Thursday May 14, 2015

Creators look back on late-night Toronto TV classic: 'Night Moves'

'Night Moves'

'Night Moves'

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It was 1986 in Toronto. That's when night owls tuning their TV sets found themselves weaving through the city's nocturnal streets. A jazz soundtrack plays in the background. Sam The Record Man makes a cameo.

Global Television's Night Ride was 'Slow TV' before 'Slow TV' was big (think Yuletide fireplace). Lately, we've been looking at the genre's resurgence - from Norway to a bubbling river in Ireland, where a YouTube video went viral. 

Bill Elliott and David Crone were the master-minds behind the experimental Night series. Elliott was the director and Crone the cinematographer. 

"There were three programs: Night Ride shot in a vehicle... Night Walk with David walking and Night Moves," Elliott tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off. 

That's right. There were only three episodes ever made. But, Global put them on repeat for seven years until 1993. The show aired from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.

All three variations of the program would not have been possible without Crone's skillful steadicam work. He helped create the floating first-person point-of-view. This was no easy task as Crone explains, "steadicams weigh about 70 pounds."

Elliott says he borrowed a friend's jeep to film the series, "so that Dave could have all the opportunities to look around." He explains that is why you never see the vehicle's windshield (it was folded down) or the door posts. They even removed the jeep's passenger seat.

Bill Elliott

Bill Elliott

The effect Crone created was so puzzling that Elliott recalls "for the longest time there were people that were having contests to see how was this actually shot?" Elliott says he's still amazed how Crone was able to get through TTC subway turnstiles so effortlessly. 

Film shoots would wrap around 1AM because there were so few city lights still on at that time. Also, most of the people had gone home. Crone explains,"it's nice to see a little bit of population moving in the various shots."

Equally puzzling were the reasons for creating the programs in the first place. Elliott quips: "Do you want the Global corporate spin or do you want the truth?"

Elliott says the program was primarily used as a revenue stream. Global received all royalties for the publishing and musical compositions — instrumentals featuring Canadian jazz heavy-weights and penned by Global vice president of production, Michael Spivak. 

He says at the time, the network expected to receive a huge music royalty pay-cheque. However, Global only collected about 10 per cent. He says that's because SOCAN — the body that distributes royalties to musicians and publishers — figured out what the network was doing. As a result, SOCAN created a new a law — meaning any music that played after midnight was only valued at 10 per cent.

David Crone

David Crone

Some of the local musicians who were featured include Guido Basso, Jimmy Dale, Mike Malone, Joe Sealy, Sara and David Hamilton and Sharon Lee Williams. 

The series quickly developed a following. As Crone explains, "I walked through Fran's restaurant on Yonge Street and everyone knew exactly what I was doing — there was no hiding at that point."

Elliott and Crone may have been ahead of their time and unknowingly helped pioneer the emerging genre of 'Slow TV'. 

As Elliott puts it, "I'm amazed why some people enjoy the fireplace channel or the fish bowl channel and yet this had some movement to it and some wonderful music to it, and some very talented musicians ... it was soothing."

Looking back, Crone thinks the program would still work today, "I was always interested in doing the other cities in Canada." Apparently, other cities were interested too. But it never happened. So, we'll never get to see Vancouver or Calgary, circa 1986, in the same way.

Night Moves Redux

It turns out our As It Happens intern John McGill filmed a redux of the series. This year, McGill and his friend, Noah McGillivray, filmed the same route that Night Ride took through Toronto's streets.

Two of the biggest challenges? All the modern-day light pollution made getting the balance just right really difficult. Also, some streets changed direction over the years. Temperance Street, for example used to be a two-way. Now, you can only drive east.

Check out their video here: