Arts and Culture

The Manatee

We now return to our feature presentation. . . after one more blasted PSA.

By Andrew Struthers 13 Jan 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Struthers is a writer and filmmaker based in Victoria.

Hinterland nature shorts formed my first impression of Canada. We lived in Prince George, and nobody would pay for TV spots, so the station showed Hinterland Who's Who every break until I wanted to strangle the flute player.

But making my own versions was a pile of fun, especially learning about the various critters. For example, I had no idea that the manatee's biggest threat comes from boat hulls, or that the Hindenburg announcer's voice sounds so high and emotional because he knocked the recording device with his elbow and changed the speed setting.

Manatee wrangling was easier than I had thought. While Joe Martin and I were shooting bears from his boat I filmed some harbour seals, and when I saw the footage I realized they could pass for manatees in a pinch. So I made a Sculpey manatee and filmed it in a fish tank on my dining room table, and floated a plan to fly to Florida during manatee mating season. But then realized I could just ask MTV to buy stock footage.

MTV is owned by Viacom, which has a back door deal with Getty Images, and this was the great thing about working with them. They got me stock footage of a manatee faster than you can say 'faceless multinational corporation', just as they had acquired the pop tunes I used in The Bear. The downside: I don't own Hinterland Tales, and until I snuck the clips onto YouTube for The Tyee, I couldn't even watch them, thanks to the licensing fences that have sprung up across the once trackless steppes of Cyberia.

When I finished The Manatee I decided I was done with Hinterland Tales. Creative freedom is only meaningful if you're making the right movie. I was keen to get to work on my Americanface series, but no matter how big a viral hit you have, the money boys don't want to fund your next idea; they want to fund your last one, over and over and over.

So I laid low until MTV seemed to forget I owed them another eleven clips, and I got to work on the experiment I call Americanface.

Like any experiment, the results have been unexpected. For example, almost no one wanted to watch the 90-second clips. The story turned out much less episodic than I had intended, and it's just frustrating to have to wait.

So for the second act, I'm going to post only the six-minutes portions, starting this Friday.  [Tyee]

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