Ernie the Spaceman was actually an Ernie key chain, a mascot from Expo '86, a World's Fair held in Vancouver, BC. He seemed just unique enough to not be recognizable, and before I started creating my own characters a year or so later, I got a feel for my camera by creating random episodes about the adventures Ernie would go on. Once he crash landed on a planet full of Mr. Potato Head's, another time he had to rescue an alien princess, and plenty of times he was simply lost in space.
I created scenes using everything from strings of Christmas lights, to old Star Wars toys, construction paper and poster board, and remote controls as spaceship consoles. The production value couldn't have been more bottom of the barrel, but the fact that I found ways to work in music, that I printed off my credits and taped them to the walls, and that I took the time to create miniature sets at least proved how much fun I was having. It was only '97 after all and it wasn't like I had a computer to edit on or a digital camera to make things easier.
I only really shared the ten or so episodes I created with my friends, and for the sake of preserving my nostalgia that's the way it's going to stay. Ernie the Spaceman is special only because it kicked off what I already knew I wanted to pursue as a kid. It was my amateur directorial and editing debut, and the work I put into those shorts really lit a fire in me that set everything else in motion.
Looking back at it now and thinking about the setups that I'd build in the basement makes me realize how formative those experiences really were. Without knowing it at the time I was exploring framing, composition, basic editing, and generally priming myself for the digital revolution that was just starting to hit. The fact that I'd share my creations and get to see everyone's reactions only boosted my confidence.
The results were a long way from perfect, and they were even more embarrassing to watch after I'd gone through puberty, but it's that imperfection that seems so meaningful to me now. I had no notions about how I was making something, it was nothing more than creative exploration. Fifteen years later though, through a film school education, having had my work screened at numerous international venues, having over a million video views online, and having edited for a handful of big name clients, it's a rush to be able to trace it all the way back to this.
Ernie's haphazard and clumsy adventures may have only been a blip on my timeline, but it sure felt epic in the moment. At the very least, it was an exercise in persistence.
|The original title card from the Ernie the Spaceman episodes.