THAT’S A WRAP!

In the late winter of 2018, Uriel, Tomoko and I made our first video together, a little sample of my teaching style, intended to promote my online tutoring service. Shortly after making it though, we saw its potential as an educational series, and set about building on it. ENGLISH WEIRDNESS was born in that moment, and here we are, two years later, having wrapped shooting on the final two episodes of what became a 10-episode season.

And it almost didn’t happen. A little less than than a month ago, Uriel and I had accepted that we would not make it to 10 episodes, that the 8 we had shot already would be as far as we could take the series, having run out of the financial backing we had been given by our partners at Sakata Minami high school in Japan, and time with which to shoot it. He and I both had travel planned, and he will begin film school at the end of February.

It was then that my beloved wife Yuka came forward and suggested financing the completion of the series with her own resources. Could we really do it? There was one weekend available on which Uriel and I would both be in Vancouver. That is, if he returned from his family vacation in Mexico a bit early. We decided to go for it. He’d return a few days before his family, and we’d shoot the final two episodes.

But wait, there was no script. The original scripts I had written for eps. 9 & 10 were useless because they involved performers and locations no longer available, or not yet available until summer. I did have, however the commitment from Aya, a co-star in episode 4 with whom I had planned to eventually feature in an episode. She committed to starring in the new episode. So, with her in mind, I began writing. Like crazy.

A VERY committed performer

The result was a final, two-part single episode now called AYA MOVES THE BIG CITY, and, surprisingly, it features, I think, some of my own best writing.

The, it was finding Aya a co-star. When teaching colleague of mine, Rafael, agreed to be in it, I was able to revise the script to fit him more closely. After a short volunteer campaign, we had built a crew of students who committed to the project. Logistics came next: scheduling, arranging props, organizing costumes, and clearing everything with my employer, who kindly allows us to shoot on its campus, food, supplies, and choosing the camera rental package. It was a ton of work, but when the day came, we were ready.

The shoot itself was grueling. Pressed for time to cover the material and access the locations, limited by the availability of the stars, and tested by the capricious Vancouver weather (the script called for exterior city scenes), and the parchingly dry air inside the school ‘studio’, over three days, the volunteer Weirdos, Uriel, Aya, Rafael and I managed to pull it off.

There were frustrating compromises, as always. Several pages of dialogue were cut from the schedule, and we ran out of time to shoot some coverage that I had really wanted to help bring the dramatic scenes to life. This, however, is the nature of filmmaking: you never get exactly what you envisioned, and the artistic challenge is to use what you DO capture to make the original vision come to life, and not just the way you intended, but better. That’s now my job. Over the next few months, I’ll be working hard editing not only this episode but the remaining two that were shot in the summer.

Thus, it will be some time before AYA MOVES THE BIG CITY is released. But, thanks to all the tireless support from our financial backers, and student volunteer crew, the great performances by Aya and Rafael, and of course, the creative and technical contributions of my most amazing collaborator from the start, Uriel, I can now say with certainty that this final episode will be a wonderful way to end this little video series that grew.

Paul thanks Uriel for the two years of his life he gave to WEIRDNESS

We don’t know what the future holds for English Weirdness, whether or not we’ll make another season of it. I’m going to try in the coming year to take it to the next level, and see what is possible, but nothing is guaranteed. I’ll also focus on making short-form videos in the “5-MINUTE MYSTERIES” series. As for Weirdness, all that is certain is what we have accomplished in these past two years, because the results are plain for anyone to see on Youtube and other platforms. Together the Weirdos and I have created something that might outlive all of us. That’s pretty cool. And a little weird.

So, to all of you who have supported us, participated in shooting, donated funds to us, encouraged us, or simply watched our videos, from the depths of my heart, thank you.

-Paul

Now Playing: Halloween Weirdness

After months of work, our latest episode of English Weirdness, a very special Halloween episode, is now playing on Youtube.

I am especially proud of everyone who helped make this video possible, and it was far from easy. We faced a gruelling shoot, and a long and challenging post-production. Now, our goal is to introduce ENGLISH WEIRDNESS to new viewers everywhere.

So, please SHARE this video. “Likes’ are nice, but they don’t get our videos in front of eyeballs, and there are millions of English learners in the world who might enjoy our series if they only knew about it. Please help us Spread The Weirdness. Share the Youtube link, this website link, or anything you can to let others know about our series.

In case you’re wondering–this isn’t about making money; it’s about sharing my love of crazy and weird English with others who can learn from it. Enjoy the new video everyone.

And happy Halloween!

-P

Sakata Students Meet Aya and Guilherme

In our most recent ENGLISH WEIRDNESS video, a multi-cultural couple, Gui and Aya, confuse each other with their weird article usage. Several people have commented that the acting in this scene was very good, that the performers really seemed to be a bickering couple.

The truth is, these performers had never met each other before the day we shot that scene. The result is a testament to the great performances by both Guilherme Cariani and Aya Hioki, and the coaching they received from Felipe Cesarini, our performance advisor.

Last night, in our latest online class with Sakata Minami high school in Japan, the students had a chance to review the grammar analyzed in this episode, as well as interview both Guilherme and Aya about their experiences learning English and studying in Canada.

As usual, the students had interesting and challenging questions for me, and made me think carefully several times. I love their curiosity and dedication to figuring out even the most complex English language issues. Good job!

-P

Now Playing!

It took longer than we wanted to make this release happen, but ladies and gentlemen, our latest episode of English Weirdness is now playing.

Thank you to all our viewers and supporters for making this episode possible. And, thank you to all the “Weirdos”, the talented and dedicated student volunteers who acted, assisted and produced this project with me.

Please help us spread the WEIRDNESS to all the English language learners out there in the world who might find these videos useful and enjoyable. SHARE this post, or any of the myriad other postings I’ve made, on your social media platforms, connect your networks to mine, or subscribe to our Youtube channel. Together we can expand our network of viewers, bring ENGLISH WEIRDNESS to learners worldwide, and continue to make these videos.

Thanks for watching everybody, and remember, WEIRDNESS IS COOL!

-Paul

Episode 8: Longest Episode, Longest Shoot.

This past weekend, the English Weirdness team and I completed photography of our longest episode, and longest shoot to date. Intended as our special Halloween episode, and scheduled for release in early October, episode 8 was written as the first of our new 30-minute episode formats. This longer-form video may not suit those in search of quick Youtube thrills or tutorials, but English Weirdness has always been intended for a curious audience determined to learn and understand English on a deeper, more meaningful level. Shooting this monster, however, involved far more time, and in the end spanned over three entire shooting days over a three-month period.

After intense preparations in June, we began shooting this episode on a Monday evening in July, at the ELS school campus where I work and where most of the Weirdos have studied and graduated from, after classes finished at 4pm. It was a regular school day, so the school was packed with students and noise until they vacated the building after 4. We needed to shoot the video at night to get the right spooky effect for our scary story’s needs. We began setting up and shooting soon after 4, and worked non-stop late into the night.

The shots we captured were amazing, the performances great, but by the time we got to around 0400, it was clear that everyone’s energy, ability to concentrate and think clearly, were close to spent, even though we had only shot about 1/3 of the 30-page script. After a brief conference, Uriel and I chose to wrap the shoot, send everyone home to rest (most of us had to either work or attend class the following morning), and schedule another shooting day to complete the episode.

Cut to: August 10/11, and the re-shoot. We shot all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, both days from 0800 until close to midnight. It was exhausting, but by the time we wrapped Sunday night, we had captured everything we needed, with very little compromise, to complete episode 8.

That brought to a close a very intense, grueling and busy summer of shooting English Weirdness. The EW season is not done–we’ll shoot the last two episodes in the winter–but we’ve got enough material to move into an Autumn packed with editing and releasing several new episodes. As well, at some time in October or November, EW will move to its own “TV” channel, on which you can subscribe or view the various episodes, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. Nonetheless, it is nice to feel a bit of relief at having gotten ‘in the can’ a summer’s worth of great footage. I am thrilled to have been able to watch the EW team accomplish what they have. This time, we added some new members, or ‘Weirdos’. Camilo joined us as our Uriel’s Camera Assistant/Gaffer/Sound Recordist, and did a great job. Eduardo joined Guilherme in providing all-round muscle and production assistance. Aaron returned to provide me assistance supervising script and continuity. Their hard work and dedication to realizing the Weirdness vision, as always, inspires me to continue this project. So, onward we go. Next step: editing and releasing.

Hyeri gets into character

Weirdos Go the Distance!

I’m always amazed and touched when we shoot an episode of English Weirdness. The efforts and dedication of our small band of volunteer ‘Weirdos’, almost all of whom have precisely zero experience with film-making, are unfailingly impressive.

Over the past weekend however, these efforts assumed new heights when we did a marathon four-day shoot of three new episodes. Our plan was to maximize our shooting budget by hammering out three full episodes worth of material in one stretch. It sounded good on paper.

Beginning on Friday afternoon, working well past midnight, then onto Saturday morning until after midnight again, the same on Sunday, and then onto Monday. Monday of course, we all had school; the students needed to get their tired butts into class, and I of course, had to teach. Then came 4pm. That’s when we began shooting our special Halloween episode 8. We shot and shot, deep into the night, until Uriel and I made the decision to act responsibly and wrap the shoot. It had become clear that our team was exhausted, our performers getting incoherent, and with my own cognitive capacities fading, things like safety and health had to take priority.

So we got two full episodes completed over the weekend and half of episode 8 done on the Monday night. Wrapping the shoot and striking the camp halfway was certainly the responsible choice, but I did feel somewhat disappointed and frustrated for the team, who had already given so much of their time and effort.

In the end, we opted to schedule one more day in a couple weeks to complete episode 8. This involves calling the team back in for another day of effort, which I know is asking a lot. But, in true Weirdo fashion, everyone agreed and seemed ready to go for it. As ever, Team Weirdo remained singularly dedicated to producing this series. What this says about the series or me, I can’t say. But it says a hell of a lot about these young Weirdos, their willingness to get involved in an unusual and challenging project for which there are no immediate rewards, other than some decent pizza (in lieu of pay!).

All I can say, to each and everyone of you hammering Weirdos, is THANK YOU. I am forever grateful for knowing you and being your teacher.

Sakata Students Meet Diego

This past week, we held another online class with the keen students from Sakata Minami High School in Yamagata, Japan. As always, the all-girl class impressed us with their interesting questions and curious thoughts. In fact, they even had me ‘on the ropes’ for a moment when one of them asked me a tough question I wasn’t sure at first how to answer. These, in fact, are my favorite type of questions, so…well done girls!

Having watched English Weirdness, episode 2, the girls were eager to interview the star of that video, Diego Molina. Wearing a longer beard than he sported in the video, I think he surprised the girls, who nonetheless seemed to enjoy meeting him. Diego told them about his experience as an international student, coming from Venezuela to Canada five years ago. He has since made Vancouver his home, and even married a Canadian.

There were some guests online with us too. Apparently, over 30 educators from around Yamagata prefecture were in attendance to see what this Global Skills program is all about, and perhaps too, who this weird Canadian English Instructor is. By all accounts they were impressed with our project and have taken an interest. Who knows? Maybe they will join our little revolution in English education in Japan, and help us Spread the Weirdness.

The Weirdness Has Begun–in Japan!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 marked the first time I, along with the English Weirdness team, met the English students of Sakata Minami High School in Yamagata, Japan, in an online video ‘class.’

As you may recall, in 2018 Sakata’s inspiring Principal Ms. Hiroko Nakahara and English Weirdness established a working relationship wherein the students of Sakata’s innovative and revolutionary English-as-Global-Skill program would view and study our videos as part of their English curriculum. In addition, we agreed to meet in an online video conference regularly, so the students could discuss the videos, and the language issues presented in them, directly with us. Wednesday evening was the first of these meetings. In attendance was myself, the original Weirdness team of Tomoko and Uriel, Nakahara-sensei, her colleagues Ikumi-sensei, Yokose-sensei, a contingent of local media there to cover the event, and of course, the students.

And…WOW!

Student: “Teacher Paul, what is your favorite song?”
Paul: “Uh….”

These students were very impressive indeed. We were all a little nervous, but after some interesting introductions in which the students explained their hobbies and interests, we began our discussion of English grammar and learning in general. The students were attentive, taking notes as I spoke. They were eager to ask questions, exactly what we had hoped for in providing the model of teacher-student interaction we depict in the English Weirdness videos. I’m not sure whether it is our model that has inspired this in them, or Sakata’s teachers and program, but it was encouraging to see, because it is often a challenge for Japanese learners of English to assert reveal their doubts by asking questions.

In addition to their interesting and insightful language questions, which I think I managed to comfortably answer, they asked me several interesting and insightful personal questions, which I managed to uncomfortably provide no answer for. Real stumpers! They asked me, for example, what my favorite song was, and I had no idea what to say. I guess I’m better at being put on the spot for grammar questions than questions about my own interests; something to remember when asking similar questions of my students.

The featured student-performer of English Weirdness episode 1, Tomoko, also joined in the meeting. As a Japanese student who came to Canada to study, the Sakata students were also excited to ask her about her own experiences. I think her responses may have inspired the Sakata students to think about studying abroad themselves, so maybe we need to develop a Weirdness exchange and host the student for a visit to Canada.

It was only the first meeting of what will be many. As each new episode of Weirdness is released and presented to the Sakata students, there will be more of these online meetings to review. But if this first one was any indication, the collaboration between us English Weirdos and the inspiring students of Sakata Minami school is off to a great start.