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 »

26 Oct 12

Matteo Carcassi: Study in A Minor (Etude No.7)

While study­ing this Carcassi étude — and ana­lyz­ing as many ver­sion as pos­si­ble in aid of that — I real­ized that clas­si­cal music is like wine. They’re both based on a cen­tral theme or taste, and it’s the sub­tle dif­fer­ences between the inter­pre­ta­tion of each per­former or wine maker that make them unique and inter­est­ing. That’s why you need to lis­ten to a lot clas­si­cal music (or drink a lot of wine) to develop a palate. I bet two dif­fer­ent musi­cians (or even the same musi­cian at two dif­fer­ent points in their career) play­ing the same piece would sound the same to some peo­ple for the same rea­son that two dif­fer­ent mer­lots would taste the same to others.

This is sup­posed to be played alle­gro, but I’ve yet to hear a ver­sion above 105 bpm that didn’t feel rushed to me, so I pre­fer to play it andante1. Luckily, I enjoy clas­si­cal music, and I can tell the time I’ve invested in devel­op­ing that foun­da­tion trans­lates over to non-classical songs, not only in the extra fin­ger pre­ci­sion but in prac­tic­ing tech­niques too.

I’m still using elec­tric strings2, which I’ve had on longer than any other set, cause I love how crisp and brassy the tone is through­out the range. For a piece like this where the melody switches between bass and tre­ble, that becomes really important.

  1. Also cause I’m not good enough to play it that quickly yet. []
  2. XL Chromes, warm/mellow, flat-wound, extra light gauge. []
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. []
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. []
09 Aug 12

Slept Through a Landslide

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Jesse Dangerously — Slept Through a Landslide cover

Rap Legend Jesse Dangerously just released his lat­est sin­gle1, a remix of Tired Angels from Krista Muir’s most recent album. He wanted a bit of breath­ing room between verses and asked me to write a ukulele solo, so we hit the stu­dio a cou­ple months ago. I was lucky enough to learn a lot about the record­ing process that had largely remained a mys­tery to me.

This was my first time try­ing to write music that wasn’t a cover. It was unique chal­lenge, cause it’s hard for me to tell what sounds good vs. what sounds good only to me. I also have a habit of try­ing to fill my arrange­ments with too many ideas instead of fol­low­ing a theme, so this time I tried to build on the hook that Krista sings. Then I added as much vibrato as I could on my soft cedar-topped nylon-stringed uke to fill out the sound.

I also pro­vided some backup har­monies at the start of Noah23’s verse, and it’s weird to hear my singing with some real pro­duc­tion. I don’t think I’d rec­og­nize my own voice if some­one didn’t tell me it was me.

Jesse has the abil­ity to piece together a bunch of mot­ley musi­cal ideas from var­i­ous gen­res, and it’s awe­some to hear some­thing that started out as a sim­ple rap song become more than the sum of it’s parts.

  1. In the cred­its at the bot­tom, the city of each per­former is included. I love how Rosie’s loca­tion is “lives in a van”. []
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. []
13 Dec 11

Jenny + Dave — Wedding Day

A spe­cial film for a spe­cial couple.

I was given the chance to film the wed­ding of Jenny and Dave on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Everything about the day was gor­geous, from the trop­i­cal weather to the bur­geoun­ing cen­tre­pieces1 to the torch­lit recep­tion. It all came together to cre­ate an atmos­phere of sub­lime charm, and I had so much fun cap­tur­ing it all.

I make each wed­ding film as acces­si­ble as pos­si­ble, so any­one can get a sense of the day even if they weren’t there. But I also include cer­tain things that would be under­stood by only the peo­ple involved. In this film it was shots such as an uncle doing an hilar­i­ous bump-and-grind on the dance floor, or the bride tear­ing up while writ­ing her speech, or the father-in-law say­ing a few words while firmly hold­ing the groom’s hand dur­ing the tea cer­e­mony. Details such as the lat­ter may not seem like much to an out­sider, but fam­ily and friends at the wed­ding would under­stand how such a small phys­i­cal dis­play of affec­tion can mean so much.

This was by far my most chal­leng­ing wed­ding film to make, but it was well worth it. For a while, it became my rea­son for liv­ing, the one I wanted to be remem­bered for, and my goal was to deliver this film before I died. There’s a piece of my soul in it, so I can’t say how lucky I am to have been given this oppor­tu­nity to cre­ate this for Dave and Jenny, and how I happy I am to know they deserve it.

(A big thank-you to wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher Mike Adrian, who was a delight to work with, and taught me a thing or two about how to pack for des­ti­na­tion weddings.)

  1. The Four Season’s now has a rule that lim­its the size of the cen­tre­pieces, because they would some­times catch the wind and fall over. This was the last wed­ding at the Four Seasons to have such mas­sive ones, the rule being grand­fa­thered in, as Jenny and Dave planned the wed­ding right before it came into effect. []
04 Dec 11

Vikki & Dan — Wedding Day

Filmed another lovely wed­ding in the Fall. The cer­e­mony was small and inti­mate with only a hand­ful of peo­ple invited, tak­ing place at the tiny look­out on Rockcliffe Parkway, while the recep­tion was a great big party at the RA Centre. One of the most unique things about this wed­ding were the paper lanterns given to all the guests. By the end of night the sky was full of them, drift­ing away beau­ti­fully above us.

It was another chance to work with the won­der­ful Liz, who is always on the top of my list of pho­tog­ra­phers I rec­om­mend for wed­dings. Not only do her pho­tos end up look­ing amaz­ing, she always works with me when cap­tur­ing all the impor­tant details, instead of against me, as I’ve noticed with some pho­tograpehrs. Check out the pho­tos in her sneak peak.

candy sushi


Also of note were the wed­ding favours, each box con­tain­ing a pair of candy sushi. The maki was made by rolling a flat sheet of Rice Krispie squares over a fill­ing of Gummy Worms, wrapped with Fruit Roll-Up. The nigiri had gummy sharks as the fish, also tied together with a strip of Fruit By The Foot. Small, bite-sized packs of cute and delicious.

08 Sep 11

Wu Wei 2

Wu Wei, my free WordPress theme, is cur­rently the 5th most pop­u­lar theme on WordPress.com, with over 550,000 blogs using it at the moment (not includ­ing ones being self-hosted), and it’s become so suc­cess­ful that the admin­is­tra­tors have made it one of the default themes for new sign-ups. By far the most com­mon sup­port ques­tion I get is why the WordPress.com ver­sion isn’t avail­able for WordPress.org users (some have even offered to pay for an update), so I’m very pleased to announce the release of ver­sion 2 for self-hosted blogs.

The theme has been updated to take advan­tage of new fea­tures that came with WordPress 3.x, such as cus­tom header and cus­tom back­ground APIs, cus­tom menu man­age­ment, as well as var­i­ous under-the-hood fixes and improve­ments. Tags and com­ments have also been included on the front page, to bring bet­ter stan­dard­iza­tion across WordPress.com and WordPress.org versions.

People have asked me why I don’t charge for such a theme, see­ing as how I’ve poured a tremen­dous amount of time and energy into some­thing used by so many peo­ple. I can only say that Wu Wei has brought me much luck since its release, and thanks to it’s pop­u­lar­ity, I’ve met many great peo­ple1, received new design work, and even had a chance to visit Britain — things I don’t think would have been pos­si­ble if Wu Wei was a paid theme.

  1. There was even a case of an old ex-girlfriend find­ing me when she decided use Wu Wei before she dis­cov­ered who made it. []
24 Aug 11

Geneviève + James — Wedding Day

Interested in hir­ing me? Check out my port­fo­lio.

Earlier this month, I had the plea­sure of film­ing Geneviève and Jamie on their wed­ding day. It was a beau­ti­ful out­door cer­e­mony in the coun­try with only about 50 peo­ple, and a vegan din­ner for the reception.

One of the inter­est­ing things I got to see was the sock dance, an old French-Canadian tra­di­tion where the eldest unmar­ried sib­ling has to don a pair of ugly socks (sym­bol­iz­ing their cold feet) and do a silly dance. People throw money at him or her, which is then col­lected for the newly mar­ried couple.

I decided to keep the grad­ing nat­ural cause there are so many vibrant colours in each scene — from tat­toos, hair dye, clothes, foliage, and dec­o­ra­tions — that I wanted to bring out for a light­hearted, play­ful mood. Goddammit I love grad­ing; it’s become my favourite part of the process. You can set so many kinds of tones with colour alone.

The colours also led me to decide on using Beirut’s “Postcards from Italy” for the song, as the ukulele and horns empha­size that fes­tive feel­ing wonderfully.

I also got to work with Liz, a pho­tog­ra­pher who’s as fan­tas­tic1 as she is con­sid­er­ate. So far, she’s been the only one to say to me, “Tell me if I get in your way”, before I could say it to her. Guess who I’m refer­ring if any­one asks me for a wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher recommendation.

Sometimes I study the films of video­g­ra­phers I admire, and I’m inspired by their style but it never feels right when I try to achieve the same for my films. They rely on edit­ing to make their films inter­est­ing, and the films end up look­ing posed or unnat­ural. I’ve real­ized that I have to fol­low my own style — telling a story by cap­tur­ing the beauty in the sim­plic­ity — because that’s what I’ve been try­ing to do in words and pho­tos my whole life.

  1. She has a pre­view on her blog. []
31 May 11

Spanish Romance

To be hon­est, I’d never heard of Spanish Romance until this year. Once I found out it was a clas­si­cal stan­dard, I started see­ing it on all these CDs by respected gui­tarists and com­pi­la­tion albums of “clas­si­cal greats”. It seems like any­one learn­ing clas­si­cal gui­tar will try to tackle it at some point, seduced by such an ele­gant melody. I have no clas­si­cal aspi­ra­tions, and even I fell for it.

I fig­ure I’d record this before I cut off my nails cause I’ve been grow­ing them for about two months1 and I’m com­pletely sick of them. They clack on my key­board and iPad, and I always have to be annoy­ingly care­ful about not break­ing them. Unfortunately, this song also sounds way bet­ter with some bright­ness to it when it’s not played with actual nylon strings; I’m still using a set of Silk and Steel, and there’s a cer­tain fat­ness to the sound when you really dig into them.

I’ve only had Larissa for six months now, but it feels more like six years. There’s so much famil­iar­ity in the wood and glossy curves. Even when I’m try­ing out a gui­tar sev­eral times the price of what she would cost, it never feels as nice.

  1. Although halfway through I cut them down to 1/4 length and lost a lot of growth cause I thought they were inter­fer­ing with my rest-stroke. Turns out the prob­lem was actu­ally in my tech­nique. Oops. []
19 May 11

a sketch of Shaded By Your Shadow

So the iPad 2 is some­thing I bought last week, solely for the pur­pose of GarageBand. It’s pow­er­ful enough to be a sketch­pad where you can cre­ate musi­cal ideas, and because the instru­ments are touch-sensitive, it’s really fun to doo­dle and exper­i­ment. I don’t actu­ally have a bass or piano or drums, so the extra instru­men­ta­tion is pretty handy too.

Over the week­end I made this sketch of Shaded By Your Shadow as I was fig­ur­ing my way around the soft­ware. It’s always been one of my favourite songs by Shane; the title alone evokes this image of lying in the grass on a warm day, with someone’s hair drift­ing in the haze of their out­line above you.

I haven’t lost myself this much in a project (small as it was) in a long time. I had to fig­ure out the roles of instru­ments I’ve never played before, per­cus­sion being a par­tic­u­larly weak point of mine cause I rarely pay atten­tion to it when I’m lis­ten­ing to music. There are a lot of synth instru­ments included with GarageBand, so I tried to give it an 80s synth-pop sound. Everything was done right on the iPad, includ­ing vocals which were recorded using the built-in microphone.

I still have to learn about mix­ing and pro­duc­tion and what­not (and since I don’t have any mon­i­tors, I’m com­pletely blind when set­ting the var­i­ous lev­els), but I was happy as punch just to be able to fig­ure out the soft­ware and process. It really is it’s own cre­ative process when mak­ing a full band arrange­ment for a song, a puz­zle in it’s own right, because you can start with an idea or motif on any instru­ment and there are so many direc­tions you can go from there.