothly. In the final shot James had to mime the action of Scrooge covering the candle flame of the Spirit of Christmas Past. After four takes, I shouted, “Cut. That’s a wrap.”

Later, the three of us sat at the kitchen table and ate the sandwiches and soup I had prepared.  We joked and laughed and reflected on the time it took to complete the production phase.

“We spent as much time as shooting as William Wyler did with Ben Hur,” I said.

“But we completed everything under budget,” James remarked, as though slipping back into the Scrooge character.

“It’s not over yet,” Steve interjected, ever the realist. “You’ve got to edit the footage.”

“Oh, yes, “ I replied, a little dishearten. “The editing.”  (To be concluded)