Pictured above: The first camera that caught my muse.
“Chasing the Muse”
Written by Lloyd Walton
The first time I was seriously asked what I wanted to be when I grew up was on a local television show, called, “Kiddies on Camera.” On my day for the show, I was impressed with another local hero. It was Bert Luciani, the cameraman. Bert was kind and friendly to this nine-year-old. He held me up to the massive television camera and let me look through the eyepiece. I saw things in a whole new light. I could see into people’s faces. When the host finally lay the big question on me, “What would you like to be when you grow up, Lloyd?” I looked straight into the lens and said, “I am going to be a cameraman.”
Everyone needs a teacher who influences their life in a meaningful way, and I have had many including my animation teacher, Hans Kohlund, at the Ontario College of Art. To hammer home a point, Hans would fall to the floor, roll over in a somersault, kick his legs in the air, then spring back to his feet, continuing the lecture with his cigarette perched on his lips, dangling a gravity-defying two-inch ash. A magician always uses diversion. Our eyes were focused on the diversion while our minds absorbed his message. The week after I graduated from OCA, I sold my animated film, “Peace and Quiet,” to the CBC. I also met a fast-talking film distributor, a young Ivan Reitman with feet on his desk, offered to take “Peace and Quiet” for theatrical distribution. I delivered a print to him. I never heard from him again, other than he made blockbuster films in Hollywood like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” I was on my way. I was an animator!
Animation at the time, I sadly found out, was out of vogue in the advertising industry.
The secret to a successful career is to find something you love to do and get someone to pay you to do it. Ontario Provincial Parks were expanding in size, and the number of visitors was increasing dramatically. I was hired on a two-month contract to produce automated slide shows for the outdoor amphitheatres in the parks. I was in for a ride and I knew it; that is, if I could stay longer than two months.
Mixing my photography with good scripts, working in recording studios with actors and announcers, choosing the music and directing the mix, I was experimenting with a new medium. A lot of it was timing. I learned that I could manipulate the mood of the audience by carefully directing the performance of a narrator, selecting unusual but effective music, and mixing effects in an audio choreography. I could make people laugh, then swell with pride, then come to tears. It was a different type of cinematic language, with slide projectors.
There’s nothing like the face of an actor who, when sitting down in the recording studio to do a voice-over project for the government, discovers intelligently crafted words to play with. My slide films began to win multiple awards in the United States. My small department of two, produced about a dozen or so inexpensive animated slide films transferred to 16-mm film before I was able to convince management to allow me to shoot an actual live-action film.
To learn the nuances of shooting live action, I spent a week at the National Film Board headquarters in Montreal, meeting with experts in every aspect of movie production. They were generous with their advice and candid in their impressions of their workplace. Although the grass was not necessarily greener in Montreal, I was still star-struck. Two key pieces of advice stood out. “Put everything you’ve got into your project. Otherwise, it’s only a film.” And, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with enthusiasm and joy.”
After making a couple of comedies for the government, “Natural Journey,” and its sequel, “S*N*O*W,” allowed me to push the tourism film genre further by injecting subliminally layered story lines in simple-yet-complex-as-you-want-to-make-it stories about an attractive woman moving farther and farther from the city, seeking something. Occasionally danger also lurked. To reach a floundering shipwreck on moving ice on Georgian Bay, we had to carefully dance over floating ice pans. It was also my chance to introduce ancient pictograph and petroglyph images in a respectful way.
The official academic and government position about these sacred places at the time stated,
“At some point in the distant past, the carvers ceased coming to the site and their images faded as knowledge of the site faded from mankind’s consciousness.”
Inside, I knew that this was not true and set out on a sixteen -year odyssey to find a shaman who could read them. Many walls would be thrown up in front of me. I would be sent down box canyons, stonewalled, stalled, and stymied. As my will got stronger, I learned that with walls, you could walk around them, climb over them, or, when the magic is with you, walk right through them. Part of my teachings would be how to talk to wild animals.
On my first day shooting a movie about moose, I came across a cow moose sitting in the grass, dappled in the warm light of a sunny June afternoon. I put down the gear I was carrying, smiled, and said, “Hello, I’m Lloyd. I’m making a movie called, ‘Of Moose and Man.’ You look so beautiful sitting there. I will just set up this low tripod called Baby Legs, mount the camera, and begin.” When I told her how beautiful she looked in the dappled light, she batted her long brown eyelashes at me. I was on my knees panning left then right and zooming in and out until I felt that I had her covered. I opened my arms and said, “Thank you, sweetheart. I’m going to make you a star.”
She awkwardly got up on her feet. I turned the camera back on. She walked slowly towards me, bent down, kissed the lens, then turned her head and slowly walked away. I think she went ahead to pass the word on to a few others, “This guy is OK. He has some contraption that won’t hurt you.”
I attached the longer tripod legs as I approached a pond where a bull moose was swimming towards me. I kept the camera rolling as he slowly got out of the water and circled me to check me out. Canoeing in Algonquin Park it was as if, through some secret language, the moose had spread the word that it was Lloyd’s last shooting day for his film.
“Hey gang, it’s your last chance to star.”
Mom-moose played with their kids. I filmed one female that looked like she was dangling a cigarette out of her mouth. Behind me, directly over my shoulder, I heard a loud “snort.” I slowly turned my head and looked up at a big black bull moose standing hip-deep in the water and breathing down my neck. A gentle puff of wind blew my canoe in a sideways motion, creating a tracking shot with the bow of the canoe and Bullwinkle moving in unison. Spread out over a year, it was only nine days of filming, but I had captured the yearly life-cycle of moose, and the body changes they go through in each season. With camera I have been unarmed face to face with moose, caribou, polar bear, black bear, bison, lions, tigers, elk and a very scary black panther.
Getting closer to the intimacies of nature, Northern skies kept calling. Older doors began to open. My odyssey in the search of ancient wisdom and knowledge would bring rewards and consequences unforeseen and revelatory. The resulting film, “The Teaching Rocks” is still being shown around the world thirty-four years later. I was blessed to have a career where I had creative control over my projects and was as able to live out all the dreams of my childhood and adult life. The secret was a code, which I adopted as a kid. I called it the Code of the Trail. Chasing the Muse: Canada tells how it all came to be.
Lloyd Walton is a multi-award-winning, Canadian director and cinematographer. As a painter, he has had five solo gallery shows. He is also a prolific writer. His historiography, CHASING THE MUSE: CANADA is available on Amazon, Kindle, chapters Indigo and Barnes and Noble. His films have been translated into French, Dutch, German, Japanese, Ojibway, Cree, Oji-Cree, Inuktitut, and Russian.