equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
20 Oct 13

Katie + Seth — Wedding Day

The Cuban sun burned espe­cially bright on the day Katie and Seth got mar­ried, but the wind kept every­one com­fort­able while unlim­ited drinks made sure sobri­ety was never an issue. There’s some­thing to be said about the exclu­siv­ity of des­ti­na­tion wed­dings, cause they leave lit­tle room for strangers or acquain­tances. Only the clos­est peo­ple will com­mit to plane tick­ets and accom­mo­da­tions. The cel­e­bra­tions are all the more inti­mate for it, and I’m always glad when I have a chance to be part of the that.

You never need to make a spe­cial effort to find the wildlife in Varadero; even on the resorts, birds will bravely snatch food at your feet, while stray cats toy with lizards and mice alike before eat­ing them. And being sur­rounded by other peo­ple on their own hol­i­days, whether they’re tan­ning on the beach or let­ting pretty girls cheat at limbo, brings a warmth to the atmos­phere that even the sun can’t provide.

20 May 13

Allison + Eric — Wedding Day

Allie and Eric had a pic­turesque wed­ding at South Pond, a quant lit­tle farm in Bethany Hills. Their day was filled with delight­ful details, like car­riage rides to the cer­e­mony, dove releases, and paper lanterns. It all made for a wed­ding film that never loses it’s momen­tum. Even though I’ve been work­ing with a com­poser to score my most recent films, I still take spe­cial requests from cou­ples who want me to use songs that have per­sonal mean­ing to them, and in this case it was Such Great Heights by The Postal Service.

I cut my teeth on fil­mog­ra­phy and dis­cov­ered my per­sonal style when spend­ing time on Eric and Mark’s farm in Bancroft. Back then, I had a cheap cam­corder1 but needed a sub­ject, they had the snow­board­ing skills but needed a doc­u­men­tar­ian. That’s how I gained cru­cial expe­ri­ence with edit­ing, com­pos­ing, and grad­ing, though it would be years before I got a real cam­era and finally under­stood aper­ture, shut­ter speed, and ISO as well. Filming Eric get­ting mar­ried was like com­ing around full-circle, where I could apply all the things I’ve learned through the years since those week­ends spent in the coun­try with his fam­ily and friends.

  1. A Hitachi DVD-RAM cam­corder, which only took ter­ri­bly com­pressed video in some pro­pri­etary for­mat. []
28 Mar 13

Heather + Dave — Wedding Day

Shot at a Jewish sleep-away camp at the side of the Ottawa River on a per­fect day.

This film is one of the high­lights of my 2012 wed­ding sea­son. I had to end it on a scene dur­ing the first look, when Dave’s face reveals how anx­ious he is to see Heather in her dress; those are the moments that speak for all the years in a rela­tion­ship. They’ve known each other since grade 7, along with most of the wed­ding party. You can eas­ily tell how close every­one is from the way they touch and dance and embrace.

I worked very closely with Adrian from Five Stripe Studios in scor­ing this film. The wooden build­ings and out­door set­ting made me think of sum­mer camp, so I wanted the first sec­tion to sound like an old tape you’d find in your dad’s glove com­part­ment as he’s dri­ving you there, the rib­bon warped from heat. Adrian did an amaz­ing job of cre­at­ing that mood, the care­ful melod­ica being a very nice touch. There were also impor­tant details I asked for, like the slide gui­tar going from note to note exactly when the focus zooms from a leaf to the sun1, which he inge­niously built into a repeat­ing theme.

Having com­plete con­trol over the music is great for per­fec­tion­ists like me, but the best thing about work­ing with such a tal­ented com­poser is being able to give each cou­ple a set of songs that have been cre­ated just for them, some­thing that makes each film par­tic­u­larly unique.

  1. At 1:45. []
07 Mar 13

looping: forever

crotch grab

I’ve been hav­ing a lot of fun mak­ing these lit­tle ani­mated gifs, each one a moment from a wed­ding I shot last sea­son. Not all my footage makes it into the final cut of a film; occa­sion­ally, some­thing has to be sac­ri­ficed for rea­sons of pac­ing or tim­ing or…appropriateness, and it seemed like such a pity that these clips would end up on the cut­ting room floor.

The tricky part is not mak­ing a gif too long, oth­er­wise it becomes a scene, and loses the rep­e­ti­tion that makes us believe the moment goes on forever.

Read the rest of this entry »

11 Jan 13

a heavier dose

I’ve been try­ing to stay vocal about my needs, lest I fall back into old life traps and defence mech­a­nisms. It means I’m still apply­ing lessons learned from last year, still try­ing to be open even if it means being vulnerable.

As far as I can tell, this has been work­ing in my favour. Otherwise, Seth wouldn’t be com­ing over on Saturday to teach me how to play the acoustic ver­sion of Sean Rowe’s Jonathan, one of those songs I’ve always wanted to learn before I die.

As a side-effect, it’s been a strug­gle to bal­ance my rela­tion­ship needs with over­stim­u­la­tion. The other night we smoked an apéri­tif in the car before spend­ing three hours gorg­ing our­selves on all-you-can-eat sushi, learn­ing that the small but sig­nif­i­cant priv­i­leges of our class come in plates of bite-sized fatty pro­tein made to order. Then we watched the entire first sea­son of Tim and Eric, Awesome Show! Great Job, and played Magic until 4:30 in the morning.

It left me burnt out and I must have lost two days, yet it still feels like I don’t have enough nights like that, shar­ing real moments with peo­ple who don’t per­pet­u­ally have some­where else to be or some­one else to see. I need more of those times in my every­day life, not just in the days marked on my calendar.

14 Dec 12

Trapped in NYC

A few weeks ago, an anony­mous per­son very thought­fully sent me a track called NYC by Brolin. This per­son must know me quite well, cause the song is to my taste exactly. Not only that, but I’d been mean­ing to make a short film about my trip to New York (as well as the extended stay due to Hurricane Sandy), and Brolin’s min­i­mal­is­tic sound space and ghostly vocals gave me an atmos­phere of warmth and won­der that matched my footage perfectly.

Personally, I don’t think I could ever cre­ate any­thing and name it NYC. It’s a city with too much depth and com­plex­ity to try encap­su­lat­ing in a verse or song or mov­ing image, then tie it up with three sim­ple let­ters. I can’t wait to go back again some day to cap­ture as much as I can.

22 Nov 12

makeshift wings

I’m ready for the win­ter. To be reborn with the first snow­fall that cov­ers the grass, awash in muf­fled serenity.

Time is mea­sured in weeks, not by the cycle of day and night, and this makes every­thing pass at a blis­ter­ing pace. The good weeks involve bacon break­fasts and peo­ple bring­ing me food and new projects and Magic nights. The bad ones involve bat­tles with my old arch neme­sis, acne, and his side-kick, scarring-on-my-fucking-nose.

I’ve been deal­ing with this over­whelm­ing sense that any­thing can change. So much has left me feel­ing like there’s no cer­tainty any­more. Maybe that’s why I’ve stopped dream­ing. I have no idea what to expect from the future, and I don’t know if that scares me or gives me hope.

To stop myself from think­ing about it too much, I dis­tract with all the right things and few of the wrong ones. It’s a frag­ile form of sta­bil­ity. Some days, the strings, they don’t do enough.

10 Oct 12

Singhouse Studios — Sparkle

Singhouse Studios is a voice and per­for­mance school for peo­ple of all ages, and one night every year the stu­dents per­form in a big show. This year, the show — titled Sparkle — was celebrity-themed, com­plete with a melange of hits from the last five decades, a red car­pet run­way for all the stars, and even Ottawa’s local pop heart­throb, Alex Lacasse1.

Music by Five Stripe Studios. Adrian and I worked closely to make sure the music had the right kind of play­ful energy to focus on the school’s main demographic.

I was asked to cre­ate a pro­mo­tional video for the stu­dio, so I fol­lowed the per­form­ers to tell the story of their day, from the back­stage to the main stage. I felt it was as impor­tant to see all the prepa­ra­tion as much as the per­for­mances them­selves, which is why I included footage of warm-up rou­tines, prac­tice rit­u­als, and dress rehearsals. I love to see the focus so many of the young per­form­ers have, and much of that comes out before they even step into the spotlight.

  1. Who’s been a stu­dent at the stu­dio for years now. []
16 Sep 12

a million distractions to keep me warm

Two hours later, I woke up with­out any sense of direction.

Now I’m try­ing to fig­ure out how to stay awake so I can be tired enough to fall asleep again. The fatigue isn’t enough to keep me down. I had a big break­fast, some­thing I haven’t done in as long as I can remem­ber, owing to the fact that they used to be the rit­ual of a per­son with week­ends and a need for rituals.

At some point along the way, I real­ized it’s eas­ier to take care of my friends and help them fix their prob­lems. I can’t fig­ure out why I’ve avoided deal­ing with my own, but I decided that as long as my dis­trac­tions are ful­fill­ing and healthy in them­selves, there’s noth­ing wrong with that. Sometimes, there’s noth­ing else one can do.

In turn, they’re help­ing me through this odd pas­sage of time, where I find myself unsure of what to do or feel. I’ve had to open myself up to give them a chance to help me. It always leaves me vul­ner­a­ble at first, but when they lis­ten and under­stand and sup­port me, all my inse­cu­ri­ties go away. It’s a tan­gi­ble love that goes far beyond words and intentions.

13 Sep 12


I’m very pleased to say that I’m now work­ing with Five Stripe Studios, a tal­ented bou­tique music com­po­si­tion stu­dio, to score my films. Music is one of the most impor­tant parts of any film, and the right music can make great footage look even better.

Choosing the right music also hap­pens to be one of the most dif­fi­cult parts of the sto­ry­telling process. For one wed­ding, I spent a week look­ing for the per­fect song. When I dis­cov­ered it had an inap­pro­pri­ate line (noth­ing vul­gar, just very unfit­ting for a wed­ding), I spent another week try­ing to find a replace­ment, but even­tu­ally went with my orig­i­nal choice, using audio soft­ware to take the line out.

Kyden’s First was a small project we worked on to make sure we were able to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively at dif­fer­ent stages of the scor­ing process.

It made sense to find a more capa­ble per­son to han­dle this respon­si­bil­ity, and I just hap­pened to come in con­tact with the right per­son at the right time. Adrian is the cre­ative direc­tor of Five Stripe Studios, and not only does he write the music, he sings, plays, and records it as well. I met him in Australia when we were much younger1, and he con­tacted me after com­ing across my work many years later.

This not only gives me total con­trol over the music, allow­ing me to choose the right instru­ments, tone, pace, and mood, but I have more options with the footage as well, as I some­times found myself leav­ing out a great scene out to match another scene with a cer­tain part of a song. Adrian is also a very dynamic com­poser, and can give me widely vary­ing styles and gen­res; exactly what I need when work­ing with all the dif­fer­ent things I film.

  1. I still remem­ber us play­ing NHL Hockey on the NES, which would have meant I was in my early teens. []
01 Sep 12

for the sake of momentum

This week­end I have two back-to-back wed­dings. Knowing it’s going to be 14+ hours each day means my brain will be on autopi­lot, tak­ing it one event at a time as a way of pac­ing myself through­out the day. These are the last two of the sea­son; I’ll soon get to focus on edit­ing, which is always my favourite part of mak­ing films cause it’s the most sig­nif­i­cant part of the sto­ry­telling aspect.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been feel­ing more like an observer than a cre­ator. There haven’t been much in my own life I need to document.

I’ve been ask­ing peo­ple to play Larissa so I can get a record of what she sounds like with dif­fer­ent fin­gers and techniques.

Seth is on my elec­tric strings here. No one would be lying if they said they had a crush on this man.

I’ve had a revolv­ing door of friends and guests over lately, and com­bined with the fact that Bryon tends to jump on the kitchen coun­ters when he smells food up above, means I’ve been keep­ing the house con­sis­tently clean, instead of going through my cycle of spot­less to dirty to spot­less again. I haven’t done any big gath­er­ings, pre­fer­ring the smaller hang­outs instead. I keep want­ing to invite Lisa and Tiana over together for ses­sions, or Trolley and Steph and Aaron for Magic, but the time I get alone with each is too pre­cious to give up.

That’s why time feels like it’s pass­ing so quickly, and also why I don’t write much any­more. I have the right peo­ple to talk to, so I don’t need to write things out to sort out my thoughts. And some­times it’s just eas­ier to pick up a gui­tar when a surge of inspi­ra­tion strikes. Otherwise, I’m burn­ing my lips on glass­ware, look­ing for the right moments to keep myself going.

06 Jan 12

is this it

I learned that the mea­sure of a man is his abil­ity to stir-fry bok choi hearts.

That High Fidelity is the new (500) Days of Summer.

That it’s nice to be needed.

That I still won­der if I’m forgotten.

That it’s not so much that I don’t have any­thing to write about, but noth­ing ever seems impor­tant enough to put down on paper nowadays.

That I say oh my god a lot.

That food poi­son­ing is like a lax­a­tive for both ends.

That I’m allowed to miss her.

That it’s okay to think oth­ers are cute too.

That I’m doing the whole Swingers thing with Lisa, where she’s try­ing to con­vince me I’m a big fuck­ing bear.

That I can’t read signals.

That it doesn’t mat­ter whether or not you’re invited, as long as you’re happy where you are.

01 Jan 12

perpetual eve

This day is the same every year. The streets are dead and filled with slush, the stores all closed. No mat­ter where I am, it seems peo­ple are look­ing for a chan­nel on TV to watch a corporate-sponsored count­down, and I always feel alone even though I’m sur­rounded by friends.

If it’s the same every year, it’s strange that my mem­o­ries of New Year’s Eve are so mixed. Jocks harass­ing me on the bus. Bundling up in big coats to share petit coro­nas out­side. Panic attacks. Blonds and red­heads. Rich foods and too much drink. And some­how the peo­ple I love and the peo­ple I hate end up at the same parties.

Sometimes it reminds me too much of my child­hood. My fam­ily hosted the same count­down party every year that became the only real time we spent with other peo­ple, and the only time we ever caught up with our “friends”. Numbers would be shouted in uni­son, cham­pagne would be toasted, noth­ing would change. An empty rit­ual for empty peo­ple. Maybe that’s why I never feel like I belong any­where on this day. It’s like I’m wait­ing to feel what every­one else around me is feel­ing when the ball drops.

31 Dec 11

Anne + Haran — Wedding Day

Anne and Haran had a Vietnamese-Pakistani wed­ding, which was a delight­ful blend of two cul­tures with their own tra­di­tions and cos­tumes. Included in this day were three tea cer­e­monies, four dress changes for the bride, and one giant roasted pig.

When Haran first told me the funny story of how he asked Anne’s par­ents for per­mis­sion to marry her, he was sure to include the detail that Anne’s father was ex-military. This fact made him very hard to read, and Haran didn’t know how he was tak­ing the news until Anne’s mom started firmly rub­bing his shoul­ders, and this iron-grip mas­sage ulti­mately lead to him giv­ing the approval. After hear­ing this, I thought it may be a chal­lenge to cap­ture emo­tion from Anne’s father, but now I know a daughter’s wed­ding can bring out the emo­tions in any man, and he wore many ten­der looks that day.

20 Dec 11

Elizabeth and Jane promo video

I was very excited to be work­ing with Liz again when approached me to shoot a promo video for her pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness. Since she does engage­ments, wed­dings, and pet por­traits, we decided to film all three types of sessions.

Liz lists some of her favourite things as her hubby, her pups1, her shoes, and her Apple prod­ucts, so I included lit­tle bits of each to give it a per­sonal touch. I also kept the grad­ing crisp and clean with colours that pop out of the screen to match Liz’s style of vibrant pho­tog­ra­phy, of which I’m a huge fan. My main goal, how­ever, was show how fun it is to be one of her sub­jects because she has a per­pet­ual smile and bub­bly per­son­al­ity that puts any­one at ease.

  1. She’s Ottawa’s own dog-whisperer, and it may be safe to say that she loves dogs as much as I love cats, per­haps even a lit­tle more. []