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.

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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. []
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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. []
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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 »

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. []
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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.

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13 Sep 12

collab

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. []
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. []
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