Recreating the past Photo: courtesy of Cydney Toth
Local author turns Regina into 1940s San Fransisco by ADAM HAWBOLDT
hen Jessica Eissfeldt walked into the Regina Florist building on Hamilton Street, she had a good feeling. An old red brick place with two greying Doric columns on either side of the entrance, the Regina Florist building looked promising from the outside. Inside it was even better. It had the vibe, the atmosphere, the essence of what she wanted. You see, for the past few months, Eissfeldt had been working on a short story called Dialing Dreams — a romantic tale set in the 1940s. And now that the story was finished, she was looking for a place to take some photos to accompany it. To bring to life the key points, the most dramatic moments of her tale. Up on the second floor of the old floral shop, Eissfeldt looked around. She saw paneled doors, tarnished brass railings, broken lamps and faded photographs. The smell of sun-warmed wood and history hung heavy in the air. She turned a corner into one of the vacant rooms and there it was — a frosted glass door. The exact frosted glass door she’d envisioned in the recording studio where a scene from her story takes place. Eissfeldt ran her finger down the door’s paneling. Her mind was made up. “Soon as I walked into that room I was like, ‘Yep! This is exactly what I
had in mind,’” recalls Eissfeldt. “I was looking for a place to do the recording studio photos and this was it.” But her search for photo locations was far from finished. In her mind, Eissfeldt envisioned having a picture to accompany each chapter, plus a cover photo and a photo after the final page to bookend the project. She scoured the city looking for places that had a similar feel. Places in downtown Regina where she could recreate San Francisco in the 1940s. Eventually she found them. But locations weren’t the only things Eissfeldt needed to find.
“The clock’s ticking seemed louder than usual. How many times had she sat at this very switchboard, fighting tears of regret, tears of boredom, tears of frustration at not having a chance to live her dream? And now that it was here? How could she give in to fear again? But she couldn’t help her emotions. She just couldn’t.” That’s an excerpt from Eissfeldt’s short story, Dialing Dreams. A story she turned into a 35-page book. A story inspired by a jazz song. “I was listening to Matt Dusk in the car one day,” says Eissfeldt. “I was just driving along, listening to his song ‘Operator, Please’, and this image popped into my mind.”
It was an image of a guy standing in a phone booth. It’s midnight. The rain is pouring down. And this guy, he’s dejected. Really sad. The only person who will listen to him is the telephone operator. This picture kept rolling through her mind, and Eissfeldt knew there was a story behind it. She went to a local Starbucks with her laptop, ordered a tea, and wrote. It started out as a really short piece, something like 12 pages. The first draft came very quickly. At some point during the writing process, Eissfeldt went to San Francisco to soak in the city’s atmosphere. She did research on the 1940s. She watched old movies from that era to get an idea of the mannerisms, language and feel of that moment in history. The first draft of her story turned into a second draft. More followed. And when everything was finished, she turned her attentions towards creating the photos.
The idea to include pictures in Dialing Dreams came to Eissfeldt out of the blue. “I was at work one day — I work at the library — and I was flipping through some books,” says Eissfeldt. “I’d picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz and noticed that each chapter,
was prefaced by a picture. A light bulb went off in my head. I thought it’d be really cool if, because it’s a short story, I included pictures to give the reader something extra.” So she found a photographer and went looking for places to take the photos. At the same time she also set out in search of an actor to play the lead character in the story (Nick Hart), and clothing that would fit the time period. “For the hero, I contacted acting and modeling agencies in town,” says Eissfeldt, who posed as the heroine Belinda in the pictures. “I told them what I was looking for, what the story was about, what the shoot would embody, a physical description of the hero.” Eissfeldt ended up meeting with five or six potential men to portray Nick, but none of them seemed right for the part. “It was interesting,” she says of the process. “You know how you get first impressions of people? Well, I’d meet up with a guy and think this isn’t the right one for Nick Hart. He’d make a good football player or Elvis or James Bond.” In the back of her mind, Eissfeldt had a concrete image of Nick. She knew his personality, his mannerisms, his favourite dessert. She knew exactly what she was looking for. And when she met with a local actor named Greg Ochitwa, she knew she’d found her man.
All that was left was to find the right clothes for the photo shoots. Clothes that would make the ‘40s come to life. “That was the biggest challenge,” says Eissfeldt, “finding the clothing. There’s not a lot of vintage clothes around so I went to the Regina Little Theatre and they graciously allowed me to go through their wardrobe selection.” There, Eissfeldt found a dress and a fedora to use in the photo shoot. She found another dress at a secondhand store, and one at Le Chateau. Then she found an old phone and a burgundy hat with a veil and a bow at an antique store. Once she had everything she needed, it was time to take some pictures. The photo shoot lasted two days and spanned five different locations around Regina. And when it was finished, Eissfeldt felt she’d made the right decisions. The right decisions on setting and characters and clothes. The right decisions that would help accentuate her short story and bring her characters to life.
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Verb Issue R128 (May 16-22, 2014)