Preserved Stories Blog


Pen Densham and John Watson founded Insight Productions in 1970

I’ve really enjoyed writing a comment at a previous post in response to a comment from Colleen O’Marra regarding The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Bob Clampett and Tweety Bird

I look forward to learning more about John Huston:

Author Note: John Huston

The message from Colleen O’Marra will motivate me to do more research about John Huston and Walter Huston – and about Warner Brothers.

Among the people that I met when I did freelance work in the late 1970s for a film magazine called Cinema Canada was Bob Clampett (1913–1984), the Warner Brothers animator who was the co-creator of Bugs Bunny. As well, he was the creator of Tweety Bird. Clampett was very perceptive, and had a great sense of humour.

Animation is a form of acting in which the animator is the person who acts out the scenes. On a visit to Toronto in the late 1970s, Clampett spoke of how he used to take a walk along the beach, in California by the ocean where he lived, rehearsing the performances of animated characters, in the mornings before his day of work as a Warner Brothers animation artist. That’s an image that has stayed in mind: The young Bob Clampett walking along a beach in California acting out his scenes.

Thinking about animation as acting also brings to mind that screenwriting and producing can also readily involve role play and the acting out of scenes – in the writing of scripts and the selling of them.

Disney’s “Nine Old Men”

I also had the opportunity, when working with Cinema Canada, to report on a visit to Toronto by two of the original “Nine Old Men” who set up the Walt Disney animation studio:

Mental imagery, as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston explain in their 1978 talk in Toronto, played a key role in the portrayal of Walt Disney’s animated characters

As well, in a recent post I’ve discussed a great presentation that I enjoyed as a child in Montreal by Clarence Nash, the actor who enacted the voice of Donald Duck.

Riding the Alligator (2011)

Among other people that I was pleased to meet as a film writer were Pen Densham and John Watson who after an impressive start in Toronto moved on – with help from Norman Jewison – to great careers in Hollywood. Densham has written a book about screenwriting: Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing – and Not Getting Eaten (2011).

More information, including links to YouTube videos about Pen Densham’s book, can be found here.

Densham and Watson’s Toronto film company, Insight Productions, produced a wide range of well-received films including the documentary “Life Times Nine,” which received an Academy Award nomination in 1973. In 1978, John McLeod Brunton, Jr., assistant editor and director with Insight Productions, bought the rights to Insight from Densham and Watson. An update on the company’s impressive current work can be found here.

Other successful filmmakers I recall from those years include Michael Chechik of Vancouver and Joe Koenig of Toronto. It was great to meet each of the individuals that I’ve mentioned because such meetings helped me understand the origins of their achievements.

Canadian filmmaking

An overview of the Canadian film industry between 1968 and 1988 is available in Film Policy: International, National, and Regional Perspectives (1996). The study is available at Google Books. As well, Norman Jewison offers his perspective on the history of the Canadian film industry in This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me: An Autobiography (2004).

In the latter book Jewison remarks (p. 27) with regard to his travels after the Second World War: “In Canada we seemed to be suspicious of anything too successful.” That’s one of the little details about Canadian life that I picked up pretty quickly in my years as a freelance writer. My sense is that now success in the industry is more likely to be seen as a regular part of life than was the case in the past.

In his autobiography Jewison adds (p. 30): “I have always wanted to tell stories that grab an audience, stories that hold your attention. But what really fascinates me are the ideas behind the stories. Racism and injustice are two themes I have come back to, again and again, in my films.”

The current Canadian film scene stands in contrast to the 1970s. An April 25, 2014 Toronto Star article is entitled: “We shoot, we score at Cannes: a record 3 Canadian films compete for Palme d’Or.”

The subhead reads: “It once seemed crazy to think three Canadian films could compete for the fabled Palme d’Or at Cannes. That was then and this is ‘wow.'”

Some aspects of the narrative remain unchanged, however. An April 24, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Catch a Canadian movie. That’s an order.”

The print version of the article, published on April 25, 2014, reads: “Why aren’t we watching more Canadian movies?”

 

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