17. April 2015 · Comments Off on Five Questions with “Skip Tracer” Director Zale R. Dalen – Part 2 · Categories: Feature Films, Five Questions with..., Ottawa · Tags: , , ,
Zale Dalen 2

Photo of Zale R. Dalen by Tim Johnson

I’m very surprised. I quite expected to be totally forgotten by now. Though I blush to say it, it seems that “Skip Tracer” is becoming Canada’s equivalent of “The Bicycle Thief”, an early film with historical value that few people have seen but which enjoys an amazing reputation”, replies director Zale R. Dalen when asked about the current interest in his film.

Set on the mean streets of Vancouver in the late 1970s, “Skip Tracer” is a free-wheeling private detective story with the twist that the detective is a loan agency’s debt collector hunting down ‘skips’ who have stopped repaying their loans.

Ottawa Indie Fest’s interview with Dalen continues in Part 2 about his first feature film which screens at the ByTowne Cinema on April 21st as part the Lost Dominion Collective Screenings on-going series of film screenings.

If you could remake Skip Tracer, what would you do differently if any and why?

After we released “Skip Tracer” I had any number of actual skip tracers and bill collectors talk to me, each with an amusing anecdote about their time in the business. For example, one man who was trying to collect for encyclopedias which, remember, were peddled door to door in those days, had the entire set dropped on him from the second floor window. Another told me about a “client”, furious at being harassed, who came into the office and cut off the manager’s necktie with a big knife, after which the manager took his file and threw it in the trash can.

I suppose if I were making “Skip Tracer” again I would try to give it a faster pace add more entertainment value, possibly by sprinkling it with these kinds of little scenes. I would try to leaven the film with more comedy. But some things are what they are. “Skip Tracer” may be one of them.

The original “Rocky” was released just as I was in the final stages of editing “Skip Tracer”. I went to see it in the theatre, and remember the audience rising to their feet during the final scene. The energy in the theatre was incredible, and I thought, well, that’s not what they are going to get with my movie. I’d like to deliver that some day. But that day I went back to my editing room and watched my movie and made peace with it. It is what it is, my best effort for that time in my life. If people still see some value in it, I’m delighted.

Skip Tracer Composite 3

Production stills from “Skip Tracer”

Could a film like Skip Tracer be made today?

Yes, and for even less money. In fact, when young film makers get over their infatuation with zombies and turn their attention to the real world, I expect some very interesting movies to come out of backyard film making or the artisan movie community.

Can you briefly tell us about your involvement in the making of the 4K version of the film?

I had very little to do with making the 4K transfer version. I had even forgotten that we’d put a virgin print into the Canadian archives. That transfer was the result of Paul Gordon (Lost Dominion Screening Collective) turning me on to the existence of the clean print of “Skip Tracer” which I deposited with the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) when the film was produced. My only involvement was to ask Tina Harvey of LAC to arrange the transfer. I’m grateful to both of them.

Are you surprised by the recent interest in Skip Tracer?

I’m very surprised. I quite expected to be totally forgotten by now. Though I blush to say it, It seems that “Skip Tracer” is becoming Canada’s equivalent of “The Bicycle Thief”, an early film with historical value that few people have seen but which enjoys an amazing reputation. Of course I hope that reputation is well deserved.

This is there anything else that you would like to add about the film or its Ottawa screening on April 21st?

I think all I’d like to say is that I’m not dead yet.

“Skip Tracer” was my first feature, and the beginning of a long and delightful adventure in movie making. I was the writer, director, and editor. I haven’t enjoyed the chance to be all of that on any subsequent project, or hadn’t until the arrival of the digital age. As I started my transition from Canadian enfant terrible feature film maker to old television hack, it seemed to me that the less I liked my work, the more people were watching it. Some of my television work was like a live action comic book, but brought in forty-five million viewers a week.

Around the turn of the millennium I got a large royalty payment from television work, and that allowed me to explore digital production. At that time, digital movies were making excuses for their technical quality, pretending to be documentary footage found in the woods, or interviews with a psychiatrist. Sound quality was generally terrible, and the camera was mounted on the head of a trained seal. I looked at the technology and thought, wow, this could actually make something that looks like a movie. I also saw the opportunity to throw off the industrial micro-management system of film production, where every scene is controlled by the AD and the production manager, with no room for experiments or… art.

So I got a group of actors together, with no script and only a general idea of what we wanted to make. The longest I’d ever had on a TV movie was about thirty shooting days. We took sixty four. We would shoot a scene. I would edit it. Then we would talk about where the movie seemed to be going and what we should do next and what we could put in to give the movie size and variety. It was like making a movie as an art form once again, the way it had all started. The result is “Passion”, already a historical artifact since it has taken 15 years, while we waited for Internet distribution to become a reality, for it to find a way to an audience. But if your viewers are curious about what can be done, they may find it interesting.

After they watch “Skip Tracer” they may want to go and take a look at the other end of my career – “Passion”.

Finally, thank you for your time and attention. I feel unworthy, but grateful.

Oh yeah, one last thing. I’m now exploring the world of webisodic production. That looks promising too. Film makers today are lucky to have the tools and opportunities we have now. When I started, you always began by begging for money. Now you can just go out and shoot something. I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see it.

Zale Dalen’s filmography in addition to “Skip Tracer” includes “Hounds of Notre Dame” (1980), “Terminal City Ricochet” (1990) and “Expect No Mercy” (1995). As well, he directed episodes of various TV series such as “Call of the Wild”, “Danger Bay”, “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues”, “21 Jump Street” and “The Beachcombers”.

The Lost Dominion Screening Collective presents Skip Tracer at the ByTowne Cinema on April 21st at 9:15pm. Based on a new 4K scan of an archival print, this will be the best projection of the film since its 1977 debut, and Ottawa audiences will get to see it first.

To learn more about the Lost Dominion Screening Collective and future screenings and events check out their website.

And check out Part 1 of Zale Dalen’s Interview and Five Questions With Lost Dominion’s Paul Gordon.

© 2015 Ottawa Independent Film Festival

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