film festival diary '97
Day 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 6 > 7 > 8
Day Five


UP AT 7:30 to get to the camera store to pick up my other Rolleiflex. 

There are two reasons why I became a freelance photographer: 

  1. So I wouldn't have to get up early to get to an office.
  2. So I would never have to write a resume.

Nodding out on the Queen streetcar at 8 in the morning, I feel a bit betrayed. The camera I'm picking up was supposed to be ready yesterday, but the either the guys doing the repair (which turns out not to have been done) or the store fucked up, sending me to work with far too little sleep and an unrepaired camera. 

I always worry whether I'll do something stupid when I don't feel absolutely sharp on the way to a shoot, but I always galvanize myself once I've got a camera in my hand, for some reason.  The day I don't is, I guess, the day I should quit.

>>Since K. moved in with me, I don't do this anymore.  Very disciplined: up before 9am and in the darkroom; no backlog, no late-night sessions.

>>A slow lens is one that doesn't let in much light to the film; a fast lens lets in more light, and can by used in darker conditions.

The subject today is Marleen Gorris, the director of "Antonia's Line", for which she won an Academy Award. I watched the Oscars that year, but I can't remember what she looks like. I arrive at the press suite before Ingrid again -- I'm feeling quite accomplished this week, as this never happens, never mind twice. I pour myself a coffee and think back on why I'm so tired; developing film is really the most tedious, mechanical aspect of my job - if I could get someone else to do it I would, but I'm always afraid that there's something in particular I'm doing that no lab would do, resulting in thin, hard-to-print negatives. So I procrastinate for hours, fall asleep on the couch, then wake up at midnight to start working. Everything looked good when I left it drying in the darkroom, didn't it? 

Marleen Gorris arrives, a blonde woman in her early forties (my guess) with that focused look I so often see in European women with a serious professional demeanor. She puts me in mind of Margaret Thatcher or Vanessa Redgrave -- which would make any one or all three of them uncomfortable with the comparison  Ingrid starts the interview and I look around the room, which is the darkest yet; shaded with the trees surrounding the hotel pool, besides this being the day Toronto tries to look like London. I'm starting to despair -- it would be easier if I had the Canon with me, since the Rollei has a much slower lens, and I do have a tripod...but the light is awful.  The whole room is black and gloomy. Then I see another one of the floor lamps with the tilting shade -- my key light!

The day is saved. 

>>I really didn't like this film. Besides depicting every man as either an "enabling" weakling or a brute, it was hectoring and unsubtle, seeming to grab you by the shoulders and point, saying "Look here! See this?! Pay attention! You should think this way!" It's the same problem I have with Oliver Stone.
I relax and follow the interview. Marleen Gorris speaks perfect, British-accented English, sentences perfectly formed, a good sense of humour, and no intimation of the kind of preciousness I see in Hollywood types trying to sound deep. She's so matter of fact in her appraisal of her work and its difficulties -- no mention of any particular obstacles as a woman, she seems too dignified for that -- that I once again groan inwardly. Why is this woman -- speaking English perfectly, even though it might be her second or third language, stinking of self-posession, un-neurotic as far as I can tell (look, I should admit now that I hated "Antonia's Line") -- such a rarity in my experience with movie types. Maybe this is my Euro-envy coming out...a sure sign of a real provincial.

Ingrid finishes and I start moving furniture out of the way, clearing a spot under a wall sconce that should give me some backlight. I plug the floor lamp in - the bulb works - and pull a chair up next to it. Ms. Gorris sits down and I position the tripod.  Standard portrait composition leaving room at the top for the magazine's logo and space on the sides for cropping  The shutter doesn't fire on the first frame. I've been having this problem with the camera for weeks, but no sweat, it'll work on the second. It does. I go through the roll, letting her move her head however she feels, telling her that it looks better if she tilts it - my only stage direction. 

I change rolls, black and white film for the inside shot. I crop closer, move to the far side of the light to give the face a bit more dramatic lighting, a few shots off-center, and I'm done. As I pack up, we talk about the scripts she started recieving from Hollywood after she won the Oscar ("You can't imagine. Unbelievable.").  We talk about the influence of America, culturally, on the world, and on Canada, a small country (in spite of the square miles) to the direct north of a behemoth  I ask her if it reminds her of the relation of Germany to her native Holland and she laughs. 

"Not quite the same, really. There was this war, you see." 

Yes, and the Germans lost. The Americans won -- or at least that's how they see it - and we all have to live with it. I leave amazed. Most of the time I try and make small-talk with film types it's like shouting over a chasm. They take a moment to process your question like you've addressed them in a language they barely remember speaking. Very solipsistic mindset. 

2002 update: I wanted this job to go well; I wanted desperately to work for this magazine. There aren't a lot of outlets for editorial work in the city - less now, in 2002, than in 1997, when I wrote this - and Toronto Life Fashion was considered one of the more prestigious. Unfairly so, for a third-rate catalogue of the most unadventurous ready-to-wear stuff, worn by personality-free local models, shot mostly by photographers who spent most of their time cribbing U.S. and European fashion mags and hitting on the models.

But I'm not bitter. Oh no, not me.

I rush home to finish printing yesterday's contact sheets, so I can get them to Toronto Life Fashion. I'm quite pleased with the portraits I've been shooting at the festival this week -- the Thom Fitzgerald stuff is almost as good as I hoped, and there's even a nice shot of Robin Wright-Penn -- but I worry about the scarf designer shoot. It's very formalist and linear, and I wonder if they might think it a bit hard-edged. I try and put the doubts out of my mind and hop on a streetcar. 

Brad and Fernando are really hard to read. They go over the sheets, and Brad (the art director) asks me what made me decide to go for such a linear look -- not in a disappointed voice, mind you, but he still asks. I explain that she looked better in profile, that her hair was this Louise Brooks bob (very sculptural) and the Miyake shirt, of course, made things even more suggestive of a formal, graphic look. He seems to accept that, but I still can't be sure. They tell me that they'll call me soon, and I leave with a gut full of fear. Were they bullshitting?  Are they shaking their heads over the contacts as I hit the street? 

"Hmm, not quite what we expected, huh Brad?" 

>>I never got another job from Brad or Toronto Life Fashion again.

I guess they didn't like the shot.
I really want to work with Brad again - his reputation as an AD is excellent, and I'd love to try and do something interesting with fashion.  But in Toronto? Is this possible? I remember that I had another thing on my mind when I did the shoot: I've been looking at a lot of ancient Egyptian art lately, and that definitely informed the look of the shoot. Would he have understood better if I'd mentioned that?  Or wouldn't it have mattered? 

I can't take this kind of pressure. I wish I was a stockbroker.

  Photos and writing ©1997 Rick McGinnis.  All rights reserved.