A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…

On Tuesday I headed to Santa Monica. Two dear friends of mine had invited me to a private screening of a film they’d just completed, one as writer+director, the other as producer. The film was a labour of love, and I’d not heard much about its progress since earlier in the year, and so I was delighted to be back in town to go to it. I took a friend along, and we decided to leave early enough to go to the beach for a little while – the traditional antidote to the high heat of the last several days.

To cut a long story medium, at some point I was wading up to my knees in the water. I’d just replied in reassurance that I’d be quite fine still wearing my glasses (with sunglasses attachments on) since I was not going to swim when a larger than average wave surged forward and knocked me off my feet with such stunning force that I thudded to the bottom on my knees, and my face and hands got tangled up in seaweed! Moments later, the undertow pulled everything back I and I was standing back up, fumbling with seaweed, and missing my glasses! This began a period of considerable activity at the sea, with large surges and strong pullback so that it was difficult to stand still to look for anything, and moreover, it was impossible to see anything since the sand was churning around too much.

It all seemed very funny to me. It was clear after a while that there’d be no reappearance of my glasses. No amazing story where the sea threw them back out after a while, twisted, maybe missing the arms, but at least useable for some kind of vision… There were simply no glasses to be had. Luckily, my friend had driven us, so I did not have to worry about that. There was little time to dash back home to get an old pair and return for the screening. I’d have to figure out how to manage without them. Now bear in mind that I am very short sighted indeed. If I was sitting five feet from the screen I’d still not be able to focus. There was nothing to be done to get some glasses. (I know you’re thinking about off-the-shelf glasses people sometimes buy in the pharmacy, but those are reading glasses, for people with long sight…)

So after enjoying the beach a little more (rather than panicking and getting all worked up and spoiling the time there), we headed for the screening. I’d called my optometrist to get my prescriptions (for both glasses and contact lenses – apparently I’d got measured for the latter 8 years ago… right now, anything close enough to get me some partial vision was good enough), and stopped by a lenscrafters to see if they might have some contact lenses that might be close. That failed spectacularly. They did not really understand the situation, and moreover for legal reasons they could not give anything that was not a perfect match approved by my optometrist… Somehow I knew that faxing back and forth, further explanations to both parties about why I needed vision within the next 30 minutes, and so forth, was going to be aggravating and ruin a nice afternoon, so I thanked them and headed out. I figured I could at least listen to the film…

Then I had an idea. What if I made a pinhole in a screen of some kind? That ought to get me some sharpness, but how much? As we drove along for the short ride to the screening room, I decided to test the idea. I tore a rectangular strip of paper and made a pinhole and held it close to my eye. It worked. I had a nice focused image. Hurrah for physics! After some trial and error, I managed to make a pair of holes the right distance apart, and fashion a triangular cutout for my nose to go through to help support the whole thing. I looked through again to see just how much detail I could see. There was a car ahead and so I decided to see if I could read the license plates and so I looked and, as unbelievable as it is, the plates were private plates reading “FOCUS 9”. (Yes. This is how my universe sometimes works. Later that evening, after telling that part of the story to a fiction-writer friend of mine over dinner, she said that in her teaching, if one of her students had that element in the story, she’d advise them that it was a little much… a little unbelievable…)

My conjecture was that this was too good to be true since although I was getting enough focus outside in the daylight, it would not work in the screening since there’s a lot less light for a film, and moreover it is a noir film… so 90% of it is moody night scenes… But I had no choice but to test it anyway.

Remarkably, it worked. I was able to sit in the front row of the very nice plush seats (it’s a very fancy screening room), and then hunker down and hold the paper strip steady on my face while shielding it from being seen by the people around me. I did not want to distract people, especially since the other 12 or so people filling the room were fancy industry-types who I did not want put off the film by seeing the weirdo with the paper mask – the film still needs a distribution deal after all!

So, physics saved the day, as it so often does. The film (“A New York Heartbeat”) was just great as well! The performances by the excellent cast were very good, and it was very well written and directed by my friend Tjardus. It was, of course, beautifully photographed. (I’ll see it again so that I can properly appreciate the lovely wide shots and overall framing and composition that you miss by having a narrower field of vision than normal.) Tjardus and I have had a number of conversations about our favourite cinematographers in the past. He’s an excellent one himself (he was DP on those two short films I made back in 2009 – see here and here), having worked on numerous documentary films, and this film is his first feature film as director (he also wrote it). I hope you get to see the film. It is really very good indeed, so I hope it finds a distributor.

I spent the rest of the evening in a visual haze, mostly just listening to the people around me while having dinner with two friends of mine, and reaching out as much as I could with my other senses to navigate the world. It is something I remember doing a bit when I was much younger, and it was good to do it for an evening after so long, especially after having been focusing so much the last two years on looking really hard at the world in an enhanced way due to being in permanent sketching mode (which you’ve read a lot about in other posts).

The story is not quite over. I felt bad about one main thing overall, and that was the fact that I would not be able to get my glasses replaced with a good match in time for something I promised to do in a few days: Some re-shoots for a film a friend of mine is making. You’ll maybe recall I mentioned a small participation in a film way back in the Fall of last year. Well, this weekend sees another batch of shooting, and I’ve got to match what I looked like back then as additional footage is needed for various scenes… Well, that’s why I felt a bit bad – I was concerned that my glasses won’t match!

I’ve since established that it won’t be a huge problem. I found my previous pair of glasses for temporary use until I get my new ones, and they are not too dissimilar a shape from the old ones. They were a bit beaten up but I got them fixed up a little and they’ll do. Apparently the nature of the scene I’m in is such that it should not be too apparent that my glasses have changed a little bit! The director, JW, thinks that it is unlikely that the audience would notice that detail during all the other stuff that is supposed to be going on behind me as I deliver my lines (which I’d better go and internalize now). We shall see.


Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…

  1. Dennis Johnson says:

    I have lived my life with the help of glasses since I was 8 years old. They are not some thing I put on but are a part of me. Being very far sighted my glasses are not a curse but a blessing. If I had a choice to see only one medical professional in my life it would be my optometrist. It is too bad the person behind the counter at the optical shop does not know just how important their job is. For them is is a paycheck, for me it the ability to be a productive member of society.

  2. Carol&Co says:

    How ironic that this should happen when we had discussed acquiring a spare pair of my uptodate presciption a couple of weekends ago! Thank God for physics! Hope all goes well for the new ones. cmj+zja

  3. Mark Peifer says:

    I love the pinhole story, especially given your life and work. I have occasionally relied on that myself (you can make a not very satisfactory pinhole with thumbs and index fingers) but have never thought about a “true” pinhole in a piece of paper. I’ll be that works much better–I’ll give it a try.

    PS in an ironical twist, I cannot get the correct captcha code–maybe I need new glasses

  4. Clifford says:

    Mark:- The only difficult thing is having to guess the eye separation… trial and error on another piece of paper is the way I did it, then transferring over the final holes to the new paper.



  5. Clifford says:

    Dennis: – Yes, it is at times like that one realizes just how vital one’s corrective lenses are…


  6. Gleanne Marie says:

    YAY PHYSICS!!!! I am terribly short-sighted as well, and there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to see. I am going to experiment with your method today. Tell me why/how it works? I know it’s physics, but is it a little magic, too? 🙂 Have a lovely Saturday!

  7. Clifford says:


    You maybe saw or even made a pinhole camera in school? Or perhaps saw my earlier posts on watching the partial eclipse or the transit of venus using pinholes? Al the same sort of thing. You can get an idea of how they work by looking at the ray tracing diagrams that are typically drawn for these things. There are many sources on the web, for example here. Don’t worry about the diffraction bit if it is unfamiliar.