Just Rewards

Ups and downs, highs and lows. Peaks and troughs, chutes and ladders, swings and roundabouts. 

Last night, sitting on my neighbors' porch at the so-called "magic hour" for cinematographers, with the very last of the sun just lingering in the tops of the tallest trees, I filled up the final page of the first 90-page notebook I have devoted to the making of A Place Sort Of.  Nothing fancy, just a plain spiral-bound notebook that I probably "borrowed" from one of the kids last fall. For the next volume I am graduating myself to the perfect-bound dusty leatherette of a thick vintage ledger book, meanwhile transcribing the previous volume before the 60-day window closes on my ability to read my own handwriting. Seriously, what is that stuff--upside-down Japanese? 

It was a gratifying act, finishing Volume I at precisely the right time of day for it. There was just enough squintable light on the dim porch for me to flip through the well-thumbed, now-glossy pages and read an entry here, and entry there, written with a variety of blue and black pens and fine-tipped markers.  The first entry is dated 10/13/15, shortly after my (second) nerve-shredding Kickstarter campaign made it just over the line at the 11th hour: flush with joy and love for once-and-future Missoulians everywhere, I determined to keep for posterity a record of every thrilling development of the movie's production and afterlife. Among the last few pages of this first volume, all from July 2016, are incorporated little drawings of Montana that reflect a new hobby of mine: asking people to draw the state from memory, no visual references, in less than a minute. My artist friend and neighbor Dave Lusk produced an excellent likeness in less than thirty seconds, twenty of which were spent clarifying some minor point of the rules before he actually started to draw. I allowed a visiting June West to go a little over the allotted time and my forbearance was rewarded with a real treasure.

Animation and journals are both mainly solitary undertakings and it's nice to have visitors. It has also occurred to me that this draw-Montana challenge would be a pretty good gimmick for collecting autographs: challenging visiting noteworthies to draw the state in which they are performing, giving a lecture, making a movie, etc. I bet Tom Araya has signed ten thousand autographs but never once been challenged to draw the shape of the country or state where Slayer was performing. 

Alas, I've never been a serious collector of anything. At one time I thought to start a collection of Scowling Fake Relatives by scouring estate sales and thrift shops for the type of very old photos that required people to sit perfectly still--apparently with additional encouragement to look as repressed as Lutheranly possible--for long periods of time during exposure. Scandinavians are a special kind of severe in those old pictures, so the scowlier the better. But I never go to garage or estate sales, and, without fail, as soon as I duck into a pawn shop or antique mall I instantly forget why I am there. My collecting fell off after a half-dozen or so acquisitions.

Also: I've never been able to stick to a journal before, either, which made it extra-gratifying to sit on the now-dark porch and reflect on nine months' chickenscratch over a cold Modelo. In fact, up until that moment I had been either having or recounting in writing one of the lousiest days I could remember from any of the previous nine months--personally, professionally, everything. I don't confess every last little private matter to this "making-of" journal, but I confide a lot in it, and in it a lot, and yesterday there was lots to confide.

I decided finally, though, that I didn't want the sun to set on me that way. So: for the last two pages, I literally took another page from my friend Guy Maddin, this time borrowing his habit of salting journals with so-called "Gatsby lists" full of personal shortcomings and then responding with often ludicrously ambitious and/or vague suggestions for immediate self-improvement. Sample from one of Guy's lists: "Work hard, be thoughtful, generate activity...[e]at properly, cycle, walk...[t]ake that hornet's nest out of your butt...." All suggestions worth considering; in double-checking the entry excerpted above, I realized my own list had very similar entries. 

I skipped the personal-shortcomings list and went straight for the self-improvements; two pages was just about right, bearing in mind that there would surely be more Gatsby reckonings and counter-lists to come. And so my spirits lifted a little on the now-gloomy porch. A slight breeze was rustling the locust hedge and the future would only be starting the following morning, with a new old notebook. 

/Andy S.

PS: Next month is THE month for most Kickstarter premiums to start going out. I think I was supposed to send a survey at some point last fall, but in any case if you sponsored A Place (Sort Of) at certain levels then you have some choices to make in the near future regarding prints and original paper-cuttings. This movie will not just make it through good times and bad but thrive by all of it. Thanks for checking in on us.


Will wonders never cease? Just last week I became the second-to-last man in Missoula to give up his flip-phone, and now this! Blogging! 

I used to take a certain amount of contrarian pride in things like not having an Instagram account, not having a blog, and of course, having to mash a button ten times on my old phone. Gradually I came around to the idea that learning to use Internet more efficiently, for better or worse, is pretty much a professional necessity. And also I starting thinking that making a better effort to stay in touch with Kickstarter backers and keeping them informed about progress on my Missoula documentary might be a pretty good idea, too. 

So this first, short update on A Place (Sort Of) is especially for you Kickstarter folks. Right off the bat you might have noticed that A Place (Sort Of), with parenthesis, is the new working title. There's a special place in my heart for those of you who actually tied your pledge to a say in the matter of punctuation; this is probably THE final version. As promised, you will be receiving the novelty oversize punctuation of your choice, affixed to a sturdy collectible postcard.

Speaking of rewards by mail: thank you all for waiting most patiently for the rewards you've still got coming. Next month is the month: poster will be finished, t-shirts probably too, and also the much-anticipated prints of Missoula landmarks in hand-cut silhouette. If you live In Missoula, I'd like to deliver in person, if you don't mind. At all events you'll be able to see what you're getting very soon. If that's your bag. Some people like to be surprised; I can arrange that, too. But hold on just a little longer...

As for the movie itself: Yes, there's been progress, and a good deal of it. Most of the pertinent materials in my existing archive have been digitized, and I've shot lots of new material (on Super 8 and 16mm) that is just waiting to be processed and scanned as well. Funds permitting, I'll be able to pay for high-quality transfers of some other people's private footage, too. Keep your eyes peeled for treasure in great aunt Mildred's attic!

Animation-wise I've also been keeping busy, basically starting at the beginning with scenes of Glacial Lake Missoula and the activities of Native Americans in the valley, particularly in Hellgate Canyon. I wouldn't say I'm at the halfway point in production yet, but with 45 minutes or so of exposed footage (time-lapse, etc. ) waiting for the process/scan treatment, I'd say I've shot more than half of what I plan to shoot new for this project. 

As I always tell people, A Place (Sort Of) is a thousand little tasks and things to monitor. I'd never be able to remember it all if I didn't write it down in a notebook/journal I've devoted to keeping some record of the production. I've never been very good about keeping to a journal, but this one has been a lifeline through a sprawling project, and I look forward to sharing the choice bits with you. It's full of lists and Missoula phenomena. I'm also lucky to have a part-time job as an archivist in a private collection where exciting new/old Missoula discoveries come to light all the time. I look forward to sharing those, too.  

So here's a start, then. By next installment maybe I'll have figured how to post some photos. Keep the faith!

/Andy S

A Place Sort Of: new headquarters on the internet!

Dear friends:

Welcome to the A Place Sort Of page, the brand-new imaginary production office of A PLACE SORT OF--the ultimate Missoula documentary! My name is Andy Smetanka, and I could hardly be more excited to gasp the first sputtering words of A PLACE SORT OF: the blog!

Here I will post bulletins from the production of A PLACE SORT OF, a bold experimental documentary feature combining new and vintage home-movie footage and startling animation to explore the aquifer of lore and mystery flowing just beneath the Garden City . Here I will occasionally send out APBs, looking for old photos and certain other types of evidence. Here you will learn about things you can buy and ways you can help. Here I will post the occasional interesting tidbit of Missoula-area lore and history, like this one: What is now Evaro Hill was once called something different, named after a Hawaiian trader killed there by the Blackfeet in the 1800s.

That's right, Hawaiian. Welcome to Missoula. Get to peeling back the layers, and even the history of your own street is wilder than you think. 

As you can see, I'm still getting all my stuffed moved in. Lots of photos and film clips to unpack, and the walls won't stay this bare for long. I hope this will be a regular salon of vintage Missoula studies, and that you will drop in again whenever you like to see how it'c coming along. Please make A Place Sort Of a regular thing to keep up with--now we've got Internet, there's no stopping us now!

More boxes to carry in, but feel free to look around the Voyageur site and see what's already been unpacked. Beer in the fridge,

/Andy Smetanka