Beginnings – Rick Patton

January 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I made a short film in 1964. It was a 12 minute surrealistic film about romance gone wrong. It was 16mm black & white. It was the beginning of a 10-year career as an underground filmmaker. I guess I made about 7 or 8 films. I did everything on those films, camera, sound, and editing. I even did my own optical printing with a homemade printer. It was a great time to be an art-based filmmaker. I never made a nickel doing it, but it didn’t matter. I did all sorts of odd jobs to pay my lab bills. I worked as a camera assistant on an animation stand, as a cameraman shooting high-school football games, freelance stills photographer, lab technician, longshoreman, welder, and carpenter. At some point I got tired of the art scene. I never liked Andy Warhol.

I left the big city and lived on Quadra Island for several years. I built houses and worked on fishing boats. It was a lot more satisfying than making art films. I realized after a while that I was destined to work for a living. Then I met Ron Orieux. Ron is one of Vancouver’s top DOP’s now, but in 1973 he was just getting started. He was making a CBC documentary about the arts scene on the Gulf Islands. We hit it off. I looked him up when I moved to Vancouver. He told me about the SFU Film Workshop. I went there and met a great group of Vancouver Filmmakers and basically got on my feet in the Vancouver Film scene.

Ron was getting busy and I worked as his camera assistant off and on for several years. I also worked with Tony Westman, Doug McKay, and several guys from the NFB. I was on the fast track to be a cameraman. I was doing my first feature as a camera assistant, working for Manfred Goethe. It was a Mexican horror movie. I kept watching the sound mixer. Unlike me, nobody was yelling at him. In fact, no one seemed to tell him what to do, at all. Unlike me, he seemed to be having a good time. He went through the whole movie like that. It made a big impression on me. I started talking to him. Turns out it was his first feature film too. His name was Larry Sutton. Larry was kind enough to show me around his Nagra and I was hooked. On the next Mexican horror movie I went in as Larry’s boom operator. Fortunately Larry found better boom operators since then and now he’s one of the top feature mixers in North America.

I never went back to camera after that. I bought a Nagra and worked as a freelance sound man for the next 10 years, much of it with the NFB. I traveled all over Canada, and around the world. Many of my jobs were with the same camera guys, Orieux, Westman, and McKay. I loved the NFB. They even let me direct a couple of shows. I also did work for CBC, BBC, and PBS. For a 30-something guy like me, this was about as cool a career as you could ask for.

By the mid-80’s the feature and series work started to pick up dramatically. I started getting calls. I had done a few Indie-Vancouver features like “Skip Tracer” and I want’d to play with the big boys. I got sucked right into it. I did a lot of feature and series mixing for the next 10 years.

As most crew members know, it’s like running away to join the circus. It’s very focused and intense work. I loved it. Most movies I worked on, the work experience was way more satisfying than the finished film. By the mid-90’s I was at the top of my game. I had Bob Altman’s home phone number. I was discussing film theory with Jean-Jacques Annaud and having lunch with Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, however, even “A” List mixers find themselves doing dumb movies made by assholes. The problem for me was, I was getting testy. For the most part, no one likes attitude on a sound mixer. You have to know when to suffer fools gladly. As an older guy with a lot of experience I find it gets harder and harder to bite your tongue.

I have three kids. I missed most of one kid’s childhood and 1/2 of the second kid’s. It felt overdue to put more time into being the Dad. I took the opportunity to rethink my career one more time. I decided to leave the Circus and set up the Circus Supply store. In 1997, I started Location Sound Ltd., Sales and Rentals for film and video production. I opened this business just in time to catch the first wave of non-linear, file-based location recorders. It’s a paradigm shift that’s sweeping through production sound recording. It’s a growing and evolving technology and it will keep me out of trouble for the next few years. I stay in touch with the senior mixers and boom ops I came up with, and I get to meet the new mixers as well. Even though I’ve stepped back from the circus and the hours, I’m just as involved in the world of production as ever. I’d get a real job but I can’t remember how to do anything else.

Rick Patton

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