Following the positive reception of “The Puck Crisis”, I was assigned to write another short film for The Terrific Hour. That’s the problem with success – they always want you to do it again. Failure is easy. You mess up and it’s over. No one ever says,
“That was terrible, but we believe you can do even worse. Back to work!”
On the other hand, you do something good and it’s like,
“Splitting the atom was commendable, Professor Einstein. Now what else have you got?”
My advice: Do yourself a favor – fail quickly and be done with it. You’re going to fail eventually. Why not get it out of the way early and move on?
“Sometimes I read your stuff in the morning and I go straight back to bed.”
What can I tell you? You’re welcome.
My follow-up Hart and Lorne filmette was the “Baffin Island” movie.
Baffin Island is a remote and, at the risk of insulting its inhabitants, bleak and desolate, lobster-shaped island, lying just north of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay. Baffin Island is surprisingly (to me at least) the fifth largest island in the world. Which is something for its (as of 2008) eleven thousand inhabitants to crow about.
“We’re bigger than England!” (Although they have sixty-four million less people. Which is great, if you like “elbow room.”)
For the writer, a geographical and socio-cultural ignoramus…
Baffin Island is the quintessential metaphor for…
So how does that feel? … Was the premise of my mini mock documentary.
Okay, so here’s the backstory. Which prefaced the filmette.
The Baffin Island postal service had written to Ottawa (Note to Americans: That’s Canada’s capital city) requisitioning new hats for its postal workers. Ottawa subsequently responded by shipping the requested hats, but they were egregiously oversized.
(INSERT: Snapshot of chagrined Baffin Island postal worker wearing a plastic-visored postal worker cap falling down over his eyes. It would have fallen even further had its downward progress not be impeded by his nose.)
Urgent follow-up requests to ameliorate the situation were entirely ignored. This made the snubbed Baffin Islanders felt like nobody was paying attention. So the island’s inhabitants held a meeting and they decided upon a drastic resolution:
Baffin Island would secede immediately from Canada.
Their representatives sent an official letter announcing their departure to Ottawa.
But nobody paid any attention.
So they proceeded with their plan: They would establish the independent nation of Baffin Island.
The real work was now about to begin. It was a new country. And they needed just about everything.
First – Their own language.
It is hard to come up with an entirely new language. Ask Israel. Israel, of course, had the advantage of Old Testament Hebrew to draw on. But a lot of new things had been invented since Moses and harried Israeli philologists were responsible for filling in the gaps.
“I studied the entire Pentateuch. There is no word for ‘soap dish.’”
To mitigate this mammoth linguistic undertaking, Baffin Islanders decided to make things a little easier for themselves. Rather than devising an entirely new language, Baffin Islanders decided instead to take words they already knew – English words – and simply anoint them with alternate meanings.
CUT TO: A university lecture hall (actually at the University of Toronto)
An accredited Baffin Island linguistics professor stands before a gathering of
of “Baffin Island adults” (one of whom was myself, acting colder and further north), drilling them in the new national patois, “Baff-Lang”:
“All right class, repeat after me: For “The man put it pen on the table”, we will now say, “The chair put the shoe on the banana.”
The class dutifully repeated:
“The chair put the shoe on the banana.”
Next: A Baffin Island National Anthem.
For this, they held an island-wide contest, candidates coming in and auditioning their proposed anthems. Again, so as not to require its citizens to learn an entirely new melody, familiar tunes were appropriated and provided original, new lyrics.
To the tune of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic “Oklahoma”:
Where the snow comes blowing in your face…”
To the tune of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”
“This land is your land
This land is my land
It isn’t Thailand
No, it’s Baffin Island…”
To the tune of “The Birthday Song:
“Baffin Island to you
Baffin Island to you
Baffin Island to you.”
And those were the good ones.
The flag was easier to select. Unanimously, the approved representative banner would be a totally uncolored, flag-sized sheet of fabric, its decoration representing “Snow, on a white background.”
Everything was now ready. On the appointed “Independence Day”, every inhabitant of the island (and their huskies) gathered inside the meeting hall, and, with their hearts pounding with excitement, the national “colors” (so to speak) were hoisted up the flagpole for the very first time, as the venue reverberated with the singing of the contest’s winner – and the world’s newest “National Anthem”…
To the tune of “God Save The Queen”:
“Ba-a-ffin I-island, Ba-a-ffin I-island
Ba-a-ffin I-island, Ba-a-ffin I-island, Ba-a-a-afin I-island
The commemorative fireworks were cancelled, as it was a blisteringly cold day and nobody wanted to stand outside and watch them.
The final order of business: The Economy.
How would the new country support itself?
To face economic survival, Baffin Islanders needed to seriously ask themselves: What does Baffin Island have in greater abundance than almost any place else in the world?
An unheated warehouse where you could see your breath when you worked. (We filmed in a meat packer’s “Ice House.” Once again, I was an “extra”. We shot this in the summer. During breaks, when we went outside, it was a hundred. When we went back in, it was thirty-two. I’m surprised I didn’t get Legionnaires’ Disease then.)
Baffin Island exported prefabricated “Snowman Kits” – “Coal Eyes and Carrot Nose Included.”) They sent (suitably insulated) sheets of ice for rich kids’ birthday parties in Florida. Working at conveyor belts, they packed cases of snowballs, ordered by the desperate suitors of the daughters of South American dictators, who’d commanded,
‘Bring me a snowball and you may marry my daughter.”
And that’s all I remember.
“Baffin Island” may have had less of an impact than “The Puck Crisis”, but it worked well enough for me to be asked to write yet another mini-movette, which I shall tell you about tomorrow.
Do you see what happens when you do something right?
The demands never end.
Until you fall on your ass.
Which means, unless you are savvy enough to retire or fortunate enough to die,
The last thing you do is inevitably a failure.