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Do All the Undone Things

FOR SOME REASON, over the past weekend, a few things seemed to have become clearer to me — shredding old tax documents may have helped — but it dawned on me, that my main goal for the next twenty years, is to try and finish off as many of the things I set out to do with the first half of my life.

No great revelation, I know, as I’m sure this is the kind of thinking that the pandemic has brought all of us; but I was already heading in this direction before the outbreak of COVID-19: I had digitized a couple of VHS-movie efforts from high-school, an old super-8 film I shot the first year out of high-school, along with a super-8 film belonging to my grandfather from 1941.

In the midst of restrictions, I started an online course that I’d had my eye on for a while, Audio Post-production in Pro-Tools run by Domestika. Although my creative focus is mostly on audio stories, I am still interested in sound for film techniques, which has helped all along the way.

For the final project of this course, I needed to create an original soundtrack for a film or video. I didn’t think of it straight-away, but my digitized super-8 film would be perfect for this project — it was completely silent! And the moment I started working on it, I was amazed at how quickly my old film interest came back. I felt the same sort of excitement I used to feel about movie-making as a teenager.

The film is not much chop, in terms of quality. It’s not a movie with a story, but just a whole lot of scenes I shot around Sydney and the old street that I grew up on. Really, at this age, eighteen, experimentation was about the only thing on my radar. I had previously edited two videos at high-school, one of them for my final year HSC drama project; but I was by no means an experienced filmmaker. I was like anyone at this age; big dreams, and no idea how to make them happen.

Anyway, I’ve tried to give it a slightly naive narrative thread, and a bit of spooky atmosphere.

I hope you like it.

THE OTHER BIG THING that I was thinking about while I was walking my dog on Saturday night was the significance of having finished an audio/radio documentary that I started back in 2006. This was something that weighed on my mind for over a decade as an unfinished project.

Back in 2006, I was lucky enough to get in contact with John Harrison, the composer behind the movie Creepshow. At the time of our emailing, he was shooting a film in Canada with George A. Romero, and I remember feeling excited, as if I had hit the big time!

But after doing a 1-hour phone interview with him, and then interviewing another guy in England who had written beautifully about John’s soundtracks, I hit a brick-wall.

I had transcribed all of his interview, breaking it down into quotes, then writing a voice-over script around it. To pad it out, I tried to interview a few more people in the US who had worked with John, or knew something about synthesizers; but everything, after those two initial good interviews, seemed to fall through.

Then, everything else in the rest of my life fell apart; I went through a huge personal crisis, and could no longer focus on making something as abstract as a radio documentary — even though I was still trying! But in the end, it all went into a cardboard box, and then into storage.

Over the following decade, I would pull the box out every year or two, and try and start working on it again. But I couldn’t do it! I’d feel overwhelmed by it, and then put the lid back on the box.

To be honest, not only did the project have a lot of feelings attached to it from the happy days when I had started working on it; but I also technically did not know how to get it finished. Did I need to interview more people? Should I be in the US to do that? How was I going to match up the sound quality of all the different people?

I had no idea! Podcasting wasn’t yet a full-blown thing. And I didn’t even work in the radio industry, even though I’d started out in community radio. The truth was, I was a library technician, with creative aspirations.

So, I always felt guilty about not finishing this project.

However, there was also a few things conspiring in my favour.

I had found a new job in the music library of a radio station. And although I wasn’t working directly with audio, it put me back in touch with technical and creative people in this area, and I could start to branch out from my library work, more into sound and writing, with lots of good people around me to regularly talk to and get advice.

Then a few years into that, I managed to successfully pitch a feature documentary to ABC Radio National. I had already been working on a long blog post about the music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and how these great composers had influenced so many areas of modern music; and it suddenly occurred to me, that this would also work as a listenable documentary, like what I was planning with my Creepshow doco.

When I realized that there was a 50th anniversary of Dr Who coming up, I knew that it could be something that the ABC would be interested in, having long broadcast the show, and also, providing money for episodes to be made in the 80s.

I worked on this at home, over a nine month period, while still doing my normal library job at the other radio station. I interviewed six different people, and found music to intersperse with the narrative. Then, in the final month, I spent three days at the ABC, who helped by re-recording the narration and polishing it into something brilliant and listener-friendly. I got a lot of good feedback for it, and it was probably my first real creative achievement as an adult.

Although my radio career didn’t take off in the way that I thought it would, the experience still gave me the confidence to maybe finish my Creepshow documentary. During this time, I also had a friend who had reached out to me from the States, another Creepshow fan like me, but also a similar creative person, a music producer and filmmaker, and we regularly talked about this project.

In 2016, I was made redundant from my library job; which was a bit of a big blow at the time, but it inadvertently pushed me more into doing audio work, as I gradually shifted over into becoming a freelance podcast editor, thanks to the sudden and dramatic rise of the podcasting scene.

Then in 2018, Creepshow was rebooted as a TV series. My States-side friend suggested that this was the year to get it done. I abandoned the idea of going to the US and trying to interview more people; George Romero had passed away the year before, which had been very sad news. But I could also see that listeners were now used to single-interview podcasts, and did not really care necessarily for full-blown radio documentaries.

I threw myself back into it, doing a bit more research, and rewriting the narration. I then played it on a Halloween radio show that I run in October. It ended up being a kind of cottage industry project, self-made and self-distributed.

But I can honestly say that there are hundreds of hours of work in it, going all the way back to 2006, the amount of research in libraries that I did, books that I had read on John’s earlier music career, people I had written to about synthesizers in the US — and then all of the actual editing and mixing work, to make it as interesting and exciting as possible.

It’s actually something that I am very proud of. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders having finished it. It didn’t get the brilliant response that I was hoping for, but a few people gave me good feedback, including John Harrison, who in many ways, was the most important one, as he was the one who had given me a break by sending me an email, after producer Richard P. Rubinstein had forwarded a letter from me onto him (which I am eternally grateful for).

Anyway, it’s hard to know what to do in life. That’s a big lesson that we are all, always learning. But I do know that’s important to achieve the things you set out to do. The hardest thing is knowing what you should abandon, and what you should try and finish. Some projects that you set out to do, are just completely unrealistic; and they are the things you need to abandon them, as they will inevitably become time and money pits. But there are other projects and goals that do have a chance of being achieved; but you just need to re-scale them a bit, to give yourself some more leeway.

And to be honest, when I think of these two projects, and many of the other things I’ve done, I didn’t think I would get so much pleasure out of just making sounds and music for a grainy super-8 film . . .

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