Friday, June 22, 2007


Coincidentally, the first day of summer is also my first day out of the deep freeze. Literally. For the last two months, I've been locked in ice cold arenas and windowless edit suites filming and finishing a show on figure skating.


People on the streets, dressed in shorts and tank tops, would give me funny looks as I shambled past swathed in ski wear, either still thawing out from a long day on the ice or girding myself to face another one.


I wandered into a Tim Horton's one evening for a coffee warm up, interrupting all the people complaining about heat waves and smog alerts by stamping the last of the Zamboni slush off my boots. Then I asked the girl behind the counter if I could have some Timbits for my Penguins.


In addition to being the creative behind the piece, I also directed and handled 2nd camera. AND - I completed my first almost solo edit on Final Cut Pro! Nearly made it clear from take off to landing, but had to call for help when it came to authoring. Some part of rendering, composing and encoding still eludes me. It seems like the machine's doing the same thing three times, but I guess it's not.

Anyway, the story here is not that I have evolved into Jim the All-In-One filmmaker. It's that I've fallen in love with Figure Skating.

I know -- me -- macho Cowboy, so-straight-he-has-trouble-getting-around-corners, wouldn't know a sequin from a rhinestone... But there you have it.

I used to think hockey players defined tough. That was revised somewhat when I attended my first Aussie Rules Football game and saw what goes on when the TV cameras and referees are following the ball at the other end of the field! Sweet Mother of God!!! How does anyone survive that sport, let alone with enough still intact to have children???

But I now know that TOUGH is a 15 year old girl, weighing less than her gym bag, who keeps doing triple jumps at 6:00 AM until the clean landings outnumber the face plants; then comes back after school and repeats the process.

I learned that DETERMINATION might be defined by a forward making $5 Million per as he leads his team to the Stanley Cup, but it is more clearly written on the face of a sixteen year old boy who knows he'll be in Whistler in 2010 and isn't settling for silver because his lifts are half a centimeter off true.

And I learned that true DEDICATION resides not in network executives and CRTC Commissioners, but in underpaid coaches who watch the same routine for hours, detect the most infinitesimal flaw and communicate it with a few words that conjure perfection.

As I sat through the long hours of filming, I distracted myself from the possibility that my ass was not merely numb, but had finally completely frozen off -- by comparing what figure skaters go through to what we do in showbiz.

Because what I watched on the Olympic practice rink was light years removed from what I'd always been bored by or found laughable on television.

Skaters spend the same years learning their skills and honing their craft as we do. They have the same cerebral and aesthetic breakthroughs, finally discerning how something works, technically or emotionally. They learn how to tell a story, connect with the audience and elicit the desired reactions from them.

At the end of their creative process, which includes a greater physical component than anything we do (Teamsters and Grips included) they've got as neat a little parable to relate as the films we make.

Then along comes somebody from the network, deciding the work needs to be glitzed up so it'll be noticed in the broadcast clutter, given some flash and pizzazz to overcome the average 90 second attention span, encumbered with a voice-over to explain what they might've missed and gilded with an emotional sidebar to either "connect" with the average viewers -- or ensure a mention on

In our case, what was unique and special ends up looking like everything else on TV -- and in theirs, they're dripping in sequins with somebody describing a granny who's dying of cancer.

They, like us, spend a lot of time wishing these people could find real jobs so they don't have to get between the artist and the audience.

If you've never had the experience, try to see a skating show live. And I don't mean "The Ice Capades" or "Disney on Ice". Find a competitive skate, where it's just you the music, the lights and skaters. I have no doubt you'll find yourself as transported and inspired as I've been over the last few weeks.

I can't post any of our footage yet, but I will soon. Meantime, I'm including a video of three time world champion Russian Skater, Irina Slutskaya.

Forgive me for choosing a piece where she's dancing to Country music (sung in Russian to add to the weirdness) but hey, it's my Blog. Point is, I tried to find a clip without much network clutter so you can concentrate on what she's doing.

I hope you'll delight in the sheer physicality and Joy of her work. Even if skating isn't your thing, catch the series of spins about 2 minutes in and you'll realize that sometimes great art defies even the laws of physics.


Juniper said...

Thank Jim!

I didn't even don my skates this past winter. How sad is that? Now I feel like beating the summer heat wave with a few laps around the rink.

... and the triple camel killed me!!!

Kelly J. Compeau said...

Yeee-haaw! I love competitive ice skating. My baby sister was training for the Olympics but bailed after a couple of years because she couldn't handle it.

KJC (who can skate pretty fast, but has no idea how to stop)

wcdixon said...

Look who's talking about someone else hanging my drapes?

DMc said...

Sounds like someone's ready to rent that skating movie with D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly...