On his website, Rick Dolishny describes himself as “ridiculously organized”, and the vivid memories shared in the following interview certainly confirm that. A media jack-of-all-trades, he draws from a ridiculously diverse set of skills; from visual effects, to video editing, to web design, and plenty in-between. He also has a unique perspective on the development and evolution of digital tools and storytelling over the past 25+ years. I was pleased to have an opportunity to chat with Rick about his fascinating career, working with Second City in Toronto, and his experience in bringing BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE to life.
Sweetback (SB): Obviously, you were well ahead of the curve when it comes to New Media. What initially led to your interest in video and animation production, and how did you come to found Ardee Productions New Media Services?
Rick Dolishny (RD): As an awkward high school student, I was on my way to a likely successful career in computer science in the early 80’s. I spent my days and nights compiling assembly code for the 6500 microprocessor that ran the Commodore Pet and Commodore 64 computers. By grade 11 I was doing University calibre work and was accepted at Waterloo before I finished grade 12.
My father was a stage designer in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and I spent many summers working as part of his stage crew setting up lights and sound equipment when I wasn’t compiling code. At the time, the entertainment industry had no use for computer technology, and I was faced with the prospect of a spotty job in theatre or choosing a proper career in IT.
About this time, TRON was released to mixed reviews, and I recall seeing it three times in the empty theater, because I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go and I was convinced that film was in many way the future of cinema. I was mesmerized and saw a hint of what could come from the marriage of computers and storytelling.
It wasn’t until a trip to Walt Disney World in 1984 that I made the connection between entertainment and technology. I camped out at the HR ‘trailer’ behind EPCOT Center and begged for a job in the newly opened Canadian pavilion At 17, I was the youngest hire into the ‘cultural representative program’ and began my journey back to film, animation, and using a toolset based on digital methods.
I never did attend Waterloo. Upon my return to Canada, I enrolled in the brand new Media Arts program at Ryerson University. I specialized in what was then called ‘new media’, computer graphics, photography and film. What I learned there prompted me to start my own business, and continues to shape my aesthetic and narrative sensibility today.
SB: I could spend all day discussing your editing experiences – from Canadian fishing shows, to MTV. But there are a couple of specific things I wanted to ask you about before we jump into BIKINI CAMP MASSACRE.
You worked as a Post Production Manager for the legendary Second City. I’d love to hear what sort of access you had to their archives, and what work you ended up doing with the group.
RD: My time at Second City Toronto from 1999 to 2002 makes up what I have referred to as the best years of my life.
Not only was I enjoying being a new father, but professionally and creatively I was surrounded day and night by the most innovative and creative (and funny) entertainers in North America.
When Shout Factory came to us with the proposal to bring the entire library to DVD, we took this project very seriously and set the entire team to the task of finding and restoring hours of archival video that had not been seen in over 20 years.
In one memorable session, we borrowed one of the last existing reel to reel tape decks from Los Angeles to transfer John Candy’s demo reel to Betacam. As we fed the tape through the deck, the media disintegrated, but the result of that transfer ended up on one of the the DVDs.
Working with such distinguished actors and comedians taught me a few things about storytelling. I learned the now classic, “yes and..” improvisational technique. Moreover I learned about the power of observation, and realized I had the give of being aware of my surroundings and identifying stories where others saw nothing… or barricades. Working at Second City meant you never say, “no”. Because there’s probably a good story hidden in saying, “yes”.
SB: You also owned and co-ordinated the Toronto Digital Image Festival – which was a showcase of computer animation and visual effects. It sounds like a massive undertaking, but must have given you a unique perspective on the evolution of visual effects and effects software. Talk a little about the development of the festival, and what its legacy is.
RD: The Toronto Digital Image Festival (TDIF) began in the late 80s, in the world of dial-up BBSs. The BBS I co-moderated was called the Command Line, and we focused on comics, manga, film and animation. We had a lively message board and core group of about 100 (fighting for access to our three phone lines).
As a matter of course, we decided to have monthly meetings at a local pub, which grew in popularity every month. One year, I decided to hold what would become an annual open house for the general public to come and explore the nascent world of computer graphics and animation. One of our members had access to a color printer at work, and we pinned up panels from our online comic series, another popular feature of the BBS that encouraged users to contribute sequential comic panels.
Those nights became TDIF, and grew to become the most popular event for computer animators, web developers and graphic designers in Canada. TDIF was the largest festival of its kind in Canada (eclipsed only by ResFest) and garnered sponsorship from Apple, Autodesk, Discreet, ATI, and local resellers.
As the internet took hold and broadband became commonplace, the economics of watching short films at home became affordable, and in many ways preferable. After a watershed 2000 festival, I could see the numbers might be a bit lower in September 2001, but nothing could have prepared me for 9-11.
Everyone stayed home. We ran the 809 seat Bloor Cinema empty for six screenings, one of which was BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE, pretty much empty. I paid my staff, paid the venues, then dissolved my company. It was a sad but swift end to a very satisfying part of my life as a film festival director and promoter.
In 2008, with the release of the Apple video iPod, I produced a video newsmagazine called Digital Image Fest, a spinoff of the film festival. In only a week it became the most popular video podcast on iTunes, and we held a top 20 spot for the four months we produced the show. Then, as in now, it was hard to get sponsors interested in a podcast,
and the self-funded project wrapped.
SB: Let’s talk about Joseph D. Clark’s BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE (aka Joseph D. Clark’s MASSACRE). Had you done any feature length editing previously? How did you get involved with Clark and the project as a whole?
RD: BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE was the first and only full length feature film I had ever worked on. The core group of four producers each contributed $1000 plus their time, and I put 100 hours of editing on the table as my contribution.
The DOP Graham Alexander was one of my customers when I sold edit suites for Discreet/Autodesk. His enthusiasm for the promise of non-linear editing was infectious, and not long was he was part of the wrangling process when Joseph Clark came calling.
How Joseph and Graham connected isn’t entirely clear, but Joseph had an unbridled enthusiasm for film and, frankly, no experience outside of a few acting gigs he had secured over the years, so his ‘can-do’ attitude fit well with the indie film culture developing at that time. The idea that a film could be shot in a weekend was discussed often, but no-one in my circle of friends and colleagues had the risk tolerance and flat-out enthusiasm to pull it off. Joseph had the attitude and proved to be a very convincing pitchman.
SB: I’ll admit to being surprised that the original shooting of MASSACRE occurred back in 2001; as the film’s big twist seems more of a product of a few years later – many reviewers bring up James Mangold’s 2003 film IDENTITY. What did you think of the film’s big reveal when you first heard about it, and how do you think it works in the final film?
RD: The reveal is absolutely my favorite part of the film. I’ll talk a little later about the editing process and the problem with expanding it to 90 minutes, so the pacing really suffered. But all the supporting characters feed so well into the reveal, it’s just a delight to see that scene play out.
I’ll never forget shooting it too, shivers ran up and down my spine. The boys rehearsed that one quite a bit. It’s interesting to note this was shot near the end of the second day, where temperatures rose up to almost 40 degrees Celsius. That blood really stank.
SB: I think it’s important that viewers understand that doing even basic visual effects in 2001 must have been quite a challenge. One of the most notable deaths in the film involves a character having their limbs cut off with an axe (with their dismembered corpse displayed afterwards). How difficult were effects like this to achieve?
RD: There were a number of effects that were extremely difficult to achieve. In fact, there was no way to see if the effect was even working until it was rendered and displayed on the Discreet Edit edit suite.
The dismembering scene was one of my favorites We shot the talent with the noose around her neck standing on a milk crate. The milk crate was wrapped in green paper, as were her arms and legs. We shot that, then shot the background plate without the talent. This was standard definition 4:3 and analogue betacam at that, so we had a huge problem with grain and noise. But thankfully the sun was bright and grain was kept to a minimum. That shot turned out to be very striking and unique.
The effects were so difficult in light of the fact that we had no way to compose the elements until we got to the edit suite, and even then it was an organic keying process or relying on hard alpha keys. After Effects was very difficult to use, and we used Discreet Combustion, a desktop version of Discreet Flame. It proved to be very powerful and played very nicely with Discreet Edit.
Additional effects included my first (and sadly last) attempt at a matte painting, and various 3D axes and projectiles flying through the air. The blood drops in the credits were to my knowledge the first attempt at fluid simulations done with Lighwave. They turned out very well.
SB: What was the process of editing like on MASSACRE? The first half of the film can be a difficult watch, with endless scenes of driving and some truly dire “fantasy” sequences. Was it difficult keeping the pace up when so much of the action was in the second half?
RD: It should be noted that a condition of my volunteering 100 hours was that I be allowed to make a first cut, and my first cut was only 39 minutes. Sadly, at the time, the only way to get distribution was with a proper distributor, and one of the conditions of the deal was that we delivered a 90 minute movie. So, the pacing of the film suffered, and there are scenes that we shot as micro-second flashbacks that ended up being stretched to five minute segments. So taking away the fluff, we have an interesting descent into madness film with some frankly very interesting supporting characters. They just take a while to develop.
I wish I had access to the original cut. I was really proud of that as the editor. But at the time, there was absolutely without exception no market or venue for a 39 minute short film.
SB: There are occasional moments of broad humor – a music video credit pops onscreen at one point – while the following scenes are meant to be deadly serious. It’s a sometimes uncomfortable mix. Was it difficult as an editor to deal with these occasionally striking tonal shifts?
RD: It was difficult and disappointing.
Looking at it again I’m going to try to recut my original 39 minute (or shorter) version. That would be very good.
SB: Now that it’s been out in the world for a decade, what are your final thoughts on the film? Do you think of it as a spectacular failure, or do you remain proud of what you all accomplished on a microbudget?
RD: I’m very proud of the work everyone and myself did on this project. It was such a positive experience, and taught me just about everything I know about live event shooting, planning, rehearsals, camera operation, audio capture, editing, and blocking for effects.
SB: Obviously you’ve been incredibly busy since BIKINI CAMP MASSACRE. What are some of your notable projects since then, and what keeps you busy these days?
RD: The Walt Disney Company along with BIKINI CAMP MASSACRE have been at times jaw dropping calling cards for gigs and projects. It demonstrates my ability to work under a wide range of conditions, but moreover demonstrates my commitment to entertainment and cutting edge trickery.
The most wonderful takeaway I can share is my appreciation for the internet, and how anyone with an idea can create the exact film they want without worrying about 90 minute distributor agreements and frankly the cost of getting a film distributed. MASSACRE ended up with that distributor, but the story suffered. Still, it ended up on the shelf at Blockbuster in Canada and the US, and ended up on at least one compilation reel.
There are dozens of accurate reviews on Amazon, so somebody has seen our film. For the record, we didn’t receive a dime in royalties.
But back to my point, it’s amazing after working under the conditions we worked under we were able to make a film, and these days I think I’ve earned the right to say it’s much easier and much more rewarding. I have that perspective that as a teacher of Digital Cinema at Durham College I can share freely.
SB: For those who want to keep up on your current and future projects, what’s the best way to do so?
I’m the Production Manager at www.pinepost.com in Oshawa, Ontario. It’s a beautiful facility with some great people. I’m really enjoying working there and we’ve done some great things. Check out our 2012 Christmas animation. We animated, rendered and edited the whole thing in five days.
SB: Anything else to promote?
RD: True to my unorthodox track record, I’m still working on projects that don’t really fit in all the time. My latest animation was going to be released at the Peterborough Ontario PeterTweeter Awards, but proved to be a bit controversial. So under the guise of a strictly independent self-promoted project, I’ll get it done.
It’s called ‘Peterborough’ and will surprise people when it’s done. The storyboard is a big hit so far!
SB: I spend most of my time interviewing and chatting with directors, and – perhaps sadly – not as much with people who spend much of their time in post-production. What advice can you give to those just entering into the world of video editing?
RD: I shoot weddings during the summer and people often ask me why. I tell them it makes me a better editor. I have worked with more than my share of whiners in the edit suite that don’t have an appreciation for the production craft, but also don’t have the perceptive eye to catch a minute detail that junior or unskilled editors overlook.
Being a shooter forces you to look more closely in the edit suite for those Magic Moments.
I also know that shooting and editing has made me a better director, in particular when it comes to animation. Now most studios get it, but the sure sign of an amateur animator was crazy camera moves that are physically impossible to pull off. Having experience in shooting and editing allows you to concentrate on telling stories as opposed to trying to pull a fast one on the audience. Technology allows you to do everything, and at levels of quality that far exceed anything we could have dreamed of on the set of BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE. I recommend you do it all – maybe make your own movie in a weekend – and document the experience. It may be the best thing you’ll ever do in your entire life.
Read more about Rick’s experience making BIKINI PARTY MASSACRE on his blog.
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